Category Archives: The madness of Mark

Intelligent Design? Think Again, Guys!

A few years back I was struggling to use a gadget that was too stiff for me when another woman stopped to help.  She struggled too; then she said, ‘men design things for their own strength, don’t they?’  It brought me up short, because I’d never thought of it that way before – but she’s right.  And it set me thinking.

It’s not only ‘manly’ gear such as drills and chainsaws that this applies to (though it is annoying to have to grip a ‘hand-held’ sander with both hands in order to stop it going off on its own) – I don’t have particularly small hands for a woman, and yet I have daily struggles with objects that have presumably been designed by men without any thought taken for the 51% of us who might want to use them.

Take my thermos.  It’s one of the elegant metal ones that don’t have a breakable interior; it has no handle and is therefore presumably designed to be held in one hand.  Yet were I to try this I would risk spattering myself and the library with scalding tea.  Oh, sure, I could’ve got one of those nice pink-patterned thermon (I think that’s the correct plural; if I say thermoses OH will have a seizure) but they don’t hold enough tea for any sentient human being to sustain life.  And there’s the rub: if you want any deviation from the supposed norm you have to pay extra and get it in pink.  So that living in this world as a woman you can come to feel a little bit like Gulliver in Brobdignag.

Kirk out











Filed under friends and family, politics, The madness of Mark

Lady of the Rings

When I was getting married, my mother-in-law to be decided to give me an engagement ring.  She meant well, but I really didn’t want an engagement ring because we’d never actually got engaged so, although I was very pleased with the plain gold wedding band, I didn’t like the engagement ring with the huge rock on it, and pretty soon I broke it.  I think it probably lasted about three weeks.  This may have been some sort of Freudian slip on my part, or it may just have been that I am about as delicate as an elephant and don’t deal very well with fragile things.  Give me something robust – something that can stand up for itself.  Give me things that will put up a fight.  I can’t be doing with the fiddly, the filigree or the frangible.  Give me solid.

So my mother-in-law, who was probably quite upset by my trashing of her family heirloom, gave me another ring – this time much smaller and neater – and I promptly bashed a hole in the middle of it.  This time it wasn’t replaced: and every time I look at it I feel a stab of guilt at my clumsiness.

When I was at school I got a name for being cack-handed.  This may or may not be connected to my left-handedness in some actions, notably writing; though I was spared the torment of previous generations forced to write with the right hand.  Later in life I developed a little more poise: yoga helped, as did an increase in self-confidence.  But it’s hard to get over your early experiences, and one day when I met those ex-classmates whose idea of me was a klutz, I instantly dropped what I was holding and crashed into the table.  This of course caused a collective rolling of the eyes – a reaction which at my school passed for an uproar.

It’s hard to get out of dynamics which have been laid down in early life.

Speaking of rings, it has come to my attention that George R R Martin (of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame) was born with only one R.  Do you think he might be trying to ape Tolkein?

I think we should be told.

Kirk out


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Was Petunia Dursley Grendel’s Mother?

I was packing up books yesterday and I came across an edition of Beowulf which I’d bought for Thing last Christmas.  It’s very hard to find presents for someone whose only hobbies are drinking coffee and listening to the radio and who already has more coffee-grinders, cafetieres and radios than any human being has a right to.  So what to get?  I ask.

Oh, don’t bother, he grumbles.  Don’t get me anything.

But I want to!  What shall I get you?

OK then a book.  If you must, he whines ungraciously.  Thanks darling….  But what book?  Aha! I thought when I came across Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Anglo-Saxon classic, Beowulf.  This’ll do.  And so I bore it home in triumph and proceeded to wrap it.  But wait!  First it must be inscribed.  ‘To my darling Thing on the occasion of Christmas 2015’?

No!  No, that won’t do at all.  So what I wrote was this:

‘What mysserable gyt was that

who nolde that his wyf

ne bochte hym no thynge for Christemasse?’

Which, translated roughly, means:

What miserable git was that who didn’t want his wife to buy him anything for Christmas?

