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

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Not always what the marketing man ordered

What’s the best brand name ever? Brasso must come close: short, unambiguous, even a bit of wit. The worst? How about Francis Barnett? A motorbike undermined by the manufacturer’s weak-kneed birth certificate.

Brand names encircle our lives, especially our youth. Reckitt & Colman went global as Reckitt Benckiser but for me R&C is a wooden peg sticking out of a fabric bag of dolly blue - whatever that was. Persil is middle-class detergent but who would trust cheaply ostentatious Daz? Dreft - for clothes so delicate you’d prefer not to wear them - somehow matches the translucent white flakes.

Shell, BP, Elf and Texaco snap out their oily names but Fina falls flat. As revenge I’m inclined to say Finner. Omega’s an OK wristwatch but Rolex is a supermarket trolley; Longines (my watch) speaks French chic and beats them both.

Cox’s Orange Pippin and Bramley Seedling have ancestry which Gala obviously lacks. Who would eat spreadable butter from Lurpak which sounds like an eructation? - the BBs do, but quietly. Qantas was too easily transmogrified into Quaint-arse (by Alf Garnett) to be taken seriously.

Lagonda became part of Aston Martin and serve ‘em right; sounds like a taxi you’d hail in Venice. Noilly Prat overcame English prejudice to help create the dry martini but it was a near thing.

I’ll never drink Byrrh, there was no need to spell it like that. I get the feeling a Stanley knife will cut. Same with Gillette but Wilkinson’s a subfusc hoo-ha. Never let a committee dream up a toothpaste name, otherwise you’ll get Sensodyne.

Where did this avalanche come from? From a question in a 1066 And All That exam paper: Why do you think of John of Gaunt as an emaciated grandee?

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Why youth is never truly gilded

Plutarch was reflecting on reflections, notably his face in the shaving mirror (I believe Robert Graves wrote a poem about this). I took up the baton, acknowledging changes in my own face and pondering (gloomily) on the internal changes. I posed the question: would 40-year-old BB “get on” with the present version?

A new variant occurs. Present-day BB would certainly detest (does detest) 23-year-old BB shown here abseiling off a cliff above Bingley, a town in Airedale. I remember that day well. Offstage was a youth with the misfortune to be more badly educated than me. Chatting about Alpine climbing he referred to the Chamonix aiguilles (Literally needles; actually pointed flakes of rock about 2000 m high) as “aigillies” and I corrected him. A decent carpenter lad; I wince 52 years after the event.

Some showing-off is permissible which is just as well because Works Well is full of it. Self-deprecation helps, though readers’ forgiveness is more important. The above example is beyond forgiveness even though, within the hour, I seem to recall I realised what I’d done. Ultimately it was beneficial, seared as it is in my memory.

The photo has historical significance. These days pensioners abseil off cathedral towers for charity and photos appear in the local press. Closer examination reveals they are protected by hard hats, special harnesses, durable gloves and – most important – a top rope. There is no real danger of falling. In the fifties we took a more robust view. My mother knitted the sweater, my favourite until Mrs BB, whiling away her first confinement, knitted me another.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

A legitimate use for book margins?

Lucy’s post about writing in printed books brings longish comments. Alas, mine was devoted to psycho-analysing her writing style, forgetting the gravamen (I like taking that word out of the shed every so often and walking it round the lawn) of her original observation. The consensus seemed to be against the practice and I would agree.

With one exception. My French lessons consist of preparing a book passage for precise oral translation “in class”. Once read the book has little re-sale value for the reasons shown above. (Click to zoom, if you're interested.) This book is the experimental L’emploi du Temps by Michel Butor. Experimental? You may well ask.

THE LOVE PROBLEM Chs. One and Two 11,328 words, Ch. Three 1709 words. An unexpected sub-theme emerges. Jana, my American pilot heroine, flies planes in France and speaks better French than me. In doing so, she reflects on French vs English, often jokily. This is so fruitful I will have to hold it in check.

Saturday, 19 February 2011


Another funeral. Dear Ivy, quick-witted wife of quick-witted Dennis, both born in London, in their eighties, running conversational rings round lumbering Herefordians. And for that matter West Riding Tykes.

As I remove my funeral shirt, a button pops off. Mrs BB offers to sew it on but I stay her hand. She uses single thread whereas I use double, a practice adopted in the RAF where security was the watchword. We differ in other ways.

SEQUENCE Since 1966 (ie, in the USA) Saturday dinner has nearly always consisted of a hamburger with a baked potato. An unspoken celebration of a different era though toast has now replaced the bun. Mrs BB eats the burger first then spoons out the spud’s guts. I knife-and-fork the potato, skin and all, then treatfully eat the burger.

THIRST A sandy “guzzard” (courtesy Elder Daughter) at 3 am? Mrs BB slakes it from a glass on the bedside table. I stumble downstairs and swig from chilled fizz in the fridge.

MUSSELS Done marinière Mrs BB could eat a stone (ie, 14 lb). I like them but six is enough. The ratio’s the same for rollmops.

