Content May Shift During Transit

It’s a difficult thing to practise contentment; not only do you have to keep reminding yourself of it but there’s a tendency for discontent to creep in everywhere; so if you’re not careful you can end up in the somewhat ridiculous situation of being discontented about the practice of contentment. (I’m too discontented.  I don’t have enough contentment.  I must be more contented…)  And then your head explodes.

So the trick is to be contented with the degree to which you are able to practise contentment – and then, with a wave of the wand and a cry of riddikulus! you’ll be doing it anyway.  Discontent really is a Boggart pretending to be a Dementor – we need to laugh at it and it will go away.

Contentment is a necessary antidote to a society where work of all kinds becomes increasingly demanding: a society where you hit one target and are immediately presented with another.  This is sometimes seen as a virtue but according to Yoga philosophy* it’s anything but.  Discontent is the thief of life and the destroyer of satisfaction.  What is the point of achieving your goals if you never enjoy it?  I could go on and on about the need to avoid end-gaining in yoga but that’s enough for today.

*and not only yoga philosophy: Buddhism also emphasises it and it is implicit in the practices of Christianity (here‘s a blog that makes the link and also has a really good quiz to test your own level of contentment).

This is a very short blog post and doesn’t say as much as I’d hoped.  Nevertheless, I am contented with its contents…

Kirk out



Lark Rise to Kembleford

Seeing as how I often involuntarily rise with the lark, when dusk approaches I tend to be tired, so I take a trip to Kembleford where Father Brown lives.  Chesterton’s detective-priest might seem utterly dated today but this adaptation, while preserving the setting, modernises some of the attitudes.  As the parish priest of Kembleford, a village where the murder rate is so extraordinarily high it’s a wonder they have any inhabitants left, Father Brown manages to insert himself into every investigation and inevitably finds clues the police overlook in order to crack the case.  A priest makes an unlikely detective but they do have things in common: like detectives they hear confessions and they have a pass to situations where the rest of us can’t go.  They are also present at the end of life.

The plots are highly improbable and most of the characters cardboard cutouts, but what makes this watchable is the character of Father Brown.  The central character is done just right by Mark Williams of The Fast Show (also Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter series.)  He reminds me of the recently-deceased Rabbi Lionel Blue:

Though of different faiths they both exhibit the same patient, understanding manner; the same humility, the same essential faith. Father Brown’s belief in the potential of every human being for redemption causes him to stand alongside criminals and victims alike; a great antidote to these days of tabloid recrimination.

The episode where the character’s strength hit me most is The Eagle and the Daw, where Father Brown is wrongly accused of murder.  Instead of ranting about his innocence he sits patiently in his cell and waits for the outcome to unfold, even though these are still the days of capital punishment and the stakes are high.  Then when he is, inevitably, exonerated – and solves the case to boot – everyone gathers round to congratulate him.  But instead of lapping it all up he tells this story:

Once there was a jackdaw who was very vain.  He watched an eagle one day, soaring in the air.  ‘I can do that,’ said the jackdaw.  He watched the eagle swoop down on a baby lamb and carry it off into the sky.  ‘I can do that, easy,’ said the jackdaw, and he flapped his wings and flew high into the air.  He hovered over the flock, then swooped on a baby lamb and stuck his claws into it.  But he didn’t have the eagle’s strength so no matter how much he flapped his wings he couldn’t lift the lamb off the ground.  Then the farmer came along, caught him and put him in a cage for his children.  And there the jackdaw stayed.

There’s no vanity whatsoever in the character of Father Brown: he has no concern for his appearance, nor for social status.  Sometimes I wish I could be like that too – but it’s a bit of a tall order.  Still, inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest of places…

Here’s the latest episode:

Kirk out

PS  Like the title?  See what I did there?


