Is This Where We Came In?

I was getting together today’s blog post, and then a little flag went up in my mind which said: ‘haven’t we been here before?  Haven’t you blogged on this subject before?’  And I had – the subject of foul-weather friends, which was occupying what I am pleased to call my mind over my egg and soldiers this morning, was one on which I blogged about eighteen months ago.  But it’s come up again, and I’m sure some of you weren’t around in January 2013, so there’s no harm in covering the same ground.

So: foul-weather friends.  We hear a lot about fair-weather friends; people who are around only as long as you’re famous or rich or successful or happily married, and who disappear the minute the solids start to hit the ventilator.  We’ve all known them, we’ve all had them.  But what about foul-weather friends?  This is no less real a phenomenon and yet it is not nearly as widely known: the friend who is constantly by your side during trouble; who seems to be (and is) a really good friend, supportive, caring, understanding and tolerant.  You can’t wait for the tide to turn so that you can share the good things with this friend, but when things finally turn around they are nowhere to be seen.  I had a friend like that; she was there for me 100% during the bad times, but when I finally had some good luck she sort of faded away, and now I hardly ever see her.

Foul-weather friends.

These patterns seem to repeat in life, just like they do on this blog; just like they used to at the cinema in the days when you could go in at any point and keep watching the film on a loop until you’d seen it all, at which point you would turn to each other and say ‘Is this where we came in?’

Is it?

Another thing that goes round and round is a record on a turntable – and joy! for today my birthday present is arriving – a record player!  Yes, Mark asked me what I wanted and I said what I wanted, what I really really wanted (apart from never hearing the Spice Girls again in my life) was something to play my records on.  And it’s coming today!!!!


I wonder if Chris Conway has ever thought of recording on vinyl?  To me there’s something about a vinyl disc that CDs cannot replicate, much less downloads.  it’s immediate; you can see the tracks and the recording; you feel a connection with the artist that a little silver disc inside a machine just doesn’t give you.  CDs just don’t cut it.

Well, Chris?  Have you ever thought about recording on vinyl?  Oh, unfortunately he’s got headphones on at the moment and can’t hear me.  I’ll have to get back to you on that one…

Kirk out

Time and the Conway

Sartorially somewhere between Rev and Charlie Chaplin, Chris Conway doesn’t exactly look like a star.  But there are few people who could pull off a solo spot with just a guitar and a few twiddly things after three blues bands have taken the stage, one after the other.  But by his expertise and his commitment to his art, Chris nailed it.  He had the entire bar silent and listening (except when we were singing along, of course – or shouting along) as he did a half-hour set to kick off the two-week ‘Art Beat’ Clarendon Park arts festival.

It’s a personal milestone for Chris as well, as it marks the 25th anniversary of his decision to become a professional musician.  He told us the story of how, in 1988, he had taken ten quid to go on the Enterprise Allowance scheme and never looked back.  I can’t help wondering if it was because of the ‘Enterprise’ in that name that he wrote so many science fiction songs (or ‘Filk’, as it’s known to the cognoscenti).  He has whole albums full of the stuff, such as ‘Science Fiction Eyes’, ‘Alien Salad Abduction’ and ‘Three-Headed Girl’, two of which he did last night.  With so many songs of all genres to choose from it must be hard to know what to play, and I caught him part-way through the evening jotting some notes on an old scrap of paper.  Thinking it unlikely that he was writing me a note (I’m still deaf and will remain so until 4.40 this afternoon when Liberation will occur) I thought ‘Oo!  I wonder if he’s writing his set list?’  And so it was.

