Shopping Fun???

Food shopping is not fun, and that goes double in these lockdown times. I really hate supermarkets, yet I have to acknowledge that popping in and out of a dozen different shops would be extremely irksome. Much easier to nip up to Sainsbury’s, have a quick whip round with a trolley and Bob’s your uncle. But it is not fun.

On occasion I love to potter round the small independent shops, buying a round of cheese here, some artisan bread there, a bottle of wine, some fresh herbs… it’s a delight. But to do it every day would drive me mad – and besides, I couldn’t afford it. Yet it has to be said, the supermarket is a dreary, dreary experience.

Worse, in these lockdown days when all the smaller shops are shut, it’s hard even to get into the place. I’ve been twice in the last two days and both times there’s been a queue of patient people outside, each standing the requisite two metres behind the person in front, snaking half-way around the car park. I took one look at them and went home again. When I arrived OH expressed surprise.

There was a really long queue,’ I said.

There usually is.

But you said yesterday there wasn’t. And you went at this time of day.

When you go shopping,’ said OH self-righteously, ‘you must expect to spend about two hours outside.’

Sod that for a game of soldiers, I thought. I’ll try again later.

Ah well, some people have it a lot worse. At least when I get into the bloody place there’ll be something on the shelves. Or so I fondly hope…

Anyway, since the only thing I hate worse than shopping is a shopping list, I decided to turn today’s items into a tuneful sonnet. Here it is:

Shopping Lines

First item on the list; some dental floss

a dozen eggs, a loaf of sliced white gunk

a bulb of garlic, fruit and soya yogs

chocolate biscuits, since I’m not a monk;

some cherry toms imprisoned in a punnet

Ground control to cherry Tom, I hum

granola, proper stuff so I can pun it

hola Gran; then some basil in a bunch.

A world away, there’s bleach. It is essential

and yet I don’t like using it at all

but that disgusting toilet’s influential

in making my decision in the mall:

remembering all this, yet lose my grip on

the one thing that I came for: my prescription!

I’m going shopping now. I may be some time…

Kirk out

The Daft Night of the Soul

I think the marriage vows ought to go like this: ‘to love and to cherish, to make each other laugh, to have and to hold…’ If they were I’d have done well lately, as I’ve been amusing OH with my recent attempts at a SWOT analysis. On a sheet of flip-chart paper I’ve put things on post-it notes and stuck them under four headings: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis is a standard business practice for thrashing out problems; it’s also a good thing for individuals to do on themselves. One of the typical questions interviewers ask is, ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ to which the savvy applicant will answer by listing their strengths, and if pressed on weaknesses may say something like ‘I have a tendency to work too hard.’ LOL.*

OH was amused by my SWOT analysis though because at first I had nothing in the Strengths, Opportunities and Weaknesses columns but a cluster of little coloured Threats all flapping in the breeze of the open door. It stayed that way for a week or two – but now it’s changed because I’ve added some Weaknesses. Good eh? I daresay I’ll get around to S and O some time, but for now I’ve got plenty of TW.

One of my Threats (I’m not going to list them all) is The Dark Night of the Soul. This is a fear that if I progress in life, at some point it’s all going to fall apart, so the safest thing is to stay where I am. I hadn’t quite identified this fear before, but it’s a very real one – and this morning it occurred to me that if you do fall into a black hole, one way out might be laughter. I wonder if Dante ever thought of that? There aren’t many laughs in the Inferno, but perhaps there should be: it’s no coincidence that some of our greatest comics have suffered from depression. Spike Milligan, Robin Williams and Stephen Fry all spring to mind (though Fry is of course much more than a comedian) and I’m convinced that laughter is a good remedy for depression. So maybe in Opportunities I’ll put The Daft Night of the Soul.

There! I’ve made progress already. And it’s only nine forty-five.

I’ll probably post more about this later as I think it’s important.

Kirk out

*(Only better of course, because no interviewer would actually buy that.)

