Urgent messages from the past

(Jazz alert)

I don’t understand how CDs become unplayable.

About five years ago, I got a friend with the necessary equipment to make me a safety backup copy on CD of a vinyl album in my possession, Kind Of Blue – the classic 1959 CBS session by the Miles Davis quintet (with Bill Evans), that is still the best-selling jazz album of all time, unless you believe that Brubeck and Desmond’s Time Out is. I was worried in case the vinyl got scratched or worn out, as I play it almost every night before bed.

Last night I put the CD copy on, to which my friend has annoyingly added ‘bonus’ tracks of takes that Miles obviously wasn’t happy with, that made me think he’d downloaded it off the remix CD and not taken it directly from the vinyl album, and it started skipping about everywhichway,  stammering and yammering and doing wheelies and whatever it is that technically CDs do when they are completely buggered, and I thought, this is crazy, I’ve played this thing about twice in its life, and I’ve played the vinyl version about two thousand times and it’s got only two little pops on it but they don’t jump, and I can’t remember if I’ve ever even cleaned it.

What is especially annoying about this discovery is that the hard drive died on my laptop a while back and after the shop put in another one half my music had reverted to some Platonic realm where Microsoft won’t let me play it without a licence, so I have had to re-load a lot of albums from my CDs, and this was going to be one of them. Now, I don’t have a copy of Kind of Blue on my laptop, to take around with me to play in strange rooms before bed. I shall have to buy one. Bonus tracks and all.

Do you remember when CDs first came on the market about 30 years ago, everyone said they would last forever and were far less likely to become damaged and ruin the listening experience  than groovy, melty, scratchy-poppy old vinyl, that you assaulted with a worn stylus and not a techy laser beam delivering scientific perfection every time? It was bullshit! You only have to breathe on CDs and they won’t play. The frequencies are compressed and have to be continuously sampled and re-expanded digitally and it sounds crap. Bleah.

All of which goes to remind me that next year sees the 50th anniversary of the day I bought my vinyl copy of Kind of Blue.

I was stuck at a tragically expensive boarding school outside a dull provincial town somewhere in the English midlands, the selection of jazz music in the local record store was pathetic, a rack of Pye Golden Guinea compilations, but miraculously one day there it was. I’d never heard of Miles, I don’t think, but I was kind of blue too (mainly through cold) and he changed my life. Fifty years of listening pleasure.

Although I have lost probably dozens of other recordings down the backs of sofas during that time, it is astonishing to think that I have been lugging around this one precious disc of vinyl for half a century, from school to home to house to farm to town, through two marriages and two kids and six dogs and fifteen cats and two dozen jobs lost that I will never do again, a hundred dangerous DIY projects, and here it still is delivering the same deep sense of satisfaction every time that it did when I was 14 years old. It’s extraordinary, like it’s divinely protected.

Blue in Green is still the Moonlight Sonata of the modern jazz era, an almost perfect, eternal creation; Flamenco Sketches still haunts my dreams, and the first tune I tried to play on the bass was Paul Chambers’ riff from So What? Coltrane still has the power to move mountains, and Evans’ eloquent minimalism creates profound silences that say more about the human spirit than a thousand whining digital dirges from Rihanna or One Dimension.

Last month, my 89-year-old mother, who goes to Zumba classes and smokes 20 a day, called to say she’d been reading on an album cover about Juliette Greco whom she last saw live in Paris in the 1940s but hadn’t known about the long affair with Miles and would I send her some of his music because she didn’t think she’d ever heard any?

So I got Amazing.uk to send her the KoB CD, but it’s not the same as the vinyl original: a diminished, homogenised version of a venerable object bearing urgent messages from the past.

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100 seconds of solitude

It’s a beautiful day, I expect.

Hunzi and I stroll in the warm late-October sunshine along the shingle barrier above Tân-y-bwlch, Aberystwyth’s undeveloped south town beach, as far as the point; and look back along the great, windswept curve of the mile-long bay towards the distant pastel-painted houses under the castle, the sea politely but insistently breaking over the shiny, smooth grey rocks below, humped like basking seals at low tide.

In the distance are two tiny figures on the beach. Otherwise, there is no-one. It is a moment of unexpected solitude.

