The WHAT'S NEW! page contains the latest medical updates. If you're wondering how I'm going as far as health is concerned, this is the place to start. Latest: Wed 27 Nov 2013. 7.20AM

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My suddenly "electric" chair and FaceBook

A picture is worth a thousand words. What would I do without Wonder Woman?

Note: as Tracey added to the FaceBook thread because people were [understandably] confused by my metaphorical use of the term "electric chair".

Tracey James Just to clarify - Den's chair is a regular old mechanical recliner. Normally there is nothing electric about it!

[✺le sigh✺ It payeth not to wax lyrical....]

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The return of the tabby

She is a free spirit. But no way does she belong to us is what I said as late as April this year.

   In that posting I related the sad circumstances by which Soxy regarded us as having betrayed her fragile trust. It seems she's on the way to forgiving us, though it has taken two and a half years. There are strings attached – her conditions, needless to say.

   That she seemed likely never to come round was hugely disappointing to Tracey and Christian. When we returned from Melbourne, they did their best to convince her we were staying, but no blandishments were sufficient. At night she would prefer to starve and freeze rather than come inside to eat or to sit at the fire.

   'Idiot cat,' said Tracey, with colourful verbal embellishments I won't write down here. Some family secrets must be preserved.

   One freezing night round June this year, snow was predicted. One of us opened the front door that night and she simply strolled in, tail high in the air. I own the joint. When she ate food in the kitchen, we left her alone, because people hanging around made her nervous. They're going to try to catch me or do something evil. I just know it.

   We were sitting in the lounge, expecting from the moment she finished eating to demand immediate release from the comparative warmth of the kitchen to return to the bitter conditions outside. Instead, she strolled into the lounge and sat Sphinx-like in front of the fire.

   Every time someone moved, she swivelled around to see who was going to leap upon her and try to tear her to pieces. She didn't stray from the hearth.

   Surprisingly, nor did she demand to be let out when we went to bed, but remained basking by the fire. A couple of years older and fatter than before the Great Betrayal, she'd mellowed. True, when Dr Who was on she covered her eyes, and in dreams sometimes she acted out great dramas, judging by her body movement. Mostly, she sat or lay with tail wrapped neatly around her legs, the perfect embodiment of qi.

   Over the next few days, she decided for herself whether to stay in or go out. She knew when the night was going to be extra cold, and usually stayed in, but not always. She had territory to defend from the black and white cat with the mournful drawn-out mew. (The first time I heard it, I thought some cat, maybe Soxy, was trapped or poisoned and in terrible pain, but it was just the rival cat doing its thing.)

   She settled fairly well into the lounge area, though never failed to react to the slightest movement from one of us. Occasionally she took to strolling over to Christian, asking to be made much of. He obliged, as was his duty as an underling.

   She was still a princess, asserting her authority. That never changed. Sometimes she'd ask to be let in, and then sit just outside the door. Now and again, affecting great reluctance but genuine condescension, she'd come in, after a bit of ego-stroking by the door-opener. 

   More often than not, the door would be closed in her face by the impudent human, but on its reopening seconds later, she'd walk in with a facial expression like the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey. There, let me add hastily, the comparison ends, apart from certain qualities of disposition.

   Mission complete. Humans playing their subservient role at the door, taking their cue from the Mistress of Ceremonies.

   When so inclined, she'd even play with her old toys; a realistic little mouse in particular. She'd act out the role of cruel mouse tormentor as with live mice, and then go to sleep with it, hugging it to her belly.

Laugh and I scratch your eyes out
   The belly. Why was it getting bigger and bigger? She wasn't eating all that much that we could see, and yes, a spayed cat as she gets older does tend to develop an early middle-age spread. As well, in front of the fire, she wasn't using anything like as much energy keeping warm as in sub-zero temperatures and in fighting off other cats. But it didn't quite add up.

   We got a clue when next door's ancient little terrier cashed in his chips and went to Jesus.

   'I still want to leave his dry food out,' the neighbour said sadly, 'but I've stopped. Soxy will miss it.'

   So that was it. All these years Soxy had been nicking poor Muttley's nuts. (Well, I think that's what the neighbour called his dry food, but I'm not going to check for fear it will spoil my story. We always called Soxy's her "crunchies".)

   That may help to explain the Garfield-like physique she had acquired. Mind you, in that department she has nothing on Christian's friend's cat, Hamburger, who makes Garfield look like a cheetah and Soxy severely anorexic.

   When it's not cold enough for a fire, she sits in front of the burner, looking aggrieved, staring at its glass door and willing it to fill with bright red coals and gentle flames flickering around the wood.

   'Never go away again,' she says as she strolls over, 'or I'll... I'll....'

   The threat remains hanging in the air, like an unanswerable question.

