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Many Quake, but Few are Quoken…

My absence from the blogosphere for the last week or so can be explained by this: I have been at a Gathering.  Or perhaps it was a Meeting.  Was it a meeting of minds?  Or a gathering of bodies?  Or both?  Where was it?  Who was it?  What was it?  All questions will be answered, though only in the Quaker way.  This is much like the economists’ way: ie if you ask three Quakers a question you will get four different answers.

Quakers.  As Romeo might have cried, wherefore are ye Quakers?  The answer lies in history, in an insult hurled at Friends who, inspired to speak, might quake in body or voice.  In true Friends’ fashion they took the insult and turned it into a name for themselves.  (I don’t know, there are so many words we can’t use any more: queer, Quaker…)

A week is a long time at Quaker Yearly Meeting, also – confusingly – known as Yearly Meeting Gathering.  A Gathering happens but one year in three, and is a residential affair, a sort of cross between a conference and a retreat.  There are meetings for worship and meetings for business (thought it’s often hard to tell the difference) and a bewildering profusion of workshops, lectures and plenary sessions (I’ve never been quite sure what a plenary session is, though OH helpfully informs me that it’s ‘when everyone gets together.’  Thanks…)

So: that took place at Warwick which, apart from being Margaret Thatcher’s favourite university is a pleasant place, open and airy with lots of trees and leading quickly onto farmland and woods (where I walked one morning with a group of Friends.)  By the end of the week it seemed I’d been there half my life; long enough, indeed, to write a poem about my experiences.  I read this out at the final meeting and it was well received: many people asked for a copy, and you can read it below.  There were a couple of interesting lectures from Quaker politicians; one MP and one MEP, on their experiences of bringing Quaker ethics into politics.  I even managed a couple of early-morning meditation sessions.

After that I had only a day’s rest (or half-rest, since I did a poem at the Hiroshima day vigil in Loughborough) before being plunged into an unexpectedly ferocious walk.  At the moment I’m good for seven miles on the flat or up gentle hills; however this walk was seven miles not on the flat or up gentle hills.  The first bit was fine, meandering through a valley, but being Derbyshire there was no getting away from the hills, and up we went.  And up, and up some more and then much more seriously up and finally I could take no more and declared that it was time for lunch.  After lunch we climbed the final bit to the top, and I was assured it was all downhill from then on.  However, what was not specified was exactly what sort of downhill.  And this was not a gentle downhill; nor was it even a steep downhill, it was a quite unfeasible downhill.  A path quite clearly marked on the OS map was simply not there; and following where it ought to have been led us down a vertiginous and unreasonably thistly slope to a thicket of bracken and thorn bushes.  The way seemed hard, if not impossible.  The words ‘going back up’ were pronounced, whereupon I mutinied.  I could not, and would not, go back up.  And that was flat.  It was the only thing that was flat but flat it was.  So we hobbled, skidded and fell down the bumpy slope into the valley and struggled through an inhospitable landscape to find the path which our more sensible friends had found half an hour before.  It was not fun.  The rest of the walk along the river Derwent would have been delightful had I not been so exhausted.

However, the views were tremendous.  And the company was good.

And that’s us up to date.  How have you been?

Kirk out

PS Oh, I nearly forgot – here’s the poem.

Gold Star

(on my first Yearly Meeting)

 

First I was afraid –

you might say, petrified –

when the plan was laid

that QYM be tried;

I wanted to refuse

curl up like a recluse

but something told me: choose

to be a Yearly Friend

 

From early intimations

upon a box of oats

of wholesome men with hats on

dispensing Quaker quotes;

vague notions of the logo,

love and peace and cocoa

(though not like John and Yoko)

that’s what I knew of Friends.

 

As the years increase

I find my spirit’s kin,

witnesses to peace

that never were sworn in

link arms around the fence

sing madness into sense

and speak the present tense

that’s what I learned of Friends.

 

Midway along this road

I happened on a Meeting;

I sat, I shed my load

amid that silent seating;

but I had no prognosis,

no great apotheosis:

it happened by osmosis

that I became a Friend.

 

So here at QYM

(or is it YMG?)

I’ve come to sense the stem

of something that is me:

though I wobbled at the gate

and got into a state

something told me: wait

and find your way with Friends

 

And now I am afraid –

you might say, petrified –

because our time is played

and, Friends, I need a guide

to light me back to earth

where peace has little worth

and where there is a dearth

of people who are Friends.

 

Let’s lift up that gold star

and set it in the sky

so when we travel far

we hold its halo high

the circle growing vast

we feel the light that’s cast

until we come at last

to meet again as Friends.

 

© Liz Gray, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You Cannot Be Siri!

I think I must be channelling the spirit of Ronnie Corbett: I keep wanting to make corny jokes.  Incidentally I was very touched by the image of four large candles standing solemnly on the altar at his funeral last year:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-36073888

RC was much loved, perhaps more so than Barker of that ilk who, though more talented, could be a tad pompous.  It was crystal clear to anyone watching Ronnie C in the BBC armchair in his trademark sweater and lacking only a cup of cocoa to resemble a parent going to bed (my parents drank Bournvita which I found disgusting, though I used it once mixed with water to paint my face) that he did not take himself remotely seriously.

