Jo Cox

I should also add that today is Jo Cox Memorial Day. Downing Street’s recently-quit race advisor Samuel Kasumu has opined in the Guardian, ‘People have already forgotten Jo Cox,’ but I don’t think that’s true. I think her sister standing in Batley and Spen has refreshed memories, if people had forgotten, but I think we are frequently reminded – as we should be – about what happened. Her murder was instrumental in confirming OH’s opinion about Brexit and was a horrible sign of the spirit that would be unleashed if we voted to leave.

Many – though not all – of these fears have been realised, though of course Brexit is not ‘done’ but is a grotesque juggernaut that continues to trundle on scattering debris in its wake. I loathe the spirit of flag-waving nationalism that’s been unleashed by this disastrous process; surely it was this kind of patriotism which Dr Johnson was referring to when he said it was ‘the last refuge of a scoundrel.’ Certainly fits another Johnson we know…

Enough ranting. Let’s take a moment to remember a promising young woman murdered just for doing her job.

Kirk out

Headline of the Week

The headline of the week award this week must go to the Guardian, for their article on Dyson. Learning that their institute of technology now has the power to award its own degrees, the headline was… drum roll…


Sheer genius – though I do find it rather depressing that the guys in the photo are all young white males. Are these the people who actually do the vacuuming? I’d like instead to see pictures of Hilda-Ogden types in headscarves, possibly minus the drooping fag end. To be fair, it does say that a third of the institute’s graduates are women, and to be even more fair Dyson has identified a lack of engineers in Britain which he blames on the perceived elitism of university culture. I’m with him there and on the whole I admire Dyson’s approach to invention; they make good, durable and useful products with a minimum of the gadgetry so beloved by other tech companies. Less admirable is his vocal support for Brexit followed by the decision to relocate the Head Office to Singapore, though to be fair that only meant the loss of two jobs so perhaps wasn’t as bad as it was reported. Gosh, it’s hard to know what to think sometimes. No wonder people turn to social media – the answers are so much easier there.

Anyway, what is there to say on this rather dull Wednesday morning? My jumper is nearly finished and when it is I shall put it on immediately since there’s a medium-weight jumper vacuum in my wardrobe. Of course, the moment I finish it the weather will turn warm and sunny so think on and if it does you’ll know you have me to thank. I’m also working on a short story about a woman who finds a pair of sunglasses on the beach. Doesn’t sound too thrilling I know, but then these are no ordinary sunglasses. And in just a few ticks when I’ve uploaded this post I shall be bringing you the next thrilling instalment of Leave Means Leave. I wonder if she’ll be leaving with or without a deal?

Kirk out

Short Story Serial: Leave Means Leave Episode 2

The second part of a Brexit-themed story…

It was the pregnancy that woke her up; for the first time in her life she felt a terror for someone other than herself and a determination to keep the baby safe. So, miscarriage or not (and that was a proper accident, nothing to do with him) the decision was made. She was gone.

And yet she delayed. What if she’d brought about the miscarriage by her own actions? What if it was God’s punishment for deciding to leave? What if there was worse to come? She made up her mind and unmade it a thousand times a day. And then suddenly one summer’s day by some alchemy the decision was made. Only by a small margin but there it was; she was going. Simple as packing a bag, writing a note and walking out the door.

She remembered that note with a stab of guilt; that one tiny, inadequate word, Goodbye. That summed up their whole marriage; she’d never been enough for him, had always fallen short, was always making him angry. Then as she left the house she saw the car again with its message. LEAVE MEANS LEAVE. It was back, in the same place, and that could only mean one thing: it was the universe telling her – don’t go back. Don’t even look back. And this time she took the message to heart.

She had barely mourned for the baby. Before the bleeding there were tiny white blobs on the scan that were the baby’s bones; remembering the fractures in her arms she fiercely promised the baby that no-one would ever harm a single one of those tiny bones. The baby would never be his, ever. No. The no sounded in the bone, hollow and resonant; it was a decision taken at the cellular level. No going back. Leave Means Leave.

In any case, she said to herself as though rationalising the decision – as though bruises and broken bones weren’t reason enough – there was hardly room for her in that place, let alone a baby. His stuff was strewn everywhere and he didn’t like her tidying. Knew where everything was, he said. Got cross if she moved anything. It was his flat after all, he paid the rent, didn’t he? Didn’t he have any rights? And so on. She was sick with the weariness of it.

So with the baby they’d have had to move anyway and he’d have made a huge fuss about it. Would he even have been glad? Probably, yes, because it would have been another tie, keeping them together, stopping her from running off. He was always ranting about her running off, wouldn’t even have let her go to work if they hadn’t needed the money. When the bleeding came she didn’t even go to the doctor, just mopped it up and carried on. Force of habit. The the next day she packed a bag, put on her coat and instead of going to work went to the police station. Leave Means Leave.

