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

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Farewell and adieu...



This is the last Works Well, with good reason. Those that I get on with but who are also honest and clearsighted will know I am not a sympathetic sort. To compensate I’ve tried hard – too hard – to entertain and this has regularly led to lack of judgment. I’ve antagonised people before and I’ve done it again. Only by deleting posts have I avoided further unpleasantness. That and the fact that some of you have had the capacity to ride out my more extreme jokes.

Bloggers who don’t blog disappear. Deservedly since they don’t contribute. However, anyone who wants to get in touch (eg, about the novels) can do so by email. Most of you know the address but for those who don’t it’s rodrob@globalnet.co.uk. I’ll answer anyone who writes, and as often as they write – probably at excessive length – since this at least is not one of my failings.

It’s remarkably difficult to avoid being mawkish with this sort of thing. Dropping WW will be like an alkie giving up the bottle. And that probably is at the heart of the problem – addicts are notoriously unreliable. And self-centred.

I see I have words left so let’s end on an upbeat note. I have kept my present-day face off the blog since WW was always words or nothing. Now there’s an irony! Anyway, here’s a photo. One interesting point. Everyone I’ve exchanged words with has been better-educated. Perhaps this is how lack of education ends. My late headmaster uncle would no doubt confirm this.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

RoW gets a trailer - sort of

I never need more than one encouragement to publicise any of my novels, and that's what earlybird has suggested. (See Comment, "Works Well: desperate attempt to be popular"). In Risen on Wings, Christopher Day (who speaks first), an English odd-job-man, and Jana Nordmeyer, an American civilian pilot, are cleaning the interior of a Piper Seneca. Both live and work in south-west France.

"... (I) came to France, as I’d always wanted. My first girlfriend here was PCF, an activist with the railway workers and not terribly likeable. But that didn’t stop me. I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse: Tell me about women’s causes, I said. Convert me. The French love being asked to teach, to correct.”

“Was she never taught - beware the English!”

Day was almost upside down with his head in the footwell. His voice echoed in the aluminium cavity. “You’re an American: tough, self-reliant if the clichés are to be believed. I confess: I’m not an American sort of chap. But I was sincere, I promise. I read the stuff she gave me, went to her rallies. She took to me. Two months in she insisted I joined her forever in International Socialism and stopped working for the Anglo invaders. I was grist to her mill, whatever that means. But it didn’t last. Supporting women wasn’t enough. She wanted my political soul and I’m not sure I have one. We had a blazing argument over the authentique recipe for cassoulet. And don’t tell me there isn’t definitive evidence – I know better”

Jana said, “Even a spoonful’s too heavy for me. I take it you came out on top, or rather you shouted louder than she did?”

“French leftwingers eat very badly.” He rose up, his face flushed from being inverted. “Got some Windolene?"

Works Well: desperate attempt to be popular

DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has just reported: now almost wholly irrelevant, Works Well will fall off this Flat Earth if it fails to cover food. Or cooking. Or TV chef programmes. Look around, BB, go with the herd, says DEFRA’s permanent under-secretary.

Well I did cassoulet in the novel – a man/woman relationship broke up over cassoulet. And what did Plutarch say about that? Ah the shame of it!

How about the teisin lap scandal then?. Good thinking! For several years this spicy, not over-sweet cake was my reason for driving 48 miles round trip to Waitrose in Abergavenny. Then, zilch. No longer done, said the assistant manager. But it’s Welsh, man! And down here you sell more Welshness than food! Got the recipe off the Internet but despite Mrs BB’s efforts a dull fruit cake emerged. Teisin lap, like cassoulet, is never definitive. Meanwhile, ashamed by osmosis, Waitrose quietly put TL back on the shelves. That’s a dull story, boyo.

The Lough Pool Inn at Sellack is back in business with ox cheek, stuffed heart, and rabbit, to name but a few. That’s no good, boyo. There’s no French chic, no parboiled capers. The Home Counties continue to be surprised we aren’t eating each other, down here in Hereford.

So must Works Well perish? Have to say it, boyo, your record’s poor. How about The Great Stuffing Schism riving the BB marriage apart. BB points to meaty-type-thingy in supermarket. Mrs BB says, always says, “I’m not paying for stuffing. It’s the easiest thing in the world to knock up.” Ah the dismissive esotericism of great cooks.

Two nights ago we had crumpets with scrambled eggs and crispy streaky bacon. You’re fiddling while Rome burns, BB. Blogger’s sure to pull the plug. And that picture’s cheating.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Too much for Henry James, I fear

My circadian rhythms are shot to pieces.

Several months ago I began rising at 6.30 am to start “messing about upstairs with your - ie, my - writing” (courtesy one of my daughters twenty years ago). I tell myself my mind is brighter then. Also I feel smug doing something as trivial as writing fiction in the dark. But there are problems.

Once the computer is on I inevitably check my blog and others. Often the two hours of added “brightness” are dissipated in comments and responses – all of which now seem to be longer. Nobody appears to have noticed that any of this stuff is the product of a brighter mind.

But that’s mere impulsiveness. The other problem is physiological. Technically early rising doesn’t affect me since, like other gerontocrats, I no longer need eight hours’ sleep. Try telling that to my brain. Once I’m done at the keyboard I go downstairs to eat dinner and/or read or watch telly. Both these latter activities are severely circumscribed by heavy eyelids. Please don’t recommend any more hard books. They’re probably beyond me.

But the photo says it all. How dedicated it makes me look.

A MUST! Charles Rosen, concert pianist and academic, is the best writer on music I know. I will kill anyone who disagrees. He mentions a double concerto for piano and harpsichord with two chamber orchestras by the modern composer Eliott Carter. Could be tough. Here’s part of Carter’s description: In addition to being isolated in space and timbre, the antiphonal groups are partially separated musically by the fact that each emphasizes its own repertory of melodic and harmonic intervals. Instruments include metallophones and lignophones. Doesn’t matter; Rosen says it’s OK so I’ll love it. Going to download it right now. More later.

NOVEL (Blest Redeemer) 21,540 words

Monday, 21 November 2011

As winter beckons...

Antipathies – with reasons

Music: Berlioz (Edgy, unsettling, unmelodious). Verdi operas (Cumbersome, self-regarding, self-referential, over-Italianate). Rossini (Virtuosic, heartlessly rhythmic, predictable).

Authors: Priestley (Professionally Yorkshire, egotistical, banal). Roth – later titles (Insubstantial, depressing, narrow scope). Byatt (Pedestrian, literary, long)

Sports: Soccer (Tribal, morally corrupt, unfunny). Ice hockey (Puck too small, confrontational, crowded). Speedway (Brief, unvarying, dirty).

Wine: Bordeaux - petits chateaux (Tannic, cheerless, pretentious). Beaujolais (Trivial, mouldy gamay grape, vegetable bouquet). Sauvignon blanc – barring expensive rarities (Indistinguishable, shallow, dental dangers).

Painters: Emin (Potentially fraudulent, fashionable, childish). Stubbs (Limited subjects, inaccurate, exaggerated). Gauguin (Implausible, inelegant, racist).

Politicians: Chirac (Self-serving, poor teeth, smokes too much). Osborne (Bee-sting mouth, unskilful liar, miniaturised). Johnson (Disguised extremist, self-loving, failed comic).

TV series: The Office (Ugly central character, parodies the unparodiable, sly). Morse (Phony accent, phony intellect, phony beers). Anything-watch (Dumbed, gushing, condescending).

Towns: Guildford (Excessive health, cornflake box cathedral, airs and graces). Dover (Xenophobic, filthy, unwelcoming). Niagara (Smelly industry, disappointing attraction, forgettable)

Actors: Alec Baldwin (Abrupt, uncongenial, slab-sided). Mayall (Monotonous, febrile, thin). Hawn (Repetitive, unskilled, irritating)

Blogs: Works Well (Opinionated, casual, sour).

