Friday, December 29, 2006

Are we nearly there yet?
... Yes, we are. Happy New Year to readers & writers everywhere.
My 2007 diary - which depicts a preposterously stiletto-heeled, outrageously scarlet, thigh-high boot, I must have been in quasi-courtesan mode when I bought it - is already crammed with writerly things: summer festivals and conferences, autumn workshops and, most wonderful of all, Spring in Crete... Peter & I are going back to Chania to spend five weeks walking and writing, exploring coastal tracks and villages before the tourist season starts. And even before that, for me the thrill of spending January in Chile, leading creative writing sessions at a venue near Santiago (where it's currently 33 degrees, compared to 11 here...)
But though it's hard to keep my head in the wintry cusp of the old year, there have been some sweet and splendid moments: visits to friends, impromptu carols, walking Stourhead's Six Wells Valley, and an idyllic afteroon at The Cross Bath with Peter's family, playing in this hot open-air pool while the streets of Bath outside slewed with Sale shoppers.

Well, Greek philosophy allegedly began with the notion that water is the origin and mother-womb of all things, so maybe this is an appropriate way to greet the year ahead.

And as the old year begins its slow slouch to the exit like the last reluctant aunt as the disco ends, I'm once again pondering the curious appeal of blogging. Today's Observer Review (the reason I spend so much time in coffee houses is of course to save on newspapers) raises the question with a handful of writers who admit to the habit of journaling. I like best Kate Kellaway's image: "For me it is like placing a rock in a stream, a way of interrupting the flow of time, diverting it - having the comforting illusion that it has not escaped forever." A virtual pod-cast of thoughts and impressions, made by a magic damn. I like that.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Did you know the derivation of the word Yule? Me neither, till I asked the oracle (aka Wikipedia) and found it's from the Anglo-Saxon word for yellow - "geol” - since "Yule as a midwinter festival had much to do with "bringing back the sun" and creating bright and shining sun- and fire-themed decorations and festivities." 

Appropriately, this has been a bright and shining week, starting with the lively Merlin Theatre party at Christies Wine Bar where Dimitri provided tapas and Secret Santa provided presents.
And despite the fog, Bristol shone bright on Solstice night: - amazing meal with my sons & their families after a great walk around the city best-bits.

This is Florrie's first christmas so there have to be books...

Peter & I celebrated the solstice more quietly next day with a foggy walk along the Bath skyline woods where the trees glittered with ice droplets and frosted spiderwebs. If this was a card the caption could be that Thoreau quote: "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

It's been a week of sinful stollen moments, and I wish that was a typo... Two writers' meetings, both of which turned into a feast of seasonal treats as well as stories and stanzas. It's not actually murky enough, weather-wise, to justify xmas xcess. On Saturday there's a stunning blue sky and Peter & I enjoy a walkabout day with our journals; Peter writes about "pausing the fast forward day" as we linger in Cafe Nero watching the Bristol bustle. In the evening there's a gig at The Folk House, co-hosted by Rosemary Dun - that's her being a fairy - where we enjoy the diverse talents of Mo the foxy Peoples' Nun, Lucy English, and a mad trio called More Silage as well as the incomparable lugubrious genius of Nathan Filer. Nathan's themes are generally on the dark side - no-one who's heard it will forget his Oedipal memoir - and tonight the focus is on unrequited love by various women and a yucca plant, though the deeper the descent to personal purgatory the funnier the poem. It's cruel but tempting to hope the poet's heart remains unhealed for a while longer, or at least that he remembers how to bear a grudge.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Poetry highlight of the week, and possibly the century, is the FOUR CONTINENTS Slam in Bristol on Thursday. Steve Larkin, the dynamo behind Hammer & Tongue, explains the concept to a crowded Polish Club: "It's a vibrant, high octane - thing!" And indeed it is. Perhaps his view of the scoring system is spot-on too: "It's a metaphor for humanity's struggle to impose order on a chaotic world." Or maybe it's more important than that. Whatever, it's a fantastic event. Here's 8 poets, the creme de la creme of 4 continents, giving us the best of their best on the last night of a 13-venue tour... you get the picture, and an idea of the atmosphere of intense cameraderie as well as rivalry. We'd gone to cheer the local boy, Elvis McGonagall, but like everyone else ended up cheering them all. Special praise from me for: US Sonya Renee's explosive "Tag", for the sensuous evocation of Africa by Andreattah Chuma, for John Akpata's poignant challenge "What do you know about love?" & for Australasian Thom's impro love anthem to his tour-mates: "No voice can contain the beauty of your dreaming". And to Elvis, of course, who won on the night and with Sweden's Henry Bowers took Europe to an overall tour win. Of course, like Steve says, it's the poetry not the points that's the point, but great fun when the judges hold up their scoreboards, especially with a rare, exhilerating, "Perfect 10!"

