Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Monday, 31 January 2011

And there the snake throws her enamell'd skin

The day of the new car.

First the old car must be purged. No problem remembering the satnav or the bags of dried apricots in my door pocket. But how about sunglasses hidden in a trapdoor in the roof or the £1 and €1 coins kept for trolley hire at Sainsbury and Super U respectively. Plus those spare bulbs the French government insists I carry. What I almost missed were seat-belt pads to protect the breasts and shoulders of women using the back seats.

It’s a nice trip. The Ross-on-Wye road for eight miles, then a detour stopping short of Symonds Yat where the Wye wends past a heart-stopping cliff overlooked by a pair of nesting peregrines. To Monmouth with its statue of Henry V, across the Wye, swing left from the Chepstow road (possibly the most beautiful in Britain, hugging the Wye and skirting Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey) and on through the Forest of Dean where yellow tape round tree trunks signals protest against the Tories’ plan to sell off the woodlands.

To Cinderford which matches its name but is redeemed by the brisk good humour of the woman receptionist at Winner Garages. Our new car, the same make and model as its predecessor, stands out on the forecourt, not being caked with frost. In four years minor design faults (especially the computer display) have been tweaked and the new bolide feels taut and eager.

NEW NOVEL Should I record the miniscule progress? Yesterday, weaving in recent research meant a para and a half (say about 150 words) took nearly two hours. Why? Research should look casual, throwaway, unsweated.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Pages from a psychiatrist's notebook

Gaps between haircuts are getting longer. Last week I entered the hairdresser looking like Moses, left much pelt on the floor, and emerged bullet-headed, a lager-lout looking for a fight.

Shabby too. The same navy fleece unwashed these several years, navy corduroy trousers with the pile wearing away. Hair never brushed, handkerchiefs rarely changed. Away from the physical and social world, not really doing anything my late father-in-law would regard as work.

Like the haircut gaps, my blog comments are getting longer. Having found a post where content, style and discipline are in balance I advance complex often fantastical reactions that may parse but are frequently misjudged: byproducts of my new novel which demands techniques at the far end of my comprehension and ability. When I’m not drafting, tweaking, reading the stuff aloud and re-writing I’m researching.

I know what villages south of Bayonne look like, also the cockpit of a twelve-year-old Cessna 172R. I am devising R/T procedures (“Montaubon Tower this is Gascon Sierra Delta Romeo, ready for departure, request right turnout heading 330 degrees”) and exploring what technical degrees were on offer at Arizona State University fifteen years ago. My main concern is the life of a woman operating in a world predominantly shaped and controlled by men. The war in Afghanistan provides counterpoint.

The blog is my neighbourhood where I walk an imaginary dog (which does not defecate) and chat to those I meet, most of whom seem to have arranged their creative impulses rather better than me. Less obsessionally. I believe I am seen as a dry-land Captain Ahab who has lost the desire to hurt whales; certainly I’m indulged and thankful for that.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A debt acknowledged

Recently I’ve discussed American English and some American respondents adopted an apologetic tone regarding their native tongue. The stuff below proves that any apology is misplaced. Exceeds 300 words.

Mark Twain's Rules for Funeral Etiquette. At the moving passages, be moved -- but only according to the degree of your intimacy with the parties giving the entertainment, or with the party in whose honor the entertainment is given. Where a blood relation sobs, an intimate friend should choke up, a distant acquaintance should sigh, a stranger should merely fumble sympathetically with his handkerchief.

Do not bring your dog.

William Goldman, screen writer. As to his size: he's like the Pentagon; no matter how big you think it's going to be it's always bigger. André's publicity has him at seven feet five inches and 550 pounds (This is not a fat man remember.)... It's in his presence. André is very still... (perhaps) because he's never sure what reaction people will have to him. I've seen children meet him and go mad with glee and start to climb on him. Other children scream in fear and run away... His hands may well be the most remarkable thing about him... Shaking hands with André is like dipping your hand into a well.

Richard P Feynman, physicist, on letter censorship at Los Alamos.
I said: I have a game. I challenge (my friends, relations) to send me a code that I can’t decipher, see. So, they’re making up codes at the other end, and they’re sending them in, and they’re not going to tell me what the key is.
Los Alamos letter censor: Well you’re going to have to tell them please to send the key in with the code.
I said: But I don’t want to see the key!
Censor: Well, all right, we’ll take the code out.

The Great Gatsby. There was nothing to look at from under the tree except Gatsby’s enormous house, so I looked at it, like Kant at his church steeple, for half an hour. A brewer had built it early in the “period” craze, a decade before, and there was a story that he’d agreed to pay five years’ taxes on all the neighbouring cottages if the owners would have their roofs thatched with straw. Perhaps their refusal took the heart out of his plan to Found a Family – he went into an immediate decline.

