I Can’t Have My Cake or Eat It

I have a confession to make (incidentally have you noticed that whenever people say that they inevitably go on to ‘confess’ something utterly trivial and uncontroversial?)  Well, here it is – I’ve never really seen the point of… cake.  The English are supposed to go mad for cake – we have it with afternoon tea or morning coffee; we bring it out at the end of a meal and celebrations just wouldn’t be the same without it.  But I’ve never seen the point of it.  Sure, I liked it when I was a child, if only to pull off the icing and try to get away without eating the rest; and as an adolescent I used to devour acres of jam sponge in one sitting.  But now I’ve gone right off it; and for the last thirty years cake and I have had nothing to do with one another.

For a start, I rarely eat snacks.  This is partly for health reasons (snacking is a good way to gain weight) and partly because I’m just not hungry between meals.  Secondly, cakes are full of sugar; commercial ones are far too sweet and I just can’t be arsed to make my own (they come out like pancakes in any case.)  But the main reason I don’t eat them is because they don’t seem like food.  They deliver an abundance of calories without actually filling you up – so, whilst I may not be averse to the occasional slice of battenburg I rarely tackle anything else, especially not the usual jam-cream-and-icing-laden horrors that I am sometimes offered.  I don’t find it satisfying or enjoyable; it’s like eating sugary air.  My teeth feel horrible, my stomach feels horrible and no amount of tea can wash away the taste.  So no thank you.

This was not the experience of Withnail and Marwood in the famous cake-shop scene where they demanded the finest wines known to humanity in order to wash down their scones and iced buns:

When I was a child we had a cake, freshly made, every Sunday afternoon so that my parents could come down after their rest and have tea and cake – because apparently cooking breakfast, attending two church services, cooking Sunday roast and clearing up afterwards just wasn’t enough work for one day.  Mind you the cake was made from a mix in a box so I guess it wasn’t that hard.  But now?  I’d as soon go out and dig up the entire garden than bake a cake.

Kirk out

Geography of a Psycho

You may have heard the term ‘psycho-geography’ or you may not: it doesn’t matter.  Psycho-geography is the connection of landscape to psychology; the link between your surroundings and your interior world.  Psycho-geography is a key feature of many crime novels – where would Rebus be without Edinburgh, its pubs and greasy spoons, its dank council estates overshadowed by Arthur’s seat? – and it is specifically mentioned in ‘Day of the Dead’:(https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2018/08/02/what-comes-after-sunday/) where the hidden rivers of London are a clue to the actions of a serial killer.  And now I’ve been and got me some psycho-geography too.

I didn’t mean to, at least not consciously (can you mean something unconsciously?) – as I said a couple of days ago, I set out without any plan at all.  But now that I’ve walked thirty or more miles of river (or canal) it occurs to me that there are very clear parallels between this walk and my life.  Walking the canals has been an existence alongside but entirely different from my everyday life.  Even when you can see the road, the towpath is a world away from the traffic.  It is a hidden life, a watery life; a life where you meet ferrywomen in tied cottages, chat to boating folk and ask them to fill your water bottle.  It’s a life of fishermen as still as herons; a life of getting lost, having tea in pubs, finding places to pee and being very glad to see Bertie.

In addition to all this, the river is a perfect metaphor for art.  Art has its own hidden course which it strives to follow rather than being swept along by the mainstream.  Stephen Fry once said that in every artist the desire to be seen contends with the desire to hide: I would add that the desire to follow your own voice contends with the desire to be recognised.  So in terms of psycho-geography instead of struggling to be recognised by the mainstream (the road), I’ve been following my own course (the river.)  It’s like song-lines, in a way:


Does that count as cultural appropriation?

Kirk out

No Hand Signals

Back in the day learning hand signals used to be part of the driving test, presumably in case your electrics went on the blink.  From memory waving an arm up and down meant ‘I am slowing to a halt’, rotating a hand in one direction meant – oh, I can’t remember because I never used them; but so prevalent were they that disabled drivers used to put a notice on the car boot saying ‘No Hand Signals.’