Chris plays a mind-boggling number of instruments including (I recently discovered) the sitar; but last night he took the stage with only a guitar (I don’t know how anyone can manage twelve strings without slicing their fingers right through: these days I only play a nylon string guitar) a thingy that you play with your thumbs (merimba? – or is that some kind of Spanish dance?) and two pipes which he played simultaneously, sticking them both in his mouth and not, as I thought for one second, putting one in each nostril.  It was all terrific fun with plenty of opportunity to sing along – but what I like most, I think, are the lyrics.  I’m a lyric person: well, I would be, as a poet, wouldn’t I?  He comes up with some imaginative rhymes and my favourite is probably in the song about old people and their younger incarnations, ‘Superheroes Never Die’:

‘The bat-mobile was traded in for a Prius.’

also, from the same song:

‘Robin, Boy Wonder ran away,

now he runs a gay bar in San Jose…’

Great stuff.

Chris has been the subject of an article in the Mercury and is soon to be on Radio Leicester:

There’s plenty of opportunity to see him including an upcoming gig at the Musician:

Kirk out


Be Mild in May

Just look at the time!  It’s 11.40 already and I’ve done no work at all.  First I had to go to the doctor’s and discuss my cholesterol (just forget about it, no problem) and the unfeasibly complicated ‘Choose and Book’ system for hospital appointments; then I had to publicise Left Unity’s launch on Facebook (here’s the flyer, please come along)

then I had to draft a press release about said event; then I had to email a short story to someone (does that count as work?) and answer a number of other emails, then I had to reply to some comments on here and look at other people’s blogs who are following mine (that counts as work, surely?) and THEN I needed to do a Sainsbury’s order and now, finally, I can do my blog post.  I blame Chris Conway.  The man is just too damned entertaining.  He kept us up till the crack of ten thirty last night; way past my bed time.

I was gratified to see that at long last some mild was available at a pub I happened to be in, at a time when I happened to be there.  I had three halves of a very pleasant Nottingham Rock Mild

and not only that, but this month is Mild Month.  Yes, folks – take a walk on the mild side, for Leicester Camra is hosting a Mild in May trail!  I have always regretted that mild is considered an old man’s drink as it is delicious and not too strong (in general).

So any time you feel like buying me a pint, let me know.

Kirk out



Yesterday, All My Troubles Seemed So Close…

So what happened yesterday?  Well, after an uneventful morning, Mark and I headed to the Clock Tower for what turned out to be a rather muted protest at the effect of budget cuts on the disabled.  According to a recent Freedom of Information request, there have been thousands of deaths following claimants failing the incapacity benefit test; this sticks in the craw particularly since today’s announcement of an 11% pay rise for MPs.  Now, I note that the three party leaders have opposed this, but who the hell thought it was a good idea?  MPs already get a basic salary of 66,000 (that’s about six times our household income), not to mention expenses and allowances and the highly controversial second home scheme.  The whole thing stinks, and there to point this out was a gathering of disabled people, Left Unity people, other socialists and priests including the soon-to-be-licensed Poineer Priest amongst the homeless, Rev. Helen Hayes.  Oo!  Apparently she’s going to be licensed at the Martyrs!

The protest got off to a slow start as the PA took a while to arrive; however it featured a good balance of speeches, singing and poetry (from me, doing the poem I did at the LU conference, see Monday’s post)

And so to Peter’s, where we began the afternoon by toasting Nelson Mandela with a glass of South African shiraz, then descended into the rough with the Sicilian red which I brought and which Peter so much enjoys, and after that we broke out the other Merlot and then the South American bhajis descended into the rough with the cheese scones and Chris Conway came over with his three-headed girl and…

You get the picture.

Kirk out

I’m a Three-Headed Girl

Yes, this morning I am able to divide my head into three, just like Chris Conway’s Three-Headed Girl.  That’s my favourite song of his and I was really pleased when he did it last night, the audience standing in for the backing vocals:

Chris’s lyrics are always amusing and inventive and as a poet I appreciate his use of rhyme.  So that’s one head this morning, reliving the music and the beer – a light and hoppy JSB at the Criterion:


The other two heads are engaged in reading: one has just finished Kathy Reichs’ ‘Bones are Forever’:

and the other is stuck in a Val McDermid, ‘Crack Down’.  Both writers have two main series of novels featuring separate – and female – characters.  The Val McDermid is part of a series featuring Kate Brannigan, a private eye; though her best-known work showcases detective Carol Jordan and her sort-of consort Tony Hill:

So that’s me this morning: a three-headed girl.