But, since I know my Anglo-Saxon is basically a collection of half-remembered syllables; and since I also know that Thing can’t stop himself correcting other people’s linguistic mistakes, I also added:

‘If you would your fortunes waxen

don’t correct my Anglo-Saxon.’

You know the phrase, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’?  Well, I also think you don’t know what you’ve got till you start to pack it up.  It’s only then that those long-lost tomes you spent hours looking for when you had time to read them, agree to manifest themselves so that they can be put in a box and left, only to disappear once more as soon as they are unpacked again.  But life goes on and since I can’t stop myself from buying books and since the lovely glossy chunky Oxford Companion to English Literature (1999, ed Margaret Drabble) practically jumped off the shelf and into my arms and since it was only £5: reader, I bought it.  And it is wonderful.  It not only has sections on writers and books but on characters from books too.  Harry Potter isn’t in there yet because the series wasn’t finished, but I’m sure it will be in future editions, if it isn’t already.  And in addition to all that it has sections on literary theory.  I read one yesterday which usefully reminded me of how much I hate post-modernism…

Talking of Harry Potter, that brings me to a strange phenomenon.  On last night’s Mastermind, the only woman (again!) answering questions on the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein, gave in answer to two questions the names Vernon Dursley and Petunia Dursley.  Now, I know that Rowling has used some classical names for characters: Argus (Filch) is Odysseus’s guard dog, for example; and Minerva (McGonagall) is the Roman goddess of wisdom – so I wondered if she’d taken the names of the Dursleys from characters in musicals.

But no – when I looked them up, I found only Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle.  Which made me wonder, why had she mentioned them?  And the best answer I’ve found is that instead of passing (in case the number of passes became an issue) she had a couple of names in readiness and used them instead.

Is that wrong?  Is it frowned upon?

I don’t know.  I’m not even sure it’s a good tactic as it has a time implication – but anyway, she won the round, though it was more for her outstanding general knowledge than the specialist subject.  29 points…

I was also surprised to discover that there have been as many female winners of Mastermind as male and that the first three winners were women.  So why aren’t there more women contenders?

I think we should be told.

Kirk out

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Filed under Book reviews, The madness of Mark, TV reviews

We Do Live in Interesting Times

Let us consider politics some more, because there are things which happen in the political field which don’t, as a rule, happen anywhere else.

First, our leaders are subjected to intense scrutiny.  In one sense this is entirely right and necessary – they should be held to account and required to explain their actions.  However this scrutiny is more often misapplied; as in, just to take one example, the recent Virgin trains episode where Corbyn did probably do something a tad misleading which was then blown up out of all proportion.  And, just to show I’m not using bias here, I think the ‘pig’ episode from Cameron’s history was also blown out of proportion and somewhat distasteful.

But in politics you only have to put a foot wrong for people to be baying for your blood.  In a recent interview Corbyn was asked if he wanted to be prime minister.  He answered the question in a roundabout way, saying that he intended to win a general election and that if he was, as he hoped, leader of the party at that point, then he would be PM.  But Jon Snow (of whom I expect better) kept asking the question: ‘do you want to be Prime Minister?’  Why did he do that?  Because he was trying to get Jeremy to say yes, I want to be Prime Minister – because that would then be the thing that was reported.  Then they could undermine him and imply that he is driven by ambition just like all the rest.  Shock horror!  Headline news!  Corbyn as ambitious as all other politicians!  Fortunately Jeremy is far too canny to fall for this – but it really enrages me that it happens in the first place.  It turns what ought to be a probing interview into a sort of game or dance where they try to get you to say something that fits in with their agenda and you try to avoid it whilst getting your message across.  It makes you want to echo Gandhi who, when asked what he thought of Western democracy, replied ‘it would be a good idea.’

Where else does this kind of thing happen?  In which other area of work are you routinely subjected to questions which try to catch you out?  Where else are employees scrutinised for any defects of character or their words analysed over and over for inconsistencies?  It beats me how anyone can put up with it.  Not to mention the insults and vitriol which are hurled at anyone with the temerity to get involved in politics in the first place.

