God Bless You Mr. Vonnegut (and Mr. Haglund, too)

Dear Stone, a confession.

I trust you will forgive me when I tell you I’ve secured two more of your kind. Liberated them from Saltburn-by-the-Sea beach. Where you originated.

I see no good reason for this act to be construed as theft. Or any nefarious intent be implied about my motives. And of course it should not go unsaid; there are plenty more pebbles on the beach.

Believe me.

Furthermore, I contend that what I did does not constitute an act of vandalism and that from any standpoint, be it moral, legal, or cultural I am not guilty of any wrongdoing.


Stone (front left) hanging out with friends old and new


Stone’s kin awaiting liberation

By the way – in case you were wondering – ‘there are plenty more pebbles on the beach’ wasn’t a metaphor. It was a statement.

Of fact, it could legitimately be argued.

You may disagree, Stone, on the ‘…any nefarious intent’ angle – to which I would respond with a sleight of hand:

Is anything ever a matter of fact?

Rarely, I think. Opinion is diverse – as manifold as pebbles on the beach – perspective is everything.

Is that a fact, perspective is everything?

No, fact is hard to come by. Take middle-age for instance. Can anything be done about it? What age is it exactly? Is it when you reach a half century? Fifty-five perhaps. Earlier.

Why not forty-three?

Or is middle-age when you realise you stopped joking ‘it’s all downhill from here’?

When the slide gathers momentum. Velocity. Ageing goes into free-fall mode. The bottom of the slope looms up to meet and greet.

“Look at you!” it says, “you’re not young any longer. Why, you are middle-aged aren’t you?”

And sadly all you can do is nod your head.

Still, I reckon forty-three is a good age. It was none too shabby a time for one of my favourite writers, Kurt Vonnegut.

God Bless You Mr. Rosewater got published the year Vonnegut said farewell to forty-two.

That was 1965. I was only two in 1965.

Ah bless.

In a later book, Palm Sunday – published in 1981 – a collection of short stories, essays and other writings, Vonnegut graded all his major works.

God Bless You Mr. Rosewater he gave an A. For Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle – my two favourite Vonnegut novels – Kurt awarded himself an A plus.


Vonnegut awarded himself an A for his 1965 novel about a wealthy man trying to create his own utopia by essentially giving away his fortune, and attempts by those with a claim on his legacy to prove him insane.

I am at present listening to Antonín Dvořák’ Requiem and awarding him an A plus, too.

Requiem = A+

I wonder what Dvořák was doing when his forty-third birthday came around? Did he in fact register the onset of middle-age? Was there even such a concept in the latter half of 19th century Europe? I wonder, too, what life was like in 1884 the year he turned forty-three? Might Mr. Dvořák have treated himself on the occasion of his birthday to a visit to the seaside? Like myself, liberated a few choice pebbles from a secluded shoreline whilst walking the family pooch?


The famous Czech composer’s Border Terrier bitch relaxing back at the B & B after a long walk on the beach?

It is possible he did all these things and yet I don’t believe there is a record of any such jaunt.

We will never know where he went on his days off during his stay in England. What I can say though with some certainty – but not authority – his Requiem is quite something. A+ fare indeed.

The rendition I happened upon on You Tube has Krassimira Stoyanova performing soprano and Elīna Garanča, mezzo-soprano.

Another confession Dear Stone. Their names mean nothing to me.

To the millions of Classical music aficionados out there Stoyanova and Garanča are no doubt as familiar as Gus Gus is to enthusiasts of Icelandic Techno/Trip Hop/House music.


Gus Gus 2011 Album, Arabian Horse


A packet of cous cous

People like myself.

So I included them.

The history books do reveal that when Dvořák celebrated his forty-third birthday he travelled to England with his wife and was subsequently commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society to conduct several concerts in  London.

Had the Czech composer – on his days off – as we have established is conceivable – ventured north of the capital, it is not inconceivable he would have visited the seaside resort of Saltburn-by-the Sea.