This tale follows on from two others:
 I think you'd enjoy them.

home | WHAT'S NEW! | stories from my past

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Five Sentence Fiction: Zombies!

Once again, a five sentence fiction challenge posed by Lillie McFerrin.

It's a tough one: zombies! Here's a link to other contributions.


Lillie McFerrin
Oh, he knew about zombies all right – sitting slouched over his desk he'd read every book and online source and viewed all the movies, but took special interest in one recurring theme. The erratic behaviour of humans in a collapsing society was as much a source of personal danger as attacks by the living dead.

   He stopped eating junk, learned how to secure a house against invasion and to defend himself, mastered techniques of survival in haunts where all the trappings of civilisation were absent, developing taut lean muscles, mental endurance and a newly generated maturity.

   With the transmutation far advanced and zombie books no longer the focus of his interest, he made a neat pile of them on his desk.
   "At last you've come to your senses," his father said, peering with profound distaste at the books destined for disposal, "that zombie stuff was such a ridiculous waste of time."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Taste the soup!"

It's always fascinated me that every culture group has its own brand of humour. Sometimes a joke is so culture bound that it is incomprehensible to outsiders. 

   I remember being in Taiwan with a group of Taiwanese students and we began telling jokes. It was clear that while many of them are universal, several just didn't cross the culture barrier. Some of their own jokes were uproariously funny to them, but not to us. Some of ours were also funny for them, but others were clearly mystifying. 

   In Korea on that same trip, it seemed that all the jokes were compatible, though I admit that there were plentiful supplies of soju at that dinner, and the things that amused us highly first time round might not have stood up very well to the retelling on the next morning. 

   Sufi humour is also well known. I have a whole book of it. Sometimes I find that the stories are the same as Zen ones, but as both are in the mystical tradition, that is hardly surprising. Russian and Polish humour have their own edge as well. 

   Yet somehow Jewish humour cuts across all boundaries. Maybe we just get to see so much of it on American sitcoms. This one, from Leo Rosten's The New Joys of Yiddish tickled my fancy. 

   The book was given to me by my friends Carl and Joan. Well, in my cracked memory I thought it was Joan who'd brought it, but Tracey assures me that it was Carl who did, so there you go. I seem to recall the harder I think about it that she's right, as I now have a clear memory of it – maybe a reinvented one, as she described just where he was, next to my bookcase, at the time he gave it to me. Memory does that. 

   Anyway, here's a tiny example, based on the way 'Aha!' is used in Yiddish. 

Postscript: we were just now watching a TV show with Bernadette Peters in it.
   "How old do you think she is?" I asked, having just consulted the oracle.

   "Old!" Tracey said. "I've been watching her in musicals since I was little."

   There was a pause.

   "She's just a couple of months younger than I am," I said, in mock-injury at her comment.

   She laughed much too loudly when admitting to her faux pas.

   I guess that's our brand of humour....

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Spurred on

It seems that many of my childhood stories involve horses, and this one is no exception. I've already mentioned how my own little bay mare, Topsy, was an utter bitch when it came to Pony Club, because she was intensely bossy and competitive.

   One afternoon we decided that I would ride the grey mare, Rusty, instead of Topsy, so the horses around me at Pony Club weren't getting their ears shredded. We hadn't done this before because in real life, Rusty was at least as old as I was, meaning that she was in late middle age in horse years. This meant that she was wise to the ways of children and could quickly dominate them.

   To compensate, she had a beautiful temperament otherwise and a canter so gentle you could put a kid of five on her.

   The only problem was that with a child on her back, she did things at her own speed. This didn't suit Pony Club activities.

    So Dad's solution seemed the obvious one. I needed a pair of spurs. I was pleased with the idea because they looked and felt cool, as if I were a real cowboy. Maybe the term 'winning his spurs' was stuck there somewhere in my subconscious.

   When I got them – an old pair that had been hanging on a nail in the hayshed – I polished the brass till it looked like gold. Well, I thought it did.

   'Just keep your toes in,' Dad said, 'and be careful.'

   We started off from the house, spurs jingling a little. Rusty knew that noise, and pricked up her ears. It was not a noise she was fond off.

   Not fifty metres from home, I decided on a little test. I turned my toes out and gave Rusty a gentle nudge with the spurs.

   She looked (and felt) very lively and broke into a trot immediately.

   Riding a horse at a trot means standing in the stirrups every second stride. As a novice with this gear, I didn't realise that with each trotting stride I was spurring her a bit. Not a lot, but Rusty was highly offended.

   She lengthened her trotting stride, which doubled the spurring effect.

   'What?' she said, 'You little pipsqueak. You were put on my back when you were two years old, and I treated you as gentle as ... a baby. What's this about?'

   She waived the canter option and flew straight into a gallop, and at that pace we rounded the corner at the bottom of the hill.

