Of Mattresses and Men

The new mattress is by and large a success, though it does have the bad habit of tipping us towards the centre, so we’re having to retrain it by lying towards the edges to flatten it out a bit. I once wrote a story about a mattress; called ‘Mem Mat’ it was about a sign I’d seen in a shop window which puzzled me greatly. What could ‘Mem Mat’ mean? Some sort of doormat? Finally the penny dropped and I realised it was a mattress made out of so-called memory foam.

I’ve never liked the idea of these. I don’t want a mattress that remembers my shape; I want to be free to assume any shape I damn well please. I want a forgetting mattress, a mattress with dementia, if you will. So I was never tempted to buy one. But the sign ‘Mem Mat’ stayed with me and sprouted into a short story in which – no, if I told you that I’d have to kill you. But happily, the story is published here and you can read it.

Everyday Fiction, god bless them, were the first people to publish me with a short story DIVORK (also available on the website). I’ll never forget the feeling when that email came back with the comment ‘this is almost perfectly publishable.’ They are quite an exacting website and wanted a couple of minor alterations but that was fine, and they went on to publish two more of mine, Mem Mat and Olympic Summer. It’s been a while since I’ve sent them anything, mostly because the stuff I write is longer than 1000 words nowadays, but maybe it’s time I di.

Speaking of Science Fiction (and with a quick nod to Chris Conway whose song Science Fiction Eyes is one of my favourites) it is quite shameful how it is disregarded in more literary circles. As OH never tires of pointing out, the concept in Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is exactly the same as Asimov’s much earlier Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and you can pretty much bet that any speculative idea you come up with has been done, and most likely done to death, in the world of SF. So a little humility in that regard is called for, I think.

I will never forget though, the difference it made to me to be published, to be able to answer with a ‘yes’ the inescapable question, the question Monty asks Marwood in Withnail and I – ‘are you published?’

Yes! Yes, I am published. Have to leave you now to send off some more stories. Toodle pip.

Kirk out

Milkman by Anna Burns

I bought this Booker Prize-winning novel a couple of years ago and read it in the space of a few days. Nothing I’ve ever read has given me a clearer idea of what it was like – particularly for a young woman – to live through the Troubles in 1970’s Northern Ireland. Not that Ireland is named, for in this book nothing and no-one is named. The central character associates with many people in the community; Third Brother in law, Oldest Sister, Wee Sisters, Somebody McSomebody, Longest Friend and Real Milkman, so-called to differentiate him from the Milkman of the title, who as it turns out is no milkman at all.

Nor are neighbourhoods named. There are the ‘people over the street’ (Unionists), the Nation over the Water (mainland Britain) and dangerous spots like the Ten Minute Area, so-called because it takes ten minutes to cross. The main character – whose name we do not know – is stalked by an IRA fighter who without saying anything at all definite, appropriates her as his girlfriend. This is a very gossippy neighbourhood where you have only to be seen talking to a man to be practically engaged to him; before long she is supposed to be this guy’s girlfriend and is approached by a gaggle of other such girlfriends in the toilets and given lessons on how to dress (always skirts, never trousers. It’s your duty to look nice for him, etc – but again, nothing is really said, only hinted.) There is no help from the authorities in this society; if you are injured you don’t go to hospital because the police hang around hospitals, and if you are in trouble the last people you go to are the police.

Milkman shows us how an innocent person with no interest in the Troubles can nevertheless be sucked in to assisting one side or the other. The will of the community – and by extension, the paramilitaries – is paramount, and in the end she is only released from the appalling grip of the so-called ‘Milkman’ by his death.

Here’s a good review in the Guardian.

What have you been reading lately? If you’ve come across something good I’d like to hear about it.

Kirk out

It’s Coming Home – It’s Going Away –

So once again, at 5 pm, our esteemed leader is due to make a pronouncement on Covid regulations. We’ve had the heats and the semi-finals and now it’s the final: ‘Freedom Day’ (aka ‘freedom to catch Covid day’) is supposed to be Thursday; the day when the government washes its hands of all responsibility for public health and leaves it to us. Will it or won’t it? Today it’s decision time because basically the result was a draw: Covid hadn’t won but it hadn’t lost either. We went to extra time but nothing conclusive happened so there’s going to be a penalty shoot-out; and the result will probably be that we should wear masks but we don’t have to and that we should just generally – you know, be careful out there.

You can just imagine how this is going to go when, say, an anti-masker goes into a shop or a pub and is asked to put on a mask. People were stroppy enough before but now they’re going to say ‘Boris says I don’t have to, so there!’ It’s just going to make things ten times harder.

This government is definite on points where it should be nuanced and vague when it should be clear. I despair; and in the meantime I’m going to carry on wearing masks and socially distancing. And that’s my choice.

