Sunday, September 6, 2015

In which I introduce you to an unexpected – quite possibly unsuspected – facet of my character: discretion

Discretion, as all my friends will tell you if you were to ask them, is my middle name, so several details in this entry will be vague to the point of non-existence. I must explain why.

I am staying with a friend in Spain for a week and, and this will be my fourth year here. He is a potter of some renown, although his father was the famous one and whose name is spoken with hushed reverence by potters everywhere who are apt to speak with hushed reverence. Not all, of course, are and although that is no reflection on the man’s expertise, artistry and status in the world of potters, it does indicate that many potters are down-to-earth folk not given to pretension).

My friend, who I got to know when he was still living and working in Cornwall, takes in students who arrive from all over the world for a week or a two-week live-in course on pottery, and when I was here several years ago one such student who was staying at the same time as me was a complete pain in the arse. Fair enough, but my mistake and my then indiscretion was to record the fact and a description of the student in several uncomplimentary blog entries.

For good measure I was also very indiscreet about another woman who was staying at the time, who was, however, not a student but another of the potter’s friends. She, too, had remarkable ability to get on one’s nerves very quickly indeed. (Ah, I hear some of you think, and you don’t? You are Mr Interestingly Pleasant all the time? Well, of course I’m not, but this is my blog you are reading and I trust in this matter you are on my side.)

As I assured you earlier, I am keeping details as vague as possible, but I can’t resist giving a taster of just why I, who is at heart essentially affable and good-natured, was driven to the extremes of irritation within minutes of arriving and introducing myself to the second woman I have mentioned:

For my stay here in Spain that year I had bought what its advertising had assured me to be a mobile phone sim card that would afford me bargain basement calls home to Britain and, crucially, data rates so low that access to the internet would more or less be free. All I had to do was to insert it into my phone once I had arrived in Spain and that, I was promised, would bring me as close to heaven on earth as one can be brought in the magical world of mobile phones. (That, by the way, was a very good example of ‘if is sounds to good to be true, it is’, although obviously I had already disregarded that piece of invaluable wisdom.)

So, after arriving, saying hello and exchanging the usual pleasantries one does with a stranger who is also a guest, I immediately set about taking the back cover off my smartphone and installing the sim card to test it out. The woman, the other guest, sitting nearby, was intrigued.

‘What are you doing?’ she asked.

So I explained what I was doing.

‘What is a sim card?’ she asked.

I told her it was the necessary part of the phone which did all the work. Without one, I added, the phone wouldn’t work.

‘Yes, but what does it do?’

I told her I wasn’t an expert on mobile phones generally and sim cards in particular and couldn’t really elaborate much further. It was just . . .

‘But you must know,’ she interrupted, ‘or you wouldn’t be doing what you are doing.’

That, quite literally within four minutes of meeting the woman, was when the first alarm bell rang. Christ, a bloody irritating old crone alert, I thought, but I repeated that ‘a sim card is the essential part of every mobile phone and it includes, for example, all the necessary, hardware, software and every other ware necessary to allow you to use the phone as a mobile phone rather than as, oh I don’t know, just another fucking expensive paperweight’, although I didn’t swear and I wasn’t sarcastic. I do remember saying it all in a tone intended to discourage any further questions. But some hope.

‘What’s software?’ she asked.

‘You really don’t know?’

‘No,’ she said, ‘and I like to know these things.’ And on it went, and on and on, for I don’t know how long.

I am, when I need to be, polite, and I’m sure I remained polite on that occasion, but believe me I didn’t want to be. She was there for the rest of my week, as was the student I mentioned above – but as I’ve warned no more details will be provided, I’m afraid, although, she, too was, such a pain in the arse that I would dearly love to repeat the indiscretions and outrageous insults of several earlier blog entries and, to boot, add several more. Here’s why.

A friend of my friend’s who lives locally came across my blog – which gave far greater detail of who my host was and where he lived and worked, so there’s no mystery as to how he might have chanced upon it – and became alarmed that potential pottery students reading it might be put off applying to come to stay for a course. He alerted my friend who, in turn, asked me to remove the entries, which I did. So, dear reader, all I can tell you is that ‘I am in Spain’.

As to whether it’s north, south, east or west, you’ll have to guess.

. . .

I’ve been here now for three days and have just under a week left. As usual I’ve been doing nothing except, in no particular order, read, sleep - The Razor’s Edge by Somerstet Maugham, and well worth it - drink (beer, wine or gin), smoke, listen to jazz and play guitar. My friend, the potter, is an accomplished musician, although by no means an outstanding one, who plays, each after a fashion, classical guitar, piano trumpet and, I believe, even the clarinet. But for this week I have commandeered his guitar (a gut-stringed Spanish guitar) and have been learning to play some of the songs I like.

These, I’m sorry to tell any younger folk coming across this blog, are not Taylor Swift or One Direction or anything of that kind, but what are for me timeless tunes – As Time Goes By, These Foolish Things and others of that ilk. Boring for some, maybe, but musically most satisfying. Furthermore, the chords you use to play them are, if you want to play them without sounding like a girl guide sitting with friends around her first campfire, the rather less usual ones – C7/9- for example, Em9/7 and F#m13/sus4 (I made that one up) – which are, at first, more difficult to get your fingers around, but which are well worth it once you can (and I’m glad to say that, after spending the past few years practising scales on the guitar, my fingers are agile and flexible enough to achieve).

If you are interested, here is the best website I have come across giving you the chords to many, many songs. There are others, of course, but I like this one best. Try it.

. . .

Here is the one clue you will get:

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