Finally, For Cryering Out Loud

I was beginning to think nobody was going to pay attention. Barry Cryer died several weeks ago and I expected a flurry of tributes; special editions of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue or reminiscences by old colleagues, but found only radio silence. Finally today I came across a radio 4 tribute, Cryering with Laughter, presented by Jack Dee and featuring numerous people who’d worked with him. It’s an entertaining listen featuring many of his favourite jokes, but there was one story I liked the best. Cryer was one of a kind; old-school in the same way as, say, The Goodies (yet not quite so corny) but devoid of sexism or racism and always interested in up-and-coming comedians. One of his friends was Kenny Everett and he tells this story about Ken’s TV show, in which he was involved:

‘Kenny used to have a character called Cupid Stunt. After the first series Bill Cotton (a bigwig in the BBC) collared me and said look, we can’t have this kind of Spoonerism on the BBC. He’ll have to change it. I said OK, and in the second series Kenny changed the character’s name to Mary Hinge. Bill Cotton came over. See? he said. You don’t have to be rude to be funny.’

Like Jack Dee and many others, Cryer was great at self-deprecation. When asked which series of a radio show he’d liked best he said, ‘the third – because I was just beginning to get the hang of it.’

For Cryering With Laughter is a great listen, featuring colleagues such as Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry, Andy Hamilton and Jo Brand. Go forth and seek it out, I command you.

Kirk out

The Snot’s Progress

I realise that’s a bit of an off-putting title so I’ll try to make up for it with sparkling content. Actually I really loathe it when people refer to writing that way; it’s not ‘content’, it’s writing. You hear people describing themselves as ‘content-creators’ – why? It sounds like you’re putting toothpaste into a tube, instead of choosing the best words in the best order and making the finest piece of writing of which you are capable. I think Orwell was right; language is sacred (not that he actually put it like that) and that the destruction of language is the last victory of an oppressive state. But who needs Newspeak when you have people voluntarily calling what they write ‘content’?


Anyway, apart from dealing with the aforementioned snot which with depressing predictability has now settled on my lungs, what have I been writing? I’ve not been at it full time this week but have nonetheless managed to come up with a new story featuring Dickens… I’m quite excited about that. And I’m starting to adapt my radio play into a stage play for a competition. The closing date’s July, so I’ll have to get a move on.

In between all this I’ve been listening to old episodes of Mark Steel’s in Town. If you don’t know this, it’s a series where comedian Mark Steel visits a town, spends some time going round and talking to people and then comes up with a half-hour routine which celebrates the absurdities of the place. There’s nowhere else this could happen but Britain. Where else can we laugh at our contradictions? Where else do we have goats running wild (Lynton and Lynmouth) or monkeys roaming the streets or planes crossing the road (Gibraltar) or half-finished bridges (Bedford). He picks up the nuances of the place; its prejudices and politics and without being overtly political (though he is firmly on the left) he pulls off the amazing trick of celebrating the place and bringing people together whilst taking the piss. I think this is a much underestimated series and I urge you to listen. He’s yet to visit Loughborough but I hope he does; I’d love to see what he makes of the sock man and the Carillon.

from Pinterest; image removed on request
Loughborough Carillon - Loughborough

I’m off now to listen to Alexei Sayle on Desert Island Discs.

Kirk out

Jeez, That Was Hard Work!

