It’s a Bind

Had a fairly good weekend, thanks for asking. On Saturday I whizzed round with the vacuum cleaner, watched a bit of tennis and then biffed off to a friend’s house for chat and chaat. Delicious. We watched The Night Manager which I had seen when it came out – scarily, 5 years ago! it seems like just before lockdown – and then I caught up with Today at Wimbledon. Yesterday I was a very bad Quaker indeed; I couldn’t concentrate in meeting and ended up looking at my phone instead. I expect to be Eldered very soon. After that I had a blitz on a corner of the garden (bastard bastard bastard) and went for a bike ride. I sorely felt the lack of tennis in the afternoon as it was too wet to go outdoors; at least it kept threatening rain but the real downpour only came in the evening.

Another week of tasty tennis beckons. The second week is always quite different from the first; the field has narrowed and you get a sense of who might make it to the final. All the British men are out of the singles now but the very interesting Emma Raducanu is still in the women’s draw. She’s just 18 but goes at it like a pro, so it’ll be fascinating to see how far she can get. The smart money for the men’s draw has to be on a Federer/Djokovic final (I wouldn’t lay odds on the winner) but the women’s is still quite open with some excellent players like Ash Barty, Coco Gauff and Angelique Kerber. So we’ll see. What’s really sad is that all the British players either come from abroad, grew up abroad or trained abroad (Murray moved to Barcelona aged 15) but it’s not surprising. We simply don’t have the infrastructure here; schools and community centres rarely have tennis courts, not to mention that the weather restricts play to about three months of the year. But, as I was saying to OH, it’s the class system that really did for tennis in this country. I remember as a youngster joining the tennis club next door and being thrown off the courts for wearing black socks (we were just practising, it wasn’t a tournament or anything). The members were very snobbish and unwelcoming and I imagine that was replicated in most places; not to mention that tennis was rarely played outside London and the Home Counties. So not only was the pool of players very small but the ethos was terribly gentlemanly; you used to see British players giving their opponents a nice polite little volley – which of course they dispatched with venom.

To return to the bindweed, as my brain did around 5.30 this morning, the problem is not just that it’s prolific; it’s that OH feels a tender concern for its welfare. OH is always extremely resistant to killing weeds, partly because they have a right to life like anything else, but also because they are a habitat for insects. I try to argue that bindweed and brambles are the Nazis of the weed world, that left unchecked they will destroy everything in their path, but my agonised pleas fall on deaf ears.

And then last night, just as I thought it was safe to look at my phone, I see that a short story has pinged back only two days after submission – and on a Sunday night! Two days – that has to be a record.

And that was my weekend.

Kirk out

Silent Witness

I’ve long been a fan of Silent Witness, probably as long as the series itself has been running (about 25 years), and I was trying to explain to OH why I like it. I think one attraction is that the characters are like a family, but it’s also unpredictable and quirky. But the main thing I like about it is that all the loose ends are tied up. There may be pain and violence but everything is resolved by the time the credits roll. It doesn’t matter how awful the story is, at the end of it we know who dunnit, how they dunnit and why they dunnit – and most importantly, all the main characters are still standing.

It’s amusing too, at times; as with Casualty we look out for cliches. Last night’s story featured a black cast including The Greengrocer of Wisdom, dispensing deep insights along with watermelons, and The University Acceptance Letter of Death. This is a variation on the Cough of Death in Casualty.

Sadly we are now running out of episodes. But never fear – the Handmaid’s Tale comes to the rescue. I think the jury’s out on this fourth series; the first half was excellent but second dragged a little.

So that’s us up to date.

Kirk out

But What Does God Think?

I spent much of yesterday reading Millicent Fawcett’s ‘Short History of Women’s Suffrage.’ It’s a fascinating read with some interesting (and depressing) parallels with our own time. It is astonishing to discover just how many times the issue of women’s suffrage was up before Parliament and how many times, in spite of having widespread support, it failed to pass into law. Gladstone stands out as a particular weasel; having indicated he would support the issue when in government, he then proceeded to campaign against it as Prime Minister. Remind you of anyone? Fawcett was in the thick of this debate and knew major players such as John Stuart Mill and Harriet Martineau as well as the female opponents of women’s suffrage, whose position she neatly eviscerates. It’s exactly like Phyllis Schlafly who opposed the Equal Rights Amendment in the US: it’s a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do.’

But for all its obvious frustration and anger, the book is not a rant. It’s a very measured account whilst also being well-argued and forceful. The most striking thing about her opponents is that they nearly all relied on some inside knowledge of what God thought about it all. Women were divinely ordained to stay at home and raise children; we were not formed for cogent thought, etc etc etc and this was the way God wanted it. As Mary Wollstonecraft observed a century and a half earlier, ‘I have not found among the disbelievers in organised religion a single opponent of the principle of equal rights for men and women.’

