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

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Stop being cruel to cars

At 11 pm the car in the centre of the car park was a wedding cake decoration. I scritched the windscreen, the driver and passenger windows, the wing mirrors. The rear window was hard iced and beyond me. The engine had been running and I got inside to fiddle with the heater knobs. But the inter-reacting system had a mind of its own and, without any direct instruction, blew the whole of the warm air output against the windscreen. After a few minutes I drove away safely.

During cold spells some do this every morning. It wastes time, the starter works harder against the thickened engine oil and the battery loses efficiency in sub-zero weather. Some people have no garage. But most on our estate do have garages which they fill with cardboard boxes, mowers, superfluous furniture, ladders and detritus. A car costing £20,000 sits outside and junk worth less than £1000 is sheltered. Cold bums too.

MAESTRO Last night he got a standing ovation and Brummies are stingy with those. He’d just played the Emperor, and made me think I was hearing it for the first time. The Berlin Staatskapelle was as much a virtuoso instrument as his piano. But half an hour beforehand he’d conducted Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. Now he was at the keyboard.

It’s one thing to do this with Mozart. Beethoven demands large and varying forces and from the piano the gestures must be unequivocal. He plunged into that initial chord as if entering a swimming pool, later he was a passenger in a motorcycle-sidecar race. He flicked his tails back and, as part of the same curving move, descended delicately on to the keys. The slow movement, always the test, was pure soul. He encored a Chopin Nocturne and the orchestra, now at rest, listened with self-evident and rapt pleasure. Daniel Barenboim’s day at the office.

Novel progress 1/2/10. Ch. 13: 4370 words. Chs. 1 - 12: 52,579 words. Comments: Clare rampant.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Cars come off worst

In Herefordshire you become aware of hedges. A local farmer widened access to a field by extirpating 2 m of hedging. Since he lacked permission he was prosecuted, fined and required to re-instate the chopped-down part. Then he was allowed to apply officially to chop down the re-instated hedge. Which he did, got it, and did.

Many Herefordshire hedges would withstand all but frontal impact from a car. The reason is pleaching. Our estate is traversed by the Withy Brook edged on one side by a line of bushes. These are being pleached and even if I hadn’t reported this for my website, the word itself would have engaged me.

To pleach bushes the trunks are cut by two-thirds to three-quarters of their diameter when sap isn’t doing whatever sap does. The upper part is bent down about 45 degrees forming a messy zig-zag of ravaged wood. Straight 2 m stakes of wood are hammered into the ground at an opposing angle and intertwined with the part-cut trunks. Years later this rural knitting will assume wall-like stiffness. The process is shown in the top photo: note too the gypsy-like tripod for keeping a kettle on the boil and the stake-hammerer who fabricated his own mallet.

MEAN WON'T FLY Broke off the above to answer a man seeking direct-debit contributions to Herefordshire’s Air Ambulance, unsupported by government funds. I asked about his strike rate. Mid-afternoon most knocking goes unanswered. Of those that open their doors, one in ten respond favourably. Herefordians are notoriously tight. Tip with a note rather than coin at a restaurant and jaws drop slackly.
Novel progress 30/1/10. Ch. 13: 2581 words. Chs. 1 - 12: 52,579 words. Comments: Clare's big interview continued.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Then gi's a hand ma trusty friend

Burns Night quatrains

Here’s my right hand, a sign of amity,
Visual proof of my disarmament.
But leaving little as a legacy
An empty final will and testament.

No lively wood shaped by the chisel’s blow.
No well-worked clay, no comforting caress.
No sketch, no minor key arpeggio,
No actor’s pause, no digital success.

These fingers had a role in writing prose
Yes, yet passively and not uniquely so.
The keys amenable to nose and toes
The words conveyed if need be in dumb show.

And now poor hand, arthritically misshaped,
Dupuytren teased, brown spotted, slow to act,
Inherits that which may not be escaped
A nervousness that breaks the body’s pact.