Leave Means Leave

No, don’t worry, this post is not about Brexit. In my recent short story collection every title is related to Brexit, but the stories are about relationships, and so is this post. I recently decided to seek some online support for my situation as a straight woman being married to someone with gender dysphoria. Support’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Don’t you just love having someone on your side? In a culture where trans rights are celebrated and their spouses forgotten, where even to question the right of people to identify as whatever they want and however they want is to risk being branded a hate-filled TERF, you really need someone in your corner, right? Someone who gets it?

Well, you’d think so. And with that in mind I fired off a query to a support group for straight people living with gay or trans partners. Great, I thought, finally I’ll be around people who know what it’s about. And so they do, but it turns out support is a double-edged sword. The problem is that everyone knows – or thinks they know – how the story goes. You’re happily married for a time, sometimes a long time, then the partner comes out as gay or trans – it’s a horrible bombshell – you are devastated – you have a time of adjustment and negotiation and finally – and this is the inevitable part – you split up. If you don’t – and here’s the rub – you’re basically putting up with things. Subjecting yourself to unhappiness. Being unfulfilled. Not putting yourself first. And so along with all the supportive and encouraging comments there has been a persistent thread running through, along the lines of: Please put yourself first. What’s in this for you? And you may come to the conclusion that, painful though it is, you have to choose between staying in a relationship and finding happiness. Thirty years ago the perceived wisdom would have been he’ll get over it, just stick at it and you’ll come through, or it’s just a phase, or whatever. Now, the perceived wisdom is that the change is permanent and that in order to find happiness, you must put yourself first and that means leaving.

But not all stories are the same. They don’t all have the same narrative arc and they don’t all end the same way. I don’t know how this one ends but neither does anyone else. And at the age of 62 I think I know my own mind about this.

What is it again?

Here‘s the group if you’re interested.We’re all struggling with something and we’re all on a journey so let’s be kind to each other and not assume we know the answer.

Kirk out

And on That Note… Thoughts on Editing

It was last thing at night. I was sitting up in bed reading and OH was drifting off to sleep when suddenly I heard a voice say urgently: ‘Tenrecs have 29 nipples!’ Now I happen to know that a tenrec is a hedgehoggy sort of thing so thankfully I didn’t have to ask, and I suppose the fact of it having 29 nipples is sort of surprising but I couldn’t really get worked up about it. So I did what I always do and made a note with the aim of either putting it on Facebook or blogging about it. So there we are and now you know; tenrecs have 29 nipples – presumably because they may have up to 29 offspring to suckle, I wouldn’t know.

Making a note of things is a practise I got into a long time ago; I keep a book by my bed for anything that occurs to me during the night and wherever I am in the day a pen and paper will not be far away. Professor Branestawm used to make notes on his cuffs (those were the days of detachable cuffs which were regularly laundered, which meant that he lost a lot of great ideas in the wash) and I used to make notes on my hand but I don’t do that any more because my hands aren’t big enough and besides it’s probably not good for you. But discrimination must be exercised in the writing of notes, otherwise you can end up with far too much material, so I’ve adopted the practise of waiting and assessing: if an idea doesn’t immediately demand to be written down, I wait a moment and see if it becomes insistent. If it doesn’t, I let it go; if it does, I write it down. As time goes by I’ve become more confident in the ability of my mind to remember things as it needs to. Some thoughts need to lie fallow and mature before they can be worked.

So as the editing season begins for Nanowrimers (I shan’t begin till the New Year and maybe not even then) here are my thoughts on editing:

First, editing begins in the mind. Even as you write, the mind is sifting and selecting ideas, words and phrases, even if you’re writing quite quickly. This process is largely unconscious but it’s interesting to watch: just try standing back and observing what happens as you write.

Second, there is no hard divide between writing and editing. You do not ‘write’ first and then ‘edit’; editing is writing (though sometimes it’s un-writing) and writing is editing. However between the first and second (and subsequent) drafts of a work there is likely to be a difference in emphasis between getting things down on paper and improving the expression of those things.

My main problem is that whilst I’m able to subdue the critical mind during the first draft, it necessarily comes to the fore during editing. But unfortunately, mine doesn’t know when to stop: as soon as it’s let out it rushes at the words like a guard dog at a burglar, chases them up a tree and keeps barking until the police arrive – by which time they’ve lost the will to create. I’ve managed to write a first draft without self-criticism, now I have to find a way of editing without being super-critical.

