Goliath? What? David What? Lord Who?

Sometimes I begin a blog post when I’m in a rush in order to get some ideas down, then I scribble off a title which seems to encompass it all.  Later I go back and write the post which often doesn’t go the way I envisaged and may end up not being expressed by the title at all.  So this morning’s thought was that the Winnie-the-Pooh stories should be not so much read as contemplated, like a gentle walk through a forest; and yesterday’s thought was – well, god knows.  Because like the mathematician Karl Weierstrasse, when I wrote the title only God and I knew what it was about – and now, only God knows.


Clearly I had some thought about David and Goliath in my mind when I wrote that blog title.  But what was it?  I suspect it may have had something to do with the need to defeat global capitalism, but I’m really not sure.  It was probably because along with the latest Nicci French I want to read Naomi Klein’s ‘No is Not Enough.’  If ‘This Changes Everything’ is indicative of her output, she has many useful things to say about problems and, more importantly, about solutions.  I often think we are too problem-orientated in our thinking: people spend a long time trying to convince others that such-and-such is a problem to which we should be giving our attention, and if those others are anything like me, they feel burdened and depressed as a result.  What’s better is, having flagged up the problem, to propose some solutions.

For example, we spend a lot of time (both as a nation and as a species) thinking about war.  We plan for war, we prepare for war, we study war, we arm for war.  Yet what might be the result if we adopted a solution-oriented approach to this and studied peace instead?  What do we know about peace at the moment?  Precious little, it seems – many of us can’t even stay out of trouble on social media, let alone steer our nation in the right direction.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t defend ourselves when attacked, but how many wars we’ve been involved in have been the direct result of attack?  Whilst the Second World War could not have been avoided in 1939 might it have been avoided, say, in 1921?  Or 1933?  Had the Allies adopted a less punitive approach to Germany after the First World War, might Hitler never have come to power?  But leaving the Second World War aside, as far as I can see no other war apart from the 1939-45 conflict has been the direct result of attack on our nation.  Syria certainly doesn’t qualify; neither did Afghanistan and absolutely not Iraq.  There were no weapons of mass destruction.  And don’t get me started on the bloody Falklands.

While I’m waiting to get hold of Naomi Klein’s book I may get some ideas from the forthcoming series of Reith Lectures, which this year are on war.  I have yet to listen to the first episode, but it is available here:


and I’ll let you know if it inspires further thoughts.  In the meantime I’m thankful we don’t have to listen to the nauseatingly toadyish tones of Sue Lawley.  I can’t stand that woman…

Kirk out

PS: as you will have spotted, Winnie-the-Pooh didn’t even make it into the title…




There’s something about a Wednesday afternoon.  When I was a student this midweek time was given over to sports and leisure: you would wander round during fresher’s week signing up for boxing and ice skating and generally end up by week three hanging out in the coffee bar with your friends.  But this tradition seems to have gone by the board now, so that, instead of being a fallow period, Wednesday afternoon is a slump, a time when the enthusiasm of Monday has waned and the fun of Friday seems a long way away.

I’ve come to the conclusion that fallow periods are important.  Quakers, for example, traditionally don’t celebrate Christmas as every day is supposed to be special: and that’s fine, except that Christmas and New Year for many people are times of hibernation; a period when you can legitimately disconnect from everything and everyone.

In farming, too, it used to be the tradition to leave land fallow every fourth year in order to rest the soil – but that seems to have gone by the board now in favour of more and more fertilisers (there’s an evolving story on The Archers at the moment where Home Farm seems to have poisoned the River Am with nitrates.)

Then there’s the principle of Sunday as a day of rest (it doesn’t have to be Sunday but it’s convenient to have a day when nearly everyone’s off work.)  This morning on Thought for the Day Giles Fraser talked about the boringness of church being a good thing, as it’s important to allow time and space for the mind to wander.  I agree with him up to a certain point (though as a child my mind was never allowed to wander because you were supposed to pay attention.)  But there’s an important principle at stake here, which is that boredom is not some kind of disease to be eradicated but a fallow state which can be a prelude to great creativity.  When our kids said they were bored, instead of entertaining them we’d say ‘I’m sure you’ll find something to do.’  And they usually did.

