No Ronnies at All…

I’ve just caught the news that the one remaining Ronnie, Corbett of that ilk, has died aged 85.  He reminded me of my Dad a little, in that they were both short (though my Dad was not quite as short as Ronnie), both dark-haired and both with a self-deprecating demeanour.  I liked Ronnie Corbett a lot – in fact he was pretty impossible to dislike – and admired his ability to spin out a bad joke into a good monologue by the incessant use of asides.  I shall miss him: it was only the other day that I posted the video of his brilliant ‘Orange’ sketch which he executed quite as well as anything he’d done earlier in life.

Here’s a quick BBC tribute in the form of a whistle-stop tour of his career.  Prepare for more tributes, plus a repeat of 25 years of The Two Ronnies…

Kirk out

Zerothly Made Plain

This post is for everyone who has read or, like me attempted to read, zerothly’s blog (  I have been telling him for ever that his posts are too long but he says he can’t make them any shorter.  I suggested that having written a post he should take the first sentence of every paragraph and just publish that.  Since he has so far declined to do this, here is my redaction of his most recent post.

God or the Multiverse

If you don’t believe in parallel universes, you have to believe in God.

That’s overstated of course

There is a force binding atomic nuclei together, because they are composed of particles called protons with the same charge which would ping apart otherwise.  

Gravity is a very weak force.

Conversely, there seems to be something causing space to expand. 

If there were two dimensions, again gravity and the other forces would all be too strong at a distance.

Considering these and a number of other facts, it begins to look as if we live in a carefully designed universe, which is annoying because it suggests to the Western mind that there is a God. 

I personally happen to believe in God, but I strongly dislike the idea of a “God of the gaps” as this kind of idea is referred to. 

Due to all that, in purely scientific terms, looking at an explanation for phenomena and the way the Universe works, I have a lot more in common with many atheists than I have with many theists, an uncomfortable position for someone to hold who is aware that there is a God, as I often put it. 

However, is this really true?  We happen to be carbon-based life forms living on a planet with liquid water on its surface and a corrosive gas in its atmosphere which we unaccountably breathe.

Leaving that aside though and sticking to life as we know it, it does seem that there have to be parallel universes if you don’t believe in God.  

Back to parallel universes.  Most of this Universe is a void. 

There are spurts of detail separated by long intervals of emptiness, and the Universe is like this too when you “zoom in” on it, as is demonstrated by the Powers Of Ten video.  

The fine-tuning of the Universe suggests that we are on a similar island of detail surrounded by empty and boring parallel universes.

Some of the differences, though, would be unsustainable even if they seemed not to be.

Hence universes in which anything goes, more specifically just one thing which looks like a small, sustainable change but in fact has all sorts of ramifications, are rare. 

Improbable things do happen all the time though.

To conclude then, if you don’t believe in God or some other organising principle to the Universe, you basically have to believe in parallel universes. 

OK there it is.  Now, what do you think?  Does it make sense?  I think it does – albeit with some gaps.  You get the gist anyway, and far better than trying to read the whole thing.

Comments please

Oh, and here’s the original post:

Kirk out

Two Out of Three for Reality

I’m not normally a great fan of ‘reality TV’: the programmes seem engineered and contrived to me, particularly in the area of conflict.  Light blue touch-paper and retire immediately seems to be the producers’ motto in bringing people together.  Sometimes they get a positive outcome: usually it’s just fireworks.

But the recent series Famous, Rich and Homeless was an exception; although I have to say at the outset that two out of the three epithets didn’t really apply.  I’d only heard of one of the four who volunteered to sleep rough for a week and be filmed doing it, and that was the snooker player Willie Thorne.  But even he, though famous, could no longer be considered rich, having recently gone bankrupt due to a gambling problem.  Still, it put him on the same wavelength as his homeless buddy, which is more than could be said for Kim Woodburn.  I had no idea who this woman was but apparently she presents a programme called ‘How Clean is Your House?’  Her attitude towards the people she met seemed to be ‘how genuine is your homelessness?’ – however she did seem to change over the week especially when paired with a woman who had lost her home in a fire and was in temporary accommodation (one room) awaiting the insurance.  And when I found out that she was 73 and had slept rough as a teenager I changed my mind about her.

Willie Thorne was a little flaky and spent the second night in a hotel.  I was tempted to be judgmental here but then I reminded myself that he didn’t have to volunteer for the programme (in aid of Sport Relief) and that I would probably be no better.  The last time I went camping was bad enough: if I’d had a car I’d have packed up in the night and gone straight home.

