Was Petunia Dursley Grendel’s Mother?

I was packing up books yesterday and I came across an edition of Beowulf which I’d bought for Thing last Christmas.  It’s very hard to find presents for someone whose only hobbies are drinking coffee and listening to the radio and who already has more coffee-grinders, cafetieres and radios than any human being has a right to.  So what to get?  I ask.

Oh, don’t bother, he grumbles.  Don’t get me anything.

But I want to!  What shall I get you?

OK then a book.  If you must, he whines ungraciously.  Thanks darling….  But what book?  Aha! I thought when I came across Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Anglo-Saxon classic, Beowulf.  This’ll do.  And so I bore it home in triumph and proceeded to wrap it.  But wait!  First it must be inscribed.  ‘To my darling Thing on the occasion of Christmas 2015’?

No!  No, that won’t do at all.  So what I wrote was this:

‘What mysserable gyt was that

who nolde that his wyf

ne bochte hym no thynge for Christemasse?’

Which, translated roughly, means:

What miserable git was that who didn’t want his wife to buy him anything for Christmas?

But, since I know my Anglo-Saxon is basically a collection of half-remembered syllables; and since I also know that Thing can’t stop himself correcting other people’s linguistic mistakes, I also added:

‘If you would your fortunes waxen

don’t correct my Anglo-Saxon.’

You know the phrase, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’?  Well, I also think you don’t know what you’ve got till you start to pack it up.  It’s only then that those long-lost tomes you spent hours looking for when you had time to read them, agree to manifest themselves so that they can be put in a box and left, only to disappear once more as soon as they are unpacked again.  But life goes on and since I can’t stop myself from buying books and since the lovely glossy chunky Oxford Companion to English Literature (1999, ed Margaret Drabble) practically jumped off the shelf and into my arms and since it was only £5: reader, I bought it.  And it is wonderful.  It not only has sections on writers and books but on characters from books too.  Harry Potter isn’t in there yet because the series wasn’t finished, but I’m sure it will be in future editions, if it isn’t already.  And in addition to all that it has sections on literary theory.  I read one yesterday which usefully reminded me of how much I hate post-modernism…

Talking of Harry Potter, that brings me to a strange phenomenon.  On last night’s Mastermind, the only woman (again!) answering questions on the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, gave in answer to two questions the names Vernon Dursley and Petunia Dursley.  Now, I know that Rowling has used some classical names for characters: Argus (Filch) is Odysseus’s guard dog, for example; and Minerva (McGonagall) is the Roman goddess of wisdom – so I wondered if she’d taken the names of the Dursleys from characters in musicals.

But no – when I looked them up, I found only Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle.  Which made me wonder, why had she mentioned them?  And the best answer I’ve found is that instead of passing (in case the number of passes became an issue) she had a couple of names in readiness and used them instead.

Is that wrong?  Is it frowned upon?

I don’t know.  I’m not even sure it’s a good tactic as it has a time implication – but anyway, she won the round, though it was more for her outstanding general knowledge than the specialist subject.  29 points…

I was also surprised to discover that there have been as many female winners of Mastermind as male and that the first three winners were women.  So why aren’t there more women contenders?

I think we should be told.

Kirk out

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We Do Live in Interesting Times

Let us consider politics some more, because there are things which happen in the political field which don’t, as a rule, happen anywhere else.

First, our leaders are subjected to intense scrutiny.  In one sense this is entirely right and necessary – they should be held to account and required to explain their actions.  However this scrutiny is more often misapplied; as in, just to take one example, the recent Virgin trains episode where Corbyn did probably do something a tad misleading which was then blown up out of all proportion.  And, just to show I’m not using bias here, I think the ‘pig’ episode from Cameron’s history was also blown out of proportion and somewhat distasteful.

But in politics you only have to put a foot wrong for people to be baying for your blood.  In a recent interview Corbyn was asked if he wanted to be prime minister.  He answered the question in a roundabout way, saying that he intended to win a general election and that if he was, as he hoped, leader of the party at that point, then he would be PM.  But Jon Snow (of whom I expect better) kept asking the question: ‘do you want to be Prime Minister?’  Why did he do that?  Because he was trying to get Jeremy to say yes, I want to be Prime Minister – because that would then be the thing that was reported.  Then they could undermine him and imply that he is driven by ambition just like all the rest.  Shock horror!  Headline news!  Corbyn as ambitious as all other politicians!  Fortunately Jeremy is far too canny to fall for this – but it really enrages me that it happens in the first place.  It turns what ought to be a probing interview into a sort of game or dance where they try to get you to say something that fits in with their agenda and you try to avoid it whilst getting your message across.  It makes you want to echo Gandhi who, when asked what he thought of Western democracy, replied ‘it would be a good idea.’

