Privileged? Moi?

Years ago OH and I tried to make a series of these jokes, such as ‘Pretentious – moi? Pedantic – I? Repetitive – me myself personally? and so on. It was necessarily quite a short series but it amused us for about five minutes.

Then this morning I was wondering what it must be like to be privileged; to have doors open for you, taxis waiting, queues jumped, money always available and waiters jumping to attention. I can’t imagine it. And then I thought, what about the kinds of privilege I have – like education, race, class and so on? And I guess the answer is that when you have privilege you don’t notice it. I don’t notice that I’m driving and NOT being stopped by the police, or walking down the street and not being abused, or not being being able to access certain classes or join in certain discussions; not being able to climb steps or negotiate kerbs. When you have privilege it’s like the air you breathe; you don’t notice it till it’s not there.

From time to time there are people – usually journalists, sometimes politicians – who deliberately put themselves in the place of the less privileged; sometimes to make a point, sometimes just to find out what it’s like. George Orwell did this when down and out, doing some of the worst jobs and living in the filthiest holes in London and Paris; Polly Toynbee (in Hard Work in Low-Pay Britain) did some of the worst women’s jobs in the country and from time to time politicians have tried to live on the dole for short periods; the one I remember most is Matthew Parris who thought he was going to save £3 a week and ended up sitting in the dark for three days because the meter had run out. But noble as these efforts are, they are transient; at the end of it you know you’re going back to your old life and even if you don’t, you generally have the safety-net of family, friends, contacts etc who are all likely to be well-off and able to help. You have hope; more than that, you have a time-limit when you know you’re getting out. You may be in purgatory but you’re not in hell.

I don’t really know where I’m going with all this, except that when people like Lawrence Fox say there’s no such thing as male privilege, I think ‘how would you know?’ Because basically unless you’ve had your oxygen taken away, you don’t know what it’s like not to breathe.

One privilege I shall definitely enjoy soon is Wimbledon. It’s late this year, presumably because of Covid, not starting till June 28th but I’m looking forward to it. Andy Murray has a wild card so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do.

Have a good weekend. We’ll be doing the non-Sabbath thing tonight and tomorrow so I’ll be incommunicado for that period.

Kirk out

Jo Cox

I should also add that today is Jo Cox Memorial Day. Downing Street’s recently-quit race advisor Samuel Kasumu has opined in the Guardian, ‘People have already forgotten Jo Cox,’ but I don’t think that’s true. I think her sister standing in Batley and Spen has refreshed memories, if people had forgotten, but I think we are frequently reminded – as we should be – about what happened. Her murder was instrumental in confirming OH’s opinion about Brexit and was a horrible sign of the spirit that would be unleashed if we voted to leave.

Many – though not all – of these fears have been realised, though of course Brexit is not ‘done’ but is a grotesque juggernaut that continues to trundle on scattering debris in its wake. I loathe the spirit of flag-waving nationalism that’s been unleashed by this disastrous process; surely it was this kind of patriotism which Dr Johnson was referring to when he said it was ‘the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ Certainly fits another Johnson we know…

Enough ranting. Let’s take a moment to remember a promising young woman murdered just for doing her job.

Kirk out

ReJoyce! It’s Bloomsday!

Today, the day after my birthday, is a special celebration in Ireland; June 16th is Bloomsday, or the day when all the action in Ulysses is set, so-called after the main character Leopold Bloom. I have to fess up: I’ve never been a great fan of Joyce. Undoubted genius though he was (and I say this as one who appreciates that, not as one who’s been told it) I find the longer novels completely unreadable. I struggled through Ulysses, only because I had to, and foundered on the impenetrable rocks of Finnegan’s Wake. It’s a noble experiment to try to write a novel that stands outside time but in the end it’s unreadable. I do like the shorter works though and I especially appreciate his puns, my favourite of which is ‘funferal’, his word for a traditional wake.

But I like the fact that all Ireland celebrates Bloomsday. It’s not just some hook-up for the chattering classes but something which engages the whole community because Joyce was himself working class. More than that; there’s something in Celtic cultures which means that the arts run across classes and engage everyone, rather than being a mainly middle-class thing; I guess it’s a bit like the Rebus events in Edinburgh.

Here’s what’s on offer this year in Dublin.