Fantastic Films and Where to Watch Them

Being as how I’m now back in what we are pleased to call ‘civilisation’ (cue Gandhi on being asked what he thought of Western civilisation saying ‘It would be a good idea’ which is pretty much what I thought of Soviet communism) I have been to the cinema.  In Loughborough there is an impossibly cheap picture-house which goes by the name of Curzon and seems to employ only ghost workers, since you get your tickets from a machine and occasionally someone checks them at the door, though on this occasion they didn’t.  It reminded me of returning from my first visit to Spain in the early hours of the morning, sweeping through a deserted customs, reclaiming our baggage from a silently swirling baggage carousel and getting into a very quiet taxi to go to our bed and breakfast.  On arrival I smiled broadly at the man on the desk and said at a volume suitable for the Costa del Sol, ‘Hello, we’ve booked a room in the name of -‘  He cut me off with an appalled look.  ‘Sh!’ he said.  It struck me as amusing that the first word anyone spoke to me on landing in Britain was ‘Sh!’

But I digress.  At this spectacularly cheap cinema we were privileged to view ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.’  It was great; much lighter than the Harry Potter films (though it had one or two dark moments) and centred on the wizarding community in New York in the 1920’s where the Muggle (or ‘NoMag’) communities seem to be channelling the Puritans of the 17th century.  Enter Newt Scamander who, for those paying close attention, is mentioned at least two or three times in the Potter books as the author of the eponymous ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ and his suitcase.  The suitcase, like one of Hagrid’s bags concealing some nefarious animal, appears to contain a life-form of some description.  Fortunately the case also has a Muggle-worthy button and so gets through customs but his luck doesn’t hold as the beasts get out and cause havoc in New York.  I won’t spoil it by saying any more, but it’s a highly entertaining film and Eddie Redmayne is excellent as the Doctor Doolittle of the wizarding world.

Go watch.

Kirk out



According to today’s Guardian,

opposition to fracking is on the rise and support is running at around 19%.  I can’t say I’m surprised: the dynamic which one would usually expect with this kind of measure is that there would be more support among the wealthy living in suburbs and rural areas; you know, the kind of person who gets all aereated* about wind farms and solar panels because they don’t ‘look nice’ but doesn’t mind a nuclear power station provided it’s miles away and surrounded with leylandii.  But where the powers that be made their big mistake was in giving frackers permission to drill under people’s homes without consent.  An English person’s home is still as much their castle as it ever was, and threatening that principle by quite literally undermining their home is not a good move for a Tory government to make.  You’d think they’d have seen that – but no.  All they ever seem to see are the £££ signs in their eyes.  Oo, I’ve come over all biblical and wanting to say something about taking the pennies from the poor and not seeing the pound signs in your own eyes.  Anyway, so what this means that instead of NIMBYs not wanting wind-farms in their back yard, we now have NUMBYs digging in their heels and saying ‘Not Under My Bloody House.’  (OK that should be NUMBHs but it doesn’t really hit the spot, does it?)

I simply cannot fathom the mind-set of a government which reduces funding for renewables and gives the money to yet another highly-questionable fuel source which will also run out in a few decades.  It’s almost as if they’ll do anything sooner than give up their lifestyle – and now people are protesting.  Latest to join this up-in-arms race (see what I did there?) are Emma Thompson and her sister Sophie.  I never realised that Emma was the sister of the intense bride in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and Mafalda Hopkirk in the last Harry Potter, but so it is.  They have launched their own campaign to which I have signed up, although like many of Emma Thompson’s projects it inspires me with a mixture of affection and ickiness:

Anyway, something should be done and they are doing it, so for that I salute them.

Suffragette City

Bong! in other news, I have signed up for a cycle ride around Leicester to celebrate the city’s suffragettes, thus combining a feminist action with a tribute to Bowie.  Neat, eh?  I’ll keep you posted.  Better get my bike oiled…

Kirk out

* how DO you spell that?  Spellchecker doesn’t like any of my suggestions

Harry Potter and the Dramatic Present

Does anyone else listen to ‘In Our Time’ on Radio 4?

It’s a programme about historical figures who have had an effect on our own times, and although I find Melvyn Bragg as irritating as the next person, sometimes the topics are interesting so I keep the radio on after ‘Today’ has finished.  And yet all too often I end up turning it off in sheer irritation.  Why?  One reason only – and that is, because his guests will insist on using the dramatic present.

