I’ve Been Thinking…

I’ve been thinking some more about this idea of continual innovation. It’s not, ironically, new: I think it was Trotsky who came up with the idea of perpetual revolution, and although communism as he and Marx intended was never actually practised (what do I think of Soviet communism? It would have been a good idea) I can’t help feeling it would be terribly wearing. Because what we have now is perpetual innovation; perpetual change, perpetual upgrading. Goalposts are moved daily. Targets are shifted weekly. Marriages break up or break down, people redefine themselves, those who deplored tattoos now have them all over their bodies – and so it goes on. When I look at the news I see names I don’t recognise, and it’s not only ‘celebrities’ (when I watch Celebrity Mastermind I rarely know any of the contestants) but also politicians. I had really no idea who Gavin Williamson was until he was sacked and half of the cabinet are strangers to me.

But could it be that I’m just getting old? Possibly. It’s very hard to know, though – I mean, how do you measure the changes you grew up with against the changes my children are experiencing? Douglas Adams had a very pertinent comment to make on this, and he’s right – but how do you tell if today’s innovations are speedier than yesterday’s?

I guess we have to go to history for an overview: in any case there does seem to be a consensus that change is speeding up. In all probability this won’t continue: history teaches us that periods of rapid change often give way to slower times with an absorption of what has gone before. Or we could look at nature: consider a river, say, running quickly as it starts, forging down the hillside and then gathering itself together, slowing down as it reaches the plains and then winding leisurely towards the ocean. Nothing that grows fast carries on fast, except for one or two plants and they’re generally parasitical.

Like ivy. I hate ivy.

Kirk out

Mornington Crescent

image removed on request

Reading this post from the other day put me in mind of Mornington Crescent, one of the silly games people play on ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.’  I like ‘Clue’, as it’s generally known, as well as the next person, but lately it’s been somewhat spoiled for me by the utter mania of the audience.  Where do they find these people, and what are they on?  How can they summon up such whooping enthusiasm for Hamish and Dougal having had their tea yet again???  How can one song to the tune of another bring on such incontinent ecstasy?  I enjoy these games too and I like Jack Dee’s deadpan put-downs as much as the next person, but the manic audience strips the programme of all subtlety.

I digress.  My favourite game in this welter of silliness is Mornington Crescent, a test of ingenuity and knowledge of the London Underground where the goal is to reach Mornington Crescent station before the other players.  It sounds complex and intricate: in fact it’s a hoax; there are no rules and the fun is to make it sound as though there are by seeming to think very hard about your next move and by bringing in certain technical-sounding phrases (‘ah, I see you’re using the Kings’ Cross switchback there,’ and so on.)  But, as OH has so shrewdly pointed out, there are in fact meta-rules because the game wouldn’t work if the first player simply said ‘Mornington Crescent’ straight away.  You have to leave it long enough to be plausible, yet not too long as to become boring; plus you have to bring in unusual stations which seem to be connected to ones already mentioned.  And it has to be funny.

Are the British alone in finding our place names amusing?  Americans don’t seem to do this at all; they pronounce the most bizarre of names with nary a smirk, but we Brits chortle at the mere mention of Bognor or Chipping Sodbury.  Douglas Adams took this tendency and went global with his Meaning of Liff, taking place names around the world and inventing definitions to go with them: our favourites are Grimbister, a group of cars all travelling at the same speed because one of them is a police car, and Berepper, a subtle but audible fart.  And it seems to me that a similar amusement is at work in MC because there are certain combinations of names which are inherently funnier than others.  Like Mordern, say, or East Cheam or – well, Mornington Crescent.

Yay!  I win!

Clue must be due back on air for its 731st series soon… and in case you can’t find it, Mornington Crescent is on the Northern Line (the black one) just North of Euston.