NOTE. Anyone thinking of responding: conciseness (which I haven't managed everywhere) will tickle your fancy.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The CV I never submitted

Old age encourages me to hand out advice but I’m really not entitled. Take my employment record in journalism. I started work in 1951 and except for two years’ National Service I didn’t change jobs until 1959. Thereafter, until I retired in 1995, I had thirteen jobs, one of them three times.

Until 1972 I didn’t take what I did seriously. Until 1975 when I became an editor I accepted no responsibility. If I fancied a change of job I took it. After six years in newspapers I worked on magazines dealing with: cycling, hi-fi, civil engineering, motorcycling, logistics (first time), instrumentation, production engineering, data processing, general technology, logistics (second time), institutional catering, metal fabrication, logistics (third time).

Moving to the USA didn’t hamper my wanderlust. In six years there I had four jobs. Only in my final job (Logistics, third time), which lasted eleven years, did the various things I’d learnt come together allowing me to say I’d become professional.

Despite this ebb and flow, and a couple of exceptions, I enjoyed myself enormously. And that in itself is shocking. I made no attempt to learn from my enjoyment; I continued to move via whim rather than planned advancement.

What conclusions? Mainly that I was extremely lucky. I chose a line of business where academic qualifications weren’t required and to some degree one lived by one’s wits. In the final decade I saw that “characters” were sellable and decided to turn myself into one. I suppose it worked but there are risks. The Ancient Mariner was a character and I’m not yet convinced I’ve out-distanced him. In the seventeenth century my ancestral prototypes are to be found in several Shakespeare plays, usually called Fool.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Something? Nothing? Now amended

Didn't get this right first time. Changes in red.

Yesterday, on the 9.10 am from Newport to London Paddington a woman had plugged in her laptop and was word-processing furiously. Fiftyish, streaky brass-brown hair tied back carelessly, sharp nose, haggard facial tones, dubious complexion. Garish slit-like glasses (imagine an Alice band that had slipped forward). Gold rings on third finger of both hands. The rest I never noticed or I’ve forgotten.

What caught my eye was her intensity. Her technique was speedy and her lips moved as she spelled out words on the keyboard. Occasionally she referred to a thick, official-looking typed document and then resumed. Too many people merely languish while travelling on trains. She wasn’t languishing and I admired that.

Every time I looked up from my Kindle she was still at it, her lips continuing to shape the words precisely, a gift to even the most modest of lip readers. Though I suspect what she was writing wasn’t as interesting as her sense of application.

As we neared Paddington I was distracted and when I next looked the laptop had been stowed away, glasses off, her hair had been de-secured so that it now bracketed her face, she may even have done a light pass of lipstick. Fine-drawn (one of my mother’s adjectival phrases) and relaxed, she was truly beautiful. Adult beautiful. We went our ways.

PS 1: When typing she was in profile; afterwards, full face. This may explain the transformation.

PS 2: Why was her purposeful state so much more memorable than the revelation she was beautiful?

PS 3: How did I manage to forget those glasses?

Talk is cheap; some talk's cheaper

Sneering at mobile phone users appears to be waning. Perhaps most of us now have mobiles and have discovered that the sentence “I’m on the train” is not inherently funny.

I only experience mass phoning on my rarish trips to see Plutarch at the Blogger’s Retreat in London (as yesterday). And then it’s the quality of what’s said that disturbs me. Clearly it’s time to update Thoreau (“Most men lead lives of unfortunately audible desperation.”) since one can’t help worrying about the homes such utterers return to. TV commercials must come as a great comfort. Is that a sneer? I suppose it is.

The saddest call I ever overheard was of a salesman failing to make a sale. Since I depended on space salesmen to finance the magazines I worked for, I had some sympathy with this troubled fellow. But I would have wished him better selling technique. Too many responses started with “Perhaps if we… “

That’s why it was unexpected, yesterday, to hear the following from a bearded guy across the aisle who laughed delightedly throughout:

“That’s a philosophical question.”
“I’ll put you on the loudspeaker if you aren’t careful.”
“I hope some people ended up with bloody noses.”
“It’s good to hear from you; how are you in yourself?”
“That goes for my wife as well.”
“And didn’t your immediate boss inform him?”

Fill in the Xs and there’s a short story. Alas I have longer fish to fry.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Friendship and good written stuff

What constitutes a friend? Shared humour, conversation, trust, self-evident generosity. Plus duration: five years minimum, say. I've worked out I may have two and a half friends, the half having recently swum back after thirty years. Another I have not included is distant with status uncertain.

None a woman but not by choice; better writers than me have struggled with that one. I look at my links list and realise its potential given my tiny “real” world. WW is three years old, so two years to go. But then comes the key issue of reciprocity.

HATED The Graduate. Was it serious or was it purely comic? Except for the music which came with worthwhile lyrics. From the same source here’s the middle eight (actually the middle six) from Night Game:

Then the night turned cold
Colder than the moon
The stars were white as bones
The stadium was old
Older than the screams
Older than the teams

But you’ve got to love baseball.

MORE good lyrics:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

Alas the penultimate line is terrible and I’ve missed it out. The photo is in and around Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain (3210 feet).

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Bonden brothers conversazione

Nick, the non-blogging Bonden brother, said I looked happier. A rare sort of remark which surprised me. I’d been chattering about the novel and I shut up for a moment to reflect. True, I am happier. Good or bad I love writing. It suits my type of selfishness.

The three of us (including the blogging Sir Hugh) had just sat down to dine at “a restaurant with rooms” in North Wales. That afternoon we’d spent time drinking beer (Old Snowdonia, to be precise) in a remote pub, way up a valley that started out lovely and got lovelier the further we penetrated. We laughed a lot, rather hysterically, discussing the various financial crises.

Nick’s giving up sailing after forty years. A five-year lapse has left his marine experiences and knowledge lagging behind and he worries about his competence. Rather than moan he told us about two paintings he’d bought “without asking the price” and which he gazes at deliberately every day.

Sir Hugh is planning another giant walk, starting at Lowestoft (“A horrible place”, said Nick). I suggested Sir Hugh write it up as a dialogue between himself and his defective knees. I think he thought the idea fanciful.

The meal was superb, partridge and a “plum soup” dessert in my case. An Oregon pinot grigio and a 2005 Santenay to wash things down.

Nick mentioned the fallibilities of a company executive, now dead, we all knew. Nick’s now retired but I marvelled at his professional ability to move confidently in the murk of the business world. Occasionally we dwelt on the ambiguous relationships all three of us had with our father.

PIC. Here we all are in 1982 – father, Nick, BB, Sir Hugh. My brothers look especially handsome, I think

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A tentative take-off

Neither Plutarch nor I could easily remember or pronounce A Stall Recovered the title of my second novel (now finished) so I junked it. Before I embark on the drudgery of sending the MS to agents I’ve been playing with a new title – modified biblical – and here it is on a draft dust jacket.

QUICK DESCENT No hymn starts with such splendour as:

Hark the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born king;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled: etc, etc

and then deteriorates into:

Late in time behold him come
(Backward ran the sentences…)
Offspring of the Virgin’s womb;
(A Jack-in-the-box?)
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
(Backward into the butcher’s shop)
Hail the incarnate deity
(More flesh than we need)
Pleased as man with man to dwell,
(Tempted to say “Pleased as Punch…”)

Plus this shocker in the third and final verse:

Risen with healing in his wings.
(Is it bread, or a chicken pie?)