Kirk out

Six Incomprehensible Things Before Breakfast?

Some mornings I get six incomprehensible things shoved at me before I’ve even finished my first cuppa, and this morning was one of those.  First, OH was talking about the Half-Bakery, a repository for weird or half-baked ideas (hence the name).  It’s quite a waste of time, though as OH heatedly informs me, some of the ideas have gone on to be produced in what we are pleased to call the real world.

So this morning, before my bleary eyes had even fully-opened, a load of stuff is coming my way:

OH: I’ve had an idea for the Half Bakery

Me: Oh? What’s that?

OH: It’s a Brexit Advent calendar.

Me:  Sounds like as much fun as Dismaland.  Monday, Gloom, Tuesday, Hard Border, Wednesday, Food Shortages, Thursday, Labour Shortages…

OH:  Yes, but it wouldn’t work because of Call for List

Me:  What?

OH:  You’re not allowed to make a list of things

Me:  Oh

There’s a pause and I go back to doing the crossword. But no, it’s not over; there’s more.

OH:  When’s Listopad?

Me:  What?

OH:  Listopad! When is it?

Me:  What the hell is Listopad? 

OH: Don’t you know?

Me: Sounds like a brand name for post-it notes

OH:  Ha ha. It’s a month.  In the Slavic calendar.

Me:  Oh my god.  You actually think I know this.

This is just some of what I have to deal with in the mornings. And I hadn’t even had a cup of tea yet. It’s not fair.

Kirk out

It Doesn’t Comfrey, You Know

I learned yesterday about a saying in German where if something goes wrong someone will say ‘That wouldn’t have happened if you’d put your glasses on.’ I don’t know what it is in German but it’s good to have a phrase like this which smooths away conflict, a joke which everyone recognises as such and which creates common ground where there might have been argument. This happens in families too: like most families I suspect, we have catch-phrases that have to be said in a given set of circumstances. When coffee grounds spill somebody will always say ‘that’s grounds for divorce!’ and when things go wrong on a Thursday it is compulsory to comment ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.’ And on The Simpsons, Homer comes up with the phrase ‘it’s my first day’ which people start using all over the world to justify the most horrendous cock-ups.

So it is inevitable when I tell OH that I’ve spent the afternoon gathering comfrey that I will hear the phrase ‘it doesn’t come free, you know.’ Which is funny but entirely untrue because it is free and it grows all over the place. I now have a bag-full of the stuff which will be melted down – well, left to liquefy anyway – and then added to water to fertilise our plants. Comfrey leaves are high in nitrogen and make an excellent plant food. You can place the leaves round the base of a plant as well if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making the liquid.

And that was Monday. It’s bloody wet here, what’s it like where you are?

Kirk out

Excuse Me While I Colour the Sky

Just when you think it’s safe to wake up in the morning, this happens:

OH: I have serious problems understanding why the sky is blue.

Me: Oh?

OH: Don’t you?

Me: I hate to break this to you, but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it

OH: In fact I don’t believe it is blue. I think it’s actually purple.

Me: Oh, right

OH: Don’t you think so?

Me: I don’t know really. I don’t think about it much

OH: I have serious problems understanding why the sky is purple.

Silence

OH: do you know what I mean?

Me: I really think you should stop asking that question

Last night I went to see Rocketman. I first came across Elton in the early seventies (I still have Honky Chateau) and have always considered him a total one-off. There’s a sort of rocket theme going on at the moment with the oddly-titled Stephen Poliakoff Summer of Rockets (I’ll probably get to that later) but the biopic was stupendous. It was stirring, stonking, stupefying and contained stupid amounts of alcohol and drugs.

The story begins with Elton in a red and gold outfit with wings – like a cross between a superhero and a carnival queen – walking off stage and into rehab from where he tells the rest of the story in flashback. The narrative focusses on the early to middle years: Reggie’s childhood with an emotionally absent father and a self-indulgent mother – his Gran the only person who takes an interest – his scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, his interview with a record company and subsequent meeting with Bernie Taupin and then the rocket-like trajectory of his success. And here the film really goes to town with the songs, the outfits, the glasses, the concerts, the parties, the coming-out as gay, the fake marriage to Renata, the success and the excess and the final crash.

