A Verse – Needed or Not?

I suppose I’d better make it clear from the outset that I’m talking about the verse of a song – you know, those half dozen lines that some vocalists sing before singing the main melody. I am not talking about Valentine, Birthday or Christmas Cards.

These days, I doubt if one song in a hundred has a verse, but in the golden age of the Great American Songbook, most songs came from stage shows or films, and the verse explained the situation to the audience.

When taken out of the show setting, most singers or arrangers debated whether the verse was essential or not when making a recording for an album. Most of the time it was omitted, but not always.

Hoagy Carmichael (music) and Mitchell Parish (lyrics) wrote a famous song called ‘Stardust’. I actually have more than twenty different versions in my collection – most of the artists sing the verse, for example: Rod Steward, Natalie Cole, Stacey Kent, Ella Fitzgerald and Doris Day amongst others,  whereas a few don’t. Frank Sinatra goes so far as to only sing the verse, which did not endear him to Hoagy Carmichael.

But a song like ‘Fly Me To the Moon’ (originally titled: ‘In Other Words’) written by Bart Howard in 1954 the verse is hardly ever sung, although if you listen to it, it makes sense of the choruses that follow. Nat ‘King’ Cole and Tony Bennett do actually sing the verse, but Astrud Gilberto, Julie London and Diana Krall don’t.

I have spent most of my life teaching English, I also write novels, and am in the process of writing a book about different recordings of some of the Great American Songbook. To me, words are important – after all, they are 50% of the song, which is one reason I find listening to jazz instrumentists so difficult – if they play a song and I know the lyrics, I try to mentally fit them to the music – a difficult occupation.

Still, once in a long while when I hear a song with an unfamiliar verse, I pay attention and thank the singer and arranger for not allowing part of a whole to wither away and die of misuse.

You can contact me here, or at www.markpatrick.net

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Building a Fictitious World

When you write fantasy or science fiction, you generally have to construct a world in which your plots and characters can develop. You can choose from the stone age, bronze age, medieval, Regency England, a future where computers dominate, and so on: the only limit is the author’s imagination.

However, whatever age you choose, you have then to develop traditions, customs, laws and some basis of a society: are there kings, queens emperors, a nobility, or some sort of tribal system, or a kind of democracy? How is the commerce arranged? Is there money – if so, who issues it?

And what about the physical world? Is is much like Earth? Is it a hostile, barren desert such as described by Frank Herbert in his book ‘Dune’? Maybe there is a mixture of landscapes, from forests to high mountain ranges, seas, plains, marshes, etc. What about the vegetation: similar to Earth or completely different with man-eating plants?

Animals? Again you can choose to keep Earth type animals, or you can invent a completely new fauna. You can invent weird and wonderful animals, mind reading dragons, similar to those in Anne McCaffrey’s ‘Pern’ series of novels, intelligent wolves etc.

What about the length of years, seasons, the number of months, length of days etc? How do the natives of this world measure time?

And who exactly are the natives? Men and women, similar to our world? Elves? Orcs? Goblins? Fairies? Or maybe a mixture of them? Or perhaps the writer invents his own?

And what powers do these people have? Are there Mages, Wizards, Witches, Warlocks and Sorcerers? Or is it a mundane world built on technology without a magic wand in sight?

And the climate? The weather? What is the norm in summer, winter? Is spring stormy and wet, or calm and temperate?

Whatever you choose, and as THE WRITER, you do get the choice, all pales in comparison to the plot. You must have a good story with interesting, believable characters. Without that, all the rest is background scenery – it’s not the book.

I once read a review of the New York stage production of ‘Camelot’, the musical loosely based on the King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table legends. The critic said: ‘Beautiful scenery – Trouble was people kept walking in front of it!’

Don’t let critics say that to you.

 

(Mark Patrick is the author of ‘The Chronicles of the White Tower’ series of books and has invented a medieval world. You can read the first few chapters of his books by going to his website: www.markpatrick.net)

 

The Truth and Honesty Party

 

Basic Manifesto

 

  1. The Truth and Honesty Party will accept all people of good faith, of whatever race, colour, religion or country into their ranks. Exceptions below.

