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A Tragedy of Perfections

It occurred to me at stupid o’clock this morning when my brain had done its usual thing and whacked me over the head repeatedly to keep me awake, that the opposite of a Comedy of Errors would be a Tragedy of Perfections.  That struck me as a nice idea, and I began to ponder what a tragedy of perfections might involve.

The crossword is a case in point.  I may have mentioned before that I do the Guardian cryptic every morning to get – I was going to say, to get my brain in gear but as I said it’s already in top gear and revving hard – well, to get the verbal juices flowing and to sharpen my sense of what words are and how they work.  Cryptic crosswords are very useful for poets, and if I ever teach a creative writing course I will recommend them to my students.  But of course part of the joy of a cryptic is the puzzle.  If it’s too easy it’s not so enjoyable: likewise if it’s too hard.  Most of the time I get through OK but sometimes I’m stuck, and then those few blank spaces torment me.  Oh, if I could only get this crossword finished!  But here’s the thing: five minutes (or half an hour) later when I finally get it, my immediate reaction is disappointment.  It’s finished.  No more puzzle.  Now I have to wait till tomorrow.

And I guess that’s what I mean by the tragedy of perfection.  One of DH Lawrence’s characters (I think it was Birkin in Women in Love) said of the place where he was living: ‘Now that my rooms are complete I want them at the bottom of the sea.’  And that is the tragedy of being human; that we strive to complete things and when they’re complete we feel heartsick.  It’s like that old Chinese curse: ‘May your every desire be instantly fulfilled.’  We must have something to aim for, else what is the point of our lives?  Or, to put it another way, ‘a man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’  (that’s Robert Browning, from this poem:

I like Robert Browning: he’s very direct and conversational.  But I digress.)

What, then, is the answer?  How do we deal with this utterly perverse tendency?  I’m going to turn to yoga philosophy now and specifically to the concept of karma yoga.  Karma is a term everyone knows nowadays – or thinks they know, anyway – and yoga is something every second person practises.  But karma yoga has nothing to do with yoga postures; it is a way of doing everyday tasks which somehow helps you to wriggle free of this endless cycle of desire and frustration – the tragedy of perfection.  For example: suppose I vacuum the sitting room carpet.  As the machine hoovers up the dirt I feel a great sense of satisfaction at the instant swallowing of every bit of dust and fluff (and don’t get me started on the hair-balls which can only emanate from OH’s head).  The task is done: I switch off the vacuum which dies with a satisfied sigh.  I look around me.  I see that it is good.  But! five minutes later someone walks in with dirt on their shoes.  The sofa is moved, scattering fine toast crumbs over a wide area.  Snacks are eaten.  People enter and leave.  OH pulls out tangles of hair and drops them on the floor (and nobody can tell me otherwise).  And in no time at all my (yes, MY) lovely clean carpet is covered in filth.  And if I’m not careful I can get quite miffed about it.

Karma yoga gives a way out of this.  First, when you undertake a task it is done without end-gaining; in other words, without attachment to the results.  This isn’t the same as not giving a toss; it means that if the vacuum doesn’t suck properly or you get interrupted or if for some other reason the carpet is not as clean as you’d like it to be, you don’t sweat it.  At the same time the job is done with focus.  You’d be amazed how much more quickly a job can be finished when you focus your whole attention on it.  Last year when digging the garden I was totally oppressed by how much work there was to do and was unable to concentrate on a little bit at a time.  This year I have made a conscious decision to focus only on what I’m doing and to let go of perfection – and guess what?  I’ve done four times the work in half the time.

That’s all for today folks.  Now to edit this post and make it perfect…

Kirk out






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Hawking the Infinitely Prolonged

People are dropping like flies at the moment, and the latest to go is Stephen Hawking.  He was given two years to live after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and yet survived until the age of 76.  I’m trying to think of something clever to say about him, but zerothly has done it much better than I can, so all I’m going to do is put together a series of Hawking-related clips as a sort of half-arsed tribute:

These are, in order, zerothly’s blog post, the biopic The Theory of Everything, Hawking appearing in The Simpson’s and his voice in the latest Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Basically Hawking was up for anything and in spite of the monotone of his voice, had a great sense of humour: when asked when he’d made a mistake in A Brief History of Time, he replied, ‘I predict that I was wrong.’

Sorry I haven’t done this with my whole arse but I’m feeling a little cold-y and woolly-headed right now.

Kirk out

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Doddy and the Old Grey Good Old Grey Good Old Days

Ken Dodd Pictures, Photos & Images - Zimbio

(image will be removed upon request)

You know how Billy Connelly once suggested replacing the National Anthem with the Archer’s theme tune?

Well, since today’s news has struck of the death of Ken Dodd, I propose the following update to the words:

God save our gracious Dodd

long live our noble Dodd

God save the Ken.

Send him hilarious


long to remain with us

God save the Ken.

Because, let’s face it, Doddy  is like her Madge.  They both go on and on for ever; they are both corny but inoffensive and they are both National Treasures.  Doddy and his fluffy stick tickled the nation for decades; so long in fact that one of the first links on youtube was to an appearance on the Old Grey – hang on, no – the Good Old Days.

