You and Me and Him and Him: Are You a Gay Christian?

For several months a ‘friendship group’ called ‘You and Me’ has been running at the church, consisting of tea, biscuits, cakes, conversation and board games – and a number of people.  But this month Linda (for it was she) branched out a bit and made a conversation game.  This consisted of topics on cards which we took turns to pick out of an envelope and on which we would have to speak for two minutes before conversation became more general.  The first subject out of the envelope was ‘My Favourite Hymn’.  So far, so predictable – and I had no problem talking for two minutes on this subject, invoking memories of my childhood when the church organist had offered to play my favourite hymn and the only thing I’d been able to think of was ‘O Jesus I Have Promised’.

But we were rather startled to see this followed by the topic of ‘Same-Sex Marriage’.  This was a bold move; normally at the Martyrs we steer clear of – or skirt around – controversial subjects.  But it turned out well.  I opened by saying that I had no problem with same-sex marriage but that forcing churches to marry gay couples might prove a step too far for many people at the moment.

I was heartened to find out that most people agreed: not just with the second part of my proposal but with the first.  If I’d been asked for an estimate I might have said they would be dubious about gay marriage or possibly even homophobic – but others in the group showed themselves tolerant and compassionate.  There was a consensus that people can’t help being the way they are, and that it is wrong to condemn people for something they can’t help.

So that was good.  And the lesson I learned is that if you avoid controversial subjects you can end up having a false idea of other people’s opinions.  Yes, we’ve moved on a lot from this:

We’ve moved on a lot, in fact, from the days when divorce, sex outside marriage and homosexuality were no-go areas.

OH!  And watch this – Mark recorded it in our wet and windy tent last weekend:

Kirk out

PS  Oh, and big congrats to Laura Robson who won her third-round match yesterday.

A Fit of Peak

Well, and where was I last weekend? I hear you cry.  Well, I don’t – but you know what I mean.  It went like this: we gathered together from the four corners of the downstairs cupboard a tent which seemed to be missing half its poles.  We then borrowed another tent, intrepidly we packed Bernard and Linda’s car with our stuff and set off up the M1 to a campsite near Ashbourne – in Dovedale to be precise.  Improbably we arrived in bright sunshine and unwrapped a tent which appeared worryingly small as well as disturbingly single-layered.  After that we settled down to drink wine with our fellow-campers.

Alas!  the night did not go well at all; our bed developed a slow puncture and rain set in together with a gusty wind which caused the tent to shower me with spray at irregular intervals.  I tried pretending I was on a sailing boat for a while, but you can only keep that up for so long, and at seven we gave up the unequal struggle and went over to Jane’s truly stupendous tent-plus-awning-plus gazebo to make tea.

After breakfast Richard arrived with a map, and we all trooped off towards Dovedale.  The rain stopped, and it was a stunning walk – although some people were rather too enthusiastic about shinning up peaks for my liking and, though I hadn’t realised it, my blood sugar was dropping.  I’d packed for a shortish ramble but it turned into a long-ish route-march, and by mid-afternoon one foot would no longer plant itself in front of another and I all-but collapsed.  mark had to go haring off to find Richard who, bless his damp socks, went to fetch his car and gave us a lift back to base.

I felt quite subdued through that evening’s barbeque and we had a rather drastically early night after being shown round an Airdome trailer which some lucky people were camping in:


I was very envious as it was beautiful inside and so dry!

I slept better thanks to the loan of some air-beds, but when we woke to driving rain and freezing wind I had but one thought, which was to get out of there and come home ASAP.  Fortunately Bernard and Linda’s thoughts tended the same way so by midday we were home and my feet, along with the rest of me, were soaking in a nice hot bath.

So that was last weekend in the Peak district.  Good in parts…

Kirk out


It’s a Crime not to Read This

So… on Thursday I went along to the inaugural meeting of the local Crime Reading group: this took place in the library and turned out to be an all-women affair, though the facilitator, an ex-librarian, was male.  He proved to be very knowledgeable about crime and got the discussion going; though people didn’t need much encouragement, being a very vocal group.  We began with our favourite authors: M C Beaton was the first to be mentioned, an author towards the cosy end of crime who was referred to throughout as Mrs Beaton, which amused me.  Ian Rankin featured heavily, of course, as did Patricia Cornwell – whom I have yet to read – Kathy Reichs and Val McDermid were also mentioned; many people liked Agatha Christie (which I don’t) and what was surprising in retrospect was how little Sherlock Holmes was mentioned.  A sign of the times perhaps?

