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

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The way to field a complaint

Friday, Saturday, Sunday evenings the BBs tope; other nights we drink vaguely healthful Horlicks and peppermint tea. Recently the Horlicks powder was grey rather than beige and tasted of poorly conceived potato soup. Horlicks sent us a pre-paid envelope. Here are extracts from their reply:

“Our Quality Control Lab states the returned sample was found with a burned and damaged foil seal. The most likely cause is it was burnt during the heat induction stage of packing (at our supplier)… causing a burnt plastic/chemical smell. Precautions have been introduced to avoid such incidences.

“Tests (to check that powder meets strict specifications) include sensory (sic!) where trained analysts taste and comment on odour and appearance. Unfortunately this jar was not detected.

“We do carry out trending of complaints… if these come from the same date code, further investigations are carried out… In this case we set up a cross-functional team who identified the root cause. Improvements identified are now in place.”

This seems a model response. The technical fault is described, the failed checking process acknowledged, and the solution (kicking the supplier’s ass) indicated. It presumes intelligence in the customer. However I shall stick to peppermint tea.

MAD BUT GOOD In Cervantes’ 760-page Don Quixote you lose your place. Dialogue is unseparated from the rest, causing endless paragraphs. Otherwise it’s good stuff:

Sancho: “How will you do for victuals when I am gone?”
The Don: “Never let that trouble thy head. For though I had all the dainties that can feast a luxurious palate, I would feed upon nothing but the herbs and fruits which this wilderness will afford me; for the singularity of my present task consists in fasting, and half-starving myself, and in the performance of other austerities.”

Friday, 29 October 2010

A golden era? More like leaden

Bloggers guilty of cynicism, practical jokes, inaccuracy, boasting, intellectual snobbery, phillistinism and ostentation should at least reveal their age, often the reason for these defects. As a regular practitioner of such vices I sought indemnity by including my age in my profile. Blogger has now removed this facility and I feel honour-bound to prove I am of a great age.

My primary school was lit with gas mantles.
Corporal punishment (by hand, ruler, cane and curtain-rod) was administered to pupils’ faces, the back of their necks, the front and back of their hands, their backsides and their thighs at my primary and grammar schools.
Our milk was delivered daily, ladled from a large bucket into my mother’s jug.
Waste metal was collected by a man with a horse-drawn cart.
Once a man appeared in our street (eight houses on either side), took off his cap and, without amplification asked us to vote against Sunday cinemas.
Dead cats abounded in the gutters of the main road.
Cashiers at Lingards, a one-floor department store in Bradford, sat in a central cage on a raised platform. Cash spent at counters travelled to the cashiers on wire-supported containers.
Barges used the Leeds-to-Liverpool canal commercially. We swam in it.
Ever hungry, I could never come to terms with canned snoek.
My preferred bought-in treat was chips with “a cake” – two discs of potato on either side of a thin slice of fish, deep-fried.
My father bought large quantities of eggs, illegally, from farmers. My mother preserved them in a gloop based on isinglass.

I feel no nostalgia for any of this.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Often it's a very long 21 miles

Turmoil in French politics and Ryanair's cruel eccentricities will keep Lucy from tomorrow’s gala at The Blogger’s Retreat – an event I was excluded from due to a prior engagement. As readers of Works Well know, Mrs BB and I spend much time in France and this is a reminder of how crossing the Channel can be perilous.

Once, pre-Eurotunnel, after a fortnight’s touring we arrived at Calais to see lines of British cars stretching over the hill to the north-east, no doubt terminating at the Belgian border. We found a semi-official teenager guarding the ferry terminal entrance against queue-jumpers. I got out of the car, chatted to him in a left-wing way (Bonne chance pour la greve!, and all that) then asked if it was OK to join the proceeedings at that point. A million envious eyes watched me but he made an unequivocal and all-embracing gesture and I was in like Flynn.

My relationship with Mrs BB changed. Previously she’d believed my French was a party trick, showing off, deplorable ostentation. Thereafter, at least in this matter, she regarded me as an adult.

