You Know You’re Stuck When…

I wish I hadn’t put ‘…a Little Bit Rock’n’Roll’ in the title of the last post because every time I read it I think of this song. Anodyne and sickly as the Osmonds were, there’s nothing worse than them also pretending to be rock’n’roll. Which means I have to write another post, and that’s hard because I’m in a fallow phase. You know your brain’s getting stuck when you get a song going round inside it; in the last few days I’ve had the Gentleman Jack theme song followed by this one, which I don’t even like. In my experience when the mind goes round like a record on repeat it’s trying to make sense of something and the best thing is to leave it alone. Get on with something else. So that is what I shall do.

As far as work goes I’ve finished Chapter 34 of the Tapestry novel. Chapter 34 is the ninth chapter and will be followed by the tenth, Chapter 55 which in theory should be 55,000 words long but won’t be (if you’re confused, imagine how I feel.) Not wishing to try the patience of the reader the final chapter will be fragmented just as our world is fragmented, with pieces tailing off, unravelling, lost…

The novel aims to be a portrait of modern Britain centring on Brexit. It’s a book of voices, everyone giving their own account of themselves, their thoughts and experiences. From the Queen to a homeless man, from a refugee to Tommy Robinson and including some famous ghosts, these voices make up the Tapestry of Britain today.

And that’s me up to date. Today I shall be mostly… tinkering with things, going for coffee and catching up with the weeds which are always one step ahead…

Kirk out

It’s a Little Bit Fleabag, It’s a Little Bit Rock’n’Roll…

…just don’t think of it as costume drama. That’s my take on Gentleman Jack, the latest Sunday night offering from the Beeb starring Suranne (Doctor Foster) Jones. I nearly turned off during episode one because we’re so used to seeing the Beeb get it right in terms of period whereas the dialogue here, written by Sally (Happy Valley) Wainwright, is patently modern, as are many of the attitudes. The central theme is of a woman born into the landed gentry determined to take on not only the running of the estate but to live according to her nature, that is, with another woman. It was perfectly possible in those days for two unmarried ladies to live together as companions; however their plans to pass under the radar are threatened not only by meddling relatives but by the public at large. Gossip is rife and only Anne Lister’s title and money save her from utter infamy.

Even though this is a terrible shock to the system for anyone used to faultless renderings of Jane Austen, I’ve come to really enjoy it; and the key to enjoyment is to think of it as a romp. Don’t worry about the anachronistic attitudes, just enjoy the ride. The acting’s great and there are some interesting sub-plots relating to the sinking of coal-pits and the fortunes of Anne’s tenants, all overseen by Anne herself as her parents are dead and her aunt and uncle have no head for business. Add to this the attraction of being based on a true story and a terrific theme tune and basically you have a winner. I’m hooked. Here‘s the true story the drama is based on.

Kirk out

Six Incomprehensible Things Before Breakfast?

Some mornings I get six incomprehensible things shoved at me before I’ve even finished my first cuppa, and this morning was one of those.  First, OH was talking about the Half-Bakery, a repository for weird or half-baked ideas (hence the name).  It’s quite a waste of time, though as OH heatedly informs me, some of the ideas have gone on to be produced in what we are pleased to call the real world.

So this morning, before my bleary eyes had even fully-opened, a load of stuff is coming my way:

OH: I’ve had an idea for the Half Bakery

Me: Oh? What’s that?

OH: It’s a Brexit Advent calendar.

Me:  Sounds like as much fun as Dismaland.  Monday, Gloom, Tuesday, Hard Border, Wednesday, Food Shortages, Thursday, Labour Shortages…

OH:  Yes, but it wouldn’t work because of Call for List

Me:  What?

OH:  You’re not allowed to make a list of things

Me:  Oh

There’s a pause and I go back to doing the crossword. But no, it’s not over; there’s more.

OH:  When’s Listopad?

Me:  What?

OH:  Listopad! When is it?

Me:  What the hell is Listopad? 

OH: Don’t you know?

Me: Sounds like a brand name for post-it notes

OH:  Ha ha. It’s a month.  In the Slavic calendar.

Me:  Oh my god.  You actually think I know this.

This is just some of what I have to deal with in the mornings. And I hadn’t even had a cup of tea yet. It’s not fair.

Kirk out

A Week of Patience

So how has it been, this week of practising patience? Well, I have to report that the Caffeine Withdrawal Bill did not pass its first reading in Parliament and as such has been ditched. It caused an immense headache (quite literally) and such lassitude that I lost the will to carry on. Like Spike Milligan I woke up the next morning with the letters T-E-A etched on my eyeballs and, reader, I caved. But other than that I have made progress.