Why can’t we do the same here in England? If you tell most ‘ordinary’ people about celebrations for Shakespeare’s birthday they will groan; because the Shakespeare they’ve been subjected to is like this scene in Dead Poets Society. This makes me roar and gnash my teeth, because it SO doesn’t have to be like that. Shakespeare is – and always was – universal. He’s for everyone. He’s like a pantomime; he’s got the cross-dressing and the knob gags as well as the sublime love interest and the yearning; he’s got everything. And the idea that we should all dress up and pay a fortune and sit still and quiet and listen earnestly is Just Not Right. It should be more like a pantomime with shouting and wailing and ‘oh yes he is! – Oh no he isn’t’ and crying and laughing. It should be joyous. To paraphrase Leonard Cohen, ‘Shakespeare taken serious by many; Shakespeare taken joyous by a few.’ The Celtic cultures do this so much better than we do because they don’t have any truck with pretension.

*sigh*

Ah well. I may log onto some of the Bloomsday events since they’re all online. In the meantime, I had a good birthday yesterday; no cake (I’m not a fan of cake and it would be a serious candle challenge) but some sitting in the garden, an excellent bike ride and pizza in the evening followed by strawberries and lemon sorbet. I love sorbet.

And that’s today. Happy Bloomsday. Happy Bloomsday to us, Happy Bloomsday to us, Happy Bloomsday dear Dublin…

Kirk out

Need Me! Feed Me!

Yes, it’s too true, I’ve started to worry about being needed and feeded – or fed and ned – for today I am 64. Yes, that’s right – sixty-bloody-four. When the Beatles wrote that song it must have seemed unimaginable to be that age. 64! God, that’s so OLD! Sadly half of them didn’t get to experience what 64 is like, but I have, and that is something to be celebrated. I’m still here! There were times when, for one reason or another, it looked as if I wouldn’t be but here I am, still moving and breathing and metabolising and all, and with much to be thankful for. So today I’m going to pause and just think about all the good things in my life. I will not be complaining about politics, I will not be mentioning the many faults of our glorious leader, I will not be moaning about the weather or the telly or anything.

First I shall consider the presents. I’m obviously very happy with the bike and since that was my main present I wasn’t expecting much else. But this morning OH came bearing the teapot below (I’ve cut down drastically on caffeine and was after a smaller teapot so I can still brew leaf tea); we’re not keen on the inscription but it’s one of those pots which sits inside the cup, which is neat. Apart from that my mother in law has spent far too much money on a Google play voucher which I shall spend on getting some music for my phone. I’ve had a fair few cards too and lots of birthday wishes on Facebook, which is nice.

So what can I say that’s positive about my life so far? In general I’m in good health, which is not a small consideration. Tiredness and hypothyroidism apart, I don’t have many health problems, partly because I’m still doing my yoga every day. I did have trouble sleeping last night which I think was due to the imminent sixty-fourness of it all; there’s something about that age that feels like a landmark. Maybe it’s the Beatles’ song, maybe it’s because it’s a multiple of 12 – I don’t know, but it seems like a significant age. So if the Beatles are right I should be digging the garden, doing the weeds and renting a cottage in the Isle of Wight (if it’s not too dear.) Actually yesterday OH and I went to B&Q and as we perused the compost and garden gates and pushed our trolley between aisles of bedding plants I said, ‘don’t you just feel like the typical retired couple, going to the garden centre on a weekday?’

What other positives are there? I’m still writing and getting better and better at it. I’m still doing this blog after 13 years. I’m still a Quaker which is a valuable part of my life. I’ve read loads of books this last year and even more when we do the thing-that-isn’t-Sabbath and turn off all devices. I’ve started learning Ancient Greek, I’ve re-read Beowulf and dipped into Anglo-Saxon, I’ve made the outfit I’m wearing (blouse and flared trousers) and I’ve knitted no fewer than three jumpers. I’ve taken up the piano-keyboard again and I’ve decorated various parts of the house.

So that’s all good.

What about the kind of person I’ve become? I was saying to OH the other day that I’m not a selfless person * and I stand by that; on the other hand I’ve become stronger and more assertive, more willing to stand my ground, less concerned with what people think. So that’s all good.

*OH made the mistake of agreeing with me

What else is there to say? I don’t know, except thanks for reading, liking and commenting and please keep it up.

Kirk out

And the Answer is… Thyroid Function Test!