We boarded the first ferry and I’m sorry to say the Brits failed to show stereotypical virtues – orderly queueing, phlegm in adversity, the Dunkirk spirit. Violent arguments broke out; groups combined to force cars away from the ramps. Many were middle-class and I fear I photographed their travails (See above: Boulogne before we reached Calais). Fair to say Works Well is part of a coterie of francophiles. But to the others a reminder: if you go there simply for the sun and the wine while ignoring the people, don’t grumble if they occasionally rise up and bite you.
HOT TIP Blogger's new image uploader is Rhone Glacier slow. Go to Settings, then Basic, scroll down down to Select Post Editor, select Old Editor. Voila!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Dreaming all the while of Hobe Sound

Oh joy! All the way from Hobe Sound, Florida (An address, I suspect, more glamorous than the place itself.) comes my XXXL Super Soft Henley nightshirt, coloured Forest Green and made in India. Discovered by The Crow who from now on can fulfil all my clothing needs.

As the arms suggest a US XXXL is a mite bigger than a British XXXL and covers the body weight range 251 – 310 lb (18 – 22.14 stones). To Rouchswalwe’s chagrin the Henley’s neckline plunges deeply enough to make undoing the cleavage buttons unnecessary. And before anyone concludes Yorkshire people go to bed in their socks this was purely a photographic session, thanks to Occasional Speeder. Mrs BB is broadly favourable and says I’m welcome to her bed thus clothed.

The PJs were unearthed at La Redoute, the mail-order company, by OS some days after The Crow’s email about Wittmann Textiles. My thanks to everyone whose spirited responses temporarily boosted declining interest in Works Well.

WORKS WELL’S WORLD Looked at your blog’s statistics recently? There’s a facility for eliminating the owner’s own hits, so who were the 36 others flitting untraceably through WW yesterday when only one comment was logged in? Odder still is a list of five of my posts, the oldest dating back July 29, 2008. These appear to be random and four record very modest numbers of pageviews, well below the average of 12 for all posts since WW was born. A world map reveals WW’s limited (but very select) audience with a tiny blob just south of Alaska; brief reflection identifies this as Vancouver, home of Marja-Leena , a very early WW link.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Don't turn light on, I'm working

I am most open to ideas at 5 am, lying abed, darkness outside, body comfortable. I once did six lines of a sonnet this way. Mrs BB bought me a mini-torch to aid scribbling notes rather than relying on memory. But a sonnet is containable; these days there is the more sprawling task of plotting a new novel. Here’s how it’s gone:

Main character. Woman, who…? flies planes.
● Author ignorant about gayness (Don’t rule that out. Later, then.) hence a male accountant… culling employees from subsidiaries of a large company. Who may need to use a plane.
Character theme. W. uses word “love” too freely, M. not at all. Thus American vs. British dichotomy. But turned on its head. At the end of (Successful? Unsuccessful?) affair Brit is guilty of destructive passion and American shows humanitarian restraint.
Neutral territory, surely. France?
● Accountancy no longer appeals in France. Man helps monoglot Brits buy houses so probably was more successful once. Mid-forties.
● Woman an instructor rather than charter pilot. Age? Why in France? Gay episode in – great flying country – Arizona? Do gay episodes happen?
Marital status/children of both. On back-burner. Same with parents
Foreground plot. Iraq war. Local French discrimination against American. Chap’s burden? Back-burner.
● Idea from book I’m reading: woman is ugly. (It’s a plot device. I’m not in favour!)
Location (Probably south – better flying weather), acquaintances, families, contrary character traits, etc, etc.
Very long chapter (70 pp at least) flying house-buying customers. Removes much pre-history, frees up use of present tense. Flight adds changing interest.
Dare I do chap in first-person? Would writing about woman suffer?

She thinks a mouse is food

To the right is Missy, a mixed if temporary blessing. She is lodging with us for a couple of days and I shall be taking walks with my trouser pocket packed with a Tesco shopping bag. The bag will, I hope and pray, remain empty. Unlike Lucy and Mol (most of Brittany) and HHB and Blue Dog (all of Western Australia) Missy and I cannot call on millions of acres as our personal fiefdom and should Missy sow then I must reap.

Missy has brought one benefit. Several neighbours were recently burgled and we are now activating our alarm for short absences as well as long. When Missy is left behind a burglar alarm becomes unnecessary. No unauthorised ragamuffin could bear the piercing shriek of Missy’s barks.

Both Mrs BB and Occasional Speeder (Missy’s owner) have noticed Missy appears to have taken a shine to me, proof of her low intelligence. As further proof I sat her in front of the Ilyama and she was obedient but listless. I get the feeling she was comfortable with DOS but couldn’t get her head round Windows. A speech bubble rising from her head would probably say: “Where’s the C-prompt?”

This isn’t her only limitation. In an hour or so I shall watch the recorded highlights of qualifying for the South Korean Grand Prix. I expect little reaction from Missy. Or for that matter from Mrs BB.

