Like the New Theme?

I’m trying to think of a word that isn’t revamp or makeover; words which strike gloom into the boots of every reader; anyway, whatever you want to call it, this blog is having one.  We’ve got a different theme called Penscratch and I’ve renamed it Sarada Gray to reflect the changing emphasis since I no longer write about yoga.  Now, I don’t expect you to get excited about this since this blog is about content not packaging; and I promise above all not to subject you to any surveys.  Surely everyone must be sick of surveys?  Every time I go on a website or fill out a form I’m asked to rate my experience: I swear to God that when I die I expect St Peter to be up there holding out a clipboard and a pen.  Please rate your life experience under the following categories….  Yeah, yeah, I appreciate that people are just trying to do a good job (or look as if they are) but there must be better ways of doing it than the infernal tick-box.

But I digress.  Sarada Gray, in case you didn’t know, is my pen-name.  If you don’t know where the name comes from and can’t be bothered to click on the link above, it happened like this.  In 1992 I was on a yoga retreat in Avila, coldest place on earth, at a convent in the mountains above Madrid.  The convent was basically a set of corridors open to the elements and the heating came on for half an hour a day, between 3 and 3.30 pm when I was usually taking a nap.  We got up at some ungodly hour to do meditation and at the start of the whole shebang we were invited to choose a ‘nombre espiritual’ – a spiritual name by which we would be known on the retreat.  This name should embody qualities which we wished to develop in ourselves.

I think it was that which inspired me more than anything in yoga – if you want to achieve something you should act as if you’re already there.  So I asked myself, where do I want to be?  The answer was of course, to be a writer, so I searched lists of gods and goddesses for suitable names and came up with Sarada.  Aka Saraswati, she is the goddess of creativity and wisdom (good combination) and is usually shown playing a veena, something like a sitar:


Image removed on request

But believe it or not, it was years before I thought of using it as a pen-name.  For ages I played around with variations on my own name – Liza, Lisa, Beth… I knew I wanted to keep Gray but none of the variations seemed quite right; and then I had an epiphany.  Of course!  Use Sarada!  So there it is.  No-one else has a name like it; it has history and relevance and it sounds good.

So from now on this blog will be called Sarada Gray and soon it will have a new banner, courtesy of my talented son.

Now, on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your experience of reading this post?

(Just kidding)

Kirk out


Sex and Profanity and Nuclear War? It’s Christie, Spock, But Not as we Know It

Christie is everywhere on the BBC at the moment and I’ve been watching ‘Ordeal by Innocence,’ one of three novels recently adapted by Sally Phelps.  The production has done away with the cliches that so often dog Christie’s work but kept the central point: the murder of an unpleasant character for which each of the other characters has a motive.


Bill Nighy plays a villain for once, wealthy landowner Leo Argyll, while his wife Rachel, whose murder begins the story, has Anna Chancellor ramping up the cold haughtiness of her previous roles in Pride and Prejudice and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The couple have adopted several children from widely differing backgrounds and subjected them to an abusive childhood.  We find out the history in a series of swooping back-and-forth scenes, and sometimes it’s hard to know what’s happening when, let alone why.  But it makes for exciting action, especially when the maid Kirsten enters the mix (this is the fifties) along with a strange young man who claims he can give one of the now-adult children an alibi for the time of the murder.

So much is updated in this version that I feel like coining a new word: adupdation or updatation, perhaps.  First, there’s the sex and, whereas in the original this would have been subtly suggested, here it’s well and truly out in the open.  Then there’s the language: people effing and blinding and calling each other all sorts of names; and I have to say that while the sex seemed in keeping, the swearing jarred.  People just didn’t talk to each other like that in the ‘fifties.  I know – I was there.

Since this is the fifties the Cold War is never far away, and Leo has built a nuclear shelter in the cellar of the large house.  This bunker, like cellars in all murder mysteries, is a repository for secrets including the birth of an illegitimate child; and in a blinding twist of irony Leo ends up being locked in there by the maid whom he raped years before.   This ending is not in the book, and Christie purists have complained, but I found it deeply satisfying.