I’ve finally had it. I’ve decided that continual fatigue plus weight gain equals possible thyroid problem. Had a chat with a doctor this morning and I’m now on hold and listening as we speak to the interminable information message on the GP’s answerphone about Covid, zero tolerance of abuse, Covid, being busy, Covid, ‘you will be removed from our list’ and bursts of fuzzy muzak before the phone starts ringing again and you think ‘Ah! I’m about to get through!’ but no, it just rings some more and then you get the muzak again. I’ve spent up to half an hour listening to all this mush and being told at intervals ‘You are currently in queue position number… (there’s practically a drum roll) ten!’ Actually I’m now at queue position number two but I’m only too aware that this is like coming off the motorway at the next junction but being stuck in a traffic jam so the next junction could be hours away.

To be fair when I do get through the receptionists are usually delightful; you couldn’t blame them for being a tad crabby as they must be on the phone every second from – and at that point the call was answered. And lo! I have an appointment on… drum roll… the 24th of June! The 24th of June! Sheesh. That’s disappointing; I guess I’ll have to be tired till then – and if it’s not the thyroid then I don’t know what’s going on. I used to put it down to sleeping badly but since I cut back on the caffeine I’ve been sleeping much better so I don’t know.

And now my book has arrived* so I’m putting this post on hold. Your comment will be answered as soon as possible. Your comment is important to us. The majority of my readers are delightful but rude or abusive comments will not be tolerated… you will be blocked…you are currently in queue position number….

Beeeeep!

Kirk out

*a Short History of Women’s Suffrage by Millicent Fawcett

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

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

I am Doing Reconnaissance

Having cycled 18 miles or so over the (admittedly long) weekend I’m going to have a rest today. I was going to cycle to Barrow yesterday, meet a friend, have lunch and then over to Quorn and back via the road, but this proved to be a little overambitious. It’s a lovely ride along the canal to Barrow – I’ve walked it many a time – but what I had forgotten is that the path crosses over at Pillings Lock and there’s a Bloody Great Bridge over which bikes must be carried. I reached it; I looked at it, I looked at the map and I thought ‘nah. This is far enough.’ So back I went, and far enough it jolly well was.

I’ve been thinking, as one does at this time of year, about holidays and travel. Like most of us I imagine I’d really like to get away but apart from the fact that nobody really knows what’s going to happen with Covid, I’m beginning to rethink tourism altogether because as a tourist you feel like a walking consumer. There are, it’s true, delightful holidays where you don’t have to feel that way at all – hiking in the Dales, climbing Monroes in Scotland, renting a cottage in the depths of France – but on most holidays you tend to feel like a walking market in which people are always trying to sell things. Buy this! Eat this! Look at this! Get the t-shirt! You can’t blame them – it’s the way most of them make money – but it’s not a pleasant experience. But though tourism may bring income to an area or country there are many hidden costs, not the least of which is accommodation. Last time I went to Southwold I felt very sad as I walked around and realised how many of the lovely houses near the sea front were actually holiday lets. Instead of staying in the heart of a town we were living in a tourist village where most of the locals had probably been completely priced out. I have very strong feelings about second homes too – appealing though it is to have a pied-a-terre somewhere delightful, it often means that local people are priced out and that you end up living in a community of city dwellers who only come down at the weekends. Besides, people have no business owning two homes when some people don’t even have one.

We’re going to have to stop flying anyway, so why not rethink tourism altogether? Instead of regarding the world as a spectacle to be consumed, see it as a place to be discovered. Instead of photographing everything, see and interact. Let’s forget tourism and bring back travel: in fact, let’s regard travel as a form of reconnaissance. Then again perhaps it’s like one of those irregular verbs: I am doing reconnaissance, you are a traveller, they are tourists.

Kirk out

All Right, That’s Enough Now!

I think we’ve had enough cold, wet weather now. It’s nearly the end of May, for xxxs sake, and it’s nine degrees and raining. Nine! Temperatures will reach a high – if you can call it a high – of 13 degrees today and I am Not Happy. I mean, I can take a joke but this is ridiculous. I demand that something be done about the weather NOW!

Governments are a bit like the weather, in a way – just as it rains on the just and the unjust, so a government governs all, whether you voted for it or not. It’s only been 18 months and I’m already sick to death of this one; they go from bad to worse. The high spot of this government’s programme is – actually there isn’t one. It’s all rubbish and I demand that something be done about the government NOW!

