Boxing Clever

There hasn’t been much on the old box lately; I’d given up trawling unprofitably through Netflix and the i-player because anything that was any good had that little red progress bar underneath showing that we’d watched it already. And then came Britbox.

Britbox is a collaboration between the Beeb and ITV, a sort of i-player-plus with loads of classic stuff from both channels. We knew it was coming but they’ve brought it forward, presumably because of the unmentionable, and a deep joy it is too: I discovered things I hadn’t seen for ages, like Rev. (brilliant series) all of Doc Martin, The Forsyte Saga (though sadly not the original with Eric Porter and Nyree Dawn Porter) and I’m wondering if I, Claudius is on there too because I’d love to see that again. There are all the old comedies like The Good Life and Open all Hours and Yes, Minister/Prime Minister and of course endless hours of Downton Abbey which we will be laying down and avoiding (it’s not a wine for drinking, it’s a wine for laying down and avoiding.)

Ironically we discovered Britbox just as I’d begun watching Breaking Bad. To be fair OH and son have been going on at me about the latter for several years but in spite – or perhaps because – of that I’ve been laying down and avoiding it. I’ve also discovered that I have an aversion to names that don’t make sense (I don’t understand it so I’m not going to watch it) but I now know what breaking bad means, so I can proceed in peace. And no, I’m not going to tell you – you’ll just have to go through your own tormented process until you find out. If you are so foolish as to do any such thing.

So – last night we rediscovered the delights of Rev, the charm of which lies in its utter authenticity as it is written by those in the know and researched by clerics including the Rev. Richard Coles. But you don’t have to be an Anglican (or ex-Anglican) to enjoy it; Tom Hollander’s beleaguered priest is comic and touching in about equal measure and Olivia Coleman is a delight as his long-suffering wife.

So if you’ve watched everything on Netflix and i-player I advise you to box clever. Get Britbox. (I’m wasted here; I should have gone into advertising.)

Kirk out

This Post is Virus-Free

Apart from the brief mention in the title, this post will not contain any mention of the C-word. The number 19 will be absent, as will the words virus, flu, statistic and Cummings. Well, apart from the times I just mentioned them of course. Starting…. now!

So, my absence during the last week has not been due to the unmentionable, at least not in any direct way. I have simply chosen to take some time out, since Everything Is Cancelled, and do a mini-hibernation as I often do in the summer and over Christmas. It is a balm to the soul to be out of contact for a while, so as everyone else was frantically getting online to connect via Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Facetime, Messenger and email, I just Beed. I simply were; in short, I existed. I divided my time between the study and a blessedly sunny garden; I went for a short walk each day and I read. God, how I read!

More of that anon. But the first couple of days I was so exhausted I mostly stayed in bed and watched Netflix serials Safe and The Stranger, both written by the same guy and both utterly gripping while you watch but leaving little impression afterwards. My exhaustion was I think caused by thinking too much about everything; not only the unmentionable but its repercussions and the uncertainty caused thereby and what we might have to do to make sure of supplies etc. My brian simply couldn’t take any more; I needed sleep. And sleep I did.

So now I am ready to enter the digital world once more and update you on my reading. I have now finished Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light (I’ll post a review anon) and am 2/3 of the way through Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman. This is a stream-of-consciousness novel, 997 pages in length (just call it a round thousand) featuring a mother-of-four in Ohio who bakes cakes for a living. She has far too much to do and a million and one things occupy her mind, from her business to the thousand tasks of caring for children and house, to the horrendous state of the environment (seemingly worse there than it is here) and of course the even worse state of national politics. 9/11 keeps recurring but the main theme is the loss of her mother which has something to do with the ducks of the title. Seeing as how Americans have such weird place names, I assumed that Ducks, Newburyport was a small town (do Americans have villages? I fancy not) but it is in fact an incident to do with Ducks in a place called Newburyport which has a great emotional impact. But we haven’t got to that bit yet.

I’ll probably post a fuller review of that in due course as well.

So that’s me. How have you been? I hope you’re keeping well and safe.

There! A virus-free post. Perhaps it’ll go viral.

Kirk out

What Do We Do? We Jog, Jog, Jog

What? Me? Jogging? No! No no no, no nay never, jamais, nunca jamas, non! Absolument pas! Je ne jog pas. No hago el footing*. Nope.

Except yes. My ever-loving family are conspiring to keep me (and themselves) indoors as I’m at a slightly elevated risk of C19 due to asthma. It’s not bad asthma, not double-up-and-gasp asthma, not wheeze-and-cough asthma, just inconvenient-slightly-tight-chested asthma. But still. I am told I must stay indoors For My Own Good. This I do not like.

