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

Monday, 31 May 2010

The greatest spectator sport

Hay Festival, Woodstock of the Mind according to Bill Clinton, who spoke here several years ago, continues to throw pearls before swine.

As Chief Swine I fell in love with the interpreter to the last three French presidents, explored the Credit Crunch with Mrs Moneypenny of The Financial Times, watched Kazuo Ishiguro discourse gravely on his latest novel (?) Nocturnes, received instructions on being a philosopher from A. C Grayling, was disappointed by Lord Robert Winston on the downsides of science and am now waiting to hear the editor of The Guardian interview Harry Evans former editor of The Sunday Times. More follows.

The star turn was a double-header in which a steely lawyer, Philippe Sands, interviewed first Sir Jeremy Greenstock, former British ambassador to the UN, then Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, present French ambassador to the UK, both involved in the build-up to the Iraq war. The irrestible force meeting two immovable objects as Sands relentlessly yet politely questioned two of the world’s foremost diplomats. You’ve seen all that on telly, you say. Oh no you haven’t.

These weren’t a couple of politicos lying their heads off. In precise words they described how each did everything possible, within their professional remit, to forestall the outbreak of war. Dates, official documents and witness testimony were invoked and the answers arrived in language that was all the more forceful for being emotionless. Judicial theatre at the highest level. Hay – you done it again.

HAY, FINAL DAY (for us). Anthony Beevor: (Stalingrad, Spanish Civil War) How the modern historian works and why the digital age will make things harder. Harold Evans (former Sunday Times editor). Why still-photo journalism matters in this video age; what can and can’t be published. Mike Mansfield (Left-leaning lawyer known for defending unpopular clients). Fuming about that morning’s news re. Israeli attack on aid flotilla. Ian Stewart: An attempt to simplify and popularise maths – total disaster. Martin Evans (Nobel-prize-winning laureate). Why stem cell research matters and what it may lead to.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Man overboard - went willingly

Works Well has suffered. The blog has lacked energy, invention, frequency and entertainment value while its begetter wrestles Laoco├Ân-like with what may be his funerary ornament. That’s enough purple passaging. Readers with stamina may be interested that I’m editing Chapter 15 (out of 22) which includes the parachuted-in single-appearance character who was discussed with Plutarch at the Blogger’s Retreat – an event which itself suffered its own real-life parachuted-in character.

I need something techno, something gloomy. How about the SS France, the Gallic equivalent of the Queen Mary, on which the Bondens floated home after six years in The Land of the Free? A pleasant five-day interlude? Hardly, although things started well. The first lunch came with a litre of red and a litre of white which the Bondens happily consumed. To be faced with a further two litres at dinner four hours later. Too much of a good thing.

Mute in the huge ship’s bowels stood the Bondens’ bolide, a VW Variant drained of its fuel and destined for misfiring problems in the weeks ahead. Also stowed were two steamer trunks and an even larger wooden packing case which was beginning to break up. Our worldly possessions, well in excess of the VW’s capacity. There would be problems on the dock at Southampton.

The France offered many diversions provided you were of an idiotic turn of mind. Bingo for instance. Ping-pong on a table that yawed. The Bondens fought tooth and nail in a claustrophobic cabin. Much later, when comfortably off, the Bondens received travel brochures urging luxury cruises. Both of us would sooner slit our wrists.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Hfd techno-trip

AUTOCRATIC LOO Yesterday we toured a four-star trio (Ledbury, Great Malvern, Pershore) from Simon Jenkins’ England’s Thousand Best Churches . Ledbury is one of seven churches in Herefordshire where the spire or tower is plonked on the ground rather than the roof. Easier to build of course but for no other known reason. However it was the men’s toilet outside the Pershore church that tickled my techno-fancy. A symphony in stainless steel it plays a recording once the door is locked: “Time spent in this toilet is limited. You will be warned when your time allocation is reached.” Despite my curiosity I discharged my affairs with alacrity and was out before the second message was made plain.

WEED WAR Weeds are emerging between the bricks laid on our heartlessly middle-class driveway. I squirted the green shoots with Weedol which promises “visible results within one hour”. That was two hours and a bit ago and I’m damned if my eyes are able to confirm this claim. But I’m not too disappointed. I ponder the possible effect on my hands had Weedol’s aggressiveness been proven.

IN FULL FLOW The feeble flow of hot water into our newly installed hand-basin was not ordained by law as one of the plumber’s fonctionnaires suggested. The main man inspected the dribble and acknowledged it had the power to irritate. After some discussion about “tails” (an essential feature of mixer taps it seems) a replacement was promised. Happily this turned out to be unnecessary. Removing the installed tap revealed that the hot-water tail was choked with rubble. I’m now less likely to cut myself while shaving.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Wasted lives

This was harder than expected. How many clocks do we own? The montage shows eight but I can count nineteen apart from my mechanical Longines which still works but is retired. Some are well hidden - on the two TVs, the desktop and the laptop. Not forgetting the car and the water heater/central heating timer.

