Keep Mum Mum and Don’t Forget Don’t Forget the Driver

Sometimes I wish the Beeb wouldn’t put so many box sets on the iplayer because then I go and watch them in all a bloody great binge.  This isn’t so bad when a series has already been on and you’ve seen it week by week, but they’ve taken to putting some things up before they’ve even been broadcast and I found myself unable to stop viewing the latest excellent Toby Jones vehicle, ‘Don’t Forget the Driver.’

This was in its way as innovative as ‘Detectorists’ though without the involvement of Mackenzie Crook: written by Toby Jones and Tim Crouch it features Jones as a well-meaning but unassertive coach driver who from his base in Bognor takes a different group of people each week to places like Woburn Abbey, Legoland and Hampton Court.  Like Detectorists this has no laughter-track or studio audience and the incidental music is cleverly done by broadcasting whichever tune is ‘playing on the radio’.  If I have a beef with this it’s that the scenes are sometimes too short and the cuts too frequent, so that it ends up a bit like the classic disaster movie switching from train to trapped female and back to approaching train… but it’s a small beef.  I’m not going to say any more about the plot as its still being broadcast but there’s some brilliant understated humour:

Japanese tourist (outside Hampton Court, holding a volume of Shakespeare):  ‘Please can you tell me about this… iambic pentameter?

Peter (Toby Jones):  Well, Mr Pentameter, if you go that way you’ll find the guide who will tell you all you need to know.

Tourist: (nods happily) Thank you.

Mum‘ on the other hand, is not so much understated as unstated.  OH asked me, as I was chuckling away, why I enjoy it so much when in general I dislike cringe-comedy.  It’s true that I avoid stuff like ‘The Office’ and ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, because I think comedy should be a release rather than making you more uptight than you were to start with: but in any case I think ‘Mum’ is different because she is the only character not making us cringe.  We are feeling and laughing with her, not at her – and that’s the difference.

Again it’s a programme with no laughter and almost without incidental music, though there’s a little of the title track’s percussion between scenes.  What’s also different is that nothing actually happens; each episode takes place before or after an event, usually when people are getting ready for something.  We first meet Mum Cathy on the day of the funeral and one by one all the other characters drop by: her brother Dave with his unbearable girlfriend Pauline; the rude and miserable grandparents and her live-in son and his well-meaning but clumsy girlfriend.  And then there’s Michael.  It’s obvious from day one that Michael is head-over-heels in love with Cathy, and probably always has been.  It’s equally obvious that he won’t make a move – not today because it’s the day of the funeral, but probably not ever, because Dave the deceased was his best friend and it would seem like betrayal.

As prolonged and delayed romances go, this is drawn-out agony with more misunderstandings, absences and interruptions than any human being can bear.   The supporting cast are all, in their own way, intolerable, and Michael is the only person Cathy can talk to but they hardly get an opportunity to talk and when they do, each of them is so hesitant and reticent that you just want to bang their heads together.

Anyway I’ll say no more but let you go ahead and watch them both.

Kirk out

 

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This Parrot is Fit for Work

As I was lying in bed this morning I had an idea for a comedy sketch.  Based on the Parrot sketch with bits of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘ thrown in, it goes something like this:

ATOS:         I see here that you’ve put in a claim for Universal Credit. 

Claimant:  Yes

ATOS:         But you are fit for work.

Claimant:  Fit for work?  I’m not fit for work – I’ve got to have my leg amputated!

ATOS:         It’s just a scratch.  Come on, you’re fit for work!

Claimant:  I’ve got to have a prosthetic leg!  I can’t possibly go to work!

ATOS:         Rubbish.  It’s just a flesh wound.

Claimant:  Flesh wound!  Look, this leg is dead.

ATOS:         No it isn’t

Claimant:  Yes, it is.  It’s deceased.  It has gone to meet its maker

ATOS:         No, no, no, it’s just resting

Claimant:  It has shuffled off this mortal coil.  It is a dead leg.  It has joined the choir invisible.  It is not ‘fit for work’!

