I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Mainly a treat

My take on Borderlines Film Festival. VR and grandson Ian would no doubt differ.

Magic Flute (Sweden), Smiles of a Summer Night (Sweden). Two unbeatable Ingmar Bergman classics. Flute - an exemplary transformation of opera into film.

Happy End (Germany). Director Michael Haneke, in his pomp, satirises French middle classes against present-day immigrant background in Calais.

Third Murderer (Japan). Police procedural but much more. Why are Japanese movies so absorbing?

Death of Stalin (UK). Shameful bad taste; rollicking hilarity. Simon Russell Beale magisterial as Beria.

Three Billboards, etc (US). Frances McDormand worth three Oscars. Serious but witty; wonderful script.

Milou en Mai (France). Great French director, Louis Malle, turns family squabble into magnificent pastoral comedy.

Lady Bird (US). Wagging finger for all parents. Daughter and mother from hell, but a familiar suburban hell.

Very Good
Loveless (Russia). Another, darker, despairing tutorial for parents, with matching background.

Sweet Country (Australia). Antipodean western energetically examines colonial racism. Vividly realised characters

The Gulls (Russia). Culture clash in Buddhist (!) Russia. Poignant, noirish

Man called Ove (Sweden). Feelgood but funny; about old age. Monumental central character, Rolf Lassgard.

Shape of Water (US). Marine version of beauty and the beast. Predictable events.

Loving Vincent (Poland). Slender story cartoon about Van Gogh; done in his painting style

Phantom Thread (UK). Haute couture detail good; characters frequently irritating.

Mountain (US). Docu-spectacle for sports nuts.

Ghost Stories (UK). Horror tale, nominally about supernatural. Not my bag, I fear

Dark River (UK). Cold Comfort Farm updated; unbearably grim; set in Yorkshire.

The Party (UK). Hysterical, claustrophobic farce strains at the leash.

The Bookshop (UK). Dull, cliché-ridden, in peculiarly English way. Sentimentality that puts you off reading.

Free and Easy (Russia).  Unexpected laughs in unremitting dystopia.

Persona (Sweden). Experimental Ingmar Bergman. Too gnomic for me.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Grip

I'm now far too old for London but that doesn't stop me reflecting on its embrace. For over thirty years I lived in and around the capital, seeing it mostly as a privilege.

Of course it was love/hate but even the hatred had a sense of uniqueness.  Crowds forcing themselves into trains had an uncaring vigour, unduplicated elsewhere; a vigour that transfused me. The events I was unable to book (because smart-asses knew ways and means of getting in first) reminded me of London's elitism. And the nightmare of finding a flat was proof that others were maddened by the city's unholy appeal.

When I needed to resolve things between Clare and Hatch in Gorgon Times I had them walk from Blackfriars Bridge along the river to Chelsea; I saw them vividly every step they took. And to their left the heaving, black, amphibious monster that is the Thames. That gluey flow that bars the north from the south and forces you to look at it - whoever you are - and contemplate time's threat. The river has been there and seen everything.

Several years were spent in Clerkenwell where narrow winding streets evoked the clattering metal wheel-rims of horse-drawn vehicles, assuming you allowed yourself a little imagination. And how could you not? On the skyline the dome of St Pauls cathedral, and closer at hand, in Farringdon Road, a building emblazoned in red with THE DAILY WORKER, a daily newspaper for communists. God and Mammon in co-existence.

Walk west to the tourists - bemused by history adjacent to history. Up front the National Gallery, yes, but what about that building to the right? Big and important? A slight disappointment to discover it was the South African embassy.

London, full of disappointment yet full of power.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018


V sends me an email that her house is accessible but I leave too early to read it. The final approach is steep and snow-scattered, followed by a blind right-angle bend. Fine. And there she is, gum-booted, scraping a path through the snow. I wind down the car window to shout, "I would not have you do this." and she laughs. But the scene is incongruous, she's been put on earth to sing and to teach others, not to clear paths. Unless today's a day for metaphor.

Hard pain dictates I must - yet again - sit down in front of a lowered music stand. I note a new score of Silent Witness ("Did you not see my lady...?") on the piano. Is it for me? No, for a new student with a great, though untrained natural voice who wants to sing a Justin Bieber song to his bride at their wedding two years' hence. Music and what it may do! I shall never meet him but I feel I understand him. Just sing confidently, young chap, as if you mean it. Sing right through the errors.

Today's about breathing. The second half of Purcell's An Evening Hymn consists of one word, Hallelujah, sung fourteen times, extended in all sorts of ingenious ways. Listen to Emma Kirkby.

Now me:

Hal - le - lu - jah (Breathe!), Hal - le - lu - u - u - jah (Breathe!), Hal - al - al (Breathe!) - al - le-lu - u - ja. (Breathe!) Hal - al - al - al - al (Breathe!) - al - al - al le-lu - u - jah (Breathe!) ...

The bold-face is V breaking off from singing and shouting out my instruction. I progress.

I wish everyone sang.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Write of passage

For years my blog comments and profile have been decorated by a thumbnail of Blake's water-colour of Nebuchadnezzar. Proclaiming that I'm old and unbecoming, you see. Except the detail was so tiny I doubt anyone would have recognised the connection. Or cared.

