A Very Happy Thursday

One blustery day Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet set out for a trip around the forest to wish all their friends a Very Happy Thursday. And here I am to wish you the same, only sans Piglet as sadly he is self-isolating.

How are you getting on with the lockdown? For me it’s pretty much business as usual; I get up, do my yoga, make a drink and head for my desk. I work till about 12.30, go for a walk before lunch, read a while, then get back to my desk till around five or six. Evenings are spent reading or watching TV (tonight it will be a live streaming of the National Theatre’s ‘One Man, Two Guv’nors‘ with James Corden.) And yet I miss things – things like not being able to go to the cafe, not going to meetings (or Meeting), not seeing friends, not going to the cinema, not going to the pub or the folk club or Friday Room discussion group, not having a meal out. I may not have had a welter of social events but when you have none at all you notice the difference.

On the other hand, it has meant less time spent organising for meetings and Meeting and discussion groups and seeing friends. So what have I been doing with my time? As I said, I’ve been reading Hilary Mantel; I promised (or threatened) a review and I will get to that in due course; I’ve also been reading a Paula Hawkins novel (she of ‘Girl on a Train’ fame) which is deeply, horribly yet fascinatingly dystopian and of course I am still ploughing on with Ducks, Newburyport (only 350 pages to go…) And on Britbox we’ve been watching Rev, which has to be one of the best sitcoms ever. I also chat to my friends online and get frequent phone calls from friends (and Friends). I attended my first online Meeting yesterday via Zoom, which worked quite well, all sitting in silence in our own houses… Oh, and I nearly forgot – I’ve started learning ancient Greek! I can now recite the alphabet from memory and write a few actual words (shut up about your bloody evening classes Gerald!)

So that’s me. What have you been up to? Let me know – I’d love to hear.

Kirk out

Here’s My Stream

I thought I’d give you a stream-of-consciousness blog today as it seems the only appropriate response to everything that’s going on, a babel of voices, a cacophony, a cough-coughony of voices about what’s really happening, what should be happening, is the government too harsh, too lax, harsh in the wrong ways and the wrong places, who’s missing out, who’s saying horrible and unforgivable things, is it all really a hoax, are we making a mountain out of a molehill, when is there going to be more testing, are we doing enough testing, is there too much testing (methinks the government doth test too much) please donate to this cause and this cause and this cause, please sign our petition about the scandal of, it’s a disgrace that, why haven’t they done more of, what about, and what about, why don’t people, what are the police doing, are they over-zealous, how I keep getting inexplicable bursts of nerves, jabbing me in the stomach, jangling by nerves but I don’t know why but something in the hinterland of my thoughts has clearly twangled a nerve like a passing breath on an aeolian harp, I should make a note of how often I check my phone, phone check, fact-check, another of these ugly two-headed verbs, unpleasant but useful I suppose, that incredible feeling of joy when you nail something, put exactly the right word in exactly the right place, evening descending, day’s at an ending, ‘thank god it will soon be dark’, one piece of marginalia that writes a whole culture, shivering and farting in the moonlight, The Name of the Rose, good film but I suspect Umberto Eco is a pretentious pr*** all post-modernists are, trying to weave something out of nothing, the Emperor has no clothes, no close of this sentence, my turn now, ‘remail’ for 20 points, glass of wine soon, signal the end of the day, at six I shall go down and have dinner, dinner for a sinner, I wouldn’t like to get you on a slomo slowboat to China all to myself alone, how I haven’t done any Greek today apart from puzzling out a few words of Sappho, how she writes in a different dialect but it’s translated into Attic, how that always makes me think of lonely writers in a garrett,

There. And that, my friends, is the best review I can give you of Ducks, Newburyport. 997 pages of that,

and I’m only on page 681,

Kirk out

Boxing Clever

There hasn’t been much on the old box lately; I’d given up trawling unprofitably through Netflix and the i-player because anything that was any good had that little red progress bar underneath showing that we’d watched it already. And then came Britbox.

Britbox is a collaboration between the Beeb and ITV, a sort of i-player-plus with loads of classic stuff from both channels. We knew it was coming but they’ve brought it forward, presumably because of the unmentionable, and a deep joy it is too: I discovered things I hadn’t seen for ages, like Rev. (brilliant series) all of Doc Martin, The Forsyte Saga (though sadly not the original with Eric Porter and Nyree Dawn Porter) and I’m wondering if I, Claudius is on there too because I’d love to see that again. There are all the old comedies like The Good Life and Open all Hours and Yes, Minister/Prime Minister and of course endless hours of Downton Abbey which we will be laying down and avoiding (it’s not a wine for drinking, it’s a wine for laying down and avoiding.)