First, as with all such things, the problem is to remember. All too often you have to reach the point of boiling exasperation before it comes to you that ah, yes, you were supposed to be practising patience.

One of the most important disciplines I’ve found is the practice of now. No matter how screwed up things have become, no matter how far you’ve let things slide, the time to change is now. Not tomorrow, not when you feel better, not when you’re in a more positive frame of mind but now; start practising patience right now, even if – especially if – you don’t feel ready. To paraphrase Yoda, ‘do or not do; there is no ready.’

One technique I use which I didn’t mention before is Narrating Your Life. I find this very helpful if my mind is running on ahead, thinking of the next thing and the thing after that and what’s happening this evening and not focussing on what I’m doing right now. When that happens I start to narrate my life, for example, thus: ‘I am climbing the stairs. I have a tray in my hands. I feel the weight of the tray. I am aware of my head rising up. I can feel the stairs under my feet,’ and so on; and before you know it the seemingly dull and mindless activity of bringing the tea upstairs is accomplished. It’s amazing how many things you can find to notice if you try. Have a go right now. What are you doing? Where are you sitting? What can you feel under you, around and above you? Be aware of your feet, your buttocks, your hands. What are you holding? What are you touching? What is the air temperature like? How is the light?

One yogi master (I forget who) said this when asked about the main points of yoga:

What is the most important aspect of yoga? – Attention.

What is the second most important practice of yoga? – Attention

What is the third most important practice of yoga? – Yep, you’ve got it. Pay attention – not in a stand-up-and-salute-an-officer kind of way but gently, bringing the mind to bear on what is happening right now. Otherwise life passes in a blur of anticipation, never being present in the moment.

Kirk out

Years and Theirs

I’m linking here to OH’s blog about Years and Years because I think it gives an excellent summary. I usually run out of patience when I’m reviewing something because I can’t be arsed to give all the details. I’m a Gemini (not that I believe in astrology*) and Gemini is an air-sign, meaning you tend to skip over detail and just generally waft the overall picture in the direction of your readers. To be honest I don’t see anything wrong with this in the context of a blog; if I were ever to set up shop as a paid reviewer I’d have to pull up my socks, pants and garters – in fact my underwear would generally have to be overhauled – but since I write this blog primarily to interest myself and in the hope that it will similarly interest others, I can allow myself that freedom.

Basically I thought Years and Years was terrific drama, one of the best I’ve seen in a long while and I think its power stems, as OH says, from the connection to the present; that this is not happening in some indefinite future but the seeds are being sown right here and now. This is a future we are all creating at this moment with our actions. The denouement seems to be a positive one but as Edith points out there are other comedians waiting in the wings to take over. As soon as you slay one monster another arises.

Kirk out

*I see no reason whatever why astrology should work. Why should there be a connection between the time you were born and your character, let alone your destiny? Even though it’s explained brilliantly in this episode of Mum, I reject it utterly. This is typical of a Gemini, apparently…

What It Ain’t

This week I have been focussing on the practice of patience and I thought it would be useful to focus on what it ain’t. What isn’t patience – or rather, what isn’t a salutary practice to develop?

First, it isn’t resignation. Hopelessness, apathy, despair, none of these have any part in patience. Just as santosh doesn’t mean accepting that things will never chance, so patience doesn’t imply a belief that your goal will never come. Often impatience is driven by fear – if I don’t get this now it may never arrive. Patience is born of the knowledge that all things have a time and in that time they come.

Take gardening. Of late I’ve been going out in the garden and wishing my plants would get a move-on. Why? Because I’m afraid they may never flourish; that if I don’t rush around fertilising and weeding and watering and what-have-you, they’ll just give up and die. Patience implies a faith in the future; that things will come. You just have to wait.

Of course, there’s always the hope deferred thing, which means you should always take advantage of opportunities when they arise; that as well as being patient we should ask ourselves ‘is there anything I should be doing here that I’m not doing? Can I actually get this thing I want right now instead of waiting?’ Marcus Aurelius said ‘Everything I want in life I can have right now if I don’t deny it to myself.’ that’s a statement I’ve been wrestling with ever since I first read it. Stoicism is not a grim-faced resignation, a sort of Hilda-Ogden heaving yourself into the kitchen after a death like Victoria Wood said (I can’t find the routine but it’s quoted here) but a refusal to give up, even in the face of despair. And there’s a lot to despair about right now – but as OH and I keep saying, even if the worst happens and the Tories are stupid enough to saddle us with BoJo, he may not last long. Perhaps he will blow himself out like a storm at sea. In any case there doesn’t seem to be much we can do right now to prevent it.

