They’ve Taken Some of My Essence

Had a rather early start this morning to make a 7.50 appointment for blood tests. They’re being thorough; several phials of my essence are now whizzing off to be tested for vitamin D3, vitamin B12, coeliac, immunoglobulin and something else relating to the liver. So we wait to see if I have any or all of these problems. I can’t fault the staff at the surgery – they’re unfailingly pleasant and helpful when you get through to them. The problem is getting through. Anyway, here’s hoping something will come of this lot because I’m really sick of being tired all the time. On the way back I bought some mini-ciabattas and Abergavenny goat’s cheese for breakfast, but what I really wanted was to be in France, to have gone out for a walk and come back via a small patisserie where I could get some croissants and pain au chocolat.

The lack of a holiday is starting to get to me. It’s been nearly two years since I had a proper break and I realise I’m not alone in this regard but there’s no real prospect of getting away this summer either, and that’s starting to depress me. I would love to have a week by the sea somewhere quiet, just to walk and swim and cycle and read and chill out – it’d be great. But the best I’m likely to do is a weekend in Wales and some days out on the bike. Oh well, better than nothing I suppose.

I sent off another short story yesterday and I’m preparing another to send soon. It’s all about keeping the momentum going; I found this when I was unemployed in the ’80s and applying for jobs – it’s much better just to keep applying without worrying too much about the outcome. So as soon as a story comes back, I’ll send it somewhere else and, just as I did eventually get a job, so I will get more stuff published. I made a list of publications yesterday as I keep forgetting, and it’s more than I thought. Did no-one read Mem Mat yesterday? I didn’t get any comments on it.

Mind you, the job I eventually did get was problematic. I’d been going to a Job Club – these could either be good or useless depending on who was running them and fortunately this one was run by a pair who knew what they were doing. They encouraged me to apply for a job with an arts organisation; the post was for a manager and even though I didn’t have management experience they thought my teaching skills would come in useful. What they didn’t tell me was that the guy running the Job Club had also worked there and had the most awful time with the other manager. I don’t totally blame them for not telling me about this guy, who I shall call Kevin, but he turned out to be worse than David Brent. He was incompetent, devious and manipulative and he drove me round the bend. I ended up making a complaint to his manager and after that he went around with a wounded expression as if he couldn’t quite believe I’d done that to him. Anyone who’s ever worked in a toxic environment will know how demoralising and debilitating that is. But as it was still the 80’s and I was in a management position I was earning a good salary, even if the job was a bit like this one in Black Books:

Anyway, it paid for a holiday in Spain which eventually led to me living there. So that was all good.

Enjoy your day.

Kirk out

Wealth is Wasted on the Wealthy

I had an idea or two in mind this morning but now they’ve flown, and I’m feeling a little like Fran in this clip from Black Books when, given a job as a favour from one of Manny’s underworld mates, she is asked to give a presentation with no clue as to what her job is about or even what the company does.

The rich – or at least those who comment in public on the issue of wealth inequality – are fond of saying that they ‘earned’ their money and therefore have a right to keep it, thereby implying that poor(er) folk just don’t work hard enough. There also seems to be an attitude that they know how to handle wealth, whereas poorer folk wouldn’t be able to. There may be some truth in this; a number of people who’ve won ridiculous amounts on the lottery fritter it away and end up as poor as they were before. But it’s about the mindset. How rich do you feel? Do rich people really, genuinely appreciate what they have? Or do they take it for granted and only want more? How many yachts is enough?

Of course ‘the rich’ are not a homogeneous group, any more than ‘the masses.’ It all depends on your perspective; when you look at crowds from a distance, people appear much closer together than they are in reality. So that although ‘the powerful’ (who are largely contiguous with ‘the rich’) always pull together when threatened, at other times they are probably further apart than we imagine. Like Orion’s belt, they only look like a constellation from where we’re standing.

I’m working on supposition here, since the wealthiest people I know have large houses in the suburbs and a social conscience; I don’t know anyone with a private jet or an estate or a fancy yacht, let alone any owners of multinational companies or bosses who get six-figure bonuses. (My brother-in-law did once have a boat but it sank a couple of years back after he’d spent years doing it up.)

