Death by Music

‘Wouldn’t you just die without Mahler?’ asks Rita of her tutor in ‘Educating Rita’ – to which the tutor replies drily ‘Frankly, no.’  Rita is echoing her new, educated and cultured friend who before long does actually die, with or without Mahler, by committing suicide.  I’ve never really got into Mahler, even after seeing Ken Russell’s film about him (which has the memorable final scene with Glenda Jackson as his wife running from wall to wall shouting ‘He hated me!  He hated me!  he hated me!’)

No, apparently that was ‘The Music Lovers,’ which was about Tchaikovsky:

this is Mahler:

Anyway, whether or not anyone did – or has – or will die without Mahler, I could die listening to Bach, and in particular to this:

Bach is God.  There is no other way to say it.  And I’ll say it again: Bach is God.  Recently I’ve been doing yoga to music, mostly accompanied by work specifically written for yoga, such as Shiva Rea’s ‘Yoga Trance Dance’ which I love:

– lately, though, I’ve been branching out a bit, and today I put on the Toccata and Fugue.  But after five minutes I stopped moving and just stood utterly still, transfixed by what I was hearing.  It can be quite embarrassing in social situations, such as a concert, to find yourself utterly carried away: it’s like when I go to the hairdresser’s and they wash my scalp – I find it very hard not to screw up my face and utter groans of pleasure.

I probably shouldn’t have told you that.

Anyway, the Bach experience reminded me of my old piano teacher K Stuart Hart (he was very keen on that ‘K’) a short, pompous man whom many people disliked but whom I grew to love through his passion for music.  He chain-smoked throughout our sessions (imagine!  I could probably sue him nowadays) and at times when I played well or when he was playing me a piece he would screw up his face with emotion.  If it sounds unbearably pretentious, it wasn’t; and his approach to playing was always very pragmatic: he would never have done anything so precious as to suggest I might die without Mahler.

But I could die with Bach.  Definitely.

Kirk out

What is the Matter?

I just don’t know about all these words.  I mean, what is going on here?  In my day, a monitor was a child in charge of the school milk. *  In my day, a hard drive was a long car journey; a mobile was a twirly ceiling-decoration, a text was a book to study and a keyboard was a musical instrument.  And a mouse was a small, cheese-eating rodent.  In my day things were what they said they were and you knew what was what.  In my day everything made sense.

Of course such ranting is as out of place as Canute trying to hold back the tides (except that we know that’s not what he was doing, see previous post:

Words change inexorably as the tide comes in and goes out; and as people on radio 4 are forever pointing out, words which were once horrifyingly rude are now part of everyday speech, and vice-versa.  I refer you to ‘Cor, blimey!’ which I was once told by a Sunday-school teacher never to say as it meant ‘God, blind me.’  She seemed to think God might decide you meant it and carry out the deed.  What absolute balderdash.

Now there’s another obsolete word.  I quite like balderdash, but it has upper-class overtones which means no-one uses it nowadays.  Everyone’s too busy developing their fake glottal stop so they can sound aw’ right and dahn wiv’ the people.

But I digress.  Actually they prefer peanut butter to cheese.  Mice, that is: we were infested with these pestiferous beasts in our old house.  Traps seemed to have no effect as they skipped nimbly round them; though occasionally we would find the splattered body of a tiny baby mouse caught in one.  This made me feel like an absolute arse.  Peppermint oil liberally sprinkled, would protect your vital areas from predation, but we used up an awful lot of the stuff and everything ended up tasting of mint.  In the end the mice all died out.  Perhaps they got demoralised by continually feeling they weren’t wanted.

I know the feeling…

Yesterday was terribly busy: today I shall just be finishing the painting, pottering about with poetry and taking a good long bath.

Kirk out

PS a bonus point to anyone who can tell me why I put that title to today’s post

*in my day there was school milk!

What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

I am pleased to report that after Saturday’s horridness I received a very kind donation from a reader who had heard my poem ‘Spike’ the other weekend.  Hence I have now signed up to the garden bin scheme whereby I can get rid of all my prunings: and the guy who didn’t show up and subsequently declined the opportunity to help me out by taking prunings I had made myself, can have this raspberry:

I’m writing this quickly because I know you don’t have much time, ha ha – no, actually it’s because for once I have a Very Busy Day as I’m off to philosophise shortly, after which I will be meeting organisationally and left-unitarianly, following which I must whiz back and finish the painting before heading to an Artbeat meeting.  All jolly good fun, unlike the book I have been reading  which will be returned unfinished to the library.

