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

Saturday, 27 February 2010

All hail Dawkins, Descartes and that lot

This is an attempt to match the more conversational style that Plutarch and Lucy use so well: a structure based on sentences rather than "poetic" clumps of words. Since this approach is still alien I fear I end up with lines that appear tongue-in-cheek. The sonnet, now slightly modified, first appeared on The Crow's blog and is in response to a link where science was being celebrated. Better still it manages to squeak through here by making a distant obeisance to my "mission statement" at the top of the page.

Sonnet – Lead kindly light
I sigh, I pluck the lute, I turn to Keats
The world, my mistress, is too grand for me.
Her essence is a series of defeats
For my blunt intellectuality.
I ache with lust and would grasp more of her
If I could understand her secrecy
But she is power and charm and gold and myrrh
Bound in the maths of atomicity.
I may not love her but at least I flirt
With tiny glimpses of her gorgeousness
The lens of science renders me alert
To here and there within her boundlessness
I’m pandered to by Maxwell, Gauss and Bohr
Whose flashes lit the dark I now abhor.

(1) Atomicity is a made-up word.
(2) Pander has a darker meaning.

Novel progress 1/3/10. Ch. 16: 2507 words. Chs. 1 - 15: 67,628 words. Comments: Hatch nonplusses Hester.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

They never told me this

Old age brings so many predictable changes that much of the experience becomes a cliché. That’s an unexpected change. There are others.

(1) Death. I find myself pondering the form it will take rather than simply averting my eyes. That may change. Question: will dying be a test of atheism?
(2) Clumsiness. But of a special kind. I pick my coffee-mug from the draining rack to dry it. There is a natural trajectory for this which I have never needed to consider. Now, once in fifty times, the mug glances against the mixer-tap spout. The mug has become precious and a bolt of fear passes through my chest.
(3) Irritation. Often related to (2). I place the newspaper half on, half off the coffee table. It slides on to the floor. My brief anger is disproportionate.
(4) Deafness 1. This is predictable and in any case limited to situations with high background levels (for the techies: a poor signal-to-noise ratio). I find I don’t care.
(5) Deafness 2. The sound tracks on American DVDs are blurred: a technical failing quite separate from accent and/or directorial preferences for inarticulacy. Often this turns out to be unimportant.
(6) Keyboard skills. Defects here could be a precursor to Alzheimer. Whole words, sometimes phrases, are missed out as my mind leaps ahead of my fingers. A lifetime’s devotion to revision and improvement solves this for the moment.
(7) Car driving. As far I can tell the skill has not diminished. What has changed is a never-absent fear that it might.
(8) End-of-the-day relaxation. Here the change is one of degree. What was once a mere cessation of labour has turned into sheer voluptuousness, a sensory wallow.
(9) Booze. Ability to withstand hangovers now varies widely.
(10) Vocabulary. Still highish but, as with (7), accompanied by anticipation of the first signs that is on the way down.

Novel progress 26/2/10. Ch. 16: 1447 words. Chs. 1 - 15: 67,628 words. Comments: Hatch opens up like a flower.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Bend the knee to Neil

No picture with this post, but that’s intentional. When the BBC said The History of the World in 100 Objects would be on radio, knee-jerk critics scoffed. “You gotta have telly,” they said. But with the magnificent Neil MacGregor in charge you don’t need pictures. Today it was the Oxus chariot, a model which shows how bigwigs got around the Persian empire, 2500 years ago, in “the Ferrari or Porsche” of its day. Woven into the fifteen-minute broadcast were details of the emperor Cyrus’s enlightened rule (Iran could use him now) and the empire’s astonishing multi-culturalism.

But then both Mrs BB and I believe MacGregor, director of the British Museum, can walk on water. For me he did the impossible. His TV series, Seeing Salvation, drew me into a form of painting (Christian art) I’d regarded as formal, sterile and alien. He’s been offered a knighthood and turned it down, has been approached by New York and turned them down. The Times Online refers to him as Saint Neil but that seriously under-rates him.

