Life in Lockdown

After six weeks, lockdown is beginning to get to me a little. I was fine for a month or so; enjoying it really, relishing not having to organise anything or remember appointments, not needing to bother about rotas and timetables, just having time to myself to be introspective and of course to learn Ancient Greek.

The Greek’s going pretty well actually – it seems to reach parts of the brain modern languages can’t reach. I’m against elitism in learning but it has to be said that learning a classical language does something to your grey matter. I can feel bits of it sparking up and making connections I haven’t made since I was at school and laughing at Miss Kettlewell. But enough of that later…

Alas in the seventh week the time is starting to hang heavy and I’m going a little stir-crazy. There are only so many videos you can watch or courses you can do or Zoom meetings you can attend without some kind of burnout and basically when it comes down to it there’s no substitute for full-on human contact. I’m a mixture of introvert and extravert and whilst I enjoy company I also need from time to time to hibernate. My usual periods for doing this are Christmas and summer; at Christmas I take a couple of weeks and in the summer I go for a month. It’s very wholesome but at the end of it I’m glad to go out and see people again.

I’m lucky of course not to be living alone. I don’t know what I’d do if I were in that situation or else stuck in a flat with small children pinging off the walls. Then again they say that this period without frenetic activity has helped children to focus more – and as we found when doing Home Education, when children say they’re bored if you leave them to find something to do they usually will.

On the TV I’m continuing with Doctor Foster, a positively Greek drama with everything you could want in a modern tale of betrayal and vengeance. The eponymous doctor is basically Medea; a calm and supportive woman who, when she finds out her husband has been cheating on her for years, stops at nothing to destroy him. It’s appalling and highly compelling in about equal measure.

Reading-wise I’m between books at the moment: I’ve finished Beloved and The House of the Spirits and I tried Annie Proulx’s Barkskins again

but I just can’t get into it. The latest edition of Granta arrived on Saturday and I launched into it with such fervour that I’ve read nearly all the stories and articles. I have ordered the Booker prize-winning Girl, Woman, Other which should arrive in the next few days, so till then I am resigned to having spaces in the day with nothing to read but Facebook or the Guardian app. Ah well.

The trouble is, when a book arrives that I really want to read, I devour it within days and then I have nothing to read any more.

Back to Miss Kettlewell. I’ve mentioned her before but just in case you don’t remember, she was our Latin teacher at school. Red-faced and plump, looking rather like a German sausage in an ill-fitting crimplene dress, she cut a ridiculous figure to our 14-year-old eyes. She not only taught Classics, she spoke English in a Latinate way like a female Doctor Johnson, giving equal weight to each syllable and pronouncing every letter clearly. One day as the lesson started, her eye lit on a vase of dead flowers on the windowsill (how they got there no-one knew.) She screwed up her face, pointed a trembling finger at them and in a sonorous tone said, to no-one in particular, ‘Take those flowers away – I dislike them intensely!’

Poor Miss Kettlewell. She’s probably been dead thirty years and we’re still laughing at her.

Kirk out

Earth Day

It’s Earth Day today, a day when we try to stop doing all the things we normally do which f*** up the planet but which at the moment we are largely not able to do anyway; and it occurred to me that there’s a profound connection between caring about the earth and being grounded. If you have a connection with the soil; if you walk on it, grow stuff in it and nurture it, you become quite literally earthed. You are more stable, less likely to short-circuit, less likely to fly away into realms of psychosis. Nowadays if I ever feel a psychotic episode coming on I stop whatever I’m doing and just stand, feeling myself connected to a particular point in space and time. I am also convinced that our habit of flying not only damages the planet but disconnects us in every way from the earth.

Right now though I’m quite connected to ancient Greece: yes, my long-awaited book came yesterday and I plunged right in.

It’s a little daunting as it’s designed by Warwick University for philosophy students to learn Greek so they can read Plato in the original, and has chapters on various declensions, conjugations and tenses. Greek has three voices (practically a Greek chorus, lol) – active, passive and ‘middle voice’ and an ‘aurist’ tense about which I know nothing whatsoever. But hey, if philosophy students can do it, so can I.

