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, 25 September 2010

You don't know him but he's a giant

I sing of one of my heros, but only Sir Hugh will catch the echo. Walter Bonatti (still alive) is one of the hardest and certainly the greatest pioneer of long classic rock routes typically near Mont Blanc. Let’s talk Le Grand Capucin (left), let’s talk West Face of the Dru (right). Being Italian he favoured the direttissima way, straight up, ignoring comforting gulleys and easier ridges. Often these 3000 ft faces involved as many as five bivouacs, dangling from a piton with his feet over the abyss while Alpine night tried to turn his blood to stone. He writes vividly and includes important technical detail. Extracts of his greatest climbs, in a new translation, appear in The Mountains of My Life. My feeble tribute.

ODD AND CLEAR Our local library in the community centre is guarded by a new CCTV system. Unlike the fuzzy clips on TV news these are in colour and as sharp as a Hasselblad viewfinder. A centre manager offers a testimonial: “You see strange things around the centre at night.”

ADD NOT SUBTRACT Helped Mrs BB in an act of faith by planting bulbs that will emerge as flowers in the Spring. My sole reward is I’m always surprised when this happens. “Make holes 2 – 3 in. deep so that the bulbs are covered,” she says. This proves quite difficult but not for Mrs BB. She achieves the requisite depth by merely adding a layer of compost. The difference between a garden expert and a garden innocent.

ILLUSION Planted bulbs must be watered – even I know this. I switch the hose to Fierce Jet to fill the watering can. This may not do the job any quicker than the spray setting but it sounds as if it does. A drumming violence.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

And all the rest is just talk

Conversation is rare and I travel afar – to The Blogger’s Retreat and beyond – to search it out. But what am I searching for? Well, for a start, conversation avoids the obvious. Material topics are allowed but abstract ones are better. Shared humour is essential. Both those taking part must know something the other does not. Conversation is distant from argument. It nurtures the unexpected. It may contain but not massage an ego. It should not depend on a good education. The participants must practice allusion. Conversation is basically good-humoured. It can go on for hours.

You know you’re having a good one when, after three pints of beer, you’re bursting for the loo but cannot bear to break off. Conversationt is rare, as I said. It is evanescent though it may survive in hurried – usually inadequate - notes. It represents the more or less selfless entwining of two spirits and can briefly convince you that mankind is worthwhile.

SCAN-DALOUS My reaction to the recent beatification of Cardinal Newman is best summarised by the German throwaway: Es ist mir einerlei, the basis of Rhett Butler’s valediction to Scarlett. But before Newman became a Roman Candle he was CofE and wrote a hymn, Praise to the Holiest in the Height. He was thought to be an intellectual - the nose proclaims it - so how come the lines (inexplicably absent from my Songs of Praise):

Unharmed upon the eternal rock
The eternal city stands

don’t scan? I speak as a debutante versifier, toiling in the vineyards, looking for light. And don’t give me “th’eternal” as an excuse.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A moral query and a small milestone

Talking to my neighbour Andy about the Battle of Britain I found he was a WW2 planes nut. As I am. He lent me treasured books on the subject, saying I’d be astonished by their prices. - two cost 15 shillings each, £0.75 these days. But it was their narrow-margin pages and occasionally indistinct pix that evoked those distant days; even in 1961 publishers were mean with paper. I’ve raised this subject before. Is it legitimate to idolise engines of destruction? Andy says if you lived through the war as a child (I did, he didn’t), fearing oblivion and buoyed up by very clever British propaganda perhaps it’s understandable if not forgivable.

Did you know what was the fastest piston-engine plane ever produced in the UK? The Supermarine Spiteful, of course.

ENDLICH Following Plutarch’s Homeric 1700-word final assessment the novel, Gorgon Times, is finished. It is possibly an unpopular story, but I wanted to tell it and I enjoyed every moment, even the endless revisions. The greatest pleasure came from details, even page-long scenes, which popped up unforeseen as if there were some delightful conspiracy between my conscious and subconscious mind. It is the best novel I’ve written which doesn’t of course mean it’s any good. Plutarch has been very kind (“driven as much by sentiment as moral sense” which made me proud) and others, presently reading the MS, may give me a hint or two.

One strange experience. Revising it for the nty-nth time I came upon a deliberately emotional scene near the end and my throat tightened – BB the author manipulating BB the reader! Jilly Cooper, not one of my touchstone authors, says the same thing happened to her. I should add she was reading her most recent novel, not mine.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Cobblestones from the Czech Republic

LOST IMAGES The half-a-dozen photos I took in Prague with my mobile phone appear to be irretrievable (hence improvisation above). Damn technology. The only shot I miss occurred in a restaurant where I ordered Grandmother’s Leek and Potato Soup in a Bread Bowl. And that’s how it came – soup contained in a hollowed-out disc-shaped loaf. Was I supposed to eat the loaf as well? The waiter shrugged dismissively.

