Yes, But is it a Catholic Miracle or a Protestant Miracle?

So, let us consider more about miracles.  Yesterday I defined a miracle as something that, according to the laws of nature or society, ought not to be possible.  I also think that a miracle is something which comes just when you need it.

Now, I’m not going to give away any confidences (in fact I couldn’t if I wanted to) but recently we have been in dire need of some money – and then it came, largely in the form of anonymous donations.  It came at precisely the moment when we needed it and as much as we needed.  That is definitely a personal miracle.

As regards miracles in general, I differ from many Catholics: I’m not one for weeping statues or bleeding icons.  I don’t really see what they achieve: we know there is – or used to be – fraud in the production of relics and miracles, but even supposing a statue could genuinely ‘weep’ at certain times (probably a phenomenon due to seeping water or a leak in the roof) – what is the point of it?  The point seems to be to increase the faith of believers, or else to make money for the church.  Give me a practical miracle any day.  Something that actually helps, something that changes lives.  Jesus didn’t go in for weeping statues, he did practical stuff.  Healed people.  Saved them from stoning.  Told them stories and helped them not to worry.  That’s a real faith – living from day to day and believing that things will work out.  And you don’t have to be a Christian – or even to believe specifically in God – to practise it.

Kirk out




Do You Believe in Miracles?

Today let us consider the question, What is a miracle?

Maybe you’re like Colin Blunstone and you don’t believe in miracles:


But first we should define our terms.  A miracle, I’ve decided, is something that, according to all the laws of nature or society as they are observed, ought not to happen.

So: let us consider the crossing of the Red Sea.  According to what we now know, it was a combination of low tide and shallow water that enabled the Israelites to cross and escape their enemies.  The waters ‘parted’ – which, according to what they knew at the time, it ought to have been impossible.  As we now know, the phenomenon was caused by a combination of low tide and high underlying rock.  But maybe this misses the point.  There’s always an ‘explanation’ – if you think about it, how could there not be?  But the miracle in this case was that it happened at exactly the right moment for them to escape.

Miracles happen all the time.  As God said to Bruce in ‘Bruce Almighty’, ‘a single mom who’s working two jobs and still finds time to take her child to soccer practice, that’s a miracle.  A teenager who says no to drugs and yes to an education, that’s a miracle.’

Now I go along with this to a large extent, I really do.  The trouble with some new-agey positive-thinking-type philosophies is that they miss out the very important element of work.  They seem to think you only have to wish for it, or pray for it – and it’s yours.  I once knew someone who actually believed that if you think the right thoughts you can literally grab money out of the air: I have to report that this person ended up living in a horse-box in a field.  What I’ve concluded is that if you want something you’ve got to work for it, and that’s as true in the world of miracles as it is in the everyday sphere.  You’ve got to put the work in – and sometimes it’s a hell of a lot of work.  It’s like the guy who kept praying to win the lottery: God, please let me win the lottery; God please let me win the lottery!  Eventually God gets fed up and says, ‘look – will you do something for me?  Will you at least buy a ticket?’

Now buying a ticket isn’t much, but it’s something.  You’re making an effort.  It’s like people who beg for money: I don’t usually give them anything because according to an informed source, they’re not usually homeless.  Still the argument that you’re giving them money for doing nothing doesn’t hold up.  They’re not doing nothing – they’re begging.  It’s not useful work – it’s not even work as usually defined – and yet they are sitting on a cold and damp street and asking strangers for money.  I can’t begin to imagine how hard I’d find that.  Is it work?  It’s more effort than buying a lottery ticket, that’s for sure.

So where was I?  Yes, what is a miracle?  It’s something that by all the laws of nature or society, as we understand them, ought not to happen.  Some of the miracles reported of Jesus can be explained – not explained away – because of what we now understand about medicine and what we know about touch and healing.  For example, the bleeding woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment probably had endometriosis and may have been outcast because of her problem.  Part of the cure for her, as for lepers, may have been just to feel accepted and included.  We are now much more aware of the connection between physical and mental/emotional health than we have been.

There are more things in heaven and earth, definitely, than we understand.  We still don’t know how bees fly…

And I don’t know how we survive.  But we do.

Kirk out


Something has Happened

Something has happened but I’m not allowed to say what.  All right, I can tell you I’ve had a poem accepted for publication but I’m not supposed to tell you where.  All I can say is that it’s a national magazine and that it will be published in March.  It’s a comic poem which I think I mentioned a while back, based on one of Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary tales.  I thought they might go for it – and they did!

So that was a bit of news which brightened an otherwise bad start to the day: the computer got screwed up and then I couldn’t get Daniel’s laptop to work with my documents so in the end I went out and booked a computer at the library, using the intervening time to get outside a really HOT pot of tea at the lovely Tiny Bakery, where I also picked up the latest gen on the proposed residents’ parking scheme.  I’ve yet to hear anyone who wants it and I can’t say it’s been a hit in the West End either.

And so back to the laptop-face where I eventually churned out some words.

And that was Monday.

