Monthly Archives: February 2018

No, It’s Not a Dream – We’re Stuck With It


Viewers of a certain age will recognise that line as coming from The Best Sitcom of All Time, but it also came from my mouth at seven this morning.  I don’t exactly know where I went during the night but I awoke with the oddest feeling of dislocation as though I’d been, not just somewhere else but somewhen else.  I had a vague sense that I was back in the vicarage where I grew up, and it took me ages to relocate my consciousness to here and now.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, relocating your consciousness to the here and now.  As someone once said to us after their holiday, ‘it’s not much to come back to,’ and really after all that effort to find myself in the present, where am I?  It’s not much fun here.  It’s cold, for one thing: and for another I am perennially stuck trying to write an effing novel.

I never feel this way about poetry.  When poetry comes it gives me joy, delight, hope; it opens new worlds: there’s a playfulness to it.  There’s work, but it’s good work; purposeful work.  It feels real and solid, as though words were stones and I a stonemason.  But not so with prose.  With prose I feel weighted down like Gulliver in Lilliput; pinned to earth by a thousand silken strands.  I feel that I am forced into a world I don’t wish to inhabit.  Poetry is a dream; prose is waking: poetry is the right-hand side of my brain and prose is the left.  I feel it ought to be possible for me to write poetic, satisfying prose – I just haven’t found the way yet.

It’s not that I can’t turn a good sentence.  That’s not the problem.  It’s not that I can’t write decent description or believable dialogue.  It’s not that I can’t convey what’s going on inside a character’s head.  What it is, is a sense of being overwhelmed by all the things I want to do with a novel and not being able to get them under control.  I’m like a ringmaster with a hundred competing acts who all want to be top of the bill and who never listen to a word I say.

At the moment I’m at what I euphemistically call the ‘planning’ stage.  This involves having a small and rather fetching notebook in which I write ideas (see pic above) – and many, many ideas are emerging.  I have a cast of characters including a main character; I have a theme; I have a vague shape.  What I don’t have is anything resembling a plot.  I’m undecided about whether I need a plot; it’s not something that comes naturally to me as I’m a philosophical writer in the main.  I deal in ideas and concepts.  I’m metaphysical at times too.  What I’m not is a pot-boiler, a page-turner, an engineer of fast-paced narration.  I can’t decide whether this matters.  Either way I don’t seem able to do it.

And speaking of ‘Fawlty Towers’ (whence cometh today’s title quote) we should gently and quietly celebrate the return of the great JC to the BBC in a new sitcom, ‘Hold the Sunset’.  I have to say I wasn’t terribly impressed by the first episode; it seemed very low-key and didn’t really grab me.  But I felt it deserved another chance: after all, there’s a stonking cast – opposite the divine JC is Alison Steadman and adjacent to them, as it were, Jason Watkins (who played the shit-stirring Simon Harwood in W1A) as their son, and Joanna Scanlan (who often works with Vicky Pepperdine) as the money-grabbing daughter.  Anne Reid turns up as an ancient and batty ex-cleaning lady: and it’s interesting to see Peter Egan reprising a slightly different annoying neighbour from Paul in ‘Ever-Decreasing Circles.’  So I’m going to stick with this one, because it’s now passed the first test of sitcom: not, as you might think, to make you laugh – though it did in parts – but to make you care about the characters.  After all, if you don’t care about Phil and Edith, why would it bother you that their ambition to get married and move to Spain is being thwarted by all around them?

Here’s the link:

Kirk out


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We Have Normality. Anything Else is Therefore Your Own Problem

I’m nearly better, though measuring your own progress is far from an exact science.  I was re-reading my old diary (from 2006) and trying to figure out if I was happier then or if I’m happier now – and I think the answer is, both.  I was happier then in the sense that I had work and money; we were involved with the children and had frequent holidays.  On the other hand the diary is full of my frustrations: people I disliked and didn’t know how to deal with; continual demands on me from work and children – and above all a total lack of time to write, which resulted in mental chaos.  My mind felt completely cluttered; and whilst I don’t have any of the external trappings I had then, what I do have is a large measure of mental clarity and plenty of time to write.  If I don’t write I get mental constipation: thoughts build up and up and are never released, like one of those progress bars which never quite gets to the end – or if it does, just starts all over again.  They ought to call them Sisyphus bars because they never get to the end…

Getting better is like returning to normal from Douglas Adams’ Total Perspective Vortex: ‘we have normality.  I repeat, we have normality.  Anything else is therefore your own problem.’