But do rich people actually appreciate how rich they are? I suspect they don’t; furthermore I suspect that, just as I have no concept of what it would be like to have millions in the bank, so they have no idea what it’s like to worry about the rent or to choose between heating and eating. As Paul McKenna says, after a certain point it’s not about what you have but your attitude towards it. Are you poor in mind? Do you always want more? Do you compare yourself with others who have more? How rich do you feel? To be ‘poor and content’ may be a mealy-mouthed cliche but if you’re rich and discontented there’s nowhere to go. You’re on a treadmill.

So: as Fran so helpfully says, what are we doing? What’s it all about? Is this the best that we can be?

What am I doing here?

Watch the clip – it’s really funny.

Kirk out

PS I’ve recently learned the Greek for rich, which is ‘plautos’. Hence ‘plutocrat.’

The Joy of Tax

I’ve been putting it off quite long enough.  That reminder in my phone calendar to ‘do tax return’ has been lurking for weeks and has begun to assume a plaintive air: if I leave it any longer it will become positively admonitory – and take it from me, the last thing you want to see every morning is an Admonitory Reminder.  Having got the desktop computer up and running (like OH in the mornings – yes, still pounding the streets at 6 am) I’d run out of excuses.  Log on I must, and the sooner the better, just in case I run into any problems, since the prospect of phoning the helpline on 31st January does not appeal.

At this time of year I always think of Bernard Black making a jacket out of his receipts:

I know how he feels.

It’s not that in principle I object to paying tax.  As a fully-signed-up Labour Party member I am utterly seized of the need to pay what is due so that we can have proper public services.  No, it’s not that; in fact I’d be hard put to say what actually does bother me about this process – all I know is that a sense of dread and doom and an unwillingness to embark on it is matched by the knowledge that I must do it Or Else; and these two fight it out until, some time in late January, I actually do it.  Then once it’s done there’s a feeling of euphoria which lasts several days – but somehow I always forget this when January comes a-knocking again.

Anyway, with that box ticked I can get on with the rest of my year, warmed by a righteous glow and without the need to talk to any Jehovah’s Witnesses…

Kirk out

Misery Loves Company but Company Does Not Love Misery

I’ve been thinking about a woman I know – let’s call her Linda.  Linda is a talented and potentially interesting woman; she is creative and has an unusual history.  But I avoid her as much as I possibly can.  Why?  Because, frankly, Linda is a misery.  Sure, she has problems: who doesn’t?  I know I have.  But Linda is unhappy.  I don’t know what has caused her to be this way: I don’t mind listening now and again, but when a person’s conversation consists of nothing but problems, compassion fatigue sets in.

Linda lives in the same town  as me, and whenever we meet she takes the opportunity to tell me how much she hates it.  I don’t hate it, and I’ve told her so: I’ve been here about six months and in that time I’ve got to know Quakers, church people, Labour party members and others on the Left; folk clubs, beer clubs and cinema clubs.  I’ve got involved with stuff: and that’s the key.  I know some people find integration harder than others, but if all you do is sit around and feel sorry for yourself, you are bound to feel miserable.  If misery is at the forefront of your mind, it will affect your interactions; and if your conversation consists of nothing but misery, other people will start to steer clear.

Yes, positive thinking has its drawbacks, though it can help; but better than positive thought is positive action.  Do something: get involved with projects, interact with people, especially those worse off than you.  There’s nothing like a visit Sound Cafe for putting my own problems into perspective; there’s nothing like hearing about refugees for helping me to value everything I have.  We all have something to be thankful for – and at the risk of sounding like ‘Thought for the Day,’ every night I think about the good things that have happened during that day.  It’s a good practice when you wake up, too…

So don’t be like Linda.  Be like Manny after he’s swallowed The Little Book of Calm:

It’s 15 minutes in.

