The Song and Dance of the Spheres

As I lay awake in the early hours abandoning all hope of sleep (abandon sleep all ye who enter here) I was thinking about the music of the spheres. In ancient times they had an idea that the spheres – ie the planets and the sun – made a kind of music inaudible to our ears, but real to those tuned in to it. It was not literal music but an idea of harmony and it was also linked with dance. Just as you cannot have dance without music, so to the ancient mind the planets could not move without their own kind of music. Everything was in harmony and everything knew its place.

Nowadays we’ve thrown out all such ideas. Any harmony is in the human mind, not ‘out there’; the universe is random and movements are governed by forces we partly know and partly have yet to discover. Yet if we set aside the notion of hierarchy there is something very appealing in the notion that everything in the universe works in harmony in a fusion of music and dance. C S Lewis picks up this idea in the Narnia books: in Prince Caspian the young prince is taken to see the conjunction of two stars, Tarva and Alambil: they are so close together that he asks whether the stars will collide. ‘Nay,’ says his tutor, ‘they know their dance too well for that.’ And in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Caspian actually meets a retired star living on a remote island. Every day he is brought a live coal from the mountains of the sun and every day he grows a little younger: soon he will take his place once more at the Eastern rim of the world and begin the dance.

There’s something hypnotic and deeply spiritual about dance; and perhaps this accounts for why I dislike Strictly so much. I know it’s tantamount to heresy to say this, particularly since Bill Bailey won it, but I just can’t stand it. I can’t quite put my finger on why but I think it may be this; that in all the competition, the spangly-twirliness, the light-flashin’, lip-smackin’, costume-wearin’, the relentless cheering and the acrobatics, something of the soul is missing. Popular it may be; dance of the spheres it ain’t.

I’m going to leave you with a couple of my favourite dances on film. The first is from A Knight’s Tale where a stately dance to medieval music morphs seamlessly, almost imperceptibly into Bowie’s Golden Years:

video removed on request.

And this. Almost any dance scene from La La Land would do, it’s a totally magical film but I’m going to leave you with this. It was filmed almost in one take early in the morning just outside L A and it’s stunning.

video removed on request

Enjoy! Have a little twirl yourself – but do it with soul.

Kirk out

Is That a Zen Sky?

Yesterday was the solstice so I set the alarm for sunset, prepared a glass of wine and a song to listen to, and stopped work to sit and watch the sky darken. This was a slow and undramatic process as the sun was behind layers of dark cloud and nary a glimmer emerged; however it was a very contemplative practice to simply sit and observe and try to get my head round the fact that I’m on a tiny patch of a revolving globe and that it’s this globe that moves, not the sun.

Many truths are counter-intuitive and hard to get hold of. Sometimes the moon seems so close you feel you could reach out and touch it, or leap up and sit on the point of its crescent. Have you ever been in the country, miles from any street lights, on a clear night? The stars seem so close it’s almost threatening; yet we persist in acting as though we are separate from them rather than being in the middle. Anyway, last night at sunset I drank a glass of wine and listened to this track and read this poem which is one of my favourites.

My new CD came yesterday too. It’s a meditative one called Zen Sky and I can almost write as I listen to it, though normally I never listen to music while working because it’s too distracting. I also downloaded a really fun EP called Fake News; all of these recordings including the solstice song are by our friend, the multi-talented local musician Chris Conway. There’s no end to the instruments this man can play or the styles he can perform in, and Zen Sky features the low Irish whistle, an amazingly evocative instrument.

So that was yesterday; today I unaccountably woke up feeling crabby and resentful. Where do these emotions come from? I went to bed feeling fine and had a reasonably good night, but this morning all these unpleasant sensations had blown in like a squall from the coast. Normally I can keep a lid on the feeling that other people are far more successful than me, that they fit in more easily – or at all – that they somehow make money without making themselves miserable in the process, and have a path in life, a direction, a purpose. Well, I suppose I have a path and a direction but without (as yet) the money or success, so from time to time feelings of envy will arise, and the Christmas round robin is an excellent catalyst for them. One which arrived yesterday featured distant relatives we haven’t seen in a while who live on what appears to be a ranch in Surrey with a lake, a small wood and a massive house. What makes it worse is that they are very nice people!!!! (gnashes teeth.) Well, this is my problem and I’ll have to deal with it.