Ross Thomas, underrated thriller writer. It could have been called a trial, I suppose… Our Star Chamber judge carefully arranged six sharpened pencils on the desk beside a fresh yellow legal pad. Next he produced his pipe, tobacco pouch and match box, and placed them within easy reach. He then adopted an expression which he may have thought was his best horse-sense look. He made his face as long as possible, showed both of us his teeth in an impartial manner, and nodded several times as if he were adjusting to some invisible halter. I almost expected him to neigh us to order.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

BB en route to Trier

The above photograph is a better illuminated shot of my Rhine barge cap and is at the gentle request of Rouchswalwe. I hope the braid and the decorated tape below the braid are now clearer. I have taken to wearing the cap as I write the novel and am experiencing a wave of smooth intellectualism typical of Germany’s most admirable former chancellor who wore his Rhine barge cap with enormous panache.

Note: The item supporting the cap is not my head.

NEW NOVEL First chapter completed: 5586 words, January 23 2011. Thanks to the excellent support I have received (see comments to previous post) about English French and French English I can’t wait to get on with Chapter 2

Friday, 21 January 2011

Doing my Helmut Schmidt bit

Frosty. I wear my Rhine barge cap to Tesco and become A Man In A Hat - a slightly different person. Always aware of the headgear but comforted by a conviction that I at least know it doesn’t look stupid.

We buy flowers which Mrs BB says need protection. Recently a potted basil plant suffered frost-bite when exposed to very cold weather on the ten-minute walk back home.

Neighbour Andy has unearthed his mother’s Common Prayer (dated 1922) and draws my attention to material he assumes has subsequently been altered or expunged:
Almighty Lord God who for the sin of man didst once drown all the world, except eight persons, and afterwards of thy great mercy didst promise never to destroy it so again…
Oh Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron…
(Headline) Articles agreed upon by the archbishops and bishops of both provinces and the whole clergy… for the avoiding of diversities of opinion and for the establishing of consent touching true religion. London 1562
(One such article) The Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, touching the right, title and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists boast…

NEW NOVEL 4902 words, January 21 2011. Yana, an American living in France, is speaking French to Josette. Since the book is in English the dialogue appears as English. Should Yana’s “translated” English differ from the American English she uses when speaking to an English speaker? Sounds silly, perhaps, but there are advantages in having these two modes.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

And you say you read all the time

Peter: Feet on ground, head in literary clouds

Elder Daughter (Professional Bleeder), a former NHS phlebotomist, is not to be confused with Younger Daughter (Occasional Speeder), whose blogonym is easier to decode. PB, an omnivorous reader who has clearly inherited her mother’s genes, phones in another compelling story about Kindle.

PB’s partner, Peter, didn’t read much before they met but soon succumbed to the Bonden virus. And not just easy books; he’s read Cloud Atlas which is more than I have. Once when I visited them Peter was in the bath reading and he took a long time getting out. I approve of this. People who have baths to get clean are missing the point.

In fact Peter has taken reading further than any of us - literally. He walks to his workplace reading all the way, avoiding loose paving stones and casually driven cars in his absorption. Inevitably PB bought him a Kindle for Christmas and he asked her to download titles out of copyright she thinks he “should have read” given his present age. Within days he found Brave New World “terrific”.

I’ve heard several people express their doubts about ebook readers but I’m cheered that these devices, with their modest screens, compete directly with that larger, omni-present screen which threatens to gobble us all up at times.

NEW NOVEL Provisional title: The Love Problem, 4579 words, Jan 18, 2010. Much research on aviation in USA and in France. American central character (Yana – a Rouchswalwe suggestion) has to talk to American friend in plausible US idiom without lapses into honey, figure (for think), and gee. Then there’s French conversation between Yana and French woman: is it OK to give a French twist to the English I write? More on this latter – much more.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

With this I brook no argument

My perfect cup of coffee (black, always black) has its roots in the USA and has nothing in common with the doll’s-house cupful which accompanies a digestif. It is comparatively weak and I drink two mugs (ie, a surprisingly large total of 700 ml) with my brunch. Arriving at perfection has taken an adult lifetime and cost several hundred pounds. These are the essential constituents:

MUG Bone china, William Morris pattern, large handle, parallel sides. There should be no compromises – aesthetic or material – with such an item in daily use. Were it to be broken I would need a week in a residential care home.

COFFEE Three moderately heaped teaspoonfuls of Fairtrade Colombian ground, bag secured by a crocodile clip (forget rubber bands, lengths of string, and especially “hopeful” folding), kept in the freezer. This coffee is in fact Guatemalan but I received it as a Christmas table present and the quality is very close.

