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 March 2010

Not just wings and white robes

I know not, oh I know not, what joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory, what bliss beyond compare.

The hymn-writer is vague about heaven which isn’t surprising since, as a friendly and tolerant Catholic told me “we may not know the mind of God”. But we may use our imagination. In fact we must, otherwise heaven is simply earth without ageing and financial problems. Here are some of my secular heavens.

A warm person-free passage of sea over a coral reef where, as I swim, I recall every piece of music I have ever heard, give it its exact name, split it into movements where these exist, and play the best versions extant in my head.
The moment when I realised how a graph showing the characteristics of a thermionic valve (a hysteresis curve) matched the associated maths AND having Auden write a vilanelle describing this.
Travelling back to a geography lesson at Bradford Grammar School, seizing the master, trussing him and thrashing him with a red-hot riding crop, requiring him simultaneously to recite Paradise Lost.
Revisiting in our Scirocco a gorge on the Loire full of early morning September mist with Brendel playing the Andante Favori on the tape player AND being able to repeat this experience without it ever palling.
Needing a couplet to end a Shakespearean sonnet, seeing its shape dimly ahead and knowing it’s excavatable. Calling in Auden again.
Watching a fifties film noir, Flaxey Martin, where the star, the gorgeous Virginia Mayo, is suddenly transformed and is able to act.
Attending a church service based on a form of Christianity which retains the morality, the beauty and the narrative power of the New Testament but ditches the mysticism (resurrection, etc), the sado-masochism of Calvary and the omnipotence of Jahweh. Music by JSB
HELL follows (and will probably be more fun).

Novel progress 1/4/10. Ch. 19: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 18: 82,369 words. Comments: Hatch and Hester - the past is another country.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Another milestone passed (reluctantly)

Imagine I’d lost a little finger or the lobe of an ear. Given what I know of you all I’d be granted some sympathy. Imagine something worse but perhaps too esoteric for sympathy.

Twice a week I visit a private pool and swim a mile. Because I swim crawl my head is regularly underwater and my sense of direction is hampered. My windmilling hands could touch another swimmer, unforgivable since most are women. To halve the risks I try to ensure I swim adjacent to the poolside (There are two pools so I have four opportunities). Other serious swimmers favour this reduced-risk lane and there is competition.

Over the years I have adopted stratagems to obtain this lane but it’s becoming a lottery, especially with the onset of summer. There is something else. As I get older I am more susceptible to stress. And this situation – despite its apparent triviality – is stressful. On the night before my apprehensions grow, in bed my stomach churns. As I drive to the pool I feel sick, a sensation which continues as I swim. This morning I felt I might vomit as I swam. As I drove back I decided that this had been my last mile.

Simple. One must accept old age. Age ended my ski-ing for physical reasons. But here the restrictions are psychological and swimming is something I do reasonably well. It is halfway between the terrestrial and the celestial, translucent and remote. The exercise is good for me but not the rest. I’ll swim in the sea when I’m able and in the pool in France. But not twice a week.

Novel progress 26/3/10. Ch. 18: 773 words. Chs. 1 - 17: 77,929. Comments: Clare in all her glory.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

BB and his womanly tendencies

“Women have handbags. Men have jackets.” is how Plutarch concluded an encomium to his corduroy garment. Pockets support this assertion and Plutarch certainly needs them to store his ever present camera, his ever more present notebook, his Swiss Army knife, the complete Ovid, chewing tobacco and much else.

In which case I fear I must join the ladies. I do have a jacket but I wear it only at light-hearted funerals involving basket-work coffins and Pink Floyd on the CD player. For two or three decades my essentials have been carried in a series of shoulder-bags, each shifting nearer and nearer to the ideal. The current one, a gift from my elder daughter, is made of something like canvas and straightaway meets the first criterion: exterior dimensions at least 10% larger than a sheet of A4 paper.

The larger of two inner compartments holds my wallet, my cheque-book, my coin purse and nothing else. The smaller my mobile phone and two pens, all in integral holsters. The outer flap contains nothing, that at the rear reveals a tiny bit more about me. An address book, Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2008, a street map covering Hereford, Ross-on-Wye, Ledbury and Leominster, instruction manuals for the phone, and a 17-page catalogue of my 600 – 700 collection of CDs which requires updating.

Why the wine book? Because I’m weak on Italian and Spanish wines. Why the CD catalogue? Because I can’t remember which Haydn symphonies and string quartets I own and this equips me for impulsively bought special offers. Anyone stealing this bag would look inside and reckon me to be a dull old dog. True. That’s why I blog.

PS: That's Mrs BB's hand.

Novel progress 24/3/10. Ch. 17: 4676 words. Chs. 1 - 16: 73,302. Comments: Clare even more alone.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Why God made Englishmen

The Breton Duet, posted a week or so ago, was full of gobbledook and left its author somewhat ashamed. The following is an attempt to make it up to at least one of the dedicatees.