I wish they weren’t nice people and then I could hate them. I do hate the round robin though

Kirk out

Nine Days of Christmas Books

I got this idea from and it goes like this:

Day 1 – Ghost of Christmas Past. Name one book that you loved as a child. I’m going with my first trip to Narnia, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Day 2 – The Ghost of Christmas Present. One book that you’ve loved reading this year. For me it’s a toss-up between Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light and Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth.

Day 3 – The Ghost of Christmas yet to come, which for me will probably be the next thing Ian Rankin produces. We don’t know what that will be because he has a habit of writing a book a year and so probably hasn’t started it yet.

Day 4 – Bah humbug! Name a book everyone raves about which you can’t stand. Well, I’ve never really understood all the fuss about Catcher in the Rye. Sorry, but there it is.

Day 5 – Bob Cratchit, an old dependable, a book you always go back to. I’d have to go with Pride and Prejudice for this.

Day 6 – Tiny Tim, something overlooked. I’m going to say E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels because despite the fame of Mapp and Lucia on TV he’s still underrated in literary circles.

Day 7 – A Muppet Christmas Carol, your favourite adaptation. For me this has to be the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. It cannot be bettered.

Day 8 – A Christmas Carol; what, apart from the aforenamed book, gets you in the mood for Christmas? I’m struggling here because it’s mostly music and lights that get me in the mood, so I’m leaving this one blank.

And finally, Day 9 – have a go yourself and then get others to join in. Spread the fun.

Kirk out

There’s a Block in my Blog

As beetleypete has so consistently pointed out, the blocks on WordPress are a bloody nightmare. It’s an answer to a problem nobody had, an idea which solves nothing but creates loads of barriers, particularly when it comes to editing. Every time you press return it creates a new block, a sort of uber-paragraph, which has to be formatted separately from everything else – and when it comes to poetry, as you can imagine, this is practically impossible. The poem ‘Spike’ below is not one document but consists of dozens of individual blocks, each of which has to be edited separately. There is no way, for example, to select the whole document and make it bold – which I do for those of my readers who struggle with the inexplicably faint font – nor, I’ve just discovered, can I select the whole poem for deletion. I was going to do this but now I shan’t bother – deleting ninety-one lines individually one by one is not my idea of fun.

I did Spike yesterday at a Quaker songs and poetry gathering, and it went over well. Singing carols on Zoom is a tricky business; you’d think everyone could just unmute themselves and sing along but apparently the echoes and feedback turn it into an infernal shrieking. Not what you want. So we all had to sing separately along to the music and clap silently. Incidentally, did you know that Quakers don’t generally applaud? I can’t remember why, I’ll have to look it up. We also don’t say ‘yes’ when asked if we agree with a minute in a meeting, but ‘Hope so’ – the idea being that… hang on, I’ll have to look that up as well. Quakers can come across as being quite obsessive, but there are a couple of fundamental practices that I’m totally on board with. The first is not swearing oaths or making promises. The idea behind this is that your word should be your bond, whereas if you make a promise you are setting up a double standard of truth and saying ‘I’m telling the truth now but I might not be on other occasions.’ I never thought about this before but it makes perfect sense. The other thing I agree with is not gambling because it’s unearned income. This is thought to be wrong – a prohibition which extends to charging interest or playing the stock exchange, not usually thought of as gambling, though that’s exactly what it is. Charging interest in particular leads to vast swathes of unearned income, as does locating your company somewhere you don’t have to pay tax. If you think about it, our whole system is based on charging interest and that’s a system which makes the rich richer and the poor, who have no choice but to pay higher interest on their debt – I know whereof I speak as my overdraft charges have nearly doubled – poorer.

So there we are. I’m going to leave it there as I’m trying not to think about the news, but I send a special thought to you if you’re going to be alone at Christmas, particularly if you had plans which you’ve had to cancel.