There was a potential split between those who wanted to focus purely on books and saw TV adaptations as irrelevant (‘I have only books and radio 4 in my house’ said one) and those – one woman in particular – who seemed very focussed on TV programmes and admitted to reading only ‘short, easy books.’  I suspect most people are like me, wanting to focus on books but also interested in the dialogue between books and other forms – and in particular, whether future books are influenced by past adaptations.  Some people claimed that Ian Rankin’s books, for example, had been changed by TV interpretations of Rebus.  So that will be interesting.

For next month we have a book to read which is based in the Island of Lewis off the coast of Scotland, called Black House.  I’m finding it interesting so far and he evokes the setting well:

And so to the Ale Wagon, where Jan and I discussed Scottish independence and whether the vote would go through if they had it tomorrow.  She reckoned it might…

…and going back to yesterday’s theme, there’s an awful lot of talk about tennis injuries and why the courts are so slippery, but few people seem to mention the obvious: the utterly crappy summer we’ve been having.


Kirk out

Poc! Poc! Poc! Poc! AAAAAhhhh!

Yes, that’s a rally of tennis – and tennis is pretty much all I’ve been watching on the iplayer this week.  There’s not much else around, but in any case I do tend to focus on the tennis to the exclusion of all else, during Wimbledon fortnight.  The highlights so far have included Murray pretty much walking his first-round match and Laura Robson playing a blinder in hers: Rafa has also, sadly, been knocked out as, surprisingly, has Scharapova.  In fact, they’re dropping like flies, amid mutterings that the courts are damp and slippery:

Wimbledon is a special event for me.  The jibe about people only watching tennis for two weeks a year is entirely just; but there are reasons for it: I know Wimbledon as I used to live reasonably close (as London distances go) and I have visited the place several times.  In those days you could get a fairly cheap ticket which would take you on all the outside courts and you could queue for standing room on the show-courts.  It was a great day out, and having been there I feel I know the place: I have an affection for it.  The tournament also has historical value for me: it connects all my summers going right back to when I was eleven and first started watching tennis (I’ve only ever missed a couple of years when I didnt’ have TV), and although some changes have been made including the much-needed roof on centre court, the tournament has remained pretty much the same in all that time.  It’s about the only place where you can’t complain about them calling the women ‘ladies’ because they actually do call the men ‘gentlemen’…

I think it’s high time, though, that women played best of five sets.  I’ve never understood why they don’t, since that is about stamina rather than strength, something women are better at than men.  It would make the women’s game more exciting and unpredictable too, though I have to admit the prospect of listening to Scharapova scream her way through five sets is not inviting.  The bloody woman screams on every shot!!!  Too much…

… and yes, I have heard the most exciting news of the week: that Federer is out!!! – but I can’t realise it yet because I haven’t seen it on the iplayer.  Until things are on the iplayer they haven’t really happened for me.  Good news for Murray, though – he’s in with a real chance now.  Here’s the latest beeb update:

I wait with bated breath…

Kirk out

Treading Air: How I Survived Abject Poverty

Today is Wednesday, which means political and social comment – and this week I shall be discussing how, for the past five years (and previously in my life) I have survived poverty.  Then next week I shall be giving you my top tips on how to survive abject poverty.

Of course, the first thing to say is to admit that it hasn’t really been abject: we have clean, safe running water, a dry house, beds to sleep in, a bath to bathe in and a flushing toilet.  We have so far managed to avoid having our electricity cut off and have scraped together sufficient funds to keep phone and wi-fi going.

So are we poor?  What do we really need in life?  When asking ‘what do I need?’ there are two levels to consider.  On the first level, survival, we are doing pretty well: we never have a totally bare cupboard or empty freezer (and we have a freezer!); we are never thirsty and there’s always hot water and soap for hygiene.  We are not short of clothes to wear, and are able to keep warm in winter and dry in the wet.

On the other hand, we do run out of simple items to cook, leaving us with staples like rice, flour, couscous and dried beans, which take longer and which the children barely recognise as food.  (Nonetheless our supply of these foodstuffs would look like untold wealth to many people.)  Shoes are also a problem – I have nothing waterproof at the moment besides my hiking-boots, and even those leak; and I live in almost daily dread of Daniel saying he needs new footwear.

