Larkin’s Guide to Parenting

There are times in life when only poetry will do.  Philip Larkin expressed a lot of his frustrations through his poetry and I’m convinced there would be a lot less violent crime if potential criminals learned to express themselves through words instead of through fists and guns.  So, in the interests of preventing a violent crime in our household, here is my poem about living with teenagers, inspired by that famous poem of Larkin’s with the four-letter word in the first line:

Larkin’s Guide to Parenting

You have to let your kids fuck up

you may not want to but they will,

leave coke stains in your coffee-cup

while running up the leccy bill


By day, he’s welded to his bed

and getting up for class? – forget it;

by night he plays the Walking Dead:

your heart bleeds, and you have to let it


There’s no solution; but just wait

till they have offspring in their turn

and suffer the exact same fate

then you can laugh as, finally, they learn.

© Liz Gray, 2014

Kirk out

Never Stand-up When You Can Sit-com

Where comedy’s concerned I prefer sitting to standing as I like sit-com but find stand-up quite scary.  I’m terrified of people not laughing.  Stand-up is quite confrontational; it’s a series of jokes, whereas sitcom is far more complex.  The comedy comes from dialogue, situation and character; every sitcom creates a world of its own and that’s something that really interests me.  Take the latest series on BBC about a pair of blokes searching for bits of metal in a field.  ‘Detectorists’ (we learn in episode one that a metal detector is a piece of equipment and the person operating it is a detectorist) is an unusual sitcom in that it takes place mostly outdoors as the pair search for the Holy Grail that is the Saxon ship thought to have been buried nearby.  It’s a very well-observed comedy and the characters are utterly believable and well-acted by Mackenzie Crook (Gareth in ‘The Office) and Toby Jones (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and, bizarrely, the voice of Dobby the house elf).

I could see myself writing sitcom (and in fact I did once write a radio sitcom) but I could never in a million years do stand-up.  As a poet the worst thing that can happen to you is that people don’t listen or don’t clap – but as a comedian if you’re up there giving it your all and people don’t laugh, it’s just the worst thing ever.  It makes me shudder.

I need some comedy at the moment as I’ve just had an email saying my memoir has not even made the longlist.  I’m really upset because I thought this was going to be my big break.

Kirk out

PS I’ve just found out that Toby Jones is the son of Freddie Jones, the character actor.  I once knew someone at Uni who was friends with him…

War Imminent: Please Give Generously

There was a bloke in town yesterday who caught my eye: he was standing in the middle of Charles Street and signalling in the air.  For a moment I wondered whether he could be communicating with someone, but I looked around and saw that he couldn’t be: there was nobody there.  He was making signs with his middle finger as if he was writing in the air – Mark does this sometimes but mostly to annoy me – and then I noticed that in his other hand he held a can of beer.  And then I looked down and saw that instead of two legs he had one leg and a metal creation.  I tried to puzzle him out.  Making signals in the air looks like typical drunk behaviour, I guess; but he wasn’t behaving like a drunk in any other way.  He was standing quite still and focussing intently on his task, whatever it was.  I wondered if he was a veteran of some war (hence the leg); he also looked Eastern European, which fitted with the type of beer can.  As my bus pulled away I wondered what would happen to him and where he would go.  He reminded me of the scary bloke I saw the other week, who was shouting furiously at the air, screaming and yelling about Afghanistan and how people ‘shouldn’t behave like that’.  I wondered whether he, too, was a veteran of some war and how many others there are out there.

Whether or not these guys were ex-soldiers, it strikes me as quite appalling that those who have fought and suffered are often just abandoned once they leave the army.  Sure, they may get a pension but they may also have severe mental and physical problems.  Does the Army help with these?  Not enough, surely – otherwise there would be no need for organisations like Help for Heroes.  It seems the only thing there is enough money for is actually starting a war.  Did Blair have to go cap in hand to some charity before he could invade Iraq?  When was the last time they had a raffle to buy an anti-aircraft gun?

Anyway, last night I went with Steve and his friend to see ’71’, a film about what were euphemistically called The Troubles in Belfast.  The film follows a young recruit as his regiment is unexpectedly posted to Northern Ireland instead of Germany (thus reminding us of the Cold War background to all this).  He is immediately thrust into a stand-off with furious local Catholics, he gets separated from his fellow-soldiers along with a comrade who winds up dead, and the rest of the film shows his attempts to escape and find his way home to the ‘barracks’, which are really just a crumbling school building where the army are holed up.  On the way he is helped by a young Protestant lad and a Unionist doctor and his wife, and the long climactic scene – filmed almost completely without dialogue -takes place on the walkways of a tower-block.