There’s an interesting analysis here of why Quakers don’t clap.

Kirk out

For One Night Only, For Those Who Are Out Every Night

I shall not begin by asking you, dear reader, what you are doing for Christmas as I assume most of you are like us doing very little. We have reluctantly decided not to see our daughter and family this year as it’s not worth the risk and it’s heartening to see many people coming to the same conclusions. So a big cheer to all of you and hugs to those facing the season alone. I hope you can find someone to zoom with at least.

Big boos this week to Jacob Rees-Mogg (need I say why?) and Priti Patel (just for being herself but also for deporting people in the middle of the night and not understanding why people might care about this). But let’s forget about this pathetic excuse for a government for a little while and think for a moment about those who not only have no-one to see at Christmas but nowhere to be. Crisis at Christmas isn’t even happening this year so god only knows what it’ll be like for the homeless. There’s a woman I see in Loughborough selling the Big Issue: I don’t know her name but she appears Middle-Eastern. She has two children and lives in a caravan – and she’s one of the lucky ones. I’d better not think any more about this government or I’ll spend the whole post ranting. Anyway, for one night only (I’m going to take it down tomorrow as some publishers won’t accept posts published on your blog) I’m going to share with you a poem called Spike. This was written when I was Poet in Residence at Sound Cafe, a homeless project in Leicester, and was performed as part of a homeless mass at Leicester Cathedral. Here is is:


(first performed at a homeless concert in Leicester Cathedral, a response to anti-homeless spikes in doorways)

There’s a spike in the figures today

rough sleepers are up

in the early dawn

before the cleaners come

to clatter up the cans

and bin the burger-boxes

before the real people come:

the ones who count

the ones who work

the ones who earn

the ones who pay.

Pick up your bed and walk away.

There’s a spike in the figures today

poor people are up

in the early morning

before the bailiffs knock

to clear out the beds

and change the locks

before the real people come:

the ones who rent

the ones who work

the ones who earn

the ones who pay

Pack up your stuff and go away.

There’s a spike in the figures today:

the unemployed are up

in the late morning

to wait in line

for a face-to-face with a face behind glass;

the glass says, Go away:

these jobs are for the real people;

the ones who fit

the ones who work

the ones who earn

the ones who pay.

Fold up your forms and go away.

And the afternoon comes on

And the rain sets in

And the jobless go home

And time drips by

There are spikes in the doorway at dusk;

they have grown there all day

like silver bulbs pushing through concrete.

The bulbs say, Go away:

this space is for the real people,

the ones who count

the ones who work

the ones who earn

the ones who pay.

Pick up your feet and walk away.

And the evening comes on

and the rain sets in

and the clubbers come out

in their sleeveless shirts.

There’s a man on every doorway

and the man says, Go away.

This club is for the real people;

the ones who join

the ones who work

the ones who earn

the ones who spend.

Pick up your bags and walk away.

And the night comes on

and the rain sets in

and the clubbers go home

and the doorman

locks the door.

There’s a man on a bench tonight:

worn out by the world, he sleeps.

No-one wants this man

he is moved on from place to place

he is down and out in London

and everywhere.

And the real people,

the ones who count

and the ones who rent

and the ones who fit

and the ones who join

and the ones who work

and the ones who earn

and the ones who spend

and the ones who pay

and the ones who sing

and the ones who chant

and the ones who kneel

and the ones who pray:

they are all asleep

in the deep of night

but the son of man

has nowhere to lay his head.

(c) Sarada Gray, 2012

Kirk out

PS You’ll be relieved to know the car passed its MOT

Crossing Fingers

Ready for Christmas? Those words ought to be outlawed at all times, but especially as it draws towards the 25th of December. I know most people are just making conversation and don’t mean anything by it but under normal circs, doing anything for Christmas? is vastly preferable to the potentially panic-inducing alternative. But! this year I can be frightfully smug because we are in fact ready for Christmas. The food is bought, the cards are sent, the presents are wrapped or posted and the tree is up and lit. Of course it helps that this year things are particularly low-key: apart from my nephew popping over on Christmas Eve we won’t be seeing anyone, and Christmas lunch will be a fairly pared-down affair. We’ve got a few nice snacks and treats and a bottle of wine, but that’s it – we’ve not gone overboard and you know what? It’s actually much better. This year I’ve adopted the attitude that what we haven’t got we can do without, especially bearing in mind that this time next year we’ll probably be dining like Bob Cratchit and family because nothing will get through the stupid borders that this ridiculous government has insisted on negotiating. Oven-ready, my arse!

