Stuck for something to do? Take our tedious survey…

A while ago I told you how I complained to the bank that every time I visited my branch I got a phone call asking me to do a survey.  ‘But it’s a vital part of our feedback!’ the clerk protested.  ‘We want to make sure you’re happy with every aspect of our service!’

‘I’m happy with everything except the surveys,’ I said.

So out of pure compassion I’m not going to hit you with a survey even though I, too, am desperate to make sure you’re happy with every aspect of my service – but I would like to know which aspects of this blog float your boat and which make a hole in the hull.  Do you like reviews?  Which do you prefer – book, TV or film reviews?  Do you enjoy my rants about Mark and his madness?  Or are you engaged by bursts of outrage about misuse of our beloved language?  Does politics interest you?  Or is it just the usual everyday melodrama that I call my life, which engages your interest?

Please drop me a comment and let me know.  I like getting comments.  My heart leaps when I see the little speech bubble in the corner all lit up in orange (you can’t see that, it’s only for the initiated) and I always try to respond.  So let me know what you enjoy reading.

At the moment I am waiting to hear whether a friend has become a grandfather; also reflecting on last nights delumptiously entertaining meal with Bettina’s philosophy group at Shivalli South Indian restaurant.  The food was wonderful and the conversation divine – and I managed to sell four tickets for the Sound Cafe concert at the end of Jan

Tickets £5 from me or the Cathedral.

Kirk out


Reduced to Wagging Your Finger?

There was once a Greek philosopher whose name was Cratylus, who decided that he would never say anything unless he could be absolutely sure it was true.  Guess what happened to him?  Yep, you’ve got it.  He was reduced to wagging his finger.  More recently others have decided, much more sensibly, never to say anything unless they can be sure it’s kind: that works pretty well until you meet someone who needs a kick up the arse (unless you consider that said kick up the backside is doing them a kindness, which it may be).  However the resolution I would like more people to adopt is this: never say anything cynical.  Nothing in my life has done me so much damage as cynicism, I think.  I’m not talking about a necessary cynicism which teaches you to be wary, which teaches you that politicians and salesmen are unlikely to be altruistic, or that you shouldn’t trust that email which says you’ve won a million pounds.  Rather than cynicism I would call that scepticism: a healthy dose of realism which prevents you from being another Candide.

Cynicism originally was a respectable philosophy whose followers lived in barrels and thought there wasn’t much point to life. Well, I guess there isn’t if you live in a barrel, but the point of it was to detach themselves from the external and experience the things that really matter.

But latterly cynicism has come to denote a lack of belief in anything or anyone.  Cynics go around teaching that nothing is worth believing in, that no-one can be trusted, that there’s no such thing as a free lunch or a noble act or a disinterested person.  Such people make it their business to burst your bubble when you’re happy. They are like Lucy to your Charlie Brown:

Avoid such people, particularly in the field of politics, where they exist in large numbers.  They will teach you to doubt the motives of everyone around.  But ask them what they do believe in, and they’ll be reduced to wagging their finger…

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

And of course, thank you in your sweat!

…yes, that was today’s top spam comment, which I assume translated into English means ‘thanks for all the hard work.’  Or possibly ‘so long and thanks for all the fish’. I don’t know – do dolphins post comments on blogs?

Anyway, moving on… a great evening once again at Yesim’s.  That place is magic and I’m convinced that a large part of its magic lies in the person of Hayri.  Hayri is an incredibly generous person: most cafe proprietors on hosting such an evening would be concerned about how much profit they could make out of us, whereas Hayri is constantly giving us cakes and biscuits and all manner of goodies.  He is a lovely man so if you’re in the Narborough Rd area go and visit Yesim’s:

In other good news, Sheila has found a probable – and also free!!! – venue for Leicester Left Unity meetings: Duffy’s bar on Pocklington’s Walk.  We’ll be meeting there on Fri from 6 – 8 pm so come along:

And while we’re on the subject of politics, my favourite current political drama, The Politician’s Husband, came to a rather abrupt end last week.  I thought it would span more episodes than just three, and now it’s finished I’m not quite sure what to make of it.  I suspect that like many politicians themselves, it says one thing and does another: whilst paying lip-service to the woman who is in power whilst her husband is out of office, it actually shows him going to pieces, unable to control himself and fuelled by bitterness.  Their marriage eventually seems to fall apart but at the end it shows them both in cabinet with her as the PM.

Still, it’s highly watchable and with great performances, so watch while it’s still on i-player.

Got to rush now as I have a philosophy class to get to.  Going to attempt to meet with the librarian again later – wish me luck!

