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

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Improvements need to be bought

Dateline: 28/4/10. Cinderford, Gloucs. Freed from pounding out the novel I return to my roots. The comments will fall away but I took up blogging to fill in a techno-void. Rhyming couplets are OK but nuts and bolts hold things together.

My four-year-old car is here at Winner’s Garage for only its second scheduled service which will cost at least £800 (actually £768.83). There’s nothing wrong but they’ll be replacing the cam-belt (the cogged strip that snakes round the gears in the pic) which means pulling the front of the engine to bits.

The belt drives the camshaft which opens and closes the valves to admit fuel and allow exhaust fumes to escape. In olden times (still the case with some large US engines) the shaft was buried in the engine and valve contact was by rackety push-rods. Now the shaft sits on top of the cylinder and is rotated via a plastic belt. Much more precise, greater engine efficiency, but at a price. Over time the belt stretches and the tensioners no longer tension. Left to its own devices the belt may slip a cog or break, a valve no longer synchronised touches the piston and excessive derangement ensues. A replacement engine for my car costs over £2000.

Nothing comes for nothing. An overhead cam engine is a great improvement on a push-rod engine but plastic belts don’t last for ever; similarly with chain drives. Sounds like a conspiracy, doesn’t it? Meanwhile the world waits for an eternal belt.

Monday, 26 April 2010

A giant step for WfW

Novel: started in early October, finished today. Last chapter (4992 words) plus the previous 21 chapters comes out at 99,407 words. Say 320 words to the book page and I have a 310-page book. “Finished” is a nonsense. There are weeks of editing at all levels. I do not know how it reads end to end, whether it is has rhythm, vitality, surprises and all those intangibles whereby a string of words becomes a novel. Most important, do my two precious creations live?

The blog suffered. In defence, much blog stuff appears in the book which follows two people working in manufacturing industry and – unfashionably and possibly indigestibly – there is much engineering detail. Whether it finds a publisher or not, or whether I publish it as a vanity project, it discharges an obligation I feel towards engineers. They are my heroes and I feel bitterly that so few people give a toss about them.

The plot outline changed. The second main character eventually occupied half the story and chapters intertwined. Eventually the characters meet for a final chapter intended as an elegy of their professional concerns and their natures. Only recently I realised the plot structure resembled a rather more famous work – the progress of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus through the dense pages of Ulysses which culminates in Molly Bloom’s wonderful soliloquy. Entirely sub-conscious, I swear.

Along the way I started writing verse but cannot think why. In my opinion writing verse is easier than writing a novel: one is like torturing a beetle, the other like riding a python. This opinion is worthless if it turns out both are done badly.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Cleanliness and delight

The BBs both read through their ablutions and are not shower people. The unused shower is in the en suite and therefore denied to guests. To ensure their cleanliness a shower is being installed over the bath. As the photo shows (awkwardly shot prone on the bathroom floor) further readjustment will be needed since the bath is equipped for readers not showerers.

MORE ABLUTIONARY EXPENSE Imperially I am 6 ft 1½ in. tall; metrically that’s a nigglingly precise 1.8669 m. The en suite hand-basin is 800 mm high, standard for such fitments and well below that part of my body indelicately referred to as my groin or crutch – take your pick. Rinsing my face I must bend down like a croquet hoop. This irritation will shortly be addressed so here’s the “Before” pic.

TOUCHED BY JOY For months the final chapter of the novel (carrying two contrary options) has been clear in my head. But getting there from the penultimate chapter was a blank. I spent three days thinking. An idea and, more important, a technique based on event compression arrived and I rushed upstairs to turn them into words which were a delight to write. Time to rush downstairs to the exercise bike and to plug myself into the Ulysses audio. As luck would have it I’d reached the Castle of the Winds section (officially Aeolus) where Bloom visits the newpaper offices and the text is presented as series of cod news reports topped by headlines – which the actor-reader shouts aloud. Nostalgically hilarious. Double delight so I am twice blest. Bless you all

Novel progress 25/4/10. Ch. 22: 3890 words. Chs. 1 - 21: 94,115 words. Comments: Final third of final chapter remains. Or will it do a Topsy?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The axe, laid aside, is taken up again

In 1951 a five-line paragraph about a jumble sale appeared in a Bradford newspaper and I was paid 1d (one penny) a line for it. That thrill of having work printed has never gone away.

American Ikaros is about Kevin Andrews author of The Flight of Ikaros, described by Patrick Leigh Fermor as “One of the great and lasting books about Greece”. I didn’t write it, Jinks did. I edited it over two years. But what is editing?

