Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Death of Woolies and the Old Year

So today is the last day of trading for Woolworths, the pick and mix will be no more, the place that as a child I wandered clutching pocket money and over priced dreams of stationary involving neon crayons and holographic pencil cases. This was the place where my daughter stared longingly at the My Little Pony Grooming Parlour and saved up for the pleasure of owning the Sylvanian caravan she saw in the sale there. My mother, when pregnant was stopped by a lady in Woolworths near the gloves, she always used to add when telling the story, who told her that I would be a girl and would be born on the same day as my great grandmother. Woolworths had a particular smell when I was a child, wrapped sweets and wooden floorboards. Generations of children were bought school shirts and cardigans in Woolies and there were strange gadgets to purchase that chopped veg or polished cars to within an inch of perfection. Every passport and identity card I have ever had were accompanied by photos taken at booths in Woolies, where you hung about by the kitchenware section at the back of the shop waiting for your serious face to drop out of the slot, still damp from developing fluid.

So all things pass and become labelled as saccharine nostalgia; Wimpey Bars on every corner, sweet shops where you could buy loose sweets in conical bags, standing on bridges whilst steam trains passed underneath covering you in smoke, X-ray machines in shoe shops to show how well your feet were served by Start-rite shoes, women selling ice-cream tubs and Kiora from trays in cinemas during the interval, intervals themselves when you had two films for your money. A Woolies turned a place into a town, only a town could have one, a Woolies made you urban not rural. There was a sameness about them that was a comfort no matter where you found them. So goodbye Woolies, I will miss you. I tried to keep you going by buying CDs, DVDs, stickers, magic cleaning foam, mops, Cinderella dresses for small girls, Easter eggs, advent calendars, chocolate and cola bottles but alas it was not enough. Perhaps there is a shop heaven to which such places go and when we die we will be able to walk down streets lined with all those high street shops that made us feel ‘at home’.

I drove home from Christmas in Durham listening to a programme of film music and was surprised by how much music from film is deeply engrained in my psyche. Hear a few bars of some tune and you can watch yourself watching, watch who you were with, where you were. New Year always seems to trigger a certain nostalgia, seeing where you have been allows you to consider where you are going. The ghosts of Christmas Past and Christmas yet to come need each other. The economic climate is rather dodgy, what the future holds may be worrying but look what we’ve been through and yet we still manage to dance in the kitchen to Motown, laugh at bad jokes in Christmas crackers and toast each other in cheap sparkling wine when Big Ben chimes midnight. Life is more than survival but even surviving is cause for celebration, so bring on 2009 whatever it brings is going to be better for the joy of still being around to savour it.

And if you sometimes long to remember a memory conjured by place and chance encounter and you also want seasonal snow, forest, deer and just a little nostalgic magic that New Year can sometimes bring try this Hayden Carruth poem on for size. He is one of those American poets little known over in the UK who deserves better recognition.

And if things seem a little gloomy there is nothing like Thomas Hardy’s poem The Darkling Thrush, written at the turn of the 19th century when the Twentieth century seemed to hold a lot of foreboding.Perhaps given that businesses are going under and the soundtrack of our lives at present seems to be the sound of the tightening of belts it is a time when we all want to be party to some ‘blessed Hope’ of which we are yet unaware.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Viruses, clutter and Adrian Mitchell

Post Salt beano I took to my bed with the flu which managed to turn into pneumonia and necessitated two days in hospital with an oxygen mask and antibiotics dripping into me at a sedate pace. As is the nature of hospitals you are shoved into a bay with a mixed batch of humankind, illnesses and a mixed bag of visitors until the winter vomiting bug hit the ward and we happy few in the end bay were quarantined off as we weren’t manifesting any of the symptoms. Visiting was restricted and those allowed in had to be gloved and gowned, we were a small colony of non-vomiting illnesses amidst a heaving sea of nausea. A lady in her nineties suffering from dementia spent a great deal of time chatting to endless non existent people in a chirpy manner and any real presence was seen as a delusion in a topsy turvey way. I and an old chap in the next bed managed short bursts of conversation in between longer bursts of oxygen, you learn back stories quickly in such circumstances. Old soldier one of the first soldiers into the concentration camps in 1945, ‘after you’ve seen that whatever comes your way is always somehow smaller, not unimportant but smaller’, he tells me. So we all lie there nodding with our small little problems and things become proportionate, the Christmas preparations left undone, the cards unsent, the general buggeration of being ill this close to Christmas.