And now Christmas is slithering inexorably closer like some great glittering snake which... well, slithers. Inexorably. It's hard to look ahead to next year, but necessary: I have a Valentine Poetry Cafe to plan - Rose Flint has agreed to guest - and there's a Words@Frome Festival meeting.

And on Friday I meet with Diana Cambridge, editor of Greece among other multi-talented writing roles, to talk about next year's island visits... after all, it's only 10 days to the solstice, and then the long nights will slowly start to shorten again.

Saturday night is party time at Annabelle's - as befits an actor she's looking gorgeously theatrical in an amazing outfit complete with pink parakeet. The rest of us provide a mixed bag of attire, especially when an impromtu dance of several veils somehow ends up with them all on our heads Her Maj.-stylee...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"Whatever you dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it" ... Goethe must have sustained more people than Prozac and porridge oats. I think of that quote again as Annie Lionnet gives me a wonderful tarot reading. Annie's new in Frome and keen to contribute to the artistic community of the town, so on Tuesday I talk her into the Frome Creative Network, a project to attract future arts funding. In the meantime, once the steering committee has volunteered itself, we adjourn to the Crown to continue networking.

Emily and I visit Radstock on Wednesday, travelling rather perversely by bus to get the full flavour of community life. Only nine miles away yet such a different ambience: if Frome has ragamuffin glitz, Radstock seems dressed in serviceable grey. Maybe it's the predominance of Victorian municipal architecture upholding solid protestant values - the town centre is a giant Co-op - but there seemed to be a slight sense of Life-on-Mars (the TV series not the planet) about the streets and shops, styles and products. The museum provides fascinating insight, as well as cups of tea.
Radstock museum is a treasure trove of local history, especially the story of the coal mines - the last only closing in 1974 - and recreates the tough reality of the miners' daily life as well as the pit disasters and strikes. And the camaraderie that must have been the best part: men who worked together played together too, in quoit-throwing contests, pigeon races, choirs and bands, and supported each other in Friendly Societies.
It's the individual names and specific details - photographs, tally disks, certificates of 'conspicuous bravery', lists of the dead - which make this rummage through the past so powerful and poignant - realising that Amos Dando was 12 when he died in the Wellsway Pit Disaster on 8th November 1839.
In the exhibition of wildlife imagery by eco-poet Helen Moore upstairs, we find here too it's the detail, not the didactic, which illuminates. "Holcombe Woods 10th May 06. I just love the incredible softness of these new holly leaves..."

Friday night & I'm in London for the World Spirit poetry anthology launch, in Kentish Town to be exact, at the Torriano Meeting House which has a strong link with poetry readings since the 1960, when irascible poets were apparently banned from drinking locally for fear of fights. No squabbles tonight, just a chance to reconnect with good friends and meet some new ones, and to hear some fantastic poetry.
I loved Kate Newmann's tribute to her father's freezer with its ice-marble gooseberries and white silence, and the story of Oscar Wilde's trial, 'wit ebbing from his soliquy'... marvellous, and moving.
Much more to enjoy too - including the party afterwards, so thanks to Stewart & everyone who put on a show. And to Tamar, my sleep-over pal, great poet & tutor, and great company.