Kirk out

I’m Just Payin’ My Rent Every Day in the Tower of Soup…

I’m all on fire with puns this morning; puns and rhymes and almost-rhymes and word-play and I don’t know what.  Sometimes I wake up and it’s just there: for egg*, this morning I woke up thinking ‘Robinson Crusoe, unpacking a trousseau.’  That set me wondering why Robinson Crusoe might be unpacking a trousseau, and who knows where I might have ended up had Mark not wandered in with the tea at that point.

Now, speaking of tea: I have a complaint to make.  Why is it that people who drink tea all day long and into the evening, have no trouble sleeping whereas I, with my healthy habits of only having caffeine in the mornings, only have to drink one cup of Earl Grey in the afternoon for it to disrupt my entire night.  It just isn’t fair!

And that brings me to my second word-play of the morning, which was:

‘living lives of diet desperation.’

I am fortunately not in the position of having to lose weight – or not much – but I remember how it feels when you do.

Then Mark happened to mention Manny’s tower of soup in ‘Black Books’, and I put it together with Leonard Cohen and what did I get?  The title for today’s blog post, that’s what!

Here’s Manny with his tower of soup:

Manny's soup tower

and here is Cohen’s Tower of Song:

Don’t say I never give you anything!

Kirk out

* that, as of course you twigged, is my way of saying ‘for example’.  Yesterday’s post was going to be about eggs, but is still languishing in the drafts folder

Having an Egg in Your Beard

Well, my dears – this week I have been watching some new stuff and some old stuff – and the first thing I want to recommend is ‘Fightback Britain’.  It’s rather annoyingly presented by a pair who alternate like stage comics and finish each other’s sentences as though afraid we might get bored if we had to look at one of them for more than ten seconds!! – but nevertheless it’s a heartening antidote to the otherwise endless litany of unpleasant crime stories we get on the news.  This programme does what it says on the tin – it’s about people fighting back against crime.  Grannies belt thieves with their shopping and overturn their motorbikes; young women slay burglars with a nicely-aimed set of car-keys; vicars pounce on would-be lead thieves and stop them escaping – this is a story of success; and whilst the mainstream news can make you feel powerless and sick to your boots, this makes you feel strong and powerful.

So much for the new stuff.  The older programmes I watched have been on 4OD where I have revisited the excellent drama series ‘Black Mirror’.  Done by the brilliant Charlie Brooker, this series takes a cultural tendency of ours and projects it into the future.  My favourite, ’15 Million Merits’, posits a society where the only escape from a virtual, drone-like existence is to enter a talent show.

Other episodes include a scenario where the Prime Minister is forced to save a Princess’s life by having sex with a pig live on TV, and a ‘better than life’ scenario where a woman’s dead partner is uploaded in digital format.  Perhaps the most disturbing story, though, was the one about retributive justice, where a woman who tortured and killed a child is subjected to daily scenes of horror, acted out and filmed in front of a paying audience:

After all that, I needed some comedy – and where better to turn than some of my favourite episodes of ‘Black Books’?  I know ‘Moo-Ma and Moo-Pa’ too well to enjoy it as I used to, but the one where a friend of Manny’s kills the Pope, the one where Bernard gets locked out and ends up working in a burger bar (‘there was a little man in his hair!’) and the one with the travel writer are all just as good.

And that was my week…

Kirk out

The Late, Late Breakfast Show

Rather a late post this morning – after yesterday I’ve been having a laid-back start to the day.  The day began (yesterday, that is) at 3 am with insomnia which lasted until I got up; however it got better when I went out to see Daniel’s exhibition in town.  He and some other yoof have a photographic and art exhibition which they set up themselves in a disused shop-unit in town.  I thought it was great: when we arrived at 2 pm they had already had more than a hundred visitors and they’d only been open a couple of hours!  By close of play four photos had been sold (though not Daniel’s) and a lot of enthusiastic comments made in the book.  So head along and take a look – it’s open all week:

Then we walked down to the Western where there was a Cornish beer and cider festival on: we tried a half of two different beers which were hoppy at first but pronounced ‘twangy’ after a while.  This seems to be the case with all Cornish beers – maybe it’s the water.  Anyway, after that we went indoors and stuck mostly to the Billy Bitter although I did try a half of White something-or-other which was extremely pale and somewhat citrus-y.  i enjoyed it though Peter turned up his nose at the very sight of my brew.  Half-way across the afternoon a jazz-band set up and played mellow, slightly experimental jazz for a couple of hours; towards the end Mellow Baku came along and sang a couple of numbers.  My own taste in jazz runs more towards the traditional than the experimental end; this band were somewhere in the middle I guess.