I returned home, rest up being the major prescription. So I have rested up over the last few days and watched more TV than is good for any brain. I am impressed by how many ways DIY, antiques and house hunting can be packaged for public consumption. I watch a whole house being ‘made over’ in an hour and wonder how the paint can possible be dry and whether the recipient of this make over is smiling merely for the camera whilst beneath the smile is worrying about where on earth she is going to put all the accumulated crap the interior decorator/stylist has piled outside. Everyone has crap, stuff that doesn’t blend in with a clean line minimalist interior. Life laundry may be a good thing at times but the idea of someone tossing out ornaments etc that have lurked on shelves for years makes me more than uneasy. Sentiment tends to lessen cutting edge décor. I am waiting for ‘clutter chic’ to come into fashion.

I was sorry to hear about the sudden death of Adrian Mitchell, friends and I read with him once and he was a kind, generous hearted man who always sort to make poetry something accessible to all and especially to children. He famously said , “Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people.". Here is the link to him at The Poetry Archive so you can choose for yourself which poem you would like to read.

I have a poem in Ink, Sweat and Tears if you fancy a strange take on Walt Whitman's poem I sing the Body Electric( Post date is 23rd December 08).

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a peaceful New Year dear reader. May the bugs and virus’ stay well away and in 2009 may you find whatever it is you are looking for, even if you don’t think you have lost it and may you be ‘surprised by joy’ at least once a week.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Horse Hospital, Lighthouses and Seven Degrees of Separation from a Novel

Went to a Christmas beano held by Salt Publishing in London at The Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury. A strange place reached by a very narrow steep ramp with upright slats every yard, I presume to allow the sick horses to gain some purchase on the stone floor. Odd that they should site a horse hospital upstairs but then when it became a horse hospital in the eighteenth century, London was a crowded cheek by jowl place and all those horses pulling cabs and carts and coaches presumably needed somewhere to go when sick. The city on a Friday night was still cheek by jowl and the pub opposite was packed with people decked in mistletoe and holly and Santa hats. I am at an advantage in crowded pubs as I can a) see the bar and b) see the exit and the loo signs. However I suddenly remembered why I find big cities at once exciting and annoying there are too many people funnelled into too little space.

I once did an essay on the psychology of crown behaviour back in the mists of academic time and it was quite scary stuff, people in crowds act differently, there is a tension between individual survival and the pack/herd instinct. People if frightened enough will stampede like cattle and also the closer people are packed together the more individual inhibitions will decrease relative to the extent of the incursion into their personal space. Everybody has a notional personal space around them, derived from personal and cultural factors. There is the famous study of United Nations cocktail parties where the movement of people was mapped and those from cultures where personal space was minimal were constantly driving back those from cultures where personal space was very important. This created a sort of wave motion in the room,some advancing to decrease personal space whilst they talked to someone and those retreating to maintain it.

In the seventies I had a serious accident which involved me in wearing a neck brace which prevented me from lowering my chin. Now at my great height there is either a great deal of chin lowering going on to talk to people when standing up or as I usual do I take a few steps back to decrease the angle that any person I am conversing with has to tip their head. So with the neck brace a considerable amount of personal space was required if I was to hold a conversation where I could actually see the person I was talking to. Some people did not get this they advanced, I retreated, my smaller friends at the time could be literally standing under my nose and I could miss them. I tried to maintain the quiet dignity of a magnificent lighthouse at the time, revolving slowly to scan the room at parties. I became very atune to lighthouses as entities, that is why when I met Miranda Landgraf another writer, through a writing award scheme, I was fascinated by her wonderful book based on her grandfather’s experience of going mad in a lighthouse in Ireland and his subsequent incarceration for years in an institution standing motionless gazing out of a window like a human lighthouse. You can read extracts from the novel here, it is beautifully written and a fascinating story.

See how my mind works I start with sick horses, lurching from there to busy cities, crowd psychology, personal space, broken necks and seamlessly into lighthouses and from there to a book…see you are never more than seven degrees of separation from a book or a poem. Forget the seven degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon try it with literature.