Within a minute or so, a hiker appears: sixtyish, androgynous, striding manfully along with her backpack. Two walkers in red cagoules break cover on the far hillside, Pen Dinas, heading up the track towards the monument. Horses whinny in the paddock as a car pulls up next to the ramshackle collection of tin sheds on the other side of the river; and is soon joined by another. The voices of the occupants carry indistinctly over the dark and greasy river still turbid from yesterday’s rain. More figures emerge from the car park at the start of the beach walk. A couple are half-lying close together on the shingle bar, lost in conversation.

It looks uncomfortable, there on the piled grey stones in the Autumn sunshine. Irrational too, as it’s one of those days when the pebbles are all down at the other end, invitingly exposing the sandy beach. The grey volcanic stones move around constantly, milled by the tide, and have been found miles up the coast, according to the old Welsh farmer in the battered blue Land-Rover, who shares ownership of this entire landscape with HM the Queen, much of the foreshore and all of the low-lying sheep pasture for hundreds of acres behind. He comes every evening with his old blue-eyed dog and his binoculars, to watch for dolphins he says.

Above us, the jet trails heading out towards the Irish coast sensed somewhere beyond the horizon have been combed into jagged streamers by high-altitude winds. Daily Express headlines all week have been warning of the ‘storm of the century’, that threatens in the fevered imagination of an editor obsessed with terrifying his few remaining readers with dire but seldom confirmed weather warnings, to wipe out all life here on Sunday night.

Is there life on Sunday night? I think we should be told.

phone shots oct 13 178Crocodiles, hippos and bears chase one another across Tân-y-bwlch beach

Squaring the domestic circle

People are unpredictable, I find.

As Followers of this, my bogl, know, I have been hoping for a year now to sell my house and retire to France.

I have had the house ‘on the market’ with two agents, both of whom set the same high price which it appears the house simply will not make. I told them it wouldn’t sell for that much, but does anyone ever listen to the daft old man?

I prefer to set my own price, but they say no, we must leave wriggle room. I’m not looking to make a profit, but neither can I afford to lose money that belongs to my family. I want only to get back what I paid. So I tell them I will sell when someone offers the right price, and they laugh nervously.

The second agent persuaded me in August to fire the first agent, arguing that they would do a better job. They were sure the house would easily sell because there were so many buyers in the right price bracket. They showed me mistakes the first agent had made in the contract, and pointed to the uninspiring copy in the written particulars about the Council-adopted highway, and so ffordd (that’s a Welsh pun). After two months, I am still waiting for the second agent to produce any written particulars at all, but never mind, 94% of houses are sold on the internet nowadays… (Oh yeah? Tell it to me. Ed.)

Since I changed agents interest has slowed to a trickle of disinterested buyers, fewer than one a week, not the rush I was led to expect. Several of them seem to have ended up buying instead on the town’s expanding problem estate across the river; where, despite the housing bubble that threatens to burst over the nation’s face, prices are lower; and where, while you may have an illegal immigrant resident in the lounge and the toilet is leaking, at least you get three former Local Authority-owned bedrooms and a garden shed for the price.

Many of these visitors have made up obscure grumbles for not buying my house. It’s too near the road… actually, there’s a substantial front garden, unlike the house next door that is right on the pavement, as are most houses in a town. But we can move it. There’s an extra room in the back and we can’t think what to do with it, so can we pay less?… It’s only got two bedrooms (so why view it? Go view a three-bedroomed house!)… The sitting-room walls don’t meet at right-angles…

More obviously, although it is a cosy, warm little house that’s cheap to run and easy to clean (you can vacuum all four rooms and the stairs without having to unplug the vacuum cleaner), and near to useful amenities, it doesn’t have private parking and I can see how that can be a problem for people who like to stare possessively at their nice shiny cars parked outside their house.

The agent insists on showing the people round himself. He won’t let me in the house during viewings in case something slips out, which is not unlikely when a viewer comments that my wallpaper will have to go. I am told to  to take the dog for a walk while people are here, sniffing at my stuff. I don’t have much stuff anyway, and some people have been concerned about that too. Where is all the stuff, then? What kind of house is this? I just keep the house clean and tidy, in case someone wants to view at short notice. I stay on top of the washing-up. It’s lucky I don’t have much other work to do.

Here are some of the things I do, to present my house in the best possible light.

