Not Inside Number 9, Not Live: Alive? No

‘Inside No 9’ is a sporadic and eclectic TV series (is it comedy?  Is it farce?  is it just weird?) whose only thematic link is a connection to the number 9.

I’ve enjoyed many of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s previous efforts and was intrigued to see they had a live episode on.  Except that because I have a life * I missed it.  Not to worry, everything’s on catch-up these days, so on the jolly old i-player we jolly well went in order to catch it up.

Oh dear.  I don’t know if this was any better live but it started off weird and got weirder.  A scene about a lost mobile phone seemed to drift into several parallel universes which far from being explained were interrupted by the sort of thing that used to happen a lot when most TV was live; a screen saying ‘oops, we fucked up.  Sorry.  Back soon’ or words to that effect: the sort of thing you occasionally get when trying to open a broken link on your computer.  Well a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey sort of screen came up and we thought, hang on, is this part of the programme? and carried on thinking it for several minutes.  I really can’t be bothered to describe the rest of the episode because it made no sense to me at all.  About fifteen minutes in I was bored and by twenty I’d lost the will to live: I only made it through because OH kept saying to me, ‘Come on!  Give it a chance!’  Well reader, I gave it that chance and I have to say it sucked.

Did any of you watch it live?  Was it any better?  The New Statesman seems to think so:

and so does the Guardian:

Kirk out


* I don’t really

Room at the Top, Room at the Bottom

Last night I was at a loose end browsing my father-in-law’s bookshelves.  He no longer reads, which is sad, because over the decades he’s accumulated yards and yards of old Penguins and Pelicans (the blue, non-fiction ones).  I love Penguin books and as a child I was reared on Puffins, their junior choice (so to speak).  There was a lot of stuff I didn’t care to read but then I came upon John Braine’s ‘Room at the Top’:

This handbook-of-the-working-class-lad-who-makes-good was published in the late fifties, though it savours much more of the sixties: but what struck me in the first chapter was the obsession with clothes, manners and food; these markers of class which he must learn to mimic if he is to ‘pass’ for middle-class.  (He hasn’t yet mentioned his accent though, which I’d have thought was the primary marker: as Professor Higgins says, he can tell as soon as someone opens their mouth, where they come from ‘within six miles’:

This preoccupation with clothes reminded me of George Orwell who, in ‘Down and Out in Paris and London,’ was making the opposite journey by being born into a relatively privileged family and wanting to experience the life of a down-and-out.  Downwards mobility is always easier than upwards; no-one questions him as a tramp but when he tries to get work as a waiter he has to use boot-black on his heels to cover up the holes in his socks.  Presumably he didn’t change his accent though, unlike lots of posh people today who use the fake glottal stop when they want to sound ‘down with the people’:

Orwell was writing in the ’30’s; the cities he describes seem very distant from us now, but you’d expect that.  What’s extraordinary is how social classes have broken down since ‘Room at the Top’ was written.  In theory we now have much more social mobility; but now what we’re seeing is the soaring rise of a super-privileged, super-rich class who are, ironically, the untouchables of our age.  The government doesn’t even try to curb top people’s pay and though Labour will give it their best shot when they get into government (yes, when) it remains to be seen how far those efforts will succeed.  After all, the first task of the rich is after all to hold on to their wealth: the second is to increase it.

The pay of people at the top is out of control; the pay of people at the bottom oozes and stagnates, which makes the death of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Leicester City’s owner, all the more tragic.  There are no further updates as yet and no indication of foul play, unless you suspect a malevolent universe of keeping Phillip Green alive and murdering a generous and supportive man.

Kirk out



Good Morning? If You Say So

I’m feeling rather gloomy and Eeyoreish this morning.  When I feel like this I’m unwilling to foist my Eeyoreishness onto others, because I know what that feels like and it ain’t pretty, so instead I thought, what better time to compose a cheerful blog post?  Because I know that being cheerful outwardly can lead to feeling cheerful inside.  However, before I begin smiling, this requires a caveat.  I think there’s something deeply wrong with enforced cheerfulness: as I said before in the post about Dismaland:

enforced ‘happiness’ can be terrible for your mental health because it’s not real.  Before you can begin to be happy you first have to acknowledge your sadness or depression or pain or gloom: otherwise that’s called denial.

