We Are Not a Muse

There’s only so much you can do as a writer to make things happen. Some days all you can do is sit with pen and paper and wait for the Muse to show up. You write a sentence or two, sigh, gaze out of the window, look back at the paper, try not to feel completely useless and rack your brains for something that will bring inspiration. Should you read something? Go for a walk? That sometimes helps…but in the end all you do is check your phone for the zillionth time and give a deep sigh at the absence of anything helpful.

Still, I can take some comfort from the news that Johnson is in deep trouble. For all his allies try to smooth it over, it’s not going away; the BBC are sticking by their story about the bodies, presumably because they believe their source is more reliable than Downing Street. It’s reassuring to know that the BBC can still hold the government to account and have not been entirely weakened by the revolving-door system of journalists taking positions as government advisers. John Humphrys must be doing his nut; the rottweiler of the Today programme must be blenching at this cosy relationship.

Speaking of Humphrys, he did his last stint on Mastermind last night, a job he’s held for an astonishing 18 years. It must be difficult to read the questions fluently and quickly without tripping over your words, and I often wonder who writes them; I guess they must have specialist writers for each subject. Last night was the final, in which we got to find out about the contestants’ backgrounds; two of them admitted to being highly competitive including one woman who had been voted off The Weakest Link a few years ago and wanted to expunge that shameful memory; she regularly cycles 100 miles a day and never lets her children win at games. The other was a company directer who runs marathons in the Arctic. Now I may be the idlest of couch potatoes but such competitiveness ain’t healthy – if only because you suffer so much when you lose. Neither of these people won, and the woman looked utterly devastated. The best attitude is to look on it as a fun challenge and not mind so much if someone else wins.

So farewell then, John Humphrys, and thank you for reading the questions so fluently and presiding so benevolently over the Black Chair. Not so Jeremy Paxman; though I enjoy his slightly waspish avuncularity and occasional bursts of admiration for contestants’ cleverness, it wasn’t so clever of him to say, as he did the other day, that any fool can read the news. It just caused me to think that if that’s the case, any fool can read out University Challenge questions.

Not cool, Jeremy.

Kirk out

Rasputin on Sousaphone, Gorbachev on Tea-Tray…

Sometimes this blog goes a bit whimsical and it seems that today is one of those days.  Pausing only to have an inconclusive conversation with OH about the correct spelling of Gorbachev (there isn’t one because it’s in Cyrillic) we head off into the wardrobe of my soul, in the section labelled ‘shirts’.  Yes, we are in the wonderful country of the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonzo_Dog_Doo-Dah_Band

In the original song Adolf Hitler played the sousaphone, but it is entirely in the anarchic spirit of the Bonzo Band to have Rasputin step onto the stage and be accompanied by Gorbachov (or ‘ev’) or anyone else you fancy.  Let’s have Marie Curie on drums, Mother Theresa on bagpipes, Billy Connolly on backing vocals (‘if it wasnae fur yur wellies’)  Let’s have the Vicar of Dibley on pipes and Pope Francis on the tin whistle; Martina Navratilova on keyboards, Boris Johnson on trombone, Jamie Oliver on piano-accordion, Clarissa Dixon-Wright on cymbals, Sue Barker on vocals and John Humhrys on doo-wops.  We can have whoever we want, because it’s our fantasy bonzo-dog doo-dah band.  We’ll have Harrison Ford on the wurlitzer, Theresa May on the mixing desk, Maggie Smith on the hosepipe, Michael Fish on thunderboard, and of course a special appearance by Donald Trump as the wind in the bagpipes.

It’s that sort of day…

Kirk out

 

Tourette’s Syndrome by Proxy

This was an idea I had a while ago: about a condition where someone makes other people swear involuntarily.  I’ve known quite a few people with this condition, and I think probably most politicians have it too.  I’m not sure what treatments are available, as diagnosis is still in its early stages, but it sure is a problem: I swore at the radio three times this morning, which means that three different broadcasters have Tourette’s by proxy…

I’m making slow progress with the rose hips.  I made the mistake of choosing hips from a dog-rose bush; these are quite small and topping-and-tailing them has taken me hours.  I shall wait and get some from the garden I think.

One of the things that makes me swear at the radio (apart from the usual political reasons) is what John Humphrys calls the ‘mangling and manipulation’ of the English language.  I particularly hate the wrenching of nouns into verbs; one such horror that seems to have crept into the language is ‘to gift’.  It’s entirely unnecessary: if you give something, it’s already, automatically a gift!  QED.  I also heard ‘writing out’ the other day from one of the banks who’d just been caught out in the typical things that banks do (I can’t even be bothered remembering what it was).  ‘We are writing out to customers,’ the man said, without a shred of embarrassment.  ‘No, you’re not!’ I shouted.  ‘You’re writing to customers!’