Kirk out

Good News is No News (2)

When you’ve been writing a blog for as long as I have you can’t help the same titles coming up again and since WordPress fails to inform me of the fact I did my own search and found this post on the London Olympics which contains the immortal line, ‘You can’t ruin the same duvet cover twice.’  Well with the hindsight of seven years I’m not so sure: I managed to create a large black blot in the shape of Ireland simply by leaving a felt writing pen on the bed.  But this is all by the by.  Right now bad news seems to be everywhere, both nationally and globally and what with knife crime, sexual assault, plane crashes and global warming it’s hard to find even one bit of good news.  But there’s a reason for that, as this Stephen Pinker article points out – bad news travels faster than anything.  (Actually I think that was Douglas Adams who invented a spaceship powered by bad news.)

The Pinker article below suggests that things are not as bad as they seem; in fact many negative phenomena are on the decline.


I am recovering slowly from this post-viral fatigue but still not good.  Frankly I feel like a plant that’s had all its sap removed.

Kirk out

I Love Deadlines

I know this is not a phrase you hear from many writers but I love deadlines – and not merely for the whooshing noise they make which so entertained Douglas Adams.  I love deadlines because they focus me.  If I have years and years to complete a project I do not, as some sensible folk do, plan it out, break down the work into chunks and do a certain amount per month.  I suspect that isn’t how most writers work either; to judge by the jokes on the subject, a two-year project would consist of eighteen months procrastination, five months fiddling and one month pure panic.  I, on the other hand, need an incentive to get me going and a deadline provides that incentive.  If the end of a project is two years away I’m likely to get bored, but give me a deadline in two months and I’m on it, even if I have no chance of getting finished within that time.  It’s a little like the crisis inducer in The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which brings on a crisis to sharpen your wits when needed.  So what I need is basically a Deadline Inducer to bring on a deadline and sharpen my desire to work: some button I can press which makes a voice in my head say, ‘the deadline’s next Monday!  This has to be in by next Monday!  You need to complete this by the 4th!’ and so on.  Come to think of it, Douglas Adams should have had one of those…

Having said that, the deadline for the radio play has whooshed by without my play being submitted as it became increasingly obvious that the thing was mushrooming and could not be wrestled into shape any time soon.  On the other hand I have sent one short story, three pieces of flash fiction and three poems to various magazines well within their respective deadlines.  So brownie points to me.

Where do I go to get brownie points?

Kirk out


Good News is No News

It has probably not escaped your attention that the news nowadays is unrelievedly gloomy.  Douglas Adams spotted this decades ago when he invented a spaceship powered by Bad News, since this travelled faster than light:


At Quaker meeting this morning a Friend spoke of rationing their intake of news: later on another Friend spoke of the wisdom of avoiding news bulletins first thing in the morning or last thing at night: because in the morning it colours your day at a time when you’re just waking up, and late at night it affects your sleep.  Midday is considered to be the best time: and whilst that doesn’t work for me as I’m otherwise engaged, I do generally allow an hour for waking before I put on the headlines.  I listen to the main news at six, though I usually find myself switching it off and turning to some joyous music on radio 2 instead – because what I hear generally causes me to feel either angry or depressed, neither of which is good for me.

Of course it’s important to keep up with what’s going on – but there’s a question as to how far the mainstream news actually informs us about real-life events.  There is a bias in everything; and as Owen Jones points out in his book ‘The Establishment’, at the moment it is a pro-business and (god help us) a relentlessly anti-Corbyn bias.  This can be seen in the BBC as well as most newspapers.

I could have a rant about political bias, but what concerns me most right now is the bias towards the negative.  As I said in the post about drama, happiness is considered dull: only misery, it seems, makes good news.  So that even when a positive item makes it onto the agenda, it is usually qualified by doubts about how long it will continue – doubts which are never expressed, say, about a war or an economic crisis.

I don’t think this is necessarily conscious and deliberate: the news outlets may even be unaware that they are doing it.  They may simply think that this is what news is: good news is no news.  But it means that our vision of the world – as we see it through these outlets – is overwhelmingly biased towards the negative; and (which should concern them more) it means that people like me are reaching more and more for the off-switch.

Kirk out.