Kirk out


The Frost Report

Here is the frost report: it’s frosty.  I cycled to my counselling session this morning with the air biting my fingers and chewing my ears.  It was cold then and it’s cold now: one of those days when the sun doesn’t make it through the clouds.  The kitchen is down to 12 degrees and I will have to put the heating on soon or it’ll never get up to temperature.  Still I guess, what with global warming and stuff, it’s good to know it can still freeze.

So: at the moment I am focussing on short stories.  I’ve got one almost ready to go off, called ‘The Dot Com Revolution’.  It’s about an older woman’s struggles with the modern world and specifically technology: she keeps the TV and computer well away from each other in case they fight, and always switches them off when she goes out.  She has a friend who keeps trying to get her to go on Facebook and eventually she gives it a try.  Then there’s another story about my teaching days and a third story is about people being like sticks of rock, but that’s not so well worked-out.

At the moment I am shivering in the front room with the gas fire on and trying to warm up.  You’d think I’d be used to it, what with growing up in freezing vicarages with ice on the inside of the windows, but somehow it never gets any easier.  I am aware that I find dry cold better than damp cold even if the temperature is lower, because the damp seems to seep into the bones, but I’ve never been very good at dealing with cold weather.  My friend at school used to call me a frowsty, which was possibly a word she’d made up.  When I think about it though our uniforms were totally inadequate for the winter months: a skirt and blouse with a thin v-neck jumper, a raincoat (my mother bought a lining for mine) and a regulation scarf (I had a long brown maxi-scarf which kept getting me into trouble.)  And tights!  Hideous, futile garment!  They ought to be banned.

That’s it for now.  Back to the pen-drive.

Kirk otu



I have decided the time may be right to return to teaching ESOL.

A bit of background here: I started my Adult Ed career in ESOL, then known much more logically as ESL but because no organisation can survive more than a decade (or a week) without changing its acronym, they decided that English as a Second Language was somehow wrong and it should be called English for Speakers of Other Languages.  Presumably it would be offensive to these SOL’s to imply that English was somehow secondary – or that – oh, hell: I don’t know what they were thinking.  Just as I don’t know what the people at Embrace Arts were thinking when they changed it from the perfectly good appellation of The Richard Attenborough Centre to Embrace Arts and then back again following the death of its eponymous founder.  I wonder how many people it took to decide that; not to mention the cost of changing letterheads, websites and publicity?

It’s very annoying when they change the names of things for no good reason other than marketing or hyper-sensitivity.  But I digress.

Anyhoo, following the recent announcement of more funding for classes for Asian women, I thought ‘Aha!  They’re going to be doing lots of that in Leicester, which means they’re going to need more teachers.’  So I phoned the number, detailed my qualifications and experience and was told I could apply.  So apply I jolly well did.

Actually the news item was mixed: it’s good to have more money for women who might otherwise be isolated and unable to communicate outside their community.  What’s not so good is that Cameron singled out Muslim women and indicated that a lack of English might lead to ‘extremism’.  He got criticised by a member of his own government for this: Baroness Warsi called it ‘lazy politics’ and quite right too.

For myself, I have mixed feelings too: I enjoyed teaching ESOL as I get satisfaction from helping students and seeing them progress.  I am also greatly interested in other cultures so I learned as much from them as they did from me.  However, I am concerned about the amount of bureaucratic bullshit I may have to endure and I am worried about how much these procedures will interfere with the creative processes necessary to write.

But I must make money somehow.

So we shall see.

Kirk ou

Your Starter For Ten: Who or What is a Kardashian?

In this household we are quite ignorant of celebrity culture.  I don’t really care about this one way or the other but it does leave you feeling a bit out of the loop sometimes.  For example, when I watch Celebrity Mastermind I have no idea who three-quarters of the contestants are.

Mind you, they’re a limited breed on this programme: three parts TV presenter to one part sports ‘personality’ with the occasional actor thrown in – the only people I’ve recognised in recent months are Johnny Ball (whose general knowledge was shocking) and Tim Bentinck.  And the questions they ask are so elementary: even my dear Watson could answer them.

Which reminds me – at weekends I’ve been re-watching an ‘eighties version of Sherlock with Jeremy Brett.  It has lasted well: Brett is excellent as a Holmes who seems to smell everything out and David Burke as a much more intelligent Watson than we have been used to.

Knocks Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce into a cocked – er – deerstalker.

So, I was commenting this morning that I know little of the Kardashians except the name, to which Thingy replied ‘I think it’s Armenian.’  Then he exclaimed: ‘I love the Armenian alphabet!  It’s awesome: I’ve had a thing about it since I was eleven.’

Don’t ever watch University Challenge in this house, either.  The answer to every question is, ‘well, duh!’

Kirk out

Don’t Have a Nice Day

I’ve just rediscovered a book I bought a few years back: called ‘Watching the English’ it’s about social mores, the way people in this country behave in private and in public and how it differs from the way other races behave.  It starts like this:

‘I have just spent an exhausting morning accidentally-on-purpose bumping into people and counting the number who said sorry.  I am now about to spend a few hours committing a deadly sin: queue-jumping.’