I get extra brownie points today because I started work at 6 am. Yes, you read that right – 6 am. From time to time I get these ideas about getting up early and working right through: this is quite unrealistic because I generally work best in fairly short bursts, but today when I woke at 5.30 and felt I wouldn’t get back to sleep, it seemed meant to be. So I dressed and got to my desk and lo! by half past I’d run out of notebook. So another careful trip to the shops is in the offing.

Incidentally from a mental health point of view I’ve found that getting up early or going to bed late can induce psychosis. These are times when other people are not around and when daily activity is suspended, so they’re good times if you want to meditate but bad times if you need to be earthed.

Happy Earth Day.

Kirk out

Tasty Snack or Hasty Smack?

I’m back on the yoga philosophy trail again and I caught myself wondering this morning as I hovered on the edge of discipline looking into the chasm of dreariness, where does healthy self-control end and Professor Gradgrind take over? I know it happens but I can’t quite figure out how.

The yoga term for self-discipline – I was living in Spain when I discovered this and it seemed highly amusing – is tapas. This is an individual process rather than something imposed from outside, though external disciplines can help. When I was living in the yoga centre I learned a great deal about myself, particularly that I was not good at getting up at six a m. Then again, getting up at six did help me to push the boundaries of my life. That was a good discipline. On the other hand asana sessions always began with several rounds of sun salutations which at that time I found utterly crippling. Had I been given some modifications I might have found a way into this practice; as it is, even today I still have a mental block about it. That was not a good discipline.

Discipline from outside is a double-edged sword; you have to know what is enough and what is too much. Over the years I’ve learned to take what helps me and ignore the rest, because in the end what matters is self-discipline. If you can’t control yourself you’re in deep trouble – or everyone else is: look at Trump. But here’s the rub: how much discipline is enough?

When I began writing full-time like most people I had trouble getting into a routine. So I imposed one and made myself work from nine till five with timed breaks for tea and lunch. That was fine initially but after a while it exhausted me because that inflexible routine ignored the real patterns of creativity. Sometimes I need to sit in the garden and think. Sometimes I need to read or go for a walk; some days I must finish early or go mad. Then again there are afternoons when I write, oblivious of time, until I’m called for dinner (I know – lucky me not having to cook.)*

Routine is a good servant but a bad master; in the end you have to follow the river of art no matter where it leads.

Kirk out

*Every woman at some point has to stop writing and put the dinner on. That is her tragedy. No man does: that is his.

One Who is Bored With Life is Probably About to be Creative

I’m not often bored; however sometimes a state of tedium does overtake me and nothing I do can shake it.  I feel like Sherlock when he lacks an interesting case to exercise his brain; like Sherlock I would probably fire some bullets into the wall if I could get away with it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6J_AUBT-PAo

but my inner Mrs Hudson heads off any such activity (not to mention that I don’t own a gun) so I am reduced to pacing up and down and sighing.  Deeply.

However, as my wiser self well knows, boredom is not so much the lack of interest as a lack of being interested.  And whereas when I was a child I often suffered excruciating boredom through, for example, having to sit through three services every Sunday, nowadays I am rarely bored – just so long as I have a notebook and a pen.  Because no matter how dull the situation, there is always something interesting in it: and the something interesting usually lies in describing it.  Suppose I’m stuck in a particularly dull lecture where to walk out would be either rude or impractical.  I amuse myself by describing the situation: first, my own sensations, then the voice and demeanour of the speaker, then the surroundings and then, most interesting of all, the reactions of the audience.  If I have long enough I can work up quite a good blog post on the topic, and that’s a portion of my day’s work done.

