Friday Room and the Futility Room

IMG_0685[1]It’s been an entire week since I posted but I’ve got a note to excuse me in the shape of the photo above, because I’ve been decorating a part of our house which a friend eloquently christened the Futility Room.  It’s a good name because the futility room houses the washing machine in which we wash clothes which then get dirty again faster than you can say Nicky Morgan (why Nicky Morgan?  I’ll get to that…)  Anyway, the futility room was horrid; covered in peeling and faded dusky pink paint with large blooms of black mould all over.  It was not a pleasure to go in there.  So over the previous weeks I’ve set about cleaning, unmoulding, stain blocking and painting.  And then as you can see I’ve been creative – so the futility room is a delightful shade of sunset yellow with some strategically placed orange suns.

So much for the futility room.  And then there’s Friday Room which on Friday was addressed by local MP Nicky Morgan on the subject of Brexit.  It was interesting on various levels, not least to observe her skill in working the room.  She charmed people with a mixture of genuine conviction and carefully placed suggestion and I was left with the thought that the two were woven together absolutely seamlessly.  You can’t help admiring that in a politician even as you deplore it: Morgan will be a formidable enemy and a hard person to dislodge in an election.  Otherwise it was an interesting, wide-ranging and, as is usual with Friday Room, respectful discussion, even if we didn’t learn much about Nicky Morgan’s views on the way forward.  She is a passionate remainer who believes the referendum result should stand though we ought to have a parliamentary vote on the final deal.  She thinks we should stay in EFTA (the European Free Trade Association) otherwise the discussion was mostly about the past; the mistake of not setting rules about referendums in general including a threshold for making major changes; the reasons which led to the vote being as it is and her desire to represent all her constituents (I have a certain amount of scepticism about her ability to represent me, as she keeps voting for public sector cuts and renewing Trident.)  

And that is a story of two rooms.

Kirk out


If I’m Bored It Must Be Sunday

When I was a child Sundays were practically synonymous with boredom.  Everyone went to church and the whole thing was an incredible performance; dressing up in your best (and most uncomfortable) clothes, sitting still through hours of excruciating boredom and not being allowed to do anything fun.  When I was a teenager it was hardly less exciting as the pubs were closed most of the day, only the paper shops were open (and with restricted hours) and there was nothing to do.  It is hard to see a connection between all of this conformity and the teachings of Christ.

Religion everywhere is a magnet for those who seek power.  The tragedy is that religions often stem from prophets or messiahs who preach against power – but the lure of getting people under your spell by promising heaven and threatening hell and by aligning yourself with the gods you are supposed to be worshipping, is too great.  One survivor of Catholic abuse said a nun told her ‘I’m God.’  This is the most basic idolatry ever and you can’t understand how they don’t realise it.

But!  Yesterday was an antidote to all that because I went to a brilliant service at All Saints.  The church, so often associated with shaming gays and lesbians and excluding those who don’t fit in (thus directly contravening the teachings of Jesus) has changed – and one small church in Loughborough has taken the brilliant step of having a Pride service.  It was a terrific event, inclusive and welcoming not just to gays and lesbians but to everyone, encouraging us to love ourselves as God made us.

After that I went to the pub and then to another pub and then for lunch and then for a walk along the canal.  That’s what Sundays should be like.

Kirk out

I Can’t Have My Cake or Eat It

I have a confession to make (incidentally have you noticed that whenever people say that they inevitably go on to ‘confess’ something utterly trivial and uncontroversial?)  Well, here it is – I’ve never really seen the point of… cake.  The English are supposed to go mad for cake – we have it with afternoon tea or morning coffee; we bring it out at the end of a meal and celebrations just wouldn’t be the same without it.  But I’ve never seen the point of it.  Sure, I liked it when I was a child, if only to pull off the icing and try to get away without eating the rest; and as an adolescent I used to devour acres of jam sponge in one sitting.  But now I’ve gone right off it; and for the last thirty years cake and I have had nothing to do with one another.

For a start, I rarely eat snacks.  This is partly for health reasons (snacking is a good way to gain weight) and partly because I’m just not hungry between meals.  Secondly, cakes are full of sugar; commercial ones are far too sweet and I just can’t be arsed to make my own (they come out like pancakes in any case.)  But the main reason I don’t eat them is because they don’t seem like food.  They deliver an abundance of calories without actually filling you up – so, whilst I may not be averse to the occasional slice of battenburg I rarely tackle anything else, especially not the usual jam-cream-and-icing-laden horrors that I am sometimes offered.  I don’t find it satisfying or enjoyable; it’s like eating sugary air.  My teeth feel horrible, my stomach feels horrible and no amount of tea can wash away the taste.  So no thank you.