Hymns Ancient & Modern poetry primer

Who so beset him round/With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound/His strength the more is
The opportunistic rhyme.

Solid joys and lasting pleasures/None but Zion’s children know.
The inept adjective (two of them).

The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ…
The non-sequitur.

There is a green hill faraway/Without a city wall
The planning application.

With salvation's walls surrounded,
Thou may'st smile at all thy foes.
Is that all?

Novel progress 22/2/10. Ch. 16: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 15: 67,628 words. Comments: Hatch in Arcadia.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Antipathy's more interesting

Sonnet – Could be a pastiche
Don’t tell me of your loves but of your hates,
For love contains such blurry variants
As duty, honour, civilised dictates,
Self-sacrifice, denial, diligence.
Anathema can shine a caring light
Upon the limits of your honesty,
Love goes unquestioned, while your latest spite
Is tested for its authenticity.
Your dislikes tell me most, but note this catch,
I need conciseness, wit and evidence;
A critic lacking surgical despatch
Deserves the rebound of incompetence.
Hate me but do it with sufficient art
And like as not I’ll suffer Cupid’s dart.

RECYCLING - THE MODERN TENDENCY On Wednesday we saw Freddy Kempf play Bach's Goldberg Variations. Hatch, like many engineers, imagines he's a Bach fan. The woman he's dining with thinks his is a shallow attachment:
“Get the complete (Goldberg Variations) and listen to the whole eighty minutes. Listen to the turbulence and the tenderness. Sometimes, it’s more like an opera than a keyboard work. You’ll forget all about that symmetry rubbish; what you’ll remember is the passion.”

Novel progress 21/2/10. Ch. 15: 4936 words (finished but not edited). Chs. 1 - 14: 63,137 words. Comments: Hatch in Arcadia.

Monday, 15 February 2010

A must for those who share beds

Routine aids retirement – not just because imagination is at a low ebb (though it is) but because it reduces the quotidian burden: putting on socks, cleaning teeth, checking for vital signs, deciding what to do if vital signs aren’t apparent. Routine is vital in moving from the temptations of the grave to an upright state, underpants in place, ready to face another day. Getting up, in fact.

Technology also plays a part. I rise first and enter the en suite to perform what passes for my ablutions during which I tell myself that old age justifies diminishing standards of hygiene. I note from the dictionary ablution includes the washing of sacred vessels but here this practice has fallen into desuetude. When I re-emerge Mrs BB leaves her place beneath the phospherescent glare of the digital clock that so discombobulated Lucy and we immediately make the bed.

Any spouse who fails to share this ritual is a logistical heretic. Making the bed as a couple takes about 38 seconds, as a singleton it can take five minutes and generates much irritation. Technology contributes in the form of a fitted bottom sheet. Does anyone use unfitted ones? Pure whimsy is the only possible reason. I calculate we have made the bed as a couple 18,185 times and can be considered experts

A duvet would speed things up and we have often used one in hotels. But if we became used to a duvet would we fight for covering? As it is sheets, cellular blankets and coverlet are so generously proportioned this is not necessary. The upholstered bed-head was custom made since furniture shops seem to favour wrought-iron structures similar to farm gates.

Novel progress 18/2/10. Ch. 15: 2346 words. Chs. 1 - 14: 63,137 words. Comments: Hatch dines out but there's more on the menu than he expected.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Technology in the salon

Some months ago I mentioned I faced a passage in the novel where my joint leading character, a 42-year-old physicist turned successful businesswoman, felt the need to change her conservative appearance. I had a generous response including detailed suggestions from Eleanor. Some advice has been adopted and is spread out untidily in the MS. However the hair styling changes come in a comparatively compact passage published here, as a new-shorn lamb, in gratitude for the interest shown,

There remained her hair, easily the most radical change and the least expected. Having experimented with henna, as instructed, and formed a preference for Persian Copper she bit the bullet when picking up Nick from the nursery and asked assorted mothers to recommend Sevenoaks’ best salon. The consensus was for Hair Lines (“shockingly expensive”).

