Years and Theirs

I’m linking here to OH’s blog about Years and Years because I think it gives an excellent summary. I usually run out of patience when I’m reviewing something because I can’t be arsed to give all the details. I’m a Gemini (not that I believe in astrology*) and Gemini is an air-sign, meaning you tend to skip over detail and just generally waft the overall picture in the direction of your readers. To be honest I don’t see anything wrong with this in the context of a blog; if I were ever to set up shop as a paid reviewer I’d have to pull up my socks, pants and garters – in fact my underwear would generally have to be overhauled – but since I write this blog primarily to interest myself and in the hope that it will similarly interest others, I can allow myself that freedom.

Basically I thought Years and Years was terrific drama, one of the best I’ve seen in a long while and I think its power stems, as OH says, from the connection to the present; that this is not happening in some indefinite future but the seeds are being sown right here and now. This is a future we are all creating at this moment with our actions. The denouement seems to be a positive one but as Edith points out there are other comedians waiting in the wings to take over. As soon as you slay one monster another arises.

Kirk out

*I see no reason whatever why astrology should work. Why should there be a connection between the time you were born and your character, let alone your destiny? Even though it’s explained brilliantly in this episode of Mum, I reject it utterly. This is typical of a Gemini, apparently…

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Shall I Part My Hair Behind? Do I Dare to Plant a Tree?

My blogging prompt for yesterday suggests writing a post about trees but instead I went shopping and got my hair done. Now if you’re new to this blog you might get the impression from reading this that I’m the literary equivalent of Rachel in Friends, not getting around to Jane Eyre but reading Vogue instead. The thing is, there are some days when despite your best intentions you can get all your books out and sit there staring at the computer and it Just Isn’t Happening. And on those days when a card arrives in the post with some birthday money inside there’s only one thing to do and, reader, I did it. I went and bought me a new outfit and got my hair done. I have to say I’m very pleased with the hair cut and clothes and intend to estrenar both tomorrow at the Labour Party ceilidh.

Estrenar is a very useful Spanish verb for which there is no equivalent in English. But there should be because we need it; it means ‘to use or try out something for the first time.’ I coined a similar verb as a child, to pervise, however this is very specific to a jar of Marmite (or something with a similarly smooth surface) and it means to broach that surface for the first time. So I think we should all adopt estrenar into our language – as indeed OH and I do.

Now I know that you’re all champing at the bit wanting selfies but in my experience a photo never does justice to the splendiferous reality so I’m going to paint you a word-picture. There’s a lot of rust around at the moment in clothes shops (maybe it’s all the rain) and I eventually persuaded myself to try on a pair of rust-coloured trousers. They were stylish and comfortable so I took a chance and bought them, along with a couple of mix-and-match tops. I’d also taken a chance on a new hairdresser’s in town (Loughborough seems to have more hairdressers than any town has a right to; I don’t know why and my stylist couldn’t shed any light either) as I’d chickened out of unisex one Daniel uses because it was full of teenage lads. Sad, I know… anyway she did a brilliant job and took about six inches and ten years off me.

Today it’s back to the laptop face though. And I haven’t said one word about trees… ah well, maybe tomorrow. Or not, as it’s my actual birthday then and I have lots of stuff planned.

Kirk out

Uninterested? Not Any More!

You know a word’s in trouble when an otherwise fairly erudite and intelligent writer uses it wrongly, for today this canard cropped up in my daily readings from Richard Rohr, and I put my head in my hands and groaned. It seems almost everyone now uses disinterested to mean bored or uninterested, so that the original sense of the word as defined here – not having a vested interest, being impartial or above debate – is lost. What’s more no-one seems to mind. Not wanting to look like frowsty old professors or grizzled grammar geeks, everyone stands by and allows poor old disinterested to be hacked to pieces. Well, not on this blog! We stand for the fearless protection of words! We will not allow people to tell us they’re ‘good’ when actually they’re ‘fine’ – we will not allow them to say ‘disinterested’ when they mean ‘uninterested’!

But in the end all this is just Canute holding back the tide (although supposedly he did this to demonstrate his lack of power). It’s the Academie Francaise trying to stem the flood of English words by issuing French alternatives and it is doomed. In the end what decides the meaning of words is general usage, and if everyone chooses to redefine disinterested – as I think they already have – as uninterested then that is what it now means.

Thankfully though, Peterborough has not been redefined as Brexit city; Labour won by six hundred or so votes. Phew!

