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

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Twopence to Fly from Heathrow

It occurred to me today that although I grew up under the flight path near Heathrow and suffered all the attendant nuisances of that location, I never actually flew from there.  It was not only after I had left home but also after my parents had retired and moved away, that I finally took a flight from Heathrow.  I had suffered the endless screams, the pollution and the heat; I’d even worked there one summer in the airport shops, but I’d never had the money to get on a plane, not until 1993 when I used the money my grandfather left me to take a trip to India.

It is insulting in many ways to compare this experience with ‘Twopence to Cross the Mersey‘, the first volume in Helen Forrester’s autobiography of a calamitous childhood where help, in the shape of her aunt, was literally across the Mersey, had she only been able to find twopence for the ferry.  These books are remarkably dispassionate and a salutary reminder of where many of us would be without state benefits.

Interestingly, I’ve just heard that campaigners have lost their fight to challenge the expansion of Heathrow which seems a mad decision.  Parliament has just agreed to declare a climate emergency: this makes no sense at all.  We should be shrinking airports, not expanding them and we all need to fly less.

Which reminds me, if you have local council elections today don’t forget to vote!

Kirk out

 

Doncaster

I went to Doncaster yesterday and of course the first thing I did afterwards was to see if it’s mentioned in The Meaning of Liff.  It isn’t, but in the process I discovered that there’s a Yorkshire Meaning of Liff inspired by the great Douglas Adams/John Lloyd volumes, and I have to say it looks like a belter.  But I was there for a much more serious purpose, to visit Daughter and Bump and to see their new house.

She warned me the place looked like a bomb site and it wasn’t much of an exaggeration: the roof has been done but practically everything else is stripped out and remains to be filled in with better components.  Rewiring needs doing, the kitchen and bathroom require fitting, fireplaces filling and replacing and – oh, gosh, just about everything.  And they need to move in before August.

Anyway, it’s a good solid house, built like me in 1957 (an excellent year.)

Doncaster as a place is a little ramshackle.  I was trying to get some sense of when it dates from but the feeling I get is that it’s like Leicester and only really took off in the 19th century, reaching its peak in the mid-20th when lots of industries were thriving.  They’ve now all gone of course, and this was one of the main reasons Doncaster as a whole voted for Brexit; because there are no proper jobs, only crappy ones in the catering and service sector.

I remarked to Daughter as we walked around that the place seems full of Brexit bulldogs; macho men with mean faces and houses sporting flags.  She agreed.  But this video gives another perspective on the Brexit debate, offering what is generally called the Lexit perspective.  I realise Corbyn has annoyed many by sticking to his position on Brexit, which is that the vote must be honoured, but I can’t honestly blame him: after all, he’s doing what most people admire him for; sticking to his principles.

But back to Doncaster, and one of the things I noticed was what turned out to be the Minster; a huge imposing building which sadly I didn’t get a chance to visit.  Next time I hope to rectify that – but we did see the old Wool Market, now a covered marketplace with small shops inside, and the centre of the old town which again reminded me of Leicester.  Yorkshire was of course a centre of the wool trade: an uncle of mine worked in that trade and did business with mills in Bradford and other towns.

I’m now going to look up the history of Doncaster and see how much I got right.  Well!  Turns out comparisons with Leicester were spot-on because there was a Roman camp (should have guessed that from the name) and a medieval town (mostly burned down in a fire) and it grew in the 19th and 20th centuries to roughly the same size as Leicester.  The Minster, originally medieval, burned down in 1853 and was replaced later in the 19th century by the present building, though it only got Minster status in 2004.  I’m not sure of the difference between a Cathedral and a Minster – I’ll have to look that up some time.  In the 14th century Doncaster was the wealthiest town in South Yorkshire, which gives added irony to its current situation.

Anyway I look forward to seeing more of the place (and the Daughter, of course: I met the in-laws while I was there who were lovely people.)

Kirk out

This Parrot is Fit for Work

As I was lying in bed this morning I had an idea for a comedy sketch.  Based on the Parrot sketch with bits of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘ thrown in, it goes something like this:

ATOS:         I see here that you’ve put in a claim for Universal Credit. 

Claimant:  Yes

ATOS:         But you are fit for work.

Claimant:  Fit for work?  I’m not fit for work – I’ve got to have my leg amputated!

ATOS:         It’s just a scratch.  Come on, you’re fit for work!

Claimant:  I’ve got to have a prosthetic leg!  I can’t possibly go to work!

ATOS:         Rubbish.  It’s just a flesh wound.

Claimant:  Flesh wound!  Look, this leg is dead.

ATOS:         No it isn’t

Claimant:  Yes, it is.  It’s deceased.  It has gone to meet its maker

ATOS:         No, no, no, it’s just resting

Claimant:  It has shuffled off this mortal coil.  It is a dead leg.  It has joined the choir invisible.  It is not ‘fit for work’!

ATOS:         Look – beautiful blue veins.

Claimant:  The veins don’t enter into it.  It is an ex-leg!

