Prosper and Live Long?

I’ve been catching up with a series on death and dying presented by Miriam Margolyes (that’s Mar-go-lees, not something that rhymes with gargoyles).  She’s a very entertaining presenter, seemingly unconcerned with image and reacting genuinely and spontaneously as she tours care homes and other facilities to discover different attitudes to death.  She visits a brilliant place where song and laughter are used to facilitate good mental health and hops across the pond to encounter a group of whacky folk who believe it’s possible to live forever if you just find the right formula.  I’m highly sceptical about this: all things are subject to age and decay (though OH annoyingly had to point out some exceptions to this; creatures with long telemeres apparently) but there are other objections.  First, this ‘therapy’ is available only to the rich, and in conversation some practitioners expressed views dangerously close to eugenics, suggesting that the poor and criminal classes would die out leaving only the worthy surviving.  Right after this Margolyes visits a poor area where the homeless hang out and most people die young; the contrast could not be greater.  Frankly I found the picture of the youthful elderly utterly repellent; most of them looked more grotesque than Mick Jagger and altogether they were such an unnatural bunch that I’d rather die tomorrow than resemble them.  But there are other, deeper objections to this philosophy.

First, what matters is not the amount of time you have but what you do with it.  We all know the problem of procrastination when a deadline is far away; but give most of us an imminent cut-off date and we’ll crack on.  It’s salutary in many ways to act as if death is just around the corner (though not like this).  History is full of examples of people who died young but achieved lots: Mozart only lived 35 years but he composed so many works that they are referred to by a Kochel number (after the guy who classified them.)  In fact he wrote 68 symphonies, 27 concertos for piano alone and so many other compositions that I can’t begin to list them; more than six hundred in all and most composed over a 24-year period.  Keats also died young but managed a significant body of work; Hendrix didn’t see 30 but changed the face of guitar music; and though it’s tempting to wonder what they might have achieved had they lived, maybe they wouldn’t have achieved much more.  I’d rather have a short, fulfilled life than sit twenty years in a reclining chair (though I think that ship may already have sailed.*)

I think the acceptance of death is a necessary check to the ego; the knowledge that there will come a point where ‘I’ am no more is a salutary one.  In any case the way to prolong life is not to postpone death, it is to live every moment.  In every moment there is the possibility of interacting with eternity, and when we do that we are in every real sense outside time.

*the short life ship, not the twenty years in a chair ship

Kirk out

 

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Doncaster

I went to Doncaster yesterday and of course the first thing I did afterwards was to see if it’s mentioned in The Meaning of Liff.  It isn’t, but in the process I discovered that there’s a Yorkshire Meaning of Liff inspired by the great Douglas Adams/John Lloyd volumes, and I have to say it looks like a belter.  But I was there for a much more serious purpose, to visit Daughter and Bump and to see their new house.

She warned me the place looked like a bomb site and it wasn’t much of an exaggeration: the roof has been done but practically everything else is stripped out and remains to be filled in with better components.  Rewiring needs doing, the kitchen and bathroom require fitting, fireplaces filling and replacing and – oh, gosh, just about everything.  And they need to move in before August.

Anyway, it’s a good solid house, built like me in 1957 (an excellent year.)

Doncaster as a place is a little ramshackle.  I was trying to get some sense of when it dates from but the feeling I get is that it’s like Leicester and only really took off in the 19th century, reaching its peak in the mid-20th when lots of industries were thriving.  They’ve now all gone of course, and this was one of the main reasons Doncaster as a whole voted for Brexit; because there are no proper jobs, only crappy ones in the catering and service sector.

I remarked to Daughter as we walked around that the place seems full of Brexit bulldogs; macho men with mean faces and houses sporting flags.  She agreed.  But this video gives another perspective on the Brexit debate, offering what is generally called the Lexit perspective.  I realise Corbyn has annoyed many by sticking to his position on Brexit, which is that the vote must be honoured, but I can’t honestly blame him: after all, he’s doing what most people admire him for; sticking to his principles.

