Two Out of Three for Reality

I’m not normally a great fan of ‘reality TV’: the programmes seem engineered and contrived to me, particularly in the area of conflict.  Light blue touch-paper and retire immediately seems to be the producers’ motto in bringing people together.  Sometimes they get a positive outcome: usually it’s just fireworks.

But the recent series Famous, Rich and Homeless was an exception; although I have to say at the outset that two out of the three epithets didn’t really apply.  I’d only heard of one of the four who volunteered to sleep rough for a week and be filmed doing it, and that was the snooker player Willie Thorne.  But even he, though famous, could no longer be considered rich, having recently gone bankrupt due to a gambling problem.  Still, it put him on the same wavelength as his homeless buddy, which is more than could be said for Kim Woodburn.  I had no idea who this woman was but apparently she presents a programme called ‘How Clean is Your House?’  Her attitude towards the people she met seemed to be ‘how genuine is your homelessness?’ – however she did seem to change over the week especially when paired with a woman who had lost her home in a fire and was in temporary accommodation (one room) awaiting the insurance.  And when I found out that she was 73 and had slept rough as a teenager I changed my mind about her.

Willie Thorne was a little flaky and spent the second night in a hotel.  I was tempted to be judgmental here but then I reminded myself that he didn’t have to volunteer for the programme (in aid of Sport Relief) and that I would probably be no better.  The last time I went camping was bad enough: if I’d had a car I’d have packed up in the night and gone straight home.

The guys the ‘celebs’ paired up with included a heroin addict who slept on a stairwell, a young woman whose pitch was an underpass and a Dutch man, formerly a successful businessman, who had lost everything and now slept in a tent in some woods outside London.  But the one who coped best was, unsurprisingly, the presenter of ‘Country File’, Julia Bradbury, who is presumably used to roughing it a little.  And when you consider that they did this in the middle of winter and that I have so far wimped out of doing the Great Sleep-out which is in high summer, I’ve got no room to talk.

So I shall stop.  Go watch though

Kirk in

Something has Happened

Something has happened but I’m not allowed to say what.  All right, I can tell you I’ve had a poem accepted for publication but I’m not supposed to tell you where.  All I can say is that it’s a national magazine and that it will be published in March.  It’s a comic poem which I think I mentioned a while back, based on one of Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary tales.  I thought they might go for it – and they did!

So that was a bit of news which brightened an otherwise bad start to the day: the computer got screwed up and then I couldn’t get Daniel’s laptop to work with my documents so in the end I went out and booked a computer at the library, using the intervening time to get outside a really HOT pot of tea at the lovely Tiny Bakery, where I also picked up the latest gen on the proposed residents’ parking scheme.  I’ve yet to hear anyone who wants it and I can’t say it’s been a hit in the West End either.

And so back to the laptop-face where I eventually churned out some words.

And that was Monday.

Kirk out



I have decided the time may be right to return to teaching ESOL.

A bit of background here: I started my Adult Ed career in ESOL, then known much more logically as ESL but because no organisation can survive more than a decade (or a week) without changing its acronym, they decided that English as a Second Language was somehow wrong and it should be called English for Speakers of Other Languages.  Presumably it would be offensive to these SOL’s to imply that English was somehow secondary – or that – oh, hell: I don’t know what they were thinking.  Just as I don’t know what the people at Embrace Arts were thinking when they changed it from the perfectly good appellation of The Richard Attenborough Centre to Embrace Arts and then back again following the death of its eponymous founder.  I wonder how many people it took to decide that; not to mention the cost of changing letterheads, websites and publicity?

It’s very annoying when they change the names of things for no good reason other than marketing or hyper-sensitivity.  But I digress.

Anyhoo, following the recent announcement of more funding for classes for Asian women, I thought ‘Aha!  They’re going to be doing lots of that in Leicester, which means they’re going to need more teachers.’  So I phoned the number, detailed my qualifications and experience and was told I could apply.  So apply I jolly well did.

Actually the news item was mixed: it’s good to have more money for women who might otherwise be isolated and unable to communicate outside their community.  What’s not so good is that Cameron singled out Muslim women and indicated that a lack of English might lead to ‘extremism’.  He got criticised by a member of his own government for this: Baroness Warsi called it ‘lazy politics’ and quite right too.

For myself, I have mixed feelings too: I enjoyed teaching ESOL as I get satisfaction from helping students and seeing them progress.  I am also greatly interested in other cultures so I learned as much from them as they did from me.  However, I am concerned about the amount of bureaucratic bullshit I may have to endure and I am worried about how much these procedures will interfere with the creative processes necessary to write.