Friday, 22 October 2010

12.30 - 2.30 pm - we are invisible

While we had the house in France my heroes were le plombier, le menuisier (a carpenter on steroids), and le maçon (forget hammer and chisel; this guy could build you a house). All have been feted in Works Well and their brows bound with laurels.

I am more equivocal about le zingueur - technically a zinc worker, more exactly a roofer. (I should add I ignored l’ébéniste, never having needed a hand-carved witch-doctor’s mask in African hardwood.) Drefféac’s zingueur, who had a comical surname which I’m damned if I can remember, was extremely hard to find. Desperate I knocked on his door just as he was about to lunch, a solecism few Brits unfamiliar with France would comprehend.

Monsieur, he shrugged, fighting to contain himself, le téléphone. But I didn’t have a French landline and this pre-dated mobiles. I wasn’t an enthusiast before and seeing his lunch-table was set with something red poured into chunky Cristal d’Arques glasses which inhibit wine appreciation put me off even more.

For me zingueur resonates with tzigane (gypsy) and M. Zincman might have had nomadic blood. His thick curly hair looked like a football into which his head had been partially inserted. His dangling arms and simian gait equipped him well for scrambling up ladders. Although he'd done other jobs for me he refused to suggest a solution to a leaky roof over the lean-to section of the house (see pic). Several years after we sold I stopped to view the house’s exterior noting the lean-to section had a new roof. The Irish buyer had had no French and it’s possible the roof represented M. Zincman’s revenge for that interrupted lunch.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Stick to Racine, lads

Received wisdom says poetry cannot be translated - not surprising since personal reactions to poems vary more widely than those to prose. But how far off the mark? Take Portia's celebrated lines from Livre de Poche:

La vertu du clémence est de n'etre forcée,
Elle descend comme la douce pluie du ciel
Sur ce bas monde; elle est double bénédiction
Elle bénit qui la donne et qui la recoit,
Elle est la plus forte chez les plus forts, et sied,
Mieux que la couronne au monarque sur son trone


I was surprised. My experience with "poetic" passages of Shakespeare in French is that subtleties disappear leaving more or less factual narrative. The above does a better job even though it occasionally clunks (forcée instead of strained is a bit - pun intended - forced). But then the lines are moderately straightforward in English anyway. "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I" would be a harder row to hoe.

So I turned instead to the Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet:

Alors je vois que la reine Mab vous a visité
C’est l’accoucheuse des fées et elle vient
Pas plus grosse qu’une pierre d’agate à l’index d’un échevin,
Trainé par un attelage de petits atomes,
Se poser sur le nez des hommes quand ils dorment.
Son char est une noisette vide,


This to me is far more a summary. Because French requires most adjectives to follow the noun the rendering of “fairies’ midwife” makes it sounds like a government post. The qualifiers ruin the conciseness of “Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep” and although I know char has other meanings to me it’s a tank (the Army sort). You know, I shouldn’t be trying this on.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Monsieur, I wish to fly

To make up for our uncelebrated fiftieth on October 1 we will rediscover Brittany early next year and, in particular, hire a plane to view its wild and raggedy coast. I’m looking forward to the preparations.

As a former house owner in France I met much fixed opinion there. If not downright stubbornness. The counter-man at Big Mat building materials said he not only couldn’t supply decorative gravel I needed for my garden paths but that such gravel “didn’t exist in France”. He was wrong. At Monsieur Bricolage, the DIY chain, I was told that if I wanted to box in my bath I must (note that - must) encase it in faience (tiling). He too was wrong.

Plane hire sounds like a fruitful area for such blind insistence. Fixed wing vs. helicopter. Aviation law and the sea. Seating capacity. Facilities for photography. But if it can be done I’ll do it. The key is my French: it’s not good enough for natives to be certain I’m being intentionally rude.

LONG TIME NO SEE Eventually the MS of Gorgon Times will be despatched to my agent. I have been drafting the first paragraph of the covering letter:

“I doubt you remember that in 1975 I submitted a novel, BREAKING OUT, written while I was working in the USA. What may make this distant and humdrum event slightly more memorable is that you travelled to Farringdon where I worked as an IPC journalist and gave me lunch. The novel was commended for its technical competence but rejected in that it had little new to say about a woman escaping from a failed marriage. One publisher suggested I consider changing the ending.”

