Thursday, November 19, 2015


It's now a month since my wife returned to full time work for the first time since the last century. I've teased her about how much things have changed, pointing out that they don't use floppy disks any more, but in fact she's made the transition with remarkable ease. After sixteen challenging years of motherhood, my wife is more than ready for a change.

But there is one new practice that has really bothered my wife: "Why are so many people now ending their emails with Kind Regards? It's nonsense."

My days follow a strict routine, beginning with a 25-mile round trip taking my sons to their respective schools. I then drive to work and deal with my book orders, which seem to be slowly diminishing. I usually have lunch at home, as the faint aroma of dead rats doesn't whet my appetite, then I clean the house, do the laundry and cook, before repeating the school run.

I'm bored silly by the whole thing, but it will only last for two years, hopefully. My main aim at the moment is to try not to go potty.

It feels as if I have spent the last month indoors, but these Instagram photos prove otherwise:

I heard yesterday that my old Greek Philosophy lecturer died a few days ago. He taught me two very important things that have served me well. First, he told me how bad my English was - I was educated during a period when good grammar and spelling were regarded as unacceptably elitist and my howlers were never corrected. Second, he taught me about the Heraclitan Doctrine of Flux: everything in the universe is constantly changing and you cannot step into the same river twice.

The Doctrine of Flux has been particularly comforting. Whenever I have moments of existential angst during the tedium of the school run, I can console myself with the knowledge that contrary to appearances, I am driving along a different road each time.

I was going to go out, but it appears to have started raining again. Perhaps there's some dusting that needs doing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Mere Bagatelle

The other evening I arranged to meet a friend for a drink in Hastings. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the train journey was hellish: standing room only, with a very rum selection of passengers.

The experience was made even worse by the family below:

The group consisted of two women - possibly mother and daughter - and an assortment of noisy, feral children who kept running around and disappearing under tables and seats (if you look carefully, you'll see a face slightly to the left of the baby). The younger children were all barefoot and liked dashing in and out of the loo, which is not something I'd want to do without shoes on.

At first, I thought the women belonged to a certain stereotype - they had the cheap leisurewear, tied-up hair and harsh accents. But then they started talking about visits to Pevensey Castle and a workshop they'd just been to. Also, the whole family were busy feasting on fresh fruit and drinking pure juice, so my crude social classification radar was starting to overheat in the face of so much conflicting data.

After 50 minutes of hell, I concluded that they were New Age 'crusties', returning from some sort of alternative 'do' in Brighton. They all seemed very cheerful. It's a pity that they were so oblivious to everyone else's feelings.

Fortunately, the journey home was very different - a reward for my earlier trials:

I am now four days into my role reversal with my wife. She seems to be doing terribly well in her new job, while my main achievement this week has been to crash the car. I'm waiting to hear whether it can be repaired or not.

Despite having its front smashed and losing the engine coolant, the car managed to limp back to Lewes. As I drove, I could see bits falling off. A group of workmen watched me go past and laughed uproariously. The labouring classes can be very unkind sometimes.

I'm trying to balance the demands of my business with being a minor domestic god, preparing cooked meals for the evening, keeping the house clean and fitting in a few DIY tasks. I'm doing reasonably well, but I wonder how long it will last before I end up spending my days on the sofa, reading and eating Turkish Delight.

When my car was still in one piece, I managed to get around the local area and take some more Instagram photos. I'm posting them because, frankly, it's much easier than trying to think of something interesting or amusing to say.

Now that my life is increasingly dull, expect more photos.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

All Change

Suddenly, everything is different. After years of being out of the education system, my older son is happy at his new school and is expected to do well in his exams. He has just turned 16, which seems extraordinary.

My younger son is also at a new school and comes home full of enthusiasm, eager to tell us how he has spent his day. The school seems to be preparing its pupils for a forthcoming disaster, as there is a strong emphasis on crafts, woodcraft and self-sufficiency, but I've never seen a classroom with so many happy children. Other schools could learn something.

On the downside, my business is slowly dying - partly because I have to spend a sizeable chunk of the day ferrying my sons around, but also because I'm struggling to find a supplier. Two years ago, it was relatively easy to find stock, but the recycling industry is under far more pressure and separating old books is now regarded as too time consuming.

But even that isn't the end of the world, as my wife has just managed to secure a job in a publishing company. If we continue to live frugally we should survive.

As for me, I will try to juggle the demands of the school run, maintaining my business and running a house, however I realise that this is a normal day for thousands of working mothers, so I won't be expecting a special badge. As long as I have a strict routine, it should be straightforward enough.

In my darker moments, I worry about what I'll be doing in a few years' time, but that's an utterly pointless activity. The important thing is to focus on the present and make the most of it.

On the subject of making the most of the present, here's another batch of photos that I uploaded to Instagram recently. It's just a random selection of shots of East Sussex, but they all capture different aspects of the things I like about the local area at this time of year:

Monday, October 05, 2015

Music For Grown-Ups

The other morning I found myself admiring The Cruel Sea, for the umpteenth time. So many British war films of the 1950s perpetuate the myths that were created to boost morale and have a crass, triumphalist tone. However, The Cruel Sea feels like a film for grown-ups.

One of the key elements that helps to define the film's tone is one that I suspect many people overlook: Alan Rawsthorne's marvellous score.

Take this scene for example, in which HMS Compass Rose is making its maiden voyage. In the hands of a lesser composer, the music would probably be very upbeat and bombastic, but Rawsthorne has written something far more interesting:


(For some reason, the clip doesn't play on some phones)

When a handful of dockyard workers cheer from the quay, instead of adding a patriotic flourish, Rawsthorne's music emphasises the pathos of the scene, with the young, inexperienced officer shyly half-saluting in reply, as the small, vulnerable corvette leaves the safety of its harbour. The atmosphere reminds me a little of a Ravillious painting, from his time as a War Artist.

The use of music is also particularly effective in the next clip, setting the scene, but also knowing when to quietly bow out so that the most harrowing moments take place in silence. The two sailors are the brother and husband-to-be of a widow called Mrs Bell:


And in the film's key scene, there is no music at all. Jack Hawkins doesn't need any help:


Of course, the brilliance of The Cruel Sea is a team effort and with names like Eric Ambler, Charles Frend, Michael Balcon, Jack Hawkins, Denholm Eliot, Virginia McKenna and Nicholas Montsarrat, it would be hard to produce a dud. But I think Alan Rawsthorne's score is definitely the icing on the cake, imbuing the narrative with a bleak, resigned stoicism.

These days, far too much film music is usually cliché-ridden and uninspiring, with an emotional palette that rarely progresses beyond happy, sad, in love, danger, funny and mysterious. Indeed, in music, 'filmic' is now a euphemism for overblown, melodramatic and sentimental and when I hear the soundtracks for films like Lord of the Rings, I feel a sense of despair.

I'm not sure exactly why the rot set in, but I'm pretty sure that it all went wrong after Star Wars, but that's a rant for another day.