I was sad to hear of Oliver Postgate’s death this week, there was a wonderful homage to him in the Guardian. It was essentially the simplicity of his animation and the almost hypnotic narration he provided that makes him special. It is the old adage that you can give a child a large cardboard box and with imagination it can become anything, Postgate allowed a child room to manoeuvre with their imagination, he allowed a child to suspend their disbelief which fosters imagination. So often the media seem to think that children need the visual and narrative to be watertight. I think most children are born with huge amounts of imagination and disbelief comes to them naturally it is only as we grow older that we often find the imaginative leap harder. I could believe a lot of things, I could imagine a great deal but so often I have to keep cross checking as to whether I am being gullible, naïve or not acting like an adult, whatever that act may be. It’s probably why I still feel comfortable watching Bagpuss , the Clangers or Noggin the Nog; not because of some nostalgia fest but because it taps into the bit of me ( and of many others I suspect) that can so easily believe mice talk and a soup dragon exists.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Who knows where the time goes in the fens?

So I was driving between appointments across the fens, wondering why flat is so often scorned, why flat is the name given to the emotion that doesn’t quite achieve depression but hangs around like a monotonal bad smell. Flat can be interesting, flat allows other angles to display themselves. One tree on a flat horizon becomes the epitome of tree, it is tree magnified, it is tree underlined in bold, it is tree before the fall from the edge. So as I think tree thoughts or should that be tree in the singular I listen to Sandy Denny on the radio and I take all the Sandy Denny vocals from the back of my head and dust them off. I am not a huge Fairport Convention groupie but her singing always created something special, she had that vocal alchemy that can turn an ordinary leaden song into gold. Why have I not listened to this woman for so long, she is like the tree in the fen, something essentially itself. Now that may sound like a load of meaningless philosophical twaddle and indeed it might be but it is my twaddle and the twaddle means something to me. I am being very definitive today it must be the onset of the countdown to Christmas and the panic this can engender. If I embrace the zen of tree perhaps I will not rush round the shops like a headless chicken or a rootless tree buying stuff. Christmas can become stuff fest and stuff your face fest. Last year I had a sickness virus that made stuffing of the face far from wise and I was all the better for it, although the Boo, who I stayed with last Christmas did point out that the custard and other rich delights she had taken pains to buy in for visiting mother went uneaten.

So what has the Zen of fen tree and Sandy Denny’s voice got to offer me…well a sort of calm, a sort of sense that panic is not an option , that being a little more chilled is ok, Christmas, like time, will happen and all will be well. I found this acoustic track of Sandy Denny singing Who Knows where the Time Goes and I listened to that voice. Sandy Denny died in classic ‘rock and roll’ circumstances, the fall down the stairs, the booze, the never quite fulfilling all the brilliance of that voice. If you listen you can almost hear that end in her voice, she knows something about where time goes before she lives it.
Just take five minutes out to really listen to this track, close your eyes and let her voice wash over you, it deals a little with those, ‘have I got to face the shops at Christmas’ hyperventilation and the 'should I buy the ham now or later' anxiety.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

The killing fields in the corner shop and East Coker

Apologies for the gap in posting I have been up to my eyes, and it is along way up to my eyes, in novel rewrites, birthday joy and general work stuff.

I ran out of sugar the other night and went up to my local corner shop which has been run by Mr Fazel for years. I used to pop out for milk late at night and Mr Fazel would be there behind the counter listening to the cricket on a tiny radio. A few years later I pop out for bread late at night and there is Mr Fazel’s son on his stool behind the counter watching cricket on a small portable TV perched in the corner. So this week, a few years later I pop out for a bag of sugar and there is Mr Fazel’s teenage grandson behind the counter busy playing some X box Game that seems to involve being dressed in army combat gear and creeping round in alleys shooting other people creeping round in alleys in combat gear. He can manage to serve me,talk and give me the correct change whilst still avoiding death in a dark alley. I ask him if he gets killed a lot. “No I’m good at this, I kill more people than I get killed but I'm useless at the cricket game Granddad got me." I am relieved to know he plays cricket now and then, albeit virtually.

