Gone Blog: The Last Post

No, I’m not closing this blog: this is about my Mslexia residency.  My next blog post, called ‘Gone Boy,’ is up and you can read it here:


and I can’t believe my residency is nearly up – it’s been more than three months and yet they’ve flown by.  It’s been a very successful residency though – according to my supervisor I have attracted the most comments she’s ever known!  So thanks to all who’ve taken the time to comment, and please keep it up.  My next post will be submitted shortly and then that will be it.  I shall miss it.

This blog, however, will continue – and while the Mslexia blog was commissioned to be on a particular theme, lizardyoga’s weblog will continue to cover an ever-expanding variety of subjects.  From gardening to wine-making (whose season is almost upon us), from politics to TV reviews, from thoughts about poetry to feelings about religion, there is nothing (or almost nothing!) I won’t cover.

Politically speaking, I have to report that I didn’t get elected as Principal Speaker for Left Unity, though once again the vote was close: I was neck and neck with another woman until they finally divvied up the votes (they use STV which sounds like a sexually-transmitted condition but means you can rank candidates in order of preference, rather than voting for just one.  I guess it’s more democratic but it is also quite cumbersome.)  I wasn’t too disappointed as I was not entirely sure how much I wanted the post…

Socially, I have been fairly busy; on Saturday along with half of Leicester we went to Anna’s 80th birthday party where I did a poem.  I can’t believe Anna is 80!  I’ve known her for about 28 years and she was one of the first people I met when I first came here and joined CND.  It was an enjoyable party and we saw loads of people we knew.  Then last night I was all set to trot into town for the hustings at the Secular Society when I looked out of the window.  Was that hail?  It was certainly windy – so I stayed indoors instead to watch my favourite contender – a down-to-earth sort of woman – win Mastermind.  The general knowledge questions were definitely harder at this level, so to make myself feel better I switched to Celebrity Mastermind, which sort of seems designed to make us feel superior to celebrities as they seem to know so little.  I answered all but one of the specialist subject questions on ‘Harry Potter’ as well.  Which set me off on a televisual journey with Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) travelling the world to find out what drives obsessive fans; the kind of people who will wait for hours in the rain just for the chance of getting an autograph.

These people were more human and less creepy than he – or I – had expected: most of them seemed just to want some kind of contact with someone who had meant a great deal to them.  I was struck by his caring response to his fans, and to one in particular, a middle-aged woman called Tina, who follows him everywhere.

How do people have the time and money to do this?  It’s a mystery to me…




Anyway, that’s all for today folks as I have to head off and write my last Mslexia post.

Kirk out

King Cnut and C**t Kidston

You will of course be aware that King Canute (or Cnut, as he was spelt then) did not actually think he could turn back the waves.  He was trying to demonstrate to obsequious courtiers the limits of his power, which makes the story deeply unfair as well as highly ironic.  In response to this I have written a short story called ‘Queen Canute’ about my attempts, aged four, to walk to France.  It seemed easy – I couldn’t understand why everyone said it couldn’t be done – so I just marched down the beach, set my face to the waves, and walked right in.  If it hadn’t been for my father’s persistent attempts to rescue me, I’d be there by now.

It was a hard lesson in life, to learn that I physically couldn’t do everything I wanted.  When I was eight, my mother, no doubt trying to keep me safe, asked what I would do if a big man stood in my way and wouldn’t let me pass.  ‘I’d knock him down!’ I replied unhesitatingly.  I still don’t know if she was right or not to tell me that I couldn’t.  Maybe if I’d tried it would have surprised this man so much that he’d have let me go.  I don’t know.  But there never was a big man who stood in my way, so I never found out.

Anyway, what I was intending to write about when I started this post, was the use of swear-words.  I guess Clarkson is still hovering in the back of my mind (in some kind of hover-car, perhaps) and I was asking myself why I found it funny that someone had put this on Facebook:


Sorry, I can’t find a way of showing you the pic if you’re not on Facebook, but it’s a very pretty rose-covered teacup with the words ‘C*nt Kidston’ on it.