VE Day – Should We Be Celebrating?

A few days ago an invitation dropped through our door to a ‘social distancing street party’. Apart from being somewhat baffled as to how this would work, I experienced a strong reluctance to go. I felt a bit bad about this. It was a community event; I am community-minded – why wouldn’t I support it? It was only after I realised that today is the anniversary of VE day that I twigged: I don’t want to go to a VE day street party because I don’t want to celebrate VE day.

But why not? Surely the defeat of fascism is an event worth celebrating? I am only too aware that people gave their lives for our freedom and that this should not be forgotten. But in my opinion it should be remembered, not celebrated, particularly in these post-Brexit, global pandemic days. It seems entirely inappropriate that we should celebrate a victory over nations that are now our allies and who are suffering as we are with the virus. My fear is that with the toxic xenophobia generated by Brexit it could all turn quite nasty. But I could be wrong. In any case it’d be interesting to see if the never-seen neighbours in the mysterious ivy-covered house with the LEAVE MEANS LEAVE, emerge from their dwelling like Boo Radley to celebrate.

So rather than celebrating we will be having a family pizza and video night. I’m not sure what we’ll be watching but here’s what I’ve been looking at. First, the excellent drama Silk, starring Maxine Peake. The phrase ‘courtroom drama’ is almost a tautology since you’ve already got the elements of drama: the thesis of the prosecution, the antithesis of the defence, all resolving – hopefully – in the synthesis of the verdict. You’ve got the cast of characters all dressed up in gowns and wigs, you’ve got heroes and villains. All any writer has to do is choose from a series of offences to make an interesting plot, and the thing practically writes itself.

Except that without some kind of twist it could easily become dull and predictable. Not so Silk. Rather than the usual upper-class chaps, Maxine Peake is a working-class Northern lass on her way to becoming a QC and with a passion for defending clients. Her opposite number, Clive Reader, is the epitome of the traditional barrister; ex-Harrovian, white, smooth, plausible and very charming, especially with women. These two share an office, some cases and before the series began, a bed. They frequently clash but also genuinely like and respect each other.

So that’s worth watching – and having finished that, I’m re-watching the most recent series of The Crown, starring Olivia Coleman. Last night Mountbatten attempted to lead a coup against the Wilson government, reminding us that democracy is always under threat from those who believe they have the right to rule. Which I guess brings us back to VE day. So let’s remember and raise a glass to the men and women who fought fascism and won – at least for now.

Kirk out

NaNo Technology

At this time of year all aspiring writers of fiction gear up for the first of November when Nanowrimo starts. Nanowrimo is short for National Novel-writing Month and has spawned a number of spin-offs such as National Poetry Writing Month (Napowrimo) and Nablopomo which sounds like a member of the Soviet Politburo but is to do with blog posting. With Nanowrimo the idea is to produce a novel of 50,000 words in a month. If this sounds a tall order, that’s because it is; if you write every day including weekends you’d have to produce over a thousand words (or three pages of A4) a day. If that doesn’t seem like much just sit down and try it – and if you don’t know what 50,000 words looks like, it’s a short novel or a longish novella (or a Russian short story.)

I had already decided not to do Nano this year, seeing as how I’ve just finished a novel, but now a brilliant idea has occurred to me. What about a short story collection! There are often competitions for themed short story collections and I usually struggle to fit my disparate stories under one umbrella, so what if I were to write a collection that was themed from the start? November 1st is (in theory) the first day of our brand new bright Brexit tomorrow, so what better theme than Brexit Britain?

I shall update you as we go along.

Kirk out

Six Incomprehensible Things Before Breakfast?

Some mornings I get six incomprehensible things shoved at me before I’ve even finished my first cuppa, and this morning was one of those.  First, OH was talking about the Half-Bakery, a repository for weird or half-baked ideas (hence the name).  It’s quite a waste of time, though as OH heatedly informs me, some of the ideas have gone on to be produced in what we are pleased to call the real world.

So this morning, before my bleary eyes had even fully-opened, a load of stuff is coming my way:

OH: I’ve had an idea for the Half Bakery

Me: Oh? What’s that?

OH: It’s a Brexit Advent calendar.

Me:  Sounds like as much fun as Dismaland.  Monday, Gloom, Tuesday, Hard Border, Wednesday, Food Shortages, Thursday, Labour Shortages…

OH:  Yes, but it wouldn’t work because of Call for List

Me:  What?

OH:  You’re not allowed to make a list of things

Me:  Oh

There’s a pause and I go back to doing the crossword. But no, it’s not over; there’s more.

OH:  When’s Listopad?

Me:  What?

OH:  Listopad! When is it?

Me:  What the hell is Listopad? 

OH: Don’t you know?