There were a lot of surprising things in this book; such as that the Isle of Man was the first place in the UK to give women the vote and that in many places until the mid-19th century women were allowed to vote by default – simply because there was no law that said they couldn’t. The book is sad because it was written in 1912 when Fawcett thought we were on the eve of obtaining the vote, not realising it would take four years of senseless slaughter to change people’s minds; she did, however, live to see it enacted into law and the first women MP’s take their place in Parliament.

Warning – next section contains spoilers.

In other news, we finished watching Jimmy McGovern’s excellent series Time, starring Sean Bean as a deeply remorseful alcoholic serving four years for killing a cyclist while driving drunk. Four years is not long but the courts took into account that he handed himself into police, accepted responsibility for what he’d done and pleaded guilty in court. The drama begins with him being transported in a prison van alongside two maniacs who are banging the walls and screaming at each other, and in the beginning I thought it was going to be a violent drama which ended with him being killed or else somehow sucked into the system. Not a bit of it. It’s a steep learning curve but he learns how to stand up to bullies and spends a lot of time talking to young offenders about what he’s done. He teaches a fellow-inmate to read and after two years has so impressed the staff that he’s allowed out for a day to speak at a conference – unsupervised. But now it’s payback time: the guy who helped him defeat the bully wants the favour returned, and it’s a big one. After the conference he’s to stop off, pick up some drugs and deliver them to the prison. This is the turning-point of the drama – after delivering his speech to the conference on the need to live a good life, he can’t do it. He gets back in the taxi, goes back to the prison and tells the guy it’s no go. Ten minutes later they come for him, bearing snooker balls wrapped inside socks, but they guy he taught to read and write saves him, though not before he gets one eye socket bashed in.

The prison is often brutal, an environment where the best recourse to getting beaten up is to shut up because if you get a name as a grass life will only get worse. But there are beacons of light in the darkness, and in the end he finds redemption because he is willing to face up to what he has done. The drama ends with him meeting the mother of the man he killed, both of them trying to find a way forward.

There’s a sub-plot too, featuring prison officer Eric McNally, a ‘firm-but-fair’ bloke who actually does get sucked into the system because his son, in another prison, is being threatened. In order to save him he resorts to smuggling drugs into the prison and in the end he’s caught. He and Mark swap over; as Mark is waiting to get out, Eric is waiting to be transported to another prison to serve his time there.

It’s cathartic – and there aren’t many dramas you can say that about nowadays.

Kirk out

You Only Climb a Mountain Once, So Climb the Best – Everest

Every time I hear about people climbing Everest I think of the double glazing adverts. And then I think, as I’ve thought for a while, that basically people should stop climbing Everest. There is too much litter on the mountain, too many Sherpas have to risk their lives to save people and each trip degrades the mountain – in every sense; not only detracting from the physical substance of the mountain, but also detracting from its importance, its mystery and power. It might seem absurd to say that mountains should be revered and that climbing one should be a mystical* experience but I think this is a more healthy relationship to have with our environment than one which sees mountains as obstacles to be conquered. I hate it when I hear people say they’ve ‘bagged’ a Monro, as if they’ve taken it home to put on their mantelpiece. Sure, I can understand the desire to put oneself to the test and pit body and mind against what nature can throw at you, but we need to retain a sense of awe and wonder as well as a respect for nature, otherwise we’re doomed.

*as well as mistical

Speaking of a respect for nature, I’ve been trying to call the doctor this morning to request a thyroid function test. It must be about 18 months since I last had one and I’m experiencing some symptoms including weight gain which just won’t go away – and that isn’t like me. I’ve also gone mad and blitzed my hair; I got really fed up and attacked it with the clippers and now I’m feeling a bit scared at the result. But I was so tired of having long straggly hair and didn’t really have the money for the hairdresser, so what’s a girl to do? I guess I could dye it purple again – what there is of it – but I might end up looking like a ‘fifties child with ringworm. So maybe instead of conquering it with clippers I should have respected the nature of my hair and let it grow…

*sigh*

OH and I have been continuing with the Jimmy McGovern drama Time on BBC 1, about a teacher in prison for death by dangerous driving who comes up against some violent bullies who make his life a misery. It challenges me because I think, what would I do? I daresay men’s prisons are more violent than women’s but I doubt that women’s prisons are havens of peace and sisterhood, so what would I, a person committed to non-violence and who besides has never won a fight in her life – what would I do? I don’t know yet; maybe by the end of the series I’ll find an answer. Unfortunately they’ve put the whole lot up on iplayer so it’s veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery tempting to binge-watch. But we’re rationing ourselves…

Have a good Tuesday.