But often being bored is not so much about what’s happening outside as what’s occurring inside.  I find myself unable to take an interest in anything that has previously absorbed me.  All my books are dull.  TV is dull.  There’s nothing on Netflix, nothing at the cinema, I don’t want to go for a walk, the guitar is tedious and I’m fed up with sewing.  Quite simply nothing engages my interest because my interest is not ready to be engaged.  But just as we found with the children that the best response to ‘I’m bored’ was ‘I’m sure you’ll find something to do’, so rather than bombarding the brain with possible toys I allow it just to be bored.  Boredom is the mental equivalent of fallow ground: it is necessary to the creative brain, and often my best ideas come after a period of boredom.

Mind you, I don’t go to the lengths that Graham Greene did: he made life more interesting by playing Russian roulette:

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/novelist_graham_greene_played_russian_roulette_as_a_teenager

So there it is.  Sorry you’ve been subjected to this, but I hope the post was more bored than boring.

Kirk out

 

 

 

What a Swell Party That Was

Around fifty people came to wish us well in our new home. Thanks to you all and yah boo sucks if you didn’t, except of course if you were ill or unavoidably elsewhere.  Some people made a special effort even though they had other things on, so I was very touched by that. We had, from the Martyrs, Richard, Margaret, Debbie, Rosemary and Nina; from Home Ed circles Ceri, Rob and family and Yvette and Isaac, from Facebook Steve and partner; from philosophy Stephen and Jan, from round the corner Peter, from Scotland via Birstall, Andy and Lynne from poetry Carol and Mike, aka Spock, from France and Cornwall, Jan and Yvan (some good French conversation there) … let me see who else? The children had a bunch of friends over – oh yes, from round the corner, Andrew, from family Jonathan and Nerissa, and oh gosh, if I’ve forgotten anyone I apologise.

The music and poetry didn’t really happen although we had limericks later in the sunlounge, which was fun. Oh, and Steve said he liked the rest of my novel, so that was good.

There was oodles of wine and more than plenty of food, so that was all good. Thanks to all who came and to Mike for taking the photos. These will follow.

Today being my 57th birthday, I shall be mostly doing… nothing at all. (Now gasp and say, ‘no! You can’t be 57!’

Kirk out

St George Wasn’t British, I’m not Deaf and Liam Neeson isn’t God. Apparently…

Well, happy St George’s Day if that means anything at all to you – which it certainly doesn’t to me: especially since St George was, by all accounts, from somewhere in modern Turkey and not from Guildford at all.  Goodness only knows where the dragon was from.  Perhaps Mark knows?

But Mark is busy talking to the woman from BBC radio 4’s ‘Feedback’ programme.  I was all a-ferment when she rang, wondering what it could be about.  Apparently it was in response to his complaint about yesterday’s ‘PM’ and 6 0’clock news.  Having switched PM off during an extremely long discussion about the next Manchester United manager, we put on the news only to be confronted with a seven-minute-long!!! item about the very same thing!  This is NOT NEWS!  I don’t give a flying f*ck about football, but whether I do or not, it’s not bloody news!  England winning the world cup; Andy Murray winning Wimbledon – yes, that’s news: but the next effing manager of an effing football team does not deserve seven full minutes of a half-hour programme.  So listen to ‘Feedback’ on Friday and you might hear Mark ranting about it.
So yesterday was otherwise quite restful: in between Spanish sessions I watched ‘Becoming Jane’ followed by ‘Jamaica Inn’.  Now, i have been slightly worried on occasion by my hearing; but during the latter I became convinced that I was going deaf.  I couldn’t hear a word of the dialogue apart from a few snatches; and since Daniel has wrested his X-box from our control, I have no access to subtitles either.  So I was getting quite worried until this morning on a thankfully football-light ‘Today’ programme they revealed that the sound quality was awful!  Apparently no-one could hear it, and vast swathes of the populace were, like me, convinced that they were going deaf.
Phew!
But what about Rev, eh?  I didn’t see that one coming!  I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it but bloody hell!  And I’m sure that was Liam Neeson as God, but he wasn’t credited.
Who is this God person anyway?
Kirk out
PS and come down to the Donkey tonight where I’m doing some poems for World Book Night.

