Can You Inkle?

I always thought The Inklings was rather a twee name for Tolkein and Lewis’s little club of authors but this hasn’t stopped me subscribing to the Daily Inkling. Neither a newspaper of Narnia nor a broadsheet of Middle Earth, this is a series of daily blog prompts which, as I mentioned the other day, are a useful back-up for when my brain is running on empty.

Yesterday was unusual: I dropped in to vote in the European elections (please God don’t let Farage win, he’ll be unbearable. I mean more unbearable…) and stopped off at the library to return The Horse and His Boy. I’ve decided that reading fantasy, particularly children’s fantasy since the adult kind seems to be focussed on clashings of swords and bucklings of swashes (ooh, now at my back I hear a gathering army of protestors, speaking of Pratchett and others I haven’t read. So be it) where was I? Yes, reading children’s fantasy books in bed is a great way to get to sleep. Paul McKenna advises not reading anything before sleep besides his book, but the habit is too deeply ingrained for me to give it up. However, I recognise that a Rebus or a Nicci French is probably not the best thing for inducing a peaceful drowsiness, so I hit on the idea of fantasy. I began with Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner and then went on to the Narnia novels. I’m now beginning His Dark Materials. What’s important about these books is that they transport you to other worlds, meaning that you are already in an almost trance-like state by the time you slot in your book-mark and turn off the light.

This was leading on to something… oh yes, today’s blog post prompt. What was it again? ‘How important is physical fitness in your life?’

Well, yoga is very important. I guess you get more attuned to your body the more you do it, but it beats me how people can survive without a good daily stretch. If I miss it even for one day I feel stiff and listless because yoga not only stretches the muscles and joints, it raises the kundalini, the vital energy that keeps us all going and without which we are running on empty. This is why so many people drink coffee whereas in yoga stimulants are strongly discouraged (I have tea in the mornings and herbal infusions after that.)

But the missing dimension to yoga is a good cardio-vascular workout. Unless you do a number of rounds of surya namaskar (about which I have mental blocks as I’ve mentioned before) you don’t get many aerobic benefits. So whilst I go for a brisk walk sometimes and dig the garden most days, it probably isn’t enough. But I can’t bring myself to jog or go to the gym so the occasional zumba session to youtube videos is as far as it gets.

There. That’s today ticked off. Have a good Bank Holiday weekend. Oh, and the book I borrowed from the library? The Silence of the Girls. Was it any good? I couldn’t stop reading it. And that was yesterday.

Kirk out

What a Load of Old Santosh

There’s not a lot of the old Santosh sloshing around these days: the practice of contentment is so far off the radar that most of us don’t even see it, and even those of us who practise are liable to forget it just at the crucial moment.  Though it stands at our elbow and nudges, we push it away.  Only let me have this, we say, then I’ll be content.  I just need this one thing to be happy.  But Santosh is a wily old bird, and she knows better.  ‘You come along-a me,’ she says, ‘and then you’ll have everything you need.’  You know she’s right but you resist, you delay; because you’re afraid that following santosh will mean accepting that you can never have the Thing.  And you really really want The Thing.  The Thing is what your whole life has been pointing at, and you can’t give up The Thing.

Give me the Thing!

Santosh is one of the practices of Hinduism and hence of yoga.  What with Eastern traditions being non-dualistic they don’t have Cardinal Virtues and Deadly Sins: even though the concept is roughly the same (as you’ll see in a minute) the approach is much more gentle.  Rather than choosing between heaven and hell, you arrive at different levels (as it were) and are reincarnated accordingly.  I don’t believe in actual reincarnation but the principle makes a lot more sense to me than an arbitrary ‘on-off’ switch where you’re going down a chute and God flips the switch to send you up to heaven or down to hell.  There are ten of these ‘practices’; five things to do and five to avoid.

