A Nice Game of Poosticks

No, that isn’t a typo: I am well aware that the traditional game of racing sticks under bridges is named after Winnie-the-Pooh, but I have discovered a local variant which I am calling Poosticks.  Here’s how to play: first take two dogs (you can play this game with any number of dogs but two is the optimum number).  Saddle up the dogs and then find a sturdy stick to use as a walking-cum-poo-stick.  Begin walking, choosing country lanes rather than streets which would bring into play the ‘plastic bag’ penalty.  Allow the dogs to stop now and again to sniff and urinate.  Sooner or later one of them will need to poo: allow the dog to finish, then when the poo is lying on the path, address it with your stick in the same way as you would address a golf-ball.  Then whack the assembled turds at a point near the ground but not on it: too near the ground as you will incur penalty points for kicking up the mud, not too near the top as you will achieve the undesirable result of spreading the poo over a wider area.  Experienced players can whack assembled turds into the rough (a desirable end in this game) with a single stroke, pausing only to twist the end of the stick into the long grass to clean it before moving on to the next hole (as it were).  A single afternoon with two or three dogs can yield up to seven or eight ‘holes’.  Much more fun, less expensive and far more socially useful than golf…

I have explored many of the paths in the immediate vicinity of the village here.  There are some good walks, though most of the paths go through or round agricultural land and many of the short-cuts are made impassable by fields of sheep or cattle.  I haven’t been able to go too far afield because of the hypothyroidism: about three miles is my limit, and that’s on a good day.  But as my fractal colouring book teaches me, everything is a matter of scale; and getting to know a small area in detail is just as good as travelling over a wider region:


Yesterday I went to Llangattock, where there is a stunning white church and an unexpected friar who led the service in matching hooded white habit.  Offa’s Dyke runs past the church and I experienced a longing for serious walking.  So after taking the dogs for their constitutional, I fired up the Aga and made bread in the oven and vegetable chilli on top.


Kirk out

Is There Hope?

Sometimes I find it hard to get out of bed in the morning.  And here I am in beautiful mid-Wales, nestling amongst hills with no noise to disturb me and only the bees out the front and the occasional hiker to give movement to the scene.  And yet it is hard to find any hope.  Why?  Well, it’s everything really.

First, there’s the fact that every morning when I open the door to let the dogs out, it’s mild.  Again.  I mean, here were are, it’s nearly November and there is still no frost.  It’s not even slightly cold; in fact right now it’s positively warm – and forecasters are saying if we don’t sort out global warming soon we may not be able to.  I want to enjoy the weather but my enjoyment is tinged with guilt and fear.  Climate change is here, right now – and what are our politicians doing about it?  Planning a third runway at Heathrow, that’s what.  I despair: I grew up under the flight-path at Heathrow and I know how horrible it is for those living around the airport.  But it seems there is no more will to care about them than there is to tackle climate change.  After all, that would ‘hurt business’, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

So much for the planet; then there’s the state of the world.  There’s a constant drip of horror-stories from Syria and territories where IS hold sway (the latest thing I saw – and decided not to click on – was an article about women taken by IS as sex-slaves.)  Then, closer to home but related to this is the refugee debacle and of course this all spills into the national news and the nastiness in the air post-Brexit, with people targeting anyone who looks vaguely Muslim or has the temerity not to speak English in a public place.  It’s all unutterably horrid, and I don’t know what can be done about it.

But if it’s hard for me in a beautiful village in Wales, what must it be like for unaccompanied minors in Calais or women in IS territories or, come to that, people living in the doomed village of Harmondsworth?  What do I have to worry about?

I worry about them, that’s what.  And I worry about all the rest.  Because there’s a state of things and I don’t know what can be done about it.

What CAN be done about it?  Answers on a postcard please.

Kirk out

Never Forget, Never Forgive

There’s plenty of stuff to criticise in our current culture; and the latest series of ‘Black Mirror’, broadcast on Netflix, doesn’t shrink from the task.  Previous series have generally taken place in worlds similar to our own but different; worlds where certain tendencies, in the manner of ‘1984’, have taken on their own momentum.  But in this series the worlds are closer to our own: and in episode three, ‘Shut up and Dance’, the nastiness you often find on social media is writ large.

