Monday, June 11, 2018

So THAT’S what displacement activity is! Well! I must ring all my friends and tell them, though I can’t do it quite yet as I really, really must get on with sorting out that hairbrush. And then there’s the bloody bog roll roller – sticking again. So I might not manage to ring around to later today or maybe tomorrow

Well, it’s been ten weeks since my new life started and I’m slowly getting used to it, although it hasn’t quite gone to plan. But that is no bad thing as surely being intent on sticking to a plan, however noble that plan, is arguably the antithesis of relaxing, and boy do I intend to relax. It’s just that my idea of relaxing is not simply cracking open a bottle of Rioja on the stroke of noon and settling in to watch flat-racing on the gogglebox

Writing was the essence of that plan, and that part of it I have adhered to, though not quite to the timetable I had mentally set for myself. And nor have I yet begun my next project properly, though I have done some work on it.

An application I have been using and found to be very useful is Scapple, though there are others like it and it is available for both Macs and Windows, so a file can be saved to, say, Google Drive or Microsoft’s One Drive, and then work on pretty much anywhere on a desktop of laptop if you have the app installed and access to the internet (to download the file, obviously, then upload it again with any changes you have made ready for you next session.

The idea is not original, merely one which has been transferred to the digital realm: you jot down – I suppose that should be ‘jot’ down a series of ideas and thoughts on what you want to write, I suppose you are brainstorming yourself, and then connect them in any way you choose. It is useful, if only because it can give you a slightly better overview of what you have in mind and helps you marshal your thoughts better. Here is a screenshot of it, with work I have already done. It is just a jpeg of a screenshot and I hope to God you can’t read any of the notes:

A few weeks ago, I was at my sister’s in Germany for my niece/goddaughter’s wedding, and when I came back I didn’t quite feel the same as I had when I went out. I was conscious again of having projects and feeling obliged to do something. Well, I did and do, but that slightly irritated me.

My original plan to be out of bed at dawn, down in my shed (picture at the bottom now that I have a new table and have rearranged the furniture a little to make it more amenable and be tipping away on my keyboard as though there were not tomorrow. Incidentally, I can’t think why I had the desk where it was before, and anyway, I no longer have that desk, but shan’t go into why not as it has caused something of a slight rift between me and my stepmother who more or less implied I was trying to con her out of it if not steal it outright. That hurt, although her friend and neighbour Jill suggests she might slowly be getting a little dementia. Who knows, but that is by the by).

It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but I am, at least, putting in about four hours, even if it means I am going to bed a little later than I expected. My last post here touched upon the slightly mysterious suspicion that my father was not, as he had always assured me, a BBC man who just occasionally helped out MI6, but that it might, just might, have been the other way around. The last post was the first part, and I promised a second, but that will have to wait, as I have something else on the go.

. . .

I read a novel, which had been one of my set texts at college, and which is regarded as ‘a masterpiece’ and the writer ‘a genius’. So when I read it and increasingly thought ‘what’s all the fuss about, this isn’t all that brilliant’, I was a little bemused and embarrassed even. I mean who was I to judge that a man regarded as one of the world’s great writers was maybe not all he was cracked up to be, at least going by the novel I was reading.

In fact, I was so bemused and embarrassed by my apostasy, but on the other hand so sure that that was really what I felt, that as soon as I had finished the novel, I began reading it again. But even on two readings I can honestly say I am not at all convinced.

So that is the ‘something else I have on the go’ and I am doing quite a bit of work on it. I shall post it all here when it is finished. And once finished, I really shall get down to the main thing.

The other thing which I have finally been able to do is get into learning to play the guitar a damn sight better than I have so far. And even though I say so myself, the lessons – with a Paul Berrington in Padstow – are paying off. Some might feel what we do – scales, modes, arpeggios and musical theory – is all a bit dry, but I’m having none of it. For one thing my playing is because more flexible, or rather my fingers are becoming more flexible and my playing, by and by, more fluent. It really is early days yet as far as being as good as I want to be, but I feel I’m slowly getting there.

Other things on the horizon are another swift trip Bratislava to be measured for my new tooth which will be combined the night before I fly out – just for the say, by the way – with a drink and perhaps a meal with an old friend.

I have, though, discovered what ‘displacement activity’ is. I thought I knew, although I have never before used the word, and when I came to settle in to write this entry, it occurred to me. So I looked it up and it is spot on for what I want to describe.

Quite simply my day runs like this: I wake up, often quite early, turn over and and sometimes manage to go to sleep again. I finally get up between 9.30 and 10 and then, in theory there is nothing to hold me back. But it is then when I discover all kinds of things to do except shift across here to my shed and get stuck in. At 10.30 there’s coffee to be made, online newspapers to be read, perhaps I might go into town to buy something, then there’s time to be passed deciding what to buy when I go into town (today it was a guitar stand – Paul would be proud as using one means thereis far less chance of you guitar crashing over and getting damaged).

Then, at some point there is my stepmother to be visited down the lane – a duty I am increasingly putting off as after that incident with the table I am not all that keen on seeing her. And then, of course, it it lunchtime, and although I don’t eat lunch, I do tend to drink another pot of coffee. Finally, I might shift over to where I am sitting now and start. And the very odd thing is once I start, I wonder what all the fuss was about. But now I know: displacement activity.