Do YOU Know Where Your Towel Is?

Yes, folks – today is towel day: the day on which we remember Douglas Adams:


It’s the day when we remember the man who brought us the Total Perspective Vortex, the Babel Fish and the Paranoid Android; the day when we honour the man who wrote the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the spinner of concepts, the maker of extraordinary jokes, the complete one-off who is, was and ever will be – Douglas Adams:


He is in some sense the victim of his own success: so many of his concepts have entered the language (the special nature of the number 42; the phrases ‘carbon-based life-form’, ‘a small unregarded blue-green planet at the unfashionable end of the outer spiral arm of the galaxy – and of course, ‘grimbister’, meaning ‘a group of cars all travelling at the same speed because one of them is a police car’).   The other great thing about the series now known as H2G2 was, of course, that it was written for radio.  As they always say, the pictures are better on radio – and subsequent TV and film adaptations have not come close to the original.  Alan Rickman is a great actor but I just don’t buy him as Marvin.

Last night was pretty hoopy and frood as well: lots of national and international women (and men) came together at the Ale Wagon to celebrate International Women’s Day for Disarmament (they also gathered at the Thales factory on Scudamore Rd to protest about Drones, but I skipped that one.


It was cold! and frankly, I feel I’ve done my share of sitting in all weathers outside Greenham Common and Molesworth.)  Last night was in the warm and dry upper room of the Ale Wagon where there was music, song, food – and of course, poetry! provided by me and others.  And here, on Mark’s channel, is a video of me performing:


The sound isn’t great, but check back in a few days because he’s going to upload more.

And finally…

Bury in Haste, Excavate at Leisure

Yes, the latest discovery to roll out from the Richard III excavation is that the body was buried in great haste.  Not a huge surprise, I guess, given the circumstance, but interesting nonetheless.


And that was Friday.

Kirk out

The Markness of Mad

A facebook friend of Mark’s called Katharine decided to Google ‘The Madness of Mark’, which as you all know is one of the categories on this blog.  And lo!  It was a Googlewhack.  A Googlewhack is where a googled phrase has only one entry – although, Mark now informs me, ‘The Madness of Mark’ is not strictly a Googlewhack because it contains a proper noun.

But until I found all that out, I was reminiscing on the teasmade: this wonderful object used to wake me in the morning in the ultra-civilised method of pouring me a Really Nice Hot Cup of Tea.  But why don’t we find teasmades in the shops any more?  They are the most amazing things: I think they were invented by Douglas Adams:-


My parents had one and until it got broken, so did I.  Here’s how it works: you have two hot plates, with a square kettle on one and a square teapot on the other.  In between is a clock with an alarm function.  You fill the kettle with water and put tea in the pot, not forgetting also the cup and the milk.  You then set the alarm and when the hour arrives in the morning just as you are mid-dream, the kettle starts to boil, the hot water is forced through the spout into the teapot and as soon as the weight in the kettle decreases to a certain point the alarm is activated and you are awoken by the Really Nice Hot Cup of Tea which every device in Douglas Adams’ work needs in order to function.

And so do I.

Alas, the teasmade I once had is now broken and I can’t afford to replace it even if they were widely available.  Here’s a really pretty one:


So nowadays to make tea I just have Mark.

Which is where we came in…

Kirk out

The Spellfish Gene

Scientists have announced an amazing breakthrough for sufferers of dyslexia: a gene for better spelling.  For decades a cure for so-called ‘word-blindness’ has eluded the best brains in the business, but now research into fish genes is beginning to pay off.  Fish, it appears, are better spellers than people – or at least, they can be taught to become better spellers.  Nine out of ten fish, when shown the letters F I S H, pointed to another of their number in the tank.  Cleverer species, such as pike and guppy, were even able to recognise the letters GHOTI as spelling out the sounds ‘fish’ (gh as in rough, o as in womensh as in – well, fish).  If trials continue to be successful, the government is considering introducing the gene into foodstuffs as a cheaper alternative to gene therapy.  There are even hopes that the scheme could be extended to the learning of other languages: if fish could be taught to translate, then Douglas Adams’ idea of the Babel fish, which fits into your ear and translates other languages for you, may no longer be science fiction:


Following on from yesterday’s post about MEN, I decided in the interests of fairness to interview my son about the issue:

Me:  Do you feel marginalised and discriminated against in any way because you are male?