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

The main character finds that his sister has accidentally downloaded some malware onto his laptop.  He tries to get rid of it but only succeeds in allowing it to film him as he masturbates.  He then gets a text threatening to broadcast the video all over social media; as a punishment the modern version of witch-burning.  With the tendency of society to judge and to mock, you will never get over it.

This episode is peopled by frantic men and women who want to help each other but can’t because they are terrified of their own secret being revealed.  They are all victims, slaves to messages coming from an unknown source on their phone.  The pleasant, inoffensive young man from the first scene is told first to deliver a cake to a man then joins forces with him to rob a bank.  In the final scene the young man and another guy fight ‘to the death’ to win the money, filmed by a drone they have been instructed to set loose.

It’s all horribly plausible, and of course the only answer to the blackmailers is to say ‘publish and be damned’.  But the stakes are too high for these guys in a world where images can be shared globally in seconds and may never disappear.  It’s our world writ large and in it there is neither compassion nor understanding, much less forgiveness.

Black Mirror may not show us where we are now -but it sure as hell shows us where we’re heading – if we don’t watch out.

Here’s another review.  Can’t link to the series as you have to be on Netflix:


Kirk out


Are You Gay? Take our Simple Cake Test

Doubtless you will by now have heard about the gay cake which was the centre of a controversy recently in Northern Ireland.  If you haven’t, the story goes like this: gay couple ask Christian bakers to make cake.  Bakers refuse on the grounds of their beliefs.  Gay couple take bakers to court.  Bakers lose.

Now, without in any way supporting the contention of the bakers that gay marriage is un-Christian, I’m still a tad uneasy about the result.  Let’s first of all consider the cake that they were going to bake.  There’s an image of it here:


What strikes me about it is that the slogan is not, say, ‘Congratulations Bert and Ernie’ (or whatever their names were) but ‘Support Gay Marriage.’  That seems a slightly odd, not to say provocative, thing to put on a cake.  OK I know it’s not the same but on our wedding cake we didn’t have ‘Support the Right of Older Women to Marry Younger Men’.  So one wonders whether they were trying to provoke a response with that statement.  And then, why choose that particular bakers?  Were there no other bakers in Belfast?  If I was getting a wedding-cake made I’d want it to be done by someone supportive; someone who was happy for me and wanted to share in my joy.

The case hinged on the right of the baker to refuse custom to anyone based on their sexual orientation – and it was decided that they couldn’t.  In one sense, that seems fair enough: you wouldn’t support a bar, say, which refused to serve a gay couple.  Then again, the bakers could easily have made some excuse.  But perhaps they were as bloody-minded as the couple seem to have been, determined to make a stand.

It’s hard to think of an equivalent situation.  But I think if I were a bakers and I were asked to do a cake that said – oh, I don’t know – Support Nuclear Weapons or Support the State of Israel, I’d almost certainly refuse.  But that’s not the same thing as discriminating against staff in nuclear facilities or being anti-semitic (and let’s not go there just now).

Peter Tatchell, it seems, agrees with me:


And here’s a link to Brian’s blog which got me started on this:


Kirk out

Do You Have Feet of Clay? I Know I Do

There’s a tendency nowadays – a regrettable tendency, which does not distinguish it from a number of tendencies – for people to have feet of clay.  When I was growing up we didn’t know much about the private lives of famous people, such as their political views or whether they were married or had children; but now it’s almost de rigueur for this stuff to be splattered all over the media as if we have a right to know.  Everyone from footballers to politicians, from actors to TV presenters, has their private lives spreadeagled for our perusal – and god help them if we find anything wrong.

To an extent, with politicians it’s fair enough.  If they have shares in a certain company and happen to lobby for legislation favourable to that company, that’s our business.  If they campaign against gay rights but have had homosexual relationships, that’s our business.  But the rest of it isn’t.

It’s also true that many celebrities court this kind of publicity, giving interviews about their private lives and writing revealing autobiographies.  That’s their privilege; I don’t necessarily want to know.

But what bothers me is the way anyone in the media is held up as some kind of example; and then the moment they put a foot wrong they are utterly vilified.  What bothers me is when a person is generally admired and then they are found to have an Achilles heel – and this brings the entire edifice crumbling to the ground.  It’s very critical and judgmental.