Alas for C. Wesley, author of the above. In my hymn-book the next hymn is Christina Rossetti’s In The Bleak Mid-winter. Nuff said.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Profit from my mistakes

The perfect comment? Does it exist? Here are some of my imperfect comments deconstructed.

Great post! Great pix! Great philosophy! Meaning: I haven’t got the hang of blogging, I’m still into post-cards.

Loved your photo of the Grand Canyon. The white dot in the corner is in fact a 1997 Harley Davidson, the one with the power-operated kickstand. Meaning: I am unaware of natural beauty and am fixated on steel things that go broom-broom.

(0) Meaning: I am an inoffensive wading bird. I have left a footprint soon to washed away by the tide. Plus a neat pile of waste products. I shall now fade away.

My grandson Zach… Meaning: They’ll never love me but they may love him.

In 1947, when we ate stewed pebbles twice a week for lunch… Meaning: Deprivation and old age – an unbeatable plea for sympathy.

Your post about Barbara Cartland’s views on chivalry didn’t go far enough. You will remember in Ulysses when Bloom meets Dedalus… (Five hundred words later) … which goes to prove Joyce’s pre-eminence. Meaning: It’s been five weeks since I reminded people I’ve read Ulysses.

Ca va sans dire. Meaning: If you’ve got it, flaunt it.

Rebutting this thesis, Heidegger said… Meaning: Even if you haven’t got it, flaunt it.

The bottle was a touch pricey at… Meaning: Flaunt it in another way.

The pouches under my eyes… Meaning: I’m so self-effacing.

I banged my head on the beams inside. Meaning: But I’m physically impressive.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Rossignols are nightingales


It wasn’t all delight. At Crans I caught
A tip, tearing my shoulder at the ball,
Cracking the socket, facing a distraught
One-armed descent to the Swiss wailing wall.
The joint was luxé, squawked the harridan,
Who urged me to relax and not to scream
As others yanked on this prone Englishman
And others totalled up his bill supreme.
Yes, I was paying for those future days
Of hissing skis maintained in parallel,
Of turns that contoured all of heaven’s ways,
Of moguls charged, of schusses flown pell-mell.
That written self I often left behind
Is now in muck and bitterness confined

NOTE: The last line of this sonnet previously contained a mildly naughty word. Now I am professionally and viscerally opposed to censorship but some filtering sofware on the computer my younger daughter uses meant she was unable to open the post. On the grounds that there might be other nannying systems out there I changed the word and (the better the day the better the deed) made two or three other small changes. Since all the people who patronise Works Well are of superior intellect it won't need much elbow-nudging from me to hint at which word was changed and what it was changed from. Thus everyone whose mission is Truth Upon Earth may make the substitution in their mind and conclude that it probably hardly matters at all.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Problems with my bags

Once I bought four casual shirts all the same dark green. Having four absolved me from further shirt buying for five, possibly ten, years. Mrs BB was outraged, talked about variety. Our sartorial views are incompatible.

Fifteen years ago I decided I would only buy chinos. Seemed a sensible decision, allowed me to forget about trousers for ever but didn’t carry the finality I required. Chinos (trousers made of cotton twill fabric, usu. khaki-coloured) vary widely. Some come in thin, slippery, synthetic material that seems to flow over my legs like well-diluted paint. Others in something more like sailcloth, capable of stopping a .22 bullet. Others like waterproof pyjamas.

And there’s the colour. Khaki is not standard. My ideal is pale beige but I’m especially put off by diarrhoea (in all its forms). M&S’s Blue Harbour range was perfect until some fidgety designer got out his colour charts. Hereford is not the chino centre of the world; online sources lie about the details and colours are not dependable. And if I found perfection how many pairs dare I buy? I might get fatter (Am getting fatter!) or thinner.

But believe me my legs need covering.

DON GIOVANNI From the Met in HD at Hereford’s Courtyard theatre. Stodgy, slow first act, too many close-ups (even in duets!). Dull, dark set: one side of three-storey building which NYT said resembled an advent calendar. Superb voices made it all the more irritating. Don Octavio (not admittedly Mozart’s most heroic role) played by “veteran” (courtesy NYT) Spanish tenor Ramón Vargas had softest, most melodic voice ever yet looked like a greengrocer in mufti. Next Monday: Siegfried.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Money makyth man

If I remember correctly Mr Bingley in P&P has an income of £10,000 a year. Mr Darcy, it is suggested, has loads more but the figure is never specified. Too vulgar.

I am not sure whether Mr Collins’ income (which goes with his living) is ever specified but there are contemporary men of the cloth in Jane Austen and other authors whose living (ie, parish or curacy) brings in as little as £50. Occasionally the price of a loaf is cited as 1½ pennies. And a horse is sold for £8.

Academics busy themselves with deconstructive detail yet ignore (Too vulgar?) the significance of cash. What’s needed in all period books is a table of relative incomes (for differing strata of society in that novel and at that time) and of relative costs so that we can pin down the status of a character, get an idea of what sort of life he or she is leading and attach accurate meaning to various transactions. Authors tended to be vague perhaps because they reckoned contemporary readers could work these things out. But centuries have slipped by.

I discussed this with Plutarch and he makes a grumbling request about versts so you can tell which authors he’s reading. Come on people of tenure – make yourself useful.

YIKES! Ysabelle has not only got a degree and a job but has started a blog. For anyone interested in what it’s like to pass through academia at the present time and then lay siege to the job market click on Y’s name at the top of my links list. I should add she uses a full range of punctuation symbols.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Celebrating the flexibility of language

A handy Newspeak decoder.

UNACCEPTABLE Entity the government dislikes but for unspoken reasons (eg, the presence of oil, uncommitted voters, muslim bad feeling) refuses to condemn. The larger the entity, the more risible the adjective. As with: The behaviour of the serial killer who murdered half of Camden Town is clearly unacceptable.

UNCOMPETITIVENESS Result of imposing any form of restriction on the banks. Mass unemployment is felt to be a small price to pay for avoiding this.

REPATRIATION Historically the act of returning people to their homeland. Now used to include human remains and various vague abstractions thought to have been stolen from Britain by the European Union.

NATIONAL TREASURE Elderly celebrity (usually male and with a full head of hair) who has avoided controversy for ten years and is just this side of twenty-four-hour care.

GROWTH Any measurement of the national economy that doesn’t show decline.

OPENLY GAY Gay. Since secretly gay is a sexual preference that cannot be referred to.

DEBT Sum of money that is owing. Sovereign debt: similar but larger.

FEMINISM Much diminished campaign to achieve women’s rights. Now applied by rightwing press to any complaint by any woman about anything.

FUNDAMENTALIST Informal singing group subscribing to the values expressed in a small number of carefully selected Old Testament texts.

WIND FARM Ironically labelled collection of large propellors from which very little is harvested. The system is switched off when wind conditions become ideal.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING Ritualistic event whereby trades union officials receive from an employer a list of members being made redundant.

HOORAY! HOORAY! Granddaughter Ysabelle, now a degree holder, has a job. Modest title, modest pay. But a job.

Picture. BB now rises at 6.30 am to pursue writing career. View from his window.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

It wasn't all Proust and Ulysses

In Britain I’d have (reluctantly) identified H as working-class. But this happened to be Pittsburgh and so he was blue-collar. H’s origins were one reason why we became pals. Since both of us were appallingly under-educated our friendship depended on what we said rather than what we were. He saw me as a foreign exotic, given to useless long words and my pretentiousness tickled him. I delighted in his concise one-liners seemingly riven from a William Goldman script.

Most of these are now lost, one remains. I mentioned that X, a vertically challenged colleague, had a remarkably tall wife. “And X wouldn’t have it any other way,” said H lubriciously (an adverb he would have poked fun at).

