Fairyhell Marriage

Millions of words have been written about Princess Diana and even more pictures printed but we had to wait until after her death to learn that Andrew Morton’s biography  was based largely on tapes she recorded secretly with the author.

It’s a story to break your heart: a classic Grimm fairytale with enough evil stepmothers, ugly sisters and neglectful husbands to fill an entire library.  Diana’s married life – and possibly her life even before marriage – was utterly devoid of human warmth and compassion: according to her account during her worst hours the Royal Family, her husband and even her own sister failed to support her.  Buckle up and get on with it seems to have been the order of the day: but what must have made an intolerable situation far worse was having to present a smiling face to the world.  The world needed to believe in the fairytale of a commoner marrying a prince and living happily-ever-after: it was a fantasy in which the hapless couple were forced to be complicit as they were not only followed everywhere by cameras but cross-examined in interview after probing interview.  Diana must have felt she was carrying the weight of the whole world on her shoulders.  There were times when she wanted to cancel the wedding but once announced the preparations were like a rocket already launched and could not be stopped.  Imagine: it’s hard enough for a commoner to cancel a traditional wedding once preparations are in train; if you add into the mix the cold, inflexible royal protocols and an unprecedented level of press intrusion, you have a recipe for 360-degree hell.  On her wedding day she was sick with bulimia (who wouldn’t be?) and wanted to cut her wrists.  Had her marriage been happy the rest might have been tolerable, but it wasn’t: she had little in the way of love and support from her husband as he was always more interested in Camilla.

Diana must have been made of steel, because she not only survived this hell but made a role for herself, a role which seemed genuinely to use her gifts and talents.  She had the common touch and an ability to connect with ordinary people, particularly those suffering from AIDS and injured by land-mines.  But sadly the press never left her alone and although it’s not clear that they were directly responsible for her death, they surely must bear part of the blame.

The story of Diana has many possible narratives and in fairness her version is just that, a version.  I have no reason to doubt what she says, but every witness is partial and there are always other points of view: in a sense Charles was as much of a victim as Diana, being unable to marry the woman he loved and forced to wed for the sake of the succession.  In the past he’d have been able to carry on with Camilla in secret whilst presenting a respectable public face but modern levels of scrutiny make this impossible.  Besides nowadays the royals, like the rest of us, are supposed to marry for love.

The story also illustrates a paradigm shift, as pointed out in The Queen: a ‘shift in values’ between the old stiff-upper-lip of royal protocol and the more human and compassionate face which Diana represented.

I hope no future royal princess will receive that level of intrusion because we have no right to demand it of them.  They are not there to fulfill our dreams, we need to do that for ourselves.

Here’s the film:

https://bit.ly/2BDYj4Y

Kirk out

 

 

 

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The Fast Show?

It may well have escaped your notice that the season of Lent is almost upon us.  Lent is a period of fasting, as is Advent; and whereas people used to fast before the feast, now we forget the fast and fast-forward to the feast.*  And how: Easter eggs are already in Sainsbury’s and Easter is not until April 21st.  It’s not even Lent for another three weeks.

*see what I did there?

Not that most Christians actually fast during Lent.  It’s more common to give something up – chocolate, say, or booze.  The last church I went to had a more imaginative approach to this, suggesting that one might give up TV (we did that and ended up getting rid of it for good) or swearing or being critical (I’ve tried that and it’s really hard.  God, I’m so bad at it.  I’m a terrible person…)  This seems more conducive to spiritual growth than a token avoidance of chocolate, though if one is addicted to chocolate it would be beneficial.

What’s interesting is that while these fasting times of Advent and Lent are largely ignored in a frenzy of chocolate and present-wrapping, the emphasis has shifted.  We still have periods of abstinence, only now the emphasis is on physical health rather than spiritual growth.  And the periods have time-shifted: instead of Advent we have Stoptober for giving up the fags and Go Sober for October for giving up jokes (just kidding: I could never do that.)  Then there’s Dry January alongside all the other post-Christmas health kicks – so instead of December we have October and instead of March, January.  Everything has moved back a couple of months.

Hm.

But as for actual fasting as in abstaining from food and drink, I think the only folk to do that are the Muslims.  The difficulty of the Ramadan fast varies according to the country and time of year as it takes place from sunrise to sunset and is compounded in hot countries by the need to abstain from drink.  You are nil by mouth: some more zealous Muslims, so I’ve read, even refrain from swallowing saliva.  As for me, I find fasting extraordinarily difficult.  It’s not only the gnawing hunger that gets me, it’s a deep-seated fear which I can’t quite put my finger on: a fear of fainting, perhaps, or more probably a fear of death.  Anyway, since I’ve failed to lose much of the weight I put on at Christmas and am now borderline overweight, I am going to try OH’s watermelon fast.  This consists of eating watermelon.  Fast.  (Just kidding; if you’re trying to lose weight you should eat as slowly as possible.)