Anyone in the public eye is subject to this merciless scrutiny – and god help you if you express a view people disagree with.  I was disappointed in JK Rowling’s view of Jeremy Corbyn, but that’s her privilege; however consider the abuse Gary Lineker has been subjected to merely for wanting to treat refugees as human beings.


It’s horrid – and it’s getting worse.

I don’t believe someone like Trump could happen here – and yet someone like Katie Hopkins – Katie Hopkins herself in fact – happens every day.  I choose not to watch her but I know she’s there, along with the thousands of twitter-trolls and facebook f-word-flingers and a seeming army of people for whom the mere fact of disagreeing with someone entitles them to hurl insults in their direction.  And that’s not even touching on all the people for whom the word ‘Muslim’ equates to the word ‘terrorist’ giving them an automatic right – nay, even a duty – to attack anyone who appears to be Muslim.

How did we get to this?  And more importantly, what are we going to do about it?

I really want to know.

Kirk out

The Sky at Night Situation

Last night, having been alerted to the imminence of some sort of ‘ids’ appearing in the sky (I think they were Orionids, but I’ll look it up in a minute) I went out to look at the night.  The darkness is practically total here; apart from a couple of security lights set off by the occasional cat, there’s nothing to pierce it but the stars.

Orionids.  That’s it – which presumably means they’re connected to Orion, though I’m not sure why.  They are remnants of Halley’s comet, streaking across the sky.


Here’s a picture from 4 days ago:

I never really took to astronomy, though my mother was very keen and used to get us up in the middle of the night to watch an eclipse or check out Orion’s position in the sky.  Besides ‘Dad’s Army’, ‘The Sky at Night’ was her favourite programme and she would always stay up to the ungodly hour of 11.30 to watch the squint-eyed Patrick Moore talk in breathless tones about what Mars was up to these days and what you could see this month, whether you had a top-of-the-range telescope or just a pair of naked eyes.  Fascist though he supposedly was, you couldn’t help liking Patrick Moore – and in later years it was quite touching to see his grizzled head next to the long curly locks of Queen guitarist Brian May, also a very keen astronomer.


Like I say, I never really took to astronomy.  It’s one of those things I think I ought to take an interest in but somehow I don’t, much – I don’t know why.  In theory I am interested by the movements of stars and planets, but in practise when OH utters some universe-shattering piece of information about them (I’m sure I’ve given plenty of examples in previous posts) I can’t summon that much enthusiasm.

But it’s not because I don’t feel anything when I look at the stars.  On the contrary, I feel a sense of distance and a sense of closeness.  I feel lonely and I feel connected: I feel a sense of wonder and a sense of ignorance.  And last night, as I spotted Mars so clear and blinking and red like a small, faraway sun, and recognised both Orion and the Plough but not much else, I felt a profound sense of belonging to the entire universe.  We are stardust, after all, as the song reminds us; the blood of the stars flows in our veins.  We are connected to everything and everything is connected to us – and recognising that matters a great deal more than recognising a constellation which is, after all, a random pattern which depends on where you are standing.

Anyway, here’s a fascinating bio of Patrick Moore in all his glory: racist, sexist and homophobic (though not in public) but also generous, dedicated and with a terrific ability to make fun of himself.


And here’s his final programme, recorded shortly before he died:

And let’s not forget his facility on the xylophone:

And here’s Ronnie Barker doing a brilliant skit:

And here he is playing along with John Colshaw:


RIP, Patrick, whichever planet you’re on.

Kirk out

The Pub and Beer Situation

I don’t know if there’s any connection with the aforementioned pub sign showing a man and a devil, but the village pub in Grosmont is called The Angel.  I could maybe work in a line about non angli, sed angeli if I tried, but I don’t know if it’s worth it – anyway, it’s a great local pub and last night as I met a couple of the inmates I found out some of the history of the place.

Above the bar there’s a sheep’s head.  Not a real one, you understand, but a reasonably convincing one at that.  Turns out the sheep’s head is a prop from a film made a few years back and set in the village.  Mick was scratching his head trying to think of the actor’s name: I assumed, being a low-budget film, it’d be someone obscure.  First he came up with Damien Hurst until his wife pointed out that the sheep’s head was misleading him there; then, not really believing it would be him, I came up with Damien Lewis.  ‘That’s him!’ they cried triumphantly.  ‘Really?  Damien Lewis?  Blimey!’

