Harry Potter and the Jumped Shark

A few weeks ago I scooted through the hot-off-the-press script of the latest J K Rowling creation: ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’.  I wasn’t sure what to make of there being a sequel: I generally think series of novels are best left ‘finished’ rather than projected into the future, a problem CS Lewis solved by killing off all his characters as well as the setting which spawned them.  I partly wish Rowling had gone the same way: although there is a case for background info like ‘Pottermore’ I think it’s generally unwise to give in to the temptation to write further stories.

On the whole I think this instinct was confirmed by my reading.  The story definitely ‘jumps the shark’ in many ways by going back in time to alter outcomes arising from events in HP 4, specifically the death of Cedric Diggory.  A time-turner has conveniently survived the Ministry purge and falls into the hands of two newcomers to Hogwarts; Albus (second son of Harry and Ginny) and Scorpius, son of Draco Malfoy.  The friendship between these two is the most authentic part of HPCC; sons of enemies who both end up in Slytherin, their relationship is touching and feels genuinely updated.  There’s tons of irony here; the fact that Albus is cursed by his father’s legacy; the fact that he ends up in Slytherin house, and the fact that he becomes best friend of his father’s bete noire.  But whilst the boys are rounded personalities, the same cannot be said of Harry, Ron and Hermione projected into the future; in fact I found all the adult characters flat and uninspiring.  That said, this is a play and not a novel and I can well imagine that with thousands spent on special effects and equipment this is a stunning spectacle.  But as a read?  Nah.

Enough Potter already!

Kirk out

Moving Days

You may have been wondering what I’ve been up to in the last ten days.  On the other hand, you may not… but wonder no longer.  These are moving times, and in a sudden cataclysm we have had to vacate the premises, put all of our stuff into storage and decamp to Loughborough.  The actual moving day was in the end quite straightforward although I had a total meltdown in the morning due to being left on my own with a hundred boxes and a thousand things still needing to be done: but help was at hand, in the shape of Tom, our daughter’s excellent boyfriend, who spent half the day (and half the previous day) helping.  The removal men proved to be cheerful and helpful and got everything into the store room while I sat on my swivel chair and wrote my diary (one must always have something sensational to write in the storage-room).

But wow.  Have you ever been to one of these places?  It’s like the Dr Who of the seventies, and I kid you not: endless branching corridors with steel doors to right and left, all closed (hang on, I know what it reminds me of – the nuclear bunkers in my first novel) and all containing who knows what; and what’s worse is you can hear the trundling of trolleys, the whining of the lift and the howling of the damned as they try to wrestle their belongings into position – but you never see anything.  It’s a totally freaky place.

Actually I did see one poor woman: she was totally unprepared, had packed everything into crumbling bin-bags instead of boxes and was haemorrhaging bottles of shampoo and shower gel as she trundled to her locker, wailing ‘I’ve got so much stuff!! I’ve got so much stuff!!’  I, too, was horrified by the amount of stuff we had but also quietly smug about the fact that it was all snugly wrapped in boxes.

As for where we are going to store our actual bodies, we are first of all staying in Loughborough with family, and then I shall be house-sitting in Wales until the end of November.  After that, we shall see…

Now all of this might look like disaster.  We have no permanent home, no foreseeable future and half of our stuff has been given away or recycled.  But it doesn’t feel like that – and no, this is not just me putting a brave face on things.  It actually feels quite liberating, getting rid of crap that has just sat in boxes for years; donating clothes you no longer wear and books you no longer read: it’s a way of defining yourself differently.  And as for the uncertainty about the future, that too feels exciting and liberating.  I have no clue what’s going to happen and it feels great.

So don’t cry for me, Argentina.  Because life goes on – and life is good.

Kirk out



It’s tempting to wonder if the phrase ‘a Pyrrhic victory’ will soon be replaced by the word ‘Ukippered’.  Pyrrhic, as you will recall, comes from Pyrrhus, the Roman general whose victory cost so many lives that he was heard to say, ‘One more such victory and we are done for.’