And please, please please can everybody chill (ho ho) about Baked Alaskas?  Baking should be fun, shouldn’t it?  What is the point of making it so competitive?  It’s ridiculous.  And I DON’T CARE!!!

Oh, and can anyone tell me what I’m doing at the Crumblin’ Cookie for Everybody’s Reading Week?  My name is on there but I don’t remember offering to do anything…

Kirk out

 

Still Funny After All These Years

Well, it’s Thursday and that means life on the i-player.  So what have I watched this week?  A lot of factual stuff, as it happens: firstly, I’ve been comparing and contrasting Mastermind and University Challenge, and then I’ve been finishing the two-part retrospective on Morecambe and Wise.

So, first the quiz-shows.  Well, the first thing I notice is that women are woefully under-represented in both but tend to do a lot better on Mastermind than they do on University Challenge.  This cannot be because fewer women go to University, so why is it?  Is it that by the time they get to Mastermind they are older and have more confidence?  I watched a Bangor team made up of 3/4 women get utterly slaughtered by a gang of four supremely confident men; you could see the women sagging every time they failed to buzz or got an answer wrong.  I can’t help wondering whether UC still favours the old-style Oxbridge culture, both in its style and in the type of questions, though that might not be fair.  It’s just that Oxbridge students seem to figure disproportionately in it.  Or is it the abrasive and often sneering style of Paxman?  His brusqueness is bad enough; what’s harder to stomach is the sneering way he corrects wrong answers, when we are only too well-aware that he only knows the correct answer because it’s written down in front of him.  I much prefer Humphrys.  Though a pit-bull when interviewing politicians on ‘Today’, he strikes exactly the right balance of rigour and sympathy when chairing Mastermind.  And the contestants are ordinary people: last night they numbered three men and one women, one of whom gave his occupation as ‘Enforcement Manager’.  This, when translated by Google, turned out to mean Traffic Warden.

LOL.

And the woman won…

I worry, too, about the under-representation of women in comedy.  Shows like QI, which I love, rarely have women on, but even the occasional appearance by Sandi Toksvig or Jo Brand (I met her once, you know) is an improvement on how things used to be, back in the day when Morecambe and Wise trod the floors of the Beeb.  The BBC’s two-part retrospective of the duo was really interesting; a sympathetic portrayal of them as human beings and performers; the ups and downs of their career, the writers who worked for them and the intense rehearsing that went in to making every sketch look totally spontaneous.  I could probably write reams about this: the guests they had on the show (people like Andre Previn, Penelope Keith, Glenda Jackson and Angela Rippon), how they were able to share a bed without suggesting they were gay; exactly why they were so funny (I still can’t put my finger on that) – but what occurred to me as I watched, more than anything, was that they were never sexist.  Now that I think about it, I don’t remember them being racist either – or homophobic.  Lots of comics were – it was an easy way to get a laugh – but they never went for easy laughs.  And perhaps that is why, because they were so inclusive – that they were, and are, so much loved.

So catch this before it disappears:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03kp3qt/Morecambe_and_Wise_the_Whole_Story_Episode_2/

Likewise the latest round of Mastermind:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03k1spm/Mastermind_2013_2014_Episode_14/

and if you must, here’s University Challenge:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03kwbw4/University_Challenge_2013_2014_Episode_21/

Kirk out

My Bad What?

Yesim’s last night was great, as usual:  I did a Hilaire Belloc poem entitled ‘Henry King, who chewed string and was early cut off in dreadful agonies’.  

http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/henry_king.html

Then in the second half I did one of mine.  Entitled ‘For Your Good’, it’s a rant about sloppy language.  Now, I have no objection to slang – in fact I use it and appreciate it, and much of it is highly creative; not to say vibrant – but what I object to is when people just cba; they simply cannot be arsed to exercise their tongue or their brain and utter a complete sentence.  John Humphrys (yes, that one) has written a book about it as I have mentioned before:

http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2004/dec/06/digestedread.theeditorpressreview7

The epitome of this sloppiness, to me, is the phrase ‘my bad.’  I hate it!  For some reason it gets to me more than any other truncated expression – and when something gets to me there’s only one thing to be done, and that is to write a rant about it.  So here it is.  I won’t give you all of it, but the poem begins like this:

For Your Good

The incompleteness of the sent-

it sends me into shudders;

though realising what you meant,

it lacks grammatic rudders,

so as you blunder into shot

so I must thunder, My bad what?’