H was brought up in Mount Oliver, on a cliff to the south of Piitsburgh overlooking the Golden Triangle ( At the confluence of Allegheny and Monongahela rivers; Mount Oliver to the right.). As a result we spent laddish evenings there in a bar called Moike’s which I would never have dared enter alone. Moike communicated via insult, it was all he knew. We always drank 25-cent beers and I asked H what would happen if I ordered a martini. “Moike would slam the gin and vermoot bottles on the bar and say: make it yourself.”

Political correctness may not have been invented then but it would been badly received in Moike’s. Mostly the talk was coarse or of sport. I liked baseball and football, could get along with basketball but Moike’s customers liked hockey (the qualifier “ice” was unnecessary in the USA) and I was often left out. Nobody cared about that.

Evenings ended with a hot-sausage sandwich which was impossible to eat tidily. I would give my right eye for one just at this moment.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Ich kann nur ein wenig Deutsch sprechen

I wouldn’t want you all to get the wrong idea: very little BB cuisine comes out of packets, tins and indestructible plastic trays from Iceland. But this Maggi Sauerbraten mix was acquired on one of Mrs BB’s Christmas market trips in Germany and there’s a bit of brisket going begging.

My interest here is linguistic and I’m drawn to Frisch dazu: 500 g Rindfleisch since I’m utterly convinced that dazu translates as “thereto” however archaic the word is in English. No? Then let’s turn over the packet and find that I’m urged to Schlagen Sie eine weitere Seite aus dem Maggi Fix Kochbuch auf:

A perfect example of where a little (German) learning can lead to. I know schlagen is “to hit” so this clearly means “Hit yourself with a further page from the Maggi Fix cookbook.” Unfortunately auf (on) is added at the end, but it’s a short word and can’t mean much. Alas, alas. German is known for its LEGO BRICK TENDENCY which allows words to be infinitely connected as in Donaudampfersgesellschaftskapitänswitwe (Widow of a captain formerly with the Danube Steamship Company). But it is equally known for its DISINTEGRATION TENDENCY whereby bits of verbs are sawn off and put elsewhere.

Thus auf was, in a previous life, attached to another word. How about aufschlagen (consult – as in book). The lesson endeth here. And here’s the moral. Never interrupt a German until he (or she) reaches the full stop, satisfyingly rendered as Punkt. There may be a tail in the sting.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Spend a lot, receive a little

Got my first cheque from Southern Electric following installation of solar panels on the roof earlier this year. The £139 total (I’m ignoring an extra 4 p) covers 310 kilowatt hours fed back into the National Grid between July 12 and September 30.

The amount of juice I generate varies with the light (not heat) put out by the sun but, just for fun, here’s some back-of-envelope calculations. On the basis of this payment my average expectation is £1.74 per day. Thus in a year I can expect £635.

All in, the system cost £8000. Amortising this figure at this rate would take 12.6 years and I would be nearly 89. None of you, but none of you, will be reading Works Well in 2023 although we’ll draw a discreet veil over the most likely reason.

However… fuel prices are going up. The wretched Huw Edwards (qv) says so, so it must be true. Stick with me until my early eighties and I’ll let you know.

The lower photograph shows the inverter, installed in the loft.

A MAN OF METHOD Faced with a meat-and-two-veg dinner I eat the greens first (spinach before green beans), then the potatoes, then the meat. The meat is a final treat, like reaching the top of Kanchenjunga. I am not interested in rickety forkfuls containing all four constituents.

I check incoming comments to Works Well via LiveMail but never read them there. Immediately I whiz over to Blogger and read them in sequence with the relevant post. Doing it this way makes me feel I’m doing the right thing by my correspondents.

When I go to the toilet… But perhaps that’s enough in the way of nervous tics.

Monday, 17 October 2011

A book now part of my DNA

Three combined novels that gripped and moved me in my youth: The Complete History of the Bastable Family, by E. Nesbit. I haven’t opened the book for a while yet, as I do, the gripping and moving starts all over again.

We are the Bastables. There are six of us besides father. Our mother is dead, and if you think we don’t care because I don’t tell you much about her, you only show that you do not understand people at all.

Perhaps “British” should be inserted before “people” for these are very British stories. As in the better known Railway Children, the children are left to their own devices.

They decide to restore the family fortunes and fail. Cast down by their father’s (brief) disapproval (Your lot is indeed a dark and terrible one when your father is ashamed of you. And we all knew this, so that we felt in our chests just as if we had swallowed a hard-boiled egg whole. ) they form the New Society For Being Good In, a project later disparaged. Reforming their horrible cousin Archibald turns out equivocally.

These are moral stories but, at its best, the morality arrives by accident. Oswald, the eldest child, is the narrator and his style (to me the most brilliant element) is that of a teenager conscious that the burdens of adulthood are just round the corner. The books were written at the turn of the century, I read them in the late nineteen-forties. It was if the action was occurring in the street outside. The concerns were my concerns, the opinions my opinions.

My recommendation is you don’t read them. I can’t bear the thought we might disagree about their merit. Please click pic; it deserves it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

One reason, at least, for crossing la Manche

I say I’m a Francophile but I’m not really. I couldn’t take Pelléas et Mélisande seriously. Or French pop. Or Loire red wines. Or Georges Perec. Or Président Elevator Heels. Or French cars (Buy one in the UK; turn the ignition key; see the value depreciate 20%). Or accept that the Paris périphérique is suitable for vehicles. Or agree that autoroute lasagne is edible. Or manage the opening hours. Or not shudder in the gendarmerie seeing the Wanted poster with faces obliterated by diagonal red crosses.

Which still leaves much to enjoy. Before the Brittany flight Mrs BB and I drove to Trégastel, on the north coast where the BBs and the Plutarchs spent a mid-seventies holiday. Where the torrent roar'd, and we did buffet it with lusty sinews, throwing it aside, and stemming it with hearts of controversy. Where, having pigged out on mixed metaphors, we climbed a rock face at the eastern arm of the bay.

This year, using the table d’orientation I discovered the rock was called Pointe du Valet. Puckishly I turned to an adjacent Frenchman: Did “valet” have another meaning in French, I asked. Not as far as he knew. Then why identify a geographical feature as a domestic servant? Wasn’t that bizarre? “Why, monsieur, should it not have a bizarre name?” he said. One reason straight off for being francophile.

MEMENTO MORI A family visit on Saturday. Granddaughter Ysabelle (21) had thought a lot about death recently. Good – it’s more interesting than soccer. Y’s mum, Occasional Speeder, said she too had pondered death. Suppose I (ie, BB) died; would readers worry if Works Well didn’t appear? Not as long as Plutarch didn’t die simultaneously, I said

Friday, 7 October 2011

This is not about steam trains. Repeat 'not'

If there were a label for this post it might be: Contemplation of, and The Removal of Fluff From, The Author’s Belly-Button – an overt signal to the blogging community that the engine set in motion in September 1951 with a four-line paragraph about a jumble sale at St Barnabas Church, Heaton, is tending towards entropy, that the flywheel is juddering, that there’s little coal left in the tender, and that a blow-torch awaits on a quiet stretch of track in the Trafford Park rail depot. In fact there have been earlier signs: choice of unworthy targets (Huw Edwards) and an increasingly desperate search for source material (renting a plane in a foreign country).

But not quite. Note the punctilious use of commas in the proposed label and the caressing way with verb tenses. Perhaps there’s one more chuff left so let it be over the Ribblehead Viaduct (Note to ed: an easy pic here).

While BB was in Brittany Lucy took photos of him and published them on Box Elder – trampling on his grave, as it were, chortling about breaking his rules. In fact he approved (especially since his three-quarters rear resembles Orca surfacing to shake off marine parasites). The sneakiness echoed BB’s former profession, almost a left-handed compliment.