 

  1. Exceptions:
    1. Any person who has been convicted of a crime of violence.
    2. Any person who has been convicted of a sexual offence.
    3. Any politician or civil servant who has been convicted of a crime.
    4. Any military or police official who has been convicted of a crime.
    5. Any person who has been convicted of dealing in drugs, or other types of major crime (This includes money laundering, white collar crimes and internet hacking for gain).
    6. Any person who is a fanatic; whether religious, political, racial, environmental or legal.
    7. Any politician in any position of power whatsoever.
    8. Any military officer above the rank of Captain (Army).
    9. All people who work in Local Government, Regional Government, or National Government.
    10. All Priests, Shaman, Rabbi or Clerics of whatever religion.
    11. All teachers who teach what they know is incorrect or biased.

This is only the beginning. I’ve got to look at taxes, women’s rights, men’s rights, marriage, the military, the police and actually what type of government to set up – I like Democracy, but it is deeply flawed.

I’m looking for more help– any suggestions?

Spain – A Third World Country?

I’ve lived in Spain for more than 30 years and love the way of life, the ordinary people, and the climate. However, having said that I am beginning to believe that Spain is heading towards 3rd World status.

Let’s look at some of the indicators:

  1.     A third world country usually has a high level of Political Corruption.   Well, well, well. Almost all the political parties in Spain, over the last few years, have had members prosecuted for fraud, This extends from the level of local councils, through regional governments, to the principal MPs of the country. Even the political parties themselves are not exempt.
  2.      A third world country’s judicial system is slow, subject to political pressure and unjust.  Now how about that? The courts are just getting round to trying people for offences that occurred in the early 2000s. Justice? Maybe sometimes – if you can pay for a good lawyer and have friends.
  3.      A third world country usually has a high level of unemployment – particularly youth unemployment, and the wages paid are generally well below that of first world countries.  Spain’s level of youth unemployment in Cadiz province is over 60%, and it is only at that level because of seasonal jobs in the tourist industry. In general, work contracts are short-term and insecure – unless you are a civil servant, in which case you are fixed for life- whether you actually do any work or not.
  4.      In most third world countries, young people are leaving (or trying to leave) to find work in other, more prosperous, countries.   I have a small language school in Cadiz province – most of the young adults who are learning English are planning to leave Spain. “There is nothing here for us,” they tell me. “How can we have a future, marry, bring up children when there is no work in our field, and we have to take jobs as cleaners or supermarket cashiers?” (I know doctors working in supermarkets and engineers working as waiters.)
  5.      Most third world countries are not disposed to pay for basic research.   I know a young woman who was doing research into the field of the effects of different oils and fats in diets on the body’s immune system. She had a doctorate in Pharmaceutical Science. The Spanish government paid her just over 1,000€ a month. She is now working in Britain. What a terrible waste for a country when many of its intellectually brilliant citizens travel abroad to do research work.
  6.     Most third world countries have a high level of bureaucracy, and the paperwork is slow and seemingly endless – and also expensive.   Try setting up a business in Spain. I have – once – and I will never attempt it again. You have to pay for everything, it’s slow – sometimes more than six months to get a paper you need to present to another authority. If you attempt to set up a company – then notaries get involved and, in Spain, they are very expensive. Then, when you have your company established, you have to deal with the local Government to get the necessary permissions: an expensive nightmare! One poor lady I have talked to set up a perfume shop. Because she was selling alcohol she had to get a technical report on sound insulation and machine noise – just as if she was a bar/disco. The sound test was accomplished by clinking two bottles of cologne together, the machine noise test by using a calculator. It cost her 1,000€ for the report, another 120 or so for the licence. All this for a shop of 30 square metres.

I could continue, but you get the idea. Unless there is a profound change in Spanish politics, then Spain will descent to the status of a third world power – and probably revolution in the streets. This also applies to many other European countries. There is deepfelt dissatisfaction among young people with the governments of most of Europe – there must be change – and it must be soon.

Responsibility -Why don’t people accept it?

My father was a wise man who always insisted that his children took responsibility for their own actions. If we did something wrong, we would be punished, depending on the gravity of the crime, told exactly why we were being chastised, and, once everything was over, it wouldn’t be mentioned again unless it was repeated.

Governments punish people who break the law: criminal courts usually do a good job, although there are exceptions, with the guilty escaping punishment and occasionally, sentences given that are miscarriages of justice.

