It’s Pronounced ‘Millstone’…

So the plan was to start gently and work up. The first day I only cycled about a mile and my legs felt stiff and unused. OK, I thought, I’ll do two miles tomorrow and four the next – except that when a friend called and said did I want to meet in Quorn, I thought I do! I do want to meet in Quorn! And what’s more, I want to cycle there! Quorn is actually not that far away; it was a seven mile round trip but what’s one small hop for a man was one giant leap for this person. Actually it wasn’t as hard as I’d feared – the cycle path network round here is pretty good and I was able to admire the hedgerows and enjoy the sun as I pootled down, which you definitely can’t do in a car. Coming back was harder, partly because it was uphill but mostly because it was raining and my waterproof trousers aren’t any more. In between we had a gentle walk in Quorn ending up at a pub where I saw a couple of people I’d not seen for ages. It was great to hang out, albeit outdoors, and see lots of people. It felt like being human again. So that was a real milestone in lots of ways.

It was a weekend for doing new things; on the Saturday I discovered that Leicester were in the FA cup final. I never normally watch football but I opened a bottle of beer and as I had nothing else to do sat down to give it a go. I was able to follow it reasonably well and it was clear Leicester were the underdogs; throughout the goalless first half they were outplayed by Chelsea right across the board, but I guess that’s why they say it’s a game of two halves because early in the second half Leicester scored. Massive jubilation from the blue-clad fans (it was a bit confusing because the fans were in blue but on the pitch Leicester were maroon and Chelsea blue), only to be dashed when Chelsea equalised. But that goal was disallowed after a video replay proved it to be fractionally off-side (I’m not even going to pretend I understand what that means) so everyone was on tenterhooks for the last 20 minutes or so. But that was it! Leicester won, and good luck to them. It really brings the city – and the county – together because as someone pointed out, Leicester has only one team which means that everyone gets behind them.

Never thought I’d find myself sitting in front of the TV, beer in hand, shouting ‘Come on City!’ Not that I did; being a tennis fan at heart I just clapped quietly and murmured ‘Jolly good show.’

And that was my weekend. So now we begin the fourteenth year of this blog…

Kirk out

Shout-out to New Followers No. 2

As promised, today we salute the second cohort of followers who have joined us since January:

and of course the ever-prolific and immediately responsive

I wonder what the Anglo-Saxon for shout-out might be? I guess I’ll find out as I plough through Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer. I’m starting with the alphabet which is quite easy because most of it is like ours, although they have some different letters such as thorn and ‘eth’ (I think that’s what it’s called, though OH will correct me if not) both of which represent the voiced and unvoiced ‘th’ in English – ie ‘th’ in ‘thing’ and ‘th’ in ‘seethe’. Anglo-Saxon is a delight to listen to, such a mouthful of juicy consonants accompanied by goblets full of ringing vowels, you can practically taste the mead and feel the table under your hand. It’s interesting also to put this together with Sutton Hoo – though 500 years separate the dig from Beowulf – to create a picture in the imagination. Beowulf – I’ve read it now – is essentially a tale of shield-bashing men from the time when men were men, wrestling monsters from the deep (and their mothers) and fiery dragons. But what interests me is what it says about the society; the life of the barn where people sat in the mead-hall while wardens were placed outside; how status was dependent on prowess on the battle-field, and above all the importance of exchanging gifts. At the end of Beowulf the eponymous hero, having died destroying a dragon, is buried with much of the haul they recovered from the dragon’s den and placed inside a huge barrow on the cliff-top. Having finished the poem I have an enduring vision of ships crossing ‘whale-roads’, great halls, flowing mead and long speeches – one or two of which are given by women. Though undoubtedly second-class citizens and traded as freely as gold or silver, women are not as silent in Beowulf as I had expected and one, the wife of the lord, makes a lengthy speech of welcome to the Geats (people from southern Sweden) who have come to Denmark to free the people from the monster. It’s interesting to imagine the great mead-hall of Beowulf strewn with the found objects from Sutton Hoo; the shoulder-clasps of gold inlaid with garnet, the helmets laid aside while the heroes eat and the great cauldron hanging from the roof of the barn with perhaps a meaty stew inside. These were already sophisticated people with customs, trade, religion, seafaring routes and a social hierarchy. It’s just a pity that all they seemed to think about was war. Hey, ho – it’s tough studying Anglo-Saxon as a Quaker…

Primed for a Shout-out.

