The Book of Dust

To listen or not to listen?  That was my dilemma at the weekend (yes, that same weekend that was packed with non-violence and non-nuclear weapons) when the BBC broadcast in its entirety Philip Pullman’s prequel to His Dark Materials, another three volumes collectively entitled The Book of Dust.  I was so torn: on the one hand I really wanted to read the text first; on the other hand it might be Christmas before I could get my hands on a copy and even then, that particular item on my Christmas list might not materialise.  Add to that the inducement of Simon Russell Beale’s hypnotic voice – and reader, I caved.

I was glad of my caving: it made the space between nuclear weapons and Casualty (not long usually but in this case about four hours) – enchanting.  I forgot I was in the kitchen making bread; instead I was at an inn on the riverside in Lyra’s Oxford where Lyra, a baby, is being looked after by some nuns.  But others are taking an unnatural interest in this baby…

I shall not post spoilers because as I said before, when a book is so new it’s unfair.  But here’s the link to the programme:

I might even listen again – again.

Kirk out




What Sort of Time Do You Call This?

The day begins at 5 am with sleeplessness and goes on until you give in and call it a – well, a day because now that it’s got to 6.15 there is Absolutely No Point in trying to doze off any more.  Fortunately I don’t have an arduous day – or at least, no more arduous than usual, just work and visiting relatives.  Relatively easy, ho ho.  But as anyone knows who has ever had a rough night, sleep or the lack of it can cast a pall over the most joyous of lives, and if you have problems which on a normal day can be kept under control, on a day like today they run riot.  It’s like a wet playtime in school.

So: I won’t burden you with all the problems I’m facing on a daily basis as I have blogged about these before; but it would have been nice if ‘Newsjack’ had appreciated my sketch enough to broadcast it.  It would have given me a little lift; instead of feeling that nothing ever goes right, I’d feel that one small thing had at least been achieved.

If any of you have ever suffered problems which just seem to go on and on; which get better one day only to get worse the next: which seem in fact to get better to give you false hopes only in order to dash them on the rocks, you’ll know what I’m talking about.


Apologies for the downer today.  And now, to cheer you up, here’s the sketch I wrote – which I and OH both thought was funny:

Theresa May’s Leadership




ATMOS:                             CAFÉ

F/X:                                      BACKGROUND CHATTER, CLINK OF CUPS, HISS OF COFFEE-MAKER ETC


JOURNALIST 1:       I give up.  My paper wants an editorial on the current political climate but I don’t understand politics any more.  Nothing makes any sense


JOURNALIST 2:       It’s easy.  You have to stop seeing it as politics


J1:                               You mean –



J2:                               Just think of it as popular culture.  Everything’s dumbed down these days, right?


J1:                               I guess…


J2:                               So take the Great Repeal Bill: it’s just like Game of Thrones.


J1:                               Taking us back to medieval times, you mean?


J2:                               Exactly.  Repealing every piece of legislation since Henry the Eighth


J1:                               Or Sixth


J2:                               Or Henry the Fourth part one


J1:                               OK – I get that.  But Theresa May is just inexplicable


J2:                               No, no – she’s just like that robot in Futurama


J1:                               Bender?  The one who bends girders?


J2:                               Exactly.  She’s bending the Tories up and down…


J1:                               Right and left…


J2:                               …over to Northern Ireland…


J1:                               …up the Magic Money Tree…


J2:                               You’re getting it


J1:                               But what about the leadership challengers?


J2:                               Well – you know the cat in Dilbert?


J1:                               Catbert?  The evil genius?  What about him?


J2:                               Isn’t it obvious?  That’s Jacob Rees-Moggy!  All he does is sleep in a corner of the House of Commons watching with one eye open and awaiting his chance.


J1:                               That’s brilliant.  I totally understand politics now.  There’s just one thing I don’t get


J2:                               What’s that?


J1:                               How do you explain Boris Johnson?


J2:                               There’s no explanation for Boris Johnson.


Kirk out




What sort of time do you call this?

