This Post Will Divide But Not Rule Britannia…

I imagine most of my readers will agree with me that today is a sad day. While thousands drink in pubs waving flags and singing Rule Britannia the other half of us sit and mourn.

We are a divided nation and once divisions start they usually carry on; Scottish MP’s have just voted in favour of a second indyref and good luck to them. I nearly said ‘once divisions start they multiply’ but as Sir Bernard Woolley – RIP – pointed out if you multiply divisions you get back to zero. Then again, perhaps zero isn’t a bad indicator of where we are as a nation: back to square one, with the emphasis on the ‘square.’ All manner of forces have been unleashed by Brexit – racism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia – those who want to turn the clock back to 1973 are busy remembering how it was before curry invaded our streets and political correctness censored our speech (spoiler alert: it was awful. I was there.) At least it was awful in some ways. In others, it was better. Work generally paid well (though we were yet to get the equal pay legislation that made it better for women) jobs were secure and plentiful and Thatcher was but a glint in the evil eye of the Far Right. In some ways I, too, would like to put the clock back (to 1979 rather than ’73) but we can’t. We must move forward and deal with all of the genuine problems from which the Brexit sideshow, with ringmaster Johnson calling out ‘celebrate! bung a bob! Baby boom on its way!’ and other such ridiculous absurdities, is distracting us.

So we both need to stop and look to those things which are far more important than Brexit, namely climate change. At the beginning of the week I posted some of my challenges to myself, so how have I done with them?

Well, I’ve only used the car once this week, for a total of about three miles. I will be using it at the weekend but again only once, to go to Leicester. So the week’s travelling will amount to about 30 miles. I have explored sources of recycled paper and in a few days we will be ordering a pack of 5 A4 pads. Well, and that’s about it because I forgot to find out about the dishwasher rinse aid and I can’t buy the toothbrush heads yet. I wonder if I’ve done anything else by accident? Can’t think of anything new, but I will try to find out about the dishwasher stuff today.

That’s all folks. What are you doing on this horrible day?

Kirk out

The Horror! The Humour!

Forget everything you’ve read up to now, because my entire life with all its preoccupations, hopes and fears, pales into insignificance since I’ve watched The Death of Stalin. I ‘d been meaning to see this when it came out but as with so many things it wasn’t being screened locally, so I’m happy it’s turned up on Netflix. I studied Russian history in the 1970’s when Communism (so-called, actually totalitarianism) was still in force and Gorbachev yet to come to power – and I was deeply impressed by the suffering of the Russian people. They seem to go out of the frying pan into the fire with each change of regime: first they had the Tsars who were awful, then they had the Communists who started off well but ended up even worse, then they had Perestroika which was good for a bit but which gave way to ‘democracy’ and now they’ve got Putin, who’s even worse than Trump.

The Death of Stalin, like history repeating itself, is not so much tragedy as farce, albeit a very black farce. The politburo could be any political elite anywhere at any time after the death of a brutal dictator with everyone rushing around plotting and trying to save their own skins, all too scared to be the first to admit that their glorious leader is dead. They even have trouble finding a doctor to certify death as all the doctors have been killed or exiled, and eventually they have to haul a load of medics out of a gulag and bring them in to the Kremlin to examine the ‘patient’. The purges are ever-present in the background of this story, as is the monstrous figure of Beria played utterly stunningly by Simon Russell Beale (he has a huge reputation on stage but I’ve always found him a bit blah on film: no longer.) The casting is an incredible mix of the serious and the comic: serious actors like Beale stand alongside comedians Paul Whitehouse and Michael Palin. It hits home all the more because the accents are mostly British and Northern with a couple of American voices thrown in.

The action begins at a concert being broadcast live on radio. The moment it’s finished the producer gets a call from Comrade Stalin himself asking for a recording. Well, not so much asking as ordering. Problem is, the concert wasn’t recorded – and so the farce begins, with people being rounded up from the street to replace audience members who’ve already left, and a conductor being woken from his bed to substitute the original. But the pianist refuses to play on the not unreasonable grounds that Comrade Stalin murdered her entire family. When the recording is made she pushes a note into the sleeve expressing her wish that Comrade Stalin would die: he reads it and obligingly expires. End of act one.

The panic surrounding his demise is like Brian Rix on a total downer; the blackest of black comedies. The intrigue, the terror, the purges it all strikes an incredible balance between horror and humour, and the death of Beria is terrifying. I was utterly purged by watching it – which is quite appropriate really…

If you haven’t seen it, watch it now.