Where else does this kind of thing happen?  In which other area of work are you routinely subjected to questions which try to catch you out?  Where else are employees scrutinised for any defects of character or their words analysed over and over for inconsistencies?  It beats me how anyone can put up with it.  Not to mention the insults and vitriol which are hurled at anyone with the temerity to get involved in politics in the first place.

It seems that there’s an almost complete lack of respectful debate nowadays.  I asked someone on Facebook who had dissed Corbyn, why it was that she didn’t like him and she answered that her gut feeling told her not to trust him.  She added that she could always be wrong.  I ‘liked’ her comment and at that point I didn’t take it any further.  Why?  Because I was thankful for her honest opinion and interested in finding out where she was at.   That is respectful debate.  Because it’s no good labelling your opponents as self-interested, ignorant fascists.  Some of them may be but there are many decent, respectable people out there who actually (shock, horror) vote Tory for reasons which seem good to them.  I disagree profoundly with them, but what use is democracy if we can’t even talk to each other?  Or more importantly, listen?

It was something of a culture shock when, a few years ago, I met some Tories campaigning in Leicester West.  I deviated from my lifelong pattern of Labour voting for various reasons; partly because I disliked Labour under Blair, but mainly because of the issue of Home Education, and only the Conservatives were sticking up for people’s right to Home Educate.  Now, Mark being Mark (or whoever he is) couldn’t just leave it at that: he actually had to go out and canvass with these people.  I declined to take any such step, but I was invited to a ‘thank-you’ party after the election where I met the candidate and some of her supporters.  And here’s the thing: they were in fact really nice people.  Sure, she lived in a huge house with extensive grounds in the wilds of Leicestershire, but there was no snobbery in their interactions with us and at the time Mark was – as he used to be in those days – quite shabbily dressed.  So they could have been quite snotty with us, and they weren’t.  OH has also met Edwina Currie and pronounced her also to be very pleasant to talk to; and I recently met Liz Kendall, whose politics I despise, and found her equally pleasant in person.

None of this changes my views: but it changes my interactions with those who don’t share them.  Needless to say it did not take long for me to regret my voting in that election and I have been all the keener on supporting first Left Unity and then Labour since Corbyn.

We live in interesting times, eh?

Kirk out


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Cue Bono, as the Romans Said…

Oh, what a tangled web we mix

when first we practise – politics.

Can’t live with it, can’t ignore it, what a nasty business politics is, like a swamp which clings to anyone who ventures close to its borders.  And yet staying out is not an option because, as Sartre so famously said, ‘You may not concern yourself with politics, but politics concerns itself with you.’  That’s what I said to our son when he was declaring his intention not to vote.  ‘You may choose not to vote,’ I said.  ‘But they’ll be making laws that affect your life, and if you don’t vote you have no voice.’  Not to mention that as a woman I am always conscious of the struggles other women went through to obtain the vote.

Of course I understand why some people have given up hope that voting will change things.  I understand why some people think that all politicians are alike and out to feather their own nests.  I also understand that one tick in one box once every five years is a totally inadequate way to express all that we think.  Which is why I get involved.  I don’t want to, but I can’t help myself.  I hate half of the debates that go on; I hate the vitriol and the name-calling; I hate the factionalism and the mud-slinging.  And I don’t know if I can do anything about it; but I feel compelled to try.

It seems to me that those on the left are much more likely to sling the mud in public.  Those on the right are natural authoritarians; used to taking charge, brought up to lead and to think of themselves as leaders.  They are much better at falling into line publicly and having arguments in private.  And whilst I respect the tendency of those on the left not to accept authority, I can’t help wishing they’d fall into line a little more – at least in public.  The Labour Party has always hung out its tattered washing in public; the rows between the left and right of the party have ground on for generations and we seem incapable of either respecting or listening to each other, let alone pulling together.  I struggle to respect a figure like Owen Smith; I disagree profoundly with what he’s done, but to publicly slag him off is not productive.  And to do him justice, Jeremy is saying the same: though people slag him off everywhere he fails to reciprocate.

But here’s the thing with people who try to be honest, especially in politics.  You put one foot wrong and everyone’s baying for your blood.  ‘Look at Jeremy!’ they howl.  ‘He said he couldn’t find a seat on a train and here’s a video showing that he could!’