But I must make money somehow.

So we shall see.

Kirk ou

A House, a House! My Kingdom for a House!

Last night we went to the monthly quiz at our local club, where one of the questions was, ‘which Shakespearian king offered his kingdom for a horse?’  No prizes for guessing that, though it does remind me of a character in Asterix called Mykingdomforanos:

I’m afraid we won again, so another bottle of wine is sitting in the kitchen warming its cockles over the radiator: one of the members seemed rather disgruntled at our victory and pointed out that we were only supposed to have four people in a team.  I neglected to point out that half the other teams consisted of more than four people…

 But I digress; today, following our discussion on aspects of modern living, I want to discuss the topic of housing.

Housing costs money. Everyone knows that. Food costs, clothing costs and entertainment costs, but greater than all of these is housing. Thanks to the corporate greed of a nation, house prices are now four or five times what they otherwise might have been, meaning that many ordinary people can’t afford to buy. This wouldn’t matter if renting was a sensible alternative, but renting is regarded as the threadbare option. As a tenant you are not respected or valued. You are not a proper member of society; you are not grown up. You do not command the right to obtain loans or insurance on the same terms as adult members of society. Only fools and horses rent, goes the song – or would do if it were applied to the housing market. (Incidentally, it was years before I realised the lyric on that song said ‘only fools and horses work’ – an interesting coda to the recent post on jobs).

This is not the case everywhere.  In Europe renting is not only respectable, it is near-universal. As a tenant in Spain you have lifelong security; blocks of flats have a concierge (or portero, as they call them) who is responsible for cleaning and security; and you can pass your rented property on to your children if you wish. So why in Britain do we have this obsession with owning a house?

It wasn’t always thus. When I was growing up relatively few people owned a house as there was much more council and social housing to supplement the private sector. But then Thatcher happened. It is impossible to count the ways in which I loathe that woman. Apparently the ability to paint your own front door is so much more important than having a front door in the first place – so council houses were sold off by the shed-load. Well, not shed-load but you know what I mean. And suddenly home-ownership was on the agenda for anyone who wanted it. At least, if you were ‘responsible’ and prepared to ‘work hard’ it was on the agenda.

I’m responsible, aren’t I? And I work hard. Where’s my house?

Even then, it was not too unfeasible – but then in the eighties came a housing boom and prices rocketed. Of course you can’t expect people to act against their own private interest, so everyone got as much as they could from their house, especially since the people they were buying from were also getting as much as they could for theirs. And so began the treadmill that hurts everyone (all but a few) and which no-one is able to get off, illustrating perfectly how everyone acting in their own private interest can ultimately harm us all.

All of which brings me to a discussion of… market forces. You never heard much about market forces in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, but they were very big in the ‘eighties and have been ever since. But what are they? We talk about them as though they are a given, something solid, immutable, fixed, permanent. But really, market forces is just a term for human behaviour writ large. It is the maelstrom of human tendencies.  It’s what we all do.

Now you will object that this is all very well, but how does anyone break into this? As I pointed out just now, anyone wishing to sell their house at a reasonable price would find themselves pretty much forced to fall in with everyone else or be seriously out of pocket – and most people can’t afford to do that.

So how does one fight this? That, as they say, is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Except that, prices being what they are, it is now the three hundred thousand dollar question.

More thoughts on this tomorrow…

Kirk out

Hacker and Hacker

How’s this for coincidence?  While we were watching ‘Yes, Minister’ last night, featuring Minister for Administrative Affairs Jim Hacker, our email address was being quietly hacked.  It’s always annoying when that happens, but this was particularly so because of the way it occurred.  Having received a suspicious-looking email from a friend I checked with that friend on Facebook that they had actually sent it.  They said they had, so I opened it.  It didn’t seem to work, but then they sent another one the same day and when I opened that one, all hell opened with it.  Within seconds my inbox filled up with ‘failure’ messages.  WTF?  Mark immediately saw and said: ‘Close the account: it’s been hacked and it’s sending out spam.’

I felt horrible.  It’s an awful feeling to think that not only has your private space been invaded but that some toerag somewhere is using your profile to send viruses or spam or malware or who knows what, to all your friends and contacts.  I felt like the carrier of some horrible disease.  Not only that, but I had to open a new account, import all my contacts, email them all to tell them about the new address, and then set about changing that address on all the sites where I use it: bank, gas and electricity, phone and internet, library, HMRC and probably a dozen others I haven’t even thought of yet and almost certainly won’t until it’s too late.