Before you start, yes I’m totally aware of the guidelines around personal distancing, contact and unnecessary trips out. Yesterday I went shopping with a scarf over my lower features (by which I mean nose and mouth, not my private parts) and feeling like a terrorist about to produce a bomb, I maintained a distance of three feet from those who served me. Actually it was quite fun; having gone into Sainsbury’s yesterday and quickly out again as it was heaving, I sallied forth a little later and trawled around all the nice little local shops which I often mean to patronise and seldom do. I bought a few necessaries including a nice bottle of Rioja and some lovely free range local eggs.

And so to today. Having been lectured by Son and OH I was feeling mutinous. **** them! I thought, I’m going out. But not to the shops. Instead – and I never in my life thought I’d be doing this – I jogged round the park. Yes, actually jogged. I mean, god – what next? Will I start running marathons?

Unlikely. But the gym did give me a taste for gentle jogging, and very gentle it was too; half-trotting and half-fast walking round the park. Still, it put some spark in the old grey matter and I do feel better for it.

I’m not saying I’ll do this every day but it does seem a good way to start the day, especially as you get out into the fresh air and can maintain distance from others whilst giving them a friendly wave. Not that any of them waved back. They must have thought I was a nutter.

Actually nobody gives you a second glance if you’re jogging; it’s one of the socially sanctioned activities that renders you virtually invisible. Which in my case is all to the good.

Now, I’ve been thinking about using this time to pass on some of my skills. And I’m wondering what people would be interested in. Would you like videos on gentle yoga, perhaps done sitting in a chair? Or perhaps suggestions on how to begin creative writing? Or poetry workshops? There are a number of things I am actually qualified to teach, yoga being one, so let me know. What are you interested in learning while you’re stuck at home?

Just don’t ask me about jogging…

Kirk out

* Fun fact: in Spanish, jogging is called footing. Otherwise it would be pronounced hogging.

The Long Dark Teatime of the Novel

The two longest novels (in English) of the last decade were published within nine months of each other, and if there was ever a good time to read them, that time is now. As I try to discern whether there is less traffic outside (I think there is) and relish the absence of planes in the sky (not that they bother us much) my pile of books rises on my bedside table like the Shard with the addition of The Mirror and the Light and Ducks, Newburyport.

I’ll post a fuller review of both at some stage; I’m getting along at a fair lick with the Hilary Mantel but as for the Lucy Ellman, I’m just not sure if it’s totally brilliant or utterly unreadable. Ellman is the daughter of the James Joyce scholar Richard Ellman which surely cannot be coincidence as Ducks, Newburyport is a stream-of-consciousness novel, perhaps a riposte to Anna Livia Plurabelle at the end of Ulysses. I began reading it yesterday and after about ten pages I thought, ‘I wonder how long this sentence is going on for?’ I skipped ahead a little: it was still going on. I skipped ahead a little more – and more – and finally, finally found a full stop. At the end of the novel. On page 998.


To be fair the novel is supposedly eight sentences rather than one, and does intersperse the main character’s stream-of-consciousness with the story of a lioness (don’t ask me why) but the chief question is: is it readable? OH maintains that stream-of-consciousness work is lazy and I can see why, but that’s not the most important point because in the end literature that is not readable defeats itself. You don’t have to communicate with absolutely everyone but if you communicate with practically no-one that is hardly a resounding success. The Guardian review reckons only about 2% of people will ‘get it.’ Are they right? Am I one? We’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime my dears, stay safe, help others if you can but prioritise your own health first. And keep washing those hands…

Kirk out (but mostly in)

Covid 19, Human Race: 0

I’m trying to find something coherent to say about the crisis – meanwhile here is some light music… It’s not easy to find the positives in this situation and I’m wondering if sales of Camus’ La Peste (The Plague) are on the rise as it is a story for our times. I know I have a copy but it’s in storage so I might see if they’ve got it in the library. If the library’s still open. I guess if it’s not I could register for ebooks but I’m not keen on reading from a screen. There’s something about a book…

I seem to remember the Black Death arrived in Britain in the folds of some cloth; interestingly this particular virus seems to favour plastic and metal and not to survive long on fabric. But it is an unprecedented situation; worse than bird flu, more contagious than ordinary flu and less preventable than AIDS. And that’s the scary thing, because we don’t know how to prevent this spreading. We can take precautions but short of isolating the entire population in separate cells, there’s no sure-fire way to do it. I’m confident that a vaccine will soon be developed but in the meantime millions may die and probably will.