It must be a sign of the changing times, radio, to TV to X Box.
I haven’t fathomed the Wii yet, I had a go at a friend’s and it was a disaster, I flailed around at a game of tennis and seemed to hit only air which in fact is exactly what I was doing. I was quite good at tennis once, there are some advantages in height. There is something about Wii tennis that makes me feel vulnerable and not just stupid. It is like a man who is trekking across the desert who has a mirage of an oasis and throws themselves at his own delusion, running sand through their fingers as if it were water. I am the desert tennis player thrashing at air imaging the thwack, the feel of it but never quite gaining satisfaction. perhaps I should try the Wii bowling, I may be better at hurling than thwacking.

Mr Fazel’s grandson, who I have seen grow up from a baby, is better at offing virtual people with an Uzi than spin bowling.

I don’t know why but I keep thinking of a few lines in East Coker by T.S Eliot

There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter

Of course mine is some sort of feeling about small history as opposed to big history, the passage of time for a family sitting behind the counter in a corner shop, the passage of small time as I observe the family behind the counter in the corner shop. Who knows why but it just made me sad to see the little corner shop come to the killing fields. As the two famous lines from that poem go

In my beginning is my end.
In my end is my beginning.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Dennis O'Driscoll and Reading Naked at Aldeburgh

I was at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival last week-end, I treated myself to a room in a hotel right on the shoreline and felt the joy of literally being a stones throw from a sea that rang the changes during the week-end from sun-kissed bright and calm to churning grey waves. Aldeburgh is still in that time warp when you expect to see women wearing fifties clothes and then suddenly there they are because retro is all the rage.

Some good readings but Dennis O’Driscoll was one of the highlights for me, understated yet beautifully crafted and assured. His lecture on the political side of his friend’s Seamus Heaney’s work also showed a perceptive grasp of what is important and to be remembered about Heany’s ‘public voice’ on the Irish troubles. Here are a couple of his poems, just to give you a flavour of O’ Driscoll’s work: Someone and Weather Permitting.

Bob, a regular off beat ‘act’ at the Open Mike took his clothes off and pretended to play a flute whilst wearing a Queen ( Elizabeth not Mercury ) mask. Someone read his poem as he did so. I have to admit I wasn’t listening very closely to the poem as I was more interested in the reaction of ladies behind me who were rather thrown at seeing a man naked, apart from a small posing pouch, during a Sunday Lunch time in a posh Suffolk seaside hotel. A skinny older man in a posing pouch is unexpected but somehow not entirely shocking, the price of a soft drink there knocked me back more. A man to my right was unsure what to do and quietly ate his slice of pizza staring straight ahead, his eyes staying firmly at nipple height. Someone took a lot of photographs as I could hear the shutter cranking like a woodpecker. Bob takes his clothes off and performs in a variety of places, here and abroad, at least The White Lion is well heated. Poets are a little naked emotionally at the best of times so I suppose literally being naked is just a notch up the continuum although I hope naked male poetry doesn’t catch on as there are quite a few poets I would find difficult to listen to naked, in fact I am racking my brains as to who would make a pleasing naked poet whose poems would be enhanced by a naked delivery. Perhaps someone may come up with the Naked Male Poet Calendar for charity. I suppose there would be the odd contender for Mr May or November. Suggestions on a postcard to The Society for Distressed and Unread Poets.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Incommunicado in Liverpool, Street Art and Scouse Humour

I have just returned from Liverpool and am reclining in a prone position after three days of hectic culture ( it is the City of Culture after all for 2008). Loved the city but glad to be home as have mountains of work to do on the novel edits. The Tate at Albert Dock had a couple of good exhibitions on. The most moving piece I found was an installation piece by the Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum called Incommunicado. It involved an old fashioned metal hospital cot which had the mesh wire support for the mattress replaced by parallel lines of razor sharp cheese wire.

Somehow the image of an icon of institutionalised care and the presence of such potential harm and damage yelled at me from across the gallery and as they have postcards you are invited to write on to say which piece ‘spoke to you’ I left my thoughts on what the dialogue was between this piece and I, for what they are worth.No doubt I will return to this in my head via a poem or something else in due course. You can only put some things in the pending tray for so long before they get lost, others, even if you file them away in the basement archives still manage to keep nagging at you through six flights of stairs and fireproof doors until you address them.I think Incommunicado may be an example of the latter.

Liverpool is bursting with street art at the best of times, both official and unofficial, so for the rest of this blog I will just give you some photographs I took whilst there. A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say; of course they may have shares in digital camera batteries which cost a fortune and last the heartbeat of a small scared rodent.

