post and jam, butter fingers, gloves

There’s a theme emerging in my mind today but I can’t put my finger on it. Aha! That’s what it is – fingers – well, fingers and toes, to be precise. This morning I had a slight margarine mishap when, trying to prise some from the tub which OH had polluted with yeast extract (OH complains loud and long if I leave so much as a homeopathic trace of jam in the marge but yeast extract is fine apparently) and promptly dropped a wodge of margarine on my slipper. I tried to pick it up with my fingers but it slithered away from me and in the process smeared itself all over the toes (I think they’ve change the recipe; it never used to be so slippery *.) Cursing as my rapidly-cooling toast waited on a plate, I proceeded to wipe it up with kitchen towel but only succeeded in deeper embedding the greasy spread into the pleated seams of the slipper. I gave it up and spread my toast with margarine (from the other tub) and jam, then I attacked the offending slipper with a wet wipe; I’m still not convinced that I got it all.

*the marge, not the slippers.

I’ve just finished knitting a hat for a friend in some lovely rainbow wool and since I have some left over from this and other projects I thought I might make myself some fingerless gloves. They’re not actually fingerless of course; they just have short fingers keeping the hand warm but enabling the wearer to actually do stuff. I’ve always been a fan of fingerless gloves but I’ve never actually knitted any so we’ll see how that goes. I would promise you a picture but it’s ages since I’ve actually been able to post a picture to this blog. Anyway however they turn out they will be wondrous. I’ve decided…

Happily I slept a lot better last night (a walk in the country often helps) so my brain is rolling up its sleeves and preparing to tackle the day’s work. And on Facebook I came across a story I’d written years ago as a writing exercise and I’ve decided it has potential, so I’ll be working on that. I’m going to leave you with Sesame Street, one of my favourite songs which is not quite about fingers and toes but as good as:

video removed on request

Trying to get the hang of Thursday…

Kirk out

Potty Dreams

OH always says that no-one can interpret a dream better than the dreamer, and I think it’s true; whatever theories psychologists may have, you know best what’s really going on. When I was so rudely awoken this morning I was bang in the middle of a very vivid dream, one of those where it takes you a moment to realise you’re not in a theatre about to do a performance, you’re in bed. In Loughborough. And it’s time to wake up. Ugh. I usually try to write down these dreams before I forget them, because they seem important – and if we no longer (since Freud anyway) interpret dreams as portents from the beyond, we do recognise that they have something to tell us, usually something our conscious mind has pushed to the background while it gets on with more important stuff. (Or so it would have us believe.)

Interpreting a dream is not so much about what happened – though that matters too – as how it felt. What was the atmosphere in the dream? What was I feeling? You can feel threatened even if good things are happening, or vice versa (incidentally I think one of the most brilliant bits of plotting in Harry Potter is in The Prisoner of Azkaban when, during a Divination class – a subject generally seen as worthless – Ron reads Harry’s tea leaves and concludes, ‘You’re going to suffer – but you’re going to be happy about it.’ At the time it just seems silly but in the end this is the essence of the plot: Harry suffers, but he’s happy about the outcome.)

Anyway. As we all know a dream can contain the most delightful elements and yet feel unaccountably threatening, like a film where the characters are walking happily along a beach but sinister music is building in the background. So. This dream from which I was so abruptly awoken was generally a positive one, though there were elements of doubt in it: I was giving a performance of poetry to a large audience; I’d waited a long time to get on stage (that figures) and when I arrived I realised I’d lost my set list. But the audience was very friendly and an enthusiastic fan knew all of my work off by heart and suggested poems for me to do.

So all in all I see that as a positive and hopeful dream, albeit with a bit of anxiety thrown in.

Kirk out

TMI Friday

I wrote an entire short story yesterday, from start to finish. I don’t think that’s ever happened before – or if it has, I wasn’t at all happy with the result. I may not be happy with this one when I go back to it but I was pleased as Punch yesterday when I’d done a Jane-Austen-comes-to-the-present-day story with a twist. It follows on from the first story about C S Lewis and I’ve got a series in mind, though I don’t know what the others will be.

Writing a series is like having the wind at your back. It’s such a help; you don’t have to start from scratch with characters, ideas, settings etc; you’ve done all that groundwork already and can just concentrate on what happens next. And since what happens next follows from the previous story you’re already half-way there. It’s such a joy. These time-hopping stories are great fun to write as well; I particularly enjoyed my time with Mr Lewis. I wonder who I’ll have next? Btw it’s important to distinguish between a series – one story after another – and a serial, which is one story in instalments. Of which I’ve just started another one – see below – I hope you enjoy it.

You’ve heard of TGI Friday – well, today is definitely TMI Friday. OH and I are quite focussed on what’s happening in Scotland at the moment, comparing it to the situation here in benighted Blighty, so we watch the Scottish news and check the Scottish weather. So this morning when OH commented that it was cold, I said it’d be colder in Scotland. Out came the weather app, out came google and I was informed of the prevailing conditions in Lerwick and Dumfries as well as the levels of humidity and prognostications for those areas. That was definitely TMI for a Friday morning.

Have a good day today and stay safe. The virus is on the up…

Kirk out

So This Happened…

A couple of days ago OH caught up with my short story serial.

OH: I read your short story?

Me: Oh right. What did you think?

OH: It’s quite short. And the ending was a bit abrupt

Me: It’s not finished yet. There are more episodes to come.

OH: It’s in episodes?

I give up. I mean, what does ‘Short Story Serial Episode 8’ convey to you?

Have a good Sunday.

Kirk out

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