   If I could have spoken the Calliope horse dialect and if she'd been in the mood to listen, I'd have explained that I had my whole attention focused on trying to keep my heels out, and she wasn't helping one little bit by reckless galloping.

   She was in no mood for discussions. On the contrary, she followed the road almost at full speed along past Boys's paddock, up the hill by the cowyard.

   It was only then I realised I was in a spot of real bother, on a sorely aggrieved nag about to bolt, and me with no idea of spur-control.

   She was heading straight for the narrow lane to the cattle grid that was the exit to our property – the one to the cemetery road. The way things were going, I might have been needing a plot there before too long.

   In case you don't know, a grid is very effective way to keep cows and horses in, simply because they hate trying to pass over anything they can see through downwards, and rarely will. Instinctively, cloven-hoofed animals feel unsafe on them. Horses too, they won't do it.

   If Rusty attempted to cross the grid at a gallop, or to leap it, the result would probably have been a broken leg and a merciful bullet for her, and a broken neck for me.

   As I struggled to work out how to keep my spurs from raking her sides, I did at least have the presence of mind to realise we were heading for a sudden and unpleasant way to finish life's journey, and while that might have been OK for Rusty, having gone well past horsey middle age, I hadn't really got mine started.

   For the first time since she bolted, I took a bit of control and wheeled her to the right, through the open gate of the four acre paddock beside the lane that ended at the grid. Still pelting along at a pace that would have done credit to the horses at the final bend in the Melbourne Cup – and having travelled nearly that far by then – we did one entire circuit of the paddock and were off for a second turn. I was still trying to figure things out; still focused on trying not to hurt her with the cursed spurs.

   At least, death by cattle-grid had been avoided.

   Meanwhile, my father had not been idle. He had witnessed the whole thing from the back landing, and could see the impending disaster unfolding, yea, before his very eyes.

   Barefoot, he raced after us, jumping the fence to take a shortcut through Boys's paddock and clearing the fence by a foot on the other side. All that championship sprinting he'd done in his youth came in handy on that day. Obviously, the hurdling of the two fences came naturally, which was a bit of luck for us both.

   Feet barely touching the ground, he raced by the cowyard as my charger and I were halfway round the second circuit of the four-acre paddock. Dad headed for the gate I'd opted for in avoiding the suicidal lane to the grid.

   It was at this point that I had a thought. Instead of trying not to spur Rusty on to greater speeds before she dropped dead of exhaustion, why not try to pull her up? Hit the brakes? Slam on the anchors? Stop her?

   In other words, to lean back on the reins as hard as I could.

   I simply hadn't thought of that. Over about a hundred metres, she slowed in response as I dragged on the snaffle bit. She had a soft mouth and her slowing down meant that the relentless spurring eased somewhat. Finally, with me standing in the stirrups and reefing back on the reins with all my weight, she ground to a halt just as Dad came charging through the open paddock gate, face red
as a beetroot with fury and effort.

   'What the bloody hell... why didn't you pull her up a mile back? What sort of horseman are you?'

   'I was hurting her and I was trying not to,' I whimpered, looking down at her sides as my father wrenched the spurs off my boots. There were spots of blood at spur-tip level and I felt appalled at what I'd done.

   'I just didn't think about trying to pull her up.'

   He had that resigned look on his face, knowing I was so soft-hearted that it was true. Also, that I was an idiot.

   'You won't be needing these again,' he said, hobbling back down the track, my shiny brass spurs in his hand. There was sharp gravel on the road and he wouldn't have felt a thing while running over it to try to save my miserable life. He was feeling the stone bruises now.

   It's probable that mine was the shortest career for a spurred cowboy in history. I had absolutely no desire to put them back on, and never wore a pair again.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mobile phone user?

I have a little request to make of you. If you use a cell-phone or other mobile device to access this blog, will you kindly let me know if it is now taking an unacceptably long time to load?

The reason I ask is that I added a couple of items to the right side navigation bar which demand that the computer access quite a lot of information from this and other sites before it finishes loading the page.

On this blog, for example, it has to calculate from the data available the number of visits to each page, the top ten for the month, arrange them in order and give them thumbnail images.

From other blogs it has to calculate which of them was last updated, assemble them and provide each with an icon. I also had a thumbnail image for each blog entry but decided against that option to save download time.

I had another fancy little program there too, that showed the last ten visitors, where they came from and what they were viewing on this site. That was fun but again it means accessing data and arranging it. It also added advertising to the site, which I don't want. This is a no-ad site!

All this seems to make little difference on a computer, or an iPad. I'm not sure about a mobile phone like an iPhone. But what I do know for sure is that accessing the site from the primitive browser on the Kindle takes ages now and didn't before.

