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, 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