The GOD (interesting acronym) was a series which ran for almost as long as Doddy (1953-1983) and was basically Music Hall on TV.  People dressed up in Victorian gear – all boas, corsets and crinolines – and crowded into an old-fashioned theatre to watch a variety of Acts, of which Doddy was one.

He’s about 34 minutes in:

He had his own show on TV for years, as well as performing live (where he was reportedly more risque) and amassing a fortune of millions.

This got him into trouble at one stage when he was tried on suspicion of tax fraud; however he was acquitted, giving rise to a rash of jokes from other comics about Ken Dodd’s lawyer:

RIP Doddy, your fans will miss you

Kirk out



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Another One?

Today is potentially shaping up to be another One of Those Days, but I’ve had a change of heart – or possibly a change of head – about it.  Yesterday actually didn’t turn out too badly: though I didn’t get much work done I did go for a walk, dig a bit of garden (the soil is still very heavy), make dinner and arrange with Son to go to the cinema: we’re going this aft to see ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ a rather long and prosaic title for a film which promises to be very interesting.  It won several Oscars.

At the moment I am finding it hard to keep my head in one place; it keeps darting off here, there and everywhere, a little like Zaphod Beeblerox’s spare noggin which is continually wandering off on its own.  Which brings me to the (imagine Peter Jones’s voice saying this) ‘the rather disappointing and increasingly unfeasible hexagonal phase of the totally remarkable Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’  Yes, alas, despite featuring much of the original cast, plus Stephen Hawking as the Book, it was as OH described, lame and disappointing.  I suspect that Adams himself had milked just about as much as could be milked from this, in his words, ‘next volume of the increasingly inaccurately-named Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy’ for, though the universe may be expanding infinitely, the same does not apply to a radio series.

That it was originally written for radio is a point hugely in its favour, however; as they keep saying, the pictures are better on radio and you can do things with sound which would be impossible on TV.  Of course, not being a Radio 4 listener at the time (I only listened to music radio) I first came across it with the TV adaptation in 1981:

though I was swiftly thereafter introduced to the radio series by Peter, who had the whole thing on tape:

Go and get Zaphod

I’ve just worked out the square root of minus one.  It’s never been done before.  It’s always been thought impossible.

Go and get Zaphod!

Here I am, brain the size of a planet….

Repeat at infinitum…

(Don’t ask.)

Here’s the new series, if you want to bother:

Kirk out


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Is it ‘One of those Days’ or Am I ‘One of Those People’?

Today is shaping up to be a fully-fledged, five-star, top of the range example of One of Those Days.  It started badly at 5 am when I woke and couldn’t get back to sleep: so eventually I sat up and tried to meditate.  But OH was fidgeting too much so I went downstairs, spread out my mat and began.  All was well for about five minutes, when OH decides it’s time to get up.  Footsteps clonking down the stairs.  The door opens.  The steps enter.

‘Are you OK?’

‘Meditating,’ I say.  The word, uttered through gritted teeth, just about makes it out of my mouth.

‘Oh, sorry.’

Well, honestly – I’m sitting cross-legged with my head and shoulders covered: what did you think I was doing?

OH then proceeds to open the curtains with a swish of fabric and a clacking of wooden curtain rings.  And when I complained, he had the nerve to lecture me about my levels of concentration!


So we have re-established the ground rule: if meditating, do not disturb.

After that my brain was all over the place.  I managed to drink tea, do crossword and yoga but then there was no bread for breakfast and when there was it was squashed, difficult to cut and impossible to make into soldiers.  I need soldiers with my egg!!!

At this point I decided that today was going to be one of those days.  But here’s the thing: vis-a-vis yesterday’s post, was it the things that happened or was it my reaction to them?  Was I predisposed to react irritably because I hadn’t slept well?  OK that in itself makes it one of those nights, upon the heels of which may well follow one of those days, but sleeping badly doesn’t always make me irritable.  Sometimes I’m depressed; more often than not I’m just tired.

After breakfast I went upstairs to start work.  Everything was going just fine when I got a text from the bank: I’ve gone over my limit again.  Yep, that just about sums it up.  I’ve gone over my limit again; and from having a small but just about adequate amount to see me through the next week or two, I now have no money at all.

I have to say, sometimes it’s very hard indeed to ‘love only what happens.’  But is it the things or is it me?  Or both?

It’s ironic that I should be feeling this on International Women’s Day, a day of celebration about how far we’ve come (when I was young the phrase was, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’, which sounds incredibly patronising nowadays.)

But there it is.  That’s what’s happened.

You’ve gotta love it.


Kirk out

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A Chorus of Complaints

As Michael Fish once said (or was it Iain Macaskill?) I’m trying to think of something nice to say about the weather.  Meanwhile here is some light music.  Apparently it was Iain Macaskill – here’s one I posted earlier:

That isn’t the one I thought.  Oh well.  Anyway, the weather is… awful awful awful.  Schools are closed, motorways blocked, roads impassable and temperatures lower than a limbo-dancer’s back.  It’s cold.