Jumping Jack (News)Flash

Newsflash!  Newsjack is returning – nay, at the time of going to press, has already returned – to Radio 4 Extra.  Yes, that cross between Weekending and The Now Show, the nursery slopes for would-be satirical sketch-writers, is back and looking for contributors.  Say no more: I immediately pulled out my pad and began scribbling.  I have often thought, when listening to The Now Show or The News Quiz, ‘giz a job – I can do that’ – but needless to say the ideas that occur to you as spin-offs need more than a little honing before they are fit to stand up by themselves and take part in a radio show.

My first efforts were, alas, out of date since the news stories bumping around in my head were not the latest.  But it’s all good practice and in the end I sent in a sketch where two journalists try to make sense of Theresa May’s current leadership strategy.  If it doesn’t get on I’ll reproduce it here; if it does, you can listen next Thursday evening.

Here are the jokes I rejected.  Like the fish John West reject, I’m hoping they make my fish the best *

‘Reports are coming in that the divorce bill between soap star Brit Anya and her former lover Hugh Rope has risen to between £55 and 75 billion.  Both sides disupte the figures; meanwhile their offspring have all been repealed, resulting in another Great Bill which will be divided among fans of the star.  Jeremy Corbyn the Leader of the Opposition has offered to give some of the offspring a home, though it is not clear now many as a Party is still going on in his House.’

‘Meanwhile there are reports that leading Liberal Democrats have spent the summer on Dover Beach trying to push back the tide, to the accompaniment of a Green chorus singing what about us? and this is a Green tragedy.’

‘Rupert Murdoch was last night sent to bed without any supper because he had had a full-blown tantrum after learning that he couldn’t put the Sky into his toy box.  His mother Theresa said he had too many toys already.  Commentators believe that the 86-year-old is afraid he will never earn any money or amount to anything.’

I’ll keep you posted.

Kirk out

*though all my gags are of course 100% vegetarian

Life is Just One Damned Wednesday After Another

How did that happen?  All of a sudden it’s the first Wednesday of the month and I’m being reminded to link to the Insecure Writers’ Support Group.

I’ve been listening to the revealing diaries of Stephen Fry – or some of them, since these already seem to run to several volumes.  I wasn’t totally impressed with the later volume I read (can’t remember the title) as there seemed to be a lot of partying, hanging out with stars both here and in the US, drug-taking, flying, drug-taking… it was like The Great Gatsby and there didn’t seem to have been a lot of editing; there were few highs and lows, just a long building towards an inevitable crash – for which we have to wait until the next volume.  However, these diaries, serialised for Radio 4 and now available on 4xtra, proved much more engaging as they cover the years from the beginning of his career to the start of the drug-taking and include an encounter with Stephen Sondheim and a fax machine at midnight and a friendship with Douglas Adams (taller even than Fry) centring on the birth of the Apple Mac.

I have also been catching up with Winifred Holtby’s ‘South Riding’, a book I keep meaning to read but somehow never do: this adaptation stars Sarah Lancashire (‘Last Tango in Halifax’ and ‘Happy Valley’) and features Phillip Glenister and the woman who plays Lynda Snell.

I’ve been following a ‘course’ (though ‘course’ is a bit of a grandiose word for what turned out to be a series of daily thoughts on writing a novel) and finding them interesting.  Today’s thought was about the journey of the hero from obscurity to fulfillment and how that usually begins with an encounter.  Think Harry Potter and the owl post; Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf; the Pevensies and the wardrobe.  There do seem to be universals in these stories – and the readings gave me much food for thought.

You can sign up to the course here:

In the meantime a shout-out to all other insecure writers.  Fling yourself off the precipice and fly!

Kirk out


The Shopping Forecast

What with the anniversary of the shipping forecast happening right now, I thought it was time I put in my own tribute.  So here it is:

Here is the shopping forecast at one-four-three-five on Friday, the 1st of September.  Harry Potter has gone back to school near Malin where a storm is imminent.  Meanwhile we have a bight to eat; first we Finis the Terrine then to follow a Dover sole with some Wight wine.  Good.  Then we put some Port in our Mouth with a digestive Biscayt.  And then shopping!  We set out Doggeredly to Fish for a shirt that Fits roy, then going South East to Iceland for Baileys.  Good.

