The Joy of Proust

Whenever I think of Proust I am reminded of the Monty Python All-England Summarise Proust Contest:

I also think of the time he met James Joyce.  It was in a railway carriage and it did not go well.  Proust sits in a corner, muffled up to the eyeballs, his lungs so delicate that the lightest breeze would carry him off.  In comes Joyce, ebullient and heedless, throws up the window, flings himself into the seat opposite and lights a cigar.  Proust, horrified, retreats into this clothing and not a word is spoken.

Mind you, these encounters rarely come off the way you think they will.  Ego gets in the way, and whenever I remember this story I want to give Joyce a good hard slap.  One imagines that had they talked these great writers would have had incredible things to say to each other – but perhaps they wouldn’t.  Perhaps they would have found nothing to say at all.

We make heroes out of great men and imagine they stride like colossi around the world.  But no man is a hero to his wife – or to put it another way, behind every great man stands a woman rolling her eyes.


But here’s the difference: Proust understood that he must write in time: Joyce did not.  That is why – given time – Proust is readable (and even summarisable) but to read Joyce you must step outside time and understand everything at once.

It’s a good job time exists otherwise we’d have to do everything at once.

Kirk out

Still Open For Business: The State of British Sitcom

As long-time readers of this blog will know, I am a great fan of sitcom.  I consider it to be one of the great art-forms of our age.  It’s not just about making people laugh: it’s about creating believable characters and a world where those characters are at home.  In these worlds you need to have key settings: the vestry in The Vicar of Dibley and Rev; the home or the pub in Ever-Decreasing Circles; the garden or the kitchen in The Good Life; the hotel reception in Fawlty Towers.  This is the home scene; the place you keep coming back to – and in Open all Hours – now resurrected as Still Open All Hours – it’s the shop.

I have to admit, I was a little dubious when I saw this being revived.  Could they possibly do it without Ronnie Barker and his stammer?  The answer is, they could and they did.  Still Open All Hours moves forward to the present day.  Granville has inherited the shop and taken on all the crafty, greedy and ultimately doomed tactics of his uncle.  Stooge to his shopkeeper is his son, Leroy.  Abandoned by his mother after a one-night stand, Leroy is just as oppressed as Granville himself once was.

But what’s brilliant about the update is the range of characters they have.  Roy Clarke’s writing is as delicious and inventive as ever, and all the better for having ditched the misogyny which blighted it in the original: in this version women as well as men mull over the characteristics they like in the opposite sex, and bemoan the lack of passion and romance in their lives.  ‘There’s nothing wrong with plain – especially in subdued light,’ says Mavis.

But the best thing about this series is the re-emergence of forgotten comedy actors: in episode six we have revived Liver Bird Paula Wilcox, plus regulars Brigit Forsyth who was in The Likely Lads; two of the Goodness Gracious Me team (Gulvinder Ghir and Nina Wadia) and a cameo from Mark Williams of The Fast Show.  Plus of course old favourites Stephanie Cole and Lynda Barron as Nurse G-Gladys.

With a photo of Arkwright presiding over the shop and the till still refusing to relinquish money, this is a terrific remake and I hope they do more.

Kirk out

The Tumbleweeds

Once upon a time there was a terrible comedy troupe called The Grumbleweeds.  They were utterly corny and combined music and comedy in a new and awful way.  They were nearly as bad as the Barron Knights, who did song parodies.  And apparently the Grumbleweeds are still going.  It’s hard to know whether the blurb on their website is for real or ironic when it talks about them having ‘dominated the UK comedy scene since the 1960’s.’  You could have fooled me.  Any number of comics are around nowadays and I haven’t heard a whisper of the ‘Weeds for decades.  Apparently, for The Grumbleweeds, who continue to enjoy tremendous success in the business, 1998 marked an exciting change in their career. After 25 yrs in show business, as a five piece musical band, the group decided that the time was right to make a major change in direction.
Drawing on all their years of experience and know how, they developed, up dated, and introduced a sparkling new, fast moving act, embracing the entire spectrum of entertainment, to take them into the millennium with a vengeance.’