Kirk out

Boris Beeblebrox

Are you like me?  Yes, of course you are – and so, like me, you’ll have experienced a sort of irresistible warming on the cockles of your socks as you watched Mayor Boris Johnson over the last couple of years.  I have a theory that there is something about the post of London Mayor that renders the previously-controversial incumbent Fluffy and Loveable (people who once loathed Ken Livingstone have subsequently warmed to him in this role) – but seriously!  Who doesn’t love Boris?  He’s cuddly and bumbling – his hair is like Worzel Gummidge’s

and when he has his back to the wall he just holds up his hands, ruffles his teeth and says, ‘Oh, gosh!  I’m not sure what just happened there but – oh, crikey! – erm, yes, ha!’  Or words to that effect – and we all go ‘Aww!  Boris!’ and forgive him instantly.

But the Beeb’s recent portrayal of him showed a rather different side.

Quite apart from making me want to throw a bomb at Eton and scatter all those over-privileged gits who think they’re born to run the country, it showed Boris as a power-hungry megalomaniac who genuinely believes he was born to rule (‘President of the World’ as his sister put it). Boris claimed his sister was stirring it, which might have been true (though it doesn’t say much for their loyalties as a family) but the thought of Boris as PM does rather make the eyes water.  It’d be like having Zaphod Beeblebrox at No 10.

Still, I don’t see Boris as PM.  He’s too much of a maverick; too unstable, too unpredictable: voters want a family man – or woman – at the top, and Boris has screwed around too much (‘can’t keep it in his pants’ as one colleague put it) – he also broke a number of promises he made to people along the way.  Yes, I know that’s probably a good qualification for PM but people at least want someone to start with a clean sheet.

Don’t they?

Anyway, it’s a highly watchable documentary and I was pleased that it engaged Daniel’s interest, too.  So Boris has achieved one good thing at least, which is to engage my son in politics.

Come to think of it, Daniel as PM is an even scarier thought…

but don’t tell him I said that…

Kirk out

Who ARE you?

I was thinking today about all of you, dear readers, and wondering where you are and how you are – and more than that, WHO you are.  As for me, I’m getting better, thanks for asking, but still not 100% as my energy is quite low.  I’m supposed to be going out today but we’ll see.  So, who are you?  Some of you I know personally – in fact I was gratified this morning to find that one of my readers had bought a book on my recommendation:  ‘Testament of Youth’ by Vera Brittain, which I blogged about the other day.  Some of you who are followers I’ve looked up and read bits of your blogs, and I know that you come from places as diverse as the US, Canada, New Zealand and Israel.  But who ARE you?  I’d really like to know.  And then when I’m blogging I can imagine I’m having a party here in my living-room and you guys are all sitting round and keeping me company.  And when you’re settled with a glass of wine or a bottle of beer and a canape (actually I have only the vaguest idea of what a canape is, so you’d probably have pizza slices or bits of carrot dipped in hummus) then I would ask you this: what is it that you like?  I mean, yes I know some of you ‘like’ my posts, in the Facebook sense (there’s a whole essay there, on the difference between liking and ‘liking’) and that’s good but I still don’t know WHY.  What is it you like about them?  What do you like about this blog?  Do you like discursive and philosophical articles?  Do you like book and film reviews?  Or do you just enjoy the banter between Mark and me as we sip our morning drinks?  Or is it the poetry and bits of fiction that you enjoy?  Or the off-beat observations?  The politics?  The culture?

Tell me.  I’d really like to know.  And if there’s anything you find dull – well, you can tell me that as well.

Oh, and speaking of banter with Mark, there was the usual three-way conversation this morning (you know, me, him and Him Upstairs: Mark and I pray together every morning about things which are on our mind and we find it very helpful.  Well, as you can imagine, we have been praying for some time now that things would improve work-wise and financially, and Mark gave it a twist this morning.  ‘Dear God,’ he prayed, ‘please help us to make some money before the shit hits the fan.’

Just thought I’d share that….

Over to you

Kirk out

Lizardyoga Presents… A Reader Interview

Yes, I’ve started a new initiative on this blog, which is to interview readers about their lives and preoccupations; obsessions and talents.  Next up could be YOU!  But today we have Ben Ashby, known on Facebook as Ben Popkid.


Interview with Ben Ashby


Lizardyoga:  So, Ben – how would you describe yourself?
     I suppose I would describe myself as a person who likes to achieve things for others. I enjoy volunteering which I am currently doing. I like to socialise especially with those who have similar interests.
    I like the phrase ‘achieve things for others.’ What kind of things do you volunteer for?
    I mainly work in a human rights realm. I currently volunteer for Amnesty UK. We support student amnesty groups at universities and help them not only run their societies but also with campaigning. I am also an active member of Leicester Amnesty group and help with activities and events that we undertake.
    What was it that drew you to work with Amnesty?

