Dust and Ash

I was thinking this morning, what with the recent concerns about Dutch Ash Disease or whatever it is that’s affecting ash trees, that we are a sylvan nation; a people who have grown up in and around woods, and continue to have a feeling for forests and trees.  There’s something about walking through a broad-leaf forest, through ancient trees which may – for all we know – have seen Richard III pass by on his way to the car park; through dappled sunlight and into clearings.  Sadly, there aren’t too many of these woods left, since we can’t live in a shed and eat tree bark and nuts (‘Man does not live by shed alone…’)

Plus, you can’t push a buggy in the woods.  For several years our lives were dominated by surfaces and locations where you could take a buggy: though we had various carriers, it’s very hard to carry any child beyond the age of about 12 months.  Actually with Daniel we stopped carrying him in the backpack because every time we went out he nearly caused a riot.  This was because of his habit of falling asleep in it with his head thrown right back; also a red patch would appear on his cheek where he had leaned to one side before falling asleep.  We knew perfectly well that he was fine, but others didn’t – and even a walk to the shops would involve having to convince a dozen passers-by that he did this all the time and was not in the middle of a seizure.  Things reached a head when an entire bus-load of people started banging on the windows and gesticulating at him; and at that point I decided I just couldn’t take it any more.  Whereas nowadays, every parent I see has a state-of-the-art pushchair.  You know the kind of thing – three wheels for extra manoeuverability; folds at a touch onto buses and into car boots; morphs instantly into a car-seat or high chair and probably has sat-nav as well.

So, so-so

And finally, does it annoy you when people answer a question with ‘So…’?  I don’t mean in a logical way, such as when you ask them ‘Why are you doing whatever-it-is?’ and they reply,’So that we can find out such-and-such’; I mean as a routine way of answering any question.  No matter what you say, they reply, ‘So….’  I couldn’t figure out why this annoys me so much but I think it’s this: that the word ‘So’ indicates the development of an argument; the next stage in their progression of thought.  In other words, it’s not as if they’re in a dialogue, but in a monologue which your question has interrupted and which they are now continuing.

See what I mean?

Does it annoy you?  Please comment below…

Kirk out

Drunk and Thunk

The inaugural meeting of ‘Drink and Think’ was a great success last night: about a dozen people turned up at the Ale Wagon to discuss the question, What’s the Point of Philosophy?  We had a wide-ranging discussion taking in Marxism, religion and evolution; and a variety of people from the experienced philosopher to the new and slightly terrified.  All professed to have enjoyed the experience and said they would come back.  Next month we are discussing the topic: ‘Free Will vs Determinism?’ so if you’re free and your calendar is not pre-determined (LOL) come along on November 25th.

There were a couple of comments I would have liked to follow up on.  Someone mentioned that a football team (was it Leicester?) actually have their own philosopher – and I wanted to know more about that, so if you’re reading please comment below.  Then someone else said that before poets die they should have to recite all their work – ALL of it, including juvenilia.  This made me shudder – though fortunately I don’t have any of my juvenilia left.  I do, however, have this poem:

Nothing could be sillier

than my juvenilia

nothing can be dafter

than my adolescent laughter

my sermons as a bride

occasioned splittings of the side

and my maternal orders

caused a skirmish at the borders.

But now that I am old

my very turds have turned to gold

and the words around my wreath

are the dust that I bequeath


Kirk out

That Hideous Strength

Things go from bad to worse.  Last night Mark was listening to the radio, as he always does when going to sleep, and he uttered a loud cry.  ‘What’s the matter?’ I said, imagining muscle spasms or something more serious.  ‘Bloody Count Arthur Strong‘s on AGAIN!’ he burst out.  ‘That’s hideous,’ I commented sympathetically, whereupon he quipped; ‘That hideous strength!’

Here’s the link if you don’t get the joke:


But even Count Arthur Strong in all his hideousness could not dampen my enthusiasm after a brilliant night at Yesim’s.  There were about 20 people in the end; a mix of traditional folkies – some Scots, some English – Chinese singers and players; a Syrian singer of Turkish songs; a storyteller – and me.  I was very pleased with the reception for my Yesim’s Music Circle song (see below) which will be taken up as ‘our song’; also with my ‘Doctor Who’ sonnet (see video from a couple of weeks back).  Instruments included the usual guitars, violins and recorders; also a Middle-Eastern drum (a huge affair with what looked like curtain hooks hanging round the rim); and a ‘mandolincello’ (something like a mandolin but larger and hence lower in pitch.)  I was also given a list of folk clubs in Leicester by Dave, who is apparently the Folk List guy.

After all the excitement I couldn’t sleep.  Bloody annoying.