So now we know.

Oh dear oh dear.

And why am I so grumbly this morning, you may ask?  Well, it may have something to do with the hours of sleep I’ve missed.  I keep waking around four and after peeing my brain starts hammering away at something and then I figure I might as well sit up and start writing my diary.

At around four am I tend to be grappling with fears: and one of them is what you might call a tumbleweed fear.  It goes like this: my dreams come true and I’m a famous writer: I’m on TV being interviewed by Andrew Marr after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Out of nowhere I say something so unbelievably idiotic that everyone just gapes.  The silence stretches on and on; a tumbleweed moment.

Hence the title.

So once I’ve grappled with all that stuff it it gets to about six and there’s not much point in going back to sleep.  So at the moment I’m deciding to go with this pattern and try to sleep a little in the afternoons.

It’s not much, but it’s a life…

Incidentally I once saw Stephen Fry deal very cleverly with stage-fright: he came on to rapturous applause and immediately (and comically) began to reel off a list of all his worst fears: fainting, vomiting all over the audience, saying something deeply inappropriate…  That last one is my worst fear.

So that’s it for today my little sugar plum fairies.  I wish you all a very sparkly Wednesday.

Kirk out

Free Speech or Hate Speech? – TERF Wars

Women talking about other women seem to be in the news a lot recently: hard on the heels of Averil Macdonald saying women don’t understand the science behind fracking (see yesterday’s post) comes Germaine Greer saying that trans-gender women are not real women: or as she put it, ‘Just because you chop your d**k off doesn’t make you a ****** woman.’

To be fair, Greer has been saying this for a long time.  But now Cardiff University have decided that her views constitute ‘hate speech’ and have tried to ban her from speaking at the University.

Her remarks could best be described as forthright, downright, or, let’s face it, bloody rude.  But do they constitute hate speech, or is she just expressing a point of view?

On the one hand we are all – or nearly all – in favour of free speech.  On the other hand, I for one would not support what is generally called ‘giving a platform to’ racism, sexism or any other kind of prejudice.  So where does one end and the other begin?  Is Greer entitled to her view or should she just shut the *** up?

I’ll be honest: I can’t decide.  My instinct is to say that she should be allowed to put her point of view across.  But then again if she were putting across views that, say, gays and lesbians can’t really be married, how differently would I feel?  Should people with prejudices be banned because of the hurt and offence they cause?  Certainly if a speaker started to abuse women, I’d want them to stop.  But should I?

Just this week a guy known as the ‘Mad Monk of Clarendon Park’ was given a community service order for distributing homophobic leaflets.  Apparently he’d been all over the country doing this and the police forces of several counties were looking for him.  I was quite pleased to hear that he’d been caught and punished – but is that the best outcome?  In some ways I wish that instead of just delivering leaflets he’d knocked on doors, because at least then people would have had the chance to debate with him.  But nowadays it seems that when strong views come into play, respectful debate goes out of the window.

Germaine Greer has certainly not been respectful.  She has a certain view but she has endeared herself to nobody in the way she’s expressed it.  But I still think she should have been allowed to speak – and incidentally, so does MSO.

Kirk out

PS Forgot to say that TERF stands for ‘Trans-Excluding Radical Feminist’.  But you knew that…

Under My Dead Body: Can Women Understand Fracking?

Recently Averil Macdonald, the chairwoman of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, created controversy by claiming that women don’t understand the science behind fracking.  They, or rather we – though Ms Macdonald does not seem to include herself in this scenario – are more likely to react with gut feeling and lack the scientific knowledge and rational detachment to appreciate the full scenario.  A Victorian misogynist could hardly have done a better job; here we have an alpha-female; a woman totally signed up to the commercial agenda, doing what men in her position have been doing for centuries.

There’s a lot I could say about this.  I could say that, sure, maybe women are more concerned about the environment.  And that’s a bad thing?  I could say that while women are more likely to be led by gut-feeling or instinct, men are often more gung-ho and testosterone-fuelled.  Is that better?

To be fair, I think Sister Averil partly meant that women need to be better-educated, but she comes off as patronising and misogynist.