I chose Old Neb because old age absolved me of any suggestion of boasting - a very English concept, that. Brits do boast but only sneakily: "Ah, you were educated at Harvard! I fear I'm nothing but an auto-didact." One reason why Brits are disliked the world over. Especially by Australians.

Occasionally - very occasionally - I'm visited by moments of clarity. I am old, it's true, but I'm other things too. Surely it was time to retire Old Neb. But God forbid I replace him with some image which suggested I'm handsome, clever, well-regarded, charitable, patient or kind-hearted because that would be un-English. Something neutral then.

The Underwood typewriter symbolically marks the moment when I ceased to be schoolboy (occasionally flogged for bad handwriting) and joined a trade where what I wrote had to be legible. I wish I'd had time to learn touch-typing but speedy writing was another necessity and I simply banged away with a varying number of fingers. Later I was to acquire my own portable (a Remington Rand) which lasted until the invention of the word processor, but I always had a soft-spot for the Underwood, one of several battered machines in the Telegraph & Argus reporters' room.

It had a unique springy action which was gentle on my fingers. Also an upper-frequency chatter, certainly soprano perhaps even treble.

It also whispered to me: "You've grown up."

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Cui bono?

Old age has encouraged me to tip more heavily.Why? Because I can afford it and those who serve me are struggling to work in an uncertain environment which seems ever more uncertain. Things were more stable when I worked.

This is not a policy shared by other Herefordians (often retired pensioners from wealthier parts of the UK, like me) who instinctively reach for their purse rather than their wallet at the end of a service. Even if I hadn't observed their furtive parsimony I would have noticed it in those I tip. My hairdresser charges a piddly £6.50 for my increasingly infrequent visits; I give her a tenner and tell her to keep the rest. "Are you sure?" she asks, clearly astonished.

Yesterday we ate Norwegian Red (a first for all of us) at a swanky new fish restaurant by the Severn where the service was efficient, friendly, even witty. The bill for three included a truly superb pinot grigio and was £103. I added £15 to the credit-card total, after first ensuring that the extra would go to those who'd earned it. "That's very generous," said our waitress.

There is no tradition at all for tipping in Edwards Plaice (qv), a fish-and-chip shop with three tables, where the portions are monstrous and the bills minimal. As we leave I hand over a very unexpected fiver; the staff behind the counter blow kisses and those queueing for takeaways look uneasy.

To tip is, by definition, patronising but I don't care. Money is money and how I appear doesn't matter. Besides which, the reactions seem unfeigned and that pleases me.

Note. US readers who must regularly stump up 20% for services will no doubt be unimpressed by this post. So be it.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

In short supply

I've tackled happiness before. At best it's of very short duration, more often self-delusional. Getting into a warm bath, for instance, may require one first to be tired, cold, and/or injured; the result is not true happiness but merely the status quo renewed.

True happiness must be more than mere relief; it must involve the intellect as well as the senses. I have cited arriving in New York knowing there was work waiting for me in Pittsburgh; this after a campaign that had absorbed me for over a year, and an urge that had been latent since childhood. But was it true happiness, given I'd planned for it? Wasn't it simply success? Might true happiness be unexpected in order to grab at the emotions as well?

Progress in singing invaded my thoughts, my emotions and my physical self. It was acutely personal and, given my age, unexpected. Happiness? There is no other word. But I may have flogged it to death in Tone Deaf.

As an adolescent male I felt unloved in Bradford my birth city. A walk with VR through autumnal mists towards Amersham in Buckinghamshire laid those ghosts to rest. Brought the misery to an end. Happiness with a sense of fruition - all the more poignant since, in the tiniest sense, it felt undeserved.

Might my long life have, on balance, been happy?  The idea is untenable because of smugness. Plus banality, for who would want to admit to an unhappy life?

I conclude that true happiness, meeting all the above criteria, is rare and may never happen. But the human spark says that it may and this is enough. One rule of thumb is surely it must not be actively sought.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018


Although I enjoyed my 44 years as a journalist (bar two years of disloyal service) I was in the wrong job. I cared more about writing style than news.

Fiction is my raison d’etre but without precluding blogposts and progressively longer blogcomments. In everything I write I strive to be original or to package necessary banalities in an original way. The desire to write is never absent, even in oral conversation; my spoken sentences may be structured and over-elaborate and, to the annoyance of those listening, I often break off to issue an improved version.

Being original isn't necessarily an asset. An "original" note to someone bereaved may lack sympathy. Even worse, the seeming lack of sympathy may be intentional, trying to say something different.

In the Tesco café this morning I listened to a two-year-old girl shouting loudly. Surprised by the depth and richness of her voice; it sounded almost trained. A paradox to be included in some fictional passage as yet unconceived. Or perhaps not.

When I say I must write and that I relish this impulse, I mean I love the progress of writing. Being able to see the next ten words clearly, and to envisage - more vaguely - the shape of the sentence that follows. To live simultaneously in the present and the future.

When the piece is finished I return to the start relishing the conviction that stuff must be cut, rendering what remains as more efficient. Sometimes whole sentences. Does this mean I write inefficiently? Perhaps. But not if the stuff removed may be regarded as scaffolding, holding things together during assembly, then discarded.

Writing stays me in old age, unlike skiing and distance swimming. Dying will have started when I can no longer write – a health barometer and a compass.