Here’s the series:

here, just to prove a point I made earlier about TV/book crossovers, is the novel:

and here, just in case you’re interested, is a discussion of the differences between them:

And finally – the other day I came across a prize for a mystery novel NOT featuring the murder of a woman.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  A propos of which I’m writing a short story called The Boy on the Bus….

Kirk out

PS  Oh, and you will have spotted there’s a new theme.  I’m having a bit of a revamp – of which more anon.

It’s Like Riding a Bike

I first learned to ride a bike at my cousin’s house when I was twelve or so.  My aunt and uncle lived in a quiet part of Surrey where we could take it in turns to ride our cousin’s vehicle.  We never had bikes as children, either because London was dangerous (a child in my class was knocked down and killed) or it might have been cost and the lack of a second-hand market.  So I learned to ride on that quiet Surrey cul-de-sac and never did the cycling proficiency test all my classmates went on: in fact I never actually owned a bike until I was an adult.

I’ve had very much an on-off relationship with bikes.  I’ve only once owned a new one, otherwise going through a variety of second-hand models all of which succumbed sooner or later to some mechanical malaise which I was unable to fix.  Still, over the years I’ve got better at maintenance and so it was that today I got my son’s much-abused black beast out of the shed and began to fit it for the road.

It’s a mystery what happens to these vehicles: somehow or another he manages to flatten the tyre without causing a puncture (our theory is that by means of violent jerks he forces the air out of the valve) usually only a day or so after I’ve fixed the damned thing.  Anyhoo, I consider the bike to be now morally mine after all the work I’ve put into it, and today I pumped the tyres up again, adjusted the saddle, gave the whole thing a good oiling and off I jolly well went.

Riding a bike is like a long-standing relationship.  No matter how long you’ve been apart, the moment you come into contact again you just take up from where you left off.  I swung my leg over the crossbar, grasped the handlebars and set off: my legs pumped just as they always had, my body balanced itself in the old familiar way; and in short my bike and I had a brief but very invigorating cycle ride.  Loughborough is pretty good for cycling as there are lots of paths and it’s fairly flat – so I shall be Out and About on a daily cycle ride from now on, consulting my trusty cycle map as I go.

Kirk out


Mo Mowlem

History is written by the winners, they say, and in some cases the winners are those who are still alive.  This is certainly true of the recent Good Friday Agreement celebrations, in which the chief architect of those agreements, Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam, was mentioned… nowhere.

In 2005 when she died, the Guardian’s obituary stated that Mo would ‘always be remembered for her part in the Good Friday agreement’:

Fast forward to 2018 and what do we find?  Barely a mention of her:

This article in the Irish Times makes no mention of her;

This BBC article doesn’t mention her either:

Perhaps Channel 4 would do better?  Bill Clinton called the agreement a ‘work of surpassing genius’ but one of the main architects of that genius was NOT MENTIONED.

But – y’know, hey, maybe Tony Blair mentioned her?  Surely he would have paid tribute to the Secretary of State he himself appointed and who made him look like such a peacemaker before he looked like a warmonger?  Alas, a google search brings up only tributes from 2005.

But there are voices being raised in protest, led largely by Mowlam’s stepdaughter:

Harriet Harman has added her voice to this:

Like them I am flabbergasted and enraged by this: from all the reports you would think Blair and Clinton did it all by themselves, whereas Mo threw herself into this work, engaging with both sides, talking to ordinary people and laying the groundwork so that the bigwigs could come in just in time for the photo-op:

“[Mo Mowlan] was the catalyst that allowed politics to move forward which led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998. She cut through conventions and made difficult decisions that gave momentum to political progress.”  Peter Hain 2005

This is how people – especially women – get written out of history, and here’s my tiny tribute to Mo to help ensure she is not forgotten.  Meanwhile I feel a number of complaints coming on…

If you want to join me and complain, here’s how:

Kirk out

Coincidence? I Think Note!

Since moving to Loughborough and not being within spitting distance of Jak’s stationers ( I have become a habituee of The Works where, once inside its atlas-strewn portals I head straight for the notebook section.  I generally use three sizes of notebook: A4 for general writing/diary stuff; A5 for poetry and novel notes and A6 for what I laughingly call my handbag (a handbag?)


which serves for writing down passing thoughts while I’m Out and About.

