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, 28 November 2010

Lying on a beach - no raw material

Chez Bonden has twelve CH radiators. To save moola three are turned off, including the one in my study. I resist hypothermia by putting on my fleece, blowing on my fingers and thinking about stuff I have read.

Orwell dying of TB and writing 1984 in an abandoned house on Jura. A Jack London short story about a man outdoors in Alaska in winter, trying to light a fire with a limited number of matches – and failing. Peter Fleming (Ian’s brother) en route from Peking to Kashmir, a 3500-mile overland journey which began in February 1935 and formed the basis of News from Tartary. Gulley Jimson in freezing London, ignoring the cold and thinking only about painting in The Horse’s Mouth.

I tend to ignore explorers like Scott and Shackleton since enduring the cold was part of their reason for going where they did. I do reflect on climbers who embark on severe Alpine climbs in winter since I’ve never understood how they keep their fingers operative (Some don’t, of course, and DIY amputations are necessary.)

PAUSE FOR REFLECTION None of the above enjoyed the benison of having Mrs BB appear at the study door with a cup of Bovril. As now.

But Puccini has the final word. La Boheme opens with students shivering in a Parisian attic in winter. They have no fuel and one offers the manuscript of his novel so that they will be cheered, briefly, by the flames. An ironic passage in the libretto.

No one visits Works Well for its DIY photos; they merely help save words. However Younger Daughter asked me to capture her with Zach; b&w (courtesy Photoshop) turned out somewhat better than colour.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Ahhh, ain't that cute?

Marja-Leena has disgorged and photographed her pencil/ballpoint container and seems unimpressed by its contents, although to my eye the stuff looks expensive and “artistic” (another way of saying expensive). The contents of mine are predictable, mundane and cheap but the container itself has a history. It’s a Maxwell House coffee tin decorated with magazine cut-outs by my elder daughter, aged 5 – 7, while we in America (1966 – 1972). What is more remarkable is that resides on my windowsill here in Hereford. Prior to returning to the UK we had a garage sale and then threw away thirteen bags of viable household possessions and clothes. But this tin was retained. Neither of us is what you’d call sentimental.

A cold-weather pot-pourri

PROFESSIONALISM Members of Mrs BB’s painting group are concerned about her eye op. One is visiting us this morning “elevenish” and as I left to pick up the paper Mrs BB had started making little cakes. Such casualness

CLICHÉ STUFF The forecasts were gloomy last night: hard frost. It was mild and sunny when I set off for the paper, cold and windy when I returned. The walk lasts six minutes.

BABBLE Deafness. The problem is distinguishing what people are saying against a noisy background. The supermarket check-out for instance.

VALUE Currently the best quality bargains in French wine (ie, in the £8 - £12 bracket) are Coteaux du Languedoc AC. Of those look for villages with their own AC, especially Montpeyroux. Also Faugères and Picpoul de Pinet.

HORRIBLE The first motorbike I owned was a 125 cc BSA Bantam (see pic). Wretched. Note lack of rear suspension and pillion seat - but then it further lacked the power to tote two people.

DQ I’m 48 pages from finishing the 760-page Don Quixote. Would I recommend it? Yes, and for the same reasons I would recommend that every male youth in the UK does military National Service. Now I’ve done mine.

BROS K Plutarch suggested I read The Brothers Karamazov so I’ve bought a second-hand copy via ABE Books. It’s 985 pages. In the past I’ve made three attempts, the most recent failing at page 150.

LONG WAIT I am replacing my car with another of the same make and model. The waiting list was initially three months. Now it’s twenty-two weeks. Various reasons for the delay are offered: rarity of DSG automatic gearboxes and (the much more likely) rarity of RHD.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Let's get rid of the clowns

This is almost a coffee-table book and I hate those. But three columns of song lyrics per page justify the layout and it is meant to be read, not displayed.

Sondheim is a perfectionist which may be why he’s only had one real hit – Send In The Clowns. He applies perfectionism to others and attacks most of the greats including my favourite, Lorenz Hart (“jaunty and careless”), Noel Coward (“the master of blather”) and Ira Gershwin (“rhyming poison”). But none ends up more wounded than Stephen Sondheim himself; notably for the early songs in his most famous show, West Side Story.

Not many of us write song lyrics but most of us want to write better. This books tells you how. Sin No. 1 Verbosity (“For me the hardest sin to avoid… unless a character is hyperarticulate for a reason, cleverly rhymed logorrheic patter draws attention to the lyricist, not the character”). Sin No. 3 Redundant adjectival padding (“using a series of synonyms to fill out a line because there’s not enough to say. Eg, Expensive and choice and rare.”) Examples of these and other sins are taken from his own songs.