Yarn Bombing in Saltburn-by-the Sea, circa 1880

As I did last week.
Saltburn is a heck of a long haul from London. Still, had Antonín and his Mrs. got as far as the North East coast, then a mere eight miles or so further north and they would have found themselves – like I did – in Redcar. Famous most recently as the location for the Dunkirk beach scenes in the film adaptation of Ian McKewan’s World War 11 novel, Atonement.

Sea front terrace used in the making of 2007 award winning film, Atonement, directed by Joe Wright

Redcar or Dunkirk?

In Redcar, unlike Saltburn, I have to report, Stone, there are few of your kind. The area thereabouts being devoid of cliffs, I am hypothesising, does not lend itself to stone and pebble conglomerates at the shoreline?

Neither do sea shell and shingle abound.

Frankly, I cannot arrive at any genuine scientific hypothesis to explain the purely sandy make-up of the beach there, but what I can say with some certainty is that the name Redcar is thought to derive from the Old English word rēad – which not surprisingly means red – or alternatively from the OE word hrēod meaning reed, referring to the low lying reedy marshland. Another interpretation suggests ‘car’ originates in Old Scandinavian. The Icelandic word Kjarr translates to scrub.

Reedy Marsh. Red Marsh. Red Scrub. They all work for me and yet I like the Scandinavian take best. Truth is, I love all things Nordic. Music. Writing. But not exclusively the arts. The Scandinavian way of life appeals to me. The landscapes. The people, too, of course.

Speaking of which I am acquainted through the medium of the internet with a Swede.

Tobias Haglund. A young man some way short of middle age. A writer of short stories, in English. Poetry in his native tongue.

He’s a very nice man is Tobias.

Funny. Thoughtful. Intelligent. Bi-lingual.

Young and handsome damn it!

Essentially, most things I am not or am no longer, or in truth, have never been, and yet, I discovered whilst corresponding with him recently on a popular social media website that I hold one advantage over him.

Just the one that is.

I have seen the TV series The Bridge (Bron/Broen). Witnessed every wonderful moment of series 1 & 2 of the co-produced (Swedish/Danish) TV phenomenon.

Mr. Haglund has not witnessed even one complete episode.

In jokes begin.

Tobias Haglund is not a believer. And that is not Hollow Talk.

In jokes end.

Despite Tobias (Swedish pronunciation he informs me: two – bee – ass) not being familiar with the charms of Saga Noren (Malmo County Police) and her Danish counterpart Martin Rohde, young Haglund assures me he is reliably informed that monologues from the series are to be incorporated into the Swedish national anthem.

Nice one 2-B-Ass.







4 thoughts on “God Bless You Mr. Vonnegut (and Mr. Haglund, too)

  1. Nice one, Sir! But you have several advantages over me. I’m mostly thinking about your stone collection. Although I did acquire a couple of stones this summer. Blue stones called “Bergslagssten”. They are the rest product of iron forging. Since the Swedish stones are rich with minerals (especially around the area of Bergslagen) the stones turn blue. It is fascinating. I am Swedish and I have always taken my minerals but have yet to turn blue.


    • I am still new to this malarkey and only just discovered your comment, Tobias. There is a semi precious stone known as Blue John only to be found around in the High Peak – 20 miles west of Sheffield in caves in a village called Castleton. It is purple not blue. Why it is not Purple John I do not understand. Perhaps we could be the founding fathers of a ‘stone exchange’. Something to cement (horrible stuff) relations between our countries? The Bergslagssten – BlueJohn Exchange has a ring to it – crowdfunding applications coming up!


  2. The universe is constantly expanding. Time is an abstract concept. Not ten minutes ago I was convinced I was a decade shy of middle age and now I’m convinced I’ve got eighteen months tops. Vonnegut, Dvorak, Haglund and a remarkable (and rare) snap of Dvorak’s pooch Elsie – what more could we ask for.

    I wonder what ratings I would give my own stories so far…knowing my general nature for an ever so British inoffensive happy medium there’d be a plethora of B+ I suspect. And to grade a novel I should probably actually write one (note to self)

    It’s the stones left behind I worry for.


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