I brew fresh coffee, polish the window of the microwave (plain water removes smears), and leave lights burning in dark corners (normally I live in the dark). I wipe the coffee plunger splashes off the kitchen work surfaces before I drink the coffee and the splashes dry. I leave the washing-up bowl upside-down in the sink, to show how emphatically I am done with the washing-up. I carefully construct Inoffensive Strategic Messes (ISMs), to make the house look homey: a jumper, casually draped over a chairback; the dressing-gown laid so on the carefully made bed; a neat pile of folded black T-shirts on the dressing table, just waiting to go in the capacious wardrobe; an open book I’m not really reading; a cool-looking CD cover on top of the CD player. (I’m hoping someone will dig my jazz collection and realise how cool it would be to buy a house from someone like me.)

I empty the kitchen waste bin even if it’s not full and leave a bedroom window open to flush any doggy smells left by the vacuum cleaner; and so the agent can close it to demonstrate dramatically how closing the window cuts down traffic noise and draughts, like in the 1960s Everest double-glazing ads with celebrity farmer, Ted Moult. I put the central heating on, although I don’t have it on normally for myself even in winter when I follow Dave Cameron’s advice and wind myself in my old public-school scarf, to show them how cosy the house is and how quietly the boiler hums.

It’s amazing how often you go to view someone’s house that’s for sale, and they haven’t done any of those things. Their houses are a tip, filthy with unfinished washing-up and instant coffee stains, but people still buy them. One house I viewed had been set on fire, even so somebody outbid me for it. Maybe my house is too suspiciously clean and tidy for a place where an eccentric old man lives alone with his dog. I should burn more rubbish in the sitting-room. I should store back copies of the Daily Sport.

But I stayed inside for one viewing and observed that the agent, a brash young man with enormous, scary, mirror-polished winklepicker shoes, like shining vanilla pods, has a few things to learn about creating confidence. I mean, you don’t march into a house you are selling and straightaway start telling the terrified prospect which walls you would knock down to make the rooms bigger if you owned it, and how much more space you would have if you threw out the piano, do you?

I also advertise the house privately on one of those sales websites with lots of different categories of things to sell, where you get a page to put up your copy and three photos you can rotate and they stick a competing ad on the bottom, that you get no money for but it pays for the site. I did it principally so I could keep some kind of check on the numbers of prospective internet buyers who might be viewing my house on the agent’s website, because I don’t get that information from the agent either.

My private house ad has been directly viewed by over 650 people! So what are they all doing, viewing my ad? Viewing house ads online is a great way of taking a holiday, I find. This year, I have been all over Europe viewing houses. It’s been great. Cheap, too – and no flying Ryanair. But I haven’t bought a house anywhere. I am waiting to sell mine. Maybe they are burglars, casing the joint? Maybe they are rival estate agents.

There’s no reason I can see, why anyone else in the world wouldn’t look at my house the way I did when I bought it. I have bought quite a few houses by now, I generally know what I am buying. I saw immediately that it was a perfectly good little house, easily habitable (strange, though, how whenever you put anything up for sale, bits start falling off, like the handles of taps; the shower-head; the glass cover of the overhead bathroom light. It’s like the house is saying, no, stay a little longer, don’t go yet, I barely got to know you).

Why wouldn’t anyone else see how easy it would be to live in my house? Buying the house solved my immediate problem, of being close to my son’s school so he could finish his studies. Does nobody else in the world need to live near my son’s school? It has a good Ofsted report. Then the little house solved the problem of where would I live after I left the stately home? Does no-one need a cosy, affordable place to live, after seven years in a deserted country mansion?

And now I see from giant billboards that my agent is hoping to sell twenty new houses and apartments right across the road from mine. No, I’d like to move on now, please. Because I’m damned if I’m going to rebuild my front room, take down the walls, just to make it square.

Portrait of the artist as an old man

Not everyone can claim to have sold a painting they have made, not even some posthumously hugely expensive artists. I think we all knogh who I am talking about.

I was listening to an interesting talk by Grayson Perry, the flamboyant, cross-dressing potter. He’s extremely knowledgeable and thoughtful about the art world, but struggled to give definition to what, exactly, is art? He likes proper art, not stuff non-artists claim is art. At the same time, he agrees with Marcel Duchamp that the artist defines the boundaries of what art is, you don’t.

I imagine the first true artist was not the one who drew a willy in the sand with a stick and made everyone laugh. It was the one who pointed at the sabre-tooth tiger in the shadows and shouted ‘run!’… The work of an artist is surely to enhance our ability to connect with what has not previously been seen.