Nowadays, alongside these official signs have evolved a set of informal but generally understood hand signals.  First, the thanks signal for when someone lets you out of a side road or allows you to pass an obstacle.  This consists of a raised palm which, in order to be sure the other driver has seen it, should be left in place for at least a couple of seconds.  (This presumably would not be encouraged by the DVLA as it means taking one hand off the steering wheel.)  The usual response to such a gesture of thanks, should you choose to acknowledge it, is either to nod or raise one finger, the acknowledgement being briefer and less demonstrative than the original gesture of thanks.  When signalling to let another driver go past I usually lower the window slightly and beckon with one finger; they then respond with a rather more hurried version of the thanks gesture as they whiz past.

Then there are gestures to pedestrians.  When slowing or stopping to allow them to cross I usually make a to-and-fro gesture like a windscreen wiper, to which (if they are polite) they will respond with the standard thanks.  This can be briefer than with motorists as I’m stationary and already looking in their direction.

Where a hand gesture may not be visible (eg if you’re in front of a car) the sudden-hazard-lights gambit may be employed.  Again, though frowned on by the DVLA, this is universally understood and widely used; two or three blinks on and off with the hazard lights means thanks.

Not everyone is polite of course; some people sweep past after you’ve waited ages for them to pass an obstacle or charge out of a side-road without so much as making eye contact.  And then there was the bizarre incident of the woman on Blackbird Road.  Traffic was moving slowly, not because the car in front was a police car but because it was a busy time of day.  There were two cars queuing to get out of a particular side road and the police car stopped to let one of them out.  Since there was a gap in front of me I decided not to let the other car out, but she had other ideas.  As I started to move forward she jerked out in front of me, causing me to stand on the brakes, and then made a series of furious gestures designed to indicate that I was in the wrong place and should have let her out, to which – I am happy to report – I responded with a gracious sweep of the arm (do please come out) ignoring her continued furious finger-jabs.  The whole thing took far longer than if she’d waited for someone else to let her out.

Wherever you are, Blackbird Rd woman, I just want to say you were bang out of order.

Kirk out

End-gaining in walking

Here’s an object lesson in how end-gaining happens.  Two and a half weeks ago I set out on a walk.  I had no end in view, just to walk.  I might get as far as Normanton but I probably won’t, I thought.  And in any case it doesn’t matter.  Wandering without an object is a very freeing thing to do; and as it happened I did make it to Normanton, but it didn’t matter.  It was fun and interesting and I got to use the chain ferry.  But it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t.

Then I thought, what if I walk further?  Maybe park up somewhere and walk north, see where I get to?  I did park up somewhere, I did walk north and where I got to was Kegworth.  I was interested because I hadn’t been to Kegworth before, only through it on the nightmarish A-road on which construction lorries grind past all day long (they’re getting a bypass, which is good.  In a sense.)  Kegworth has at least two great cafes and some interesting shops, so I enjoyed a good mooch.  And as I sweated my way back to the car at Zouch, a Plan began to emerge.  Now at this stage the Plan was merely fun, something to structure my holiday around, like a peg to hang your hat on.  The peg doesn’t matter, it’s just a means of placing your hat somewhere.  But in order for the Plan to work, you have to make believe that it’s important.  Much fun is based around this kind of make-believe: pretending that it matters who wins a card-game or whether certain rules are followed (Mornington Crescent is a perfect example of this.)  And holidays (at least self-catering ones) are a way of living your normal life in a sort of relaxed parody where you do some of the same things but none of it matters.  In a word, it’s play.

So at this point my walking was entirely in that spirit.  Of course I was aware of being fitter and getting lots of exercise and being out in the country and Finding Out About Canals and all of that – but none of it mattered.  If I hadn’t done any of those things it would still have been good.  It was play.  But then at some point another little voice began to arise.  ‘What about walking the whole of the river Soar from the Trent to its source?’  This seemed a fun idea (though later studies of the map showed it to be impracticable), an idea which was conceived in the spirit of play – but all too soon the plan of walking the Soar from end to end became a – well, an end in itself.  It became Something I Was Doing; something I would Tell People About.  And they would Be Impressed.

The more this end-gaining took over, the less fun it became.  I knew where I was going each day, whereas the fun had previously been in spontaneity.  I had a goal to reach and I might feel a failure if I didn’t reach it.  I began to feel tired instead of energetic, dispirited instead of joyful.  And at some point I said, enough.  No more.  I was all set to give up walking altogether.