I have to figure out which symptoms were due to the TVP – aka chest infection – (eg tiredness, depression) and which are now my own problem.  Of course in a wider sense everything is my own problem, but it’s good to know which are caused by a bug and which aren’t.  Though I suspect it may not be that simple.  After all, why do we get bugs in the first place?

Now there’s a question with a never-ending answer.

Kirk out

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Filed under Book reviews, film reviews, friends and family, my magnum hopeless, radio

Archers Episodes

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make into drama characters.

I know a number of people who stopped listening to The Archers when the EastEnders guy started producing it: me among them.  In all the years I’d been listening, even though there had been sensational plot lines, they always seemed somehow to emerge from the soil of the programme and the seed of the characters, not just flung in willy-nilly for the sake of the ratings.  But I didn’t intend to tune out forever, and when the offending producer blew back to the city streets whence he came, I started listening again.

It’s better – but it’s still not back to how it was; and after the wholly gratuitous return and downfall of Matt Crawford, the latest in a series of OTT plot lines is the sudden and unexpected death of Nic Grundy.  Just to turn the knife in the wound of brotherly hatred, the sepsis which killed her came from a rusty nail which she encountered in the course of helping her sister-in-law – which presumably means that next week Will is going to hunt Emma and Ed down and kill them.  There was also a possible death-bed confession which people are speculating means that it was Nic who ran over Matt and put him in hospital.

But compared to Episodes, Ambridge is paradise and everyone in it a saint.  This deceptively blandly-titled sitcom cleverly bridges the Atlantic.  A couple of writers (married couple Sean and Beverley Lincoln, played by Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig – an Archers connection there) take a successful British sitcom over to LA.  They are excited by the possibilities, especially as they are told the network head, the improbably-named Merc Lapidus (but then improbable names are a trope here as his boss turns out to be called Eliot Salad) ‘loves, loves, loves’ their show.  But from the moment their planes wheels hit tarmac, it’s downhill all the way.

Of course the network doesn’t want to do the show as it is; and in a series of increasingly humiliating negotiations the pair are forced to see it morph from a witty, urbane school drama to a run-of-the-mill series about a hockey team featuring an unpleasant coach (Matt leBlanc) and a sexy librarian, played by someone called Morning who is about a hundred and five and basically made of plastic and filler.  In the course of all this the writers learn a devastating truth:

‘There’s a chance Merc hasn’t actually seen your show.’

‘Has he seen it?’


The comedy of Episodes comes from the clash between the relative sincerity and integrity of the British pair and the utterly self-serving fakeness of Hollywood.  No-one is happy; no-one is for real (either physically or in any other way) people sleep around with abandon, cheat on partners, get divorced, steal one another’s stuff and generally act as if nothing and no-one matters.  It’s a completely ego-driven society and in the midst of it all the Lincolns (some irony in the name?  Are they being shot in the theatre?) are a sort of wobbly moral centre who come through it all with their marriage just about intact.

But nothing else is intact.  As flies to wanton boys are these characters to the writers: it’s not just that no good deed goes unpunished; no deed goes unpunished.  The characters are punished just for existing; for having talent and for wanting success.  Series 5 ends with the worst possible scenario; their new series (of which they had such high hopes) being hijacked by Sean’s old writing partner who claims ‘came up with the idea.’  Nobody wins here except the a**holes; but even they don’t win because the life they live is not worth living.

As comedy it’s horrible, gruesome, even degrading.  Thank god for Ambridge…

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, radio, TV reviews

Chitty Chitty Dig Dig

Gardening can be very therapeutic.  It’s been depressing not being able to get out into the garden lately, but today I bought a few early potatoes and got them chitting; then I headed out to the shed and extracted a fork.  Rolling back the carpet mulch, I began to attack the soil, not knowing how much I’d be able to do.  But instead of getting tired I became more energised and managed to dig a square patch which felt like a good start.  I’ll do some more tomorrow and bit by bit I’ll get the garden dug.

