I’m feeling a little sheepish at the moment and I’ll tell you why in just a sec.  In the meantime I’m going to review last night’s one-off drama from the BBC, Care.  Alison Steadman is pure genius in this story of a bright, caring elderly woman who has a major stroke and loses everything.  She becomes aggressive and confused; she mistakes every man she sees for her dead husband and her response to being asked to make tea is to eat the teabag.  When she’s taken to a care home they lose her that first night because there are only three nurses to care for thirty-one patients.  She communicates in fractured phrases that convey nothing to the outside world: vague subtitles waft across to translate her thoughts.  After she absconds her daughter brings her home, and there begins a nightmare of trying to care for a demented elderly mother whilst bringing up two daughters alone.  The indictment of the care system is on a par with something by Ken Loach: after I’d seen it I couldn’t get to sleep as it stirred up so many emotions.

But none of this explains the sheepishness; nor is the sheepishness connected to sleeplessness.  Nay, I have ordered a book whose title has caused me some embarrassment, though I’m not sure why.  It’s nothing to do with sex; it’s on a subject which its author suggests is even more private and harder to talk about than sex.  It’s this.

And I have to say that so far, I’m finding it inspirational.  I’m not entirely sure whether I want to be you-know-what: in fact part of me things R*** is a four-letter word.  But McKenna deconstructs these ideas and suggests, firstly, that being rich is about a mental attitude and not governed by how much you have (I concur) and secondly, that wealth does not in itself corrupt, but ‘reveal’.  It accentuates what is already there.  I’m not sure I entirely go along with that but I know what he means.

Along with very helpful exercises there are some quotations designed to be inspirational; however many of these have a disturbing effect on me as they are from people like Richard Branson, Ayn Rand and (shudders) Donald Trump.  I should make clear that the book was published in 2007, way before DT got into politics.

But I am aware of two things; one, that I am hard-up, and two, that I want more income than I have at the moment.  I want a flow of income that allows me to buy some stuff I want and to give to others (no begging letters please; I’m talking about charities here) so that I can, in his words, ‘live my best life.’

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Kirk out


Is it ‘One of those Days’ or Am I ‘One of Those People’?

Today is shaping up to be a fully-fledged, five-star, top of the range example of One of Those Days.  It started badly at 5 am when I woke and couldn’t get back to sleep: so eventually I sat up and tried to meditate.  But OH was fidgeting too much so I went downstairs, spread out my mat and began.  All was well for about five minutes, when OH decides it’s time to get up.  Footsteps clonking down the stairs.  The door opens.  The steps enter.

‘Are you OK?’

‘Meditating,’ I say.  The word, uttered through gritted teeth, just about makes it out of my mouth.

‘Oh, sorry.’

Well, honestly – I’m sitting cross-legged with my head and shoulders covered: what did you think I was doing?

OH then proceeds to open the curtains with a swish of fabric and a clacking of wooden curtain rings.  And when I complained, he had the nerve to lecture me about my levels of concentration!


So we have re-established the ground rule: if meditating, do not disturb.

After that my brain was all over the place.  I managed to drink tea, do crossword and yoga but then there was no bread for breakfast and when there was it was squashed, difficult to cut and impossible to make into soldiers.  I need soldiers with my egg!!!

At this point I decided that today was going to be one of those days.  But here’s the thing: vis-a-vis yesterday’s post, was it the things that happened or was it my reaction to them?  Was I predisposed to react irritably because I hadn’t slept well?  OK that in itself makes it one of those nights, upon the heels of which may well follow one of those days, but sleeping badly doesn’t always make me irritable.  Sometimes I’m depressed; more often than not I’m just tired.

After breakfast I went upstairs to start work.  Everything was going just fine when I got a text from the bank: I’ve gone over my limit again.  Yep, that just about sums it up.  I’ve gone over my limit again; and from having a small but just about adequate amount to see me through the next week or two, I now have no money at all.