PERCOLATOR A dozen others, all in working order, were discarded before I acquired this Krups costing £75, about three times the previous average. The most common failing was the manufacturer’s inability to design a valve between the percolator chassis and the jug that allowed the jug to be removed or installed without irritation. The Krups jug, possibly made from an aluminium alloy, is vacuum-insulated and may be set down without harming polished surfaces. A plastic filter is included but I augment this with a paper filter.
NOTE: Those who have read my novel, Gorgon Times, will already have met the Krups which plays an important role in defining the character of Jerry, Clare’s husband. I should add I am not Jerry.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Porn in the utility room

Rouchswalwe, whose sole fault on this earth was to adopt a blogonym that Anglophones found too hard to pronounce (Hence Zu schwer = Too difficult), not only launches regularly into poetry but writes prose that teeters on the brink. Eg:

Once we've touched a thing that feels distinctive… the skin tingles. And if that something is not a thing I can touch with my fingertips?... Sort of like hadaka no tsukiai in a Japanese Onsen [a hot spring bath], where no textiles come between water and skin, making it possible to conversationally commune with any fellow bathers in a state of uniquely textured tensionlessness.

Can’t match that but I have my mini-moments. One of my jobs Chez Bonden is to take laundry downstairs, stick it in the washer, prime the washer appropriately and push buttons. No sweat. But what was once an unexceptional chore has a delicious side-effect. Previously detergent was poured into a plastic container and chucked into the drum. Now it comes in fat squelchy sachets that feel almost organic. I've always regarded detergents as one of the most wearisome subjects known to man, triggering some of the most wearisome TV commercials. Seems that the manufacturer (Ariel) thought the same. But there are limits.

DEAR AGONY VET Occasional Speeder has taken her convalescence to Kenya and we are dog-sitting Missie, the Cairn that cost as much as two cases of Montrachet. I take her on a lead to pick up The Guardian and she sniffs and sprays every two metres of the – fortunately – short walk. But suppose I become impatient and tow her past one of these smelly places: what damage am I inflicting on the inner dog?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Yup, it was definitely smote (smitten)

But it is fed and watered,
By God’s almighty hand.

As usual, a selective view. That same watering God does a lot of smiting and he smote this bamboo good and hard. I take it personally.

Even casual Works Well readers know I am no gardener. But ten years ago I planted the bamboo as a scenic barrier to the sunken patio as seen from our kitchen window. A huge act of faith. Mrs BB told me to split the roots and I am convinced this hindered fructification. Years passed and growth was imperceptible.

Finally we had the barrier though by then Mrs BB, with the fidgetiness of all gardeners, was fed up with the effect and wanted it uprooted. I desisted but it could be the watering God was on Mrs BB’s side. His frost and His snow have made a sorry mess and we must see whether Spring rises with healing in its wings.

In sparring with the Old Testament God I face a conservatism that makes George Osborne the debauched choirboy he really is. But I don’t often have gardening ideas. Given setbacks like this I may insist on concreting over the whole boiling. So much for the green and pleasant land.

HOORAH FOR KINDLE Given Plutarch’s plaudits I bought Mrs BB a Kindle for Christmas. If it failed, well, so be it. The price is down to £109 and that’s no great loss. But with only mild encouragement she trawled Amazon’s lists and yesterday we re-registered the device in her name and she downloaded her first title (One Day, David Nicholls). This could benefit the weight of our holiday luggage.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Winter's little science lesson

This winter’s low temperatures allowed us to appreciate the Second Law of Thermodynamics (“That you can't pass heat from the cooler to the hotter”- Flanders and Swann). Chez Bonden is only twelve years old but the insulation codes were never framed for the minus teens.

Night after night the furnace’s thermostat overrode the timer to ensure we didn’t freeze our little asses off. Forcing me to turn off two major downstairs radiators at night since they were clearly wasting money. Alone, we closed all interior doors but visits from grandson Zach undermined this.

Two weak points. Heat poured out through the front door letter-slot despite the box which brother Sir Hugh created and installed. Far worse were the dining room French windows. Although double-glazed they offer token protection compared with the triple glazing I noticed on a visit to Sweden where the glass spacing was twice that of mine. The ad hoc solution was to keep the full-length curtains pulled to. Very effective although there was a sense of the Miss Havishams as we gloomily lunched.

I envisage a couple of small tasks in April. For the man I call in, of course.

BETTER IN 2011? The surgeon’s knife struck three times during 2010, annulling the family-wide dinner marking my seventy-fifth and, later, our golden wedding celebrations. After an early hiccup Mrs BB’s sight is back to where it was and a couple of days ago I got this email from Younger Daughter (Occasional Speeder): Went to see consultant yesterday. Had lovely internal examination and lots of prodding and poking. All worth it as absolutely nothing there “Consider yourself cured” he said and I banged my head against the x ray display machine in happiness

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Heads can ache as well as backs

Apart from two years in the fifties, I worked on newspapers and consumer/business/technical magazines from 1951 until 1995. When in 1959 I wrote to Mrs BB’s father to ask for her hand (the tradition then) he agreed, even though he was never sure journalism was a real job. He was a chef, working 6½ days a week.