The guys the ‘celebs’ paired up with included a heroin addict who slept on a stairwell, a young woman whose pitch was an underpass and a Dutch man, formerly a successful businessman, who had lost everything and now slept in a tent in some woods outside London.  But the one who coped best was, unsurprisingly, the presenter of ‘Country File’, Julia Bradbury, who is presumably used to roughing it a little.  And when you consider that they did this in the middle of winter and that I have so far wimped out of doing the Great Sleep-out which is in high summer, I’ve got no room to talk.

So I shall stop.  Go watch though

Kirk in

What’s the Point?

This is a question we all feel like asking ourselves from time to time.  What’s the point of our lives?  I guess artists and writers may ask the question more than most; although if I was a shelf-stacker at Asda or a hotel cleaner I might feel a different sense of pointlessness.  The artist, however ignored, however unsuccessful or underpaid, does at least have the happiness that comes from art and the strength which arises from self-determination.  In fact I sometimes think that no amount of fame and money can compensate for losing your own artistic voice.  Whereas if I was a shelf-stacker or a cleaner – particularly the latter – I might well feel unimportant and ignored.  Cleaners are almost universally underpaid, taken for granted, ignored and marginalised.  Imagine coming in to work early in the morning, before anyone else is awake, to do a job nobody appreciates or even notices unless it is not done right, and get paid a pittance for the privilege.  One of my recent poems is a response to the ‘Christ on a bench’ sculpture:

and it goes like this:

The Second Coming

If Jesus Christ returned today

no-one would recognise her

before the darkness drives away

she is the morning riser.

she hoovers early corridors

and rides a bleary bus

she clears a porthole in the fog

and looks like one of us.

The idea being, as with the sculpture, that Jesus could be any one of us.  Like the song says in ‘Bruce Almighty,’ What if God was one of us?

And those who expect some glorious triumphant figure entirely miss the point.  I also like the idea of Christ returning as a woman.  Unexpected.

But seriously, what is the point?  What is the point of anything?  What is the point of a new-born baby?  What is the point of philosophy?  Someone asked Socrates that exact question once.  The great philosopher turned to his student and said, ‘This man wishes to profit from learning.  Give him a penny.’  At least, that is the story I read, but now I can’t find it anywhere and even the domestic oracle doesn’t know.  Still, it’s a good story.

Hang on, the oracle now thinks it might be Euclid.  It’s quoted in ‘The Ascent of Man’, which is probably where I remember it from.  Hey, I wonder if philosophy, like history, is what you can remember?  ‘Socrates and All that.’

Ah, now the oracle has found me a reference.  Hang on… yes, the exact quote is ‘Give him threepence, since he must make gain out of what he learns.’

So now you know.

Hang on, what was the point of this post again?

Kirk out


Everybody’s Dead Dave

So begins the first episode of that classic sitcom, Red Dwarf – and it also sums up how I’m feeling at the moment.  Everybody’s dead, Dave – aren’t they?  They’re dropping like flies at the moment; first Bowie and Lemmy and then Alan Rickman and that composer guy, Peter Maxwell Davies and now Patsy Byrne (Nursie in Blackadder) and – hang on, there was someone else – Cliff Michelmore, was it?  (It was, and bloody hell! he was 96!)  Basically everyone I grew up with is either dead or dying.  And it strikes me that it’s a bit like what happens in your family.  In the normal course of things you first experience death when one of your grandparents goes, usually in your teens.  That’s what happened to me: my grandma died when I was about fourteen and although my granddad survived her by nearly thirty years he went before either of my parents.

And so it is with famous people: the news comes on and your parents go, ‘Oh!  Alvar Liddell’s dead!’  You are vaguely aware of Alvar Liddell, who used to be a newsreader (I always thought his name was Al Varleydell) but it doesn’t really affect you because old Al wasn’t someone you grew up with.  He belonged to a different generation.  But when the immortal David Bowie dies; when actors and singers and film stars and TV presenters who were fixtures; immovable parts of your own childhood or adolescence – start to pop off; well, that’s a different story.  It’s like your parents dying.  And it strikes you when your parents die that basically, pal, you’re next.  It’s you in the firing-line now; no-one standing between you and death.  When the Grim Reaper comes around it’s your turn.

Sorry to be maudlin.  I don’t mean to be: but the reality is, we all have to die.  So the sooner we accept this as a fact, the better.  We’re kind of weird about death nowadays; it’s almost replaced sex as the great taboo, and I’m quite uneasy about it.  It’s one thing to have a long and fulfilled life; it’s quite another to have a long, boring and incontinent old age.  I’d sooner go when I was in the midst of things.