I have to say, sometimes it’s very hard indeed to ‘love only what happens.’  But is it the things or is it me?  Or both?

It’s ironic that I should be feeling this on International Women’s Day, a day of celebration about how far we’ve come (when I was young the phrase was, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby’, which sounds incredibly patronising nowadays.)

But there it is.  That’s what’s happened.

You’ve gotta love it.


Kirk out

For The Love of Money

Recently my OH has got a bee in his bonnet about bitcoin.  In my mind bitcoin is a sort of gold-coloured object like the new pound coins which you bite on to see if it’s real.  But although OH has tried several times to explain what bitcoin actually is, I have no concept of it.  Apparently it’s a thing you make yourself, though what manner of thing I don’t know.  Maybe you need a 3-D printer?

One thing I do understand – bitcoin is an alternative to money which can make money.  At the moment, anyway, until everyone gets into it.

All of this reminds me somewhat of the Leaf.  The Leaf was an alternative currency used by Leicester LETS (Local Exchange and Trading Scheme) a group who offered skills and goods without the use of LSD.  By which I mean pounds, shillings and pence (hang on, that ought to be LP now…) anyway, the idea was to use skills and to exchange goods which would otherwise not be saleable in the mainstream economy.  Hence if you were good at gardening but without qualifications or experience, you could offer your skills, get paid in Leaves and then use those Leaves to buy, say, an old bike or some window-cleaning.

In theory it was great.  What led to its eventual demise was that people got just as hung up on the value of their leaves as they did about cash.  People ended up with leaves they couldn’t spend because either they couldn’t find what they wanted or there was a gap in the economy.  It was like having vouchers for McDonalds…

But my take on it was, it ought not to matter.  The point was not the Leaf per se; the point was to do things for each other which otherwise wouldn’t have got done, and to recycle things which would otherwise have gone to landfill (though Freecycle has now taken over this role.)

LETS groups tended to work best in smaller, contained communities where people already knew each other.  In a large city such as Leicester there were sadly too many people prepared to take without giving.

But I’ve strayed from my point, which was going to be this: in the end, no matter what currency you have, whether it’s bitcoin or Leaves or pounds sterling, none of it is real.  It is merely a system which everyone has agreed to treat as if it were real.  On the back of a fiver it says (I’m working from memory here since I don’t have any actual notes to look at) ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds.’  In other words, it’s a promissory note.  It ain’t real.

And these days when we’re more likely to see figures on a screen than notes and coins, it becomes less real by the day.

It’s true – I’ve bitten it.

Which brings me  finally to the most often misquoted passage of the Bible.  It isn’t money that’s the root of all evil: it’s the love of money:

I think we can see this every day.

Kirk out




On Being in Trouble

There is a tendency for people to ‘big-up’ their lives when posting on social media: I recently watched a BBC programme on loneliness which was terribly sad, and in which a young student talked about how hard it is to post the truth about your life, when your life is not going well.

Loneliness is a hard thing to admit to – it seems tantamount to an admission of some sort of failure as a human being.  Yet as I can testify from my own experience, it is not necessarily anything to do with you as a person.  Sometimes you can just find yourself in a situation where it’s really hard to meet people.  When I was living in London I found it extremely hard to make friends; you couldn’t so much as strike up a conversation at a bus stop without others thinking you were a loony, and even when you did meet someone they were quite likely to live miles away.  There is little or no context for friendship – when I left London I had some friends who lived round the corner – but only for a while before they were scattered to the winds: I had one friend in Hounslow, one in Ealing, one in Twickenham, and so on.  You just didn’t bump into people.  whereas in Leicester we know hundreds of people and there is a context to those relationships – church or work or Quaker meeting or CND – within which those people know each other.  You are part of a social framework.  Just the other day we met the owners of a house we were looking at and it turned out we had several friends in common and that they lived next door to Holly’s erstwhile best friend.