By the Light of the Beige Moon

Mark insists that the colour of the moon is not grey or silvery but beige.  He has the photos to prove it, sadly.  I hate it when Mark’s right – but the beige conversation reminded me of a beige crimplene skirt I once had (yes, I know).  Crimplene was this wonder-material which sounds great in theory – dries in no time, never needs ironing, doesn’t need hemming – but in practice was so gross that no-one ever wore it as it was like wearing an ironing-board cover.  Which, ironically, you would be able to do if your wardrobe was all crimplene.

Do YOU remember crimplene?

OK here’s part of the Yesim’s Music Circle Song:

‘Sunday evening, come around

drinking coffee, making sound

music circle well-renowned

all at Hayri’s cafe


Jig to reel and fast to slow

pipe and voices, string and bow

three guitars all in a row

all at Hayri’s cafe


We will go from high to higher

Leicester’s own celestial choir

come on people light that fire

all at Hayri’s cafe

There.  That should give you a taste.  If you want more, you’ll have to get yourself down to Yesim’s next Sunday.  But in the meantime, it’s Drink and Think tonight, 8 pm at the Ale Wagon, Charles St, Leicester.


See you there!

Kirk out


If you’re in the UK it’s probably an hour earlier than you think it is.  Go and check.  Did you put your clocks back last night?  I did, every single one – except the timer switch for the heater in our room, which powered up at 5.30 this morning.  No bad thing as it turns out because it’s not exactly Hot here.  It isn’t Warm and Cosy.  It isn’t Balmy and Mild.  It’s bloody freezing – except that, annoyingly, there isn’t any frost or anything.  So I guess it’s just what they call the ‘wind-chill factor’.  I know all about the wind-chill factor: it can turn a plus into a minus in less time than it takes to zip up your coat.  I’ve already been wearing hats this week and have even got out my faux-suede, faux-fur lined hunting cap with earflaps.  I hunted it down in Primark.

I usually try to avoid Primark especially when I have a few quid, as it’s full of dangly things for under a pound which make you think, ‘Oo, that’s cheap!  I could do with a few of those.’  I am wearing one of them as we speak, a belt which is utterly crap and nearing the end of its useful life.

So: time.  What can we say about Time except that it’s weird?  There was a whole programme about it on radio 4 last night which I listened to all the way home and which gave me a distorted impression of where I was:

Ugh!  Must I be confronted by a nauseating picture of Brucie every time I go to iplayer?


It was an interesting programme debating, amongst other things, whether we should have British Summer Time at all, or maybe double it, or do something different altogether.  (NOTE spelling of ‘altogether’ please!)  As for me, I have no strong views on the matter but I am certainly lost in the fourth dimension at the moment, having been unable (as always) to take advantage of the extra hour and bloody-well sleep in!!!

I must be getting more popular – I had 73 spam comments to delete this morning.  Somebody send me a real comment please!

I’m going to end with a story which gave me hope:

“A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by, and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace, and stopped for a few seconds, and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, and continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money, but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the most talented musicians in the world. He had just played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?”

That’s it.  Today I shall be mostly… trying to enthuse a group of 7 – 11-year-olds about bereavement (don’t ask) and estranando* my new Yesim’s cafe song at Yesim’s cafe.
Kirk out
*Estrenar is a Spanish verb I wish we had in English: it means ‘to do or try something out for the first time’.  At the age of six I tried to invent a similar word in English, which was ‘to pervise’.  It was more specific, meaning to broach a jar of Marmite or something similar, for the first time; and it didn’t catch on.

War and Tea

Take a look at yesterday’s video on youtube, if you haven’t already – it’s a couple of sonnets and a weird cup of tea.  I am feeling about 100% better since then, thanks to Mark sending off the partnership tax return and the council agreeing to postpone next month’s council tax.  That in itself was a great relief; then the cheque I had ordered came this morning – 3 days earlier (sorry, 3 ‘working’ days – god, how I hate that phrase!) plus! Windows 8 which Mark had ordered.  I don’t care too much about Windows 8, but with it came a little piece of card.  ‘Oh, wine voucher,’ said Mark disdainfully.  ‘What?’ I cried, leaping into action.  It was a wine voucher for Naked Wines to the tune of £60.

I love that tune!

So – there will be wine for Xmas.  Oh yea.

So for once the post brought good news.

I have finished the Kathy Reichs book.  I liked it – it was a real page-turner and pretty much went down without touching the sides; but still, enjoyable.  The style managed to be slick without being smartass,* which is always good.  I have moved onto the Andy MacNab.  With a gun-toting soldier on the front, I fully expected to dislike this one, but was pleasantly surprised.  Co-written with a woman whose name I shall look up in a sec, it’s about the effects of war on soldiers and their families: MacNab has very wisely co-opted a woman (Kym Jordan) to write about the families’ side of the story, and it’s not a pretty one.  He avoids all ‘James Bond-style’ loving descriptions of the boys and their toys, and instead concentrates on the individual soldiers, how it feels to be facing the Taliban (they’re in Helmand) and how hard it is to adjust to coming home.  I imagine, though I don’t know, that what he writes is pretty much spot-on.  He writes dispassionately but compassionately – if that makes sense – and it’s something you can get on board with, no matter what your attitude to warfare.

