Genius? That’ll Be Everything You’ve Got, Madam

The current model of Genius At Work may be in flux but the go-to setting is the same as it has always been: a man in a study with a virtual Do Not Disturb sign on the door; family creeping around and No Interruptions Whatsoever.  Genius works odd hours and cannot be relied upon.  It won’t be awake in time to take the children to school or make their sandwiches.

If this genius has to balance writing with paid work he will come in, pour a glass, have some food and devote the rest of the evening (and weekend) to Art.  There are people who can do this: C P Snow was one, holding down a career first as a barrister, then as an academic and finally as a politician whilst writing a bunch of novels about – well, about being a barrister, academic and politician.

But I’ve never been able to do this, part of the reason being that unlike Snow, I don’t have clean clothes unless I wash them or food to eat unless I cook it (or at least wash up after it).  I don’t have a clean floor unless I vacuum it, or an organised environment unless I tidy.  Plus, I have children – and children interrupt.  It is inevitable.

Until they were teenagers I had no time to write: I was too busy earning a living and educating them at home.  Apart from a few snatched minutes morning and evening my only writing time was a couple of days away twice a year: it wasn’t nearly enough, and yet looking back it’s hard to see how I could have done anything differently.  It’s no good having children if you’re going to ignore them.

So what to do?

I would like to suggest a different model of genius.  I don’t deny that writing – or any art – takes time and concentration.  But I think it would benefit male artists as well as their partners to share in the domestic tasks – the reason being that doing the cleaning or washing up is very grounding.  To put it epigrammatically:

Every woman has to stop writing to put the tea on.  That is her tragedy.

No man does: that is his.

I suggest that historically, women go mad when they can’t write, and men do when they can.  This is due to a lack of balance.  Everyone needs to pitch in – and then we’ll get the work done.

I can feel Snow scoffing at this idea.  But then he had a housekeeper and a wife…

Kirk out

PS I don’t wish to give the impression that I am married to someone who doesn’t pitch in.  That is not the case

Murder Most Florid

Ken Branagh is rapidly turning in my mind into a combination of Busby Berkeley and Ken Russell, what with the extravaganza of his ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (which I watched last week) and now this week the latest incarnation of Agatha Christie which was the Ken vehicle of 2017.

I wouldn’t have bothered, not being a fan of either Christie or Branagh – but I had heard good reports of this film.  Besides, I wanted something to do on a Friday night.  So off we went.

As is usual with these things, the cast featured the brightest and best – it was, however, often cast against type with Johnny Depp as a scarred villain, Judi Dench as a spoilt aristocrat and Olivia Coleman as her dour, repressed lady’s companion.  Brannagh was pretty good as Poirot; better than David Suchet and throwing all his florid tendencies into portraying a controlled, thoughtful man with OCD.  But what really lifted this above the run-of-the-mill was the cinematography; and here I am aware of lacking a vocabulary with which to describe it.

To start with there were crowd scenes; panoramic establishing shots and hurried sweeps through crowded kitchens and railway stations – these scenes basically propel Poirot from hotel room to train carriage – and off they go.  The problem with filming these things is that although the train is moving, the location is static; the characters are in a train carriage and there’s nowhere to go.  Brannagh solves this problem by going Big: the camera sweeps up and down, going up to the sky to film from above and sweeping under the carriages and bridges like a refugee trying to find a home.  In the climactic scene where the train breaks down and the murderer is revealed, the humans are dwarfed surreally not only by the mountains around but by the vast mechanical bulk of the still-steaming engine: there was something in all this that reminded me of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  So all in all, I would say it’s worth seeing and worth going to see, as not much of this would come across on a DVD.

Kirk out

Oh, So We’re All Americans Now? Not This Baby!