When I egged Mrs BB into this audit we also forgot the coffee maker because it’s the silliest and I never bother to set it. And is there one on the printer/scanner/copier? – oh, I can’t be bothered to find out. Only three are real: our wristwatches and the carriage clock which belonged to Mrs BB’s mother (a gift from us) which we inherited.

All these devices relentlessly measuring time, some usefully, others pointlessly. There’s a metaphor here, something to do with not using time profitably. Because we don’t garden, don’t do the cleaning, frequently buy things online and are having the house painted we are seen as great time wasters, especially by those in North America. In the afternoon Mrs BB may be on the couch reading a book. Writing a novel might qualify as work but how about when I break off, stumped, and play solitaire? As gerontocrats we’ve got so little time left. Yet both of us can look at a weed or a spider’s web and not feel a trace of guilt.

THE SHRINKING NOVEL I haven’t completely edited Chapter Eleven (ie, halfway through the MS) yet 5000 words have disappeared. Will I end up with a novella? - defined as a short novel or a substantial short story. Malcom Bradbury cites Heart of Darkness, Metamorphosis, and Death in Venice as “striking modern examples”. I’ll accept the comparison.

More time wasting: a front cover mock-up which will never be used.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Here's a hymn to Hob Brite

This is the Neff hob, bought for hundreds of pounds years ago. Mrs BB swears by it. Thermal reaction is the equal of any gas ring but its inestimable value is its cleanability. No wretched grease-tarnished cast-iron birds nests. Just a quick wipe with a dab of Hob Brite.

When I contemplate shelves of cleaning stuff a word springs to mind – fraud! I refuse to believe there are chemical distinctions between something said to make kitchens sparkle and one which does the same for bathrooms. Hob Brite is the exception. As well as rendering the Neff worthy of Home & Garden it removes heat-lacquered stains inside the oven’s glass door. More remarkable, given the vessel’s pimply orange-skin surface, it cleans the Le Creuset casserole. And the coffee stains in my favourite china mug disappeared in a flash. It could be based on something inimical to human life – sulphuric acid in cream form. But what the hell.

NOVEL EDITING Names. Hatch is Hatch, an immutable. But I see Clare just as clearly and she just isn’t a Lowther (always remembering this is her husband’s surname). Using Word’s find/replace I changed all 36 references to Kepler, the German mathematician, astronomer and (I’m mortified to admit) astrologer. An improvement but somewhat anonymous. Not there yet.

Dialogue. Christopher commented he wasn’t tempted to write novels because dialogue is difficult. I agree. The first awful discovery is that it isn’t spoken English it’s much more rarefied. A spoken sentence may start with “So” or “Well” but not a dialogue sentence. And here’s another

“The magazine hasn’t let you know?” asked Hester.
“No they haven’t. But I do have an interview…”

“No they haven’t.” must go.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Bondens - altruism and self-interest

In a supreme (and horribly expensive) act of altruism the Bondens have, as announced, caused a shower to be installed in their main bathroom. This will meet complaints of shower-loving guests that a pre-existing shower is no use because it is located in the en suite bathroom and gaining access means passing through the Bonden bedroom. Most people prefer not to deal with the Bondens prior to 9 am.

Altruistic because the Bondens never take showers. Mrs BB bathes but follows a routine that is not widely explained. BB himself does not exactly bathe: he runs water, lies in it, reads for an hour, then gets out. This practice has always horrified residents of the North American continent but most are willing to compromise their high hygiene standards. Visits to chez Bonden may run the risk of bacterial infection but there are compensations, as the third part of the montage suggests.

The too-low wash-basin in the en suite has been replaced by a unit strangely resembling a Hammond organ. BB’s vertebral discs are no long at risk. However the nanny state feels it must protect its low IQ citizens from scalding their hands and hot water flow from the mixer tap is down to a dribble, by law it seems.

NOVEL Seven chapters (out of twenty-two) have now been subjected to preliminary editing and many words have taken off into the ether. The experience is salutary. Time after time verbosity takes exactly the same form – even in adjacent paragraphs. To edit one’s own stuff is an exercise in self-humiliation.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Fly on wall reports

BLOGGER’S RETREAT, yesterday. The Newport-Paddington leg of my inward journey lasted two hours, just time to write the following but without refurbishment.