He agonises over exactness, as we all should. And his arrows hit home. Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics in My Fair Lady have “an appearance of high gloss” but how about Henry Higgins’ “I’d be equally as willing/For a dentist to be drilling/Than to ever let a woman in my life”. This, says Sondheim, is “a syntactical train wreck, especially noticeable coming from a professor of English so meticulous about the language that the plots depends on it”. Get someone to buy it you for Christmas (it costs £30), laugh and learn.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The ideal guest

Verse (second, if not third, division poetry) should never be explained but this sonnet deserves a word or two. A week ago I met Plutarch at The Blogger’s Retreat and subsequently posted my travel itinerary. But a fortnight before that I was invited to a more populous BR event to meet Lucy and her sister, Plutarch and his brother. Unfortunately this was on a Friday when both Mrs BB and I seek to develop our intellect in other ways. However I envisaged a high-charged, ribald lunch on The Aldwych at which I would be represented by what you read below.

Alas Lucy and her sister were forestalled from attending. Because I come from the West Riding and cannot abide waste I am forced to post these lines without legitimate reason.

Sonnet – Retreat from The Retreat
It suits me well, the role of absentee.
One mention, then perhaps a genteel cough;
Soon lost in bouncing waves of repartee
And swallowed by a curried bellylaugh.
Vacant and mute, I’m so much better than
My prying, hurtful, low reality.
A void instead of foghorn Yorkshireman
My views a trailer of eternity.
For I was born to tap and stare and wait,
For you to stop and let me in edgewise.
Think of the bonus that my empty plate
Has wrought. Think of a use for unused sighs.
I am the un-sat chair, untrammelled chat,
The unshared chutney, Erwin's twin-state cat

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Mrs BB goes (briefly) back in time

The surgery for a trabeculectomy lasts a mere eighteen minutes; the bad news is it involves the eyeball. Like most who’ve worked in hospitals, Mrs BB, an SRN, is an unwilling patient. I drop her at the hospital and we bid our goodbyes with no visible show of emotion, typical of Brits and appalling to most Americans. Four hours later, back in the car, she insists vallium isn’t worth a damn.

Denied books for twenty-four hours, she regards the blank telly and asks, “What do people who don’t read do all day?” Aloud I offer The Wine Society fine wines list and we agree on a Sancerre (les Monts Condamnés,) for Christmas. Rid of stress she dozes profoundly. Sleeps well that night.

MEANWHILE… Later, on BBC4, we watch an Oxford don exploring Greek myths. His plumminess, which renders Rome as Rame, is old-fashioned since such programmes now find wider audiences via presenters with regional accents. He irritates me further by patronising workers sorting mounds of pottery shards.

At first he’s dull and abstract. Then, as he compares Greeks and Hittites (surely the least amenable to Christ’s teaching) things hot up. I didn’t know Kronos was Zeus’s father. And I certainly didn’t know Kronos interposed himself between the copulating bodies of his father (name forgotten) and his mother, Earth, biting off his father’s “private parts”. The sequel is too extreme even for the liberalism Works Well practises.

The don returns to this theme of castration, pronouncing the word with relish and appearing, simultaneously, to grin. We are, of course, beyond the 9 pm watershed which defines adulthood, but I imagine a review in The Daily Mail. Mrs BB shares my opinion about the plumminess.

Friday, 12 November 2010

A hymn to St Cecilia

A second keyboard - I should have bought its equivalent forty or fifty years ago.

Yes, it plugs into the computer but won’t be used for that. More for deconstructing the intro of Lady is a Tramp (ie, I’ve wined and dined on Mulligan stew and never asked for turkey/As I’ve hitched and hiked my way along from Maine to Albuquerque, etc, etc) or fingering the B-flat scale back to when I had an embouchure and could play Cheek to Cheek on the trumpet.

I will also check out rests, slurs and ties and wrestle with four-four time, conscious that I’ve left all this far too late. Senility and/or arthritis will arrive long before semi-quaver ability.

But I’m not moaning; playing skills will be a bonus. The keyboard, which offers decent piano sound, is primarily a tool to pick tunes apart and isolate intervals which are beyond both my musical memory and that very imperfect instrument, my voice. A moment ago I played a simple hymn tune (in C-major, natch) and discovered that the penultimate line comprises a seven-note sequence: C, D, E, F, G, A, B or seven-eighths of the C-major scale. No great tribute to the writer’s inventiveness but a tiny revelation to me about what constitutes music. Alas, I’ve forgotten the hymn.