But I sold a painting! Does that make it art? Well, a sale is one of the boundary markers Grayson argues must go with the territory.

Problem is, I haven’t painted anything since. Does selling one painting make me an artist? (I once sold a photograph, so maybe…)

The ‘furnished’ flat I occupied when I lived in the stately home was large and bare, one big room (the Butler’s Pantry) downstairs, a tiny kitchen galley through the back, with no cooker or fridge; a dark and spidery hallway, off which was a downstairs shower room: the old silver vault. Upstairs, in a separate section of the wing were two bedrooms, one large, one smaller (though still bigger than yours!), a bathroom, always cold to the touch, and the cupboard with the leaking ceiling, where my winter clothes went black with slimy mould and the insurance wouldn’t pay out. Contract-carpeted in acid green, the flat was almost entirely bereft of furnishings, and the heating did not come through.

The living room was about 20 feet by 16-something; high-ceilinged and with a single large window facing out to a high, overgrown bank with huge self-sown cherry trees, that let in light for an hour in the afternoon in summer. The floor was made from slate flagstones, in the middle of which was a deep depression fracture that looked like some heavy object, an asteroid maybe, or one of the huge stone pineapples adorning the roof, had plummeted through the ceiling and smashed into the two-inch-thick slabs.

So one of my first jobs was to buy a big angle-grinder and grind out the smashed slate slabs and replace them with another one I found buried in the garden, that I cut to fit. Then as the ceiling and walls had not long been replastered, I spent three weeks every evening for a couple of hours on my knees with white spirit and wire wool, scrubbing hopelessly at the ground-in plaster and paint-splodges left by the previous incumbent, who told everyone she was an artist. She could certainly paint a floor.

The walls, I coloured strawberry pink; above the picture-rail they were Devonshire cream; while the kitchen area was mainly pistachio. It was a cultural dessert. Everyone laughed and said I must be gay. My girlfriend came to live with me. She was going through a minimalist period and painted everything white again. After she left me for another woman, I painted the room back in Etruscan Red, but in one coat only, so some of the white showed behind, like in a picturesque old Italian villa. To break up the expanse of reddish wall, I hung some big canvases from the cheap shop in town and painted them in solid colours, and the people who thought I was gay asked me, are they supposed to be art, ha-ha?

So I got some map pins and stuck them in the canvases, and some coloured silk thread, which I made patterns with by winding it around the pins, and put up a notice inviting people to re-route the threads around the pins to make their own art. Only one person took up the challenge, he made a psycho-looking pattern,  jagged and confused like a spider on LSD. He wasn’t someone I liked, he was higher on the autistic spectrum even than me and one of those people who goes around saying, I know something really important and I can’t tell you what it is, sorry, and you want to hit them hard in the face with a half-brick; only you suspect somebody already has.

Anyway, tiring of this game, I bought two even bigger canvases and got some tins of old housepaint from a cupboard and made two actual paintings. It took all night. One was based on the shapes of the rocks in a rockpool I had photographed on Poppet Sands for my exhibition, Rocktexts, that never got a showing; but reduced to very simple, flat primary colours arranged around a black area that represented water. That was okay, I liked that one and it went well with the walls, although it clashes horribly with the walls in the house I have now so I’ve had to hide it away.

The other was a kind of abstract landscape. Standing back, you were supposed to get a Welsh lake with hills and sheep seen from a window on a rainy day, all made with tiny splodges of colour laid on in half-inch squares with a palette knife. To make it look wetter, I gave it about fifteen coats of spray varnish, most of which got on the Etruscan wall and made it sticky around where the painting was.

The stately home had acquired an architect, and he came over with his German wife one day and I invited them to join me in my flat, which was the only habitable place left in the house where there was a sofa and a kettle. Before I could offer them tea, the architect’s wife took a long look at my big landscape and asked me straight out, how much did I want for it? (Germans are like that.)

Not being an artist, I didn’t know. How much is a painting worth? It was about 20 square feet, so what, £20 a square foot? How should I know?

So she took the painting away with her, leaving a sticky oblong of varnish around the bare area of Etruscan villa where the memory of the painting still hung, and told me to let her know how much I wanted when I had figured something out, because she didn’t know either.