Deep, calming breaths… and now it’s time for another TV review. If you want to read my past TV reviews you can click the category TV Reviews in the category cloud to the right of this post. Today I’m going to discuss the excellent Steve McQueen series Small Axe comprising five separate stories dealing with the West Indian immigrant experience in the 1960’s. I was reluctant to view them at first because I thought they might be violent or horribly upsetting – the same reason I don’t watch films about the Holocaust – but there was a hopefulness to these programmes which counterbalanced the awfulness of their situation. But in the end what made them watchable was the completely different rhythm of the drama. I spent the first hour of episode 1, The Mangrove, wondering when something was going to happen; life went on, and on, and on; people came to the cafe and left, the police raided it and arrested people, then things went back to normal. This happened over and over until the last hour when a stand-off with police ended in a long trial and ultimate acquittal. The dramas are not all the same length: The Mangrove was over two hours and the trial scene seemed endless, but I think that’s Steve McQueen’s point; he wants you to feel it. He wants you to get inside that experience and know what it’s like, not just by seeing but by living it, in what almost feels like real time. That’s certainly true of Episode 2, Lovers Rock, where nothing at all happens for a whole night. People go to a party. There are men and women and DJ’s with a sound system. And the music. Oh, the music! It gets right into your bones and as the camera goes round and round you start to feel that you’re in the centre of the action, dancing and smooching, going round and round and on and on. There are no real central characters here; the party is the character, the action is the character and the more it goes on the more you start to feel in that dreamlike state that constitutes a good night out. True, in the middle there’s a mini-drama as a man tries to rape a woman in the garden, but he’s discovered, the rape is prevented and the man ejected from the party. It ends with a woman who we’ve sort of vaguely followed walking home with a man she’s met and danced with. They say goodbye, she points to a phone box and says ‘I’ll phone you tomorrow. 5 pm. This phone box.’ Then she climbs in an upstairs window and into bed fully-dressed; a moment later her mum knocks on the door and says ‘Get ready for church!’ And that’s the end.

Other episodes centre on a black man’s attempt to change the police force from within and a black prisoner who is helped by a Rastafarian cellmate to change his life. The final one, which I watched last night, concerns the black child’s experience in education and how they frequently ended up being classed as ESN (Educationally Sub-Normal) and sent to special schools. But here too there is hope as black campaigners infiltrate the school and to compensate for its woeful inadequacies, set up their own Saturday school.

Many things have changed since then but it’s clear to see that racism still exists; all too many police officers see a fist-bump between black men as a drug deal and a black man driving a BMW as a thief. And don’t get me started on this government…

So, after all that, why am I crossing my fingers? Because the car is being MOT’d. For some reason whenever the car goes into the garage I feel as if my whole life is under the microscope being rendered up for inspection. ‘Why did you break the speed limit on 24th November? What were you doing in Doncaster in August? And why haven’t you topped up the water?’ These questions run on in my sub-conscious, but my main concern is getting a phone call saying it’s failed the MOT and needs something huge and horribly expensive done to make it roadworthy again.

Ah well. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Kirk out

This Week I Shall Be Mostly Wearing… Plastic Bottles

As I’ve mentioned before certain one-liners from The Fast Show (did it contain anything but one-liners?) have made their way into our private discourse in this house. When we’re feeling smug about something we finish up with a well-timed ‘which was nice’; when we’re wearing something new I will often ask anxiously if my bum looks big in it and if someone is wrong on the radio we will point to it and shout: ‘Oi! Johnson – NO!’ in the time-honoured manner. But one of our favourites is Jesse’s diets. Jesse was a down-at-heel slob who would emerge shabbily from an outside loo in order to declare ‘this week I shall be mostly eating…’ and go on to mention some unpredictable diet he would be following this week. But occasionally Jesse would branch out and announce that this week he would be mostly wearing… something like Dior or Vivienne Westwood or possibly a Scouts uniform – you just never knew.