That’s enough silliness.  I could do a whole number on this but it would involve far more work than I’m prepared to do at the moment.  Anyway, the shipping forecast is so hypnotic that it could be a meditation; like a mantra oft-repeated I can reel off large sections of sea areas around Britain: Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher; Humber, Thames, Portland, Plymouth; Viking, North Utsire (until recently I had no idea how that was spelled) South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty: Fair Isle, Faroes (I nearly spelled that ‘Pharaohs’) South East Iceland.  And so on.  Each section ends with an enigmatic summing-up like a teacher’s end-of-term report: good, fair, moderate, and so on – which I now know refers to visibility.

And here’s the current forecast:

Kirk out



Lying and Standing in the Bath

Every religion has truth as one of its founding principles, and Quakerism is no exception.  In fact, so seriously do they take this that you are not supposed to promise or ‘swear oaths’ as this would constitute a ‘double standard’ of truth.  Your word should be the truth at all times, so that swearing and promises are entirely unnecessary.

Such is the religious emphasis on truth that you’d imagine everyone was prone to lying all the time.  But lying isn’t as easy as you’d think.  It’s not just the ‘tangled web’ we spin by having to keep track of lies previously told; it’s the fact that our brains, our bodies and heart; the very spirit at the centre of us, wants us to speak the truth.

Still, as many people have spotted, there are occasions when lying is justified.  To save your life – or another’s.  When the truth either cannot be understood or will be misunderstood.  Or to save hurting someone’s feelings.

My mother, on the other hand, always insisted on telling the exact truth.  But what is the exact truth?  Is truth the same thing as fact?  Once when I was still living at home there was a boy who kept calling me.  I didn’t want to see him any more and so I asked my mother to tell him I was out.  She was horrified: ‘But you’re not out!’

‘I know,’ I said.  ‘But can’t you just say I am?’

She refused utterly to comply.  In the end she agreed to say I was in the bath, providing – and here was the crucial thing – that I actually went and stood in the bath.  I could only come out when I was given the all-clear.

But here’s the thing.  It was true in a literal sense that I was in the bath, but not in the sense in which he would have understood it, ie actually bathing and – in those days of non-cordless handsets – unable to get to the phone.  And it strikes me that sometimes those who insist on the absolute truth do not give very much thought as to what that is.  The absolute truth in the above case would have been to say that I didn’t like the boy any more and didn’t want to see him.  And yes, it would have been better in the long run to have told him so – but at age fifteen I wasn’t up to the job.

It is nowhere clearer that lying is hard than in the radio series ‘The Unbelievable Truth’ (I think there’s a TV equivalent.)  In this programme contestants produce a short talk on a given subject which is nearly all lies and into which they are supposed to insert five truths.  The task is to make the truths of a piece with the lies; however those who listen carefully can discern that there is a sort of rhythm to the talks.  They will start off with two or three lies and then the fourth will be true.

Mind you, this is not guaranteed.  It’s like the Charlie Brown cartoon about taking a True or False test and miscalculating (‘I falsed when I should have trued’.)

Image result for Peanuts Linus takes a True or False testImage result for Peanuts Linus takes a True or False test

Absolutely true!

Kirk out

Darts From the Past

There was a guy on the ‘Today’ programme this morning who holds down a job as a farmer as well as being a professional darts player.  Scott Mitchell has just become a champion of some sort and he had my respect for being a farmer as well as a professional darts player, until he tried to convince us that darts is not merely a pub game but a ‘sport’.  This is for two reasons, apparently: one, because your arm gets tired after a few hours, and two, because of the maths involved. if you want to listen – it’s about 2 1/2 hrs in.

