It’s Your Funeral: the D-Word

We seem to be undergoing something which I am resisting calling a sea-change – let’s call it a land-change – on how to mark death.  Death as a subject is almost as taboo as sex used to be when I was young: it’s considered in poor taste to bring it up in polite conversation.  You can talk about illness all you like, but don’t mention the d-word.  On the other hand there is an explosion of public grief at events like the anniversary of the Manchester bombing.

Let me say this at once: the Manchester bombing and other similar events are terrible.  It could easily have been our daughter had she been a few years younger, and the targeting of young people is particularly horrible.  That those directly affected should show grief in public is entirely understandable.  But as Matthew Parris pointed out yesterday:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b39v43

(it’s about 21 minutes in)

the stiff upper lip has gone and is replaced by almost compulsory public grief.  I can’t summon up much grief for the passing of the SUL, and yet I think somehow things have got a little out of control.  Private grief is probably best expressed privately, by which I don’t mean on your own with a box of tissues (unless that is genuinely best for you) but shared with friends, family members or counsellors.  However that is entirely different from feeling compelled to express emotion at events which don’t affect us in the slightest (Tony Blair comes irresistibly to mind here.)  It’s not enough to care; you must show that you care, and the best way to do that is by shedding a tear.  If you’re being interviewed about some crisis in your life, better cry a little – that way people will take it more seriously.  They will ‘feel your pain.’

On the other hand, there’s the whole funeral phenomenon.  Funerals used to be a time for wearing black and looking solemn; for walking or driving very slowly behind a big black hearse; for wearing veils and looking at the ground.  But nowadays you’re as likely to be asked to ‘wear bright colours’ and ‘celebrate someone’s life’ – and I can’t help feeling there’s an imbalance in all this.  I dislike enforced cheerfulness even more than I dislike enforced misery: at least when wearing black you could look sad; but now we’re all supposed to be joyful.  I’ve even seen a blue hearse – and don’t even get me started on the speed of the average cortege as it nips down the road.  It’s like the one in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ (I can’t find a clip but you know what I mean.)

So on the one hand we have ubiquitous grief on the media; on the other we have bright colours and fast hearses.  What is going on?

Kirk out

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Please Do Try This At Home

I’ve no idea what this post is going to be about but the title came to me and so I put it in.  But I’ve started so I’ll finish, as Magnus Magnusson used to say, and tell you all about easing.  Not quantitative easing (not that I know what that is, though I seem to think it’s about easing the economy by putting a bit more money into it; a sort of Keynsianism lite) nor dressmaking ‘easing’ (which means sewing together two pieces of fabric of different lengths so they end up at the same place) but the normal everyday kind of easing that comes after a period away from work.  Of course, not all of us have that luxury; in today’s exploitative work environment holidays are a luxury, not a right and you are expected not only to hit the ground running but also to make up for lost time.  Bastards.

But since I am my own boss and only crack the whip when I deem it necessary, I am easing myself back into work.  This involves a morning of cutting the hedge (hardly a relaxing activity) followed by a nice cup of tea and a sit-down.

http://www.nicecupofteaandasitdown.com/book/

This is of course a British institution and needs serious conservation work in the age of people having ‘a latte to go’ or some such nonsense.  I mean, most places don’t do proper pots of leaf tea – and when do you EVER get extra hot water?  It’s an outrage.

Anyway, that’s my morning of easing.  Nice’n’easy – and yes, maybe you should try this at home.

Kirk out

Time in Wales

IMG_0507This may look more like ‘What are you?’ than ‘What ho!’ but this furry brown alpaca is in fact none other than Bertie Wooster.  He and his companion Jeeves lead a peaceful, snack-filled existence on an orchard in Wales accompanied by fierce geese (George and Mildred) a cockerel named Cromwell, some anonymous ducks and a host of unnamed fruit trees.  And lo! there we were just the other day, in brilliant sunshine with a terrific view of the hills and enjoying all the usual concomitant benefits of a Grosmont holiday.

