Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Change and decay - not all bad

The one form of headgear I can accept: Breton marine cap (or its sibling worn by Rhine barge captains). Gift from Mrs BB.Great source of quaint lapel pins once awarded to pliant proletariat, now keenly priced for tourists

AGEING Evidence may be sudden and poignant. As when I heard trebles singing a descant to Adeste Fideles, a skill I lost sixty-five years ago. But it is, in the end, a balancing act.

Indent left: Former German chancellor, Helmut Schmidt

CAN’T: Regularly swim a mile in the pool. Ski. Go rock-climbing. Drink to excess. Eat to excess. Interest myself in most UK TV sitcoms. Sleep more than five hours a night. Pick up conversation in noisy environments. Endure the middle-classes en masse. Remain calm during conversation about soccer, pop music. Behave civilly to suspected Tories. Restrain myself from asking questions. Show enthusiasm for the Iberian peninsula. Fly long distance. Tolerate evangelists. Willingly regard the faces of Huw Edwards, Kevin Geary, Alex Ferguson, Sue Barker, George Osborne, Arianna Huffington, John Pilger Empathise plausibly with youth.

CAN: Feel untouched by many of the above. Compensate for not drinking to excess by buying expensive wine. Revel in shabby clothing. Take pleasure in academic accounts of history. Luxuriate in near silence. Respond to the appearance and songs of birds. Spend more without caring. Consider death unselfconsciously. Find myself becoming more generous (with cash). Imagine I understand maths and physics - and the structure of music. Write better. Ignore changes in the weather. Benefit from advanced car technology. Exercise curiosity about the nature of womanhood without being thought a menace.

Friday, 24 December 2010

A matter of some delicacy

Yesterday, those with fast reaction times may have noticed a Works Well post with a blog life of ten minutes. I was reflecting on my personal guidelines for blogging and on the unexpected late-life benefits blogging has brought me. Sentimentality got the better of my prose, hence the deletion. Here’s its replacement.

On the Fünffingerplatz blog the subject of beer is omnipresent, recently extended to traditional English pint glasses. I commented there were two types (the jug with a handle and the straight-sider), each representing the two sides of the class divide. This was disputed - in the nicest possible way. I offer this historical adumbration.

Once, nearly all pint glasses were straight siders, widening very slightly towards the top. Their obvious benefit was the thinness of the glass. In the fifties keg beer was introduced in the UK and was welcomed; its flavour was anodyne but its quality was consistent, unlike conventional pump beer then sold, wretchedly maintained, by many careless landlords.

A few years later, in reaction to keg beer (symbolised by Watney’s Red Barrel), the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) began. Drinkers were offered a much wider choice of pump beers served by landlords who understood the need to care for their pipes, etc. CAMRA was a middle-class initiative and its supporters, many of them Hooray Henries, insisted on straight-sided glasses. Keg beer lingered in pubs where drinkers seemed not to care about these newer beers and, in my mind, is associated with much thicker handled jugs with a discouraging mould line round the rim.

It is no longer PC to pretend to be objective about the UK class system and so I will leave it at that.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Suffering - the tie that binds

The Salvation Army has set up (paid****SEE STARRED COMMENT BELOW) hot drinks and snacks to ease the agonies of those lost in the Heathrow Time Warp. At first glance this hardly seemed to fit in with social welfare provision, the SA’s raison d’etre. Do those hopping off to sunny beaches and expensively smoothed pistes deserve our charitable instincts? Then, fatally, my thoughts turned from the general to the particular.

Four or five years ago Mrs BB and I contrived a Christmas ski-ing holiday in Cervinia with the whole immediate family, a party of eight. A very rare event, unlikely to be repeated, and something we can look back on fondly. But suppose it had all ground to a halt in that modern-day Slough of Despond – the airport departure lounge? We were lucky. And the SA is probably right. The middle classes are not immune to despair.

ALL GOD's CHILLUN When I saw a rat insouciantly climbing the central support of the bird table we stopped putting out bird food. But today a blackbird, fluffed up like a ball of knitting wool, poked sadly round the snow on that empty shelf. The service has been resumed. If the rat returns, so be it.

INNER PULSE Lucy recently posted a list of 49 exhortations, observations, indulgences, what- have-you, that I suppose help define her passage through time. The first was: Don’t forget music. I was reminded of my mother who abhorred the idea of playing music while she read, but embraced it while working – notably as she ironed. Today Radio 3 droned out a Kodaly cello sonata as we belatedly decorated our living room, hardly Christmassy but a little warp to add to the woof. (Note: MSWord’s style guide hated that last bit).

Monday, 20 December 2010

Sing along with Old Bach

In the West Riding of Yorkshire where if tha does owt for nowt, do it for thisen (If you ever do anything without cash reward, only do it for yourself) Messiah was big around Christmas. Yet Handel devotes only six airs, choruses and recitatives out of 50-plus to this festival. There is nothing Christmassy about “All they that see him, laugh him to scorn.” and “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?”

For wall-to-wall Christmas we need ace professional, master recycler J. S. Bach and his Christmas Oratorio, cobbled together from six cantatas intended for separate days – New Year’s Day and the Sunday after, among others. It’s amazing it works and yet, in another sense, it isn’t. Bach fed the public demand for new music and though capable of standalone masterpieces (the Goldberg, the Brandenburgs) he didn’t bust his ass every weekend.

To spare his inventive powers he craftily eased his second-hand secular music into sacred works. Christmas Oratorio contains bits from Hercules at the Crossroads, and Strike the Drums, Sound the Trumpets, both non-religious cantatas.

My Bach has a dream cast (Elly Ameling, Janet Baker, Robert Tear, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, King’s College Choir) and they make a fine racket. But it’s the Colin Davies Messiah that is the greater musical event. For one thing the soloists (Heather Harper, Helen Watts, John Wakefield and John Shirley-Quirk) are required to improvise curlicues; for another the choir is far smaller and better throated than was usual at the time of the recording (1966).

BIG QUESTION So, why does an atheist (presently considering a switch to rationalism or humanism, given a declining capacity for intellectual rigour) listen to this God stuff? Well, it’s simply not true the Devil has all the best tunes.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The mower as a time machine

The sixth age shifts into a lean and slippered pantaloon…
… a world too wide for his shrunk shank.

Ageing isn’t just a withering of the body but a contraction of hope. Mundane detail also tells the story.

The first pusher is second-hand: the blades are blunt and one wheel jams randomly, tearing the grass.
The cheap, new pusher sheds its grass-box.
The hoverer runs over its own cable.
Engines are harder and harder to start. Recite: Lord protect me from small capacity IC power units.
And thus the ride-on.
You pay next-door’s kid to do the riding.

Does anyone know anyone who has chosen and paid for their own burial plot? Surely the act of a Virgoan (I am a Virgoan) keen to tie off all the loose ends.

MORE, ALAS, ON CHARITY I can be tickled into spreading my bread on the waters. Years ago I handed over my credit card to my younger daughter as she watched the first Band Aid do, a gesture that cost me twice over as the pro-gay Terence Higgins Trust sought to get in touch with me later and rang off every time Mrs BB picked up the phone.

Today The Guardian had a much subtler temptation. Donate to their chosen appeal (to help disadvantaged youth) and the call would be answered by a member of their editorial staff. I got Katherine Viner, the deputy editor, and we had a brief but nostalgic chat (for me) as she helped pare down my Visa. These days I live more in the past than the present even though my pantaloons are merely corduroy.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Cakewalk to freedom

Freed in 1959 from weekly newspapers (and destined ecstatically for a magazine in London) I swore I would never again attend entertainment put on by amateurs. Call me elitist, an intellectual snob and I say phooie. But recently the threat loomed. I was asked to publicise a Christmas Concert on the website I run (Fine.) To ask “my lady wife” if she would bake a cake for the event (That quote brought powdered teeth to my mouth corners.) To attend in person (I sought the seppuku sword.)