Of course the scouse wit was ever present, the prize goes to the small Irish/Scouse workman at the bus stop who, as I passed by, offered up the comment. " Jesus yer Ma must have been frightened by a ladder when she was carrying you, that or you've swallowed a giraffe, either way you's have a great long pair of legs on you, no offence mind luv." None taken.

I and friends are on Youtube now by the way. Scary to see myself thrown into the bearpit of new media culture. Somehow I don't think I will get as many hits as either that kid having his finger bitten by his brother, the chimp washing a cat in a sink or the ahhh moment of those lads meeting back up with the lion they once kept in their flat (they must have been very posh and rich, I could only afford a rat when I was living in London flatland and even that came free courtesy of the Rachman type landlord).I have not given you the links to those, go hunt for yourself dear reader using key words like chimp, cat, sink, boy, brother bite, lion, reunion, posh boys with seventies hair cuts.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Turn, Turn, Turn to Riots and Spooks in Cambridge

So the leaves are turning and the clocks are turning back. Lots of turning going on and in Autumn a middle-aged woman’s fancy turns to the past. We are about to gain an hour of time so it always makes me think about all the time lost, not in a miserable way but in a 'by the fire thinking back' sort of way. I can hear the Byrds warbling in my head as I type, ‘To every season, turn, turn, turn there is a… what.... a time for every purpose under heaven. Pete Seeger wrote the song, or rather plucked the lyrics from the King James Bible and stuck in the ‘turns’. The zeitgeist at the time was all about homing in on that line ‘a time for peace’ given that the Vietnam war was at its height. You could read it another way as it does say there is a time for war as well but let’s skip hastily over that.

When I heard it as a teenager it was all about it being our time to say that we had the one true message about peace. I was at The Grosvenor Square Riot in 1968, by mistake rather than by choice as I was having to stick with someone who had promised me a lift back having missed the coach back to Cambridge. Someone, I recall, sang this song very badly on the coach down to the rally in Trafalgar Square, where Vanessa Redgrave and Tariq Ali strutted their stuff. We had that certainty then that no-one could really see what was happening in the world but us.

The abiding memory I do have of Grosvenor Square, apart from being very frightened and mystified, was seeing a young man stand on the steps of a building well away from the main screaming, yelling, punching, swearing and bad-temper. He opened a tin of bright red paint and poured in over his head and held up a tiny cardboard sign on which was scrawled in biro ‘They bleed, we all bleed’. It was performance art before performance art really existed. I do recall thinking that the paint could damage his eyes and that he would never get it off his clothes and they'd never let him on a bus or the tube like that. I also remember thinking that my dad would never behave like these policemen (he was a well mannered old fashioned gentlemanly copper, a life time away from what seemed the vicious thugs of the Met ).

Looking back at this footage of it all however, you can see that the policemen were just as frightened as everyone else and more frightened of losing. It was said that if the embassy had been breached the American Marines inside would have fired on any intruders. I don’t know how true that was but there were certainly those there on that miserable grey March day that were intent on getting into the building and of becoming the martyrs for the cause. Several young English bodies riddled with American bullets (albeit they were middle-class Anarchists, Workers Revolutionary Party members or Socialist Worker salesmen) strewn on the steps of the American Embassy might have spoken louder than words. I am cynic enough now and was then, despite my young age, to know that there were those that knew that the power of that photograph released world wide would have been the greater publicity furthering the cause of demonising the American government. The ‘end justifies the means’ men that exist behind all social and political movements, good, bad or indifferent and who usually use bright–eyed bushy tailed idealists or plain naive ‘wanna make a difference’ people to further whatever cause they promote. The process is the same whether you are grooming the Hitler Youth or Rainbow Warriors it’s the righteousness of the cause and the outcome that is the justification.

Barack Obama has sat on a charity committee with an ex member of the Weathermen, William Ayers, a revolutionary terrorist organisation founded a year after the Grosvenor square riots to use bombings of government buildings to highlight the US Governments action in Vietnam and elsewhere. He was led by older men then who thought they were in the vanguard of those who knew that their violent means was justified by the extent of the perceived worse atrocities committed by the US government at the time. He is a now a well respected professor of Education in Chicago and was never convicted of any crime.