A musical ignoramus I love messing around with tunes (“Hey, there’s a black note coming up!”). I had some competence with the trumpet but there the notes had to be created and messing about was a hard row to hoe. Here the notes are laid out for me. Shortly I shall compose an accompaniment to one of my sonnets, record myself singing it and post the result. Renaissance man! But don’t hold your breath.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Intra-world travel

From Belmont, my Hereford home, to The Blogger’s Retreat, central London, is 145 miles. Lunch is at 12.30 so I rise at 06.40 rather than 09.00. I’m angry I didn’t prepare things and thus avoid disrupting Mrs BB who may or may not be asleep. Picking up keys noiselessly from the table is impossible.

A cold dawn. I snap the 75 bus but, worried the driver might think I’m a time and motion spy, or a copper’s nark, I explain the camera. More shots in Hereford’s deserted centre because of the stillness. Time for a warming Americano at the station buffet where I’m asked if I want milk. Wouldn’t be an Americano.

Low-level winter sun hinders reading The Guardian on the two-carriage diesel out of Hereford in which the loudspeakers pronounce Cymbran with Welsh punctilio. At Newport a moment of uncertainty boarding the London Paddington train (ie, going east) minutes after a Manchester Piccadilly train (ie, going north) has left from the same platform.

A socially disdavantaged man at Didcot Parkway is taking train numbers. In my extreme youth I did that.

The last leg, by bus, is about three miles and I’ve ninety minutes in hand. But it isn’t enough. Students are revolting. I leave the bus in Regent Street, cut through Soho, cross Leicester Square, pass St Martins-in-the-Fields and jog along The Strand. Five minutes late! But then there’s champagne, chicken korma and a world of talk.

Tune: Onward Christian Soldiers

Linked by broadband magic
Oz to Prague and back
Famous for erratic
Service, curries, craic*

As to conversation
It’s the tops my dears
Nation speaks to nation
Drenched in Asian beers

Bloggers seeking respite
Join in the elite
Exercise your blog-right
Lunch at The Retreat.

*Craic is Irish - a state of happy stimulation

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Not exactly cuisine minceur

New mincers are still available. Not as versatile or as speedy as food processors they are built to last a thousand years, invulnerable to power-cuts, easily washed, and digest everything served into their maw. Even bones. I operated my mother’s mincer and I can hear the sinister tearing noise even now. She was always at it, but why?

Why did immediate post-war cuisine demand so much grinding destruction? We ate a lot of what we called Shepherd’s Pie (I know, I know, we were misinformed. South-easterners call it Cottage Pie.) which required mince but surely butchers supplied that. I recollect much bread passing through the mincer’s alimentary canal but did we consume bread-crumbs on an industrial scale?

She may have mashed potatoes this way, I can’t be sure. And I have an even dimmer memory of bread and meat being ground simultaneously, perhaps for rissoles or an unsatisfactory – and unwisely extended – meat patty. Speculation on this has lead to a fierce argument with Mrs BB and I am now temporarily denied her input on the matter.

Soup? My mother’s soups were not her forte and the constituents were readily, and lumpily, identifiable. Certainly unminced.

QUIETLY FLOWS THE DON Part Two of Don Quixote is less anecdotal and I have reached page 467 (out of 760). Could it be your thing? Here’s a sample:

“Whoever undertakes a long journey… (seeks) an agreeable companion. How cautious should he then be, who is to take a journey for life, whose fellow traveller must not part with him but at the grave; his companion at bed and board and sharer of all the pleasures and fatigues of his journey, as the wife must be to the husband.”

Sunday, 7 November 2010

They say the lion and lizard keep...

Guilt seems inseparable from DIY. About jobs not done, jobs done badly, ignorance of the method, ignorance of whether jobs need doing at all. Even the competent seem gnawed by the maggot of what the French call la culpabilité.

To shrive myself I “get a man in”, unconvinced by those who preach self-dependence but skirt the trauma of a botch. This concerns a slightly different botch.

The Yale lock on the front door lost a small screw and became perilously wobbly. B&Q doesn’t retail items with small profit margins but Hereford has a shop specialising in brass bits. An interior crammed with dusty stock where light is admitted grudgingly, plus the knowledge that he is the last resort for many, has turned the still young owner into a severe autocrat.

He interrupted my preamble: “Get a wider screw than you need and screw it in until it jams,” he said. Even I was appalled by this ruthless pragmatism but such is his Messianic nature I did exactly that. The botch – ugly and visible - has held for about five years. But there’s the trauma, bearable for me but not for one who knows the maggot. A new lock, soon?

ME? A SCAB? The National Union of Journalists, which I joined in 1954, is striking against the BBC. Once the chapel (ie, branch) I belonged to refused a pay rise of 32% and held out for 35%. We were “deemed to have dismissed ourselves”. As editor with powers of hire and fire, my position was tricky causing my oratory to rise dizzily: “There’s only one thing worse than a pyrrhic victory and that’s a pyrrhic defeat.” People remembered that years later. But still voted to strike.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The poop was beaten gold, etc, etc

Stay with me, please. It’s not merely about TV you’ll never see.