But back to Doncaster, and one of the things I noticed was what turned out to be the Minster; a huge imposing building which sadly I didn’t get a chance to visit.  Next time I hope to rectify that – but we did see the old Wool Market, now a covered marketplace with small shops inside, and the centre of the old town which again reminded me of Leicester.  Yorkshire was of course a centre of the wool trade: an uncle of mine worked in that trade and did business with mills in Bradford and other towns.

I’m now going to look up the history of Doncaster and see how much I got right.  Well!  Turns out comparisons with Leicester were spot-on because there was a Roman camp (should have guessed that from the name) and a medieval town (mostly burned down in a fire) and it grew in the 19th and 20th centuries to roughly the same size as Leicester.  The Minster, originally medieval, burned down in 1853 and was replaced later in the 19th century by the present building, though it only got Minster status in 2004.  I’m not sure of the difference between a Cathedral and a Minster – I’ll have to look that up some time.  In the 14th century Doncaster was the wealthiest town in South Yorkshire, which gives added irony to its current situation.

Anyway I look forward to seeing more of the place (and the Daughter, of course: I met the in-laws while I was there who were lovely people.)

Kirk out

Keep Mum Mum and Don’t Forget Don’t Forget the Driver

Sometimes I wish the Beeb wouldn’t put so many box sets on the iplayer because then I go and watch them in all a bloody great binge.  This isn’t so bad when a series has already been on and you’ve seen it week by week, but they’ve taken to putting some things up before they’ve even been broadcast and I found myself unable to stop viewing the latest excellent Toby Jones vehicle, ‘Don’t Forget the Driver.’

This was in its way as innovative as ‘Detectorists’ though without the involvement of Mackenzie Crook: written by Toby Jones and Tim Crouch it features Jones as a well-meaning but unassertive coach driver who from his base in Bognor takes a different group of people each week to places like Woburn Abbey, Legoland and Hampton Court.  Like Detectorists this has no laughter-track or studio audience and the incidental music is cleverly done by broadcasting whichever tune is ‘playing on the radio’.  If I have a beef with this it’s that the scenes are sometimes too short and the cuts too frequent, so that it ends up a bit like the classic disaster movie switching from train to trapped female and back to approaching train… but it’s a small beef.  I’m not going to say any more about the plot as its still being broadcast but there’s some brilliant understated humour:

Japanese tourist (outside Hampton Court, holding a volume of Shakespeare):  ‘Please can you tell me about this… iambic pentameter?

Peter (Toby Jones):  Well, Mr Pentameter, if you go that way you’ll find the guide who will tell you all you need to know.

Tourist: (nods happily) Thank you.

Mum‘ on the other hand, is not so much understated as unstated.  OH asked me, as I was chuckling away, why I enjoy it so much when in general I dislike cringe-comedy.  It’s true that I avoid stuff like ‘The Office’ and ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, because I think comedy should be a release rather than making you more uptight than you were to start with: but in any case I think ‘Mum’ is different because she is the only character not making us cringe.  We are feeling and laughing with her, not at her – and that’s the difference.

Again it’s a programme with no laughter and almost without incidental music, though there’s a little of the title track’s percussion between scenes.  What’s also different is that nothing actually happens; each episode takes place before or after an event, usually when people are getting ready for something.  We first meet Mum Cathy on the day of the funeral and one by one all the other characters drop by: her brother Dave with his unbearable girlfriend Pauline; the rude and miserable grandparents and her live-in son and his well-meaning but clumsy girlfriend.  And then there’s Michael.  It’s obvious from day one that Michael is head-over-heels in love with Cathy, and probably always has been.  It’s equally obvious that he won’t make a move – not today because it’s the day of the funeral, but probably not ever, because Dave the deceased was his best friend and it would seem like betrayal.

As prolonged and delayed romances go, this is drawn-out agony with more misunderstandings, absences and interruptions than any human being can bear.   The supporting cast are all, in their own way, intolerable, and Michael is the only person Cathy can talk to but they hardly get an opportunity to talk and when they do, each of them is so hesitant and reticent that you just want to bang their heads together.

Anyway I’ll say no more but let you go ahead and watch them both.

Kirk out

 

This Parrot is Fit for Work

As I was lying in bed this morning I had an idea for a comedy sketch.  Based on the Parrot sketch with bits of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘ thrown in, it goes something like this:

ATOS:         I see here that you’ve put in a claim for Universal Credit. 