Stoicism is a useful philosophy and a forerunner of Christianity. It’s useful because it helps you to accept what is and to think of everything as contributing to your highest good. Let us consult the oracle on stoicism:

Me: how would you define stoicism in twenty words or less?

OH: We can’t control the world but we can control our emotional reactions to it.

Brilliant. So there we have it. I may not be able to influence the result of the leadership elections but I can ask myself ‘what would Marcus Aurelius do?’ As an Emperor who considered his duty to be the happiness and welfare of the people, he would deplore BoJo’s self-serving and duplicitous nature but he would say these things are sent to teach us something. And I suggest one thing to be learnt from this process is how better to campaign and organise to defeat what I can only call the forces of evil. I don’t think Boris is evil per se but I do think the consequences of having such a person as our leader would be.

Kirk out

Five Steps to Improve Patience. And Hurry Up!

Impatience, like many other habits, can be hard to eradicate. When publishing yesterday’s post I found myself getting all aeriated when the button up the top (for some reason the very word ‘button’ makes me feel impatient; perhaps it presses my buttons) said ‘schedule’ instead of ‘publish’ and I wanted to publish the post and it did publish it so why didn’t it say publish instead of schedule? I caught myself getting impatient about this and said to myself, ‘slow down. It’s fine. It really doesn’t matter.

So here, from the depths of my hard-won wisdom, are five strategies to develop patience.

Step One: Cut out caffeine. Yesterday I decided to forego my mid-morning pot of tea and have roibos instead. I don’t drink a lot of tea but caffeine is a known stimulant which can only exacurbate the problem of impatience, so it might be a good idea to give it a miss for a while, which means this week I shall be mostly drinking roibos.

Step two: get back into practising meditation. This has gone by the board in recent months, partly because I’ve been sleeping better and partly because I can’t be bothered, but the effects are deeply salutary and tend to counteract impatience.

Step three: when in a queue, use the time well. Next time I’m standing at a checkout or waiting for the lights to change I shall do something useful. This has to be an activity which can be laid down easily, so checking your phone is probably not the best idea (it’s illegal in the car anyway) as about sixty other kinds of impatience can begin to sprout from whatever it is you may find there and you can get involved in conversations which distract you once you reach the nirvana of the beeping terminal. Something mental would work for me, such as reciting a poem in my head (one I’m trying to learn as I learn all my poems by heart) or remembering some Spanish or assembling some ideas for a blog post. Chanting mantras is a good idea (mentally if you’re in the queue, out loud in the car) and a deeply calming mantra such as So Ham or Om Nama Shivaya can really help with the surges of irritability. Visualisations can also work; a calm sea, a deep forest, a blue sky. You could also try listening to calming music or sounds like the ocean or whalesong; there are a million of these apps out there but the thing is to pick one and stick to it. Here’s one I like:

Step four is to walk more and drive less. I have a vague general aim to do this anyway under my climate change agenda but driving less will definitely help with impatience.

Oh look, there were only four in the end. But they’re good ‘uns.

Kirk out

Patience on a Monument

When I was a youngling people used to wind me up by saying ‘patience-is-a-virtue!‘ whenever I got impatient about something. But regardless of their sing-song self-righteousness, patience is in fact a virtue and one that’s in short supply right now. I’m not boasting here (really not) but my brain works very fast and zooms ahead of me all the time, so I find it hard to be patient. This means I need to practise all the harder because being on your toes and frowning all the time is not a good look, nor does it make for a happy and peaceful life.

Everything in our modern world conspires against patience. Driving habituates us to speed (or the expectation of speed) so that when stuck in traffic we paw the ground and snort like a bull at a gate; similarly because supermarket checkouts can process items very quickly we resent standing in a queue and waiting – as I was the other day – for some woman when her shopping had been beeped through to pack it all away and rummage in her bag for a purse and find the Nectar card and then the sodding bank card and then REMEMBER THE PIN NUMBER!!!!!!!! A lot of deep calming breaths did I practise but I was still impatient and she felt our impatience and smiled at the snorting queue and said ‘Sorry, more haste less speed’ and clearly felt so bad about holding us up that, reader, I was ashamed. And when subsequent to that event I found myself on the road wishing a cyclist weren’t in the way and indulging fantasies of knocking them off their bike (only momentary, you understand, but still) I thought, ‘My dear woman, you have to seriously take yourself in hand’. And so I do.

Computers are of course a key factor in this. I find it very hard to focus on one thing at a time and if a page takes more than a few seconds to load or hassles me with adverts and cookie declarations (please click on C is for Cookie, that’s good enough for me and while you’re about it would you like to take your survey? No thanks) then I find myself getting very impatient.