Submitting work to some people becomes ever more complex. I’m used to sites which run submission procedures such as submittable instead of taking work via email, but the BBC goes one step further. First, read the guidelines. Inside the guidelines are more guidelines and more windows to open and when you’ve read those there are more layers of the onion to peel, more tabs to open, more terms and conditions and privacy guidelines to read, and when you’ve ticked all those you can start to submit. Oh wait, first you have to create an account. Sigh. OK, now I’ve done that so I fill in my logline (this is a radio play: the logline is like the one-line description which tells you what the play’s all about. I’ll tell you what my logline was in a minute.) Right, that’s done. Now the big moment: uploading the document. I make double sure I’ve selected the right one, and click on it. Nope, everything lights up in bright red. Problem? The document, it seems, is too big. No, hang on, they want a PDF. OK. I go back into the document, export it as a PDF, save it and try again. Nope, the box is outlined in red again like the eyes of a hungover alcoholic. What is it this time? you grunt between gritted teeth. It appears the document is too big. How can that be? They’ve asked for at least 30 pages of dialogue; how can I make it smaller? I ask OH who it seems like me got megabytes and kilobytes mixed up but anyway came and fiddled for a while to try to make it smaller. No dice. So I emailed the writersroom and got a reply saying that since megabytes were larger than kilobytes I should have no problem (one of these days I’ll get these into my head.) OK let’s try again. I just open the PDF to double-check but it’s not there, just the first page with all sorts of edity-type things around it like a decorative frill. Argh! I call OH again who helps me by saving (‘exporting’) it once more as a PDF to the desktop so I make absolutely sure to upload the right one. Fine. I go back to the submission page only to find it’s not there! Where has it gone? Fortunately after fiddling I get it back again and most of my information is still there. Phew. And – click on upload and – yes! Finally, success.

Blimey. That was really hard work. And these days you don’t even stand a chance of getting the play broadcast. What they want is to see an example of your work and if they like it they might choose you as a writer to ‘work with’. I doubt they will choose me but if you don’t try you’ll never know.

And the logline? The play is called ‘The Trans Woman’s Wife’ and the logline:

What is it like to discover after twenty years of marriage that your husband is not seeing another woman but is another woman?

Kirk out

Evolving a Theory of Genius

Another post on the topic of genius.

And a propos of my last post, who should they be discussing on the radio this morning but  the mathematician Gauss:

He was a child prodigy who had taught himself to read and write by age three and whose gift for mathematics was reportedly discovered by a teacher, who on trying to keep a class busy by asking them to add up all the numbers between one and a hundred (one plus two plus three etc) was astonished by Gauss immediately producing the answer: he had figured out a short-cut and reasoned rather than calculating.  He then got a scholarship courtesy of a local duke.  So far, so encouraging, but as an adult he seems to have become every bit as obsessive and sociopathic as other geniuses and reportedly,  when told that his wife was dying, asked ‘Can’t she wait?’  This idea that genius demands total concentration; one hundred per cent dedication to the exclusion of all else, is deep in our psyche – and I want to question it.  I simply don’t accept that being a genius equals being an arse.  I am performing my own Gaussian calculations here:

genius ≠ arsedom is my first conclusion.

The programme went on to discuss the old infinite monkey argument.  Gauss, when asked if his ability was innate or the result of hard work, replied that it was the latter plus concentration.  Now, I am entirely on board with the idea that hard work is necessary to genius: the latest version of this being the ‘thousand hours’ theory; the idea that practising anything for ten thousand hours will make you an expert.

Well maybe, but have you ever tried to practise something when your heart wasn’t in it?  Did you take piano lessons as a child and hate them?  Surely if Gauss’s life proves anything it’s that the ability was there right from the start, way before he started to work on it.

So I think it all comes down to the inspiration-versus-perspiration question.  It has been suggested that genius is 9% perspiration to 1% inspiration: I’d put it around 75/25 but the principle holds true.  It is entirely possible that were I to practise music for 35 hours a week I would be thoroughly proficient within a year.  I would also be climbing up the wall because, much as I love my guitar, I just don’t wanna.  It is not in me to do this.  Whereas writing for 35 hours a week, busting my gut trying to produce something worthwhile and not getting paid for it – is.

So, to summarise my calculations:

genius ≠ being an arse

10,000 hours ≠ genius

genius = 25% inspiration + 75% perspiration

So there you have it.  Now go forth and multiply.

(In a good way.)

And here’s the programme:

Kirk out

I Have Ended But Not Finished…

For the last couple of years I’ve been trying to get together a radio play. Aimed at Radio 4’s Afternoon Play slot, it’s called The Trans Woman’s Wife and basically does what it says on the tin, being the story of my experiences since the whole trans thing erupted. It’s a story that needs to be told, though whether the BBC will agree remains to be seen; anyway, I managed to write about two thirds of it but was then stumped by not knowing how it ended. How does this story end? I don’t know how it ends in real life so I couldn’t finish the play. I was well and truly stuck.