What is it that is so ungood?

etc.  The rant goes on for six verses and ends with an exhortation to remember that we are all Shakespeare’s children.

There was a wide variety of contributions including the usual appearance from Rumi, a story about Krishna, a couple of Anglo-Saxon riddles from Mark – appropriately enough since he is himself an Anglo-Saxon riddle – lots of jammy music, and an utterly delightful child reading a poem about eating the earth (which was a lot less disturbing than it sounds.)

In the afternoon I got the wok out and make sweet and sour mixed veg.

Yum.

And that was Sunday.

Kirk out

 

You Can’t Get the Staffs These Days…

With any decent organisation you need to know the answer to the question, who’s in charge here?  In other words, where does the buck stop?  Who takes responsibility when there’s a cock-up?

And the answer is, the managers – and more specifically, the Chief Executive.  As far as I’m concerned managers are paid more because they are expected to Take Responsibility – and that includes resigning when a cock-up occurs on their watch.  Whether or not it was of their doing, they are responsible because they are in charge.  And not so long ago, it seems to me that people resigned as a matter of course, because not to do so was considered unacceptable.  Take Mid-Staffs: along with a number of people I have been utterly disgusted lately by the response to the investigation into the Mid-Staffs Hospital.  People have died; patients have been neglected to an unbelievable extent, standards of care were so low that it would probably have been overtaken by a cottage-hospital in rural Africa, an investigation has cracked all this wide open, and what do we find?  The Chief Executive burbles on the radio about being ‘very sorry’ and how he really ‘does understand’ why people are so upset (that was yesterday) and today we have someone from the NHS Trust talking about how the Woman in Charge of Nurses (presumably what used to be called the Matron) was found to have ‘no case to answer.’  What?  WHAT?  She was being interviewed by Sarah Montague and I wished it had been John Humphrys as he would have torn her limb from limb: much as I like Sarah Montague’s non-confrontational style, there is a time when only kicking ass will do.  This woman should have been kicked out of the studio and then back in again, and so on until she explained exactly how someone who was in charge during these events can possibly have ‘no case to answer’. And then – surprise, surprise, she started to talk about ‘individual nurses’ who they are investigating.  In other words, no-one in authority is going to take the rap for this, only the ordinary nursing staff.  This sucks.  The Chief Executive should go (let’s face it, there should be no such thing as a Chief Executive in the NHS – it’s not a supermarket) and the Woman in Charge of Nurses should go.  And no bloody severance package.

So there you go.  That’s what I would have said this morning only I was too bloody exhausted to say it.

I hope to feel better tomorrow.

Kirk out

But did you threaten to overrule?

Great day yesterday.  Holly ‘enjoyed Maths’ at college (apparently one of her tutors is an ex-yoga teacher trainee of mine!); Daniel did some Vedic Maths at home (some kind of weird way of doing long multiplication – but good fun, and it works), and I worked all day on my radio play.  It is coming together.

Apparently Mr Scrappy did not like the sitcom – not his kind of humour.  But then he is more into puns and visual gags.  So there you go.  On the other hand, someone who hates radio sitcom said she laughed out loud, so that’s good.

John Humphrys got stuck on the radio today.  Sometimes this can happen with a broadcaster: he started saying ‘day after day after day’ and couldn’t stop.  someone had to give him a good shove.  This reminded us of Jeremy Paxman interviewing Michael Howard about the governor of Parkhurst

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uwlsd8RAoqI

It’s cringe-making, but after all we have to remember that Michael Howard was the Antichrist.  Paxo asked the same question a number of times, which is a proven assertiveness technique, known as ‘the broken record.’  I guess it shows that you’re standing your ground.

Swimming today and then English with Daniel, after which I will go back to the radio play.  I think the sitcom is nearing readiness, which is a good thing.

Undesirable Verbs

– for example:

to trial

to gift

to medal (argh!  worst of all, we hear this daily in Olympic season)

These are nouns masquerading as  verbs.  Nothing wrong with the language changing but these make me “S-Q-U-I-R-M, SQUURRUM”, as Billy Connolly sang. www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzZzGxReXmo

Other verbs include those which are misapplied, such as “deliver” applied to policies instead of milK.  If you work in government or business you will surely have a load of these.  Let’s do a Dilbert en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilbertand collect them!  Send them to me, here at this blog

If you want to read more on the subject, John Humphrys’ excellent book, “Lost for Words” is a must.www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/article498203.ece