I think the jury’s out on this one: sure, the video does appear to show him walking past empty seats but other passengers have posted pictures of themselves sitting  in the corridor, one or two with Jeremy.  These people have said that the train was in fact packed and that they, along with Jeremy, couldn’t initially find a seat but later did.  Of course, these people could always be stooges – or else Corbyn fans trying to help him out.  Then again, Virgin have a great deal to gain from suggesting that he lied, since his plan is to renationalise the railways.  I suspect in the end that most people will believe who they want to believe: those who don’t like Jeremy will be glad he’s been shown up as a hypocrite, and those who support him will believe Virgin manipulated the evidence.  For myself I’m not sure what happened: if he lied I’m disappointed in him, though it hardly weighs against the mountain of corruption which he is opposing.  Nevertheless if he did lie he shouldn’t have, because it weakens him.

Then again, perhaps all we have to do is to ask this question:

Cui bono?

Kirk out

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OMG!  WTF?  There are just TMA nowadays.  What am I on about?  Too many acronyms, that’s what: and there are more of them all the time.  Just when you thought it was safe to go back to your local evangelical church you find yourself wondering why the hell they are so keen on Kentucky Fried Chicken – only to discover that, well duh! KFC obviously stands for Knighton Free Church.  Only it used to be written out in full…

Facebook is one of the worst places for this, and if you don’t know the lingo it can drive you insane.  What is the MSM and why does nobody trust it?  What is BDSM and is it rude?  I know what L’s and G’s are but now they’ve been joined by B’s and T’s and sometimes Q’s as well.  If you go to see a film it can be CGI; if you watch a TV programme it can be ICYMI.  If you have a facebook conversation as well as the obligatory LOLs and OMGs it can be peppered with CBA’s, IKWYM’S and ISWYM’S.  SWIM?

Enough is enough.  I’m suffering from acronysm.  Or acronicism.  Or acronyism.  Or maybe even anachronism.  My head is close to exploding: it’s all TMI baby and I can’t even say TGIF because it’s Monday so I am going to sod off PDQ and go live in a hut for a while until it all blows over.


Kirk out

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May You Have an Interesting Day

I’m sure you know the Chinese curse, ‘may you live in interesting times.’  Well yesterday was an interesting day.  Actually that’s not true – it was a great day.  But also a terrible day.  It was the best day and the worst day.  It was a curate’s egg of a day.  And it did not go according to plan.

OK so here’s the thing.  OH says to me that he really, really, really wants me to go to this conference (at least I thought it was a conference) on gender and colonialism: ‘How Gender Abolition is Colonialist’.  There will be lots of stuff about gender fluidity in colonised countries and it might help us to make progress.  OK.  I can go with that.  I envisaged some kind of smartish venue with whiteboards, people sitting in rows, a presentation and maybe some speakers.  That’s not how it went.

We got to Nottingham early, wanting to make the most of the day, and tried to find which tram went where we were going.  Armed only with an inadequate map, I ended up going into an electronics shop full of shiny blue kettles and asking them the way to San Francisco (the place reminded us of San Francisco because of the trams and the hills.)  Trams!  I was very excited about these: they were shiny new ones not rackety Blackpool ones – and the lovely people in the shop told us which tram to get and even printed us out a map!  So we got on the smart new tram and ground our way up the hill as I jumped up and down fizzing with excitement and saying ‘Trams, Mark!  Trams!’  There’s just something about trams…  Anyway we got off and found ourselves in a warren of run-down back streets with nary a shop, never mind a conference centre.  We were early so we had lunch in a lovely ‘Coronation Street-type cafe which also sold books, shoes and DVD’s.  Then we found the venue.

Well.  It was the centre that time forgot.  I remember places like this from the ’70’s: houses in Islington where feminists and CND groups would meet and hammer out the future of the planet.  The entrance was a propped-open fire escape; the signage a ‘Nuclear Power no thanks’ sticker and the foyer a table stuffed with a variety of herbal teas (no complaints there).  Bloody hell.  ‘This is a bit of a throwback’ I muttered to Mark, suspecting that the conference might not turn out to be quite what I’d expected.  But never mind; everyone seemed friendly enough and we were offered drinks.  Then when it turned out that, thanks to a rival TERF conference (I’ll explain later) we probably weren’t actually going to make double figures, we started.  The leader, Sam, was ‘gender fluid’ and referred to as ‘them’: which started off the equivalent of ‘name, rank and serial number’ of the trans world ie ‘name, gender and pronoun.’  That done, we said what we hoped to get from the day.  I said I was hoping for some clarity.  ‘I’m bewildered by this whole field,’ I confessed.  ‘I didn’t even know there was such a thing as gender abolition, let alone that it could be considered colonialist.’  In other words, ‘help me out here.’  There were smiles and nods of understanding.  So far so good.  The ground rules, too, were fairly standard: mutual respect, tolerance, inclusivity and ‘safer spaces’ which as far as I could gather meant that everyone should feel safe to speak, having due regard for respect, tolerance and inclusivity.