Another problem which can make you feel a failure is lack of money.  If you fail to earn enough for your needs, you can feel like a totally inadequate human being.  You can feel as if you haven’t quite grown up.  Like loneliness it can disbar you from taking part fully in society; you can end up feeling marginalised and excluded.  Of the two, I much prefer being poor and having lots of friends (not to mention a family) but neither is very comfortable.

Kirk out

The Emperor Has No Money

I’ve been thinking lately about money. What is money? Is it real? If not, what is it?

Let us consider what money is for most of us – figures on a screen. Figures on a computer screen, a cashpoint screen, a bank screen, a website screen. Figures that go up on one site and down on another. It’s a see-saw – the less you have, the more I have, and vice versa. Money is just figures on a screen.

Before that – and sometimes alongside it – we have something that seems more ‘real’. Cash.  We call it ‘hard’ cash: the Spanish call it effectivo.  We call it currency. We talk as though it’s like rock; the bedrock of life, something that underpins everything and cannot be altered. You can hack away at little bits and sometimes strike a rich vein – if you’re lucky enough to own a mine you can dig up lots of the stuff and be rich – but most people have to orient their entire lives around earning and spending.

Money is mostly paper. The hard coins are worth less, though they seem more durable. Money is pieces of paper passed to and fro. They have value only in the moment of spending; until then they are only potential. To keep money is meaningless in itself, though saving for a ‘rainy day’ may be sensible. But suppose you save too much and it never rains – what then? You are missing out on the sunshine.

But what is paper money? Is it something real or only a conspiracy? I suspect the Emperor has no clothes. Observe the paper. It has symbols written on it and the head of the monarch. But what actually is it? Read the writing: it says ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of —- pounds.’ What the hell does that mean?

It means, my dear friends, that the piece of paper stands for something. It is not, in itself, a thing but it represents something – namely, gold. So that the figures on the screen, though hard to fake, are mere representations at not one but two removes; a representation of a representation. The only real thing is gold.

Gold has some intrinsic value. It is not a mere conspiracy: gold never tarnishes or rusts; it doesn’t wear away. And it is rare. Therefore there is some sense in valuing it.

But suppose the figures on your screen are very low or in negative numbers. The consequences of this, thanks to the general conspiracy that everything must be powered by these figures, can be dire. You can lose your home, your amenities and your ability to buy any of life’s necessities, from food and clothing to transport and entertainment. The consequences of not having a high enough figure on your little screen can be severe.

Although they seem contingent and meaningless, the figures are very hard to manipulate. Just as it’s very difficult to forge currency, so it’s hard to alter these figures on a screen without the proper authority. Most of us have security on our accounts – pin numbers, security codes, memorable names etc – to prevent fraud. And yet when you stand back and look at it, the whole thing seems utterly pointless and stupid. That people can live or die for the want of this stuff; that some can afford huge houses and flash cars and others sleep on the pavement, all for the want of these figures, these bits of paper and metal, seems utterly insane. We’re too used to it; we take it too much for granted, for this to strike us on a daily basis – but if you take a step back and think about it, the whole thing’s mad.

The Emperor has no clothes at all.

Thatcher Review No. 2 – The Economic Legacy

OK let’s start by trying to be fair: the world in 1979 was not a perfect place.  Inflation was high and looked uncontrollable – and it has to be admitted that there were abuses of power by some unions.  Here, just to prove they too were fair-minded, is another clip from Not the Nine o’clock News:

This is the best I can find, though it just seems to have stills instead of video, but the dialogue is there, including my favourite line: ‘Brother Jameson became subject to involuntary immobilisation…’

It has to be acknowledged that the unions did not play a clever game against Thatcher; they didn’t see the writing on the wall at all.  Still, hindsight is 20/20 and all that – and now the unions have been emasculated so far beyond the dreams of Thatcher that to see them in action is quite embarrassing.

