Ha Bumbug!

I have to say, this year I don’t feel much like revelling.  Not only has my body-clock changed to that of an eighty-year-old, meaning that I tend to wake with the lark and go to bed with a nice cup of cocoa (or in my case, chamomile) around ten – but this year has been frankly abysmal.  I can’t remember a twelvemonth in which more people died (people I grew up with and loved, that is) or in which more political horrors were perpetrated.  The news from Syria was awful to start with and it kept getting worse; terrorists ploughed vehicles into crowds, and after Brexit anyone who didn’t have two brain cells to rub together felt at liberty to abuse any Muslim they happened to come across and tell them to go back where they came from (Bradford, mostly).  And to think that next year what we have to look forward to is the inauguration of Mr T (I pity the fool who votes for me!  I pity the fool!) – well, it makes me want to stick my head under a pillow and keep it there for the whole of 2017.

So is all I can say is, thank god for Charlie Brooker: his ‘2016 Wipe’ did just what it said on the tin, wiping the floor with the entire annus horribilis and ending up with a lovely montage of Mr T sabotaging himself.  Fake news gets the Brooker treatment, as do the wilfully ignorant, in the person of Philomena Cunk and her ‘moments of wonder.’  Brian Cox guests, though that’s not specially a recommendation as he gets on my wick.  However, Coxes notwithstanding, a terrific programme:


Go to minute 50 to watch the subtitled Mr T – a great improvement on the real one.

Kirk out

PS  Happy New Year.  I guess.

The Singer not the Song

On the subject of John Martyn, I have been informed (see comments) that he didn’t write ‘Rather Be The Devil’ but covered it.  I was curious to hear the original so I looked it up: it’s very different from Martyn’s version, being more of a typical blues number:

It set me thinking about how different a song can be when performed by different artists, and that led me to the original version of this number:

Like most people I knew Harry Nilssen’s cover but not this one, and there’s no comparison.  The Badfinger version is pleasant enough but plodding and dull; and when it comes to the chorus it just sounds plain awful.  Compare and contrast: the Nilssen number is utterly heartbreaking:-

All of which leads me to ‘Hallelujah,’ perhaps one of the most covered songs in the history of song, with so many versions that now is the time to call a halt.  Cohen himself said it had been covered too much, and some of the versions are saccharinely awful, showing scant respect or understanding.  There are some covers I admire, however, probably the best being Rufus Wainright’s:

All right.  That’s enough songs for today.

Kirk out

A Convenient Waterfall?

I’ve been thinking some more about Rebus since I wrote that last post, and wondering if Rankin is trying to kill off the golden goose.  It’s odd to think of Rebus as in any way golden, since he’s such a curmudgeon.  Contrary, bad-tempered, aggressive, unhealthy (almost terminally so) and yet somehow always on the side of the angels, Rebus has kept us all guessing for nearly thirty years, since ‘Knots and Crosses’ first appeared in 1987.


And yet in this latest book I can’t help wondering if Rankin’s heart is really in it – or whether, like his revered predecessor Conan Doyle (there are a number of references to Sherlock in his work, including the character Brian Holmes and the Chief Inspector ‘the Farmer’ Watson) he is looking for a way out.  It wouldn’t be surprising; there must be a limit to the number of falls Rebus can take; the number of fights he can survive and – latterly – the number of ways in which, as a retired policeman, he can inveigle his way into an investigation.  In ‘Rather be the Devil’ he nearly cops it (no pun intended) once more as a shadow on his lung is being investigated – but instead of being a force for suspense it’s a background detail, as though his survival were never in question.  Which maybe it wasn’t: you can’t imagine Rankin’s publishers being happy about Rebus dying.  Not unless there was a handy waterfall nearby…


A propos of which, I am very happy to note that the BBC series ‘Sherlock’ is due to return very soon:


Can’t wait for that.

In the meantime, I shall re-read ‘Rather Be The Devil’ before I spend my Waterstone’s voucher.

Kirk out

Rather Be The Devil

Those of you of a certain age and disposition will recognise that title not only as a John Martyn track but as the latest (and last?) Rebus book.  Last night I clicked through a few old John Martyn tracks (I’ve got the CD somewhere but it’s probably in storage) and saw some ancient videos of the man in his prime.  Martyn’s voice and style are unmistakable, like molten fudge served on hot coals, his lips barely enunciating the words as he sings from a throat constricted by emotion and perfectly adapted to his slithering, slapping guitar accompaniment.  I love John Martyn even though I’ve never been an a-grade fan, never saw him live nor bought all the LP’s but still he can turn my soul to jelly in a couple of bars.

It’s quite fitting that he should feature in so many of the Rebus books since in many ways he and the detective are alike.  In his youth Martyn was utterly beautiful with slim, delicate features and dark curly hair – but alas, in middle age (he barely hit old-age, dying at 60) he became a grotesque parody of his former self; bloated and bandy with one leg amputated below the knee, most of his problems brought on by drink and drugs.