Kirk out

Hell and Hull AND Halifax!

Well!  Today is one of those days when a post just flings itself together; jumps out of bed, throws on a few clothes and ends up looking like a cat-walk queen – all without any effort on my part.  And today’s random ingredients that have flung themselves together are hell and Hull and Halifax.

First of all, hell.  Hell is represented on iplayer this week by a Channel 4 programme about OCD.  I watched this with our son, who has tendencies towards OCD, and found it both interesting and unusually (for reality TV) compassionate.  The idea was to pair people with obsessive cleaning rituals (some taking up to 16 hours a day and using several bottles of bleach – ugh!) with people like Mark’s Grandma, a woman who never tidied or threw anything away, EVER.*  The result was predictably explosive, but oddly compelling – and what was interesting about it was that whilst the untidy people grew and changed as a result, the tidy people didn’t: they’d parachuted in and done their stuff – cleaned and tidied and disinfected and de-moulded the place – but once they got home again they were left with their own neuroses intact.  So I felt they needed a show where the tidy people had their houses professionally untidied by the slobs.  But that didn’t seem to have happened.  Maybe it’s planned for a future series.

So much for hell.  Hull is of course represented by having won the award Leicester was pitching for, ie 2017 City of Culture.  The consensus seems to be (on Facebook at least) a brief shrug of the shoulders, a ‘good for them, they probably need it’ and a ‘we’ve got lots of culture anyway.’  Which we have – whereas all Hull has is Phillip Larkin, a great poet but the North’s miserablist answer to George Orwell.

So that’s that… and so to Halifax, where I came across an engaging drama on BBC which I hadn’t seen before.  This is the first episode of series 2 of ‘Last Tango in Halifax’.  Starring Derek Jacobi as a cheeky ageing Northerner marrying a childhood sweetheart, it’s an engaging watch and not horribly cynical and dystopian as seems de rigueur these days.

God, that makes me sound old!

So there we are – Hell and Hull and Halifax, all in one post!  Hope you enjoyed the trip.  Going to see Chris Conway tonight at the Criterion – looking forward to that.

Kirk out

*Mark has had a distressing tendency to take after her

Top Readers Recommend It

Here’s today’s top comment:

I’m impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I come across a blog that’s each educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the toe nail on the brain. Your concept is fantastic; the issue is something that not enough everyone is speaking wisely about. I’m very happy which i stumbled across this specific in my seek out something with this.

I love the idea of hitting the toe-nail on the brain…

So, I hope you like the new theme on the blog: I thought it was time I had something a bit more visual, so here it is.  It’s called – actually I can’t remember what it’s called but it reminds me a little of Victoria Park in Leicester.  There’s something very soothing but also symbolic about an avenue of trees: like an idea of a life-path or something like that.

If I seem less than coherent this morning it’s because I haven’t had enough sleep: I woke at 4.45 and couldn’t get back to dormancy at all, which was very annoying.  Some people manage on 5 or 6 hours, but I can’t: I can’t cope on less than eight.  It annoys the hell out of me, but there’s not much I can do about it.

So: today I was going to write about the Leicester music scene.  Now, not having much money, I am somewhat on the fringes of this as I can only go to free events.  But a lot of poetry now is coinciding with music, and so I’m getting to hear many more musicians, both of the variety that sit in the corner of the pub and play, and those that go along to a jam, an open mic or a ‘come-all-ye’.  In the last year or so I have gotten to know a number of Leicester musicians, including Ruthie Coles (who has recently played with Pattie Smith) Steve Cartwright and Sheila Mosley.  I previously knew Sheila as ‘that woman who sings at festivals’ since I always used to see her in places like Castle Gardens doing her bit as a troubadour.