I guess the whole thing can be boiled down to three main points: monetarism, global capitalism and ‘there’s no such thing as society’.

Monetarism was a philosophy espoused by Milton Friedman (not Milton Keynes, LOL) which centred on keeping down inflation by restricting the money supply.

This led to a rise in unemployment which her government considered ‘a price worth paying’.  That’s easy to say when you are not the one paying it: it might have been forgivable – just – had not her government subsequently done what all governments do, and blamed the unemployed for their condition, the condition which her policies had caused.  It’s no wonder she engendered such fury: no wonder that at times Neil Kinnock, standing opposite her in the despatch-box, could barely keep his temper and on occasion lost it.  It was her complete lack of compassion towards those who were suffering as a result of her policies; the total hypocrisy in telling people as she frequently did about how her father ‘got on his bike and looked for work’, that caused so many to loathe her.  Had she been honest and said, ‘Look, we need to get inflation down and as part of that, some people are going to lose their jobs.  We’re really sorry about this but bear with us and we’ll get back on track as soon as we can.  In the meantime, do your best and we’ll support you as much as we can.’

But no such thing happened.  I can testify from my own experience how awful it is not only to suffer unemployment in spite of strenuous efforts to find a job, but to be blamed for it as well.  These wounds have not gone away, as we can see from the reaction to her death.

The consequences of her policies are still felt today.  I won’t enumerate them all as that would be tedious; suffice it to say that a cat was let out of the bag: and that cat was global capitalism.  I guess it could be argued that global capitalism was on the rise anyway, but even if that’s true we didn’t have to open the door and welcome it in.  And I think the most significant change since 1979 has been this: that money is now of primary importance in our society.  Yes, money was important before: but we had other values.  We had communities; we had other priorities – people did things for reasons other than money.  Now, someone who does a thing with no pecuniary motive is the exception rather than the rule – and as a society we are at the mercy of global capitalist forces and the government has stopped even pretending to do anything about it.

And thirdly, perhaps her most famous statement, that there is ‘no such thing as society’.  The context of this was as an anti-communist/socialist stance, but has more far-reaching effects than that.  What if she had said instead, ‘there’s no such thing as community’?  Because that is what it boils down to, in the end.  And that statement proved to be prophetic: ironically for one who was so bad at prophecy, by the time she left power there was very little community left anywhere.  It is not only mining and steel-working communities that were destroyed by her policies: pubs closed in towns and villages (and are still closing), schools and colleges were set on firmly competitive and economic lines and – oh, I could go on and on but you can supply loads of examples yourselves, I’m sure.  Community is not only important – it is vital: we need each other in order to survive as a species, and her idea of ‘individuals and their families’ all competing with each other is just about the most repellent image I can think of.

What Thatcher started, Blair continued.  But that’s for another day.  Next time: the international stage.

Kirk out

In Praise of Blind Optimism


I never would have achieved any of the things I’ve done in my life without blind optimism.  God knows, I’m no fan of Thatcher but it war her refusal to recognise obstacles which allowed her to steamroller the entrenched opposition.  As I write this post I’m looking at my carved wooden elephant * which someone gave me a few years ago.  In Indian thought, the elephant is a symbol of  the ability to remove obstacles, as elephants are used in any ground-work where things need to be cleared out of the way.  Ganesh, the elephant-god (see above) is always invoked first in any mediation or chanting sessions for the same reason, ie to remove obstacles in the mind.

And with good reason.  Often when starting – or even thinking about starting – a new project, we see the obstacles and sometimes only the obstacles, in our way.  And often it’s the blind optimists, the pains-in-the-arse, the idiots; who can’t or won’t see what’s in their way and go on to achieve great things.

Of course, you do have to use your loaf at the same time: a refusal to recognise, say, the law of gravity, is likely to have unfortunate consequences.  But how often do you hear people say, ‘I want to do such-and-such but I can’t because…’?  I hear it all the time.  These people have perfectly reasonable grounds for why they can’t do whatever it is – like a mortgage to pay or for some other reason – usually a persistent and ingrained need to eat and drink.  And so they can’t give up the day-job.  So they give it up – for now, at least, and carry on in their unhappiness.