Long posting for a long week, which ended in Bath with the Rondo Theatre Company's production of "Mrs Warren's Profession" with friends followed by late supper (& animated debate as to whether better direction could have shown impact and warmth in Shaw's script rather than a laboured finger-wagging tract) and on Sunday Widcombe Studios open house with an amazing 10x10 Bid or Buy project - on till 9th December, check it out if you fancy acquiring great contemporary art & supporting the studios in one on-line bid.

PS Irony deficiency corner: In the week when BLIAR has decided to apologise for suffering caused not by himself but by other people (ie slave traders, in an earlier era with different values) can I take this opportunity to claim, through a similar process of irrational osmosis, some of the credit for achievements of the past? The visual lyricism of the Romantic poets, perhaps, & I’d like a bit of kudos for Wilde’s witty one-liners too.. surely more fun than an obsequious request for forgiveness - and less cynical if equally insincere.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Point to ponder: Why the decrease in professional theatre productions in small theatres over the last decade? The question was posed at the Merlin Theatre AGM, and the concensus of professional actors supported the Director’s frank answer: Because of the lack of high quality professional theatre companies. There are still the big productions - the usual suspects, marketed with TV star names - but “small scale theatre isn’t happening like it used to.” It’s a bit of a chicken&egg thing, from the sound of it: more good drama & comedy on the box means the best writers want to work for TV, while theatre is losing popularity with audiences who can watch better stuff at home. But which came first? Or is it a reciprocal cultural shift?
In the meantime the good news is that dance events are increasingly popular and Live Lit is making headway, while Am-Dram shows always fill the (local) house. Ray Cooney’s farce “It Runs In The Family” isn’t the kind of humour that would rock the Guardian, but the Frome production was immensely popular.
And here’s one of the reasons: Ben, playing a dysfunctional teenager. The real Ben right now is in Japan, having taken an early gap year to be a planetary emissary for all things sustainable, bringing eloquence and hope as well as humour to this self-set task. I hope the planet deserves him, though I sometimes doubt it.

Nights are coming so early now. Emily and I went to Stourhead for an afternoon stroll that turned into a night walk. Thick coppery leaves underfoot, bare trees twisting like Shiva dancers in the gloaming. Owls hooting as we neared the Six Wells Valley and the silhouette of St Peter’s Pump, the source of the natural spring that feeds the lake, loomed from the shadows. We've been inspired to retrace our walk at the next full moon - Long Night Moon, as it's aptly called.

Je suis une seigneurterrasse, I discover, from a review of 'Tingo' in the current Writing Magazine – an excellent issue by the way. 'Tingo' (which means 'to borrow objects of desire from a friend's house until nothing is left') is a collection of useful words from around the world, like 'mbuki-mvuki' which Indonesians use for those times when you take off your clothes in order to dance, and 'seigneurterrasse', the French term for someone who goes into cafes to spend plenty of time and very little money. My second novel included an a table in the local cafe among the acknowledgements. Off now to Green Park Brasserie in Bath, to meet a poet & talk about writing...