‘Yes, they said.  ‘And that Michael guy.  Something to do with ham.’

‘Michael Gambon???’

‘That’s right.  Him.’

Bloody hell.  So in a film that went straight to DVD and was set in Grosmont, they had Damien Lewis and Michael Gambon.  He was very nice, apparently.

The film is called the Dandelion and they’re going to try to dig out a copy for me to watch.

Not only that, but there’s a book set in the valley as well!  On the walk I took yesterday which went rather drastically uphill and then obviously equally drastically downhill on the way back, I went through a farm.  Now apparently on that farm there were six brothers, none of whom ever married, and when Bruce Chatwin visited the area he was so struck by the story that he put it into a book, though he changed the six brothers into twins.  ‘On the Black Hill’ is set in and around Grosmont and also features the Black Mountains, which you can see quite clearly from the road.  I can’t find the film on imdb, but here’s the book:


It’s amazing what you find out when you go down to the pub!

Kirk out


Rectory Towers: The Work Situation

I’m getting into a routine now that I’ve been here a week or so.  The first few days were taken up with other people; sister was here till Friday and from Friday to Monday the house was taken over by a horde of thirty-somethings celebrating nephew’s birthday.  As hordes go they were very gentle and caring; they chatted to me, stacked the dishwasher and put their empty bottles and cans in the recycling, but by Sunday they were all distinctly bleary-eyed and headed off to their respective lives, leaving me to begin mine here, in this house.

I’m settling in to Rectory Towers now, finding a groove that fits with my usual routine.  I do my best writing in the mornings so the hours after breakfast are devoted to the new novel.  I don’t want to say too much about it but the theme is gender and like the TV series it’s called ‘Boy Meets Girl.’  At least that’s the working title.  For the first time I can see myself actually finishing a novel, as opposed to ending it, if you see what I mean.  Previous novels have been forced to a conclusion by sheer marathon efforts, sometimes using NaNoWriMo (http://nanowrimo.org) as a spur, sometimes giving myself a time-limit.  Last year’s novel was written in about 2 1/2 months and though it was valuable no-one could say it was finished.  I got satisfaction from bits of it, but not from the thing as a whole.

This time it’s different.  I don’t know how many novels most writers have to complete before they get one they’re happy with, but I suspect it’s a few.  I’ve written maybe seven or eight over the years – I can’t remember now – some for NaNoWriMo and some not.  If you want to write a novel and can’t quite begin, I recommend NaNo – the time is coming up soon, so get with it.  The thing is to just write, get the words down, without thinking about what you’re writing and (above all) whether it’s any good.

I know I’ve said this before about poetry but I think it holds good for prose too – you don’t want the critical voice in there when you’re writing.  When you’re revising, fine – but when you’re doing the first draft, it needs to butt out.

So the first novel I ever wrote – as you’re probably tired of hearing – was about a woman stuck in a nuclear bunker.  She imagines there has been a nuclear apocalypse (it was written in the late ’80’s) and that other people will soon come.  When no-one does she believes they are all dead.  In order to survive the boredom and loneliness she begins to write what are basically her memoirs – and in coming to the most recent past, realises that the apocalypse was not real at all but the product of a mental event (there’s more to this but I won’t go into it now).  The novel is called Seven Days because she’s in the bunker for seven days; creating (or re-creating) herself; and on the seventh day she realises that the bunker isn’t real.

I wanted the story to parallel the timeline of life on earth, which I read somewhere began 300 million years ago.  In order to give myself some idea of what 300 million years was like I began to rule strips of paper into a timeline broken up into spans of a hundred years.  I started to paste them round my wall.  Progress was very slow, and in the end I worked out that if I did this for eight hours a day, seven days a week it would take me three years to complete.

So I guess you could say I got an idea of an idea of what 300 million years is like.  But no more than that.

But enough of this: so far, ‘Boy Meets Girl’ is going well; I’ve written the first few chapters already and I’m ready to plan the next lot.  Each day I put the words from the day before onto the computer and then write another section.  When I’ve done that it’s usually lunchtime; then after lunch I write a blog post or some thoughts in my diary.  Then about three-ish I take the dogs for a walk; then when we come back it’s time to suss out the fuel and wood situation and think about lighting the range.  Once I’ve got the range going I read or write some more for a while and then it’s time for dinner, over which I usually listen to whatever’s on at 6.30 followed by The Archers.  Yes, I’ve got back into the Archers again.

