Was That Really Just Two Days?

Well! What a weekend it’s been! As I’ve said before I have little or no interest in football but I couldn’t help but be caught up by the feverish anticipation before last night’s match. As I went to bed I found myself checking results but just before I switched my phone off it was still one-all. I was wondering what they do in those circumstances ie if no-one has scored after extra time and of course – duh! – it’s a penalty shoot-out. Which we lost. Hey ho. Still the mood seems to be one of sombre appreciation rather than angry disappointment, so that’s good. Also interesting to contrast the leadership styles of Gareth Southgates and Boris Johnson: ‘I take full responsibility’ vs ‘it’s all your fault.’

But before all that there were two tennis finals to watch. And what a final the men’s was! You had to favour Djokovic to win but I hadn’t expected Berrettini to play so brilliantly – his serves and forehands took the first set from a subdued Novak who also seemed rattled by the appreciation of the crowd for his opponent, but the Serb came back in the second set 6-4 and took the remaining two sets 6-4,6-3. But it was a battle and at times it looked like going to five sets; even the last few games were a tussle. It was a longish match, too; the first set took over an hour and the whole thing was nearly 3 1/2 hours. I had to phone the mattress guy who was expecting me by five. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘I’m watching it too.’ When I got there he was wearing a t-shirt that said ‘England: disappointing football fans since 1966.’ But I digress. It was a well-earned victory by Djokovic and a very impressive fight by the Italian.

So: the mattress. I had asked for this on Freecycle a while ago as our (very cheap) mattress has outstayed its welcome and taken to poking us in the back. But at the time he said he’d offered it to someone else, so I forgot about it. Then yesterday he emailed saying they hadn’t turned up (doncha just hate it when that happens?) so it could be mine. They live in Wymeswold, a lovely little village out to the East of Loughborough; I drove past Tudor houses and alongside a little stream which, too late, I discovered I had to cross by means of a tiny bridge, then up an alleyway to houses which look as if they were once stables. The people were very friendly and helped me put the mattress in the car. It now waits in our hall to be installed on the bed.

When I returned bearing mattresses the mixed doubles final was in full swing. This has suffered a diminution in status in recent years, which is a shame, and the crowd was obviously much depleted because of the imminent football, but I think mixed doubles is interesting because of the interplay of men’s and women’s styles. You had to admire the winning pair – there were two Brits on the losing side but also one on the winning team – especially the brilliant shot-making of Denise Krawczyk but also the power of the Brit Skupski. So that was all good.

On the Saturday I went over to Ashby to a local art exhibition in a church. My poem was displayed along with art and craft work done by local people; I was impressed by the quality of much of this. Then I went for tea with a friend who lives locally before coming back to watch the women’s final. This, too, was a great match and a well-deserved win by Ash Barty. Oh, and I went for a bike ride; that’s a total of 15 miles last week.

And I didn’t tell you about the ivy! This was perhaps my greatest achievement. Next door has an ornamental ivy plant (why people grow ivy deliberately I will never know; it is the most horrid stuff and basically defines ‘invasive’) which has grown over our shed roof. At first I amused myself by thinking that it looked like a large dog lying down but by last week the cute dog had mushroomed into a hound from hell: it was time to take action. I asked next door for the loan of some long-handled pruning shears and got to work. It was hard but there was a real sense of achievement in exposing the dirty work of this frankly odious parasite. The more you chop through ivy the more you realise how pernicious it is; it not only spreads everywhere but develops little hairy tentacles which burrow into walls and fences – and if you let it, it will grow thick hairy arms which will need to be sawn through or else chopped with an axe. I found one of these yesterday; it will be a delicate operation since I don’t want to chop through the fence as well.

And that was my weekend. How was yours?

Kirk out

Fun on a Friday

I’ve had enough of politics for now, so this will be a more light-hearted post as befits a Friday. Not that I have much lined up for the weekend; apart from the tennis I will be visiting an exhibition in Ashby where a poem of mine is displayed (I was due to perform it but the opening event was cancelled) and probably pondering what to get OH whose birthday is coming up fast on the outside and as usual I have No Ideas What So Ever. OH is never any help in this regard; ‘Oh, I’ll think about it,’ is the reply I get; two weeks later I get the same reply by which time it’s 11 pm the night before so I have to go to the petrol station and get – well, what would I get? What do you get someone who doesn’t like anything nice? Chocolates? Meh. Flowers? Meh. A book? Reddit. And so on. It’s hopeless. Every year it’s the same. I’m tempted to give up on the whole thing.

