Crabbiness, Crabbiness, the Greatest Gift that I Possess

Comedians by and large used to be terribly happy people. Tony Hancock excepted, they usually presented as cheery, cheeky chappies whose life was one long laugh. Ken Dodd even went so far as to sing about it; Happiness was one of his favourites. Of course underneath the smile there was often a life of depression, as Robin Williams sadly demonstrated. Nowadays comedians are generally more real, more cynical, even dystopian – and now I can’t remember where I was going with this, except to mention how exceptionally crabby I was yesterday. There’s only so much sleep deprivation a body can take and like Popeye I went around muttering that’s all I can stands, I cain’t stands no more! Sadly spinach did not do the trick so if anyone came near I’d growl at them – and were they rash enough to attempt conversation I’d snap: ‘Back off! I’m feeling really crabby!’ Thankfully crabbiness doesn’t last all day and by the afternoon with a sizable nap under my belt I was merely feeling exhausted. I’m happy to report that last night was better.

While we’re talking about happy songs, though I can’t stand the Ken Dodd one I do like this:

I didn’t get much work done yesterday as the brain simply refused to function so in the afternoon I turned instead to knitting. My latest project is a jumper in twiddly wool, by which I mean it has lots of colours woven into the thread and comes out a sort of variegated autumnal mix. I’m liking it very much, though you have to pay attention when you’re knitting otherwise the fibres tend to separate. I’ll post some pics when it’s done.

It has often occurred to me that wool and knitting are potent metaphors, both to use in poetry and as metaphors for the poetic process itself. I’ve written poems about the yarn-bombing (though we didn’t call it that then) at Greenham Common, and using knitting as a metaphor for life – and it’s like poetry in that you’re creating a pattern: poetry has lines, knitting has rows; they both have different stitches, they both add up. Besides, there’s something meditative about the process: in-round-through-and-off, in-round-through-and-off, knit one, purl one, drop one… and you can do it while watching TV.

Speaking of which, we tuned in for the first episode of the much-trailed Doctor Foster spin-off, Life, starring Alison Steadman. So far it looks highly intriguing.

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

Competitions, Moi?

I go through phases when submitting stuff to be published. I’ll send off a whole slew of stuff in a scattergun approach, hoping that somehow one of them will hit the mark and when nothing does, I say that’s it. I’m not submitting any more and go into a deep trance for a while. Then I come out of it again and start submitting stuff.

I’m sure there are lots of analogies for this process. Some scientific processes must feel this way, as if you’re firing random electrons at something and hoping one of them might break through. Or searching for new stars in a vast emptiness of space. Or digging for a lost king in a car park… no, scratch that last one – sometimes you get lucky. But luck is usually the result of sustained and unsuccessful effort. It might take only one day to find Richard III but it took 600 years for that day to arrive. Nevertheless, heaving a huge sigh, you have to keep trying and in that spirit I have today sent off three poems to the Mslexia 2020 Poetry Competition. They are: The Artist, about male and female writers; Sisyphus, about the guy in Greek mythology condemned to push a boulder up a mountain for all eternity, and Live Poets’ Society which is about the uses of poetry. Kinda.

Having done that I feel rather as if I’ve climbed a mountain myself – and it’s only eleven a m. It’s not so much the process of editing and filling in the forms and paying the entry fee; it’s the emotional roller-coaster you can’t seem to help climbing aboard when you go for these things. Is this what they want? Will they like it? Do I stand a chance? and at the back of it all the dreaded question, Am I any good? This whispered query hovers in the mind of every artist, whether of stage, screen, canvas or print, and there doesn’t seem to be any getting away from it.

Yesterday I went to B&Q and bought some curtains. For some reason they didn’t have any in pairs only singles, and there was only one left of the one I wanted. Determined to have that colour as it perfectly matched the study walls, I rooted around and found a pair that were – as I thought – slightly too large. But when I got them home I discovered that the dimensions were the other way round from what I’d thought and they came right down to the floor. ‘Never mind!’ I thought valiantly. ‘I can make something from the leftovers.’ And lo! it turns out there will be enough to make a pair for the futility room (as we call it.) Joy.

So that’s today. Snatching triumph from the jaws of disaster. There will be another episode of ‘Backstop’ later.

Kirk out

Eight Minutes and Forty-Two Seconds

I’ve just returned from taking part in a vigil for Black Lives Matter. Twenty of us stood around the bandstand in the park in silence, one or two carrying placards while others took the knee, and there we remained for eight minutes and forty-two seconds. Even though I was standing and not kneeling it felt much longer, more like a quarter of an hour, so imagine what it feels like to have someone’s knee on your neck for that length of time. George Floyd called out ‘I can’t breathe’ about twenty times during that period – and at the end of eight minutes and forty-two seconds he died, while after my eight minutes and forty-two seconds I went home to my family.