Mrs BB dislikes the quote too and was minded to refuse. But the proceeds were for the local hospice and both us can be guided by self-interest. So the cake equipment was mobilised reluctantly (see pic) and suddenly I saw clear skies. I delivered the cake an hour ago and when asked about my evening plans I was no longer shackled, the price had been paid. I said, simply, no, without any awkwardness. As I drove away I reflected on an unexpected benefit of being married. To a cake-maker, for one thing.

ANYONE HOME? Once you brayed (a good Yorkshire word) on the door with your fist. Later there were knockers. Then bells which you wound up like clockwork toys. Followed by electric bells which depended on cumbersome batteries. And now the above. What you see is a radio-frequency push-button transmitter with its exposed circuitry and a tiny battery sufficient to release an equally tiny signal, insufficient in itself to activate the ding-dong. Power for the ding-dong is derived from the wall sockets into which receivers are plugged and which respond to that infinitesimally small pulse of electro-magnetism. You might well ask whether this is progress.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Painless delivery for corned beef

I’ll brook no argument (a silly verb I grant you). The best tin-opener in the world is the Brabantia Profile. No longer available in this form the model name is still retained and I can’t believe Brabantia has lowered its high – and frequently expensive – standards. It costs £9.32 and passes the ultimate test.

What test? The traditional corned-beef tin is a symmetrical trapezium in frontal elevation, thus one end is smaller in area than the other. OK if you have tag and twisty key; if not you need the Profile. To ensure the contents can be pushed out neatly in one piece, you need to remove both ends and it’s the short-radius corners on the smaller end that test cheapo openers. Easy with the Profile and no jagged edges. One caveat: even the Profile suffers wear, notably the cutting disc and the sprocket that “drives” the tin. Be prepared to replace the Profile in a dozen years or so. But then perhaps you don’t eat corned beef.

BEST WURST Mrs BB is back from her continental Christmas market visit: last year Prague, this year Munich. My prezzie is a Steirische Burgsalami in a dinky hessian sack resembling a bucolic Xmas cracker. Huge flavour, even a huge bouquet. But so, so hard. Denture wearers needn’t apply.

FANCY THAT I write a lot and take a physically active break now and then. Hence the piano keyboard. No big deal, often just hymns. Did you know the seventh and eighth lines and one note of the ninth of Ye Holy Angels Bright:

Or else the theme,
Too high doth seem

are a C-major octave plus one? Makes things easy.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Moral: don't flag your good deeds

In an uncharacteristic gesture I recently invited suggestions on which charities might best benefit from my winter fuel allowance. For those unaware of socialistic Britain, the WFA is a government handout to ensure pensioners like me don’t freeze to death between November and April and thereby cease casting our votes.

Re-reading my post I’m appalled by how self-serving it seems and will think first before playing Lady Bountiful again. However, the charities need not share my self-flagellation and third shares of WFA have now gone to two of them.

The Crow’s Quaker International Educational Trust (QuIET) supports education and peace initiatives through education; she adds “My Meeting sends contributions to the Friends school in Ramallah”. The eccentric capitals appealed to me as did their willingness to work in such a hellhole. A British address meant no cash would be dissipated in exchange rate costs.

Sir Hugh mentioned a personal debt to the National Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I favour child-support charities and this one in particular. Foreigners have pointed out that this outfit is merely national; the one against animal cruelty (ie, RSPCA) has royal support. But that doesn’t mean I’m against furry, feathered or even scaly beasts. Anyway forty quid for them.

The only reason Julia’s suggestion, Water Missions International, (laudable aim: to stop people dying of thirst) hasn’t got their dough yet is because they’re American and I’m dickering about a form of payment which doesn’t simultaneously enrich bankers. Note: After some to-ing and fro-ing with WMI's online system this was eventually achieved, December 15 2010

Ho hum.

Do poetry translations help?

This is an expansion of a subject I posted a few weeks ago. It's here because I need to put it in an addressable storage location on the Web. Something on motorbikes and/or frying pans is just over the horizon.

Shakespeare into French – some problems
Plus a DIY experiment

In a French translation of Romeo and Juliet I came upon this line from the Queen Mab speech

Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep

rendered as:

Se poser sur le nez des hommes quand ils dorment

Even those with minimal French will recognise there has been no attempt to tackle the tricky but worthwhile athwart. Nor is lying asleep distinguished from the bare French: they sleep, they are sleeping. This is a crib to get the reader through the play. The poetry, it seems, may wait.

The same book includes Le Marchand de Venise. Portia’s most famous speech turns out to be rather better:

La vertu du clémence est de n'etre forcée,
Elle descend comme la douce pluie du ciel
Sur ce bas monde; elle est double bénédiction
Elle bénit qui la donne et qui la recoit,
Elle est la plus forte chez les plus forts, et sied,
Mieux que la couronne au monarque sur son trone

A different translator? Perhaps. But then the original is more direct and less concerned with imagery than Queen Mab. Despite the awkwardness of est de n'etre forcée (vs. is not strained) and the unadorned la plus forte (a weak equivalent of mightiest), one might conclude one was reading poetry.

The translations appear in a Les Livres du Poche paperback. Surprising for a French publication the preface writer, Jean-Louis Curtis, has no academic links. The contents appeared first in a bilingual edition of the complete works by the Club Francais du Livre, an established purveyor of popular classics in various languages.

Who might buy this book? A schoolboy needing to know the plotlines or a monoglot intellectual French person who understands poetry and who is bound to be disappointed? It’s worth including a little of Curtis’s preface to establish its French view of things. He sees the play as a tragedy of adolescent tenderness at odds with the stupidity of the adult world. It has no moral or religious core, is purely external and driven by chance. Unlike Phèdre, Tristan and Isolde (sinners against divine order or against Mammon) the star-crossed lovers are complete innocents. Which, he says, is rather marvellous.

He adds: Romeo is a work of superb craftsmanship with the exception of several hors d’oeuvres, which I take to mean bits and pieces. One such bit is in fact Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech which he condemns as “too long.” Here are two of the speech’s other lines.

O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you
Alors je vois que la reine Mab vous a visité

Drawn with a team of little atomies
Trainé par un attelage de petits atomes

The former sounds more like Jane Austen, as if she had left a card. The English - been with you - hints at a gracious attendance. In the second, atomies is an obsolete word and thus the qualifier is forgivable. However the translator opts for the modern word, atoms, which surely makes petits tautological.

Confirmation that these are literal translations with poetry taking a back seat, often a distant back seat.

But might a greater play spur the translator towards something more sublime? Gallimard’s Folio Theatre series Hamlet is translated by the Maitre de Conférences at the University of Paris and a 25-page annotated preface is supplied by by an Emeritus Professor at Sorbonne Nouvelle. One of the preface’s sub-sections, entitled Des Mots, Des Mots et Des Mots, reveals a more knotty, academic - essentially French academic - approach. Shakespeare, we are told, is not writing a metaphysical treatise but has chosen the theatre “the genre par excellence for the inaccessible subjectivity of the author”. Followed by much polysyllablism which I would find obscure in English.

Fortunately I can look at the translation. I apologise for ignoring the obvious passage; its celebrated first line is too easy and translates literally, adopting virtually the same sequence of words. Instead:

Oh! Si cette trop, trop solide chair pouvait fondre,
Se liquéfier and se résoudre en rosée,
Ou si l’Eternel n’avait pas édicté
Sa loi contre le suicide! O Dieu, Dieu!
Comme me semblent fastidieux, défraichis, plat, et stériles
Tous les usages de ce monde.

Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter! Oh God, God,
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world

This is much more satisfying. As Portia’s speech, despite its defects, was superior to Queen Mab. Of course it is narrative rather than imagery but there are some hurdles to cross. Here the translator is far more confident. Faced with adjacent melt, thaw, he employs the exact fondre for the former and then, tactically, ignores the latter with its icy implications. Instead he substitutes se liquéfier which conveys the idea of dissolving flesh far better.

And - dare I say it? – his simpler, more obvious, le suicide improves on Shakespeare’s somewhat overwrought self-slaughter, included to eke out the line.