But all in all, it’s rather pleasant. I would urged everyone to retire, whatever age you are. The only downside is that sooner or later retirement ends in death. But then so does life itself, so it ain’t that serious.

Pip, pip.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Weddings, spies, dads who might or might not have been spies, lunch with aunts, dancing in the moonlight (although there wasn’t any in fact on the night) - it’s all too, too much. (Part One - The Teaser)

Back from a very pleasant few days at my sister’s in the far North-West of Germany (as in ‘pretty far North’ but ‘very far West’ - you couldn’t get closer to The Netherlands without getting very wet wading through a stretch of water called Dollard which is also the estuary of the River Ems/Emse). I was there for my niece/goddaughter’s wedding and the baptism of her second child, Klara. Booze, as always, flowed freely, though that is not to say it was some kind of bacchanalia, with many folk getting rat-arsed and some even disgracing themselves, just a steady flow of whatever you wanted and then some.

Flew there eight days ago from Heathrow after visiting a friend in Eastbourne (and being rather taken with the town and local countryside) and would liked to have stayed longer in Germany, but I had arranged to be back at Heathrow airport at around 3pm last Monday to meet my son who was returning from six weeks in Central America to drive down home together. As far as his little trip is concerned - he only turned 19 three days before he returned - he told me all kind of stories, and I asked him not to repeat some to his mother. She is something of a control freak and clingy to boot, and his accounts would have so scared the shit out of her that she would never have allowed him out of her sight again.

That, of course, would have been impossible, especially as he is due to start a university course at John Moore’s University in Liverpool in September, so simply keeping schtumm about this, that and t’other seems the most practical solution.

. . .

There were two events which marked my stay a little. One was looking up a distantly related aunt, Helma B. and the other was a spontaneous dance-about with my nephew and his girlfriend and their friends in the fields beyond my sister’s farm which began at about 2.30am and ended at about 4.30am, though I stayed up, saw the sun rise, chatted for many hours to one of my niece’s schoolfriends, and then finally hit the sack at about 9.30am. (I woke and got up at 2pm and felt like death).

At the dance-about - I can’t think what else to call it - I played the music from tracks on my iPhone (not Mahler, Beethoven, Berg, Bach, jazz or The Boswell Sisters, none of which would quite have had the club oomph demanded by the dancers) and one of the guys there just happened to have a small but powerful bluetooth speaker with him, why I really don’t know. As the seven were, apart from my niece’s younger brother, all her and her husband’s friends, I don’t believe any were over 30 and one or two might even have been under 25. I, of course, am neither.

What I especially like was that our dancing into the dawn - literally - simply came about and was spontaneous. You couldn’t plan anything like that. Outside on one of the many grass areas around the barn wedding guests, many with young children between two and seven years old, had set up their caravans and tents and close by was a roaring fire around which ‘the young ones’ had been sitting with a guitar or two singing songs. Not my scene, so I was inside sitting around a table with 12 of the older generation (as quite possibly one of the oldest of the older generation) having a laugh, having a drink, chewing the fat and generally enjoying life.

We had started the reception with Kölsch und Häppchen (nibbles). This was then followed by Sekt and at the meal we had red or white wine, and on it went, with the parents of young children taking off to put them to bed and I and the 12 others sitting round that table. I mention the booze because at some point when I was off somewhere, my brother-in-law poured everyone a stiff gin and tonic, each glass followed by another. Me, I stuck to wine, and although I was round when the gin was on offer, I wouldn’t have had one: I’ve had far, far too many bad, unpleasant hangovers in my time to ever want another.

At some point I wandered out to the fire, saw that das Volksliedsingen was still in full force and returned. I am hazy on the details - despite my disclaimer about not taking the gin on offer, I wasn’t exactly sober - but in the meantime all the other old farts had pissed off somewhere, presumably to bed. A little while later, I wandered out again to find the young group reduced to seven and doing very little. That’s when I took out my iPhone and struck up, for a starter, with Innocent by Alexander O’Neal. Give it a listen:

Innocent - Alexander O’Neal

At some point the bluetooth speaker appeared and the music got louder. A young mother emerged from one of the caravans and asked us to turn it down - I’m sure she really meant ‘off’. The group was about to break up when I occurred to me we could easily carry on simply by moving away into a field, so we all walked, or rather danced, our way several hundred yards up a path and carried on. And on, and on and on. It was full daylight, though the sun

hadn’t yet come up, when everyone seemed to decide they were getting rather tired, so we drifted back to the farmhouse, where I decided I wasn’t all that tired and could do with another glass of wine and a cigar.

In time I was joined by a schoolfriend of my niece, a very interesting chap, chalk to my cheese, who was - is - completing an engineering Phd at Cambridge but who is obviously far more interested in following a philosophy degree course, and in that very German way (and undoubtedly also Austrian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovak, French and Dutch way, so let’s just settle on European) ‘wir haben diskutiert’, though at this juncture I would only be vaguely able to recall the broad outline of what we were talking about. I was urging him - to be blunt he was young enough to be my son or even grandson - to stick to engineering as a day job and take a philosophy course on the side, urging him not to let slip through his fingers the young woman he is so obviously keen on, and I don’t know what else.

