The Hedge-Priest Cometh

Two more books have flooded in: the Greek New Testament guide and the Funky Gibbon, so that’s only the atheist one to come, which I shall have to chase up. It is good to know that books can arrive; I was beginning to wonder if they’d got lost in some weird Covid-related sub-ether – not that I know what a sub-ether is, it’s just a phrase knocking about in my subconscious. As I write the hedge man is attacking our hedge with ferocious clippers. He has hay fever so his whirring and shearing is punctuated by loud and irritated sneezes.

We are quite concerned here about Leicester being newly locked down; not that it affects us particularly apart from my mother-in-law living in that catchment area, but because it’s an indication that lockdown is being eased far too soon and that we are in for another spike. I’ve generally always liked and respected the Mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby, but he has blotted his copybook somewhat by breaking lockdown to visit his partner and has now claimed that the number of cases in Leicester has been exaggerated. This seems irresponsible to me and his assertion that the numbers are higher because they’re testing more people is worthy of Johnson himself. Do better, Soulsby!

The hedge man being here makes me think of hedge-priests who were a sort of wandering Quaker before Quakers were invented (were Quakers invented? Or were we discovered?) because I guess George Fox was a sort of hedge-priest, travelling from place to place, sleeping rough and insisting on giving his testimony in the churches. I think he must have been something of a pain in the arse, but then lots of these people are – like St Paul, for example – because in order to start something new you probably have to be a grade A PITA. It’s hard to imagine nowadays the sort of bull-headed commitment to a cause which would lead you to sleep in the hedgerows and make yourself universally unpopular, but whatever it is, I certainly don’t have it.

I was reading this morning a testimony about living more simply, having fewer possessions, less clutter and so on. This is something I generally aspire to and fail at dismally: last night I kept waking up and worrying about the dishwasher which I thought might be blocked (it wasn’t.) I often think of this photo of Gandhi’s possessions when he die

All of Mahatma Gandhi's worldly possessions : minimalism image removed on request

and look around me at everything I own. I imagine Gandhi, for all his virtues, must also have been another great pain in the arse; however committed to non-violence, his wife must have found him a great trial. These great men, important though they were, rarely adopt a consensual approach to anything. But going back to possessions, I think it’s not so much about what you own as your relationship to it. Do you fear losing everything or can you contemplate this with equanimity? It’s an odd thing but I can imagine losing everything we’ve got in storage without being too upset – but take away my dishwasher and I’d be devastated. The thought of all that bloody washing up every day… ugh.

That’s about it for today. Happy Tuesday.

Kirk out

That Guy Gandhi

It’s funny how a weekend comes together.  You do things seemingly at random and together they make perfect sense.  First, I’ve been watching Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi.  It takes a whole weekend as it weighs in at around 3 1/2 hours, and I could spend a week’s blog posts just talking about the scope of it: a film as vast as India itself (I only gained an inkling when I went, travelling for hours on a train and then seeing the scintilla of map that I’d covered).  But instead of reviewing the film I want to think about the man and how much he achieved.  As a boy Gandhi was shy, but he overcame his shyness to achieve in one lifetime more than most of us could achieve in a dozen.  Though the ideas of satyagraha – ‘truth power’ – were embedded in Hindu tradition, Gandhi brought them into the modern age and taught an entire nation to practise non-violent struggle.

No sooner had I finished Gandhi than I was plunged into a nuclear-free session, ‘Can Nuclear Weapons Make us Safer?’  On the whole it was a rhetorical question with the answer ‘no’ – but to be fair, politicians on the other side of the debate had been invited and had declined (or been unable) to come.  But the ideas of Gandhi were key to our discussion.  It is hard to imagine a more violent weapon than nuclear missiles and in my view it is our duty to oppose them in any way we can: the idea that because our ‘opponents’ (whoever they may be) have them then we must have them is no different from the American saying that because the bad guys have guns, so must the good guys.  We all know where that ends up.  This is a discussion for another blog topic, but the reason North Korea has nuclear weapons (in my view) is because they fear the Americans.  We need to deconstruct fear, not escalate armaments.


So, to complete the day, enter the latest BBC costume drama.  Lately this type of drama has come in for a lot of criticism for being dewy-eyed and romanticising royalty and aristocracy.  Not a scintilla of that here.  This was a very clear-eyed view of the times, beginning with a rough and tyrannical search by the King’s men of a Catholic house which has just been celebrating Mass.  Like many such houses it features a priest hole: however the Kings’ men know this trick and compare measurements outside and inside.  At this point a young acolyte, about to set off for Europe, is discovered hiding in a chest.  Though still very young, he is subjected to little more than a show-trial before being hanged, drawn and quartered, this being shown in enough detail to register its barbarity.  Before this we see the lady of the house put to death by the peine forte et dure, her ribs gradually broken by heavy weights while all the while her tormentor tries to get information from her.

The courage of people to undergo torture and death has never failed to impress me, particularly as I doubt very much whether I’d have similar courage.

