A Weirdness of Posts

The weirdest thing happened with that last post; I wrote it yesterday as an afterthought and scheduled it for the afternoon. But before the scheduled hour I got a notification that someone had ‘liked’ it. That’s odd, I thought, perhaps I put the wrong time in. That’s easily done, what with wordpress being in a different time zone and galaxy. So I went to check – and it wasn’t there. Not only that, it failed to publish at the scheduled hour, as I realised this morning. OK, I thought, I’ll just publish it now. So I went to make some changes, clicked to publish but it only offered me ‘update’. Clearly wordpress thinks this post is up, I deduced. I checked again. No, not there. Where was my post???? It must be stuck in blogging limbo! So in the end I had to return to draft (‘are you sure you want to unpublish this post?’ wordpress said hectoringly. Yes, because IT HASN’T BEEN PUBLISHED!!!) Anyway, I unpublished and republished – or unrepublished – and here we are. But that was all very mysterious. And it’s not the first time either.

Kirk out

An Exhaustion of Larks

Thank goodness, the weather seems set to warm up a bit so maybe I will as well. I’ve had to have socks in bed and though I resist turning the heating on, I have to wear jumpers in order not to start shivering. But my main preoccupation at the moment is not cold but fatigue. Why am I so tired all the time? I can’t be – in fact I’m sure I’m not – the only person to be wailing this on a daily basis. Why am I so tired all the time? I had a lovely sleep last night, eight hours of the dreamless and I woke feeling… exhausted. Why? Should I go to the doctor? It’s been a while since I had a thyroid function test so maybe it’s that. Maybe it’s lockdown? I thought getting more exercise would help, and it has, to an extent but come ten o’clock I’m invariably shattered. It’s not that I’ve been busy, rushing around all day; but maybe it’d be better if I had? Maybe then I’d have some sense of purpose instead of being stuck in this ‘I-must-write-because-I-can’t-help-writing-but-it’s-not-getting-anywhere cycle. But if I give up, where is there to go?

Then again, maybe it isn’t me; I was reading the other day about how climate change is affecting people’s mental health, and surely exhaustion has to be a part of that? In a way it’s worse than a war; in a war the danger is present and immediate and you take steps to keep yourself and others safe – assuming you’re a civilian. But right now we’re being told of a threat that is approaching daily, getting worse almost by the hour, and yet most of us feel paralysed with impotence. It’s like sitting in a cave hearing an enormous monster coming ever closer and not knowing what you can do about it.

I believe that we have the power to tackle climate change if the will is there. But too many people are slow to realise the danger; too many greedy corporations want to hang on to their profits, too many governments want to hold on to power. So like many people I feel infinitesimally small and totally impotent. And that is exhausting.

Another thing that’s exhausting is rejection. I had an email from the BBC yesterday thanking me for my radio play but unfortunately… It wasn’t in the least unexpected – I’d have been astonished if they’d liked it, for all sorts of reasons, but it’s another blow in a long sequence of blows. Sometimes you wonder what you’ve done in a past life to deserve all this – but as with every rejection, you pick yourself up and carry on. But that takes energy.

Or could it be that I’m just getting up too early? I can’t seem to stop being a lark right now. So I think we should change the collective noun for larks – forget exaltation, it’s an exhaustion of larks.

Kirk out

An Exhaustion of Larks (2)

I thought I’d scheduled this post for yesterday afternoon but it didn’t come up, so here it is. I’m happy to report that energy levels increased after a bike ride along the canal; the weather has also improved, so that’s all good. And… the Hay Festival has begun. I’ve never actually made it to the physical festival but my sister lives not too far away so I have hopes of going next year, meanwhile this year’s festival is all online and free. I kicked off with a conversation between Michael Rosen and a hospital doctor about his near-death experiences and the values that underpin the NHS; it was very heartening.

Thinking a little more about fatigue though, I’ve decided that there are other factors involved: the first of which is caffeine. It’s impossible to get this right: caffeine, we are told, gives us a false energy which has to be paid back later like borrowing money. Caffeine will keep you going for a while but in the end makes you tireder, not least because it can keep you awake at night. Recently, more or less by accident, I’ve almost given up caffeine; I couldn’t stomach it when I was ill and when I got better my tolerance had decreased along with my desire for the pots of hot, strong tea which kept me going every morning. So I’ve reduced my consumption to one cup a day made with a tea bag which as everyone knows is not nearly so strong as leaf tea. The problem is that this lack of stimulants could be what’s making me tired. Maybe I just have to persist? Maybe it gets better? But OH once gave up caffeine for FIVE YEARS and was permanently exhausted for the whole time. So what are we supposed to do?

