According to today’s Guardian,

opposition to fracking is on the rise and support is running at around 19%.  I can’t say I’m surprised: the dynamic which one would usually expect with this kind of measure is that there would be more support among the wealthy living in suburbs and rural areas; you know, the kind of person who gets all aereated* about wind farms and solar panels because they don’t ‘look nice’ but doesn’t mind a nuclear power station provided it’s miles away and surrounded with leylandii.  But where the powers that be made their big mistake was in giving frackers permission to drill under people’s homes without consent.  An English person’s home is still as much their castle as it ever was, and threatening that principle by quite literally undermining their home is not a good move for a Tory government to make.  You’d think they’d have seen that – but no.  All they ever seem to see are the £££ signs in their eyes.  Oo, I’ve come over all biblical and wanting to say something about taking the pennies from the poor and not seeing the pound signs in your own eyes.  Anyway, so what this means that instead of NIMBYs not wanting wind-farms in their back yard, we now have NUMBYs digging in their heels and saying ‘Not Under My Bloody House.’  (OK that should be NUMBHs but it doesn’t really hit the spot, does it?)

I simply cannot fathom the mind-set of a government which reduces funding for renewables and gives the money to yet another highly-questionable fuel source which will also run out in a few decades.  It’s almost as if they’ll do anything sooner than give up their lifestyle – and now people are protesting.  Latest to join this up-in-arms race (see what I did there?) are Emma Thompson and her sister Sophie.  I never realised that Emma was the sister of the intense bride in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and Mafalda Hopkirk in the last Harry Potter, but so it is.  They have launched their own campaign to which I have signed up, although like many of Emma Thompson’s projects it inspires me with a mixture of affection and ickiness:

Anyway, something should be done and they are doing it, so for that I salute them.

Suffragette City

Bong! in other news, I have signed up for a cycle ride around Leicester to celebrate the city’s suffragettes, thus combining a feminist action with a tribute to Bowie.  Neat, eh?  I’ll keep you posted.  Better get my bike oiled…

Kirk out

* how DO you spell that?  Spellchecker doesn’t like any of my suggestions

Learning Welsh? There’s an Ap for That

I have to tell you I’ve just spotted another one of those pesky compound verbs: you know, the ones people use because saying three words is just too much hassle!    Today’s compound verb is ‘self-checkout’.  Now although I object to the – er, object itself (they’ve even got one in the tiny little WH Smiths at the station, for God’s sake!  Yes, the horribly overpriced boutique where they charge you three quid for a biro!)  Where was I?  yes, although I object to the thing itself, I don’t much mind the compound word.  But now, guess what?  Yes, it’s mutated into a verb.  ‘Never self-checkout’ reads the exhortation on the Facebook post which has just assaulted my eyes.  I am entirely in agreement: I hardly ever use them since they contribute to staff redundancies and, as many people have pointed out, to us doing everyone’s job for them.  Think about it: when we travel or go to the cinema we print our own tickets.  When we have internet banking we print out our own statements.  When we shop we check out our own goods; we check our own baggage at airports and at a cafe yesterday I chose my own food, made my own tea, took it to the checkout and then disposed of my rubbish when I’d finished.  It’s true: we’re doing everyone’s job for them because it saves money.

I’m sick of saving money.  I want to travel – which brings me to the topic for today.  When in Caerdydd, spell it as the Welsh do.  When in India, drink your tea hot and sweet – tea and sugar and milk all boiled up together with maybe a few spices added.  And learn a few of the local words: it’ll give you a much better flavour of the area.  For example: we’ve been to Wales a number of times and since the place-names are always in Welsh as well as English, you can’t help getting to know how certain letters are pronounced.  I like learning languages; in Wales it’s obviously not necessary but it gives you much more insight into the people if you know something of the way they speak.  I’m fascinated by accents too: when I was in Lancashire I experienced the truth of what they say; that every town has its own accent.  Oldham is distinct from Rochdale and both are different from Manchester which is to Bolton as chalk is to cheese (our daughter can vouch for that).  And as for Leigh – when I was there many people still spoke the local dialect in which the town was pronounced Leyth and people will called each other thee  and tha.


