I’m So Sorry, You’re From Barcelona

It has often been observed that the comments we make about people change relative to their proximity to us. What’s acceptable when talking about people half-way round the world becomes decidedly uncomfortable when they’re sitting opposite. For example, when I was teaching English in Spain I decided to show my advanced students an episode of Fawlty Towers. I thought they’d enjoy the humour and having a Spanish character in there would give it an extra dimension. But the video had not been playing five minutes when an uncomfortable atmosphere made itself felt, and after a while I began to see Manuel from their point of view; a character whose lack of fluent English made him a comic scapegoat. In the end I realised that to Spanish people the character of Manuel was somewhat offensive. What was acceptable in England became unacceptable in a room full of intelligent Madrilenos. Distance is key. It’s like one of those ‘irregular verbs’ quoted in ‘Yes Minister’ – ‘I’m eccentric, you’re mad, s/he is round the twist.’ There’s a really good explanation of these here.

One of my favourite comments of late has been from a fellow member of the Labour Party. This is a person who frequently disagrees with me, and on the subject of the leadership election they said, ‘I joined the Party to defeat entryists like you.’ I found this very amusing and with it I’ve coined another irregular verb: ‘I am a joiner, you are an entryist, s/he is an infiltrator.’

Proximity is key with insults, but I guess on the internet we’re all in close proximity to each other now. And that’s the problem with social media, that it sets out in print for all to see what was previously expressed in private and in a particular context. It used to be broadcast to a specific audience but now educated students in Madrid can watch it. And find it offensive.

Kirk out

Balti Towers

I’ve had a brilliant idea for a sitcom.  The ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ team could do this easily, and the script writes itself, but it would have to be done by Asians otherwise it might look dodgy.

So, you have an Indian restaurant called ‘Balti Towers’.  It’s very badly run by a high-caste Hindu who has come down in the world and resents his customers.  There’s a waiter from the Punjab (‘I’m so sorry, he’s from Amritsar’) and a cowboy builder from Bengal.  One day a party of English customers comes in and Balti says ‘Don’t mention the Raj.  I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.’

I’m thinking of writing a synopsis and sending it to the Beeb.  Whaddaya think?  I could definitely work in ‘a small aubergine’ somewhere…

Yesterday was busy.  I spent the morning at a smoking keyboard judging poems in the Hysteria Women’s Poetry Competition.  By and large this was a real pleasure; I enjoyed reading the poems and there was a lot of variety of form, subject matter and style.  There was even a perfectly formed sonnet; plus a sestina (I think it was a sestina) villanelle, and lots of free verse.  Rhyme was generally not used well, but I think that’s a feature of our age.  We tend to assume that rhyme (accurate, continuing rhyme) is only for birthday cards.  There were one or two comic verses, and the subject matter was extremely varied.  True, there were the themes you might expect: abortion, children (having and losing), relationships, ageing – but all human life was here and it by no means felt like a ‘women’s thing’.  In fact sometimes I had to remind myself that the writers were all women.  The standard in general was not bad, and there were a few utterly excellent poems and many good ones.  Fortunately I don’t have to choose the best; I just rate them on a scale of 1-10 for various qualities.

I’m not very good at the technical bits of poetry.  Mark’s always asking me what chiasm is and how exactly a sestina works, and I can’t keep it in my head.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a chiasm…

Kirk out

Quaking in the Country

Wow!  What an utterly brilliant weekend that was.  It was totally worth the three trains plus one looooong taxi which it took (the ride was long, not the taxi: Quakers don’t go in for stretch limos) to get me to this 13th century manor house and Quaker conference centre slap-bang in the middle of absolutely nowhere at all.  The original building is awesome; much like our Guildhall in Leicester, and surrounded by beautiful gardens.  There’s also a village with a proper pub, of which more later.

I arrived in mighty, mighty Didcot (see previous post)


in time for tea on the lawn; then after dinner we had our first session of introduction plus meeting for worship.  Meetings are always silent unless someone speaks – I guess that could describe any meeting, ho ho, but silence is generally the rule rather than the exception.  You sit and discern whether or not to speak and unless something grabs you and you have to say it, you don’t.  Unfortunately I was so knackered during this bit that I kept dropping off, which caused my neighbour to be quite concerned about me.

The next day was just about perfect.  We had sessions on Quakerism during which many of my questions were answered; a walk round the gardens with discussion, a delicious lunch, after which I went for a walk along a bridlepath.  The village itself is very pretty, but the landscape around is mostly flat and arable, growing – so far as I could see – some sort of kale or broccoli.  I came back and went to sleep until dinner.  Then after dinner we had a bring and share talent show during which I did my now-famous poem, ‘Spike’.  This went down so well that practically everybody asked for a copy.  And then the pub!  The darkness was so thick that we needed torches, and the stars were as thick as the darkness.  The pub turned out to be a proper traditional English hostelry serving Brakspear’s and a small range of others – though sadly the advertised Bank’s mild wasn’t on.  The Brakspear’s bitter was excellent though.