To call him square as once a Frenchman did
Was slanderous - he had a baby’s lines.
His stomach made an unrestrained bid
To match his mango cheeks and, from the vines,
Sketched on his nose, hung sweetish rosebud lips.
Sine-curved, his textiled bulk and mincing hand
Moved primly on well-polished tripping tips
Proclaiming rosbif in an alien land.
And on his head a condign, bulbous crown
An overarching stroke to this cartoon,
A melon, bowler, derby, curved surround,
The perfect stigma for a male balloon.
Basil, a herb, a feature of Red Square
Deserves affection more than I can spare.

The subject is (was? – de mortuis…) a mutual acquaintance of fifty years ago and I was able to read the sonnet to Plutarch as the champagne was being opened. Afterwards, chicken bhuna, chicken korma, poppadums, several chutneys, two types of curried vegetable and a pint of Kingfisher each.

An agenda had been prepared (P’s reponses in italics): Is my delight in inserting multi-syllabic words in sonnet lines justifiable? (It’s old-fashioned.). I worry about my verse being unintentionally obscure. (Fight hard against this. Aim for clarity. And yet...) Can vivid scenes in the novel be used to disguise lack of plot momentum? (In a word, yes. But it depends on the vividness.)

Because I offered it hypothetically P spent some time on “Is it legitimate to parachute in a character for a single scene and not to refer to him/her again?” P gave a qualified yes but urged me to consider later indirect references. However a woman at an adjacent table, who’d been listening, said very firmly: “Yes, the author is king.”

Instead of going the short way (ie, over Waterloo Bridge) to the pub in Roupell Street we went down Fleet Street and examined the Blackfriars Bridge – Embankment intersection to check the geography of the most crucial scene in the novel. At Roupell Street, two pints of Breakspear each; discussed Lucy's prepositional infinitive. P gave me The Penguin Book of German Verse and lent me The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Question of etiquette

Good conversation is like Pass the Parcel – in reverse. The parcel gets bigger. Good conversation rewards because the benefits are not foreseen. But is it mechanistic, even heartless, to consider a tiny bit of planning?

This is serious. On Wednesday I meet Plutarch at the Blogger’s Retreat and I am conscious I failed to take full advantage of our last encounter. There were just too many topics I wanted to discuss. I raised an important point, ravished it somewhat and then passed on. I was impatient and eventually breathless. Not Plutarch’s fault; he’s politer than I am.

This time there are four vital subjects. For me, that is. I don’t have the flexibility of mind to allow for Plutarch having his own agenda. I fear it is, to some extent, sauve qui peut. Would it be impossibly anal of me to conduct a form of chairmanship in my head; to look at my watch and say “That’s twenty-seven minutes spent on Pretentious Versification. Round-up in ten minutes.”

I hear voices as far away as Virginia and Prague telling me it’s a horrible idea, that I should be open, spontaneous, gracious and all the other qualities that a West Riding upbringing did not equip me for. But don’t forget the Graham Greene moment – the ice chip at the writer’s heart. Plutarch may go back to TW feeling he’s attended the Unite annual meeting. But he’s got a blog to attend to. And he’ll have new material.

NOTE: The above men are younger than Plutarch or me (or I).

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Dogged to death by data

I blog for fun, I run the Belmont Rural website as a Sisyphean labour. Beforehand I edited the quarterly Belmont Voice for three years and it generated a parish-wide storm of apathy. When I closed the mag to start the website the parish, collectively, burst into tears. “Too late you inert bastards,” I said to myself.

That was five years ago. Website progress was glacial. I interviewed people, learned to unknot Dreamweaver and nobody cared. More recently I started blogging, then resumed the novel. At a time when I could have usefully closed the site it took off. Now emails pour in keeping me away from novel revision. I flew a kite about whether Belmont Rural deserved to endure and, alas, I got lots of email support.

With projects like these it pays to take a long-term view. I started Voice because I was a retired journalistic smartyboots and wanted to wipe the face of my neighbours. Amazingly it attracted advertising which allowed the parish council, who financed the printing and distribution, to cut their budget. Reader response (other than the aforementioned bout of sobbing) was zilch and I found myself on a treadmill of deadlines.

Websites aren’t governed by deadlines and there was the technical attraction of starting up from nothing. However, once websites become popular they can overwhelm you. This morning, when I should have been carving Chapter Three (which some of you have read in its embryonic form) into something more readable and which is as hard as anything I’ve ever done, I had to break off and instruct a website emailer on verse scansion so that his “poetic” contributions didn’t grind my teeth.

Like WW I contain multitudes and they’re getting me down.

Editing progress: May 2, 2010. Rather alarming. Untouched, the MS totalled 99,407 words. After four chapters this has shrunk to 97,964. If this slash-and-burn average is maintained the total will drop to 92,204. You may well ask why I wrote all this unnecessary stuff anyway.