And what is the dramatic present? I hear you cry.  Well, it’s the use of the present tense to make a story seem more immediate and compelling – as though it’s happening now, rather than in the past.  A good writer – or storyteller – can use this to great effect.  Shakespeare does it in a number of places, such as here where Ophelia is describing Hamlet’s madness, shifting between past and present as she sinks into the story and pulls herself out again:

“He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm;
And, with his other hand thus o’er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stay’d he so;
At last, a little shaking of mine arm
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being: that done, he lets me go . . ..”
(Ophelia in Act One, scene 1 of Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

That is what I call a good use of the dramatic present.  Not that it is necessary to use it in order to involve the reader in a story: I may be wrong, but in the entire HP series I don’t think J K Rowling once uses the dramatic present – and yet nothing could be more thrilling, more tense and more involving than these novels.  (Although I suppose you could say Harry does get some dramatic presents: the sword of Griffyndor, the cursed locket, the snitch with writing on it, the invisibility cloak…)  But whether it’s Harry Potter in the past or Ophelia in the present, these are worth a million academics going on about how Paracelsus is born in such and such, grows up in such a place and does this, that and the other.  All that does is to dull the mind; it’s like jargon, a knee-jerk use of language as a kind of shorthand for actually bothering to describe something effectively.  I wish they’d stop it.

A lot of historical programmes are annoying, now I come to think of it.  I find Simon Schama very irritating, and as for that woman who does the stuff about the Tudors, Lucy Worsley, I find her simpering, smirking flirtation with the camera utterly unbearable to watch – which is a pity because I suspect that without it, the programmes might be quite interesting…

Kirk out

Doing What They Want

It is frequently argued when people respond to terrorism in a certain way, that you are ‘doing what the terrorists want.’  So, for example, in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders, people have argued that we shouldn’t pay so much attention to the events ‘because that’s what the terrorists want’ – or that we shouldn’t rejoice in the magazine’s success or go on marches or wear Je Suis Charlie t-shirts – or whatever it might be, because ‘that’s what they want’.

I have two reactions to this.  First, it’s impossible to know exactly what the killers wanted.  It seems that they wanted to kill the cartoonists, because that’s what they did; and it’s logical to assume that they wanted to spread fear and to silence people in order to promulgate their horrendous vision of Islam.  But beyond that – whether they wanted to destroy the magazine or build it up; whether they would laugh at the subsequent demonstrations or gnash their teeth at them, we cannot know.  We can only surmise.

Secondly, the idea that I am doing ‘just what the attackers wanted’ and should therefore not do it, does not sit well with me, because it means I’m still being manipulated by them.  What I want to do is to weigh things up and do what I decide to do, respond in the way I feel moved to respond and to do what I think will help.  Of course this leaves me open to the charge that I am naive and well-intentioned and playing into the enemy’s hands.  There may be a tactical argument here, if my actions are ultimately going to harm my cause, but there isn’t a moral one.

Likewise with trolls the argument is usually to ignore them, because giving their comments the oxygen of publicity is ‘just what they want.’  (Incidentally, what about the nitrogen of publicity?  Or the hydrogen? * I think we should be told).  Up to now I’ve been trashing my trollish comments on this blog.  But yesterday’s comment was so funny I decided to publish it.  I had a highly critical comment on my Mslexia blog post, too – and approving that led to me getting lots of support.  Besides, I can’t help remembering that in the Harry Potter books, what finishes a Boggart (a creature that shows your worst fears) is laughter.

So let’s all have a good laugh, like the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists…

Kirk out

* I think the helium of publicity would be good fun…

Gone for a Who?