But (and here comes the piece of fluff) why should Works Well resist full frontals of its progenitor? Vanity? Shame? Apprehensions about BB’s version of “besides the wench is dead”? Explanations have been half-hearted. The need is for what the French call an apothème and the answer came, as it usually does, at 3 am.

“I write better than I look.” Vanity of course but it’s cleverer than it looks. Try disputing it. There is a good put-down but that’s for a later post, assuming such occurs

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

We do not like thee, Huw boyo

Criticism demands articulacy; single adjective dimissals (He’s rubbish!) are for soccer fans. But why is it difficult to frame the BB family’s dislike of Huw Edwards, main presenter of BBC’s News at Ten? He’s a bollard of man but I’m no Adonis. He repeats phrases (“We’ll be analysing…”, “So, James, give us a flavour…”) but so do they all. He’s Welsh but I’m (God forgive me) West Riding. There's got to be more than that.

He’s portentous but that’s his job. But portentousness could be the clue. He got the job because, in the cant broadcasting judgement, “he’s a safe pair of hands”. Thus his headlines are never violent. His portents are cardboard. For big fixed events (eg, the present Tory party conference) he’s parachuted in to do his anchoring on site. He stands there (to Mrs BB’s mouth-foaming outrage), outside the venue, in his blue suit, muttering middle-class excitement, frowning slightly.

Some day he’ll be required to announce the end of the world (“We’ll be bringing you reactions…”) and it’ll be such a bore. And Mrs BB will be catatonic.

WORKS WELL HITS Monday: 26 (Poor day. Pack it in?). Tuesday: 80 (Looks good. But not for me. Lucy’s Tom writes monster comment on social kissing). Future action: Change blog title to: Works Well by Tom and BB?

NOVELS A Stall Recovered. Plutarch has read full MS and phones with suggestions. Both The Crow (Housing details in Tucson, Arizona; accent/vocabulary for Texan flight instructor) and Julia (US educational system) have helped but by email. This is first time anyone else has spoken aloud on behalf of my characters. P says Christopher cannot lie. It’s as if P’s joined the family. And he’s right

Blest Redeemer 11,993 words.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

One way out: a coughing fit

Social kissing: it’s a gender conundrum, a class thing and a north-south divide thing. In the US, the world’s kissingest country, my West Riding upbringing was a millstone which left me confused, terrified. Since terror still surfaces – at age 76 – I will go to my grave bedevilled by uncertainty.

Emerging from a Continental Trailways bus in Pittsburgh in late December 1965 I knew all about real kissing. It was a publically permissible analogy for sex. I didn’t need to understand it because I’d been married five years. Immediately, and for the six years that followed, American women social-kissed me. Some I disliked (which isn’t to say they were unattractive) and this presented problems. Some I liked which raised even bigger problems.

It’s odious to explain why so I’ll resort to examples. Mrs Thatcher was thought to have sex appeal (by Alan Clark among others) but I’d have fainted had she approached me. If Vera Farmiga appeared willing I’d also faint – this time out of presumption. Putting it delicately, social kissing is lose-lose.

In Bradford the lower middle classes (my lot) didn’t do it; those higher up did it a bit. The Home Counties did it more. A callow youth, informed only by movies, about to be social-kissed, was entitled to ask how this fitted in with closeness being regarded as a good thing.

Have I betrayed those women who have social-kissed me? No. I’m gratified they were prepared to try: good sports. Etiquette has to be the reason, there can’t be other benefits. I’ve also sympathised with women who actively avoid social-kissing me. I admire their toughness. No hint I might do the initiating. I’m a Bradford Grammar School old boy. Hand-shaking I do.

Pic note: Not social kissing but she looks like Stephanie Flanders

Thursday, 29 September 2011

No pictures, but you'll understand why

Two strange occurrences.

WE LIVE in a suburb with two community halls. One has seen much administrative turmoil which led to angry emails on the local website I used to run. Very angry indeed. Latterly things have been quieter.

Mrs BB. “I met X (Chair of the committee running the disturbed hall) today. I’m told the hall is to be exorcised.”

BB (Recently started writing a psychologically adventurous novel). “What was X’s demeanour when telling you this?”

Mrs BB “Confidential.”

BB (Ponders if there’s a place for this in the new novel. Decides not.). “Does exorcism cost a lot?”

Mrs BB “It’s free. But clerics don’t like getting drawn in.”

BB (Interior dialogue: Novel? Nah! Works Well? Perhaps)

RETURNING from Brittany we stayed the night in a town in Northern France which accommodates the French outlet of The Wine Society, a British organisation which absorbs much of my disposable income. I intended to buy good expensive wine duty-free.

The hotel was chosen via a guide I have used for decades and which is ultra-reliable. But there is always an exception. The hotel was scruffy, the patronne abrupt, the bedroom tiny. Also The Wine Society had moved to another town.

I was lying on my bed reading and rolled over on to my side. A heavyish “thing” slid under my shirt, down from my chest to my waist. I stood up, shook out my shirt, then looked on the floor. Nothing. Later, with the light on, I discovered a recently dead mouse. It looked incredibly poignant. I laid it on the outside window sill.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A better window on the world

Because cataract operations are performed under local anaesthetic in Asian railway waiting rooms they are sometimes pooh-poohed as minor surgery. But it only requires a 20-word description of the procedure (which I am choosing to omit here) to emphasise how audacious – and thereby horrific – they truly are.

As a follow-up to earlier eye surgery, already mentioned, Mrs BB submitted to cataract removal from her left eye yesterday. Her experiences as a state registered nurse in the fifties and sixties increased rather than reduced her apprehensions about surgery and I was impressed by her stoicism, given her fearfulness towards dentistry.

The passage of time favoured her. During training she worked in an eye unit and then the operation (on both eyes) took an hour followed by ten days of immobility. On Monday she had a choice of music (refused) and was back with me in the waiting room in fifteen minutes. A face mask prevented her better right eye from following what was going on inches away – for which much thanks. One of Mrs BB’s jobs during training was to hold the patient’s hand in the theatre; this time someone held hers.

That isn’t the end of the matter, alas, since a further operation will be necessary on the right eye, again followed by cataract removal. But she is reasonably sanguine about this and it was cheering last night to see her reading the Kindle, albeit with the type size wound up.

As we got the paper this morning we reflected on this twentieth century marvel: a procedure so quick and so simple (in surgical terms, anyway) that thousands, if not millions, of poor folk who would previously have had to accept blindness, now see. No miracle needed.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Did we set the world to rights? No

Nothing sadder than an empty. This sloe gin from Lucy should have been traded for a jar of Mrs BB’s marmalade. But we were less happily engaged during the narrow 2010 marmalade-making window and anyway Lucy made her own marmalade that year. I offered (sort of) to return the bottle but Lucy said it was OK. The sloe gin was multi-layered and adult in flavour which was to be expected, given the source.

Ginned up yesterday I reflected on meeting blogging acquaintances. One bonus is that the stage-setting questions (When? Why? How?) can be junked because both sides know the answers. With Lucy the introductory/felicitative phase added up to zero: she phoned us at 7.30 am then dropped into our car an hour or so later. In both cases it was like resuming a conversation broken off ten minutes previously.

No time to wonder whether we would get on because “getting on” was already happening. Engine noise precluded plane chat and interrupting the Lumix would have been cultural vandalism. At lunch I may have prepared several devastating questions but already Tom and I were wallowing in the RAF and electronics. For the Mol-walk afterwards we split into same-gender couples and lo we were soon saying goodbye.

Where had it all gone? Of course there were remembered characteristic flashes, exchanges which confirmed, IMHO, things were working as they should but – goodness me! – it seemed we had devoted ourselves entirely to pleasure. And my knowledge of Rilke hadn’t advanced a bit. Shame, really. Query: Are the best social encounters those that pass in a blur?

