Sunday, July 23, 2017

Poetry walks, Smoking Bears, alien mystery & more...

Frome's annual celebrations lingered into this week, with a post-festival 6-mile walk around Adlestrop with led by the admirable Cotswold Voluntary Wardens, followed by 38 hikers all revelling in this 'Area of Outstanding Beauty' and compliant at the addition of an Edward Thomas element.
Here's Martin Bax reading As the Team's Head Brass Flashed, a poignant poem evoking the effect on the farms, as well as their families, of the deaths of so many young men. This was at Chastleton Barrow, the remains of an iron age settlement, a perfect circle 162 metres in diametre.
Adlestrop, while the focus of this route, was not the only interesting feature and leader Margaret Reid pointed out several other fascinating places like this as we passed, including Chastleton House which boasts not only originating croquet but also housing the bible used by Charles II on the scaffold. A lovely walk through fields filled with wild flowers and insects, and sometimes sheep, ending in the traditional way with tea and cake.

Another literary anniversary: 200 years on Tuesday since the death of Jane Austen, aged only 41 and in relative anonymity ~ her epitaph runs to 125 words without mentioning that she wrote books. Nowadays of course the Janeite industry almost vies with 'the man from Stratford' (with equally little data to go on, as Jane's sister Cassandra burned three-thousand-plus letters which would have chronicled her life) and there's now a ten pound note in Jane's honour. Bath, where Regency streets remain largely unchanged since Jane's eight year stay, naturally honoured the bicentenary with various events including a series of walks through the city to the Jane Austen Centre. There's also a massive floral plaque in the Parade Gardens which reads OH! WHO CAN EVER BE TIRED OF BATH? ~ a quotation which would have either entertained or exasperated Jane, who detested living there and attributed such fulsome sentiments to her most shallow characters. Ironically, the quote on the new tenner is also a parodic one: I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! is uttered by sly Caroline Bingley to lure Mr Darcy's interest away from Elizabeth Bennett, and we all know how that ended...

Still on the subject of witty novels with acute social observation, Debby Holt has a new one out: The Dangers of Family Secrets,"a gripping story about trust, love and the destructive effects secrets have on a family" according to the blurb. Debby lives in Bath but has strong writerly connections with Frome so her first launch was at Hunting Raven Books on Tuesday evening, where we were treated to a sparky talk on her chosen stimulus ('Every family has secrets, and the 'perfect' family has more than most...') and a couple of tantalising extracts... Naturally there was a long queue for signings, and then clutching our copies with tingling fingers, we made the most of the evening sunshine with a Writers' Group chat in the courtyard of a local pub.

Back to poetry now: Richard Carder who runs Poetry & a Pint at the delightfully bohemian St James Wine Vaults in Bath, invited me to guest at his final event of the summer, to share some of my Crumbs from a Spinning WorldSue Boyle, who also featured, shared her heartfelt 'Reading for a Disappearing World' and the theme of planetary destruction continued in several open mic readings so you could say this was overall quite a cosmic event.

On Saturday I was in Bristol for Wardrobe Theatre's revival of their notorious 'alternative comedy' Goldilock, stock, & three smoking bears. This anarchic company-devised 'madcap merging of the classic porridge-thieving tale with Guy Ritchie's cockney caper' sold out when it premiered 2 years ago, and when it was revived last year too. I'm not surprised. All four performers ~ Emma Keaveney-Roys, Lotte Allan, Andrew Kingston, and contortionistic Harry Humberstone ~ mesmerise from the start & escalate in absurdity. I don't think I've ever heard an audience laugh so much. The saga is set in that part of London where thugs & entrepreneurs mix & merge, some living in squalor, some eating money, all capitalists. This is where the three bears, dorky Paddington, classy twit Winnie, and psycho Rupert, head for the Artisan Oat-Stirrers for an over-priced breakfast... there's porridge-stirrer-slaughter, chair-theft, pill-popping, and when-Harry-met-Sally turning into bromance with Barry, and altogether far too much to explain. It's all brilliant.
As the production had transposed, in this incarnation, to Tobacco Factory, my walk from the station took me through the Harbour Festival a massive family-friendly celebration of dance, music, circus, funfair, poetry and play, crammed with stalls selling everything saleable from a stall including snacks from paella to Pimms, with a flotilla of boats going up and down alongside a steam-train and yet more stalls all along the waterfront. And so many people it seemed like someone had invented a happy-making human-flesh-attracting magnet to irresistibly pull in the entire population of Bristol. The sun emerged again, too, so a result all round. Here's me, sucked briefly into the festival atmosphere, with some very sweet people whose names I don't know but sharing two minutes of my life with them was fun.

An unusual new exhibition, SKETCH is now showing at Black Swan. Meryl Ainslie, founder and director of the Rabley Drawing Centre where this touring initiative began, spoke at the launch on Friday of the importance of the sketchbook in every artist's practice: ' undefined, incomplete, and investigative.'  Words at the Black Swan will have a workshop on Monday, 3-4.30, with poet Louise Green, exploring the 100 on exhibition as stimulus for writing.  

Also unusual, or perhaps not, there's another crop circle just below Cley Hill (technically Wiltshire but only four miles away.) The unfortunately thus-blessed farmer has appealed for UFO fans not to do the Theresa-May-thing and rush wildly through his crop but some have. I didn't, and hopefully the solemn group in the centre at sunrise on Sunday morning did either.

Ending this post with a last look at the festival with two pictures by Ben Mackay who came from Bristol to join the Frome walk, and a group photograph by David J Chedgy.  And a thank-you to the Frome Times for their supplement crammed with images of just about everything that went on!

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