I haven’t watched much on i-player this week either, but I did give a half-hearted look at the BBC’s biopic ‘Burton and Taylor.’  However, Front Row had so comprehensively slagged it off that I was already predisposed to find it unconvincing.  It’s hard to know how far you are influenced by reviews; but when I switched on I was surprised to find that Helena Bonham-Carter – who is a great actor and can do anything she damn-well pleases – did not convince as Elizabeth Taylor.  The guy playing Burton didn’t look much like him but that doesn’t matter: what matters is the Voice – and this guy had a good stab at it but somehow it just didn’t come together.  With Burton the voice is everything: if you don’t get that right you can forget it.  And if you don’t remember just how thrilling and terrifying Richard Burton’s voice could be, then just watch 1984 again:

I probably didn’t give the BBC thing a fair trial, so don’t take my word for it; take a look yourself:

It definitely wasn’t as bad as the Beatrix Potter thing with Renee Zellwegger.  I don’t like Zellwegger anyway but as Potter she reached a new low and I literally couldn’t watch it.  I guess I didn’t give that a fair trial either but then if something is unbearable after just three minutes I think that’s as fair a trail as any, don’t you?

But it’s another Potter who’s been occupying me of late: work is taking a back seat for a week or two and I have re-read JK Rowling’s novels and am now working through the DVD’s.  But since I have nothing original to say about these I shall refrain from further comment.

See you on Saturday I hope at Simon Says: I’m performing at 1.30 on the bandstand stage.…-weekend-ticket/


Kirk out


He Said, She Said: Dialogue in Fiction

When I was a teenager we used to play a game called ‘Consequences’.  It went like this: one person began with he said – and then a statement: the next person went she said and a response, and the third person said and the consequence was… and made up the punch line.  it tended towards the sexual and one example might be:

He said, how about a dance?

She said, I don’t mind if I do.

And the consequence was –  (you can fill that bit in yourselves…)

Now, that sort of thing is all very well in the playground, but in fiction you can’t just keep on saying he said, she said as it rapidly gets very boring.  So as well as using synonyms for said (uttered, responded, managed to say, etc) you need to be creative in how you portray dialogue.  You can get away without putting the speakers names in for a few lines, but after a while the reader tends to lose track of who is speaking.  So you can do this sort of thing:

‘He’s perfect, isn’t he?’  Lily was bending over the cot, her face soft with love.

James started to speak.  ‘Yes, he is, he’s -‘ but then emotion overtook him as well and they just stood, holding hands and gazing at their firstborn son.

That’s not a direct quote from Harry Potter – or indeed anywhere – but it shows how much information you can convey without even using said or its synonyms.

C P Snow is adept at showing character through dialogue, and particularly at conveying a self-deprecating attitude in his main character who is also the narrator, by reporting his word rather than giving them (I said yes; I agreed; I said that it was).

Dialogue needs to flow, and it needs to do more than just give the words spoken, otherwise it becomes indistinguishable from a play: Ivy Compton Burnett is an example in point:

I can’t find an example of her dialogue but check her out.

Ian Rankin is also adept at displaying character through dialogue.  Well, let’s face it, he’s adept at everything, but let’s take a look:

‘Cafferty unlinked his hands so he could raise a finger, as if to stress a point.  “Difference between Rebus and me – he’d sit in the bar all night and buy drinks for no bugger.”  He gave a cold chuckle.  “This is the sum total of why you’ve brought me in here – because I bought some poor immigrant a drink?”

“How many poor immigrants do you think could wander into this bar?” Rebus asked.

Cafferty made show of thinking, closing his sunken eyes and then opening them again.  They were like dark little pebbles in his huge pale face.  “You have a fair point,” he admitted.’

In this very short extract from ‘Exit Music’, we have body language, tone of voice, a sense of the history of their relationship and insight into character, as well as visual imagery, all packed in a couple of sentences.  That is the genius of a master, to convey just enough – not too much – through dialogue and hence avoid unnecessary swathes of description.

Incidentally what’s also really interesting about the relationship between Rebus and Cafferty is how uncomfortably close the two characters become at times; and how near enmity and hatred can be to friendship and love.

So get reading and check out any or all of these authors!

Happy reading!

