Brain, Brain, Go Away. Come Again Another Day

What is it about the brain? Mine just won’t do as it’s told; it insists on waking me up with vague and waffly ideas somewhere a long way south of Proper Morning and then when I want it to work it’s half-asleep again. It’s very vexing, but you simply cannot make a creative brain work when you want it to. You can encourage it, coax it with tidbits like a wild hedgehog, call it with soft murmurs, sing little songs to it – but nope: my brain, bouncy and happy at five in the morning, simply folds its arms and says nah. Not playing. It’s like a recalcitrant toddler who won’t go to bed at night and then wakes you in the wee small hours wanting to play.

But we need this brain because it knows stuff. It is wise and intuitive and sometimes it wakes you early for a reason. I just wish I knew what it was … *sigh*.

So – what does Tuesday have in store? Well, it’s pretty much like Monday really only without University Challenge. Incidentally, though I love the intellectual rigour of this quiz, I continue to be amazed by the lack of diversity of the contestants. Last night was typical: two all-white teams and only one woman among eight participants. You do sometimes get Asian or East Asian contestants but black team members are as rare as hens’ teeth. Why is this? There are two obvious answers, both of which I reject as too simplistic: the first, that women and black people are not up to the job, is prejudiced, and the second, that universities are reluctant to take on female and/or black students, is not true – or at least much less true than it once was. I suspect it’s down to a number of complex cultural factors, such as women being less likely to put ourselves forward than men and black people being less likely to go to the kind of schools that teach you what you need to know to get on University Challenge. The question therefore arises as to whether it’s an elitist programme. Is the kind of knowledge required more likely to be found in elite institutions? It’s certainly dominated by Oxbridge, though that’s more down to the fact that each Oxbridge college counts as a separate university – but what’s interesting is that in the Christmas series when they have now-successful alumni, the gender and race balance is more equal. So perhaps it’s just about where people are at a certain age. Anyway, much as I enjoy UC I do sometimes watch it with gritted teeth.

And gritted brain. Actually last night I got six or seven answers right, which is not too bad considering.

Kirk out

Leave Means Leave Episode 7

In the next few weeks there were more letters, all in printed brown envelopes, all on a single sheet of white paper, newsprint cut out. If this were a TV series there’d be a clue, a smudge on one corner that would narrow it down to a single news vendor, then CCTV would show him buying that paper… but in real life the police looked for fingerprints or DNA and if there was none, that was it. Just keep all the letters, inform your liaison officer, thank you and goodnight. She’d felt so bolstered in the shelter but out here in the world she felt alone, unprotected, scared.

Then the letters stopped.

A week went by, then two – and still nothing. At first she was even more frightened: was he about to do something worse? Would the next step be a bomb? Then as several uneventful weeks passed she began to relax. Perhaps he’d given up; perhaps it wasn’t even him. She didn’t believe either of these stories but they were something to calm yourself with at night, like telling a child a fairy story. A child! It still caught her like an old wound when she thought of the baby that was lost. But there was time, she told herself. She wasn’t thirty yet. Soon the years that he’d stolen would be compressed into a tiny compartment; eventually they’d hardly register at all.

As the time drew near for the summer course, she went out and spent most of her salary on new outfits, had her hair dyed, cut short and styled. With her new clothes on she thought even her mother wouldn’t recognise her now.

She’d called her mother, had a short, rather abrupt conversation. Her mother sounded older, much older and softened slightly when she said she’d left him, but she didn’t approve of Anna’s decision to go to university. Jean was old-school, thought women should stick to the traditional occupations – teaching, nursing, typing. She herself had been a school secretary and given it up to marry a policeman. If Anna’s father had been alive things might have turned out differently, she thought, but her mother knew how to nurse a grudge. She’d never believe it if Anna told the story of her marriage. She’d have said, well, you must have done something to deserve it. Or, why didn’t you leave then?

If it hadn’t been for that, she might have been tempted to go back to Fife; Scotland was looking increasingly attractive since Brexit. But going home again had never been an option.

She’d not yet taken those driving lessons but they were in the back of her mind as she caught the train up to Durham, then a bus. The campus was just as she’d remembered it and she felt nothing so much as a sense of vast space opening up. She stood in the courtyard and took some deep breaths, then went to reception. There was no-one there, so she waited. Then her phone pinged with a text. She read it.


Comments welcome as ever.

Kirk out