Kirk out

On Writing Rubbish

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that nine-tenths of what I write is rubbish. I don’t mean on this blog because what you see here are finished posts, hacked from the raw rock-face of thought, messed around a bit, buried in soft peat etc etc, honed and polished, sanded and rubbed and sent out to seek their fortune in the world. More on this later. But much of what I write as a first draft is pure unadulterated junk, mostly because I’ve set myself a word limit and I’m trying to reach it. This however does not make it worthless.

Why not? Well, firstly because it’s something instead of nothing. Where previously nothing existed, I have created something, even if it’s only a flat thing like Kipper’s cake (obscure children’s book reference only family members will understand.) And Something can be worked with and improved upon, even if most of it is ultimately deleted. Secondly, there may be some gems in the rubbish, which is why it’s always a good idea not to delete anything while writing the first draft, no matter how bad it seems. When you’re writing a story (this goes double for poems) you have intentions about it. But the story (or poem) has intentions too, and often these come out when we’re not watching. So don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

For example, I once wrote a dialogue between Father Christmas and Jack and Jill. They were talking in the snow and Father Christmas took off his jolly red suit to reveal a convict uniform with arrows on. He was supposed to be giving Jack and Jill their presents and only gave them snow and ice so they weren’t very happy. It’s a short scene and when I wrote this I had no idea what it meant. I still have no idea what it means, yet a little voice tells me that it has some significance and so I hold on to it.

This blog is nearly at 500 followers. I realise that’s tiny in blog terms but I’m just pleased it’s still growing – so remember, my 500th follower will get the choice of either writing a guest blog post or receiving an e-book of poetry.

Keep it up.

Kirk out

Nobody Expects… The Bishop!

It’s natural to one of my generation that anything absurd or strange immediately recalls Python, and this one also serves as a timely tribute to Terry Jones (video unavailable but watch this instead, it’s really funny.) Those of you not of a religious bent (no pun intended, I don’t do that sort of thing) may have scrolled through the recent announcement by the Council of Bishops without it touching the sides, but it took many of us by surprise and I have taken the time to respond to this helpful blog post which explains some of what’s going on.

Basically I’m thankful not to be an Anglican any more because I no longer have to wrestle with dogma and creed. Quakers have always taken an approach to change which is both thoughtful and fluid; we are therefore able to respond to social change without feeling hidebound by doctrine and I’m happy to say that Friends embraced the rights of gays and lesbians as early as the 1970’s. There are a number of sections in Quaker Faith and Practice which deal with this. But if you’re an Anglican (this goes double for Catholics) you have to wrestle with a creed and doctrines that most of us now find outdated and irrelevant, and square the impossible circle of holding on to tradition whilst engaging with society at the same time. It simply can’t be done. So what’s a bishop to do?

I have no idea, but the Bishops’ statement does not seem helpful – but to be fair it does seem to have been more cock-up than conspiracy, at least according to this Church Times article.

What do you think? Perhaps it could not matter less to you but there are gays and lesbians (incredibly) still in the church who will be deeply affected by this debate.

Kirk out

Sustaining Sustainability – Keep it Up!

I’ve started asking myself in the mornings what I can do that day to halt and reverse climate change. Now before you leap in, I’m well aware that one person alone cannot make this huge change, but I’m not alone. Millions of people are also making changes and whilst it may be true that the huge polluters are nations and multinationals, this does not invalidate individual actions. In any case, these actions do not exist in isolation. Each of us, unless we are a hermit, has an effect on others. This blog will I hope have an effect on its readers. My buying habits have an effect on the places I buy from (or don’t.) I boycott Amazon partly because of its environmental impact and to help me do so I use a browser add-on called Unfortunately it only works on Chrome at the moment so I can’t use it on my laptop, though it’s probably only a matter of time. But at some point a person in their bedroom (or office) thought about this and devised the add-on, and now people are using it. Similar initiatives are everywhere, from supermarkets reducing plastic to shops offering to refill bottles, people are realigning their thoughts. Yes, it’s not enough, yes we have to do more – much more – and soon, but it ain’t nothing.

The trouble with thinking about climate change and my part in it is that I can end up feeling either hopelessly depressed or horribly guilty. It’s like trying to lose weight; every time you think about the problem you are overwhelmed by negativity and this is the last thing you need. So just as with losing weight, we need to develop habits of sustainability that we can actually keep up – in other words, be sustainably sustainable.