I think it’s time for a shout-out to some new followers who have joined us since Christmas. A big Lizardyoga welcome to these new bloggers:


Gosh, there’s so many of you I’m going to have to do this in two parts. Rest assured, if you’ve joined me since January I will give you a mention – except, of course, for those of you who are – or appear to be – selling something. There’s a quite staggering number of you out there but please don’t bother following me because I’m really not interested in investments or bitcoin or doubling my money (though I could try doubling my debt…) so it really isn’t worth your while.

But to those of you who are genuine bloggers or just readers interested in blogs, I send a heartfelt thanks. Without you it’s just me burbling to myself in a corner of the house, so I really appreciate you being there. And thanks again to those of you who take the time to like and comment – it really makes a difference.

In other news, my Anglo Saxon Primer has arrived. So today I shall be mostly grappling with strange vowels and weird consonant clusters, in between writing ideas for a new radio play – of which more anon.

Kirk out

Wot No Post?

A chad in my day used to be an image like this one: a nose, two hands and two eyes peeping over a wall with the caption: ‘Wot no….?’

'I think we can be fairly sure that this one is not a Banksy.' image removed on request
"Wot, no economy?" image removed on request

But a brief trawl of the internet has thrown up several new definitions, none of which is funny or cartoon-like; the most common being an alpha male as described by a self-styled ‘incel’. Nevertheless today’s cartoon chad, if I had the skill to produce it, would say Wot no post? because there is no blog post today. Well, apart from this one which I’ve posted to tell you there is no post. And why not? Because I have far too many and complicated thoughts which need to be spread out, viewed from afar and organised. They will probably end up forming posts for the rest of the week. So watch this space and in the meantime have a good Monday. It’s snowing here…

Kirk out

Grump, Grunt, Growl and Grouch

I am this close to giving up on wordpress (I’m holding my finger and thumb up and I would post a picture but I haven’t managed to upload one for ages.) It’s a struggle every day to make a post because of this new blocks format and it’s quite clear to me that they are trying to push us all in the direction of paid formats. It’s a real shame because I get a lot out of doing this blog, but all the time more obstacles are put in the way. It’s months since I managed to upload a picture and every time I write something I have to wrestle with the Blocks features. I don’t have the technical language to describe what my problems are but other wordpress sufferers will know what I mean. I realise that there are ‘workarounds’ to get back to the classic editor but whenever I’ve tried these they haven’t worked – either because the link doesn’t take me where it’s supposed to or because I haven’t understood the instructions. In any case, the whole point is to make life simpler. All I want to do is sit down at the computer, write something, edit it and then hit publish. I don’t want a lot of technical fidgy-widginess (little Black Books reference there for fans.)

It reminds me of supermarket checkouts. Not so long ago there were lots of staffed checkouts with a few self-checkouts at the end. On principle I avoided these as they take away people’s jobs – god knows, scanning bar codes and moving products from one conveyor belt to another isn’t much of a job, but it’s something. But now they’ve increased the number of self-checkouts and cut back on the staffed ones so that in order to use the latter you have to wait in line while half a dozen people empty their trolleys and fill their bags and find their purses and scan their cards and gather up their receipts and leave. Yesterday I bounded up to one such till which was nearly empty but the customer in front glared at me as I’d forgotten to keep sufficient distance, so I gave up on it (in any case she spent ages arranging and rearranging her stuff and was likely to be the sort of sociopath who doesn’t put the till divider* down for the next customer.) Anyway the point I’m making is that if businesses don’t want you to use a certain facility they will make it harder and harder until you give up.