But going back to climate change I think an important factor here is the action – or inaction – of governments. Johnson talks green but does nothing; in fact his actions are positively detrimental to the environment; approving coal mines, relaxing the planning laws, giving HS2 the green light – it’s all greenwashing and like everything else he says, he doesn’t mean a word of it. But what right-wing governments generally do is to place all the onus for action on the individual. Can’t find a job? Nothing to do with us mate – it’s down to you. Can’t afford to buy a house? Tough; you should have made more money. Finding it hard to go green? Don’t blame the government, just try harder. We’ve seen this with the coronavirus, how they fudge the advice and then blame individual citizens when things go wrong.

I get a dozen requests every day to sign petitions, write letters, lobby my MP or email the Prime Minister about something. There’s too much to oppose and the Labour Party aren’t doing it. So maybe that’s why I’m exhausted. Although actually today I’m not feeling too bad.

Kirk out

I Demand to Have a Fluffy Thing

It’s interesting to compare the vocabularies of different languages. Spanish, for example, has two words for ‘to be’, one permanent and one temporary, though Inuit does not, contrary to popular opinion, have ten words for snow. But what is true is that the English have lots of words for rain: drizzle, mizzle, downpour, stair rods, cats and dogs, shower, light shower, scattered shower, torrent. pelting, tempestuous… I could go on and on like the rain itself has done this past month, and the reason is obvious; we get a lot of rain. Not only that, the rain is unpredictable and very variable, hence we have a large rain-soaked vocabulary. One of my favourite quotes about rain was heard at a bus stop somewhere in Yorkshire after someone remarked that the rain had come earlier than forecast: ‘Course, this in’t the proper rain. This is just condensation.’

George Orwell’s theory of language posits that without a word for something we are unable to have a concept of it. As Blackadder says, the Germans are evil and heartless because they have no word for ‘fluffy’. But I would dispute that – not the fluffy thing, the other thing* – because there are plenty of things we go around noticing but cannot yet name.

*although possibly also the fluffy thing

Douglas Adams’ Meaning of Liff gives words to things that have no name as yet. It’s an interesting linguistic exercise but it’s mainly comic; the comedy arising from the fact that we recognise the things but just haven’t named them yet. Such as the ‘garden sprinkler’ thing your mouth does when you open it at a certain angle (‘Skoonsprout’) or the way cars all slow down and drive in formation when a police car is among them ‘Grimbister.’

But once we start to properly think about these things we immediately invent words for them. As a child I felt that the broaching of a new jar of jam or Marmite required some sort of ceremony; the surface was so smooth and perfect, I wanted to say something as I dipped my knife in for the first time. So I invented the word ‘pervise’ and solemnly intoned ‘I pervise this jar of Marmite.’ Later I discovered something in my eye which only half seemed to be there, something I couldn’t explain and so christened it ‘boodies and frooths’ which summed up the uncanny feeling they gave me. I told my mother they were monsters but it wasn’t until I grew up that I discovered they were floaters in the eye.

In his book Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker shows us all the minutiae of life that we are only subliminally aware of. I thought I was the only person obsessed by the handrail on the Tube escalator but Baker is too; he describes in great detail how the handrail moves slightly faster than the stairs so that you have to keep adjusting where your hand is. It’s such a relief to read a book by someone as obsessed with minutiae as I am; who notices the tiny gap between lift and floor or the bit of the handrail where it seems to be stitched together like a rough wound, which if you watch for long enough comes round again and again. Here is a book detailing all the things I ever wanted to think about but was told weren’t important and in the end didn’t have time for. It is a joy.

I’m sort of groping towards a point here but I can’t yet pinpoint exactly what it is. In other news we’ve been watching the Netflix series Unorthodox, based on a true story of a woman’s escape from an ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. It’s very gripping. And before that we were enthralled by Little Fires Everywhere on Amazon Prime (yes, I know I hate Amazon but it wasn’t my account) the story of the unravelling of a supposedly inclusive community in small-town America.

Kirk out

All Right, That’s Enough Now!

I think we’ve had enough cold, wet weather now. It’s nearly the end of May, for xxxs sake, and it’s nine degrees and raining. Nine! Temperatures will reach a high – if you can call it a high – of 13 degrees today and I am Not Happy. I mean, I can take a joke but this is ridiculous. I demand that something be done about the weather NOW!