It was a great day for tennis yesterday. Work just wouldn’t come so I gave it a rest and watched some men’s wheelchair tennis (very impressive; how they move the chair and get to the ball and hit it all at the same time is incredible) a girls’ match where a British player got through (I was amazed by the quality of this too) and of course the women’s semi-finals where Ash Barty smashed her way through to meet Pliskova in the final. Today we have the men’s quarters, Djokovic against the incredible Shapolavov and Berrettini against the Hungarian Hucakz (I think I’ve spelt that right. No, it’s Hurkacz; these Eastern European names are very difficult. Not like our entirely logical English words…)

As for tonight, we will most likely be sitting in front of another episode of The Night Manager, an excellent BBC drama which at the moment is only available on Amazon (don’t blame me, it’s not my account) and catching up with Today at Wimbledon. When I was younger Friday nights used to be very important; not as big as Saturday which was the major night out but still a chance to unwind and let off steam after the week, but nowadays I rarely feel the slightest desire to let off steam – I don’t think I have any steam actually- but occasionally I do feel the urge to go to the pub, sink a few pints and forget about everything till the morning. Alas, my tolerance for alcohol has diminished along with my consumption which means that the resulting hangover will probably not be worth it.

So that’s me today – pausing only to reconfigure the boundaries of modern literature, obvs. See you on the other side.

Kirk out

You Socially Distance if You Want To

This is going to be a football-free post, so if you want euphoria about things coming home you’ll have to look elsewhere.

It seems we now have a government which is socially distancing from its people. From July 19th – less than 2 weeks away – we’ll all be able to do what we jolly well like and if lots of people die it’ll be Our Fault for not being more responsible. Apparently it’s fine for mask-wearing and social distancing to be a matter of individual responsibility; I’m waiting for the relaxation of rules on traffic lights, seat belts and driving while drunk… yes, the government has finally given in to its lockdown sceptics and put the economy first. Though what the economy’s going to do if thousands of its workers die, I don’t know; there are already serious employee shortages thanks to Brexit. But seriously, when is it going to occur to them that you can’t run an economy without people? The news makes such grim reading nowadays (I nearly typed ‘grim reaping’) that I’m tempted to bypass it altogether.

Thank goodness for Wimbledon, where in the mens’ quarter-finals Djokovic beat the Hungarian Fucsovics, though not without some great rallies and multiple-deuce games – and almost unthinkably, Federer was out in straight sets, beaten by Polish player Hurkacz. We’ve seen this happen over and over, when a seemingly unbeatable player simply comes up against someone much younger. In the other matches, Italian Berrettini and Canadian Shapolavov were the victors. Today will see the women’s semis; Ash Barty against Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova against Sabatini. I’ve almost enjoyed the women’s draw more than the men’s this year, I’m not sure why.

I also watched some doubles, which is always fun, and I’ll try to catch some of the wheelchair tennis when it comes on. In other news, I finally managed to get an appointment for more blood tests and managed to dodge the very heavy showers to get out for a bike ride. And that was Wednesday.

Kirk out

Poor Emma

It’s bad enough being Andy Murray in your 20s, but being an eighteen year old who has barely played in tournaments before, going out on a show court as the last Brit in the championship, was one step too far for Emma Raducanu. It was a shame; she seemed to love her previous matches but there was so much pinned on this one that it became too much and she succumbed to what appears to be a panic attack. Everyone was very sympathetic including her opponent, though John McEnroe has apparently been criticised for saying she found it ‘a little too much’, which seems to be basically what everyone else is saying so I don’t really see the problem. I’ve always liked the way the mature McEnroe (not the young brat) tells it like it is; the world of tennis is generally tactful to the point of saying virtually nothing, so his views are usually a breath of fresh air. The match was on quite late as well, and that may have had an effect. Anyway, she’ll be back. Meanwhile we are down to the quarter-finals. You wouldn’t get long odds on a Federer-Djokovic final and I’m going for Ash Barty-Angelique Kerber in the women’s, though that’s more open I think.