Me: Sounds like a brand name for post-it notes

OH:  Ha ha. It’s a month.  In the Slavic calendar.

Me:  Oh my god.  You actually think I know this.

This is just some of what I have to deal with in the mornings. And I hadn’t even had a cup of tea yet. It’s not fair.

Kirk out

Loss, Magma, Rejection…

I have just submitted three poems to Magma for their latest issue on the theme of loss.  At first I thought I didn’t have anything suitable but then I had a flip through and found poems on climate change, Brexit and stillbirth, all of which fit the theme.  I strongly suspect they won’t publish as Magma and I seem to inhabit different poetic universes, but hey – submitting is free, so what have I got to lose?  Only my confidence and sense of self-worth…

A propos of this, I’m in the midst of writing a poem on surviving rejection which considers now-famous works which were previously rejected.  I’ve blogged about this before so I won’t bore you with the details, but T S Eliot’s comment about Orwell’s Animal Farm, ‘you just need better-behaved pigs and all will be well,’ is a classic.  I’m still in the midst of considering Leavis (and wondering why I bother) so I’ll update you on that as and when.  In the meantime the novel progresses by fits and starts, but I’ve managed 7000 words of the final chapter, leaving only 28,000 to go, which means I’m a fifth of the way through that chapter and about two-thirds of the way through the novel as a whole.  Not too shabby.

Kirk out


B**locks to Brexit

You have reached the headquarters of the ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ campaign.  I’m sorry we can’t take your call right now; please leave your death threat after the tone.


I’m pleased to report that yesterday’s ‘New European’ was much more sensible than last week’s extended vitriol from Will Self.  The letters page shows some readers agree with me and I have heard from at least one reader of this blog who considers it a ‘self-indulgent rant.’

But this week sees a return to form, with intelligent contributions including a page by Mitch Benn in which he channels Spooner by coining the word ‘fustercluck’ and other contributions on various aspects of our daily deepening hell-hole.  The cover shows a detumescent Big Ben and several searing cartoons express satisfactorily the anger and despair most of us are feeling right now.  I would of course order my Bollocks to Brexit mug, t-shirt, coaster and front-of-house banner, but for the fact that such things are deeply divisive and likely to provoke little except ire.  For the same reason I have not signed the petition for a second referendum (or to revoke article 50 or whatever it was) because, much as I would love a second referendum, it would prove horribly divisive and lead to millions of leave voters feeling utterly betrayed.

I can’t remember a time when we as a nation were so divided.  During the Thatcher years it was sometimes hard to talk to people on the other side; but that was a walk in the park compared to this.  And there’s no solution in sight…


I don’t know how much this has to do with social media: certainly the ‘echo chambers’ everyone talks about seem real enough to me (at any rate I have very few friends on Facebook who are not politically on the left) and unquestionably what passes for debate on there consists of people lining up on one side and slagging the other side off.  I’ve been off Facebook for six months now: I honestly thought I’d never make it this far, imagining that when the original month was up I’d be champing at the bit and rushing to log on again.  But no.  The more time goes by the less I feel the pull of its blue pages and the more acutely I become aware of the effect it was having on me.

Basically to scroll the news feed is to experience whirlpools of emotion; one image, one story after another all demanding React!  React!  React!  Here’s a variety of emoticons you can use if words fail you!  React!  What with angry political items and heartwarming photos of cats it’s like being alternately slapped around the face and offered chocolate.  There’s very little genuine interaction (less and less all the time in my experience) even with people I know in real life, so that the reason for ‘doing Facebook’ in the first place, ie to have some social intercourse in what is essentially the solitary life of a writer, has gone.  I guess I’ll have to resort to meeting real people in actual cafes now…

Kirk out





Me, MySelf and Will

I’m trying to think of something good to say about Brexit: meanwhile here is some light music.

The last couple of weeks or so, we’ve been buying a pro-Remain paper called the New European which this week thought it was a good idea to turn over an entire issue to Will Self’s Brexit diary for March.  Self does not suffer from low self-esteem: some people might struggle to fill 50 pages of a national newspaper with their own thoughts; some might wonder what right they had to do so.  Not Self: and in an issue entitled A Plague on all Your Houses we learn that Will is pissed off with everybody.  His scorn, like muck spread on a field, is scattered everywhere; it covers Brexiteers, Remainers, Kippers, the Far-Right, the far Left, Momentum, the undecided, the alienated, the aloof and anyone else I’ve forgotten to mention.  In fifty excoriating pages Will Self finds an unkind word for all of us which left me wondering, where’s the moral high ground Self inhabits and how do the rest of us get there?  Because although he admits he can ‘remoan for England’ his scorn attacks everyone but himself.  He is – or appears to be – above or at any rate beyond all this.