Kirk out

It’s Enough to Make You Switch to Blogger

I’m really not happy with WordPress at the moment. I just this minute wrote a couple of paragraphs on gardening and clicked on something (I don’t know what) which took me off the page. When I came back it’d lost the entire post. It used to have a little bar up the top to continue editing but that seems to have gone – in fact all in all I’m having so many problems I’m thinking of switching to something else. Like Blogger, for instance. Those of you who use Blogger, how do you find it? Is it easy to use? Would it be suitable for a blog like mine? And if I switched, how would I redirect users? I don’t want my readers and followers to lose me.

Anyway, where was I? That’s right, I was in the garden, taking a jaundiced view of things. And why? Because the soil is clearly lacking in nitrogen, causing some plants – particularly basil and chilli peppers – to become yellow. So off I popped to the garden centre (well, Wilko’s anyway) and bought some plant food high in nitrogen and showered the plants with the good stuff. It was interesting to watch the basil change, the green filtering through the central vein and then the peripheral veins and finally to the outer lobes. I think we’re getting there anyway, things are looking healthier. Wish I could say the same for WordPress – they seem determined to push me into paying for a site but I’m digging my heels in.

But my favourite thing in the garden right now is a single California poppy, a splash of orange in a sea of green (and yellow.)

Kirk out

Can You Inkle?

I always thought The Inklings was rather a twee name for Tolkein and Lewis’s little club of authors but this hasn’t stopped me subscribing to the Daily Inkling. Neither a newspaper of Narnia nor a broadsheet of Middle Earth, this is a series of daily blog prompts which, as I mentioned the other day, are a useful back-up for when my brain is running on empty.

Yesterday was unusual: I dropped in to vote in the European elections (please God don’t let Farage win, he’ll be unbearable. I mean more unbearable…) and stopped off at the library to return The Horse and His Boy. I’ve decided that reading fantasy, particularly children’s fantasy since the adult kind seems to be focussed on clashings of swords and bucklings of swashes (ooh, now at my back I hear a gathering army of protestors, speaking of Pratchett and others I haven’t read. So be it) where was I? Yes, reading children’s fantasy books in bed is a great way to get to sleep. Paul McKenna advises not reading anything before sleep besides his book, but the habit is too deeply ingrained for me to give it up. However, I recognise that a Rebus or a Nicci French is probably not the best thing for inducing a peaceful drowsiness, so I hit on the idea of fantasy. I began with Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner and then went on to the Narnia novels. I’m now beginning His Dark Materials. What’s important about these books is that they transport you to other worlds, meaning that you are already in an almost trance-like state by the time you slot in your book-mark and turn off the light.

This was leading on to something… oh yes, today’s blog post prompt. What was it again? ‘How important is physical fitness in your life?’

Well, yoga is very important. I guess you get more attuned to your body the more you do it, but it beats me how people can survive without a good daily stretch. If I miss it even for one day I feel stiff and listless because yoga not only stretches the muscles and joints, it raises the kundalini, the vital energy that keeps us all going and without which we are running on empty. This is why so many people drink coffee whereas in yoga stimulants are strongly discouraged (I have tea in the mornings and herbal infusions after that.)

But the missing dimension to yoga is a good cardio-vascular workout. Unless you do a number of rounds of surya namaskar (about which I have mental blocks as I’ve mentioned before) you don’t get many aerobic benefits. So whilst I go for a brisk walk sometimes and dig the garden most days, it probably isn’t enough. But I can’t bring myself to jog or go to the gym so the occasional zumba session to youtube videos is as far as it gets.

There. That’s today ticked off. Have a good Bank Holiday weekend. Oh, and the book I borrowed from the library? The Silence of the Girls. Was it any good? I couldn’t stop reading it. And that was yesterday.

Kirk out

Are You a Moron?

I like to think of my readers as intelligent. You may not all be Einsteins (though who knows, perhaps you are) but I can tell from your comments and blogs that you’re thoughtful and sensible folk. I am also intelligent (this is not a boast as I’ll explain below) and a key part of intelligence is openness; being receptive to new ideas. Creativity is always searching, always questing, never 100% certain. So yesterday I checked out a list of fifteen (it’s always a multiple of five, isn’t it?) tips for better blogs. I’ve also signed up to daily blog prompts, not that I need them but it’s useful to have extra ideas from time to time.

My first impression was that the ‘Really Useful Blog Writing Guidelines‘ was basically ‘how to write for morons.’ First, you should check ‘readability’ which means, don’t make it too hard to read. Don’t use long and complicated words. Avoid difficult concepts. Hm. Not sure about that… Then eschew (oo, is that a complicated word?) eschew linking words (aka conjunctions) and use short sentences. Nope, don’t agree with that. Forget about the passive voice (depends whether it’s needed, otherwise I agree) dispense with the past perfect tense and don’t use excessive punctuation. OK, I might be guilty of that one. Oh, and leave lots of white space.