Kirk out

Turn Me Off and On Again

Well, we did the digital detox thing – and it was good. It’s hard at first because these habits are ingrained, but we had a great conversation on Friday night and on Saturday the son and I went to visit a relative. She lives in sheltered accommodation overlooking Watermead Park and we took our lunch out onto the balcony and ate there. It was delightful, a beautiful day with lovely views. I can’t say I really missed my phone and in the afternoon I sat in the garden and read a book almost cover to cover with no distractions. Excellent. And a double dose of Casualty in the evening: what could be better?

Sunday was good too; I went for a short bike ride and after Quaker Meeting tackled some of the frankly horrendous weeds in the garden. Then in the evening I watched the new Jimmy McGovern drama Time, which is shaping up to be an excellent series. It is utterly devoid of cliche and has the hallmark of someone who absolutely knows what he’s writing about. So I recommend that. I also attacked my hair yesterday; I’m fed up with it being long and straggly but can’t summon the enthusiasm – let alone the cash – to go to the hairdressers so I thought, let’s up and at it again. Which would have been fine except that the clippers, which are battery-operated, ran out of juice before I’d finished, so right now I look as if I’ve been scalped by a blind man on a rampage. Not to worry, I’ll finish it later and meanwhile I don’t have anywhere to be so it doesn’t matter; I can always cover the mess with a baseball cap if necessary.

A propos of which, some photos emerged over the weekend. First I had my son take one of me in a red baseball cap which he calls my MAGA hat; then my sister sent over some photos of me when I was about 14; one in a bikini in the vicarage garden and one with our father in York. The thing that struck me was how thin I was; the comparison is quite sobering. I’m now slightly overweight and can’t seem to lose it; I’m thinking of going to the doctors for a thyroid function test to see if that’s the cause.

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

Kirk out

The Mystery of The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Tonight we will be reinstituting the custom that we’re not going to call Shabbat because we’re not Jewish but which is based on the same idea: before dinner we turn off all devices – TV, phones, radios and computers – and then eat. Said devices then stay off until dinnertime on Saturday. It’s hard to do but really good to take a break from technology and recharge the batteries. So if you want me during the hours of 6 pm today to the same time tomorrow you’ll have to pop round in person.

I’ve been re-reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood in connection with a story I’m writing. I read this years ago; it was Dickens’ last novel and he died before it was finished, so no-one knows how it ends. I daresay people have tried to finish it but I’m not going to do that; instead the story is based around the – actually, if I told you that I’d have to kill you so I’ll just have to leave it to your imaginations. Apparently there was a BBC series back in 2012 where the screenwriter attempted to finish the story. How did I miss that?

Going back to the thing-which-isn’t-Shabbat for a moment, it’s become almost a social obligation to be permanently available. If you switch your phone off even for a few hours people can become plaintive. ‘I’ve been trying to get hold of you!’ they whine. And don’t even get me started on employers who pay you for eight hours a day but seem to think you should be available for 24. It should not be an act of defiance to be unavailable for a day or two, but often it is. So Friday night seems a good place to start. Speaking of which, OH has recently got into the sitcom Friday Night Dinner whose co-star Paul Ritter recently died. FND is about a Jewish family who meet every Friday night for dinner but are otherwise not observant Jews. Tamsin Greig is always worth watching and there’s a good supporting cast but to me the series was too full-on, too obvious; it lacked highs and lows. The adult offspring were far too childish to be believable and always did the same things every week and the neighbour Jim was preposterously annoying. To me it would have been funnier if it had started off each week with everyone trying to be on their best behaviour and being unable to keep it up. Still, OH found it very amusing so that’s something. And it ran for six series so some people must have liked it.

Hey ho. Have a good weekend. See you on the other side.

Kirk out

Make it to Hay While the Sun Shines

Apparently the Queen’s platinum jubilee is next year, which explains why I didn’t know about it. We’re going to get four days’ holiday apparently. Phew! I don’t need to get polishing my flags just yet then… in other news, I’m booked in for a few Hay Festival sessions over the next few days but my mind has gone totally blank and now I can’t remember what any of them were. I’ve got two today so I’ll keep you posted – always assuming that by tomorrow I can remember what they were. Honestly, sometimes my brain seems to be away with the Clangers, on a planet far, far away…

Speaking of which, there was a brilliant retrospective the other night on BBC4 all about the history of children’s TV. It was a real nostalgia-fest and included some interesting insights about attitudes towards children’s programmes which at first were really not a priority. But soon the BBC began to understand that here was an important audience and started to produce quality programmes such as Blue Peter and the groundbreaking Newsround. Sniffy execs initially thought this would be about lost teddies and how to fix broken dolls; in fact they took their audience very seriously and explained world events in a way children could understand. They had some of the best correspondents reporting to them, such as Michael Burke and John Humphrys – in fact one producer complained that Humphrys wouldn’t close the satellite link until he’d done his piece to Newsround – and sometimes even broke stories before the main news did.