However, the legal system in most civilised countries takes the responsibility from the individual and places it on the state. This isn’t a bad system if the justice is fair, without political or religious influence, and swift. When you educate children and have occasion to punish them; you must make certain they know why they are being punished. It is no good

When you educate children and have occasion to punish them; you must make certain they know why they are being punished. It is no good chastising them for something they did two weeks earlier. They won’t remember it and will believe you are being unfair. It is a similar situation in the adult world – although investigations might take time. But the speed of justice is another topic.

So, to return to the question, should government responsibility intrude into our homes or personal lives?

I believe it should not.

It would certainly be difficult to draw the line at just where state responsibility ends and personal begins: and there would probably be some sort of overlap.

For example, parents have the right to educate their children in the way they believe correct, but the state also needs to ensure that the right of those children to a reasonable level of education is not being infringed. And what if the parents are religious or racial bigots? Should they have the right to educate their children to their own way of thinking, or should the state step in and remove the children from the ‘tender care’ of their parents?

It’s not easy. In this sort of case, a balance has to be sought. However, I am sure that the balance would not be agreeable to the parents.

And what about crimes committed by underage children? Who is responsible for the crime? The child – who might never have been taught the civilised way to act, or the parents – who have not educated their child correctly?

U.S. President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk: ‘The Buck Stops Here’.

Maybe we should all have that engraved sign on our own desks and start taking responsibility for everything, absolutely everything we do.

It might make the whole world a better place.

 

No Honour

The title doesn’t refer to IS, DIAH, or any other terrorist group.

It refers to our governments, who are not the most trustworthy organisations is the world – although, I find it difficult to think of any organisation that is trustworthy.

A democratic government exists to fulfil the desires of the people. Okay, some of those desires are unrealistic, intolerant or just plain crazy. However, in general, a government should follow the wishes of the people it governs.

A question – ‘How many ‘democratic’ governments do this?’

And how many steal from the population they represent?

How many politicians lean one way, or the other, because they get ‘presents’ from interested parties?

How many politicians are actually ‘respected’ by the people they represent? (Notice ‘represent’ not ‘govern’ – there is a vast difference in meaning although politicians, in general, can’t distinguish it.)

In England, you get a state pension even if you have worked for a short time. It might be minuscule, but you get it, as the money you have invested is yours. In Spain, you have to work for a minimum of  15 years (paying Social Security – which is expensive) before you are eligible for a pension. You have paid your money into the system, but get nothing back until you have paid for the minimum time. You might be eighty years old, but you get nothing unless you have paid for 15 years. Therefore, the state is stealing money from the people who have paid into the system, but who do not comply with the 15 years minimum.

In Spain, in Europe,  in the so-called democratic countries of the west,  politicians are not the most honourable beings.

This has to change if the people of the western world want to continue to live in ‘relative’ freedom.

(I’ll talk about FREEDOM another time)

 

Over the Head with a Sledgehammer

Where has subtlety in humour disappeared to?

These days everything is a slap in the face, shouted or blatantly too funny. Very few films or television programmes make use of the subtleties of humour. There are comedians, yes, but very few humorists.

Take Rowen Atkinson’s Mr Bean – a very popular series, but I found it almost embarrassing to watch. His character was, to my mind, too stupid to be funny.

And a similar thing is true of the nudge, nudge, wink, wink school of comics. I suppose that Benny Hill was the leading exponent of this type of comedy. Sorry, I didn’t like his style. Sex can be very amusing, but it should not be salacious.

Another thing, I do like clever puns, after all, Alfred Hitchcock said that puns were the highest form of literature (No Nobel prize for puns – I wonder why not). Terry Pratchett was a master: “Biers was where the undead drank. And when Igor the barman was asked for a Bloody Mary, he didn’t mix a metaphor.”

I suppose I may have a slightly warped sense of humour. I remember the night my mother died. It was two in the morning and I was twenty miles away. The hospital phoned and after I had broken the news to my brothers, I rushed there through empty streets as my father was alone there. I met my father at the entrance to the mortuary. As I approached he glanced at his watch, then looked up at me and commented: “Your mother never did have a good sense of timing.”

Typically English, but for a moment, it lightened a painful occasion for us both, and for that reason I was grateful.

In my book Legacy, the heroine’s bodyguard comments in a graveyard: “I suppose it’s a great place to get shot, saves the expense of the hire cars.” Another black jest.

This article has wandered some, but maybe, just maybe, we could cut down on the coarse, crass comics and promote more genuinely amusing humour.