Ironically we discovered Britbox just as I’d begun watching Breaking Bad. To be fair OH and son have been going on at me about the latter for several years but in spite – or perhaps because – of that I’ve been laying down and avoiding it. I’ve also discovered that I have an aversion to names that don’t make sense (I don’t understand it so I’m not going to watch it) but I now know what breaking bad means, so I can proceed in peace. And no, I’m not going to tell you – you’ll just have to go through your own tormented process until you find out. If you are so foolish as to do any such thing.

So – last night we rediscovered the delights of Rev, the charm of which lies in its utter authenticity as it is written by those in the know and researched by clerics including the Rev. Richard Coles. But you don’t have to be an Anglican (or ex-Anglican) to enjoy it; Tom Hollander’s beleaguered priest is comic and touching in about equal measure and Olivia Coleman is a delight as his long-suffering wife.

So if you’ve watched everything on Netflix and i-player I advise you to box clever. Get Britbox. (I’m wasted here; I should have gone into advertising.)

https://www.britbox.co.uk/

Kirk out

This Post is Virus-Free

Apart from the brief mention in the title, this post will not contain any mention of the C-word. The number 19 will be absent, as will the words virus, flu, statistic and Cummings. Well, apart from the times I just mentioned them of course. Starting…. now!

So, my absence during the last week has not been due to the unmentionable, at least not in any direct way. I have simply chosen to take some time out, since Everything Is Cancelled, and do a mini-hibernation as I often do in the summer and over Christmas. It is a balm to the soul to be out of contact for a while, so as everyone else was frantically getting online to connect via Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Facetime, Messenger and email, I just Beed. I simply were; in short, I existed. I divided my time between the study and a blessedly sunny garden; I went for a short walk each day and I read. God, how I read!

More of that anon. But the first couple of days I was so exhausted I mostly stayed in bed and watched Netflix serials Safe and The Stranger, both written by the same guy and both utterly gripping while you watch but leaving little impression afterwards. My exhaustion was I think caused by thinking too much about everything; not only the unmentionable but its repercussions and the uncertainty caused thereby and what we might have to do to make sure of supplies etc. My brian simply couldn’t take any more; I needed sleep. And sleep I did.

So now I am ready to enter the digital world once more and update you on my reading. I have now finished Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light (I’ll post a review anon) and am 2/3 of the way through Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellman. This is a stream-of-consciousness novel, 997 pages in length (just call it a round thousand) featuring a mother-of-four in Ohio who bakes cakes for a living. She has far too much to do and a million and one things occupy her mind, from her business to the thousand tasks of caring for children and house, to the horrendous state of the environment (seemingly worse there than it is here) and of course the even worse state of national politics. 9/11 keeps recurring but the main theme is the loss of her mother which has something to do with the ducks of the title. Seeing as how Americans have such weird place names, I assumed that Ducks, Newburyport was a small town (do Americans have villages? I fancy not) but it is in fact an incident to do with Ducks in a place called Newburyport which has a great emotional impact. But we haven’t got to that bit yet.

I’ll probably post a fuller review of that in due course as well.

So that’s me. How have you been? I hope you’re keeping well and safe.

There! A virus-free post. Perhaps it’ll go viral.

Kirk out

What Do We Do? We Jog, Jog, Jog

What? Me? Jogging? No! No no no, no nay never, jamais, nunca jamas, non! Absolument pas! Je ne jog pas. No hago el footing*. Nope.

Except yes. My ever-loving family are conspiring to keep me (and themselves) indoors as I’m at a slightly elevated risk of C19 due to asthma. It’s not bad asthma, not double-up-and-gasp asthma, not wheeze-and-cough asthma, just inconvenient-slightly-tight-chested asthma. But still. I am told I must stay indoors For My Own Good. This I do not like.

Before you start, yes I’m totally aware of the guidelines around personal distancing, contact and unnecessary trips out. Yesterday I went shopping with a scarf over my lower features (by which I mean nose and mouth, not my private parts) and feeling like a terrorist about to produce a bomb, I maintained a distance of three feet from those who served me. Actually it was quite fun; having gone into Sainsbury’s yesterday and quickly out again as it was heaving, I sallied forth a little later and trawled around all the nice little local shops which I often mean to patronise and seldom do. I bought a few necessaries including a nice bottle of Rioja and some lovely free range local eggs.

And so to today. Having been lectured by Son and OH I was feeling mutinous. **** them! I thought, I’m going out. But not to the shops. Instead – and I never in my life thought I’d be doing this – I jogged round the park. Yes, actually jogged. I mean, god – what next? Will I start running marathons?

Unlikely. But the gym did give me a taste for gentle jogging, and very gentle it was too; half-trotting and half-fast walking round the park. Still, it put some spark in the old grey matter and I do feel better for it.

I’m not saying I’ll do this every day but it does seem a good way to start the day, especially as you get out into the fresh air and can maintain distance from others whilst giving them a friendly wave. Not that any of them waved back. They must have thought I was a nutter.