OK.  So we can’t all throw everything up and live on fresh air – but we can all do something right here and right now, to pursue whatever dream we have.  There’s a guy on Facebook who has invented something called Social Net Fixer, which is so useful that millions of people avail themselves of it for free.


And now he is asking for donations so that he can give up the day-job and pursue his dream.  But here’s the thing – he’s already doing it!  He didn’t wait until he had enough money to leave work before he could even begin, he started it right where he was.  So that’s the point – if you want to act, join a theatre or do mime in the street; if you want to sing, go to open-mic nights, and if you want to write, like me, what could possibly stand in your way?  All you need is a pad and pen or a laptop and pen-drive – what more could you need?  I have never let anything stand in the way of writing – even when I was the main bread-winner for a family with two home-educated children (FFS!) I still managed to write something, even if it was only half an hour a week.  Then I got some money and bought a chalet in the woods where I could write.  Eventually my work dried up and now I write full-time, which is something I’ve wanted to do all my life.  Yes, it’s still hard – but I never gave up, and I’m not giving up now.

So there you are.  What can you do, right here and right now, to realise your dream?  Think about that – and once you’ve answered the question, go and do it.

Now!  Or at least, when you’ve finished reading this post.


Is There No Such Thing as a Free Breakfast?

Oh, yes there is!  Come along to Tomatoes where I shall be launching my Tomatoes Poetry Pamphlet.

Tomatoes poem logo thing (2)

And here’s the link for the Social Net Fixer guy:

Kirk out

*that explains any typos.  LOL

Ripe Tomatoes are Here!!!

Yes!  The Tomatoes pamphlet is here, with a brilliant cover by Daniel showing a church as a tomato:

Tomatoes poem logo thing (2)

Don’t you think that’s great?  He’s terrific at Graphics – a possible A* at GCSE.  So, hot, sizzling and juicy, the pamphlet will be on sale at Tomatoes next Saturday at the knock-down price of £1 each – and once I have cleared costs 10p of each sale will go to support the work of Tomatoes!  It includes perennial favourites such as ‘The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge’ and ‘The Ode to the Upperton Road Bridge, as well as the Tomatoes poem: so come along next Saturday and get your copy.

Last night I watched ‘Transsiberian’, on iplayer.  it’s an excellent film starring Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer – she has a bigger part than he does.  They are travelling across Siberia and meet Carlos, a good-looking but arrogant and utterly repellent character who turns out to have convictions for sexual violence, robbery and drug-trafficking.  He tricks her into carrying his drugs, then she kills him by an overenthusiastic clonk* on the head with a cemetery paling as he is threatening to rape her.  There’s a terrific performance by Ben Kingsley as a corrupt Russian policeman (sorry, perhaps that should just be ‘a Russian policeman’) – he speaks Russian fluently in the film, or appears to (my Russian extends only to ‘glasnost’ and ‘samovar’, though I can say those words fluently.)  Justice slowly sorts itself out as the snow covers everything: the woman gets away with the killing; the policeman is brought to book and the much-abused girlfriend of Carlos finds his jacket – if not his body – buried in the snow, and takes the money he’s carrying.

But the real hero of this film is the railway, running through the Russian landscape, that vast expanse of snow in which the train is the only corridor of warmth and safety.

The snow at the end reminds me of the finale of Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ – ‘snow was general all over Ireland… falling over the living and the dead.’  Terrific ending.

And finally, let’s spare a thought for the prank that went horribly wrong.  Juvenile and pathetic though the prank call was, they could not have foreseen such an outcome.  It is very sad for all concerned.

Kirk out

* it’s ages since I’ve had the opportunity to use the word ‘clonk’