Going up a rung or two, I’ve also gotten to know Chris Conway who is professional, and at Simon Says I heard a few local bands including By the Rivers who are seemingly quite successful.

So there you are.  It would be good to do more of this, I think.  Poetry and music are very close together as art-forms and I would really like to do more in the way of collaboration with musicians, especially since I’ve set a few of my poems to music.

Just contact my agent darlings…

Kirk out

PS  Oh, and in other news I don’t know if I mentioned that Holly got an A in English and a B in Graphics.  We are very happy with that…

Do Androids Dream of Electric Filk?

Today we are taking a sideways step from reviewing books – since I haven’t read anything new – and into music; and more specifically, into deep space as I take a look at Chris Conway’s latest CD, ‘Deep Space Love’:

The album is a showcase for the kind of music known as Filk; ie Science Fiction Folk.  Now as you know, I am not a science fiction fan: I am, in the words of one of the songs on this LP, a ‘heretic fen’ who dislikes all forms of Sci-fi except the comedic – and, of course, Dr Who… but if this is representative, then I guess I do like Filk.

The album starts with the boppy and amusing ‘Three-headed Girl’, a love-song about – well, a three-headed girl.  This has some great lines in it and sets the lyrical – if not the musical – tone for the rest of the album.  ‘Three-headed Girl’ is followed by the slower, dreamier ‘Love Space-station’ with more whimsical lyrics – the lyrics are in fact what keeps me listening, although musically the album is interesting too.  With ‘Monkeys on the Moon’ we are back in the realm of the comedic and we stay there – albeit taking a sideways step into the absurd – for ‘Zonky Ponky.’  Yes, everyone really does have a zonky-ponky – and if you don’t know what that is, you have to ask some guy on Betelgeuse.  Sorry.  Then we are ‘Out of this World’, another dreamlike number, before suffering from the ‘Replicator Malfunction Blues’ (we never had this problem on Deep Space 8′) and that concludes the first of three sections, each of which is separated by a space-type announcement in soft, robotic tones.

In section 2 there’s a kind of bossa-nova feel to ‘Death to the Immortals’, another whimsically comedic number about trying to kill all your immortal friends, and the immortal theme continues with ‘Superheroes Never Die’: though Superman is no longer a hero ‘some habits cling on from his youth/he still changes his clothes in a telephone booth.’

The initial chords of ‘Vegetarian Vampire’ – a socially-responsible blood-sucker who ‘hasn’t tasted blood for more than a century’ and wonders ‘should I give up dairy?’ – sound a little like ‘Stairway to Heaven’,  I couldn’t decide if that was deliberate or not – but there was some nice Jethro Tull-like flute playing later on.

My favourite track is ‘Orbiting Filk Recording Studio’ which is about song-recording and has some great lines (‘they’re recording with a new percussionist/he’s a monkey with a hockey stick’; ‘Last night I recorded a ballad/I was going to have dinner but an alien jellyfish stole my salad’; ‘ tell me why the best music happens when I forget to press record?’; ‘Paul’s been a Dr Who fan for years/and has been rewarded for his persistence/ he’s singing in a choir made up entirely/ of female Dr Who assistants’).  This is neatly followed by ‘Downers’, a song about trying to write upbeat songs and failing (I guess that could be a Leonard Cohen anthem, LOL) and then a primitive feel on ‘Burn the Heretic Fen’ takes the piss out of dogmatic Sci-Fi fans who can’t comprehend anyone not liking Star Wars.

