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:


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.


Kirk out

*this may not be far from the truth

OK That’s Enough

I’ve given up on the digitising tablet as I can’t cope and you can’t comprehend a single non-word I’m not saying – so it’s back to the mainframe.  Well, it’s not a mainframe but you know what I mean.  A busy day today; cycling up to the Quaker’s on Queen’s Rd for an hour of lovely silence, punctuated by a few thoughts: the youngest contributor is Zeb, who as a Home-educated lad is obviously totally together and articulate.  Then home for soup and Casualty, our usual Sunday ritual, and so to town for the Left Unity People’s Arts’ Collective meeting.  This is a political effort which I am totally behind (or behind which I totally am, or something) which aims to introduce a dialogue between politics and the arts.  It’s not about funding for the arts, particularly, but about ways in which poetry, art, music, drama, street theatre and so much more, can contribute to the political dialogue.  Plans are afoot for a launch in September which will almost certainly include poetry and music but perhaps also many other art forms as part of the First World War commemorations.  We are particularly keen to represent the experiences of ordinary people and somewhere in my book collection I have a volume called ‘Forgotten Voices of the First World War’ (there’s a companion volume about the Second World War) which presents what I suppose we must call sound-bites from ordinary people about their perspectives and experiences.


And so home, meaning that I’ve cycled about 8 miles today.  Not bad…

Kirk out

I’m Completely Potty!

One thing I’ve noticed since we moved, is the number of pots we have.  I’m not talking about garden pots or saucepans or casserole dishes: I’m talking about pots I personally have created.  I used to make them by hand at Manor House Neighbourhood Centre, a truly wonderful community centre with a creche, a pottery studio and a tutor.  Sessions were very reasonably priced and I used to go every week and enjoy chatting with Lucy, Claire, Zoe and all the others.  It was really interesting to see what others were making and eventually the house was filled with pots I had made.  I spurned the wheel – too mechanistic – and went instead for hand-building, usually coil-pots or pinch-pots.  Coil pots are the traditional African type made by building a shape with sausages of clay, either in a single spiral or by laying circles one on top of the other.  When the shape is complete, you get a metal scraper and scrape it into the shape you want.  It’s amazing what different forms you can get out of one basic coil-pot: I’ve got fruit bowls, toothbrush-holders, jugs, cooking pots and pencil-holders all made from coil pots.  The other form I used to like was the pinch pot.  These are very tactile: you get a ball of clay and make it as spherical as you can; then you get both thumbs and stick them into the centre to make a well.  With fingers and thumbs you keep working the shape round until you get the exact form you want.  I’ve got loads of these and they hold all sorts of things from paper clips to guitar plectrums, from pen-drives to drawing pins.  I haven’t got any pics so if you want to see you’ll have to come and visit.

See you soon!

Oh, it would be great if you could also take a look at the herbal blog – mandysmeds.wordpress.com – and let me know what you think.

Kirk out

Another Day, Another Acceptance…

I thought I’d better post something before you decide I’ve forgotten you all.  I’m still here – it’s just that settling in and writing the umpteenth draft of my novel have taken precedence.  the novel is turning out to be a tapestry or patchwork affair, where I insert bits here and there to build up a pattern.  Still, at least I have some inkling of what the overall pattern is, which is more than I did before.  So that is good.

We went to Tomatoes this morning and returned to the old house to find a most unwelcome letter informing me that I need to pay a penalty for driving in a bus lane.  Bloody annoying… the other post wasn’t too bad, though I am now entirely of Mark’s view that nothing good ever comes in the post.  Trouble is, not much comes via email either apart from promotions or updates on campaigns I joined years ago or petitions I signed last month or groups I am marginally interested in or other groups I am not quite uninterested enough in to unsubscribe… RANT ALERT

incidentally I can’t go on without commenting on the difference, so rarely observed nowadays, between ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’.  Uninterested means ‘not interested.’  I am uninterested in golf.  Mark is uninterested in tennis.  Etc.  ‘Disinterested’, on the other hand, means ‘not having a stake in something’.  Such as a disinterested observer at a meeting or a disinterested view of politics.  So get it right!


However, today I did have an email saying a book review of mine has been accepted by Thresholds.  Thresholds is a site which specialises in the short story, and I have written the review about three times for them and FINALLY they have accepted it.  So that’s a relief.