There are some uncomfortable truths here, and no-one has the right to utter them unless they have faced the possibility that they or someone very close to them, may lose their life. I utterly deplore politicians and other pundits saying glibly that this is a way to reduce the surplus population; and yet I can’t help thinking that in almost every generation something comes along to wipe out vast swathes of humanity. Over-population is a grave problem, but it’s always someone else’s problem. There are always too many of them, not us, but unless we can confront the possibility of us dying, we have no right to think of them popping their clogs. I’ve had John Donne’s poem in my mind this morning – I’m thinking of writing a parody:

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls/It tolls for thee.

But in the midst of all the gloom there are positives. Here are some I’ve thought of:

1. We will do less damage to the environment. Planes will stop, driving will slow to a trickle, manufacturing will also slow.

2. We may make more effort to look after each other. In a crisis people often look out for each other more than in comfortable times.

3. We will stop taking stuff for granted. No more will we blithely assume that we can nip down to the supermarket and buy whatever we want. Shelves are already emptying and many things may become unavailable. We will have to make do with less.

4: This is a long shot, I know, but we may after a while become less attached to money as the only means of getting stuff. Systems of exchange and barter may arise once more.

But I expect I’m living in cloud cuckoo land and chaos will ensue…

I’m doing a fruit fast today (something else I may have to give up) and I’ll leave you with this comic moment from Monty Python:

Be safe. Live long and prosper.

Kirk out

Did You Miss Me?

I doubt whether you did; you were probably far to busy getting on with Saturday to wonder where I was, but in case you were wondering, I was Not Here. I was in fact elsewhere, and from now on every Saturday I shall be elsewhere. I shall be inhabiting what we are please to call the real world. I shall be interacting in real time with flesh-and-blood people. I shall be reading books and newspapers. I shall be thinking or cooking or walking or writing some random dreamy thoughts. I may be sleeping or eating or chatting or drinking tea. I could be shopping or dreaming or planning or scheming. I will certainly be washing my hands – but I will not be on Facebook or this blog or email or on my phone. The TV will remain dark.

I tried it last week and a day of unplugging worked so well that OH and I decided we’d do it together. OH’s current obsession is Judaism, working through something called Daf Yomi which is reading the Talmud every day and arguing endlessly about its ramifications. This is something that completely does my head in but OH claims to get a great deal from it so who am I to argue? Anyway it leads to us following one of the traditions together and turning everything off at sunset on the Friday and back on again at the same time on Saturday.

So from now on if you want me between those hours I shall be unavailable. Unless of course you want to buy me a beer – because then I am always available.

Kirk out

Have I Got it Yet?

I don’t regard myself as a hypochondriac; in fact in years gone by I’ve adopted a rather cavalier approach to my health believing that it – whatever it was – couldn’t happen to me. But that is being tested at the moment because C19 is everywhere. It’s a pandemic of news. No paper, no TV channel, no bulletin, no Facebook scroll is without some mention of the virus; it’s a story that’s not going to end any time soon. So now, every time I cough I think: was that a dry cough? Is it a symptom? Every time my head twinges I think: is that a C19 headache? And so on. I’m taking all the usual precautions, handwashing, not shaking hands, avoiding large gatherings (not that there are any) and on the whole I’m not worried but it does make you think: if I did catch it and if I were at risk of slaughter, how would I deal with that?

Most of us in the West are not in danger of dying, on a day-to-day basis. Unless we do something exceptionally foolish or are unusually unlucky, we are safe, free to walk the streets, drive our cars, discuss, vote, go to public meetings, air our opinions etc. There are of course many exceptions to this but the point is, most of us do not have to confront our mortality on a daily basis. We’re not going to get the plague tomorrow and be dead in a week. We’re not Solomon Grundy. So how would I deal with the threat of imminent death?

The truth is, I’ve no idea, but I expect it would involve massive amounts of panic, resentment, self-pity, regret that I didn’t live to do all the things I still want to do, anguish that I’m not going to see my grandchildren grow up, fear that I’m going to leave OH behind to cope alone – and absolute blank terror at the prospect of extinction. I’d like to think I’d be calm and stoical but in reality I’d be pinging off the walls like a headless chicken.

Anyway, thankfully I’m not in one of the at-risk groups so instead of confronting my own mortality I’ll just be washing my hands from now till eternity, like Lady Macbeth…

How are you coping? How is it where you are?