But here’s the thing: I’m not a geologist.  Who is?  Well, geologists, obviously – but to expect all the electorate to thoroughly comprehend the science behind each policy is asking a bit much.  We have to understand what we can and for the rest we must rely on those experts whom we trust.  As far as fracking goes, I understand that it means pumping water at very high pressure into rocks in order to extract shale gas.  I also understand that they can frack under your house without your permission.  For the rest, if it comes to a choice between commercial interests and environmental concerns I know which I will plump for.  And the fact that the government are cutting subsidies for renewables whilst supporting fracking seems to me typical of a short-term, self-serving and money-oriented approach.

It may be that the environmental dangers are not as great as some say.  It may be that shale gas is a valuable resource which needs to be extracted, just as coal did in previous generations.  But let’s remember Aberfan; horrific monument to a nation’s indifference.  And let’s ask the key question here: cui bono?

And no, the answer is not ‘the lead singer of U2.’  The answer is Cuadrilla.

Not a bad name for a rock band.  Would that they were one, instead of a rock-breaking band…

Kirk out

Dead Can Dance

I hadn’t really come across this duo before but I recognised a track this morning from when OH played a trailer for Ran, the Japanese version of Lear.  It’s a song that lifts the top of your head off and once I’d heard it again I had to find out where it was from.  And here it is on youtube:

I was dancing to it this morning.  Sometimes I do a form of yoga dance (Shiva Rea) which is a combination of yoga and tai chi and some moves of my own.  It’s very free-form and it’s started me off thinking about bringing some movement and dance into my poetry performances.  There’s a lot of scope for creativity there I think.

Sooooooooooooo the clocks went back last night, which means that I am speaking to you at four minutes past ten (though you may be reading me later or earlier depending on which time-zone you are inhabiting.  I am currently inhabiting the Extremely Crabby time zone because not only did I not sleep well but having remembered all day about the clocks I didn’t actually do anything about it at night.  Memory subs for actually doing.  So I woke up early and waited for it to be seven, then wondered why OH hadn’t got up and made tea.


As Stewie would say.  I love that baby.

Still, at least the cooker is now correct.

Off to Quake now for a bit.

Kirk out

Is That a Cuckoo-Clock? No, it’s a Cooker Clock

I have never actually owned a cuckoo clock, though I once knew someone who did; and I can tell you that once the novelty wears off they are extremely annoying.  When you get to the later hours of the day and it just cucks over and over and over you want to get out a clockwork gun and shoot the bloody thing.  But even more annoying than that, is the clock on our cooker.

It’s an electric clock, with two buttons for setting both time and cooker alarm.  The latter is extremely useful – I set it daily to time my eggs and if you have something in the oven it will switch the oven off so you don’t have to worry about burning stuff.  It also beeps reasonably loudly so you can hear it from the other rooms.  However, co-operative as the buttons are when it comes to setting the alarm, they absolutely refuse to have anything to do with setting the clock.

Yes, I did read the instructions.  And no, they did not work.  I know my usual modus operandi * is ‘when all else fails, read instructions’, but this time I did get out the booklet.  ‘Press both buttons together,’ it said.  ‘Then adjust plus or minus button to set correct time.’  Simple enough, eh?  What actually happens is that it sets the alarm again, while the clock remains wedded to GMT.  Last year it took us so long to change it that it was nearly time for the clocks to go back again – so this year we haven’t bothered; meaning that the cooker is now in a different time-zone from the rest of the house.

But soon the rest of the house will come back into line, as the clocks revert to GMT on Saturday.  I wonder how many Quakers will turn up for Meeting at 11.30, having forgotten to put their clocks back?

Alas, none of this will have any effect on my mobile, which remains stubbornly convinced that the time is 3 minutes earlier than it actually is.  I can’t fathom why this should be; but every time I reset it, the clock puts itself right back where it was, meaning that I have to remember each time I look at it, that the real time is three minutes later.

Is it any wonder that I never know when I am?

Kirk out

*see how these Latin crosswords are having an effect on me?