The hand and mind that worked decisively
Now fear the new and lurch away from change,
New books, new friends are seen as emnity
And outwardness is timid in exchange.

That age debilitates is hardly new,
But age contracts a world we once thought wide
Not wanting to discover me and you
Reveals an unexpected dark outside.

If I must shrink then I must learn to lean
On near and known established quality
And say that bacon comes as fat and lean
And humdrum verse is mere frivolity

Novel progress 28/1/10. Ch. 13: 1253 words. Chs. 1 - 12: 52,579 words. Comments: Clare approaches the crux of the story, or so she thinks.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Confiteor Keatso omnipotenti

Having devised something I regard as clever (My Right Hand) as basis for a non-sonnet poem and irritated it isn’t going satisfactorily I look for an opportunity to be destructive. And here it is. The Guardian is doing booklets on the Romantic Poets, the first on Keats. Let’s look for defects.

Straight off we have the Chapman’s Homer sonnet, world famed. Why don’t I like: “Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.”? Because I feel fealty is a word only poets use. Was it commoner then? I suspect not.

Grumblingly I give him demesne in “Homer ruled as his demesne;” because the fourth meaning in the dictionary is: region or realm. Even so the early definitions to do with land surrounding a manor and landed property have stronger associations which, I feel, may have been even stronger in Keats’ time.

Then there’s Chapman speaking out “loud and bold”. Is there a sufficient distinction between these two adjectives or was he filling out the line? Perish the thought.

“When a new planet swims into his ken;” When did ken become a literary no-no? Before or after Keats?

It’s sad to find stout Cortez staring out “with eagle eyes”. Keats can’t be blamed for creating a phrase which later became a cliché but, come to think of it, was it all that perceptive anyway? What’s next?

Look’d at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Hah! I set out to break a butterfly on the wheel and the butterfly has hit back. Tell you what: I’ll put My Right Hand away for a while and do an iron-clad, rigidly metred sonnet on A Little Learning.

Novel progress 23/1/10. Ch. 12: 3127 words. Chs. 1 - 11: 48,792 words. Comments: A Damascene moment. But should Hatch be re-christened Patch?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Getting closer to the birds

This photo of the BBs’ binoculars evokes several parables but they won't be recorded here. Parables are so smug. What the binoculars represent is a middle-class tendency towards higher technology and reckless expenditure.

The Praktica pair (8 x 21) in the centre are quite small, a gift from Mrs BB to help explore France before we bought the house there. On the left, the Pentax (10 x 24) were a gift from me to Mrs BB also for use in France. Twitching was in full flow when I bought the RSPB (10 x 42), having just stopped short of going the whole hog with Leica. Two factors worked against Leica: half an hour’s comparison left me incapable of detecting optical values twice those of the RSPB which were half the price. Also, the hideous Bill Oddie uses Leica.

The figures rating binoculars are confusing and subjective. The initial figure represents magnification but is something of a chimera. Going much beyond 10 means "binoc-shake" is so predominant the binoculars are unusable. The second figure is the light-gathering ability (42 is quite high) and thus the clarity of the image. It was this that proved impossible to assess between the RSPB and the Leica. In fact the RSPB have allowed me to stare straight into the eye – perhaps even the brain – of a teal.

“THE REST IS NOISE” By the time it gets on to atonalism and beyond it's hilarious. This is the period when composers made music (sounds?) out of anything, provided it wasn’t tonal (ie, tuneful). Pierre Boulez bullied and fell out with everyone and now does a good job conducting other’s (tonal!) stuff - Wagner in particular. Atonalism moved on to minimalism and goodness knows what. One quote: “The tenuous situation of classical music in America was (for Partch) not a deficit but an advantage. In one essay he wrote, ‘There is thank God, a large segment of our population that never heard of J. S Bach.’” Sheer fun.