Good stuff.  Here’s the book:


So that’s all good.  Off to the bank now to pay in the cheque.  Then Mark and I will be going to see ‘Cloud Atlas’, which has just come out:


Kirk out

* though I remain committed to the British spelling of ‘arse’ I can’t help thinking that ‘smartarse’ just looks wrong…

Count Arthur Wrong

So, yesterday after a day of tidying and clearing and novel-writing and cooking dinner, I sit down to a well-earned rest  and a bit of comedy – and what do I find?  This:


Count Arthur Strong is beyond crap.  Basically, it is one idea, done to death, buried in soft peat for a season; dug up, warmed over, propped on a stool with matchsticks between the eyelids and served up all over again for yet another desperate series.  I’m going to start a Facebook campaign to get rid of this blight on our airwaves – and you can help.  Here’s how: just email the BBC and beg them to drop the Count from a great height.  Immediately.


There are perfectly good sitcoms available: why should we have to put up with this pigswill?  I’m not even going to mention the Beeb’s inexplicable rejection of my own excellent comedy, ‘Waiting for Theo’…

Though I feel the same way about him, I am less exercised by Alexander McCall Smith’s execrable series of ‘detective’ novels, since they don’t intrude on my life.  To avoid them, all I have to do is leave them on the shelf: a shudder as I pass by the occasional promo display, is as bad as it gets.  It does not occasion a 6.30 vacuum AT THE VERY TIME I want to be entertained over a post-prandial cup of roibos.

Hmm.  Roibos – this is bush tea, isn’t it?

Oh, no – here we go.  ‘Mma Ramotswe drank a cup of bush tea.’  I swear, if he uses the phrase ‘traditionally-built’ about Mma Ramotswe one more time, I’m going to chuck this cup of bush tea at the radio.  Or better still, post it to the BBC…

Speaking of tea, I have found my faux-plastic cup.  Deep joy.  I shall get Daniel to take a pic and post it so you can see.  I still can’t get the hang of digital cameras…

Today I shall be mostly… going for a breast screening.  I can’t say I’m keen.

Kirk out

PS Sic Transit gloria mundi…


Pop-py Appeal

It had to come – apparently they are having a pop concert for the poppy appeal.

Who will be playing?  Let me guess… Simply Red?


No, it’s some people I’ve never heard of who only seem to have first names.  That’s a trend nowadays:


I’m always very uneasy about the red poppies: on the one hand it’s good to support causes which help veterans: on the other hand it has a note of militarism and ‘support our troops’ about it – and I don’t necessarily support our troops; not in all situations.  Not in many, come to that.  So I am uneasy about wearing it – often I will buy one and then not wear it.  What I will buy – what I have no qualms about buying – is a white poppy.  You don’t see too many of these as it seems to be only CND who sell them, but the white poppy is something I can get behind as it’s unequivocally for peace.  So maybe I should buy a red one AND a white one.  Or make a pink one? – support our gay troops?  Incidentally, while tidying I came across some old business cards of mine which said ‘For Inner Peace, chant OM’ on one side, with the OM symbol; and ‘for outer peace, join CND’ on the other, with the CND symbol.

My sadness about not winning the Able Muse Poetry Prize has led to a decision to self-publish the collection – and an offer from Yessim’s cafe to host some sort of sales event – so that is good.  I shall discuss it with them on Sunday.  I wish I was better at marketing, though – I’m far too sheepish and self-deprecating about the whole thing.

Watched the Panorama documentary about Savile last night.  It was heartbreaking.  All too easy to see how he pulled the wool over people’s eyes, especially in those times; also to see how close he came to being properly investigated.  What a sad legacy to leave from a life.  It reminds me of ’10, Rillington Place’ a book I read in my teens about a the Christie case.  Christie was a multiple-murderer who forced a man with learning difficulties, Timothy Evans, to take the rap for his crimes.  Evans was hanged – and as a direct result of Ludovic Kennedy’s book, later pardoned.

As good a reason as any not to bring back the death penalty.


Maybe there’s a poppy for that?

Kirk out

Blast and double-blast!

Just had the email I’ve been anticipating for about two months.  I think I knew it already but I am still sad: I didn’t win the poetry prize.  Didn’t even get an honourable mention or make it to the final, which would have meant I’d got some kind of contract.  Still I guess it’s something that I made it to the quarter-finals; that can stay on my CV after all.  And I sent various applications off before the result so for all they know, I’m still in with a chance.  I wonder when Lydia will hear about the Bridport Prize.  It’s horrid waiting for results.