Finally, one glass of wine too many, we decided to call it a night. I went to make myself a mug of coffee in a kitchen already full of sisters, nieces and great-nephews and nieces - it was, after all 9am - and discovering there was no sugar, I announced I was off to Holland to buy some more at the supermarket in Bad Nieuweschans (by half a kilometer closer than those in Bunde, but they wouldn’t have been open on a Sunday morning). At that point my sister asked me to hand over my car keys, and to my credit I did so without a peep. So I couldn’t have been that drunk.

. . .

More interesting was a lunch I had with Helma B. She is nominally an aunt in that generations ago her family and my mother’s family (which then lived in the same town as Helma, Papenburg) intermarried. But in that neck of the woods (and in many other German necks of the wood) Verwandschaft is loose and but pretty much always celebrated - the Germans, or at least the ones I know, are nothing if not sociable. So when I first met her, in about 1961, I was ten and she was 29.

Her father - who will play a central role in the rest of this entry and who I have mentioned before - one August Löning, owned and with his wife Johanna ran a draper’s in the small - then smaller - Emsland village of Lathen. He also owned what was known as das alte Wehrhaus. That was nothing to do with Wehr as in ‘force’ but as in a ‘weir’ across a river in this case the River Ems. It was where, in the 19th and early 20th century the Wehrmeister lived, the man who worked the weir. Latterly, a new weir had been built further down the river and the Wehrhaus was used as a weekend retreat by his extended family and, in this case, my father and his family.

My father and mother and my sister, then about five and my younger brother, then just over one, spent a few weeks there during the summer of 1961, and I was farmed out to stay with Helma - then ‘Tante Helma’ - and my older brother with the family of her brother-in-law Josef Meyer, who owned the Meyer-Werft, then a large shipyard and now considerably larger. Mind, in those days I knew nothing of wealth and to be fair the people in that neck of the woods, das Emsland and Ostfriesland, are very down to earth and egalitarian. It’s one of the things I like about them. But that is all just background.

In a previous entry, one about a very short trip I made to Freiburg in October 2010 for the 65th birthday of my cousin Paul Meyer, Josef’s oldest son, I mentioned how I was rather bemused when Paul, jocularly, referred to my father as der Spion (the spy). I had over the years gradually come to know that my father had, in some obscure ways or another and in his words ‘helped out’ with the British security service, more usually known as MI6, but as far as I was concerned he was first and foremost a BBC journalist. As he and I grew older, I obliquely questioned him about what had done, but it never went beyond ‘helping out a little’. And that, as far as I was concerned, was that. He had ‘helped out’. That’s what he told me and that is what was the case. But chatting to Helma over our lunch last Friday, she told me something which cast a completely new light on it all, and then some.

NB A friend who reads this blog and who I saw and stayed with in Eastbourne the evening before I flew out to Amsterdam and then travelled on to Germany for the wedding, let slip that my blog entries are ‘too long’. Well, perhaps they are, but I take the view that no one is in the slightest bit obliged to read my ramblings and can quit at any time they like if they get bored halfway through. So you are warned, because this one, this entry and because of this, the second half to it, has quite some distance to go. I suppose I could always, a la a fucking gogglebox drama series, throw in a few teasers to keep you hooked - of if not ‘hooked’ at least keep you reading - but I’m buggered if I’m going to do that. Sorry (though not really, I’m just being polite in the way we middle-class, public-school educated twats were brought up to be, an upbringing furthermore which is not to be disparaged: I can spot an antique sherry glass at 50 paces. Can you? No, thought not). Where was I?

. . .

My father had always been interested, if not even obsessed, with the military, and although he didn’t become a professional soldier like my Uncle Pat (latterly just ‘Pat’, after whom I was named and with whom I seemed to have so much more in common than with my father that we always got on very well), he joined up after taking a ‘wartime’ degree at Kings College, Cambridge, at sometime halfway through the war. He enlisted with (he told me once) The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and took part in D Day, when he - born on March 21, 1923 - was only 21. He received a ‘field commission’ and, I seem to remember he told me, at one point he was the youngest captain in the British Army.

He was always very gifted at languages and soon he was transferred to the Intelligence Corp, tasked with interrogating captured German soldiers. A little later he was attached to the French forces - he spoke German and French - and at some point was involved in a motorbike accident and at another received a piece of shrapnel in his cheek which was never removed. But that is all by the by.

When the war ended, my father, like all other students who had taken a two-year wartime degree, was offered the chance to return to university for a third year to complete his course. He didn’t bother, so he didn’t actually have a proper degree and when I graduated (something of a fluke as I pointed out in a more recent post) I was the first Powell to get a degree. (My older brother had, by this time, already succumbed to the various mental troubles he suffered from all his life and, he told me, didn’t write a word in his finals. He just sat there for three hours each time. And he was ten times as bright of me.) Instead, in about 1946, he joined the ‘British Military Government of Germany’.

His job at first was to ‘mingle with the population and sniff out Nazis (and the socialising that involved - he was always a sociable man, which is why he was so attracted to Germany led him to meet one Elfriede Hinrichs, later my mother, in Osnabrück). Later he was employed on some British Military Government press commission, helping to sort out who might be ein tadelloser Nicht-Nazi (or something) and could granted a licence to set up a newspaper or magazine to operate in the British occupied zone.

