Kangaroo Petrol

Sometimes I feel like a learner driver in life, with kangaroo petrol in the tank: I start off, put my foot on the pedal, take a great lurch forward and then nearly come to a halt before lurching off again, going into reverse and then steering into the kerb. What’s worse is that I don’t know what I’ve done to make it happen; I feel like a novice at the wheel who doesn’t understand any of the controls.

It was said at the ordination service that a volunteer is someone who doesn’t understand the question. I think I must be that volunteer. ‘I’ll drive that car!’ I say enthusiastically. ‘I’ll figure it out, don’t worry!’ and six gear crashes and several near misses later I’m still figuring it out. It’s very galling. Still, at least I haven’t written the damn thing off. Yet.

On the health front, I think I’m making progress; I still haven’t had the test results but I discovered that the fatigue might be caused by a vitamin D3 deficiency. This is something produced by the liver from the sunlight you absorb, so it’s not just a question of catching some rays (though a chance would be a fine thing right now.) So I’ve been taking some vitamin tablets and they seem to be helping. Meanwhile we wait and see.

In the tennis yesterday a couple of players slipped and fell. It seems that the grass is quite slippery under the roof; they obviously try very hard to regulate the atmosphere once the roof is on – what with all those bodies breathing and sweating it’d get like a sauna otherwise – but two players have had to retire injured after slipping on the grass, and that is not good, especially as one of them was Serena Williams and the other looked to be putting out Roger Federer.

And so like Centre Court, damp, sweaty and slippery, I nonetheless live to fight another day.

Kirk out


It’s Wimbledon fortnight again – for the first time in two years – so naturally the weather has to oblige and start tipping it down. The forecast for London today is dry though; wish I could say the same here where it is bucketing down in unreasonable quantities from a gloomy sky. It’s cold too; 12 degrees, for god’s sake! 12! I am seriously Not Happy. Anyway, the tournament got off to a great start yesterday with national hero and wild-card holder Andy Murray trying desperately not to break his record of always getting to the second round. He was up against Basilashvili of Georgia, a man ten years his junior and with a massive hitting power. For a while it looked as if youth and strength would win out over age and steel hips, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Murray it’s never, ever to write him off. He came back strongly, found his game and played some blinder, and if he wasn’t exactly on his previous form it looked like being enough to win in straight sets; he was 2-0, 5-0 up. What could possibly go wrong? Well, a series of blunders from the Scot and some blinding shots from the Georgian meant that, unbelievably, he lost that set. Fortunately they had a break at that point to put the roof on, during which Andy (as he later informed us) had a shower and went to the loo (‘for a number 1’: his wife put her head in her hands at that point. I know how she feels.) And from that point onwards it was a different match. As football commentators know only too well, a break changes things. It gives you a chance to regroup and alters the dynamic – and while there were some long rallies and nail-biting deuces, he went on to win convincingly 6-3. Phew!

The question now is, how far can he go? We’ll have to take it one match at a time and see, but you can’t help rooting for a guy who’s had four years out of tournaments, undergone major surgery and overcome great pain just to be there. I can’t wait. Here’s the official site with all the info you need; I’ll be parked at the telly later for as long as it takes.

Kirk out

A Weekend of Two Halves

It was a weekend of two halves, Brian. One half of me was happy, the other half was exhausted. The drive down didn’t help; the M42 felt like being in a food blender shaking all the traffic about, whizzing it up and then slowing it down; the M5 wasn’t much better and then at the end of the M50 we hit a long tailback caused by a spinning roundabout. Nor was it over then; though the last part of the drive is delightful it does seem to go on forever twisting and turning and rising and falling and doing double pikes and looping the loop until you hardly know which way is up. So I wasn’t particularly rested when I got there.

Then the next day we all drove to Newport which, though less than 40 miles, took nearly an hour (twisty-turny-shake it all abouty) and back again when I had to follow the others because my phone had died. There actually is an immensely complicated gyratory system (I remember the Hangar Lane gyratory system because it was always on the traffic news) not far from Newport, and then you have to negotiate the inevitable one-way system. But I managed to park outside the cathedral itself, so that was good. It’s not a very big cathedral – like Leicester it’s a parish church elevated to that status because of the town it’s in – but I liked it; just inside there’s a big notice warning visitors to expect ‘citizens of different colour, women bishops, gay and lesbian couples, gamblers and addicts…’ and goes on to warn: ‘This is not a private club but a public space open to all.’ I’ll try to post a pic later. The bishop (yes, a woman) was great; warm and yet also serious, not lacking in gravitas but without pomposity. There were three deacons to be ordained and three priests; I had to sit at the top behind the altar, which made me feel simultaneously like one of the elect and one cast into the outer darkness; it also meant that most of the time I couldn’t see my sister. Behind me was a woman who I later found out thought I was my sister and wondered why I’d changed my mind about getting ordained! It was a moving service but not without amusing moments; when the priests were all presented with chasubles I couldn’t help thinking of Oscar Wilde (‘Oh, Doctor Chasuble!’) and I had to suppress a laugh when it came to laying hands on the heads of the new priests – ordinarily they would huddle round and all lay a hand on but as it was only a couple were allowed to and the rest raised their arms in front like a scene from Star Wars (‘greetings, earthlings…’)