I'll discard every bit of gimmickry on the site if long loading time stops people visiting from mobile or any other device. But I'd just like to know if that's your experience.

Now let me write another childhood story, which I've not done for too long. I have a few sitting there to complete.

Many thanks!


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The [complete] Secret Pleasures of Reginald

See, I've been overwhelmed by these requests – thousands and thousands of them – to print the entirety of P. G. Wodehouse's "Secret Pleasures". Maybe close to a million requests.

Well, I would have, if anyone had thought to email such a request to me; one that must have been in their minds since I published that snippet last Thursday. But it's obvious that people have been indulging in Reginald's secret pleasures themselves. 

I know you want it though. You know you do. So here it is. A wonderful little story, and advice I intend to follow for the rest of my life.


P G Wodehouse
I found Reggie in the club one Saturday afternoon. He was reclining in a long chair, motionless, his eyes fixed glassily on the ceiling. He frowned a little when I spoke. "You don't seem to be doing anything," I said.

"It's not what I'm doing, it's what I am not doing that matters."

It sounded like an epigram, but epigrams are so little associated with Reggie that I ventured to ask what he meant.

He sighed. "Ah well," he said. "I suppose the sooner I tell you, the sooner you'll go. Do you know Bodfish?"

I shuddered. "Wilkinson Bodfish? I do."

"Have you ever spent a weekend at Bodfish's place in the country?"

I shuddered again. "I have."

"Well, I'm not spending the weekend at Bodfish's place in the country."

"I see you're not. But..."

"You don't understand. I do not mean that I am simply absent from Bodfish's place in the country. I mean that I am deliberately not spending the weekend there. When you interrupted me just now, I was not strolling down to Bodfish's garage, listening to his prattle about his new car."

I glanced around uneasily.

"Reggie, old man, you're – you're notThis hot weather..."

"I am perfectly well, and in possession of all my faculties. Now tell me. Can you imagine anything more awful than to spend a weekend with Bodfish?"

On the spur of the moment I could not.

"Can you imagine anything more delightful, then, than not spending a weekend with Bodfish? Well, that's what I'm doing now. Soon, when you have goneif you have any other engagements, please don't let me keep youI shall not go into the house and not listen to Mrs. Bodfish on the subject of young Willie Bodfish's premature intelligence."

I got his true meaning. "I see. You mean that you will be thanking your stars that you aren't with Bodfish."

"That is it, put crudely. But I go further. I don't indulge in a mere momentary self-congratulation, I do the thing thoroughly. If I were weekending at Bodfish's, I should have arrived there just half an hour ago. I therefore selected that moment for beginning not to weekend with Bodfish. I settled myself in this chair and I did not have my back slapped at the station. A few minutes later I was not whirling along the country roads, trying to balance the car with my legs and an elbow. Time passed, and I was not shaking hands with Mrs. Bodfish. I have just had the most corking half-hour, and shortlywhen you have remembered an appointmentI shall go on having it. What I am really looking forward to is the happy time after dinner. I shall pass it in not playing bridge with Bodfish, Mrs. Bodfish, and a neighbor. Sunday morning is the best part of the whole weekend, though. That is when I shall most enjoy myself. Do you know a man named Pringle? Next Saturday I am not going to stay with Pringle. I forget who is not to be my host the Saturday after that. I have so many engagements of this kind that I lose track of them."

"But, Reggie, this is genius. You have hit on the greatest idea of the age. You might extend this system of yours."

"I do. Some of the jolliest evenings I have spent have been not at the theatre."

"I have often wondered what it was that made you look so fit and happy."

"Yes. These little non-visits of mine pick me up and put life into me for the coming week. I get up on Monday morning feeling like a lion. The reason I selected Bodfish this week, though I was practically engaged to a man named Stevenson who lives out in Connecticut, was that I felt rundown and needed a real rest. I shall be all right on Monday."

"And so shall I," I said, sinking into the chair beside him.

"You're not going to the country?" he asked regretfully.

"I am not. I, too, need a tonic. I shall join you at Bodfish's. I really feel a lot better already."

I closed my eyes, and relaxed, and a great peace settled upon me.

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Five Sentence Fiction"

This is how the creator of the Five Sentence Fiction idea, Lillie McFerrin, describes the idea:

❂     ❂     ❂     ❂     ❂

Lillie McFerrin

What it’s all about: Five Sentence Fiction is about packing a powerful punch in a tiny fist. Each week I will post a one word inspiration, then anyone wishing to participate will write a five sentence story based on the prompt word. The word does not have to appear in your five sentences, just use it for direction.

This week: AWKWARD

❂     ❂     ❂     ❂     ❂

So, I thought I'd give it a go. I took a cue from one of my own blog stories and constructed it based very loosely on a theme from there.