Now, I don’t usually like the c-word used as an insult*, but this made me laugh.  And then it made me wonder why – and I think the answer is, it’s because sometimes a short, sharp Anglo-Saxon word is the only effective response to a glut of tweeness.  Kidston’s stuff is wall-to-wall practically everywhere you go, and I’m sick of it.  So this made me laugh.

*incidentally, I don’t like the p-word any better.

I’ve just discovered that the mug was available on Etsy, who also have a nice little rhyme about Bankers:


Sadly the Kidston one is out of stock.

Ah well.  I must get on with my latest Mslexia post.

Kirk out

Take the Last Train to Clarksonville

Well, it’s official – he’s out.  It has been decided that Clarkson did indeed abuse and physically assault his producer and therefore he has been sacked.  Whatever you think of his wild and whacky style of presentation I’m sure most people would agree that assaulting one’s producer is Just Not Cricket and frankly shows a lack of self-control consistent with the behaviour of the average three-year-old.  To be peed off after a long day when there is no food provided, might be considered understandable; however to have a tantrum just because there was no hot food, is immature.  Were they in the middle of the desert?  Were there no take-away pizzas within reach?  And if not, would it really be so terrible to eat cold food?

I think he needs a taste of reality.  Lots of people have to put up with insufficient food or meals that are not at all what they would like, at the end of a working day.  It’s time he got a grip.

I was thinking they should get a woman on now to present the show.  Mark reminded me that Angela Rippon once fronted it; perhaps they could get Jenni Murray of Woman’s Hour?  I think she’d do a great job…

I have been to sunny Loughborough today.  It’s a funny old town, home to the nation’s sports’ and PE students (do they call it PE nowadays?) as well as to some now-defunct heavy industry, commemorated by a Bell Foundry Museum and various vast bits of rusting iron masquerading as sculptures.  It’s a low-lying town and the Grand Union canal runs through it, making the tow-path a great place to walk in summer and watch the boats go by or visit the inns along the waterside.  At weekends the Great Central Railway steams up to the outskirts of Leicester and back again, complete with grown men (and women) having a whale of a time dressing up, oiling engines and blowing whistles.  Give me this any day and you can keep your fancy gas-guzzling cars and off-roading speed-freaks.

Tonight we will be discussing the hot topic ‘What is Democracy?’ at Drink and Think.  Join us – Ale Wagon at 8

Kirk out

If Not Nearly Dead, Then Very Actually Dead

The above is a phrase from a sitcom, but I can’t remember which.  I’ll look it up in a sec, but I think it’s probably Blackadder.  One person who is definitely very actually dead is of course the King; and last night we watched highlights of the procession and the reception of the body by the cathedral.  Most of the fun came from trying to spot people we knew: apart from the Bish (who we don’t really know personally, except that he came to open Sound Cafe) we only spotted a couple, though I’m sure there were many more in the congregation.  Anyway, I watched the broadcast, which came from the giant pink Barbie-bubble in Cathedral Square, with a mixture of emotions.  I felt some sense of pride at belonging to a place which is hosting such a significant event; but the service was a mixture of the moving and the ridiculous; and the commentary was reminiscent of how the Beeb does Royal Weddings, Jon Snow sounding more like Nicholas Witchell than his usual dry and sceptical self.  What was odd about the service was that prayers were being said for Richard.  I suppose in such a ceremony you could hardly avoid it, but it seemed odd to be praying for someone who’d been dead for 500 years.  Then again, why should it?  If there is such a thing as eternal life, then 500 years is but the blinking of an eye.

During the day you can see the queue filing past the coffin on a Channel 4 webcam; I initially thought I wouldn’t bother but when they explained that the pall had been specially made with images of people involved in the excavation, I thought perhaps I might.  Though I don’t fancy lining up for several hours.  Worth seeing, but not worth queueing to see, perhaps?  I’m sure Dr Johnson would have agreed.