Oh, and the sofa should be being picked up today.  I’ll keep you posted on that as well…

Meanwhile just for a laugh, here’s a clip from the actual Fast Show:

 

 

Kirk out

Bee-owulf Movie

Strange noises are coming from the laptop next to me: I look over and see that OH is watching a trailer for Bee Movie dubbed into Old English. 

‘What really annoys me,’ says OH when the video is finished, ‘is that they keep saying eu instead of eu.’

‘What instead of what?’  I always get sucked into these conversations and I always regret it.

‘Eu!  Instead of eu!’

‘How dare they?’  I mean honestly, when people don’t even pronounce diphthongs in Old English correctly, what is the world coming to?  Is nothing sacred?  Do Old English vowels mean squat these days?

What with OH remembering Old English, my laptop now has dementia.  It was great to get a free model and after installing a hard drive we booted from a pen-drive (incidentally I wonder what folk from centuries past would have made of those terms?  A hard drive would be a long carriage-ride over rough terrain, and a pen-drive would be something like a whist drive, only for writers.  I ask these questions because I am watching the BBC’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ yet again, and it has set me thinking: how do you explain one age to another?  We have the benefit of history in understanding the past, not to mention its literature and art, but how could we ever explain our age to Jane Austen, should she arrive one day in a Tardis-carriage?  Impossible.)

Anyway, why does my laptop have dementia?  Simple.  We have not yet formatted the hard drive because I don’t know how and because the instructions, as ever, are written in language harder to understand than Beowulf.  It says this:

Please use your arrow keys to select the unpartitioned drive.  Press the appropriate key to create a new partition.  You will be asked to set the size of the partitions.  Use the default amount unless you wish to create more than one.  Select the newly-created partition on which you would like to install the Operating System and press the appropriate key to continue with formatting.

Now to anyone who understands computers this may be clearer than daylight; but whilst I get that you have to select and click and what-have-you, I am hampered by not understanding the terms.  What is a partition and why do I want one?  What does it do?  Why do I need more than one?  Why does Linux need more than Windows?  I know I could just follow the instructions but without this knowledge I feel I’m stabbing at things in the dark and hoping they’ll work.  Why don’t they explain this stuff?

Answer: because they assume you know.  They assume that, since you’ve managed to buy the correct hard-drive for your computer, you will understand the technical terms associated with it.  But that’s a bit like assuming that because you’ve bought a car you know how the engine works.  I think there’s a big gap here and it’s because – according to what I’ve read – Silicon Valley is peopled by young men who don’t have a clue what it’s like not to be young and techno-savvy.  And don’t even get me started on older people and computers…

So, due to the unformatted state of said hard-drive, I am booting every day from a pen-drive.  And the pen drive forgets everything when it shuts down: all passwords, all add-ons, all downloads and attachments – gone.

*Sigh*

I suppose I’m just going to have to ask OH to do the formatting thing.

Kirk out

Treadmills, Victorian Punishments

In the course of my novel writing I had reason to look up Victorian prison punishments (just because I’m using one as a metaphor) and was once again reminded of the horrors of these dark satanic gaols.  But then I got to wondering whether they might be an improvement on their predecessors because, however forbidding the buildings and however self-righteously punitive the punishments, there was at least an attempt to deter and rehabilitate rather than merely to inflict pain.  Then again the sheer bureaucratic vindictiveness of a treadmill which is horribly hard work but produces nothing, or a handle which has to be turned a certain number of times a day to no purpose (and which can be tightened at will by the guards; hence the name ‘screws’) give the lie to that theory.

We’re all in a prison of some kind; and at the weekend I went to see the classic ’80’s film 9 to 5.  I hadn’t seen this when it came out and I was struck by how much things had changed, both for the better and also very much for the worse.  Three women work in the office of a corrupt and misogynistic boss: one a recent divorcee (Jane Fonda), one happily married but blonde and busty (Dolly Parton) and one a highly efficient single mother who really should be running the place (Lily Tomlin).  After a series of insults, power grabs, unwanted sexual advances and hourly put-downs, the women get together and decide to change things.  Rather than merely getting drunk and fantasising about it (though they do that too) they take action.  When one of them accidentally poisons the boss by putting rat poison in his coffee they kidnap him from the hospital and tie him up in his own home, holding him hostage while they take over the office.  Of course it unravels in the end but everything turns out for the best.  It’s a great feel-good movie and very funny.  So what’s changed?

Well, the acceptability of sexual harrassment has changed (though perhaps not its prevalence, where some men think they can get away with it).  The position of women has changed.  We now have laws about equal pay; there are more women in positions of power, and so on.  So far so good.  What’s not so good is the way people treat each other: in spite of the boss’s contempt for his female subordinates everyone was far more polite than we are nowadays.  And there was more time: back then the idea of nine-to-five was the epitome of slavery but nowadays people are doing ten or twelve-hour days and answering emails in their sleep.  Not so good.