Actually nobody gives you a second glance if you’re jogging; it’s one of the socially sanctioned activities that renders you virtually invisible. Which in my case is all to the good.

Now, I’ve been thinking about using this time to pass on some of my skills. And I’m wondering what people would be interested in. Would you like videos on gentle yoga, perhaps done sitting in a chair? Or perhaps suggestions on how to begin creative writing? Or poetry workshops? There are a number of things I am actually qualified to teach, yoga being one, so let me know. What are you interested in learning while you’re stuck at home?

Just don’t ask me about jogging…

Kirk out

* Fun fact: in Spanish, jogging is called footing. Otherwise it would be pronounced hogging.

The Long Dark Teatime of the Novel

The two longest novels (in English) of the last decade were published within nine months of each other, and if there was ever a good time to read them, that time is now. As I try to discern whether there is less traffic outside (I think there is) and relish the absence of planes in the sky (not that they bother us much) my pile of books rises on my bedside table like the Shard with the addition of The Mirror and the Light and Ducks, Newburyport.

I’ll post a fuller review of both at some stage; I’m getting along at a fair lick with the Hilary Mantel but as for the Lucy Ellman, I’m just not sure if it’s totally brilliant or utterly unreadable. Ellman is the daughter of the James Joyce scholar Richard Ellman which surely cannot be coincidence as Ducks, Newburyport is a stream-of-consciousness novel, perhaps a riposte to Anna Livia Plurabelle at the end of Ulysses. I began reading it yesterday and after about ten pages I thought, ‘I wonder how long this sentence is going on for?’ I skipped ahead a little: it was still going on. I skipped ahead a little more – and more – and finally, finally found a full stop. At the end of the novel. On page 998.

Wow.

To be fair the novel is supposedly eight sentences rather than one, and does intersperse the main character’s stream-of-consciousness with the story of a lioness (don’t ask me why) but the chief question is: is it readable? OH maintains that stream-of-consciousness work is lazy and I can see why, but that’s not the most important point because in the end literature that is not readable defeats itself. You don’t have to communicate with absolutely everyone but if you communicate with practically no-one that is hardly a resounding success. The Guardian review reckons only about 2% of people will ‘get it.’ Are they right? Am I one? We’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime my dears, stay safe, help others if you can but prioritise your own health first. And keep washing those hands…

Kirk out (but mostly in)

Covid 19, Human Race: 0

I’m trying to find something coherent to say about the crisis – meanwhile here is some light music… It’s not easy to find the positives in this situation and I’m wondering if sales of Camus’ La Peste (The Plague) are on the rise as it is a story for our times. I know I have a copy but it’s in storage so I might see if they’ve got it in the library. If the library’s still open. I guess if it’s not I could register for ebooks but I’m not keen on reading from a screen. There’s something about a book…

I seem to remember the Black Death arrived in Britain in the folds of some cloth; interestingly this particular virus seems to favour plastic and metal and not to survive long on fabric. But it is an unprecedented situation; worse than bird flu, more contagious than ordinary flu and less preventable than AIDS. And that’s the scary thing, because we don’t know how to prevent this spreading. We can take precautions but short of isolating the entire population in separate cells, there’s no sure-fire way to do it. I’m confident that a vaccine will soon be developed but in the meantime millions may die and probably will.

There are some uncomfortable truths here, and no-one has the right to utter them unless they have faced the possibility that they or someone very close to them, may lose their life. I utterly deplore politicians and other pundits saying glibly that this is a way to reduce the surplus population; and yet I can’t help thinking that in almost every generation something comes along to wipe out vast swathes of humanity. Over-population is a grave problem, but it’s always someone else’s problem. There are always too many of them, not us, but unless we can confront the possibility of us dying, we have no right to think of them popping their clogs. I’ve had John Donne’s poem in my mind this morning – I’m thinking of writing a parody:

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls/It tolls for thee.

But in the midst of all the gloom there are positives. Here are some I’ve thought of:

1. We will do less damage to the environment. Planes will stop, driving will slow to a trickle, manufacturing will also slow.

2. We may make more effort to look after each other. In a crisis people often look out for each other more than in comfortable times.

3. We will stop taking stuff for granted. No more will we blithely assume that we can nip down to the supermarket and buy whatever we want. Shelves are already emptying and many things may become unavailable. We will have to make do with less.

4: This is a long shot, I know, but we may after a while become less attached to money as the only means of getting stuff. Systems of exchange and barter may arise once more.

But I expect I’m living in cloud cuckoo land and chaos will ensue…

I’m doing a fruit fast today (something else I may have to give up) and I’ll leave you with this comic moment from Monty Python:

Be safe. Live long and prosper.

Kirk out