Here are the niyamas, or things to practice:


Saucha, or cleanliness,

Tapas, or discipline (primarily self-discipline)

Svadhyaya, study of self and of texts

Ishvara-pranidhana, acceptance of a higher power (a bit like the practice in Alcoholics Anonymous, and susceptible of many interpretations).

But before you get to these there are five yamas, or things to avoid:

Ahimsa, non-violence (the corner-stone of Gandhi’s philosophy)

Satya, truth-telling (Gandhi also spoke of satyagraha, or ‘truth-power’)

Asteya, non-stealing

Aparigraha, non-greed

Brahmacharya, either celibacy or the right direction of sexual energy (this does not necessarily imply homophobia but a focussing on sexual energy to foster relationships rather than on personal gratification.)

The thing about these is they all work together; and it occurred to me this morning that santosh and aparigraha, or the avoidance of greed, are very much in tandem.  If you are satisfied with what you have you do not crave more (this does not apply to those whose basic needs are not met) so it could be said that the constant striving after achievement is a kind of greed.  That sounds a little harsh, I know, but in an age where being driven is seen as some sort of virtue, it might help to see it in that way.

Kirk out



Surprise me, darling – but just let me know when you’re going to do it…

So this morning I was moaning, as I often do, about being hungry.  It goes like this: I’m sitting up in bed drinking tea and listening to the radio.  Or more usually trying to listen to the radio through Mark’s ranting about the news.  This particular morning I was following the coverage of Sadiq Kahn’s very welcome election to the post of London Mayor and thinking a) how good it was to have a London mayor and b) how it would give the lie to all sorts of Islamophobia to have a Muslim mayor.  It almost neutralises the highly unwelcome news, the almost unbelievable news, that the Republican party have had the idiocy to select Trump for the nomination.  The guy is a joke, but a very bad one – a worse one, in many ways, than Reagan; and I remember only too well what that was like…

Sheer brilliance.  But the Trump story is beyond satire: I simply don’t know what we do with it.  I mean, it comes to something when even the Tory Prime Minister insults the Republican nominee.

But onwards and upwards.  As I said, this morning I was suffering the usual breakfast dialogue which goes like this:

I’m hungry.  

But I can’t have breakfast yet.  First I have to get up, then have a wash, put on some clothes, do my yoga and boil an egg.  

I can’t be bothered.  I’ll stay in bed for a while.

But I’m hungry….

It goes round and round like the song ‘There’s a Hole in my Bucket’ which I used to sing as a child.

I learned it from my Dad, who was a fund of songs – not religious ones as you might expect, but popular tunes like ‘Clementine’.

Anyway, I eventually heaved my reluctant brain out of bed, washed its front fascia and slung on some clothes.  I was about to unroll my yoga mat when OH popped his head round the door.  ‘Your breakfast’s nearly ready,’ he said.

He’d made me breakfast as a surprise.  ‘If I’d known you were going to surprise me I wouldn’t have got up,’ I said.

It was sweet of him though…

And the egg was perfect.

Kirk out


Losing Ten Kilos and Gaining a Thali and a Bike

Mark has made it!  69.1 kilos this morning, which means he’s hit his target of 70 kg.  He really looks different – slim instead of a bit paunchy; and in honour of the occasion he’s going to cook a thali from scratch.  That means a whole smorgasbord on a tray; 2 different curries, a sauce, puris or chappattis, rice, salad, yoghurt and a sweet which will be gulab jamun.

Challenging!  But perhaps not as challenging as losing 10 kilos…

Alas!  I am not losing any weight; so I am going to look at a bike this morning, in the hope that I’ll be able to get it fixed and start cycling again.  I’m clearly not getting enough aerobic exercise: I do my yoga in the morning and I go for a walk later but neither of those things is aerobic, and the rest of the day I’m seated.  Unless I do a bit of gardening, that is.