I think the above passage proves that it is possible, in French, to move closer to Shakespeare’s meaning even though the outer reaches of poetic invention may prove intractable. But here’s something different: Gertrude identifying the place where Ophelia died:

Un saule pousse en travers du ruisseau
Qui montre ses feuilles blanches dans le miroir de l’eau.
C’est là qu’elle tressa d’ingénieuses guirlandes
De boutons d’or, d’orties, de paquerettes, et de longues fleurs pourpres
Que les bergers hardis nomment d’un nom grossier
Mais que nos froides vierges appellent doigts-d’hommes morts

There is a willow grows aslant the brook
That shows his hoary leaves in the glassy stream
Therewith fantastic garlands did she make
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies and long purples,
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them.

Nature proves tougher than solid flesh. WS’s aslant willow doesn’t just cross the brook it does it at an angle and that’s a detail too far. Conflating pousser with en travers would give traverser providing more elbow-room for solving the angle problem but this would be at the expense of losing grows. Flirting dangerously with the Little Learning Sword that hangs over all translators I found myself considering combler which can mean bridging a gap. But not really. Rather filling in as with a gap in one’s knowledge.

Another apparent solecism occurs when those shepherds nomment a nom. Naming a name? Plus a potential red herring in that nom can also mean noun. I take it this ugly repetition is apparently justified by the need to use appeller (to call, ie, identify) on the following line. On the other hand the translator knows full well that WS’s maids were virgins. Also that shepherds who are liberal is likely to be an Elizabethan anachronism and hardi (bold, daring, barefaced) better fills the bill.

Finally, twenty-first century poets who feel unable to rearrange word order as a stress repair tool will sympathise with this translator who cannot match the admirably compact Therewith fantastic garlands did she make and resorts to a predictable subject, verb, object.

Despite these limitations, a mind sympathetic to poetry is at work. As when glassy stream becomes a water mirror. Languages differ and the French have fewer words to play with than Anglophones. Some limitations cannot be overcome except via inventive leaps which may well betray the poet. But suppose the person who wrote the stuff is doing the translation. What are the restraints on inventive leaps?

To avoid copyright concerns I have chosen one of my own (Shakespearean format) sonnets. The date relates to our fifty-year marriage.

St Mary and St Eanswythe, rain and wind.
October 1 1960.
A golden day but let’s forsake fool’s gold
And go in search of useful tolerance.
For there’s no credit, dear, in growing old
And worshipping a doubtful permanence.
Instead we’ll build a fire of cliché sticks,
Burn cards of happiness and humdrum verse,
Distrust old facile “love” since reason mocks
An easy word to hide a lie or curse.
Let’s dwell on anger - pardoned on the wing,
A hand outstretched to aid a swollen knee
A joke that shares more than a wedding ring
A glass of wine that seals complicity.
Spare symbols, mantras, ill-used sentiment
Just say, do, listen, to our hearts’ content

Un jour doré, mais à bas l’or mondaine,
Et allons chercher pour l’amour pratique.
En vieillissant, ca manque du bon ma chère,
Meme chose tes prières pour la certitude.
Et à la place, un feu de nos banalités:
Les cartes joyeuses et tous les poèmes crasse.
N’aimes pas “aimer” – ce masque expert,
Qui cache les mensonges, les paroles maudites.
Acceuilles le colère, pardonnè en clin d’oeil,
Un main tendu pour soigner tes blessures,
Une blague qui vaut mieux qu’une alliance,
Un verre de vin, le preuve d’un bon accord.
Partez symboles, mantras, et pensées fausses,
Dire, faire, écouter du fond du coeur

I have not tried to match French cadences since I do not truly understand them. One irony is that several French lines (the third and fourth, for instance) have willy-nilly appeared as iambic pentameter, however irrelevant this is, no doubt, in French prosody. And, since there wouldn’t be any point otherwise, I cheat. Fool’s gold requires wordplay and becomes worldly gold. Useful tolerance is now pragmatic love. Cliché sticks are possibly improved as banalities. The last line, which again depended on wordplay, is I fear rather feeble.

The rigorous answer is, I suppose, to ignore the English original and strike out on the same theme in French. A parallel piece of verse, if you like. Failing this counsel of perfection (which I am not for a moment suggesting I’ve adhered to) translation is obviously a vital activity since it crosses that initial frontier. I know some French and a tiny bit of German but a ten-year-old’s rendering of even a limerick in Finnish would be more than welcome.

And there is one further advantage, although it concerns the writer rather than the reader. There is no sterner test of relevance than turning something that seemed to have its values into another language.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Those slightly disabled Swedes

This view from my study window has been Photoshopped to remove the washing line across the garden and an ugly street lamp. Click pic for greater grandeur.

In yet another BBC4 programme devoted to popularising science, a frenetic Swede set out last night to make me love statistics.

Many believe statistics is simply columns of figures. That’s data*. Statistics is data put to use – averaged out, for instance. Statistics tells us on average Swedes have 1.99 legs – reconciling the fact that some unfortunates have only one leg, or perhaps no legs, whereas none have three legs. “Thus we can say,” said the Scandinavian prophet, “that most Swedes have slightly less than two legs.”

But this was mere skittishness. Statistics is serious. It’s generally admitted that whatever suffering Florence Nightingale alleviated at Scutari wasn’t ultimately as important as the data she gathered and interpreted, proving that the so-called hospitals there were far more dangerous than the battle-field. Infection killed more than shells.

However it’s not history that’s astonishing, it’s the future. Google offers computerised translations of websites into seventy languages based on statistical analysis of language. Grammatical and syntactical rules aren’t good enough. Complex sentences in Swedish were uttered to Google’s research wonk who received them on his laptop which precisely and immediately translated them. The next step: mobile phones which allow users speaking in two different languages to hear the result in their native tongues.

Speaking as someone who has spent three decades wrestling with French I’m somewhat depressed.

* Yes, I know data is the plural of datum and I treated it accordingly while still working. But I now think it’s a lost cause.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

I'm not sure about The Donkey Shelter

The winter fuel allowance (£125) will shortly enter my bank account. I am lucky enough not to need this money and would prefer it ended up with someone who can make better use of it. Mrs BB and I support the sort of charities you might expect of Guardian readers – Amnesty International, Médécins sans Frontières, Book Aid as well as Cancer Research UK, St Michael’s Hospice, Hereford Air Ambulance (those last three clearly profiting from our physical decline).

If you have a pet charity other than those above, preferably something unglamorous that isn’t richly endowed (eg, The Rest Home for Retired Industrial Journalists – I jest! I jest!) sell it to me in 25 words and it will get a mention here and a slice of the pie. The more international the better.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The human equivalent of a farrier

ICY ENDURANCE EXPERIMENT (qv) This is now at an end. Mrs BB said she would refuse to speak to me if I continued.

SNIP, SCRAPE Chatting with dentists and doctors presents problems. But with chiropodists you’re paying, the prognosis is rarely fatal, and, hey, they’re down there and you’re up here. They’ve got to talk. And there’s that comical vocabulary: bunions, verruccas, corns - even seed corns.

My previous chiropodist did house calls but, slightly self-conscious, I entered the new one’s surgery (?) via the Beautonics façade. She used snips chunky enough to sever a power cable and didn’t care where the bits went. Chez Bonden that’s forbidden, Mrs BB insists each nail sliver must be accounted for. Putting down her snips the podiatrist (the words are interchangeable) picked up a scalpel; dimly I recalled the earlier foot-shaper using a modified potato peeler. I was told my memory was at fault.

Snips and scalpels are autoclaved after each session. Verruccas can be blasted cryogenically. I was told to anoint my feet with Vitamin E oil from Holland & Barrett. We talked about newspapers and I was asked to guess which she read. I got it wrong: not the Telegraph but the Saturday edition of The Times. I warned her about lining Murdoch’s pockets. Next time my questions will be more penetrating.