The British, unlike the Americans who were intent on destroying Germany from now until kingdom come, took the view - the immensely sane and enlightened view - that if we wanted prolonged peace in Europe, a properly functioning and democratic German state under the rule of law was quintessential. How right they were, and so, for example, the old Volkswagen works was speedily revived by one Ivan Hirst, a Yorkshireman (thank goodness for Wikipedia) who saw the potential of the company, helped to re-establish it and thus helped to lay they foundations of the future West Germany.

. . .

I have now glanced below to the foot my screen and Bean, the word processor I am using to write this, tells me I am quite close to having written 2,600 words. Well, maybe I should heed the advice of Barry Mc. and not push my luck as much as I intended and end this blog entry here. But there will be a Second Part, which will - God willing - get to the point of the second half of this entry. So with that in mind here are a few teasers. I mean, shit, I’ve got to get you guys and gals coming back, surely to goodness.
  • Working for the BBC’s Caversham ‘monitoring service’, was my father really simply just another BBC drone working night shifts because the money was better or . . .
  • Those trips to Germany: was it my father who went there to see August Löning as Helma recalls - she says she first met him in 1956, but we didn’t move to Berlin until 1959 - or was it someone else as her now dead sister Irmgard told me?
  • The ‘anti-Nazi’ August Löning was not quite the liberal hero I thought he was until my chat with Irmgard, but an enthusiastic member of Stahlhelm, a rival far-right rival to the NSDAP. So why was he
    a founder member of the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (CDU)? And what was this West German government in exile he, my father and - obviously - many others were setting up?
  • Why exactly was there a radio transmitter at Das Wehrhaus, operated (Helma tells me) by Heinrich, her brother and August’s oldest son?
  • Why did my father, a life-long anti-communist who later described himself to me as a ‘right-wing radical’ (whatever that means), campaign for the Liberal Party in the 1951 General Election? Youthful idealism or . . .
This and more will be looked at in the Second Instalment of This Blog. Tune in . . .

Not much any more to do with my niece’s wedding but, well, what the hell. Oh, and by the way, with the last word of this entry, it has now reached 2,925 words, as close to 3,000 as is barely decent. That’s as many as your going to get this side of Britain Has Talent - The REAL Story or The Kardashians Unveiled! Sorry (well, once again, not really). I could, of course, blether on to make it the full 3,000, but, well, what the hell. Let’s stick to 2,925.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Simply file under 'Will this do?' If you think that's a tad cryptic, read on to find out what the bloody hell I am on about

It’s odd: I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but each time I started it, the little I had written struck me as so ineffably banal that I deleted it all and packed up. The thing is, there are a number of things I want to write, including one particular post I want to write here, but I don’t feel I am ‘allowed’ to until I get this post out of the way. And what is it about, what startling insight shall I deliver today? Bugger all, simply that - as of today - 39 days into retirement I realise that those who say it will take a while to get used to it are right: it is and will.

Now was that worth the effort? Of course it wasn’t. Just think what you could be doing for the 40 seconds it has taken you to read that paragraph. But the odd thing is - and it is most definitely, though unfortunately part of retirement, well ‘my retirement - that I feel obliged to write this post (and obviously try hard to ensure it isn’t banal, though whether I am succeeding is anyone’s guess). I’ll try to explain.

A day or two after I retired, I installed an app on my iPhone called, essentially nothing but a ‘to do’ list. In fact, I installed two other similar apps, but didn’t like them much and deleted them again. They are quite useful, or rather they are apparently quite useful, if you want to organise yourself. Once some task has been completed, you tick it off. The thing is that - surprise, surprise - I don’t get around to doing all of the things I list as ‘to do’, and then feel guilty about not doing them. Well, that wasn’t part of the plan: guilt? Fuck guilt, I don’t want guilt in my life. I shall keep on using it, because - well, it is useful - but I’ve got to get rid of things hanging over my head for several days - like this specific post - and feeling guilty that I haven’t got around to them.

As for retirement, my sister told me my brother-in-law took six months to get used to it. Then, a week or two ago, a friend of an acquaintance, a retired GP (family doctor) told me it took him bloody five years not to feel guilty about ‘not working’. Six months I can take, five years, and I shall be demanding compensation from whichever body hands out such compensation. Personally, I don’t as much feel ‘retired’ as somehow, for whatever reason, ‘off work’ as though at some point I shall be going back to work. Well, I shan’t, but bearing in mind what my sister said, I shall most certainly give it a while, at least six months. As for ‘five years’, well, sod that.

. . .

One of the things I intended to do and am doing (and actually started four or five months ago) is taking my guitar playing a little more seriously and, with that in mind, getting a guitar lesson once a week. I’ve played guitar pretty much for the past 54 years, though not at all well for many years, but consistently. I can bullshit as well as the best and could play several things in certain styles which might have people thinking ‘he’s not bad’, but the point is I knew I was not at all good and that what people heard was pretty much something of a con. To put it into greater context, I don’t actually want to sit around strumming ‘Michael Rode The Boat Ashore’ or anything like that. My ambitions are firmly in the jazz camp and although it is very unlikely I will ever get even a tenth as good as all those jazz guitarists I like, I can, at least, get to play better than have been.