Also when I was there I fell in with a crowd who were to left-wing politics what the People’s Front of Judea were to Jewish liberation.  They produced a magazine called Leyth, Bent and Bongs which they hawked all around the local pubs and never even stopped for a beer!!!


Kirk out

Desert Island, Anyone?

I’ve been listening to this a lot lately.

I’ve loved Rufus Wainright’s voice ever since I first heard his version of ‘Hallelujah’ – which, incidentally, is one of my Desert Island Discs (prev posts).  Have you ever thought about what your eight records might be?  I’ve refined my list over the years and I think I’ve come up with the definitive set to last me through my time on the island.  They are, in this order:

‘O Jesus I have Promised’ (the original tune not the boppy modern one*)  This comes from my childhood when one day an organist asked which was my favourite hymn.  I couldn’t think of anything so I just said ‘O Jesus I have Promised’ and he played it for me.

‘Suzanne’ by Leonard Cohen, from secondary school where I heard it for the first time:


‘The Master Song’ also by Cohen, from the first LP I ever bought, ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’



‘The News from Spain’ by Al Stewart, the saddest and most beautiful song he ever recorded:

‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ by the Who – my favourite EVER Who track (although, as Thing points out, it’s probably also the only right-wing pop-song ever recorded.  Though I dispute that it’s right wing…)  I got into the Who in my early teens and was particularly proud of the fact that they, like me, are from Hounslow and once played at the White Bear pub.  Which was a right dive…

Something by Bach – either a Brandenburg Concerto or Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.  Since I learned to play piano I have loved Bach.  When I listen to Toccata and Fugue I can feel bits of my brain knitting together.  Quite simply, Bach is god.

‘Hallelujah’ – the Rufus Wainright version.  This period of my life – when ‘I’m Your Man’ came out, is associated with pain and recovery and the song expresses it perfectly.

And finally, ‘If it be Your Will’ – also Leonard Cohen though sung by Anthony.  This is my favourite Cohen song and the most sublime thing he ever did.  It is also the song I would like played at my funeral.

So now you know.

Bong!  In other news, I am signed up to do a poetry gig at Bar Cultura, as part of a comedy night they are having during Artbeat.  It’s on 19th June and I’ll keep you posted.  I also discovered today that a friend with whom I have also discussed poetry is, like me, a great fan of C P Snow.  A guided tour of Snow’s Leicester haunts is promised….

And that’s it for today.

Kirk out

*except that there are about ten original tunes, none of which is the one I remember

Chopping Lines? Do me a Favour!

I got quite narked with the writer Toni Morrison yesterday.  I had previously had a high opinion of the author of ‘Beloved’ and recipient of the Nobel prize for literature:

but on radio 4 yesterday she was heard to express the view that poetry is merely chopped-up prose.  NO!  No!  No no no! I shouted at the radio.

Consider this:

‘Mark but this flea and mark in this how little that which thou deniest me is.  Me it sucked first and now sucks thee, and in this flea our two bloods mingled be.  Consider, this cannot be said a sin or shame or loss of maidenhead.  Yet this enjoys before it woo and pampered, swells with one blood made of two.  And this, alas, is more than we would do.’

Or this:

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vale or hill; when all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils.’

or this:

Tiger, tiger, burning bright in the forests of the night.  What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Do those seem like prose to you?

But let’s be fair.  Maybe she wasn’t thinking of rhyming verse.  Maybe she was thinking of free verse, like this:

Barbed brambles scour the walls.  Low, arthritic trees drop ripe apples on the ground.  Hedges buffer lawn from no-man’s land; washing straddles the long grass by the garage.  On cleared ground, alyssum makes a fresh bridal shower, and on the lawn, searchlights caught in water as a sprinkler slowly arcs the sky.  And one day, playing in the long, old grass the lumpy earth gives up an air-raid shelter; pie-crust of concrete and a hole to let the air in.  On summer afternoons the spire’s shadow slowly creeps across the lawn.  Its finger pointing at our hearts, we fold our deckchairs and decamp into the light.  Out of the sun, jets scream of foreign fields, brown bodies on the beaches.  All clear now: flats planted.