The second para is funnier but I’ll leave it until I’m short of an idea.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Quinquireme of Nineveh

Test-driving my first Lexus I was directed down to Cardiff’s harbour, now overlooked by blocks of expensive flats. The older I get the more the thought of living in a flat terrifies me (I might be closeted next to a Carl Orff fan) but these were tempting. To look down on ships going about their business, a stirring yet comforting prospect. But why are ships so pleasing?

They move deliberately and this confers dignity. A bit like the Queen… no, no, what on earth am I saying? There may be a mathematical explanation. A 10,000-ton ship moving at a mere 2 mph is a formidable force. Watch when a mooring cable is slipped over a bollard and seemingly innocuous energy is dissipated in stretching the new umbilical cord. Most of us respond to power even when it’s only dimly perceived.

Close up ships are often disappointingly rusty; they start donning their make-up at half a mile distance. Many superstructures are still painted white and this is as it should be. At five miles even a container ship has good lines. One reason why those Cardiff flats are so expensive.

NOT ALWAYS FOR THE BETTER Blogger keeps changing. Installing an image now involves a slightly different procedure which is not as intuitive, not as handy. A few moments ago I discovered that my age is no longer listed in my profile. Perhaps Google is trying to protect me from ageism. If so I am denied a simple pleasure: having my span notch up another year on my birthday. Damn it, I need that confirmation.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Help BB sleep o'nights

Can anyone help? I need a pyjama top, but not any pyjama top. I need one that is anti-fashion, one that meets my exact requirements. I will pay good money. You want proof of my willingness to spend? See my previous post under Healing Bubbles.

Neck depth is vital; typical V-necks ride up and saw at my neck. It’s got to be really deep. Nor do I wish to be garrotted in and around the armpit region, Big, big gussets. Long sleeves for winter. Long top-to-bottom since my umbilicus is not my most charming feature.

The successful applicant will be paid right royally and will be obsequiously publicised on this blog. I am prepared to accept any embroidered advertising. My plight is desperate.

The terror of the suburbs

Solar keratosis (“sometimes unsightly”) will shrink my social life – never extensive – even further. Luckily the twenty-first century has created its own anchorite’s cell and here I am, illuminating a posted MS, aided by a Saitek keyboard and a 22 in. Ilyama monitor.

Initially I applied cortisone cream and requested a second tube when filling in the online prescription for my gout pills. But Dr Jones wasn’t having any. Cortisone is powerful. Used to excess it’s likely to make my facial skin thinner. I’m not vain about my appearance (I’d be delusional if I were) but this brought me up with a jerk. Steve Bell, The Guardian’s malicious cartoonist, sees our prime minister as impossibly smooth and caricatures his face squeezed into a condom. I didn’t like the parallel.

But I did like Dr Jones’ solution. DiproBase contains white soft paraffin and liquid paraffin and is labelled an emollient. Just think, after all those years of being nasty about people in print and there was a cure close at hand.

LOST IN LA MANCHA I’m devoting myself to unread classics. With War and Peace, A la recherche and Ulysses out of the way I’ve started on Don Quixote. It’s quite entertaining but for one defect: the shortest paragraph is 500 words and I constantly lose my place on the page.

HEALING BUBBLES Surgery - twice-over - for younger daughter discouraged elaborate celebrations for the fiftieth and we reverted to the default state. A 2005 Charmes-Chambertin was too young, sad given the £63 price tag. But a bottle of Krug (drunk before the red burgundy, of course) came close to justifying an expenditure of £110. Accompanied by a somewhat predictable DVD movie about Tolstoy enlivened by stellar performances from Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Technologically flows the Rhine

Yesterday in Malvern we watched Rheingold. There were some glitches, the prompt was audible, but there wasn’t a single duff voice and Alberich was definitive. Yet when the performers took their bows half the Malvern audience clapped and half didn’t. Why? Because although the performance was live it originated at the Met in New York. I for one felt foolish clapping a cinema screen.

Technology was rampant. The high definition TV link meant I was able to admire Wotan’s (ie, Bryn Terfel’s) orthodontics and, had I wanted, his uvula. Despite heavy make-up Freia had an indifferent complexion. The sound was gigantic.

But the most impressive technology was on the stage. There a 45-ton device consisting of a hundred connected and manipulatable planks, affectionately referred to as The Machine, allowed scenes to be changed remotely. The plank edges could be made to ripple, to create staircases and to form precipitate underwater cliffs down which the Rhinemaidens (not without trepidation) disported themselves on wires, flicking their feet flippers and blowing heat-generated bubbles.