And then, just like a see-saw*, (and after a day’s rest) I found the desire to walk was not entirely extinguished.  I abandoned altogether the plan of walking the Soar (now adapted into a plan to walk the canal down to Foxton Locks) and went closer to home (see yesterday’s post).  And it was much better.

The moral of the story is, all ends must end.  Oo, and while you’re here I found this video again, which I thought was lost:

Kirk out

*or see-Soar

Wobbling About in Normanton – Four Miles

Today I definitely wanted a shorter walk.  A very short walk.  A walk that says, I’ve more or less given up but the bug hasn’t quite left me yet.  So I decided to drive to Normanton on Soar and walk to Zouch (pronounced Zosh) which coincidentally was the bit of the canal I’d left out before.  Turns out the tow-path has also left out this bit because you can’t follow the water but have instead to go to the end of the village and then across the fields.  The cows were quite friendly and as the pub hove into view


(the same one I went to in a state of melting a couple of weeks ago and encountered two men trying to turn a boat round) the thought of tea came into my mind.  I went in and asked.  Did they do tea?  They did.  Did they have soya milk?  They did not.  I settled for cows’ milk and wished I hadn’t bothered as the tea was horrid.  I also noticed that the pub was a bit dirty and the tables hadn’t been wiped.  Ah well.  I made the best of it and wrote my diary for a bit (one must always have something sensational to write in the pub) before heading back.  I walked through the village of Normanton


and out the other side, passing the 12th Century church and the pub (where I should have gone for tea) and having an interesting conversation with the woman who used to run the chain ferry:

Image result for chain ferry normanton on soar

and still lives in what used to be the tied cottage.  She, her husband and her son ran the ferry between them and she said it could be quite inconvenient if you were in the middle of baking and somebody came down wanting to cross over.  Beside the chain ferry cottage are some delightful chalets like the ones in Swithland Wood.

At the end of the village I turned and walked back through the fields along an alarmingly narrow path through alarmingly tall sweetcorn, having nightmares about being harvested by a huge combine, and so back to the churchyard where a bench looks out over the river and I had my lunch.


After that it was time to head home.

Kirk out

Downstairs to Upstairs – 13 Steps

From yesterdays nine-point-something miles today I am reduced to hobbling around the house.  Going upstairs takes considerable energy: not only am I very tired but my thighs are complaining and the muscles at the top of my right foot are refusing to co-operate.  Incidentally, do all houses have thirteen stairs between one floor and the next?  It seems to be a general rule but surely it must vary depending on the size of the house and the height of the ceilings?  This reminds me of a tumbleweed moment in ‘Ever-Decreasing Circles’ where Ann, searching desperately for something to say as Martin clumps audibly upstairs, says ‘thirteen stairs we’ve got.’  It’s the kind of thing you have to be moving in ever-decreasing circles even to think about (unless you’re a builder, which makes me wonder how they do stairs: do they start at the top and work down or the other way round?)

I can’t find that particular scene but here’s a random episode:

It’s an odd thing but just when I think I’ve forgotten about it, that series comes back again.  It’s as if I’ll never get free of it… where was I?  Oh yes, hobbling around.  It can be quite refreshing just to hobble for a day or two; it’s a bit like enforced pottering, and I’m all in favour of pottering.  It’s becoming a lost art.

I managed to hobble out to the garden and pick the tomatoes:

Image may contain: fruit, food and indoor

There were so many today that I’ve made soup.  It was delicious.

Kirk out

Abbey Park to King’s Mill Lock: 9.4 Miles

Today was supposed to be an easier day; it didn’t turn out that way.  The first section was fine; I parked up at Abbey Park and found the canal (or one of its manifestations: the river and canal play hide and seek all the way from the Trent until south of Leicester when they finally part company, and when they part and come together again, making islands on which are parks and nature reserves.)  I was aiming for Aylestone Meadows but once I got there I just carried on walking, pointing myself at King’s Mill lock where there are some tea rooms. 

