Mornington Crescent

image removed on request

Reading this post from the other day put me in mind of Mornington Crescent, one of the silly games people play on ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.’  I like ‘Clue’, as it’s generally known, as well as the next person, but lately it’s been somewhat spoiled for me by the utter mania of the audience.  Where do they find these people, and what are they on?  How can they summon up such whooping enthusiasm for Hamish and Dougal having had their tea yet again???  How can one song to the tune of another bring on such incontinent ecstasy?  I enjoy these games too and I like Jack Dee’s deadpan put-downs as much as the next person, but the manic audience strips the programme of all subtlety.

I digress.  My favourite game in this welter of silliness is Mornington Crescent, a test of ingenuity and knowledge of the London Underground where the goal is to reach Mornington Crescent station before the other players.  It sounds complex and intricate: in fact it’s a hoax; there are no rules and the fun is to make it sound as though there are by seeming to think very hard about your next move and by bringing in certain technical-sounding phrases (‘ah, I see you’re using the Kings’ Cross switchback there,’ and so on.)  But, as OH has so shrewdly pointed out, there are in fact meta-rules because the game wouldn’t work if the first player simply said ‘Mornington Crescent’ straight away.  You have to leave it long enough to be plausible, yet not too long as to become boring; plus you have to bring in unusual stations which seem to be connected to ones already mentioned.  And it has to be funny.

Are the British alone in finding our place names amusing?  Americans don’t seem to do this at all; they pronounce the most bizarre of names with nary a smirk, but we Brits chortle at the mere mention of Bognor or Chipping Sodbury.  Douglas Adams took this tendency and went global with his Meaning of Liff, taking place names around the world and inventing definitions to go with them: our favourites are Grimbister, a group of cars all travelling at the same speed because one of them is a police car, and Berepper, a subtle but audible fart.  And it seems to me that a similar amusement is at work in MC because there are certain combinations of names which are inherently funnier than others.  Like Mordern, say, or East Cheam or – well, Mornington Crescent.

Yay!  I win!

Clue must be due back on air for its 731st series soon… and in case you can’t find it, Mornington Crescent is on the Northern Line (the black one) just North of Euston.

Kirk out


So apparently you all think there is such a thing as a left-handed version of ‘A Suitable Boy’.  Eh?  Is that what you all think?  Really?  Because no-one commented on my April Fool the other day.  No-one!  Not one single person, not even when I dropped a hint yesterday.  Could it be that you just don’t read my blog posts carefully enough?  Hmm?  Well, what have you got to say for yourselves?  Eh?

Or could it be that I was just too good at smuggling it in there?  Was it just too understated and unobtrusive?  There’s the rub; because you don’t want to make it obvious but then again if it’s worked too seamlessly into the text, nobody notices.

Well you can consider yourselves all in detention…

It makes me think of ‘The Unbelievable Truth‘; the radio 4 programme based on unbelievable facts and barely-credible lies where contestants try to smuggle truths into a lecture consisting otherwise of falsehoods.  This is harder than it sounds.  Not only do you have to make lies sound like truths; you have also to make truths sound like lies.  But there’s more to it than that; inexperienced players tend to fall into the ‘rule of three’ trap where they will tell two falsehoods followed by a truth because there’s something in that rhythm that comes naturally.  And there’s the rub: in playing the game you have to go against your own nature, because in the end it’s much harder for most of us to tell a lie than it is to tell a truth, and we all tend to signal in some way when we do lie. 

The police know this, at least in crime fiction they do and I don’t see why they wouldn’t in real life (though I never cease to be amazed by what professionals in all fields do and don’t know).  They know that we signal when we lie; that unless we are practised liars, so practised that lies are woven seamlessly into the fabric of our conversation, we will give out clues.  The direction of the eyes, for example, which indicates which part of the brain we are accessing (whether memory or invention) or blinking at just the wrong moment, or fidgeting; or betraying discomfort in a million different ways.  It’s very hard to lie in a sustained and convincing way, so while you might get away with a quick ‘It wasn’t me, Miss, it was him!’ you’re unlikely to sustain this under detailed and prolonged questioning.  Which brings us back to detention.  Now: wait a moment while I shine this uncomfortably bright light in your eyes and tell me: did you really read my blog post properly the other day?  Do you really think there’s such a thing as a left-handed copy of a book?

Go on, go home now.  And make sure you read properly in future because I’ll be asking questions.

Kirk out


JAM Yesterday, JAM for Fifty Years but No JAM Tomorrow?

The BBC has been forced to issue statements reassuring people that the world is not about to end.  ‘The apocalypse is not upon us,’ tweeted BBC Head of Comedy Julia McKenzie yesterday as Nicholas Parsons missed his first episode of Just a Minute in the show’s fifty-year history.  Shock-waves rocked Radio 4 audiences up and down the country (‘and around the world!’ as Parsons was so often heard to say) as instead of our beloved Parsons, we heard the mellifluous, unctuous and utterly irritating tones of Gyles Brandreth (for it was he.)

