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

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Lost world revisited

HOW I BECAME A HACK. Part one. Now you need a degree. Then (1951) not a single qualification. Just as well since I started work, age 15, before GCEs were announced and my score was meagre.

An absolute beginner I carried mugs of tea for reporters and sub-editors, collected hourly editions of the newspaper from the press-room, opened mail, picked up hand-written copy from reporters covering magistrate courts, called on those whose relatives had died and asked for photos of deceased. Working day 8.30 am to 5 pm, five-and-a half days a week, Saturday a full working day. Salary £1 10s. a week

Reporting opportunities occurred in evening, mainly amateur dramatics no one else wanted to attend. Occasionally two in one evening. Watched first act, got bus back to Bradford, wrote story, handed it over. Home by 10 pm. Paid 1 p a line for anything published.

What was expected ? Never defined but eventually inferred. A deep-seated belief that newspaper journalism was the best job – the only job. Acute cynicism developed from watching lives wrecked in court cases. That I would read novels copiously, jeer at those who offended house style (eg, “… where a doctor pronounced him dead.” I pronounce you dead!), spell well without recourse to a dictionary, treasure gossip and tolerate active homosexuality.

Access to all national newspapers; frequently read The Daily Worker (now Morning Star), the Communist Party sheet. Education/punishment: via calculated humiliation. My immediate boss, the chief reporter, rude and cruel: enoyed making women reporters cry. Did I cry? Perhaps, can’t be sure. During first year I was so tired I used to sleep until 2 pm on Sundays.

Part two: The necessary skills.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Better than a telegram from the Queen

A true story based on affection, the passage of time, a change of heart. And no confusing dog.

I first met Mrs BB (then Miss T) in 1959 while working in London for a cycling magazine. Given our mutual enchantment she willingly accompanied me to Cardiff one Saturday afternoon where I reported the Olympic track cycling trials. Miss T said later cycle racing bored her and she was only entertained when one racer, high on the banked track, toppled over and dislodged others.

Soon after I left the cycling magazine and moved to a hi-fi magazine. Despite this the new Mrs BB continued, for two decades, to proclaim this view of cycle racing.

Time passed. We bought a house in France with a French telly. There we were both drawn into the Tour de France and remained converts thereafter. I shall not try to persuade those who imagine that the TdF is a mere race; it is easily as complicated as cricket and takes time to appreciate fully. What’s more it has the most gorgeous backdrop (ie, France) much of it shot from helicopters. After each transmission, just ended on ITV4 in Britain, we eagerly discussed tactics achieved or missed.

It is my birthday shortly. Changing her painting style completely Mrs BB has created this impressionistic acrylic of the team time trial stage of the TdF. “If he doesn’t want it, I’ll have it,” said Younger Daughter, another TdF convert. Fat chance. A long way from the 1959 Olympic trials Mrs BB and I embraced. “After all you did me a poem,” she said.

I envisage a shiny dark green frame but can’t wait for that.

NOVEL Now up to 108,059 words. Perhaps another 5000 to go.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Hardly worth celebrating

My five-hundredth post. No big thing given that inter alia Plutarch recently passed three thousand. And the equivalent Roman numeral (see inset) makes it an even damper squib. But has 500 any BB significance?

I once owned a Triumph Speed Twin motorbike with a nominal engine capacity of 500 cc. Pretty tenuous. Took a good-looking woman rock-climbing in the Lake District and she shouted she’d gone faster on another guy’s scooter. Two miles down the road she shouted for quite a different reason.

At what Zach used to call the Holiday House in St Jean de la Blaquière I used to swim fifty 10 m lengths = 500 m = half a kilometre. This year’s visit, our fifth, was the last since the owners are selling. I remember the pool’s gritty edge blocks which made my teeth cringe.

A hot day in Biarritz. Takista had been moored and my two brothers and I had a big thirst. I ordered three grandes pressions (draught beer in 500 ml glasses) and got into an inexplicable argument about this with the waitress. Never resolved.