NOVELS Gorgon Times - with several agents (three have turned it down). A Stall Recovered – now being assessed by Plutarch. Blest Redeemer – 1423 words.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

This is about rhyming, not warfare

Time for a feuilleton (writing genre that allows for much journalistic freedom as far as content, composition and style are concerned – Wikipedia.) on my verruca.

Verrucas, like backside boils, hernias, kidney stones and ingrowing toe-nails carry no social cachet and very little literary potential. They lurk, infect other feet and are hard to get rid of. The word sounds faintly risible (perhaps because it rhymes with bazooka) but it is Latin and preferable to its English translation – wart. There is one bonus; in making this admission there is no way anyone can accuse me of advancing myself aesthetically, intellectually or socially. A man with a verruca is without doubt diminished, commonplace and unlikely to be asked to parties.

During and after the Brittany flight (qv) I talked freely but there was one subject I held back on. You may be able to guess what this was.

Treating a verruca is a right royal pain, especially if you’re fat. When Rupert Murdoch appeared before the select committee to utter monosyllables about phone hacking he said it was the humblest day of his life. Me, I just thought about my verruca.

Apart from filing the surrounding skin and immersion in boiling water one covers the verruca with a transparent paste which smells (entrancingly I must admit) like the glue for model aeroplanes. After a month I am told it will drop out of my foot like an upside-down mushroom. Can’t wait.

Why all this? Having regularly majored in self-aggrandisement I thought I’d try out humility but that got lost in the wash. Verruca is hard to spell and that displaced being humble. Cromwell, sitting for his portrait, told the painter to do it “warts and all”. Like The Great Commoner I do have other defects.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Bliss it was, indeed

The novel is finished (for the moment!), revised right through three or four times, sent to Amazon as a Word document, transmitted back to me - converted - so that the italics show up on Kindle, emailed to Plutarch for structural assessment. The opening chapter is too tight, too brusque (two Americans talking to each other) but I cannot presently tease it into relaxation. A lifetime’s conviction that all articles are too long leaves me deficient when asked to add rather than cut

I am under-employed. Wrote a post this morning, here’s another. Nobody’ll read them when they are jam-packed like this. But this is different, this is bliss.

Bliss means music, the greater power that leaves prose – even poetry – rocking in its wake. Nothing high-flown, just the sea-shanty/lamentation, Tom Bowling, where lines like

… lies poor Tom Bowling
The darling of our crew;
No more he'll hear the tempest howling
For death has broached him to….

Thus Death, who kings and tars despatches
In vain Tom's life hath doff'd
For tho' his body's under hatches
His soul is gone aloft

are matched to a simple, unsimple, desperately sad tune. Which I faintly know but have never learned. I listen to tenor Robert Tear, boy treble Lewis and a school band and – oh joy! – ensnare and hold the first eight bars. But the next eight rise gently, subtly. Just the first two notes - that’s all I need! Got them! Can sing them. On to the keyboard and – ah! – that’s it, the song’s heart laid bare, it’s mine damnit. And now I can take it with me to the kitchen, fill the coffee percolator, sing it confidently in the sharp acoustic and snuffle at its sadness.

Alas, I cannot claim to be limitless

A question arises: is Rouchswalwe a toper? Definitely not. Toping is drinking to excess and although beer flows through her blog like the Drac flows through Grenoble, she remains clear-sighted – even starry-eyed – enough to produce vigorous, allusive prose, and poetry, unaffected by alchohol.

Recently I scientifically tested her consumption and she cheerfully responded. See http://5fingerplatz.blogspot.com/2011/09/me-gustaria-una-cerveza.html

I now return the favour.

Until recently this itinerary was bi-annual. My companion, C, is fifteen years younger, physicist turned website designer, creator of a web-based library, a fairly extreme left-winger, enormously articulate, widely read and a forensic conversationalist. Since the mountain must go to Mahomet I turn up at Lewisham (SE London), we taxi to Greenwich and order a meal at Davy’s Wine Lodge. An absorbent meal with a mature zinfandel. I choose the wine since for all his abilities, C lacks a retentive palate.

We then stroll past the Cutty Sark to The Trafalgar, the best pub in London. Which at 2.30 pm, is empty. In a bow-fronted window overhanging the Thames we may look upstream to the heart of London, across the river to the financial skyscrapers and downstream to The Dome (which we watched being built). We then each drink five pints of real ale, The conversation is broken only by increasingly frequent absences at the Gents but a graph of consumption resembles the discharge rate for a capacitor (ie, one sharp peak followed an endless visit to the plains). Drinking ends at about 10 pm.

This is my limit since beer turns me into one of those maths problems involving a bath, a tap and a plughole. A mere conduit. The conversation is demanding, stretching me like Peter Rabbit to bursting point. It is an admirable justification for boozing.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Non-flying fragments from Brittany

TOO MANY cheap French restaurants have become pizzerias and no longer offer family food (daubes, blanquette de veau, rillettes) as Dish of the Day. So when I saw a chalkboard in Paimpol announcing choux farci (stuffed cabbage) I dived in and started stuffing. “What is the cabbage stuffed with?” asked an Englishman longingly at a nearside table who thought he’d ordered it but got something else. Visited by those twin eroders of the intellect – nostalgia and a full belly – I handed over a €10 tip on a €29 bill and addressed the muted staff of three: “You run an efficient restaurant. You have an extraordinary menu. And I am happy to be in France.” Methinks they talk of Justice Shallow yet.

THIRTY years ago, on another holiday in Brittany, I bought myself one of those indigenous white and blue striped shirts called marinières. It hung loosely and I imagined it made me look dashing. When it mysteriously became tight I discarded it. This time in boutiquey Paimpol I decided to buy another and Mrs BB did the honours. However, she also bought one for Zach and he definitely looks dashing.

I AM grateful to Lucy for several reasons. With Plutarch she encouraged me, by example, to start blogging, she reacted constructively (again with Plutarch) to my stillborn verse-writing, and when an intellectually posh website rejected my Shakespeare-into-French article she recommended another site where it was accepted. But it was a different matter when she spotted the device I lashed together for mounting satnav on my car dashboard. “Hmmm,” she said as she ran a finger along its rough-hewn edges.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Beware the acne'd Northerner

Apropos nothing Rouchswalwe disapproves of computer dating. And I have a little story.

My adolescence was a mess and I howled at the moon a lot. My worried mother – off her own bat – enrolled me in an international male/female pen-pals scheme, a written precursor to RW’s antipathy. Surely, my mother thought, there was one young woman in the world who could convince me that being male was bearable.

It sort of worked. A trainee teacher from Essex sent a photo with a gentle note (“I should add I normally wear glasses.”), we corresponded and I met her on a couple of visits to London. The second time I was so horribly rude I cringe at the memory. If in the afterlife forgiveness is possible, she will be my first supplicatee. I devoutly hope she married a millionaire and now owns Madagascar.

Typical male crassness, but Jahway was lurking. I tried another pen-pal and received a photo of a handsomely brutal woman in Johannesburg. I sent off a photo, discreetly chosen to hide my acne, and she immediately broke off the correspondence.

Johannesburg was merely a deep wound. Essex was different. I wasn’t then ashamed of my behaviour - that feeling grew with time. Rather I regarded myself a poltroon trawling such a system. I became adult (I hope) by moving from Bradford to London and quickly meeting Miss T who became Mrs BB.

What is inexplicable is that while still yearning, futilely, for a woman’s company I was able to act so badly when temporarily granted this blessing. Does this deserve discussion?

