Hugo What? Hugo Who? Longlisted for Where?

OMG.  That’s all I can say.  O – M – G.  It’s just one of those moments where you sit open-mouthed and just say:

It all started this morning.  We were – well, we were doing what I can only describe as praying and OH said, in a list of things, ‘Oh, and thanks for Steve’s email about Hugo.’  I kept my peace till Amen and then I said, ‘Steve?  Hugo?  Who’s Hugo?’

‘Oh, yes,’ says he.  ‘I got an email from Steve at GAILE (his publishers) saying I’m on the list for Hugo.’

Gritting my teeth I said, ‘and who is Hugo?’

‘Not who.  What.  Hugo is a Sci Fi award.  In fact it’s THE Sci Fi award.’

‘What?  You’re up for an award and you didn’t even tell me?’

‘Well, I only just found out.’

‘And you decided to tell God before me?’

‘Well, to be fair, God already knew…’


So, all we know is that ‘Replicas’ –

– is up for a Hugo award and that the shortlist of five will be announced this evening, 8 pm our time.

I think it’s unlikely he’ll make the shortlist but bloody hell, to be considered is a huge deal.

Kirk out





The Voiced and the Unvoiced: Mum’s the Word

Here, for your delectation, is a link to one of the best sitcoms of modern times, ‘Mum’.  A sort of updated ‘After Henry’

it’s the story of a widow from the day of the funeral until the day she is able to move on.  Cathy, the ‘Mum’ of the title, is surrounded by people who are ostensibly there for support but who actually do little but irritate and interrupt.  From her son and his live-in girlfriend to her brother and his unbearable partner, to her unpleasant and bickering parents, the house is continually full of annoying people.  They are the voiced, giving utterance to every thought, no matter how rude or unhelpful, while Cathy is the unvoiced.  She just smiles, puts her head on one side and says ‘Okay?’ whilst folding linen, taking out the trash and cooking three types of dinner for these ubiquitous guests.

Cathy’s only confidant is her husband’s best friend Michael.  It is completely obvious from his first appearance that Michael is besotted with Cathy.  It seems equally obvious that they are destined to end up together; but the writer ekes this out to the n’th degree and (I hesitate to put SPOILER ALERT because it’s such a little thing) at the end of the final episode she intertwines the tips of her fingers with his, and that’s as far as it goes.  It’s a beautiful, infuriating, tormenting sitcom, a perfect antidote to series where people are forever jumping in and out of bed, and I urge you to watch it NOW.

It has only just occurred to me, I confess, that the title may be a pun; because as well as being a Mum, Cathy keeps mum.  The voicing or not-voicing of thoughts is a staple of sitcom, and on the opposite end of the spectrum we have Alf Garnett and Basil Fawlty.  Alas, unlike the divine Fawlty Towers, ‘Till Death Us Do Part’ can never be shown again due to its overt racism.  Alf Garnett not only voices his every thought, he shouts it from the rooftops, holding court from the depths of his armchair and giving the world the benefit of his homespun bigotry.  The disturbing thing about Alf Garnett was that for many he became a hero as he voiced their thought as well; and here’s the danger: such figures can be double-edged.  I expect for many Basil Fawlty was a hero too – but then again, doesn’t he speak a little bit for all of us?  Who among us has not wanted to jump up and down and scream at a rude customer or give the car a good thrashing when it won’t start?  Who among us is without thought-crime?  Who is fit to cast the first branch?

Kirk out

Patchwork Roads

It occurred to me to wonder this morning, as I started work to the accompaniment of a couple of pneumatic drills, how many organisations have the right to dig up the road.  There must be a few; what with the ubiquitous BT Openreach, not to mention all the utilities plus the council and of course whoever it is now who actually maintains the bloody things (the Highways Agency or whatever they’re called this week) there must be a dozen or more groups of men with the right to come around, spray a square of yellow over a wide area and start drilling.  I don’t know what these two were doing this morning but it involved digging down several feet and shifting a seriously long and heavy kerbstone out of the way.  But then I went out to stand in the rain and get signatures (of which more anon) and by the time I came back the hole had been filled in and the area patched.

When I was a child asphalt used to be my favourite smell.  It’s one of those questions adults always ask, expecting the answer ‘ice cream’ or ‘lemonade’ – and when I said my favourite smell was asphalt I got some quizzical looks.  But I truly love the smell of tar when it’s laid on the road, and my only regret when working at the Road Materials Testing Lab in Northampton, was that it was drowned out by the stench of the chemicals we used to dissolve the tar (or bitumen) from the aggregate (or rocks) and which smelt like a combination of cheap vodka and formalin.

So having divided my morning between idly watching the diggers and doing a few bits of desultory writing, I headed into town to do a spot of petitioning about Loughborough’s children’s centres.  It’s the typical story of public sector cuts; the county council – whose head, I am informed, earns more than the Prime Minister; shame on them

– are planning to close twelve children’s centres in the county which includes two out of three Sure Start centres in Loughborough.  Nearly everyone I asked was happy to sign.  But then alas it began to rain, so we decamped to the nearest cafe which wasn’t a chain.