The film is remarkable for involving you and also making you work to figure out what is going on: nothing is given away or explained as you are effectively in the soldier’s position.  Hand-held cameras increase the sense of confusion and chaos as he finds out the hard way just how corrupt and entrenched the society is.  But the worst culprits are supposedly on his own side: he witnesses a Protestant bomb going off and as a result one of the under-cover officers tries to kill him.  His commanding officer tries to stick up for him but is ineffectual as they outrank him.

You must go and see this film while it’s still on.

Kirk out

Today’s Guest Poem

Today we have another guest poem, written by a Sound Cafe poet and inspired by the countryside:]

In the Countryside

Rivers, tree’s, everything he sees

From leaping frogs, flowers that spring.

Daylight shines through many birds many skies

Flying across the blue ribbon clouds

What a glory of grass scattered

Covered in dew

River’s loads of them searching, finding their way

Trees branching out along every path, road and alley

Frogs croak among flowers petals bloom in growth

Inhale the air.

Colour, shade a surprise on stamens

butterflies settle is it time,

to brew with nettles new

A taste of tea, for you.

In the countryside

Written by mjb

Calling All NaNoWriMers!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year I want to hear from you.  What is your project called?  What kind of novel is it?  Who are your characters and what motivates them?  And what motivates YOU to do it, and to keep on doing it?

I’ll post stuff about my novel as we go along and we can support each other.  I’ve already heard from two readers who are gearing up for their 50,000 words – how about you?

Kirk out

You Were Only Supposed to Take the Bloody Legs Off!

Well, I have had a bit of a morning of it.  No, I didn’t forget to turn the clocks back; no memory lapse resulted in me arriving an hour late for whatever I was going to – hang on, would I have arrived an hour late?  Or would I have been early?  I find it terribly confusing all this clocks-going-back-and-forth malarkey: I’ve got the hang of what happens and when, thanks to Mark’s little jingle ‘Spring forward and Fall back’, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what the consequences are.  Do we get an extra hour or lose an hour?  Let’s see; if I woke at what is now 5 am and thought it was 6 am because I hadn’t put the clocks back then I’d trot off for a service at 10.30 (my 10.30) and for everyone else it’d be 9.30 so that means……… I’d be early!  Maybe I should think up another rhyme, such as ‘Spring late and Fall early’.  That’d help.

This reminds me of the works of EF Benson, whom long-time readers may remember me mentioning a while back.

When British Summer time is brought in, one of the characters refuses to recognise it and so invitations to tea are worded: ‘Please come to tea at 3.30 (your 4.30)…’

Have I got that right?  Would it be ‘4.30 (your 3.30)’?


Aaaaaaanyway, I eventually tumbled out of bed at 10, having had a lovely lie-in, and after breakfast I started on some serious pruning.  There’s an awful lot of dead wood in the garden, so I had quite a time of it cutting back and clearing up; after which I decided it was time to put the garden furniture away.  The chairs are not much of a problem, but the tables don’t easily fit in the alleyway; still I thought to myself, I’m sick of taking the legs off this table and putting them on again every summer.  I’m sure if I just wiggle it a bit I can get it through.

Yep.  You’ve guessed it – I got stuck.  Then I had to take the bloody legs off…

NaNoWriMo next week, folks!

Kirk out

PS I just mistyped ‘pruning’ as ‘pruining’!

Pepper of the Earth

Well, apparently the Jesus People are not only alive and well, they are officially not Christ-napping (see comment on previous post).  Good to know…

You might say that people who help others out are the salt of the earth.  They are reliable, caring and ever-present in a crisis, and we need them because without salt there is no savour in life.

On the other hand (and this is not about the Jesus People, particularly) a little salt goes a long way.  And too much salt can give you high blood-pressure. * So my thought for the day is this: as well as the salt of the earth, we need people who are the pepper of the earth; people who pep you up, who give you energy and zing, and a zest for life.  These people are fun to know; they throw great parties and whisk you off to Nova Scotia at the drop of a titfer: they make you laugh; they are spontaneous and crazy.  They are the pepper of the earth.