The same could be said right now of UKIP.  Like the government when it started this ill-starred and ill-advised referendum, they don’t seem to have had a post-Brexit plan; and as a result they are now falling apart.  Farrage, far from enjoying his victory and crowing loud and long over the triumphant state of a Britain that has ‘taken back control’, has resigned and hopped across the pond to place his grinning face under the inexplicable hair of Donald Trump.  Trump and Farrage sounds like a firm of particularly dodgy lawyers, but nobody seems to care.  Meanwhile, the government struggles to come to terms with a nightmarish aftermath which nobody really wanted, where nobody knows what could or should happen and where even those who voted for it are starting to think they didn’t know what they were voting for.

This was not entirely their fault: they were misled shamefully by newspapers and leaders who never stopped plugging lies and half-truths about spending and immigrants.  At least Boris is still around to face the music – if not to actually conduct some of it – while his ally Farrage has skipped bail leaving the country and his party in a parlous state.

Meanwhile Corbyn seems to me to have the most coherent Brexit plan, trying to honour the democratic result of the referendum (which Owen Smith is proposing to disregard) while retaining some of the positive aspects of the European Union.  My heart sinks whenever I hear the word Brexit: I hate the result with a passion, but it’s no good saying we can’t honour it, because then you may as well tear up parliamentary democracy if you do that.  I hated the results of the last two elections but you can’t just hold another election if you don’t like the result of the first one; something Owen Smith would do well to bear in mind.

That’s it for today.  Very tired.  I hate moving house.

Kirk out


Bake-Off and Die

This post comes with a health warning: it’s a bit of a rant, and it’s not very focussed.  It contains lots of ideas I’ve been trying to get together for months now and in the end I just decided to mix them all up together in a post and marinade them in the public gaze for a while before giving them a stir and seeing what happens.

You see, sometimes in the early hours I wake up and worry about the state of current feminism.  Now, I’m a feminist to my bootstraps (well, DM-bootlaces anyway) – I want women in positions of power: I want us to take an equal part in society, I want VAT taken off tampons.  But I worry that there were people who used to get looked after who are not now.  In the old days if there was an orphan or a parent or even a grown man who somehow needed looking after, the thing to do was look around for the nearest woman.  If she was single, so much the better: if married, she would cope.  In ‘Billy,’ Pamela Stephenson’s biography of Billy Connolly, he speaks about being brought up by one such woman, Mona, whose youth and marriage prospects were blighted by being expected to look after one child after another, and who took out her disappointment and bitterness on her charges.


And in Spanish novels of more than, say, fifty years ago it is common to read the lines ‘Who cooks for Senor ___?’  Where a man lives alone; there will be a woman who cooks for him – and probably another who cleans, and another who does his laundry.  I imagine this was not confined to Spain either.

And sometimes I look back and I worry.  In the old days it seemed no-one was left uncared for.  Everyone worked together for the good of the community.  Not true, of course, but the nostalgia persists, even though I know that no-one cared for the women; no-one brought them a cup of tea when they were tired or cooked a meal when they’d been busy all day or valued and appreciated everything they did: no-one except other women, because they knew what it was like.  And whenever I’m tempted to feel nostalgic for those days I imagine myself looking after my father-in-law and cooking for my husband and doing my son’s washing as well as all the cleaning and never having any time to write, and I know that I would go stark, staring mad.

But now that we’ve have moved on, leaving a gap which, to no-one’s surprise, men have largely declined to fill; our work has been largely taken up by other women: women of lower status.  Women from Asia or Eastern Europe.  And here’s the thing; housework and care work is low-paid and low status.  Were the women who perform these self-sacrificing tasks given a high status; were they consulted on all matters of national importance; were they well-paid and recognised for the work they do, it might not be so bad.  But the opposite happens: they are taken for granted, unpaid, unrecognised and never consulted about anything.  How many of those who walk the freshly-vacuumed Corridors of Power ever think about who vacuumed them?

In a recent poem I imagined what it would be like if Christ returned as a woman.  She might well be a cleaner:

‘she hoovers early corridors

and rides a bleary bus

she clears a porthole in the fog

and looks like one of us.’