So today is Black Friday.  What?  What the hell is that?  I’ve heard of Good Friday and Friday the Thirteenth Parts One to Ten-and-a-half but I absolutely refuse to know anything What So Ever about Black Friday.  It has no meaning here.  It is a hollow import which some traders have latched onto to sell Even More Stuff because, let’s face it, Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night just ain’t enough to fill the gap between holidays and Christmas.  I’m daily expecting some marketing whizz to come up with a selling point for Michaelmas (29th September) so that once the stocks of school uniforms (pens, pads, textbooks) are exhausted we can all buy – well, whatever it is they might come up with.  I mean, why should September miss out when January has holidays, February Valentine’s, March and April Easter eggs, May and June gardening and July and August family holidays?  October has Hallowe’en and November Guy Fawkes, after (or during) which Christmas begins.  And what has September got?

It’s just not right.

But in spite of everyone in the world wanting to be American (according to my friend in Iowa anyway) many of us resist these imports.  It is not part of our culture; it has no relevance to our habits and my hope is that like a Bonfire Night sparkler, it will have but a short time to live before it withers and dies.

In my youth it was fashionable to look to America for a lead: it was still a young country (or we thought of it as such) and in the vanguard of popular culture.  But now many of us regard Uncle Sam as a bloated, overindulged, gas-guzzling, obese, intolerant figure – and don’t even get me started on Trump.  Sorry guys but I’d prefer Tierra del Fuego or the Isle of Lewis to most parts of the US.  I mean, you have no publicly funded health system (and what little Obama managed to scrape through is rapidly being dismantled) you have far too many guns and no BBC.  So thanks, but no thanks.

(On the other hand, you do have some stonking literature: see previous post –

Kirk out

Oh No It Isn’t Panto Season Yet, Is It? Oh Yes It Is!

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing, hat, child, stripes and indoor

Oh yes it is!  Panto season has officially begun, and here you see me in my costume as the Prologue (and Epilogue) to Loughborough’s ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears,’ performed last night at John Storer House.

More than just a panto, it was a phenomenon because with no script and only a basic story to work with, we did it all in just one day!  Yes, that’s right – in under twelve hours a cast of seven, one costume person and one props guy produced a sizzling, hilarious production which had a full house in stitches.

My part in it was to write and perform a Prologue and an Epilogue; and to that end, I sat in on some of the improv to get a feel of what was happening.  In an ingenious twist, Goldilocks was done as a stroppy teenager assisted by a magic talking tree, and the scenes were held together by a Paparazzi Pete, a dodgy reporter.  With those ideas in mind, I went home and cooked up these lines:


Ladies and gentlemen – good evening,

welcome to the Forest News

(I apologise for reading:

problems with the autocues)

Today, David Attenborough

asks, is there life in Charnwood Borough?

Are we in the Goldilocks zone?

Can our heroine find a home?


In other news, if you go down

(sorry, by the way, for the outfit –

wardrobe had a hissy fit)

to the woods outside the town

you may find the strangest scene

three bears and a stroppy teen

and a magic talking tree

(you know, I could’ve been on the BBC!)


This just in.  Oh, yes it is

(oh no it isn’t).  Yes, it is:

breakfast theft is on the rise

Papa Bear’s called it a ‘swiz’

with that story now unfolding

(and my dungarees just holding)

over in the forest quarter

we go live to our reporter.

So in comes Paparazzi Pete and the story unfolds.  It ends with a song and then I come on again:


We know we’ll never need to prompt ya

for our efforts so impromptu

cos it’s not an easy play

to make a panto in a day

observing unities of time

as well as writing stonking rhyme

and so, before we are released

and all get stuck into our feast

show us that you understand

and, just once more, give us a hand.

And that was that.  The food was great; the company was a mixture of all the faiths in Loughborough and it was altogether a terrific evening.

Here, courtesy of Kev Ryan of Charnwood Arts, are some other pics of the evening:





Kirk out




Life on the i-player

Here’s a round-up of the week’s TV.

The first contribution, Paranoid, wasn’t strictly on the iplayer but Netflix, having first been broadcast (I think) on ITV.  I had seen it last year, but was reminded of it by a Quaker on Facebook because it has a Quaker character in it.  Indira Varma stars as a highly competent but emotionally all-over-the-place (hmm!) police officer, supported by Robert Glenister (Philip’s better-behaved younger brother.)  It’s a compelling series centring on a pharmaceutical corruption with murders and corrupt psychiatrists thrown in.  The Quaker character, though a little too serene and smiley, is nonetheless interesting, and Indira Varma is great.