So what else is new? The government continues its assault on the people, producing a draconian Policing Bill to outlaw annoying protests (that’s the point of protests; no-one takes any notice otherwise). This administration seems to value old statues more than living people and the latest rhetoric about mask-wearing becoming a ‘matter of individual responsibility’ is just about the worst move they could have made; it means that loads of people won’t bother and it will make enforcement in pubs and shops etc much much harder. It will also shift the blame for any rise in infections onto ‘irresponsible’ members of the public, which I’m sure has been their aim all along. And who thought Sajid Javid was a good idea as Health Secretary?

Can I emigrate yet?

Anyway, here are some life tips from Peanuts for when nothing goes right.

Kirk out

It’s a Bind

Had a fairly good weekend, thanks for asking. On Saturday I whizzed round with the vacuum cleaner, watched a bit of tennis and then biffed off to a friend’s house for chat and chaat. Delicious. We watched The Night Manager which I had seen when it came out – scarily, 5 years ago! it seems like just before lockdown – and then I caught up with Today at Wimbledon. Yesterday I was a very bad Quaker indeed; I couldn’t concentrate in meeting and ended up looking at my phone instead. I expect to be Eldered very soon. After that I had a blitz on a corner of the garden (bastard bastard bastard) and went for a bike ride. I sorely felt the lack of tennis in the afternoon as it was too wet to go outdoors; at least it kept threatening rain but the real downpour only came in the evening.

Another week of tasty tennis beckons. The second week is always quite different from the first; the field has narrowed and you get a sense of who might make it to the final. All the British men are out of the singles now but the very interesting Emma Raducanu is still in the women’s draw. She’s just 18 but goes at it like a pro, so it’ll be fascinating to see how far she can get. The smart money for the men’s draw has to be on a Federer/Djokovic final (I wouldn’t lay odds on the winner) but the women’s is still quite open with some excellent players like Ash Barty, Coco Gauff and Angelique Kerber. So we’ll see. What’s really sad is that all the British players either come from abroad, grew up abroad or trained abroad (Murray moved to Barcelona aged 15) but it’s not surprising. We simply don’t have the infrastructure here; schools and community centres rarely have tennis courts, not to mention that the weather restricts play to about three months of the year. But, as I was saying to OH, it’s the class system that really did for tennis in this country. I remember as a youngster joining the tennis club next door and being thrown off the courts for wearing black socks (we were just practising, it wasn’t a tournament or anything). The members were very snobbish and unwelcoming and I imagine that was replicated in most places; not to mention that tennis was rarely played outside London and the Home Counties. So not only was the pool of players very small but the ethos was terribly gentlemanly; you used to see British players giving their opponents a nice polite little volley – which of course they dispatched with venom.

To return to the bindweed, as my brain did around 5.30 this morning, the problem is not just that it’s prolific; it’s that OH feels a tender concern for its welfare. OH is always extremely resistant to killing weeds, partly because they have a right to life like anything else, but also because they are a habitat for insects. I try to argue that bindweed and brambles are the Nazis of the weed world, that left unchecked they will destroy everything in their path, but my agonised pleas fall on deaf ears.

And then last night, just as I thought it was safe to look at my phone, I see that a short story has pinged back only two days after submission – and on a Sunday night! Two days – that has to be a record.

And that was my weekend.

Kirk out

Kangaroo Petrol

Sometimes I feel like a learner driver in life, with kangaroo petrol in the tank: I start off, put my foot on the pedal, take a great lurch forward and then nearly come to a halt before lurching off again, going into reverse and then steering into the kerb. What’s worse is that I don’t know what I’ve done to make it happen; I feel like a novice at the wheel who doesn’t understand any of the controls.

It was said at the ordination service that a volunteer is someone who doesn’t understand the question. I think I must be that volunteer. ‘I’ll drive that car!’ I say enthusiastically. ‘I’ll figure it out, don’t worry!’ and six gear crashes and several near misses later I’m still figuring it out. It’s very galling. Still, at least I haven’t written the damn thing off. Yet.

On the health front, I think I’m making progress; I still haven’t had the test results but I discovered that the fatigue might be caused by a vitamin D3 deficiency. This is something produced by the liver from the sunlight you absorb, so it’s not just a question of catching some rays (though a chance would be a fine thing right now.) So I’ve been taking some vitamin tablets and they seem to be helping. Meanwhile we wait and see.

In the tennis yesterday a couple of players slipped and fell. It seems that the grass is quite slippery under the roof; they obviously try very hard to regulate the atmosphere once the roof is on – what with all those bodies breathing and sweating it’d get like a sauna otherwise – but two players have had to retire injured after slipping on the grass, and that is not good, especially as one of them was Serena Williams and the other looked to be putting out Roger Federer.