I keep thinking about some sort of artistic response to this. I don’t want either to jump on a bandwagon or to do something which might count as cultural appropriation, since this is not my story to tell. But my response is my own, and is as much personal as it is collective. So it requires some thought – but I think a poem may emerge at some point. I also want to think about what was going through the mind of the police officer. Why do people think it’s OK to behave like this? What are they thinking? Or are they not thinking at all, only reacting?

A propos of all which, I was greatly cheered this morning to see this news item.

It is a moment of utter liberation when the statue of a slave trader is replaced by the statue of a Black Lives Matter protester, and this is what happened early this morning in Bristol. The statue is of course not official but if the authorities have any sense they will let it stand for a while at least while they consider what to do. I think the best use of the plinth in the long term would be some kind of memorial to the suffering of slaves – and while that’s in preparation they could leave the statue up. Or else use it for some public art, like the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square which, as you may remember, I was lucky enough to be on (here’s the post about it.) Public art is the best response to injustice and I will always be glad to have been associated with that.

Here’s a pic of me when I’d finished my poems:

Kirk out

Travels with my Yellow Man

It’s an interesting experience taking your little yellow man down from his spot, dangling him in the air, putting him down on a street corner somewhere and then exploring that corner of the world with him. I’m writing an epic poem at the moment and yesterday I was wondering about the places I’d lived in as a child and what they might look like now. When I might I be able to visit? I asked myself; then suddenly a little yellow lightbulb came on and I thought: Google! I can go right now!!! So I did.

I have written a series of poems which track a journey into the past. First we go to Leicester to the West End where I lived for decades, an area bounded by two bridges, close to where Richard III was brought after the Battle of Bosworth Field and not a stone’s throw from where he was dug up again. The poems describing this are The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge, The Ode to the Upperton Rd Bridge and Richard III.

After this, we head to London and out on the Piccadilly line, the thin blue line that extends to Heathrow but used to stop at that great metropolis that is Hounslow West.

Hounslow West Underground Station © N Chadwick cc-by-sa/2.0 ...
Geograph.org.uk image removed on request

The station was once on the surface but has now burrowed underground, and as you come up to the street you glance up briefly to see what’s showing at the cinema before realising that the cinema is now masquerading as a carpet warehouse.* Then you turn and head to where the church spire pierces the sky.

Historic Hounslow landmark saved thanks to £249,000 grant - MyLondon
my London News image removed on request

Round the back the house stands just as it always did but the garden is now a block of flats (Vicarage Garden). But before any of this, the first thing you notice is the unbearable scream of the planes (Hounslow West.)

The shops have changed but the houses remain. My yellow man and I zoomed up the road and round the corner to my junior school – still the same though the buildings have been tarted up – and on up Sutton Lane to the Great West Road, that monument to post-war industry now a mere conduit from London to Heathrow fringed by abandoned factories. Before you get to Gillette’s corner there’s an alleyway called Quaker Lane which is closed to my little yellow man and me, but which took my green-uniformed friends and me from the bus stop down to school.

*OH was last night watching an interesting video about the current state of Hollywood which made me realise that the only good films I’ve seen in the last few years have been British. I’ll get to that another day.

The poems then head south to Sussex (Rye Harbour, Dungeness and Camber) but my yellow man and I took a trip to Edmonton to look at my second home (my first was in Hillingdon but I can’t remember where.) Again it was surprisingly unchanged – though the cars wouldn’t have been there the church still stands

St Peter, Bounces Road, Edmonton | London Churches in photographs
London churches image removed on request

with the vicarage next to it, the old tiled path still amazingly in situ – and my yellow man and I zoomed together down St Peter’s road where I once walked alone from the vicarage at the top to Eldon Rd school at the bottom. It seems a long way for an unaccompanied five-year-old but those were different times; the road was quieter and my mother stood and watched until I turned in at the gates.

These are iconic memories which I have turned into poems: the scream of the planes, the church spire sweeping across the lawn like a shadow of doom, the old air-raid shelter we discovered while playing in the grass; the red-brick church and consubstantial vicarage in Edmonton. Poetry is not Google. It’s the distillation of memory and its transmutation into art.

Kirk out

Blake and Heat

It will not have escaped your notice if you live in the UK that it’s hot. When I lived in Spain there wasn’t much to say about the weather apart from in summer, Que calor! and in winter, Que frio! (I don’t know how to do upside down exclamation marks on here otherwise I would. I think they’re a very good idea because they tell you what’s coming.) A Spanish friend of mine, on visiting the UK, remarked on how much we talk about the weather. ‘That’s because it’s different every day,’ I explained. ‘Sometimes it’s different every hour. You just never know.’