    I found myself as a street fundraiser a number of years ago and in particular fundraising for Amnesty, and this enabled to me to gain more knowledge about the movement. I gained an interest from then on, although I have always been political (even though Amnesty is apolitical).  I was not very active beforehand, well not as much as I am now.
    Is there any particular situation Amnesty deals with that you would like to talk about?

    Well there are two. firstly their work on the abolition of the death penalty. being put to death is against or basic fundamental human right of the right to life. It dehumanises an individual, it removes rehabilitation and lowers the state to the level of the criminal.  Secondly greater rights for women as I believe that inequality is a swear word and incompatible with humanity as a whole.
    I agree with you on those two.  So what’s involved in helping students set up groups?  Are you at both universities in Leicester?
    Setting up new groups needs research on a number of issues at universities without groups: what type of subjects are studied (unis with Psychology, Politics, Law and Journalism courses are prime targets for groups).  The size of student population is a factor, as smaller universities are hard to sustain groups at: also, whether said unis already have NGO societies such as Oxfam, is another factor. Yes we do have groups at Leicester Uni and DMU (where I was Amnesty Soc president 2011/12), we also have a group at Loughborough University.
    Gosh! That’s more complicated than I imagined.  Is there anything else you want to say about yourself?  You mentioned socialising – what kind of things do you do to socialise?
    Well like everyone else I do enjoy going to the pub, but I also love to go to gigs when I can and I would love for there to be more live music in Leicester as the last proper gig I went to was in Brixton.  But a film with friends is also a great way of passing the time.  Ooh and Scrabble!  I love Scrabble.
    Anything else you want to say?
    Yeah in the words of Bill and Ted, “Be excellent to each other.”
    Great ending. Thanks very much Ben. I’ll probably put this on the blog tomorrow.  Bye for now
    OK, anytime.
If you would like to be interviewed for this blog, please post a comment with your email address and I’ll get back to you.
Kirk out

Slept better

Didn’t wake till six.  Watched “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” last night – very uplifting.  Now I have not a single thought in my head.  So here – I’m going to give you a taste of a story I’m writing at the mo – because I can’t think of anything else to say.



Sarada Gray

She should have anticipated it: but on that Monday morning Kate Mitchell had no idea that the simple act of opening her front door would change her life forever. If she’d peeped out of the window first; if she’d given it time, made a few calls, the damage might have been limited. But instead she turned the knob – and her world splintered in a babel of yelling voices and a thousand flashes of light. So there it was: reputation ruined, career in tatters, marriage threatened. End of story, end of story, end of story.

All the journalists knew Kate’s story. Born of an Italian mother and an English father, she had a head-start in both looks and languages, and after university started at Babel, when it was still a translation service. Along with her mother’s glossy hair and olive skin, she carried her father’s idealism and started at Babel with the idea of spreading global good-will. She soon learnt, though, that hostility could be translated just as well: the translation – and translator – merely tools of the speaker. In spite of this, Kate enjoyed the work, did well at it; got promoted. Babel was a progressive company: it hadn’t hurt that her office nickname was “the one who put the Babe in Babel”.

In 1984 when the firm was taken over by Salt, she was one of the few to survive. Babel Software became the – no, The – Number One Translation Software Company. Want to know how to greet your host in Croatia? Babel it. Order a vegetarian meal in Shanghai? Babel it. Compliment a diplomat in Dubai? Play blackjack in Guadalajara? Trade with Bedouin in Morocco? Babel it, babel it; babel it. Babel’s unique software had won awards, and was often credited with stemming the ubiquity of English.

Kate’s idealism had taken a further hit since Salt took over: though she had never met the man, his character and “values” bounced all over the office, so she was glad when work took her away. Her latest project had brought her to Japan, a market for which she was a natural: quiet, diplomatic, a good listener. While Japanese men could be inscrutable, the women were another matter: with her, they unbuttoned completely, told her their dreams and ambitions, their concerns about sleaze and “sex encounter” establishments. Japanese women were ready to seize political power: fired by their conversation, Kate saw herself doing the same back home. Lap-dancing was on the rise in Britain: here was somewhere she might do some good, make a difference.

Making a difference – that was why people went into politics, wasn’t it? But where to start? She weighed the options as she waited, back in London, for Leo.

Leo. What would he say to the idea? He would support her, of course – but would he approve? He was cynical about politicians – all the more reason, she would tell him, to recruit people of integrity. He arrived; they ordered food– and the conversation began just as she had played it in her head.

“I’m considering a change of career,” she said.