This programme was a delight. You saw clips of long-forgotten classics like Jackanory – the first programme I ever saw on children’s TV – as well as short animations by Oliver Postgate such as The Clangers and of course the inimitable Magic Roundabout, weirdly and wonderfully translated from the French and including such gems as Dougal turning to the camera and saying, ‘Waiting for the news, are you?’ They even covered some of the myths that grew up around these animations such as that TMR was all about drugs or that there was a character in Captain Pugwash called Seaman Stains (there wasn’t.) It’s a great watch and it’s still on iplayer so take a look. In fact there’s a whole evening of classic children’s programmes on Sunday night on BBC 4.

Other than that, it’s been rather dismal fare in iplayer-land. Perfectly understandable, what with lockdown and everything, and there’s plenty of good drama on other platforms but we don’t have many of them so I’ve been working my way through old series of the faithful Silent Witness. I’m beginning to think I need to watch less TV anyway – in fact we’re going to reinstate the Friday night thing of switching all devices off before dinner and keeping them off until Saturday night. It’s hard but it’s very beneficial.

And that’s Thursday. Have a good one.

Kirk out

I Demand to Have a Fluffy Thing

It’s interesting to compare the vocabularies of different languages. Spanish, for example, has two words for ‘to be’, one permanent and one temporary, though Inuit does not, contrary to popular opinion, have ten words for snow. But what is true is that the English have lots of words for rain: drizzle, mizzle, downpour, stair rods, cats and dogs, shower, light shower, scattered shower, torrent. pelting, tempestuous… I could go on and on like the rain itself has done this past month, and the reason is obvious; we get a lot of rain. Not only that, the rain is unpredictable and very variable, hence we have a large rain-soaked vocabulary. One of my favourite quotes about rain was heard at a bus stop somewhere in Yorkshire after someone remarked that the rain had come earlier than forecast: ‘Course, this in’t the proper rain. This is just condensation.’

George Orwell’s theory of language posits that without a word for something we are unable to have a concept of it. As Blackadder says, the Germans are evil and heartless because they have no word for ‘fluffy’. But I would dispute that – not the fluffy thing, the other thing* – because there are plenty of things we go around noticing but cannot yet name.

*although possibly also the fluffy thing

Douglas Adams’ Meaning of Liff gives words to things that have no name as yet. It’s an interesting linguistic exercise but it’s mainly comic; the comedy arising from the fact that we recognise the things but just haven’t named them yet. Such as the ‘garden sprinkler’ thing your mouth does when you open it at a certain angle (‘Skoonsprout’) or the way cars all slow down and drive in formation when a police car is among them ‘Grimbister.’

But once we start to properly think about these things we immediately invent words for them. As a child I felt that the broaching of a new jar of jam or Marmite required some sort of ceremony; the surface was so smooth and perfect, I wanted to say something as I dipped my knife in for the first time. So I invented the word ‘pervise’ and solemnly intoned ‘I pervise this jar of Marmite.’ Later I discovered something in my eye which only half seemed to be there, something I couldn’t explain and so christened it ‘boodies and frooths’ which summed up the uncanny feeling they gave me. I told my mother they were monsters but it wasn’t until I grew up that I discovered they were floaters in the eye.

In his book Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker shows us all the minutiae of life that we are only subliminally aware of. I thought I was the only person obsessed by the handrail on the Tube escalator but Baker is too; he describes in great detail how the handrail moves slightly faster than the stairs so that you have to keep adjusting where your hand is. It’s such a relief to read a book by someone as obsessed with minutiae as I am; who notices the tiny gap between lift and floor or the bit of the handrail where it seems to be stitched together like a rough wound, which if you watch for long enough comes round again and again. Here is a book detailing all the things I ever wanted to think about but was told weren’t important and in the end didn’t have time for. It is a joy.

I’m sort of groping towards a point here but I can’t yet pinpoint exactly what it is. In other news we’ve been watching the Netflix series Unorthodox, based on a true story of a woman’s escape from an ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn. It’s very gripping. And before that we were enthralled by Little Fires Everywhere on Amazon Prime (yes, I know I hate Amazon but it wasn’t my account) the story of the unravelling of a supposedly inclusive community in small-town America.