ATOS:         Look – beautiful blue veins.

Claimant:  The veins don’t enter into it.  It is an ex-leg!

ATOS:         Nah.  You’re fit for work.  Now bugger off.  Next!  (laughs evilly)  None shall pass the benefits test…

Kirk out

 

Where Was I Again?

Every day along with my daily writing prompts I get interesting or inspirational quotes from established writers.  Sometimes these are good, sometimes they’re predictable and some days they just Do Not Compute.  Take today’s, from A S Byatt:

‘Don’t start writing until you know where you’re going.’ 

Immediately I thought, ‘well, that wouldn’t work for me at all because I never know where I’m going; not until I get there, and sometimes not even then.’  Some of the best stuff I’ve done has been written completely cluelessly with no plan, no concept and no destination.  If I’d planned a novel and knew each chapter in detail I’d be so bored I wouldn’t want to write the damned thing at all.  I can have a vague idea but the thing has to unfold for me just as it does for the reader.

Not that I don’t wish it otherwise.  Sometimes I’d give my eye teeth to have a plot idea I could send off to a publisher, like: ‘A Bulgarian milkman moves to Germany after unification and discovers that his father was a war criminal.’  That sort of thing.  Instead of which, what have I got?  ‘I’m writing a novel based on the Fibonacci sequence and the concept of spirals.’  What?  What?  So what happens?  ‘Well, I don’t know yet.  There’s a lot of stuff about Brexit – but I won’t know what happens until it’s finished.  Maybe not even then…’  It’s hardly the stuff that gets three-figure advances….

The thing is, most people start with a plot.  They sketch it out, then in come some characters and start interacting.  A setting suggests itself; then some dialogue.  Finally, if at all, comes the philosophy.  But me?  I get it completely backwards: first the philosophical concept, then the characters and setting and finally – if at all – the plot.  Such as it is.

*Sigh*

Mind you, I thought I’d come up with a brilliant plot the other day.  I rushed in to tell OH about it:

‘How’s this for a short story idea?  You have some women who do exactly what men want, who flatter them and obey their every whim – and in the end they turn out to be robots.’  As I was outlining this the smile on OH’s face was becoming more and more fixed.  ‘So what do you think?’ I finished up.

‘Well…’

Turned out I’d described exactly the plot of The Stepford Wives(In my defence I haven’t actually seen the film but I should have known all the same.)

*Sigh*

Hope you all had a good Easter. Yesterday Daniel and I went to visit my parents’ graves and on the way back we had a Grimbister.

Kirk out

On The Road Again

I’m happy to report that the car is now back on the road again: a battery ordered yesterday morning arrived an hour later and in full view of a hovering husband (my OH has no faith in my ability not to electrocute myself) was duly installed and the car driven round the block.  At least, in light of the Extinction Rebellion protests I’m 50% happy the car’s on the road and 50% feeling guilty.  I could plead that out of the thirty-three years I’ve been able to drive I’ve owned a car for only ten; I could say that I only drive when really necessary; I could say lots of things but the fact remains that in the next few years we are all going to have to make some really hard choices if we’re going to survive.  It’s a climate emergency and the government has to get on board and stop fiddling while the planet burns.  Which is why I fully support the Extinction Rebellion protests – because no matter what inconvenience they may cause, something has to be done and if the government won’t do it, others must.

All of which makes my review of Paul McKenna’s book seem a little hollow.  I bought this a few months ago because – well, because frankly I’d like to make some more money; and whilst some of it is very helpful my main beef is that he is very dewy-eyed about capitalism.  He seems to believe that the economy can just keep on growing and things will get better and better for everyone.  Now apart from being highly sceptical about the ‘trickle-down’ theory I seriously doubt this: not only are economic crashes frequent (the book was published in 2007 just before the last one) but nothing in nature grows for ever; all things are subject to decay and death, so why should the economy be any different?  In addition to this he quotes frequently from the sayings of Donald Trump and Philip Green.  Now it is true that the book went to press before either Trump got elected or Green did the dirty on BHS staff, but I hardly think either of them were positive role models even before those events.