Anyway, it was a very moving service and you can watch it on youtube if you wish. Here’s the link.

And lo, having been warned by angels – or the satnav – of the dangers of the M42, I did go back by a different way. And that was my weekend. Now I wait to get the results of the blood tests and hope to god they come up with something because this exhaustion is doing me in.

Kirk out


I’m going away for the weekend. It’s not a long weekend, just two nights. It isn’t far, just in Wales, so why can’t I cure myself of the habit of packing as if I were going to Antananarivo for six months? Though I know perfectly well that I can do without almost any of the items I packed, still a nagging voice says, ‘But what if you go hiking?’ That’s ok, I say, I’ve got my walking boots in the car. ‘But what if there’s a party, or a formal dinner or what if all your clothes get wet or destroyed in a fire? What if it’s really hot and you feel like wearing a dress? So I end up packing for just about every eventuality though I know full well that all I’m going to do is visit my sister, go to her ordination and then to the pub. The most adventurous thing I’m likely to do is take the dogs for a walk. Yet the thought of being caught out without the appropriate clothing trumps all of this.


See you on the other side.

Kirk out


I expect we’re all familiar with synchronicity. You mention the name of a person you haven’t seen for years and the next day you bump into them. You start humming an old song and the next moment it’s on the radio – that sort of thing. Yesterday I mentioned Dostoevsky and today he was the answer to a crossword clue which, annoyingly, I didn’t get. These things happen too often to be dismissed as mere coincidences, and yet it is not clear whether something more profound is happening. It may be that we are more aware of something and notice it simply because it was mentioned in conversation the day before, yet it’s hard to escape the feeling of having summoned it (or them) up.

I do actually believe in some sort of thought transference – lots of times I’ve known what OH is thinking without having any actual contact (a bit like Harry Potter with Voldemort) – and everyone knows what it’s like to walk into a room and feel an ‘atmosphere’; what’s that if not some kind of thought transference? Speaking of which, last night we watched Yesterday, a film about a world in which by some freak accident everyone’s memory of the Beatles is wiped out. Only one man remembers them; Jack Malik, a failed musician whose career has just come to an abrupt end. Could it be revived by passing the Beatles’ songs off as his own? It could; he becomes the most successful musician in the world but his success makes him deeply unhappy because he knows himself to be a fraud. In the end he releases all the tracks online for free, causing his manager to have a meltdown, and goes back to Lowestoft to be a teacher.

It’s not a particularly good film – the acting is quite lame and most of the characters wet and unconvincing, but it set me thinking: surely a more interesting scenario would be one where he pretends to have written all the Beatles songs but nobody actually likes them? Where everyone listens and then says, ‘Yeah, but it’s not Ed Sheeran is it?’ I think I might put that in a story.

Incidentally, can anyone explain to me the appeal of Ed Sheeran?

Anyway, have you had any experiences of synchronicity? I’d like to hear about them.

Kirk out

6 Miles

It may not seem much, but I was inordinately pleased with myself for cycling six miles yesterday. It was a lovely ride out of Loughborough to the North-East along mainly country roads, though coming back into town on the A60 was less fun as it’s a single-carriageway road with lots of traffic. I’ve never been a competitive person; if I ever try to compete I always lose, not necessarily because I’m bad at whatever it is, but because my heart isn’t in it. I don’t see the point of winning for its own sake because in the end, what does it really mean? It means you were better at that particular activity on that particular day against those particular competitors and in those prevailing conditions. I don’t wish to dismiss the achievements of anyone (and if by any chance Andy Murray should win Wimbledon I’ll have a completely different take on this) but winning per se has never appealed to me. Overcoming odds, surmounting obstacles, beating your own shortcomings – yes, I can see the point of that, but competing with others seems largely meaningless. Suppose I’d been in a competition yesterday with someone to see who could cycle the furthest; what would it mean if I beat them or if they beat me? Would it mean one of us was ‘better’ than the other? No. Yesterday I was feeling very tired; hence the six miles was for me a great achievement – but someone else might not be so tired, so they’d do it easily and go on to do double that distance. Comparisons, in short, are odious, and whilst sport is undoubtedly good for the soul, too much emphasis on winning emphatically is not.