So once a week, it is off to Paul Berrington in Padstow for a storm of scales, modes, musical theory and I don’t know what else, all of which I seem to understand while I am there and most of which is gobbledegook to me once I get home and start practising. Well, almost. Bit by slow bloody bit I am getting my head around it. My main problem, in practising guitar as in so much else, is applying myself. I say I have ‘played guitar for pretty much 54 years’ but actually when I pick up - well, make that picked up - a guitar, I would do a bit of this for 30 seconds or so, then a bit of that, then 30 seconds on a bit of t’other and this pretty much waste my time and make absolutely no progress. So for my the major objective is to learn to stick with it. (As in learning stickability, the admonitions of middle-class British mums since the middle class was invented? Ed).

NB Later (as in a few hours after the above was written while I was still in bed):

Sitting outside just now in a lovely spring sunshine drinking a morning mug of coffee, I realised, or rather remembered, what it is that ‘guilt’ is. I cannot speak for others, but I have long been aware that indulging in an ‘activity’, whatever it is, can superficially give the impression of, for want of a better word, ‘action’ or ‘achieving something’.

The unfortunate part for me was, and is, that I am fully aware that despite being ‘active’ - going shopping, noodling away on guitar, tapping away on my laptop to write a post like this, going to the gym or going swimming and until recently going to work and doing what I did there - I am not, in fact, achieving anything at all. So is this man neurotic? I can hear some of you ask.

Well, I don’t think I am, it’s just that there is a corner of me I simply cannot bullshit myself and that part is quite critical when I pretend I am doing something - by making sure I am active - but, in fact, have done fuck all of any worth (well, worth as in achieving the goals I have set myself). It’s like coming up against yourself and proving to yourself that you are not just another of Life’s Bullshitters. Doing my disabled stepmother’s shopping is worthwhile, certainly, going to the gym and going swimming are worthwhile, certainly, sitting down and writing a post here isn’t quite the most heinous of pastimes, but - in a sense - it is just ‘passing time’.

I put that phrase in brackets because it sums up a rather odd attitude to life, but one which many of us adopt. I first came across it when my younger brother, when he was younger still (he will be 60 in June) described life as ‘just passing time’, and I was oddly shocked and, I have to say, quite concerned. I could tell you more about my brother to try to give the phrase as used by him a little context, but shall do that another time.

My point is that we - most certainly I - are very capable of indulging in all kinds of activities - include going down the pub and watching TV - which often do nothing more than ‘pass time’. We somehow manage to persuade ourselves that ‘we have done something’ - ‘had a long chat about Brexit with Jim down the Royal Oak, you remember Jim, guy with the gammy leg, can sometimes be a bit boring but not always ‘cos there are one or two things he knows about, retired accountant, so he does speak a lot of sense on some things and more to the point knows what he’s one about, unlike some . . .’ and  can then convince ourselves the day wasn’t completely wasted.

That’s how one day becomes the next, one week the next, one month seems to take just two weeks to pass, and before you know it it’s Christmas again and you find yourself resorting that that hoary old platitude ‘Good Lord, doesn’t time fly!’ and your newly-born granddaughter is starting primary school, secondary school, university, off on a gap year. 

Perhaps I am neurotic, perhaps not, but I can say that there is that small critical corner of me whose quiet yet insistent voice asks ‘who the fuck do you thing you are kidding’. I opened up about my major goal in a past post but, for superstitious reasons, won’t repeat what I wrote. But it is still there and still looms over me quite uncomfortably. That is part of the guilt I feel. Years ago, I invented a small strategy to somehow counteract that kind of guilt when I had a day or two off but there were several things that needed to be done: I consciously ‘gave myself permission’ to take the day off and do fuck all. It worked. But the pay-off is that that can only be the occasional day and on days when such permission has not been granted, get stuck in!

On which note I can - happily - confirm that I have started on that major goal.

. . .

Is that enough? Can this be posted so that I have finally got that bloody ‘a month into retirement’ post nailed and out of the way so that I can get on with other things? Hmm. Usually, I write about 1,500 words, but so far I haven’t even reached 1,000, so I am in two minds as to whether to end it yet.

. . .

My son, not yet 19 for another 12 days, is knocking around Guatemala and other Central American countries for six weeks. He is due back two weeks on Monday. I have to say I rather admire him for what he is doing and how he has gone about it. I never ever thought he was some kind of slouch or in any way lazy and disorganised, but I was a little surprised and proud by exactly how organised he has been. He landed in Panama City, then took off to some resort somewhere - some island all backpackers go to - and has for a week or two has been staying in - I’ll look it up - San Pedro La Laguna, where he is a Spanish language school and living with a local family. And he’s loving it. He is here (althoug not at the hotel which Google Maps, undoubtedly in return for hard cash, have chosen to highlight:

He’s a sociable lad (which, if anything, he gets from me rather than his mother) and has been mixing with other travellers, and heard about the Spanish lessons and how the school has an arrangement for pupils to stay with local families. He was going to do it for a week, but then decided to stay for a two more weeks because he’s enjoying it so much and has adapted his plans accordingly. He’s due back on Monday, May 28, and I am meeting him at Heathrow airport when I arrive back from a five-day jaunt to North-West Germany to see my niece/goddaughter married.