Many think it is checking spelling and adding (more likely, taking out) commas. It is of course cutting but it is also deciding not to cut. Jinks chose a structure in which certain chapters stood chronologically outside, and even overlapped, other chapters. Aiming for clarity I was against this; familiarity eventually persuaded me. On the other hand Jinks has an individual tone of voice and cutting ensured it wasn’t obscured.

Editing is an endless dialogue. Here’s part of an email I sent Jinks after receiving my copy: “I tested it by half-closing my eyes, opening it randomly and reading the first passage I encountered - asking whether it could be the work of someone who wrote professionally. It passed this highly subjective test easily.”

I didn’t do this for money, nor because I was attracted by the story which, half-written, arrived as a right old mess. I did it because I knew I could withstand the two-year grind which is something only an editor could appreciate. The half case of burgundy was welcome but not necessary.

MEANWHILE Editing AmIk suggested I should be writing my own stuff. The draft of the novel is 2000 – 3000 words from completion. Then I’ll edit it. Always distrust first efforts as we editors say.

Novel progress 21/4/10. Ch. 21: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 20: 90,849 words. Comments: Final chapter now starts.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Thank goodness for long trousers

Too much self-glorification: the finger-wagging grammarian, the over-competitive swimmer, the shrill polemicist. How about something ignoble? Let’s try varicose veins and their aftermath.

One aftermath is support hose, otherwise elasticated stockings. Made in Switzerland, shaped precisely to fit the calf (to avoid pressure points), costing £36 a pair (but free on the NHS), they are alas essential. Devalved, the veins start acting as sumps, accumulating the blood and fatiguing the legs. Firm containment allows the wearer to walk round museums, the ultimate test. Such hose have been my constant companion since 1978.

They are and must be tight-fitting. When new they are hard to put on. For twenty minutes after a bath, when the skin’s coefficient of friction is mysteriously increased, they are impossible to put on. But there are worse situations. Off Diafani in the Dodecanese I swam early and afterwards needed to re-clad my legs for the rest of the day. But the temperature was in the thirties and my hose exertions caused me to sweat. I tugged to no avail. I needed talcum powder but none was available. The indignity of it all.

I inherited my veins from my dad who also passed on gout. I have blogged about the first op when the anaesthetist cocked things up and I woke up suffocating. The second op was in a day clinic, a quickie. No more surgery is possible.

Novel progress 16/4/10. Ch. 20: 2773 words. Chs. 1 - 19: 85,903 words. Comments: Hatch and Clare (in secret).

Monday, 12 April 2010

Byproducts of Spring

Spring is sprung, the grass is ris.
I wonders where the birdies is.
They say the birds is on the wing.
Ain't that absurd?
I always thought the wing was on the bird.

So says Anon (no it isn’t Ogden Nash nor e.e.cummings). So it’s time to get into the garden and perform familiar acts of self-flagellation. Or should I say it’s time for someone to mortify themselves. Here at Chez Bonden our thoughts are on higher things – literally. Both of us sit at our computers on the first floor and watch our neighbour Brian attack weeds in our garden with self-confessed enthusiasm. Brian will be paid but believe me we have no complaints.

A spring clean-out revealed two items which, like boomerangs, are hard to throw away. It would not only be irresponsible to toss these cutting devices into the dustbin it would be illegal. One of us must transport them to les flics. But that in itself opens up risks; being in possession on the public roads is also illegal. Perhaps I’ll have to use my angle grinder and render them anonymous, like the verse.

The knife dates back to Mrs BB’s dad – a chef – who used it in his kitchen. There’s a touch of sentiment but it’s surplus to requirements. The herb-chopper (I’m sure Lucy will know the French word) looks charming but is being discarded because of its ineffectuality. For one thing it requires a special wooden bowl to work properly. But even then it must bow the knee to a combination of a pair of scissors and grandson Zach’s Melamine drinking cup.

Novel progress 13/4/10. Ch. 20: 913 words. Chs. 1 - 19: 85,903 words. Comments: Hatch bollocked for over-writing.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Both needed - plus a following wind

Julia, preparing to celebrate Bloomsday (June 16 1904), is reading Ulysses “bit by bit” and asks whether I prefer the audio or the printed version. Both. The novel is damnably difficult and I need all the help I can get. The CDs cost £85 so this is a plutocratic assertion but because I shall continue to read it/listen to it until overtaken by idiocy or death the investment is amortised over time (well, I hope so).