I am more and more aware of the need to allow my mind to lie fallow.  It’s all too easy for the work ethic to sit on your shoulder and crack the whip, so that if you haven’t produced a certain number of words, you’ve done nothing.  This is not the case.  When the mind is in that fallow, ‘dreaming’ state, there’s no way to tell what you’ve done, because it’s happening under the radar – just as the regeneration of the fallow soil is happening in subtle, invisible ways.

Even so, on days like today I can feel a sense of futility.  What have I achieved?  What am I doing?  Where’s it all going?  What is the point?  These questions bump around in my head like particles in a Large Hadron Collider.


But if I stop trying to ‘work’ and just let things be, something interesting will happen.  I’m not sure what, but I’ll keep you posted.

The final thought for today is that there are parallels between the First World War and the state of the NHS – not in the severity of the situation, but in terms of the leaders and those on the ground.  Doctors and nurses working in the NHS today truly are lions led by donkeys – and the sooner we get rid of this government, the better.  So now that we’ve arrived at the First World War, here’s a taste of true futility:


Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
Kirk out


I was reading this blog post today:


and picked out of it the word ‘Thoughtsofa’.  I think a ThoughtSofa would be a great idea – somewhere in public where you could just sit and think or discuss with fellow sitters whatever was passing through your mind – perhaps about Left Unity.  So it was timely that I came across this programme last night about ‘She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’:


It charted the woman’s downfall through a series of at times irritating flashbacks – it was quite hard to get a handle on when we were in the action – but what came across quite clearly was that in her strength lay her weakness: it was the inability to listen to the word ‘no’ which got her to the top – and it was that same inability to hear criticism which propelled her out of office.  At first I thought Lindsay Duncan’s portrayal was too soft – unlike Meryl Streep she didn’t get the voice right, though at the same time the thought of having to sit through nearly two hours of that voice, having lived through a decade of it, was hard to bear.  But the iron fist soon made itself felt: the bullying of ministers and the way they were all afraid of her.  According to C P Snow, the writer who advised in the Wilson government, everyone was afraid of the PM.


Denis was portrayed more sympathetically in this than in the ‘Dear Bill’ persona which became the default in the ’80’s (I used to look forward to these when I read Private Eye).  It was also fun playing ‘spot the minister’ as they went for physical resemblance as well as good acting: there was Geoffrey (dead sheep) Howe, whose resignation sparked the whole thing off: Michael (‘Tarzan’) Heseltine, Alan (bastard) Clarke, Lawson, Hurd – the whole bloody shower, even Willie Whitelaw, his benign old-school manner brought out delightfully by Robert Hardy*.  And then there was John Major, lurking sinisterly in the background like Blofeld, lacking only a cat to stroke.

Go watch while it’s still on i-player.  And while you’re there, pick up the last episode of The Village, whose first series ended this week.  Am I alone in thinking that ‘The Village’ has echoes of ‘The Prisoner’?


There may not be anything similar in the plot or characters, but the place is equally claustrophobic.  It is also anonymous, known only as ‘The Village’ – and as in the Patrick McGoohan series, there is no escape: though characters do leave they are either killed or they return in a broken state.  But let us not dwell on what is probably a very minor point: The Village is an attempt to depict the life of an English village over the course of a century, beginning with the start of the First World War in 1914.  Series 1, not surprisingly, focusses on the War and its effect on the villagers: one young man is shot for desertion because he has shell-shock and can’t return to the front: he also has an illegitimate child with a daughter of the folk at the ‘Big House’ where he worked for a time.  The baby is of course sent away and its mother suffers a bout of mental illness from which she is ‘cured’ by a forbidding man who first force-feeds her and then (possibly) rapes her.  Worker’s rights form a backdrop to the main action, with women keeping the factory going and finding themselves exploited and manipulated.