So, what are today’s things I’m doing to halt and reverse climate change? I’m going to find out if I can refill my dishwasher rinse aid bottle as a part of the plan to take all the single use plastic out of our house. And I’m going to research sources of recycled paper. Then next week I shall buy some recyclable toothbrush heads.

That’s all folks!

Kirk out

PS I’ve done the first bit of my homework and found this source of recycled paper.

Let Me Splain it to You

Just in case you’re not familiar with the word mansplaining, it refers to the tendency of some men to inform women of what they already know. A good example is this, which happened to me a few months ago. I met a man at a Council of Faiths meeting and as soon as I told him I was a Quaker he proceeded to give me a run-down of Quaker history.

The starting point seems to be that we need to be kept informed and they are the man for the job. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that we might know this stuff already – that we might even be experts in our field – that, god forbid, we might actually be able to tell them something about it! No. They are like search engines picking up on a word and spewing out information on it. Except that I haven’t googled anything and I already have the information, thank you very much.

Of course as the definition above suggests, man– is not the only kind of –splaining. I may in the past have been guilty of whitesplaining, telling people of colour about their own culture or religion, though I hope not; there’s also ablesplaining, which I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you as you already get the idea.

Basically all types of splaining are about power relations. It’s about saying ‘I know more than you about this,’ even when it is blindingly obvious that the person concerned is living with whatever ‘this’ is and is therefore the definitive expert. It’s about positioning yourself above the other person, being the expert, the spokesperson.

So now I’ve explained this, you can stop bothering your pretty little heads about it…

Kirk out

Take Me to Our Leader

I am always deeply impressed by the energy of some politicians. Clearly there are the Rees-Moggs who lounge about on green benches and let their nanny change nappies but some are incredibly hard-working. Not only that, they are on top of a number of issues both locally and nationally and have an astounding memory for facts and figures. Yes, I know they have teams of admin to support them but once they’re up on the podium they’re on their own, giving a rallying speech before getting back on the train to their next destination. During (and before) the last election Corbyn was tireless: I will never know how a seventy-two year old got the energy to travel up and down the country doing several speeches a day and interviews in between, yet he seemed to get energy from it rather than being depleted. I guess that’s why I could never be an MP: I’d be permanently exhausted.

A similar thing is happening with candidates for the leadership, and last night I was pleased to be able to hear Emily Thornberry speak in Loughborough. I had already identified her as someone I might vote for and last night confirmed it. She’s on top of things, she’s hard-hitting and down-to-earth, principled but pragmatic. More importantly, she did not join in with the back-stabbing of Corbyn and spoke up in support of him (though not all of his campaign.) I therefore believe that she has the ability to unite the party and persuade voters, as well as challenging Boris Johnson at the dispatch box as she was his opposite number when he was Foreign Secretary. She also strikes me as being remarkably human and lacking in hunger for power.

In voting for our next leader I shall be taking into account two things: one is that they broadly support socialism and the principles of our last manifesto. I do not want a return to Blairism; thankfully at the moment I see no appetite for that either in the member or in the candidates. Secondly – and perhaps more importantly – I am looking for someone who can unite the party. This is a tall order but it’s not impossible.

At the moment Thornberry lacks the nominations she needs to get on the ballot. So we shall see. But if she is on the ballot I think I shall vote for her.

Kirk out

My Clothesline

I was just thinking about all the clothes I have worn in my life. I don’t regard myself as a great consumer of fashion – I try to make things last and I always donate; the idea of throwing a garment into a bin fills me with horror – but even so the collection of clothes I have worn would fill a clothes line longer than Hadrian’s Wall.

When we were children our mother used to make all our summer dresses and the rest of the time we wore jumpers and ‘slacks’. These were the forerunner of leggings or track-suit bottoms and were the relaxed, liberated woman’s choice for home and garden. All the women in my family wore slacks which were like jodhpurs in that they had a strap under the foot which made them in my opinion terminally uncool. They stretched where they should relax and relaxed where they should hold. Our mother also wore loose flared stretch trousers which picked up dirt and dog hairs better than any hoover. To work she wore plaid skirts and tights or smart trousers and waxed indignant that we schoolgirls were not allowed proper winter coats. In fact the school uniform in winter was completely inadequate: a thin v-neck jumper over a blouse (one of those stiff blouses that sticks out like a bomber jacket) and a thin scarf and raincoat for outdoors.