The above are, respectively, John Donne’s ‘The Flea’, Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, Blake’s ‘Tiger’ and my ‘Vicarage Garden’ (I would put someone else’s free verse but they’re mostly still in copyright.)

So, do any of these sound like prose to you?

Chopping lines?  Pff – I leave that to the drug-dealers.

Kirk out

Wood is Thicker than Walters

I’ve been watching stuff and assessing the talents of VW (‘Vic’) Wood.  And one of my favourite jokes of hers cannot easily be conveyed in print.  Talking of a particularly repressed group of women (the Finsbury Park Townswomen’s Guild, perhaps)*reacting to a slightly unorthodox shade of hat, she stops to look at the camera:

‘There’ll be an outcry,’ she says.  ‘They’ll all go ____’.  And in that moment she folds her arms, raises her eyes to heaven and goes ‘tuh!’**  Like I say, hard to convey in print.

Because she’s female it’s hard to spot that she is in fact the typical Northern comic: fast-talking, hard-hitting and down-to-earth.  Tarbie was a great fan, though the views of Les Dawson are unclear.  But she’s so much more than that, writing sketches, songs, sitcoms and perhaps best of all, pastiches.  ‘Acorn Antiques’ was a classic and I’ll never forget her skit on ‘Brief Encounter’:

She was also very generous, giving some of her best parts to other people.

Her comedy didn’t target you; it included you.  It was the sort of comedy you’d write yourself if only you were funny enough and brave enough.

Ah well, we can’t all be comics.  Some of us have to be poets.

Watch this though: it’s been on before, but it’s good.  RIP Vic, we will miss you.

Kirk out

PS the title doesn’t mean anything: I just couldn’t resist the play on words.

*I’ll be getting complaints now from the Finsbury Park Townswomen’s Guild

**I asked Mark how he would represent a ‘tut’ in writing: he said ‘I’d use a phonetic symbol.  There’s one like an ‘equals’ sign which is used in numerous African languages for clicks, and so on.’

Well, I did ask…


This is What it Sounds Like When Loves Die…

As of yesterday another two people have bitten the dust: first Victoria Wood and then Prince.

Well I learned something new yesterday.  Yes, I learned that Victoria Wood was dead and that she’d been ill with cancer and that she was only 62 – but I’ll come back to all that.  The thing that really flabbergasted me was that her husband (ex-husband since 2002 apparently) who I always thought of as ‘that weird magician bloke’, was none other than Geoffrey Durham!

That won’t mean much to you but I’ve been reading his books on Quakerism for the last couple of years; and the fact that Quakers talk about him all the time and recommend his books without once mentioning that he was married to Victoria Wood and ON THE TELLY!!! just shows you how laid-back Friends are when it comes to celebrity.  A lot of famous people are Quakers – Judi Dench is one, so is Sheila Hancock and so was the actor Paul Eddington – and yet I can just imagine them bimbling along to their local meeting and sitting there without anyone turning a hair.

So: Victoria Wood.  I really missed seeing her on TV in recent years: she was one of the most original and hilarious comedians, managing to be feminist without being overly political (‘my boyfriend had a sex manual but he’s dyslexic.  He spent half an hour looking for my vinegar’) and her partnership with Julie Walters was second to none.  Walters is said to be devastated.

Wood was phenomenally talented as the above song shows; she could write songs, jokes, sketches and sitcoms and even did a spot of serious acting.  ‘Dinnerladies’ was ground-breaking and very highly thought-of: but for me the song ‘Let’s Do It’ was her finest hour.

‘she licked her lips; she looked sublime/she turned off Gardener’s Question-Time’

‘I’m on fire with desire/I could handle all the tenors in a male voice choir’

‘This folly is jolly/bend me over backwards on me hostess trolley’

Brilliant stuff.


Kirk out

PS And now Prince!!  OMG, where will it end?


Never Mind Wally – Where’s Nigel?