And then it came to me. That’s it! That’s the ending, not knowing what happens! So now it finishes with the main character saying ‘I don’t know how it ends.’ It begins with a voice-over and ends with a voice-over. Perfect! I was able to put the play to bed (at least until I edit it further down the line) and go down to dinner feeling a deep sense of satisfaction and release.

It’s not often I feel that in writing. I generally get little spurts of release followed by yet another bloody great brick wall. I generally go down to dinner with a sense of deep frustration and blockage. Not this week. This was a good week.

On the down side, my book arrived – and it’s not my book. It’s the story of a lawyer hired to trace the provenance of a painting and nothing to do with the writing process at all. Turns out there are two books called The War of Art. Who knew? So now if I still want it I shall have to order it again.

Aaaand, if you have a parcel to send, don’t use DHL. They picked up our parcel OK and gave us a delivery slot for the next day but then weren’t able to deliver. Instead of telling us, they took it back to the depot and filed it away, forcing me to chase it up with the hospital and then DHL themselves. When I complained to the woman on the line about it she said in a dull, robotic voice, ‘that must be very frustrating for you.’ I wonder how many times a day she has to say that phrase. Anyway the upshot is the parcel will eventually arrive back here – and we will not be using DHL again.

Happy Friday

Kirk out

A Request Has Flooded In

I have received a request for more stories of my childhood, and I’m minded to oblige so the rest of you will have to put up with them.

My childhood began in 1968 when I was eight. This is because my most iconic memories date from that time, when we moved half way across the known world around the equator, aka the terrible North Circular Road, from Edmonton N9 to Hounslow West. We didn’t have a car in those days so my father was to be taken by a parishioner in his old black Ford. I was fascinated by cars and could tell them apart (easier in those days when they were all different) but few people we knew owned one. I begged and begged my parents to be allowed to go with my Dad and see the new house. They said I’d be sick: I said I wouldn’t. They said I’d be tired; I said (huge concession) I’d go to bed early. Eventually I was allowed to go. The car was a severe old black Ford Prefect with indicators that flipped out the side like ears, except that one of them didn’t so my Dad had to keep giving it a thump whenever we were turning left. The journey was long and halting – even in those days the North Circular was a pain – and the traffic fumes lay heavy on my stomach, but I knew I’d never live it down if I was sick so I told myself I wouldn’t. When we arrived I ran happily about the echoing house and overgrown garden and went home proud of myself for being part of the advance party and taking possession of it ahead of my mother and sister.

Shortly after we moved we acquired a car of our own, the parish being too large for my Dad to cycle round. It was a brand new Hillman Imp. I don’t know why my parents settled on this but it looked like a sewing machine on wheels and didn’t perform much better – in fact my mother’s trusty old Singer would probably have got us from A to B more efficiently. The Imp was temperamental and we never really got on with it, but the worst thing for us children is that on long trips we were made to sit on the back seat folded down, which meant sitting upright for hours with no backrest and the edge of the seat digging into our legs. Imagine! You’d be arrested nowadays.

Last night before watching the Crown I listened to Victoria Coren Mitchell’s Women Talking About Cars. This week it was the excellent Sarah Millican and last week it featured Olivia Coleman whose cars were frankly more interesting than her life (how can such a great actress have done so little?) It’d be no good me going on it though, since I’ve owned only three cars in my life, a Vauxhall Cavalier, a Ford Escort estate and my current model, a Ford Focus. Nor did my parents do much better, owning only the Hillman Imp, a Morris Traveller and the Vauxhall Cavalier which they eventually passed on to us. The Morris had an interesting demise; whilst built like tanks to go on and on, they had one weak point which was the front axle. One day my sister and family were driving on the motorway when the axle went; like a lame horse the wheel folded underneath and the car crashed. The dog was cannoned out of the back, shot across six lanes of motorway and landed on the hard shoulder on the other side. He survived with only a broken toenail.