THE NEW NOVEL The central character, a woman, has a facial port-wine stain, naevus flammeus. Plot ideally emerges from factual detail. Perhaps while I lolled on the couch of chiropody a sub-plot-line occurred. Her boy-friend, a French aero-mechanic, is drawn to her by the disfigurement.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Whiling away the winter

Google-researching new novel. Progress so far:

TITLE (provisional) The Love Problem. TIME Now, especially re. Afghan war. HERO US-born woman with facial port-wine stain (PWS), commercial pilot in a small way, has left US (“No country for a woman with marred looks”) to live and work in SW France, near Biarritz. FIRST NAME She’s sexually straight but I need something slightly gender-ambiguous, hence (From Top Thousand US Women’s Names): Kristen, Karen, Robyn, Erin, Dana, Cass, Jodi, Jana, Reba. UPBRINGING Arizona, good flying state. Born/raised Flagstaff, town with decayed centre. Failed to make jet pilot with USAF; wonders about PWS. WILL MEET Divorced Brit, once making a living helping other Brits buy French homes, now on his beam ends. FIRST SCENE Driving US male pilot (who first suggested France to her) to airport as he flies back to work in US and leaves her alone.

AIMS: (1) Aspects of disfigurement, (2) … homesickness, (3) … US-France relations against Afghan war background - does French working-class favour what US is doing to Taliban.

MEANWHILE Break off to pick out Lady is a Tramp but can’t figure last eight notes of first eight bars. Email Julia who sends link to Sinatra plus note sequence:

That's -Why- the -La-dy - is - a tramp
D - D - Bflat-D-Bflat- D -Bflat

Doesn’t fit. But that’s because I’m in C-major and Old Blue-eyes is in Bflat. Start practising Bflat scale – hey, it’s nearly all black notes. Time to brave the snow; off to Birmingham for LVB pnop cto 4 and Mahler 4.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Lying on a beach - no raw material

Chez Bonden has twelve CH radiators. To save moola three are turned off, including the one in my study. I resist hypothermia by putting on my fleece, blowing on my fingers and thinking about stuff I have read.

Orwell dying of TB and writing 1984 in an abandoned house on Jura. A Jack London short story about a man outdoors in Alaska in winter, trying to light a fire with a limited number of matches – and failing. Peter Fleming (Ian’s brother) en route from Peking to Kashmir, a 3500-mile overland journey which began in February 1935 and formed the basis of News from Tartary. Gulley Jimson in freezing London, ignoring the cold and thinking only about painting in The Horse’s Mouth.

I tend to ignore explorers like Scott and Shackleton since enduring the cold was part of their reason for going where they did. I do reflect on climbers who embark on severe Alpine climbs in winter since I’ve never understood how they keep their fingers operative (Some don’t, of course, and DIY amputations are necessary.)

PAUSE FOR REFLECTION None of the above enjoyed the benison of having Mrs BB appear at the study door with a cup of Bovril. As now.

But Puccini has the final word. La Boheme opens with students shivering in a Parisian attic in winter. They have no fuel and one offers the manuscript of his novel so that they will be cheered, briefly, by the flames. An ironic passage in the libretto.

No one visits Works Well for its DIY photos; they merely help save words. However Younger Daughter asked me to capture her with Zach; b&w (courtesy Photoshop) turned out somewhat better than colour.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Ahhh, ain't that cute?

Marja-Leena has disgorged and photographed her pencil/ballpoint container and seems unimpressed by its contents, although to my eye the stuff looks expensive and “artistic” (another way of saying expensive). The contents of mine are predictable, mundane and cheap but the container itself has a history. It’s a Maxwell House coffee tin decorated with magazine cut-outs by my elder daughter, aged 5 – 7, while we in America (1966 – 1972). What is more remarkable is that resides on my windowsill here in Hereford. Prior to returning to the UK we had a garage sale and then threw away thirteen bags of viable household possessions and clothes. But this tin was retained. Neither of us is what you’d call sentimental.

A cold-weather pot-pourri

PROFESSIONALISM Members of Mrs BB’s painting group are concerned about her eye op. One is visiting us this morning “elevenish” and as I left to pick up the paper Mrs BB had started making little cakes. Such casualness

CLICHÉ STUFF The forecasts were gloomy last night: hard frost. It was mild and sunny when I set off for the paper, cold and windy when I returned. The walk lasts six minutes.

BABBLE Deafness. The problem is distinguishing what people are saying against a noisy background. The supermarket check-out for instance.

VALUE Currently the best quality bargains in French wine (ie, in the £8 - £12 bracket) are Coteaux du Languedoc AC. Of those look for villages with their own AC, especially Montpeyroux. Also Faugères and Picpoul de Pinet.

HORRIBLE The first motorbike I owned was a 125 cc BSA Bantam (see pic). Wretched. Note lack of rear suspension and pillion seat - but then it further lacked the power to tote two people.

DQ I’m 48 pages from finishing the 760-page Don Quixote. Would I recommend it? Yes, and for the same reasons I would recommend that every male youth in the UK does military National Service. Now I’ve done mine.

BROS K Plutarch suggested I read The Brothers Karamazov so I’ve bought a second-hand copy via ABE Books. It’s 985 pages. In the past I’ve made three attempts, the most recent failing at page 150.

LONG WAIT I am replacing my car with another of the same make and model. The waiting list was initially three months. Now it’s twenty-two weeks. Various reasons for the delay are offered: rarity of DSG automatic gearboxes and (the much more likely) rarity of RHD.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Let's get rid of the clowns

This is almost a coffee-table book and I hate those. But three columns of song lyrics per page justify the layout and it is meant to be read, not displayed.

Sondheim is a perfectionist which may be why he’s only had one real hit – Send In The Clowns. He applies perfectionism to others and attacks most of the greats including my favourite, Lorenz Hart (“jaunty and careless”), Noel Coward (“the master of blather”) and Ira Gershwin (“rhyming poison”). But none ends up more wounded than Stephen Sondheim himself; notably for the early songs in his most famous show, West Side Story.

Not many of us write song lyrics but most of us want to write better. This books tells you how. Sin No. 1 Verbosity (“For me the hardest sin to avoid… unless a character is hyperarticulate for a reason, cleverly rhymed logorrheic patter draws attention to the lyricist, not the character”). Sin No. 3 Redundant adjectival padding (“using a series of synonyms to fill out a line because there’s not enough to say. Eg, Expensive and choice and rare.”) Examples of these and other sins are taken from his own songs.

He agonises over exactness, as we all should. And his arrows hit home. Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics in My Fair Lady have “an appearance of high gloss” but how about Henry Higgins’ “I’d be equally as willing/For a dentist to be drilling/Than to ever let a woman in my life”. This, says Sondheim, is “a syntactical train wreck, especially noticeable coming from a professor of English so meticulous about the language that the plots depends on it”. Get someone to buy it you for Christmas (it costs £30), laugh and learn.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The ideal guest

Verse (second, if not third, division poetry) should never be explained but this sonnet deserves a word or two. A week ago I met Plutarch at The Blogger’s Retreat and subsequently posted my travel itinerary. But a fortnight before that I was invited to a more populous BR event to meet Lucy and her sister, Plutarch and his brother. Unfortunately this was on a Friday when both Mrs BB and I seek to develop our intellect in other ways. However I envisaged a high-charged, ribald lunch on The Aldwych at which I would be represented by what you read below.

Alas Lucy and her sister were forestalled from attending. Because I come from the West Riding and cannot abide waste I am forced to post these lines without legitimate reason.

Sonnet – Retreat from The Retreat
It suits me well, the role of absentee.
One mention, then perhaps a genteel cough;
Soon lost in bouncing waves of repartee
And swallowed by a curried bellylaugh.
Vacant and mute, I’m so much better than
My prying, hurtful, low reality.
A void instead of foghorn Yorkshireman
My views a trailer of eternity.
For I was born to tap and stare and wait,
For you to stop and let me in edgewise.
Think of the bonus that my empty plate
Has wrought. Think of a use for unused sighs.
I am the un-sat chair, untrammelled chat,
The unshared chutney, Erwin's twin-state cat

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Mrs BB goes (briefly) back in time

The surgery for a trabeculectomy lasts a mere eighteen minutes; the bad news is it involves the eyeball. Like most who’ve worked in hospitals, Mrs BB, an SRN, is an unwilling patient. I drop her at the hospital and we bid our goodbyes with no visible show of emotion, typical of Brits and appalling to most Americans. Four hours later, back in the car, she insists vallium isn’t worth a damn.