Lecture over. I was going to write about something else entirely today, and now I’ve forgotten what it was. Oh yes, books. Under the radar there’s a significant ‘trade’ in swapping books for free. Shops have shelves of them outdoors; villages have old phone boxes full of them, churches and town halls have them and friends have them. Lately I’ve been swapping books with a friend, who has lent me Shuggie Bain (which I hated) and The Shadow King (which I mostly enjoyed); and recently, Amsterdam, another Booker Prize winner (from 1998) by Ian McEwan. I have no strong opinions about Ian McEwan so I approached this with an open mind and found it – well, not bad but somewhat underwhelming. The title refers to the practice of legal euthanasia available in that city (for a price) and a feud between two friends, one a newspaper editor and another a composer, who make an agreement following the painful death of a mutual friend to each take the other to Amsterdam to end their life, should they be terminally ill. None of the characters are particularly agreeable; the newspaper editor is trying, Murdoch-style, to make a respectable broadsheet profitable by publishing the ‘scandal’ – already outdated – of a cabinet minister’s crossdressing. But the tide of opinion is against him and he loses his job. Meanwhile the composer, trying desperately to finish his symphony before a concert in Amsterdam, goes away to the Lakes to clear his head. He’s just getting an amazing idea when he sees a woman in an altercation with a man, but instead of intervening he carries on composing in his head and rushes back to get it down on paper. He is justly punished for this act of selfishness; not only does the man turn out to be the Lakeland Rapist but the crowning theme of his concerto turns out to be a cheap rip-off of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Both friends meet in Amsterdam, their careers over, each with the intention of bumping the other off. I’ll let you guess the outcome.

I found Amsterdam entertaining but for 1998 quite dated. It was a very male world – all the women referred to as ‘girls’ and defined by their appearance – in fact it could just as well have been written in the ’60’s. It’s also quite a slight book – only 150 pages – and lacks either depth or breadth. Still, it’s a load more fun than Shuggie Bain – but then again, so are most things. Including Dostoevsky.

Happy Tuesday. We’ve got some better weather here – hurray!

Kirk out

Silent Witness

I’ve long been a fan of Silent Witness, probably as long as the series itself has been running (about 25 years), and I was trying to explain to OH why I like it. I think one attraction is that the characters are like a family, but it’s also unpredictable and quirky. But the main thing I like about it is that all the loose ends are tied up. There may be pain and violence but everything is resolved by the time the credits roll. It doesn’t matter how awful the story is, at the end of it we know who dunnit, how they dunnit and why they dunnit – and most importantly, all the main characters are still standing.

It’s amusing too, at times; as with Casualty we look out for cliches. Last night’s story featured a black cast including The Greengrocer of Wisdom, dispensing deep insights along with watermelons, and The University Acceptance Letter of Death. This is a variation on the Cough of Death in Casualty.

Sadly we are now running out of episodes. But never fear – the Handmaid’s Tale comes to the rescue. I think the jury’s out on this fourth series; the first half was excellent but second dragged a little.

So that’s us up to date.

Kirk out

Green Wall, Blue Wall

I had an unexpectedly good weekend, considering the weather. On Saturday I went for a walk round Watermead Park with a friend; it’s a lovely backwater just North of Leicester comprising the river, the canal and several lakes including King Lear’s lake (King Lear is supposed to have been buried nearby, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth.) I also attacked the bindweed with the strimmer; I tend to get a bit vicious with this as the bindweed has been particularly prolific this year so I swing the strimmer in a wide arc shouting bastard bastard bastard and not stopping until it surrenders. On the Sunday I had my second jab (yay!) then went to visit mother-in-law, pick up a very intrusive chair she’d been wanting to get rid of for ages, and deliver it to a friend of Daniel’s who is in need of just such a chair; all of which was surprisingly satisfying. I wouldn’t have minded having the chair here but it’s a big bastard, one of those chairs that takes up far more room than it should considering only one person can sit in it. I didn’t go for a bike ride over the weekend but I will today I expect.

Politics has become slightly interesting again – as opposed to merely depressing. Cracks are appearing in Johnson’s hitherto teflon surface; not only from Cummings – which may not have much effect overall – but John Bercow, the former Speaker who has now defected to Labour, and most of all the Amersham and Chesham by-election in which the Lib Dems gained a significant victory. There may have been local issues involved, but it’s clear that they don’t like Johnson – and if they don’t like him, who else doesn’t like him? It’s interesting to see that it isn’t all one-way traffic and that the blue wall can look as vulnerable as the red wall.