Governments are a bit like the weather, in a way – just as it rains on the just and the unjust, so a government governs all, whether you voted for it or not. It’s only been 18 months and I’m already sick to death of this one; they go from bad to worse. The high spot of this government’s programme is – actually there isn’t one. It’s all rubbish and I demand that something be done about the government NOW!

And what’s going to happen in Scotland? The weather there may be worse but the political climate is loads better, and now they’ve got another stab at independence. Since the main trigger for this is Brexit, and since many pro-independence voters want to be allowed to rejoin the EU as a newly-independent state, this looks very hopeful. It also looks impossible; not because it won’t happen – it’s looking more favourable than at any time in recent years – but because of the border issue. If Scotland rejoins the EU there will have to be a ‘hard border’ between England and Scotland. It’s my guess that this government will stop at nothing to prevent it, otherwise Hadrian’s wall will have to be rebuilt – and they’ll make Scotland pay for it!

How much damage can one man do? This is all down to Cameron’s arrogant decision to throw a referendum to the discontented populace like lobbing a bone at a dog, saying he’d deal with the consequences only to flounce off the moment the result was announced leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces. Of course many others, not least Johnson, have to answer for the mess we’re in but if it hadn’t been for Cameron it would likely never have happened. Meanwhile over the pond Trump continues to dodge bullets like some orange Rambo whilst lobbing more and more grenades at the democratic process, and in Belarus Lukashenko’s refusal to quit power has led to him hijacking a Ryan Air plane and kidnapping one of his rivals. And don’t even get me started on Bolsonaro. These are just the latest, democratically-watered-down versions of Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. What is the matter with these people? Why do they want power so much? Why don’t they see the consequences of what they’re doing? I don’t think I’ll ever understand it but I guess it comes down to the fact that power corrupts. In a small way, we’re seeing that with Keir Starmer too; they should have listened to me and voted for Emily Thornberry.


In the meantime, how will today pan out? Will I manage a bike ride in between the showers? Will I actually write anything? And what will OH be making for dinner? Find out in tomorrow’s thrilling instalment of…

… lizardyoga’s weblog!

Kirk out

Discipline + Flow =?

And how was my weekend? I hear you cry. It was… disappointing. I’d hoped to do lots of cycling but thanks to the weather and an energy dip I only managed about 3 miles. And yesterday I forced myself (and OH) to get out into the garden and tackle the weeds which are rapidly becoming unfeasible, after which I was too tired to cycle and anyway it rained for the rest of the day. I do find this weather depressing.

The thing that bugs me about gardening is that the longer you leave it the harder it gets. But also, the more you do, the more you see that needs doing. I find this very depressing as well. Nevertheless, the garden is now somewhat tamed and I can forget about it for a week or two before it starts bugging me again.

I think the garden I grew up with probably has an effect on my attitude. The vicarage garden was half an acre divided into wilderness on one side (appropriately biblical) and lawn on the other. The lawn was massive and took most of a day to mow, besides being lumpy and bumpy (I once borrowed the roller from the cricket ground next door and we heaved it up and down; it made not a blind bit of difference). But the wilderness was the worst place. There was a no-go area in the middle with a concrete air-raid shelter and the rest was just weeds from hedge to glass-topped wall. From this area our mother tried despairingly to raise veg, with unremitting effort and some success – so I think my idea of gardening has always been of unremitting effort; not enjoyable in the least. I find the rewards do not match the work. I’m aware there are people in the world who enjoy gardening and I keep hoping it will rub off on me but so far it hasn’t really. So this year we’re limited to OH’s efforts which so far are potatoes in tyres (more or less foolproof) and some dying tomato plants. Well, at least I managed to make some compost successfully; that’s something. But I must say I do feel a failure at gardening.

Anyway, that’s not what I was going to write about today. My topic for today is the perennial tussle for the artist between inspiration and self-discipline. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just sit down and be overtaken by a wonderful flow of inspiration whenever you wanted? Wouldn’t it be great if ideas came just at the most convenient moment? If you didn’t have to get to your desk every day and work at it, wouldn’t that be amazing? But it doesn’t happen, so you have to develop discipline, and these two have to be kept in constant balance. Inspiration without discipline can leave you feeling unbalanced and chaotic with loads of unfinished projects: discipline without flow is sterile and joyless. It’s a difficult juggling act; you can show up at your desk by nine am and stay there all day, but if the muse don’t show up you won’t produce anything worthwhile. Then again sometimes, if you start off writing any old nonsense sometimes you can get into the flow that way. But I’ve learned the hard way that discipline is necessary; if you live your life waiting for inspiration to strike – sure, it may strike, but you won’t know what to do with it when it does. For years my output consisted of random phrases and ideas because I didn’t have what Alan Bennett calls ‘the habit of art‘. I like that phrase because as every artist knows, art is first and foremost a habit, one which you have to cultivate.