There’s TV in the evenings, or pub; and so to bed, having let the dogs out, checked the gas obsessively, given the dogs their bedtime treat and tucked them in.

Kirk out

Wrestling with LSE

Back in the days when my only outlet was my diary; before I had you, dear reader, I used to write a lot about how I was feeling.  It seemed self-obsessed but it was necessary; and as I now know it is necessary to all writers, to maintain that forensic examination of the inner world – at least those writers who write about the inner world as opposed to those, like Lee Child, who don’t.

It isn’t only our own inner world we obsess about.  We try to figure out what’s going on with others too, examining in minutest detail their every word and action and trying to figure out what’s behind it.  Before I understood these habits I tried to cure myself of them – and failed.  I tried because they took over my life, leaving me no time or energy to hold down a job or maintain any sort of normal life.  Nowadays, by contrast, I’ve given up the habit of normal life, resigned any attempt to fit in, and just tried to accept who I am.

It’s a process of coming out much like any other, I guess.  I know it doesn’t seem as risky as declaring your stoutness (sorry, gayness – a bit of ‘Not the Nine o’clock News’ got in there) because being a writer doesn’t carry the pariah status that homosexuality can.  But it feels like it.  When you’re used to hiding all your life because your real self has been ignored, criticised, shouted at, feared and hated, it feels like it.  Because people fear writers.  They fear you precisely because they don’t want you to see the things that you see.  And especially they don’t want you to write about the things that you see.

And this causes some problems.  Not being a bull-headed, egoistical, insensitive sort of soul, I am unable to do what some writers have and just drive a coach and horses through all the obstacles.  Instead I must pick my way through them like a wincing, barefoot bather picking her way across a stony beach.  Some of the stones are hard.  They pierce the skin and I bleed.

I’m not saying any of this because I want you to feel sorry for me.  I don’t, on the whole, feel sorry for myself: writing thrives on obstacles and if I hadn’t had this particular set of problems there would have been something else.  Plenty of people have it worse.  But what strikes me at the moment is the struggle with what, in my diaries, I used to call LSE.  I suffered from it so frequently that it was necessary to come up with an acronym for Low Self-Esteem – or ‘low self-steam’ as I put it in a recent poem.  I like both abbreviations.

So right now it seems to go like this; I get a good day and then a bad day.  On a bad day I wake up with inexplicable feelings of LSE.  On a bad night I wake up at four in the morning with inexplicable LSE.  It seems to come out of nowhere, and it won’t let me rest.  So I have to wrestle with it.

Kirk out

The Dog-Walking Situation

This is very definitely not to be confused with the fuel and wood situation.  I have not needed to activate the fuel and wood situation until the evening as the weather is still so warm.  It’s lovely but I can’t help feeling deeply uneasy about global warming… anyway, it’s perfect weather for walking the dogs.

These dogs are something else.  They are not at all what I’m used to as I grew up with labradors and generally prefer big dogs.  These are not big.  There’s a small one and a smaller one, and they definitely have a pecking order according to size as the small one defers to the larger one.  But when it comes to walking the smaller one knocks spots off her sibling.  She’s a long-haired miniature daschund and she beetles along, straining at the leash, legs scuttling furiously and long-haired ears streaming in the wind.

I was unsure about whether I could combine my walking needs with those of the dogs as I’d want to go further afield; but I needn’t have worried.  Apparently they’re good for a ten-mile hike which is probably as much as I’d ever want to do.  Today was a much gentler stroll down the road (and I mean down) to tiny place called Kentchurch which consists of a couple of houses, a hen-box and a pub (the one I told you about before with the sign showing the man and the devil).  I met the hen-lady on the way back and asked if they usually have eggs as I hadn’t brought my purse.

It’s a terribly laid-back way of life down here.  Nobody locks their doors and there’s hardly any traffic.  What there is, is mostly farm vehicles or visitors to the castle.  I walked the dogs there yesterday as you can go all the way round without climbing on the ramparts.IMAG0022[1]


I can’t find a photo of the dogs so I’ll have to upload it later.  Time to sort out the fuel and wood situation and make pizza!

Kirk out