Sunday, July 26, 2020

Biodynamics, birds, bubbles & boules

Silk Mill Studios provided the artistic masterpiece this week: a lunch box created by Jo Harringon, executive chef of 42 Acres, an ethical retreat near Witham Friary where the land is farmed organically and biodynamically. "It's all about healthy food for a better planet," Jo explains, "Our communities have lost their indigenous knowledge, so we're showing that if we look after the soil then what we harvest will naturally support us. This is all foraged food, wild-tended." The vegan treats in this box include leaves, petals, pollen, and roots, and it really is all delicious.

Moving on to words: Frome Writers Collective continues its presence on Frome FM, with the latest programme here. Rosie Jackson reads from her latest collection of ekphrastic poems, with other poem-inspired pieces, and Gill Harry and I both contributed a lament for this year's cancelled Frome Festival Small Publishers Fair, which starts 31 minutes in - Lisa Kenwright, the show's host, reads mine. The popular 'Writers in Residence' festival event continued by proxy this year - big tribute to the initiative and energy of the organisers and contributors - and one of the winning short stories is read by writer Sian Williams at 40 mins. The international short story contest went ahead too - the results are posted on the website here. Also on local radio, just over the border in West Wiltshire, The Poetry Place this month featured Frome's eco-poet Helen Moore (at 39.20) with Carrie Etter, Dru Marland and Wendy Klein, introduced by Dawn Gorman, organiser and host of Words and Ears poetry events in Bradford on Avon.

John McCullough isn't local, but his poetry collection Reckless Paper Birds, published by Penned in the Margins, is nominated for a Costa Award and his generous and honest post in response is worth quoting: 'Poetry is a craft and like any craft it takes thousands of hours of quiet honing. There's no way around this. Try to enjoy the journey of discovering new writers who reshape the way you see the world and each little breakthrough as you refine your editing strategies.'
Poets Prattlers and Pandemonialists experimented with a poetry night on their email address here where the contributions will remain available until July 28th.

And a re-recommendation of Brain Pickings, a beautifully presented blog which always has much to offer, which in this edition brims with tributes to trees from Robert Macfarlane, Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, and DH Lawrence meditating on the message of the cypresses in Tuscany:
'As in clairvoyance he perceived it: that our life is only a fragment of the shell of life.  In the dark, mindful silence and inflection of the cypress trees, lost races, lost language, lost human ways of feeling and of knowing. Men have known as we can no more know, have felt as we can no more feel. Great life-realities gone into the darkness. But the cypresses commemorate.'
Ending now, with Birthday Blogger's Permitted Egoism, with my personal celebrations which somehow took over the week as the rules we now live by prohibit a massive one-off celebration so the last few days were a series of small delights, concluding on Sunday with a rainstorm festival and boules in Victoria park with my family - after a handover of 9 more copies of The Price Of Bread to a book group. I'm really happy with the way sales are going, and with the feedback too - there's a superb review from author & broadcaster Suzy Howlett here, & on my facebook page too.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Bumper music week! from Mozart to Oasis, and a reason for hope.

Amadeus this week concludes the National Theatre's summer season of streamed classics, and made a fitting finale. Being anhedonic where opera is concerned, that meant mainly a Falco song to me but the nearly-three hours of this 2018 production were sensationally gripping. For any other ignorami, Peter Shaffer's play is an epic tale of obsession in 18th Century Vienna as young Mozart's genius arouses the jealous rage of the court composer, who sets about ruining his career. Lucian Msamati is strong as envious Salieri, Adam Gillen plays Mozart as a cross between Vyvyen from The Young Ones and a Beatrix Potter squirrel. Mrs Mozart, the very pretty Karla Crome, was my other favourite, and also the dim Emperor Joseph II who apparently had even less musical appreciation than me.  Showing till 7pm July 23rd. 

Hunting Raven Bookshop has not only re-opened in real-place but is also maintaining a strong online presence, as Tina Gaisford-Waller takes to the screen to promote some of her most fascinating new releases with zoom meetings. Friday's session featured The Compassion Project, with a talk from Dr Julian Abel the Director of Compassionate Communities UK who, with Frome writer Lyndsay Clarke, wrote this 'true story of the town that beat loneliness.' Frome is immensely lucky to have moved in this direction through various initiatives and practices and the town's medical team led by Helen Kingston is a national leader in innovative health care. A fascinating session, as Julian explained how mutual compassion, rather than 'survival of the fittest', has always been deep in mankind's social psyche, and discussion also looked at experiences among indigenous peoples of Canada, and communities in Mexico and Columbia.