Kirk out

Was That Really Just Two Days?

Well! What a weekend it’s been! As I’ve said before I have little or no interest in football but I couldn’t help but be caught up by the feverish anticipation before last night’s match. As I went to bed I found myself checking results but just before I switched my phone off it was still one-all. I was wondering what they do in those circumstances ie if no-one has scored after extra time and of course – duh! – it’s a penalty shoot-out. Which we lost. Hey ho. Still the mood seems to be one of sombre appreciation rather than angry disappointment, so that’s good. Also interesting to contrast the leadership styles of Gareth Southgates and Boris Johnson: ‘I take full responsibility’ vs ‘it’s all your fault.’

But before all that there were two tennis finals to watch. And what a final the men’s was! You had to favour Djokovic to win but I hadn’t expected Berrettini to play so brilliantly – his serves and forehands took the first set from a subdued Novak who also seemed rattled by the appreciation of the crowd for his opponent, but the Serb came back in the second set 6-4 and took the remaining two sets 6-4,6-3. But it was a battle and at times it looked like going to five sets; even the last few games were a tussle. It was a longish match, too; the first set took over an hour and the whole thing was nearly 3 1/2 hours. I had to phone the mattress guy who was expecting me by five. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘I’m watching it too.’ When I got there he was wearing a t-shirt that said ‘England: disappointing football fans since 1966.’ But I digress. It was a well-earned victory by Djokovic and a very impressive fight by the Italian.

So: the mattress. I had asked for this on Freecycle a while ago as our (very cheap) mattress has outstayed its welcome and taken to poking us in the back. But at the time he said he’d offered it to someone else, so I forgot about it. Then yesterday he emailed saying they hadn’t turned up (doncha just hate it when that happens?) so it could be mine. They live in Wymeswold, a lovely little village out to the East of Loughborough; I drove past Tudor houses and alongside a little stream which, too late, I discovered I had to cross by means of a tiny bridge, then up an alleyway to houses which look as if they were once stables. The people were very friendly and helped me put the mattress in the car. It now waits in our hall to be installed on the bed.

When I returned bearing mattresses the mixed doubles final was in full swing. This has suffered a diminution in status in recent years, which is a shame, and the crowd was obviously much depleted because of the imminent football, but I think mixed doubles is interesting because of the interplay of men’s and women’s styles. You had to admire the winning pair – there were two Brits on the losing side but also one on the winning team – especially the brilliant shot-making of Denise Krawczyk but also the power of the Brit Skupski. So that was all good.

On the Saturday I went over to Ashby to a local art exhibition in a church. My poem was displayed along with art and craft work done by local people; I was impressed by the quality of much of this. Then I went for tea with a friend who lives locally before coming back to watch the women’s final. This, too, was a great match and a well-deserved win by Ash Barty. Oh, and I went for a bike ride; that’s a total of 15 miles last week.

And I didn’t tell you about the ivy! This was perhaps my greatest achievement. Next door has an ornamental ivy plant (why people grow ivy deliberately I will never know; it is the most horrid stuff and basically defines ‘invasive’) which has grown over our shed roof. At first I amused myself by thinking that it looked like a large dog lying down but by last week the cute dog had mushroomed into a hound from hell: it was time to take action. I asked next door for the loan of some long-handled pruning shears and got to work. It was hard but there was a real sense of achievement in exposing the dirty work of this frankly odious parasite. The more you chop through ivy the more you realise how pernicious it is; it not only spreads everywhere but develops little hairy tentacles which burrow into walls and fences – and if you let it, it will grow thick hairy arms which will need to be sawn through or else chopped with an axe. I found one of these yesterday; it will be a delicate operation since I don’t want to chop through the fence as well.

And that was my weekend. How was yours?

Kirk out

Fun on a Friday

I’ve had enough of politics for now, so this will be a more light-hearted post as befits a Friday. Not that I have much lined up for the weekend; apart from the tennis I will be visiting an exhibition in Ashby where a poem of mine is displayed (I was due to perform it but the opening event was cancelled) and probably pondering what to get OH whose birthday is coming up fast on the outside and as usual I have No Ideas What So Ever. OH is never any help in this regard; ‘Oh, I’ll think about it,’ is the reply I get; two weeks later I get the same reply by which time it’s 11 pm the night before so I have to go to the petrol station and get – well, what would I get? What do you get someone who doesn’t like anything nice? Chocolates? Meh. Flowers? Meh. A book? Reddit. And so on. It’s hopeless. Every year it’s the same. I’m tempted to give up on the whole thing.