Image result for King's Mill Lock tea rooms Leicester

image removed on request


Would they be open?  They were not; so back I went, finding a spot to use the shewee before having lunch.  I was starting to feel stiff and tired now, and the upper part of my right foot was complaining.  But there was nothing for it but to walk back again, which I did, stopping once at Aylestone Mill Lock to contemplate life, and once at Castle Gardens to rest.  After that it was a mere hop and a skip (not that I did either) to Abbey Park where I practically limped towards the car park and got in with a thankful sigh.

I have a feeling that’s going to be it for the walking now: not only am I tired but it’s getting more expensive the further south I get.  So the final stretch – King’s Mill Lock to Foxton Locks (31 miles there and back) will have to wait a while.

So how far have I walked this month?  Since 4th August I have walked the canal/river from the Trent in the north to King’s Mill Lock in the south; I have also failed to walk to Swithland (ending up in Woodhouse Eaves) and walked from Swithland to Mountsorrel.  So let me add this up.  While I do, you can listen to a snippet from Govannen’s latest album:


The canal/river from the Trent to King’s Mill Lock (there and back, because each day I park up and go down and up again) amounts to 61 miles.  The Woodhouse Eaves walk was 5 miles, which makes 66, and the Swithland to Mountsorrel day adds up to another 5, making 71.  Oo! and I forgot the day I went round Cropston, which was another 5 miles.  Total 76.

Wow.  So that’s 76 miles in 16 days, an average of 4.75 miles per day (except that I haven’t walked every day.

Kirk out

Watermead to Abbey Park

A gentler walk today, intending to be around 6 miles but working out at nearly 8.  Once again I got lost on the way back: once again I failed to understand how this could have happened.  Either I took another path which had vanished by the time I came back, or I’d failed to notice a long row of houses and a large pub.  Now call me unobservant if you will, but if there’s one thing I notice it’s pubs.  Because I like pubs.  I’m interested in pubs.  I like to take a look at them and see what sort of pub they are; whether they’re likely to do good beer and have a good atmosphere and so on.  And it turned out that, my phone having died and the map being rather too small-scale to provide the requisite detail, I entered said pub and asked if they knew where the Meadows Lane car park was.  And a very nice young man said he did know it.  He told me where to walk and even came out with me to make sure I understood.  He was such a nice man that I felt like Harry Enfield and friends:


Where was I?  Oh yes, walking.  Well let’s start at the beginning.  I parked up at the Birstall end of Watermead Park and found the river with no problem.  It was going to be a pretty straightforward walk along the waterside with the added excitement of estrenar the sheewee (estrenar is a Spanish word for which there is no direct English equivalent: it means ‘to use for the first time’.)  I had some difficulty with this, not logistically but psychologically, as I was somewhat inhibited by the fear of being seen; however I’m sure everything will improve with practice.  The path goes past Belgrave Hall, an 18th century house now, sadly, only open for special events, and the Space Centre which houses a rocket that actually went into space:



It was noticeable how much less friendly and more hurried people got, the nearer I approached Leicester, being less inclined to say hello and more inclined to rush past you.  I reached Abbey Park in time for lunch and mooched around there for a bit.  Abbey Park houses the remains of an abbey where Cardinal Wolsey once lived; there are also very pleasant gardens, the wide meandering of the river Soar, a miniature railway and a cafe.


After spending a while here I started my walk back which was just the same only in reverse, except for the end bit which I told you about.

And that was today.

Kirk out

Developing Nations: An Occident Waiting to Happen

I wish I had a fascinating post for you on the subject of developing nations but alas, all I have is a pun which occurred to me this morning, that developing nations are an occident waiting to happen.  If I were so inclined I could deconstruct the whole notion of ‘development’ and the assumption that it is not only necessary and good but inevitable; that underdeveloped nations must be developed as soon as possible (which means their natural resources being seized for the benefit of others and their people being forced to work for the economy) and that ‘developing’ or ’emerging’ nations must be hurried along to join the top table.  Of course, we don’t want them to develop too fast otherwise they’ll be in competition with us: just enough so that we can exploit their resources and sell them lots of stuff.