In all fairness, Brandreth didn’t do a bad job; in fact I found him much less irritating as chair than as a contestant as he’s forced to be impartial and can’t squeeze in any of the nauseating tributes to Margaret Thatcher of which he is so fond.  JAM is a difficult game to play, which explains why so few new contestants stay the course: Sarah Pascoe was last night a case in point, struggling to rack up more than a few seconds on any of her given subjects.  But it must also be a hard game to adjudicate as you have to listen carefully and make finely-balanced decisions whilst remembering that this is supposed to be entertainment.  Paul Merton is an excellent foil to Parsons (and toned down his usual piss-taking of Brandreth for this episode) in fact he seems to have been born to be on panel shows, which is not something you can say of every comedian.

The BBC has denied that there is anything wrong with Parsons and said that he just wanted a rest; which at the age of 94 is fair enough.  But one wonders just how much longer he can keep going.  There may be JAM tomorrow – but will it be Parsons JAM?

Kirk out


I Have A Dead Ringer

Yes, it’s all too horribly true: my phone ringer is dead.  Or maybe it’s sleeping; either way on any of the various occasions when it is supposed to make a noise – alarm, text, call, facebook message, facebook update, reminder and god knows what else – it is content to make a sudden purr like an intermittent cat.  In other words it does everything it should do when it’s on silent, but it isn’t.  I have checked and double-checked the settings; I have (in the time-honoured way) turned things off and on and on and off again and still it persists in purring.  So I must perforce consider the meaning of the term ‘dead ringer’.  Jeremy Irons (once my favourite actor) plays twins in a film of that name, Meat Loaf sang about it and the Radio 4 programme features it.  So what is it?

The origin of the phrase is apparently from horse-racing: ‘dead’ meaning ‘exact’ (as in ‘dead heat’) and ‘ringer’ meaning a horse falsely substituted for another which it resembles.  Hence a dead ringer, meaning an exact lookalike.  At least I’ve always understood it to mean a lookalike, which makes the radio 4 concept somewhat paradoxical don’t it?

Still it’s a fun programme: Tom Baker is a staple and they do Boris Johnson brilliantly:

Here’s the Meat Loaf song:


and here’s the film:

A short one today but what do you expect?  My ringer is dead…

Kirk out

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

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


The Proust of Rye and the Lorca of Montreal

I hope you caught the Book of the Week on radio 4 this morning: if you didn’t there’s still time, and four more episodes to go of this latest biography of my guru Leonard Cohen:

It didn’t tell me too much I didn’t know in terms of fact, but the interpretation sounds interesting: I heard the author being interviewed the other day and saying he didn’t think Cohen was a poet or even a singer or musician, as much as he was a prophet.  That is exactly how I think of him, and although I don’t write like him he is in many ways an inspiration and the father of my art.

I’m willing to bet Cohen never wrote limericks; it seems utterly unlike him, somehow – but there are times when I can’t stop myself writing them, and another lot came today, this time on the theme of Too Much Satire in TV.  It’s a bit rough as yet, but it begins:

TV can be fun but it’s ballotted

no sooner done than it’s parodied

it gets a bit wearing

when nothing is sparing,

but instantly caught and dead-parrotted.

Hm.  The rhymes for that one gave me a lot of trouble.  Anyway, before I got into all that I was thinking once again about E F Benson, having been reminded of him by reading Proust.  Now when people think Proust they think memory; they think time; they think madeleines dunked into coffee; they think going to bed early.  But that’s only the starting-point for Marcel; he spends a lot of time dissecting social mores and figuring out why people behave as they do.  And it’s in his description of the petty-bourgeois couple, the Verdurins, who run a salon – of sorts – and pretend that anyone they can’t invite to it is in fact ‘a bore’ whom they wouldn’t want anyway – that I find E F Benson.  This is his milieu, for all that it takes place in Tilling (Rye) and not in France; and in the 1930’s instead of the 1890’s.  His characters are petty, self-obsessed, materialistic and mean; they are extremely unattractive, and yet somehow, by making us amused and drawing us into the circle, he makes us like them and even care about them.

Now, I don’t want to stereotype; but this could have been because he was gay.  He wasn’t ‘out’, obviously, because no-one was – unless one of their enemies had sent incriminating photographs to the police – but he never married and some of his earlier novels are thought to be homoerotic.  I couldn’t possibly comment… however the gossipy intimate tone of the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series does seem to set off a kind of gaydar.  (Sits back and waits for hostile comments to arrive….)

Kirk out

I’m Struggling Here

Well, it’s day three of the Lenten ‘no bad news’ challenge, and I’m finding it a bit of a struggle.  I keep feeling the urge to go on Facebook or put radio 4 on: whilst there are some fun programmes on 4 extra they do tend to crop up again and again.  I’d heard today’s episode of Steptoe and Son twice already and then they repeated it this evening as well – just in case we hadn’t heard it the first two times.  Which I had.

On the other hand, my mood is an awful lot brighter for cutting out all the gloom; I no longer find myself despairing about the future of the world, worrying about my own future, feeling angry, frustrated and depressed by turns, all about situations I can’t change.  So that is good.