The book begins with a discussion of discussion of the weather; ie why do we talk about it so much?  She concludes that it’s not because the weather itself is so fascinating but because it’s a way in.  In the States people would start conversations perhaps with something more personal or direct.  In Spain, where I lived for a while, people would likely say something about what’s going on (how late the bus is!) or how they’re feeling (my feet are killing me) or what they’ve been doing – something more personal, in other words.  But we find that intrusive.  When waiting for a bus, the first comment would be acceptable, but if there’s nothing else to talk about the weather is always safe.  And it’s always there.  Whilst the British weather may not be dramatic, it is unpredictable – and hence a constant topic of speculation, complaint, bewilderment and fascination.  Comparing the actual weather with what was forecast, is a favourite: I once heard a woman in Yorkshire declare, when it began to rain earlier than was forecast: ‘Course, this en’t the actual rain.  This is just condensation.’

We don’t tend to wish people a nice day in Britain, either.  That, too, is almost intrusive, as if it’s none of our business what sort of day the person has and they might quite like to have a horrible day or a glorious day or an indifferent day, so we have no business wishing them a particular type of day.  In any case the phrase is anodyne and meaningless.  But at the bottom of this lurks the kind of embarrassment expressed by John Cleese’s character in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’: a fear that if you were to wish someone a nice day, they’d turn round and say ‘How can I have a nice day when my husband’s just died?’ – and then you’ll feel awful.  It isn’t safe.

Here’s the dialogue from the film.  You have to scroll down a bit – it’s about the 20th dialogue:

Great film.  If you haven’t seen it, go watch.  It’s a terrific play on the differences between our two great countries.

And here’s the book:

Don’t have a nice day.  Have an interesting day – but only if you really want to.

Kirk out


A New Jerusalem? God Save Us…

I have decided that enough is enough.  I am going to write a new national anthem and send it to the palace.  There’s been far too much debate lately on the theme of needing a new one, ever since Jeremy Corbyn refused to sing the words of the current anthem, which most people seem to think is outdated and gloomy: I imagine the Queen must be sick to death of those familiar chords grinding out, over and over.

But it is of course impossible to write a new one.  I would suggest that the poet Laureate is the woman for the job, except that I like Carol Ann Duffy far too much to hand her such a poisoned chalice.  To write a modern, fit-for-purpose national anthem you would need to refer to our national glories: the landscape, the weather, our literature, art and music; the temperament of the people.  You would need to keep self-congratulatory nationalism out of it and instead include lines of Welsh, Scots and Gaelic.  But once you start that, you enter a minefield.  Do you include Scots but miss out Gallic?  What about all the dialects of the Highlands and Islands?  What about the traditional languages of Northern Ireland?  Do you even mention Northern Ireland, since its inclusion in the UK is so controversial?  And nowadays – though everyone agrees the rebellious Scots line is not fit for purpose – even to include Scotland as part of the Union is controversial.

And what about God?  Should the national anthem mention God – or Gods – or leave Him/Her out altogether?  Should it be relevant to the majority view in the country, which is atheist/agnostic?

All these ideas and more were discussed on ‘A Point of View’ this morning on radio 4:

where Tom Shakespeare suggested a dream-team of Alan Bennett and Elton John to write words and music respectively, and a vote on a TV show like ‘Strictly’ to choose the winner. I think that might be a step too far.  What we need is balance – and I think I could pull it off; I could pen something between tick-box inclusiveness and reactionary tub-thumping.  I really think I could pull it off.  So maybe I’ll have a try.

Not sure the Queen will go with it though.  It’s been a while since we’ve spoken…

Kirk out

On Being in Trouble

There is a tendency for people to ‘big-up’ their lives when posting on social media: I recently watched a BBC programme on loneliness which was terribly sad, and in which a young student talked about how hard it is to post the truth about your life, when your life is not going well.

Loneliness is a hard thing to admit to – it seems tantamount to an admission of some sort of failure as a human being.  Yet as I can testify from my own experience, it is not necessarily anything to do with you as a person.  Sometimes you can just find yourself in a situation where it’s really hard to meet people.  When I was living in London I found it extremely hard to make friends; you couldn’t so much as strike up a conversation at a bus stop without others thinking you were a loony, and even when you did meet someone they were quite likely to live miles away.  There is little or no context for friendship – when I left London I had some friends who lived round the corner – but only for a while before they were scattered to the winds: I had one friend in Hounslow, one in Ealing, one in Twickenham, and so on.  You just didn’t bump into people.  whereas in Leicester we know hundreds of people and there is a context to those relationships – church or work or Quaker meeting or CND – within which those people know each other.  You are part of a social framework.  Just the other day we met the owners of a house we were looking at and it turned out we had several friends in common and that they lived next door to Holly’s erstwhile best friend.

Another problem which can make you feel a failure is lack of money.  If you fail to earn enough for your needs, you can feel like a totally inadequate human being.  You can feel as if you haven’t quite grown up.  Like loneliness it can disbar you from taking part fully in society; you can end up feeling marginalised and excluded.  Of the two, I much prefer being poor and having lots of friends (not to mention a family) but neither is very comfortable.

Kirk out