But there’s a problem with this narrative; a problem which goes to the heart of the question ‘what is the right way to live?’  Very often I come across people on social media advocating a certain lifestyle which harks back to a golden age: the paleo diet, for example, from the pre-agricultural era, or the idea that we are ‘really’ designed to be hunter-gatherers.  So what is the right way to live?  The other day I came across a post about free houses in Wales.  The Welsh government will allow people to build their own houses without paying for the land.  Great.  Ah, but there’s a catch.  You have to be self-sufficient and carbon-neutral within five years.  The carbon-neutral thing might not be such a tall order; after all, there are carbon-neutral houses already in existence.  But self-sufficiency is altogether another order of tallness.  My sister and her husband are semi self-sufficient in Wales, and I’ve seen the amount of unremitting daily work which that involves.  To be fully self-sufficient is a heck of a tall order.  Think about what you eat in a typical day: protein (meat or otherwise: if otherwise you have to grow a ton of pulses) veg, milk, cheese (or their vegan equivalents, again usually made from soy) bread, margarine or butter, tea, coffee… I could go on and on.  The thought of total self-sufficiency totally does my head in.  But maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way: maybe you need to look at what you can produce and focus on living on that.  But I wouldn’t want to.  I can’t post the link at the moment but if you look up sustainable self-build in Wales you should find it.

The trouble with the search for a golden age is that every age has its problems.  There’s no point in history where everything was perfect until some horrible people came along to spoil it.  Negative things have certainly taken place (the enclosures, the first factories, slavery) but things were not perfect before (though I’m sure they were a damn sight better for the slaves).  The industrial revolution led to much misery for workers, but how much better off were they when they worked the land?  None of us is immune from harking back to some golden age: there’s also a feminist utopia (a sort of anti-Gilead) in the concept of a prehistorical matriarchy.  There’s even some evidence for the hypothesis, though it’s not very strong.  Here’s a rather long but excellent analysis:


Besides, helpful though it is to think beyond the current paradigm to other possible worlds, there do actually exist some matriarchal societies today.  They are small and tribal but still they survive and some do seem to practise a kind of equality:


Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

image removed on request

So whether matriarchy was actually prevalent or not in prehistory, the idea helps us to imagine other possibilities, since oppression is usually founded in the dogma that ‘there is no alternative.’  This underpins austerity, and the general idea of economic growth.

Which brings us neatly back to where we started…

Kirk out

PS For some reason the Welsh link has posted below…





The Handmaid’s Tale’s Tail


I was dubious when I heard they were doing a second series of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: having come to the end of Atwood’s story with the first series I didn’t see how they could successfully carry on.  But they did.  OH and I have been gripped every Sunday by the dark (and sometimes frustratingly inaudible) action which has taken the original story and really run with it.  It has been shocking, unpredictable and fascinating and at no time have we been able to tell what was coming.

The second series was, if anything, better than the first, but at the end of it I found myself wondering: is it the story or the franchise that’s taken over?  There’s a moment in a successful series when the desire to milk it can overtake the natural length of the story and when that happens, you’re in trouble.  Has it happened here?  I’ll be honest – I’m not sure.  The second series kept me guessing all the way through, with the women’s small acts of rebellion meeting with brutal repression and one young woman who believes in Gilead and tries to be a good wife, being drowned in a swimming pool.  When Serena, fearing for the future of ‘her’ baby (in reality June and Nick’s child) goes with other wives to petition to be allowed to read the Bible, the Commander (her husband, lest we forget) responds by having her finger cut off.  Just as a reminder.

The series ends with June/Offred being smuggled to safety with the baby via a network of Marthas.  Her friend Emily/Ofglen, having been posted to a mysterious Commander whose intentions are not at first clear, arrives with him in a van and shouts to her to get in.  They are on the brink of escape when June thrusts the baby at Emily, shouts ‘Call her Nicole’ and walks away.  I was gobsmacked.  I mean, what?  Why the hell would she do that?  Has she been so conditioned by Gilead that she’s afraid to leave?  Or is she determined to stay and destroy it from within?  We won’t find out until the next episode, but I suspect the real answer is that Offred sacrificed herself so that the programme could run for another series.


I have to report that the BBC is generally free of these unnatural extensions: things run for as long as the story works, and no longer.  On the other hand, maybe the third series will be just as exciting as June works undercover to subvert Gilead and save her other daughter.  We’ll just have to wait and see.


Kirk out