But once you’ve done that; once you’ve acknowledged the pain and sadness, there is much to be said for a cheerfulness which is a considered choice: one which looks at the awfulness of a world where Brexit threatens to smash up just about everything; a world where Trump is still President and where Brazilians have just elected (albeit by a narrow margin) a possibly even more repellent leader than DT and where just about the nicest, most generous football club owner ever has just been killed in a helicopter crash:

Image result for mourning Leicester city logo

image removed on request

What sort of a world is this?  It’s a bloody awful one.  So give me my parachute because I want to bail out right now.  I don’t want to be here in this place where everywhere you turn there are more and more reasons for despair.  I want to leave, thank you very much.

So, having said all that (and taken cognisance of the fact that there’s nowhere else to go*) you can do one of two things: despair or hope.  And I choose hope.  ‘Strong men know not despair, Arjuna,’ says Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (let’s be generous and take ‘men’ as including women) and so I choose hope, even in the midst of despair.  Even in the depths of Dante’s hell there is, as Dorothy L Sayers points out, a tra-la of happiness:

Per me si va ne la città dolente,
per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,
per me si va tra la perduta gente.

(Canto III)

Literature is full of such examples: in the land of the dead where there is no hope at all, Lyra refuses to accept the reality she is presented with, insisting instead on finding a way out:

and, terrible though the Inferno is, Dante eventually finds a way through to Purgatory

As for me, when I feel despair I think of a river.  No matter what obstacles a river faces, whether rock or stone or earth or deep chasms, it will find a way through.  It may take time and persistence but the steady drip-drip, the insistent push of water will in the end break down the hardest rock.  Even dams need an outlet – and constant maintenance.

So be the river.  Find a way through, not a way out.

Kirk out

* without either committing suicide or trying to live on Mars, neither of which appeal



Three Wives, One Husband, One Viewer

I’ve been watching a Netflix series about Mormon polygamists in Utah and finding it very disturbing – though not for the reasons I expected.  I anticipated that I would disagree profoundly with their way of life, which I did; but I also anticipated that I would find them repressed, button-lipped, old-fashioned and rigidly patriarchal – which they were not.

First, the bad points:

Polygamy: I disagree with polygamy, not because it is a deviant way of life (I think we should at least explore deviant ways of life) but because it is structurally unequal.  As a Quaker I believe in the fundamental equality of all beings and marriage, being a relationship between equals, should reflect this.  Of course marriage between two people can be unequal, and often is in a patriarchal society, but polygamy is structurally so, and therefore cannot be equal.  Where one man’s attention is divided between three women, that is an unequal relationship.

Then there’s the patriarchy: though the series didn’t focus on this, there’s a council which makes decisions, and that council is composed only of men.  Men also seem to speak for the group in the wider world.

Then there’s the sheer number of children they have.  Each woman seems to have at least half a dozen (and to start quite young) and in an overpopulated world this is questionable, to say the least.  However that is offset to some extent by their aim of being self-sufficient as they believe some sort of apocalypse is imminent.

Having said all that, I found these people quite engaging.  They were frank and open both with the camera and with each other, and quite honest about their struggles with polygamy which they saw as something to be overcome on the path to a less selfish life.  It did seem – as far as anyone can tell – that the women entered into ‘plural marriage’ after a great deal of thought; and though there might be conformism there was no compulsion.  The women are far from silent; they speak their mind and some of them have jobs.  They don’t drink and their courtship habits are quite Victorian, but unlike fundamentalist Christians they both swear and do yoga!

I did find it quite creepy to watch though, especially the scenes where the man would embrace both wives at once.

At the end of the series they were fighting a proposed bill to outlaw plural marriage which in Utah is not legally recognised.  But up to that point they’ve generally been left alone.  I found myself reluctantly on their side because although I profoundly disagree with their way of life, I don’t see why they should be made criminals because of it.  As far as anyone can tell from a TV series, it seems to be a free choice, so why should it be outlawed just because the rest of the country behaves differently?

I wouldn’t want to see plural marriage adopted anywhere else (especially not where it might be forced or coerced) but I don’t see why these particular people shouldn’t be left alone.

Anyway, here’s the series:

Kirk out

Exit, Pursued by a Gift

It doesn’t seem like three years since Banksy’s refreshing antidote to the creepy enforced have-a-nice-day-ness of Disney, called Dismaland Bemusement Park – but apparently it is.

At the time I thought it was a brilliant idea and I still do; there’s nothing more depressing than enforced smiling, and no better antidote to such tyranny than a healthy dollop of hyper-realist misery.  Dismaland featured such British greats as constant rain, invasive baggage searches and broken rides.  You could purchase a black balloon that says ‘I am an Imbecile’, see mock-ups of motorway accidents and nuclear mushroom clouds, genetically modified mice and abandoned, graffiti-covered tube carriages.