Alas, Poor Gabriel

There’s an awful lot of death around these days.  Have you noticed?  I’m just coming out of my news coma – I know it’s a couple of days early but I thought I’d get myself acclimatised so I’m easing myself into it gently.  Besides, I have to do a talk tomorrow at Tomatoes about how it all went, so I need to find out what I’ve missed.  A lost plane, the death of bananas and the greed of Maria Miller, seems to sum it up.  And today, the sad news that Gabriel Garcia Marquez has died, aged 87.  Frankly, I was surprised he was still alive, so it didn’t affect me as much as you might think, but I fell in love with Marquez when I was in Spain.  Everybody was reading him then; especially ‘Cien Anos de Soledad’ (One Hundred Years of Solitude) and Love in the Time of Cholera; and I absolutely adored him.  There are very few people who can do magic realism well – you have to have it in the blood, I think – and Marquez is one of them.  I shall dig out my old copies of his work and re-read them.

Adios, Gabriel.  We’ll miss you.

So I’m slowly coming round and back to the world again – and I’m determined it isn’t going to have the same effect on me as it did before.  I will not get paranoid, anxious, angry and fearful; I will take the news in but not let it dictate my mood.

I find Lenten fasts can be quite life-changing.  For example, we used to give up TV for Lent every year and then one year we just thought; Oh, why bother?  Let’s give it up for good.  And we did.  That was around 1999 I think; and we haven’t looked back.  We didn’t even have the iplayer in those days, just videos to keep us going.  Many’s the video I learnt by heart.  Seriously, what do you need TV for?  It’s mostly ‘reality’ rubbish.

Read a book instead.  Read Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Go on, read him now.

Hasta luego

Kirk out

PS  Oh, and I’m writing a new story based on Mark’s weirdness.  If anybody knows any magazines that publish trans stuff, let me know.

How Many Revs Per Minute?

What is a hero?  This is a question that has been occupying my mind this morning as I try to follow the way of water.  (Incidentally at the moment my central image has moved on from merely flowing around obstacles to actually dislodging them and taking them with me.)

Last night was good: I went for the first time to a poetry group called ‘Soundswrite’.  They meet at the Quaker Meeting House, which is handily situated just down the road (incidentally, that reminds me – when I went for an interview in t’North, the guy asked me how far I’d had to travel to college in London from where I was living.  ‘Oh’, I said.  ‘It’s just down the road – about three miles.’  He smiled at that.)  But I digress.  Yes, a very personable group of women who discuss poems by other people and also by each other: the poet is supposed to sit in silence while the poem is being ‘workshopped’ and then she can weigh in with her own opinions.  It was all very respectful and polite without being a mutual admiration society – a hard balance to strike, I always think.  Poetry performance groups, while being wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive, do not generally distinguish between brilliance and dross: whereas other groups can be quite critical and leave you feeling scarred and bruised.  Not only that, but the wonderful people at Soundswrite praised my Richard III poem very highly and suggested it should be a part of any future commemorative display.  So on the back of that I have sent it to a local magazine.

I’ll keep you posted.  Meanwhile I’m sorting my poems into categories and re-writing a couple of sonnets.  But back to today’s theme… and what is a hero?

I’m very fond of the sitcom Rev, and it seems to me that he is the epitome of some kind of hero.  He’s not a plaster saint – he smokes and drinks and loses his temper – but against horrendous odds he tries to do his best day after day, unsupported by the church, plagued by the parish down and out’s – I love the guy who calls him ‘Vicarage’ – and overwhelmed by the adverse circumstances in which he has to do his job.  The two women in this first episode are utterly brilliant, by the way:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03zjlft/Rev._Series_3_Episode_1/

Check them out – it’s about seven minutes in.  ‘How shall we be church here?’ – it’s pure brilliance.

So I reckon a hero is not someone who swoops in and saves the day, so much as someone who just turns up.  Someone who’s there, day after day, doing whatever it is that needs doing.  Like a friend of ours whose husband has dementia; or another who’s a single parent home-educating a child with ADHD; or – or a writer who keeps slogging away at the laptop-face day after day, submitting stuff she hasn’t a hope in hell of getting published, making no money and living with a gender dysphoric husband and a CHILD WHO NEVER GETS UP FOR COLLEGE!!!!!