Enter Rebus in this his umpteenth print incarnation, named after the above John Martyn track, ‘Rather be the Devil.’

————————–SPOILER ALERT———————————

Unfortunately for Ian Rankin, having begun what turned out to be a lengthy sequence of novels with John Rebus already in his forties, he has now had to retire him, and it’s getting harder and harder for both the detective and his author to squeeze him into the action.  Besides, Rebus is – or might be – dying; a shadow on the lung he christens Marvin (think about it*) threatens his very existence and, miracle of miracles, he has given up the fags.  He has a girlfriend now and through her gets involved in a cold case; this, however, does not prove the main thrust of the action.  The cold case proves to be linked to other cases involving gangsters including none other than our old friend Cafferty.  Through a mixture of guile, deceit and purloined business cards, Rebus wangles himself into the investigation, to the increasing frustration of former sidekick Siobhan Clarke and former adversary Malcolm Fox.  These two clearly constitute the future, but what’s Rankin in Edinburgh without Rebus?  And there’s the rub.

The storyline is as good as any of the others, but for me what was missing here was some level of emotional engagement.  Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the book, but I’d have liked to know a little more about Rebus’s inner life: I’d have liked some conflict with his girlfriend rather than having her simply bookend the story: I’d have liked some more suspense about whether he was going to live or die.  In the end he’s just let off the hook and it’s a bit of an anticlimax.

So all in all, worth reading but not the best Rebus ever.


Kirk out

*Hank Marvin – got it now?

All Right, That’s It

That’s enough now – I’ve just completely had it with 2016: only 4 days of the year left and still people are dropping like flies.  Three deaths were announced today: Carrie Fisher (from ‘Star Wars’) Richard Adams, author of ‘Watership Down’, and – oh, horror! – Liz Smith, comic actress featuring in ‘The Vicar of Dibley’, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and (of course) ‘The Royle Family’.  And that’s on top of George Michael yesterday and god knows who else before that.  I can’t keep up.

Liz Smith’s story is quite inspirational, since she didn’t start getting roles until she was 5o but ended up having a productive and entertaining career.  Here are a couple of clips from some of her shows – first of all an episode of ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ (she features around 14 minutes in) and the second features Caroline Aherne, another casualty of two thousand and bloody sixteen:

And here she is in a clip from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’:

RIP Liz, you were a treasure.  As for the rest of the deceased, I can’t even begin to get my head around it all


Merry Christmas to All

Before the sun dips below the horizon and before I dip below the sofa, I shall take this opportunity to wish all my readers a merry Christmas and a happy new year.  This afternoon I turned the radio on and realised it was time once again for the Nine Lessons and Carols, which always starts with the announcer saying:

‘And as the sun dips below the horizon a single voice begins the service of Nine Lessons and Carols’ (or words to that effect) and then a choirboy sings the first verse of ‘Once in Royal.’  There’s a great power in the annual repetition of these carols: this afternoon I went to an open-air carol singing next to the Carillon, a famous bell-tower in the centre of Loughborough, where the choir had to synchronise carols with the ringing of the bells.  I like carols: they’re atmospheric, poetic, cheerful and above all they link every Christmas back to my earliest childhood.  I usually find I know all the traditional ones by heart, having sung them so often.

When I was a child Christmases always followed the same pattern: church in the morning, Christmas dinner around one o’clock (the full works, usually with ten or twelve of us round the large dining-room table: this was used as a lumber-room for the rest of the year and only cleared out for Christmas).  There would be a rest before a Christmas pudding which would be set alight in a darkened room; served with custard, cream and home made mince pie, after which the adults would go for a lie-down and we kids would play with our presents.  At around seven the adults would dress (I kid you not) and we would assemble in the living-room for parlour-games until about nine when we would eat a buffet supper of rice salad, cheese, ham and other savouries.

But I forgot the Queen!  How could I forget the Queen?  At three o’clock precisely the entire family would settle in the lounge, the TV would be ceremoniously switched on and silence would prevail for the ten minutes or so of Her Madge’s address, after which the TV set would be returned to darkness.  At no time either before or subsequently was the TV watched on Christmas Day.

As a child I chafed against this: all my friends were watching the fabulous array of films and seasonal programmes which were only available at this time of year: and we were missing them.  As a teenager I thought it was unutterably lame to play parlour games – but I have to admit we’ve reinstated some of these traditions in our own Christmases, so that Holly and her boyfriend were yesterday subjected to charades.

They seemed to enjoy it, though I did discover it’s extremely difficult to mime ‘Minority Report.’