It’s by the author of Gone Girl.  Dark Places is Gillian Flynn’s latest offering, and the title about sums it up.  ‘What’s the worst thing human beings can do to each other?’ would be a good subtitle, since she seems relentlessly to plumb* the depths of human behaviour.  From chapter to chapter the book goes lower and lower like Dante exploring the Inferno, but with no catharsis at the end.  And it seems to me that this is what a lot of modern crime fiction lacks: by going for gritty realism we lack the redemptive outcome of, say, a King Lear or a Julius Caesar – plays which, in their way, also explore the worst that human beings can do to each other.

The effect of this is not only depressing but also debilitating.  There’s nothing to offset the remorseless dystopia of the world of Dark Places; a world where a family is massacred supposedly by the elder son, on the evidence of the youngest daughter.  The story switches – in what seems to be an obligatory format these days – between the time of the murders (1985) and the recent past, and by the time we’d found out about each member of this family; a son supposedly into devil worship and definitely into drugs; a drunk and barely-coping mother and a father aptly named Runner who only turns up when he needs money and ends up living in an oil drum – I’d had more than enough.  I no longer cared who killed these people; all I knew was, I needed something more positive to read before I, too was killed by dint of losing the will to live.  ‘Goodnight, Mr Tom’ proved a good antidote, fortunately, and Gillian Flynn is now waiting – like some poor refugee under a UKIP government – to be returned whence she came.

Incidentally, I can’t cope with American names.  How is it somebody can be called Runner?  What sort of a name is that?

I must be off now.  See you on the other side!

Kirk out

*note the unsplit infinitive

Fortune’s Vomit

Fortune vomits on my eiderdown once more, as Edmund Blackadder once observed: today I got a rejection from a magazine I’d sent a story to, along with the story in my self-addressed envelopes.  I hate the sight of these envelopes coming through the post: at least when you email something and don’t get a reply you can imagine they’re still thinking about your story and that a committee somewhere is passing it round and discussing its merits.  There was a rejection slip in with the story, and someone had scribbled a note on it.  ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘maybe they want to say how much they regret not being able to publish my story and wish me luck for the future.’  Not a bit of it.  It was a rather rude and patronising note advising me to do some research before I send stories out, to attach a covering letter and to use the name of the editor.

Now, I can only assume that the covering letter got detached from the story before this person read it; because I always attach a covering letter when I post stuff out; plus if the name of the editor was out there, why wouldn’t I use it?  I do all the research I am able to do; looking at listings and seeing what the requirements of the magazine are.  But – and here’s the rub – I can’t afford to subscribe to all the magazines I might want to submit to, so what am I supposed to do?

I thought the tone of the writer was rather rude and patronising and I’m tempted to reply with a little note of my own, thus:

Dear Person from ____ Magazine

I would advise you to reflect a little before you send out rejection slips.  Are you sure there wasn’t a covering letter?  These things can so easily get detached.  And before you criticise a writer for not studying your magazine, please reflect that magazines cost money and most struggling writers can’t afford subscriptions.

I would address this note to you personally but I don’t know your name.


Sarada Gray (age 57 3/4)

Off now to clear up fortune’s vomit.

Kirk out

PS  It occurs to me that I actually AM 57 3/4!

Planet Thanet

On last week’s leadership debate on BBC TV, Nigel Farrage made himself look even further away from planet earth.  First, Cameron scored a real own-goal by not turning up, giving the impression that everyone else was sorting out the country without him.  First rule of politics – as CP Snow observed, is ‘always show up.’  Or, as he put it, ‘never be too proud to be present.’

Second rule of politics: don’t diss the audience.  Farrage’s very unwise comment that this was ‘a typical BBC left-wing audience’ went down very badly and he was sharply rapped over the knuckles by David Dimbleby who informed him that the audience had been independently selected to represent the whole range of views.  I guess Nige thought it’d play well with the supporters at home to say that – but the thing is, they’ll vote for him anyway.  The whole point of having a debate is to convince those who might not vote for you.  So it was a bad debate for the Tories and UKIP; and I bet the Lib Dems were fuming at not being able to take part either.