Here's my first (and maybe my last!) try at Five Sentence Fiction.

I sat beside her on the park bench, she in a neat grey dress, her laced shoes barely touching the grass. Age could not rob her face of its beauty, all the more charming because of its puzzling lack of inhibition.

Her eyes sparkled as she took from her handbag a creased black and white photograph of a youth in full military regalia.

"We're getting married on Saturday before he leaves, but he's a stranger here," she said, scanning my face intently.

"Will you be his Best Man?"

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The sneak thief of space (and time)

You're probably one of those people whose eyes glaze over when you hear geek-speak, but hang in with me on this one.

   I was having a problem. A really big one.

   My big computer, Fat Boy, has a startup hard drive plus three other internal drives; vast disk space required for the old days when I was editing video. I bought it five years ago, very expensively, but it is still competitive with what's now standard, so it has served me well.

   The startup drive came with the basic system. That's all I wanted. Over the five years, as you can imagine, the amount of space available on it gradually went down.

   It's a bit like when you move into a new house, or office. It starts empty and you add to it and customise it. Some people have the enviable ability to plan that space ruthlessly and it never becomes cluttered. If that's you, I'm jealous as hell, because it's a trait I admire deeply, but this story may still be relevant to you, so keep reading. This could still save you a fortune.

   Yes, I'm one of the hoarder types, but not like the ones you see on those scary TV programmes. Call me messy. There's method
known only to me in my madness, or so I keep telling myself.

   The point is, over five years, the drive space on the startup disk slowly but inexorably went down, like the space in my study at the university for the thirty years I occupied it. There seemed nothing unusual in that. It's a variation on Parkinson's Law and has widespread application outside computing. Have a look in the third drawer of the kitchen cabinet. See?

   For practically all that time, the drive-space thing didn't matter. There was enough left, though installing a few big programs did eat up big chunks of space. I was constantly offloading whatever I could to the other drives.

   Then came the time, only very recently, when I noticed something alarming. Each day, the hard-won disk space available was vanishing at an exponential rate.

   OK, I thought, I have a couple of heavy-user programs I can shift to other drives, and I can prune what's on the startup drive in other ways, just like you can take stuff you don't use too much and store it in the garage. (No! You can't possibly throw it away. Who  knows, you might need a belt with a broken buckle – that's good leather, that is.)

   Because of the zooming rate of disk space lost on the vitally important startup drive, I got ruthless, and did some serious disk housekeeping. At last, a few days ago, there was a safe margin of space on it. Not a lot, but safe for operation.

   The next morning I was stunned. Almost all that space had disappeared, and my computer's kernel was having a right old panic, telling me to get my act together and find some space or it would self-destruct, creating a black hole that would consume the entire universe and Mitt Romney, and finally disappear up its own arsenal of misbegotten source code.

   So it was seriously seriously serious. Substitute a googleplex of seriousnesses there if you like. The fact was that the overnight loss was vastly bigger than I could possibly be responsible for. I had done all I could to make space. Was it some virus?

   I did what any sensible person would. I turned to the oracle. Google.

   Predictably, most of its suggestions were useless. But as I was about to give up, right near the bottom of the last page on the last relevant site I found, the author explained that he had had exactly my problem, and had solved it.

   This guy was using the same free anti-virus program I was, the one I had been relying on for all these years. It turns out that it constantly writes small files for just about every separate one on your drive, which in most cases approaches a million. It should have been deleting those when no longer useful, but it wasn't.

   When he uninstalled the program, his world changed. It released massive amounts of space occupied by the combined size of small, hidden, individual packets of data that it had been saving and storing for years.

   The scales fell off my eyes – I, who had been using all sorts of computers for thirty+ years and thought I knew a bit about them. It never occurred to me that in the background, my free, tried-and-true antivirus program, busily protecting my main computer from the enemy, could be guilty of a grievous offence.

   So, with hope in my heart, I backed up the vital files on my drive, and did the same as my advisor. The anti-virus program took a long while to uninstall, and I was happy about that, because it meant that it was deleting many, many files. I had an open window and watched in amazement as the drive space mounted in gigabytes:

   10...25...75...140...250...400...finally, 574.99 gigabytes – out of a 750 gigabyte hard drive. Three quarters of the entire disk was now released. It was a glorious sight – a thing of beauty to behold.

   Hello... are you still there? No, I see several of you are snoring peacefully. That's OK. Still, you must be wondering, how could I possibly not notice all this happening long before?

   I'll tell you. It's a bit like life. You don't know
for a very long time that your body is accumulating sludge and unwanted particles and dangerous things, because it works OK and you are used to how it feels. 

   Then may come a crisis and if you're lucky, you find out what's wrong.

   In this case, I got lucky, turning up the one scrap of vital information I needed to rescue my whole system. My startup drive is at peace.