Enough! This must and shall stop. So, how does one practise patience? I am reminded, dear friends, of a character in La Peste whose idea of making the most of time was to stand in a long queue, wait till you are at the head of it, then leave. No, on second thoughts I don’t think that’d work. So, how do we do this? First, I shall walk more and drive less. That will take out one plank of this buzzing edifice. Next I shall learn to value waiting. Look around me, take in my environment, think some thoughts, maybe even start a conversation, recite a poem in my head or chant a mantra or write some thoughts in my notebook but anything that not only passes the time – for that is half the battle – but values the time so that you regard it, not as time wasted but as time spent.

What would be a useful way to spend time, say, in a supermarket queue? Imagine you’re several shopping-loads short of a checkout and it’s going to take a while, what can you do? Well, instead of watching each beeping item inch down the conveyor belt (cuddly toy, cuddly toy) some useful thoughts and ideas might ensue. This would I think involve entering a different frame of mind from the usual Sainsbury’s-consciousness. Of course another way would be to avoid supermarkets altogether. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’ll update you as to how my patience practice evolves, now hurry up and post some comments!

LOL.

I have a great deal more to tell you about What I Did On My Birthday and which books I’ve been reading but that’ll have to wait for another day.

Kirk out

Yellow Globe Seen in Sky

Just now I felt a wave of unwonted warmth. At the same time the sky lightened and I caught a glimpse of something round and yellow. What could be happening? I searched the recesses of my memory and came up with a word, something like soon or son – no wait, sun! That was it, sun! I remember that.

Ah, how quickly we forget! A week of incessant rain and all memory of the hot, sunny weather which has predominated since – well, February – is washed away. Just a few days of gloomy skies and non-stop precipitation, and the bright mornings and long sunset evenings are quite flushed down the drain. But since this week’s relentless news of Boris’s rise to power (will no-one rid us of this turbulent beast?) I have another nightmare. Remember the sun in the Teletubbies? I close my eyes and I see Boris, all haystack hair and manic grin, shining down on us all summer long.

BoJo really is this nation’s answer to Trump: once the NightMayor of London, now soon to be Prime Minister, a self-serving, capricious, lying climate-change denier and purveyor of tax cuts to the rich – oh, and listen to what he said when Gordon Brown was appointed PM without having won an election:

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2019/06/without-mandate-british-people-how-boris-johnson-described-gordon-brown-2007

I really am going to emigrate, I swear.. but where will I go? Scotland I think – it’s the only sensible place left.

Kirk out

Shall I Part My Hair Behind? Do I Dare to Plant a Tree?

My blogging prompt for yesterday suggests writing a post about trees but instead I went shopping and got my hair done. Now if you’re new to this blog you might get the impression from reading this that I’m the literary equivalent of Rachel in Friends, not getting around to Jane Eyre but reading Vogue instead. The thing is, there are some days when despite your best intentions you can get all your books out and sit there staring at the computer and it Just Isn’t Happening. And on those days when a card arrives in the post with some birthday money inside there’s only one thing to do and, reader, I did it. I went and bought me a new outfit and got my hair done. I have to say I’m very pleased with the hair cut and clothes and intend to estrenar both tomorrow at the Labour Party ceilidh.

Estrenar is a very useful Spanish verb for which there is no equivalent in English. But there should be because we need it; it means ‘to use or try out something for the first time.’ I coined a similar verb as a child, to pervise, however this is very specific to a jar of Marmite (or something with a similarly smooth surface) and it means to broach that surface for the first time. So I think we should all adopt estrenar into our language – as indeed OH and I do.

Now I know that you’re all champing at the bit wanting selfies but in my experience a photo never does justice to the splendiferous reality so I’m going to paint you a word-picture. There’s a lot of rust around at the moment in clothes shops (maybe it’s all the rain) and I eventually persuaded myself to try on a pair of rust-coloured trousers. They were stylish and comfortable so I took a chance and bought them, along with a couple of mix-and-match tops. I’d also taken a chance on a new hairdresser’s in town (Loughborough seems to have more hairdressers than any town has a right to; I don’t know why and my stylist couldn’t shed any light either) as I’d chickened out of unisex one Daniel uses because it was full of teenage lads. Sad, I know… anyway she did a brilliant job and took about six inches and ten years off me.

Today it’s back to the laptop face though. And I haven’t said one word about trees… ah well, maybe tomorrow. Or not, as it’s my actual birthday then and I have lots of stuff planned.

Kirk out