Mark Gatiss (that man has an impressive talent) is excellent as William Cecil, the spider at the heart of the anti-Catholic web, sending out spies and poisoning King James’s mind with reports of Catholic conspiracies.  He’s the McCarthy of his age: played with the superior detachment of a Mycroft with the monstrousness of a Richard III (Shakespeare’s, not history’s).  The episode largely sets up the involvement of Catesby in the gunpowder plot, and Guy Fawkes is introduced to us right at the end.  This is costume drama so good that you just think of it as drama.

And how are the two guys celebrated?  One is burnt in effigy every year while the other continues to be venerated and his ideas practised the world over.

Great guy, that Gandhi.

Anyway, here’s the BBC drama – you can watch Gandhi on Netflix or DVD:

Kirk out

Myanmar Girl – The Musical

In order to explain the current Burmese situation I propose a musical called ‘Myanmar Girl’ (see what I did there?)

Along the lines of ‘Springtime for  Hitler’  it would tell the story of the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi  from girlhood to the present day.

The musical would open on a gloomy house where Aung San Suu Kyi is being held under arrest; but after a sad beginning the young woman would rise and sing the song ‘Democracy’, outlining her hopes for Burma.  Behind her is a stone tablet engraved with the principle ‘freedom and democracy for all’.  The song would include some principles of Gandhi (cue Bollywood-style dancers in loin cloths) and the musical would continue with numbers such as ‘No, Mr Junta, I won’t Stand’ and ‘Let Me Out’.  The most affecting scene would be her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize and the high point is where she is made political leader of Burma.  But after that it all goes downhill and in the second half a chorus of Rohingya Muslims appear to sing the song ‘Let My People Stay’.  The Muslim leader even goes personally to ask ASSK to intervene but she has become selectively deaf: behind her he notices that the stone tablet has been altered and now reads ‘freedom and democracy for all (except the Rohingya Muslims)’.  Disgusted, he sings the song ‘1984’ and leaves.  The musical ends with ASSK alone, deserted by all her followers, sitting in the same house where she began.

A farce, you say?  Inappropriate, you say?


Kirk out

Can You Spot a Trot at Twenty Paces?

I had a day out in London on Saturday, going to the Left Unity meeting. There were about 30 of us there, half men and half women, and in general it was a good-humoured and productive meeting. In a packed programme bristling with amendments, motions, addenda and standing orders, it could easily have been a giant yawn, but the morning proceeded at a fair old lick and over lunch we discussed a split in one of the local groups. This is the sort of thing that makes my heart just fold up and go home and I was not looking forward to the afternoon’s discussion. But! Lo and behold the whole thing was settled by an eminently sensible woman who proposed the amalgamation of two motions. Thus everyone was relieved and the problem stands a good chance of being sorted. Terrific!

This experience caused me to ponder on the theme of conflict-resolution. The history of the Left has been fraught with splits, as parodied by Monty Python in “The Life of Brian”:

You don’t need me to go into it – we all know the issues back to front. But everyone in Left Unity, from the washiest liberal to the hardest-line Trot, understands that without resolving our differences we are going nowhere. Which is why the situation on Saturday gave me such heart – because it wasn’t just talking about conflict-resolution – it was putting it into practice, right then and there, when it was needed.

And here’s the thing.  What often happens is that people start labelling each other.  I once attended a local council meeting with my CND group, lobbying the council to declare itself a nuclear-free zone – and during that debate one of the Conservative councillors got up.  Pointing a finger at us, she said, ‘I can spot a Trot at twenty paces.’  Hardly a helpful contribution to the debate.  Labelling is far too easy: it sets your mind at rest but it closes down debate.  We’ve all done it – ‘Tory bastards., .liberal wimps’, ‘hard-line Trots’, Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist etc etc etc: whatever you use, labels are damaging; but never more so than when used within a group who are aiming to be unified and to work together towards a particular goal.  So as Gandhi said, let’s be the change we want to see, and affirm that whatever our disagreements we are all Left Unity.

Or whatever we end up calling ourselves.  But that’s another argument…

Kirk out

Waiting for Yourself

– is the worst thing.  Worse than Waiting for Godot.

Yes!  This is where my characters Ladimir and Oestrogen come from.  It’s my way of living with the fact that Beckett exists.

If you’re unfamiliar with Beckett, I am the wrong person to talk to.  I find him as depressing as some people seem to find LC.

I see my shoe.  What is my shoe?  Am I my shoe?  There is certainly a shoe.  At least one shoe.  But one shoe reminds me of another shoe.  And so the whole hideous process starts again…”  Wait, no – that last bit was more like “Black Books”

I do enjoy Black Books – but more so when  I’m drunk

So, waiting for yourself.  If you’re waiting to sell your house or get a new job, or find a new partner or earn some more money – you’re really waiting for yourself.  And that’s the hardest kind of waiting there is.

You know what Gandhi said:  “Be the change you want to see” author/Mahatma-Gandhi/1/index.html

Wot no Leonard Cohen?

OK here’s one:

Cohen Koan

What is the sound of 30,000 hands clapping?

Farewell mes petits partisans

PS If you don’t know what a koan is, it’s a short phrase to meditate on.  It’s pronounced “koh-ann” and one original one is “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Dya gettit now?