The offending program was Symantec iAntivirus for Mac. It's a free program and does its job, but the version I had was not deleting hundreds of thousands of little undetectable files that were past their use-by date. Maybe Symantic has solved this. It should have, surely.
   If you are on a PC, don't think that a similar thing can't happen with your anti-virus program (or some others). An easy way to find out is to check the drive space, uninstall the program, recheck the drive space, download the latest version of the program and reinstall.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Secret Pleasures of Reginald

As I begin to write this, it's just after 9.30 am. I've been in another morning wake-sleep pattern for some time.

   It all flows from one decision – to drink more water through the evening than I've been doing. I think this is good for my stomach and kidneys apart from anything else, like skin. With the concoctions I am subjected to, I figure the more diluted they are, within reason, the easier it all is on my internal organs.

   Inevitably, it means that I wake earlier, because it's not good for the bladder to retain a cocktail of chemical residue for any longer than I can help. It's like what's brewing in the witches' pot in MacBeth. Besides, my stomach has a dull persistent pain when I waken in the morning, and activity eases that, so it's a 6 am trip to the bathroom for me.

   I have to be careful, because I may not be fully alert, and my legs may not function well. On the right side, there's not much synchronicity between joints – hip, knee and ankle. This is danger time. Concentrate.

   It's cold, so my right arm in various positions has a bad tremor. All I have to do to stop it is to change that position, or hold the arm with the other hand, and it ceases immediately, but the tremor soon comes back. 

   I bathe my hands and face, left-handed, because the right won't cooperate. Trying to make a two-handed cup for water fails, because I can never get it to my face without losing it. It's hayfever season, and washing face and eyes thoroughly does much to keep sneezing at bay.

   Now, with this activity, I'm fully awake. I could go straight back to bed, but I don't. I do the exercises that I practise every morning for balance, muscle tone and strength. I always do them in lots of twenty.

   But each morning I am noticing one sad thing. All these exercises are getting harder and harder to complete. Doing them regularly should make them easier, and for a while there it was, but something vital is being lost each day.

   This morning on the most difficult exercise, I made it to nineteen, but it was impossible to do the final one. The brain was giving the order, but the biceps and triceps weren't listening. If it all stops dead, there's nothing you can do about it.

   I completed the rest of my routine, but felt sad. I've never not made it to twenty before.

   My body after exercise is always very weak, and I can only just crawl back into bed. I get out the Kindle, and start to read. It's wi-fi, so I can read the ABC News headlines and see what miseries humanity has managed to inflict upon itself in the past few hours. There's plenty to choose from.

   If I felt like it, I could read the New York Times or practically any other newspaper, but this morning I didn't. I read what's static on the Kindle – what I've chosen to put on there. A long article I've had for a day or two by an absconder from that dreadful cult in the USA. You know the one. It litigates the pants off anyone who criticises it. Evil, evil. I finished reading the script for Meet Joe Black and now I want to see the movie. I read some very funny stories from P G Wodehouse – A Wodehouse Miscellany. It's free – you should get it – or just dip into it online. But not till you've finished this, OK?

Kindle Reader

I found Reggie in the club one Saturday afternoon. He was reclining in a long chair, motionless, his eyes fixed glassily on the ceiling. He frowned a little when I spoke. "You don't seem to be doing anything," I said.

"It's not what I'm doing, it's what I am not doing that matters."

It sounded like an epigram, but epigrams are so little associated with Reggie that I ventured to ask what he meant.

He sighed. "Ah well," he said. "I suppose the sooner I tell you, the sooner you'll go. Do you know Bodfish?"

And so the charming story goes on. 

   Then I was tired again, although it was 8 AM. My body was relaxed after the morning's ablutions and exercise, and I felt cheered after the exercise failure by the ingenuity of what Wodehouse's mate Reggie was not doing. I turned on my side, glad my head and stomach felt fine, and drifted off....

   It was after 9 am. I felt deliciously warm and relaxed, and for this brief time it was as I had felt nearly every day that I woke up in more than twenty-two thousand mornings of my life.


   Oh God, if you haven't felt normal for nigh on a thousand days, you don't know how good a sensation it is.

   I didn't want to get up, but it was important for me to pop pills, and that meant eating breakfast. I had no choice. But I did lie there for another ten minutes of perfect, perfect luxury. The enchanting illusion of blissful normalcy.

   11:07 AM. That's not bad going. By the time I correct this and post it, another hour at least will have disappeared from my life.

   But there's one thing I'm going to do in a few minutes. I'm going to do that one last freakin exercise – no. 20 out of 20. No, not just by itself; that's cheating. The whole bang lot. Twenty.