RED/WHITE Unaccompanied, Mrs BB would default to red wine all the time. I’m more AC/DC. Stealthy opening of expensive white Burgundy by me is turning the tide.

IN FRANCE I rush into impromptu conversation with natives. Mrs BB would rather open her veins.

SOCIAL PESTS Mrs BB simply lies. I lurch into embarrassingly constructed half-truths and am punished afterwards by Mrs BB.

LIBRARY The fiction shelves are her oyster as, once, they were mine. Now it’s non-fiction if at all; I prefer to buy.

DENTIST Mrs BB’s ante-chamber to hell. I chat.

TRANSPORT Given her “druthers” (Courtesy Pittsburgh mates) she prefers the bus. The car for me.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

No laughs here, I fear

Works Well has been getting flabby (Useful adj, Lucy), playing to the gallery, looking for cheap laughs. Time for custard-pie risk.

Here’s musical counterpoint defined: Simultaneously sounding two or more parts or melodies. Sounds easy. Who’s big in counterpoint? J. S. Bach, it figures in most of his stuff. And what’s one of his many pinnacles? How about the chaconne, the fifth part of his second partita for unaccompanied violin. Don’t take my word, here’s Brahms:

On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.

Spotted the contradiction? “On one stave.” Two (or more) melodies on one instrument! Fine on the two-handed piano, but a violin?

For music I turn to Prague. I ask Julia: Does this mean that the line is broken into alternating fragments from each voice and that the listener “carries over” the alternating gaps in his own mind?

Julia responds: Great question! (You see why I email Julia.) Bach is able to sneak in lots of voices through both chords played double stop (across two strings) and then by using arpeggios, etc, to create an implied counterpoint.

And Larry Solomon on the chaconne, adds: ...what looks at times like a simple scale often divides into motivic counterpoint between two voices.

As I write Itzhak Perlman scrapes. Julia suggests “the violin sonatas (may be) more for the performer than for a listener.” Hmm. The jewel case sticker says I spent £23.99 for Itzhak’s two CDs. When I was very poor.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Sometimes it's wichtig not Ooh, la la

Lucy’s just off a Rilke high and reads Montaigne, Plutarch reads Montaigne and quotes Aurelius and Avus urges Wang Shih Chi. I am reading Elmore Leonard’s Pronto. It features Ezra Pound (jokily), plotting and dialogue are worth plagiarizing, but it’s a comic thriller (an under-subscribed genre) and it’s fun.

I have my moments. Peter Watson’s The German Genius (964 pp, £30, so you’ve got to be serious) was written almost in despair. A prophet of German culture Watson believes that for most Brits Germany is The Third Reich and nothing else. He compensates with this history of German ideas over the past 250 years legitimately sub-titled Europe’s Third Renaissance.

Ideas aren’t just philosophy they’re religion, science, painting, music, education, plays, movies, poetry, and – yes, I fear – war. Thus the cascade: Goethe, Marx, Leibniz, Clausewitz, Heidegger, Wagner, Brecht, Beethoven, Beuys, Nietsche, Biedermann, Boltzmann, Bonhoeffer, Büchner, Kant, Spengler, Dürrenmatt, Engels, Feuchtwanger, Freud, Grass, Hegel, Herzog, Kraft-Ebing, Lang, Mann…plus the companies AEG, BASF, Benz… plus… well you get the idea. Being pro-German isn’t as sexy as being pro-French but it is high protein.

CRISPER I’m surprised about this apfel strudel’s asymmetry; Mrs BB likes to go for decorative touches but here she was discouraged. She believes the filo pastry remained in the freezer too long and “dried out”. It’s crisper than usual but perfectly edible. Any ideas?

THE LOVE PROBLEM Chs 1 – 2, 11,340 words, February 15 2011. Fun for the author doesn’t always mean fun for the reader. But I’m enjoying truffling – eg, How do you switch off the engine of a Cessna 172R? Jana’s tougher than Clare (of Gorgon Times) but we meet at the altar of her love for flying.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Painful change

Duchess Omnium says put up or shut up. Fearfully, I’m putting up.

John Gunther’s Inside USA, a thick book published in 1947, gave a flavour (political, financial, geographic, cultural) of the country, state by state, and left me fascinated. In late 1965 I contrived to get work as a journalist in Pittsburgh.

Living in the suburbs, in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia then Pittsburgh again, I noticed how life differed from the impressions created by Inside USA, the movies, TV series and reporting in British newspapers. Beneficially in most instances. My family and I enjoyed life. When I returned to Britain in 1972 I found myself defending “real” America against the leftwing views of many journalists I worked with.

Time passed, my suburban experience faded and my view of America was now provided and conditioned by the media. It seemed the country was changing. Evangelical Christianity was becoming intrusive, internal politics (combined alarmingly with religion) less caring, the country’s international stance parochial and that of a bully, the rule of law sullied and the office of president from time to time farcical. I returned four times and merely passing through immigration appeared to confirm these impressions.

I am now less attracted to long-distance holidays. This disinclination, plus my admittedly second-hand views of the USA, has brought me to the point where I doubt I would ever willingly go back.