However, there’s enough in this book for me to say that I’ve found it useful.  As with the sleep book he suggests NLP techniques and visualisations to help you realise your internal blockages.  One of the most helpful aspects to me was the section on envy and resentment.  I realised that I suffer from this a lot; when I look at wealthy people I tend both to envy and resent them and to think how much better I would do in their place.  It’s hard to overcome resentment, particularly when you think about people like Trump and Green, but McKenna suggests that instead we should not only visualise ourselves doing well, but think of them doing even better.  I chose to interpret this as seeing both Trump and Green behave more compassionately and generously to others, and it really helped.

In the end I can get on board with his approach because he talks about riches being ‘your highest values’ rather than money per se.  He uses the phrase ‘wealth dysmorphia’ to describe someone whose perception of their own wealth is totally skewed; someone like Getty, say, or Rockefeller.  The nauseating references to Trump and Green are offset by quotes from Gandhi and Anita Roddick and we are encouraged to think about what constitutes our highest good.

I am not a proponent of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ – I consider it incoherent and out of step with Christian values – but neither do I sign up to the need for poverty as an approach to spiritual enlightenment.  Rather, what’s needed is detachment: as Frieda Stark says in the Nicci French books, you should never own anything you wouldn’t mind losing.  But if money can help you to achieve your highest values, why not get some?

Kirk out

Mornington Crescent

image removed on request

Reading this post from the other day put me in mind of Mornington Crescent, one of the silly games people play on ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.’  I like ‘Clue’, as it’s generally known, as well as the next person, but lately it’s been somewhat spoiled for me by the utter mania of the audience.  Where do they find these people, and what are they on?  How can they summon up such whooping enthusiasm for Hamish and Dougal having had their tea yet again???  How can one song to the tune of another bring on such incontinent ecstasy?  I enjoy these games too and I like Jack Dee’s deadpan put-downs as much as the next person, but the manic audience strips the programme of all subtlety.

I digress.  My favourite game in this welter of silliness is Mornington Crescent, a test of ingenuity and knowledge of the London Underground where the goal is to reach Mornington Crescent station before the other players.  It sounds complex and intricate: in fact it’s a hoax; there are no rules and the fun is to make it sound as though there are by seeming to think very hard about your next move and by bringing in certain technical-sounding phrases (‘ah, I see you’re using the Kings’ Cross switchback there,’ and so on.)  But, as OH has so shrewdly pointed out, there are in fact meta-rules because the game wouldn’t work if the first player simply said ‘Mornington Crescent’ straight away.  You have to leave it long enough to be plausible, yet not too long as to become boring; plus you have to bring in unusual stations which seem to be connected to ones already mentioned.  And it has to be funny.

Are the British alone in finding our place names amusing?  Americans don’t seem to do this at all; they pronounce the most bizarre of names with nary a smirk, but we Brits chortle at the mere mention of Bognor or Chipping Sodbury.  Douglas Adams took this tendency and went global with his Meaning of Liff, taking place names around the world and inventing definitions to go with them: our favourites are Grimbister, a group of cars all travelling at the same speed because one of them is a police car, and Berepper, a subtle but audible fart.  And it seems to me that a similar amusement is at work in MC because there are certain combinations of names which are inherently funnier than others.  Like Mordern, say, or East Cheam or – well, Mornington Crescent.

Yay!  I win!

Clue must be due back on air for its 731st series soon… and in case you can’t find it, Mornington Crescent is on the Northern Line (the black one) just North of Euston.

Kirk out

Content May Shift During Transit

It’s a difficult thing to practise contentment; not only do you have to keep reminding yourself of it but there’s a tendency for discontent to creep in everywhere; so if you’re not careful you can end up in the somewhat ridiculous situation of being discontented about the practice of contentment. (I’m too discontented.  I don’t have enough contentment.  I must be more contented…)  And then your head explodes.