She had imagined something opulent and comforting and got neither. The atmosphere was closer to a pop concert: over-amplified guitars and young women, girls rather, strangely dressed and strangely decorated.

Her own stylist, Kylie, had black hair in broken-glass spikes and was pierced with studs, one apparently penetrating the skull above her left eye. Clare said, “You come well regarded. But can you do anything for me?”

Kylie screamed with laughter revealing a ball of chewing gum nesting on her tongue. “Don’t fancy my spikes, eh? Look, I can style anyone. What did you have in mind?”

Clare explained her henna experiments and was surprised at Kylie’s attentiveness and the way she ran fingers speculatively through her hair. She concluded: “It seemed a suitable colour. Perhaps you could take it from there.”

Kylie said nothing and continued to feel out the contours. Finally she said, “I could do better than that.”

“But would it be… extreme?”

“Nah, not that. See, you think you’ve got a thin face don’t you. Well it’s really oval. Quite pretty once it’s freed up. But I need to streak a mix of colours - ” She raised her hand to forestall Clare’s look of alarm. “ - nothing strong, just subtle highlights. Then I want a line across, to take away the dull old balance. Tell you what: if you don’t like it pay me a pony and no tip. But you’ll like it.”

Trying to remember whether a pony was twenty-five or fifty pounds Clare continued to be struck by Kylie’s confidence, her topological analysis and the way she conveyed – mainly by hand movements – what she intended to do while simultaneously half-proving it to be desirable.

And here it was, a transformation that Clare had covertly inspected many times during the past few days. Multicoloured highlights, running from roots to tips, varying from light brown to dark gold in a narrow spectrum like trapped sedimentary layers in an exposed cliff. A sauce where cream and chili oil had been added and gently stirred, just once. Colours as movement.

But it was a lock of hair taken diagonally across her forehead towards her right ear that disturbed “the dull old balance” and revealed an ellipse rather than a cylinder. Changed a face that was merely adult into an interesting secret.

Habit said it wasn’t her. Reflection told her she was no judge of her own looks. She got out of the Jaguar, facing the sleek yet heartless entrance to Garston’s headquarters. Modernism for modernism’s sake. She was keen to try out the new carapace.

Novel progress 14/2/10. Ch. 15: 617 words. Chs. 1 - 14: 63,137 words. Comments: Hatch, still waiting.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Alas, some are for the freezer

Kefta is a rare dish Chez Bonden because Mrs BB hates making “the little meat balls”. So imagine my delight when I found her engaged in the Herefordshire equivalent of what lady cigar-rollers do in Havana (but not between her thighs). When I left for the Sunday paper she’d done thirty, when I returned she was finishing the one-hundred-and-fiftieth. Already I was slavering, only to be told some were going into the freezer. There are limits to her indulgences.

Which reminds me of a previous post. In the sixties I was cycling home from London to our cheerless flat in Stoke Newington and saw a chalked-up sign: “Polish eggs, 1s 10d a dozen.” (That’s about 10p now.) I bought a dozen and asked Mrs BB to make me a dozen-egg omelette – a lifetime’s ambition. She refused but after much pleading finally conceded an eleven-egg omelette. Even now I still feel incomplete.