And here, just for the fun of it, is Bernard Cribbins digging a hole:

Kirk out



Time for a bit of a catch-up.  In between the rain and snow I’ve been digging the garden for the potatoes which are almost ready to go in (earlies – I am ahead of myself this year) Turning the soil has been sooooooo much easier than last year, not having to constantly battle with brambles and ivy and oh dear god horsetail – the patch where this disgrace to vegetation reared its ugly heads has been firmly carpeted over and will remain so until it gives up and goes away.  I have no intention of allowing my garden to be a host for hordes of horrid horsetail.  Apart from the potatoes there will be tomatoes, peppers, runner beans and peas this year.

The novel is coming on; I’m on chapter 3 which is basically chapter four because chapter 1 comes before chapter one, then there’s chapter 2 which is really chapter 3, so chapter 3 is chapter 4.  See what I mean?  Chapter 5 is coincidentally also chapter 5, but after that chapter 6 becomes chapter 8 and chapter 7, chapter 13.  If you’re finding it confusing, think how I feel: I have to write the bloody thing!

Oh, and I nearly forgot – a couple of weeks ago I signed up for some sleep therapy, as a result of which my insomnia has retreated a notch or two; I also went back on the old herbal jollop, which has resulted in 5 out of the last 7 nights being good ones.  Unheard of!

Kirk out

Freedom of Sp-

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Freedom of speech is a very thorny issue at the moment, and the latest spike in this thorn-bush is the proposed visit of Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son, to the UK.  Here are two views on that proposed visit:

Now I never particularly liked Billy Graham; I’m generally suspicious of popular preachers and prefer dialogue to evangelism, but his son seems to take it to a whole new level, denouncing Islam as a religion and gays and lesbians for the usual tedious reasons.  Apart from the fact that he seems to have a very short memory about the practices of Christianity (many of which are similar to fundamentalist Islam today) people naturally take offence and think that his views have no place in a multicultural society.  And when I read about him in Wikipedia:

I tended to agree.  I don’t want those views spread over here.  No thanks.

But there’s the thing: people used to say, ‘I disagree profoundly with what you’re saying but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’  People used to say that freedom of speech meant the freedom to say anything except to shout ‘fire!’ in a crowded building.  So here’s the question: does insulting Muslims in a multicultural society constitute shouting ‘fire!’ in a burning building?

Last weekend’s Observer contained an opinion piece entitled: ‘Even Those with the Vilest of Views Have a Right to be Heard.’ (I can’t link to it as the whole thing is behind a paywall.)  But the premise of the article is that people like Martin Sellner of ‘Defend Europe’ who stop charities from rescuing drowning refugees, or Lauren Southern who thinks Hitler was just a Social Justice Warrior who got lucky, should not have been prevented from entering this country because their views, no matter how vile, have a right to be heard.  I totally disagree.  But here’s the thing: where do we draw the line?  Where is the division between strong opinion and hate speech?

I’m quite uneasy about some current tendencies.  I disagree profoundly with Germaine Greer’s comments on transgender women (although according to the article here she seems to have backtracked a little)

as they were not a helpful contribution to the debate.  But I don’t think they constitute hate speech.  They constitute strong, blunt, even rude opinion – but that is not something that should be shut down.  Yet many universities have decided to ‘no-platform’ her.

We should think about this concept of ‘platforming’.  There is a difference between somebody having a ‘platform’ – being allowed to express opinions unopposed – and being on a platform as part of a debate with other speakers.  But surely, even if you have a platform, in a wider sense the debate goes on anyway?  People respond on social media and in the press; often these things make the news and magazine programmes faster than the speed of light, triggering an even wider range of opinion.  So maybe instead of ‘no-platforming’ people like Greer we should be saying, ‘come and have a go if you think you’re cogent enough.’  Robust debate is essential in any healthy society – and surely if universities are about anything they are about fostering this?  If students cannot hear and rebut strong opinions, no matter how much they dislike them, then what kind of adults are we producing?  There is already too much of a tendency for people to stay in their own little enclaves (especially on social media) where rarely a voice is heard from outside.

On the other side of the debate I hear stories of vulnerable young people struggling with identity and sexuality; I hear stories of attacks proliferating after certain people are allowed to speak; I hear of hatred on the rise.

So what do we do?  A line must be drawn somewhere.

Personally I was pleased that Martin Sellner and Lauren Southern were turned away at the border.  Their views are so extreme and their actions so horrid and harmful that I don’t want them here.  Then again at the same time I would like, Louis Theroux-style, to have the opportunity to debate with them.  After all, how else can we change their minds?