Music now, as one of Frome's most active bands returned to live performance - but first quick look at online guitarists. Tuesday offered an hour from the very entertaining Boothby Graffoe - his brilliant parody of our government can be enjoyed here - and  Thursday's unexpected find was Belfast lad David Browne Murray who plays sensationally well.
Also on Thursday: Young Somerset hosted a session in their series Bert Jansch 80 Plays around the world - gigs to raise funds for the Music Venue Trust. Back in the '60s, I saw Bert Jansch with John Renbourn at an all-nighter in London, and emerged blinking into the early morning sunlight to be met by a bizarre lady pushing a trolleyful of carrier bags which, she told us cheerily, held all her possessions as she lived on the street. (Ralph McTell also met her later in the decade, and wrote a song about her.)  It seemed extraordinary in 20th Century, wealthy, England... with more than 25,000 homeless now, that encounter in Leicester Square seems from another, much nicer, world. Anyway, here's a link to the original Angie.
 And now the exciting live reveal!
 Paul Kirtley's current talented 'Bones' crew ('crew' seems a more appropriate than 'band' as they never have a set plan or rehearse, and personnel vary) put on a brilliant show for the outdoor diners at Rode Mill on Saturday afternoon. Social distancing - immaculately established by owner John and maintained by soundman Steve - didn't impede the barbecue or bar, and the session developed into a request set with dancing by early evening.

The lawns around this lovely old restaurant are perfect for picnics, too, with the river curling round them.

Returning summer sunshine has allowed more long walks again: from the southern meadows right along the reclaimed river path through Frome town, and beyond to the northern fields - there's a crop circle in one - with bursts of woodland and masses of wild flowers. Other routes like Vallis Vale and Nunney Brook, are within striding distance of my house too, and after so many discoveries it's a mystery now how there was ever time to organise any events and why I ever wanted to travel anywhere else...

Meanwhile my house waits patiently for the promised springclean - so I gave it some lilies instead, from Stuart's stall in the market place (which is now inaccessible due to road changes by the way. )

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Drama, poetry and other words as summer returns

Drama first: The National Theatre continues its stream season of major dramas with Terence Rattigan's classic The Deep Blue Sea, an emotional saga of misplaced passion in post-war England. Here's Helen McCrory, frustrated, neurotic, and exquisitely lovely even when suicidal - which is most of the play. She has left her husband (Peter Sullivan, frankly too attractive for this role) for a semi-alcoholic ex-test pilot with whom she remains bafflingly besotted despite the fact he's inattentive, boorish and a bit overweight. There's a mysterious struck-off doctor who floats in like tumbleweed and a couple of parody middle-class lodgers.  Rattigan is still highly rated as was this production, so perhaps lockdown's made me tetchy about live production having a need to be either entertaining, amusing, or relevant.

Love You and Hate Covid by Jonny and the Baptists is live-streamed from various arts centres: I watched it from Wiltshire's Pound Arts Centre in Corsham which turned out not the best choice as camera fail meant the whole show was filmed from a single distant viewpoint so it looked like you were peeking in from the foyer. I first saw this duo three years ago in their savage satiric drama Eat the Poor, which I raved about, and although their hearts are still in the right place ("You're either against capitalism or you're for the end of the world" says Jonny) they seem to have settled for a more unstructured, less seethingly indignant, format of basically just songs.

Another focus on our system's inequality, more focussed, incisive and funny, from Mark Thomas on Thursday evening: Serious Organised Criminal follows his 2007 live show by an update since this serious -funnyman started his campaign against the 2004 law to stop any kind of presence, however small or bland the message, without prior permission by the police -an Act of Parliament passed specifically to prevent Brian Haw from standing quietly outside the Houses of Parliament where he had for three years held a one-man anti-war protest. Mark, like many others outraged that any kind of public opinion had at a stroke become a criminal act - 'so kendal-mint-cake eating ramblers are now on the same footing as Al-Qaeda' - decided to challenge this nonsensical injustice.
The filmed show tells the full story, involving absurd existential complaints each of which, after a raft of paperwork, was permitted to be displayed in public gaze, with the real protest aimed at the control of legitimate freedom. The movement swelled, Mark became good friends with the officer in charge and gained an international following. After a quick break, Mark in real time discussed events since, including his McDemos scheme to continue this patient non-violent policy of ridiculing the illegitimate control of free speech. 'It's a challenge to this legislation that makes US accountable to THEM - in a democracy, this should be the other way round,' Mark concludes, and despite the nuisance he causes, many in the police force agree.  Not just a funny man from South London, a serious game-changer in a game that seriously needs changing.