The figure 500 has metric relevance. Slide the decimal point three to the left and you have half of unity. Such a relief after those tedious arithmetic lessons on vulgar fractions where I puzzled over 13/16 multiplied by 17/43.

Always the numerical foot-dragger, the USA, still bogged down in Imperialism (now there’s an irony), used to flag the imminence of thruway, expressway and interstate picnic areas in feet. First glance 500 feet looks a lot. But it’s hardly time to jam on the brakes.

Far too late in life I’m trying to perfect my French vowel sounds. Saying cinq cents is salutary; many Brits hardly differentiate (“song song”). Get the nasality going with the “in”.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Taking the scenic route

Writing the novel I am in the midst of describing the slow birth of a love affair but that can be just as demanding as being clear about the passage of time, or tapping out details of a room where the disposition of the chairs helps propel the plot. What is different is my involvement in the emotions and the need to break away from time to time and stop panting.

I mentioned acquiring an electronic keyboard. It sits inches away from my left elbow and the voice is set to Grand Piano. But what tune when Jana’s dilemmas become too piercing? Here’s a song where simple words and heartbreakingly simple notes combine.

Did you not see my lady (A tight cluster of notes, one for each syllable)
Go down the garden singing (That lovely lower note on “Go”)

And in no time at all words and music create the image of a woman whose grace is implicit (“my lady”) singing, not for an audience, but for the sheer pleasure of the thing. It is surely her very unselfconsciousness that sets the alleys ringing.

Another verse followed by true genius, the middle eight which starts.

Though I am nothing to her,
Though she would rarely look at me,

The musical pattern is similar but moves up the scale. A transition into what sounds almost like a minor key captures the restrained yearning of the admirer. How clumsy I’m making it sound. How much better that you pick it out on your own (or blow it on a tin whistle) reciting the words in your mind. The tune, I have just discovered, is by Handel. I should have known that years ago.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Where flying's for the birds

In Britain, a private flight involves calling a charter specialist and a foolish amount of money. In New Zealand you just turn up with the aforesaid deep pockets. In France it’s another matter.

Followers of Works Well may remember last year’s illness and surgery prevented various BB celebrations and these merged into 2011 plans for a short stay in Brittany plus a flight along that region’s wonderfully ragged coastline. The Internet revealed inexpensive options, all illusory. Helicopters? Forget it. Bargains turned gold-plated at FOUR TIMES the cost of hiring Richard Hammond’s chopper in Britain, posted two years ago.

Fixed wings come cheap under baptême à l’air (introductory flight) schemes, but note “introductory”. These are for people considering becoming a pilot. Not only is the joystick – a yoke these days – available for the passenger, using it is mandatory. Our aim was gentle sight-seeing, not me sweating cobs trying to keep the altimeter at 2000 feet with Mrs BB suffering conniption fits to the rear.

The eventual solution was a cadeau (gift) flight in early September. Thirty minutes there and back in the direction of Cap Fréhel from St Brieuc aerodrome. I’d have preferred an hour but I’m too old to learn to fly. Will post but light aircraft flights definitely come under: Man Proposes, God Disposes. The weather may win.

The plane is a Robin (see pic) which may amuse those in the know.

NOVEL There’s an irony to the above since Stall Averted (new title) is about the joys of flying in south-west France. Though I say it myself, progress has been phenomenal. By rising two-and-a-half hours earlier for several weeks I shall, when this post is done, resume at 99,621 words. Jana is now loveable and is in the process of being loved.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

In July, a second Spring.

Pretty dull, carpets? I’m not so sure. Recently we had the hall, stairs and landing carpets replaced and I found myself breaking off from the keyboard to watch Lewis at work. Cutting stuff into shape with his Stanley knife, positioning the awkward lengths with his knee-activated stretcher, folding the edges over neatly with a bolster worn smooth by his hands. A stapler also played a part. You don’t need many tools to lay carpets, just experience. It took Lewis a year to learn how to keep unwanted bubbles at bay.