There are a number – perhaps too many – themes in the series: religion and its failure to address the harder issues of the day: bullying in many forms, including by a schoolteacher who failed the army fitness test; the infancy of feminism and the exploitation of the women who kept the factories going while the men were away.  It was a gripping view, although I had some problems with the way the stories were told.  There were dramatic scenes which were never resolved: stories began but were not finished – although since this is the first of several series, they will perhaps be resolved later.  But it did give a sense of incompleteness: of being ‘up in the air’.

But here it is:


And that was yesterday.  Apart from sitting in the sun and attempting to mend Daniel’s bike, that is.

Kirk out

*’As minister for Magic, I suggest…’

Delices et Gourmandises are Scammers

Preying on older people is a disgraceful way to make money – if you have an aged P then warn them about these people:


They sent a relative of ours some unsolicited goods and then charged her for them.  I’m pretty sure they can be challenged on legal grounds but the fact that they target the vulnerable, the trusting and the sometimes confused (people like me, lol) makes them utterly despicable.  Spread the word on this…

But moving on – with regard to the recent footballing furore we all need to ask ourselves: Am I a Secret Fascist?


Take our simple quiz and find out:

Do you think the state is more important than the individual?

Do you like huge imposing buildings like this one?


Are you fond of military uniforms?

Have you ever wished you could drive a tank?

Do you think things would be much better if the government just issued regulations on every aspect of life?

If you answered YES to three or more of these questions then you may be a fascist.  But don’t despair.  Fascism is not necessarily racism – and there’s the rub.  Mussolini and his cohorts were definitely fascist but they weren’t specifically racist.  They didn’t much care who you were or where you came from so long as you obeyed the state.  Which if you think about it, is pretty much how the Romans were.  The Nazis, on the other hand, were specifically racist and – it hardly needs saying – anti-semitic, but Mussolini just went along with it for the sake of friendship.

Well, not friendship – but you know what I mean.  Just so they could belong to the big boys’ club.

And speaking of history, there has been some excellent historical drama on the BBC of late: apart from the wonderful drama about PG Wodehouse, also accused of having fascist sympathies, the series The Village tells the story of a rural community and in particular one boy, starting before the First World War.


The child actor in it is quite brilliant.  Not only that, but they seem to be re-broadcasting ‘I Claudius’, though for some reason they have randomly put episode 3 on iplayer but not episodes 1 and 2.  Aaaand, following on from last week’s post about the deceased Richard Griffiths, Mark Lawson was this week interviewing Miriam Margolyes.  She’s very entertaining and quite up-front about herself and others: she calls Glenda Jackson a cow and herself fat and ugly:


I just can’t get used to watching Mark Lawson, though.  His voice is far too familiar to me from years of listening to him on radio 4 and he’s nothing like I imagined:


A good day yesterday.  I am currently tidying the house and learning all my poems by heart because performing them is much better if I don’t have to read.

Kirk out

Don’t Mention the War

OK so here was my schedule for last night:

10.30  – 3.00: sleep

3.00 – 5.00: cough

5.00 – 7.00: sleep again

The coughing was so persistent that it barely stopped at all: at one point I counted the gaps between spasms and the longest was 15 seconds.  That’s probably more information than you need, but I wanted to get that off my –

– er


OK then… in other news, George Orwell has now returned from Paris to London and is trying to live for a month on ten shillings.