I was in Madrid in 1991 when there was a street-cleaner’s strike.  In Spain strikes are rarely all-out stoppages but more like what we would call ‘work to rule’ – a minimum amount of work is done; so that instead of being cleaned the rubbish was swept into piles and left.  Imagine the same thing happening in the Houses of Parliament: how many days would it take before the dirt piled up to an intolerable level?  How long would it be before MP’s decided they couldn’t function?

I could go further and speculate about the sewers; but I suspect you’d prefer me not to.  You get the idea; that here are men and women doing the most menial tasks who are in many ways the most essential members of society, and what status are they accorded?  The lowest.

This is at its worst in India, where people are very strongly associated with the work they do.  Everyone is assigned a place according to their birth; even now there is little social mobility (notwithstanding Narendra Modhi, the first ‘untouchable’ Prime Minister) and those who work with urine, dirt and faeces are themselves considered to be dirty and contaminated.

I’ve kind of gone off my point a bit.  The point was going to be this: that feminism has come of age in the context of global capitalism; and in so doing it has taken on the ethics of a system which pits everyone against everyone else.  In the seventies feminism was largely socialist, but it was the capitalists who thrust women into prominent positions, and feminism has latched onto this rising tide *and nowadays we are all supposed to be in competition with each other; so that political discourse often seems like a chorus of voices all shouting ‘Me too!  Me too!’ with everyone jumping up and down waving their hands in the air.

For example.  In my youth sexuality was a Big Issue.  We talked a lot about gay men.  Then it was brought (quite rightly) to our attention that lesbians existed too; so we began to talk about Gays and Lesbians.  Then the people in between (if that isn’t an offensive way of describing them, which it probably is) pointed out that they existed too and would quite like to be included, so it became Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals; but it wasn’t long before a veritable rash of transgender people coupled themselves up to the train, making the current LGBT acronym – which is itself going rapidly out of date as the Q coach has been added (Q meaning ‘gender-queer’, which as far as I can figure out means you identify as whatever gender you damn well please and other people are supposed to remember who and what you are and which pronoun you prefer) and so it goes on.  Some people have given up on the acronym altogether and just say ‘Quiltbag’.  But whether anyone outside that social group knows what a Quiltbag is, I don’t know.  It’s a bloody minefield.

I’m aware that I’m probably starting to sound intolerant.  Sure, people have the right to identify with whatever they like and be called whatever they choose.  It’s just that, with the best will in the world, it’s really hard work for the rest of us to get our heads round it.  And I worry that this is leading to an ever-more fractured society, one in which different groups have different norms and assumptions about which the rest of the world has no idea.  For example, in my youth ‘tranny’ meant one of two things: it was either a) a transistor radio, the sort you’d carry on your shoulder whilst swaying your hipster jeans-clad hips or b) a semi-affectionate term for a transvestite.  But now I discover that ‘tranny’ is considered offensive – at least by those in the transgender ‘community’ – though how those outside of that community are supposed to figure that out, I don’t know.

I’m groping towards an idea here.  Bear with me.  Nowadays we are all supposed to be self-starting, self-marketing, self-motivating little market forces, all competing with each other, each living in our own brick box and driving in our own metal box to a work-space where we compete for jobs and salaries and recognition.  And the capitalists rub their hands because now, instead of one person per family being hooked up to the machine, they can have two.  Like hamsters on a wheel the modern couple both need to work in order to pay a mortgage or rent, because if they get off that wheel they will lose their home and enter into a downwards spiral.  There’s no concept of sharing: the equation is that the more I have (the more money, fame, possessions) the less you have.  And even when we get home and switch on the telly half the programmes are competitions in which one hapless contender is pitted against another while being held up to ridicule and humiliation in front of an audience.  The schedules bristle with quizzes, game shows and talent shows.  And the most popular programme at the moment?  Yep – it’s a competition.  ‘Bake-Off’ turns what ought to be a relaxed and creative activity into a frenzied fight for supremacy.


I just want to suggest that we can do better.  Some politician recently got into trouble for saying that women don’t do so well in politics because they are ‘too nice’.  Leaving aside that question – which I would’ve thought would be refuted in the persons of Thatcher and May – there’s an assumption that politics is essentially mean and nasty.  And I question that.  There can be few jobs in government more invidious than that of Northern Ireland secretary – but when you consider what amazing strength and understanding Mo Mowlam brought to the peace process, it makes you realise that we need more such women – more such people, people! – in politics.