Yes, we’re in a mess and no, we can’t see any way out; but what possessed the New European to turn an entire edition over to a man who criticises everything while proposing nothing, I can’t fathom.  OK, full disclosure; I don’t like Will Self.  I never have: his monotone drawl (a bit like a flattened Clive James) irritates me and his show-off cleverness annoys me – but none of this would matter if he had something helpful to say.  He doesn’t.

In case you didn’t know, Will Self is clever.  His writing style makes this very clear; he never uses one word where several adjective-laden ones will do, and makes each phrase carry so much extra weight that it’s hard to get hold of the main point of the sentence.  You might think that, like Wilde (only less ironically) he has nothing to declare but his genius – except that he does have things to declare and my god, he declares them.  Here’s a couple of typical examples:

‘My collaborator [in the paper] Martin Rowson sent me satiric little cri de coeur along these lines first thing, along with his latest twisting of the human form in to Mobius strip of scato-suggestiveness.’

Here he is slagging off John Bercow for ‘subverting the constitution’ (commentators including Laura Kuenssberg disagree):

‘There he is, depriving the Prime Minister of her third baby vote, and leaping out under the quizzical eye of the lancet window behind the speaker’s chair, his geometrically-patterned skinny tie, hip in around 1996, flapping behind him along with his batman gown…’

Scorn is Self’s stock-in-trade and he really goes to town here.  The paper’s editorial talks of ‘uncomfortable, even painful truths’ and there are plenty of those (I fully accept responsibility as a Remainer for not realising how many people felt ignored, and for in that sense being elitist) but in the end who appointed him judge, jury and executioner and why?  In this daily diary of March (up to the 26th when the paper had to be put to bed) he attacks virtually everyone and everything.  He’s mean about Harry Potter (‘liberal solipsism’) he loathes Jeremy Corbyn (though he’s no Blairite) he’s thoroughly nasty about Comic Relief and his rudeness about Stephen Fry by way of quoting Julie Burchill is insulting on a number of levels (‘Stephen Fry is a stupid person’s idea of what an intelligent person looks like.’)

There’s more, much more along these lines: in commenting on the mosque murders he scorns ‘the telegenic and impeccably liberal Ardern, who’ll order all evil to quit the world with a simple cry of ‘Expelliarmus!” and several times makes unpleasant reference to Radio 4, ‘superannuated funny-man Steve Coogan’, ‘presenter of a Radio-programme-for-the-four-people-in-Britain-who-still-read-books, Mariella Frostrup’ and ‘the oscillating deputy leader of the Labour Party and world-class fat-shamer Tom Watson.’  Blimey.

There was so much of this that, whether I agreed with any of it or not, it was hard to take.  Of course this type of ridicule is the cut-and-thrust of ordinary political satire but Self goes so far beyond satire and into spite that it begins to look like misanthropy.  In fact the only time he approaches human sympathy is when he chats to ordinary people in Stoke, one of the highest leave-voting areas in the country.

But none of this would matter so much if out of the morass he had some sort of proposition arising from it: if not a solution then some sort of way forward; some means of uniting the opposed and healing the rift.  But unless this is some sort of backhanded way of uniting everyone against him by attacking us all, he doesn’t.  Not one word does he say about the future; which is why as well as irritating the paper is singularly unhelpful.

Still, those who like Self’s particular brand of ornate vitriol will probably love it.  And he’s here all week…

Kirk out






Back on the Box

Sadly I’ve given up on the other laptop now.  We considered taking it for repair again but it seemed like throwing good money after bad, so out came the desktop which has been languishing in a corner since we moved here, for lack of a desk to put it on top of.  Well, I now have a desk of sorts and having run out of other options we decided to give it a try.  Sometimes – to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes – when you’ve run out of possibilities whatever remains, however impossible, must be the way to go.

It was like doing a Rubik’s cube.  A space just wide enough between the bed and the ottoman now houses the CPU while the monitor and peripherals perch on what I am pleased to call my desk.  Everything worked.  Joy.  A dongle was swiftly purchased and inserted into the proper orifice and here I am blogging on the desktop.  Actually it was a pleasure to use it: I felt bad about seeing it languish for so long.

I spent the rest of the day trying not to think about Brexit.  I don’t know whether to feel glad or not about the government’s defeat; on the one hand anything that might get rid of them is to be welcomed but on the other, the appalling mess that was unleashed in 2016 is no nearer being resolved.  May seems to soldier on regardless in a sort of deep denial, passing landmark after landmark which in normal circumstances would see Prime Ministers resign, determined just to plough on like someone driving at sixty miles an hour along a road which will shortly be plunging into a ravine.  There are service stations and rest rooms, there are escape roads and ambulance crews but she ignores them all.  I simply cannot understand what goes on in her mind.

Well, at least I can attempt to discover what goes on in my mind…

Kirk out