So, what have I been reading this week?  The Colm Toibin novella, ‘The Testament of Mary’ was highly evocative and compelling; alas, I have problems with atheist versions of religious stories, not because I’m anti-atheist but because they always seem to have an axe to grind.  This even extends to the other book I’m reading – however, the imaginative power of ‘The Amber Spyglass’ more than compensates for these issues as the story-telling is quite incredible.  When you first read these books you are utterly mesmerised; it’s a feeling similar to reading the Narnia books for the first time, except that there’s a lot more to figure out.  He doesn’t give the reader much; no explanation or back-story; you just have to work it out for yourself.  So if you haven’t yet caught up with ‘His Dark Materials,’ do so.  It’s a brilliant read, and the film is great too – it’s just sad that they didn’t finish the trilogy.  I’d swap that for the bloody Hobbit any day:

Kirk out

Treading Air: How I Survived Abject Poverty

Today is Wednesday, which means political and social comment – and this week I shall be discussing how, for the past five years (and previously in my life) I have survived poverty.  Then next week I shall be giving you my top tips on how to survive abject poverty.

Of course, the first thing to say is to admit that it hasn’t really been abject: we have clean, safe running water, a dry house, beds to sleep in, a bath to bathe in and a flushing toilet.  We have so far managed to avoid having our electricity cut off and have scraped together sufficient funds to keep phone and wi-fi going.

So are we poor?  What do we really need in life?  When asking ‘what do I need?’ there are two levels to consider.  On the first level, survival, we are doing pretty well: we never have a totally bare cupboard or empty freezer (and we have a freezer!); we are never thirsty and there’s always hot water and soap for hygiene.  We are not short of clothes to wear, and are able to keep warm in winter and dry in the wet.

On the other hand, we do run out of simple items to cook, leaving us with staples like rice, flour, couscous and dried beans, which take longer and which the children barely recognise as food.  (Nonetheless our supply of these foodstuffs would look like untold wealth to many people.)  Shoes are also a problem – I have nothing waterproof at the moment besides my hiking-boots, and even those leak; and I live in almost daily dread of Daniel saying he needs new footwear.

Much of what we do have is due to the generosity of others: gifts of food, clothing and money have come our way in abundance and without the munificence of friends and family we would not have a freezer or a decent cooker, to name just two items.

So much for survival: now for the second level, which is the ability to participate in society.  It would be very difficult for me to do my work without daily access to the internet, as opportunities come up all the time and often writing can only be submitted to publishers electronically.  So in order to live without wi-fi at home I would have to spend a couple of hours every day in the library – and Mark would have an even greater problem as he wouldn’t be able to do his videos or chat to patients online.  Likewise we need the phone so people can make appointments for herbal or yoga sessions.

Just generally keeping in touch is important, not only for work but to avoid isolation.  This is essential for our mental health.

Next time: my top tips on how to survive abject poverty.

Kirk out

Well! That was the Weekend that Was

Finally I’m able to string two words together after a crowded weekend.  On Saturday we were busy all day after Burnham Wood removed to Dunsinane – or to be slightly more accurate, to Enderby for a day of fun, frolic and lasagne.  To be prosaic for a moment, this was a church awayday of discussion and Things.  Especially Things.  Some interesting stuff came out of the day, so watch this space for potential developments…

All right, that’s enough watching the space.  So, after that we repaired in possession of chips and dips, to a party at the Y Theatre (and Y not?) for Nerissa’s 60th birthday.  There were loads of people I hadn’t seen for ages and that was fun.  Then on Sunday the usual – church followed by Peter’s for yoga and thence to Yesim’s for a great evening of song and bardishness.

Yesterday I had writing stuff to do and a Sainsbury’s order to collate, so I have only just caught up with myself.

And that was the weekend.  More thoughts tomorrow.

Kirk out

So, hum!

