There Must Be Dialogue

Sunday viewing in our house is always catching up on ‘Casualty’ (unless we watched it the night before) plus the unmissable ‘Handmaid’s Tale’.  I shall hold off on a review until the end of the series; all I’ll say right now is that its reputation for tense, unpredictable and thrilling drama is by no means exaggerated.  It’s a tribute to the makers that they’ve managed not only to maintain the level of drama of the original story but to build on it and ramp up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.

Meanwhile, since it’s impossible in our house to watch programmes without talking, here’s a smattering of recent conversations.  Incidentally, in my view there’s an optimal level of talking while watching TV: not so much as to interrupt the drama but enough so as not to feel silenced (this level of course varies with the programme: the bar is set quite high with ‘Casualty’ but low with ‘Handmaid’s Tale.’)

So it was that during an outbreak of cystic fibrosis in Holby ED, OH happened to mention, ‘I always think of cystic fibrosis whenever I use our yeast extract.’

Pausing only to grab my phone and record the utterance on Facebook, I continued with the drama, but later saw this ‘explanation’:

‘It’s low-salt and not as spready as Marmite. Reminds me of the higher viscosity of mucus caused by the poor transport of chloride ions across membranes in cystic fibrosis because salt includes chloride ions too.’

Yeah, we’ve all had that thought… he followed it up with this little gem:

‘Why do you think they replaced voiced consonants with the glottal stop? I mean, how did that happen?’

Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up – unlike ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’; or so we hope, since a defining feature of the drama is that no-one is free to voice their thoughts.  Offred/June has to show her reactions rather than telling them (Elisabeth Moss does this brilliantly) and the wives can no more voice their feelings than the handmaids, being just as much victims in this gruesome drama.  Even the Commander is playing a role and has to indulge any deviant desires in secret: the architects of this hell are in it just as much as its victims.  And unlike ‘Casualty’ where as soon as you see a car you know it’s going to crash, you have absolutely no idea what will happen next.

Three more episodes.  Sunday nights will never be the same…

Oh, and since I haven’t mentioned this before I’ll mention now that I was mentioned in dispatches (ie the Loughborough Echo) along with Baroness Chakrabarti:

No automatic alt text available.

Kirk out

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That Wash The Week That Wash

We’ve had some very good drying days of late, so I have got to grips with a backlog of horrendousness which was found lurking in the son’s room.  Normally I take a strict view of washing, having introduced both children to the washing machine at the age of fourteen and then backed off forever: I simply cannot understand parents who allow their grown-up offspring (usually their sons) to return from uni with a pile of washing.  They’d get short shrift from me.  But in this case Son had not only cleared out his room but made strenuous efforts to keep it clear, so I thought I’d pitch in and finish the job.  There’s something quite satisfying about doing several loads of washing if by the time the second lot’s finished, the first lot has flapped about in a strong breeze and fierce sun and is now ready for folding (not that I do fold, not in any real sense of the word.)

Since all that, I am now shocked to discover that it’s been nearly a week since my last post (I can’t help writing that like a confession.)  A week in which I didn’t get the writer-in-residence post in Scotland but did get the loveliest rejection email I’ve ever had; a week in which a story of mine was returned at lightning speed (never a good sign), a week in which early spuds have been dug up, tennis at Queen’s watched (Murray is not in great form though considering he’s had 50 weeks off it’s not surprising) and the local contender to oust Nicky Morgan launched.

I’ll give Nicky Morgan this: she’s ubiquitous.  Any local event you go to, she’s right there – and not just for the photo-op either.  She’s thought of as a good constituency MP, which makes her a hard person to oust – but if we want a change of government (and god knows we do) we have to get rid of her.  So let’s put aside the pleasant manner and the local events and consider Nicky Morgan’s voting record.