Kirk out

Motherland

Some series take a while to get into their stride. I wasn’t sure about Motherland at first but it’s really grown on me, especially now series 2 is up. Motherland is about a group of delinquent mothers plus one stay-at-home dad and their struggles with a rival group of yummy-mummies, not to mention the bureaucracy of the school and the demands of their respective jobs. Anna Maxwell Martin, fresh from being the smug boss in Line of Duty, plays a Julia, a harrassed mum who is always late, always rushing, always dropping her kids off at school with the wrong shoes or without their swimming gear, and with the most selfish husband imaginable. In series 2 she refuses a promotion on the grounds that she’d be doing three people’s jobs instead of one, and sets up on her own as a ‘mumpreneur’. At the same time yummy mummy Amanda (Lucy Punch) has set up a ‘store’ (‘it’s not a shop’) selling the kind of overpriced tat Fran used to sell in Black Books, and an online campaign starts against the ‘yummy-mummification’ (great phrase) of the high street. It’s full of surprises and of course you’re always rooting for the delinquent parents against the yummy-mummies.

One of the reasons I like Motherland is that it’s anti-aspirational. These are not bad parents; they do genuinely care about their kids but they’re running a race they can’t particularly be bothered to win. What’s not so good is that I’m feeling the same way about the Labour Party at the moment. Do they really care about winning or are they just content to sit about in opposition and bleat a bit at odd moments? The polls for today’s elections make depressing reading and I’m going to have to force myself to go out and vote because I really don’t have much enthusiasm for it right now.

*Sigh*

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the establishment of The Guardian. In true self-deprecating style they didn’t make a huge fanfare about it but they did release a special inset including articles from key moments in the past such as C P Scott’s 100th anniversary editorial which includes the phrase ‘Comment is free; facts are sacred.’ There was also a facsimile of the very first edition on May 5th 1821 with adverts on the front as was the case with all papers then. So that was interesting.

Kirk out

Line of Duty. Warning – Contains Spoilers

After all that! After all the expectation, after all the hype and the trailers and the podcasts, after all that had gone before, the twists and turns, the misdirection – I was expecting a huge, multiply-orgasmic explosion of revelations, gasp after gasp, plot twist after plot twist, from the final episode of Line of Duty. Instead what we got was a damp squib. To find out, after all this time, H – or the fourth man – wasn’t some criminal mastermind posing as a respectable senior officer, wasn’t the Chief Superintendent or the smug woman who took over from Hastings – wasn’t, in fact, Hastings himself (Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey, but that woulda been a twist!) but was in fact sad incompetent little Ian Buckles who was being used as the fall guy, was a bit of a let-down. His interview was a series of shrugs and ‘no comments’ – there were no major reveals, no car-chases or shoot-outs, nothing in fact resembling a climax. It was as if the curtain rose on a pile of charred embers and at the end of it all we were told that systematic corruption within the force was never pursued and hence never discovered. I was disappointed; I’d looked forward to it for so long and after all the build-up it was a real anticlimax.

Ah well. Onwards and upwards… life without Line of Duty was always going to be that little bit harder and I suppose the ending made it easier to bear. But that doesn’t prevent it from having been one of the best TV dramas in – well, probably ever; in this day and age, a programme that makes you concentrate every second in case you miss something vital is a rare gem. There’s too much ‘wallpaper TV’ – and I’m not talking about the Prime Minister’s apartment. What I particularly hate are the programmes which give you two minutes of clips showing you what the programme’s about when a single sentence would do; not to mention those which tell you what’s going to happen next time which thankfully Line of Duty never did. It had too much respect for itself.

When that landmark was passed, I watched the rest of Philomena, a great film based on the scandal of the Irish church selling the babies of ‘fallen’ women. Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan and introduced by Philomena everywhere as ‘Martin Sixsmith, News at Ten’, helps Philomena (Judi Dench) to find her lost son who was taken from her by the nuns and sold to American parents. It’s a shocking story, most of all because of the cruelty and hypocrisy of the nuns who could have reunited mother and son but lied and covered up the truth until it was too late. And after that I sat through a harrowing play about child abuse during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and even though I put on an episode of Motherland afterwards to take the taste away (this series has grown on me and now I love it) but the trauma stayed with me when I went to bed.

I’d had plans to go for a walk yesterday – the day before I discovered a beautiful bluebell wood – but those plans were scuppered by the weather so in the end I just went to Sainsbury’s and stocked up. In the rain.

Kirk out