There. That’s enough memories for now. I’m off now, in that horrid phrase, to ‘make some more.’ Ugh.

Kirk out

My dream hedgehog

I have often told you the story of how, coming home after two years in Spain, I didn’t really feel I’d arrived until I saw a sign by the road saying ‘Hedgehog Crossing.’ The Spanish, for all their virtues, are not a race of animal-lovers and would not think twice about killing a hedgehog or fox as they drove; but we put signs up to protect them, as we do for frogs and, for all I know, badgers. I went once to a bullfight – merely so I could say when I was arguing against it, that I knew what I was talking about – and it is not an experience I would wish to repeat. There’s very little heroic about sticking arrows in a bewildered animal that’s been penned up for most of its life and I’m glad the practice has been abolished.

A propos of hedgehogs, I had a dream yesterday. I fell into a nap around mid-afternoon and in this short but very vivid dream I was looking after a hedgehog whose name was Etha Zetrocrutinush. I was very proud of having come up with such an exotic name in the course of an afternoon nap, and so I wrote it down straight away. Etha Zetrocrutinush. I don’t know why but it seems a very apt name for a hedgehog. Perhaps I’ll put it in a story for my granddaughter.

I’ve got another story on the go connected to my successfully using Alexa for the first time. It’s not exactly rocket science using the app – all you have to do is say loudly and clearly, ‘Alexa! Play radio 4!’ and instantly the little rainbow-coloured halo on the top starts whizzing in a gratifying way and a smooth, deep female (of course female) voice says ‘Here’s radio 4.’ I think our Alexa must get fed up with only being asked to play radio 4 and not do any of the other million and one things of which she is capable; I also think she must get annoyed by people on the telly waking her up by asking their Alexa to do things.

Last night we watched a retrospective of Victoria Wood in which she takes the piss out of ‘professional Northerners.’ I too have an aversion to this, and particularly (no offence, Taskerdunham) to the poet Ian Mcmillan who we call ‘the professional Yorkshireman.’ I’ve absolutely no objection to people being proud of who they are: Alan Bennett, Maxine Peake and Victoria Wood (amongst others) are or were all thoroughly and unashamedly Northern – but without being professionally so.

Bit of a mixed bag this morning. But that’s where I’m up to. I’ll leave you with Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen sketch. Ee, you were lucky!

Happy Tuesday.

Kirk out

Eating Rocks, Drinking Sulphur, Drooling

I am currently suffering from some lurgy (cause unknown but definitely not the dreaded C19) which has caused my lips to swell and crack, my mouth to ulcerate, my tongue to develop the sensitivity of a paranoid narcissist and my brain to quietly crumble. And what’s most annoying about this is that it makes eating and drinking very hard. Normally when I’m ill and can’t do much I look forward to meals and cups of tea; not this time. For the last few days I’ve eaten hardly anything and I woke up today dreaming of boiled egg and soldiers. A nice soft-boiled egg couldn’t do any harm, could it? Well no, but my mistake was in toasting the bread. The result was coarse brown fingers with the consistency of granite covered in sandpaper, which the softness of the egg did little to mitigate. As for drinking, since swallowing is hard and since I can barely open my mouth without covering the entire area in saliva, it is not pleasurable. Not to mention that any liquids hotter than tepid taste like boiling sulphur. It is not fun. As diets go, this is the most unpleasant one I’ve done in a long time.

I don’t want to put you off whatever liquids or solids you might be ingesting, but for some reason this particular virus has seen fit to, as you might say, demoralise the muscles of my mouth. My lips have not only swollen but lost all capacity to contain liquids and drool continually escapes from the corners of my mouth. Sorry, that’s probably too much information but I just had to offload.

Apart from all that I’m not feeling too bad. Taking it easy today: I’ve just ordered Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People about Race and Q and A, the book on which Slumdog Millionaire is based. It’s currently being serialised on Radio 4.

Happy Tuesday

And before you ask – no, I haven’t had a test but I am certain it’s not C19 as I have none of the major symptoms.

