Blackberries and Apples

I caught the last half of a fascinating episode of ‘Word of Mouth’ investigating how brand-names are invented (I was going to say, ‘come up with’ and then I thought, there must be a better way of saying it than that.  And there is…)  This is something I find both fascinating and repellent, involving as it does both the creative use of language and its manipulation for commercial gain.  As a student I briefly considered going into advertising: if I’d been able to hack the culture I’d probably have been pretty good at it.  I’m certainly good at coming up with names and slogans for groups I’ve been involved in.  Drink and Think – that was me.  And I came up with the title of this term’s philosophy course, though I’m not actually going.  It’s ‘What Do We Know?’

Anyway, in the programme they talked about inventing words; whether based on actual vocab, like the perfume L’Occitane:

or totally made-up, like ‘Xerox.’

Of course one of the famous disasters is the Ford Edsel, named after Henry Ford’s son.  Then there’s Consignia, which tries to say everything but merely sounds pretentious, which also flopped.  And do you remember the diet tablets called Aids?

Sometimes the derivation of names is obvious.  A blackberry is a black berry: it does what it says on the tin.  And the phone is so called because it’s black and with all its buttons it looks like a berry.  Plus, it’s both homely and friendly, and at the same time different.  But to go back to the fruit: why is an apple called an apple?  Or an orange called an orange?  Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet or would it not?  If a rose was called a cabbage would it still be as fragrant?

OK here’s a test for you, to assess your word-sensitivity.  Here are two invented words, vip and vop.

One of them refers to a heavy object; one denotes a light-weight object.  Which do you think is which?

Comment below please…

Kirk out

Leave a comment

Filed under money, radio

The Weakest Wink

I have been living in a vacuum today: an appliance delivered this morning looking like a squat, orange robot proved to be rather too successful.  It was quite exciting to unpack: I don’t recall ever buying a brand-new hoover before.  Incidentally I don’t generally like using brand names but hoover is much more concise than vacuum cleaner; I also learnt that aspirin and adrenaline, mace and memory stick are brand names now in common usage.  Home brand is also, bizarrely, a brand name, originally pertaining to Woolworth’s.  I miss Woolies; it was one of the first places where I spent my pocket money, all shiny glass counters with wooden tops.  Anyway, here’s a list:

So: I got all the shiny new bits out of the box, clunked them satisfyingly into place and surveyed the Scutter-like object lurking on my dining-room floor.  Then I held my breath and switched it on.  The special attachment for the floorboards performed expertly, gliding over the wood and sucking up the bits; then I changed the head to try it out on the carpet.  Ye gods!  Did it suck!  I could barely move it and a lesser carpet would have given up the ghost there and then.  However, ours are made of sterner stuff and it became a stand-off between cleaner and rug.  The vacuum won.

Hm.  I’m thinking it’ll be a case of suck it and see…  Still, better a too-strong suck than one that is too weak.  And talking of ‘weak’ and ‘sucking’, that brings me onto my main theme for today; which is crap TV.

I don’t mean rubbish programmes.  I mean programmes that deliberately set out to be mean to people.  Programmes that put people in a studio and set them against one another.  Programmes where the presenters bully the contestants and then pretend it’s just a game by winking at the camera while the credits roll.  Programmes where a panel of so-called experts skewer would-be apprentices and roast them over an open fire.  I despise these programmes; it’s bullying dressed up as entertainment.  I’ve even written a poem about The Weakest Link, though alas, space does not permit me to reproduce it here.  But it tells the story of a contestant on the programme who makes it to the last round only to be told that they are the weakest link.  Here’s the final verse:

‘Like all contestants (bar the winner)

you’ve a secret fantasy

that when you’re sitting down to dinner

Anne Robinson pops in to see

the evening’s show with all the folks.

She cracks one of her so-called ‘jokes’

and then you all gang up on her

and say, ‘Oh, Anne!  Give us the gist;

quiz show hostess?  What’s that about?

You used to be a journalist!’

Then with one voice together shout:

You are the weakest link!  Get out!

Kirk getting out

Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, TV reviews

Success is Such Sweet Sorrow

Well, my dears – I have finally some good news to report, and it is this: I have had a short story accepted for publication.  It was accepted provisionally a while ago and they asked me to make some changes, which I did; and now they have come back to me and said it will be published in a few weeks.  I’ll let you know where and when.