CHEERIER NOTE I’m told I won an unofficial award for responding to others’ blogs. Does anyone know from whom? Or is Jahway at work again?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Not original but unexpected

How do love affairs start? Jana Nordmeyer, disfigured by naevus flammeus, has made do without love for much of her life until… well, that’s for those who want to read the book. And it’s been for me to solve. A more difficult task than you might imagine given that I’ve been her dominant, if unrequited, lover for the last eighteen months, finding it hard to let her suffer.

Carol Ann Duffy’s Rapture proved a useful handbook. Sixty-two poems, meant to be read in sequence, cover the beginning, middle and end of an affair, Sapphic but that’s beside the point. Love is love, although I wonder about CAD’s former lover, now engaged elsewhere (one hopes), yet able to read this monument to their shared passion at any time of the day or night.

They were modern lovers:

We text, text, text
our significant words.

I re-read your first,
Your second, your third

look for your small xx
feeling absurd.

They were, thank goodness, uninhibited:

…We undressed,
Then dressed again in the gowns of the moon.
We knelt in the leaves,
Kissed, kissed; new words rustled nearby and we swooned.

And when it went wrong:

Learn from a stone, its heart-shape meaningless,
perfect with relentless cold; or from the bigger moon,
Implacably dissolving in the sky, or from the stars,
lifeless as Latin verbs…

Not that I wanted to poach anything from these powerful, unique reflections. Other than the idea that poetry and love might co-exist in A Stall Recovered. Not exactly an original idea but one which I could never have foreseen when I started writing. The first time I’ve felt grateful to a Poet Laureate.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

BB returns WW to its roots

To fly in a light plane along a coastline that evokes WS’s “swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean”. To do it in France. To do it in good company. Our pilot Louis Kervoaze, who mediated terrestrial and celestial regions on our behalf, was our secular priest. I couldn’t fail to ask questions.

LK solo-ed after fifteen hours. Jana, hero of A Stall Recovered, did it in nine but she’s imaginary. A quick solo doesn’t guarantee a good pilot and LK remembered a youth who seemed ready after five hours. “But he never came back,” LK added. My rotten French turned this into a horror story whereas LK implied “for further lessons”. Fear was the reason.

Good pilots become old good pilots by remaining aware. As LK taxied from the hanger to the runway his head moved continuously, a series of tiny, jerky sweeps repetitively covering the whole of his visible world. The trick is never to be satisfied by not finding a menace or a discrepancy.

Immediately in front of me was the GPS display, quite unlike the Disneyish toy I use in my car. Serious kit with a flashing capital M. Standing for? Message, LK said, but he’d checked it ages ago.

As the Cessna 172 took off (A delightful French word: décoller, to unstick) the aerodynamic exterior needed changing from one which gave added lift to one which encouraged drag-free forward flight. A quick touch on a wheel labelled Flaps.

We approached the landing at right-angles to the end of the runway. LK took us in on a smooth descending turn with the wheels finally straddling the dotted line down the centre of the tarmac. I said Parfait. but it sounded cheap. What I meant was beautiful.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Cursed flight ends with great lunch

Finally! I watched Louis Kervoaze crank the Cessna’s yoke anti-clockwise against a port side crosswind and we were airborne in about ten metres flat for a 45-minute round trip between Lannion and Paimpol along the north Brittany coast. On the back seat sat Mrs BB and Lucy (with her ever-clicking Lumix).

Disappointment had seemed inevitable. I was misinformed by a tourist office and an aero-club, got the air strip muddled and had been threatened by strong winds that were whisking super-tankers out of the Channel and dropping them into the Place de la Concorde. On that very morning Lucy’s Tom came down with the lurgi and the phrase Le vol maudit (Cursed flight) was born.

But here we were inspecting the mussel beds from 1000 feet (yes, French aviators do use imperial terms), overflying an island acquired by a supermarket magnate and appreciating tide-out contours undetectable at sea level. The landing was a special treat: a deliberate stall whereby the plane in effect drops the last few metres on to the runway to the muted blare of the stall horn. I couldn’t remember the exact word to describe this experience other than it started with an e. Useful having Lucy around; she knew I’d undergone an epiphany.

Tom had recovered thank goodness and we met up with him for lunch at one their favourite fish restaurants in Erquy. Humdrum stuff like coquilles St Jacques, half a dozen oysters and a piquant white number from Gascony – almost a canteen meal you might say. Afterwards we were ushered into the presence of the famous Mol who I believe conferred her blessing. Oh, I should add: we did talk a bit.

Below: Lucy, Louis, Mrs BB with Cessna 172.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

I don't remember the square buttons

All being well, as my Granny used to say, Mrs BB and I aim to take a little holiday in a foreign country, starting tomorrow. To mark this I intend to put up a post stuffed full of philosophical potential, something knotty which will leave passers-by testing their intellect and mourning my temporary absence. Trouser flies are my chosen subject.

Recently I ordered some casual trousers online and the world of fashion seems to have turned full circle. No zip, just four buttons. Access to what needs to be accessed is much slower due to the stiff new fabric. Luckily the country we have in mind is quite forgiving about accidents in this area which is just as well.

I was born into a Britain where all flies buttoned. Far more buttons than four, too. Did accidents occur? My lips are sealed.

I am also old enough to remember the buttoned-fly watershed. Starting during the war when Britain was invaded by military personnel whose flies zipped. Americans, of course. Weren’t they capable of a little patience? Hilarity ensued after a spate of medical incidents in which Arizonans and Vermonters had to be separated from their pants. Condign punishment for an unnatural desire to speed things up.

I had no sympathy – until it happened to me. Surely the most hideous male dilemma of all time. Metaphorically speaking, being required to retrace one’s footsteps. A double whammie in the lingo of those who suffered first. Ah my dear member: I envisaged a much better future for you than this.

Thereafter awareness of the zip disappeared. Down and up and one was done. Except for a final stage. Lack of awareness leading to forgetfulness. The gap that is the stigma of old age. There, something to chew on.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Miss Kappelhoffer came a long way

It is fashionable to mock Doris Day. She presently lives on the Carmel Peninsula in California (for which I profoundly envy her) and has latterly devoted her life to animal welfare. It was my impression she'd filled her house with cats but I accept The Crow's correction (see below) that the cats were dogs. As to her singing she’s probably remembered for bouncy inconsequential numbers like The Deadwood Stage, and Ya-Ya Roly Poly Bear. She appeared in a suprisingly wide range of non-singing movies of which intellectuals were wont to complain about the sexual ambiguities implicit in those with Rock Hudson

With the “professional virgin” thesis disposed of, I thought the Day/Hudson movies were quite witty, but that’s another matter. What is criminal is that her voice might be forgotten. A very precise and lovely instrument indeed capable of handling dross (A Bushel and a Peck), trades union negotiations (Seven and a Half Cents), great thirties standards (Bewitched, A Foggy Day, I’m Beginning to See the Light) and much more. It was said she sounded too healthy, too happy to be a great singer but, for goodness sake, she did Hollywood films.

Away from rank commercialism she could move me as much as Ella, Sarah or Peggy and she was just as technically accomplished. Still think I’m a sentimental old twerp? Try Fools Rush In, exquisitely accompanied by the Andre Previn Trio – very slow with beautifully sustained, rock-steady tone control. Forget the anatomical impossibility line (“my heart above my head”) and dwell instead on those aching final words “and let this fool rush in.” Despite the richness of the voice the sentiment is expressed modestly, the gentlest of pleas.