It concerns me greatly that nuanced debate is being shoved aside in favour of something resembling a gladiatorial conquest.  Yes, it’s painful to have your deeply-held views challenged, but it can be beneficial.  A debate can often (though not always) change people’s minds: it can also help to clarify your own views by setting them up against other people’s.  How well do your arguments stand up?  Do they have holes in them?  Are you as well-informed as you imagine?

As I’ve said before with the trans agenda, only with debate can true acceptance (as opposed to putting up and shutting up) come.  Only with open debate can understanding arise.

Yes, there is a line between free speech and hate speech.  But where the hell is it?

Kirk out

A Tragedy of Perfections

It occurred to me at stupid o’clock this morning when my brain had done its usual thing and whacked me over the head repeatedly to keep me awake, that the opposite of a Comedy of Errors would be a Tragedy of Perfections.  That struck me as a nice idea, and I began to ponder what a tragedy of perfections might involve.

The crossword is a case in point.  I may have mentioned before that I do the Guardian cryptic every morning to get – I was going to say, to get my brain in gear but as I said it’s already in top gear and revving hard – well, to get the verbal juices flowing and to sharpen my sense of what words are and how they work.  Cryptic crosswords are very useful for poets, and if I ever teach a creative writing course I will recommend them to my students.  But of course part of the joy of a cryptic is the puzzle.  If it’s too easy it’s not so enjoyable: likewise if it’s too hard.  Most of the time I get through OK but sometimes I’m stuck, and then those few blank spaces torment me.  Oh, if I could only get this crossword finished!  But here’s the thing: five minutes (or half an hour) later when I finally get it, my immediate reaction is disappointment.  It’s finished.  No more puzzle.  Now I have to wait till tomorrow.

And I guess that’s what I mean by the tragedy of perfection.  One of DH Lawrence’s characters (I think it was Birkin in Women in Love) said of the place where he was living: ‘Now that my rooms are complete I want them at the bottom of the sea.’  And that is the tragedy of being human; that we strive to complete things and when they’re complete we feel heartsick.  It’s like that old Chinese curse: ‘May your every desire be instantly fulfilled.’  We must have something to aim for, else what is the point of our lives?  Or, to put it another way, ‘a man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’  (that’s Robert Browning, from this poem:

I like Robert Browning: he’s very direct and conversational.  But I digress.)

What, then, is the answer?  How do we deal with this utterly perverse tendency?  I’m going to turn to yoga philosophy now and specifically to the concept of karma yoga.  Karma is a term everyone knows nowadays – or thinks they know, anyway – and yoga is something every second person practises.  But karma yoga has nothing to do with yoga postures; it is a way of doing everyday tasks which somehow helps you to wriggle free of this endless cycle of desire and frustration – the tragedy of perfection.  For example: suppose I vacuum the sitting room carpet.  As the machine hoovers up the dirt I feel a great sense of satisfaction at the instant swallowing of every bit of dust and fluff (and don’t get me started on the hair-balls which can only emanate from OH’s head).  The task is done: I switch off the vacuum which dies with a satisfied sigh.  I look around me.  I see that it is good.  But! five minutes later someone walks in with dirt on their shoes.  The sofa is moved, scattering fine toast crumbs over a wide area.  Snacks are eaten.  People enter and leave.  OH pulls out tangles of hair and drops them on the floor (and nobody can tell me otherwise).  And in no time at all my (yes, MY) lovely clean carpet is covered in filth.  And if I’m not careful I can get quite miffed about it.

Karma yoga gives a way out of this.  First, when you undertake a task it is done without end-gaining; in other words, without attachment to the results.  This isn’t the same as not giving a toss; it means that if the vacuum doesn’t suck properly or you get interrupted or if for some other reason the carpet is not as clean as you’d like it to be, you don’t sweat it.  At the same time the job is done with focus.  You’d be amazed how much more quickly a job can be finished when you focus your whole attention on it.  Last year when digging the garden I was totally oppressed by how much work there was to do and was unable to concentrate on a little bit at a time.  This year I have made a conscious decision to focus only on what I’m doing and to let go of perfection – and guess what?  I’ve done four times the work in half the time.

That’s all for today folks.  Now to edit this post and make it perfect…

Kirk out





Hawking the Infinitely Prolonged

People are dropping like flies at the moment, and the latest to go is Stephen Hawking.  He was given two years to live after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and yet survived until the age of 76.  I’m trying to think of something clever to say about him, but zerothly has done it much better than I can, so all I’m going to do is put together a series of Hawking-related clips as a sort of half-arsed tribute:

These are, in order, zerothly’s blog post, the biopic The Theory of Everything, Hawking appearing in The Simpson’s and his voice in the latest Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Basically Hawking was up for anything and in spite of the monotone of his voice, had a great sense of humour: when asked when he’d made a mistake in A Brief History of Time, he replied, ‘I predict that I was wrong.’

Sorry I haven’t done this with my whole arse but I’m feeling a little cold-y and woolly-headed right now.

Kirk out