The strength of The Fast Show, however, was generally its predictability. Like many comic tropes you knew what was going to happen but not when or how. Oh, how you hope that this time the depressive artist is going to finish his painting and that the dreaded word will not come up – but inevitably it does and he starts repeating ‘Black – black – black’ in a doomed voice. Charlie Higson specialises in the repressed upper-class type who breaks free, as in this brilliant scene where he dedicates a karaoke song to Ted. Will we ever forget the drainage in the lower field? Will things ever stop being ‘nice’? Must we always hear the word ‘black’ and go on a rampage? Does my bum look big in this?

In more up-to-date TV news I finished watching the second episode of New Elizabethans which I was happy to see featured Helen John (‘you’ve been gone too long’) of Greenham Common fame. I’ve blogged before about meeting Helen and how she oohed and aahed over Holly as a baby; about the protests I attended where we surrounded the base and yarn-bombed the fence and about the massive demos in London of which the Greenham Common women were a part. So that was good to see. I also attempted the newest version of The Grinch; having been told Benedict Cumberbatch was starring I was visualising a live action film in the manner of Jim Carrey’s version – but alas it turned out to be yet another CGI film. Yawn. So I turned over and watched the final instalment of Small Axe, the excellent Steve McQueen series about the black experience in London in the 60s and 70s. I shall blog more about this later.

So yes, dear reader, I hereby emerge from a run-down outside toilet to tell you that this week I shall be mostly wearing plastic, for the garments I wear are made partly from recycled plastic bottles and are entirely righteous.

Which was nice.

Kirk out

Grinding My Teeth and Sitting on My Hands

There’s a word for grinding your teeth apparently: OH tried to use it in an online scrabble game but it was disallowed. I can’t remember what it was – something like ‘buchakra’ – no doubt OH will enlighten us in the comments later. Another thing OH frequently does is get into a frenzy of typing when ‘someone is wrong on the internet.’ This is a common phrase in our household: ‘somebody wrong on the internet again?’ I’ll say, but answer comes there none because correcting someone who’s wrong on the internet is an all-consuming activity.

That being said, it will not have escaped your notice that someone frequently is wrong on the internet. With all due respect to my latest follower Donald Trump is wrong on the internet. People are wrong about the virus on the internet. The internet is in fact the best place to find people who are wrong about all sorts of things, and I can say with confidence that they are wrong because we know the facts. It is not a matter of opinion to say that the earth is round or that climate change is real or that Joe Biden won the election: the facts are there and clear for all to see. Judge after judge has thrown out challenges to the result, citing no evidence, but still people prefer to believe every word that proceeds from the twitter-feed of 45.

But enough of that. My point was going to be that it is very hard not to wade in and argue with people. You know they’re wrong and the temptation is to get in there and tell them so. You marshal your facts, you link to your evidence, you cite your sources. Does it have any effect? No, because if people don’t believe the evidence why would they believe you? It’s all a conspiracy, they’re all in it together and you’re a sheep for going along with it. And so on. What to do?

The best tactic is just to ignore these views and carry on. But they are nevertheless damaging: Covid denial has led to mass mask refusal, mainly in the US but also here, which in turn leads to more infections. Trump’s refusal to concede threatens to fundamentally weaken the authority of the Biden presidency and by extension the democratic process. State after state has declared that he has no evidence to overturn the result; he has been allowed to present his cases and all – bar one or two tiny ones – have fallen. In the end he is a sad man who cannot accept losing. That’s his problem, but everyone else’s problem is that he’s groomed millions of people to accept his narrative.

So with no disrespect to any of my followers who may disbelieve in Covid or believe in Trump’s delusional narrative, but I believe you are mistaken.

And let’s end it there. I respect your right to have an opinion but facts are facts.

Kirk out