ATOS:         Nah.  You’re fit for work.  Now bugger off.  Next!  (laughs evilly)  None shall pass the benefits test…

Kirk out

 

Two Docs, Three Families, One Viewer

About a week ago I discovered that Doctor Foster is now on Netflix.  The first series which I watched a few years back was awful but compelling and I was happy to find a second series I hadn’t known existed.  Alas, though one series was too short, two is definitely too many and after the third episode it doesn’t seem to know where to go at all.  I can’t be bothered giving you the ins and outs of the plot but basically it’s a war between cheating husband and virtuous but wronged wife who goes haywire and takes revenge in acts which largely rebound on herself.  It just goes on too long, like a terrible row  which nobody wants, but no-one can think how to end.  There comes a silence: you think it’s all over; then somebody says, ‘It’s just that…’ and the whole thing kicks off again.  Only sheer bloody curiosity kept me watching to the final credits, and afterwards I couldn’t help thinking: yes, the guy’s awful; yes, he cheated and lied and spent all their money; yes, he’s a total creep who never takes responsibility for his actions – but do they really have to make such a Greek tragedy out of it?  Divorce happens every day, but they make of this a drama where it’s kill or be killed – and in the end it’s like MotherFatherSon, totally over the top.

But at least DF knows what it is, whereas MFS doesn’t seem to have a clue.  Is it a political drama?  Is it a story of family breakdown?  Is it a tale of journalism investigating corruption?  Is it about the downfall of a powerful guy?  The answer is yes to all: it tries to be every one of these things but ends up being none – because it doesn’t know how to prioritise.  It’s like an overworked secretary doing a bit of this and a bit of that and getting nothing actually done.  Some dramas have a main plot and successfully juggle lots of interweaving sub-plots, but this does neither: it has quite literally lost the plot.

So after all the wearying emotions of these dramas I needed some light relief, and where better to turn than Portwen?  The location (Port Isaac in Cornwall) is one of the main attractions of Doc Martin, being a village with whitewashed houses, steep hills and a natural harbour: the other is Martin Clunes as ‘the Doc’, a highly competent and dedicated doctor but a sad, ridiculous human being unable to sustain close relationships (comparisons with Sherlock abound).  There’s a terrific supporting cast in a number of revolving stories (Eileen Atkins, Claire Bloom, Ian McNeice and before the character’s death, Stephanie Cole) as well as guest appearances by the likes of Sigourney Weaver: all in all it’s an object lesson in how to make setting, cast and story work together.  The plots may sometimes be contrived but in the moment they never feel so; and alongside the ongoing tragi-comedy of Martin and Louisa’s marriage there are enough interesting medical emergencies and comic moments to make this highly watchable.

So if you have Netflix check out Doctor Foster.  MotherFatherSon is available on iplayer and if you want Doc Martin it’s on ITV but for older series you’ll have to go somewhere like NowTV.

Of course nobody’s interested in any of this because they’re all agog for the latest yawnfest, Game of Thrones.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Kirk out

 

 

 

Could You Redistribute Yourselves a Bit Please?

As I mentioned the other week I’ve started a Quakers’ sustainability blog here.  Since I’ve been ill I haven’t posted much so it’s feeling a bit lonely at the moment so if you could take a look here the blog would really appreciate some company.  I’ve added a couple of posts this week, one on the advantages to the planet of a vegan diet and the other on the best brand of loo rolls, covering both ends, so to speak: these posts could use some comments.

So head on over.  It’s all here.

And here.

Kirk out

B**locks to Brexit

You have reached the headquarters of the ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ campaign.  I’m sorry we can’t take your call right now; please leave your death threat after the tone.

Beep!

I’m pleased to report that yesterday’s ‘New European’ was much more sensible than last week’s extended vitriol from Will Self.  The letters page shows some readers agree with me and I have heard from at least one reader of this blog who considers it a ‘self-indulgent rant.’

But this week sees a return to form, with intelligent contributions including a page by Mitch Benn in which he channels Spooner by coining the word ‘fustercluck’ and other contributions on various aspects of our daily deepening hell-hole.  The cover shows a detumescent Big Ben and several searing cartoons express satisfactorily the anger and despair most of us are feeling right now.  I would of course order my Bollocks to Brexit mug, t-shirt, coaster and front-of-house banner, but for the fact that such things are deeply divisive and likely to provoke little except ire.  For the same reason I have not signed the petition for a second referendum (or to revoke article 50 or whatever it was) because, much as I would love a second referendum, it would prove horribly divisive and lead to millions of leave voters feeling utterly betrayed.

I can’t remember a time when we as a nation were so divided.  During the Thatcher years it was sometimes hard to talk to people on the other side; but that was a walk in the park compared to this.  And there’s no solution in sight…

*Sigh*

I don’t know how much this has to do with social media: certainly the ‘echo chambers’ everyone talks about seem real enough to me (at any rate I have very few friends on Facebook who are not politically on the left) and unquestionably what passes for debate on there consists of people lining up on one side and slagging the other side off.  I’ve been off Facebook for six months now: I honestly thought I’d never make it this far, imagining that when the original month was up I’d be champing at the bit and rushing to log on again.  But no.  The more time goes by the less I feel the pull of its blue pages and the more acutely I become aware of the effect it was having on me.

Basically to scroll the news feed is to experience whirlpools of emotion; one image, one story after another all demanding React!  React!  React!  Here’s a variety of emoticons you can use if words fail you!  React!  What with angry political items and heartwarming photos of cats it’s like being alternately slapped around the face and offered chocolate.  There’s very little genuine interaction (less and less all the time in my experience) even with people I know in real life, so that the reason for ‘doing Facebook’ in the first place, ie to have some social intercourse in what is essentially the solitary life of a writer, has gone.  I guess I’ll have to resort to meeting real people in actual cafes now…

Kirk out