But I digress – which, now that I think about it, is further proof that I am channelling the little Ron, since his whole routine was nothing more than a long digression followed by a short punchline.  Lots of foreplay, you might say.  Anyway, somebody on Facebook suggested that I should tap Siri on my i-phone and say ‘I see a little silhouetto of a man’.  I didn’t even know who or what Siri was (I guess it’s a sort of speaking Google) but I did so and it spoke the lyrics of Bo Rap, as Queen fans call it, in a gravelly electronic voice.  Which was amusing.  And which brings me to today’s joke:

What did John McEnroe say to Harry Potter’s grandfather?

You cannot be Sirius!

Kirk out

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Doctor, Doctor; Can’t You See I’m Fuming, Fuming?

Well!  They’ve been and gone and done it now!  The fat is out of the bag and the cat is in the fire – and yes, I did mean to Spoonerise my metaphors in that way because the Whole Order of Things has Been Upset.  It’s women priests all over again; it’s Political Correctness Gone Mad!  How many more male strongholds will be feminised!  How can the Doctor, an intrinsically masculine figure, a repository of – well, maleness – I’m not sure how but he just IS because – well!  I mean, every time he regenerates he’s a man!  Isn’t he?  I mean, that proves it!  The Doctor is male, all right!  He cannot be female!  It just won’t work!  He’ll – she’ll – be crying all over the place, she’ll be all warm and fuzzy and not dangerous or eccentric because everyone knows women can’t be dangerous or eccentric – and the TARDIS WILL BE COVERED IN DOYLEYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Deep, calming breaths, deep calming breaths…

OK.

So, the news is, if you haven’t yet caught up with it, that the latest regeneration of Dr Who has been announced and it’s a woman; Jodie Whittaker, to be precise, of Broadchurch fame.  I have no idea if she’ll be any good , but in principle I think it’s great that they’ve gone this way.  I see no reason why the Doctor can’t be female: coming from Gallifrey there is no need for the character to confirm to any earthly genders (or colours, come to that) so it’s high time these boundaries were breached.  I look forward to seeing what she makes of it.

But never mind guys, there’s still one or two niches left for you.  After all, most MP’s, CEO’s, film directors, Head Teachers, rock musicians, Chief Constables, firefighters, surgeons, lorry-drivers, bus-drivers, train-drivers, bishops, scientists, engineers – are still men.  At least, last time I looked.  So you can’t be the Doctor for the next few years?  Never mind.  A man can still be Prime Minister.  In fact with any luck a man will be, very soon…

Kirk out

 

 

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Brexit: A Farce in Two Acts

Here’s a summary of my latest creative endeavour, a fifteen-minute radio play entitled ‘Brexit: a Farce in Two Acts’.

Act 1

Scene 1: The f*** up.

Dodgy Dave wants to screw Britannia, whom he fancies.  Urged on by his mate Nigel, manager of thrash metal band ‘The Kippers’, he asks her out and decides to sleep with her.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Scene 2: the consequences

Dave has had his fun and goes whistling back to No 10 for a good night’s sleep.  He’s so sure nothing can go wrong, he refuses even to consider advising Brit to take a morning-after pill.

Scene 3

Unfortunately, 52% of Dave’s sperm were fertile and Brit has a positive result to her test.  In one year she will give birth to a child who will be called Brexit.

Dave refuses to do the decent thing and support Brit: appalled at the news, he scarpers and is never seen again.

Act 2: Brexit

Brexit is born, but it is clear that she has multiple handicaps.  Misshapen, misbegotten and malformed, her mere presence divides the country in two: those who think she should be strangled and those who think she’ll be absolutely fine in spite of everything.

Brex is an unhappy child, forced at a very early age to go to Brussels and negotiate with the EU even though she doesn’t know what she wants apart from three words written on a piece of paper: strong, stable and hard.

Seeing the state her child is in, Brit is devastated.  She is diagnosed with acute schizophrenia and sent to lie down in a darkened room.  Brexit comes back from Brussels with another piece of paper, though what is written on it is not yet clear.

I’ve written this into a fifteen-minute play and will look for a suitable slot on which to perform it.

Kirk out

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What Manner of Folk be These, with Aran Sweater and Finger in Ye Ear?

English folk music is not nearly as well-respected as its Irish or Scots counterparts.  Maybe this is because we’re the dominant country, so we don’t have as much oppression to sing about – though I’d question this, in the light of historical events such as the Industrial Revolution.  But folk doesn’t have to be about oppression: much of it is about love – a love of place or a love of person (usually a woman since, let’s face it, most of these things were written by men) – and there’s a simplicity about the songs.  They arise out of working-class traditions and may not be erudite or complex but nevertheless have an authenticity.  Consider the simple pun on thyme/time in ‘A Bunch of Thyme’:

This also illustrates the primacy of the oral tradition, as the pun suffers from being written down.