Actually these days, thanks to more accurate forecasting, we generally do know. For example, today it will rise to a high of 29 degrees and drop at night to 17. Which means I shall have to start thinking in Spanish; go out for walks in the early morning before it gets hot, and have a siesta in the afternoon. I am generally someone who likes hot weather but if it’s too hot I do start to wilt a little; and whereas with the cold you can warm yourself up by exercising, there’s only so much you can do to keep cool. We currently have all the windows open and as few clothes on as possible; and this morning I practised this yoga cooling breath:

But what’s really on my mind this morning is Blake. William Blake is probably my favourite artist and one of my favourite poets. A visionary and a complete one-off, he openly declared that he spoke with angels and spirits. He was a great believer in equality, not only of the classes but of the sexes; a supporter of the French revolution and perhaps the greatest artist this country has ever produced. Yet where is he celebrated? Tucked away in a dark corner of the Tate, last time I looked, while we prefer less challenging painters such as Turner or Constable (not that I’m disparaging Turner, though Constable I could live without.) Why then is he so neglected?

I think there are several reasons. First, that he was a political radical, and we don’t tend to honour radicals in this country. We know the names of Henry VIII’s wives and the manner of their executions but we haven’t heard of Peterloo (watch the Mike Leigh film; it’s terrific.) Secondly, Blake was working-class. This brackets him with figures such as Lowry and Turner but unlike them his subject matter was much more challenging. To sit in front of a Blake painting is like putting your hand in a fire – consider this picture of Nebuchadnezzar:

Nebuchadnezzar, William Blake | William blake paintings, William ...

Or this, of Cain:

Sense of Sin - Creature and Creator
But perhaps the most important reason why he is not sufficiently honoured is this. Blake was a master, not only of painting but also of engraving – and he was a poet. Considered as one of the Romantics, though not much given to lakes or daffodils, he wrote and painted in equal measure and was master of both. Many of his poetry books are illustrated with engravings and it is hard to say which is more important. They are equal – and this we do not forgive. For an artist to master one medium is fine; for them to master a related medium, this we can also accept – but to be master of both art and poetry, this is unforgivable. It’s presumptuous: we come over all Lady Bracknell-ish and say that to master one medium may be construed as genius, to master two looks like hubris.

Yet Blake was the most modest of men, living simply with his wife in a couple of rooms in London. It was sad that he remained unrecognised during his lifetime; what’s sadder still is that he is even now underappreciated.

Kirk out

Larkin About

Sometimes you come across books in the most bizarre of circumstances. In this time of lockdown with libraries and bookshops being closed, people have taken to putting books out in the street for others to take, and a couple of weeks back I happened to pass a local craft shop where the owner had done just that. On her windowsill sat a bunch of books all thoughtfully wrapped in plastic and just waiting to be taken home and read. Aha! I thought. I’ve never read The Darling Buds of May; I’ll take that one.

Darling Buds of May by Bates H E - AbeBooks

Not only had I never read the book, I’d not watched the TV series either, though it was very popular at the time. It starred David Jason and now that I’ve finished reading, I can see exactly why. Though it was published in 1952, it could have been written for him; every time Pop Larkin speaks I hear David Jason’s voice.

Ma and Pop Larkin inhabit an idyllic rural world where without anyone doing too much work there is a superabundance of food and drink. This is lavishly described, as are the prodigious dimensions of Ma Larkin, reminding us that 1952 was still a time of rationing. Into this bucolic world enters Mr Charlton, a hapless tax collector sent by the Inland Revenue to persuade Pop Larkin to cough up what he owes. But Charlton is completely swept away by the overwhelming hospitality of the Larkins and despite his protests ends up staying the night – and the weekend – and, having fallen in love with Mariette, the rest of his life with the Larkins.

So similar is Pop Larkin to Del-Boy Trotter that I can’t help wondering whether the one was based on the other. Both series deal with the rise of the working class; in Buds of May, the Larkins are generally better off than their aristocratic neighbours whereas Del-Boy merely aspires to be so. There’s also a gentle and open-minded attitude to sex which must have been deeply refreshing in the buttoned-up ’50’s; when at the beginning of the book Mariette announces that she’s pregnant, rather than reacting with righteous fury Pop Larkin says ‘Oh? Well, that don’t matter. Perfick. Jolly good.’