Kirk out



(Cold) Snap, Crackle and Pop

And as this frankly ridiculous weather continues (O jet stream, how have we offended thee?  Return to us, we pray!) I am reminded of Madrid, where one piece of folk wisdom about the weather was: ‘Nine months of winter, three months of hell’.  In Spanish it sounds much better because their word for winter – invierno – is only one letter different from infierno, or hell.  In fact that’s not particularly accurate for Madrid, which has three months of winter and three months of hell whilst spring and autumn tend to be mild and wet.  April is the nicest month; May is a delight, and by June it’s starting to get uncomfortably hot.  But back to Britain, if we must, where the forecast seems to be nine months of winter and three months of rain.  – but sadly, weather forecasts are a lot better now than they used to be, so we don’t have the comfort of saying ‘Oh, I bet they’ve got it all wrong again.  You’ll see – we’ll have sunshine tomorrow.’  Still, I don’t approach the confidence in the weather forecasters that one woman had years ago.  She was talking to her friend at a bus stop; rain had been forecast – but not for a day or two – and it was now drizzling.

‘Course, this en’t the proper rain,’ she said confidingly to her friend, ‘this is just condensation.’

I had to stifle a snort of laughter at that one.

But!  Lo and behold me, yesterday afternoon, exiting the house in my usual clobber: coat, hat, gloves etc – only to return and shed my outer garments and walk down the street in jeans and jumper!  Not only that but on my return I was able to fetch a folding chair and sit out the front of our house, which faces due West, and enjoy the sunshine.


Then again, what about the astrological weather?  Like any teenager I used to read my horoscope avidly and wonder who the new boy might be who was going to smile at me that week – but of course, they hardly ever came true: predicting the future is a notoriously tricky business, as Dumbledore once observed to Harry Potter.

However, though the predictions might be way off, I haven’t been able to avoid a sneaking feeling that astrology has something to say about character.  Why this should be I do not know: how can a distant constellation which happened to be overhead at the time of your birth, have anything to do with who you are as a person?  To quote Edmund in King Lear, ‘I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardising.’

(line 442 onwards)

On the other hand, maybe it’s like chaos theory – far-off bodies influencing things close to, and vice versa: I can’t help thinking that the character of a Gemini as I have seen it described, says something about me.

What do you think?  Do you identify with the characteristics of your star-sign?

Kirk out

So Farewell Then..

… Richard Griffiths, he who as a youth used to weep in butchers’ shops; he who as a grown-up was uncle to Harry Potter and father to Dudley Dursley; he whose anecdotes were wont to set the table at a roar – alas, poor Richard, I knew him not at all, but somehow I felt I knew him all the same: you can smell the actors’ yarns he would spin, late into the night over a bottle of claret, surrounded by friends and fellow-actors.  Sadness is instantiated in the breasts of Richard E Grant and Daniel Radcliffe, and other tributes will surely flood in as the days pass.

He was born at a very early age, to parents who were both deaf, and he learnt sign-language in order to communicate with them.  He left school at 15 and worked as a porter but later went back to drama school and joined the RSC: he became a celebrated stage actor and appeared in many plays including Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, but he will perhaps be remembered best for his role in Withnail and I where he played an outrageously camp Uncle Monty.

I also enjoyed his role in the entertaining but preposterous crime’n’cookery series, Pie in the Sky.

He was apparently considered for Dr Who at one point: his weight must have been a problem for him in some roles, but it clearly didn’t stop him being successful.

RIP Richard, we will miss you.

Bong!  In other news, I got up rather drastically early this morning and went to all-night prayer at the church: I was going to go last night but was too tired, so just made it down there for the last hour or so.  A much better way to start the day than tossing and turning in bed.  And then home to surprise Mark with a pot of coffee and to this dialogue:

Mark:  When is happy hour, usually?

Me:  Around five to six pm – when people don’t usually go to the pub.

Mark:  Oh, right.  Well, why don’t they have a sad hour to counterbalance it?

Me:  Mark, every other hour apart from happy hour, is ‘sad hour’.   If you drank alcohol you would be only too aware of that fact.

We then went on to discuss our pet peeves in modern language: nouns as verbs – eg ‘to process’ – and the reverse, verbs as nouns.  My worst one of these is ‘spend’.  So don’t ever let me catch you saying ‘the total spend is…’ or you will be deleted from my followers forthwith.

And speaking of followers, did you know?  If you sign up to follow this blog I will always take a look at your blog or website – and I may reblog it if it’s good.

So follow me!

follow me, the wise man said

but he walked behind.

Kirk out