Sunday, September 30, 2007

Spent most of the week catching up with my shadow after a week in Cyprus sun, glad to emerge on Friday for the launch of Three Corners' new CD, fabulously titled 'Stone Age Genes in the Digital Era.' Luscious sensuous stuff, great music and haunting songs. I could survive life easier without books than without music, but my reviewing skills are crass: can I dance to it? and do I like the words? so for a more intelligent appreciation go to their website for the downloads.

Saturday spent poring over aims, strategies, solutions and flapjacks with the Merlin team at The Mill in Rode. Diverse perceptions released by the word game - tempting to make fridge poems with words like INVISIBLE MISUNDERSTOOD CHALLENGING LONELY HARD - good to find concensus with INSPIRING and CREATIVE.

Somewhat belatedly, I've just realised the wonderful Poetry Library on South Bank is open for business again, hurrah. I must hie me there forthwith. Also want to see the Millais exhibition at the Tate - reviewed as "mawkish manipulative masterpieces" - my father's favourite painter after Renoir. He once sweetly likened me to the girl in Les parapluies... possibly the fringe that did it.
Weather again, you see. Even blogging I always take the weather with me.

Foraged facts corner: Less than 40% of people ever buy a book... and of these less than 40% buy less than 2 books a year. That's a lot of lesses. I stole this from Clare Dudman's blog which I often browse for intriguing titbits. Some great pix of snails, too.

PS see what I mean about the fringe? Wish I still had those suede shoes. That's my first wedding, no doubt not the only bride in a psychedelic mini that year but probably the only one with visible hem tacking.
'67 is hot this week on Radio 1 too. I've been enjoying the 40 years-ago-today celebrations all week, fantastic covers like Keane's Under Pressure and vintage greats like Stairway to Heaven and Smoke on the Water... and Beatles too of course. Sergeant Pepper was the backdrop to that summer like no music ever can be these days of diversity and headphones. I'm not mourning, just mentioning.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I’ve noticed it before: that night-drive home from Gatwick acts as a kind of eraser, smudging my vivid recollections into a blur of heat-hazy blue horizons with only highs and lows etched unforgettably.
Waking at dawn in Agios Georgios as collared doves croon and stepping directly from our patio into the pool, that’s indelible. Basking on the soft sand of Turtle Beach & floating in the translucent shallow water of Lara Bay. Sipping beer in shady courtyards, scrumping figs, watching sunsets.
And of course, the cycling – my raison d’etre for a week in the Pathos region was to test-ride the Headwater holiday ‘Secrets of Cyprus Cycling.’ One of those ‘tough job but someone’s got to do it’ assignments. The organisers provide the bikes, book the hotels, and transfer our luggage. Our task is to cycle past olive groves and vineyards watching the sunshine dazzle on the Mediterranean, stopping occasionally for cool Keo until we reach the next friendly hostelry where our bags and supper table are waiting.
And write about it, of course, ideally with enough enthusiasm to encourage others to leap into the saddle and experience the joys of freewheeling 9 kilometres from Kathikas down to Coral Bay and chicaning along the unmade paths of the Akamas to secluded beaches where the turtles lay their eggs and the rare wild lilies grow.

In this idyll, can there be any lows? There was that feral cat that jumped into our moussaka. The occasional peripatetic mosquito.
My main gripe, though, is serious
– and I'm part of the problem.
It’s the English.
Last time I was in Cyprus was 5 years ago and I stayed in a rural village in the central area. I was besotted with the harshly beautiful landscape, the gypsum hills, ochre grassland, scorching blue of the sky. I walked for miles, and resisted expat dinner invitations, preferring my balcony with figs and halloumi cheese and local wine watching the sun set. And during this time I saw a tiny house in a lemon grove which was up for sale for £24,000 and if I’d had any way of raising that much money then I’d have bought it.
So I’m not standing in judgment from any high moral ground. I understand why the entire coast, and even fertile farming land, is smothered with new-build holiday-homes like virulent nappy rash. It’s the dream for so many of us: sun, sea, sand, and sound property investment. Only, with prices ten times higher and air travel unsustainable in cost as well as carbon footprint, it seems impossible this goldrush bubble won't burst. Thousands of bougainvillea-edged pools, while Cyprus reservoirs are gutted after two arid years. Thousands of quickly-constructed edifices locked up empty for months, in place of the rural families that gave the land its energy and spirit.
Well, I don’t want to come across like a glum Green Meanie, but believe me, these ‘English hills’ gave us much to ponder as we cycled.
..... It's the rich that get the pleasure,
..... It's the land that get the shame,
..... It's the same the whole world over,
..... And we're all to bloody blame.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bristol's BIG MOUTH CABARET, the last before comperes Rosemary & Tom take a year's sabbatical, was a monster bash of performance poets with a glittering line-up that lured me & Hazel to St Paul's Crypt at open-door time on Tuesday. Quite unnecessary of course, poetry events are required by statute to start late. "All we're doing is putting the pieces of the jigsaw together on your behalf" Byron Vincent explained inscrutibly, presenting macabre characters from mentalist mates to the Marquis de Sardines. Byron claims to have a pact with fellow poet Nathan to perform only new work from now on; I applaud the intent but mourn the passing of such surreal lines as "the finding of the baby, the swapping it for glue". Jude Simpson brought the cream of her Edinburgh set, with 'Secret Rapper' as cherry topping.
After Dr Joel's musical interlude, Nathan Filer presented his usual - self-styled - political, pertintent, poignant pieces, with his usual stylish eccentricity. I hope the ode to Wikipedia doesn't join the list of now-abandoned love poems. Headliner Elvis McGonagall had terse words on Tony Blair for "skipping off to the Middle East and taking 10 minutes of my set with him" but is making a start on analysing the Brown bounce: "brooding psychopath, now a love god?". A great set, with welcome returns from David Cameron and James Blunt among others. Poetry's been called the new rock'n'roll, with Elvis the new Elvis and Byron an Arctic Monkey, and there's a truth in the triteness: new material is essential, but us fans love the oldies too.