Much of what we do have is due to the generosity of others: gifts of food, clothing and money have come our way in abundance and without the munificence of friends and family we would not have a freezer or a decent cooker, to name just two items.

So much for survival: now for the second level, which is the ability to participate in society.  It would be very difficult for me to do my work without daily access to the internet, as opportunities come up all the time and often writing can only be submitted to publishers electronically.  So in order to live without wi-fi at home I would have to spend a couple of hours every day in the library – and Mark would have an even greater problem as he wouldn’t be able to do his videos or chat to patients online.  Likewise we need the phone so people can make appointments for herbal or yoga sessions.

Just generally keeping in touch is important, not only for work but to avoid isolation.  This is essential for our mental health.

Next time: my top tips on how to survive abject poverty.

Kirk out

And here’s today’s short story:

The Sneezer

In Leuka’s cosmology there was a special corner of hell reserved for speculators in food prices, for it was thanks to these people that the cost of bread had now gone through the roof. But hell was a long way off and breakfast was now – so one cold, wet morning she decided to put off the trek to the corner shop and start making her own. Susan had recommended a bread-maker, but Leuka never could learn to like the steamed, square-shaped products of these machines; to her the whole point of dough was the relationship between flour and fingers.

‘The human hand is essential to the process,’ she explained.

‘Nonsense!’ said Susan, who couldn’t even understand why anyone would make bread when it was freely available in the shops, let alone doing it by hand. Susan had once announced her intention of making soaps for Christmas presents: Leuka had been impressed until she found out that her friend had used a kit consisting of soap-flakes ready to be melted into ready-made moulds. Very nice, but not actually making. That was Susan’s idea of self-sufficiency, whereas Leon made soap from scratch using rainwater and used cooking oil and costing practically nothing. That, as far as Leuka was concerned, could be called making.

She had the bread down to a fine art now – not bothering to weigh her ingredients, just scooping some brown, grainy flour into the bowl, throwing in the dried yeast which ran like sand through her fingers; giving a the oil-bottle a quick nod over the bowl and mixing it all together with tepid water. Then kneading: that was the bit she liked best. She loved to wrestle with the dough against the working-surface, seeing it begin to breathe, watching it blend, feeling it and become light and pliant; pushing it away with the heel of the hand and raising it up to take in a gulp of air and swallow it. She was bringing the dough to life: it felt almost God-like. If she got the balance right, her fingers would start off sticky and work themselves clean: if not, there was nothing easier than to dust on some more flour and continue working.

It took intuition, this kneading; knowing when to push and when to pull, when to mix and when to leave alone; when to add flour, when to rest – and the more Leuka did it, the more she felt it was work that could not be entrusted to a machine. Then at the right moment she scooped the mixture back into the bowl and covered it with a damp cloth: she left it by the warm oven and went into her studio to paint.

It made for a good combination, this mixture of paint and dough; both activities complementing each other. Leuka was not a realist painter – though if well-paid she could do you a portrait as sharp as a photo – but neither was she quite a surrealist. Her work was just slightly off-centre; there was a distorting mirror in the artist’s eye, and after a morning of painting she needed bringing back down to earth.

She was still painting scenes of London, ten years after moving out of the city; doing scenes showing the tube-trains below, the streets at the front, the buildings to one the side and Trafalgar Square from above, its pigeons outnumbering its restless human population. The figures in these paintings were tiny: lost, like atoms without a nucleus, each one trapped in its own world: ‘like a join-the-dots without a picture’, as one commentator put it. They showed Leuka’s own painful experience of that city of crowds without community, of pain without help. Right now she was working on one of her worst London memories, which was called The Sneezer. In her mind the picture had echoes of Magritte and Beryl Cook, in about equal measure.