Here are just a few of the things she’s voted for (or against):

AGAINST equal rights for gays and lesbians

AGAINST investigations into the Iraq war

AGAINST a right to remain in the UK for EU citizens post-Brexit

AGAINST higher taxes for those earning over £150 K pa

AGAINST a bankers’ bonus tax

FOR more restrictions on Trades Union activity

FOR replacing the Trident nuclear missile system

FOR the Bedroom Tax

FOR a reduction in spending on welfare and benefits

FOR reducing capital gains tax.

I think it’s quite clear where her priorities lie.

In other news, I am now acquiring more material for my next sitcom; a follow-up or possibly a rewrite of ‘Waiting for Theo.’  This morning’s material went like this:

OH: You know about fully-automated luxury gay space communism, right?
Me: What?
OH: (shows me the phrase written down) It’s a thing
Me: But what thing?
OH: It’s basically Iain Banks
Me: Well that tells me nothing. What’s the gay bit about?
OH: It doesn’t mean anything really. It’s just put there because it’s a three-letter word
Me: Oh, for god’s sake! This is getting less clear by the minute!

OH:  All right.  Consider a lesbian automated checkout.

(pause)

OH:  Have you considered it?

Me:  No, but I’m writing THAT down.

And so on – in fact OH could legitimately say like Alan Bennett’s mother (The Lady in the Van), ‘by ‘eck, I’ve given you some script!’  OH really has given me some script too; stuff you couldn’t make up if you sat at your desk for a thousand years – which by coincidence is about how long ago I invented two characters called Ladimir and Oestrogen (a rather clever pun on Vladimir and Estragon, or so I thought).  Here are a couple of examples:

Ladimir:  God!  Three degrees in Edinburgh!

Oestrogen:  What?

L:  Three degrees!

O:  What – temperature?

L:  Of course, temperature!  What else?

O:  Oh, nothing

L:  It’s so foggy

O:  Really?

L:  You can’t see your hand in front of your face!

O:  Wow!  So I guess they’ll be singing when will I see you again?

L:  (groan)

 

Ladimir:  Here you are!  I’ve been looking for you

Oestrogen:  Here I am

L:  what’s this then?

O:  It’s my putting shed

L:  Your putting shed?

O:  Yep.

L:  Not a potting shed?

O:  Do you see any pots?

L:  OK then.  Is it for golf clubs?

O:  No.

L:  Well, what is it for then?

O:  It’s for putting things in.

L:  Oh, I see.  How foolish of me not to realise we were in a written conversation.

 

L:  In Fortran it was ‘right’ and in Basic it was ‘print’

O:  Okaaay…

L:  Fortran was hard.  Everyone learnt Basic

O:  Even I learnt a bit of Basic

L:  Oh?

O:  On my computer programming for morons course

L:  Was it really called that?

O:  No!

L:  Well, they have ‘Computer Programming for Idiots’ and ‘Internet for Dummies’

O:  Well it wasn’t.

L:  You’ll know all about the ‘go to’ problem then?

O:  Go to?  There’s a problem with ‘go to’?  It was the only bloody thing I understood!

L:  It didn’t have an equivalent ‘come from’ function.

O:  Oh, I see.  So it wasn’t quite finished.

L:  No.

O:  You might say it was antiquated

L:  I guess

O:  Even Shakespearian?

L:  Unh?

O:  “Go to, my Lord”.  You know, that sort of thing.

 

And so on… I think our real conversations are better.