However, there is an up-side to this.  Mark and I previously had the same account and it often bugged me that he never seemed to read emails, just leaving them to clutter up the inbox.  If you have loads of unread emails the chances of missing something are greater; so now we have our own accounts and he can miss his own emails.  Also, it’s allowed me to shed the numerous unwanted updates from every site I’ve bought something from or just visited and forgotten to uncheck the box saying ‘we will send you updates on our products and services.’  So that’s all good: and now that I’ve got to grips with the logistics, it’s starting to feel more like a fresh start than a nuisance.

Of course Mark maintains that the account hasn’t been hacked but ‘cracked’.  Apparently that is the correct term, don’t ask me why.  And he went on to say that a previous account of his had had the same problem.  He called it something like a ‘flashbang account’ or a ‘whizbang’ – hang on, I’ll look it up.  Yes, here it is ‘a bang-path type email.’

Now, do you have any idea what a bang-path type email is?  No Googling, now…  Well, nobody on Facebook knew, and he got quite sniffy about it, saying people should know these things because they use computers.  I pointed out that this was a bit like saying we should all be motor mechanics because we drive cars.  ‘That’s not the same thing at all!’ he huffed.

Anyway, if you want my new email address and you haven’t received a message from me, let me know.

Kirk out

Politicians Ask Themselves: Is It worth Governing?

Do they?  I think not.  This is not a question any political leader is likely to ask themselves, unless they are exceptionally sensitive and thoughtful.  Yet disturbing numbers of voters are asking themselves, ‘Is it Worth Voting?’ and according to recent estimates around a million people may not even be registered to vote.

I sympathise: really I do.  I sometimes wonder myself whether it’s worth it.  Yet come polling day I heave my arse out of bed and get it down to the the polling station and put my pathetic cross against the figure I believe is least likely to do harm.  I think politicians should be made to take something similar to the Hippocratic Oath, to say that they will ‘first, do no harm’.  Not that doctors necessarily stick to this – but that’s another subject.

It’s fashionable – and completely understandable, in the wake of recent corruption scandals, austerity measures, cosying up to banks, privatisation measures etc etc – to think that all politicians are after feathering their own nests.  There are terrible tendencies in our parliamentary system: tendencies which favour men over women, white over black or Asian, public-school educated over state educated, and so on.  The House needs huge reform to bring it up to date; and some family-friendly practices wouldn’t go amiss either, as has been shown in the new BBC series, Inside the Commons:

Still, it’s an advance on the days when we were only to be found in the typing-pool or behind the tea-trolley like Gladys, a character featured on the programme.  She’s a cheery soul who sings in the corridors of power and opens up at 7 am.  But I demand to know how much Gladys is paid.  And does she get a taxi laid on to fetch her for work so she can open up?  I suspect not.


Anyway, to return to my original point: the thing is, politics doesn’t just go away when you don’t vote.  They are making decisions every day which may and will affect you, your work and neighbourhood, your rights and freedoms.  As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: ‘Even if you don’t concern yourself with politics, politics concerns itself with you.’

The more people become disaffected, the more they’re going to get away with it.  We must get involved: demand a better system and work to change the present one.  Because no government, ever, asked themselves: ‘Is it worth governing?’

That’s all for now, so until next time:

Go away.

I’m liking this Charlie Brooker sign-off!

There’s a War On

Here’s the poem I did on radio Leicester: – about 1 hr 40 mins in.

It has had an outing at a number of local groups and is available for performances to political groups, poetry groups and arts groups.

There’s a War On

(for all those suffering from the Bedroom Tax)


There’s a war on, they say

we must all make sacrifices

tighten our belts

there’s not enough money to go round

so we must

tighten the public purse-strings

because there’s a war on.

I thought that was all over and done.


We are all in this war together, they say

we are all fighting this war

but I am on the losing side

morale has plummeted

the troops are ill-equipped

rations are low.

The Captain says,

he says it won’t last long.

But we don’t see him here on the front line

not here.


And now we must all be evacuated

we must move

we’ve got too much space, they say

too much living-room

an extra bedroom.

We must evacuate



This is our home, we’ve lived here for years

but there’s a war on, now.


And so they come with their long knives

and they slice up our benefits

and we don’t know what to do

we used to manage

but we can’t, now.

We have to move

we have to cut back

we have to

put that light out

put that light out

– put that light out!

Don’t you know there’s a war on?

Kirk out