Denied books for twenty-four hours, she regards the blank telly and asks, “What do people who don’t read do all day?” Aloud I offer The Wine Society fine wines list and we agree on a Sancerre (les Monts Condamnés,) for Christmas. Rid of stress she dozes profoundly. Sleeps well that night.

MEANWHILE… Later, on BBC4, we watch an Oxford don exploring Greek myths. His plumminess, which renders Rome as Rame, is old-fashioned since such programmes now find wider audiences via presenters with regional accents. He irritates me further by patronising workers sorting mounds of pottery shards.

At first he’s dull and abstract. Then, as he compares Greeks and Hittites (surely the least amenable to Christ’s teaching) things hot up. I didn’t know Kronos was Zeus’s father. And I certainly didn’t know Kronos interposed himself between the copulating bodies of his father (name forgotten) and his mother, Earth, biting off his father’s “private parts”. The sequel is too extreme even for the liberalism Works Well practises.

The don returns to this theme of castration, pronouncing the word with relish and appearing, simultaneously, to grin. We are, of course, beyond the 9 pm watershed which defines adulthood, but I imagine a review in The Daily Mail. Mrs BB shares my opinion about the plumminess.

Friday, 12 November 2010

A hymn to St Cecilia

A second keyboard - I should have bought its equivalent forty or fifty years ago.

Yes, it plugs into the computer but won’t be used for that. More for deconstructing the intro of Lady is a Tramp (ie, I’ve wined and dined on Mulligan stew and never asked for turkey/As I’ve hitched and hiked my way along from Maine to Albuquerque, etc, etc) or fingering the B-flat scale back to when I had an embouchure and could play Cheek to Cheek on the trumpet.

I will also check out rests, slurs and ties and wrestle with four-four time, conscious that I’ve left all this far too late. Senility and/or arthritis will arrive long before semi-quaver ability.

But I’m not moaning; playing skills will be a bonus. The keyboard, which offers decent piano sound, is primarily a tool to pick tunes apart and isolate intervals which are beyond both my musical memory and that very imperfect instrument, my voice. A moment ago I played a simple hymn tune (in C-major, natch) and discovered that the penultimate line comprises a seven-note sequence: C, D, E, F, G, A, B or seven-eighths of the C-major scale. No great tribute to the writer’s inventiveness but a tiny revelation to me about what constitutes music. Alas, I’ve forgotten the hymn.

A musical ignoramus I love messing around with tunes (“Hey, there’s a black note coming up!”). I had some competence with the trumpet but there the notes had to be created and messing about was a hard row to hoe. Here the notes are laid out for me. Shortly I shall compose an accompaniment to one of my sonnets, record myself singing it and post the result. Renaissance man! But don’t hold your breath.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Intra-world travel

From Belmont, my Hereford home, to The Blogger’s Retreat, central London, is 145 miles. Lunch is at 12.30 so I rise at 06.40 rather than 09.00. I’m angry I didn’t prepare things and thus avoid disrupting Mrs BB who may or may not be asleep. Picking up keys noiselessly from the table is impossible.

A cold dawn. I snap the 75 bus but, worried the driver might think I’m a time and motion spy, or a copper’s nark, I explain the camera. More shots in Hereford’s deserted centre because of the stillness. Time for a warming Americano at the station buffet where I’m asked if I want milk. Wouldn’t be an Americano.

Low-level winter sun hinders reading The Guardian on the two-carriage diesel out of Hereford in which the loudspeakers pronounce Cymbran with Welsh punctilio. At Newport a moment of uncertainty boarding the London Paddington train (ie, going east) minutes after a Manchester Piccadilly train (ie, going north) has left from the same platform.

A socially disdavantaged man at Didcot Parkway is taking train numbers. In my extreme youth I did that.

The last leg, by bus, is about three miles and I’ve ninety minutes in hand. But it isn’t enough. Students are revolting. I leave the bus in Regent Street, cut through Soho, cross Leicester Square, pass St Martins-in-the-Fields and jog along The Strand. Five minutes late! But then there’s champagne, chicken korma and a world of talk.

Tune: Onward Christian Soldiers

Linked by broadband magic
Oz to Prague and back
Famous for erratic
Service, curries, craic*

As to conversation
It’s the tops my dears
Nation speaks to nation
Drenched in Asian beers

Bloggers seeking respite
Join in the elite
Exercise your blog-right
Lunch at The Retreat.

*Craic is Irish - a state of happy stimulation

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Not exactly cuisine minceur

New mincers are still available. Not as versatile or as speedy as food processors they are built to last a thousand years, invulnerable to power-cuts, easily washed, and digest everything served into their maw. Even bones. I operated my mother’s mincer and I can hear the sinister tearing noise even now. She was always at it, but why?

Why did immediate post-war cuisine demand so much grinding destruction? We ate a lot of what we called Shepherd’s Pie (I know, I know, we were misinformed. South-easterners call it Cottage Pie.) which required mince but surely butchers supplied that. I recollect much bread passing through the mincer’s alimentary canal but did we consume bread-crumbs on an industrial scale?

She may have mashed potatoes this way, I can’t be sure. And I have an even dimmer memory of bread and meat being ground simultaneously, perhaps for rissoles or an unsatisfactory – and unwisely extended – meat patty. Speculation on this has lead to a fierce argument with Mrs BB and I am now temporarily denied her input on the matter.

Soup? My mother’s soups were not her forte and the constituents were readily, and lumpily, identifiable. Certainly unminced.

QUIETLY FLOWS THE DON Part Two of Don Quixote is less anecdotal and I have reached page 467 (out of 760). Could it be your thing? Here’s a sample:

“Whoever undertakes a long journey… (seeks) an agreeable companion. How cautious should he then be, who is to take a journey for life, whose fellow traveller must not part with him but at the grave; his companion at bed and board and sharer of all the pleasures and fatigues of his journey, as the wife must be to the husband.”

Sunday, 7 November 2010

They say the lion and lizard keep...

Guilt seems inseparable from DIY. About jobs not done, jobs done badly, ignorance of the method, ignorance of whether jobs need doing at all. Even the competent seem gnawed by the maggot of what the French call la culpabilité.

To shrive myself I “get a man in”, unconvinced by those who preach self-dependence but skirt the trauma of a botch. This concerns a slightly different botch.

The Yale lock on the front door lost a small screw and became perilously wobbly. B&Q doesn’t retail items with small profit margins but Hereford has a shop specialising in brass bits. An interior crammed with dusty stock where light is admitted grudgingly, plus the knowledge that he is the last resort for many, has turned the still young owner into a severe autocrat.

He interrupted my preamble: “Get a wider screw than you need and screw it in until it jams,” he said. Even I was appalled by this ruthless pragmatism but such is his Messianic nature I did exactly that. The botch – ugly and visible - has held for about five years. But there’s the trauma, bearable for me but not for one who knows the maggot. A new lock, soon?

ME? A SCAB? The National Union of Journalists, which I joined in 1954, is striking against the BBC. Once the chapel (ie, branch) I belonged to refused a pay rise of 32% and held out for 35%. We were “deemed to have dismissed ourselves”. As editor with powers of hire and fire, my position was tricky causing my oratory to rise dizzily: “There’s only one thing worse than a pyrrhic victory and that’s a pyrrhic defeat.” People remembered that years later. But still voted to strike.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The poop was beaten gold, etc, etc

Stay with me, please. It’s not merely about TV you’ll never see.

The programme concerned self-portraiture. Given 90 minutes, writer/commentator Laura Cumming “stepped back” from Dürer’s unflinching gaze, followed Rembrant’s monumental series on “what it was like from inside to grow old”, revealed David in his jail to be “confused”, sympathised with Courbet as an early Master of the Universe, explained why Mondrian’s self-portrait couldn’t be “a Mondrian”.