It was a great day for tennis yesterday. Work just wouldn’t come so I gave it a rest and watched some men’s wheelchair tennis (very impressive; how they move the chair and get to the ball and hit it all at the same time is incredible) a girls’ match where a British player got through (I was amazed by the quality of this too) and of course the women’s semi-finals where Ash Barty smashed her way through to meet Pliskova in the final. Today we have the men’s quarters, Djokovic against the incredible Shapolavov and Berrettini against the Hungarian Hucakz (I think I’ve spelt that right. No, it’s Hurkacz; these Eastern European names are very difficult. Not like our entirely logical English words…)

As for tonight, we will most likely be sitting in front of another episode of The Night Manager, an excellent BBC drama which at the moment is only available on Amazon (don’t blame me, it’s not my account) and catching up with Today at Wimbledon. When I was younger Friday nights used to be very important; not as big as Saturday which was the major night out but still a chance to unwind and let off steam after the week, but nowadays I rarely feel the slightest desire to let off steam – I don’t think I have any steam actually- but occasionally I do feel the urge to go to the pub, sink a few pints and forget about everything till the morning. Alas, my tolerance for alcohol has diminished along with my consumption which means that the resulting hangover will probably not be worth it.

So that’s me today – pausing only to reconfigure the boundaries of modern literature, obvs. See you on the other side.

Kirk out

You Socially Distance if You Want To

This is going to be a football-free post, so if you want euphoria about things coming home you’ll have to look elsewhere.

It seems we now have a government which is socially distancing from its people. From July 19th – less than 2 weeks away – we’ll all be able to do what we jolly well like and if lots of people die it’ll be Our Fault for not being more responsible. Apparently it’s fine for mask-wearing and social distancing to be a matter of individual responsibility; I’m waiting for the relaxation of rules on traffic lights, seat belts and driving while drunk… yes, the government has finally given in to its lockdown sceptics and put the economy first. Though what the economy’s going to do if thousands of its workers die, I don’t know; there are already serious employee shortages thanks to Brexit. But seriously, when is it going to occur to them that you can’t run an economy without people? The news makes such grim reading nowadays (I nearly typed ‘grim reaping’) that I’m tempted to bypass it altogether.

Thank goodness for Wimbledon, where in the mens’ quarter-finals Djokovic beat the Hungarian Fucsovics, though not without some great rallies and multiple-deuce games – and almost unthinkably, Federer was out in straight sets, beaten by Polish player Hurkacz. We’ve seen this happen over and over, when a seemingly unbeatable player simply comes up against someone much younger. In the other matches, Italian Berrettini and Canadian Shapolavov were the victors. Today will see the women’s semis; Ash Barty against Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova against Sabatini. I’ve almost enjoyed the women’s draw more than the men’s this year, I’m not sure why.

I also watched some doubles, which is always fun, and I’ll try to catch some of the wheelchair tennis when it comes on. In other news, I finally managed to get an appointment for more blood tests and managed to dodge the very heavy showers to get out for a bike ride. And that was Wednesday.

Kirk out

Cycling and Freecycling!

What a great thing freecycle is, especially when someone wants the exact thing you want to give away. We’ve got rid of three items in the last couple of weeks, all to grateful and delighted recipients. It’s a good feeling.

Also a good feeling; going out for a bike ride and managing to dodge the showers. Plus, you’ll be pleased to know, I have an appointment next week for more blood tests.

Kirk out

Content? Not Content. My Tips for Writing a Great Blog Post

Beetleypete has a useful post today reminding new bloggers that content is king. He’s right; if you’re going to write a blog post you want other people to read, you have to make it worth their while. There’s so much stuff vying for our attention that if you’re going to invite readers to yet another blog it has to be interesting. And how do you know what people are going to be interested in?

A while ago on this blog I did an experiment; I asked people to tell me what they liked and didn’t like. I didn’t get that many replies but they virtually all said ‘Carry on as usual.’ That was quite gratifying in a way because I’ve never been able to make this blog stick to just one subject; though the main theme is ‘a writer’s life’ it can go in any direction – politics, sport, philosophy, travel, decorating, gardening and probably a whole range of other topics I haven’t even thought of yet. So I think the first rule of being interesting is to be interested; to be engaged in what you write about. Otherwise, if you’re not interested how can you expect anyone else to be? To be engaged is not to be obsessive (as OH’s blog sometimes is; I know OH won’t mind me saying this because often zerothly’s posts are a ‘brain dump’) – you can’t expect all but a handful of people to follow you through nineteen long paragraphs full of technical detail. So the second rule is to know your audience. This is of course impossible because unless they like or comment, how do you know who is reading? What I do is to have in mind a sort of mish-mash of all the readers I know about plus an idea of someone of reasonable intelligence who is interested in ideas. I also write for friends and family who very often keep up with what I’m doing via these posts.