I sat next to one of the course leaders.  He was from Holyhead though he now lived in London.

‘I grew up in a hotel,’ he said.  ‘My parents ran a place in Holyhead.’

‘I’m not going to say the words Fawlty Towers,’ I quipped.

‘I thought Fawlty Towers was a documentary,’ he said – and I laughed, but it turned out he was serious.  At eight years old, he actually did think FT was a documentary!

‘We even had a Major,’ he said.  ‘Except that he was a Colonel.’  And he told me how one day, he and his brother came home from school to find the Colonel upside-down and asleep on the stairs.  A family was due to arrive very soon, so they had to drag him downstairs and put him in a side-room out of the way so nobody saw him.

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

On Sunday I considered more seriously whether I want to become a Quaker.  And I do.  And today I have written a letter to our meeting to apply for membership.  I feel a sense of rightness about it that I haven’t felt about anything else – not for a long time.

And I’m happy!

Kirk out

Is This a Piece of Your Brain?

It’s been like Fawlty Towers here today, what with sick sons, dramatic partners and various storms in teacups.  It’s too hot to be rushing around but I’ve been up and downstairs a million times seeing to Daniel’s needs, and then there was a total bloody panic mid-afternoon when his stiff neck got much worse and everyone (but me) thought it was the aspartame.  I blamed Mark for being a drama queen, he blamed me for not asking for medicine sans aspartame and everyone blamed the medicine manufacturers for putting such a noxious ingredient in their medicine.  So back to the doc’s we all went, looking like some kind of slow-motion dance as we held a hand apiece and manoeuvred Daniel across the road (thank god the doctor’s isn’t further away, we’d have had to get a taxi).  The doctor was quite baffled by Mark’s assertion that he thought the aspartame to blame and she then got an earful from him (and a subsequent apology) about the dangers of that bloody sweetener.  So Mark (bless him) is now en route to the chemist to try to get another antibiotic that doesn’t have you-know-what in it.

I’m being a bit harsh on people here; it’s just that I think a little common sense goes a long way…

Guess who doesn’t believe in common sense?

Anyway, now I’ve got that off my chest it’s time to go and make the dinner since Mark isn’t here to make it.

A toute a l’heure!

Kirk out













The Blind Leading the Deaf: Life on the iplayer

It was like an episode of Fawlty Towers last night in our house.  There was me trying to work my way through old episodes of Top of the Pops


including Chic (so-so) Elton John (great) Darts (awful) and the Barron Knights (cheesy but fun) when Mark emerged from taking his nightly dose of gloop.

‘I need some more sleep mix,’ I said.  ‘Have you got any?’

‘Mwffle-mwf-mwr-mog,’ he explained through a gobful of gloop.

A simple shake of the head would have sufficed, but he continued to try to convey further information by means of his nostrils, all the while making ferocious grimaces with his mouth firmly closed.

‘Mark!’ I said eventually in exasperation.  ‘I can’t understand a word you’re not saying!’

He laughed, spraying the table neatly with gloop.  Then he got out the tablet and started to type, handing it to me when he’d finished.

‘I can’t read that,’ I said.  ‘I need my glasses.’

I’m telling you, Fawlty Towers rode again.


Also on iplayer, we didn’t have to wait too long for the latest Dr Who.  And was it good?  Yes – I guess – but I thought some of it was a bit cheesy, and some a tad smartarse.  I didn’t go for the ‘Tardis hanging from helicopter’ trope, and the scenes with two or three doctors were a little uneasy.  I didn’t much like John Hurt either, which is unusual for me as he’s one of my favourite actors.

So… the highlight of the iplayer week is still my radio appearance:


1 hour and 12 mins in..

Kirk out

Synchronised Science

Being televisually challenged but intellectually au fait with things, I had heard of Brian Cox but never actually seen him.  Then the other day I caught up with one of his programmes.  I wish I could tell you all about it but alas! I can remember very little as my attention throughout was riveted by Dr Cox himself.  Is there a more irritating presenter on TV?  He doesn’t just smile a lot; he never stops smiling, which gives to his voice that grinning quality so beloved of advertising voice-overs and cheesy comedians.  But it’s more than that: his face, his eyes as he gazes into the camera, his flawless complexion and the sheer aura of Utter Charm – all say ‘Oh, my God!  Look at me!  I’m so knowledgeable; I can give you all this info about science and I understand it all – but at the same time I’m so gorgeous and cute!  Isn’t that amazing?’