After that we were starting to get hungry, so we toddled on down to Saardaar’s where we split a couple of delicious dishes washed down with a mango lassi apiece.  Lovely.  And then home, where I watched a couple of old episodes of Black Books (see next Thursday’s post, life on the i-player) before having a drastically early night.

And so to bed.

Kirk out

Fifty Shades of Gold

If I had to point to one thing in our society as a root cause of Things Going Wrong, it would be this: that progressively since the 1960’s and definitively since Thatcher, we have put money first.  We no longer believe in any kind of transcendent reality; to us, what you see is what you get – in other words, your threescore years and ten (we’ll come back to this figure later).  Hence the fixation on targets and achievements: everything must be pinned down.  That, after all, is materialism: everything must be measured and if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.

Measure out your life in coffee-spoons?

This life, so the current narrative goes, is the only one, so you’d better pack in as much as you can: achieve your potential, make lots of dosh, pay off the mortgage, drive a fast car, travel, see the sun, ski the slopes, compete, conquer illness and disease – and prolong, prolong, prolong again, as far as possible, your life-expectanion.  And so we become fixated on money,  because money is – or appears to be – tangible and real, so the argument goes: ‘money in the bank’ is something that won’t go away.*  We talk about the Midas touch, forgetting that the Midas story is a tragedy and the Midas touch a curse: we somehow fool ourselves that we can sidestep these ancient verities; that somehow with a hop and a skip and a jump in the value of our market shares, we can cheat tragedy and have it all, unto – and perhaps even beyond – death.

It’s not totally science fiction now, the idea of prolonging life beyond the threescore and ten that trips off the tongue, but I’m not sure I’d want to live for two hundred years even if I could.  That’s potentially 100 or more child-bearing years – and 1200 periods!  No thanks: the planet couldn’t sustain it, and neither could we.  We have a tendency to regard long life as an absolute good, whereas John Holt (I think it was he) pointed out that many old people just sit around in chairs beefing about what Aunty Nora said to Aunty Dora (I may be confusing it with Black Books there)…0.0…1ac.1.ZQe71o7r62A&has_verified=1

whereas people who die young often achieve the most remarkable things.  You know, Mozart and shit… So I can’t help thinking that everything has its natural span and that if you try to extend that, something else is bound to give.

I think the reverse of this can be seen with modern machines.  We have devices now that can do everything – except, it seems, to last for a reasonable period of time.  My Mum’s liquidiser lasted upwards of twenty years and all it did was liquidise, but now there are machines which will chop and peel, dice and slice, mix and blend, defrost, cook and all-but eat the food for you: there are vacuum cleaners that will steer round corners, sense dirt and pick it up, empty themselves, having first compressed and recycled the dirt into combustible bricks to use on your wood-burning stove, and reason with your children so that they no longer make a mess: but within a week of the guarantee running out you can be sure that one of these functions will go ping and that overall it will have a fraction of the life-expectancy that my Mum’s machine had.

And there’s the rub.  You can’t have everything in life.

And that’s today’s thought.

Kirk out

* Money is of course, as I have previously pointed out, not real.  It only stands for something real ie gold.  And we know what a fixation on gold can do to you…

Rankin and Palin

The kitchen has now been sealed off and blasted into deep space, where it orbits a minor star-system along with other space debris; the cooker finding itself in company with solar panels, bits of cowling, antennae, satellites and satellite dishes which have become confused about their role.