As I write there is a rather tremendous thunderstorm over Leicester and it’s raining quite hard.  I’m glad it didn’t do this earlier as I cycled over to Tomatoes and back.  I am getting better at cycling; once I reach this stage of proficiency (incidentally I always wanted to do cycling proficiency as a kid but we couldn’t afford a bike.  Or else our mother thought the roads were too dangerous.  Anyway…) I usually think, ‘I must keep this up and get better and better.’  And invariably something happens to prevent me.  Usually a knockout bout of apathy…

But! since it’s too far to walk into town from here, and since buses are expensive, I will probably cycle more in future.  So long as it doesn’t thunder.

Incidentally, when I go over to the West End I pass a gym where I am treated to the surreal sight of a bank of people all cycling towards me and getting nowhere.  I feel vastly superior to these people as I pass by on my real bike, actually going somewhere…

We are doing a bunch of entertaining at the new house, having people over for lunch and dinner and all sorts.  On Wednesday we had eight of us round the table for dinner, and yesterday Mark’s mum came for lunch.  And tonight Mary and John will turn up bearing wine and will be served curry and stir-fry with rice and chappatis.

It’s great!

In other news, I am reading Joyce Carol Oates for the first time, and I have finished the Kathy Reichs I was reading for the second time.  Sadly I have failed to interest Daniel in her books for teenagers.  Daniel is UNINTERESTED in them.


Kirk out

And the neighbourhood is… awesome

I just had a walk around bits of our neighbourhood today.  By the way, I have taken to using the American word rather than the traditional British term ‘area’ because the latter is somewhat vague and makes me think of a Victorian basement courtyard.  Please note, though, that I insist on spelling ‘neighbourhood’ in the British way with an ‘o’.  As God intended.  Anyway… our street is an awesome street; quiet and treed, with parents walking their children to and from school in an unhurried way (the kids often on tiny trikes or bikes).  Last September the residents of our road closed it off for a day so that the children could experience street play.  Awesome!  If you go down our road and turn right, walking past the unutterably crap shop which is our local Spar (expensive, unhelpful and unfriendly) you will in time come to the Queens Rd shops.  On your right you will pass an old-fashioned heel bar which does all the oddly-assorted things that such places do, such as key-cutting and dry-cleaning: they cut a spare set of keys for Daniel and in spite of the guy not seeming to know what he was doing, the keys work.  Walking on, you will arrive at the junction with Clarendon Park Rd where on one corner sits the empty Barclays bank, site of the strongly-opposed potential Tesco’s.  ‘Over our dead bodies’ seems to sum up the local feeling, which I totally endorse.  Down Clarendon Park Rd is the library and the Co-op, and on Queens’ Rd itself stands a plethora of wonderful, quirky, pleasant (sometimes Green and Pleasant) local shops.  There are charity shops, including an Age Concern bookshop and coffee shop which is so hop that they actually asked if we wanted a reading list when we popped in; an Oxfam and Loros; a veg shop, a deli, two cafes, two bars and of course the lovely Quaker Meeting House where Mark and I got married.  At the far end is the vast expanse of Victoria Park and on the return sweep you can take in Green and Pleasant, the wholefood shop where Mark used to work, a couple of opticians (I’m having my eyes tested next week) and oh, so much more!  Best of all is the civilised manner in which people shop on Queen’s Rd; no barging or shoving, no bikes slaloming erratically between pedestrians, no dog-shit to swerve around and no lorries at all.  In the middle of all this sits an actual zebra crossing, possibly the last zebra crossing in the whole of England, where people Actually Stop!!! when you stand and wait.  If you tried that on Narborough Rd you’d be standing there all day.

It is a joy.  As Nemo’s mother said to his father, the neighbourhood is awesome.

must go now as Jack Woolley is being buried on the radio.

Kirk out

We all Hate Poetry

Poetry workshop yesterday was great: we had seven people including two Home Educated girls and their Dad, a Polish woman and Mark, who is of course inexplicable.  It was a great mix of stuff; they each brought something they loved – or hated – and we listened, read, chanted, rapped, clapped and did the Iambic Pentameter shuffle.

You can do this at home, too: it’s easy.  All you have to do is take five steps, quite deliberately, like so: heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe; as you walk you chant ‘de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum,’ 

Or alternatively you can chant something in that rhythm:


Then turn and do the same again, and you’ve done your first couplet in iambic pentameter.

It’s a great way to learn poetry.