It seems that there’s an almost complete lack of respectful debate nowadays.  I asked someone on Facebook who had dissed Corbyn, why it was that she didn’t like him and she answered that her gut feeling told her not to trust him.  She added that she could always be wrong.  I ‘liked’ her comment and at that point I didn’t take it any further.  Why?  Because I was thankful for her honest opinion and interested in finding out where she was at.   That is respectful debate.  Because it’s no good labelling your opponents as self-interested, ignorant fascists.  Some of them may be but there are many decent, respectable people out there who actually (shock, horror) vote Tory for reasons which seem good to them.  I disagree profoundly with them, but what use is democracy if we can’t even talk to each other?  Or more importantly, listen?

It was something of a culture shock when, a few years ago, I met some Tories campaigning in Leicester West.  I deviated from my lifelong pattern of Labour voting for various reasons; partly because I disliked Labour under Blair, but mainly because of the issue of Home Education, and only the Conservatives were sticking up for people’s right to Home Educate.  Now, Mark being Mark (or whoever he is) couldn’t just leave it at that: he actually had to go out and canvass with these people.  I declined to take any such step, but I was invited to a ‘thank-you’ party after the election where I met the candidate and some of her supporters.  And here’s the thing: they were in fact really nice people.  Sure, she lived in a huge house with extensive grounds in the wilds of Leicestershire, but there was no snobbery in their interactions with us and at the time Mark was – as he used to be in those days – quite shabbily dressed.  So they could have been quite snotty with us, and they weren’t.  OH has also met Edwina Currie and pronounced her also to be very pleasant to talk to; and I recently met Liz Kendall, whose politics I despise, and found her equally pleasant in person.

None of this changes my views: but it changes my interactions with those who don’t share them.  Needless to say it did not take long for me to regret my voting in that election and I have been all the keener on supporting first Left Unity and then Labour since Corbyn.

We live in interesting times, eh?

Kirk out



Filed under politics, The madness of Mark

May You Have an Interesting Day

I’m sure you know the Chinese curse, ‘may you live in interesting times.’  Well yesterday was an interesting day.  Actually that’s not true – it was a great day.  But also a terrible day.  It was the best day and the worst day.  It was a curate’s egg of a day.  And it did not go according to plan.

OK so here’s the thing.  OH says to me that he really, really, really wants me to go to this conference (at least I thought it was a conference) on gender and colonialism: ‘How Gender Abolition is Colonialist’.  There will be lots of stuff about gender fluidity in colonised countries and it might help us to make progress.  OK.  I can go with that.  I envisaged some kind of smartish venue with whiteboards, people sitting in rows, a presentation and maybe some speakers.  That’s not how it went.

We got to Nottingham early, wanting to make the most of the day, and tried to find which tram went where we were going.  Armed only with an inadequate map, I ended up going into an electronics shop full of shiny blue kettles and asking them the way to San Francisco (the place reminded us of San Francisco because of the trams and the hills.)  Trams!  I was very excited about these: they were shiny new ones not rackety Blackpool ones – and the lovely people in the shop told us which tram to get and even printed us out a map!  So we got on the smart new tram and ground our way up the hill as I jumped up and down fizzing with excitement and saying ‘Trams, Mark!  Trams!’  There’s just something about trams…  Anyway we got off and found ourselves in a warren of run-down back streets with nary a shop, never mind a conference centre.  We were early so we had lunch in a lovely ‘Coronation Street-type cafe which also sold books, shoes and DVD’s.  Then we found the venue.