My two-year blip involved RAF national service. After trawling my psyche the RAF decided I was capable of understanding airborne radio equipment. Basic training (Learning to kill with a bayonet. Avoiding venereal disease. etc) added to technical training took almost a year after which I repaired VHF transmitters/receivers in a large non-air-conditioned shed in Singapore. However incurable athlete’s foot took over and after very primitive and futile treatment I ended up near Doncaster modifying radar antennae used on Lancaster bombers (see pic).

None of which is terribly interesting except to prove that in a mainly sedentary professional life I have also worked manually. Received wisdom says manual work is harder than sitting-down work. I didn’t find this so. Admittedly I wasn’t digging holes or assembling Ford Anglias but I used screwdrivers, soldering irons, Avometers, and some delicacy.

The repair work was complex and I needed to study a large circuit diagram. I found it fairly entertaining but, more particularly, it was a finite world. By comparison a thousand-word article on fork-truck masts, initially at least, presents a huge range of options. An inverted pyramid of work, some of which isn’t entirely enjoyable.

No, I’m not saying I’d rather have been a navvy. Hard work’s where you find it, although most sophists work at desks.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Looking back with badly prescribed specs

Everyone should visit the poetic relay race between Plutarch and Lucy. Having read Lucy’s latest contribution (Click here) I left some comments and she responded: I can't really seem to get away from nature imagery… it's just too integral to myself and my experience to lose it.

I am a townie so why not an urban version of Lucy’s piece? Alas this isn’t it. It’s defective (ugly in fact) and I worked on it so long I entered the metrical graveyard of diminishing returns. I think I know why it fails and rectification would require redrafting. If it were prose I would do just that but verse is the lesser aspiration. I publish it as I might add a new wreck to a marine chart.

The two pictures show the Bradford post office in front of the cathedral and Swan Arcade, scene of the city fathers’ greatest act of vandalism.
Bradford. The fifties
The post office is going, Gran, they need,
To clear the view to the cathedral tower.
But that can’t be, she shook her stubborn head,
I saw it built, for me it’s just pre-war.

Which war? Then dainty Swan Arcade went too,
And textiles started failing to the east.
They scrubbed the city’s face as if to woo
All those who look on blackness with distaste.

This later irony was lost on me,
I’d turned my back on urban soot-stained stone,
On mills like keeps, on old formality,
On pride in status lost, mere pride alone.

And now only a word or phrase survives:
Brown Muff, a store - how times were innocent!
Lumb Lane - an ancient memo that revives
Dislike for ugly names and sentiment.

Grotesquerie? Let’s go to Buttershaw,
Or Wyke, or Shelf, or Clough, or Heckmondwike,
This wearying pig-headed northern flaw:
“Why dream up titles you’re inclined to like?”

But honesty compels and I must try,
To re-examine that unfavoured place
In callow youth I tended not to sigh
Nor look for subtleties in time and space

St George’s Hall, at first a cinema,
Then concert hall, a new enlightenment,
And Woods for records heard in camera,
In booths we looked for mutual assent.

From steep-tracked Darley Street a door gave way
To dust on dust, the central library:
Brass steps on shelves to reach the higher prey,
The books new-bound to add longevity

Now honesty has grabbed me by the wrist
And dragged me to the place of my rebirth,
In dull Hall Ings my schooldays were dismissed
And I at last unearthed a crumb of worth

Saturday, 1 January 2011

The pits and the epiphany

Went to bed in a foul, self-critical mood, grinding out a mantra: no more about ageing, no more about bloody ageing. Until Younger Daughter and I flipped through some of my recent posts, courtesy of her Iphone, I hadn’t realised how the subject had tainted the latter part of the WW year. Ageing isn’t fun, but it’s even less fun to read about. Too late Plutarch came up with the following from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book of aphorisms, The Bed of Procrustes: “Here's another, which I personally find rather close to the knuckle, and therefore all the more true as far as I am concerned: The only objective definition of ageing is when a person starts to talk about ageing."

So from now on imagine me as I was in 1975, forty years old, full of professional arrogance, just awarded my first editorship – which is how I still see myself when times are good. Not likeable but likely to say something unexpected. A constantly spiky terror to those who were in charge of me.

But I must be honest. Knowing I could purge this discovery, as I am doing now, I relaxed to a newly remembered experience. At midnight we crowded round the French window to watch the New Year fireworks. There were fewer this year but we were compensated - sky lanterns, released in dozens, elegant domes of flame floating determinedly north towards the Malverns. At first I was struck by a sense of community (the kids released one of their own) but the word is too passive. What we were seeing was a dynamic community, one on the move. An affirmative display. And on they flowed.