Novel progress 21/1/10. Ch. 12: 2389 words. Chs. 1 - 11: 48,792 words. Comments: Just broached the idea on which the whole novel was based.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Bit of a ragbag

Sonnet - Metamorphosis

I am the victim of time’s violence.
This pressing sky, these over-sleekit roads
These blizzards of ebullience,
This rain, this fog that frequently forebodes
Much worse. All kept me from the barber’s chair
And let my hair presume to reach my brow.
My gliding form has lost its athlete’s flair,
And, seaweeded, retards the forehead’s prow
When cutting through the pool’s décolletage,
Requiring several towels to get it dry.
A Neptune slowed to Saturn’s gnarly age
My crawl-stroke wasted, power gone awry.
But could my new-born wastrel turbulence
Proclaim a poet’s mane of consequence?

NOTE: Not to be taken seriously. An attempt to break away from the 3½ quatrains that the sonnet form tends to impose. To me, habituated, it forms a different straitjacket.

UNAVOIDABLE Twentieth-century music! Twelve-tone shivers down the spines of those who drew up the drawbridge with Brahms. But the century includes Strauss, Elgar, Sibelius and Mahler. If you want to know how it all fits together (including jazz and pop) “The rest is noise” by Alex Ross, music critic of New Yorker, was enthusiastically reviewed in the UK and is brilliantly written – a must read. Your stepping stone to the Berg violin concerto, which, like Naples, you must experience before death. Or afterwards if there are suitable facilities.

DARWIN UPDATE BBC4 yesterday continued its wonderful series on hard science with, in effect, a lecture on the origins of chaos theory. Ah the mind of man. Ending with an unbelievable piece of software containing an algorithm which simulates evolution, a process which in real life takes millennia. An incompetent cartoon mannikin trips over then learns to walk with confidence and it’s the maths what done it.

Novel progress 20/1/10. Ch. 12: 1724 words. Chs. 1 - 11: 48,792 words. Comments: Unproductive day. Still on the M6.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Sentimentality takes different forms

Months ago I asked whether boy-babies responded more enthusiastically to toys rich in technical detail compared with those carved out of wood and sold for mega-pounds at Early Learning Centre. The post went to hell in a hack when Lucy and other former girl-babies revealed they’d preferred six-shooters and fire engines to dolls anyway. But atavism is never far away at Works Well.

Similarly I wondered why those fascinated with WW2 planes lost interest in the civil aircraft that succeeded them. I daydreamed whether boy-babies, now man-babies, felt more romantic about the utilitarian interiors of warplanes as cavities designed for one purpose alone. Having once sat in the cockpit of a Lancaster bomber during my RAF service I Googled the image (see above).

But forget all that. Almost adjacent on Google was this picture – the T (for transmitter) 1154 and R (for receiver) 1155 whereby the Lancaster kept in touch with other planes and the land it had left behind. Oh gentle but tolerant reader, believing old BB to have devoted his life solely to indulgent wordsmithing, I HAVE REPAIRED THAT KIT, blue/red/yellow knobs and all.

UGHHH Mrs BB, still a little fragile, made her first trip out today on snowy Hereford streets. We walked arm in arm encouraging a neighbour to comment on our decreptitude and triggering these alien Cockney words:

We've bin togevver nah for forty year,
And it don't seem a day too much,
There's not a lidy livin’ in vuh land
As I'd swap for mi dear Old Dutch.
(Altogevver, nah...)

Sometimes the cold dash of West Yorkshire tradition has its place.

Novel progress 12/1/10. Ch. 11: 3110 words. Chs. 1 - 10: 44,765 words. Comments: Hatch needs a woman, for various reasons.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

How my character was formed

Sawtooth – a compound adjective which doesn’t tell the whole story. For a saw to work the alternate teeth must be splayed left and right. But nobody had told me when - aged seven? eight? - I received a Kiddie’s Carpenter Set. Grinding away with an inadequately jagged piece of metal, hands blistered, I fashioned two bits of wood, nailed them together, called it a fighter plane and gave it to my grandmother to show my grandfather who in his surly way constantly urged me towards woodmanship.