Carpets grow old under your feet and you’re unaware of the process. We made the replacement decision when Mrs BB spotted a worn patch on the bottom stair. But it seemed such a small patch. Couldn’t I just colour the visible warp/woof? Mrs BB said no and I went along with her. After all we’re as rich as Croesus. It was only when I rolled up the discarded material in daylight, out on the driveway, that I realised how faded it was, and how the fading differed from area to area. A heck of a load for the dump.

It was Mrs BB who decided on stripes instead of a solid colour (see before and after). A marvellous decision. Hall and stairs are not only lighter; that part of the house has grown in volume.

I was reminded of March 1998 when we first moved into the then new house. We had furniture and beds, etc, but it felt like a cave. Only when the carpets were laid did it turn into a home. Yes carpets are boring but they frame our existence. And think what frames do for paintings.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Down with Cio-Cio San! Well, why not?

In Music magazine, August 2011, published astonishingly by the BBC – main conspirator in the myth that all classical stuff is masterly – comes the article I have been waiting decades for. Ten leading critics describe with relish the pieces which bore them rigid.

Fiona Maddox of The Observer (a newspaper I read) trashes Strauss’s Don Quixote (Hurrah, say I.), all Vivaldi operas, solo oboe and flute music and Boccherini, while homing in on Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas despite its sublime “When I am laid to earth”. Doesn’t like the screechy sorceress, the sailors (especially when sung with rural accents) and the endless, repetitive, mawkish choruses. Oh cor!

Michael White (The Daily Telegraph) would rather endure dental surgery than listen again to Tristan and Isolde, resenting the interminable wait for something that resembles action and hating Tristan “moaning in delirious competition with that bleating cor anglais.”

Other equally qualified critics take the axe to Vivaldi’s Gloria (“Its opening flourish – nine Ds in a row – aptly warns of the banalities”), Bruckner’s seventh symphony, Madame Butterfly (Hurrah again, from me.) and Brahms’ Requiem (Now that’s rather harder for me to take.). Plus others.

Why my glee? Don’t I like so-called classical music? Yes, but I have antipathies and I’m reassured when the musically literate reveal theirs. Also, a well expressed antipathy may tell you more than predictable plaudits. Good on the Beeb.

NOVEL Now called A Stall Averted. Huge progress (88,794 words) as a result of rising at 6.30 am so I can loll during the afternoon, watching the Tour de France. A 5641-word chapter as Jana tremulously starts to imagine she’s in love. Yes, that fascinates me just as much as ATC chat.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

I fear he was a gay old dog

This love story happened in the fifties when I lived in Bradford with my mother, enduring a forlorn adolescence which only ended when I moved to London aged 24.

My mother’s male English bull terrier, Kim, regularly had intimate relations with next door’s male boxer. These assaults left his body parts in disarray and a vet was needed to re-arrange them. This meant taking Kim by bus to the city centre and a half-mile walk thereafter.

Next door’s daughter – who’d observed the rape – volunteered to come with me. First name and surname are now forgotten but all else is sharply remembered. Her face was scarred, her blonde hair tangled and she wore NHS glasses. Perhaps a year older, she was unperturbed and spoke sympathetically in a voice of gentle authority. About various things. I was quickly in love.

The vet manipulated and we emerged from his surgery in a steep street. The dog needed to micturate and a green snake flowed down toward the Alhambra theatre. My saviour continued to chat unconcernedly.

She attended college and was away during termtime. Otherwise I might well have proposed, she might have accepted and we might never have left Bradford. A road not taken.

UPDATES Gorgon Times, re-edited yet again, is with several agents. The Love Problem (83,425 words) has been renamed A Stall Averted. Granddaughter Bella has a 2.1 in politics, the first on my side of the family to gain a degree. At her request I edited her CV and cut it by a fifth. Blogger failed last week and I was unable to access the server; other concerned users recommended clearing caches and (a frightening prospect) cookies. Despite the risk of losing favourites and shortcuts I did as bid and the sun rose again in Herefordshire.