So I guess that’s my kind of gardening…

Kirk out

The Snot’s Progress

I realise that’s a bit of an off-putting title so I’ll try to make up for it with sparkling content. Actually I really loathe it when people refer to writing that way; it’s not ‘content’, it’s writing. You hear people describing themselves as ‘content-creators’ – why? It sounds like you’re putting toothpaste into a tube, instead of choosing the best words in the best order and making the finest piece of writing of which you are capable. I think Orwell was right; language is sacred (not that he actually put it like that) and that the destruction of language is the last victory of an oppressive state. But who needs Newspeak when you have people voluntarily calling what they write ‘content’?


Anyway, apart from dealing with the aforementioned snot which with depressing predictability has now settled on my lungs, what have I been writing? I’ve not been at it full time this week but have nonetheless managed to come up with a new story featuring Dickens… I’m quite excited about that. And I’m starting to adapt my radio play into a stage play for a competition. The closing date’s July, so I’ll have to get a move on.

In between all this I’ve been listening to old episodes of Mark Steel’s in Town. If you don’t know this, it’s a series where comedian Mark Steel visits a town, spends some time going round and talking to people and then comes up with a half-hour routine which celebrates the absurdities of the place. There’s nowhere else this could happen but Britain. Where else can we laugh at our contradictions? Where else do we have goats running wild (Lynton and Lynmouth) or monkeys roaming the streets or planes crossing the road (Gibraltar) or half-finished bridges (Bedford). He picks up the nuances of the place; its prejudices and politics and without being overtly political (though he is firmly on the left) he pulls off the amazing trick of celebrating the place and bringing people together whilst taking the piss. I think this is a much underestimated series and I urge you to listen. He’s yet to visit Loughborough but I hope he does; I’d love to see what he makes of the sock man and the Carillon.

from Pinterest; image removed on request
Loughborough Carillon - Loughborough

I’m off now to listen to Alexei Sayle on Desert Island Discs.

Kirk out

I Bid Snottingham

As you may know, Nottingham used to be called Snottingham but they changed the name. Lots of places used to have rude names; the latest one to change is Fucking in Austria – probably pronounced ‘foo-king’ – where they got fed up with tourists taking selfies with the road signs.

But we don’t need to descend to that level; there are some delightful place names in Britain. Without having to travel too far I can visit Frisby on the Wreake, Osgathorpe, Sinope, Sheepy Magna and Barton in the Beans. Then there are the unpronounceable places, such as Cogenhoe (Cook-no) and Bozeat (Bodgit) in Northants. Cornwall boasts some even better villages, such as Zennor (where D H Lawrence once holed up), Bosporthennis and Cripplesease (there must be a history behind that last one.) And let us not forget Wetwang which Douglas Adams immortalised in The Meaning of Liff as ‘a moist penis.’

But I began with Nottingham because it is associated with snot, firstly because of the original name and secondly because of the advert where a man bunged up with cold asks for a ‘secodd glass returd to Dottighab.’ I think the advert is for Tunes, those square menthol sweets that were a nastier version of Spangles; anyway, he pops one in his mouth and magically his nostrils clear allowing him to intone: ‘A second class return to Nottingham please.’

I don’t know if Tunes still exist but even if they did I wouldn’t bother because they never had that effect on me. With a cold such as the one inhabiting my sinuses at the moment I generally take ginger tea with turmeric or honey and lemon, plus echinacea – except that we’re out of echinacea at the moment, so I’m having to take hypericum. Not to mention sitting around and groaning a lot. The groaning is very important.

Hopefully I’ll be better tomorrow.

Kirk out

Being a Productive Member of Society

I’m going to start with yesterday’s quote from the Guardian:

‘Being a productive member of society is now a 24-hour project that consumes all the space needed for inner development.’

When I say ‘being a productive member of society’ I don’t mean doing anything that I would regard as useful; helping others, looking out for the homeless, taking care of refugees, protesting against racism – I mean doing those things that the culture expects – even demands of us, whether they are actually useful or not.