About a week later she returned, carrying a box. I still don’t know how much to give for the painting, she said. But you are musical, I know, so would this be enough? I have had it for thirty years but I never learned to play it. And inside the box was an alto saxophone. It was better than money, so I said yes, that was exactly it.

That night in the garden I puffed and honked and hooted and wheezed, but it was no good. I could squeeze only one note out of the saxophone. I was never going to be Charlie Parker, who squeezed so many. So I booked a lesson with a local saxophone teacher. But before I could get to the lesson, my daughter came to visit.

My daughter is quite musical, a flute player, Grade 8 or something. Of course, there are thousands of competent young lady flute players as it is the only instrument they still teach in schools, ten minutes a week, so parents are driven to pay for private lessons and they all get quite good, and there is limited demand for flute players. Being good at playing the flute wasn’t going to help her a lot in life, not as much as finding a boyfriend with a job.

Anyway, I never got the saxophone back. But I reckon it was worth about £400 in cash terms, which is pretty much what I would have asked for the painting if I hadn’t secretly known (but couldn’t tell the architect’s wife) the really important thing, that it only took me four hours to paint, using old housepaints on a cheap canvas.

But I like to think it was art.

And thinking that surely makes me an artist, by any definition.

The onward rush of miracles

(Old Fart alert)

Here’s a positive suggestion.

You know all those young people, many of them graduates, who can’t find a job?

Well, I’m struggling to work out how to individually respond to all the kind readers of my bogl who have declared themselves to be my Followers, Likers and Spammers. I’d like to say thanks, but I’m not quite sure how, without getting into complicated territory.

And I can’t see the point of Facebook and Tweeter and Peep-bo and things, I don’t use Skype – why would I want people to see me talking out of sync with ridiculous results? Anyway, I never call anyone. I’m perfectly happy emailing, until Yahoo! changes the page layout again without telling us (now my inbox helpfully tells me who the sender has emailed, i.e. they have mailed ‘Me’. I could work that out for myself, possibly?) . Email is great, because response is optional and can be timeshifted. Answer a phone call and you have to respond, even if it’s only to scream FUCK OFF AND LEAVE ME ALONE! at the computer voice selling you PPI claims.

Conservative politicians are always demanding the return of military service, to keep young working-class men from fighting in pubs.

My proposal is to create a Government-sponsored conscript army of a million Digibuddies – Digiboys and Digigirls – which is to say, young people who know instinctively from birth how to use the new technology, that I am finding increasingly baffling.

There are still a few things I know how to do here on the interweb thing, as I have been using it virtually since its inception, and other stuff I could do on my HTC mobile phone if only it didn’t cut off my calls or make new ones to people I don’t want to call every time I touch the screen by accident, and the stupid hoopla thing bounces off the incoming call icon and you can’t figure out who to call back because there’s no file for Lost Calls and your Contacts file is full of people called Unknown and you can’t find anyone you actually do know to call. Who designs this rubbish?

You know how, when you see something exciting and you go to take a photograph, you press the shutter button on the touchscreen and find the damned thing is asking for a white balance and you have missed the exciting thing and your shot anyway turns out blue? Or when you pull the phone out of your pants to answer a call and you see a mysterious moving grey blur on the screen and realise it’s playing back the video it has been making of the inside of your pocket for the last hour and you have only 4% battery left and it shuts down automatically and you lose your date and time settings and have to start over?

So, I have this dumb Smartphone but I daren’t ever use it to access the interweb in case it charges me more money than I have in the bank. I can’t use it to access email either, because I no longer remember what my Yahoo! password was when I originally subscribed and it doesn’t pay any attention to the new one. My eyesight isn’t so good and my fingers are old and fumbly, the screen is small and keeps flipping over by itself and the alphanumeric keys on the virtual touchpad are so small and close together that it takes me an hour to compose a line of Text, and then it doesn’t let me find the number to send it to without losing the message, so it’s really not a lot of use, is it?

But it seems a dreadful admission of defeat to buy one of those embarrassing phones for fogeys, with big blue buttons (an Elderberry?), that only makes phone calls, although one seems quite a sensible idea if all you want to do is make or take occasional phone calls. I phone-out about twice a month, service for which I am paying £30 on an Orange/EE tariff.