All of this is nicely satirised in radio 4’s ‘Vote Now Show’.

But let us turn to pleasanter topics.  I know of no greater satisfaction than shredding.  Thanks to Streetbank we have borrowed a shredder, and all the prunings (minus the big branches) can be reduced to mulch.  Then when I weed a patch of garden as I did yesterday, the mulch can go on it, and the whole thing has gone full circle with the only environmental damage being the electricity the shredder has used.  It is quite stupendous how much zing and lickety-split and ding-dang-dillet* it can give you, doing stuff in the garden.  All I need now is a lawn-edging tool and my life will be complete: the lawn thinks it’s tidal and the tide is up, covering edges and borders in uncontrolled waves.  I’ve tried cutting it back with a spade, but a spade just won’t hack it.

Enjoy the sunshine and try not to worry too much about global warming.  Nigel isn’t – but then, after all, he’s on Planet Thanet where they don’t have global warming…

* I think that may be a phrase of General Melchett

Between You and Me and – Erm…

Our gatepost has gone AWOL.  For years it sat there inoffensively, helping to close the gate, not doing any harm to anyone; and suddenly it’s gone.  I know what’s happened: next door are having an extension built and as well as taking down the fence the builders have removed my gatepost.  I told the neighbour about it and she was very apologetic.  She says she will talk to the builders about it: unfortunately the builders themselves have gone AWOL this week.  Dontcha just hate it when that happens?

Right now I am waiting for a possible call from Woman’s Hour.  The trailer this morning said they were talking about relationship difficulties and how they can be resolved.  ‘Aha!’ I thought.  ‘Sounds relevant to me.’  So I phoned the number and a voice said ‘Hello?’ in a bewildered sort of way.  I must have the wrong number, I thought.  ‘Is that Woman’s Hour?’ I asked.  She said it was, and we had a really pleasant chat about my situation.  She sounded very interested in my story, but I guess her producer didn’t agree, because the phone has remained silent.

Chiz chiz chiz.

Aaaaaanyway, onwards and upwards… today I shall be staying in, which means a radical reorganising of plans: the reason being that earlier on a couple of unnervingly loud thumps from upstairs turned out to be son falling out of bed and son nearly falling into the bath.  He is seriously sleep-deprived, due to his habit of trying to stay awake for as long as he can: he also hasn’t eaten enough.  Since Mark has to go to Loughborough today, I will not be able to make it to Sound Cafe or do most of the other things I had planned.  No biggie.  I shall do the weeding instead.

Have a good day.

Kirk out

Ashok to the System

I’ve been so busy I’ve been neglecting you: these days of sunshine and roses, I want to be buzzing around and gathering figurative pollen from everywhere and everyone, so as well as going to Oxfordshire I’ve been starting philosophy again (subject this term: self-determination and identity) and generally getting out in the garden and Doing Stuff.  The front garden is now filled with prunings; there’s several garden bins’ worth of branches there, and we haven’t even signed up to the garden bin scheme yet.

I have firmly decided to become a Quaker and I’ve accordingly applied to my local Meeting for membership.  Membership of a Meeting is not exactly the same as becoming a Quaker: membership is more to do with taking part in running the Meeting, whereas becoming a Quaker is more of an internal process.  Once I’d sent in my request people were absolutely lovely and welcoming to me – apart from one woman who chose to address me in, shall we say, a less than helpful manner, which was a bit of a shock to the system.

I had rather a social weekend; seeing Peter on Saturday and having dinner there on Sunday with Andy and Lynne.  They brought their photos of New Zealand and I have to say it looks amazing.  Green forests, clear lakes, clear skies and glaciers; it looks utterly beautiful and I want to go.

But since I’ve been back I’ve been thinking about the man you might call the Anti-Machiavelli.  Everyone’s heard of Machiavelli: everyone knows the adjective Machiavellian means ‘ruthless, without principle, dedicated to individual power and advancement no matter what’.  We have Machiavellian heroes – or anti-heroes – in our culture who, from Edmund in King Lear to Edmund Blackadder, seek only what benefits them.