Sheesh!  Give me David Attenborough any day.  Now that man truly is amazing: well into his 80’s, multi-talented and still chasing rhinos in Africa.  Here’s his latest prog:


And here’s Brian Cox’s incredibly irritating website:


His relentless smiling reminds me of synchronised swimming.  Now, there’s another thing I hate.  How is that a sport?  I’m not denying that it’s difficult or strenuous, but it’s a performance.  It has artistry but it’s not a sport.

Quidditch for the Olympics

What I’d really like to do is take a scalpel to the Olympics.  From a series of half a dozen easy-to-follow events it has become a bloated monster in a world where every sport aspires, however unrealistically, to be an Olympic sport, so as to get the kudos – and yes, of course, the dough.  The day I learned that tiddlywinks had been granted Olympic status I gave up on the whole thing.  Not that anybody noticed: as Basil Fawlty responded to the Major when the latter looked at his newspaper and ejaculated: *  ‘Strike, strike, strike!  Why do we bother, Fawlty?’

‘Didn’t know you did, Major.’


How long can it be before Quidditch is an Olympic sport?

Kirk out

*it had to – er, come.  LOL

Is This a Piece of Your Brain?

No, I haven’t gone all ‘Basil Fawlty’ on you


– I was just thinking this morning, at some point between 5 and 6 am (groan!) about how the mind compartmentalises things.  To whit: yesterday I washed an old eiderdown for which we have no daily use though it comes in handy for chair covers etc – and I was wondering where to put it as we have no space.  I settled for folding it and sticking it on top of an already-teetering pile on the wardrobe.  Then in the night I had the usual thought about needing to put another cover on the mattress as it has got into the bad habit of poking me in the ribs at night rather like a bad marriage (ho ho).  Then at approximately 5.15 I had one of those ‘Duh!’ moments when you realise that two narratives which have been going on in different compartments of your brain might ACTUALLY JOIN UP!

I know what you’re thinking.  Wow.  An eiderdown on the bed.  But it’s the phenomenon that’s significant, not the details of it.  To whit: for years when I started writing I was thinking about what to use as a pen-name.  My birth-name, Liz Gray, is too monosyllabic.  I didn’t like the idea of being completely someone else – besides, Gray has a nice literary feel to it – so basically I was searching for a new first name.  I tried all kinds of variations on my Christian name (the best was Lisa but I still wasn’t happy with it)… meanwhile, another compartment of my brain was on a yoga retreat and being invited to choose a spiritual name: one which embodies those qualities you wish to develop in yourself.  I thought of creativity and wisdom and I chose Sarada, a variant on Saraswati:

But I STILL DIDN’T THINK OF USING IT AS A PEN-NAME!!!  It took me years to have one of those ‘Duh!’ moments – and when I did, I couldn’t believe how long it had taken.  Perhaps some ideas just have their own time?

Is it just me or does this stuff happen to other people?

Welcome to followers of this blog in the US.  How’s it going out there?  I’d be interested to know your take on the news we here from across the water – especially Obama and the Tea-Party – and why there is such a hoo-ha about Obamacare.  It seems bizarre to us that people should be so up in arms about something which we take for granted and which is to us so basic and necessary.

Please advise.

Kirk out

But where is the calculator?

I’m writing this in a hurry since I need a pee.  OK you didn’t need to know that.  According to the weatherman, ‘it’s a bright start, believe it or not’.  Well I don’t believe it because it isn’t.  Unless this isn’t the start and that was earlier or is still to come.

Holly had a good first day at college – no lectures but a tutorial and assembly (!) during which they were thoroughly Oriented and given timetables.  She starts at 8.40 this morning so will be off in a moment.

But where is the calculator?  It is being very calculating.  It cluttered up the place for months when nobody was using it, and then on the day – the one day, the actual day when you actually want to use it! it goes and hides.  I felt like Basil Fawlty with the fire extinguisher then.


She is now gone.  It all feels very strange.  For the first time in ages, no-one in our family is going to Tuesday group.

Mark to me:  ‘What I want to know is, does fluoride replace iodine in thyroid hormones or does strontium affect the second messenger system.’

That’s going in the sitcom!

Speaking of which, ‘Yes, Minister’ is on the radio.  I should study these as they are without doubt the apogee of situation comedy (I can’t even bring myself to shorten the phrase in this context) – though Fawlty Towers comes a close second.

‘Your trouble Alex, is, you can’t take yes for an answer’.  Brilliant line!

It really feels like the end of an era here in the Grayure household.

Kirk out.