“Oh?” He looked up from his salad.

“I’m thinking of going into politics.”

He stopped with his fork in the air. “Politics! But politicians are tossers – power-crazy – egomaniacs! Why would want to be one of them?” Leo didn’t mince his words: it was that which had first attracted her to him.

“Not all of them! Anyway, all the more reason to have someone up there with integrity,” she retorted.

“Up there? What do you mean, up there?

“I just meant…” Kate tailed off. The conversation was veering away from her vision: all she’d meant was that politicians were entrusted with responsibilities. Legislation, for example…

“It doesn’t matter,” Leo was saying. “You start off with principles – they all do. Even Blair did!”

Kate snorted in disbelief.

“It’s true! He was different in the early days: he believed in things. A self-styled socialist, supported nuclear disarmament – look how he ended up!”

“Maybe – but Blair was ambitious, and I’m not. I don’t see myself at Number 10 – I just want to do some good out there. You know – change things for the better: help people.” She paused, sipped her wine, looked him in the eye. “Especially women.”

He softened. “I know. But what might happen to you on the way? That’s what bothers me.” He took her hand across the table. “I’m worried Kate. To be honest, the idea scares me. You don’t know what might happen to you – to us.”

“We’ll handle it,” she said, drinking her wine, not quite meeting his eyes.

After that she started to become active in the local party. Attending meetings made her popular; not many people turned out on winter evenings to listen to debates. She kept a low profile, got to know people; learnt the language: Kate was good at languages. Gradually plans formed in her mind; ideas for getting the message across: Speaking the language of the people. She produced a proposal under that name for the local party: members began to take notice. She started to read the papers – all the heavyweights, plus some of the tabloids – just to get a feel of how she might be viewed if she got up there. Up there – the phrase kept coming – and with it, a picture. A picture of herself and Leo outside Number 10…

The picture vanished as her mobile sounded.

“You’re late!” Leo’s voice accused her.

“Am I? What time is it?”

“Ten to nine!”

“Darling, I’m so sorry. I’ll be there in – “

“Don’t bother! I’m on my way home!” He slammed the phone shut, and she was left talking to the air. She called him when she got home; got voicemail – sometimes Leo could be like that. They’d have to talk, though – she might end up being late a lot more often, the way things were going. In fact, the way things were going, it made no sense for them to be living apart…

She got her first real break in the spring: stood as a local councillor, got elected without a fight. Leo took the news grimly at first; then seemed to make up his mind to something.

“Let’s go out and celebrate!” he said.


“Really.” He took her hand. “I know how important this is to you,” he smiled.

It was the turning-point she’d wanted.

At the end of the meal they caught each other’s gaze: Kate felt this was a defining moment. Neither of them knew quite what to say, were silent for a minute, then both talked at once, falling over each other, falling over themselves, laughing.

“You say it,” said Leo.

Kate took off her ring and put it in her glass; they took turns to drink, right to the bottom. Then Leo put the ring back on her finger and looked at her, smiling.

“Yes,” said Kate. “Yes. We will.”

Looking back, those were the happiest days, when her new job and the wedding plans left no time for reflection. The date was booked for the end of May, the trees in full blossom as they set out for the register office. One or two constituency friends came, but essentially it was a small affair – family, friends and all their children. (There were a lot of children.) Kate wore green silk and made a speech, a small voice at the back of her mind telling her it was good practice.

In the taxi to their holiday hotel, she sat back in comfort, watched the palm trees passing. So that was that; her future was set now.

They saw the headlines on their return. Naked Des in Love-Rat Betrayal jeered the tabloids; Picture on Page Three. Government Minister Caught Nude in Bordello, stated the broadsheets: a picture taken outside his house; his wife forcing a smile. She tried to feel sorry for him, wondered what it must be like to open your door and be confronted by a hundred blinding flashes and a babel of voices – but after all, the man was an idiot: he deserved what he got. She, Kate, wouldn’t be such a fool. An electric shock seemed to go through her then, as she thought: There’s space up there for me. She couldn’t justify the thought – she was hardly going to make cabinet minister in a week – but there it was: she saw herself up there.

It didn’t happen in a week, or anything like it; but a year is a long time in politics. The sex scandal proved to have links to other, deeper scandals – the local MP was implicated – and, before she knew it, Kate had thrown her hat into the ring as the Opposition candidate. She was married, had a good work record: standing on an anti-sleaze ticket seemed like just the thing. Leo even allowed himself to be interviewed, assuring the journalist that he was “only too happy” to support his wife’s career.

No-one found it necessary to mention the name of Thatcher.

There you are!  Don’t say you don’t get value for money on this blog!

Kirk out