Number one on the list is probably home ownership. You’re not really considered an adult unless you own your own home, but home ownership is largely a myth – or a ‘future truth’ – you gamble on being able to pay off your mortgage before you retire; if not, you’re in trouble. In order to pay a mortgage you need a job – or more accurately, two jobs. This situation works in a nice symbiosis; in order to pay the mortgage, you need a job; in order to work, you need somewhere to live. You spend your life servicing this situation. But renting is such a poor alternative with so little in the way of control, you can hardly blame people for signing up to it. Besides, ‘owning’ your own home (even if you only actually ‘own’ a small fraction of it) is like a card that gets you into all sorts of clubs. It’s easier to get credit. People take you more seriously. You’re a grown-up. And don’t even get me started on the attitudes of trades people; if you’re a homeowner they’re generally helpful and respectful; when we were renting a plasterer cleaned his tools all over our garden and left our plants splattered with plaster.

But it’s not only the work-mortgage/rent-work cycle that takes up your time and energy: it’s all the other things that go towards being a productive and useful citizen. You must keep up – or preferably improve- the value of your house, which means compulsory gardening and DIY. An entire industry is devoted to selling us better and brighter ‘solutions’ for our kitchens and bathrooms; different ways with lighting for our living rooms and 101 ways to convert that spare room into a den/games room/studio/padded cell.

I’m not saying these things can’t be fun. If you’re interested and creative and you really want to do it – great. The same goes for gardening and even work, though jobs that are interesting and creative seem to be in very short supply at the moment. And then there’s exercise and ‘self-improvement. I’ve nothing against exercise; we all need it and if you enjoy it (to some extent at least) and it keeps you healthy, great. But if you’re compelled to push yourself all the time to do more and more – not so great. We have now got so deep into this competitiveness thing that there are actually people running marathons inside the Arctic circle. This seems to me the very definition of insanity. Where will it all end? Marathons on the moon?

Kirk out

54 Tyres!

The cycling is already making a huge difference to my well-being and I’ve even lost a couple of pounds, so that’s all good. But there was no bike ride yesterday as we went to visit my granddaughter. It was great to see her; she’s doing very well and constructing fairly complex sentences. We took her a couple of books and she let me read them to her, which is an advance – not having seen us much in the last year she’s been a bit wary. On the way back we counted the number of abandoned tyres on the motorway – between here and Doncaster, a distance of about 64 miles, there were 54! 54 abandoned tyres! How does this happen? And why are they left there? When all other debris is gathered up from an accident, why are there so many abandoned tyres propped up or lying against the central reservation? I think we should be told. When we got to Junction 23 we found it was closed due to road works so we discovered a delightful diversion via J 22 by way of the B591, a lovely twisty road that takes you through Charnwood and right into Loughborough.

I’m very keen on B roads; they’re a much-neglected feature of our infrastructure and often way more interesting than A roads. They’re definitely nicer than motorways, and the time you ‘save’ going by motorway (although that ‘saving’ is a dubious benefit) is amply compensated by the interest of the journey. B roads have a history which motorways lack; they’re often built on Roman roads (we used to live on the old Fosse Way) and you can observe the houses, the farms and the countryside. This is nothing, of course, to what cycling shows you; going to Quorn the other day, even though I was mostly riding alongside the A6, I could observe the hedgerows as I went past and enjoy the blossom. I have a feeling that someone’s written a book about the joys of B roads, but I could be wrong: unfortunately all Google shows me are the Norfolk Broads.

What does it mean, anyway, to save time? I guess it means spending less time doing the things you don’t enjoy in order to spend more time doing the things you like. But do we? Have you ever added up the time you’ve saved and asked yourself what you’ve done with it? Albert Camus had this idea that the best way to appreciate time was to stand in a queue and leave when you get to the end of it. That doesn’t sound particularly positive to me, but I do try when standing in a queue to appreciate the time and notice what’s around me or observe my thoughts, rather than getting impatient. Of course I could probably have saved time by using a different checkout but what would I do with that golden minute I’d saved?

Maybe every evening we should count up the time we’ve saved and do something definite with it. Play the piano, learn a language, take up a new hobby. Or maybe just do nothing at all…

I’ll leave you with a quote I came across the other day in the Guardian:

‘Being a productive member of society is now a 24-hour project that consumes all the space needed for inner development.’

I may come back to this in another post.

Kirk out