Anyway, at the risk of sounding too much like HM herself, it’s been a pleasure getting to know all my readers and followers.  If you follow or even comment I will take a look at your blog and I’ve come into contact with some really interesting life stories.  So keep it up; keep safe and warm and have a fabulous Christmas.

Love, Kirk

The Anti-Narnia

Far too much has been written about the over-commercialisation of Christmas.  People have been banging on about this ever since I can remember, but without success, for the phenomenon has now reached ridiculous lengths.  From the beginning of October I went through my Facebook news feed resolutely deleting everything that had a reference to Christmas and keeping it up until the actual beginning of Advent which this year fell on 30th November.  (Incidentally this reminds me of Nigel, the over-zealous curate in ‘Rev’ – can’t find the clip – who flounces into the office and announces ‘If I have to tell one more person it isn’t Christmas yet, it’s Advent, I shall go completely doo-lally!’)  I can’t remember exactly when the season of Christmas begins but I think it’s on Christmas Eve – and then it lasts, as the song says, twelve days after that.

But nowadays Christmas begins as soon as the summer holidays are over.  Barely is the harvest in; hardly have the children got their feet under a larger set of school desks, than the adverts begin.  You hear with dread the faint jingle of bells that announces the onset of yet another festive season; parents and teachers groan at the knowledge that they must deal with the children’s mounting excitement for another two and a half months before it can be discharged – and then the shopping begins.

Well – it seems to me that, with global warming, what we have here is the anti-Narnia.  The climate has changed so much; winters are now so much warmer than they were and Christmas so much longer, that we seem to be in a country that has fallen under the spell of some wicked wizard; a country where it’s Always Christmas and Never Winter.

I guess one advantage of not having money is that you can just ignore all the ads; the only offer I’ve been remotely tempted by is a subscription to Granta and sadly it’s too late to ask for that now.  Keep it simple is my philosophy: straightforward presents, not too many cards, and an easy Christmas meal without too many extras.  Enough food and wine to enjoy, presents under the tree and a few Xmas crackers – and I am content.

Would it were so easy to sort out global warming.  Then again, maybe it is: maybe if we apply the same criteria – cut out the extras, live more simply, have enough to enjoy and be content – we could find the answer.

Oh, and get me a subscription to Granta…


Happy With Your Cosmos? Fine. If Not, We’re Here to Help

After yesterday’s post I found out lots about the author.  I’d assumed Jonathan Cainer was some American self-help guru but in fact he was the Daily Mail’s astrologer.  He died last year aged just 58 and apparently foresaw his own death.  Just like Leonard Cohen really…

Here’s the Mail’s rather self-congratulatory obituary of him:


I have very mixed feelings about astrology.  I see no reason why the stars at our birth should have any significance for our lives, and although I used to read horoscopes for fun I never set any store by what they had to say (this is typical of a Gemini, apparently.  LOL.)  And yet, despite this scepticism I am compelled to recognise that in terms of character, I have certain features in common with Gemini: I am mercurial, dual-natured, quick-thinking, and so on.  The ‘twin’ aspect seems particularly relevant.  And perhaps in the end there is more to us than we recognise; perhaps as the song says, we are stardust.

Even so, I would never dream of taking a horoscope seriously.  The Mail’s obituary is full of dire predictions of Cainer’s that came true: and I fail to see the point of it.  If I’m going to lose my house in a fireball or my husband is going to die or my friend commit suicide, what earthly good can it do me to know about it in advance?  I’d much rather live in ignorance, since presumably there’s nothing I can do about it.  If I did, it would create a paradox and prove the horoscope false: all that kind of prediction does is make you worry.

Much more enlightening were the words of Rabbi Lionel Blue.  Brought up in the Jewish faith, he came close to suicide on realising he was gay before returning to his faith and becoming a Rabbi in the reformed branch of Judaism.  A frequent contributor to the ‘Today’ programme’s ‘Thought for the Day’, he was always a comforting and thought-provoking voice.  In an odd parallel to the astrologer, he also foretold his own death (though, like Cohen, by the more usual method of realising that he was ill) and in a nice twist, he recorded his own obituary which was broadcast yesterday.  I can’t find a link to that one now, however, so here’s the Beeb’s own obituary:


Kirk out

Cosmic Ordering: Have You Been Mis-s0ld? Compensation May Be Available

This is a review of a book which came to us via a friend.  It’s called ‘Cosmic Ordering,’ author one Jonathan Cainer, and the blurb says: Turn the universe into your obedient servant.  Cosmic ordering works for millions – and it can easily work for you.  Whether you seek love, money, power, luck or success, you can have it.  Often almost instantly.

The natural reaction to this is to say, what utter balls!  But, mindful of the fact that authors are not usually responsible for the blurb on their jackets, let’s turn to the text itself.  Purportedly written by your (or my) guardian angel, it states: ‘you want to know how you can fill your life with more of what you want – and less of what you don’t want.  I’m here to tell you that this is gloriously possible.  And what’s more, it’s easy.’