So; be interested, don’t ramble on for nineteen paragraphs, and know your audience; those are my top tips for producing great content. Except that I don’t like calling it ‘content’ – it sounds like toothpaste in a tube – so let’s just call it writing. Which after all is the point…

Have a great Wednesday. I am now waiting for the doctor to call.

Kirk out

Update: doctor called as I was posting. I now have to call back to arrange more blood tests.

Poor Emma

It’s bad enough being Andy Murray in your 20s, but being an eighteen year old who has barely played in tournaments before, going out on a show court as the last Brit in the championship, was one step too far for Emma Raducanu. It was a shame; she seemed to love her previous matches but there was so much pinned on this one that it became too much and she succumbed to what appears to be a panic attack. Everyone was very sympathetic including her opponent, though John McEnroe has apparently been criticised for saying she found it ‘a little too much’, which seems to be basically what everyone else is saying so I don’t really see the problem. I’ve always liked the way the mature McEnroe (not the young brat) tells it like it is; the world of tennis is generally tactful to the point of saying virtually nothing, so his views are usually a breath of fresh air. The match was on quite late as well, and that may have had an effect. Anyway, she’ll be back. Meanwhile we are down to the quarter-finals. You wouldn’t get long odds on a Federer-Djokovic final and I’m going for Ash Barty-Angelique Kerber in the women’s, though that’s more open I think.

So what else is new? The government continues its assault on the people, producing a draconian Policing Bill to outlaw annoying protests (that’s the point of protests; no-one takes any notice otherwise). This administration seems to value old statues more than living people and the latest rhetoric about mask-wearing becoming a ‘matter of individual responsibility’ is just about the worst move they could have made; it means that loads of people won’t bother and it will make enforcement in pubs and shops etc much much harder. It will also shift the blame for any rise in infections onto ‘irresponsible’ members of the public, which I’m sure has been their aim all along. And who thought Sajid Javid was a good idea as Health Secretary?

Can I emigrate yet?

Anyway, here are some life tips from Peanuts for when nothing goes right.

Kirk out

It’s a Bind

Had a fairly good weekend, thanks for asking. On Saturday I whizzed round with the vacuum cleaner, watched a bit of tennis and then biffed off to a friend’s house for chat and chaat. Delicious. We watched The Night Manager which I had seen when it came out – scarily, 5 years ago! it seems like just before lockdown – and then I caught up with Today at Wimbledon. Yesterday I was a very bad Quaker indeed; I couldn’t concentrate in meeting and ended up looking at my phone instead. I expect to be Eldered very soon. After that I had a blitz on a corner of the garden (bastard bastard bastard) and went for a bike ride. I sorely felt the lack of tennis in the afternoon as it was too wet to go outdoors; at least it kept threatening rain but the real downpour only came in the evening.

Another week of tasty tennis beckons. The second week is always quite different from the first; the field has narrowed and you get a sense of who might make it to the final. All the British men are out of the singles now but the very interesting Emma Raducanu is still in the women’s draw. She’s just 18 but goes at it like a pro, so it’ll be fascinating to see how far she can get. The smart money for the men’s draw has to be on a Federer/Djokovic final (I wouldn’t lay odds on the winner) but the women’s is still quite open with some excellent players like Ash Barty, Coco Gauff and Angelique Kerber. So we’ll see. What’s really sad is that all the British players either come from abroad, grew up abroad or trained abroad (Murray moved to Barcelona aged 15) but it’s not surprising. We simply don’t have the infrastructure here; schools and community centres rarely have tennis courts, not to mention that the weather restricts play to about three months of the year. But, as I was saying to OH, it’s the class system that really did for tennis in this country. I remember as a youngster joining the tennis club next door and being thrown off the courts for wearing black socks (we were just practising, it wasn’t a tournament or anything). The members were very snobbish and unwelcoming and I imagine that was replicated in most places; not to mention that tennis was rarely played outside London and the Home Counties. So not only was the pool of players very small but the ethos was terribly gentlemanly; you used to see British players giving their opponents a nice polite little volley – which of course they dispatched with venom.

To return to the bindweed, as my brain did around 5.30 this morning, the problem is not just that it’s prolific; it’s that OH feels a tender concern for its welfare. OH is always extremely resistant to killing weeds, partly because they have a right to life like anything else, but also because they are a habitat for insects. I try to argue that bindweed and brambles are the Nazis of the weed world, that left unchecked they will destroy everything in their path, but my agonised pleas fall on deaf ears.

And then last night, just as I thought it was safe to look at my phone, I see that a short story has pinged back only two days after submission – and on a Sunday night! Two days – that has to be a record.

And that was my weekend.

Kirk out