The Joy of Tax

I’ve been putting it off quite long enough.  That reminder in my phone calendar to ‘do tax return’ has been lurking for weeks and has begun to assume a plaintive air: if I leave it any longer it will become positively admonitory – and take it from me, the last thing you want to see every morning is an Admonitory Reminder.  Having got the desktop computer up and running (like OH in the mornings – yes, still pounding the streets at 6 am) I’d run out of excuses.  Log on I must, and the sooner the better, just in case I run into any problems, since the prospect of phoning the helpline on 31st January does not appeal.

At this time of year I always think of Bernard Black making a jacket out of his receipts:

I know how he feels.

It’s not that in principle I object to paying tax.  As a fully-signed-up Labour Party member I am utterly seized of the need to pay what is due so that we can have proper public services.  No, it’s not that; in fact I’d be hard put to say what actually does bother me about this process – all I know is that a sense of dread and doom and an unwillingness to embark on it is matched by the knowledge that I must do it Or Else; and these two fight it out until, some time in late January, I actually do it.  Then once it’s done there’s a feeling of euphoria which lasts several days – but somehow I always forget this when January comes a-knocking again.

Anyway, with that box ticked I can get on with the rest of my year, warmed by a righteous glow and without the need to talk to any Jehovah’s Witnesses…

Kirk out

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Back on the Box

Sadly I’ve given up on the other laptop now.  We considered taking it for repair again but it seemed like throwing good money after bad, so out came the desktop which has been languishing in a corner since we moved here, for lack of a desk to put it on top of.  Well, I now have a desk of sorts and having run out of other options we decided to give it a try.  Sometimes – to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes – when you’ve run out of possibilities whatever remains, however impossible, must be the way to go.

It was like doing a Rubik’s cube.  A space just wide enough between the bed and the ottoman now houses the CPU while the monitor and peripherals perch on what I am pleased to call my desk.  Everything worked.  Joy.  A dongle was swiftly purchased and inserted into the proper orifice and here I am blogging on the desktop.  Actually it was a pleasure to use it: I felt bad about seeing it languish for so long.

I spent the rest of the day trying not to think about Brexit.  I don’t know whether to feel glad or not about the government’s defeat; on the one hand anything that might get rid of them is to be welcomed but on the other, the appalling mess that was unleashed in 2016 is no nearer being resolved.  May seems to soldier on regardless in a sort of deep denial, passing landmark after landmark which in normal circumstances would see Prime Ministers resign, determined just to plough on like someone driving at sixty miles an hour along a road which will shortly be plunging into a ravine.  There are service stations and rest rooms, there are escape roads and ambulance crews but she ignores them all.  I simply cannot understand what goes on in her mind.

Well, at least I can attempt to discover what goes on in my mind…

Kirk out

Happy With Your Life?

Today is the first Sunday in Advent and so should be a time for looking forward.  Yet we often find ourselves looking back on the year and asking the inevitable question, ‘What have I achieved?’

Well, the answer to that depends on how you define achievement.  The usual way is to consider worldly success in terms of work, money, possessions, and so on, followed by personal goals (travel, weight loss, exercise, etc).  You draw up a sort of achievement balance-sheet: on the plus side you put goals attained and on the minus, and much more painful, side you put negatives such as goals you didn’t achieve.  There might be even worse things to add such as giving up smoking and then taking it up again, losing your job or putting on weight you’d previously lost.

All of this, I submit, has a very negative effect on us.  Even if the goals have all been achieved and the boxes ticked, the sense of satisfaction is likely to be short-lived; then when similar goals are set in the New Year we may feel we should move the goal posts.  Of course this in itself can be very positive: in the last couple of years I increased my yoga practice from 10 – 15 minutes to 20-30 minutes; I now have a vague aim of doing one or two longer sessions.  But this goal comes from an inner prompting, a desire to do more – rather than an external taskmaster wagging their finger and saying ’30 minutes is not enough!’

There’s a truth here which I believe to be universal; and it’s this:

Contentment with where you are is the key to achieving more.