We're still all madly missing live music but Sofar Sounds offers an international selection of concerts and Cooper Hall in Frome is posting links to a series of their past performers - this link is to Hattie Briggs
Frome's living legend Liv Torc continues a beacon of relevance, as her Haiflu project hit BBC4's Today programme - ff to 1.42 to hear Liv explain the concept, summed up in her own haiku: And nothing makes sense - but in telling the story- we learn who we are.
Frome Festival Poetry Cafe has endeavoured to keep a presence by images of previous Festival Laureate winners on our Facebook page. And Luke Wright is still sharing his poems on Twitter - Sunday night's session is number 102 - for those who enjoy being invisible observers at online sessions. He's very good.
And for me, the lockdown launch of The Price of Bread continues to be major event. The second boxful is now more than half dispatched to new owners, with some gratifyingly appreciative reviews already received - here's me doing a socially-distanced bookswap with Liz Hutchinson, whose historical novel Dissenters, set in Frome, is also published by Hobnob. My novel is set in Belfast, and as the 12th July - big date in Ulster's calendar - approaches, it's sad to see this story of the 'Troubles' fifty years ago is still so relevant, with banned bonfires already blazing in Belfast.

Finally apologies to anyone trying to follow this blog on their phone - I realise it may look a mess. My system does now offer an alternative format which is promised to look less muddled on mobiles but it is inflexibly maddening for originating so I've joined the number of disgruntled users who've asked to return to the old way... sorry.  I'll end with an image from a walk just over the border from Frome - here's hoping you're all enjoy the returning summer sunshine.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

A midsummer medley: drama poetry & art, filling the festival void.

My online theatre choice for this week was Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry, an unmitigatedly grim, horribly relevant, 2016 production from National Theatre - it's free to view till July 9th, if you can face a 'brave, illuminating and powerful work that confronts the hope and tragedy of revolution'.
Set in an African country struggling to self-liberate from its colonial past, the polemic is mingled with mystical elements. Tshembe was played by Danny Sapiani, Yaƫl Farber directed.

Poetry corner now: Bristol's David C Johnson joined singer-songwriter Beth Ford for Love and Life online, this theme interpreted broadly enough to include poems ranging from the identity problems of bees to railways, and David's excellent response to the dunking of Colston in Bristol harbour: 'A Quick Dip for Edward.'
Still with poetry, Steve Pottinger, who brought his performance group Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists to Frome in 2018 to great acclaim, hosts the online poetry event YeS, WE CaNt which on Sunday featured the marvellous, totally bonkers, Felix Bang. Check out this rant about how girls shoes really really really really suck, from the collection Brillo Kiddo, 'that has a look at all the big and important cardboard boxes in my life.' There were several stand-out poems on the open-mic, presented via you-tube and sound-cloud as well as online text - I liked Gerald Kells deceptively profound 'Chrysalis' - in this varied event.

This is the week when many in Frome would be gearing themselves up for festival week, maybe returning from Glastonbury in full summer festival mood, or fine-tuning the previous weeks of preparation... my personal events, the Poetry Cafe, Nevertheless Pub Theatre and the literary & historical walks, like the rest of the programme are on hold until 2021 but the Frome Festival organising team won't let us forget our town's crowning arts event entirely. And on Tuesday we enjoyed an online Frome Festival Quiz, hosted by genial question-master Roger Southard.

The festival's visual art element has survived, catalogued in the Virtual Art Trail, and some studios are now accessible: check this link:;Open Art Trail-Outer. And for the official opening night, Festival director and musical performer Martin Dimery joined with Cooper Hall's creative director and vibrant songstress Morag McLaren to remind us that We'll meet again... click the link for a medley of witty parodies to remind us of the local talent always a favourite feature of the festival.

And now we move offline for live art event!
As the doors of the town cautiously open again, photographer Mark Brookes has a month-long exhibition at Fromie Gifts. Mark is noted for his reportage monochromes, and an impressive set of his Extinction Rebellion imagery contrasts powerfully with several large, subtly coloured, artistic poses with added words from Frome poet  'B' - this one features a mask by Gladys Paulus.

Still with personal journeys into creativity exposed to the world: massive excitement for me this week, with the arrival of a box of books fresh from the printers: The Price of Bread, my novel set in Belfast in the last Troubles, with a cover illustration by Frome artist Mutartis Boswell  - it looks fabulous and, thrillingly, all copies from this delivery were snapped up within twelve hours.
Another box will arrive early next week, half of which are already pledged, but there are still copies at Hunting Raven Books, as wonderful manager Tina 'Best in the Southwest' Gaisford-Waller grabbed me for a socially-distanced signing session as I passed by the bookshop door.
Supportive promotion also came from Frome Writers Collective: Gill Harry took this pic when I joined her to commiserate over the cancellation of the Small Publishers Fair, always on the first Saturday of the festival, filling the Silk Mill with buyers & sellers, readers & writers, publishers, promoters & purchasers and every sort of bibliophile. Next year, eh, guys....