Oh, wait – that’s me, isn’t it?

Case concluded.

Kirk out

It’s Good News Week…

I gave my talk this morning at Tomatoes, to rapturous applause (well, some applause anyway); outlining why I had decided to give up Bad News for Lent.  First I did a bit of a ‘vox-pop’ asking people what they’re giving up; unsurprisingly their answers focussed on chocolate and sugar-based foods (one person even said they were giving up sugar in all its forms) though one person named caffeine and alcohol as their renunciation of choice.  So far, so predictable.  A late entry into the vox-pop was a child who claimed that they were giving up school for Lent – however the parents demurred, so we’ll have to see how that one pans out.  So.. having done the interviews I told them I was taking a different approach this year and giving up Bad News.  I talked about how much of it there is and how it brings me down, causes me to worry and feel depressed.  I ended the talk by saying my hope was that in giving up bad news I would make some room in my life for good news.

And thence to the bank where in spite of technical difficulties they printed out some statements for me so that I can complete the labyrinthine and frankly Kafka-esque process that is claiming Housing Benefit; and after that we hied us to Mountcastle Road to pick up a freecycled water filter.  This is something I’ve wanted for a while, though not having any spare cash, we haven’t bought one.

And so home.  This afternoon I shall be an International Woman at the Donkey.

Kirk out

PS Don’t forget if you want to comment you have to do so on here, not on Facebook.  This means you, Katherine Gilchrist!

 

Of Kites and Chewing-Gum

I was seized this morning with an urge to tell you all of what I’ve been reading lately.  But before I do that I must mention a remarkable young lad I met this morning: this lad is 16 and Home-Educated; and he told me that he is reading, of all things, Thomas a Kempis’ ‘Imitation of Christ’.  Not only that, but he is utterly gripped by it, and says it’s the best book he’s ever read.  He suggests that though many people may not know it, a lot of its phrases have entered the language, such as ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’.  I have a vague memory of reading bits of it in connection with Eng. Lit. at some point; maybe I should dig it out again.

But! thanks to Steve, this week I’ve been reading Caitlin Moran and Khalid Hosseini.  You may have heard of Caitlin Moran; she’s a journalist, author, broadcaster and -according to her website – some kind of stand-up:

http://www.caitlinmoran.co.uk

Anyway, I’ve been reading ‘How to be a Woman’, and I’ve had mixed reactions to it: half the time I want to throw it down in disgust; the other half, I start laughing and carry on reading.  It’s sort of like ‘Jackie’ magazine meets Edna o’Brien; or maybe a female Adrian Mole; entertaining with touches of darkness, but on the other hand, distressingly close to chick-lit (which I previously thought was some kind of chewing-gum*).  Still, she has a very individual style and on the whole it’s oddly compelling.

Before that I was reading ‘The Kite-Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini.  This I can hardly find fault with; it’s a first-rate novel, set in Afghanistan and divided, like the recent history of that place, into two halves.  The first half concerns the childhood of Amir, growing up with a servant boy he later learns is his half-brother.  The highlight of their year is the kite-fighting which takes place in Kabul; Hassan is the ‘kite-runner’ of the title, who runs to fetch the kites when they fall.  The imagery of this is clear; though Hassan is a servant and Amir rich and privileged, Amir cannot survive long without his half-brother.  But he betrays him when the neighbourhood thug beats him up, and cannot live with himself.  Only in later life does he expiate his crime, going back to Afghanistan from America after the Taliban have taken over.  this era of Afghan history is brilliantly portrayed in just a few chapters; and it turns out that the local bully is none other than one of the chief Taliban members.  Amir expiates his former cowardice by rescuing the dead Hassan’s son, Sohrab, from an orphanage and finally bringing him back to the States.

The second half is a little drawn-out, I thought; however this is a haunting novel and well worth reading if you haven’t already done so.

http://khaledhosseini.com

Kirk out

*this may not be far from the truth