Incidentally she is the subject of an excellent biography by A. E. Hotchner who, at the time, had just done Hemingway and thought he was above movie stars. But she said she’d tell him everything and she did.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

BB's behaviourism lab

PORSCHE PREPARATIONS Once I’d driven it (see What’s a Good Present for a Hooligan?) I was regaled with stories about the difficulties of organising the project. Like the day Mrs BB inexplicably asked me to come out into the garden to see a withered dahlia while Younger Daughter rifled my wallet indoors, taking away my driving licence needed by the hiring company. And did I realise, I was asked, that my wallet lacked a driving licence for over a week? The two of them crowed about my inferior powers of observation.

Younger Daughter who was due to spend a couple of days with us, drove her Seat to the hirer to pick up the Porsche but was disinclined to take her cairn with her for reasons that can be imagined. Which meant that my first task was to drive YD to her home, 45 minutes away, in the Porsche to pick up the cairn. There must be something anti-canine about Porsches because the cairn appeared to suffer a nervous breakdown during the return.

CAKE QUESTION Elder Daughter and Peter stayed with us over my birthday celebrations and I was getting ready to take them to the bus station for their return to Luton when I was suddenly visited by a question I needed to put to Mrs BB.

How long does it take her to create those little cakes/buns that are done in paper cups?

Such questions arrive randomly but it’s no use telling Mrs BB that; she prefers to read between my non-existent lines and look for non-existent reasons. Thus I drove to the bus station (less than two miles), called in at Tesco’s filling station to pick up The Guardian, found they’d run out, drove back across the road to the main store, bought one there and then drove home. And you can guess what lay gently steaming in the kitchen when I opened the door. (Enhanced only with raisins I should add; the picture above came from Google).

“Have one while it’s hot,” said Mrs BB triumphantly. Delicious. But I must insist – however futile my insistence – that self-interest played no part in the question. Such questions crop up in my mind almost daily and the answers are filed away for random use (often in the novel) weeks or months into the future.

The answer is, by the way, twenty-five minutes

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Booze isn't the only option

From eight of us round the coffee table (seen here, ten hours later) eight monologues rose in gathering incoherence. Soon Rusty Nails (scotch and Drambuie) would be served and thereafter madness. I asked: “Doctors. Men or women?” and for ten minutes I had their attention.

OS surprised me: “War correspondents. Women! It’s gotta be that hard one on the BBC.” Meaning Orla Guerin already mentioned on WW. Somebody said: “Priests?” and Peter, PB’s partner, said monosyllabically, “Men.” but he is of RC stock. I considered ski instructors. Mine had been Swiss and in all that mattered – build, seriousness, strength of leg, stubbornness – the sexes were indistinguishable.

OS admitted to reading more books by women than by men but we agreed this was an unfruitful comparison. A host of trades and professions – dentist, soccer player, police-person, politician – slid by gaining raucous single-word judgements which I failed to memorise.

The next morning Mrs BB and I vacated our bed early so that a young couple, who’d occupied couches, could take over. Peter was already up, reading his Kindle in the garden. I acquired pen and paper and returned to my first love, interviewing.

Doctors? Mrs BB: “I’d rather a female doctor was talking about my female bit (sic).” Peter: “It’s different for me. But then I’m not sure I’d want a man messing about with…”

News presenters? Mrs BB: “Female. Because I like Fiona Bruce and I don’t think women get as much cherishing.”

Taxi drivers? Peter: “I was going to say men but I know a woman (driver). She’s scary and she’d kill me if I said men.”

Prime minister? Mrs BB: “Oh male! The only female was an absolute disaster.”

A rowdy party? Call in BB to damp things down

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

What's a good present for a hooligan?

In future I need to take more care about casual remarks. Twice while holidaying in France this year I mumbled to myself “I’d like to try out a Porsche some day.” unaware I’d been overheard. Yesterday I opened my front door to find a 22-year-old Porsche Carrera at my beck and call for the day. Thanks to Mrs BB, OS and PB. Yet my birthday is still two days away.

Thereby hangs a tale. Insurance companies take a dim view of old fools in Porsches and the cut-off age is 76; at present I’m 75. OS pointed out that the Carrera is as old as granddaughter Bella but certain cars do age graciously. Old men become incontinent, old Carreras become classics.

Parts of the Carrera are woefully antique. The dashboard is utterly non-ergonomic, starting the engine requires the brief but irritating insertion of a chip, the convertible body creaks and groans, at slow speeds the steering is as heavy as that of an oil tanker, and the unassisted brake pedal ideally requires both feet.

But the faster you go the more responsive things get. Not only does the car gobble up corners as if on rails, it invites you to accelerate round them. The lazy 217 bhp engine makes a noise like a washing machine (greatly disturbing OS’s cairn terrier) while you and Mr Toad struggle continuously for control of the steering wheel.

Took a little drive via Golden Valley to Hay-on-Wye, and the hills were alive with an engine beat that belonged to my youth. Speed, said Aldous Huxley, is the only new vice of our modern age. D’accord. Hay has the most beautifully located car-park in Britain: spot the Carrera.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Seduction for the elderly

Some music arrives by the back door.

When I was still in my editorial pomp a Swiss businessman, who had better remain anonymous, spent a good deal of his company cash currying my favour. Got me tickets to Glyndebourne, accompanied me to the Paris Opera for Berg’s Wozzeck, dined me at Le Grand Véfour (then a Paris three-star), chatted about his Ferrari and about his vintage violin on which he played Bach. We got on. I sent him LPs by Solomon, piano master of Beethoven’s slow movements, and he urged me to try Notturno by the Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck.

Schoeck who died in 1957 is modern-ish but not oppressively so. Notturno, for string quartet and voice (baritone in my case), incorporates settings of four German poems. I bought the LP, played it once, didn’t take it in, let it languish. A decade later I transferred my LPs to CDs and thereby re-discovered Notturno. Gentle, reflective, predominantly minor-key, it’s a small masterpiece; it’s playing now and the German word traurig (sad) recurs. Perfect music for someone of my age and disposition.

I wrote thanking him for this late-flowering piece and he phoned me back. Meanwhile Notturno shuffles its way into my consciousness. Again, this is not a recommendation: too much would have to come together for that. Just a celebration of how things can happen and hopes of further Notturno moments for all of us.

NOVEL Nineteen out of twenty chapters subjected to first-pass revision: result 6579 words (out of the original 119,154) have bit the dust. I feel cleaner for it.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Ambassador to the nasty bits

Orla Guerin, BBC TV war correspondent, an enthusiasm shared with Mrs BB.

A flattering photo. Skeletal Orla, with panda eyes, weighs seven stones (98 lb) and is daughter to one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – take your pick. Her Northern Ireland accent is quite different from the romantic mush uttered south of the border and is, alas, forever associated in Anglo ears with two decades of bombings, impromptu executions and internecine political warfare between extreme Republicans and those who ironically call themselves Loyalists in that troubled province west of the Isle of Man.

We first noticed her in Israel, intent on evolving into a corporeal symbol of that agonised stretch of sand and dissension, forcing us night after night to avoid being blasé about irreconcilables. Abruptly, when on the verge of dying from sheer compassion, she turned up (I think) south of Zimbabwe trying to make sense of Robert Mugabe. Was this a BBC joke, a sort of holiday? Seems the Israelis had kicked her out for over-sympathising with the Palestinians. Can one over-sympathise?

Thereafter floods in Bangladesh, refreshing forays into Afghanistan, disasters in central African states and… I’ve lost count. Presently wearing a flak-jacket she’s reporting the Libyan rebels. Why are we touched? Because she puts herself in harm’s way and has the capacity to lower that unpromising accent into a groan of suppressed rage about man’s inhumanity to man. She couldn’t be less glamorous but then stars don’t need glamour.

GORGON TIMES “I do think you write well, but I think it would be quite hard to place - I'm just not convinced it would catch the eye of the editors of literary lists, which is where I think its market would be.” Anne Williams, agent.