What made the film so great and so un-cliched was the naturalistic acting of Taron Egerton (he also played Eddie the Eagle) and his singing! I was astonished to discover that he actually sang the songs, as he managed to sound so like Elton and yet without parody.

The film was made in collaboration with the singer himself and it finishes with a short update and some pictures of him with David Furnish. It was a shame the film didn’t get as far as his friendship with Diana but then that’s a whole nother story.

So there it is. Now showing at a cinema near you.

Kirk out

The Taming of the Shrewd

When OH was little they visualised a shrew being like a mouse with its nose sharpened: I like that idea as it sounds like a good Just So story.  I could even write it: ‘Once upon a time there was a mouse who stuck its nose into a pencil sharpener…’ I won’t go into the misogynistic symbolism of the shrew, but it’s interesting to reflect on the history of the human nose.  Why, when someone is inquisitive, do we call them nosy?  It surely can’t be coincidence that every inquisitive person I’ve ever known (when I’ve remembered to check) has a large or very pointy nose.  I guess it figures that if you’re curious about the world and not afraid to – well, poke your nose in – you’d have a large or pointy thing keeping your eyes apart.  (My nose, in case you’re interested, is not large or pointy but it is hard; a fact OH never fails to point out when assessing my character.)

A propos of this it occurred to me, watching last night’s Louis Theroux  investigation into sexual abuse on American campuses, that he has a very large nose – and there’s no denying that Theroux is an inquisitive person who has made a career out of poking his nose into other people’s business.  He goes to places and asks questions most of us would feel very uncomfortable asking.  In this programme he follows a couple of cases where men accused of sexual assault on campus were acquitted by the courts but found guilty by the university and suspended from study.

The programme puts us the position of a jury hearing from witnesses, Theroux acting as both defence and prosecution.  He is an expert on getting people to talk and allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions.  Of course this is not a trial and what we see is only what the programme chooses to tell us; we have to remember that.

SPOILER ALERT

The first guy, an Afghan man who came from a refugee camp to America and made it to Yale, initially appeared quiet and unassuming but later on, doubt was thrown on his story by someone who had previously been an advocate for him.  The truth of these stories is very hard to piece together for the simple reason that only the two people present in the room actually know what happened.  So you have to fall back on who you think is the more credible witness.

I ended up completely changing my mind about the Afghan guy and seeing him as smooth and manipulative; but there’s a wider point here about how you deal with situations where the law cannot satisfactorily establish innocence or guilt.  Rape and sexual assault are horrible things and you can’t help wondering whether the ponderous and long-drawn-out procedures of a courtroom are the best place to establish the truth and dispense justice.  Perhaps for more minor offences we need a different environment, something akin to family courts, perhaps – an environment that’s less hostile and adversarial.  There’s just something a little bizarre on finding a shelf full of files detailing court procedures on whether a man did or did not hold a woman’s hands above her head and stick his mitt down her pants.  It’s not that it’s out of proportion; it’s somehow alien to the original situation.  I don’t mean to trivialise such events which are horrid; I just wonder.

Kirk out

Fifty Shades of Earl Grey

Since OH makes the tea in the morning and not only doesn’t understand tea but has difficulty with half-measures, I never quite know what I’m going to get.  Sometimes my morning cuppa is in the Goldilocks zone but more often there’s either too much water or too little, resulting in a watery mud-colour or else tea the shade of oak stained by decades of nicotine.  I can usually tell just by lifting the pot whether it’s right or not, and thereafter approach the act of pouring either with glee or with a due sense of trepidation.

OH is tempted to wonder whether the British have evolved to detect a greater spectrum of brown in order to discern whether our tea is of the correct strength.  It’s an appealing idea but as we’ve only been drinking tea for a couple of hundred years (and taking it black in the beginning) I think we wouldn’t have had time.  But who knows?  Maybe even as we speak I am part of that very process of evolution?