Still, I could have done without the accompanying comments from the editorial team telling me what was still wrong with it so I could have the ‘opportunity’ to put it right.  Opportunity knocks, LOL.  Well, I took a deep breath and made a couple of changes before sending it back – but it does rather take the shine off the whole thing.

And soon a few quid will be thunking into my paypal account.  What’ll I do with that few quid?  Chuck a few more koi carp in my piano-shaped pond?  Add an acre to the grounds?  Build a wing of the National Gallery with my name on it?  No, my name is not Bernard Black.

So I’ll probably buy a bottle of wine or maybe a pizza.  Or maybe I’ll just let it sit defencelessly in my bank account until it gets gobbled up by some utilities company or other.


In other news, I have just purchased a rather fetching spice rack (though rack is hardly the word; it’s more of a turntable like one of those CD racks with four sides to it.)  Anyway, it was originally from John Lewis and it has embossed labels on the lids so you can tell what’s inside.  I think it holds about 30 jars, most of them with something in.  The local Facebook group has some good stuff!

Kirk out

Leave a comment

Filed under short stories

50 Shades of Gray?

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried writing about sex, but let me tell you it’s impossibly hard to get it right.  You want to strike the right tone – not uncaring, not harsh but also somehow real and gritty and – yes, let’s not forget – fun! and you end up being either coy or slushy.  If you manage to avoid this Scylla and Charybdis you can end up between another rock and hard place (fnarr, fnarr!) and sound either too clinical like a doctor; or too smutty.  It’s just really hard to get it right.

And it’s not just me: there’s a thing called the Bad Sex Award for dreadful descriptions of sex; here’s the shortlist from last year.  I must say I’m disappointed in Ben Okri – I thought better of him:

But! would you believe it,  in 2012 ‘Fifty Shades’ didn’t make the shortlist.  There really is no justice: I would have thought the ‘novel’ defined bad sex.  But no…

So here’s my problem: in my latest story I’m trying to describe a couple making love.  They’ve lost both their twins in a car accident (I’m writing about losing children a lot recently, I’m not sure why – yesterday I was actually in tears as I wrote about the accident).  They say the first thing a couple often does after losing a child is to make love, and whilst this doesn’t happen in the story, it signals the end of the first stage of overwhelming grief and the beginning of new life.  But it’s so hard to make it authentic and moving without resorting to metaphor all the time.  I’ve got as far as describing waves, but that’s pretty standard stuff.  I don’t know where to go from here.

Answers on a postcard please…

Kirk out

Leave a comment

Filed under short stories

Balti Towers

I’ve had a brilliant idea for a sitcom.  The ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ team could do this easily, and the script writes itself, but it would have to be done by Asians otherwise it might look dodgy.

So, you have an Indian restaurant called ‘Balti Towers’.  It’s very badly run by a high-caste Hindu who has come down in the world and resents his customers.  There’s a waiter from the Punjab (‘I’m so sorry, he’s from Amritsar’) and a cowboy builder from Bengal.  One day a party of English customers comes in and Balti says ‘Don’t mention the Raj.  I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.’

I’m thinking of writing a synopsis and sending it to the Beeb.  Whaddaya think?  I could definitely work in ‘a small aubergine’ somewhere…

Yesterday was busy.  I spent the morning at a smoking keyboard judging poems in the Hysteria Women’s Poetry Competition.  By and large this was a real pleasure; I enjoyed reading the poems and there was a lot of variety of form, subject matter and style.  There was even a perfectly formed sonnet; plus a sestina (I think it was a sestina) villanelle, and lots of free verse.  Rhyme was generally not used well, but I think that’s a feature of our age.  We tend to assume that rhyme (accurate, continuing rhyme) is only for birthday cards.  There were one or two comic verses, and the subject matter was extremely varied.  True, there were the themes you might expect: abortion, children (having and losing), relationships, ageing – but all human life was here and it by no means felt like a ‘women’s thing’.  In fact sometimes I had to remind myself that the writers were all women.  The standard in general was not bad, and there were a few utterly excellent poems and many good ones.  Fortunately I don’t have to choose the best; I just rate them on a scale of 1-10 for various qualities.