But none of this compares to the ritual grumbling chorus.  It’s a musical for two competing choirs and it goes like this:

Choir 1:  It’s so awful.  I’m freezing.  We’re going to run out of bread/milk/gas/food/the ingredients of food.

Choir 2:  This is typical of Us.  What about Norway?  They don’t grind to a halt when there’s a few inches of snow.  Why can’t we manage?

To be honest, I have little sympathy with either side on this one.  Choir no. 1 is panicking unnecessarily: though of course there is suffering, the people complaining are not usually the ones suffering the most.  The ones I feel sorry for are the homeless and the hard-up, those who at the best of times have to choose between heating and eating and who must now be tearing their hair out.

But as for choir no. 2, it’s a completely false comparison.  You may as well say, ‘why can’t we cope with the heat like they do in Spain?’ or ‘why can’t we have canals everywhere like they do in Holland?’  They cope with snow in Norway because they have it every year!!!  They know it’s coming; they know more or less when it will come, how much there will be and how long it will stay.  They are geared up to it; their houses and trains and buses and roads are all designed with snow in mind.

But how often do we have this sort of weather?  How predictable is it?  How long does it usually last?

Like I say, there’s no comparison.

All of which causes me to wonder about Complaints Choirs.  These were a thing a few years back; choirs of people coming together to moan in four-part harmony (or cacophony) about mis-sold pensions or computers crashing or delayed trains or – anything at all really.  But I haven’t heard anything about them for a while now.

Well, according to this they’re still going – or they were in 2016:

Now stop moaning!

Kirk out

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No, It’s Not a Dream – We’re Stuck With It


Viewers of a certain age will recognise that line as coming from The Best Sitcom of All Time, but it also came from my mouth at seven this morning.  I don’t exactly know where I went during the night but I awoke with the oddest feeling of dislocation as though I’d been, not just somewhere else but somewhen else.  I had a vague sense that I was back in the vicarage where I grew up, and it took me ages to relocate my consciousness to here and now.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, relocating your consciousness to the here and now.  As someone once said to us after their holiday, ‘it’s not much to come back to,’ and really after all that effort to find myself in the present, where am I?  It’s not much fun here.  It’s cold, for one thing: and for another I am perennially stuck trying to write an effing novel.

I never feel this way about poetry.  When poetry comes it gives me joy, delight, hope; it opens new worlds: there’s a playfulness to it.  There’s work, but it’s good work; purposeful work.  It feels real and solid, as though words were stones and I a stonemason.  But not so with prose.  With prose I feel weighted down like Gulliver in Lilliput; pinned to earth by a thousand silken strands.  I feel that I am forced into a world I don’t wish to inhabit.  Poetry is a dream; prose is waking: poetry is the right-hand side of my brain and prose is the left.  I feel it ought to be possible for me to write poetic, satisfying prose – I just haven’t found the way yet.

It’s not that I can’t turn a good sentence.  That’s not the problem.  It’s not that I can’t write decent description or believable dialogue.  It’s not that I can’t convey what’s going on inside a character’s head.  What it is, is a sense of being overwhelmed by all the things I want to do with a novel and not being able to get them under control.  I’m like a ringmaster with a hundred competing acts who all want to be top of the bill and who never listen to a word I say.

At the moment I’m at what I euphemistically call the ‘planning’ stage.  This involves having a small and rather fetching notebook in which I write ideas (see pic above) – and many, many ideas are emerging.  I have a cast of characters including a main character; I have a theme; I have a vague shape.  What I don’t have is anything resembling a plot.  I’m undecided about whether I need a plot; it’s not something that comes naturally to me as I’m a philosophical writer in the main.  I deal in ideas and concepts.  I’m metaphysical at times too.  What I’m not is a pot-boiler, a page-turner, an engineer of fast-paced narration.  I can’t decide whether this matters.  Either way I don’t seem able to do it.

And speaking of ‘Fawlty Towers’ (whence cometh today’s title quote) we should gently and quietly celebrate the return of the great JC to the BBC in a new sitcom, ‘Hold the Sunset’.  I have to say I wasn’t terribly impressed by the first episode; it seemed very low-key and didn’t really grab me.  But I felt it deserved another chance: after all, there’s a stonking cast – opposite the divine JC is Alison Steadman and adjacent to them, as it were, Jason Watkins (who played the shit-stirring Simon Harwood in W1A) as their son, and Joanna Scanlan (who often works with Vicky Pepperdine) as the money-grabbing daughter.  Anne Reid turns up as an ancient and batty ex-cleaning lady: and it’s interesting to see Peter Egan reprising a slightly different annoying neighbour from Paul in ‘Ever-Decreasing Circles.’  So I’m going to stick with this one, because it’s now passed the first test of sitcom: not, as you might think, to make you laugh – though it did in parts – but to make you care about the characters.  After all, if you don’t care about Phil and Edith, why would it bother you that their ambition to get married and move to Spain is being thwarted by all around them?

Here’s the link:

Kirk out

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