   You reckon I'm joking? You don't know me all that well, do you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Why printed books will never disappear

You'll get this or you won't, with no explanation. It was appended to a volume dated 1907, downloaded from Gutenberg, and now I find to my annoyance that I can't tell you exactly which one.



ALTHOUGH The King's Classics are to be purchased for 1/6 net per volume, the series is unique in that
 (1) the letterpress, paper, and binding are unapproached by any similar series.

 (2) "Competent scholars in every case have supervised this series, which can therefore be received with confidence." – Athenaeum
The "King's Classics" are printed on antique laid paper, 16mo. (6 X 4-1/2inches), gilt tops, and are issued in the following styles and prices. Each volume has a frontispiece, usually in photogravure.

Quarter bound, antique grey boards, 1/6 net.

Red Cloth, 1/6 net.

Quarter Vellum, grey cloth sides, 2/6 net.

Special three-quarter Vellum, Oxford side-papers, gilt tops, silkmarker, 5/- net.

***Nos. 2, 20 and 24 are double volumes. Price, Boards or Cloth, 3/-net; Quarter Vellum, 5/- net; special three-quarter Vellum, 7/6 net.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"A fragment of her soul" 3

This completes my little triptych on Sappho, whose poetry I can only describe as an unbounded joy.

   In the first part, I said that there was one unfulfilled and unfulfillable desire her Hundred Lyrics created in me. It's been a fortnight since I wrote that, so I realise that anyone who was curious about the wish at the time has wandered off, and I don't blame you in the slightest. There's only so long you can keep such things dangling. The bait falls off the hook.

   But here it is anyway, just after Sappho's Lyric Fifty-two.

   I need only one poem. This one. Just amble through it lazily. It's Sunday right here and now, or if it's not where you are, pretend it is. Take your time.


Lo, on the distance a dark blue ravine,
A fold in the mountainous forests of fir,
Cleft from the sky-line sheer down to the shore!

Above are the clouds and the white, pealing gulls,
At its foot is the rough broken foam of the sea,
With ever anon the long deep muffled roar, –
A sigh from the fitful great heart of the world.

Then inland just where the small meadow begins,
Well bulwarked with boulders that jut in the tide,
Lies safe beyond storm-beat the harbour in sun.

See where the black fishing-boats, each at its buoy,
Ride up on the swell with their dare-danger prows,
To sight o'er the sea-rim what venture may come!

And look, where the narrow white streets of the town
Leap up from the blue water's edge to the wood,
Scant room for man's range between mountain and sea,
And the market where woodsmen from over the hill
May traffic, and sailors from far foreign ports
With treasure brought in from the ends of the earth.

And see the third house on the left, with that gleam
Of red burnished copper – the hinge of the door
Whereat I shall enter, expected so oft
(Let love be your sea-star!), to voyage no more.

What's my desire? It makes me want to paint a picture for each little stanza. Six paintings. Very traditional they would be, taking us from the broad vista in the first one to the house where she is about to open the door. Acrylic, maybe, as I never was keen on working with oils – but more likely and more pleasing to me, watercolours, unmistakeably Mediterranean brilliant blues and whites.

   I can't do that now.

   But you know what? It's a good thing in a way, because the six watercolours I've created in my mind are the best ever done, almost, and it would be a shame to expose them to public view, or mine for that matter. The reality wouldn't live up to what's there in my head. Let them stay where they are.

   And one last thing. Maybe it would be a pity to impose my ideal version of all these six on you or anyone else. Remember how a fine novel converted to even the best movie forces upon us a new model of our characters; one that often robs us of our own?

  I wouldn't want to do that to you. It's just not right.

   So you see, it's all worked out well. Perhaps we all get what we want out of it. My perfect painting, secure in that corner of my brain, and your perfect image in yours.

   Now read through the little poem again, chillen, and fall in love with your own double-triptych created by Sappho's lyric. (No, nothing like what's below; it's just my scrambled egg six-for-the-price-of-one-version, and surely looks that way.)

Neapolitan Sappho Lyric LII

home | WHAT'S NEW! | stories from my past
sappho1 | sappho2 | sappho3

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The bus to the past

I am not old, except perhaps to someone under thirty, but because of my condition, I now have to put up with many of the frustrations of the ageing. 

   I know I've said this before, but there's new depth to this understanding as the months I was expected to live have now extended into years, and there's no clear end point. Please put up with a little repetition if you remember I've said something like this before. Your memory is probably a good deal better than mine for things that happened recently.

   When I got this disease, I thought, if there were any benefits, one was that I'd escape the trials and rigours of old age. What I discovered, to my surprise, was that I haven't evaded them at all. They've just been compacted in time. In addition, I've been destined to experience them earlier than most in our fortunate society. The combination makes resistance to this change set in all the more deeply.

   This makes it possible for me to understand all too well what was never on my radar until I got a taste of it.