A Third Term?  No Thanks

Many of us feel that even one term of David Cameron is one too many; but today the media seems to have got itself into a frenzy over a chance remark of his (or was it?) that he won’t stand for a third term.  So what?  He has yet to win a second (and let’s hope he doesn’t, for all our sakes) but for God’s sake!  They’ve turned an idle comment into a major news story.  It is utterly ridiculous.  Ten minutes of yesterday’s PM were given over to this non-story, and it was the top of the news this morning.


Let us turn to other matters.  It has struck me that no-one plays card games any more.  In my youth we used to play snap, beggar my neighbour, whist, gin rummy and of course cribbage.  No pub was complete in my view unless it held a pack of cards and cribbage board behind the bar; and the air would resound with cries of ‘fifteen six and two’s eight’ and ‘one for his nob.’  Where the nob – or possibly knob – comes from I don’t know, and this article from the Independent doesn’t tell me either, though it does claim that the poet John Suckling invented the game:


Cribbage is full of arcane sayings, all of which were known to my Granddad who loved the game and made his own cribbage boards.  One thing the Independent article doesn’t mention is that a way of saying you have no points is to throw your cards down and say ‘nineteen.’  It’s impossible to score 19 in cribbage…

Anyone fancy a game?  I’m sure we’ve got a board knocking around somewhere.

And yes, it was Blackadder.  It’s in this episode somewhere


Kirk out

Celebrating the Very, Very Dead

What else could I write about today but the reburial of King Richard?  With only one or two curmudgeonly exceptions, the whole city has come together for this event, with 30,000 people turning out to line the route of the procession.  Richard’s bones revisited his old haunts including the battle-site of Bosworth Field and various villages on the way, returning to Leicester via the ancient Bow Bridge before stopping off for a quick mass at St Nicholas’ church (one of the oldest in Leicester).  At around five they arrived in triumph at the Cathedral where there was a service of compline.  Compline, though it may sound like some kind of diet breakfast food, is in fact a service which takes place at dusk.  It doesn’t happen very often now though (compline, I mean, not dusk: that happens every day and twice on Fridays*).  The body is now lying in state where it will stay until its reburial on Thursday and this morning the Today programme reported more than 100 people waiting to see it.  I was going to go down as I’m in town later but I may find that the queue is unfeasibly long by that time.

For some reason Channel 4 has exclusive broadcasting rights within the Cathedral – not sure how the Beeb missed out on this – and they have planted a huge pink excrescence in the square outside.  It looks like a huge Barbie caravan.  I can’t find a picture at the moment but if you go on 4 OD you’ll see it with the little tiny figure of Jon Snow inside looking like Ken waiting for Barbie to come home.

There has of course been loads of stuff about this everywhere – it makes a pleasant change for Leicester to be at the centre of a news story instead of playing second fiddle to Nottingham or Birmingham.  The Today programme featured interviews from the Cathedral including one with Bishop Tim (the more I hear of that man the more I like him – shame he’s retiring soon) plus frequent reports yesterday on radio and TV news.  I have not yet watched the service from yesterday though I will later.

Oo!  I’ve just realised I haven’t told you about Friday.  Well, as you will know, Friday’s big event was the eclipse.  Having seen the weather, which was a lot clearer than forecast, Mark got terribly excited and assembled an array of binoculars and colanders with which to project an image onto paper.  Out the front it was fearfully sunny so at around 8.45 when it was due to start we set up the binoculars and the paper and fiddled around to get an image.


What was that?  Oh.  The sound of the front door closing.  Did we have our keys?

We did not.

Well, they always did say that eclipses portend disasters…  Here’s the picture anyway:

Kirk out

PS I did in fact go to inspect the queue which by then extended right round the block and was estimated at 2 hrs waiting time.