Well.  It was the centre that time forgot.  I remember places like this from the ’70’s: houses in Islington where feminists and CND groups would meet and hammer out the future of the planet.  The entrance was a propped-open fire escape; the signage a ‘Nuclear Power no thanks’ sticker and the foyer a table stuffed with a variety of herbal teas (no complaints there).  Bloody hell.  ‘This is a bit of a throwback’ I muttered to Mark, suspecting that the conference might not turn out to be quite what I’d expected.  But never mind; everyone seemed friendly enough and we were offered drinks.  Then when it turned out that, thanks to a rival TERF conference (I’ll explain later) we probably weren’t actually going to make double figures, we started.  The leader, Sam, was ‘gender fluid’ and referred to as ‘them’: which started off the equivalent of ‘name, rank and serial number’ of the trans world ie ‘name, gender and pronoun.’  That done, we said what we hoped to get from the day.  I said I was hoping for some clarity.  ‘I’m bewildered by this whole field,’ I confessed.  ‘I didn’t even know there was such a thing as gender abolition, let alone that it could be considered colonialist.’  In other words, ‘help me out here.’  There were smiles and nods of understanding.  So far so good.  The ground rules, too, were fairly standard: mutual respect, tolerance, inclusivity and ‘safer spaces’ which as far as I could gather meant that everyone should feel safe to speak, having due regard for respect, tolerance and inclusivity.

Fine.  No problem there.

The introductory power-point didn’t cause me a problem either.  Then it became clear that we were going to discuss – with the aid of a flip-chart – the differences between sex and gender; how gender can be socially constructed (like dressing girls in pink etc etc).  And whereas I’d have been fine with a presentation, being asked to sit in a circle and contribute to a flip-chart discussion was not fine.  I needed a moment.  I went to the toilet and gulped a little.  I let it out.  Then I felt calmer.  Maybe I could do this: I returned to the fray and tried to follow the discussion.  But when the leader tried to suggest that sex (as distinct from gender) was also socially constructed, I had a problem.  I said, ‘surely most people when they’re born fall into either one sex or the other, don’t they?’

‘Can you explain that?’  The tone of voice was quite sharp.

‘Well,’ I said, resisting the urge to say it was bleeding obvious, ‘you either have a womb and ovaries or a penis and testes.’

Well, at this point a couple of them practically jumped on me and started to explain how I was wrong about this; how a lot of people don’t fall into either male or female (I had said ‘most’, not ‘all’) and to basically diss what I’d said.  And at this point my emotions overcame me.  I turned to Mark and muttered ‘I can’t do this,’ picked up my bags and left.

We spent a few minutes sitting outside.  Sam (the leader, of indeterminate gender, who I must refer to as ‘they’) came to see if I was OK.  I said I was really struggling and finding it too hard.  ‘Yes, we’ve all struggled with this,’ they said, before expressing the hope that I would come back as I might ‘get my ideas shaken up, which might not be a bad thing.’  Now I found that last statement not only patronising but presumptuous, so needless to say I did not go back in: I was too upset in any case.  So we ended up having a lovely walk back into town, finding bookshops and cafes and discussing what had happened before eventually meeting up with Bettina and talking to her about it.

And here’s the thing: for a group which had specifically signed up to inclusivity, tolerance and ‘safer spaces’ I did not feel included or safe.  It seemed to me a small group of people talking to each other – and Bettina (who knows the centre) said that this was quite typical.  Apparently one of their aims is to make links with the wider community; and since that community is largely working-class and black, what hope is there of that?  I found the language they used quite technical and academic (one of their aims was not to be ‘academic’) and they agonised about the lack of black people in the room, but really – if they can’t talk (or listen) to someone like me, what hope is there?

So in the end we had a great day in spite of the – whatever it was – conference or gathering or chat.  Oh, and TERF?  It stands for Trans-excluding Radical Feminist and you can look it up because my brain is now exhausted.  But I did think it was funny that somewhere else in the city there was a small group of TERFs talking to each other and berating these other people for not agreeing with them…or her… or him…


Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, The madness of Mark

That’s Fifteen Miles in the Old Money!