Van Gogh doesn’t incorporate madness into his self-portraits, rather a growing technical logic. We laugh too at Mark Wallinger’s sculpture of a capital I in Times New Roman.

Here’s where it gets hard. Laura Cumming (art critic of The Observer) is beautiful. It shouldn’t matter but it did. Her loveliness is throwaway with blonde hair, carelessly clipped up, gradually releasing strands all over. She dresses casually but Mrs BB, who agrees about her beauty, says her clothes are expensive. Whatever - she flits down the Montmartre steps and it’s heart-breaking.

But this is not old BB “dying of bitches”. The sculptor Messerschmitt went round the bend and created heads in which he pulled astoundingly ugly faces. Cumming reaches out, draws her face near and the sculpted head becomes magically beautiful in itself. And self-evidently a masterpiece. Aping Warhol she dons sunglasses, slips into a photobooth, imitates the sequence Warhol took including one “where he appears to be hanged” and I see what Warhol is on about.

Without her looks Cumming’s enthusiasm and easy knowledge would have made a memorable programme. With her looks it was a killer. Am I simply a seduced older man? Disagreements about clothing aside, Mrs BB says she too was impressed.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

It could probably do better than me

For some, chocolate triggers Ooh-ah; for me savoury stuff. Mrs BB’s no-name stew, is irrelevant here but acts as a sop for those uninterested in translating poetry.

Sam Leith, in the Guardian, writes about Google’s program for doing just that. It’s obvious to say it won’t work, he says, and cites the Google guy responsible (“evidently a software engineer with a hinterland”) who quotes Robert Frost: “Poetry is what gets lost in translation”. But, says Leith, it’s more useful to think about the ways it won’t work – or might.

Leith ignores wilfully difficult stuff and concentrates on what Auberon Waugh says “rhymes, scans and makes sense”. He defines what poets do quite cleverly (sorry, I haven’t the space) and concludes it’s a craft with multiple, but not infinite, possibilities which is where Google can help. Notably in rhyming since it’s simple to input a rhyming dictionary. Metre is harder but conventional prosody is largely binary - stressed and unstressed syllables - and binary is how Google treats them: “blank verse with iambic foot obeys the regular expression (01) while one with dactylic foot looks like (100).”

He concludes it isn’t impossible to imagine a computer being taught to write accurate doggerel. Oh heck, I’m running out of space but how about this. Faced with: “A police spokesman said three people had been arrested and the material was being examined”, Google supplied:
An officer stated that three were arrested
And that the equipment is currently tested

- said to be amphibrachic tetrameter. You may disagree.

WANT TO HELP? Do you have knowledge or experience of homesickness as a debilitating ailment in an adult? A new novel is at the planning stage and this will be a major theme. Your contribution will be acknowledged.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Can cars be pretty?

Marja-Leena responded spiritedly to an act of casual cruelty I committed on her blog by accusing me of an obsession with cars. Heh-heh; my Blog Labels list “car” 28 times and “art” 88 (88 – count them!) times. Not solid evidence, however, since I devise and fill in the labels myself. OK, M-L I accept the charge: I’m a spanner-twirling oaf with sump oil under my finger nails and I fall asleep going broom-broom.
But why not a post combining both cars and art? That’s if aesthetics is acceptable as a $5 synonym for art. In my opinion the prettiest car ever made was a Ford. And it emerged when good old Henry J. Jr was in charge. True you won’t see many of them around Detroit these days but once, if you had deep pockets, you could buy the road version. I’m talking about the GT40, of course, built to win at Le Mans, which it duly did. Isn’t this seductive?
Back in the seventies I got fed up of utilitarian cars and decided to buy one I liked to the look of. The GT40 was beyond me so I made do with the Volkswagen Scirocco Mk 1, designed by the Italian stylist Giorgetto Giugiario; subsequent models, alas, took on a bloated Teutonic look. Here is mine parked in Dompierre-le-Bouton (in France but, of course, you guessed) and I’ve chosen the angle deliberately. Many designs fail in their treatment of the rear end, but not this one.
Finally, the handsomest car I’ve owned – an early Audi Coupé, on the Col de l’Iseran, overlooking the French ski resort Val d’Isère. Where’s the snow? It’s summer.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The way to field a complaint

Friday, Saturday, Sunday evenings the BBs tope; other nights we drink vaguely healthful Horlicks and peppermint tea. Recently the Horlicks powder was grey rather than beige and tasted of poorly conceived potato soup. Horlicks sent us a pre-paid envelope. Here are extracts from their reply:

“Our Quality Control Lab states the returned sample was found with a burned and damaged foil seal. The most likely cause is it was burnt during the heat induction stage of packing (at our supplier)… causing a burnt plastic/chemical smell. Precautions have been introduced to avoid such incidences.

“Tests (to check that powder meets strict specifications) include sensory (sic!) where trained analysts taste and comment on odour and appearance. Unfortunately this jar was not detected.

“We do carry out trending of complaints… if these come from the same date code, further investigations are carried out… In this case we set up a cross-functional team who identified the root cause. Improvements identified are now in place.”

This seems a model response. The technical fault is described, the failed checking process acknowledged, and the solution (kicking the supplier’s ass) indicated. It presumes intelligence in the customer. However I shall stick to peppermint tea.

MAD BUT GOOD In Cervantes’ 760-page Don Quixote you lose your place. Dialogue is unseparated from the rest, causing endless paragraphs. Otherwise it’s good stuff:

Sancho: “How will you do for victuals when I am gone?”
The Don: “Never let that trouble thy head. For though I had all the dainties that can feast a luxurious palate, I would feed upon nothing but the herbs and fruits which this wilderness will afford me; for the singularity of my present task consists in fasting, and half-starving myself, and in the performance of other austerities.”

Friday, 29 October 2010

A golden era? More like leaden

Bloggers guilty of cynicism, practical jokes, inaccuracy, boasting, intellectual snobbery, phillistinism and ostentation should at least reveal their age, often the reason for these defects. As a regular practitioner of such vices I sought indemnity by including my age in my profile. Blogger has now removed this facility and I feel honour-bound to prove I am of a great age.

My primary school was lit with gas mantles.
Corporal punishment (by hand, ruler, cane and curtain-rod) was administered to pupils’ faces, the back of their necks, the front and back of their hands, their backsides and their thighs at my primary and grammar schools.
Our milk was delivered daily, ladled from a large bucket into my mother’s jug.
Waste metal was collected by a man with a horse-drawn cart.
Once a man appeared in our street (eight houses on either side), took off his cap and, without amplification asked us to vote against Sunday cinemas.
Dead cats abounded in the gutters of the main road.
Cashiers at Lingards, a one-floor department store in Bradford, sat in a central cage on a raised platform. Cash spent at counters travelled to the cashiers on wire-supported containers.
Barges used the Leeds-to-Liverpool canal commercially. We swam in it.
Ever hungry, I could never come to terms with canned snoek.
My preferred bought-in treat was chips with “a cake” – two discs of potato on either side of a thin slice of fish, deep-fried.
My father bought large quantities of eggs, illegally, from farmers. My mother preserved them in a gloop based on isinglass.

I feel no nostalgia for any of this.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Often it's a very long 21 miles

Turmoil in French politics and Ryanair's cruel eccentricities will keep Lucy from tomorrow’s gala at The Blogger’s Retreat – an event I was excluded from due to a prior engagement. As readers of Works Well know, Mrs BB and I spend much time in France and this is a reminder of how crossing the Channel can be perilous.

Once, pre-Eurotunnel, after a fortnight’s touring we arrived at Calais to see lines of British cars stretching over the hill to the north-east, no doubt terminating at the Belgian border. We found a semi-official teenager guarding the ferry terminal entrance against queue-jumpers. I got out of the car, chatted to him in a left-wing way (Bonne chance pour la greve!, and all that) then asked if it was OK to join the proceeedings at that point. A million envious eyes watched me but he made an unequivocal and all-embracing gesture and I was in like Flynn.