And so like Centre Court, damp, sweaty and slippery, I nonetheless live to fight another day.

Kirk out


It’s Wimbledon fortnight again – for the first time in two years – so naturally the weather has to oblige and start tipping it down. The forecast for London today is dry though; wish I could say the same here where it is bucketing down in unreasonable quantities from a gloomy sky. It’s cold too; 12 degrees, for god’s sake! 12! I am seriously Not Happy. Anyway, the tournament got off to a great start yesterday with national hero and wild-card holder Andy Murray trying desperately not to break his record of always getting to the second round. He was up against Basilashvili of Georgia, a man ten years his junior and with a massive hitting power. For a while it looked as if youth and strength would win out over age and steel hips, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Murray it’s never, ever to write him off. He came back strongly, found his game and played some blinder, and if he wasn’t exactly on his previous form it looked like being enough to win in straight sets; he was 2-0, 5-0 up. What could possibly go wrong? Well, a series of blunders from the Scot and some blinding shots from the Georgian meant that, unbelievably, he lost that set. Fortunately they had a break at that point to put the roof on, during which Andy (as he later informed us) had a shower and went to the loo (‘for a number 1’: his wife put her head in her hands at that point. I know how she feels.) And from that point onwards it was a different match. As football commentators know only too well, a break changes things. It gives you a chance to regroup and alters the dynamic – and while there were some long rallies and nail-biting deuces, he went on to win convincingly 6-3. Phew!

The question now is, how far can he go? We’ll have to take it one match at a time and see, but you can’t help rooting for a guy who’s had four years out of tournaments, undergone major surgery and overcome great pain just to be there. I can’t wait. Here’s the official site with all the info you need; I’ll be parked at the telly later for as long as it takes.

Kirk out

6 Miles

It may not seem much, but I was inordinately pleased with myself for cycling six miles yesterday. It was a lovely ride out of Loughborough to the North-East along mainly country roads, though coming back into town on the A60 was less fun as it’s a single-carriageway road with lots of traffic. I’ve never been a competitive person; if I ever try to compete I always lose, not necessarily because I’m bad at whatever it is, but because my heart isn’t in it. I don’t see the point of winning for its own sake because in the end, what does it really mean? It means you were better at that particular activity on that particular day against those particular competitors and in those prevailing conditions. I don’t wish to dismiss the achievements of anyone (and if by any chance Andy Murray should win Wimbledon I’ll have a completely different take on this) but winning per se has never appealed to me. Overcoming odds, surmounting obstacles, beating your own shortcomings – yes, I can see the point of that, but competing with others seems largely meaningless. Suppose I’d been in a competition yesterday with someone to see who could cycle the furthest; what would it mean if I beat them or if they beat me? Would it mean one of us was ‘better’ than the other? No. Yesterday I was feeling very tired; hence the six miles was for me a great achievement – but someone else might not be so tired, so they’d do it easily and go on to do double that distance. Comparisons, in short, are odious, and whilst sport is undoubtedly good for the soul, too much emphasis on winning emphatically is not.

Lecture over. I was going to write about something else entirely today, and now I’ve forgotten what it was. Oh yes, books. Under the radar there’s a significant ‘trade’ in swapping books for free. Shops have shelves of them outdoors; villages have old phone boxes full of them, churches and town halls have them and friends have them. Lately I’ve been swapping books with a friend, who has lent me Shuggie Bain (which I hated) and The Shadow King (which I mostly enjoyed); and recently, Amsterdam, another Booker Prize winner (from 1998) by Ian McEwan. I have no strong opinions about Ian McEwan so I approached this with an open mind and found it – well, not bad but somewhat underwhelming. The title refers to the practice of legal euthanasia available in that city (for a price) and a feud between two friends, one a newspaper editor and another a composer, who make an agreement following the painful death of a mutual friend to each take the other to Amsterdam to end their life, should they be terminally ill. None of the characters are particularly agreeable; the newspaper editor is trying, Murdoch-style, to make a respectable broadsheet profitable by publishing the ‘scandal’ – already outdated – of a cabinet minister’s crossdressing. But the tide of opinion is against him and he loses his job. Meanwhile the composer, trying desperately to finish his symphony before a concert in Amsterdam, goes away to the Lakes to clear his head. He’s just getting an amazing idea when he sees a woman in an altercation with a man, but instead of intervening he carries on composing in his head and rushes back to get it down on paper. He is justly punished for this act of selfishness; not only does the man turn out to be the Lakeland Rapist but the crowning theme of his concerto turns out to be a cheap rip-off of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Both friends meet in Amsterdam, their careers over, each with the intention of bumping the other off. I’ll let you guess the outcome.