So, to report the kind of news I am allowed to listen to, I note the return of H2G2 from next week. If you don’t know what H2G2 is, then you must be a Vogon who doesn’t know where his towel is, that’s all I have to say.

Kirk out

PS And don’t forget – if you want to comment you have to do it on here, not on Facebook!  This means you, Katherine Gilchrist!


Spread a Little Misery…

No book reviews this morning as I am still working my way through the unbelievably turgid ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’.  This is the second time I’ve read this very disappointing novel, and I think I posted a review the first time.  Hmm – seems I did, but I posted it on Amazon and not here.  Oh well.  I know I called it a ‘turkey’ and this time around I’m liking it slightly more – but only slightly.  The narration is still turgid, the characters flat and the historical references unbelievably clunky.  But I’ll save the full heat of my ire until I’ve finished.

Meanwhile, as I listen to Gillian Clarke the National Poet of Wales on Desert Island Discs, I will share with you a thought.  It’s simple but profound, and it’s this: every day we need certain things to sustain us.  Food and drink, obviously; shelter and warmth, definitely; love and companionship, certainly.  However it struck me again this morning as it often does, that something else we need is some Good News.  No, this isn’t the beginning of an evangelistic rant, so don’t run away: I mean literally that we need some good news in our lives; and the news media very very rarely answers that need.  This morning as I was listening to ‘Today’ on radio 4, they began an item on vulnerable girls being abused in Rochdale by Pakistani men, and how these girls were let down by all the agencies who should have helped them.  This is not by any means the first time that this story has come up, and it’s depressing in more ways than I can count: the vulnerability of the girls and their need for attention which drew them to the men in the first place: the terrible patriarchal attitudes that often prevail in the Pakistani community; the restrictive practices of traditional marriage which lead them to marry their first cousins despite the inadvisability of this; the tendency of the police and social workers to believe the articulate and middle class and ignore the uneducated and poor: I could go on and on.  When I hear such a story I feel a mixture of sadness and anger, coupled with a desire to do something – but there’s nothing I can do, so it leaves me with this welter of emotion which I can’t do anything about.  So instead of continuing to listen, I took the radical gesture of turning the radio off.  What can I listen to instead? I asked myself.  And I came up with this:

And I felt much better.

Kirk out

Coming Soon To A Neighbourhood Near You…

Ah, yes – I remember what I was going to write about.  It was Daniel Dennett’s ‘surely alarm’.  He asserts that when people use the word ‘surely’ in an argument or speech, it should trigger an alarm, as it’s a sign that the speaker has not justified their argument.

Surely not!

Mark doesn’t like Daniel Dennett as he says he’s a bit Richard Dawkins-ish: I have no opinion about the man.

But presumably he has a – albeit rather sober – field-day when attacks happen like yesterday’s Woolwich murder:

Muslim groups all over the country have been quick to condemn this and it’s beginning to look like a couple of rogue idiots, although Al Qaeda has been mentioned.  I’m still not sure if I believe Al Qaeda exists, but it’s upsetting to see the amount of anti-religious stuff that comes out after an event like this.  The level of racism is disturbing too: the eye-witness interviewed on Radio 4 – and presumably on the TV too – used the word ‘black’ in connection with the terrorists at least six times.  I doubt she would have used the word ‘white’ at all had they been “white”.  As Blake once observed, ‘as a man is, so he sees’ – something I always keep in mind in such situations.  Sometimes the way a person describes an event says far more about them than it does about what they have witnessed: and in this case a key factor for the witness was clearly the fact that the men were “black”.

Hm – interestingly, it’s not so easy to find that interview today.  Perhaps that’s why…

The wider evil of such actions – beyond, of course, the immediate evil of the killing of the victim and traumatisation of onlookers – is the knock-on effect it has on communities.  I suspect – though I don’t know for sure – that there was little racial integration in Woolwich, though the communities may have rubbed along well enough on a day-to-day basis.  But an action like this brings hidden tensions to the surface: people feel free to make racist or Islamophobic statements with impunity and ordinary Muslims, who are probably as horrified by this as anyone – feel themselves under threat.

It’s very dispiriting and I can’t begin to fathom what goes on in the mind of someone who can perpetrate an act like this.

However!  In the face of terror, let us all do something positive for peace.  We may not be in Woolwich, but no matter where we are there’s always something we can do.  So talk to a neighbour today.  Get to know the people at the bus stop or in the shop.  Get involved in community projects.  Because, guess what?  If we don’t build links in our community then terrorism gets a foothold – and it’ll be coming soon to a neighbourhood near you.

Kirk out

PS  I have made a conscious decision to adopt the American word ‘neighbourhood’ in preference to our rather vague term ‘area’.  Nothing, however, will induce me to spell it without a ‘u’.  I notice, however, that more and more people on-line are using the ‘z’ in words ending in ‘-ise’, such as ‘realise’.  Colonisation by spellchecker?  I feel another post coming on…