So the trick is to be contented with the degree to which you are able to practise contentment – and then, with a wave of the wand and a cry of riddikulus! you’ll be doing it anyway.  Discontent really is a Boggart pretending to be a Dementor – we need to laugh at it and it will go away.

Contentment is a necessary antidote to a society where work of all kinds becomes increasingly demanding: a society where you hit one target and are immediately presented with another.  This is sometimes seen as a virtue but according to Yoga philosophy* it’s anything but.  Discontent is the thief of life and the destroyer of satisfaction.  What is the point of achieving your goals if you never enjoy it?  I could go on and on about the need to avoid end-gaining in yoga but that’s enough for today.

*and not only yoga philosophy: Buddhism also emphasises it and it is implicit in the practices of Christianity (here‘s a blog that makes the link and also has a really good quiz to test your own level of contentment).

This is a very short blog post and doesn’t say as much as I’d hoped.  Nevertheless, I am contented with its contents…

Kirk out

 

 

Today I Shall Be Mostly Practising…

Sometimes life can seem like a merry-go-round.  I don’t mean that it’s horribly busy, though it is for many people; what I mean is that insights which are very clear one moment can be lost in the next, and only recovered when you ‘come round’ to them again.  Life seems to swoop like a waltzer-ride, causing us to lurch from one reality to another, one set of people to another, one lot of viewpoints to another.  In a globalised world where values are relative and every second person you meet has a different outlook, it’s hard to know exactly what and where you are.  The temptation is to build a wall of prejudices and lob missiles over the top.

Enough with the metaphors.  It came to me today that since I blogged about it a few months ago, I haven’t really practised santosh much.  I’ve thought about it fleetingly, as a face glimpsed fleetingly from a bus (is that another metaphor?) but decided, for whatever reason, not to go there.  But today it has come to me that I need this more than ever.

So let’s skip the what and the why, since those are dealt with in that previous post, and go straight to the how.  How precisely is one supposed to practise this thing?  Can you download a course?  Are there exercises?  Well, perhaps; but my method is to begin by reminding myself of what I’m practising, often just by simply repeating mentally the word santosh.  It’s about noticing when the mind gets a little manic; when there’s a tendency to be perfectionist and to practise end-gaining, and telling yourself: Wait.  Practise santosh.  Be content.

In addition you can bring this awareness to everything you do.  For example, this morning I decided to vacuum the living-room.  There wasn’t time to do it ‘properly’ so instead of feeling dissatisfied and making a mental note to go over it again soon, I decided to be content.

But how do you be content?  If it doesn’t come easily to you this can seem like an inaccessible mountain.  There are some good suggestions in this blog including practising gratitude and not being judgmental.  As Paul McKenna points out in ‘I Can Make You Rich’ there’s no point in being a millionaire if it just makes you want even more money: he calls this ‘wealth dysmorphia’, a very apt phrase.  It’s a hard lesson to learn, particularly when there’s something you want very badly, but contentment doesn’t mean resignation.  It doesn’t mean accepting that you’ll never have whatever-it-is; just accepting that right here and now you don’t have it: it’s the spiritual equivalent of geo-positioning:* knowing where you are.  Because if you don’t start from here, where can you start from?  So every time I look at the garden and think about what’s left to be done; every time I look at the washing-up, every time I consider that I am still not celebrated as a writer, I tell myself ‘I am content.  I am content.  I am content.’

And for your own contemplation here’s an OM symbol inside a mandala:

https://galleryofgod.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/wpid-om-symbol-hd-wallpaper.jpg?w=834&h=626

I am going to get around to blogging about the McKenna book, I just haven’t got to it yet (I am very content with this…)

Kirk out

*I would call it ‘ego-positioning’ which would be nicely anagrammatical, except that it’s not about the ego.