I can see where they’re coming from: keep it punchy, keep it real, cut out the verbiage. Fair enough. But I want to write for intelligent, thoughtful people; people who care about books and ideas, people who are engaged with culture and politics; people whose attention span is longer than that of a gnat. People who can follow a sentence through a couple of conjoined clauses without losing the thread. Folk who care about the difference between simple past and past perfect. There are a lot of claims on our time so I keep posts short, but short doesn’t have to mean shallow.

If all that’s elitist, then call me Jacob Rees Mogg. But intelligent doesn’t have to mean highly educated. Intelligence is not merely an accident of birth, it’s a quality (or spectrum of qualities) you develop. In the end I don’t write for an elite; I write for people who care – about words, ideas, culture, gardening, anything. I don’t write for folk who can’t be arsed.

Here endeth the epistle.

Kirk out

PS Far too many brackets in that post

The Five Best Things About Having a Blog

WordPress has just informed me that it’s eleven years ago today that I started this blog; which means it’s eleven years ago yesterday that I attended a workshop run by Hanif Kureishi and asked his advice on what aspiring authors should do to help the process along. ‘Start a blog,’ he said; and having conducted extensive research (well, I asked OH) I set up an account on WordPress and Bob was most definitely my uncle.

Eleven years, eh? You’d think I’d want to embark on some sort of retrospective; high points and nadirs, most popular posts, top comments, that sort of thing, but frankly I’ve no appetite for that. I would like, though, to think about what this blog has meant to me and what benefits it has brought to my life and writing. So here, for your delectation and entertainment, are my five best things about blogging.

Number One: Readers. As a writer (unless you are writing only for yourself) you need readers, otherwise you’re like an actor without an audience or a priest without a congregation. True, one of the best things about writing for me is that no-one can stop you doing it. I may be ignored by the whole world but as long as there’s breath in my body and sparks in my brain, I will carry on writing; and a blog has the potential to find you readers even if they don’t immediately hook up. Sometimes I get comments on posts I don’t even recognise because they’re so old. Once a post is out there, anyone can find it: I’ll never forget that early thrill of finishing a post and clicking ‘publish.’ At that time I’d hardly published anything in print, so that felt really good.

Number Two: Interaction. Most days I have some interaction with readers either ‘liking’ or following me, and I love getting comments. Reading and responding to comments can spark dialogues and often takes me to other blogs where I can like and comment and follow, and so it goes on. Even though OH is just a shout away, writing is essentially a solitary activity, so this interaction is valuable.

Number Three: Expression. For decades I wrote all my poems, ideas and stories in a series of A4 notebooks but now, if an idea is sufficiently developed, it can go on the blog. I used to suffer a lot from not having outlets and now I have one. It also encourages me to find new and more interesting ways to express myself.

Number Four: Development. A blog gives me practice in writing about all sorts of subjects: it’s primarily about a writer’s life but any topic which occurs to me can be the subject of a post. I’ve developed ideas about politics, I’ve described walking holidays, I’ve reviewed films, books and TV series; I’ve delved into philosophy and religion and I’ve transcribed dialogues between myself and OH for your delectation and amusement.

And finally, Cyril… Number Five: Routine. This may sound horribly worthy and dull, but it’s very important. Practice makes permanent, as they say; and as anyone knows who has suddenly retired from a 9-5 job, it’s hard to motivate yourself without structure. As it happens my working day has evolved over the years to mimic office hours. No fevered early-dawn scribblings or midday doldrums for me: I get to my desk at around 8.30 and work till lunch (12-1-ish). After lunch is usually a ‘dead’ time so I’ll do some gardening or walk to the shops; then it’s back to work between 2 and 3. Finishing time really depends on how it’s going: on a good day I’ll work till six but it’s usually around five as mornings are the most productive time. I don’t work evenings or weekends and I take Bank Holidays off, as I do the whole month of August. This doesn’t mean I don’t write anything – in some ways these are the most productive times – just that I don’t work at writing. There’s a big difference. But it can be hard to establish a routine, and in those early days, writing a daily blog post was an important discipline for me. Nowadays I don’t necessarily blog every day but I don’t like to leave it too long otherwise readers can drift away.

So there we are; eleven years of bloggy wisdom. Enjoy. Oh, and the picture is a rather gap-toothed version of me doing a victory dance after performing poems on the Fourth Plinth.

Kirk out