It’s been quite cold here in the mornings but by midday it’s warmed up to an unfeasible extent, resulting in a temperature hike of about fifteen degrees centigrade.  I’ve been taking advantage of this to dig the garden, turning soil while the sun shines (and boy does it shine!  Twenty degrees on Monday; I’m torn between enjoying it and being terrified by climate change) and so enhancing my ability to appreciate different shades of brown.  Spike Milligan certainly could, drowning in mud in Italy:

There’ll be brown birds over

the brown cliffs of Dover…

So who knows?  Maybe by a combination of gardening and tea-drinking we will have evolved to see fifty shades of brown by the end of the century.  If we survive that long…

Kirk out

I Love Rejections….

Oh to be on Facebook, now that OH is here!  This is a conversation we had just now about a new pair of glasses:

OH:  Just now I thought my glasses weren’t right, but it was only my eyes doing their thing.

Me:  What thing?

OH:  In bed at night I close one eye when I use the tablet and I think it’s messing with my Nucleus of Edinger-Westphal.

Me:  I think I went there once on holiday.

OH:  I’ve mentioned it before.  I want to know the peak sensitivity wavelength for rod cells.

Me:  Sure; who doesn’t?

That’s the sort of dialogue I usually put on Facebook but now I’m off Facebook for good, or at least until it improves beyond recognition.  In theory I could log in and put up my dialogue and log out again – but would that really be the end of it?  Wouldn’t I go back an a couple of hours to see who’s ‘liked’ or commented?  Wouldn’t I respond to some of those comments?  Wouldn’t those commenters respond to my responses?  Wouldn’t I do a bit of scrolling in between?  And then boom! before you know it, you’re back on Facebook.

Nope: amusing and geeky dialogues will have to remain on this blog.  Anyway, back to today’s topic of rejections.  I had one just this morning as it happens; a poetry collection I’d entered for a competition which wasn’t shortlisted.  The first reaction is like a thump in the chest; the feeling that, as Pooh bear puts it: ‘A Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it’ – or, to translate that into author-speak, you sweat and polish and rub and grind to make your work the best it can be, send it out into the world to seek its fortune and back it comes, rubber-stamped with the words NO THANKS in large unfriendly letters.

Actually today’s rejection was terribly nice and appreciative but it doesn’t matter how much they sugar-coat it, a rejection is a rejection.

So what do you make of it?  I go through a process each time which is not unlike the stages of grief.  First, there’s pain.  There’s no avoiding this and sometimes it hurts a lot, especially if you had a lot invested in the work; but it does get easier with time.  The second stage can be anger, though I’ve managed to bypass this as the urge to write to the publishers telling them where to get off is not one that should be indulged.  So we blow past anger and land on wondering.  Why?  Why didn’t they want to publish my work?  Are they blind?  You rarely get a clue as to why your work has been rejected and being so much in the dark can lead to stage three: paranoia.  Am I really as good as I think?  Should I give this up?  Am I ever going to get anywhere?  Will anyone ever appreciate me?  This stage is not very productive and, like anger, should not be indulged for long: I got a few words of encouragement from OH once he got back from visiting the Islets of Langerhans or wherever he went – and in time the feelings fade.  So those are the stages of rejection-grief, after which you’re ready to pick up your mouse and carry on.

The good news is that the cycle shortens each time: having seen the rejection email twenty minutes ago I’m already into phase four, a process which used to take weeks.  Phase four is What Now? where you’re able to consider more dispassionately what your next move should be.  For me there’s only one answer to this question and that is to carry on working and make it better.  Don’t go back to the rejected work just yet; put it on one side, and focus on something else to send off.

So, in conclusion (and here’s where I get all upbeat and American) I love rejections because without them I’d never have tried harder.  I’d never have rewritten things and made them better.  It’s probably not an overstatement to say that without rejections I’d never have fulfilled my potential (not that I have, yet; I’m still in the process.)  So in the end that’s what I take from it: those poems will be honed and improved until they are the best they can be and then they will be published.  So there.

Kirk out