And, on the next page: ‘I am the genie of the lamp, your wish-granting fairy, your lucky leprechaun.’

Now, I have an instinctive dislike of self-help books which portray the universe as no more than a kind of giant Argos store where you can just order up whatever you want.  And so far, that’s what this book seems to be.  A page or two further on, my angel reiterates,’my job is to get you what you want…’ and then clarifies, ‘I did say want.  I did not say need.  Whatever you want, I’m here to supply it.’

Remember that, because we’ll come back to it.  Want, not need.  Chapter one goes on to say that unlike the fairy stories, you can have an infinite number of wishes.  You can wish for whatever you want, at any time you want.

Ah, but then we find there’s a problem.  Really?  You astonish me.  Well, the first caveat is that you can’t ask for something – like the Koh-i-Noor – that belongs to someone else.  Because that would put your angel in conflict with that of another person and result in a stalemate.  OK; I can see that.  Besides, I don’t really want the Koh-i-Noor; I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  But if I want to win the lottery I can’t do that either because that would put me in conflict with thousands – possibly millions – of others wanting the same thing.  This is not a new concept; in this scene of Bruce Almighty shows what happens when the all-powerful Bruce says yes to everyone’s request:

OK I’ll have to upload that later as I’m in the library right now.  But basically it’s chaos: nobody’s happy.

Right, so I can have anything I want whenever I want but I can’t win the lottery or have something that belongs to someone else.  But anything else I just ask for and it’s mine, right?  I mean, you are the genie of the lamp: my wish is your command.  Right?

Well, not exactly: in subsequent chapters we learn that if we want something hard or far-fetched we have to put in a lot of work to make it happen (it’s no good wishing to be a famous author if I haven’t written anything yet); that if you’re in a hole the best way out may be to crawl through a tunnel; that if you are in a terrible situation, contentment may be a better solution than being removed from your circumstances; that the dead cannot be reanimated but that you can be helped to accept their passing; that an attitude of gratitude is helpful and a desperate longing can drive away the thing you desire, and so on.  It’s all beginning to sound terribly familiar – and when I get to the final description of ‘how to order what you want’ it’s practically indistinguishable from many kinds of prayer and meditation.  In short, these ideas are not new: they are prevalent in most major world religions and practised in many kinds of prayer and meditation.  And it’s not that I have a problem with any of it: it’s just not what the book purports to be about.  And when, towards the end, we are told that most people don’t really know what they want so they have to dig deep and ask for guidance I begin to ask, how is this want, as distinct from need?  That of course is not defined.  Very little is: it’s not that kind of book.

It wasn’t a complete waste of time: I did get one or two nuggets from it.  And it could be worse; it doesn’t try to extort money for courses or enroll you in any kind of cult.  But if this book was PPI, I’d be calling my solicitor right now.

Still, if you want to – ahem! – order the book, here it is:


Kirk out


An ‘O-Come-All-Ye’?

In some quarters in the folk music world you are invited to a ‘come-all-ye’; a traditional way of describing an open mic night (or, since this is folk, an open ‘finger-in-ear’ night).  I’ve always liked the expression ‘come-all-ye’ whilst finding it faintly risible at the same time, an attitude which pretty much sums up my response to the folk music world in general.  So, I guess if a singalong in folk is a come-all-ye, then a Christmas carol singalong would be an ‘O-come-all-ye’ – geddit?  And it was to two such events that I came – or went – yesterday, one Quakerly and one ecclesiastical.

The Quakers in Loughborough gathered for carols and readings – the readings were mostly poems – after meeting yesterday.  We had all the traditional carols in the tunes I like, some a capella but most accompanied by a harpist, a flautist, a bass guitarist and an acoustic guitarist.  It was terrific fun and quite moving at the same time, and I read a poem of mine about global warming called ‘In the Deep Mid-Autumn.’   Then in the evening at Emmanuel there was the traditional Nine Lessons and Carols which began with a single voice singing ‘Once in Royal’; the choir on the second verse and the congregation rising to their feet with a hushed movement to sing the rest.

If there is one thing I miss in being a Quaker, it’s the music.  Traditional hymns and carols have laid down patterns in my brain from a very early age; patterns which relate to poetry and maths and emotion and spirit.  But the thing that lifts the roof off my head is to sing ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ with the descant.  You get to the penultimate verse and you begin with your pedestrian melody.  You wait: and in the chorus it comes; the first voice going up like a rocket into the sky and hovering in the air; then the secong going up, following it and doing some pirouettes before reaching its final high note and ceasing to blackness.  When that chorus comes I can’t sing; I just have to listen.

Sadly yesterday we did not sing the tune I love the best to ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter’, which is this one by Harold Darke:

Kirk out