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

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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

Portrait of the Autist as a Young Woman

Sometimes – my memory being short and this blog being long – I have to do a quick search when I’m planning a post to see if I’ve done it before.  But a quick entry into the box brought zero results so we’re on for today’s title, which is of course a parody of James Joyce’s ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.’  Before I’d read either I used to confuse it with the Henry James novel ‘Portrait of a Lady’, which could hardly be more different.  But I digress.  Today’s post is linked to my upcoming short story ‘Alien’ (working title) about an alien coming to earth in human shape and trying to fit in.  This is not so much sci-fi as psychological narrative: the experience of being slightly autistic, or feeling that you might be, is analogous to being an alien among humans.

I’d better say at once that I’ve never had a diagnosis of autism, and I’m far from certain that I am actually ‘on the spectrum’; however I did a fairly lengthy test online which indicated that I might have some autistic features.  Be that as it may, if I were to have autistic traits it would certainly explain such things as my total failure in many situations to know what the hell is going on.  It explains the prevalence of so-called ‘tumbleweed moments’ where I say what is on my mind and there’s a prolonged awkward silence. 

In such situations I am reliant on people telling me what I’ve said wrong, otherwise I don’t have a clue – but people mostly don’t want to do that because it’s the social equivalent of breaking the fourth wall; in other words, of shattering the social veneer and admitting what is going on underneath.

At other times it isn’t so much my words as my manner.  Like many a ‘Professor Branestawm’ type I get carried away by subjects sometimes: I get a passionate gleam in my eye; I lean forward and converse animatedly, I go on and on.  It’s much easier for people to get this if you are obviously a geek (which nine times out of ten means being male) but alas, if you’re a woman talking like this to a bloke they’re likely to think it’s a come-on, and this really drives me crazy.  I’ve even had women on occasion think I was coming on to them: and in one case I didn’t find out why I’d lost a friend for ages afterwards.

To summarise: I often find social norms baffling.  Everyone else seems to share a series of assumptions to which I have no access.  When I say something out of line the usual reaction is a tumbleweed moment, and I rarely get anyone to explain to me what I’ve said, though sometimes I figure it out afterwards.  I find all this very difficult.

Should be a good story I think: sometimes I wish I looked more like a geek so people would know what to expect.  But then I wouldn’t be so pretty.  Ho ho.

Perhaps I should get this lovely t-shirt:

Image result for Professor Branestawm

Lazy Carrot t-shirts: image removed on request

Kirk out