Comme moi…

I’ve never seen Star Wars.  No, honestly.  And I’m with him nearly all the way on this one.  ‘What a lot of fuss about a little ring’ indeed… then we’re in the realms of folky fun with ‘The Fish Song’ where ‘fish’ is spelt ‘H-AT-S-T-A-N-D (instead of GHOTI as it ought to be spelt)*
and that’s more or less it.  The album ends dreamily and robotically (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) with ‘Circle of One’ and there we are, back to where we started.  I think I’ve proved that you don’t have to like Sci-fi to enjoy ‘Deep Space Love’ – you just have to like music and lyrics.
Go listen…
Kirk out

Sunday Evening, Gather Round…

Another terrific night at Yesim’s last night: plenty of people but not too many; Mark came and told a story about an alien tooth fairy, and I did two poems and sold four Tomatoes Poetry pamphlets!!!  We finished, as usual, with the Yesim’s Music Circle Song – and as always I felt inexpressibly happy at hearing everyone sing my words with such gusto.  This must be what it feels like to be Leonard Cohen…

Speaking of singer/songwriters, Chris Conway has complained that once again he has failed to win the Sports’ Personality of the Year award.  He wonders whether his agent is putting him in for the wrong awards…

He was, however, interviewed on Radio Leicester yesterday by John Sinclair.  I’ll have to see if I can get John to interview me next:

Bradley Wiggins was surely a shoe-in (or spoke-in) for the SPY award – no-one else came close this year.  Much as I like Andy Murray, his dourness and lack of verbosity would have made him a slightly incongruous choice.  Or should we be valuing these qualities in this way?

I had some thoughts on gun control in the US (and everywhere) but my heart is not in it: it’s too horrible to think about.  So meanwhile here is some light music:

Light Music 

(for Eyjafjallajökull)

And it brought back to me my childhood

every second thought

punctured by a scream of metal

straining to get into heaven…

That’s the start of a poem but I can’t remember the rest.  I’ll have to go and look it up.  So for now my little bloglets, enjoy your last week before Christmas.  Remember that the world won’t end if you fail to buy something that’s on your list; remind yourself that spending time with people is more important than spending money on them – and when you’ve done your jobs, put your feet up and have a glass of wine.

Kirk out

Where did THAT come from?

So, where did yesterday’s burst of near-American enthusiasm come from?  Well, it’s kind of latent but specifically it was triggered by watching ‘Made in Dagenham.’  I don’t know why I hadn’t got to this film before, but we borrowed it from a frankly miniscule selection at the library.  I don’t know what I was expecting but I found it brilliant.  In the tradition of Mike Leigh – though not directed by him – it tells the story of the battle by the women at Ford’s in Dagenham to be awarded equal pay with men.  It was a real feel-good movie and reminded me a lot of ‘Calendar Girls’ in that problems loom and threaten but are blown away like clouds on a fresh summer’s day.  This was no coincidence as it had the same director.  A female-centred movie with men playing peripheral parts – in contrast to the way the society was at the time – it also featured Bob Hoskins in a secondary but important role as the shop steward, Geraldine James as one of the ‘girls’, and Miranda Richardson as a rather rose-tinted Barbara Castle.  I thought the guy who did Harold Wilson got the voice pretty well – Wilson had a very distinctive voice, not easy to imitate – and only later discovered that it was John Sessions!  Not surprising as he started off on Spitting Image, though I wouldn’t have recognised him at all.  Check this out:,r:0,s:0,i:85

So.. basically the premise of ‘Made in Dagenham’ – like ‘Calendar Girls’ – is that women can do anything we put our minds to.  And that by extension, history is often made, not by the powerful but by the powerless; the unimportant, the insignificant, the shy.  And why?  Because we have nothing to lose – no wealth or position or reputation.  We have only our own souls.

We also borrowed War Horse, which we haven’t watched yet – and what with Casualty and Chris Conway

to get through, not to mention an interview with Alex Day

we may not have the time.

Great day at Tomatoes yesterday – the first batch of pamphlets has gone and I’m getting through the second batch.

Kirk out

PS Chris Conway will be on radio Leicester this afternoon around 2 pm