*at least it did last Friday

Everything In The Garden’s Horrid

This is not about my daffs, which are lovely and yah boo sucks to anyone who doesn’t like them – it’s about the News.  More and more these days I find myself turning the news off after a few minutes.  Why?  Because it’s All Bad.  Yep, as Martyn Lewis has frequently observed:


there’s a definite bias in the media towards negative news and a perception that good-news items are like water-skiing budgerigars, safely left to the funny-bit-at-the-end slot.  Life, says the news agenda, is a grim business and we’d best put a good face on it.  They sound like a mixture of Eeyore the donkey and Puddleglum the Marsh Wiggle.  Even when there is a good news story they seem compelled to stick a Dire Warning at the end of it.  If there’s peace then it’s fragile; if there’s a deal it may come unstuck; if there’s an economic recovery it’s precarious – and so on and on.  Otherwise it’s not news.  Peace continues; industrial deal sticks, economic recovery continues – these are not, in themselves, news.  There must be an angle – and that angle is almost always a negative one.

Why?  As Lewis so cogently observes, if journalists are meant to reflect the world, then why are they not reflecting the things that go right as well as the things that go wrong?  I have some sympathy for politicians in this regard.  They can make any number of devastatingly effective speeches; they can pass sound laws and make good decisions, but make one slip-up – underestimate the number of kitchens in your house or get someone’s name wrong or have a blank moment when you’re talking about housing, and the media is on you like hounds on a stray fox.

Martyn Lewis is patron of a paper called Positive News.  You’d think this would be a welcome breath of sweet air in the foul miasma of negativity; however I find it oddly anodyne.  I think the answer is not to have one paper wholly devoted to positive stories, but to reflect those situations where, say, people have overcome huge odds; where they’ve been tempted but haven’t fallen; where they’ve built something amazing or just damn-well got it right.

I rest my case.

Kirk out

Daffodils are Surprisingly Human

I was looking at the daffs from yesterday as I ate my daffodil-coloured egg-yolk, and all of a sudden I wanted them all to be facing me.  It seemed almost rude that some of the bunch were looking out of the window as I was talking to them, while others were staring at the cooker.  So I turned a couple of heads in my direction and then I felt better – and then it occurred to me to wonder, why on earth had I done that?  It set me thinking…

Daffodils are surprisingly human.  They have these trumpet-like heads which look, as Wordsworth observed, like a crowd of people.  We know his lines too well for them to surprise us, but if you observe a plot of daffs in a high wind they really do seem like a host:

‘When all at once I saw a crowd

a host of golden daffodils.’

Somebody once asked me how those lines were different from doggerel, and at first I couldn’t find a satisfactory answer.  I think it’s true, actually, that at first glance a lot of Wordsworth does seem like doggerel.  He uses deliberately simple – even simplistic – language and fairly basic rhythms.  So how is it different?

Let’s take a few lines of something I consider to be doggerel.  It’s a poem by Pam Ayres.  Apologies to all those who like her, but I can’t stand Pam Ayres at any price, and here’s one which perfectly illustrates why:


The rhythm and rhymes are facile and there’s not an original thought in it – except, wait!  I actually like the line ‘the Abbey seemed a place between the heavens and the earth.’  And the next verse is quite touching as it refers to ‘the saddest thing I ever saw’ which was ‘Prince Charles.  The boy who had to shake hands with his mother.’  But does she mean it to be sad?

It will be objected that these are comic poems and should not be judged in the same breath as Wordsworth.  OK then, let’s consider, say, Kipling.  He had his moments but a lot of his stuff was tub-thumping doggerel in my view.  Take this one, for example:


or this:


So what, then, is doggerel?  I would say that a starting definition is the sacrifice of meaning and feeling to an overall rhyme or rhythmic scheme.  William McGonagall strained every sinew to make a line rhyme with its predecessor, as in this verse from the famous ‘Tay Bridge Disaster’:

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,

Which will be remember’d for a very long time.


So how can we acquit the divine Wordsworth of the infamous charge of writing doggerel?  Let’s consider the lines we know so well:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

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.