*the word for this is tildonk – at least according to The Meaning of Liff.

So what to do? Give up on this blog altogether? I’m reluctant to do that as I’ve built up a following over the years; besides, it gives a shape to my working day and connects me with readers. I could switch to Blogger but supposedly WordPress is more geared to text writing than other platforms, so I don’t know. So here’s my question to those of you who use paid platforms: are they worth the money? Have you got extra readers that way? Do you sell stuff? If I had stuff to sell it’d be worth it but at the moment I haven’t. So let me know.

In the meantime I’ll just sit here and grump.

Grump grump grump grump grump

Kirk out

A Shout-out to New Followers (Part 2)

A while ago my post giving a shout-out to new followers was disrupted by the news that our friend Lynne had died. It’s time I got back to it. I’d like to mention first of all those who take the time to regularly comment or like; these include My Book World 24, Brian, WilfredBooks, Taskerdunham and Drjurisharma. New followers include Pansandproses (nice title), LifeinLockdown, lifeofateenageprincess and Abbasloveletters. It’s quite an eclectic mix so thank you all for following and rest assured I will always take a look at your blog if you follow me.

So if you like this blog; if you want more of – well, whatever it is I do here – then hit the follow button and you’ll get an email every time I post. And thanks again to all those who do.

Happy Friday.

Kirk out

Word Cannot ExPress…

… how much I, just like Beetleypete, loathe the new WordPress format. Actually the ‘blocks’ idea has been around for a year or two but I still hate it. OK fair dos – with wordpress you get a free platform with lots of features and even though they keep on at me to ‘upgrade’ it’s a very useful app. But that said, like so many platforms – Facebook etc – they seem to keep coming up with new ideas just for the sake of it. This wouldn’t be so bad if the new ideas were optional, whereas you are basically compelled to take them on board. They keep the ‘classic’ formats for a while but these get slower and less co-operative and in the end you have to jump through so many hoops just to access them that you give in and use the new one.

What is the ‘blocks’ format and why do I hate it? Well, first of all it’s a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. When typing, all the widgets (if that is the word I want, which it probably isn’t – I mean the bold and italic things etc) were up the top; now they’re in a box which hovers over the paragraph you’re writing and obscures a large part of what you’ve just written. And then for some reason if you’re typing in bold and take your cursor somewhere else for a moment, you come back to find it’s not in bold any more. So you have to keep pressing the B button. I do posts in bold because another feature of this format seems to be a faintness of print which some people can’t read – and perhaps the most annoying thing is when I copy and paste a story here I have to select each individual paragraph (‘block’) and make it bold. Any attempts to select the whole post and embolden it will not work.

It’s annoying. And then yesterday for some reason it refused to publish my post with an error message saying I wasn’t allowed to ‘select the parameters’ or something – those weren’t the actual words but I can’t remember what they were. And this brings me to another bugbear: why can’t computers speak English? Why do they have to use terms which most of us ordinary mortals haven’t a hope of understanding? For example, my computer often tells me that I’ve committed something called an ‘access violation’ followed by a string of letters and figures. How the hell am I supposed to know what that means? If they’re going to sell computers to the general public they should be able to communicate with the general public. We shouldn’t need a degree in computing just to figure out what it’s telling us: I refuse to accept that I have to learn a specialist vocabulary just to use my desktop. Imagine if you bought a car and the manual said things like: ‘before initiating sequence 104f, engage toggle button J2o4,’ instead of ‘before engaging gear make sure automatic handbrake is released.’ No-one would buy it – but because we’re all so in thrall to computer gurus we put up with this.

I am not a happy bunny.

Kirk out

What is This Blog About?

I read just this morning some advice which suggested a blogger should always make it clear what their blog is about.  But this presents me with some difficulty because when it comes down to it, what actually is this blog about?