Ingenious and monstrous The Machine allowed performers to be positioned for high drama but wasn’t without drawbacks. Loge emerged, wire-supported, walking backwards up a 75 deg incline. He never looked happy. The Rhinemaidens, later occupying geometry impossible to interpret visually, had to take great care that their wires – made more obvious by HD TV - weren’t tangled. On the other hand Fasolt, killed by brother Fafner on a horizontal part of the stage, slid eerily into oblivion as the stage was slowly inclined.

We’re down for Lucia di Lammermoor in March and Walküre in May but will add Nixon in China and Capriccio. All by the Met and all with stratospheric casts.

Friday, 8 October 2010

A musical morsel

I don’t care for Verdi’s operas, for anything by Khachaturian (especially the Sabre Dance), for Bizet’s Carmen or for le tout Berlioz. But none of my blind spots are interesting since I am a musical ignoramus. What’s fascinating is when someone who knows music says “I don’t like…”

Julia did music at uni and limbers up regularly at the piano. Months ago I tried to get her to blog about music but she refused. With an apprehensive Mrs BB at my side when we were in Prague, I asked Julia why. Seems she has friends who are professional musicians and fears their critical reaction. I sighed, said it was a terrible waste, suggested she was denying her elitism – all the usual journalistic ploys.

But Julia is not a natural refuser. She pondered then let slip a morsel – about Mozart yet. In playing string quartets (You didn’t imagine she was limited to the keyboard, did you?) she’d noticed WAM’s cello writing wasn’t up to much. Bingo! We both agreed this was a price he’d had to pay for ennobling so many soprano roles in his operas. With Beethoven things are the other way round; his sublime quartets were paid for by an inability to come to terms with the human voice, except in the Prisoners’ Chorus.

An important discovery not otherwise available to an ignoramus. Retired fifteen years now, I still have this urge to pry. Mrs BB hates it when I do. I tell her it will be harder next time.

PRAGUE PERSIFLAGE. Lunch on periphery of Old Town: half a duck, red cabbage, potato dumplings – Czk 205 (say £7). No need for dinner but somehow I forced it down.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

This one didn't work well

After taking advantage of a legal loophole in the British motorcycle licence (with a three-wheel Bond minicar – an aluminium shoe-box with a 200 cc engine - followed by a Heinkel bubblecar, also a three-wheeler) it was time for a proper car with four wheels. The Austin Cambridge I bought in 1962 was not proper in any sense and that wretched vehicle enrages me every time I recall it.

Today’s drivers are happily unaware of their synchromesh gearboxes which ensure noiseless gear changes. Technically the Cambridge had synchromesh but it was accepted that this simply disappeared from first gear within a year: “They all do that,” was the supine excuse. To avoid crunching the cogs one learnt a macho procedure called double-declutching afterwards boasting about it in pubs.

But that wasn’t the only fault. The car was four or five years old which meant its crude pushrod engine was probably a prewar design. Certainly the lubrication system was close to total loss. Something weird happened to the cream paint-job which turned a dull matt, traced with ineradicable crazing. The squab broke away from the driver’s seat and the strut linking the top of a rear shock-absorber detached itself on a holiday in Scotland.

In an era of rotten UK cars this was as bad as any, typical of the hopelessness of British Motor Corporation which became British Leyland which became Rover which disappeared like first-gear synchromesh. Only the Mini, now made by BMW, survives. I am not a nationalist nor, lord love us, a patriot but I am susceptible to the country’s failings. The Austin Cambridge depressed me then as it depresses me now. In the above picture someone is happily driving a restored Cambridge. I hope he doesn’t see it as a “classic”.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The lily, gingerbread and us

Turner’s Folkestone From The Sea. The church is on the clifftop

St Mary and St Eanswythe, rain and wind
October 1, 1960

A golden day but let’s forsake fool’s gold
And go in search of useful tolerance.
For there’s no credit, dear, in growing old
And worshipping a doubtful permanence.
Instead we’ll build a fire of cliché sticks,
Burn cards of happiness and humdrum verse,
Distrust old facile “love” since reason mocks
An easy word to hide a lie or curse.
Let’s dwell on anger - pardoned on the wing,
A hand outstretched to aid a swollen knee
A joke that shares more than a wedding ring
A glass of wine that seals complicity.
Spare symbols, mantras, ill-used sentiment
Just say, do, listen, to our hearts’ content

CLICK HERE for audio (and health warning). Sorry about login, download, etc. A direct link costs $10/month.