His account of the ‘kips’ he dosses in, what with the coughing, the unwashed sheets, the filth and the poor nutrition, make it sound almost as bad as the Mid-Staffs hospital:


though perhaps not quite as bad as anything Vera Brittain had to deal with: I have now finished ‘Testament of Youth’ and found it a remarkably clear-eyed account of her experiences in the years 1914 – 25; doing war-work in French hospitals, surviving bomb-blasts and infection, horrendous conditions, shortages of supplies and frankly ridiculous disciplinary rules which make the average convent look like a holiday camp.  Literally everyone she cared about was killed in the war: her fiance, her brother and her two best friends – and the transition from youthful enthusiasm for the war and the bitterness which followed are handled with a remarkable lack of self-pity.  To my mind the worst thing, though, was the aftermath: far from receiving a hero’s welcome, they were regarded as an embarrassment.  No-one wanted to talk about the war after it was over: the whole thing was revealed as a ghastly mistake and everyone involved in it was tainted.  In the words of Eric Bogle,

and the band played Waltzing Matilda

as they carried us down the gangway

and nobody cheered

they just stood there and stared

and they turned all their faces away.


The unfairness of this made my blood boil even more than her subsequent struggles at Oxford, to gain equal recognition with men, where her contemporaries included some remarkable figures of the age such as Winifred Holtby and Dorothy L Sayers.  She concludes the memoir with a remarkably restrained account of her relationship with the man she was to marry.  I was struck here by how advanced her views were: not only did she carry on with her work after marriage, she also kept her own name.


In marked contrast to this were some of the contemporary women featured in the programme ‘Make Me a Muslim’.  I’m not totally anti-Islamic: I think the religion has some good points, but I do not agree with the hijab: it makes women responsible for men’s behaviour – and, frankly, if men have that much trouble concentrating around women then they should wear a paper bag over their heads.  Still, the programme is well worth watching and includes a shocking case of a woman who consented to be someone’s second wife!


Unbelievable.  But interesting.

Kirk out.

War Horse

We got this along with ‘Made in Dagenham’ from the library.  It’s an unusual film for these days in that it doesn’t have a strong narrative or ‘big parts’ for stars; there’s not even much in the way of stunning scenery, though they do the trenches well – it’s just that the focus is off the humans and on the horse.  It’s hard to say why this film is so compelling; it just draws you in somehow.  At the start, Holly pronounced it ‘soppy’ (she’s never slow to offer an opinion, rather like her father) and after a while I almost agreed with her, but then the story changed and I began to be hooked.  It’s a picaresque story – moving from one situation to another with a central character, rather like ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ as the horse moves from one ‘owner’ to another.  I say ‘owner’ in inverted commas because I kept being reminded of ‘The Horse and his Boy’ where the boy is told more than once that the horse is not ‘his’ any more than he is the horse’s boy.


It’s as though the horse in ‘War Horse’ owns all the humans too – people take a back seat in the filming while the horse is centre-stage, though without any inappropriate anthropomorphism or sentimentality.  The climactic scene where the horse is caught in no-man’s-land in some barbed wire and a German soldier comes out to help a British Tommy to free him is one of the most brilliantly understated cinematic climaxes I’ve seen.

Go watch.  Watch it now.


Interestingly, I found it is scripted by Richard Curtis, which explains the almost-soppiness and perhaps also why I kept being reminded of ‘Blackadder 4)

And so to bed.  And now, this morning, the question is…

Can We Panic Yet?

Yes, it’s time to panic NOW!!! Because if you didn’t already know, the world is going to end on Friday, December 21st.  This is according to the Mayan Calendar* which runs out on that date and therefore…zzzzzzzzzzz  oh, hell I can’t be bothered with the rest.  You can look it up yourselves.  I can only assure you, in the tart manner of Professor McGonagall responding to a prophecy of Sibyl Trelawney, that if the world ends you need not read this blog.

Meanwhile, today I shall be mostly… beginning to re-read Proust.  Sadly we are all out of madeleines.  But we do have Beer and Carols tonight, at the Western.


So come along if you’re around.

Kirk out

* PS in an interesting footnote, ‘maya’ in yoga means ‘illusion’…