There was a time, not too long ago either, when you couldn’t move for Farage.  Farage was everywhere: he was on the radio and the TV, he was in the papers; people were even talking about him on social media, if only to complain at his ubiquity.  You couldn’t turn on the news or Question Time/Any Questions or a parliamentary debate without hearing those throaty, strident tones berating his opponents and lashing out at his bete noire, the EU.  At the best of times Farage sounded like a used-car salesman turned Radio Five DJ.  You could just imagine him on ‘Top Gear’, too… but whatever you thought of him, he wasn’t shy of publicity.

Which makes the current situation all the odder.  I mean, for a man who leads the country’s only party dedicated to leaving the EU, this is surely someone whose time has come, isn’t it?  He ought to be centre-stage, telling everyone why we need to leave, shouldn’t he?  So where is he?  Why aren’t we hearing those frog-like tones any more?  And why is it up to the likes of Gove and Johnson to tell us why life won’t be worth living if we vote ‘Yes’?

If you know of the whereabouts of Nigel Farage please let us know.  Or alternatively you could just leave him where he is…

Kirk out

Frying Tonight? Do We Detect the Smell of Burning Martyr?

There has been what I think is generally termed a twitter-storm (though I have never been on Twitter) over recent comments by St Stephen, Ye Martyr of Fry about victims of child abuse.  I think people are outraged in part at least because Fry is so popular: how dare he say anything remotely offensive?  Fry is sensitive and liberal: he is compassionate and egalitarian.  How dare he tarnish our image of him?

This seems to happen increasingly often.  We elevate certain people to the status almost of saints; then god help them if they put a foot wrong.  And in an era when sound-bites or even sound-nibbles are quoted as though representative of an entire conversation, it’s easy to arouse a storm of ill-informed ire.

So: did Stephen Fry or did he not tell victims of child sex abuse to ‘grow up’ and ‘get over it’?  The short answer is yes.  Sort of.  But then again, no.  Not as such.  I think (though he was uncharacteristically less than coherent) he was protesting, ironically, at the tendency of social media to narrow the channels of debate, so that people quickly line up on one side or the other, hurrah-words and boo-words are aired and the page bristles with ad-hominem arguments.

There are certain subjects on which it is impossible to question social norms.  These include rape and racial harrassment: but the most incontestable subject of all is child abuse.  Even to raise the topic is to lay yourself open to accusation.  You cannot deviate from the script, which is to express horror and outrage that these things happen.  If, god help you, you start to question these responses – all hell will be loosed in your direction.

So I think that’s what Fry was getting at.  He also stuck his foot in it somewhat by lambasting some victims as ‘self-pitying.’  This is a difficult one because on the one hand I know what he means.  But on the other hand, never having experienced child sex abuse, I am not qualified to say much about it.  But I do believe in the indomitability of the human spirit; in people’s ability to fight back, to endure and to overcome.  I don’t like the notion of being forever defined and limited by something that happens to you, whether it’s rape or abuse or war or any other kind of trauma.  I resist that notion with all my being.

Anyway, here’s an article on Fry’s interview and his later apology.  He’s very sorry and he won’t do it again.

Compare and contrast with a recent BBC programme on the ‘legacy’ of Savile:

Kirk out

Offriending and Apatheism

I’m into portmanteau words at the moment: the word ‘sharpeggio’ came to me at about 5 am and I just had to write it down.  I don’t know how it applies to today’s post – or if it does – but we’ll see.  You know how I said the other day how poems have intentions separate from yours?  Well, I think blog posts have intentions too.  Sometimes I start a post without an idea of what I’m going to say but several words work themselves in – and although they seem irrelevant, by the time I’ve finished I can see what they’re doing there: why (in the words of Pooh) they ‘wanted to come in.’

And in the same way, several portmanteau words ‘came in’ after sharpeggios.  One was offriend: a word which I think perfectly sums up the frequent occurrence on Facebook of a friend taking offence at something you’ve said which seems to you perfectly innocuous.  Vide yesterday’s post.