So, I wasn’t born using this stuff but it has evolved during my lifetime, out of technology I did once know how to use, having spent five years in fulltime Higher Ed learning to operate all kinds of production equipment. I have residual communication skills, but they are fast disappearing. And the problem is not the technology itself, so much as the convergence on multifunctionality and the pointlessness, as I see it, of 99% of the functions in my life. Why do I need GPS? I know where I am!

No, what I need is a Digibuddy, a young person paid for by the Government, who will come round and operate the equipment for me, on my instruction as to what is to be achieved.

I could get so much more done, and so much quicker, because now I spend hours despairing and screaming obscenities at my computer screen because I can’t sign-on unless I register, but I can’t be allowed to register as the system already has someone mysteriously with the same email address as mine, and the default position is that it can’t be me otherwise I would know my password, that I gave it six years ago – and then when it finds I don’t remember it, it happily lets me (or anyone else who might call in) set a new password, so what was the point of having a password in the first place? and because the instant I hit the limit on my credit card I am being bombarded with spam from payday lenders all over the world, offering me tons of instant cash I don’t actually need because I have MORE THAN ONE ACCOUNT… and who told them my card was bust anyway? What happened to banking confidentiality?

It’s perhaps because there are so many scams attached to this stuff, so much low-level criminality, most of it perpetrated by supposedly reputable institutions patrolled by so-called watchdog agencies who are so far behind the curve they are even more pitiable than me; so many attempts to second-guess what information I ‘need’ and suggestions for what I would like to buy the kids for Christmas that are completely out of left-field because the thing I bought before WASN’T FOR ME, that my view of it is that it has become worthless, even dangerous; and I am doing whatever I can to disengage from it, while putting out a smokescreen of disinformation. Now I hear that refusal to engage with Big Data is to be taken as a sign of criminality. This is a joke, surely? I’m trying to get away from the criminals, not become one.

So another function of the Digibuddies could be to report on people to the authorities, that we are disaffected and refusing to participate in the wonderful experiment being performed on us by the global corporate conspiracy? Maybe we can be taken away and lobotomised – I see there’s a new rapid and painless ultrasound technique for murdering bits of our brains doctors have decided aren’t good for us, maybe there’ll be a phone app for that soon?

Ah, the onward rush of miracles.

– Uncle Bogler

Postscriptum

Help! While trying to contact a total stranger to tell them they produced a great TV programme that made me cry, I have accidentally signed-up to an interweb thing called Linked-In and am being bombarded with encouraging messages from hundreds of people I vaguely know, many of whom I had hoped never to hear from again. It is as if I have died and gone someplace and there is everyone.

Can you tell me how I can get out of this nightmare?

Post-postscriptum

It is many months later, and a story in the news tells us that a number of so-called celebrity act-women who stupidly posted videos of themselves having sex with their boyfriends to the so-called ‘Cloud’ (a vast array of mainframes located in the deserts of Kyrzgystan where you can store all your stuff for a small fee) have discovered that their accounts have been compromised. Well, who would have imagined that.

How to Live in a Stately Home, Part Two

WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching
for kostenlos automaten spielen

Someone calling himself Porfirio Beamont, who has the longest and most complicated email address I have yet seen, has very kindly messaged me via the WordPress Spam service to say my Page entitled How to Live in a Stately Home (Older Stuff) is just what they were searching for.

Porfirio, be warned, I am an expert at irony. I don’t know what ‘kostenlos’ means, I suspect it means ‘cheap’, or ‘low-cost’, and ‘automaten spielen’ is of course ‘computer games’. This suggests to me that you are not really interested in living in a stately home: you would rather have space aliens blow one up. I’m with you there.

I did as it happens try to get a software developer to create a simple game for the website of the stately home where I lived, as a promotional exercise. The house was reputed to have been the home of the Holy Grail, and lots of delicious ghosts had been seen by visitors over the years, so I thought it would be fun to have a Grail Hunt on the website.

It never happened. None of my best ideas ever see the light of day; no-one who can afford to pay for them ever understands the point of them.

I wrote the piece several years ago, originally for submission to an old-established magazine for gentlewomen, entitled The Lady; having disentangled their address from a list of less salubrious websites proposed to me by Mr Google. It was, inevitably, rejected; I suspect, less because of its lack of literary merit and interest, than because it was written apparently by someone of the servant class.