And the week ends with Alison's story writing workshop on Saturday (enjoyable and humbling, as participating in group writing always is) and Sunday supper with writer friends, including playwright Steve Hennessy. Steve spearheads Stepping Out Theatre Company and writes powerfully on themes which fascinate me: outsiders in society, and that blurry crossover point between carer and cared-for, especially in institutions. We haven't had a chance to meet up for a while so lots of catchup, and animated converse on all things writerly: work in progress (& how to fund it), literary heroes & inspirations, dramatists & poets... a really good night.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Sunday afternoon Blake Walk was Peter's idea. A tour of the Soho-ish area of London where the visionary artist lived and died sounded informative and intriguingly quirky, so at 3 o'clock on the corner of South Moulton Street we introduce ourselves to a man in a Serbian greatcoat holding aloft a biography of William Blake. This is Niall McDevitt, who brings charisma and passion to his talk as he leads us through the streets declaiming couplets and creating an extraordinarily vivid picture of the life and times of the struggling engraver and poet.
Most of the places are not as they were in Blake's day; his birthplace is now marked by a fairly hideous block of highrise flats and the place where he died is the staff entrance of the Savoy Hotel - even the institution where he learned engraving is a pavement intersection now - so we stand at doorways which exist only in another time dimension, all made hauntingly real by Niall's commentary.
The walk lasts over 3 hours but the time melts. It's all fascinating. Blake's fortitude in holding to his beliefs and his artistry even though he was dismissed as 'an unfortunate lunatic', the exquisite love story of his marriage, the dark comedy of his bizarre rants, rows, and aversions... he shunned all hierarchical institutions except Heaven, it seems. By the time of his death even his loyal patrons had given up on him though he still had Kate, ever his angel - to comfort him. He printed just 4 copies of his final work, Jerusalem, and coloured only one.
My entering knowledge of Blake was shamefully limited - little more than that familiar picture of a bearded nude emerging illuminated from what might be a can of tomato soup, the hymn now appropriated by the BNP, and his interrogation of a burning tyger: "Did He who made the lamb make thee?" As it transpires, Blake's obsession with extremes and opposites may have stemmed from his own - probable- bipolar condition. But at the end of this brilliant piece of interactive street theatre I'm feeling a real, and humbling, empathy with this unappreciated bard who genuinely did not cease from mental fight, in his life and art.
A great afternoon - 5 stars, definitely.

Another day, another pilgrimage: is this Rima, Epstein's homage to WH Hudson who wrote Green Mansions? The Hyde Park map locates it somewhere around the rose garden. Does this look Epsteinish? I'm not convinced... but we enjoy our walks through the parks (we were staying in Kensington) throughout a weekend that confounds the forecast by being mild, dry and gloriously sunny.
But the visit is not just for walks, and our Saturday night family gathering is really special... thank you so much Mart, Sarah, Sam, Sally, Ben, Jem, and Mikeyand Florrie too...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Just back from Bridport in Dorset: a performance with Dreadlockalien & Friends. Dreadlock has been working with youngsters all week & gave us a selection, as well as his own passionate & energetic words, of their lively style: Eminem's granny, for example, showing that whippersnapper how to do it: "Yo think yo're bad, yo think yo're naughty? I've been rapping since nineteen-forty!"
Some of the local young poets, like these two, & their beatboxing support, performed live & brilliantly. Final highlight was the set by Elvis McGonnegal.
If you haven't seen him yet, your life is lacking. Who else could create a concept like 'Harry Potter and the Kitchen of Nightmares, by Gordon Ramsey' or 'Taking Tea with the Talliban, by Noel Coward' and perform in the persona of every major politician on the world stage, finally bringing the house down with a tirade against God for inventing James Blunt? Wonderful stuff.

Earlier this week, a meeting of Emily's writing group - always a delightful evening. Debby Holt read us a witty, slightly saucy, story which has been taken by the Sunday Express, Emily shared from her exquisitely expressed journals & I brought a story too.
Cinema trip next day, with Annabelle, Ben & Sheila, to see "The History Boys". A difficult one, this. Huge reverence for Alan Bennett, of course, but... Is it me or was that script too long, too wordy, and too discursive to make a good film? My favourite bit was the discussion of Hardy's compound verbs - is that weird? On the subject of quotes, the school production of Fame at the Merlin later that night used some interesting thoughts from Stanislavsky: “What is important to me is not the truth outside myself, but the truth within myself.”
A point to ponder, for a writer as well as an actor.
And now up to London with Peter to celebrate our first anniversary...