We did all the usual things: Daniel took photos of the castle and orchard; I took the dogs for a walk ending up in the pub where I escaped the Royal Wedding by slipping out to the beer garden, only to come in again at the point where the fearful words ‘If any of you know any reason in law why these persons may not marry each other…’ were being uttered.  I sampled the local beer, caught up with the local gossip, had a drink with a friend and heard in detail the frightful story of how my brother-in-law’s boat went down to the briny deep, thankfully without him or my nephew on board (more on that story later.)  Daniel discovered the piano in the church and played for a while; it’s amazing how the fingers remember tunes they haven’t played for years.  He was trying to recall Fur Elise and I was able to play it from memory precisely.

We had whizzy journeys there and back with no hold-ups (though I imagine the M42 round Brum will get a bit cloggy at rush hour.)  On the way we stopped at a peaceful service station in the middle of nowhere; you could actually hear the birds singing.  Daniel rigged up a navigation system (not that you really need it, except for the last bit which goes along country lanes with high hedges indistinguishable from one another and all in mobile and internet black spots so Google can’t help if you get lost.  Which you do) whereby he connected his mobile to a speaker and hey presto! who needs satnav?  In general I prefer to use my own nous when navigating but lately with memory lapses that doesn’t always work so well.

And so to bed, as Pepys was wont to say.

Here are some more pics:

 

Kirk out

Oh Wow. A Whole Decade

I had a little notification in the corner of my page this morning.   ‘That’s odd,’ I thought, as I’m usually told of comments and followers via email and I had just checked my inbox.  I clicked on it and it informed me that it was TEN YEARS AGO TODAY!!! that I started this blog.  I won’t bore you with the details as regular readers have heard it all many times before, suffice it to say that Hanif Kureishi was partly responsible for setting me off on this path.  I suppose I really ought to do something deep and retrospective, like picking out my favourite posts or summarising my journey or selecting the best comments, but the very idea fills me with a reluctance so deep that I can barely move my fingers across the keyboard; so I shall just say Happy Anniversary to lizardyoga’s weblog and a particular shout-out to those readers who have been with me since the beginning.

Thinking about it, the last decade has seen my transition from teacher/part time writer to full-time author and performing poet, which is quite a big deal.  I was updating my CV the other week and it was quite startling how many things I’ve done, from the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square to Leicester Riverside Festival to Left Unity’s national conference and Quaker Yearly Meeting to Sing for Water at Leicester Riverside Festival.  Publications include poems in Mslexia, blogging for the same and short stories in Everyday Fiction.

Maybe soon I’ll get it together and find some retrospective links.  But right now I’m getting ready to go to Wales which includes checking the car tyres (am I the only one who hates doing this?  I think I have a subconscious fear of blowing up one of the tyres.)

So if you’ve been a reader of this blog since May 2008, please drop me a comment and let me know how the last ten years have been for you.

Kirk out

This Week Unintentionally Left Blank

Sorry folks, I’m busy painting this week so haven’t got around to blogging.  And as I’m slapping on the thickish emulsion I’m thinking about how paint used to be: thin as water, dripping everywhere, no rollers and needing three coats of everything.  Before thick paints came in it really was intolerable; no wonder people only decorated once every twenty years or so.  But the cleaning really is the worst thing; washing ceilings and tweaking the grime from its lurking-place behind the pipes, not to mention sanding radiators, it really is a pain.  You just wish you could gather the whole room up, bung it in the shower and then subject it to a brisk rub-down after which it could go for a nice jog to dry off and then you’d be ready.

But you can’t complain at the number of gadgets available to the modern decorator; from brushes that don’t splay out when drying (we used to wrap ours in rubber bands) to paint pads to rollers (imagine painting a ceiling without a roller!) to little gloss rollers (I love those) life is just so much easier nowadays.

In other news, we now have a new garden strimmer.  Daniel asked if we were going to name it.  Now I know I call the car Bertie but I thought this was going a bit far.  ‘What would we call it?’ I said.

‘Arnold,’ he rejoined.  Took me a moment to get it:

 

The song’s about 2 minutes in.

Off to give the ceiling a second coat now.