Kirk out

The Sound of Silent Witnesses

I don’t know about you but I’ve got a real soft spot for Silent Witness, the forensics procedural that is now entering its 23rd series. It’s rare for a crime drama to straddle that middle ground between hard-hitting and gritty on the one hand and flabby and unconvincing on the other but SW seems to manage it. It’s quite corny in parts and there’s a lot of telling-people-things-they-ought-to-know-already (for example, last night a HEMS officer asked what diazepam is) but I just blow past it because I enjoy the programme: in fact OH and I have been following it for years.

So what is it about this series that is so appealing? Well, first off is the subject matter. There are a lot of crime and police procedurals but very few forensic ones, and the concept of probing the secrets of the dead is very appealing. Of course as it’s not a gritty drama the corpses aren’t depicted with anything approaching realism but again, we just blow past that because it’s so enjoyable. Like police procedurals the pleasure is in trying to work out the denouement before the characters get there, and the series allows the attentive viewer to twig the outcome just before Nikki and her team.

And that’s the third attraction of this show; the characters. These people are family; there are mother and father-figures (Nikki and Thomas) and squabbling siblings Jack and Clarissa. There’s no hint of sexual attraction between them – any relationships take place outside the team – and while there are tiffs and disagreements, nothing major threatens the coherence of the group.

So much for silent witnesses; less entertaining is what I call the phenomenon of the silent ‘g’. Every time I turn on Steve Wright ‘in the afternoon’ – that’ll be on his gravestone – he seems to be doing a feature called ‘serious jockin’ (no g’). I simply cannot understand the point of this. People text or email saying what they’re up to and add ‘serious’ whatever with no ‘g’ at the end. A typical one might go like this: ‘and here’s Jordan in Scarborough: Dear Steve, we’re heading up to the Lake District this weekend for some sailing. Serious boatin’ – no g.’ Why is this funny? Why do they make such a big deal out of it? OH cannot understand it and neither can I.

It also puts me in mind of the National Theatre of Brent, whose comedy seems to consist in droppin’ the g’s at the end of words.


Happy Friday

Kirk out

Emile and Enid

This morning I was, against my better judgment, listening to ‘In Our Time.’ It’s not that I dislike the adenoidal tones of Melvyn Bragg – I used to enjoy watching him on t’telly – it’s the programme itself. Somehow they always seem to take an interesting subject and turn it into something dull and ponderous. And I particularly dislike the ubiquity of the historic present (‘Napoleon sees his opportunity and grasps it’, ‘Henry desperately wants a son’) as if this can substitute for interesting narration. But this morning I was grabbed by the subject because they were talking about a theory of child-centred education.

Oo, I thought, I wonder who they’re talking about? It could have been John Stuart Mill or John Holt but it turned out to be Rousseau and my heart sank because, must as I admire his ideas on education they are very definitely For Boys Only. Surprise, surprise, girls must have a completely different system because well, we’re just not that bright, are we? And you know how emotional women get – we just wouldn’t cope (see this explanation.)

But it gets worse – for it transpired (and this I didn’t know) that in doing this ‘great’ work, Rousseau completely abandoned – yes, abandoned – his wife and their five children. I was outraged to hear this, and it reminded me of Enid Blyton and how she neglected her own children in order to write for other people’s. Her elder daughter commented on how confusing it was to read her mother’s descriptions of reading them bedtime stories – all completely fabricated as no such thing ever happened.

Should I be surprised? Is it a general – nay, invariable rule that people who bang on about something don’t actually practise it themselves? Can you think of other examples? Or perhaps counter-examples? Well, I have one – no, hang on- two. I was reading this morning about how St Francis not only preached against the Crusades but went to the Middle East to show friendship and solidarity with Muslims there. When Christians deviated from the gospel he was always ready, not only to point this out but actually to do something about it. As for Gandhi, the ways in which he married practice and preaching are well-known – and as a Quaker I ought to know that Friends aim to put everything we believe into practice.

So what is going on with these others, Rousseau and Blyton et al? Dickens was another case in point; a campaigner for children’s rights who neglected his own family. So is there some kind of philosophical point we can extract from this? And if so, what is it?

Answers below please.

Kirk out