Well, who knew!  Apparently everything has a hum.  The yogis knew it and now the police know it – and they claim to be able to place, by date and TIME!!! – a recording of anything you like, according to the hum of the machines in the background.  Sounds like jiggery-pokery to me – but still, that’s what the man said on the Today programme.  And it reminded me of the yoga idea that the universe hums – and that the sound you can make to get in touch with the universe and feel one with everything and all that fuzzy stuff, is a hum.  There are actually two ways you can do this.  You can chant OM (OM contains within it all creation, beginning, middle and end; as it is actually three sounds – A, U and M).  Or you can chant – or think – ‘So Hum’ (or ‘So Ham’.)  So hum means ‘I am’ – or, more precisely, ‘I am that which is’, and it mimics nicely the sound of the breath: ‘so’ for the in-breath, ‘hum’ for the out-breath.

Try it some time.  And then go to a pizza place and say, ‘can you make me one with everything?’


They’re dropping like flies this week – first Patrick and now Ravi.  Farewell then, Ravi Shankar, the best-known – and in fact the only known – sitar player in the West.  I first came across Ravi Shankar at the Concert for Bangladesh, where he played a set alongside George Harrison, Eric Clapton and many, many more: I still have the boxed set of that concert, which is unusual in having sides 1 and 6 on the same disc, followed by sides 2 and 5 and then sides 3 and 4.  This was because a lot of people had ‘stackable’ record players which dropped down a disc at a time.

I have a sizeable stack of Tomatoes pamphlets this morning – the e-version is coming but will be a few days as apparently I have to type the whole lot out again!


I’m going to need that beer tonight…

Kirk out

Draught and Thought

There was a good second session of Drink and Think at the Ale Wagon last night on the topic of Free Will vs Determinism.  The group seemed to veer towards the determinism end of the scale, whether through a belief in genetic determinism, or in what I might sum up as ‘a combination of Sod’s Law and circumstances’.  However, at our end of the table we tended towards a belief that we have a spiritual dimension, and that free will predominates – though not exclusively – that we have a more than just a little ‘wiggle room’ within that combination of genes and circumstances and whatever else constrains us.  The subject has huge implications for any legal system, and we discussed some of these as, clearly there is no point and no justice in punishing people if they have no free will.

But hey, we can’t help it.


We also touched on the area of talent and levels of competence; and what happens in the mind when we are unconsciously competent and can seem to ‘go beyond’ ordinary consciousness into a state which I would define as meditation.

And that brings me to an area which we didn’t discuss, which is karma.  Many people identify karma with fate, ie something that happens to you and which you cannot alter.  My view – and the general yoga view – is almost the direct opposite of this: that karma is what you are given (or, if you believe in reincarnation, what your previous lives have given you) precisely in order that you may do something with it.  And that ‘doing something with it’ is in essence what you are here for.  In other words, your karma exists precisely in order for you to change it – or at the very least, to work on it.
One thing we did discuss – and in connection with which we might have quoted Hamlet:
‘there’s nothing either good nor bad,
but thinking makes it so’
– was the importance of perception; in other words, that a situation can be transformed by your perception of it.  Facts remain facts, but their meaning is changed according to who is looking.  So that, for example, the Gaza strip is an entirely different place to an Israeli and a Palestinian.  There wasn’t time to develop this idea very far but I’m a great believer in the power of visualisation to bring about change.  Even if it’s only a change in how I feel about a situation, that in itself is a huge advantage – as I was saying the other day about the person who moans continually about not having a car and then gets one, thereby finding a whole new stratum of things to moan about.
It’s the attitude that counts.  I firmly believe that.
Here endeth the lesson.
Today I shall be mostly… sharpening up some poems and getting a couple of other pieces ready to send off.
Kirk out

Not if There’s an M in the Month

Apparently Iain Banks has a book out.  This is not Iain Banks however but Iain M Banks who is a totally different incarnation of Iain Banks.  I don’t like Iain Banks but I like Iain M Banks even less because he is the sci-fi one and I don’t like sci-fi at all.  Yes, I know I watch Dr Who and Red Dwarf but RD is essentially a sitcom with an unusual setting and Dr Who is – well, an institution and family viewing rather than nerdstuff.  To be fair I think sci-fi is interesting in what it reveals about the current zeitgeist: Mark has this idea about ‘sixties aliens’ and ‘modern aliens’, for example being totally different – and in Dr Who they are also quite imaginative in their choice of alien formats.  As my recent poem, ‘Doctor’, has it, he…

‘…lands just in time to save the human race

and nicer aliens from some great disaster’.