Kirk out

Oh, Not To Live on Sugar Mountain

Last night I caught up with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s latest offering, ‘Hugh’s Fat-Fight’.  It’s the most recent in a line of campaigning series by the food writer, who previously took on wonky veg and persuaded many of us to buy less-than-perfect vegetables.  I enjoy his style – it has neither the manipulativeness of a Louis Theroux or the self-righteousness of many a didactic voice-over: instead he makes friends of local people; acknowledges and thanks corporations when they do the right thing and holds them to account when they don’t.  Some of his methods are highly imaginative, such as turning up to Kellogg’s and Nestle with a huge set of traffic lights to get them to use the ‘traffic light’ system properly.  (It may come as a shock to realise that some breakfast cereals are nearly 50% sugar.)

The programme (I have to fess up here) did make me feel a tad smug since we eat very little processed food, never add salt or sugar, don’t have puddings and eat a fair proportion of fresh fruit and veg.  Down sides: we don’t eat as much wholemeal stuff as we used to (pasta, rice or bread) nor as much raw food (coleslaw, salads etc.)  However, I can report that I am not only able to bypass entire aisles of crisps and chocolate without feeling the slightest twinge of regret (in fact they annoy me mightily) to me, crisps are like bits of flint with salt on and I don’t like chocolate bars as much as biscuits.  I do have one indulgence though, which is chocolate digestives.

My BMI is within healthy range, though I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds: but on the whole I’m happy with my weight.  I could be more physically active: for exercise I do yoga every day but I don’t walk or cycle as much as I used to.  So there’s room for improvement there.  As for alcohol, I would drink a lot more if I could afford it, but I can’t.  So my consumption is virtually zero at the moment.

None of which is any help at all except in developing my already entrenched sense of smugness about being healthy.  On the other hand, for years I smoked, drank too much, had a rubbish diet and hardly exercised at all.  So it’s a luxury for me to feel that for once I’m on the side of the gods.

As for the obesity crisis, of course individuals are responsible for their actions, but many areas have few outlets for fresh veg and fruit and takeaway food outlets are on the rise.  But big companies have to shoulder a large part of the blame; and as well as the frightening quantity of sugar in cereals, one thing that shocked me about Hugh’s programme was his trip to WH Smith’s.  It really pisses me off that even clothes shops nowadays have sugary snacks by the till: but Smiths’ (whom I never visit because they are so overpriced) have a positive maze of chocolate – walls of the stuff which you have to negotiate before you can get to the till.  So Hugh is asking people to tweet WH Smith’s with the hashtag #WHSugar.

It’s dispiriting to see the once highly-principled Kellogg’s (it was started by Seventh-Day Adventists) descend to the same level of corporate nastiness as every other multinational:

https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=opera&q=Kelloggs+history&sourceid=opera&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

but as for Nestle, they are pure evil.  Nothing will persuade me to buy any of their products:

https://www.mintpressnews.com/nestle-spent-11m-lobbying-congress-to-control-water-cocoa-trade-since-2013/220853/

Anyway, here’s the programme:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/b0b15qt7?suggid=b0b15qt7

Oh, and here’s a bit of Neil Young to keep you going:

Kirk out

 

A Poem for Gaz of Fingerprints Cafe

Four years ago Gareth Carnall, owner of Fingerprints cafe in Leicester, was suddenly and tragically killed in a head-on collision.  I wrote about his funeral in this blog post:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/the-fingerprints-of-life-gazs-funeral/

and now I’ve written a poem for him:

Fingerprints

 

A car crash on a lonely lane

left Fingerprints of loss

witness the neighbourhood remain

for the cortege to cross;

the slow procession, nothing rushed

the street from end to end was hushed.

 

It caught my throat: I hadn’t thought

to feel so much for one

I’d known so little: yet it taught

that when a life is run

we walk so slowly to the grave

as if to make the time our slave

 

For death came quick: head-on collision

in the early dawn

a crash nobody could envision

nor expect to mourn

his flag of life as yet unfurled,

no time to vanish from the world

 

I can’t imagine how it feels

to those who knew him best

the sudden smash of blackness reels

and rocks within the chest

a host all silent in the road

shared common grief as life was slowed.

 

For Gaz left prints of memory

upon the local scene

this heartbeat of community,

the bench outside still green;

forgetting would be travesty

so, fingering the melody

here we sing our threnody –

remember this his legacy.

 

Sarada Gray, 2018

Kirk out