Are We Diverse? And If Not, Why Not?

From time to time white, middle-class organisations (like Quakers) ask themselves why they are white and middle-class.  They bemoan the lack of BME and working-class members (though they are perhaps not so keen on attracting the aristocracy).  It seems to be the sole preserve of the middle-classes to deprecate themselves: I never went to a majority working-class event where people were wringing their hands and saying ‘we’re so working-class!’

But in the world of publishing it’s worse, because a row has blown up over Penguin Random House’s diversity statement which commits the organisation to ‘reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.’  It all sounds highly laudable, particularly in an industry that is presumably dominated by white middle-class males.  But is it?  Should publishers try to ‘reflect’ society or should they just publish the best, regardless of where it comes from?

There’s an issue here, which is that of unconscious bias.  An editor may think they are unbiassed but research has shown that women get published more easily if they use either a male pseudonym or initials.  You are probably more likely to be published if you have a Western name rather than an African or Asian name: Hanif Kureishi (who as I never cease to remind you started me off with this blog) was told that ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ would have had no problem being produced if the characters had been white.  Surely it’s a laudable thing to try to address all these unconscious prejudices?

Well, yes.  But the danger is that you get involved in quotas and box-ticking, which as a short-term measure can perhaps have some value but only as a stepping-stone to genuine open-mindedness and lack of bias.  And this is a hard goal to achieve.  Much easier to get some quotas and issue a press release telling everyone how diverse you are.

Enter Lionel Shriver who, in an article for the Spectator lambasts this policy of Penguin/Random in several hundred sneering words.  Shriver may have a point – that excellence is found with an open mind, not with tick-boxes – but the tone of the piece is snide and sarcastic and the argument lost in rhetoric:

‘We can safely infer… that if an agent submits a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter, it will be published, whether or not said manuscript is an incoherent, tedious, meandering and insensible pile of mixed-paper recycling.’

Surely she can do better than this?  I would put it another way; that talent should be recognised and acknowledged no matter where it comes from; that we all have unconscious biases in terms of which groups we are likely to regard as talented, and that we all need to open our minds and keep them open.  I know it’s the Spectator but she could have done the job so much better.

Here’s the article anyway:

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/06/when-diversity-means-uniformity/

and here’s the Penguin statement:

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk/creative-responsibility/inclusion/

Kirk out

Goliath? What? David What? Lord Who?

Sometimes I begin a blog post when I’m in a rush in order to get some ideas down, then I scribble off a title which seems to encompass it all.  Later I go back and write the post which often doesn’t go the way I envisaged and may end up not being expressed by the title at all.  So this morning’s thought was that the Winnie-the-Pooh stories should be not so much read as contemplated, like a gentle walk through a forest; and yesterday’s thought was – well, god knows.  Because like the mathematician Karl Weierstrasse, when I wrote the title only God and I knew what it was about – and now, only God knows.

https://hsm.stackexchange.com/questions/5394/what-was-karl-weierstrass-referring-to

Clearly I had some thought about David and Goliath in my mind when I wrote that blog title.  But what was it?  I suspect it may have had something to do with the need to defeat global capitalism, but I’m really not sure.  It was probably because along with the latest Nicci French I want to read Naomi Klein’s ‘No is Not Enough.’  If ‘This Changes Everything’ is indicative of her output, she has many useful things to say about problems and, more importantly, about solutions.  I often think we are too problem-orientated in our thinking: people spend a long time trying to convince others that such-and-such is a problem to which we should be giving our attention, and if those others are anything like me, they feel burdened and depressed as a result.  What’s better is, having flagged up the problem, to propose some solutions.

For example, we spend a lot of time (both as a nation and as a species) thinking about war.  We plan for war, we prepare for war, we study war, we arm for war.  Yet what might be the result if we adopted a solution-oriented approach to this and studied peace instead?  What do we know about peace at the moment?  Precious little, it seems – many of us can’t even stay out of trouble on social media, let alone steer our nation in the right direction.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t defend ourselves when attacked, but how many wars we’ve been involved in have been the direct result of attack?  Whilst the Second World War could not have been avoided in 1939 might it have been avoided, say, in 1921?  Or 1933?  Had the Allies adopted a less punitive approach to Germany after the First World War, might Hitler never have come to power?  But leaving the Second World War aside, as far as I can see no other war apart from the 1939-45 conflict has been the direct result of attack on our nation.  Syria certainly doesn’t qualify; neither did Afghanistan and absolutely not Iraq.  There were no weapons of mass destruction.  And don’t get me started on the bloody Falklands.