By ‘contentment’ I don’t mean a sort of self-satisfied sloth:

Image result for a self-satisfied sloth

(image removed on request)

but a genuine ability to be OK with where you are, even at the same time as recognising that’s not where you want to stay.  It’s one of life’s paradoxes that lasting change comes from a standpoint of acceptance rather than discontent.  It’s also self-evident that a lack of contentment means that no goal is actually worth achieving because you won’t be contented there.

The hills may look blue from a distance but once you get there you see more and bluer hills in the distance.  When I get there I’ll be happy, you think – but if you’re not content now, why would you be then?  There are always more and bluer hills to climb.  So you’ve run a marathon?  That warm glow of satisfaction worn off already?  Do a triathlon.  Swim the channel, climb Everest, row around the coast.  Then you’ll be happy.

Consider, if you will, the super-rich.  I don’t know any of these people personally but to judge by their behaviour they, too, are never satisfied with what they have – otherwise why would they always want more?  And they always do want more: one yacht is never enough.  There’s always someone richer than they are.

But as the Baghavad Gita says (I think it’s the Gita) ‘What is found here will be found there.’  Contentment is a quality that comes from within, not from external achievements.  It can be developed but it takes dedication and practice – the willingness to say to yourself, no matter where you are and what’s happening, ‘I am content to be here right now.’  The paradox is that this can spur you on to greater achievements – with which you will be content – until it’s time to move on.

Of course it’s a hell of a lot easier to do this when you’re somewhere nice than if you’re on the streets or in a refugee camp or a hostage in solitary confinement – and far be it from me to lecture people in those situations about how they should behave.  As for me, I first started the practice of santosh (as it’s called in Sanskrit – beautiful word) when I lived in Madrid: walking round the streets and being aware that I wouldn’t be there for ever, I made a conscious decision to appreciate everything I saw and felt and experienced.  But contentment can have a transformative effect on negative experiences too; and be the springboard that gets you out of them.

So I guess that teaches me to be content with only being slightly published.  Hmm – it’s harder than it looks, this santosh…

Kirk out

Radio Silence

WordPress are still threatening me with that editor coming to level up my layout and I wish they wouldn’t as I have no idea what that means or when it will actually come.  Oh wait, apparently it’s here and I have to select it.  It tells me I can now use ‘blocks’ and I have no idea what that means either.  Why does everything have to use such technical language?  Why can’t they just say ‘if you click on this thing which you will find in the top-left corner then it will create a box for you to type in’?  I seem to have created such a box here and I don’t know if I want it or not but it’s academic because I can’t tell how to undo it.

Phew!  Now I’ve switched back to Classic Mode which is fine except I’m still getting those annoying messages about a new editor…

I don’t know about you (I expect it’s probably my age) but these days I find that there are just too many things for me to get my head around.  No sooner have I got used to an app than they go and change it, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes just for the hell of it.  Well I guess at some point I’ll try out this new editor, but preferably at a point where I’m not actually trying to write a post.

I’m still off Facebook so there will be radio silence from me on there, but none of this is what I was intending to blog about.  It was this: every six months or so the BBC in her infinite wisdom has a Window; and when this window appears it’s the time for drama writers of all colours and persuasions to submit to the great Clearing-House of Drama called Writersroom:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/

Doesn’t matter what it is; whether a full-length play or a short drama, a series or a sit-com; whether it’s for TV or radio, it all goes to Writersroom.  A great sifting then occurs and if you’re lucky they’ll pick up your contribution, give it a shake and send it to the editorial team to be half-baked, whereupon it will be sent back and forth endlessly before being (if you are exceptionally lucky) Actually Produced, at which point you may finally see some dosh for your efforts (though I’m not entirely sure they don’t pay on broadcast.)  Is it worth it?  Financially no, not at all.  But in other ways yes; the idea of telling a story through radio drama intrigues me.  I have a good ear for dialogue and whereas I have no sense of ‘theatre’ in the physical sense I do have a good sense of what works aurally, so I think I’m in with a chance.