And because we don’t quite know what to do about death, our funerals are often quite odd.  I’ve noticed recently that funeral corteges go much faster than they used to, and that what used to be a sombre affair can now be a colourful celebration of someone’s life.  That’s not wholly a bad thing, and yet – I have an uneasy feeling that something is left out.  I once went to the funeral of a young man who had committed suicide, where everyone wore bright colours and celebrated his life.  It seemed quite startlingly inappropriate to me.

So I’ve brought all these ideas together in a poem, called ‘Funeral.’  It begins:

When no-one can slow down for death

the hearse speeds up a shade

the carriage touching twenty-six

so no-one gets delayed.

Just grave enough for dignity

a gesture to eternity.

The more learned among you may recognise a reference to Emily Dickinson there.

Kirk out

Oh Fugit!

My, my – how tempus doth fugit and already it’s five days since my last confession – er, blog post.  Well, since we last corresponded spring has most definitely sprung!  I was out in the garden in a green dress doing a spring dance first thing on Saturday morning and then I danced over to De Montfort University where the annual small publishing-fest, States of Independence, was taking place.  It is interesting to talk to small publishers, to find out their output and submission requirements as well as just seeing what’s out there.  They also have a number of talks throughout the day and I went to one on poems for refugees and another on Virginia Woolf and the Hogarth press – both very interesting.  I saw a number of people I knew including Tony and Christine but alas! as always I failed to find OH.  This happens every year – we go separately and we never find each other.  If only there were some kind of – oh, I don’t know – hand-held telephonic device that people could use to find each other in these situations…

I had to leave States of Independence early in order to rendezvous with friends at the Salmon.  This was the first Leicester pub I ever went in, due to its being within striking distance of the bus station; it has recently been renovated and as a bonus there was a beer festival featuring a number of different brews from East Sussex.  How they came to have beers only from that region I never discovered but I enjoyed what I had: a ruby mild, a darker mild and a heady and vertiginous brew called Beachy Head.  I enjoyed the pub itself as well; there was a friendly atmosphere and although the rugby was on in the other bar the sport didn’t dominate the entire pub.

After that it was over to Peter’s for dinner.

Sunday was Quaker meeting as usual, after which I invited a friend for lunch only to discover I was out of soup.  Bread and cheese it is then… and Sunday evening the usual falling asleep over the telly.  And that was the weekend.

This morning I have had a request from an organisation making steel bottles which gives all their profits to water charities.  They want me to record some poems.  Sounds good to me, so I am now dusting off my old Sing for Water poems:

Gosh, I look so much younger then!  And it was only three years ago!

Kirk out

Review of ‘The Lady in the Van’

To my intense joy, Mark managed to get hold of a copy of this the other day, and last night we watched it.  Maggie Smith was utterly faultless as Miss Shepherd; there was a great cast and setting – but as with nearly all Alan Bennett films I felt it was a play struggling to be a film.  The device of having two Alan Bennetts – the writer and the person – talking to each other I found a tad awkward, and when at the end the real AB turns up on his bike to be greeted by the assembled cast complete with cameras, the whole thing took a final lurch away from cinema and into theatre.  Incidentally, I felt exactly the same way about The History Boys, that it’s basically a filmed play.

That said, it’s still utterly brilliant.  Maggie smith is Miss Shepherd to the life; the van itself is just as I imagined it and the street and its inhabitants make a convincing backdrop (roles here for Frances de la Tour and Roger Hallam and a brief cameo by the guy who plays Dakin in History Boys.)  Where AB scores is in his observations of character: of the new, Guardian-reading inhabitants of Gloucester Crescent, Camden, he wryly observes, ‘there was a gap between our social position and our social obligations.  It was in this gap that Miss Shepherd (in her van) was able to live.’  I think the film was a little harsh on the nuns who looked after her, although when you consider that they put a stop to her promising musical career on the outrageous grounds that it ‘wasn’t God’s will,’ perhaps it’s not so unfair.  So in the end although I enjoyed the film very much, I was also left with the uneasy sense that here was a story that didn’t quite know how to tell itself.

If you’ve seen it, let me know your thoughts.  Meanwhile, here are some other reviews on imdb:

Kirk out

Are You In Or Out?

Well, which is it?  Should we stay or leave?  Should we be a part of the whole mess and try to sort it out from within, or leave and plough our own furrow?  I am referring, of course, to that community beyond our borders that is Facebook.  I’ve been back and forth on this: I’ve been in and out and back in again, and slowly I’m evolving a way to be in Facebook but not of it.