After that I headed indoors to watch the Old Grey Whistle Test (or Old Grey String Vest, as we used to call it) – a special 30th-anniversary edition hosted by none other than Whispering Bob himself and featuring Annie Lennox, Andy Kershaw and many, many more.  It is impossible to list all the artists they had on; from Alex Harvey to an amazingly young-looking Peter Frampton; from Kiki Dee to Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, and featuring the competition winner, Bob Marley and the Wailers.

You never know what you’re going to get with OGWT.  Literally anybody could be on it; from the New York Dolls to Led Zeppelin, from John Otway (and Wild Willy Barrett) to Gary Numan; from Joan Armatrading to Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics) – and the commentary was neither bland nor fawning but serious and minimal, allowing the music to speak for itself.  The programme was a great mixture of old clips, live performances and chats on the sofa: if you like rock music at all I urge you to watch:

They’ve also made this retrospective available from 2011:

Aaaand – what about the Archers, eh?  Didn’t see that one coming:


Filed under friends and family, music, TV reviews

Nobody Understands Thee. What Tu Du?

I am happy to report that depression is lifting; this is thanks in no small part to actually writing about it.  I am all too prone to interacting with people only when I feel good and hiding away when I’m depressed, thinking that no-one will want to know me in this state and that all I’ll accomplish is to bring everyone down.  But to write about it honestly has been very therapeutic and has allowed lots of other people to open up about their depression: I’ve had many messages of support as well as testimonies from others about what they are going through.  People have offered to visit or meet with me; people have said they miss me and one friend even said I was fantastic.  This has given me a real lift.

I guess you could say in these situations you find out who your friends are: it used to be that one would distinguish between intimates and strangers by the use of pronouns.  A lot of languages still do this, such as French, Spanish, German and Italian, using the informal ‘tu/du’ to distinguish intimates from more formal contacts.  Of course it can also be a way of indicating status, which is why the equivalent probably died out in British English.

Interestingly, when Quakers began, one of their distinguishing characteristics was that they addressed everyone as ‘thou’, this being the informal pronoun (the equivalent of ‘tu/du’) and thus putting everyone on the same level.  The odd thing is that, thanks to ‘thou’ surviving in religion, nowadays it sounds formal rather than informal.

The trouble is, no-one knows how to use ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ any more.  So here’s my handy guide.

  1.  ‘Thou’ is equivalent to ‘I’ and ‘thee’ is equivalent to ‘me’.  Examples: ‘what dids’t thou say?  I gave it thee.’
  2. the verb form usually ends in ‘est’ contracted to ‘st’, as in ‘did’st, could’st, hast (the ‘d’ is forgotten)
  3. the possessive is ‘thy’ with a noun following and ‘thine’ without: ‘thy socks be wet’; ‘these socks be thine.’

Here’s a fuller guide to using ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ correctly, so you’re not caught out.

Don’t be like the person who posted this joke on Facebook:

A 19th century Quaker farmer woke up in the middle of the night hearing noises downstairs. He crept down the stairs, cap-lock rifle in hand to discover a burglar in his living room. He took aim and announced in a loud clear voice, “Excuse me, friend, but would thee please move? I am about to shoot where thee is standing.”

The correct version should of course be: ‘Excuse me friend, but could’st thou please move?  I am about to shoot where thou art standing.’

Oh, and if you want an archaic plural of ‘you’, try ‘ye.’

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, God-bothering, language and grammar

Lincoln, Mandiba, Maya and Dante

I don’t know much about Abe Lincoln except what everyone knows: that he was shot in the theatre (ouch) but apparently before he died he suffered from depression.  ‘If there’s a worse place than hell, I’m in it,’ is how he put it.  ‘Ouch’ doesn’t begin to cover that.

Nelson Mandela was despised as a nobody, imprisoned for twenty-seven years and yet became the first black leader of South Africa.  The regime took away his marriage to Winnie and his only son.

Maya Angelou became an elective mute as a child after suffering abuse, as her memoir ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ relates.  And yet she rose to become one of the foremost authors of the US and gave a recital at Bill Clinton’s inauguration.

What these people have in common is both darkness and greatness – and that’s no coincidence.  Most of us spend our lives avoiding darkness.  It’s painful and confusing; it’s unpleasant and frightening.  It can be absolute hell with no let-up.  Yet in the darkness lies the way to greatness.