The programme concerned self-portraiture. Given 90 minutes, writer/commentator Laura Cumming “stepped back” from Dürer’s unflinching gaze, followed Rembrant’s monumental series on “what it was like from inside to grow old”, revealed David in his jail to be “confused”, sympathised with Courbet as an early Master of the Universe, explained why Mondrian’s self-portrait couldn’t be “a Mondrian”.

Van Gogh doesn’t incorporate madness into his self-portraits, rather a growing technical logic. We laugh too at Mark Wallinger’s sculpture of a capital I in Times New Roman.

Here’s where it gets hard. Laura Cumming (art critic of The Observer) is beautiful. It shouldn’t matter but it did. Her loveliness is throwaway with blonde hair, carelessly clipped up, gradually releasing strands all over. She dresses casually but Mrs BB, who agrees about her beauty, says her clothes are expensive. Whatever - she flits down the Montmartre steps and it’s heart-breaking.

But this is not old BB “dying of bitches”. The sculptor Messerschmitt went round the bend and created heads in which he pulled astoundingly ugly faces. Cumming reaches out, draws her face near and the sculpted head becomes magically beautiful in itself. And self-evidently a masterpiece. Aping Warhol she dons sunglasses, slips into a photobooth, imitates the sequence Warhol took including one “where he appears to be hanged” and I see what Warhol is on about.

Without her looks Cumming’s enthusiasm and easy knowledge would have made a memorable programme. With her looks it was a killer. Am I simply a seduced older man? Disagreements about clothing aside, Mrs BB says she too was impressed.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

It could probably do better than me

For some, chocolate triggers Ooh-ah; for me savoury stuff. Mrs BB’s no-name stew, is irrelevant here but acts as a sop for those uninterested in translating poetry.

Sam Leith, in the Guardian, writes about Google’s program for doing just that. It’s obvious to say it won’t work, he says, and cites the Google guy responsible (“evidently a software engineer with a hinterland”) who quotes Robert Frost: “Poetry is what gets lost in translation”. But, says Leith, it’s more useful to think about the ways it won’t work – or might.

Leith ignores wilfully difficult stuff and concentrates on what Auberon Waugh says “rhymes, scans and makes sense”. He defines what poets do quite cleverly (sorry, I haven’t the space) and concludes it’s a craft with multiple, but not infinite, possibilities which is where Google can help. Notably in rhyming since it’s simple to input a rhyming dictionary. Metre is harder but conventional prosody is largely binary - stressed and unstressed syllables - and binary is how Google treats them: “blank verse with iambic foot obeys the regular expression (01) while one with dactylic foot looks like (100).”

He concludes it isn’t impossible to imagine a computer being taught to write accurate doggerel. Oh heck, I’m running out of space but how about this. Faced with: “A police spokesman said three people had been arrested and the material was being examined”, Google supplied:
An officer stated that three were arrested
And that the equipment is currently tested

- said to be amphibrachic tetrameter. You may disagree.

WANT TO HELP? Do you have knowledge or experience of homesickness as a debilitating ailment in an adult? A new novel is at the planning stage and this will be a major theme. Your contribution will be acknowledged.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Can cars be pretty?

Marja-Leena responded spiritedly to an act of casual cruelty I committed on her blog by accusing me of an obsession with cars. Heh-heh; my Blog Labels list “car” 28 times and “art” 88 (88 – count them!) times. Not solid evidence, however, since I devise and fill in the labels myself. OK, M-L I accept the charge: I’m a spanner-twirling oaf with sump oil under my finger nails and I fall asleep going broom-broom.
But why not a post combining both cars and art? That’s if aesthetics is acceptable as a $5 synonym for art. In my opinion the prettiest car ever made was a Ford. And it emerged when good old Henry J. Jr was in charge. True you won’t see many of them around Detroit these days but once, if you had deep pockets, you could buy the road version. I’m talking about the GT40, of course, built to win at Le Mans, which it duly did. Isn’t this seductive?
Back in the seventies I got fed up of utilitarian cars and decided to buy one I liked to the look of. The GT40 was beyond me so I made do with the Volkswagen Scirocco Mk 1, designed by the Italian stylist Giorgetto Giugiario; subsequent models, alas, took on a bloated Teutonic look. Here is mine parked in Dompierre-le-Bouton (in France but, of course, you guessed) and I’ve chosen the angle deliberately. Many designs fail in their treatment of the rear end, but not this one.
Finally, the handsomest car I’ve owned – an early Audi Coupé, on the Col de l’Iseran, overlooking the French ski resort Val d’Isère. Where’s the snow? It’s summer.