Still on spoken words, I'm delighted to see producer Howard has put another track, alphabetti serendipity, from our upwardly-mobile DVD out on Youtube. Launch of Crysse & Hazel, Live & Lippy, is October 26th at the Madabout Words cabaret in the Merlin foyer.

And now for something completely different: The Importance of Being Earnest, which opened at Bath Theatre Royal on Wednesday. A satisfyingly no-tricks production, exquisite visually. Much choreography had gone into being-seated styles and the parasols seemed like members of the cast. Penelope Keith had the onerous accolade of single billing on the posters and responded by under-playing Lady Bracknell’s utterances in a manner that may have rotated Edith Evans in her grave. The interrogation of Jack Worthing, designed to have that young man and the audience trembling with apprehension & awe, was conducted more like a cosy interview with a potential care worker. But everyone looked wonderful and the tableaux were great. A lovely evening.

Change of mood again: now well warmed-up to watch others perform, I spent all Thursday at the Merlin Theatre where 30 different acts were show-casing work “Made in Somerset”, watched by delegates from all over the SW & beyond. Impossible to see all, but I managed six - including drama ranging from Festival of Fools’ spontaneous theatre to carefully plotted monologue pieces, and contemporary dance from local heroes Stetsaphunk’s hip hop to Mark Bruce Company’s innovative explorations. Home, groggy with imagery & words, to pack: Peter & I are off cycling in Cyprus next week. Weather forecast: 34 C & climbing…

Saturday, September 08, 2007

'Well done to you all for finding Shropshire' was our greeting at The Hurst. Well done to the Arvon for finding such a wonderfully easygoing, good-humoured group, trawling from Sydney to the States. A great week, stimulating and thought-provoking, though it's left me temporarily unable to construct a sentence without wanting to savage it.
Jane Austen declared she would write about "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like" but even that felt difficult to me with our theme of 'I remember'. Can't blame the tutors for that - Mark Haddon and Will Fiennes were both brilliant, generous with their time & support and munificent with their their epigramatic gems.
"Being in love with language is a way of being in love with the world" says Will, and shows us the oak tree outside, its higgledy-piggledy silhouette and lobate leaves in fists. Quirkus Sessile. "All writing is the act of giving names."
Mark reminds us that the writing part is only half the equation. "Everything you write has to entertain. Readers don't need explanations, we want to know what happened next."
Every session is hands-on, every exercise reinforces the message: what matters in writing is concrete details and rhythmic qualities. Afternoons are times for writing and walking; this is a fabulous location, with forests behind us and a lovely walk along the lanes to Clun where John Osborne, who lived here, is buried. Evenings are times for listening to our tutors sharing their words.
"Does it get easier?"

Home just in time for the Writers Circle barbecue hosted by gourmet chef Mike, a brilliant night.

"It is a lovely hybrid form, a cross between a poem and a novel. The short story allows us in a short space of time to understand huge things, huge dilemmas. They don't hang about. They don't waste any time. They swoop down and get you like a sea gull diving down to take the bread from your hand." - Jackie Kay, and more, on an excellent short story site I discovered. Jackie quotes Chekov's view of the craft: ‘It is better to say not enough than to say too much, because I don't know why!'. After last week I feel I know why, it's how that's hard.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Well, it's all over, the revelry and the rows, the longings and the letdowns. I'm not sure if I'm talking about that masquerade of a summer or Big Brother but either way, just Deal With It. (Semantic aside: interesting how BB has changed the meaning of the word ‘Eviction’ to a moment of personal triumph. Chanelle was ‘getting my Eviction after all’ when she left the house in a sexy basque to cheers from the crowd; Ziggy in his mea-culpa moments moaned 'I don't deserve an Eviction'.) It's become difficult to talk about these things - freaky weather that is, not BB gossip - as more horror stories are uncovered in the ashy rubble of burnt-out Greece. I feel hypocritical, knowing I'm one of those who relishes a standard of living that's part of the problem... my car, my journeys to find the sun... but I had an interesting conversation this week with a friend who believes it's too late anyway now to plaster up the damaged planet and our task for the next decades is to accept and adapt. He's visited African communities which are finding pragmatic responses to extreme change - ironically, our concepts of which global cultures dominate and which are 'third world' need to be inverted if any of us are to survive.
In the meantime, as the autumn handover begins at the signal of wayside black-berries, I've been enjoying local things like walking the woods & lanes, garden suppers, and swimming in the river at Warleigh Weir - a wonderful Bank Holiday alternative to sitting squodged among seaside-tripper traffic.

And now I'm off to Shropshire for a week - a chance to reconnect with my own writing at The Hurst, apparently the former home of John Osborne. It's set in 30 acres of woodlands, so I'm hoping for lots of walks as well as dramatic inspiration.