I also caught, in a radio programme I can’t now find, Peter Hitchens fulminating about the King James Version of the Bible.  Basically Hitchens, who seems to be a died-in-the-war* reactionary, wants to keep the KJV.  Well, I wasn’t aware that it was being abolished: you don’t have to look too hard to find churches who use it as I’ve been to at least one in Leicester and one in Wales.  There is, I think, a point to be made about the language: as a poet I regret that the poetry and grandeur which infuses the KJV has not permeated the newer translations.  But surely the main point is that KJV, along with Wycliffe and other contemporary versions, was written in order to be accessible to the (then) largely illiterate congregation.  It was written so that the people could read and understand the Bible for themselves without being dependent on priests: as such, it is no longer fit for purpose.

It might be objected that we don’t attempt to update Shakespeare.  Well, actually we do: and this week I also caught up with a BBC modernisation of Much Ado About Nothing called Shakespeare Retold:

but in any case, Shakespeare is not Holy Writ.

I also, sadly, encountered the soggy reheated breakfast that is Porridge.  This was not only a lame rehash where nothing has moved on (unlike, say, Still Open All Hours where the customers are different and gender roles have changed) – it is, you might say, almost a betrayal of Clement and La Frenais’ former work, since Porridge was originally so compelling and revealing.  But now both society and the prison network have changed so much that to do it in the same way appears risible:

And finally…

You Don’t Need a Sausage Roll When You’ve Got Jesus


Greggs' 'sausage roll saviour' has caught the attention of the world's press

…a selection of news items about the baby Jesus (love the headline bottom right) which according to  the Today programme’s Thought For The Day is a non-story.  Nobody is really bothered by the Greggs window display; not the Catholics, not the Anglicans, not even the Evangelical Alliance – and when the EA aren’t bovvered, that’s it.  A non-story.

*see what I did there?

Kirk out

I Went to the Library Because I Wanted to Read Deliberately…

I have never read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, though of course I have heard of it – and now that I come to it I’m ashamed I took so long.  We Brits are scandalously behind when it comes to reading American literature: of course we read Henry James and have a stab at Hemingway and Pound (aren’t Pound and Eliot more British in spirit anyway?) but as for me, I am terribly behind on my US classics, only coming to Walt Whitman late and never having touched Faulkner.

All is not lost! for I am only sixty and it is probable that many years remain in which I can rectify these omissions.  In that spirit, I went to the library and happened upon Walden which, though I have only read fifty or so pages, has already blown my mind.

First, I never knew that there were so many quotations in it – for just as every line in Withnail and I is quotable, so every page of Thoreau has something in it that you didn’t know came from thence.  On the first page I read a line familiar to me from Dead Poets’ Society:

‘I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately.’ *

That idea of living  deliberately, thoughtfully, not just being swept along by the mainstream, is very appealing – though it does of course mean living a very stripped-down life.  Still it’s good to question which of the things you regard as necessary to life actually are.  Is a car necessary?  Is a job necessary?  And if so why?  You may come to the conclusion in the end that you do in fact need all these things; but at least you’ll have thought about it: and as we all know, the unexamined life is not worth living.  (That’s Socrates, not Thoreau, but still.)

A few pages later I came upon this:

‘If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the  music which he hears…’

Everyone knows that line, as well as this one:

‘most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’

I had no idea that Thoreau was the source of these; and now I do, I want to read more.  I’ll keep you updated as I go…

Kirk out

*I guess Thoreau didn’t go on holiday by mistake?

‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’

I’ve just realised after a quick trawl through some posts, that I never wrote that promised review which I began a few weeks ago, of the latest and possibly last Nicci French book:

You might call the series Frieda Stark’s Week: much darker and more thrilling than Ed Reardon’s Week (the highlight of which is something like being caught letting his tyres down to get into a car park) the series begins with Blue Monday and carries on till Sunday Morning Coming Down.  It’s highly dystopian; and as with the recent Val McDermid review I shall hold off on the spoilers a) because it’s new and b) because the ending left me utterly gobsmacked.  I was desolate.  I wanted to phone the authors immediately and cry, ‘How could you?  How dare you leave things this way?’  My heart was broken and my head crashed: as Val McDermid says it was both shattering and inevitable.

But although I won’t divulge the ending, I am free to discuss the beginning and middle.  Like all the Frieda Stark books, SMCD takes place in London; not tourist London but a seamy, hidden city; a city of oil-slicked puddles on abandoned estates; a city of filthy high-rise blocks and rubbish-strewn alleyways: above all, a city of rivers.  Rivers are Stark’s fascination and each book features a hidden river that has been blocked up and built on.  Of course the Thames is always present but other forms of transport, ie buses and the tube, hardly figure because Frieda likes to walk everywhere.  She can walk for hours in the most unprepossessing areas, just for the fun of it – although fun is not quite the right world; serious and dark, Frieda lives up to her surname as she sees life through a stark lens.

Somewhere in this dark world of crime lurks her nemesis Dean Reeve, believed by police to be dead but known by Frieda and her friends to be alive.  Her friends are, as she says herself, her real family, her blood relatives being cold and unloving.  The bright spots in the novel are the gatherings of this surrogate family of friends, colleagues, a sister and niece abandoned by Frieda’s brother, and a jobbing builder who came one day to fix Frieda’s bath and never left.  Add to these Karlsson, a detective whose career has been seriously threatened due to his friendship with Frieda, and you have the whole bunch.  But while they are all fiercely on Frieda’s side in her battle to convince the police that Reeve is still alive and out there, Reeve is threatening them all one by one.

This is high quality crime fiction.  There’s not a stereotype in sight; the world is created every bit as lucidly as Rankin’s Edinburgh and the characters drawn with a mature, clear-eyed vision.  But oh, my god, the ending!  They can’t do that – they just can’t!!

Kirk out

Brexit: an Anarchist View. Discussion on Friday 3rd November

I’m linking this to Friday Room as I can’t yet post on there:

Thanks to John for organising this month’s Friday Room discussion on ‘Brexit: an Anarchist Approach.’  I was intrigued by the topic, having only the vaguest idea about an anarchist approach to anything, let alone Brexit: black flags and Conrad-inspired images were all my mind could dredge up on the subject.

Claire and Mike from the Anarchist Federation were greeted by an enthusiastic but sadly depleted group as – in an ironic twist – the evening coincided with a farewell dinner for Glenys Wilmott, the area’s retiring MEP.

Unsurprisingly, there is not one single anarchist view on Brexit or the EU.  Many anarchists opposed the EU as a super-state which exerts control over large populations and therefore voted for Brexit.  But most voted to remain, through a belief in internationalism and the power of people to work together across national borders.

Anarchists are against power-structures.  They oppose the nation-state and the ‘giving away of power’ (as they see it) to elected representatives.  They do not organise through political parties but are active in many campaigns, such as anti-nuclear demonstrations, anti-oil pipeline and anti-fracking protests.  Anarchism looks beyond capitalism and the nation-state for its vision.  Although not members of political parties, most anarchists tend to be on the left politically.  They do not usually vote in elections as they see these as too distant from the lives of individuals to make a difference, but single-issue referendums are different and many did vote in the EU referendum as this is a more direct process.  We had much discussion afterwards about how (and whether) democracy might be improved by having referendums, say, on each budget or piece of legislation.

Anarchism seeks the freedom of the individual to act within society unconstrained by national or international structures.  They support the right of people to be unwaged if they need to be.   However it is difficult to state anything with any certainty about what anarchists believe, as there is no ‘party line’ and every individual is likely to have a different view.  Many anarchists do believe, however, that ‘leave or remain’ was a false choice, and that a better choice would be to retain the nation-state or remove it.