Fine.  No problem there.

The introductory power-point didn’t cause me a problem either.  Then it became clear that we were going to discuss – with the aid of a flip-chart – the differences between sex and gender; how gender can be socially constructed (like dressing girls in pink etc etc).  And whereas I’d have been fine with a presentation, being asked to sit in a circle and contribute to a flip-chart discussion was not fine.  I needed a moment.  I went to the toilet and gulped a little.  I let it out.  Then I felt calmer.  Maybe I could do this: I returned to the fray and tried to follow the discussion.  But when the leader tried to suggest that sex (as distinct from gender) was also socially constructed, I had a problem.  I said, ‘surely most people when they’re born fall into either one sex or the other, don’t they?’

‘Can you explain that?’  The tone of voice was quite sharp.

‘Well,’ I said, resisting the urge to say it was bleeding obvious, ‘you either have a womb and ovaries or a penis and testes.’

Well, at this point a couple of them practically jumped on me and started to explain how I was wrong about this; how a lot of people don’t fall into either male or female (I had said ‘most’, not ‘all’) and to basically diss what I’d said.  And at this point my emotions overcame me.  I turned to Mark and muttered ‘I can’t do this,’ picked up my bags and left.

We spent a few minutes sitting outside.  Sam (the leader, of indeterminate gender, who I must refer to as ‘they’) came to see if I was OK.  I said I was really struggling and finding it too hard.  ‘Yes, we’ve all struggled with this,’ they said, before expressing the hope that I would come back as I might ‘get my ideas shaken up, which might not be a bad thing.’  Now I found that last statement not only patronising but presumptuous, so needless to say I did not go back in: I was too upset in any case.  So we ended up having a lovely walk back into town, finding bookshops and cafes and discussing what had happened before eventually meeting up with Bettina and talking to her about it.

And here’s the thing: for a group which had specifically signed up to inclusivity, tolerance and ‘safer spaces’ I did not feel included or safe.  It seemed to me a small group of people talking to each other – and Bettina (who knows the centre) said that this was quite typical.  Apparently one of their aims is to make links with the wider community; and since that community is largely working-class and black, what hope is there of that?  I found the language they used quite technical and academic (one of their aims was not to be ‘academic’) and they agonised about the lack of black people in the room, but really – if they can’t talk (or listen) to someone like me, what hope is there?

So in the end we had a great day in spite of the – whatever it was – conference or gathering or chat.  Oh, and TERF?  It stands for Trans-excluding Radical Feminist and you can look it up because my brain is now exhausted.  But I did think it was funny that somewhere else in the city there was a small group of TERFs talking to each other and berating these other people for not agreeing with them…or her… or him…


Kirk out


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All The World is Conquered…

It’s 2016, and the whole world has been conquered by the forces of the mighty emperor, Globuscapitus.

All?  No!  One tiny village in Britannium, Islingtonium, holds out against the invaders.  Their chief, Jeremicorbix, has a magic potion brewed by their druid, Socialix, which makes them invincible. In this story, Jeremicorbix and his tribe do battle against the  mighty Globuscapitus and his generals, Bankusbonus, Zeroarscontrax and Publicsectocuts.  Will they win?  Surely, if even Incumpercapita, the first female general ever, could not vanquish them, no-one can.

OK.  A slight diversion into the world of Asterix there, triggered by a quick perusal of Asterix in Britain this morning.  And where was I this morning? I hear you cry.  I was here:


IMAG0018[1] (2)

Well the thing is, I went to Wales by mistake.  No, not really, I went on purpose and stayed by mistake as by the time I got there two days seemed a rather short visit so I went on longer.  Mary and John are semi-self sufficient in a stunning 17th Century rectory joined on to another house to make something both longer and higher than any normal house has a right to be.  It’s delightful with wobbly floors and wood-beamed ceilings, unexpected cupboards and large, old doors with latches.  In addition to the house and garden they have an orchard with free-range pigs in one bit and trees in another (only one of the pigs is theirs and will be slaughtered in the winter.)  I thought I might feel quite squeamish about this but in the end I found the animals quite amenable.  The chickens, too, were highly interactive and I could see how people end up being very fond of the animals they keep.