MEMORIALS? In Paris and London history caught up long ago; in Prague it’s still being written. At the city’s Museum of Communism a film prefaces the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Slightly older versions of the youths being cracked on the head by the security forces (“Don’t hit women,” one of them shouts) are to be seen on today’s streets, free if not gilded with life’s luxuries. On those same streets magnificent fin de siècle terraces are interspersed with dirigiste egg-boxes imposed by the then Soviet masters. Should they be torn down or left as mementoes of the country’s second imprisonment after the Nazis?

NOT IN THE ROOM Our hotel is called Design Hotel Elephant. And why not? But I’d like to rearrange the words.

TITANIA’S DRINK Sitting in a rapaciously priced Old Town bar waiting for the clock tower to reveal its wonders (disappointing – the homunculi don’t emerge) we order Rose Drink (0.1 l of rose (not rosé) wine, strawberries, mint, rose petals, water) because it costs a mere £0.75. “A nice summer drink,” says Mrs BB. She’s right.

A TOUR AVOIDED From the same bar I see a tourist office decorated externally with large gilt words apparently alluding to the events of 1989: DILIGENTIA – DIGNITATIS – MEMORES – OPTIMA INTENTI. The last two worry me. Aren’t they paving stones on the road to Hell?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Brothers betrayed by toilet paper

A decade ago rational members of the wider Bonden family urged me and my two brothers to see more of each other. It was, they said, what normal relations did. Thus began a series of orgies at Good Food Guide restaurants all over the country leading to enormous credit-card debt. Last weekend we spent three nights at the remote lodge of a lairdish castle south-west of Oban (ie, in Scotland)

We self-catered our dinners, or rather Sir Hugh did while Brother X (who is not of the blogging community) and I washed up. The place names alone suggest what an alien part of the British Isles we had strayed into: close to an exhilarating cart-track short cut we passed through Ardanstur, Brother X (a long-time yachtist) looked fondly at a Rassy 29 at the Craobh Haven marina, we contemplated but rejected using the ferry to the island of Luing.

We did take the 150 m ferry crossing to a tiny island with the disappointingly anglicised name of Easdale but the disappointment was purely linguistic. In the pub a half-lobster salad cost £13.95 and a salad based on five giant crab claws £6.95.

There were downsides. To Brother X’s outrage we were vouchsafed a mere four or five sheets of toilet paper each – the potential for a genuine anti-social crisis since none of us had brought this normally ignored but ultimately vital commodity. Also Brother X was never able to rest easy about the quality of wine he’d brought. He castigated his Bordeaux as “similar” and refused to be comforted by the excellence of a Meursault and a 2001 Bordeaux with a volatile bouquet that suggested a genuinely mature claret.

More on Prague (its food, beer, text messages, trams, etc) to follow.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Text, with added value

Unlike Rick who came to Casablanca for the waters (Police Chief: But there are no waters here. Rick: I was misinformed.) the BBs came to Prague to hear/see opera and were not misinformed. Good music at half London prices. The initial target of four had to be cut down to Figaro (fine ensemble in small Estates Theatre with limited onstage resources) and Magic Flute (State Opera House; directorial flaws; first-rate Papageno and Pamina). A marionette version of Don Giovanni was avoided, possibly due to prejudice.

In the daytime we were guided electro-magnetically by Julia who enhanced her Prague Polymath status. Discouraged by Sunday crowds at the Castle we accepted her default and stared tranquilly at the handwritten conductor’s score of Beethoven Five in nearby Lobkowski Palace. The following day, as a further antidote to excess humanity, a text (Julia texts as naturally as breathing, but much more quickly) directed us to an all-embracing cliff-top view of the Vltava and an adjacent cemetery containing Dvorak, Smetana, Capek and Neruda.

Tomorrow again, as we stood bemused by a string of cubist Picassos at the National Gallery another text arrived at midday suggesting we lunch at the Bohemian Bagel “just across the road”.

Text-Julia is witty, sympathetic and ever on tap. Real-life, three-dimensional Julia offers fiercely fast conversation driven by enthusiasm over a Wikipedia range. Unsurprisingly polymathic, of course, but she listens with equal intensity and that’s unbeatable. And her husband answered my bedevilled question about Henry James in a couple of gentle and concise sentences. The best holidays are not architecture but people over dinner.