So here’s the thing: instead of continuing to adapt to the world as it is, we need to change it.  As the French say, ‘soyez realistique: demandez l’impossible.’

Phew!  Rant over.

Kirk out

*one more thought: it is often said that a rising tide lifts all boats.  This is true, except the ones tethered to the bottom

Harry Potter and the Jumped Shark

You might think that after a success like Harry Potter, an author would be completely burnt out.  I’m sure I would be – for a while at least.  But having scooped up her awards, JK Rowling barely had time for a good night’s sleep before she was deep into a novel for adults, ‘A Casual Vacancy’.  Two more followed, this time under a pseudonym (that secret was never going to be kept) and now we have the latest in the Potter saga, ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’

*********SPOILER ALERT **********

Its hard to judge this from merely reading the script: I’ve heard that the staging and special effects are terrific and I’m sure it’s a tremendous spectacle.  But on the page it’s very much a curate’s egg with not many good parts.

The story carries on from the exact moment the series left off.  As you will recall, Harry and Ginny are seeing their youngest, Albus, off to Hogwarts.  Albus is a nervous, sensitive boy whose main fear is that he will be put into Slytherin House by the Sorting Hat.  The main focus of the action is on Albus: as he gets on the train he sits with Scorpius, the son of Draco Malfoy.  Both are in some sense pariahs – and because of the history between their parents no-one wants them to be friends – and yet, much as Ron and Harry took to each other right from the word go, so Scorpius and Albus become fast friends.  This for me was the best bit of the story: the friendship between them is touching and feels real; the language is authentic for a younger generation (‘Al owled me’) and the relationship feels genuine.

Not so the rest of the story, which regrettably I found to be a re-hashing of the novels.  You may recall that all the time-turners in the Ministry had been destroyed.  Oh, but wait – one has survived the purge.  Albus and Scorpius find it and try to go back in time to prevent – hang on, what was it? to prevent Cedric Diggory from dying because – well I really can’t remember why, and that’s the thing.  Once you start going back in time to change plots you’re on a very sticky wicket: in fact it’s a sure sign of jumping the shark.


The adult characters (Harry, Ron, Hermione and others) are flat now that they’re grown up: it’s vaguely interesting finding out that Hermione is Minister for Magic but I ended up skipping whole wodges of the action as it just didn’t grab me.

Like I say, what with special effects and trickery it’s probably stunning on stage – but on the page?


Jumping the shark?  Give me hunting the snark any day…


Kirk out

You Want a Problem, my Friend? I’ll Give you a Problem!

OK so here’s the thing.  We may think that what we want out of life is to sit by a pool sipping a martini while a naked man (or woman) massages our feet.  But we are essentially problem-solvers: and if we don’t have a problem we tend to make one.  We argue about the temperature of the pool or who has used up the massage oil or whether I’m getting fat.  Watch Big Brother and shudder…

So here’s the thing: life is problems.  Not only problems but mainly problems.  You have a problem; I have a problem – and we both want our problems to go away, but they refuse to.  My problem sits there like a crossword-puzzle on my laptop which won’t let me open any other applications: before I can move on, I have to solve the puzzle.  But even though I’ve done lots of crosswords before, I can’t do this one.  The clues defeat me.  I’ve phoned a friend – in fact I’ve phoned all my friends – I’ve googled everything I can and I’ve beaten my brains trying to find an answer.  Because this is like a whole new layer of crossword: it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  And still it sits there, and still I have to solve the thing in order to move on – which means I have to find some new strategies. I don’t know how to find those strategies, so I must first discover them and then apply them.  It seems impossible.

But here’s the thing: as I look for the strategies a window begins to open up.  I begin to see answers where there was only blank space.  I look at the puzzle from a whole new angle, one I hadn’t even imagined before.  I find unsuspected, hidden clues.  I start to fill in the gaps.  And in finding those new strategies, I am changed.  In finding these strategies I grow as a human being.