There are immediate benefits from the CDs. Jim Norton, the Irish actor who does the reading characterises the voices so Mr Deasy sounds pinched and fussy whereas Buck Mulligan bellows through the Martello tower. Haynes, the Englishman, is a dweeb. But the greatest advantages come during the stream-of-consciousness passages, generally reckoned to be the hardest. When Stephen is pondering “the ineluctable modality of the visible”, and much else, Norton breaks the paragraphs into bite-size chunks which are easier to seize on.

But the printed pages are necessary. Sometimes these aural fancies fly past at speed and you need to re-set the context. Nothing easier when reading, more complicated when a laser is standing in for your eyeballs.

Why read this difficult book? For the same reasons you might read the Odyssey. To grasp the sense of a wearying journey where humans are tested and brought into the comfort of a shared arrival. Ulysses is unbearably moving and Leopold Bloom, with all his imperfections and his much greater humanity, stands hands in pockets in front of me, irrepressibly three-dimensional – make that four-dimensional – as I write. For me the most memorable character in fiction.

Novel progress 11/4/10. Ch. 20: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 19: 85,903 words. Comments: Hatch and Clare - a conversation starts, continues, ends (for now).

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The life unswum

Finding an activity which replaces the two vital elements of length swimming – exercise, zen-like absorption – was never going to be easy. And while I appreciated the sympathy and the suggestions I received I was never in the market for a transformed way of life. Immersed in the late autumn, if not the mid-winter, of my expectations, I devote my day predominantly to writing.

Pro. tem I am back on the exercise bike in the shed, surrounded – ironically – by garden tools. Pure drudgery but it’s over quickly. However, drudgery erodes the mind and some divertissement is necessary. In the past music from the MP3 player worked but now I’m not so sure. Perspiration interrupts continuity. HHB has suggested downloading Melvyn Bragg’s radio programme and I’ll look into that.

As an alternative I have acquired an unabridged audio of “Ulysses” (22 CDs, £85) and a portable player (£10.50) - glad to see the two items correctly valued. But there’s a snag. The tracks are 6 – 7 min. long and the player has no facility for resuming where I break off.

Trying to resolve this I downloaded all 22 CDs to the MP3 player only to discover it “shuffles” the tracks. Many would say how could I tell the difference with Joyce but I’ve read the book three times and I don’t approve of Molly turning up in the Castle of the Winds. The lost ripples of the South Wye Leisure Centre continue to plague me.

Novel progress 10/4/10. Ch. 19: 3016 words. Chs. 1 - 18: 82,369 words. Comments: Hatch and Clare - a conversation starts, continues, ends (for now).

Strong in the leg, weak in the head

It could have been just up my street – a three-part TV series about a Scot who cycled from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentine, climbing on foot the two highest points en route, Mt McKinley and Mt Aconcagua. But by the end I was gibbering.

For one thing he whinged: at the uphills, at the rain, at the wind, at food poisoning, at fatigue. Hey, he’d chosen to do this; it wasn’t my fault. Worse was his commentary. Cycling offers time to prepare the mind, yet he’d have been bereft without “incredible”. He said “This is the most remarkable/impressive/overwhelming sight I’ve seen.” about a dozen times. And at least thrice uttered the traveller’s ultimate indiscretion “indescribable”.

All adventurers looking for a wide audience should be forced to read Eric Newby’s “A short walk in the Hindu Kush” and thereafter practise self-mockery and minimalisation of hardship

WHEREAS… Why should I, an unreconstructed atheist, be glued to another three-parter called “Sacred music”? Well the subject was slightly off the beaten track (it’s not the first thing one associates with Brahms and Bruckner), it was sung a capella by a choir of angels (The Sixteen conducted by Harry Christophers) and it was anchored by someone who had got his tongue in gear, Britain’s greatest actor, Simon Russell Beale. He speaks with quiet urgency and has the ability to be transfixed by beauty. Don’t take my word: Harry let him sing along with the choir. Simon should buy a bike.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Out of the (loop: anag.)

Sonnet – Loss, Easter 2010

Because I am the sum of all I love
I am in mourning for this tiny death
And at the pool which saw my spirit move
Toss on its azure an encoded wreath.
I blame myself, I joined a hard elite,
Embraced an abstract petty discipline
Drawn by a fullfelt ardour to compete
With time and those whose natures could not win.
But I who overtook the frailer souls
Was overtaken by my own desire
A sickness stronger than my fevered goals
Left me land-locked, a hawk outside the gyre.
I’ll not repent, I’ll hear again the roar
Of discharged breath, of voices saying ‘More’

Novel progress 5/4/10. Ch. 19: 572 words. Chs. 1 - 18: 82,369 words. Comments: Hatch and Clare - early days.