I don’t recall ever wearing a t-shirt until I was a teenager – since when they have been a staple of what I am pleased to call my wardrobe, along with jeans, cords and the occasional floaty summer dress. I did once have a smart suit for interviews but it was like wearing a straitjacket. I have never liked formal wear but it’s interesting how even when people are restricted to a uniform they always find ways of individualising it; in my school the cool girls wore their blouses untucked and their ties really, really short.

Our mother also had an outfit for special occasions which consisted of a long woollen skirt worn under a blouse and cardigan. On Christmas Day all the women in the family would ‘change’ for the evening’s activities (you’d think we were having cocktails and canapes but it was just parlour games and sherry).

Nowadays women can choose from a huge range of styles. You can be a hippy one day and a businesswoman the next or you can wear jeans and t-shirt almost anywhere. This makes me happy.

Kirk out

Sex, Sex, Sex – But Not For You

Well, I just don’t know where the Church of England is at right now. It seems to have got its cassocks in a twist about sex (again) in the context of civil partnerships and come up with the spectacularly retrograde advice that sex is only between a man and a woman, and even then they have to be married. So just in case you’re unsure, sex before marriage is out, sex outside marriage is out, and sex if you’re in a gay or lesbian marriage is out. Sex is also out if you’re in a civil partnership but not married. Clear? Basically if you’re not sure, don’t do it. It all sounds a bit like this to me.

What’s not at all clear is where the hell this is coming from. It seems to have come out of the blue and to run counter to the cautious, slow-moving liberalism of recent decades. I wouldn’t say I’ve been following the C of E’s deliberations closely but I do keep an ear to the ground and I’ve heard no rumour of this at all, nor can I find any articles or interviews yet which enlighten me.

You’re probably thinking this couldn’t matter less in your life, and you’re probably right – but it matters to a lot of people. About eighteen months ago I went to the best church service I’d ever attended, a Pride celebration in the parish church of Loughborough. It was fantastic, and in stark contrast to this, probably one of the worst services I’ve ever attended. People felt included and accepted; there was a real sense of communion and love. Instead of people crying outside the church there were people being celebrated within it. This church statement basically tears all that up, because if gays and lesbians can be married but can’t have sex they can’t be fully married.

At the moment I can only speculate on where this is coming from. Is it an attempt to appease Catholics or hard-liners within the church? Or has some faction or other has got hold of the decision-making process? I don’t know. We shall see how these things unfold.But these problems always arise when you have creeds and dogmas. I’m happy to say that Quakers have accepted gays and lesbians as full members with the same rights as straight people ever since the 1970’s. We don’t have a top-down approach to change but a thoughtful, consensual, across-the-board process in which everyone can take part.

Not that I’m wanting to be smug or anything…

Kirk out

It Ain’t Tosh, it’s Santosh

I know I’m bombarding you with posts at the moment but the brain is very fertile right now and who am I to resist? So as a companion piece or riposte, if you will, to the last post here is a tried-and-tested method of dealing with perfectionism, called Santosh.

It’s a Sanskrit word meaning ‘contentment’ (the very sound of it is comforting, and that’s no coincidence, as I’ll explain) but not the lying-on-the-sofa-watching-TV kind of contentment, if indeed that is contentment at all. No, it’s the contentment that consists in being satisfied with what you’ve achieved, no matter where you might end up. To paraphrase Kipling, it’s meeting with triumph and disaster and treating those two impostors just the same (Kipling was born in India and was very influenced by ‘Eastern’ thought.) Anyway, leaving Kipling on one side for a moment, contentment or santosh is the practice of being content in the moment with what one has achieved. It does not imply self-satisfaction, nor does it prevent future progress; in fact I would suggest that without santosh there is no real progress.

Consider the case of someone (I know wherof I speak) who is overweight and desires to be slim. Their life may be dominated by self-disgust and thoughts of how they would like to look. But far from being a spur to achievement this is an obstacle because acceptance is lacking. Unless you can accept where you are – however briefly – you can’t move on: it’s like trying to find your way somewhere by putting the wrong postcode into your satnav.

Sanskrit is an ancient and astonishing language, and one in which sound and sense work closely together. This can be seen more clearly in the practice of mantra where a word or phrase has a meaning, a sound and an appearance, each of which can be used for meditation.

T-t-t-t-t-that’s all folks!

I miss seeing cartoons on telly.

Kirk out