Then again, supposing I don’t even try: supposing I just sit there and complain that I have a problem.  Other people may try to help: but since the crossword is for me only they can’t get behind the screen and see it properly.

This reminds me of something a Friend said at Sunday’s meeting:

‘Another person is more successful than you in exams.  So you decide to copy  them – you do what they do, behave as they behave.  You mimic their habits, their walk, their clothes and way of talking.  But what you don’t realise is that in this exam, everyone has a different set of questions.’

And that’s what we’re talking about here.  No-one can see your laptop screen like you can because no-one sits where you sit.  When I think, ‘I wish I knew what it would be like to be that person,’ there’s no way of knowing – because then I’d be them and not me.  That chair can only be occupied by one person at a time.

My life at the moment is like this.  You know the concept of fractals?  They’re wiggly things which on closer examination have wiggly things inside them.  Like a coastline: from a distance it looks smooth but on closer examination it has lots of ins and outs: little bays and inlets, outcrops and headlands.  When you examine these more closely they too are made up of wiggly bits – and so it goes on.  Even a grain of sand is not smooth; its surface is also wiggly.


Here’s an example from a set of images called the Mandelbrot Set:

Mandelbrot Set Zoom on Vimeo

So my life at the moment is a bit like this picture – or, if you will, like a coastline.  Every day there is a new twist; a new turn.  One day we take a left towards the horizon and I think ‘Aha!  I see where we’re going – right out to sea!’  But the next day we turn towards land again, whereupon I get really depressed (‘Oh no, we’re going back again!’) – and the day after, we head towards the lighthouse – and so on.  I drive myself mad trying to figure out where it’s going to end up, because it’s all so convoluted.  The only way it looks smooth is from above – a God’s-eye-view, if you like.  Except that of course a God’s-eye-view is from every single imaginable point…

You can drive yourself mad thinking about all this.  Or you can try not to see it as a problem.  You can even try to see it as an incredible journey.  Because the question ‘Where am I going?’ can only be answered by the question: ‘how am I living?’

Kirk out

PS:  Oh, and the title?  It was Monica in ‘Friends’ firing Joey as a show of strength.  I feel for her in this episode – I know exactly what it’s like trying to assert authority over people who have no respect for you.  A propos of which I shall post a review of the excellent ITV series ‘Victoria’.  But that’s a twist for another day…

A Problem Shared is a Problem Multiplied?

We all know those people.  If we’re savvy we avoid them at all costs, evading eye contact and sitting on the other side of the room, because we know from painful experience that the slightest contact (even asking ‘how are you?’) will trigger a litany – or possibly even a liturgy – of Bad Experiences.  These people have perennial problems.  They are lonely, perhaps, and need company.  First time round you feel sorry for them.  You have a chat and try to cheer them up.  You suggest groups they might want to join.  You introduce them to people.  And the next time you meet, nothing’s changed.  ‘Oh,’ you enquire, ‘did you go to that group/talk to that person/ join that class?’

And did they?  Did they hell.

You might try suggesting other things.  You might be nice and have a cheery chat every time you meet.  But basically you’re on a losing wicket, because the person isn’t prepared to change.  They are blaming their circumstances for something that’s inside them.  Because if you’re in a bad situation (and I’m the queen of bad situations) and you can’t get out of it you need to look for the good you can do.  If you’re lonely, join groups, talk to people.  If you’re shy, join a drama group – or a choir – or something where you can be part of it by doing something unobtrusive like mixing the sound or mashing the tea.  But you need to do something because you’re the only person who can – and because there’s nothing more boring than a person with perennial problems.

Which is partly why, when I have problems I don’t talk much about them.  There’s probably not much anyone can do about whatever it is: but there’s more to it than that.  Perpetual complaining has an effect on the complainer as well as the listener.  You become a problem, instead of a person living with a problem.  Your problems not only define you, they end up defining everyone you meet – because you separate them into sheep and wolves: those who help and those who don’t.