English folk music has long been the object of ridicule: the sneers I’ve been subjected to for liking folk clubs are second only to those I suffered for being a Leonard Cohen fan.  The finger-in-the-ear-whilst-singing-nasally is a cliche too easily trotted out by cynics; but folk clubs are by and large open and inclusive spaces where a variety of styles can be aired and where people can come together to share songs.  You may think it’s ridiculous for a bunch of middle-class, middle-aged English folk to sing about being ‘lonely round the fields of Athenry’ but to join in with an impromptu rendering of a song you love is a moving experience.  It ain’t clubbing on acid, but it’s humming on real ale – and I like it.

Not that any of this sums up my experience last night.  I’d been meaning to go to Loughborough Acoustics for months and finally made it last night.  The club which hosts it boasted all the atmosphere of a wet bus shelter in Skelmersdale: I opened the folk room door with an ominous creak to find two-and-a-half men (one half hidden behind a PA) one of whom was on stage and tuning up.  I was greeted with all the enthusiasm of a horizontal wind blowing into the aforementioned bus shelter and approached the bar to see a complete absence of any Proper Beer.  Oh dear.  In the end I had some water and sat down to listen.

To be fair, I must have picked the worst night of the year to go to the club since everyone was apparently at some festival or other (not Glasto, I’m assuming).  It got better; people did eventually talk to me and by half-time I had thawed out somewhat, emotionally speaking.

I’ll give it another try.  Mind you, when I told my daughter I was going to a folk club she said ‘oh, what sort of folk are they?’  I think she considers me ripe for some sort of pensioners’ jamboree.  *Sigh*.  I guess this is what it’s like to hit sixty…

Kirk out

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Nothing Will Come of Nothing…

… speak again.’   So says Lear to Cordelia – and pretty soon the government are going to have to say it to the electorate, ‘speak again – because we didn’t quite hear you the first time.  You weren’t enunciating properly.   You were trying to say too many things at once and we couldn’t make out what you wanted.’

Still, muddled as the result is, some things are pretty clear: first, that most commentators vastly underestimated Corbyn and his supporters.  I had felt for a long time that the press were overplaying their hand and that by getting out and talking directly to the public, JC could get past them.

https://wordpress.com/post/lizardyoga.wordpress.com/9023

And I’ve largely been proved right: the press threw everything they had at Corbyn and he still increased Labour’s share of the vote by 10% and the number of seats to 262, even winning ‘unwinnable’ seats like Canterbury and – what the hell? – Kensington.  Kensington!!

His critics are queuing up now to apologise and say they misjudged him: Owen Smith, Alistair Campbell, Yvette Cooper and so many others are falling over themselves to apologise and offer to serve in the shadow cabinet.  Likewise media commentators: Jon Snow yesterday and said ‘I know nothing about elections,’ and even the BBC has admitted its error, Laura Kuenssberg once again causing me to shout at the screen when she said that Corbyn had been subjected to unfair criticism.  ‘Yes, by you!’ I yelled.

We still need to win an election; but that is looking increasingly achievable now.  May’s hold on power is so tenuous and her coalition so weak and misguided that it is not a matter of whether she goes, but when.  Under any other circumstances than these, a Prime Minister who had called an election to increase their mandate and had instead lost seats would have to resign, not carry on as though nothing had happened.  Whether it be days, weeks or months; whether it be a leadership election or a vote of no confidence, she will be out.  And when there is an election Labour, with its membership now at 800,000 and rising (more than 150,000 new members since the election), are poised to win – and win decisively.  I watched JC on television yesterday: he looked poised, relaxed, assured and confident.  It was a pleasure to see.

Now is not the time for recriminations.  Now is the time to form a government.  JC4PM!

Kirk out

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Please Stand By. Calculating the Results of Your Election. Please Stand By…

Please stand by: conservative spokespersons are trying to find something positive to say about the election.  Meanwhile here is some light music:

The story so far:

We had an election.  Nobody won a majority.  Lots of people wanted the Maybot to resign but instead she went to see the Queen and had tea.  Here is a reconstruction of their conversation:

Maybot:  Your Majesty.

Queen:  Mrs Maybot.  One understands you have called an election to increase your majority and have in fact decreased it, causing one some concern as to your sanity.

Maybot:  Yes, your Majesty.

Queen:  Well, what have you got to say for yourself?

Maybot:  I know I’ve been naughty but please can I form a government with my friends from Northern Ireland?

Queen:  Won’t that threaten the peace process?

Maybot:  No.  Absolutely not.  Strong and stable, strong and stable.

Queen:  Oh all right then.

Meanwhile in another corner of London Tony Blair emerges from the cupboard where he has been held hostage.  He emerges blinking into the daylight to learn the news that parliament is hung and that his bete noir (or rouge) the Corbynista, has smashed his way to an increased share of the vote.  Just as he is swallowing this indigestible news, a reporter approaches.

‘Mr Blair?  What’s your reaction to the news?  Do you regret being so critical of Mr Corbyn?  Would you like publicly to apologise like Owen Smith and Yvette Cooper?  Mr Blair?  Mr Blair?’

But Blair has slunk off and is nowhere to be seen.  Latest reports indicate he is holed up in a bunker plotting his return to power.

More on this as it emerges.  Meanwhile back to the studio.

Kirk out

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