We’re very up-to-date with the news in this house because over the weekend we bought not only the Guardian but also the Observer. On the whole I prefer the Observer to the Saturday Guardian; on the other hand I like doing the Prize crossword by hand and reading all the supplements (apart from what we call the ‘handy throwaway sections’ – sport, cooking, adverts) as it gives me something to do on a gadget-free Saturday. Speaking of which I found it pretty dull this time, especially on the Friday night; not having TV or radio or phone or music is a bit trying especially if you don’t have anything to read (as my current books are audio books on my phone that was out.) In the end we played pen and paper games like hangman and boxes, like I remember doing on a dull and wet Sunday afternoon, and went to bed early. Still, there’s no doubt it is good for us to have a digital detox; it kind of re-sets the brain.

So that was my weekend. How was yours?

Kirk out

Privileged? Moi?

Years ago OH and I tried to make a series of these jokes, such as ‘Pretentious – moi? Pedantic – I? Repetitive – me myself personally? and so on. It was necessarily quite a short series but it amused us for about five minutes.

Then this morning I was wondering what it must be like to be privileged; to have doors open for you, taxis waiting, queues jumped, money always available and waiters jumping to attention. I can’t imagine it. And then I thought, what about the kinds of privilege I have – like education, race, class and so on? And I guess the answer is that when you have privilege you don’t notice it. I don’t notice that I’m driving and NOT being stopped by the police, or walking down the street and not being abused, or not being being able to access certain classes or join in certain discussions; not being able to climb steps or negotiate kerbs. When you have privilege it’s like the air you breathe; you don’t notice it till it’s not there.

From time to time there are people – usually journalists, sometimes politicians – who deliberately put themselves in the place of the less privileged; sometimes to make a point, sometimes just to find out what it’s like. George Orwell did this when down and out, doing some of the worst jobs and living in the filthiest holes in London and Paris; Polly Toynbee (in Hard Work in Low-Pay Britain) did some of the worst women’s jobs in the country and from time to time politicians have tried to live on the dole for short periods; the one I remember most is Matthew Parris who thought he was going to save £3 a week and ended up sitting in the dark for three days because the meter had run out. But noble as these efforts are, they are transient; at the end of it you know you’re going back to your old life and even if you don’t, you generally have the safety-net of family, friends, contacts etc who are all likely to be well-off and able to help. You have hope; more than that, you have a time-limit when you know you’re getting out. You may be in purgatory but you’re not in hell.

I don’t really know where I’m going with all this, except that when people like Lawrence Fox say there’s no such thing as male privilege, I think ‘how would you know?’ Because basically unless you’ve had your oxygen taken away, you don’t know what it’s like not to breathe.

One privilege I shall definitely enjoy soon is Wimbledon. It’s late this year, presumably because of Covid, not starting till June 28th but I’m looking forward to it. Andy Murray has a wild card so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do.

Have a good weekend. We’ll be doing the non-Sabbath thing tonight and tomorrow so I’ll be incommunicado for that period.

Kirk out

Brushing My Tongues

You can tell I’m manic this morning; no sooner have I finished one post than I want to write another. I’ve started listening to the Greek conversation practice and it’s so hilarious I just had to tell you about it. They start with things you do in the morning and it begins normally enough; I get out of bed, I make some coffee, I brush my teeth etc but then it goes on to I argue with the children and I avoid the neighbours before proceeding to I get on the bus followed by I have a nap. Well I guess after all that arguing and avoiding people you’d need a nap. The phrases are much too fast; having taught both French and English I know you need to go a lot slower, but listening is good. The trouble I’ve had with learning Ancient Greek is that it’s totally book-based, whereas I learn best if I can hear the language spoken. I might get the Italian one as well, which I’ll find a lot easier because (a) they have the same alphabet so I can visualise the words and (b) I already know some Italian. It’s slightly disconcerting though because it begins with a phone conversation;

Woman: Hello. How are you?

Man: I’m fine. What are you doing?

Woman: I’m washing the dishes. What are you doing?

Man: I’m watching TV.

Hmm. Language-learning does tend to be more stereotyped because stereotypes are easier to recognise. I once had a Punjabi teacher who had a fund of sayings in that language, most of which were horrendously sexist. Know your audience, guys! A propos of which I once, as an English teacher in Spain, showed my class an episode of Fawlty Towers and was struck by how insulting the character of Manuel must seem to them.

So today’s going to be a bit linguistic I think.

Kirk out