Right, so… your arm gets tired and you have to do some mental arithmetic.  Well, in that case, forget ‘leisure activity’ – shopping is also a sport – because one, your arm aches from carrying the basket and two, you have to add things up in your head to make sure you don’t go over budget.  Not to mention walking to and from the shops, which I do on a daily basis.  Do you think I could have a Sports’ Council grant please?

I don’t think darts is yet an Olympic Sport, though the day is probably not far off.  I’ll be honest – I think the Olympics was better when it was just a handful of activities – things you could understand like running and hurdling.  Of course women should compete on an equal basis, so it’s good that’s changed since ancient times, but as for recognising stupid things like tiddlywinks and obscure events that need to be explained in great detail before anyone knows what they’re watching, forget it.

And yet this is not a new phenomenon.  It turns out that older Olympic Games have featured just as many weird activities as are around nowadays – for example, live pigeon shooting and solo – yes, solo – synchronised swimming.

I can’t help feeling, though, that the Olympics is somewhat overloaded with events.  And don’t even get me started on the money and drugs.

And as for darts – is it a sport?  Come off it, sunshine.  If you’re a sportsman I’m a member of the SAS.

I’m feeling terribly blunt today – must be the effect of watching Charlie Brooker’s 2015 Wipe.  If you haven’t seen this yet, go watch:

Kirk out

Blackberries and Apples

I caught the last half of a fascinating episode of ‘Word of Mouth’ investigating how brand-names are invented (I was going to say, ‘come up with’ and then I thought, there must be a better way of saying it than that.  And there is…)  This is something I find both fascinating and repellent, involving as it does both the creative use of language and its manipulation for commercial gain.  As a student I briefly considered going into advertising: if I’d been able to hack the culture I’d probably have been pretty good at it.  I’m certainly good at coming up with names and slogans for groups I’ve been involved in.  Drink and Think – that was me.  And I came up with the title of this term’s philosophy course, though I’m not actually going.  It’s ‘What Do We Know?’

Anyway, in the programme they talked about inventing words; whether based on actual vocab, like the perfume L’Occitane:

or totally made-up, like ‘Xerox.’

Of course one of the famous disasters is the Ford Edsel, named after Henry Ford’s son.  Then there’s Consignia, which tries to say everything but merely sounds pretentious, which also flopped.  And do you remember the diet tablets called Aids?

Sometimes the derivation of names is obvious.  A blackberry is a black berry: it does what it says on the tin.  And the phone is so called because it’s black and with all its buttons it looks like a berry.  Plus, it’s both homely and friendly, and at the same time different.  But to go back to the fruit: why is an apple called an apple?  Or an orange called an orange?  Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet or would it not?  If a rose was called a cabbage would it still be as fragrant?

OK here’s a test for you, to assess your word-sensitivity.  Here are two invented words, vip and vop.

One of them refers to a heavy object; one denotes a light-weight object.  Which do you think is which?

Comment below please…

Kirk out

All Right, That’s It – I Resign

A Thing like the Thing that happened recently makes you take stock.  It makes you think about what you’re doing and why: it makes you wonder if there’s any point in bothering to change things when most people (if the results mean what they purport to mean) don’t want change: it makes you wonder if there’s any mileage in debating issues like the NHS and the results of benefit cuts.  It makes you question yourself and wonder why the hell you bother.  To me and many people I know the Labour Party has been pointless because it has promoted ‘Tory-lite’ policies; since the election there are cries to move even further to the right and concentrate on ‘the neglected middle-classes’.  What?  If there’s any class that Labour has neglected, it’s the working class – more than that, they’ve neglected the underclass.  They have failed to speak up for the poor and disadvantaged; they have sat back and watched in opposition while the Coalition battered those on benefits, sold off whole chunks of the NHS and social care – and now people have voted for the Tories again!  I simply cannot understand it.

Why?  That is the question that reverberates in my mind.  I cannot understand why people would want this.  Is it simply a case of ‘I’m all right Jack?’  I’m baffled.

Perhaps they (the voters) think that it’s a simple matter of balancing the books, and then we can get back to spending more on public projects.  But who pays?  Who caused this mess in the first place?  Who is hit the hardest?  And where does it all end?