But just as Mickey Mouse is the poster-boy for have-a-nice-day capitalism, so Dismaland is overtly political too.  They show you how to subvert adverts by reclaiming public space with art, as this video shows:

I wonder what Americans would have made of this?  It’s very typically British to queue up for a miserable experience rather than being happy-happy-happy.  The staff at Dismaland never smile and openly state that they don’t care about your problems, hence the Customer Service Desk is closed 24 hrs a day.  There’s a long queue for ‘pocket money loans’ – a reference to the way companies target children to get their customers while they’re young.  And of course you exit through the gift shop…

Kirk out

Greenham’s Pleasant Land

If the name Greenham Common means nothing to you, you’re either younger than 30 or spent the 1980’s living under a rock.  Until a group of women decided to make it the focus of a protest, few people had heard of the USAF (nominally RAF) base in Berkshire where Cruise missiles were sited.  The rhetoric of these disgusting weapons was that they would ‘melt into the countryside’: the reality was that they were transported on our roads and housed a few miles from the town of Newbury and just over 50 miles from London.

Enter a group of peace activists who wanted to do something about this.  They felt the protest would be far stronger if it was women only; and they were right.  Like the suffragettes before them they wanted ‘deeds not words’ and protests which would catch the public eye: like the suffragettes they felt justified in damaging property and so women frequently cut the fence and entered the camp with the aim of disabling the missiles and although they were usually intercepted at least one woman ‘danced on the silos’.

The events that really caught the public eye were the large demonstrations: again, usually women-only, these involved surrounding the base, linking arms and singing and on several occasions bringing ribbons and yarn to decorate the fence (now known as ‘yarn-bombing’, the psychological benefits of which are well understood:)

There was an explicitly feminist angle to all this, which set the female, domestic, anti-war agenda against the aggressive masculine drive for war (ironically at the time the Prime Minister was a woman and one of the most belligerent leaders in modern times).  Some interesting ideas came out of the peace camp about better ways to live, and though some of them, like calling peace women ‘womyn’, seem a tad odd, I regret there are few spaces nowadays to live any sort of alternative life.

The opposition to the Peace Women was loud and furious, like opposition to the suffragettes.  They were accused of abandoning their homes and families, of being ‘unfeminine’, ‘witches’ and ‘woolly minds in woolly hats’.  Sound familiar?

Of course when it was all over and Greenham Common released into common land once more, the powers-that-be said the protests hadn’t made one iota of difference.

Well they would, wouldn’t they?

Did you see Dr Who last night?  Brilliant reconstruction of Rosa Parks protest – and nobody can ever say that didn’t make a difference.  Sadly some people seem to wish we had segregation back again:

It makes me sad.

On the plus side, here’s what Greenham looks like now:

Star Wars Episode 7 News | New Photos from the Episode VII ...

It makes me feel very peaceful, like when I think of the earth after humans have gone.

Kirk out

A Curater’s Egg

As many people have observed, language swerves around a lot.  It slithers and slides; it oozes and leaks.  It migrates and sometimes comes back again with a tan so deep it’s hardly unrecognisable.  This is part of the deal and unstoppable: anyone like, for example, the Academie Francaise, who tries to hold back the tides of change, is doomed to failure: every year the Academie publishes a dictionary of new words, usually French versions of phrases like buzz, fashionista or deadline:

Its efforts are of course doomed to failure because the English words are so much snappier, not to mention more international, than their French replacements.  Who wants to say fin de semaine when you could just talk about le weekend?

But not all of these migrations are equal.  To be blunt, some of them suck: and whilst I appreciate snappy phrases like 24/7 (who could believe we ever said twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?) there’s an equal and opposite tendency to use grandiose words for things which in themselves are not very much at all.  I guess you could call it reification except it’s more verbification; making a – well, a ‘to-do’ – out of not very much.  Hence the verb ‘curate,’ which seems to pop up everywhere lending gravitas to the insignificant.  Put a bunch of things together and voila, you’ve ‘curated’ something.

How far can this go?  I have curated a salad?  I went to the library and curated some books to read in bed?  I curated my wardrobe last week?

There are a few situations where ‘curate’ is appropriate: it comes from the Latin ‘curare’, meaning ‘to look after or care for,’ though its meaning has been extended to ‘assemble objects into some kind of unified whole for the purposes of exhibition.’  So if you’ve spent months or years bringing together an art exhibition, that’s curating.  If you’ve assembled garments and models for a fashion show you will, in spite of my indifference to your activity, be justified in using the word ‘curate’ as a verb.  But if not?