As I mentioned the other day, I’m not one for gargantuan physical efforts.  But I do have my moments, and just the other day one such Moment occurred.  On Saturday the weather was perfect – oo!  I’ve just discovered an icon at the top of the page which apparently means ‘mark as sticky’.  What?  Anyway, back to the post… Saturday being a lovely day and it being a Bank Holiday weekend I decided to go for a bike ride.  I had already ridden over to the Martyrs for breakfast so after that I decided to hit the canal and keep going South out of the city until I got to Kilby, whereupon I would come back up the A 50 (or A5199 as they call it nowadays), across to Knighton Park and hence home.  This turned out to be a total of 15 miles; not far for some but quite a way for me as I’m generally used to doing two or three miles at a stretch.  It’s a lovely ride out of town, finding canalside pubs and cafes; locks and quaint old humpback bridges, horses in fields and the quiet backs of houses.  Everyone I met was friendly and helpful and the route was easy; though that didn’t prevent me stopping every so often to check how far it was to Kilby.  Once I got to the main road it was a gentle rise up to Wigston (though I did walk a bit to save my energy, being unsure at what point I might conk out).  Which reminds me of a joke:

Me to OH: I can’t walk that far – I’ll conk out!

OH to me: Yes, but you’d conk back in again.

On with the bike ride.  Pausing like a steam engine (and probably resembling one in some respects) to take on water, I arrived in Wigston and found a handy cycle path away from the main road; following this I hit Knighton Park much sooner than expected.  And so home, where I spent the rest of the day feeling thoroughly energised before predictably feeling knackered the day after.  Anyway, this is what the canal near Kilby looks like:

I’m fascinated by the life of canals; both traditionally, as transport highways, and nowadays as largely leisure locations (although a few people still live and work on the canals and we’ll be seeing some at this weekend’s Riverside Festival.)  There’s something quite detached about a canal, like a separate life that coexists with ours; a quiet backwater that cuts through our lives almost unseen and unheard.  I’ve only once been on a narrow-boat holiday but it’s something I’d really like to do again: it’s peaceful, friendly, interesting and – most importantly of all – features lots of pubs.

Anyway, I was inordinately pleased with myself when I got home – but then of course I logged onto Facebook and instantly saw a map posted by a couple cycling from Lands’ End to John o’Groats who had completed 74 miles that day.

But hey, ho – as I said the other day, no matter what you achieve, there will always be someone who’s done more, so why worry?  You could do the entire Tour de France and still find someone who’s done it backwards or sideways or upside down or in a kilt.  So I am happy with my fifteen miles.  Because it’s significant to me.

Kirk out

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A HemidemisemiQuaker

Years ago I used to have piano lessons: they were taken by one K. Stuart Hart, a well-known and respected figure in that part of West London.  He was a mixture of parts; a gentle teacher (‘the Amos of another age’ as one student put it) but also both staggeringly egotistical and genuinely humble.  He never told me off when I didn’t practise but just sighed in a distracted way while chain-smoking B&H as I fumbled through my latest Mozart.  I took lessons from the age of 11 (when we were given a piano) until my late teens and once showed him the sheet music for ‘Tubular Bells’ which completely baffled him.

As a teenager I used to go up to the Royal College of Music for my exams; an ornate and deeply intimidating building in central London.  The experience was made much worse by precocious three-and four-year-olds running through Bach’s Toccata and Fugue on the practise pianos, so that I never managed to practise before my exam unless the room was quite empty.  The exam itself consisted, as I recall, of three prepared pieces, some aural tests (I was very good at these) and a sight-reading test which I always failed abysmally (to this day I cannot sight-read).  There were theory tests as well which were far less scary as they were written: I quite enjoyed learning music theory and I can still remember that a quaver is half a crotchet, a semiquaver half a quaver and a demi-semi-quaver half of that; after which it goes quite silly and becomes a hemi-demi-semiquaver.

So OH and I were joking that, since he comes to Quaker meeting about half the time, that makes him a semiQuaker.  If he came once a month he’d be a demi-semiQuaker and to be a hemi-demi-semiQuaker I guess he’d have to come once every two months.

Is that right?

Have a good week,

Kirk out


Filed under friends and family, God-bothering, The madness of Mark