So that was good; and after that I mended the puncture on my bike.  I was very pleased with myself: I found the hole straight away and fixed it, then used Mark’s wonderful foot-pump to blow it up again.  It held beautifully – but alas, by nightfall it had deflated again.  The hole is in a very awkward place so it looks as if I’m going to have to buy a new inner tube.  When I get some money… meantime I have to get the bus today, which means more money that I was going to save.


And that was yesterday.

Kirk out

Making an Exhibition of Ourselves

And with no spam comments at all today, we must content ourselves with gems from the treasure-trove that is The World According to Mark.  Today we had a conversation that went roughly like this: Daniel had written a note saying ‘wake me up at 6 am’, so instead of realising that he’d written a 6 instead of a 9, Mark woke our poor bleary-eyed son at 6.  When I pointed out that it was obviously a mistake, he said:

‘How was Daniel at reading?’

‘Fine,’ I said.  ‘He was a slow starter but a lot of Home Ed kids are.  Once he got going he was very fluent.’



‘Do you think he might be dyslexic?’

‘No!  Why?’

‘He wrote a 6 instead of a 9!’

‘So!  He was just tired!  You’d do the same if you were tired.’

‘That’s just it – I wouldn’t.’

‘Well, I would,’ I retorted, whereupon he said something like ‘Syrizha’.

‘What?’  I was getting weary of this conversation already – and it was only 7.30.

‘If you were learning Squidge* and you’d done the alphabet you wouldn’t write a letter upside down would you?’


‘I mean, have you ever written a letter upside down when you’re dreaming?’


‘Because if you don’t do it when you’re dreaming you’re not going to do it when you’re tired, are you?’

‘I need some air,’ I said, and jumped out of the window.

Seriously.  That was his argument.

* I write ‘squidge’ because I can’t remember what language he mentioned.

And no, I only thought about jumping out of the window – I didn’t actually do it.

Today I shall be going to Daniel’s exhibition.  It starts at 12 and is on the first floor of the Shires – or whatever that monstrous carbuncle is called now – near the Disney shop.


See you there!

And finally, some sad news – a fellow Home-educator has died of cancer.  She was only 60 and had been ill for some time but only a few people knew.  She was a quiet and calm person who loved children and was really good with ours.  She will be missed.

Kirk out

What Have I Been Reading?

Yes, it’s Friday which means book reviews: so what have I been reading this week?  Well, I’ve been getting ahead with the Crime Reading Group material and I’ve finished the book for next month, which is ‘Blue Monday’ by Nicci French.  I had not come across Nicci French before, and that’s the great thing about this group: it introduces you to writers you would never have found on your own.  Even so, I had to start this one about four times, since I mostly read in bed at night, and this book begins with about three different stories starting in the first twenty pages, none of which seem to bear any relation to the other.  So inevitably I forgot what I’d read the night before and had to go back and start again, but eventually I gave it a solid half-hour in the daytime and then I got into it.

The first story is about a snatched child who disappears completely and is never found.  This failure haunts the police force who dealt with the case, and destroys the family as well.  Destroyed and failed families are a theme of the book, as elsewhere a pair of twins turns up who are separated at birth and have no knowledge of each other’s existence.  It turns out they share each other’s thoughts and feelings and one, a well-intentioned bloke who is seeing a psychiatrist, finds himself thinking the other’s criminal thoughts.

Meanwhile another child is snatched and the police, lacking any leads, turn in desperation to the same psychiatrist, Frieda, to see if she can help.

The story explores the differences between the logical, step-by-step approach the police have to take, and the intuitive, instinctive and imaginative leaps that Frieda is able to make.  There’s nothing facile here, and nothing comes easily either – or feels certain when it does come.  Even when the truth is discovered and two out of three cases are solved (a woman goes missing during the investigation and is never found) there’s very little sense of triumph or ‘wrapping things up’.  In fact I got a little exasperated with Frieda and her failure to engage with personal relationships or commit to a man she genuinely loves.  But this is an authentic and unpredictable story; and towards the end there’s a plot twist which I won’t reveal here but which actually made me gasp and shout ‘Oh no!’ – something I rarely do.*

Nicci French is an intelligent and accomplished writer and I was pleased to have been introduced to her.  I also have to say that I might not have persevered with it had it not been for the group, as I find stories about disappeared children very upsetting.