My relationship with Mrs BB changed. Previously she’d believed my French was a party trick, showing off, deplorable ostentation. Thereafter, at least in this matter, she regarded me as an adult.

We boarded the first ferry and I’m sorry to say the Brits failed to show stereotypical virtues – orderly queueing, phlegm in adversity, the Dunkirk spirit. Violent arguments broke out; groups combined to force cars away from the ramps. Many were middle-class and I fear I photographed their travails (See above: Boulogne before we reached Calais). Fair to say Works Well is part of a coterie of francophiles. But to the others a reminder: if you go there simply for the sun and the wine while ignoring the people, don’t grumble if they occasionally rise up and bite you.
HOT TIP Blogger's new image uploader is Rhone Glacier slow. Go to Settings, then Basic, scroll down down to Select Post Editor, select Old Editor. Voila!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Dreaming all the while of Hobe Sound

Oh joy! All the way from Hobe Sound, Florida (An address, I suspect, more glamorous than the place itself.) comes my XXXL Super Soft Henley nightshirt, coloured Forest Green and made in India. Discovered by The Crow who from now on can fulfil all my clothing needs.

As the arms suggest a US XXXL is a mite bigger than a British XXXL and covers the body weight range 251 – 310 lb (18 – 22.14 stones). To Rouchswalwe’s chagrin the Henley’s neckline plunges deeply enough to make undoing the cleavage buttons unnecessary. And before anyone concludes Yorkshire people go to bed in their socks this was purely a photographic session, thanks to Occasional Speeder. Mrs BB is broadly favourable and says I’m welcome to her bed thus clothed.

The PJs were unearthed at La Redoute, the mail-order company, by OS some days after The Crow’s email about Wittmann Textiles. My thanks to everyone whose spirited responses temporarily boosted declining interest in Works Well.

WORKS WELL’S WORLD Looked at your blog’s statistics recently? There’s a facility for eliminating the owner’s own hits, so who were the 36 others flitting untraceably through WW yesterday when only one comment was logged in? Odder still is a list of five of my posts, the oldest dating back July 29, 2008. These appear to be random and four record very modest numbers of pageviews, well below the average of 12 for all posts since WW was born. A world map reveals WW’s limited (but very select) audience with a tiny blob just south of Alaska; brief reflection identifies this as Vancouver, home of Marja-Leena , a very early WW link.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Don't turn light on, I'm working

I am most open to ideas at 5 am, lying abed, darkness outside, body comfortable. I once did six lines of a sonnet this way. Mrs BB bought me a mini-torch to aid scribbling notes rather than relying on memory. But a sonnet is containable; these days there is the more sprawling task of plotting a new novel. Here’s how it’s gone:

Main character. Woman, who…? flies planes.
● Author ignorant about gayness (Don’t rule that out. Later, then.) hence a male accountant… culling employees from subsidiaries of a large company. Who may need to use a plane.
Character theme. W. uses word “love” too freely, M. not at all. Thus American vs. British dichotomy. But turned on its head. At the end of (Successful? Unsuccessful?) affair Brit is guilty of destructive passion and American shows humanitarian restraint.
Neutral territory, surely. France?
● Accountancy no longer appeals in France. Man helps monoglot Brits buy houses so probably was more successful once. Mid-forties.
● Woman an instructor rather than charter pilot. Age? Why in France? Gay episode in – great flying country – Arizona? Do gay episodes happen?
Marital status/children of both. On back-burner. Same with parents
Foreground plot. Iraq war. Local French discrimination against American. Chap’s burden? Back-burner.
● Idea from book I’m reading: woman is ugly. (It’s a plot device. I’m not in favour!)
Location (Probably south – better flying weather), acquaintances, families, contrary character traits, etc, etc.
Very long chapter (70 pp at least) flying house-buying customers. Removes much pre-history, frees up use of present tense. Flight adds changing interest.
Dare I do chap in first-person? Would writing about woman suffer?

She thinks a mouse is food

To the right is Missy, a mixed if temporary blessing. She is lodging with us for a couple of days and I shall be taking walks with my trouser pocket packed with a Tesco shopping bag. The bag will, I hope and pray, remain empty. Unlike Lucy and Mol (most of Brittany) and HHB and Blue Dog (all of Western Australia) Missy and I cannot call on millions of acres as our personal fiefdom and should Missy sow then I must reap.

Missy has brought one benefit. Several neighbours were recently burgled and we are now activating our alarm for short absences as well as long. When Missy is left behind a burglar alarm becomes unnecessary. No unauthorised ragamuffin could bear the piercing shriek of Missy’s barks.

Both Mrs BB and Occasional Speeder (Missy’s owner) have noticed Missy appears to have taken a shine to me, proof of her low intelligence. As further proof I sat her in front of the Ilyama and she was obedient but listless. I get the feeling she was comfortable with DOS but couldn’t get her head round Windows. A speech bubble rising from her head would probably say: “Where’s the C-prompt?”

This isn’t her only limitation. In an hour or so I shall watch the recorded highlights of qualifying for the South Korean Grand Prix. I expect little reaction from Missy. Or for that matter from Mrs BB.

Friday, 22 October 2010

12.30 - 2.30 pm - we are invisible

While we had the house in France my heroes were le plombier, le menuisier (a carpenter on steroids), and le maçon (forget hammer and chisel; this guy could build you a house). All have been feted in Works Well and their brows bound with laurels.

I am more equivocal about le zingueur - technically a zinc worker, more exactly a roofer. (I should add I ignored l’ébéniste, never having needed a hand-carved witch-doctor’s mask in African hardwood.) Drefféac’s zingueur, who had a comical surname which I’m damned if I can remember, was extremely hard to find. Desperate I knocked on his door just as he was about to lunch, a solecism few Brits unfamiliar with France would comprehend.

Monsieur, he shrugged, fighting to contain himself, le téléphone. But I didn’t have a French landline and this pre-dated mobiles. I wasn’t an enthusiast before and seeing his lunch-table was set with something red poured into chunky Cristal d’Arques glasses which inhibit wine appreciation put me off even more.

For me zingueur resonates with tzigane (gypsy) and M. Zincman might have had nomadic blood. His thick curly hair looked like a football into which his head had been partially inserted. His dangling arms and simian gait equipped him well for scrambling up ladders. Although he'd done other jobs for me he refused to suggest a solution to a leaky roof over the lean-to section of the house (see pic). Several years after we sold I stopped to view the house’s exterior noting the lean-to section had a new roof. The Irish buyer had had no French and it’s possible the roof represented M. Zincman’s revenge for that interrupted lunch.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Stick to Racine, lads

Received wisdom says poetry cannot be translated - not surprising since personal reactions to poems vary more widely than those to prose. But how far off the mark? Take Portia's celebrated lines from Livre de Poche:

La vertu du clémence est de n'etre forcée,
Elle descend comme la douce pluie du ciel
Sur ce bas monde; elle est double bénédiction
Elle bénit qui la donne et qui la recoit,
Elle est la plus forte chez les plus forts, et sied,
Mieux que la couronne au monarque sur son trone


I was surprised. My experience with "poetic" passages of Shakespeare in French is that subtleties disappear leaving more or less factual narrative. The above does a better job even though it occasionally clunks (forcée instead of strained is a bit - pun intended - forced). But then the lines are moderately straightforward in English anyway. "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I" would be a harder row to hoe.

So I turned instead to the Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet:

Alors je vois que la reine Mab vous a visité
C’est l’accoucheuse des fées et elle vient
Pas plus grosse qu’une pierre d’agate à l’index d’un échevin,
Trainé par un attelage de petits atomes,
Se poser sur le nez des hommes quand ils dorment.
Son char est une noisette vide,


This to me is far more a summary. Because French requires most adjectives to follow the noun the rendering of “fairies’ midwife” makes it sounds like a government post. The qualifiers ruin the conciseness of “Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep” and although I know char has other meanings to me it’s a tank (the Army sort). You know, I shouldn’t be trying this on.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Monsieur, I wish to fly

To make up for our uncelebrated fiftieth on October 1 we will rediscover Brittany early next year and, in particular, hire a plane to view its wild and raggedy coast. I’m looking forward to the preparations.