A propos of this, I came across an interesting idea the other day.  It was in the context of alcoholism but it works with a number of situations (I think it’s from Gestalt theory).  You have a tall, thin isosceles triangle – and at the apex is The Victim: the One With The Problem.  Then at the bottom you have the Enemy (the person or thing who’s causing the trouble) and in the other corner, the Friend.  So here’s the thing: if the Victim approaches you as a Friend, asking for help; and if (having tried everything) you stop helping, there’s only one other place to go.  You become the Enemy.  There are only three places on this chess board and the only way to win is to stop playing.

This is a central idea in dealing with alcoholism too.  It’s like a revolving door in which everyone – the alcoholic and those trying to help – is stuck.  You can’t stop the revolving door while others are still pushing it round: all you can do is get out of the way.  It feels like selfishness but it’s actually very necessary.  Your actions may not stop the door because the alcoholic may find someone else to help push, or they may just keep pushing it themselves.  In the end, all you can do is look after yourself.

That’s what I’ve learned lately from going to Al-Anon.  It’s a brilliant organisation and I recommend it to everyone who’s affected by someone’s drinking.


Kirk out


“Spark-Joy” – books, music, and friends

Reblogging this from Brian as it is very pertinent to OH and me at the moment

Brian's Blog

About half way through Marie Kondo’s book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ all about “The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” she gets onto the topic of de-hoarding books, and so shall I.

(I downloaded it as an audio book off Youtube, but it has since been removed).


I quite like books but I don’t consider my collection to be excessive, causing a problem, or in need of a sort-out (although I have pondered the issue in the past), but Marie’s client as she uses as an example in her book needed to reduce their collection. As with everything, she asked the question regarding each individual book (which first had to be removed from the shelves with all the others and held in the hands) “Does it spark joy?”

For me, my book collection as an entirety sparks joy, as far as I can tell, from the point…

View original post 828 more words

Monty, You Terrible C***

It’s dreadful the language you get on Facebook these days.  People calling each other the worst names while insisting on having a drink and smoking the largest joints you’ve ever seen, getting nearly gored by bulls and almost b****red in dank cottage bedrooms.  And yet this is what keeps me sane, for it all happens on one group.  The Withnail and I Appreciation Society.

I blogged about this a week or two back when I first joined.  Back then I merely found it a source of idle amusement; but it has rapidly grown into one of the major sources of sanity in my life.  When I begin to ask myself why I still bother with Facebook; when my heart splinters with despair at the political wrangling; when the simplest of local discussions seems to degenerate into fury – then I turn to the W&I group and find a balm for my soul.  There’s something very sustaining about the freedom to insult people: when I was younger most of my friends called each other terrible names and it was all understood to be in jest, a kind of shorthand, a way of saying we liked each other.  This is quite male, I think, but some women like it too: it’s comforting and reassuring.  It’s like knowing you can’t cross a line; that you are accepted and included, without judgement.

The W&I group is entirely in the spirit of the film; it’s a happy-go-lucky, serendipitous bunch of people who take their amusement where they find it, demand to have some booze, scour cafes for the finest wines known to humanity and find hares for their pot in the humps of local types.  Of course, none of this will mean anything to you if you haven’t seen the film.  So what are you waiting for?

Kirk out

The Death of Magic

Here’s my latest poem, which asks the question, ‘What would it be like if magic was dead and all the Harry Potter characters had to make a life in the Muggle world?’

The Death of Magic

Can a Boggart

eat a yoghurt

as it finds its form?

That would be Riddikulus

and far outside the norm.


And could Dementors

be presenters

on the BBC?

They’d have a problem speaking

with those mouths of mystery.


And if half-giants

in defiance

took to selling cars?

Would you buy a used one

from a bearded man with scars?


If Voldemort was stacking shelves

and Dumbledore Prime Minister

who would need the house-elves?

Who would then be sinister?


If Snape cast off his darkling frown

and left to run a sweet-shop.

if George became a circus clown,

if Filch became a street-cop;

if Arthur Weasley managed banks

and Ron was a celebrity

and Grainger, H. an academic

as was clearly meant to be;

if Peeves was Jeeves and Dobby, gobby;

if Molly won the lottery

if Vernon Dursley cast a spell –

who then would Harry Potter be?

(c) Sarada Gray, 2016