Not only that, but it ended with the writer enjoying a glass (it was probably more like a couple of bottles) of well-chilled Chardonnay on the terrace, overlooking a misty Welsh valley at sunset, while playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy at full volume on the house PA: not at all the sort of thing the servants ought to be getting up to while their masters are away.

In my defence, I did pay for the wine, it was my own. The house had no wine cellar, only a dank and low-ceilinged basement growing strangely hairy fungus over the walls and floor. The principal interest of this gloomy undercroft was its architectural back-story. It had formerly been the ground-floor entrance hall of the manor house that stood on the site in the C17th before the present, grandiose mid-Georgian box was erected on top as a symbolic act of rape between two great Welsh families. The original front door and windows were still in situ, but now ten feet underground. There were two unlit cells at the front, under the car park, where I was told slaves were punished (a headstone among tributes to the estate’s former pack of hunting dogs in the pets’ cemetery bears the ominous legend “to poor Jack the Coon, and his wife Mary”).

Quite unsuitable for the storing of fine vintages, the basement boasted only a half-dozen plastic crates of ginger-ale mixers with rusted caps, a bottle of Martini that had gone off, and some worm-eaten items of furniture my masters had bought at auction on one of their rare flying visits (home for them being an infinite series of airport lounges), imagining them to be valuable antiques for which they had cleverly paid only a few pounds.

I was another among their cheaper acquisitions. Originally hired as the gardener/handyman, I  rapidly rose through the ranks (I was the only staff) to become the cook, the waiter, the receptionist, the cleaner, the laundrymaid and the barman – and, indeed, the administrator and marketing guru – of probably the most appalling guesthouse since Fawlty Towers. The owners resolutely refused to invest a penny in home comforts, informing me loftily that the house would have to start making a profit before they could sanction improvements which they considered frivolous and unnecessary.

As a result, neither of the two showers worked, owing to there being insufficient water-pressure; the pipes froze in winter; the TVs in the rooms could receive only a Welsh-language channel; while any pioneering B&B guest investigating the beds to see what they were getting for their £100 a night would have discovered under the sanitary covers, by the light of cheap Woolworths bedside lamps, lumpy mattresses stained with ancient piss, blood and semen. A high point was when the RAC hotel inspector showed me the bedbug bites on his arms.

In the hot, dry summer of 2006, the house – whose open drains had been laid down in the C18th and led to no disposal system anyone could discover – began to reek of sewage, as wedding guests noticed. This naturally attracted rats, that ate the poisoned bait the rat-man put down. As he explained it, Warfarin thins the blood, so the rats feel cold. They seek out the hot water pipes under the floors, where they eventually perish. This explained the even more pungent stench lingering for months in the Ballroom.

When the owners did finally come to understand that their beautiful country home was, in the words of the local fire chief, a ‘deathtrap’, and that the legal ramifications of the Health & Safety acts were in fact as hair-raising as I had been trying to warn them they were, I was summarily fired and forced to reapply for a lesser role as the old caretaker; although the job description seemed suspiciously familiar.

There I remained for another three years while millions of gold sovereigns were squandered on home improvements dictated by an oddly favoured  ‘consultant’ with no discernible knowledge or special intelligence that I could detect, designed to turn the house into a fantasy five-star establishment. It came complete with obsequious waiters, eyewatering prices and a man-armed-with-an-umbrella hanging about the foyer, waiting in vain to greet the rush of prospective guests, among whom actual market research had told me there was almost zero demand for a return to the dreary provincial snobberies of the early 1960s.

At least in my day, when the guests couldn’t get enough hot water for a bath, the kitchen had run out of food, the fire alarm had gone off at five a.m. and they found bat droppings on the hospitality tray in their room, they could chuckle sympathetically without being charged extra for it.

Ignorance and colossal, self-regarding, obtuse stupidity are not, I know, the sole preserve of the rich; but they are qualities with which our masters have come to be closely associated. I suppose it is this faintly contemptuous attitude which marks me out as a member of the servant class, despite my minor-aristocratic family background.

So, Porfirio, if you find any of those low-cost computer games, I’m not doing anything tonight.

Barefoot in the park

Briefly taking stock, or indeed sock, of my situation, as a fairly typical older representative of an advanced economy, I am wondering why I am now in the curious position of having no shoes?

Is it some sort of wake-up call? Have I in some sense ‘let myself go’, in a way that might perhaps demand the immediate intervention of social workers?

