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

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.