Kirk out

25th Wedding Anniversary

IMG_0597

Well, today is our 25th wedding anniversary.  Yes, the OH and I have been manacled together for a quarter of a century and I feel as if I ought to do some sort of ‘summing-up’ post but I really can’t because as OH points out, if you sum it up, that’s the end.  A life is only summed up at a funeral; a calculation is only summed up when it’s finished.  And yet it is a kind of calculation because if you add up the days and the weeks and the years and put them one after another eventually you get to 25 years and then you have to stop and think… and what do you think?  Bloody hell! is the obvious thought.  And then bloody hell once more, but when you’ve thought bloody hell enough times you begin to be coherent.  And that’s when it gets hard.  I mean, what can you say about two and a half decades of conjugal manacling?  Well, you can say without fear of contradiction that there’s a history there – a history which means, for example, that I only have to say the word ‘Gerald’ for OH to know that he is being pretentious (see the gorilla sketch on ‘Not the Nine o’Clock News’) or ‘the mushroom pate’ which encapsulates the history of our first meeting or references to herbs such as ‘it doesn’t comfrey you know’ and ‘go the extra chamomile.’

Half a day has gone by and I still don’t know what to say about the last 25 years.  Still, it’s been a good day so far; the tribute to Gaz was lovely, featuring my poem and Chris’s song and a dozen or so people who came along (not bad at half a day’s notice.)  One person however was not having the best day as she had to get to work and had ordered food which took a while to come; then when she tucked into it I spilled my water all over it.  No sooner had this been mopped up than she discovered her dog, a rather nervous rescue animal, was missing.  A short panic ensued till the dog was discovered at the back of the cafe.  Anyway, an enjoyable if emotional event.

Before that I went to the hairdresser’s by mistake: I was just walking down the road and saw a sign advertising half-price cut and blow-dry, so in I stepped and on discovering that the half-price offer was very cheap, sat down in one of the chairs and prepared to be cut and blown dry.  I’m really pleased with the result.

And tonight we’re off out for a meal at Pizza Express.  All this and a free CD from Chris Conway as well!

What more could one ask?

A quarter of a century not out.

Kirk – erm – out

Hugo What? Hugo Who? Longlisted for Where?

OMG.  That’s all I can say.  O – M – G.  It’s just one of those moments where you sit open-mouthed and just say:

https://tenor.com/view/friends-janice-omg-oh-my-god-gif-4089127

It all started this morning.  We were – well, we were doing what I can only describe as praying and OH said, in a list of things, ‘Oh, and thanks for Steve’s email about Hugo.’  I kept my peace till Amen and then I said, ‘Steve?  Hugo?  Who’s Hugo?’

‘Oh, yes,’ says he.  ‘I got an email from Steve at GAILE (his publishers) saying I’m on the list for Hugo.’

Gritting my teeth I said, ‘and who is Hugo?’

‘Not who.  What.  Hugo is a Sci Fi award.  In fact it’s THE Sci Fi award.’

‘What?  You’re up for an award and you didn’t even tell me?’

‘Well, I only just found out.’

‘And you decided to tell God before me?’

‘Well, to be fair, God already knew…’

‘Exactly!’

So, all we know is that ‘Replicas’ –

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Replicas-Galactic-Association-Intelligent-life/dp/1973482177/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1522478286&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=Replicas+Amanda+McIntyre+Ure

– is up for a Hugo award and that the shortlist of five will be announced this evening, 8 pm our time.

http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-history/2018-hugo-awards/

I think it’s unlikely he’ll make the shortlist but bloody hell, to be considered is a huge deal.

Kirk out

 

 

 

I Self-Identify as a TERF

We hear a lot these days about ‘self-identification’ – the right to define yourself as whatever you feel you are and not be defined by society.  Now, in theory I am all for this; but in practice none of us exists in isolation.  We all have relationships, we all have contexts in which we exist.  There are tensions between the individual and the family; between the individual and group; between the individual and the wider society in which we all exist.

The individual ought not to be completely defined by society.  The society in which I grew up tried to define me in certain ways: that I should look a certain way (wear skirts and make-up), behave in a ‘ladylike’ manner (no swearing, no drinking pints) and aspire to a certain level (marriage and work as a teacher or nurse).  The career options for most girls were office work, factory work or the two professions I have already mentioned.  You were expected to work until marriage and if you worked after marriage, to do so part-time.  You were not expected to aspire to anything higher.