As a former house owner in France I met much fixed opinion there. If not downright stubbornness. The counter-man at Big Mat building materials said he not only couldn’t supply decorative gravel I needed for my garden paths but that such gravel “didn’t exist in France”. He was wrong. At Monsieur Bricolage, the DIY chain, I was told that if I wanted to box in my bath I must (note that - must) encase it in faience (tiling). He too was wrong.

Plane hire sounds like a fruitful area for such blind insistence. Fixed wing vs. helicopter. Aviation law and the sea. Seating capacity. Facilities for photography. But if it can be done I’ll do it. The key is my French: it’s not good enough for natives to be certain I’m being intentionally rude.

LONG TIME NO SEE Eventually the MS of Gorgon Times will be despatched to my agent. I have been drafting the first paragraph of the covering letter:

“I doubt you remember that in 1975 I submitted a novel, BREAKING OUT, written while I was working in the USA. What may make this distant and humdrum event slightly more memorable is that you travelled to Farringdon where I worked as an IPC journalist and gave me lunch. The novel was commended for its technical competence but rejected in that it had little new to say about a woman escaping from a failed marriage. One publisher suggested I consider changing the ending.”

The second para is funnier but I’ll leave it until I’m short of an idea.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Quinquireme of Nineveh

Test-driving my first Lexus I was directed down to Cardiff’s harbour, now overlooked by blocks of expensive flats. The older I get the more the thought of living in a flat terrifies me (I might be closeted next to a Carl Orff fan) but these were tempting. To look down on ships going about their business, a stirring yet comforting prospect. But why are ships so pleasing?

They move deliberately and this confers dignity. A bit like the Queen… no, no, what on earth am I saying? There may be a mathematical explanation. A 10,000-ton ship moving at a mere 2 mph is a formidable force. Watch when a mooring cable is slipped over a bollard and seemingly innocuous energy is dissipated in stretching the new umbilical cord. Most of us respond to power even when it’s only dimly perceived.

Close up ships are often disappointingly rusty; they start donning their make-up at half a mile distance. Many superstructures are still painted white and this is as it should be. At five miles even a container ship has good lines. One reason why those Cardiff flats are so expensive.

NOT ALWAYS FOR THE BETTER Blogger keeps changing. Installing an image now involves a slightly different procedure which is not as intuitive, not as handy. A few moments ago I discovered that my age is no longer listed in my profile. Perhaps Google is trying to protect me from ageism. If so I am denied a simple pleasure: having my span notch up another year on my birthday. Damn it, I need that confirmation.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Help BB sleep o'nights

Can anyone help? I need a pyjama top, but not any pyjama top. I need one that is anti-fashion, one that meets my exact requirements. I will pay good money. You want proof of my willingness to spend? See my previous post under Healing Bubbles.

Neck depth is vital; typical V-necks ride up and saw at my neck. It’s got to be really deep. Nor do I wish to be garrotted in and around the armpit region, Big, big gussets. Long sleeves for winter. Long top-to-bottom since my umbilicus is not my most charming feature.

The successful applicant will be paid right royally and will be obsequiously publicised on this blog. I am prepared to accept any embroidered advertising. My plight is desperate.

The terror of the suburbs

Solar keratosis (“sometimes unsightly”) will shrink my social life – never extensive – even further. Luckily the twenty-first century has created its own anchorite’s cell and here I am, illuminating a posted MS, aided by a Saitek keyboard and a 22 in. Ilyama monitor.

Initially I applied cortisone cream and requested a second tube when filling in the online prescription for my gout pills. But Dr Jones wasn’t having any. Cortisone is powerful. Used to excess it’s likely to make my facial skin thinner. I’m not vain about my appearance (I’d be delusional if I were) but this brought me up with a jerk. Steve Bell, The Guardian’s malicious cartoonist, sees our prime minister as impossibly smooth and caricatures his face squeezed into a condom. I didn’t like the parallel.

But I did like Dr Jones’ solution. DiproBase contains white soft paraffin and liquid paraffin and is labelled an emollient. Just think, after all those years of being nasty about people in print and there was a cure close at hand.

LOST IN LA MANCHA I’m devoting myself to unread classics. With War and Peace, A la recherche and Ulysses out of the way I’ve started on Don Quixote. It’s quite entertaining but for one defect: the shortest paragraph is 500 words and I constantly lose my place on the page.

HEALING BUBBLES Surgery - twice-over - for younger daughter discouraged elaborate celebrations for the fiftieth and we reverted to the default state. A 2005 Charmes-Chambertin was too young, sad given the £63 price tag. But a bottle of Krug (drunk before the red burgundy, of course) came close to justifying an expenditure of £110. Accompanied by a somewhat predictable DVD movie about Tolstoy enlivened by stellar performances from Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Technologically flows the Rhine

Yesterday in Malvern we watched Rheingold. There were some glitches, the prompt was audible, but there wasn’t a single duff voice and Alberich was definitive. Yet when the performers took their bows half the Malvern audience clapped and half didn’t. Why? Because although the performance was live it originated at the Met in New York. I for one felt foolish clapping a cinema screen.

Technology was rampant. The high definition TV link meant I was able to admire Wotan’s (ie, Bryn Terfel’s) orthodontics and, had I wanted, his uvula. Despite heavy make-up Freia had an indifferent complexion. The sound was gigantic.

But the most impressive technology was on the stage. There a 45-ton device consisting of a hundred connected and manipulatable planks, affectionately referred to as The Machine, allowed scenes to be changed remotely. The plank edges could be made to ripple, to create staircases and to form precipitate underwater cliffs down which the Rhinemaidens (not without trepidation) disported themselves on wires, flicking their feet flippers and blowing heat-generated bubbles.

Ingenious and monstrous The Machine allowed performers to be positioned for high drama but wasn’t without drawbacks. Loge emerged, wire-supported, walking backwards up a 75 deg incline. He never looked happy. The Rhinemaidens, later occupying geometry impossible to interpret visually, had to take great care that their wires – made more obvious by HD TV - weren’t tangled. On the other hand Fasolt, killed by brother Fafner on a horizontal part of the stage, slid eerily into oblivion as the stage was slowly inclined.

We’re down for Lucia di Lammermoor in March and Walküre in May but will add Nixon in China and Capriccio. All by the Met and all with stratospheric casts.

Friday, 8 October 2010

A musical morsel

I don’t care for Verdi’s operas, for anything by Khachaturian (especially the Sabre Dance), for Bizet’s Carmen or for le tout Berlioz. But none of my blind spots are interesting since I am a musical ignoramus. What’s fascinating is when someone who knows music says “I don’t like…”

Julia did music at uni and limbers up regularly at the piano. Months ago I tried to get her to blog about music but she refused. With an apprehensive Mrs BB at my side when we were in Prague, I asked Julia why. Seems she has friends who are professional musicians and fears their critical reaction. I sighed, said it was a terrible waste, suggested she was denying her elitism – all the usual journalistic ploys.

But Julia is not a natural refuser. She pondered then let slip a morsel – about Mozart yet. In playing string quartets (You didn’t imagine she was limited to the keyboard, did you?) she’d noticed WAM’s cello writing wasn’t up to much. Bingo! We both agreed this was a price he’d had to pay for ennobling so many soprano roles in his operas. With Beethoven things are the other way round; his sublime quartets were paid for by an inability to come to terms with the human voice, except in the Prisoners’ Chorus.

An important discovery not otherwise available to an ignoramus. Retired fifteen years now, I still have this urge to pry. Mrs BB hates it when I do. I tell her it will be harder next time.

PRAGUE PERSIFLAGE. Lunch on periphery of Old Town: half a duck, red cabbage, potato dumplings – Czk 205 (say £7). No need for dinner but somehow I forced it down.