"Let's meet up when we're back in the UK!"... that impulsive pledge under blue skies! Then winter arrives, it's a long drive in the dark to the venue agreed so light-heartedly last summer, and there's so much more you ought to be doing. Tempting, however fond the memories, to postpone the reunion. Lucky for us we had Jane, tenacious as a terrior, organising the gig, and fortunate too to be meeting in Esme's lovely home on the outskirts of Bath. A wonderful day sharing words, food, and laughter.
It's been a busy weekend for catchups: on Friday with my friend Diana, journalist and editor, who reminds me that all writing is travel writing. We supper on tiger prawns and Belgian chocolates looking out on the glittering night-lights of Bath and musing on our different journeys this year. Next day in Bristol I meet with poet and novelist Christine Coleman, and again the talk is of writing and life travels. "We have to make our own map for relationships" Chris says.
The week continues in this puszipajtas manner - puszipajtas in Hungarian meaning a person you know well enough to kiss in the street - with more writerly reconnections: Jane D'Aulby, who I first met on Skyros, talks about why she appreciates the firmness of her Creative Writing course: "It’s like when you’ve planted a seed, you need to tamp down the sides - but not stamp on the growing tip." Another soundbite, this one over supper with Roger Jinkinson who's researching for his next book: “Biography is just another form of novel. If someone tells you something, you don't have to write it down just because it's true, if it's not part of your story." Roger's Tales from a Greek Island is selling like popcorn at a saturday matinee - and quite right too, it's a great collection.
Literacy corner, 1840's style: "Learning's not for everyone" snarls surly Gregson in "Cranford" on the box (BBC's latest Sunday night costume drama) when his son shows a reckless interest in reading the newspaper used to wrap his new(ish) boots. He's going to have to get used to it, Gregson senior that is, as young Harry has been taken under the wing of Mr Carter, erstwhile the brusque unreconstructed yet somehow hunkily delectable Gene Hunt from Life on Mars and now a brusque forward-looking yet still hunkily delectable land agent. He's apparently trying to shed the Mars tag. Well Philip Glenister you shouldn't persist in looking hunkily delectable, that's all I can say.
The 1840s is also the decade the painter Millais began his astonishing career, entering the Royal Academy aged 11, their youngest-ever student. I've finally made my pilgrimage to that exhibition at the Tate. On a grey November day (I wrote in my notebook) this is a feast of opulent beauty, sensuousness you can smell, dresses you can hear rustle, jewels that glint in the light, fresh flowers that wilt a little as you watch, so close is mortality to this warm flesh...
as you see, I was transported. Millais was inspired by literature, especially poetry: he used quotations as titles and painted interpretations of works by Shakespeare and Keats. It's true some of his pot-boilers are a bit chocolate-boxy - in the case of Bubbles, a bit Pears-soap-adsy - but his women are strong and wilful, and his skill in showing of psychological relationships is quite extraordinary.
This week's Arts section continues with Steve Hennessy's new play The Demon Box, at the Alma Tavern - the third in his Lullabies of Broadway trilogy and the most difficult, for me, in terms of graphic material. Complete contrast tonight with the RSC production of The Comedy of Errors at the Theatre Royal Bath, a big colourful ensemble romp, part carnival, part Danse Macabre. Themes of confinement, identity, and madness mingle with farce; this too is - as Steve says of his - "a play about the nature of theatre itself". A clever production, and very funny.
And as Wednesday was William Blake's birthday, I'll end this long posting with some words of Raymond Friel from a publication called simply PS, which I found in the Poetry Library on South Bank:
"Yes, there is darkness, belligerance, and vulgarity. There always has been. This is why we need our poets, our visionaries, to speak as they always have done, of hope."