And yet, and yet… I am aware of the gap between my expectations in 1965 and the eventual, comforting reality. Friends live there and I have made American friends of great value through blogging. I feel I am betraying something or someone. Or simply putting myself out to grass.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Being a bus is better than being a tram

Plutarch raises a wonderful subject: changing one’s mind. We’re defined by this, defined too if it never happens. What was your most significant volte face and dare you admit it? First some ground rules.

Mind-changes must not be self-serving. Loving pop music for forty years and suddenly switching to Scarlatti won’t do. Though vice versa might. Being intransigent during youth and becoming tolerant in old age is just a way of saying: look how adult I am. Changeover should ideally involve a price paid, a hint of disadvantage.

My early life was apolitical, then journalism took me leftwards, hating the right-wing ethos and its practitioners. Now I reluctantly identify a few admirable Tories, people of principle. Chris Patten for instance. But hardly a Damascene moment.

As a young journalist I accepted praise and criticism unthinkingly. Only in middle age did I recognise my careless and flashy writing and that I’d never tried to improve things. Twenty-odd years wasted. But, as a revelation, meaningless to an outsider.

Changing one’s mind can highlight regret. I never got on with my father, but came much closer to him during his final illness. This wasn’t theoretical, my new feelings for him were genuine emotions. Earlier I was ill-informed, callow.

During the last decade a hard-held opinion has gone into reverse. Ironically, this blog is the last place I can discuss it – too dangerous. Must ask Plutarch. Hope any commenters are less chicken-hearted.

THE NOVEL Ch. 1 5577 words, Ch. 2 (unfinished) 5104 words. February 8 2010. Last week I celebrated the exhilaration of motorbikes. Bikes, skis, rock-climbing, mid distance swimming are in the past. But an unexpected and lengthy twist in Ch. 2 left me with the same endorphin flow. Affirmation.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Oh oh, it's second childhood time again

Sensual or sensuous? My dictionary distinguishes. The more common sensual carries “overtones of sexual desire and pleasure”, the more neutral sensuous covers an appeal “to the senses but without the feeling of self-indulgence and sexiness”. My personal mnemonic will now be a Guardian reader and a Daily Mail reader.

So let’s have examples. Sensual taste (boiled bacon with parsley sauce), smell (Wright’s Coal Tar Soap), sound (Kirsty Young saying anything), touch (my fake silk – but uncrushable – shirt from Exact Tailoring Services), sight (Port Underwood, NZ South Island, at dawn).

We’re missing one sense: movement, not seen but experienced. Alas it’s not available to all, regarded as too terrifying, too vulgar, too laddish. But motorbike riding is right up there. For those who have only driven cars there is a comparative metaphor which, I fear, hinges on birth control methods.

Steering a car is banal: turn the wheel left and you go left, fumble that stick thing and the gearbox responds – in its own good time. With a bike, steering is closer to thinking: in both meanings of the word (ie, leaning and tending to) you incline yourself towards passage through a corner. The foot flicks, the gears change. More speed? You’ve got it. You’re part of cold, real nature. There’s risk and perhaps foolishness; but have you never willingly made a fool of yourself? Definitely sensual.

PUZZLE On November 5 I mentioned a TV programme in which a beautiful woman analysed self-portraits by famous artists. The woman’s beauty proved integral to the programme and I explored this, clumsily, badly. The title of the post was obscure and there were five comments, one of them mine. Stats reveal this has since attracted 43 pageviews. What’s going on out there?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Forget the grumbles; this is what counts

People who write novels belly-ache. I myself whinged yesterday about making jargon look “natural” rather than “researched”.

None of us deserves sympathy. The work is voluntary. And we should always reflect on moments of pure joy when a problem goes away and opens up a whole vista of plot as a result.

Pre-flight Jana, my pilot, is alone (it’s early morning). She’s taken meteo info from a computer and is now filing an online flight-plan. The two paragraphs are tightly written and appear indigestible. I re-write several times but it’s still techno for the sake of being techno.

Woke up this morning, still the same problem. Set off for a paper and some milk, pondering and pondering. I realised I’d passed the post-box despite the must-post letter in my hand. But I had a clue.

Jana is no longer alone, someone else works the computer. Thus intractable jargon can legitimately become dialogue. Problem solved. But that person is Ginette, victim of unsympathetic behaviour by male pilots yet cultivated by Jana. Jana makes a gesture, Ginette responds. And the female-male divide which will recur, off and on, throughout the whole novel is immediately fruitful.

Adding Ginette makes aviation sense and accidentally propels the plot in the direction I want it to go. A moment of joy.

BEAUTIFUL SUSPENSION Stomach feels queasy. Holding my pants up is a belt which doesn’t help the queasiness. Time for my clip-on braces. Harsh industrial braces for which Mrs BB made me pads to reduce the abrasion. Characteristically she decorated the pads. And here they are.

NEW NOVEL Chapter two, 759 words (Work rate tripled. Reason: see above). Feb 1, 2011