It’s easy to say ‘it’s a blog about writing’ – and in the main it is; but it’s about so much more than that.  The one thing I discovered when I began to blog regularly was that it is impossible to stick to one subject.  The mind lists where it will; there are many things I’m interested in and I want to share those interests with readers.  I want to connect: I want to philosophise and politicise and talk about anything I damn well please, from bricklaying (yes, I did that once) to road materials testing (also done) to knitting and poetry and short stories and poems about knitting and road materials and bricklaying (I haven’t yet written about the last two but knitting has proved a fertile metaphor for many things.)

I also want to blog about culture: I want to organise my responses to films and TV programmes, I want to write book reviews and share the poetry I love.  So in the main, it’s about connection.  Only connect would be a good alternative title for the blog if ‘A Writer’s Life’ weren’t clearer and more likely to – ahem – connect with readers.

One of the writing quotes I read recently was: ‘A writer knows a little about everything and is an expert on nothing.’  Now I think that’s exactly true: I am compelled to find out about all manner of things and would be just as engaged in finding out how fork-lift trucks work (indeed I have had that conversation with a friend who works at JCB) as with hearing about how other writers write.  I’m fascinated by these processes and not with any conscious intent of ‘doing research’ for writing: they just interest me.  As Chaucer said (or at least the Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale) ‘all human life lies within the artist’s scope.’  So there it is; all human life lies within this blog’s scope.

What is this blog about?  Everything.

What am I an expert on?  Nothing.

Except perhaps on writing…

And just for fun, here’s today’s writing cartoon:

Kirk out

Is It Friday Yet?

Most weeks recently have flown by with indecent haste but this one is crawling, perhaps because on Friday I shall pack up my books and pen-drives and power down for the entire month of August. But worry not! dear reader, for I shall get together – or curate, as we now say – some golden oldies for you to read, so you will not be bereft of posts.

I won’t be going mad; no foreign holidays or weeks at the coast, instead I’ll be doing stuff at home and having some days out, possibly with the son. We may get as far as the coast, though I doubt it; it’s a bit of a trek from here. It’s odd that such a sea-loving person as I should so persistently settle inland; Leicester, Loughborough and Madrid are all about as far from the sea as it’s possible to get. But there you are. I cherish a dream that when I retire (if I ever do) I shall get a dog and a bungalow by the sea and end my days walking on the beach like my grandfather did.

Since there is such an appetite (in one or two quarters at least) for posts about my childhood, I’m going to describe my grandfather. Herbert Newell (Bert) was what is known as a ‘character’; that is to say, he was mildly eccentric and completely unselfconscious. He’d been in the Navy in the First World War and used to shout ‘Orf keps!’ and other naval phrases at random intervals for no apparent reason; he’d then lived and worked in the East End and knew snatches of Yiddish which he spoke mainly to the cat, Monty. This venerable tabby lived for nearly twenty years, as long in cat years as Grandpa himself.

Grandpa believed in hard work and self-sufficiency and was a Tory, though of the old, one-nation school (he had no time for Thatcher.) He bought their newly-built bungalow in 1963 for £300: it sold after his death in 1991 for £90,000 and is probably now worth three or four times that. I remember our first trip down there; we’d been used to visiting them in Hackney but some inner clock told me that the journey was longer this time. Our parents said nothing and hugged a secret to themselves and finally we drew up outside this brand-new bungalow where Grandma stood at the door. By some miracle they had translated themselves here – but it was all right, because the miracle had a name: retirement.

My childhood is measured by those holidays in Rustington, every year a new challenge, every year the boundaries of life expanding. I bought my first camera there, a Polaroid (Mum said it was a waste of money; I said it was my money and in the end that camera lasted ten years) and learned to row on the boating lake. We measured our years in how far out from the shore we could swim, homing in on our parents far away on their blanket. An outing to the beach was a major operation involving blankets, towels, flasks* of coffee, bags of sandwiches and a huge, wide-necked thermos containing hot stew. Later on we would go for tea and ice creams at Macari’s, an Italian cafe which Grandpa always translated into Greek as Macarios’s. But when I hit teenage these holidays became boring: there were very few boys on the south coast and I longed to meet one as fed up as I was. He’d be with his family; I’d be with mine: our eyes would meet across the cafe… nope, never happened, only in my Jackie magazine.