If not, it’s silly.  Just stop it.

Kirk out

PS  And here, just for fun and to commemorate Anthea Bell the translator of Asterix into English, is Asterix in Britain:

Image result for Asterix in Britain

images removed on request

It’s Not Armful

Today I went along to a blood donor session to give my long-awaited armful to the cause.  I was heartened to see crowds of people there as I sat with my health questionnaire and glass of water (they give you a pint to drink before you donate which means I guess you turn water into blood).  The minutes ticked by and the water made its way through my system: informing the desk staff that I would be in the loo if needed, I got rid of some and came back.  Finally I was called into a screened area with a nurse who took a sample of blood to check for iron deficiency and then went through my questionnaire with me.

‘I see you’ve had a blood transfusion,’ she said.

‘Yes, but it was 21 years ago.’

‘I’m afraid the guidelines state that if you’ve had a transfusion since 1980 you can’t donate: there’s a risk of passing on CJD.’

Pausing only to try to recall what CJD means (I know it’s not Mad Cow Disease) I expressed my disappointment.  I mean, giving blood is not my favourite experience but I’d been putting it off for a while and having geared myself up to doing it I was quite looking forward to being a Thoroughly Useful Citizen.  She sympathised.

‘Well, you tried – and that’s all we can ask of you.’

So that’s me done, until such time as they devise a test for CJD I get to keep my armful.

Here’s the sketch, just for fun:

Kirk out

Random Wisdom

When I have a book of aphorisms or verses or proverbs I sometimes open it at random and see what leaps out.  So today I opened my Quaker Faith and Practice and found this verse:

‘Creeds are milestones, doctrines are interpretations: Truth, as George Fox was continually asserting, {is} a seed with the power of growth, not a fixed crystal, be its facets never so beautiful.’  John Wilhelm Rowntree, 1904

This seems to me to sum up the entire raison d’etre of QFP.  It is not exactly a handbook; much less a rule book, but a guide to – well, Quaker faith and practice, which like Rowntree’s seed, is continually evolving.  Which means that unlike the Bible or other religious texts, it is regularly updated.  This is not at all a ‘slash and burn’ exercise but one carried out thoughtfully and meditatively over a number of years involving a wide circle of people and a wider field of consultation.  Quakers do nothing in a hurry and certainly not rewriting the book of – what do they call it?  I can’t remember.  I want to say the Book of Longing because Cohen is on my mind at the moment.  ‘Book of Discipline’, that’s it.  Not a very helpful title really as it sounds like a headmaster’s record of canings administered.  But there you go.

The problem with the Bible is that while interpretations vary endlessly – as do translations – the text itself is fixed and cannot be altered.  Where Quakers score in this sense is that changes can be made easily and paradoxically, more quickly.  The Book of Discipline is updated roughly every thirty years to take account of changes in society, to ensure we remain both relevant and true to our testimonies, and to let go of passages which are no longer considered useful.  Hence, while it took mainstream churches decades to catch up with social attitudes on LGBT people, Quakers very quickly adopted these ideas under the testimony to equality; since the 1970’s there have been passages in the book about this.

Nor do we venerate George Fox, the father of Quakerism.  He was a figure very similar to St Paul in many ways in being both a visionary and a founding figure; but he was problematic.  He could be ferociously stubborn and bull-headed and some of his pronouncements seem to us today extreme and unhelpful.  But because he’s not a saint (testimony of equality again) we are free to criticise him, something that is not usually the case with St Paul in the church.

So there it is – we’re better than the mainstream churches.  Nyah, nyah, nyah!

Humbly yours

Kirk out

The Peasants Are Revolting!

Yes, revolting verse has finally arrived in Leicestershire in the shape of this delicous pamphlet in a delicate shade of Marxist-pinko (TM) and stuffed full of juicy dissent and crunchy revolt.  Taste poems such as ‘The Firmamentation of Innocence’ by Bobba Cass, ‘A Job at the Glass Works’ by Richard Byrt, ‘The Gulf’ by Steve Cartwright and of course loads by moi, including ‘More in Common’ (for Jo Cox) and ‘Spike’ which I wrote for Sound Cafe.  Let us also not neglect to mention Will Horspool’s ‘Absence Trigger System’ and ‘One Man, One Microphone.’  This astonishing pamphlet is now on sale for donations (£4 min.) and all profits go to Momentum – which means all the money minus production costs, since nobody has been paid for this.

And here it is:


If you’d like one let me know.

Kirk out