   Let me give you an example. It's a bit scrambled between separate things that should be sorted out, but here you have it.

   We've all seen the movie trope where someone sits down by an old lady or gent at the bus stop, waiting patiently for the bus to turn up. They get to talking, and it turns out they're waiting for a spouse who's been dead for twenty years.

   The dear old thing has wandered down the street, 'running away'.

   'They're just seeking a bit of attention.'

   They're not. What they're seeking is the exact opposite. They're craving not to be noticed, helped, or, as they may feel, 'spied' on, even though it's for their own good. In good nursing homes, people are monitored constantly for the best of reasons, but it may be hard for the oldie to see it that way. Even if they do, it exasperates. These people just won't leave me alone.

   They're running away from attention. It's not being alone that matters. They want to have power back over their lives, even though that's impossible. They want that spouse to be on the bus, and to go back together to a place where they had the control they were used to for their entire adult lives, until somehow it just disappeared. They want to sit in their own kitchen over a cup of tea made exactly as they used to, or, even better, or a glass of wine and some good cheese, and talk about nothing in particular with the ones their lives revolved around. The way life used to be.

   If in the real world they live in a place with care professionals, they don't want to return to share that little room with some stranger whose name they keep forgetting and, you never know, might steal their teabags or tissues. They don't want to be talked to like a child by the cheery young nurse.

   They want a return to a world that's gone forever, but there's always hope at this bus-stop.

   All the care and attention showered on them by their loved ones cannot compensate for that loss of who they were, especially if that loss includes the death of a partner, or the need to be separated from them to go somewhere else for heavy-duty care. So they tell their tale about who they're waiting for to the person at the bus stop, and the Good Samaritan realises he or she needs a loved one to come and pick them up. By one means or another, it happens, and the anxious daughter or son or carer rescues them and takes them back to safety; that comfortable prison where others make all the decisions. Mealtimes, food, medications... the relentless drivel on TV. Clothes, even.

   They don't protest when the rellie arrives; not much, anyway. They know that bus to the past they've been waiting for is too late again to beat the intrusion by the present. Resistance is futile. They go off meekly. It's been an adventure, and they chose it every step of the way. Till this point anyway.

   Attention is the last thing they want. I'm not at a similar stage yet, though I feel cramped by restrictions that I know simply can't be avoided. They're necessary, self-imposed or imposed by sheer circumstances. Without them things would descend quickly into chaos. All of us are locked in to this inevitability. Each has an inescapable but different burden, till that end point that defines itself.

   I know what the oldies want. I want it too, but it's impossible. This bus-stop world is locked in fluid, strangely static time.

   Ah, the Time Lords. Dr Who can do it, but Dr Wright can't. There's no Tardis at the bus stop. Nor, of course, should there be.

Monday, September 3, 2012

"Life is like a river"

Apparently this is a very old Jewish joke. I must confess that until a friend sent it to me some months ago [Thank you Aaron, via Marsha] I don’t believe I've ever heard it before. But then my memory plays such tricks on me these days that any joke is likely to look new. I guess that has some advantages.

   At least I
think it's a joke. I'm not quite sure....

   Maybe I should have checked thoroughly in the delightful book by Leo Ronsten, the new joys of yiddish, which our friend Carl Merten gave me some time ago.

A rabbi is lying on his death bed, and his students are lined up at his side. The wisest student is beside the old rabbi, the second-wisest behind him, the third-wisest behind, and so on, down the length of the bed, into the hall, down the stairs, and out into the street where the simplest student is at the back of the line.

The wisest student leans over and in a soft, reverent voice asks, "Great Rabbi, before you go to be with God, please tell us: What is the meaning of life?"

The rabbi raises his head a little, slowly opens his eyes, draws a rattling breath, and with great effort says, "Life... Life is... is like... a river." He shuts his eyes, dropping his head back onto the pillow with exhaustion.

The wisest student turns to the student behind him and says, "The Rabbi says life is like a river!" That student turns to the one behind him and repeats this wisdom, and so on and so forth, out of the room, down the hall, down the stairs, and outside to the end of the line, until the second-simplest student turns to the simplest and says "The Rabbi says life is like a river!"

The simplest student, realizing he has no one to who to repeat this wisdom, contemplates it. After a moment, he taps the student ahead of him on the shoulder and says "Excuse me, but... why is life like a river?"

This message gets passed up to the front of the line, until the second-wisest whispers in the wisest student's ear "Moishe wants to know why life is like a river." The wisest student leans over the Rabbi and again, soft and reverently, he said, "Great Rabbi, your students have brought forth a question! Please, oh wise one, tell us... why is life like a river?"

The old rabbi raises his head again, slowly opens his eyes, draws another rattling breath, and says... "Okay, so it's *not* like a river..."