So what with scattered courgettes, ripening tomatoes, a mending roof, a shed full of wood and about a million projects all started and all needing attention, I found it quite mind-boggling.  The village itself though is quite something, with a castle and church dating back to the 11th century (the castle was one of a line which stood on the English-Welsh border and there’s a pub in a neighbouring village showing a man on one side of the border and a devil complete with pitchfork on the other.  That’s us…)  It’s tiny really and most places that size would be dead but this has a functioning town hall

IMAG0028[1] a pub with at least two local real ales and a shop.

Ah, the shop!  The shop deserves a paragraph all by itself.  Run by a local man who has lived on the same spot all his life and whose mother used to run it, he keeps it more or less as she did.  He sells sweets by the quarter-pound (!) from proper jars and on his ancient wooden shelves he has two types of tea, Ty-phoo or PG Tips.  My tentative request for camomile was met with a bewildered stare.  He also runs the Post Office, which again most villages that size would not have.


I was introduced to nearly everyone in the place and gave the address of this blog to at least one of them.  So if you’re reading this Jean, hello and welcome.

So that’s been my week so far.

How’s yours been?

Kirk out


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Last night I watched a debate via live streaming.  This is a good way to get a feel of how it’s going; and before I watched I decided to make a special effort to be fair.  I wouldn’t watch just in order to hear my own views confirmed: I would try to listen and see whether I heard anything to make me change my mind.  Because in the end I really want to be sure I’m not living in a Corbynite bubble where people bolster each other’s opinions either in real life or on social media.  I tried to watch with as open a mind as possible.  And this is what came across:

Smith is perhaps well-meaning (although that is somewhat undercut by the fact of his challenging Corbyn at this time).  He seems to espouse very similar policies to his opponent, although some people think he’s just adopted them in order to be more popular.  If so, isn’t there a problem there?  I thought Corbyn was unelectable?  But from what I heard you couldn’t get a fag-paper between their policies; the only thing they really seemed to differ on was Trident, the rest being a question of extent and emphasis.  Smith’s pitch seems to be that he’s a ‘reasonable man of the Left.’  I looked at his voting record and it does in fact seem reasonable.  I have heard reports that he has at one time or another spoken in favour of some privatisation of the NHS: if so that doesn’t show up in his voting record.  So he may be more ‘socialist’ than we’ve been led to believe.  And yet – and here’s the rub – he doesn’t feel genuine.  His gestures seem studied; his manner practised.  He makes the ‘thumb-in-fist’ gesture a lot to get a point across and you can’t help wondering where he learnt to do that.  It doesn’t seem natural.  His speeches seem rehearsed.

Well, what’s wrong with that?  I practise my poems every day: most performers practise over and over so that they get it right.  Maybe Jeremy practises too?

Maybe.  But it doesn’t seem like it.  It seems as if in response to a question he just opens his mouth and says what he thinks.  And here’s the point: he doesn’t need to practise his arguments because he knows them.  Basically, he’s been practising for the last forty years, saying the same things over and over, in small meetings, in the Commons, in debates – everywhere.  And he doesn’t need to think about what football team he supports because he’s not afraid to say if it’s Millwall or Chelsea or if he doesn’t like football at all because – well, who gives a sh*t?  It’s austerity he cares about: it’s the people affected by government policies that truly concern him.  He doesn’t stop and think ‘What’s going to play well here?’  He just says what he thinks – and that, more than anything, is why people trust him.

OK.  But the reason Owen Smith is standing – or so he says – is that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’.  He accepts that JC means what he says; he accepts that he’s popular with a section of the electorate; he just thinks that won’t translate into a wider appeal.

Is he right?  Let’s leave aside here any arguments about bias in the media, which are too obvious and have been aired too often already.  My view is this:

People up and down the country are sick of austerity, sure.  And they will vote in droves for someone who promises to end it.  But people are also sick of insincerity.  They yearn for a leader who is authentic; not one who merely seems so.  They know the tricks politicians employ to make themselves look sincere because, even if they haven’t read the same Guardian articles I have, there’s something in the brain or the heart or the gut that tells you.  On some level you know when.  It doesn’t matter how often they look straight into the camera or what gestures they make or what tone of voice they use, there’s something about true sincerity that cannot be faked.  When you see it, you know it.  Because you feel it.  And that, ironically, is what makes Corbyn electable.   Because he has it, and Owen Smith doesn’t.

Kirk out

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