Then Mark came up with apatheism.  This was one of those serendipitous moments; he didn’t know I’d been thinking of portmanteau words but this one inserted itself into his field of vision.  The word is defined as ‘indifference to other people’s religion’:

combining as it does the words ‘apathy’ and ‘theism’ – and also, as OH pointed out, ‘atheism.’  We disagreed about the pronunciation, too: I think it ought to be ap-atheism but he favours apay-theism which plays  up the atheist angle.  What do you think?

Anyway, to return to ‘offriending’.  Facebook, as many people have spotted, has its own vocabulary, relative to offline lexicon but tangential to it: sort of at right angles, as it were.  So instead of ‘dislike’ we have ‘unlike’: and a totally new word ‘unfriend’ has entered the lexicon as well as my personal favourite, ‘unfollow.’  I quite like most of these words and I would humbly wish to propose ‘offriended’ as an alternative to ‘unfriend’ and her harsher cousin, ‘block’.  (Incidentally have you seen the brilliant ‘Black Mirror’ episode where blocking someone means that even in real life they can’t see you and you can’t see them?)

Terrific stuff.)  So if you hit the ‘offriend’ button it means that something in the conversation has hit a bum note for you and rather than get into an argument about it you are ‘unfollowing’ the post.  Of course you could just unfollow the post without telling anyone, but where’s the fun in that?

Anyway, what do you think?  Could it catch on?  Would it stop more pointless arguments like the two I mentioned yesterday, both of which I unfollowed?

Oh, and on an unrelated note, can people PLEASE stop saying ‘disinterested’ instead of ‘uninterested’?  It means ‘detached, without any investment in a particular outcome.’  It is NOT cognate with bored!!!

Kirk out


O-o-kay then…

This is a bit odd.  Occasionally I get a weird sort of spiky icon in my blue corner in the space where I get joyful speech-marks, plus symbols and stars telling me that I have comments, followers and ‘likes’ respectively.  But the spiky thing doesn’t happen often, because it indicates a spike in the number of readers.  And it’s a bit odd, really.  Normally the stats hover at a low but steady rate resembling a small and slightly uneven wall.  But today they have zoomed up to 900!  I have no idea why some people in the States and Russia and Canada and loads of other places have suddenly started reading me.  I only hope it isn’t the prelude to some kind of scam…

Anyway, what prompted this post was something quite trivial in itself but which relates to yesterday’s thoughts.  And it was this.  Those readers of mine (who at this rate will soon number thousands) who don’t live in Leicester will not be aware of the Victoria Park tree saga.  The council have seen fit to cut down a number of healthy trees in order to extend both a car-park and some tennis courts, and many people are up in arms about this.  They have at the same time planted some new trees but these will take time to grow.  So, into this furore blundered a cheerful, innocent bloke who posted a comment on Facebook about how nice the new trees were looking.  Nothing about the old trees; no comment to the effect that they ought to have been chopped down – just a thought about how pleasant it was on a sunny day to see the new seedlings.  Well: from the furore which followed you’d have thought he’d expressed support for ISIS, at the very least.  Sarcastic comments abounded about how they might be nice in twenty years, about how lovely the new car park will look in the sun and lamenting the loss of habitat for the birds and squirrels, abounded until finally someone took pity on the guy and commented: ‘a simple post on how nice the new trees are looking?  Rookie mistake!  Grab your tin hat and hide under the table till it all blows over.’

And there’s the rub.  Facebook is like one of those people to whom you can never say anything to without it going wrong.  You know, the kind of person who, when you say ‘Good morning!’ snarl ‘What’s good about it?’  Or else you have this kind of conversation described in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’:

Archie: You make me feel free.

Wanda: Free?

Archie: Wanda, do you have any idea what it’s like being English? Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of, of doing the wrong thing, of saying to someone “Are you married?” and hearing “My wife left me this morning,” or saying, uh, “Do you have children?” and being told they all burned to death on Wednesday. You see, Wanda, we’ll all terrified of embarrassment. That’s why we’re so… dead. Most of my friends are dead, you know, we have these piles of corpses to dinner.

Kirk out