Incidentally, in researching this post * I asked Mark for some technical terms for space debris.  ‘Oh, they’re just bits!’ he exclaimed.

Sadly when I go downstairs I may discover that the  kitchen is Still There and that it is I who will be blasted into deep space.


I watched a great programme last night about Ian Rankin:…_Winter_2012_Ian_Rankin_and_the_Case_of_the_Disappearing_Detective/

Regular readers will know that Rankin is one of my fave authors and there’s a lot of Rankin about at the moment, including a radio adaptation of a Rebus novel which is on this afternoon.  Astonishingly, Rankin writes a book a year; he keeps a folder of press cuttings and ideas gathered over the previous 12 months which then form the basis of the plot; he starts work in January, finishes the first draft by March (!!!!) gets the final draft to the publishers by the summer, edits and then the whole thing is published in November ready for the Christmas market.  Astonishing.  Rankin came across as a thoroughly Nice Bloke, but less outgoing than I would have expected from his prose style; a little understated.  But such a pace to work at!  Normally when people write a novel a year it’s trashy and formulaic, but his bear reading and re-reading and I can’t fault them.

To be fair, a lot of the ground-work is already done: he knows the setting, the genre and some of the characters before he begins, so he doesn’t have to do all that thinking that most novelists do.  What was also interesting, and which I hadn’t known, was that many of the locations in the books are real.  I don’t mean the Castle and the Rock: I mean the Oxford Bar, for example where Rebus hangs out and is more at home than he is in his own flat.  It’s interesting that he does that and gets away with it – normally writers disguise real locations for fear of libel or other unintended consequences; but I guess it would be a brave person who sued Rankin on any grounds whatsoever.

And thence to Brazil.  I wondered whether they’d called it that as a reference to Terry Gilliam’s film of the same name, since it is fronted by the irreplaceable Michael Palin.  He visits indigenous people and sails down the Amazon a bit before visiting a fish market, meeting lots of people on the way.  Unfailingly courteous, self-effacing, interested and interesting, this is TV as it should be.  Watch.

And don’t forget the Rebus adventure this afternoon, 3 pm on radio 4.  It’s called ‘Black Books’.

Kirk out

* What?  You think it’s just thrown together every morning over a cup of tea?

The Red and the Black

At the moment I am reading ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks, a novel set during the First World War.  I have never yet read anything by Faulks, which seems to be a fairly serious omission, and so far I am enjoying it.  There’s an adulterous love-affair which reminds me a little of Madame Bovary and which I suspect is a prelude to the main action.  I’ll update you as I progress.

My waking thoughts concerned lost TV series: not that any series is ever lost nowadays; you can always find it on youtube if not actually on DVD, but in the sense that they are no longer part of our lives.  Their catch-phrases have gone, we no longer imitate the characters, and so on.  Of course there is the rare example which permeates the language (‘Don’t mention the war’; ‘life, the universe and everything’ – from ‘Fawlty Towers’ and H2G2 respectively) but mostly these things come and go.  Thus the two coloured sitcoms which in their time were favourites of ours: ‘Red Dwarf’ and ‘Black Books’.  Alas, where are they now?

Er – on DVD’s in our house, actually.  Or on youtube…

And while I’m on youtube, Daniel is watching this – it’s very funny:

And now a question for you: does familiarity breed content?  I’m thinking of the way the recent debate on GM crops has gone.  I was as opposed to this as anyone but a recent article suggests that many people are less opposed to it than they used to be.  On examining my own responses I found that I, too, am far less opposed to GM than I used to be.  Now, why is this?  I actually have no idea.  Is there some recent event which has changed my mind and which I’m not aware of?  Or is there a process ongoing which makes GM seem less of a threat?  I don’t know.

Any thoughts?

Delenda est Cartago

And finally, a late news item has flooded in – at least, to the US: Carthage has fallen.  That is, we can only assume that the number of places in the States which are named Carthage indicates a lack of awareness in that country of the city’s tragic history.  Or so said Mark.  I think they probably frankly just don’t give a damn.

My dear.

Kirk out