Here’s the book:


Oh, and in other news, Holly got an A for her English and a B for Graphics, so we’re very pleased about that.

Kirk out

*when reading a book, that is.  Otherwise I do it all the time…

Where’s the Social Capital Again?

So I’ve been wondering lately whether it’s at all possible to add up how many people we know in Leicester.  Nearly everywhere we go we see an acquaintances or friends – and somehow Leicester is That Sort of Place.  We all say the same: that Leicester is the sort of town where everyone knows everyone; as opposed to London, where no-one knows anyone.  I hate London: I hate standing at a bus stop and not being able to pass the time of day because the other person will think you’re a loony; I hate going to the same places every day and never getting to know anyone; I hate travelling on the tube or walking down the street and not being able to make eye contact with anyone.  I grew up in London and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

The complete opposite of London was Leigh, a small town in Lancashire where after a year I knew practically every person in the place.  Of course, there are disadvantages to knowing everyone, gossip being one of them; and sometimes it feels good to be anonymous.  But Leicester seems to combine the best of both those worlds: you can disappear if you really want to, but if you don’t, there will always be someone to talk to.  Take our immediate neighbourhood: besides the people who work in the shops we know people from church (about 150), people from the Mosque or Hindu temple, neighbours to nod to, folk from Yesim’s Turkish cafe, old yoga students and colleagues, fellow-students from Philosophy (I’m heading into town now) people from Drink and Think, political allies including CND members, Secularists and people from other churches we’ve attended; Quakers, Home Educators, parents and children from playgroups, and of course poets… and still I’ve not covered the half of it.  Sometimes it can feel like a burden knowing so many people but mostly I like it.  I have chosen it after all: I don’t have to talk to people wherever I go, but I do, because I’m interested in people.  I’m a social animal and as Mark frequently reminds me, we may not have much financial capital but we are staggeringly rich in social capital.


For example yesterday, as a result of going to the Crime Reading Group (of which more anon) I sold all the rest of my pamphlets and spread the word about my forthcoming ‘I Hate Poetry, a Poetry Workshop’ (Sept 28th 11 – 1 at Westcotes Library, FREE!).  Attending the Crime Reading Group is partly a social event, and it sharpens my ideas about writing as well as giving me insights into a group of ordinary readers.  AND, predictably, there are a couple of people I already know – one from church and one from Home Education.

So that was good – afterwards, it being Mark’s birthday, we went across to Yesim’s for a coffee.  He liked the Chris Conway CD I bought him very much, as well as the Cafe Direct coffee the children gave him: then in the evening we went – as I predicted – for a thali at Mirch Masala and then on to Pingkk Poetry where I did the Wm McGonagall parody, ‘Ode to the Upperton Rd Bridge’.

It was a packed and varied evening with a competition on the ‘Earthword-Blackbirk’ genre of metrosexual verse.  Hang on, that’s not it.  It’s ‘Earthwork Blackburn’ – no, it’s

bugger it, I can’t be bothered.  Here’s a link:

Nope.  The only links are to this blog.

Ah well.  I guess you’ll have to post your own…

Kirk out

Equal Rights and Wrongs

If it’s Wednesday it must be social and political comment, and the topic for today is ‘Equal rights and after – where are we and where do we go next?’

In the last 30 years things have changed from a position where able-bodied white males were in power virtually everywhere, to a society which is relatively far more equal.  There may not be many black or Asian MP’s, but there are some: there may not yet be 50% of women in Parliament but there is a significant slice.

Thirty years ago women were generally in ancillary posts – secretaries, nurses, teachers, cooks and cleaners – or else in the most menial of factory jobs: unskilled and low paid.  Many women worked only in the home, a place of long hours, scant recognition and no pay at all.  All that has changed: it is now out of proportion easier for a mother with small children to work outside the home: to establish a career before marriage and continue it after giving birth.

But there’s a problem.  Since women did nearly all of the caring – not only for young children but also for old people – there is a crisis in caring.  Barely a day goes by without some story in the media about neglect or abuse of the elderly.  Not only that, but we have travelled so far down the line that it is now difficult for women NOT to go back to work after having children, even if they want to stay at home a bit longer.  Hence the Facebook group Mothers at Home Matter Too: Home Educating parents are particularly concerned in this debate.

What is the solution?  We’re not going back to how things were, but how do we move forward?  And what is to blame?  Is it the equality agenda or the relentless push for everyone to make money?

Kirk out