As for my little granddaughter Olivia, she seems to be thriving. Here’s a picture of her, taken my my daughter, but given the expression on her face, I have added a facetious caption.

Well, that’s about it: 1,146 words and that’s your lot for now.

Monday, April 23, 2018

My thanks to one Neil Cooper, a philosopher, for doing what we should all to: encourage each other. Mr - subsequently Professor - Cooper brought about a one-off minor miracle in my life. And if you read on, you will see why I must also apologise to the good man, and do so now again, publicly

NB I have a little gizmo at the bottom of this page - it shows about the last four entries - which tells me (in some browsers) when the most recent 10/12 visitors arrived and from where they were visiting. Most recently, someone from ‘Hartley, Kent’ has been a regular visitor, so I invite you to get in touch by leaving a comment of some kind. In fact, I should like to extend that invitation to all visitors. Writing in isolation can be odd at times and it is nice to hear from people. Who knows, if we get on and you at some point find yourself in my neck of the woods down her in sunny North Cornwall, I might even agree to allowing you to buy me a drink. And you would then get one in return.

. . .

I have what might be called a ‘nominal’ university degree, an Ordinary degree in - possibly - English and Philosophy, and let me explain that ‘possibly’. I sat for an Honours degree, failed that, but was awarded an Ordinary. The Honours would have been in English and Philosophy, but I believe no such distinction is made in Ordinary degrees. This is how it all came about.

I have previously confessed that after I failed all five of my first year foundation course exams at Dundee University, I stayed on in Dundee after the summer term ended and set about preparing myself for the resit exams before the start of the autumn term.

As it turned out, I went on to pass four of the five exams and was able to continue with what a cynic might refer to as ‘my academic life’. But it would be misleading, in fact, downright dishonest, to suggest that I was spurred on to spend the summer learning from scratch the course material of a year’s worth of tuition in history, political science, economics, methodology (which is what they called philosophy in the first year) and psychology by a passion for being able to continue my learning and deepen my acquaintance with the work of Adam Smith and the subtleties of the difference between knowledge and belief. I simply wanted to make damn sure that come the autumn term I was still a student at Dundee University so that my bloody Oxford County Council grant cheque would arrive (and to the younger readers among you who are or were obliged to take out a £60,000 loan to fund their university education, all I can say is ‘tough’.

Life is not fair, and if you haven’t yet worked that out, you shouldn’t have opted for a college education). I now know, of course, that another reason for my spurt of academic zeal was to put off for as long as possible the moment when I would have to join the real world and earn my living.

Prolonging my time at university by any means possible was why I realised a four-year ‘honours’ degree course rather than a three-year ‘ordinary’ degree course was preferable, but my performance in my first and second years was not stellar, to put it mildly, especially in English, and the chances of being allowed to join the English department Honours course were slim indeed. Note to would-be English degree course students: it helps if you actually read your set texts rather than base your knowledge of the notable themes, motifs, style and purposes of your course’s set texts on snippets you can scavenge from friends over coffee or beer in the Students’ Union. Well, it might work for you, but it didn’t work for me. But, dear reader, I managed it.

There was another oddity: whereas it seemed others hoping to be allowed to join an Honours course were invited for interview to outline why they thought they should be allowed to join, I wasn’t. I simply, one day, was presented with a form asking me what I would be studying in my third year: would I be taking the Ordinary degree course or the Honours? More in hope that with any confidence, I baldly stated that it would be ‘Honours - English and Philosophy’, and so it came about. To this day I have no idea why or how I carried it off, but carry it off I did and an extra year at college scrounging off the ratepayers of Oxfordshire was mine.

My performance in my third and fourth years was very much in my first and second years: not very good at all. I did read one or two set texts and did attend several lectures and tutorials, but rather fewer than I was expected to take. And although I did not read many of the set texts in philosophy, I did benefit from a gift of the gab of some kind. So although the essays I submitted to the English department were quite simply awful - a few years later I somehow came across one and could not believe that I had written such infantile crap, the work I did for the philosophers and my reasonably lively contributions to philosophy tutorials and seminars were not quite as embarrassing.

In the summer term of my final year, not having read any original texts by Sartre, Locke, Hume, Heidigger, Jaspers or, notably Aristotle, I spent long minutes in the university library in a desperate search for volumes of commentaries on the various works and their authors, any volume and the slimer the better, but, of course, I found few.

Those I did find were pretty useless because generally - apart from the fragmentary bits and bobs I had scavenged in one way or another - I had no framework of even rudimentary knowledge of the various philosophers’ works, so the commentaries were as much gobbledegook to me as the original works would have been had I bothered to try to read them.

I did, serendipitously, come up with one strategy. Dot Leitch, a pleasant student in my year from Berwick-on-Tweed was, like most of the female students, a great deal more conscientious in her studies and attendance at lectures than we were generally we guys. Crucially, she had been to every lecture on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics given by an admirable man, Neil Cooper, later Professor Neil Cooper, and this man had been rather good to me in my second year when I began to get panic attacks and that kind of thing.