Nowadays we have forgotten how to be spontaneous, as this poem shows:


A citizen’s reply to me

when I give this a mention:

will my insurance cover me?

and what about my pension?


That just about sums it up.

This morning Mark and I have decided to have breakfast together, which we never normally do.  We both woke up early, around 5.30, and he said ‘Wouldn’t it be brilliant to get up at this time every day?’

‘Not really,’ I said.  ‘I’d conk out by three.’

‘Yes, but you’d conk back in again,’ he quipped.

I laughed so much I couldn’t get back to sleep….

Pepper of the earth!

Kirk out

* this metaphor really works, because if you care too much for others you can end up over-stressing yourself.

Happy With Your Survey? Take a Few Moments To Tell Us About It

I have become increasingly exasperated in recent weeks by a persistent automated phone survey that pops up every time I go to the bank.  I like to go into the local branch for various reasons: although I have internet banking you can’t do everything on-line, and besides, it’s good to have some face-to-face contact.  Having a local branch is good for the community and since Nat West is now the only bank in Clarendon Park, I want to support it.  Plus, it gets me out of the house and provides jobs for at least half a dozen people.  But lately every time I go in there I get a phone call later on, with an automated survey asking me how my visit was and requesting me to choose one of four options in response to a variety of questions.  I got so fed up with these that I went into the branch (thereby risking yet another phone call) and asked if there was some way to stop these persistent questionnaires.  The woman became very urgent and explained that these surveys were an integral part of their customer service.  ‘We want to know if you are happy with the service you’re receiving,’ she said.

‘I’m happy with everything except the surveys!’ I exclaimed.  She did smile at that.  I managed to extract the information that the phone call is triggered automatically by you putting your card in the card-reader, and that it is possible to do some transactions without putting the card in the machine.  In return, since she was so earnest about it, I said I might do the occasional one of these surveys.  But if the net effect is to put people off going into the branch, what’s the bleeding point?

Beats me.

Kirk out

Christ, Napping

I was wondering the other day about what happened to the Jesus Army.  Well, apparently nothing happened to them; they’re still around, at least according to their website, though they’re not so much in evidence on the streets.  I have seriously mixed feelings about the Jesus People: on the one hand, they do seem sincere and they do some good stuff; on the other hand they indulge in what is now called ‘Christ-napping’ – picking homeless people up off the streets and taking them to church, presumably with the sweetener of a meal or hot drink.

I really disapprove of these tactics: if you want to help homeless people then just help them.  Feed them, offer hot drinks, clothing, whatever – but don’t make going to church a condition of having this stuff.  Don’t make them tick a box (or a pew) before they can get the help; because that sucks.  Just offer the help; be the church – and then maybe they’ll want to join.  Maybe not, but at least you’ll have done something worthwhile.  Sound Cafe works on this principle, and so does Tomatoes.  It’s like St Francis said: ‘Talk about God all the time: use words if you must.’

So anyway – my thought for the day is this: that the sculpture of the homeless Jesus should be called ‘Christ, Napping’.

Not bad eh?

Kirk out

PS And here are the Jesus People, if you want to look them up:


When All Else Fails, Read Instructions

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve got a real antipathy to reading instructions.  Perhaps it’s just an innate bolshiness; a dislike of being told what to do, but whatever the cause I just plunge straight in there with something new, not bothering to read the packet.  Hence the first time I used dishwasher tablets I tried to unwrap them.  Unfortunately they were cheap ones with a porous wrapping, so the contents spilled everywhere.  ‘Ah, so you don’t unwrap dishwasher tablets!’ I concluded; so that the next time we bought some I placed one in the slot unwrapped and then wondered why it hadn’t worked.  Eventually I found it stranded by the filter, its contents pristine and unused.  Then I read the instructions…

It was just the same when I was four and tried to walk to France.  If I’d read the instructions – ie discussed the idea with my parents – I’d have found out that you can’t walk to France.  Then again since the words ‘you can’t’ are like a red bull to me, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference.

Hang on, did I just say ‘like a red bull’?  An interesting conflation of ideas there…

I also fail to read ingredients on food packets, something which drives Mark mad.

Anyway, nowadays I have taught myself that when trying a new product or recipe it pays to read the instructions, so with gritted teeth I open the book (or packet) and force myself to do so.  But I really don’t like it!

I’m off now to Tomatoes, and then to a wedding!  I shall report back on both later.  Also, Holly is here for the weekend, so that’s good.


Kirk out