As a Quaker and a person of conscience I know I have to fight this.  What I don’t know is how.  Along with others I have worked for Left Unity for the past two years; I have been out campaigning for the Greens (there’s no conflict of interest here as we didn’t have LU candidates locally) I have talked to people and tried to raise the profile of those on the left agitating for change – and seemingly to no avail.  What disappoints me most bitterly is that I heard a lot of voices raised in favour of ‘doing politics differently’.  I was very impressed by the TV debate that was mostly women: it was respectful and devoid of all the things people most hate about political discussions.  And I really, truly thought – given the state of the polls – that this would turn into more votes for the smaller parties, meaning that whichever of the two larger parties got into power, they would have to rely on smaller parties to govern.

What the hell happened?

Like most people on the Left, I’m still reeling; still asking that question.  What the hell happened?

One theory is that there was electoral fraud.  I don’t buy that at all – the procedures are too strict – but clearly what people were telling the pollsters and what they actually did, were two different things.  So why did they lie?

Or did they lie?  Maybe they intended to vote for the smaller parties but got scared at the last minute.  That still doesn’t explain why they voted Tory rather than Labour, but it might explain why the smaller parties did worse than anticipated.

I still don’t get it.  Theories are pouring in: there’s an almost 100% turnout in the ‘post-mortem theory’ debate, but I still don’t know.

So: once the dust has settled and we’ve done being sick, what do we do?  Because doing nothing is not an option.  We have to keep going.

Kirk out of office

PS The latest edition of ‘Dead Ringers’ really cheered me up.  They did a version of ‘Every Time You Say Goodbye’ as sung by Ed Milliband, with the line: ‘how strange the change/from leader to resigner’.

Not bad to come up with that in less than 12 hours!

Josephine’s Jumper

Look – here’s the thing.  I’m not going to talk about what might happen; I’m not going to go down the road of this possibility or that possibility; what I’m about is about supporting hard-working families, defending the NHS…

No, it’s no good – I can’t keep that up.  On with the blog then…

When I was a kid I used to go around pretending to be a cowboy.  I had a green-and-yellow scooter which did service as my horse, and I asked everyone to call me Joe.  Sadly, few obliged: when I signed a letter in English class with my pseudonym the teacher circled it in bright red, which I found deeply dispiriting.  But some of the ground has now been reclaimed, because for the last week or so I have been knitting a Joseph Jumper.

Joseph, you will recall, had a coat of many colours, which caused his brothers to be very jealous.  My sweater, too, is made of many colours, since I knitted it from all the oddments that were lurking in my knitting bag.  Old remnants, left-over squares, ends of other projects, everything was pressed into service and this was the result:


You can’t see it terribly clearly here but it’s a glorious jumble and I really like it.  It seems to me a symbol of how things can come together in life: odd thoughts and experiences you tuck away, thinking they’re of no importance, come out and join in creating something amazing.

I’m not expressing this too clearly – but then it is a Bank Holiday.

Bank holidays don’t seem to have any effect on politicians though; they just plough on with their campaigns regardless; and this morning I tuned into ‘Today’ to hear Ed Milliband say ‘Look -‘ for the millionth time before launching into an explanation of why he won’t explain what he will do if the SNP hold the balance of power.

To be fair, I have some sympathy with party leaders in this scenario.  I mean, obviously they want to win outright, and they want to campaign to that end, but realistically they know they’re going to have to deal.  However if they talk too much about doing deals, they’ll scupper their chances of winning outright.  So they’re in a bit of a cleft stick.

But I do wish they’d express themselves in a more original manner.  Everyone’s sick of hearing about ‘hard-working families’ or some variation on those words: plus, they seem to have taken to heart the old teacher’s adage of ‘tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them – and then tell them what you’ve told them.’

It works quite well in teaching but in politics it leads to utter weariness.  And for god’s sake Ed – just stop starting every sentence with ‘Look – ‘  OK?

Kirk out