*I’d better not use the word ‘thermoses’ or I’ll be in trouble…

There were rituals on these holidays: we ‘always’ had to visit ‘Auntie Nellie’ next door (I remember her husband Noel as a sick, declining figure; their house was called ‘Elno’, a combination of their names.) There were obligatory visits to Uncle George and Uncle Reg, Grandpa’s brothers whom he never visited (‘I know where they are and they know where I am’) trips to Arundel Castle, rows on the boating lake and walks on the Downs. Some of these rituals were delightful; others, like having to go to the old flint church in the village, a bore: on family holidays you had to take the rough with the smooth.

Grandpa must have been frustrating for the adults as his habits were so ingrained, but for us children he was a delight. He was a fund of stories, songs and poems and talked to himself continually. He smoked roll-ups in the sun-lounge (Grandma wouldn’t allow it in the house), a habit from his Navy days, and taught us to play cribbage. Grandpa was independent to the last, refusing to give up his bungalow until he died, still healthy, still going for his daily walk and flirting with his ‘girls’ in the shops. For this and all his other qualities, I salute him.

RIP Grandpa, we miss you.

Kirk out

Shout-out to All New Readers and Followers

I’ve had quite a few new readers and followers over the last few months and I haven’t taken time to give you all a shout-out. So here it is:

Don't forget to give a shout out to your fans, followers and ...
image removed on request

Rest assured you are not forgotten. I always reply to comments and if you follow me I will take a look at your blog and may follow you back: if not I will at least read something.

But! my book has arrived! Yes, only four weeks later than predicted, How to Argue with an Atheist has finally dropped through my door. I wonder how long I’ll have to wait for last week’s order? Concerning the battles that all writers have in getting stuff from brain to page, it’s called The War of Art (geddit?) and I’m hoping it’ll be really useful.

I can’t seem to get out of the habit of ordering books – and why should I? As habits go it’s not a bad one, and since discovering Alibris I’ve managed to read loads of stuff on my to-read list including novels, political books and poetry. I’ve discovered stuff that’s hard to get or out of print, and I’ve bought a whole shelf-full of books for the price of a couple of hardbacks.

I know people get things cheap on Amazon, but I won’t use them because of their failure to pay their fair share of tax or to treat their workers properly (as well as their overuse of packaging etc etc.) But I had to break this rule today because an item I wanted was otherwise only available from Germany and would have taken weeks to arrive. And lo! in the course of ordering these items I was automatically signed up for a free trial of Amazon Prime whose benefits spanned several pages and which, as I suspected, I would have to cancel before this day in August or be charged a monthly charge. Even when cancelling they still ask plaintively ‘are you sure you don’t want all these lovely benefits? If you click this button all your delicious and wonderful benefits will vanish,’ and so on. Nope. F*** off Amazon, I’ll none of you.

It takes discipline to resist all these offers though, like two-for-one in the supermarket or cheap flights. I can’t understand why everyone seems to be going on holiday now as though everything’s back to normal. It isn’t – and if we’re not careful we’ll be into the second wave. And we’re not being careful.

I’ve rambled a lot today. What I was going to write about was the habit of art, a phrase borrowed from Alan Bennett which I think he in turn borrowed from W H Auden. I think art is a habit; inspiration can strike but unless you are in the routine of sitting at your desk every day for a certain number of hours, you’re unlikely to know what to do with it. Ideas are the raw material of art; the cotton or linen which must be spun and woven and sewn to make a full garment. As someone said (I think it was C P Snow) if a writer can only work at a certain hour in a certain spot when the sun is at a certain angle, one has not much hope of his art.

So there we are. So thanks to all my readers and followers; you are much appreciated. That’s another good habit – appreciating people.

Kirk out