The pieces became detached in my grandmother’s handbag and were unidentifiable when handed over, leaving my grandfather characteristically irritated. At least he didn’t beat me. His cane, which had a silver ferrule at one end, lay along the picture rail of his living room, a minatory presence.

TOP, ER, TEN Julia asked about Mrs BB’s top ten books from the 200-plus titles she read in 2009. Here they are:

Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson
Disobedience, by Naomi Alderman
The Other Hand, by Chris Cleve
A Month in the Country, by J. L. Carr
The Siege of Krishnapur, by J. G. Farrell
The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway
Alfred and Emily, by Doris Lessing
The Redundancy of Courage, by Timothy Mo
The Third Policeman, by Flann O’Brian
Home, by Marilynne Robinson
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson.
The Cutting Room, by Louise Welsh

Sharp-eyed readers will notice this list includes twelve books, those that Mrs BB scored 7, 8 and 9 out of 10. I am told no book has ever scored the full 10. To my astonishment I find I have read one of these books, albeit thirty years ago.

Novel progress 10/1/10. Ch. 11: 1756 words. Chs. 1 - 10: 44,765 words. Comments: Hatch jogs.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

A memory that survived

Early memories are fallible. Two-storey houses become bungalows, lines of poplars disappear, schoolfriend dates no longer synchronise. But here’s one that had a sequel. When very young I believed metal (didn’t matter which) was the hardest thing on earth. Then I saw an adult hacksawing off the pointed tips of nails protruding from a sheet of wood. How could metal cut metal?

Eventually I found the answer but that brief mystery retained its magic. Decades later, on professional visits to industrial plants, I saw metal cutting metal in its latest guise. Drill bits in mechanised systems easing effortlessly into blocks of machined steel. Lathes releasing elegant spirals of swarf from workpieces. Powered saws tirelessly sawing. The very heart of manufacturing; beauty born out of efficiency. It’s one of the themes in my novel.

OLD AGE WINS In 2007, in Zermatt, illness combined with a decaying body signalled an end to my thirty years of ski-ing. This traumatic moment generated not an ounce of sympathy among non-skiers. Skis lie in the attic and should be sold. Then it snowed heavily in Hereford and I found a use for my après-ski boots while others were squelching around in wet trainers. Yah sucks boo.

VORACIOUSNESS When asked how she would occupy her retirement Mrs BB replied: “By reading.” And so she has at the rate of 220 books a year. To keep up with what she’s got through she enters summaries in her “little book”. Here’s one: “The Infinities” by John Banville, 6 (out of 10). Dying mathematician and family visited by Zeus, Hermes and Pan. Beautifully written nonsense.
Very little of our reading overlaps.

Novel progress 8/1/10. Ch. 11: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 10: 44,765 words. Comments: Day devoted to editing and re-editing, including first two paras of Ch, 1.

Sunday, 3 January 2010


Sonnet – An infinite distance

Oh look how close, a little handsbreadth out.
Stretch! Yet again! And see our comfort touch
This suffering, this low’ring cast of doubt,
Drawn by a need to prove we care enough.
The need is real, supported by belief,
That we can reach and touch and calm and heal,
That sympathy and power will placate grief
Thus warm ourselves and show proof of our zeal.
Delusion feeds this notion of a bridge
Between the selves that form these different poles
Our poles repel like magnets which begrudge
Affection flowing from our kindred souls.
But separation that prevents this flow
Defines the you and me we’ll not forego

Wanting to encourage The Crow, who's had problems, I was struck by the difficulty of writing anything useful (not exactly an original discovery) and so tacked on this sonnet in explanation. Crow has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here.

WARMING THE COCKLES 1 Mrs BB was not well over New Year and when she finally fancied some nourishment asked me to prepare Písmenková polévka. Which I did.

WARMING THE COCKLES 2 The strains of JSB's greatest cantata Wachet auf come stealing up the stairs to my self-imposed, radiator-turned-off computer room

Novel progress 6/1/10. Ch. 10: 3211 words. Chs. 1 - 9: 41,171 words. Comments: Metallurgy and memories of the transient woman mingle.