Kirk out

The Daft Night of the Soul

I think the marriage vows ought to go like this: ‘to love and to cherish, to make each other laugh, to have and to hold…’ If they were I’d have done well lately, as I’ve been amusing OH with my recent attempts at a SWOT analysis. On a sheet of flip-chart paper I’ve put things on post-it notes and stuck them under four headings: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis is a standard business practice for thrashing out problems; it’s also a good thing for individuals to do on themselves. One of the typical questions interviewers ask is, ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ to which the savvy applicant will answer by listing their strengths, and if pressed on weaknesses may say something like ‘I have a tendency to work too hard.’ LOL.*

OH was amused by my SWOT analysis though because at first I had nothing in the Strengths, Opportunities and Weaknesses columns but a cluster of little coloured Threats all flapping in the breeze of the open door. It stayed that way for a week or two – but now it’s changed because I’ve added some Weaknesses. Good eh? I daresay I’ll get around to S and O some time, but for now I’ve got plenty of TW.

One of my Threats (I’m not going to list them all) is The Dark Night of the Soul. This is a fear that if I progress in life, at some point it’s all going to fall apart, so the safest thing is to stay where I am. I hadn’t quite identified this fear before, but it’s a very real one – and this morning it occurred to me that if you do fall into a black hole, one way out might be laughter. I wonder if Dante ever thought of that? There aren’t many laughs in the Inferno, but perhaps there should be: it’s no coincidence that some of our greatest comics have suffered from depression. Spike Milligan, Robin Williams and Stephen Fry all spring to mind (though Fry is of course much more than a comedian) and I’m convinced that laughter is a good remedy for depression. So maybe in Opportunities I’ll put The Daft Night of the Soul.

There! I’ve made progress already. And it’s only nine forty-five.

I’ll probably post more about this later as I think it’s important.

Kirk out

*(Only better of course, because no interviewer would actually buy that.)

A Review Has Flooded In

This is the link to the lovely review of my poetry e-book, posted on Last Flying Cow. As you recall I offered as a prize to my 500th follower, either a guest blog post or a poetry e-book, and they chose the poetry. A wise choice. I asked if they would post a review, and they did! Here are a couple of snippets just to give you a flavour:

‘Sarada’s work evokes pathos, sadness and a fair amount of cynicism’

‘She tempers everything with well-crafted language and ideas’

Powerful observations about a bleak and dismal loss of youth’

Now it’s over to you. During the next few weeks I shall be offering a limited number of poetry e-books to you, dear reader. In return I am not asking ten pounds, I’m not asking five pounds, I’m not even asking fifty pence. Instead I am asking you to commit to posting a review. Once you’ve read the book, I ask you to write a short review – a paragraph will do, two is better – and post it on your own blog. If you don’t have a blog then put it on Twitter, Facebook or wherever else you have a platform. Post a link to this blog, and bob’s your uncle.

Watch this space!

Kirk out

To Panic, or Not to Panic?

I’ve discovered another of those irregular verbs like I was talking about a few weeks ago (I’m eccentric, you’re mad, s/he is round the twist). In these days of Brexit and Coronavirus one doesn’t know which way to turn: obviously panic buying is selfish, but is it wise to stock up a little? Will there be shortages in the future? Should we make sure we have sufficient stocks? And is there in the end a difference between panic buying and stocking up or does it go like this: I’m stocking up, you’re hoarding, s/he is panic-buying? It’s quite amusing in a way; OH decided in their infinite wisdom to stock up on a few things just in case. This was back in March 2019 when we thought we were leaving the EU without a deal. So we bought some basic items: flour, rice, pulses, pasta – the sort of things that can form the basis of a meal and provide adequate nutrients. Without wishing to develop a bunker mentality, it seemed sensible to take precautions. Mind you, I was surprised as OH is usually the sort of person who likes to ‘wing it’ and has previously thumbed their nose at supermarket deliveries, but there you go, ours is not to reason why…

Well as you will have spotted we did not leave the EU then. But later in the year it looked as if we might – so OH stocked up again, on similar items (ignoring the fact that we still had loads of rice and lentils left and that I’m not particularly keen on either.) We now had rather a lot of stuff. But not to worry, we’d get through it and if the fateful day ever came when the markets ran dry, we’d survive. Enter Covid 19 – and off OH goes again and puts in another order, thankfully this time focussing on things other than lentils and rice.

So here’s the thing: is that sensible stocking-up, hoarding or panic-buying?

A similar question occurs when thinking of the dreaded lurgy. Do we: a) decide that it’s all a media panic and ignore the whole thing b) take some precautions such as washing hands and capturing germs when sneezing or c) stay home and barricade ourselves in? It’s hard to know. On the one hand, this virus kills fewer people worldwide than flu; on the other hand it’s highly contagious and could end up infecting billions. It’s the unknown that’s scary, and in the face of the unknown we all have a tendency to panic. So here’s a little gif for you (warning – flashing lights):


I’m just going down to the pantry now. I may be some time…

Kirk out