And I know this is going to sound odd but it does actually happen: that sometimes when I’m nearing the end of a notebook I will have certain thoughts.  I might be feeling discouraged (‘what’s the point of clogging up the place with yet another notebook?’) or on the other hand I might be feeling like flaunting myself: and when I sidle up to the notebook shelf in the works I can usually find something that fits the bill.  For example, this peacock notebook


came to me when I was feeling like displaying my prose talents to the world, and the ‘bike’ notebook


came when I was feeling like giving up.  And yesterday I needed a new A4 notebook and what did I find?  This one


which was very serendipitous as I’d been having thoughts along precisely those lines, to whit:

the average is the enemy of the good

the good is the enemy of the best,

but the perfect is the enemy of all.

There is no such thing as the perfect work, and perfectionism is the enemy of anyone trying to produce art.

Kirk out

PS I’m linking here to Brian’s article on a similar theme:


The Best Writing Tips I Wish I Had Known From The Very Beginning!

I was going to comment on this post and then I realised that a) I had too much to say about it and b) my comments would get lost in the envy-inducing welter of comments below. So I’m reblogging it here. I particularly like 1 and 4 and if I had to pick a favourite it’d be point 1. I have spent the last ten years telling myself to hurry up, hurry up or else I’ll be dead before I’m famous (or achieve anything worthwhile). Writing is not one mountain to climb but a whole range; first there’s carving out a routine, then there’s finding your own voice, then writing something worthwhile, then editing it and then, when the damned thing is just about perfect or as near as you can make it, trying to publish the bloody thing. But at the end of those ten years I realise that it is indeed necessary to slow down in order to produce good art

Samantha The Reader

Writing is not an easy endeavor. It requires practicing a skill in order to hone the ability. The key to mastering any art is not to give up! Our brains are in a constant state of learning and gaining experience. It takes time.

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Tired of Brexit? Just Breathe – and Take Back Control!

It’s a long time since I’ve blogged about yoga.  Back in the day, I was posting about some yoga technique or philosophy on a weekly basis, but since I’ve stopped teaching the writing has taken over and now, when I’m asked to say what this blog is about, it’s hard to answer.  The tagline is ‘life and thoughts of a self-underemployed writer,’ and I guess that’s as good a description as any, though I’m not sure I’m ‘underemployed’ any more as I work basically office hours, 9-5-ish, Monday to Friday.  I’ve also got over the tendency to consider what I do as ‘not validated’ unless it is published: when you first start to write it’s very hard to justify the time spent doing it, and if years go by and you publish nothing that feeling can become almost unbearable.

The ultimate validation is to find your authentic voice.  I’m not saying publication doesn’t matter but I think it’s more likely to come once you discover your true voice rather than striving to be a copy of something else.  Still, it’s a loooooooooooong process: like Miles Davis said, it takes a long time to sound like yourself:

None of which, I now realise, has much to do with the title; as I see that I’ve written several paragraphs very much not about breathing.  I have problems with breathing, as do a lot of people: I have asthma and rhinitis (like hay fever only not seasonal) and although I don’t often get a full-blown asthma attack I can feel short of breath sometimes.  The rhinitis is more of a pain really, consisting of a blocked and runny nose and frequent sneezing.  But hey ho – it could be worse.  I could have leprosy or syphilis.  I could be in a wheelchair having to prove to ATOS every couple of months that my amputated legs are still amputated and haven’t grown back.

So: what can I say about yoga breathing?  I have written essays on it; entire books have been devoted to the subject – but for me the most exciting thing about working with the breath is that it gives you control.  You want to take back control?  Learn to breathe and you can control your heart-rate and blood pressure.  You can slow down your thoughts and calm your emotions.  Stuck in a traffic jam?  Cut up by some arse in a BMW?  Been nice to someone who was rude in return?  All these things tend to raise the blood pressure and agitate the mind, and doing something so simple as merely focussing on the breath can really help.  Try some of these ideas:

Just breathe – it really is better than Brexit.

Kirk out