I’m not very good at the technical bits of poetry.  Mark’s always asking me what chiasm is and how exactly a sestina works, and I can’t keep it in my head.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a chiasm…

Kirk out


Filed under poems, TV reviews

Photo Opportunities

The Church of the Martyrs dates back to 1890, which means this year they are celebrating their 125th anniversary.  We missed the centenary as we weren’t yet going there: in fact, this time in 1990 Mark and I had not known each other long and I had started teaching in Spain.  Makes you think…

The exhibition is gathered from photos people have sent in from their own collections.  They range from very recent to the 1920’s as far as I could see.  There were, naturally enough, lots of weddings.  Many people who still come to the Martyrs grew up in the area and had parents who married in the church: Gwyneth, possibly the longest-serving member, loaned a photo of her parents standing, as Chaucer had it, ‘at churche doore’ *.  There were a lot of corporate events, too, such as Guides, Brownies and Tomatoes – and as you go in you are assailed by Gail shrieking and covered in paint at Soul Survivor.  There were church holidays, picnics and days out – and also articles from the Mercury when the church had figured in the local news.

And it all made me think about what we take photos of.  Which events do we want to record?  There were weddings and baptisms, but no funerals.  It hadn’t occurred to me until now, that no-one takes a photo of a funeral.  But why not?

Well, obviously because it’s a sad occasion.  It’s not something you want to remember.  But perhaps there’s something more personal in the kind of remembering a funeral entails; with each person recalling how the deceased impacted on their own lives.  Plus, the funeral is in itself a remembering; a memorial.

Loads of people were there who I haven’t seen for ages, and still more on the Sunday, though I couldn’t make it then.  There was a video message from Rob Freeman, who was apparently on another planet (he’s a bishop now, though anyone less Bishop-y could hardly be imagined; he’s quite like Rev, in a way – small, weedy and unassuming.  Hard to picture him in the House of Lords…)  Also Brian Robertson was there – Brian went on to be vicar of St Peter’s in Oadby, where my parents went.  So it’s a shame I missed seeing him and Viv.

Such exhibitions are a heartwarming antidote to the modern trend of taking selfies.  I don’t like selfies: to me they smack of individualism and a lack of communal experience.  Why do people take so many selfies?  Is it the modern equivalent of writing ‘Liz woz ‘ere’ – like people used to do in my youth?

Maybe.  But I never did write ‘Liz woz ‘ere’ on a wall.  And I’ve never taken a selfie.

Anyway, it was an interesting exhibition and kudos to Tony for putting it together.

Kirk out

*not that I’m suggesting Gwyneth’s parents go back to the Middle Ages!


Filed under friends and family, God-bothering

Eid on the Park

Saudi Arabia does seem to be in the news a lot lately: this time it’s not a human rights issue but a health and safety one, as more than 700 people have died during a crush at Mecca.

Like the Muslims on Vicky park, they were celebrating Eid.  I asked a pair of women on the park and they told me what it was: I did walk around a bit but it wasn’t very accessible to non-Muslims.  I could have bought headscarves, incense and lots of food (I wondered whether it was all halal) though they did have a bouncy castle and a couple of fairground rides staffed by bewildered-looking non-Muslims.

The women were all headscarved, though few wore a burqa: I guess that’s the equivalent of dressing up for church.

I was a bit confused by it being Eid again, as I thought Ramadan was in the summer – however, I have now discovered that there are two Eids, Eid al-Fitr, which is the end of fasting and a sort of equivalent of Easter; and Eid al-adha which is the end of the Hajj season and celebrates God intervening to stop Abraham (or Ibrahim) sacrificing Isaac (Ishaq).  When you consider how much Judaism and Islam have in common, the Israel-Palestine conflict is thrown into sharp relief and much of Christian opposition to Islam is neutralised.  Of course, you can always say that Islam treats women badly – but is Judaism any better?  And what about Christianity?  Historically it’s surely just as bad – in fact there are those who say the Prophet gave women more rights in the 14th century than any other major religion.  The problem is that it hasn’t been reconstructed.  There has been no Messiah, no New Testament; no updating.

Which brings us back to yesterday’s post.  Let’s remember our own history, folks!

Kirk out

Leave a comment

Filed under friends and family, God-bothering