The incident had happened back when Leuka had to endure the twice-daily hell of tube travel, that proximity-without-intimacy of resentful commuters all swaying in unhappy unison with each turn and jolt of the train. Leuka’s station was Acton Town: she struggled on, and as the train pulled away there was no other sound but the repetitive hiss of a nearby MP3 player. Then, as the engine gathered itself for the long leap from Acton Town to Hammersmith, there came a sudden noise like an explosion from the other end of the carriage. Leuka jumped – her heart contracted in fear, but instantly she realised, along with other startled commuters, that it was nothing to worry about: just a sneeze. Looking down the carriage, she could just make out a man in a suit with his head down, fumbling in his pockets for a tissue. But before he could find one he sneezed again, putting his hands up to cover his face; and now he was stuck; clearly – and embarrassingly – unable to move his hands from his face to get out a tissue. He seemed paralysed in the moment: and then he sneezed again – and again – and now he couldn’t stop. The train rattled on through the stations between Acton and Hammersmith, flashing past signs which read: STAND WELL BACK – TRAIN DOES NOT STOP, and still the unfortunate man kept on sneezing. The whole carriage was listening now, even those with earphones in their ears – and Leuka saw that there had grown up around the man a tiny exclusion zone where his neighbours had moved back, making the rest of the carriage even more crowded than before. Leuka pitied him, but it was impossible to help. Had she been standing right next to him she might have handed him a tissue, delicately turning her face from his predicament – though even that would have been violating the first commandment of tube- travel, which was ‘Thou Shalt Not Notice Thy Neighbour. But as it was the man stood at the far end of the carriage, and the idea of being able to pass tissues from person to person all the way down – the idea of London commuters co-operating sufficiently to put such a plan into action – was unthinkable. They were all alone: the Sneezer, especially, was on his own.

It was time for the second kneading. She put down her palette-knife smeared with yellow and grey; wrapped it in cling-film as was her habit and, having washed her hands, went through to the kitchen. The damp cloth was dome-shaped now; she peeled it free of the dough and scooped the mixture out onto the floured table to wrestle with it again, feeling it exhale the old breath with a sigh, letting it gulp some fresh air. Then she divided it in two and folded the two parts like swaddled infants into the waiting dough with sneezer

It was a rule of hers never to examine a painting too soon, but she couldn’t help taking a peek as she came back into the studio. She had painted the tube-carriage sideways-on, open to the viewer as though the side had been peeled off, with all the strap-hangers leaning to one side in unwilling unison. She had yet to paint the central figure; but she had drawn him in exactly like the mental snapshot she’d taken. He was in mid-sneeze, a thousand tiny droplets exploding from his nose and mouth, his hands mid-way to his face: and around him the exclusion-zone with everyone looking the other way. The people further down the carriage were either sneaking a sidelong glance or looking anywhere but at him: in the pockets of some of them she planned to plant packets of tissues just poking out.

The painting would be called The Sneezer, but it was as much the story of the other passengers as of the central figure. As she worked on each of the characters she came to know them intimately; their stories, their journeys; where they came from and where they planned to go. They might be strangers to each other but from Leuka no secrets were hidden.

Soon it would be time to clean up; once the bread was in the oven it would need turning to help it cook evenly. As she washed her brushes she wondered if The Sneezer was likely to make her any money – and if not, why the hell she was bothering.

There was an answer to that, though not one that would make sense to anyone.

She slid the two loaves into the oven and went to rest her legs while she waited for the dough to become bread.


Kirk out

I Wandered Lonely as Thorpe Cloud

So, on Saturday I was half-way up this hill in Dovedale, which is called Thorpe Cloud



when we took a break, and suddenly somebody started to talk about Wordsworth.  He’d been to a funeral where ‘Daffodils’ was recited as part of the ceremony: and then he burst out: ‘How is that different from doggerel?’  He started to recite the poem thus:

I wan-dered lone-ly as a cloud

di-dah di-dah di-dah di-dah’

I began to protest: I have always thought highly of Wordsworth and I started to say what I thought were the differences between the two.

‘But it sounds just the same!’ he protested.

‘It depends how you say it,’ I said.

After that the sandwiches took over, but it set me thinking: how DO you tell the difference between good poetry and doggerel?  Let’s consider the following two extracts:


by Wm Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud

that floats on high o’er dale and hill

when all at once I saw a crowd

a host of golden daffodils

beside the lake, beneath the trees

fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

… and this, by Hilaire Belloc:


Mathilda told such dreadful lies

it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes

her aunt, who from her earliest youth

had kept a strict regard for truth

attempted to believe Mathilda

– the effort very nearly killed her,

and would have done so, had not she

discovered this infirmity.

Well?  What are the differences?  Both poems are in iambic quadrameter ie four metrical feet, each of which has the stress on the second syllable, so superficially they sound the same.  I think the differences are partly in intention – Wordsworth’s intention was serious whereas Belloc’s was comic – and that has an effect on how you read the poems.  I totally disagree that you would read ‘Daffodils’ in a di-da-di-dah way – I think the rhythm is slower and more contemplative and the words are slow, not punchy: lonely, cloud, golden: it’s very hard to say these words quickly and sharply, unlike killed, lies, gasp, eyes which are the staples of Belloc’s poem.