This was not the experience of Withnail and Marwood in the famous cake-shop scene where they demanded the finest wines known to humanity in order to wash down their scones and iced buns:

When I was a child we had a cake, freshly made, every Sunday afternoon so that my parents could come down after their rest and have tea and cake – because apparently cooking breakfast, attending two church services, cooking Sunday roast and clearing up afterwards just wasn’t enough work for one day.  Mind you the cake was made from a mix in a box so I guess it wasn’t that hard.  But now?  I’d as soon go out and dig up the entire garden than bake a cake.

Kirk out

Geography of a Psycho

You may have heard the term ‘psycho-geography’ or you may not: it doesn’t matter.  Psycho-geography is the connection of landscape to psychology; the link between your surroundings and your interior world.  Psycho-geography is a key feature of many crime novels – where would Rebus be without Edinburgh, its pubs and greasy spoons, its dank council estates overshadowed by Arthur’s seat? – and it is specifically mentioned in ‘Day of the Dead’:( where the hidden rivers of London are a clue to the actions of a serial killer.  And now I’ve been and got me some psycho-geography too.

I didn’t mean to, at least not consciously (can you mean something unconsciously?) – as I said a couple of days ago, I set out without any plan at all.  But now that I’ve walked thirty or more miles of river (or canal) it occurs to me that there are very clear parallels between this walk and my life.  Walking the canals has been an existence alongside but entirely different from my everyday life.  Even when you can see the road, the towpath is a world away from the traffic.  It is a hidden life, a watery life; a life where you meet ferrywomen in tied cottages, chat to boating folk and ask them to fill your water bottle.  It’s a life of fishermen as still as herons; a life of getting lost, having tea in pubs, finding places to pee and being very glad to see Bertie.

In addition to all this, the river is a perfect metaphor for art.  Art has its own hidden course which it strives to follow rather than being swept along by the mainstream.  Stephen Fry once said that in every artist the desire to be seen contends with the desire to hide: I would add that the desire to follow your own voice contends with the desire to be recognised.  So in terms of psycho-geography instead of struggling to be recognised by the mainstream (the road), I’ve been following my own course (the river.)  It’s like song-lines, in a way:

Does that count as cultural appropriation?

Kirk out

No Hand Signals

Back in the day learning hand signals used to be part of the driving test, presumably in case your electrics went on the blink.  From memory waving an arm up and down meant ‘I am slowing to a halt’, rotating a hand in one direction meant – oh, I can’t remember because I never used them; but so prevalent were they that disabled drivers used to put a notice on the car boot saying ‘No Hand Signals.’

Nowadays, alongside these official signs have evolved a set of informal but generally understood hand signals.  First, the thanks signal for when someone lets you out of a side road or allows you to pass an obstacle.  This consists of a raised palm which, in order to be sure the other driver has seen it, should be left in place for at least a couple of seconds.  (This presumably would not be encouraged by the DVLA as it means taking one hand off the steering wheel.)  The usual response to such a gesture of thanks, should you choose to acknowledge it, is either to nod or raise one finger, the acknowledgement being briefer and less demonstrative than the original gesture of thanks.  When signalling to let another driver go past I usually lower the window slightly and beckon with one finger; they then respond with a rather more hurried version of the thanks gesture as they whiz past.

Then there are gestures to pedestrians.  When slowing or stopping to allow them to cross I usually make a to-and-fro gesture like a windscreen wiper, to which (if they are polite) they will respond with the standard thanks.  This can be briefer than with motorists as I’m stationary and already looking in their direction.

Where a hand gesture may not be visible (eg if you’re in front of a car) the sudden-hazard-lights gambit may be employed.  Again, though frowned on by the DVLA, this is universally understood and widely used; two or three blinks on and off with the hazard lights means thanks.

Not everyone is polite of course; some people sweep past after you’ve waited ages for them to pass an obstacle or charge out of a side-road without so much as making eye contact.  And then there was the bizarre incident of the woman on Blackbird Road.  Traffic was moving slowly, not because the car in front was a police car but because it was a busy time of day.  There were two cars queuing to get out of a particular side road and the police car stopped to let one of them out.  Since there was a gap in front of me I decided not to let the other car out, but she had other ideas.  As I started to move forward she jerked out in front of me, causing me to stand on the brakes, and then made a series of furious gestures designed to indicate that I was in the wrong place and should have let her out, to which – I am happy to report – I responded with a gracious sweep of the arm (do please come out) ignoring her continued furious finger-jabs.  The whole thing took far longer than if she’d waited for someone else to let her out.