I had been imagining, you see, that all was well; that, in my 65th year, I was still relatively young and virile and ambitious for more life, love and laughter.

But it seems that I have neglected to provide for myself in the most basic department: the bottom shelf of my wardrobe.

I look in the mirror and am convinced that before it stands a man who is not excessively wrinkled, grey-haired and baggy of paunch, like many younger men I know. A Hercules who can still put in an eight-hour shift in someone’s garden, and is proudly committed to heroic feats of strength and endurance in the continuing war on weeds, for a modest return.

His amazing bass voice grows ever stronger and more mellifluous, as the ladies d’un certain age in his choir flatteringly remind him. He still puts in up to ten miles a day with poor Hunzi, as they stride man-and-dogfully round the sewage works, or stumble along the pebbly foreshore, eyes fixed firmly on the horizon.

Never mind, that the small print is no longer visible even as a grey blur.

So, as I sit here in my socks and sandals, awaiting the predicted arrival at long last of some late-Autumn weather, it occurs to me that I may be deluding myself; and that, at my time of life, I ought rather to be thinking more about moving to warden-assisted accommodation than about emigrating to more adventuresome climes.

Surely, the Social Fund would find me some shoes?

But whatever happened to shoeshops, that they became these barely-one-step-up from warehouses, long racks of the year-before-last’s unfashionably retro designs in no half-sizes, pointy toes and ineffectual Velcro fastenings attracting fluff; in muddy, mismatched colours, the entire collection reeking of noxious, resinous compounds?

A small financial windfall in June (I got paid!) enabled me to revive my waning wardrobe with one pair of everyday shoes and one pair of semi-trainers. I acquired them with some trepidation from the local branch of Brantano Footwear, as there really are no decent emporia left in town purveying bespoke shoes combining style, quality and affordability.

Both pairs are already in ruins after only a few months’ foot-wear. I have patched-up the plimsolls with the addition of home-made inner linings cut from supermarket bags and card, but it is at best a temporary solution as the soles are already worn to holes. The heavy-duty crepe lowers of the US-made outdoor shoes recently parted company with the leather uppers, and no amount of supposedly waterproof mastic glue squelching from under my toes will keep them united for more than one day at a time.

Thus, on carrying out a full audit, I am left with:

a) a pair of redoubtably strappy Clarks’ sandals, marketed as being suitable for SAS missions to Benidorm, that I refuse to wear in winter: especially as I stopped reading The Guardian and voting Liberal nearly two years ago in a hopeful attempt to cure my depression.

b) A pair of cracked black leather court shoes, acquired in an emergency from a charity shop and consigned to a cupboard since the concert, seven years ago; now wearing a faint, musty green bloom of Botrytis fungus.

c) A pair of down-at-heel hiking shoes, or boots, that I have previously blogged about as they were once the focus of an intense etymological discussion with the curators of the Lost Property office at Bastia station, on Corsica; and which I now use for gardening purposes only.

d) Their exact replacements.

e) A pair of slippers in brown fluffy Dralon, practically bald after only a few hours’ wear, acquired for a theatrical production some years ago in which I impersonated the old man I have clearly now become: ‘Blind Captain Cat’ (see photo, above).

f) A pair of enormous, neoprene-lined green wellies, by L’Aigle of France.

The choice this represents is, as you can see, quite limiting. I am reduced to wearing the one working pair of hiking boots for everyday visits to the supermarket, or to choir practice, as well as indoors, and for best; or pretty much going barefoot, which can, I know, for some people be a lifestyle choice.

However did I get into this state?

I am acutely aware of the likelihood that only someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s would borrow several thousand pounds at 19.5 per cent, and later submit to penalties of £10 a day, having exceeded his authority buying food; whilst nominally holding a much larger sum invested with the same bank at only 3.7 per cent, that he cannot access for 18 months.

But that is the nature of banking, that we are persuaded of the vital strategic importance to the nation of financing the banks; in much the same way as a little old lady living alone might be persuaded to let the visiting bogus gas-meter reader hang on temporarily to her well-stocked purse.

My second action on recovering what is left of the money will, of course, be to trail despairingly round the High Street, looking for a shop to sell me a decent pair of reliable, water-resistant, size 10.5 shoes in which to trudge through another winter; knowing full well that there isn’t one to be found between here and Birmingham.

There is something symbolic about all this, if I could only remember what.