WORKS WELL, DOESN’T LOOK WELL. The plug for our kitchen sink can, if inserted skew-whiff, jam in the hole, requiring huge efforts to yank it free. The original chain broke long ago and my solution, as always, followed the principle: If it does the job who cares about the aesthetics? Mrs BB uses it under sufferance

BIKE PROGRESS My present bike, a nondescript, non-sporting job that cost about £200, nevertheless incorporates a feature that was a luxury item fifty years ago. That’s a quick-release hub which means I can take out the front wheel without resorting to spanners. Alas, for a variety of reasons, there’s no QR for the rear wheel. Guess which tyre is always the one that punctures.
Novel progress 10/2/10. Ch. 14: 3833 words. Chs. 1 - 13: 58,239 words. Comments: Clare transformed, steps into the future

Friday, 5 February 2010

Wheels come off wingéd chariot

Some venerable sayings avoid being clichés because of their bitterness. One such is French: Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait (If youth knew (how to), if old age were able (to)). The likely reference is copulative but not exclusively so. The sentiment plays on all regrets about age. In an up-to-date variant a young man wants an open sports car but can’t afford it, now older, he can afford it but can’t bear the risk of being rained on.

My personal variant is banal but the bitter echo rings loud, hideously out of tune. When we first bought a house we were poor and I was forced to do much (incompetent) DIY. This included drilling into brick walls for which carbon-tipped masonry bits were necessary. Because I was not only poor but lazy I continued using these bits after they’d become blunt. Which meant holes took longer to drill and the bits got even blunter.

Once, I just kept on drilling. The bit became red hot and the carbon tip, which fits like toast into a single-slice toast rack at the end of the bit, dropped out. A shocking condemnation of one who now pontificates about understanding and claiming to sympathise with aspects of technology.

Now glance at my drill-related accessories. All the masonry bits I’ll ever need with lots more besides. Even those circular saw devices for cutting large holes, which I’ve often yearned for. But there’s one thing wrong. Look again. They’re all virginal. A complete collection for work I no longer do. The French had me typed all those years ago.

Novel progress 6/2/10. Ch. 14: 1267 words. Chs. 1 - 13: 58,239 words. Comments: Into the mouth of the unknown for Clare.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Getting to the heart of the matter

Fed up with motorbikes, kitchen utensils and public urinals I baited my hook with technology and cast a line into River Google. A massive tug brought this to the surface:
“… there is nothing too technological about the true essence of technology, as Heidegger has shown that technology's ultimate essence resides in a rather poetic dwelling near the truth of Being.”


Novel progress 4/2/10. Ch. 14: 869 words. Chs. 1 - 13: 58,239 words. Comments: Roof repairs for Clare.

Mrs BB's reading progress: On January 25 I asked her how many titles she'd read in 2010. the answer was 24.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

News from the other side of the fence

Since six out of my ten links are women this post should prove esoterically instructive. My subject is public urinals, following a visit to one equipped with a twee little bowl for three-year-olds. Hygienic chinaware is not an obvious cause of poignancy yet this was my reaction, possibly influenced by Blake in the latest and last of The Guardian’s poetry booklets.

The bowl was unpatronised and forlorn, coming as it did at the end of a line of higher and wider orifices for adults. Its tininess spoke of latent persecution. Little child what ails thee? I imagined myself saying to a crying infant whose tears were providing an additional libation to more conventional fluid flow. That I’m here and not on remand confirms I kept this sentiment to myself.

Public urinals are not really for little boys. Some are so austere as to discourage the function for which they are provided. Jugoslavia in 1965 led the world in causing men – in extremis up to that moment – to ask whether they were really capable of discharging their obligations there and then. The most luxurious evacuation I experienced was underground in Germany where there were back-lit niches containing men’s toiletries and an impeccably groomed sixty-year-old Wagnerian lady to receive my pfennigs. There may have been carpets.

Once urinals were flushed by a cistern and ball-cock arrangement. Now some are flushed immediately in response to that which has just happened. This is both abrupt and accusatory. Protection against unwanted splashing is not best served by bowls; stainless steel troughs found in the more rudimentary sports changing rooms are far more effective but have a dismal industrial look. Unlikely to attract a sonnet.

Novel progress 3/2/10. Ch. 14: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 13: 58,239 words. Comments: Roof falls in on Clare but it's not the expected roof.