But nor do I believe that the individual has an unfettered right to self-identification; to demand that society (which is after all, other people) accept whatever they say they are and adapt itself to their needs.  And my fear is that the gender debate is heading in this direction; of saying that there are many genders and that a person should be accepted as whatever gender they say they are and called by whatever name and pronoun they wish.

Now, leaving aside the wider issues, which I’ll come to in a minute, this presupposes certain difficulties right away.  It’s hard enough to remember names at the best of times: we live in a mobile society where most of us meet new people all the time; so that to remember a variety of names and pronouns which do not correspond to our previous experience of gender, can be confusing and difficult.  To be berated if we fail adds insult to that injury: I once went to a ‘conference’ on gender where there were seven or eight of us, and to remember who wanted to be called ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘they’ or – god help us – ‘ze’ was beyond me.  I suspect the average person in the street wouldn’t even try.

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/may-you-have-an-interesting-day/

To sum up so far: society has certain expectations, that a person will present as either male or female, and be addressed accordingly.  Some people don’t fit into those categories – or don’t look the way you’d expect their gender to look.  Some people demand the right to be treated as whatever gender (or non-gender) they say they are.

So much for the social difficulties.  Now for the relational ones: as I’ve said before, if you are in a relationship and one partner decides to self-identify as a different gender, that has implications beyond their individual rights.  It has profound implications for a marriage or long-term relationship because that relationship is effectively being expected to switch from straight to gay – or the other way round.  It may be that some people’s sexuality is fluid, and that they can make those adjustments without too much hassle.  Equally it may not.

As far as parents are concerned (I don’t speak from experience here, so feel free to argue the point) I suspect it’s less of an issue.  The parent/child relationship doesn’t depend on gender the way that a sexual relationship often does, and although there may be profound adjustments to be made it doesn’t threaten the basic relationship.

So much for relational problems.  Now to speak of wider society, and a number of issues which are emerging.  Should transgender people be able to use the public loos of their choice?  I guess where there are cubicles it might not be so important; but I can’t say I’m totally comfortable with someone who may still be physically male using a public toilet at the same time as I do.

But this is the tip of the iceberg.  Should trans women be able to join women’s groups?  Should they be able to sit in on sessions where women are discussing intimate issues such as abortion and abuse?  Would you feel comfortable with that?  I’m not sure I would.

Then there’s the thorny question of what you might call privileges gained as one gender being carried over into another (I realise I’m concentrating on M to F trans people here, but that’s where most of the problems are).  Should athletes who still have a lot of masculine musculature be allowed to compete as women?  Should men who gained certain positions at work be allowed to retain them as women?

And why is all this happening now?  Is there an element of men wanting what women have, now that women have (supposedly) equal status?  Is it womb envy?  Or can you be born in the ‘wrong body’ and if so, how?  We must be free to ask these questions, but there is a great deal of resistance to debate, particularly in what I’m going to call the trans lobby.  There’s an orthodoxy emerging, that we must accept the new status quo without question.  Well, sorry – but I never accept anything without question.  Ever.

Which leads me to my tongue-in-cheek title.  Because of course I don’t self-identify as a TERF: nobody self-identifies as a TERF because it’s like one of those irregular verbs:

‘I have doubts about the trans debate; you are prejudiced: she is Germaine Greer.’

TERF is a label used for others; hence no-one is likely to self-identify as one.  But we need to debate these issues, and we need to do it respectfully.

And we need to do it now.

Kirk out

News! News! Good News!

No, I haven’t gone all evangelical on you: I just wanted to post some news about OH’s book.  As well as being out in paperback and widely available:

…… it has just been nominated for a prize!  Yep, ‘Replicas’ is up for the James Tiptree Jr award:

https://tiptree.org

So that’s all good.  I’ve finished reading it now and will post a review at some point: suffice it to say that for a person who doesn’t generally like SF, I found it surprisingly readable.  And that’s not down to the author being OH: let’s face it, there’s a lot of his stuff which I find amazingly unreadable…

So get your copy now!  Buy buy buy!