It’s all great fun and a far cry from poor old Philip who was writing at the same time, sexually frustrated, pent-up in lodgings and miserable to the core. Nevertheless he was a great poet and here, specially for Beetley Pete, is his poem Days:

Days Poem by Philip Larkin - Poem Hunter

Kirk out

A Review Has Flooded In

This is the link to the lovely review of my poetry e-book, posted on Last Flying Cow. As you recall I offered as a prize to my 500th follower, either a guest blog post or a poetry e-book, and they chose the poetry. A wise choice. I asked if they would post a review, and they did! Here are a couple of snippets just to give you a flavour:

‘Sarada’s work evokes pathos, sadness and a fair amount of cynicism’

‘She tempers everything with well-crafted language and ideas’

Powerful observations about a bleak and dismal loss of youth’

Now it’s over to you. During the next few weeks I shall be offering a limited number of poetry e-books to you, dear reader. In return I am not asking ten pounds, I’m not asking five pounds, I’m not even asking fifty pence. Instead I am asking you to commit to posting a review. Once you’ve read the book, I ask you to write a short review – a paragraph will do, two is better – and post it on your own blog. If you don’t have a blog then put it on Twitter, Facebook or wherever else you have a platform. Post a link to this blog, and bob’s your uncle.

Watch this space!

Kirk out

Friday on What I Am Pleased to Call My Mind

So, as another week grinds towards its end, how is my work going? Good question. I have so many balls in the air I can barely keep track of them: aside from poems there are a slew of short stories, a radio play and of course the novel which I am in the process of editing. God, editing is hard! I’ve got first drafts sorted because I’ve got to the stage where I can I just let it rip; I don’t think about what I’m writing, just trust the process and tell the critical, analytical mind to take a flying leap. But when it comes to editing, my woes begin in earnest. My mind jumps all over the place, thinking where is this going? What sort of thing is it really? Where am I going to publish it? What is it actually about? I am tossed and buffeted by ten different winds until I hardly know which way is up, and unsurprisingly I can’t do it for very long; a couple of hours is about the limit. After that I’m exhausted.

I guess these are the questions all writers ask themselves. What kind of writer am I? Who are my readers? Where do I want to be published? to which my answers would be: no idea, anyone, and anywhere. Not helpful. Some days I’d give my eye teeth to be a writer firmly established in a genre, someone who knows her audience and what they want. Someone with a publisher and an agent. But I ain’t and I don’t.

So what is to be done? One thought I had yesterday, struggling through the choppy waters of a short story, was to be aware of these questions as they arise and record them with a view to analysing them later. This is difficult because they rush by at the speed of light, yelling something indiscernible as they go. They’re like players on a hockey field and I never got on with hockey because apart from being out in the cold and the mud trying to hit a tiny ball with a narrow strip of wood, people are rushing by you all the time shouting things like whazafalabeat! and gizzacobaball! and by the time I’d said, ‘Sorry, what was that again?’ they’d be down the other end.)

This is the story of my life. I didn’t fit anywhere so I became a writer. Then I discovered that I didn’t fit anywhere as a writer. So what’s next?

Answers on a postcard, as ever…

Kirk out

You Lucky People!

The poetry pamphlet which I promised my 500th follower is now ready and will soon be on its way to the lucky winner, Lastflyingcow. Also, coming soon… I plan to make it available to other readers! Yes, you lucky people can also have a copy in return for… no, not money but for publicity. All I ask is that you read the pamphlet, give it a quick review and post a link on your blog/web page/Facebook page/Instagram or whatever other platforms you may have. It doesn’t have to be a long review; just a couple of lines will do – at this stage I just want to get the word out there. Making my first million can come later…

Ho ho ho.

Well isn’t life wonderful? I was just sitting here cogitating on what else I can say to you on this rather dull morning, and I saw a little thing I’ve noticed before on my toolbar. AMP it said cryptically, and I briefly wondered what AMP might be before realising that I need wonder no more, for Google will tell me. Pausing only to scroll down through a million irrelevant adverts, I found this page which tells me exactly what AMP is. And lo! I am utterly none the wiser. I simply do not understand any of it. For example, what does this mean?

‘enabling full-site AMP experiences without sacrificing the flexibility of the platform or the fidelity of content.’

Or this:

‘enabling AMP compatibility for all core themes, from Twenty Ten all the way through Twenty Twenty.’

In English please? Can anyone explain? Brian? Anyone? Because all I get from this is that it enables something without sacrificing something else. But what is it? What is it for?

In the same way I used to give up on the MS Help pages because they spoke a foreign language. Why can’t they explain this stuff properly? I know why, because Silicon Valley is full of bright young (mostly) men who think everyone speaks their language. They ought to start appointing some people over fifty, preferably women with good translation skills.

*Sigh*

Ah well. I wish you a very happy Wednesday, Mercredi, Mittwoch, Miercoles, Mercoledi, Budhavara or, since I’m a Quaker, Fourth Day. See? I speak numerous languages – it’s just that Techie isn’t one of them.

Kirk out