His lectures were all at - I think - 10am from Mondays to Fridays. The point was that after I had hauled myself out of my bed at some early hour to attend his first lecture of the year, I didn’t attend a single one until the very last, at some point in the spring term. And even for that lecture I turned up late. Bursting through the door at ten minutes after 10am, I apologised for being late. He said this:

‘You shouldn’t be apologising for being late, you should be apologising for your presence.’

And that stung. It stung because I liked and respected the man, and pretty much there and then I decided that however much of a pig’s ear I would most certainly be making of my other finals, I would do as well as I could in the exam on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The trouble was, of course, well, I’m sure you are well ahead of me. This is were Dot Leitch comes in.

Since I was a lad I have always, for no good reason I can think of, liked banging away on typewriters. I’m still doing it now, except that we no longer use typewriters but desktop or laptop keyboards. And I possessed a typewriter, an old BBC typewriter my father (who worked for the BBC) had found for me. I did a deal with Dot: lend me your handwritten lecture notes on Ari’s great work, and I shall type them up and give you a copy.

Dot, like many young gals, had clear handwriting and here lecture notes were excellent. So I went through them line by line, expanding here and there where the thought was a little too syncopated, and thinking through what Aristotle had written. The second part of my strategy was equally simple: while I went through the notes and tried
to make head and tail of what the man was suggesting, I pretended that it wasn’t Aristotle’s system of ethics I was writing up, but mine: and I thought it through - obviously with the help of Dot’s notes - as though I had come up with the Nicomachean ethics. And, bugger me, it worked. The whole system made perfect sense to me and remained making sense until and while I took my that paper in my final exams.

By chance it was the first exam of all eight I was taking - four in English (and the good Lord knows what they were, but I can’t recall, except that I’m sure one was on Shakespeare) and four in philosophy - Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, aesthetics, existentialism and, I think, some kind of general paper. I think. But the Aristotle came first, from 9am until noon.

Unlike pretty much everyone else who walked out of their finals and spent the next two hours discussing and analysing with others what they had written, I simply spent pretty much all of the time playing pinball in the Students’ Union.

For one thing it seemed so obviously pointless dissecting after the event what you had written and what you had forgotten to write or simply fucked up, for another I just couldn’t be arsed. My attitude was what the hell, you can’t soak up spilled milk and put it back in the bottle, so why bother? Practically, of course, it relaxed me, although I now realise that was just luck. It was most certainly not the reason I spent close on one and a half hours playing pinball.

Crucially, on my way Cooper on the Perth Road. And he was delighted to see me, and burst out (though unlike above, here I must paraphrase): ‘Keep it up!’ It seemed he had already taken a look at our papers and - well, I can only report what he told me - I had done rather well, and most certainly better than expected. His ‘keep it up!’ worked wonders. I was under no illusion at all that I was some kind of genius but the combination of relaxing by playing pinball rather than bemoaning as all the others did where I had cocked up and Neil Cooper’s encouragement did wonders. I can only remember one other paper, that on aesthetics and, if I recall rightly, it was about metaphor. (That does strike me, now writing this, as unusual if not rather unlikely, but that is my memory). And again I simply pitched in, stopped worrying about what was the ‘right’ answer and let rip.

I can’t remember quite how soon the results of our exams were posted and we were told what degree we were being awarded, but when I went to the board where that information had been tacked up, my name was missing. I had not been awarded an Honours degree. A little later I chased off to find out what was going on. And this is what happened: the English department, terminally fucked off with me for not having attended lectures, very few seminars and tutorials and for submitting risible essays and generally treating them all like shit, failed me outright.

The philosophy department, on the other hand - and I had attended all their seminars and tutorials, if not all their lectures - were rather chuffed (I was told) with my performance and insisted that it should somehow be rewarded. Finally, both departments came to a compromise: give Patrick Powell and Ordinary degree. So yet again I had scraped through (rather like surviving on the Daily Mail for more than 27 years after any number of dropped bollocks and temperamental outburst). Oh, and then I understood, or thought I understood, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ehtics perfectly. Now, I haven’t a bloody clue and would struggle to say anything about it.

. . .

I began this post a day or two ago, left it for one reason or another, and am just about to finish it. Originally I intended to write about how I had just finished a novel by a Nobel Laureate, a novel regarded as, if not ‘his masterpiece’ at least ‘one of his masterpieces’, and how I was distinctly underwhelmed by it. In fact, I wanted to state clearly that I didn’t think it was very good at all.

I then intended to point out that if, on the one hand, it comes down to the literary judgment of the Nobel Prize committee who felt that this writer’s body of work over his liftetime was sufficiently excellent to warrant awarding him the prize, and, on the other, the literary judgment of a man who was not just relatively badly read (my scant knowledge of literature has been acquired following my habitual practice of scavenging) but whose ‘English degree’ was about as phoney as Donald Trump’s hair colour, it was a no-brainer: Nobel Prize committee 1 - Patrick Powell’s literary judgment 0.

Well, since beginning composing this entry and completing it, I have started to read the novel again. Immediately re-reading a novel after finishing it for the first time is something I have done once or twice before and I recommend it. I did it with Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier and I did it with John O’Hara’s Butterfield 8, and it is worth doing. My point is that I shall hold fire on my attack on the Nobel Laureate’s novel in question until I have finished reading it. I must admit that it does hold together a little better on the second reading, though I must also admit that - especially given its apparent ‘theme’ - I am still to be persuaded that this is ‘great literature’. I promise that once I have finished it, I shall post the entry as planned, but what I have to say might - or might - not be the same.