Daniel:  Sometimes

Me:  When?

Dan:  When I go past groups of older women.  they look at me as if I’m going to do something bad.

Me:  Ok.  Are there any other ways in which men and boys might not be treated fairly?

Dan:  You get judged more.  People think you’re more likely to misbehave.

And I asked Mark:

Mark:  Yes but it’s really complicated.  If you want to do, say, babysitting or childminding or working in nurseries, you tend to get treated with suspicion as if you are a paedophile.

Me:  Anything else?

Mark:  Not really.

So there you have it.  In this family that’s what the men and boys and the women who love them, think.

Kirk out

Do YOU know where your towel is?

Did you know that today, May 25th, is Towel Day?  Do YOU know where your towel is?  I’m not making this up – today is Towel Day in memory of Douglas Adams, who died untimely and deserves to be remembered with affection and respect.


No further thoughts, m’lud.

Going to Tuesday Group today, a Home Ed group which has been going for about 11 years and which someone once said sounded like a dissident faction from the Cold War years.*

Watched ‘The Reader’ last night.  Ralph Fiennes (why do we have to pronounce that ‘Rafe’?  I feel very sheepish pronouncing it thus) and Kate Winslet.  She is excellent as an illiterate former camp guard at Auschwitz.  Daniel half-watched it with me as it was relevant to ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, also about Auschwitz.

I have finished reading ‘Feather Boy’ which I want Daniel to read next.

At Tuesday group we will be doing ‘Sing for Water’ which I have shamefully failed to rehearse as yet.  Then I shall be taking compost up to the chalet.

A packed programme!  Writing is making me go weird at the moment so I am concentrating on grounding myself.  Seriously afraid of losing it if I spend time at the chalet by myself.  Hopefully by next week I’ll be feeling better.

Kirk out

* In fact we used to call it “Dienstagsgruppe” for that reason.

‘Tuesday Group’ in German, in case you didn’t work out

Mighty, mighty Didcot

When I woke up I thought it was Sensible o’clock but found it was Somewhat Silly o’clock ie just before six.

this morning I was remembering a time when Mark and I were on a break.  Not in the Friends sense – just having a weekend away.


Actually I have some sympathy for Ross in this scenario, because – let’s face it, they were on a break.

Oh!  Yes – anyway… I can’t remember where we were but there was a lake and we decided to get a boat out and have a romantic row on the lake (at least, is it still romantic if the woman is rowing because she learned how when she was a kid on Mewsbrook park lake and he never did?  Hell, yes – why not?)  So we pulled away from the quayside and out into the still water.  Unfortunately we were sharing said water with other boats, one of which proved to be full of Girl Guides on a Jamboree pack holiday or whatever it is they call it, who were singing.  It became impossible for us to escape these Guides, who followed us, singing this song indefatigably for at least half an hour.

Wherever we go

(wherever we go!)

people always ask us

(people always ask us!)

Where do you come from?

(Where do you come from?)

and we always tell them

(and we always tell them!)

We’re from Didcot

(we’re from Didcot!)

Mighty mighty Didcot

(mighty, mighty Didcot!)

mighty mighty Didcot

(mighty mighty Didcot!)

It did give us a laugh – not only the idea of openly singing about coming from Didcot, but the idea of Didcot being “mighty.”

The fact that I still know it by heart after all these years should give you some idea of what it was like.

This week and next I shall be finishing off my stories and sending off as many as possible.  Then I will be going up to the chalet to work on the novel.

Kirk out.

PS in “The Meaning of Liff” by Douglas Adams, a didcot is a little circle of paper cut out from a hole puncher.

So now you know!