I found Amsterdam entertaining but for 1998 quite dated. It was a very male world – all the women referred to as ‘girls’ and defined by their appearance – in fact it could just as well have been written in the ’60’s. It’s also quite a slight book – only 150 pages – and lacks either depth or breadth. Still, it’s a load more fun than Shuggie Bain – but then again, so are most things. Including Dostoevsky.

Happy Tuesday. We’ve got some better weather here – hurray!

Kirk out

Privileged? Moi?

Years ago OH and I tried to make a series of these jokes, such as ‘Pretentious – moi? Pedantic – I? Repetitive – me myself personally? and so on. It was necessarily quite a short series but it amused us for about five minutes.

Then this morning I was wondering what it must be like to be privileged; to have doors open for you, taxis waiting, queues jumped, money always available and waiters jumping to attention. I can’t imagine it. And then I thought, what about the kinds of privilege I have – like education, race, class and so on? And I guess the answer is that when you have privilege you don’t notice it. I don’t notice that I’m driving and NOT being stopped by the police, or walking down the street and not being abused, or not being being able to access certain classes or join in certain discussions; not being able to climb steps or negotiate kerbs. When you have privilege it’s like the air you breathe; you don’t notice it till it’s not there.

From time to time there are people – usually journalists, sometimes politicians – who deliberately put themselves in the place of the less privileged; sometimes to make a point, sometimes just to find out what it’s like. George Orwell did this when down and out, doing some of the worst jobs and living in the filthiest holes in London and Paris; Polly Toynbee (in Hard Work in Low-Pay Britain) did some of the worst women’s jobs in the country and from time to time politicians have tried to live on the dole for short periods; the one I remember most is Matthew Parris who thought he was going to save £3 a week and ended up sitting in the dark for three days because the meter had run out. But noble as these efforts are, they are transient; at the end of it you know you’re going back to your old life and even if you don’t, you generally have the safety-net of family, friends, contacts etc who are all likely to be well-off and able to help. You have hope; more than that, you have a time-limit when you know you’re getting out. You may be in purgatory but you’re not in hell.

I don’t really know where I’m going with all this, except that when people like Lawrence Fox say there’s no such thing as male privilege, I think ‘how would you know?’ Because basically unless you’ve had your oxygen taken away, you don’t know what it’s like not to breathe.

One privilege I shall definitely enjoy soon is Wimbledon. It’s late this year, presumably because of Covid, not starting till June 28th but I’m looking forward to it. Andy Murray has a wild card so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do.

Have a good weekend. We’ll be doing the non-Sabbath thing tonight and tomorrow so I’ll be incommunicado for that period.

Kirk out

Poc! Poc! Poc! Yah!

Yes, it’s Wimbledon fortnight and this year I’ve been mega-impressed by the quality of play from all quarters (with a couple of exceptions, which I’ll come to in a minute.) The women’s game in particular is brilliant with some great British players, and there’s the added bonus of having Andy (Sir Andy!) Murray in play, albeit not yet in the singles; he’s teamed up with Serena for the mixed doubles which should be terrific. So far there have been some standout matches: in Day one Venus Williams was dispatched by a 15-year-old and yesterday Hannah Dart, a young wild-card player, came through her first-round match in great style, as did Jo Konta. There are also a lot more black and mixed-race competitors: it’s a far cry from the old days when the British players were all from Surrey and went out politely in the second round (apart from Virgina Wade of course.)

Wimbledon requires some juggling of the timetable. At the moment I’m limiting myself to a bit of live viewing over dinner plus the highlights in the evening but as the tournament progresses I’ll no doubt be drawn in more and more. Here‘s the schedule for today and here are yesterday’s highlights on the Beeb: I gotta say the BBC do Wimbledon so well, they’ve got it down to a fine art.

Just one bum note: a big resounding boo for Greek player Nick Kyrgios who was boorish and arrogant and three-and-a-half boos for Bernard Tomic who played so lazily and badly that there are reports he won’t be paid for the match. Other than that the tournament is generally well-behaved and respectful – another reason I watch.

Kirk out