The simile ‘lonely as a cloud’ is too familiar for us to appreciate it, but if you stop and think it’s a good one.  A small cloud in a clear sky can be seen as lonely; it also gives the perspective of the poet looking down on the daffodils.  Then, while he is floating, he is suddenly aware of the flowers: ‘all at once I saw’ – and he takes them in as a ‘crowd’, seeing them together which puts them in opposition to his singleness, his alone-ness (you can tell I’ve got a degree in English).  But the most telling image is that of the ‘host’.  If you look at a large clump of daffodils they really do look like a crowd of heads; it’s a well-observed image, and the words ‘fluttering’ and ‘dancing’ describe exactly the kind of movement that daffodils make.

On the other hand, McGonagall’s poem tells us nothing that we couldn’t get from a newspaper report.  We do not see the bridge or the river; the first is described as ‘beautiful’ and the second as ‘silvery’, a word he always uses to describe the Tay and which is presumably as inexact as it is repetitive.

Kipling’s poem, ‘Cleared,’ however, impresses us with nothing so much as its rhythm.  Di-dum-di-dum-didum-di-dum-di-dum-di-dum-di-dum etc etc.  Everything is sacrificed to this rhythm, and everything suffers as a result.  It’s effective as a piece of rhetoric, but as poetry?  Hm.

Well, I’d be interested in your views.  You know what to do…

Kirk out

The God of Small Delights

Well, this time it IS just thrown together.  I’m not a great fan of cut flowers, but this display on our kitchen table just happened.  The other day I trimmed the hedge and brought a few bits indoors.  I thought I might as well throw them in a vase and see what happened – and that very day at Sound Cafe I was given a bunch of daffs.  ‘Let’s see what happens when I bung those in as well,’ I thought.  And here is the result:


That’s not seen from the best angle but I didn’t want to send the Other Half into a flat spin by asking them to take another (the piece of paper with a herbs list on it could also have been removed, as could the washing-basket.)  But they are beautiful, and to me much more satisfying than any shop-bought bunch of carefully-coordinated blooms.

That’s the kind of thing I like: something spontaneous that comes together on the spur of the moment.  I’m the same with cooking: I don’t like following recipes but prefer to pile things in and see what happens.  Of course this can lead to disaster but it’s remarkable how seldom it actually does.  You develop an instinct for what works and what doesn’t.  For example, I never follow a recipe when I make bread.  I bung in the flour, sprinkle an estimation of yeast over the top, mix in some oil and then work in some tepid water.  I’ve never had a problem with this method.

I think it must be something anti-authoritarian in my make-up which means I don’t like to follow a recipe.  I will do, of course, if I have no idea how to make a dish; it would be foolish not to.  Last week I made hummus which, whilst I know the ingredients I wasn’t sure of the proportions – so out once mroe came the well-thumbed and lightly-oiled vegan cookbook.

We’ve got a whole shelf-full of cookbooks but we only use one or two.   I also do not ever, ever watch cookery programmes on the telly; especially stuff like The Great British Bake-off, which I find utterly preposterous.

What about you?

Kirk out

But Is It News?

Oh noooooooooooo!  I just heard the first few seconds of The Archers omnibus today and it went something like this:

Ruth:  Oh Deh-vid!  Than’ god!  Are yew all reit?

David: Yes, we’re all fine!

Ruth:  And the boiys?

David:  Fine, all fine.  But Freda’s in hospital.

Ruth:  Oah noah!

At which point I turned it off.  It just proves my point from yesterday, that soaps have to keep inventing more and more disasters to retain people’s interest; unfortunately I no longer cared what calamity had caused Ruth and David to have this conversation.  Turns out it was a flood.


Oh Noah!


But is it news?  This is the question I’ve been asking myself today – not about the Archers, but about various comedy programmes which generally Take the Piss out of the news.  The best of these on offer right now is Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe, which as far as I’m concerned, er – wipes the floor with Have I Got News for You and its radio counterpart, The News Quiz.  I think HIGNFY has got predictable these days; a bit formulaic.  We more or less know which news items are going to come up and what they are going to say about them.  Much sharper was The Day Today, a very clever programme which took the mickey out of the style of news programmes rather than their content: the whizzy graphics, the kind of language the newscasters use (‘news-speak’?) and so on:


It was very funny but it’s in the nature of these things to have a limited shelf-life and so it only ran for one series.  Alan Partridge’s career as sports reporter began on The Day Today.