This is not my first attempt at writersroom.  I have previously submitted at least one radio play as well as a sitcom called Waiting for Theo (no prizes for guessing that Theo was based on OH).  With sitcoms you send an outline of the series (usually six episodes to start) plus one full episode.  It didn’t get commissioned but I did get a letter back saying they quite liked it, so that was something.

I’m not starting from scratch with this current project either: I had previously laid down the bones and written some scenes, so the story and all the characters are in place.  It’s coming on quite nicely.  And to help me I’m listening to as many radio dramas as possible, including this one:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0000z5g

Kirk out

Taking a LEAP: Alternatives to Money

FB-share-whale

As I said yesterday, I’ve just finished reading ‘No is Not Enough’ (actually I have yet to read the end bit, which is the LEAP manifesto pictured above, an alternative manifesto with a number of broad-ranging suggestions to tackle climate change and deal with the excesses of global capitalism.  It refers to Canada but is applicable anywhere and everywhere.)

https://leapmanifesto.org/en/the-leap-manifesto/

Klein hits the nail on the head, as always, by pointing out that attachment to money is at the root of this; and without coming over all biblical manages to say the same thing as the New Testament:

http://biblehub.com/1_timothy/6-10.htm

Money itself, as I have pointed out before, is neither real nor evil in itself.  It is morally neutral since money is a concept we have agreed to treat as if it were real for the purposes of exchanging goods and services.  So it strikes me that the way to destroy global capitalism (which god knows we need to do before it destroys us) is to undermine this attachment to money.  We can do this in any number of ways: by freecycling, by refusing to buy what we are sold, by helping each other out without asking for financial rewards and above all by refusing to regard money as the be-all and end-all of our existence.

For ten years now I have put my money where my mouth is by giving up paid employment in order to do what I love.  I have taken a leap off the cliff and tried to do the impossible – namely, to make money from writing – and I can’t claim to have succeeded yet.  But – and here’s the astonishing point – I have survived.  My health has not gone down the tubes; I haven’t starved, gone without adequate clothing, frozen to death or been homeless.  Whenever disaster has threatened to strike something has always come along: I’ve even managed some luxuries such as holidays, the odd bottle of wine and, in the last year, a car.  Much of this is due to the generosity of friends (and Friends) and family, but I hope those (F)friends and relatives would agree that there has been some kind of exchange here: in that I may not have money but I have time and energy to do things for others.

This is a phenomenon I’ve observed in other people who put their lives on the line to do what they love; that something always turns up.  I don’t even think you need to have some kind of religious faith for this to work; just the faith that comes from taking that leap off the cliff.  Every artist (unless they are born into money) has this same dilemma: how do I make a living and practise my art?  My view is that if you wait until you can afford it you’ll probably wait forever.  Take a leap of faith.

Living without money has taught me a lot.  In some ways it’s been a very hand-to-mouth existence but I think that central to survival is to think only of what you need today, here and now, and let tomorrow take care of itself. It has also brought a certain kind of freedom: an immunity to advertising.  There is no chance whatsoever of any advertising affecting me or tempting me to buy something I don’t need, because I don’t have the money.

At the same time I refuse to allow lack of money to limit my imagination.  I never tell myself ‘I can’t’ when an opportunity comes up, because maybe there’s a way that ‘I can.’  For example I can go to the Labour Party Conference in September because I’m going as a delegate and this will be paid for by the local party; and in the same way I’ve managed to go to lots of things for free because I’ve managed to access funding or because I’ve offered to do something in return.

It’s amazing what can happen when you look beyond the limitations of mere money and take a LEAP.

Kirk out

A Negative is Insufficient, Captain

A while ago I told you I was reading Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’ and promised a review; instead of which I’ve gone on to read ‘No Is Not Enough’, her response to Trumpism.  I shall attempt a sort of mopping-up of both books which I’m afraid will do neither of them justice – but if I don’t do it now some other ideas will come along and demand to be blogged about, because that’s what happens.