What do you think?

Answers on a postcard please.  Preferably from the Lake District – or failing that, Dovedale…

Kirk out

Snow and Proust

I don’t think there’s much doubt that CP Snow really wanted people to compare him to Proust.  He drops Proust’s name into the narrative now and again as if to remind us and somewhere I read that a woman had told him he was the best writer since Proust.  The first time I came across Snow, Marcel Proust was just a name to me: like everyone else I’d heard about the madeleines and the memories.  But now that I have read him, the comparison seems somewhat absurd.  Not completely absurd: after all, Snow has the cast of characters, the introspection, the reflection on society, the minute observation of petty snobbery, that characterises a lot of Proust’s work.  But Proust is an utter genius: whereas, although Snow was an excellent writer in his time, his time has gone.  He saw deep into his time, but he didn’t see beyond it; whereas Proust, who wrote on Time; time lost, time lived, time regained – was, i ronically, able to see beyond the society in which he lived.

Nice try, CP – but no doughnut.

I mean, madeleine.

Kirk out

Life on the i-player

It’s been a rather dull time on i-player this week, the highlights being the latest episode of Frankie and a thirty-year-old sitcom: what’s striking about ‘Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads’:

is how little, in some ways, it has dated.  Yes, the clothes are very much of their time; flared trousers and sideburns abound, and the furniture could go into a museum, but the attitudes are not nearly as old-fashioned as you might expect.  Thelma, Bob’s fiance, is a strong person in her own right with a job of her own and she gives Terry a run for his money.  Though a snob, she is fundamentally a decent human being and sticks up for Terry when another woman attacks him.  So I was surprised on watching this again, how little there was to disagree with and how the friendship between the two men is still both amusing and touching.

It is sad, though, that a thirty-year-old comedy series should be one of the highlights of my viewing week.  Everything I liked has vanished: the Tudors have disappeared, and I’ve got fed up with ‘Mothers, Murderers and Mistresses’: having absorbed the central thesis I don’t need it repeated, and certainly not in the manner that Professor Catherine Edwards repeats it:

So at the weekend I tried to catch up with a bit of tennis from Queen’s: it was great to see Andy beat Cillic but the presentation is clearly designed for much larger TVs than ours as I could barely see the ball at times and had to squint at the little box at the bottom to work out the score.  So I was truly looking forward to the latest instalment of Frankie, the enjoyable but slightly preposterous drama about a District Nurse, and to finding out who her stalker actually was.  Sadly, the series nose-dived a little: I give it full marks for misdirection in terms of the identity of the stalker, but we could have done with a little more anger and a little less saintliness I think.  Her stalker threatened her with a knife; this was someone who had previously tried to ruin her career as well as bombarding her with sarcastic and venomous criticism; and yet Frankie just responded with an understanding smile and a pat on the back as she removed the knife from her assailant’s hand.  I think Frankie works much better as a flawed heroine than she does as a saint, so we shall see how far she polishes her halo in subsequent episodes.

And that was the week that was…

Kirk out

Equal Rights and Wrongs

If it’s Wednesday it must be social and political comment, and the topic for today is ‘Equal rights and after – where are we and where do we go next?’

In the last 30 years things have changed from a position where able-bodied white males were in power virtually everywhere, to a society which is relatively far more equal.  There may not be many black or Asian MP’s, but there are some: there may not yet be 50% of women in Parliament but there is a significant slice.

Thirty years ago women were generally in ancillary posts – secretaries, nurses, teachers, cooks and cleaners – or else in the most menial of factory jobs: unskilled and low paid.  Many women worked only in the home, a place of long hours, scant recognition and no pay at all.  All that has changed: it is now out of proportion easier for a mother with small children to work outside the home: to establish a career before marriage and continue it after giving birth.

But there’s a problem.  Since women did nearly all of the caring – not only for young children but also for old people – there is a crisis in caring.  Barely a day goes by without some story in the media about neglect or abuse of the elderly.  Not only that, but we have travelled so far down the line that it is now difficult for women NOT to go back to work after having children, even if they want to stay at home a bit longer.  Hence the Facebook group Mothers at Home Matter Too: Home Educating parents are particularly concerned in this debate.

What is the solution?  We’re not going back to how things were, but how do we move forward?  And what is to blame?  Is it the equality agenda or the relentless push for everyone to make money?

Kirk out