And what’s going to happen in Scotland? The weather there may be worse but the political climate is loads better, and now they’ve got another stab at independence. Since the main trigger for this is Brexit, and since many pro-independence voters want to be allowed to rejoin the EU as a newly-independent state, this looks very hopeful. It also looks impossible; not because it won’t happen – it’s looking more favourable than at any time in recent years – but because of the border issue. If Scotland rejoins the EU there will have to be a ‘hard border’ between England and Scotland. It’s my guess that this government will stop at nothing to prevent it, otherwise Hadrian’s wall will have to be rebuilt – and they’ll make Scotland pay for it!

How much damage can one man do? This is all down to Cameron’s arrogant decision to throw a referendum to the discontented populace like lobbing a bone at a dog, saying he’d deal with the consequences only to flounce off the moment the result was announced leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces. Of course many others, not least Johnson, have to answer for the mess we’re in but if it hadn’t been for Cameron it would likely never have happened. Meanwhile over the pond Trump continues to dodge bullets like some orange Rambo whilst lobbing more and more grenades at the democratic process, and in Belarus Lukashenko’s refusal to quit power has led to him hijacking a Ryan Air plane and kidnapping one of his rivals. And don’t even get me started on Bolsonaro. These are just the latest, democratically-watered-down versions of Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot. What is the matter with these people? Why do they want power so much? Why don’t they see the consequences of what they’re doing? I don’t think I’ll ever understand it but I guess it comes down to the fact that power corrupts. In a small way, we’re seeing that with Keir Starmer too; they should have listened to me and voted for Emily Thornberry.

*Sigh*

In the meantime, how will today pan out? Will I manage a bike ride in between the showers? Will I actually write anything? And what will OH be making for dinner? Find out in tomorrow’s thrilling instalment of…

… lizardyoga’s weblog!

Kirk out

Discipline + Flow =?

And how was my weekend? I hear you cry. It was… disappointing. I’d hoped to do lots of cycling but thanks to the weather and an energy dip I only managed about 3 miles. And yesterday I forced myself (and OH) to get out into the garden and tackle the weeds which are rapidly becoming unfeasible, after which I was too tired to cycle and anyway it rained for the rest of the day. I do find this weather depressing.

The thing that bugs me about gardening is that the longer you leave it the harder it gets. But also, the more you do, the more you see that needs doing. I find this very depressing as well. Nevertheless, the garden is now somewhat tamed and I can forget about it for a week or two before it starts bugging me again.

I think the garden I grew up with probably has an effect on my attitude. The vicarage garden was half an acre divided into wilderness on one side (appropriately biblical) and lawn on the other. The lawn was massive and took most of a day to mow, besides being lumpy and bumpy (I once borrowed the roller from the cricket ground next door and we heaved it up and down; it made not a blind bit of difference). But the wilderness was the worst place. There was a no-go area in the middle with a concrete air-raid shelter and the rest was just weeds from hedge to glass-topped wall. From this area our mother tried despairingly to raise veg, with unremitting effort and some success – so I think my idea of gardening has always been of unremitting effort; not enjoyable in the least. I find the rewards do not match the work. I’m aware there are people in the world who enjoy gardening and I keep hoping it will rub off on me but so far it hasn’t really. So this year we’re limited to OH’s efforts which so far are potatoes in tyres (more or less foolproof) and some dying tomato plants. Well, at least I managed to make some compost successfully; that’s something. But I must say I do feel a failure at gardening.

Anyway, that’s not what I was going to write about today. My topic for today is the perennial tussle for the artist between inspiration and self-discipline. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just sit down and be overtaken by a wonderful flow of inspiration whenever you wanted? Wouldn’t it be great if ideas came just at the most convenient moment? If you didn’t have to get to your desk every day and work at it, wouldn’t that be amazing? But it doesn’t happen, so you have to develop discipline, and these two have to be kept in constant balance. Inspiration without discipline can leave you feeling unbalanced and chaotic with loads of unfinished projects: discipline without flow is sterile and joyless. It’s a difficult juggling act; you can show up at your desk by nine am and stay there all day, but if the muse don’t show up you won’t produce anything worthwhile. Then again sometimes, if you start off writing any old nonsense sometimes you can get into the flow that way. But I’ve learned the hard way that discipline is necessary; if you live your life waiting for inspiration to strike – sure, it may strike, but you won’t know what to do with it when it does. For years my output consisted of random phrases and ideas because I didn’t have what Alan Bennett calls ‘the habit of art‘. I like that phrase because as every artist knows, art is first and foremost a habit, one which you have to cultivate.

So I guess that’s my kind of gardening…

Kirk out