Sonnet – c. Aphrodite, b. Zeus, 92.9 Megamiles

In early time and space a full-length ball,
Sensing the growing pull of gravity,
Broke to the off and went elliptical
Spawned twenty-twenty times depravity.
But cricket will outlive this godlike jest
Partaking as it does of physics’ might
Electrons spin like Dyed-Hair at his best
Rotation is the heart of subtle flight.
Consider this: the ball’s two hemispheres,
One rough, one smooth, each passing through the air,
Swinging to churn the facing batsman’s fears,
A heavy burden on his strokeplay flair.
To this equation add the moment when
Tangential ball and pitch deceive again.

NOTE. Nothing in this, I’m afraid, for anyone resident in North America. Alas I shot my bolt with baseball over a year ago.

Novel progress 22/3/10.Ch. 17: 3178 words. Chs. 1 - 16: 73,302. Comments: Clare publicised.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Can gears be sexy (but brief)?

In inviting comment on a problem in the novel, I reduced the question to that of a principle or a technique. What I hadn’t made clear (to avoid complications) was that the passage was short, it fitted into a chapter several thousands words long and couldn’t be hugely expanded just to animate the problem. I took in suggestions where I could and, for what it’s worth, here’s the result. Hatch is speaking to other employees in a TV production company.

At three he faced half a dozen Gamester employees, all younger than him, all shabbily dressed, all incapable of sitting upright. “This is a techno-test based on understanding gears. The contestant arranges a sequence of gears - a gear-train - on this frame. If she’s done the arithmetic and got it right she turns this wheel here at the bottom a full 360 degrees and gets the necessary result on the sixth gear at the top.”

He paused, “I know ‘result’ sounds vague but I’ve been learning how to dumb down. My first idea was that the bottom and top wheels could be clock faces. That way two o’clock became, say, four o’clock. But it wasn’t dumb enough. Now I prefer the correct result being flagged as ‘Bingo’ in a panel. Or whatever.

“So, that’s what the viewer sees. The contestant does her sums, puts the gear-wheels in the right order, twiddles the bottom gear and ‘Bingo’. The arithmetic is simple and it’s based on the number of teeth per wheel. Plus one other factor. Can anyone guess?”

No one spoke. Hatch said, “I take it you all did eng-lit at uni. I can demo it, though cardboard wheels aren’t perfect.” Hatch slotted two wheels on to the frame so their rims touched. “I now turn the bottom wheel clockwise and you notice this drives the second wheel. But the second wheel turns – wait for it - anti-clockwise! That complicates the arithmetic a little and the contestant must take it into account.”

A long-haired woman in a kaftan said, “That point should be made clear for viewers. It’s got a low-grade woo-factor.”

“I’m glad you told me,” said Hatch, grinning. “Something terribly complicated that can only be understood by scientists?”
Novel progress 18/3/10.Ch. 17: 2653 words. Chs. 1 - 16: 73,302. Comments: Clare unhappy at home.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The sausage fork - an update

Sausages curl when fried, making it difficult to brown them on four sides. The Bonden Sausfork, knocked up at a cost of £15 by a local fabricator, solves the problem. The sausages are slid longitudinally on to the fork tines; no extra piercing is needed since the sausages already have a hole at each end. To rotate the sausages use a pair of wooden spatulas.

The Sausfork shown is Version 2. It differs from Version 1 in that the tines are wide enough apart to take bratwursts. Should one brown four sides? From a gustatory point of view, possibly not. Aesthetically it’s essential. Take-up is unlikely to be dramatic. Virtually everyone who comments on Works Well already has too many kitchen appliances.

WANT TO WRITE A NOVEL? Then you could face this sort of problem. Hatch, at a moment which will change his career and (if I feel like it) his life, designs and creates a fairly simple mechanical system. The system’s components, their function and their raison d’etre are open to scrutiny by the plot. Should I describe the system in detail so that the reader understands it fully (and thereby risk inserting a passage that could have been ripped from an instruction manual) or take an arty-flighty approach which may leave the reader in the dark? The answer is I should be writing about a poet or a teacher rather than a production engineer.

Novel progress 17/3/10.Ch. 17: 2299 words. Chs. 1 - 16: 73,302. Comments: Clare admits to a dark side.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Dedication plays away

Strictly come dancing (Breton duet)
Dedicated to Lucy and Tom
“My dear why don’t I mull some wine? Our Mol
Is bored and I’ve suppressed a thousand yawns.”

“You’ve had your Dowland, now let’s both enthrall
To streams of photons from Cartesian dawns.”

“My dear I’m neutron-mad, I learnt from you.
I am your wife, no mass, but critical.”

“But too naïve so take the vector view
Embracing targets algometrical.”

“My dear, these shining shells, these angled arms
Don’t sing to me of Werner’s certainties.”

“And yet in mining grace from physics’ charms
You ditch the maths and seek analogies.”

“My dear, but tell me where’s the parallel
With made-up faces and a sliding gait?”

“The face, uncertain, is the particle
The slide its even more uncertain state.”

“My dear - ” “Dear wife it’s time to mull the wine,
Heat the Bourgueil, not the blest Lafite
While I sit mulling on an endless line
Eight on its side, so hard and yet so neat.”