While I’m waiting to get hold of Naomi Klein’s book I may get some ideas from the forthcoming series of Reith Lectures, which this year are on war.  I have yet to listen to the first episode, but it is available here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b7f390

and I’ll let you know if it inspires further thoughts.  In the meantime I’m thankful we don’t have to listen to the nauseatingly toadyish tones of Sue Lawley.  I can’t stand that woman…

Kirk out

PS: as you will have spotted, Winnie-the-Pooh didn’t even make it into the title…

 

Out of Gas? Just Get Real!

Right now there is a supposed shortage of CO2 for chilling lagers and ciders.  Just as the world cup is on too…  Never mind, help is at hand.  Ditch all those cold and tasteless lagers and fake ciders and head for the handpump.  Don’t believe all the continental propaganda about British beer being warm; that’s bollocks.  It’s not warm; it’s just not chilled, and for a good reason – because it tastes of something!  You wouldn’t serve red wine chilled, would you?  Of course not, because you understand along with every Johnny Foreigner that red wine needs to be at room temperature for the flavour to emerge.  And so it is with real ale.  It doesn’t need to be at room temperature; the light, natural chill of a cellar will suffice to bring out the flavour of a Witch’s Tit or a Bastard Badger.  Actually outside of beer festivals most ales have perfectly normal names such as Harvest Pale or Smithson’s Mild.  But why in god’s name would you drink something cold and flavourless when such a cornucopia of real beer is available at the tug of a handle?

So never mind about the gas shortage – just get real!

Kirk out

David and Goliath and Nicci French

I blogged about the previous (and last?) novel a few months back when I jumped up and down and shouted ‘you can’t!  You can’t!  You can’t!’ about the ending.  Here’s the post:

‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’

Once I’d finished reading I wanted to beard the authors in their house and beat their breasts, sobbing that they must, must, must write another novel: though I resisted that temptation my thoughts must have reached them because they have – ‘Day of the Dead’ is out now and I must, must, must have it!  I wonder if it’s in the library yet?  (Scrabbles at keyboard) yes – it’s in the library.  Unfortunately the library is in Oakham.  Still I can reserve it.

And now I have!  The joy of technology.

I said I wouldn’t reveal the ending of ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ but I think it’s OK now as it’s been out a while.  I wonder how long it’ll be before somebody makes a box set of the series?  I wouldn’t be surprised if negotiations were going on at this very moment – anyway, to summarise the series, Frieda Klein is a psychotherapist living alone in London.  She helps others and gets involved with police cases, causing hackles to rise and making enemies along the way, but she has many fiercely loyal friends who rally to her aid when she’s in trouble – which is always.  Her nemesis, Dean Reeve, is a serial killer who faked his own death by murdering his long-lost twin brother and assuming his identity before vanishing off the radar.  For most of the series police believed Dean Reeve to be dead, though Frieda knew differently, and finally when her old lover Sandy is found floating in the Thames with his throat cut, they start to believe her.  But Reeve is never caught and at the start of ‘Sunday’ he has murdered a policeman who was on his trail and buried the body under Frieda’s floorboards.  This is hard enough to deal with, but when he begins capturing and torturing each of her friends in turn she can only find one solution: she goes to a man called Levin who has mysterious connections (probably MI5) and says, ‘Make me disappear.’

And that is the end of the book.  Was it the end?  They had to write another, surely?

They did.

Here’s the series: 

https://www.deadgoodbooks.co.uk/frieda-klein-books-in-order/

In other news, the website is progressing.  If you have seen me perform would you please consider sending me a short testimonial?  Just a sentence would do – add it to comments below.  Thanks.