So: ‘This Changes Everything’ is a panoramic view of climate change; the science, the deniers, the evidence and most importantly the solutions.  The first section is hard to get through as it includes so many references to articles, speeches, scientific data etc that it’s like reading an academic paper.  This is presumably necessary, at least in the States where climate change deniers are out in force, though in Europe it’s generally accepted as fact, even if we haven’t quite taken it in yet: people are still going around saying how wonderful the weather is but nobody is saying how scary global warming is.

But once you get past that, the second and particularly the third sections are much more readable, and there’s an emphasis on ordinary people coming together to protect the environment; not only The Environment with a capital E but their own little neck of the woods: streams and rivers that are drying up or being polluted; land and houses that are flooded every year, bees and other insects that are dying (we wouldn’t last five minutes without the bees, and the idea that someone could build a tiny drone to do the same job is pure insanity.)  Capitalism is out of control and we need to bring it back.  The good news is – we can.

It’s kind of the same story with ‘No is Not Enough,’ although the book, being more quickly produced, lacks the dense research of the other (this for me was a plus.)  It follows a similar format: first the problem, then the solutions.  The problem is of course unfettered capitalism which means (and has always meant) unfettered greed.  Trump is a symptom rather than the cause of this, and to some extent is the puppet of those who have a much clearer idea of what they’re doing politically (though Trump is quite capable of being greedy and selfish on his own account: in fact there’s not much he isn’t capable of.  His recent visit to our shores filled me with disgust: apparently before he was refused a state visit he demanded a ride in the Queen’s gold carriage!)  The problem is quite simply that of prioritising money above all else: above human rights, above the planet, above the greater good – above everything.  There are people who actually believe they can pollute the planet and then swan off in a spaceship to start a colony somewhere else.  This, too, is pure insanity (I feel a short story coming on).  The solution, once again, lies in people coming together, and the third section of the book outlines the ‘yes’ or many possible ‘yeses’ which are a much more powerful response to greed and destruction.  She cites stories of people opening their doors to refugees, standing with Muslims, rehiring workers sacked for protesting – and many more such acts.  These movements exist both alongside and outside political parties, and although they may ultimately need government (or something like it) to implement policy, the impetus is coming from below.  We need more of this in the UK: we need more of it everywhere.

We’ve had enough of dystopia.  It’s time to try utopia.

Trump out!

Kirk out

28 Degrees and Counting…

It’s Hot here in the UK: nearly 30 degrees in some places which counts as Hot with a capital H.  I’m finding myself adjusting to Spanish rhythm, by which I don’t mean a salsa or a rumba but a slower, more leisurely approach to the day.  No rushing, no running, no stress; plenty of rest and plenty of fluids.  I am only thankful on days like these that I don’t live in Hounslow any more: being four miles from Heathrow the noise and pollution were intolerable and now they are set to get worse as the Commons approves a third runway.  Not only is the village of Harmondsworth set to be demolished but the traffic, both terrestrial and airborne, will increase hugely.  All this when London traffic is already largely at a standstill and when we have regions crying out for development.  A bad, bad decision.

But far worse was the utterly despicable cowardice of Boris Johnson.  Following his triumph with the infamous £350 million bus:

Image result for £350 million a week bus

he followed this up by saying that if the third runway were approved he would ‘lie down in front of the bulldozers’ (a sight we were all looking forward to).  Instead, what did he do?  He avoided the vote by skipping out of the country – to Afghanistan, of all places! *

He is now facing calls to resign:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/heathrow-boris-johnson-third-runway-vote-aiport-parliament-afghanistan-kabul-foreign-secretary-a8416471.html

To be fair the first part of his statement was accurate: he would lie.  He would lie about his intentions, he would lie about his loyalties and he would lie about having a prior commitment.  It’s very clear where Boris Johnson’s loyalties – erm, lie – they lie with Boris Johnson.  The man is a weasel and he should resign.  The sooner the better.

Kirk out 

*not that I’m suggesting Afghanistan is a place unworthy of a visit under normal circumstances