Claimant:  Yes

ATOS:         But you are fit for work.

Claimant:  Fit for work?  I’m not fit for work – I’ve got to have my leg amputated!

ATOS:         It’s just a scratch.  Come on, you’re fit for work!

Claimant:  I’ve got to have a prosthetic leg!  I can’t possibly go to work!

ATOS:         Rubbish.  It’s just a flesh wound.

Claimant:  Flesh wound!  Look, this leg is dead.

ATOS:         No it isn’t

Claimant:  Yes, it is.  It’s deceased.  It has gone to meet its maker

ATOS:         No, no, no, it’s just resting

Claimant:  It has shuffled off this mortal coil.  It is a dead leg.  It has joined the choir invisible.  It is not ‘fit for work’!

ATOS:         Look – beautiful blue veins.

Claimant:  The veins don’t enter into it.  It is an ex-leg!

ATOS:         Nah.  You’re fit for work.  Now bugger off.  Next!  (laughs evilly)  None shall pass the benefits test…

Kirk out

 

Where Was I Again?

Every day along with my daily writing prompts I get interesting or inspirational quotes from established writers.  Sometimes these are good, sometimes they’re predictable and some days they just Do Not Compute.  Take today’s, from A S Byatt:

‘Don’t start writing until you know where you’re going.’ 

Immediately I thought, ‘well, that wouldn’t work for me at all because I never know where I’m going; not until I get there, and sometimes not even then.’  Some of the best stuff I’ve done has been written completely cluelessly with no plan, no concept and no destination.  If I’d planned a novel and knew each chapter in detail I’d be so bored I wouldn’t want to write the damned thing at all.  I can have a vague idea but the thing has to unfold for me just as it does for the reader.

Not that I don’t wish it otherwise.  Sometimes I’d give my eye teeth to have a plot idea I could send off to a publisher, like: ‘A Bulgarian milkman moves to Germany after unification and discovers that his father was a war criminal.’  That sort of thing.  Instead of which, what have I got?  ‘I’m writing a novel based on the Fibonacci sequence and the concept of spirals.’  What?  What?  So what happens?  ‘Well, I don’t know yet.  There’s a lot of stuff about Brexit – but I won’t know what happens until it’s finished.  Maybe not even then…’  It’s hardly the stuff that gets three-figure advances….

The thing is, most people start with a plot.  They sketch it out, then in come some characters and start interacting.  A setting suggests itself; then some dialogue.  Finally, if at all, comes the philosophy.  But me?  I get it completely backwards: first the philosophical concept, then the characters and setting and finally – if at all – the plot.  Such as it is.

*Sigh*

Mind you, I thought I’d come up with a brilliant plot the other day.  I rushed in to tell OH about it:

‘How’s this for a short story idea?  You have some women who do exactly what men want, who flatter them and obey their every whim – and in the end they turn out to be robots.’  As I was outlining this the smile on OH’s face was becoming more and more fixed.  ‘So what do you think?’ I finished up.

‘Well…’

Turned out I’d described exactly the plot of The Stepford Wives(In my defence I haven’t actually seen the film but I should have known all the same.)

*Sigh*

Hope you all had a good Easter. Yesterday Daniel and I went to visit my parents’ graves and on the way back we had a Grimbister.

Kirk out

On The Road Again

I’m happy to report that the car is now back on the road again: a battery ordered yesterday morning arrived an hour later and in full view of a hovering husband (my OH has no faith in my ability not to electrocute myself) was duly installed and the car driven round the block.  At least, in light of the Extinction Rebellion protests I’m 50% happy the car’s on the road and 50% feeling guilty.  I could plead that out of the thirty-three years I’ve been able to drive I’ve owned a car for only ten; I could say that I only drive when really necessary; I could say lots of things but the fact remains that in the next few years we are all going to have to make some really hard choices if we’re going to survive.  It’s a climate emergency and the government has to get on board and stop fiddling while the planet burns.  Which is why I fully support the Extinction Rebellion protests – because no matter what inconvenience they may cause, something has to be done and if the government won’t do it, others must.