Wherever you are, Blackbird Rd woman, I just want to say you were bang out of order.

Kirk out

End-gaining in walking

Here’s an object lesson in how end-gaining happens.  Two and a half weeks ago I set out on a walk.  I had no end in view, just to walk.  I might get as far as Normanton but I probably won’t, I thought.  And in any case it doesn’t matter.  Wandering without an object is a very freeing thing to do; and as it happened I did make it to Normanton, but it didn’t matter.  It was fun and interesting and I got to use the chain ferry.  But it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t.

Then I thought, what if I walk further?  Maybe park up somewhere and walk north, see where I get to?  I did park up somewhere, I did walk north and where I got to was Kegworth.  I was interested because I hadn’t been to Kegworth before, only through it on the nightmarish A-road on which construction lorries grind past all day long (they’re getting a bypass, which is good.  In a sense.)  Kegworth has at least two great cafes and some interesting shops, so I enjoyed a good mooch.  And as I sweated my way back to the car at Zouch, a Plan began to emerge.  Now at this stage the Plan was merely fun, something to structure my holiday around, like a peg to hang your hat on.  The peg doesn’t matter, it’s just a means of placing your hat somewhere.  But in order for the Plan to work, you have to make believe that it’s important.  Much fun is based around this kind of make-believe: pretending that it matters who wins a card-game or whether certain rules are followed (Mornington Crescent is a perfect example of this.)  And holidays (at least self-catering ones) are a way of living your normal life in a sort of relaxed parody where you do some of the same things but none of it matters.  In a word, it’s play.

So at this point my walking was entirely in that spirit.  Of course I was aware of being fitter and getting lots of exercise and being out in the country and Finding Out About Canals and all of that – but none of it mattered.  If I hadn’t done any of those things it would still have been good.  It was play.  But then at some point another little voice began to arise.  ‘What about walking the whole of the river Soar from the Trent to its source?’  This seemed a fun idea (though later studies of the map showed it to be impracticable), an idea which was conceived in the spirit of play – but all too soon the plan of walking the Soar from end to end became a – well, an end in itself.  It became Something I Was Doing; something I would Tell People About.  And they would Be Impressed.

The more this end-gaining took over, the less fun it became.  I knew where I was going each day, whereas the fun had previously been in spontaneity.  I had a goal to reach and I might feel a failure if I didn’t reach it.  I began to feel tired instead of energetic, dispirited instead of joyful.  And at some point I said, enough.  No more.  I was all set to give up walking altogether.

And then, just like a see-saw*, (and after a day’s rest) I found the desire to walk was not entirely extinguished.  I abandoned altogether the plan of walking the Soar (now adapted into a plan to walk the canal down to Foxton Locks) and went closer to home (see yesterday’s post).  And it was much better.

The moral of the story is, all ends must end.  Oo, and while you’re here I found this video again, which I thought was lost:

Kirk out

*or see-Soar

Wobbling About in Normanton – Four Miles

Today I definitely wanted a shorter walk.  A very short walk.  A walk that says, I’ve more or less given up but the bug hasn’t quite left me yet.  So I decided to drive to Normanton on Soar and walk to Zouch (pronounced Zosh) which coincidentally was the bit of the canal I’d left out before.  Turns out the tow-path has also left out this bit because you can’t follow the water but have instead to go to the end of the village and then across the fields.  The cows were quite friendly and as the pub hove into view


(the same one I went to in a state of melting a couple of weeks ago and encountered two men trying to turn a boat round) the thought of tea came into my mind.  I went in and asked.  Did they do tea?  They did.  Did they have soya milk?  They did not.  I settled for cows’ milk and wished I hadn’t bothered as the tea was horrid.  I also noticed that the pub was a bit dirty and the tables hadn’t been wiped.  Ah well.  I made the best of it and wrote my diary for a bit (one must always have something sensational to write in the pub) before heading back.  I walked through the village of Normanton

and out the other side, passing the 12th Century church and the pub (where I should have gone for tea) and having an interesting conversation with the woman who used to run the chain ferry:

Image result for chain ferry normanton on soar

and still lives in what used to be the tied cottage.  She, her husband and her son ran the ferry between them and she said it could be quite inconvenient if you were in the middle of baking and somebody came down wanting to cross over.  Beside the chain ferry cottage are some delightful chalets like the ones in Swithland Wood.

At the end of the village I turned and walked back through the fields along an alarmingly narrow path through alarmingly tall sweetcorn, having nightmares about being harvested by a huge combine, and so back to the churchyard where a bench looks out over the river and I had my lunch.


After that it was time to head home.

Kirk out