So my question is this: is it inevitable that when some things get better other things will get worse?

Two of the three actors turn up decades later in the excellent Grace and Frankie.  I absolutely love this series and there’s so much to say about it that it’ll have to wait for its own blog post: suffice it to say that it’s a comedy of old age, a sort of geriatric Friends.  One of the creators of that classic series, Marta Kaufmann, is involved in this story of two octogenarian women whose husbands have been conducting a gay love-affair for decades and who have recently come out and set up house as a couple.  Thrown together by circumstances, Grace and Frankie rub along and fall out as often as you’d expect a work-driven WASP and an aged hippy to fall out.  The series is broad-based and while Grace and Frankie are the centre, we also follow the story of the two husbands (equally diverse but far more compatible) and the grown-up children.  There’s a lot of comedy about ageing which is neither patronising nor in denial and it’s worth seeing for the San Francisco beach house location alone, so if you have Netflix I urge you to watch it now.

Look, it didn’t need its own blog post after all!

Kirk out

The Joy of Tax

I’ve been putting it off quite long enough.  That reminder in my phone calendar to ‘do tax return’ has been lurking for weeks and has begun to assume a plaintive air: if I leave it any longer it will become positively admonitory – and take it from me, the last thing you want to see every morning is an Admonitory Reminder.  Having got the desktop computer up and running (like OH in the mornings – yes, still pounding the streets at 6 am) I’d run out of excuses.  Log on I must, and the sooner the better, just in case I run into any problems, since the prospect of phoning the helpline on 31st January does not appeal.

At this time of year I always think of Bernard Black making a jacket out of his receipts:

I know how he feels.

It’s not that in principle I object to paying tax.  As a fully-signed-up Labour Party member I am utterly seized of the need to pay what is due so that we can have proper public services.  No, it’s not that; in fact I’d be hard put to say what actually does bother me about this process – all I know is that a sense of dread and doom and an unwillingness to embark on it is matched by the knowledge that I must do it Or Else; and these two fight it out until, some time in late January, I actually do it.  Then once it’s done there’s a feeling of euphoria which lasts several days – but somehow I always forget this when January comes a-knocking again.

Anyway, with that box ticked I can get on with the rest of my year, warmed by a righteous glow and without the need to talk to any Jehovah’s Witnesses…

Kirk out

I Blame the Swedes

Well my dears I am happy to report that I am typing this on a newly-refurbished laptop.  It’s a great feeling when refurbishment comes together and you can continue using something rather than recycling it.  In any case the time had come when I could no longer juggle my old laptop plus a USB keyboard: having ingested a small amount of water, the laptop keyboard was incapable of producing words other than ‘t;hf5co.vfp- 1;f!g9gc;b.’  Not exactly what I had in mind.  But lo!  The son’s old laptop lay languishing under the sofa, needing only a new connection to make it as serviceable as ever.  So off went OH to the computer shop while I searched for the mains lead.  I found a bunch of phone chargers and a snake-pit of unnameable wires with bizarre plugs on the end, none of which remotely resembled the charger I wanted.  Ah well.  We bought a new one, the computer wizard worked his magic and so here I am fully-toggled and ready to go.

Not so fast, Lizardyoga!  For the new laptop does not have Word on it.  Instead it has Open Office.  Well that’s fine, it’s Word-compatible as most things are nowadays (I use Word not because I like it but because publishers usually insist on it.  That’s my excuse anyway.)  So I plugged in my shiny new pen drive (joy) and fired up the word-processor.  What?  What the actual – ?  Oh.  My.  God.  I’d forgotten that before buying a new and utterly righteous machine *, OH was using this.  And guess what?  The user interface was all in Swedish.

Swedish!  I ask you, what good is that?  Instead of friendly helpful headings it had inexplicable words like nyark and verdstrom.  What the hell?  I went downstairs to berate OH and insist on an English-language version.

‘Why don’t you just learn Swedish?’ was the reply.  I was not amused.  An hour of fruitless fumbling ensued during which OH frequently expressed the view that it would be easier for me just to learn Swedish (love that ‘just’) whereupon I retorted that I wanted to actually do some work not try to figure out what some digital Swedish chef was trying to tell me.  Finally we got it working in English and the Swedes have gone home.

Phew.

Swedes going home might be a by-product of Brexit – a propos of which, did you see the excellent Channel 4 drama ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War‘?  I wasn’t sure about it at first as there was a lot of shouting and power-struggling between men which was reminiscent of The Thick of It (I don’t like TTOI because it’s too shouty and sweary and lacking in subtlety) but it got much better.  Rory Kinnear (that man seems to be everywhere) played Craig Oliver, the hapless leader of the Remain camp and Benedict Cumberbatch played Dominic Cummings, a man so eccentric as to seem at times completely unhinged.

It is recommended.  A word-processor in Swedish is not.

*OH never stops boasting about this machine, whose battery lasts for weeks without being recharged and which is so light you can balance it on your thumb.

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