All of which makes my review of Paul McKenna’s book seem a little hollow.  I bought this a few months ago because – well, because frankly I’d like to make some more money; and whilst some of it is very helpful my main beef is that he is very dewy-eyed about capitalism.  He seems to believe that the economy can just keep on growing and things will get better and better for everyone.  Now apart from being highly sceptical about the ‘trickle-down’ theory I seriously doubt this: not only are economic crashes frequent (the book was published in 2007 just before the last one) but nothing in nature grows for ever; all things are subject to decay and death, so why should the economy be any different?  In addition to this he quotes frequently from the sayings of Donald Trump and Philip Green.  Now it is true that the book went to press before either Trump got elected or Green did the dirty on BHS staff, but I hardly think either of them were positive role models even before those events.

However, there’s enough in this book for me to say that I’ve found it useful.  As with the sleep book he suggests NLP techniques and visualisations to help you realise your internal blockages.  One of the most helpful aspects to me was the section on envy and resentment.  I realised that I suffer from this a lot; when I look at wealthy people I tend both to envy and resent them and to think how much better I would do in their place.  It’s hard to overcome resentment, particularly when you think about people like Trump and Green, but McKenna suggests that instead we should not only visualise ourselves doing well, but think of them doing even better.  I chose to interpret this as seeing both Trump and Green behave more compassionately and generously to others, and it really helped.

In the end I can get on board with his approach because he talks about riches being ‘your highest values’ rather than money per se.  He uses the phrase ‘wealth dysmorphia’ to describe someone whose perception of their own wealth is totally skewed; someone like Getty, say, or Rockefeller.  The nauseating references to Trump and Green are offset by quotes from Gandhi and Anita Roddick and we are encouraged to think about what constitutes our highest good.

I am not a proponent of the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ – I consider it incoherent and out of step with Christian values – but neither do I sign up to the need for poverty as an approach to spiritual enlightenment.  Rather, what’s needed is detachment: as Frieda Stark says in the Nicci French books, you should never own anything you wouldn’t mind losing.  But if money can help you to achieve your highest values, why not get some?

Kirk out

Mornington Crescent

image removed on request

Reading this post from the other day put me in mind of Mornington Crescent, one of the silly games people play on ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.’  I like ‘Clue’, as it’s generally known, as well as the next person, but lately it’s been somewhat spoiled for me by the utter mania of the audience.  Where do they find these people, and what are they on?  How can they summon up such whooping enthusiasm for Hamish and Dougal having had their tea yet again???  How can one song to the tune of another bring on such incontinent ecstasy?  I enjoy these games too and I like Jack Dee’s deadpan put-downs as much as the next person, but the manic audience strips the programme of all subtlety.

I digress.  My favourite game in this welter of silliness is Mornington Crescent, a test of ingenuity and knowledge of the London Underground where the goal is to reach Mornington Crescent station before the other players.  It sounds complex and intricate: in fact it’s a hoax; there are no rules and the fun is to make it sound as though there are by seeming to think very hard about your next move and by bringing in certain technical-sounding phrases (‘ah, I see you’re using the Kings’ Cross switchback there,’ and so on.)  But, as OH has so shrewdly pointed out, there are in fact meta-rules because the game wouldn’t work if the first player simply said ‘Mornington Crescent’ straight away.  You have to leave it long enough to be plausible, yet not too long as to become boring; plus you have to bring in unusual stations which seem to be connected to ones already mentioned.  And it has to be funny.

Are the British alone in finding our place names amusing?  Americans don’t seem to do this at all; they pronounce the most bizarre of names with nary a smirk, but we Brits chortle at the mere mention of Bognor or Chipping Sodbury.  Douglas Adams took this tendency and went global with his Meaning of Liff, taking place names around the world and inventing definitions to go with them: our favourites are Grimbister, a group of cars all travelling at the same speed because one of them is a police car, and Berepper, a subtle but audible fart.  And it seems to me that a similar amusement is at work in MC because there are certain combinations of names which are inherently funnier than others.  Like Mordern, say, or East Cheam or – well, Mornington Crescent.

Yay!  I win!

Clue must be due back on air for its 731st series soon… and in case you can’t find it, Mornington Crescent is on the Northern Line (the black one) just North of Euston.

Kirk out