Although anarchists tend to be on the left politically, there could perhaps be some crossover between their ideas of individual freedom and those of the libertarian right.  In campaigning they make a distinction between violence against property, which is considered acceptable, and violence against people: however they are not committed to non-violence and will act in self-defence.

When asked what an anarchist utopia might look like, they described a situation where people’s needs were provided for simply and on a local basis.  There is a lot of support for the idea of doing away with money and perhaps going back to a barter system.

The talk generated a lot of discussion around the EU vote, referendums and the strengths and weaknesses of the anarchist utopia, as described.  In areas of Iraq and Syria called Rojave, anarchist regimes are being established now and for further ideas you can go to:

Kirk out


Y Muera Espana?

Due to my time spent living in Spain I still retain an interest in what goes on there; however I have no claim whatever to be an expert on Spanish politics nowadays.  In the Madrid of the 1990’s, the country seemed like a place just waking up to democracy.  They’d had barely fifteen years of being able to speak their minds; the long sleep of fascism was over and the citizens emerging into the daylight rubbing their eyes.  They were testing the limits; marching on demos with the glee of children being allowed to stay up late, not quite believing that they wouldn’t be arrested for publishing newspapers.  Habits of democracy take time to form, as we know only too well – and as we also know, they can be easily erased.  True, ours wasn’t much at the outset, just a few nobles wresting power from a king; but it was a start.  We didn’t have full democracy until 1928 when all adults could vote on an equal basis: but, imperfect as our system may be, it is part of our DNA.  Not so in Spain.

Like many places – like the former Yugoslavia, like the Soviet Union; like the UK itself – Spain is not one country but many.  Ask a person from the Basque country if they are Spanish and see what reaction you get: it’s like asking a Scot if they are English.  Regions such as Catalonia are analogous to Scotland: the area has its own language and culture; it has a history of self-government.  To complicate matters, Catalunya (to spell it correctly) extends into France, and many activists want the whole area separate and unified.  That flag won’t fly; but it is possible that, as in Scotland, there is an increasing appetite for independence from Madrid: and the sensible thing to do would be to open negotiations.

Now, I have blogged before about the UK government’s unedifying and shabby response to Indyref 1:

but the Madrid administration makes Cameron’s response look positively statesmanlike.  From sending in troops to beat up demonstrators, to declaring the referendum an act of rebellion (can you hear the word ‘traicion’ in the air?) they have basically acted like latterday Francos and have justly earned opprobrium around the world.

OK, it’s a problem.  I get that.  Clearly there is an appetite for independence in Catalunya; if it came to pass this would probably open a greater can of worms than Scotland leaving the UK.  It is understandable that the government might feel panicky, but clamping down is not the way to go.  Denying that violence took place when people have seen the videos; refusing to say what might happen if Catalunya declares independence: these are unwise and overly authoritarian reactions which have escalated a crisis into a near-disaster.  They need to negotiate, not escalate; these actions can only incite more unrest and a greater desire for independence.   What’s next – sending in tanks?   Spain is not the Soviet Union.  This is not the 1950’s.  Grow up, guys.  Start talking – because hablar es mejor que la guerra.*

Kirk out

*(a rough translation of ‘jaw-jaw is better than war-war’)




National Fertility Awareness Week (#NFAW) is here!!

Not sure if this counts as a share – but this blog is fundraising for IVF and asking for shares – so head on over and take a look

Infertility and life


If you are new here and have found yourself at my blog because someone you know shared it (thank you everyone!), then I would invite you to click this link. It explains how to navigate around my blog and which posts to read assuming you haven’t really got time to read them all!! (If you do want to read them all though, that is wonderful!! My very first post is here.)

NFAW topics

We have finally arrived, at National Fertility Awareness Week!! It feels like I’ve been waiting for this week to come, for a long time. The week of awareness runs from Monday 30th October to Sunday 5th November – and this year it’s a big one!! The reason is because this year IVF is 40 years old.

How amazing is that!

Louise Brown was the first baby successfully conceived via In Vitro Fertilisation…

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