Darkness comes when everything else runs out; when all the tried-and-tested methods for keeping your life going have ground to a halt, when habit seems meaningless and loved ones remote.  The darkness comes when you are at the absolute end of your strength; when there is not one ounce of energy left within you to try to make things work any more.  It’s like floating on a black sea: there’s nothing you can do but let it happen.

It’s the same journey Dante made when he ‘woke to find himself in a dark wood where.. the right way was lost.’  Dante has one hell of an Easter weekend; going through the inferno on the Friday, purgatory on the Saturday and finally arriving in heaven on Easter Sunday.  What’s interesting is that he never loses sight of the world ‘outside’, knowing at any moment what day and hour it is, where the sun and moon are and whereabouts he actually is (hell is located in the centre of the earth in his cosmology.)

Hell is the worst thing the human imagination can conceive: read James Joyce’s sermon from ‘Portrait of the Artist’ and then try sleeping, if you can:

I couldn’t.  But you don’t need to believe in Biblical sin and damnation to read Dante.  Like all works of genius it transcends the age which spawned it, and today it can be read as a dark night of the soul; a journey through the depths of depression towards realisation and enlightenment.  In Dante’s cosmology the damned are quite separate from those in purgatory who, though they suffer, have hope.  But we need not read it so: for us, as for Dante himself, there can always be the possibility of transformation, of transition to a better place.

Nowadays we have little concept of sin and punishment.  We have thrown out the sins of our fathers and decided that we are our own judge, jury and executioner.  But the greatest sins are those which separate us from others and from our common humanity – which is why the centre of Dante’s inferno is not fire but a frozen lake.

What melts the frozen lake is compassion.  One of the most moving scenes from the film ‘Gandhi’ is where a man comes to him in despair.  ‘I am going to hell,’ he tells the Mahatma.  ‘I took a Muslim child and bashed his brains out against a wall.’

‘I know a way out of hell,’ says the ever-practical Gandhi.  ‘You must find an orphaned Muslim child and raise him yourself – as a Muslim.’

The way out of hell is reconciliation.  Reconciliation melts the frozen lake and allows people to come together.  Where would South Africa have been without the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Mandela instituted?  Where would Maya Angelou have been if she had stored up bitterness and hatred in her heart?  Instead she turned the hell of her childhood into a powerful work of art.  Reconciliation is the way out of hell.

None of us knows for sure what happens when we die, but anyone can find out what happens when we live.  Embrace the darkness, find the truth within it, and move on.

Here’s an article I found helpful when writing this post:

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, God-bothering, philosophy

Black Dog

OK well it’s not going away so there’s nothing to do but write about it – depression, that is.  Quite unexpectedly along with a chest infection I was recently plunged into a most unpleasant depression: not the kind of blank, grey blanket which descends like a fog, but a squirming black horribleness which threatens to engulf my consciousness and, though the infection has receded, refuses to go away.

I’ve not been so prone to depression in recent years, though I had plenty of it in my twenties: thanks to a firmer footing in life, a grounded family, a reasonable work life and a daily yoga practice I was able to keep myself on a fairly even keel.  And although I had some psychotic episodes about a decade ago I’ve barely suffered an hour or so of depression since I got married.

But lately certain things have been spiralling downwards: a lack of material success in spite of huge daily efforts to make it as a writer; persistent poor sleep, struggles with my thyroid, a partner with gender dysphoria and a son with mental health problems have all taken their toll and I’m sure prepared my system to host the infection in the first place.  I have never been so wiped out by a bug as I was by this one: I was completely exhausted for days.  But as soon as the steroids and antibiotics kicked in, the depression made itself felt.  I haven’t felt like this since my twenties when a promising career and love affair went completely into free-fall.

But this is different – and although I know what it’s about, I don’t know what to do about it.  When I was eight I started to write a novel: that novel got squashed by huge and inexplicable forces which I still don’t understand.  I’ve been trying to get back to it ever since and now I’m there: I just never expected the process to be so deeply unpleasant.  I thought it’d be a kind of liberation but instead it’s utterly horrible, like opening the door to a deep dank hole with all kinds of monsters living in it.

All I know how to do is keep writing – and to believe that things are working out.  As Marcus Aurelius says, ‘love only what happens.  No greater happiness.’  In other words, believe that everything happens for your good, even though it may not feel like it.

I find great comfort in Marcus Aurelius when things seem grim.

Kirk out

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