People used to say that if you want to discover what is really going on in your subconscious you should write a fairy story.  Well, maybe that works for sci-fi too – you can certainly see what’s going on in a nation’s subconscious by watching their sci-fi films: (Hey, does that Russian guy look a bit alien to you?)

The novel is going quite well: I’m nearly up to the 10,000 words I will need to enter the Cinammon Press ‘beginning of novel’ competition.  Once I reach the word-count then I can begin revising and hopefully get it into some sort of shape before the end of November.

Death Last Night

We did death last night on the course: there was a very interesting talk by a chaplain from LOROS who seemed to have a reassuringly open view as regards Other Faiths: Brian also mentioned mantra and I almost talked about yoga but then didn’t.  I still tend to get upset when Christians are anti-yoga.  (For those not in Leicester, LOROS is a hospice and it stands for ‘Leicester Organisation for the Relief Of Suffering’.  They are very well thought-of hereabouts.)

To Peter’s later for some long-overdue yoga.  Then drama tonight: let’s hope the Spanish guy doesn’t strip off again.  If he does Nadine will string him up, I imagine.

Happy Thursday

Kirk out

If it’s 5 am it must be Sunday

Won’t even bother describing the hour at which I woke this morning.  Dozed to an accompaniment of people discussing the issue of tai chi in church halls – Should it be Banned?  Personally I don’t know what the people banning it are afraid of.  I get the same thing about yoga sometimes, though fortunately less and less these days.

Holly had an unfortunate experience last night – went to the youth club at Trinity and – according to her – went in and stood there for 15 minutes and nobody spoke to her.  It may not have been quite 15 minutes – but someone definitely should have spoken to her.  So that was a shame.  The drama is going well though – she read us a bit of her script.*

Watched an interesting programme about – fuck! – people with Tourette’s.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like before the condition was known about and understood – life must have been impossible.  One poor boy ate his lunches alone because he couldn’t help spitting his food.  His parents also split up and he blames himself for that.

I found myself wondering after that – what happened to the “7-up” series?  If they’re still doing it, I must have missed at least a couple.

Apparently the last one was in 2006.  I can’t remember if I saw the 1999 one.  I think I saw one in the 90’s.  My memory is so bad at the moment, it’s playing havoc with my life.  The other night I had to look up directions to the Black Boy, a pub I’ve been to dozens of times – and last week I got lost going to the beer festival.  It’s frightening sometimes – it’s like bits dropping out of my brain.

Got depressed yesterday due to a critical comment from a student coinciding with a book review of mine being rejected.  Really, the only reason anyone writes is because you can’t not do it.  Not doing it is not an option.  Why else would you bother?  The hours are terrible, the conditions variable, the pay non-existent for the first few years and then who knows?

Why do I do it?

Because I can’t not do it.

Kirk out.

PS Went to see “Alice in Wonderland” with Daniel.  Visually stunning, great acting and casting with some real stalwarts in there (Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, and Johnny Depp excellent as the Mad Hatter – explained on the way home to Daniel the origin of the phrase “mad as a hatter” which led on to a discussion of hats and how people don’t wear them any more apart from woolly ones and baseball caps.)  I thought the film was brilliant, although like every film adaptation it mixes parts of “Wonderland” with “Through the Looking-Glass”.  I also thought the plot limped a little at times and lacked a real sense of climax.  But I forgave it.

Go and see this before the *******s at Disney pull it from the cinemas and start releasing it on DVD.  It really should be seen at the cinema.

* PPS Took this up with the youth leader at Trinity – he said they weren’t there so she must have wandered into another group by mistake, which does explain it somewhat.  Although they still could’ve spoken – couldn’t they?