For example, say a debate starts on a particular subject.  Very soon people line up on one side or the other and then the mud-slinging starts.  ‘Boo’ words and ‘hurrah’ words are brought into play and woe betide anyone who tries to enter the debate in a reasoned and calm manner: for some reason this is the trigger for people on both sides to stop attacking each other and start attacking you.  No matter how mild your comments, no matter how accommodating your language or how sensible your points, you will become Public Enemy No. 1.  Time to bow out.

So I’ve developed a strategy.  The moment an argument becomes polarised; the moment somebody starts slinging mud or hurling insults, I uncouple. In Facebook parlance, I ‘turn off notifications for this thread.’

Similarly, when a person I’ve friended starts being abusive or rude (not necessarily towards me) I turn off their notifications.  You can do this, I’ve found: it’s called ‘unfollowing’ and means you can stay friends but you don’t get notified when they post things.

So all that is useful and it’s a step short of unfriending and blocking, which I’ve done with one or two people but it’s an extreme step.  In one case it was because the person persistently posted comments which were either negative or irrelevant.  This I do not need.

Of course, this does not prevent an awful lot of junk appearing in my news feed, so a certain amount of ongoing editing is required.  My pet peeves at the moment are adverts which look like posts (the price you pay for Facebook being free, I guess) and pictures of dying children begging me to post an ‘Amen’ so they can be healed.  In some ways I find the latter more offensive than the former: it’s not only emotionally manipulative (‘if you don’t comment then you don’t care’) it’s also wrong-headed, as if God’s going to sit there and tot up the number of ‘Amens’ before deciding whether to heal the child.

So there you are.  In Facebook but not of it.  As for the EU, that’s another matter…

Kirk out

Insecure Writers Day

Oops, this wasn’t supposed to be published just like that – it was meant to be a reminder to me yesterday to link to the insecure writers’ blog.  Ah well.  Sadly I spent yesterday out of the house and today also; meeting Holly off the train and going to Fingerprints and then – and THEN! – making a Blue Peter pizza box.  A Blue Peter pizza box is basically a box you make yourself when your oven isn’t working so you go round to Peter’s house and make pizzas which you want to carry home without them getting blue with cold.*  I was very proud of these boxes and I shall keep them for future use.  I arrived home and rang the doorbell, announcing ‘Pizza delivery!’ when they answered.  Oh, how we laughed.  The boxes were actually very successful and the pizza stayed quite hot.

After which we had the kind of evening which doesn’t seem to exist any more: the four of us round the table eating and then playing Trivial Pursuit.  Unfortunately it was Dr Who Trivial Pursuit which includes such questions as ‘who was Magatheta’s mother who began the slaughter of the Trimbods on Metebeles III?’ to which the answer is of course ‘Tharg.’  Actually that sounds more Douglas Adams than Dr Who.  But then again he was a script editor and wrote several episodes of the series.  His pen name was David Agnew.

My pen name, as you all know, is Sarada Gray.  Lots of people have been asking me about this as I’ve been walking around holding the latest copy of Mslexia open at the page where my poem is proudly presented.  Sarada, in case you can’t be bothered to click the explanatory link above, is the name of a Hindu goddess, aka Saraswati, the goddess of creativity and wisdom.  A good combination, I think you’ll agree.

Bong! in other news, having sent my ‘Lady in the Van’ poem off to the London Review of Books, I have been informed that they are considering publishing it.

So that’s all good.

Kirk out

*see what I did there?

Let’s Reify

I have blogged before about the thinginess of things: ie the tendency to make everything into an object.  This, I suspect, is at the heart of the ever-increasing number of compound verbs.

For example, this morning I heard someone on the radio say, ‘I admire anyone who daily-blogs.’

Now, in an old-fashioned context this might seem perfectly normal, since daily, being an adverb as well as an adjective, was often used before a verb, viz: ‘He daily walked across Hampstead Heath.’  However I suspect that this recent utterance was coming from an altogether different place; from the land of the dreaded Compound Verb.

Mark reckons that reification, or thinginess, is the reason I didn’t get the ESOL job.  The irony is patent: Ofsted exists, supposedly, to promote and monitor good teaching.  I was told that my teaching skills were good.  Ergo, no problem with Ofsted.  But no – as any fule kno, Ofsted is its own little (not so little now) empire, generating its own work, its own ways of doing things.  Which means that passing an Ofsted inspection is effectively a job in itself.  Whereas it ought just to be about whether you are doing a good job in the first place.  If you are, where’s the problem?

Reification, guys!

Incidentally, the word comes from the same root as Rebus.

Bong!  In other news, I am happy to report that my poem is now in Mslexia magazine.  I got my copy in the post yesterday!


Kirk out