Just checked the Bridport page and they have apparently announced the winners but I can’t find the results.  I guess Lydia didn’t win else we’d have heard about it.  Ah well…  On a lighter note, I have sent off a collection of short stories for a competition – thanks to Mark for sorting out the formatting and paginating (I am reliably assured that this is the correct term) for me.

It occurs to me that I keep saying I’ll  post reviews of things and then I don’t post them.  So, here’s a review of Red Dwarf X.  I didn’t have high expectations of the series, mainly because revivals of old sitcoms – especially ones which went on forever in the first place – are rarely promising.  There are notable exceptions, and at times the revival is better than the original (eg ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?’) but I really thought RD had gone well past its sell-by date and so I only watched out of curiosity.   Well!  I was pleasantly surprised.  The guys have aged quite well (or else been successfully made up) and the kinda tired feeling the series had towards the end, has gone.  The intellectual smartness is back, too – there was a really nice play on time and anticipation with the new (female) computer being able to anticipate what the guys would instruct her to do and then doing it before they ask: hence she screws up the holo-deck by anticipating that Rimmer will give her crap instructions about what to do, and then carrying them out.  There’s also some entertaining interaction between Kryten and the drinks machines, and some – perhaps not all – of the entertaining tension between Rimmer and Lister is back.  The best story was the one where Rimmer’s brother returns and the dynamic of resentment between them shifts completely.  So all in all, worth watching I’d say – though sadly unless you have Dave or access to Dave, you won’t be able to.

(Tough on Dave, tough on the causes of Dave…)

I have given up on waiting for ‘A Casual Vacancy’ and resorted to Kathy Reichs and Andy MacNab.  I fully expect to dislike the latter, but the former is not bad in spite of an impenetrable combination of smart language and US English (I goosed my speed; one arm L-ed backwards; I thumbed on the PR; the vic is in good shape).  Two countries divided by a common language again.  A special relationship?

That was the title of my poetry collection.


Kirk out

We’re altogether in this

All together now, say it with me: ‘we’re altogether in this and the Prime Minister is altogether in the altogether.’  For yes! the theme of today’s post is… mixed-up words.  How often do you see ‘altogether’ used where it should say ‘all together’ – or vice versa?  Or do you simply not see it because you are hazy about the difference?  You need this blog, then.  Here goes: ‘All together’ is a combination of noun and adverb: it means ‘everyone‘ or ‘everything‘ doing something together – rendering a chorus or chanting a slogan or singing along to the Beatles (incidentally, don’t let me catch you using that noxious rendering ‘sing-a-long).  When we all do something in unison or at the same time, that is ‘all together’.

Whereas…  ‘altogether’ is an adjective meaning ‘wholly‘ or ‘entirely‘ – as in, ‘he was altogether wrong’; ‘they were altogether outclassed’, etc.

Got that?


Canute’s English Usage

On the other hand, whereas the above represents the unhelpful confusing of two distinct words or phrases, it is interesting to observe how other changes are happening.  The thing about defending good grammar is that if you’re not careful you can end up as a bit of a King Canute, trying to hold back the tide of the inevitable.  I have noticed of late that ‘different from’ is being replaced by ‘different to’, and ‘bored by – or with’ by ‘bored of’.  I have no real objections to these changes because they don’t alter the essential meaning of the phrase, and because there is no coherent reason why you should be ‘bored with’ something rather than being ‘bored of’ it.  And yet my schoolteacher would have marked that wrong.  So when does wrong become right?

I guess we should consult the OED.  And here’s what they have to say:

‘In fact, the Oxford English Corpus contains almost twice as many instances of bored of than bored by. It represents a perfectly logical development of the language, and was probably formed on the pattern of expressions such as tired of or weary of. Nevertheless, some people dislike it and it’s not fully accepted in standard English. It’s best to avoid using it in formal writing.’


A very sensible analysis, in my opinion.

But!  Other developments are less ‘value-free’.  Something I strenuously object to is the use of, say, ‘deliver’ in the context of things which are merely suggested or promulgated, such as ‘delivering a policy’ or ‘delivering a target’ – or, particularly offensive to my mind, ‘delivering an experience’.  Another similar usage can be seen with the word ‘product’.  A product is, logically, something which is produced or manufactured: a vacuum cleaner is a product; a computer is a product: rubber gloves, washing-up liquid and double-decker buses are all products.  What is not a product is a financial package; a bank account, an insurance policy; a pension plan.  These are not products and yet they are routinely referred to as such in the media: ‘financial products’ (or, more commonly, ‘produx’) is a phrase I hear about twenty times a week.  There are only so many times in a week you can shout at the radio…

So that’s today’s grammar rant over with.

Off now to try and get rid of my headache.

Kirk out