Kirk out

Never a Crossword?

Part of my morning routine is tackling the Guardian crossword: not the quick one but the cryptic.  Since I started these a few years back I’ve got quite good at them, so I thought I’d post some tips about how to crack the cryptic without breaking your brain.

First, the composition of the clue.  Every clue consists of two parts: the definition (this is the part that’s like a quick crossword) and the composition of the word (bits which are put together to make the word.)  So, if you can’t get the answer from one bit of the clue, you can get it from the other.  Here’s an example from today’s cryptic:

Filthy place ultimately became eyesore (4)

The definition is at the beginning or at the end: therefore it’s either filthy (or filthy place) or eyesore.  Let’s start with filthy place; one possibility would be sty.  The word ultimately generally denotes the last letter of a word; the last letter of became is e; put together they make stye which is a sore on the eye, or eyesore.  Part of the skill of the setter is to channel your thoughts in a certain direction; so that you think of eyesore in terms of something ugly, rather than focussing on the literal meaning, a sore in the eye.

Another feature is anagrams.  Let’s consider this one:

Maiden, with tact, ordered entree (10).  Now, words like ordered often indicate that the letters are scrambled (scrambled is another anagram indicator, as is mixed, confused, jumbled etc).  So having decided that, we have to figure out which words are in the anagram and which constitute the definition.  From the wording of the question it seems that maiden and tact make up the ten letters of the answer, so the definition is entree.  I was on the wrong tack with this for a long while, thinking in terms of food and restaurants; however the answer turned out to be admittance – as in, gaining an entree into a place.

Another common feature is a pun.  Here’s a nice example:

Consummate marriage?  Not so (9).  In order to get this, you have to understand that a question mark denotes a pun and to think of consummate  as a noun, meaning highly skilled, rather than the verb which it appears to be.  The answer is matchless, being a pun on match as in marriage and matchless meaning peerless or consummate (as in a consummate liar.)

The word regularly or oddly often an instruction to pick alternate letters from a word or phrase, like in this one:

sluggish ferrets regularly found beneath home (5)

The definition could be either sluggish or home.  Let’s start with sluggish and concentrate on regularly.  If the instruction to pick regular letters refers to ferrets then that could be either f-r-t or e-r-t.  The latter is more promising.  Now to the last bit: beneath home.  The word home often translates as in, which would fit the number of letters.  So supposing we put them together – this gives ertin.  Not a word.  Ah, but we’ve missed the word beneath.  If we think of a word from top to bottom, the end of the word would be beneath the beginning, thus giving us inert.  Check the definition – sluggish – and you’re there.

OK here’s a couple for you to try.  Answers are below.

drug finally injected into bare elbow (5)

a supporter of mine (3-4) 

decent sandwiches start to entice relative (5)

Seeing how much I enjoy these puzzles, you’d think I’d be more excited about the fact that ‘Round Britain Quiz’ – which is basically a cryptic crossword on the radio – is celebrating being the longest-running quiz show with 70 years on the air.  But the sad fact is that I find it unbelievably tedious: OH and I used to joke that the most exciting thing about it was when the signature tune changed from a minor to a major key at the end.  But they’ve even changed the signature tune now, so all that’s left is one giant yawn-fest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007qxpr

And here, just in case this post has left you too excited, is an edition with the old theme tune:

 

Here’s today’s cryptic, whence I got all these clues:

https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/cryptic/27406#5-down

and if you want an easier one, here’s the quiptic (a cross between quick and cryptic)

https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/quiptic/948

Kirk out

Answers to crossword clues:

nudge (drug finally = d; bare = nude; elbow as a verb = nudge)

pit-prop (a pun on mine)

niece  (decent = nice; sandwiches = wraps around; start to entire = e; relative = niece)