I can’t, though, end before once again apologising to - now Professor - Neil Cooper and thanking him from the bottom of my heart for his help and, above all, his encouragement. And tomorrow, I shall ring Dundee University to find out whether he is still among us. After all I am now 68, he was then at least in his late 30s so . . . But if he is, I shall see if I can’t track him down and pay him a visit.

And now to bed and I shall wish you all a bon mot, with no hint, as yet, who the chap was.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

I am honourably discharged from Her Majesty’s Press, am handed the traditional tin of Werther’s Originals and can look forward to many years of peace and tranquility (well, someone’s got to and it might very well not be you)

Well, there’s no way to sugar the pill: I am officially now a pensioner and after serving in Her Majesty’s Press for two months short of 44 years, an ex-hack. (I was, for one reason and another - for one very practical reason, I have to say, apart from other less practical reasons - casting my mind back to early June 1974 when I turned up on the Monday morning at the office of the Lincolnshire Chronicle. But far more on that in a future entry. I worked my last shift last

Wednesday, spent a fortune on Wednesday night entertaining friends, son and brother, and colleagues at The Britannia, Kensington, to the drink of their choice and a variety of nibbles, buggered off down here to Cornwall on the Thursday, and my life is now my own.

To be quite honest, I haven’t - unusually I imagine - got all that much to say about it. I have been planning for it for the past six months, so I am not ‘in shock’ anything, and, crucially, I am well aware of the goal I have set myself, and I shall be taking that super-seriously. But apart from that, the only discernible difference between life now and life until 6pm last Wednesday is a curious and very welcome feeling of not having to rush: before when I returned from London on Wednesday night, Thursday morning and had just three days at home, there was always a list of things to do - my stepmother’s shopping, sorting out this and that - and until a job was done, I always had this feeling it was hanging over me. That has now gone.

But these are early days. My send-off from work was rather touching: I was ‘banged out’ by pretty much the whole newsroom at the Mail (the whole newsroom because when one end of a newsroom hears a banging out has started, it joins in whether or not it actually knows who is being banged out). It is a tradition which started in the hot metal days of compositors etc and is not at all usual, so I was very touched. Very touched.

So that it is. As almost always happens when a hack retires, my colleagues designed a spoor front page and I shall post it here once I get hold of a pdf. So far I have ten printed copies, but not means with which to digitise them (they are A3 in size).

The timing has inadvertently become rather good in that my daughter is expecting her first child and it is due on Friday (April 13), though that is just a guide date. On Sunday I shall be up very early - in fact, I probably shan’t go to bed, to drive my son off to Heathrow airport to catch an early-morning flight to Madrid and then on to Panama, and then, after getting a few hours kip at my brother’s in Earls Court, it will be down to Deal in Kent to see a college friend. I actually met him a few months ago when the former drummer in a band he was in who eventually moved to America and the computer industry made his annual trip to Old Blighty with his wife, but until then I hadn’t seen him for about 37 years. He hadn’t changed a lot.

I shall be taking my electric guitar and a small amp, and what with that and the fact that he is an enthusiastic supporter of Jeremy Corbyn whereas I think Corbyn, the current Labour leader is a decent, but useless politician stuck in adolescent left-wingery, it might be a memorable trip. His wife is a painter and has her own studio, so I look forward to seeing her work.

In May, I am off to North-Western Germany for five days for my niece and goddaughter’s wedding, then in June and July there are two one-day trips - as in fly in and fly out the same day - trips to Bratislava for the work on my implanted front tooth to be completed. Around the end of July, I think there will also be my now annual trip to Bordeaux for the music festivals.

But that’s it, really, in November I shall be 69, and with luck, if I keep myself healthy in every way, I might have another 10 to 15 on Earth, so let’s see what the future brings. I must say that although my daughter’s pregnancy was unplanned, she is in a stable relationship with a nice guy, but more to the point I, who very much enjoys the company of children, rather feared that if, like many other women these days, she didn’t have her children until her late twenties or even early thirties, I would have popped my clogs rather earlier and would never has seen them. Well, now I shall see at least one.

. . .

On other matters, what with the various international spats and the discussions about whether World War III should be started this summer, or whether we should wait a while and first have several rounds of futile summit meetings followed by last-minute appeals from the Pope and other dignitaries to see sense before the killing stars, we shall, as the Chinese say, be living in ‘interesting times’. Talking of the Chinese, I don’t doubt that Emperor Xi Jinping is mightly pissed off with the latest turn of events in the Middle East as war is bad for business, unless that business is building weapons and the like.

There he is, attempting slowly but surely to create a world empire by peaceful means and the West rather tactlessly looks like fucking it up for him by getting all moral about a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian dictator Assad (and the Russians, who pull his strings) and threatening attacking Assad, when previously they had merely huffed, puffed and condemned like the best of them. Shouldn’t wonder if Emperor Xi doesn’t choose to take it on himself to act as a peacemaker to ensure business isn’t too badly affected.

But that’s it. Got a lot on today, so I shall wish you all the best.