Kirk out

28 Degrees and Counting…

It’s Hot here in the UK: nearly 30 degrees in some places which counts as Hot with a capital H.  I’m finding myself adjusting to Spanish rhythm, by which I don’t mean a salsa or a rumba but a slower, more leisurely approach to the day.  No rushing, no running, no stress; plenty of rest and plenty of fluids.  I am only thankful on days like these that I don’t live in Hounslow any more: being four miles from Heathrow the noise and pollution were intolerable and now they are set to get worse as the Commons approves a third runway.  Not only is the village of Harmondsworth set to be demolished but the traffic, both terrestrial and airborne, will increase hugely.  All this when London traffic is already largely at a standstill and when we have regions crying out for development.  A bad, bad decision.

But far worse was the utterly despicable cowardice of Boris Johnson.  Following his triumph with the infamous £350 million bus:

Image result for £350 million a week bus

he followed this up by saying that if the third runway were approved he would ‘lie down in front of the bulldozers’ (a sight we were all looking forward to).  Instead, what did he do?  He avoided the vote by skipping out of the country – to Afghanistan, of all places! *

He is now facing calls to resign:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/heathrow-boris-johnson-third-runway-vote-aiport-parliament-afghanistan-kabul-foreign-secretary-a8416471.html

To be fair the first part of his statement was accurate: he would lie.  He would lie about his intentions, he would lie about his loyalties and he would lie about having a prior commitment.  It’s very clear where Boris Johnson’s loyalties – erm, lie – they lie with Boris Johnson.  The man is a weasel and he should resign.  The sooner the better.

Kirk out 

*not that I’m suggesting Afghanistan is a place unworthy of a visit under normal circumstances

That Wash The Week That Wash

We’ve had some very good drying days of late, so I have got to grips with a backlog of horrendousness which was found lurking in the son’s room.  Normally I take a strict view of washing, having introduced both children to the washing machine at the age of fourteen and then backed off forever: I simply cannot understand parents who allow their grown-up offspring (usually their sons) to return from uni with a pile of washing.  They’d get short shrift from me.  But in this case Son had not only cleared out his room but made strenuous efforts to keep it clear, so I thought I’d pitch in and finish the job.  There’s something quite satisfying about doing several loads of washing if by the time the second lot’s finished, the first lot has flapped about in a strong breeze and fierce sun and is now ready for folding (not that I do fold, not in any real sense of the word.)

Since all that, I am now shocked to discover that it’s been nearly a week since my last post (I can’t help writing that like a confession.)  A week in which I didn’t get the writer-in-residence post in Scotland but did get the loveliest rejection email I’ve ever had; a week in which a story of mine was returned at lightning speed (never a good sign), a week in which early spuds have been dug up, tennis at Queen’s watched (Murray is not in great form though considering he’s had 50 weeks off it’s not surprising) and the local contender to oust Nicky Morgan launched.

I’ll give Nicky Morgan this: she’s ubiquitous.  Any local event you go to, she’s right there – and not just for the photo-op either.  She’s thought of as a good constituency MP, which makes her a hard person to oust – but if we want a change of government (and god knows we do) we have to get rid of her.  So let’s put aside the pleasant manner and the local events and consider Nicky Morgan’s voting record.

Here are just a few of the things she’s voted for (or against):

AGAINST equal rights for gays and lesbians

AGAINST investigations into the Iraq war

AGAINST a right to remain in the UK for EU citizens post-Brexit

AGAINST higher taxes for those earning over £150 K pa

AGAINST a bankers’ bonus tax

FOR more restrictions on Trades Union activity

FOR replacing the Trident nuclear missile system

FOR the Bedroom Tax

FOR a reduction in spending on welfare and benefits

FOR reducing capital gains tax.

I think it’s quite clear where her priorities lie.

In other news, I am now acquiring more material for my next sitcom; a follow-up or possibly a rewrite of ‘Waiting for Theo.’  This morning’s material went like this:

OH: You know about fully-automated luxury gay space communism, right?
Me: What?
OH: (shows me the phrase written down) It’s a thing
Me: But what thing?
OH: It’s basically Iain Banks
Me: Well that tells me nothing. What’s the gay bit about?
OH: It doesn’t mean anything really. It’s just put there because it’s a three-letter word
Me: Oh, for god’s sake! This is getting less clear by the minute!