NOTE: Colours have no politico-significance

Novel progress 13/3/10.Ch. 17: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 16: 73,302. Comments: After re-reading and editing Ch. 16 I shrank it from 6037 words to 5674 words.

Penalties of being an art-film fan

A recent sequence of great visual and aural experiences, all involving sub-titles. The Life of Others (film, BBC4 - East Germany during the Stasi days), The White Ribbon (film, Hereford’s Borderline Film Festival – Germany prior to WW1, another masterpiece by Michael Haneke, director of Hidden and The Piano Teacher), St Matthew Passion (triumphant all-star version in Birmingham conducted by His Majesty Rattle), Departures (film, Borderline – Japan, put together like a Fabergé egg, moving, profound, funny).

Sub-titles can be burden on TV. When, say, the story is told against snowy landscapes the technicians contrive a black background to the letters to make things easier. But with Wild Strawberries the alternating scenes of sunlight and shadows (Another Bergman film?) make this impossible and words are lost. Solution: watch the film several times (it’s worth it) until the dialogue is memorised.

If you know the original language sub-titles are fun. With French I am astonished at the compression achieved in the translation. With German the fun comes from first reading the English and waiting for the spoken past participle at the end of the sentence. The Bach sub-titles are put up by someone who can read a score to correspond with what is being sung and to avoid repetitions.

THE NOVEL – TECHNO BIT With over 70,000 words written I am, of course, backing up. I use a Zip disc which looks like a larger, thicker floppy but stores 100 MB. One thing I can’t understand. If I’m halfway through a chapter the newer, longer file over-writes the shorter, previously recorded file and a pop-up identifying the two files asks me if this is OK. But sometimes the new file is smaller than the earlier file. How can that be?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Quart into a pint pot

In Search of Beethoven, seen on hard seats in Ross-on-Wye parish church hall, lasts 2 hr 19 min, and covers LvB’s life and fifty of his major works. So, typically, four bars of the Spring Sonata fades to voiceover. But good stuff from the pianists.

Ronald Brautigan. (1) Plays two bars of dense complexity LvB showed to teacher Haydn. “I can’t play that, I just can’t play that.”
(2) “Why is Für Elise so popular?” Plays first line. “It’s not one of his best pieces. You play it two or three times and it gets irritating.”
Emmanuel Ax. (1) “Beethoven is very good at repeating single notes.” Plays same note six times and, lo! the first movement of the Fourth Concerto is triggered in your mind.
(2) Plays a complicated descending cadenza from a middle sonata. “But that wasn’t how Beethoven marked the fingering. It was supposed to be played by the right hand alone. No pianist can do that. Why did he write it that way? Because he could play it with one hand and to get up the noses of those who couldn’t.”
Paul Lewis. Detail in late sonata, possibly Hammerklavier. “Here’s a 27-note (ie, quite short) passage. You might be tempted to play it as a phrase.” Does so; sounds lovely. “But no. Look here on the score. A four-note phrase within those 27 notes.” Plays it; quite different. “It’s meant to hint at fatigue. Very hard to play.”

Barrett Bonden. The movie ends with the Grosse Fuge string quartet. This demanding but deeply satisfying work was the seventh or eighth LP I ever bought. As I played it my brother (a Charlie Parker fan) sat on the stairs and listened. “What was that?” he asked, astonished, afterwards

Novel progress 10/3/10. Ch. 16: 5525 words. Chs. 1 - 15: 67,628 words. Comments: Hatch emerges.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The computer bites back

I went slightly bonkers when computers were introduced (for word processing then for DTP) at my magazine. The benefits were such it is clear I rhapsodised too much about them chez Bonden. Mrs BB avoided the infection and only agreed to receive a laptop some fifteen years later. In the intervening two years she has used it regularly but conservatively.

Those who approve of poetic justice will enjoy hearing the gift has rebounded on me. Take birthday presents. Given our age neither of us hangs about once a need is identified; we go ahead and buy. Marking Mrs BB’s birthday, now only days away, has always been difficult since Hereford is not Regent Street. But the Internet gave me an edge. Not now though. Mrs BB forestalls me by impulse-buying on her own behalf.

Second. Should the laptop go on holiday to the Languedoc villa in June? No, we all agreed; we’ll never be off the damn thing. But time after time last year facts – maddening in their immediacy – needed to be verified, checked or investigated. When my desktop was the only available computer the question didn’t arise. This year the insidious Hewlett Packard may keep me out of the pool.

SONGS OF PRAISE poetry primer
A man that looks on glass/On it may stay his eye
Or if he pleases through it pass/And then the heaven espy.
The exploding metaphor

All may of Thee partake/Nothing could be so mean
Which with this tincture "for thy sake"/Would not grow bright and clean.
Whence came the quotes?

Christian, up and smite them/Counting gain not loss.
Muscular accountancy

Herod then with fear was filled;/“A prince,” he said, “in Jewry!”
All the little boys he killed/At Bethlem (sic) in his fury.
Steady hand on the bathos tiller

Novel progress 6/3/10. Ch. 16: 3422 words. Chs. 1 - 15: 67,628 words. Comments: Hatch starts earning his crust.