But astonishingly that was 20 years ago – and now comes Charlie Brooker with his brand of humour which is not so much irreverent as downright blasphemous.  Charlie Brooker – like Jeremy Clarkson, now that I come to think of it – doesn’t give a toss.  He doesn’t mince words or try to avoid offending anyone; for example he describes Fifty Shades of Grey’s Christian Grey as a ‘sort of lego Colin Firth who initially seems like any other besuited piss-hat but it transpires he has predilections as appears when he turns up at Anastasia’s DIY store in what closely resembles a Two Ronnies tribute.’

That is just about two seconds of the tightly-packed wit that bursts forth from this programme.  You have to listen carefully to get it all, and I just laugh through each of its 28 minutes.  There’s a ‘Day-Today’ type bit in the middle of this episode when they talk about how numbers are taking over everywhere – but then it goes kinda weird.  We are both sure (hubby and I, that is) that we’ve seen the item about ISIS before.  And I think what happened was that they had a spot lined up all about Clarkson and they were told to pull it out at the last minute (fnarr, fnarr!) because the whole ‘did-he-or-didn’t-he-punch-a-producer-oh-wait-he’s-sort-of-admitted-it-in-an-I-don’t-give-a-toss-way) fiasco.

Or farrago.  Or something.

So we reckon he had to replace said Clarkson item by a previously-broadcast bit on ISIS.

Anyway, here’s the latest programme:


Kirk out

Is Everything Soapy?

It has been widely commented that the long-running radio drama, The Archers, has recently become like a sound-version of Eastenders.  And no wonder, since the current producer is late of that depressing TV series:


Many of us long-time listeners have stopped tuning in; in fact my early evenings are quite different now.  Whereas they used to begin at six with the news, continue at 6.30 with the comedy slot (and don’t get me started on that) and centre on the Archers before continuing with Front Row; now we usually turn it off and watch something instead.

But the soapy phenomenon is not confined to radio.  Some of my favourite crime series, such as ‘Silent Witness’ and ‘WPC 56’ seem to be going the same way:


So what is the difference between a drama and a soap?

I think it’s primarily the predominance of the personal in the plot.  Whereas a crime series focusses on solving crimes, and ‘an everyday story of country folk’ centres on farming, a soap centres on its characters and their relationships.  Of course dramas have characters and those characters have relationships, but their private lives are secondary and create a tension because they have the ability to disrupt work.  In a soap, the emphasis is on the personal and work takes a back seat.  This results in a lack of urgency; a sense that work can wait while people sort out their love-lives.  Casualty, though in many ways the most soap-ish of dramas, does at least retain an atmosphere of crisis; even though in its preposterous plot-lines staff regularly desert a shift to sort out the lives of their patients, there is still a sense that work is urgent; work comes first, and that staff never have enough time for their own lives.

And this is as it should be.  I don’t mean that in a moral sense; I mean in a dramatic sense.  Crime and medical – and probably farming – dramas run on the staple that personal life is always on the back-burner.  It will flare up and disrupt daily life, but that’s part of the ongoing drama.  There’s a pleasurable sense of anxiety as you worry about x’s marriage or y’s child while the character is in a car-chase or helping a cow give birth.  When I used to listen to the Archers I would always worry primarily about how they ever managed to get enough sleep.  But now?  Without that tension it’s just a soap where more and ever-more sensational problems are needed to maintain the interest.

Or lose it.  I’ve said quite enough in previous posts about why I no longer listen to the Archers, so enough of that.  I still quite like Silent Witness, though there’s less and less about forensics.  WPC 56, however, seems to have more or less dispensed with the central tension which fuelled it – that of a woman struggling in a man’s role – and now the officers’ personal relationships loom as large as the crimes they are meant to be solving.  There’s a balance issue here.  It doesn’t.

Is everything a soap now?  I think we should be told.

Kirk out