Far less well-known is King Ashoka of India.  He ruled in a region roughly equivalent to the modern-day Orissa and after a rather bloody war of conquest in his youth, he converted to Buddhism, totally changed his ideas and tried to rule for the good of his people.  He left behind a number of edicts carved on pillars: Buddhists seem to go in for these huge monuments and now that I think about it, there was an enormous Buddha on one of Andy and Lynne’s slides (in Hong Kong though, not in NZ).  He’s a really good Egg and ought to be at least as well-known as Machiavelli.

Here he is:

Always Winter and Always Christmas

I’ve been trawling the back catalogues of Channel 4 recently, and in amongst a lot of dross there are some real gems.  One of the best drama series ever is Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’.  In three very short series, these self-contained dramas explore scenarios from a near-future society.  And possibly the best of the bunch is ‘White Christmas’.

In this society technology has advanced to the point where someone who annoys you can be ‘blocked’ so that you can’t hear them or see them apart from a fuzzy white outline; they also can’t hear or see you or contact you in any way.  Human beings can also extract a part of themselves (an egg-shaped ‘cookie’) which can perform tasks for them.   One woman has a cookie extracted to be her personal organiser.  The problem is that the cookie has a separate consciousness and believes itself to be the original person.  It reminded me in a way of Voldemort splitting his soul.  A further twist is given to the punishment by the altering of time: while the controller sits and eats a piece of toast the cookie’s clock is set to six months; at the end of which she is begging to be given something to do, and so undertakes the work she was created for.

In the other story two men are stuck in a kitchen: outside it’s always winter and inside it’s always Christmas.  Gradually we learn their stories which brought them here; gradually one attains ascendance over the other.  Just like in ‘1984’, one is there to extract a confession from the other and hence obtain remission for his own crimes.

At the end the first man is set free, but at a price: while the staff go on holiday the other man’s cookie is set to a thousand years a second.  This reminded me of James Joyce’s hell (see recent post:

Go watch.  It’s on 4 OD

Kirk out

Hust! Hust! O Hust!

Last night, along with a hundred or so others, I went to the local hustings at the Cathedral.  According to wikipedia the word originally meant ‘house thing’ and was a gathering of the whole household of an important figure.

I guess you can see the connection.

Last night there were half a dozen candidates on the platform, with Bishop Tim wearing Jonathan Dimbleby’s hat, and sometimes his voice.  The only MP there was Jon Ashworth, who also happens to be our member.  I know that he’s well thought-of locally, and I can see why: for a politician he came across as genuine and personable: however, he has a tendency to toe the party line even when he disagrees with it, so I won’t be voting for him.  The others were representing, in various capacities, the Greens, the Lib Dems, the Tories, TUSC and UKIP.  The discussion was perfectly civilised, but I found it somewhat weak and lack-lustre.  None of the candidates spoke with any real passion or conviction: the person who came closest was the Lib Dem guy (also the only Asian there) who did at least seem to believe in what he was saying.  However, they’ve made such a terrible fist of being in government that I wasn’t even slightly tempted to vote for him.  The Green party candidate was warm and fuzzy but frankly wet, and said hardly anything about the environment – in fact he said hardly anything about anything.  What the TUSC * guy said was good, but he said it without a spark of passion, and the Tory was frankly awful.  He didn’t seem to know what he thought about anything, had trouble defending government policy, and stumbled over more than one question.

But the worst thing about this debate was that, in a panel of six candidates, not one party managed to offer a woman speaker.  In fact, so male-dominated was the debate that I was the only woman to speak at all – and that was when I asked the question why, in 2015, when we have had a national TV debate split 50-50 gender-wise, this hustings couldn’t muster even one woman to speak.

I’ll still be voting Green in spite of the wet guy, because I like their policies and because there’s no Left Unity candidate locally.

And so we walked back under the stars to our house-thing.

Incidentally, have any of you Leicester people noticed that they’re changing the lamp-post bulbs?  They’ve replaced them with LED, which are brighter and presumably more energy-efficient.  They also light downwards, enabling us to see the stars more clearly.

Kirk out

PS  Oh!  And I heard today that Leicester Cathedral are getting more than 2000 visitors per day!  I shall probably see some of them as I hie me to Sound Cafe…

*Trade Union and Socialist Coalition