OH:  All right.  Consider a lesbian automated checkout.

(pause)

OH:  Have you considered it?

Me:  No, but I’m writing THAT down.

And so on – in fact OH could legitimately say like Alan Bennett’s mother (The Lady in the Van), ‘by ‘eck, I’ve given you some script!’  OH really has given me some script too; stuff you couldn’t make up if you sat at your desk for a thousand years – which by coincidence is about how long ago I invented two characters called Ladimir and Oestrogen (a rather clever pun on Vladimir and Estragon, or so I thought).  Here are a couple of examples:

Ladimir:  God!  Three degrees in Edinburgh!

Oestrogen:  What?

L:  Three degrees!

O:  What – temperature?

L:  Of course, temperature!  What else?

O:  Oh, nothing

L:  It’s so foggy

O:  Really?

L:  You can’t see your hand in front of your face!

O:  Wow!  So I guess they’ll be singing when will I see you again?

L:  (groan)

 

Ladimir:  Here you are!  I’ve been looking for you

Oestrogen:  Here I am

L:  what’s this then?

O:  It’s my putting shed

L:  Your putting shed?

O:  Yep.

L:  Not a potting shed?

O:  Do you see any pots?

L:  OK then.  Is it for golf clubs?

O:  No.

L:  Well, what is it for then?

O:  It’s for putting things in.

L:  Oh, I see.  How foolish of me not to realise we were in a written conversation.

 

L:  In Fortran it was ‘right’ and in Basic it was ‘print’

O:  Okaaay…

L:  Fortran was hard.  Everyone learnt Basic

O:  Even I learnt a bit of Basic

L:  Oh?

O:  On my computer programming for morons course

L:  Was it really called that?

O:  No!

L:  Well, they have ‘Computer Programming for Idiots’ and ‘Internet for Dummies’

O:  Well it wasn’t.

L:  You’ll know all about the ‘go to’ problem then?

O:  Go to?  There’s a problem with ‘go to’?  It was the only bloody thing I understood!

L:  It didn’t have an equivalent ‘come from’ function.

O:  Oh, I see.  So it wasn’t quite finished.

L:  No.

O:  You might say it was antiquated

L:  I guess

O:  Even Shakespearian?

L:  Unh?

O:  “Go to, my Lord”.  You know, that sort of thing.

 

And so on… I think our real conversations are better.

Kirk out

Poetry in the Grotto

One of the last places you might expect to see a grotto is on Alan Moss Rd in Loughborough.  I don’t know who Alan Moss is or was; I keep confusing him with Stirling Moss but Google says he’s a cricketer so let’s go with that.  There was a sort of sporting ‘Excuse Me’ theme to the evening as England’s football progress was marked by cheers and shouts punctuating the poetry (punctuated poetry is generally not a healthy phenomenon) but those gathered at Bill Brookman’s house for An Evening of Poetry and Chai merely brushed it off with a smile.  In another age Bill would probably have run a circus or established a theatre; he is a veritable impresario with a highly theatrical manner and a flamboyant style of dress.  As it is he runs musical and poetic evenings, and last night I and a few other poets gathered in Bill’s neighbour’s garden where the audience was sprinkled around under trees, between bushes and beside solar lights, to read (or not read, in my case) our poems.  I generally focussed on comedy, beginning with ‘What Larks’, a sort of grumpy Larkinesque whinge; then ‘The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge’ followed, as it often is, by ‘The Ode to the Upperton Rd Bridge.’  In order to give people a flavour of the original William McGonagall piece on which this is based, Jan read a few verses of ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ (a piece of unintended comic genius) so that people could get the references.  Then we were straight into ‘Is Vic There?’ for Victoria Wood, and to finish we visited ‘The Lady in the Van.’  Other poets did haikus, more meditative poems (mostly free verse) and a couple of comic pieces.  There was also chai (after which I didn’t sleep) pakoras and some delicious strawberry tarts.

Here’s the William McGonagall:

http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/gems/the-tay-bridge-disaster

Enjoy!

Kirk out