The government of Northern Ireland now contains those who were seen by some as terrorists, men who drew angry young men from the Catholic and protestant estates of belfast into their dark thrall. They were sent out in the name of justice to bomb and maim whilst the hands of their masters supposedly remained clean of blood as they walked the political corridors of power.

I knew someone in Cambridge during the mid sixties who was approached by someone in The Eagle Pub near Kings Parade. This man, supposedly, represented 'a friend of a friend' of the KGB. Getting the Americans out of Vietnam was a cause they all espoused surely a little co-operation over some information was called for should this person ever be in a position in the future to help them. He told him to sling his hook. It seems like a bad episode of Spooks looking back now but Cambridge then was still a hot bed of political intrigue even post the famous Cambridge Spies, some of whom in the sixties were still undetected working for shadier employers other than the one named on their payslip.

There is a time for every purpose under heaven like peace and war but the important and repeated word is turn and some things just seem to keep turning so fast they all become a bit of a blur.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

William Carlos Williams and Sarah Palin as Mark Anthony

So doom and gloom on the financial front stumbles on and the word 'global recession' is now said in less than hushed tones. Unemployment figures rise, two million possible by Christmas, the Dickensian figure of Christmas yet to come, unfurling its cloak to show the unemployed hanging from the material. Of course we have been here before, people older than I will have been here in far darker economic times. My grandfather was unemployed in the thirties and took on a variety of grim, dangerous and ill paid jobs just to keep the family going. I find it strange that people think that the need to have more than one job or career in a lifetime is something new. There has always been the need to change jobs and be flexible not only in what you are prepared to accept but what you are prepared to exist on financially for the working classes.
I was reading a William Carlos Williams poetry collection the other day and was struck by how much his poem The Yachts is relevant now albeit the metaphor may be reapplied to the banking system as well these days. Williams wrote it of course to point out that capitalism was at the expense of the small men who worked to fuel it and were the first to suffer when rough times came. Not much change there then. We, English Tax Payers, own shares in a few banks these days but it doesn’t help much if your job is going down the toilet, your fuel bills are astronomical and your house is about to be repossessed. As we are all feeling victims of something, we all need someone to be the whipping boy when things are going badly. It helps somewhat if the whipping boys really do exist and deserve the whipping but whilst blame might make us feel better ( those greedy bankers being sacked, named and shamed etc) we all know they will be unlikely to bear the brunt of the economic consequences of their actions. There may be the need for a little down-sizing, retirement a little earlier than expected, the use of savings set aside for a rainy day, a stock portfolio worth only the paper it is written on but nothing too drastic. In terms of the Williams poem these men have a fully equipped life-boat, thermally insulated survival gear and probably GPS equipment that might lead to them being picked up by some other yacht albeit smaller or steered in part by the government, the most trusted of captains in a storm some might say. The rest of us have to rely on the ability to swim in tempestuous cold water. I could meander along in this yacht race in a storm metaphor for hours. Even the United States with a Republican Government aat the helm is at present hauling in its big free market economy sails and using the engine of socialist mechanisms to save the boat.

Enough of the yacht thing I could start to see prophetic messages from beyond the grave in the poem but then poetry is often an ‘out of time’ rather than out of body experience. It can be not only universal but for all times. Some work is of its context, both historically, socially but great writing speaks to time itself. I’m sure Tony Blair may have thought of Hamlet’s soliloquy, ‘To be or not to be’ when the invasion of Iraq was being planned. Then maybe some of our leaders are not so deeply immersed in literature as others. Churchill cribbed from Henry V to write great rallying speeches, Martin Luther from the rolling cadences of the Old Testament. I detect more than a little knowledge of the great dramatic speeches in plays in Obama’s addresses. I am struggling to see that in Sarah Palin’s speeches. Of course unwittingly she (or of course her script writers) are drawing on Mark Anthony's speech in Julius Caesar, damning and sneering at Brutus /Obama by ironic faint praise and threading it through with insidiuos claims of lack of patriotism. Meanwhile she ensures all and sundry know their credentials as everyman/woman, someone who is in touch with how the mob think and act. She ensures that people recall that Bush/Caesar/the Republican party wasn’t all bad, they brought prosperity in the past, they were there in their time of greatest need ( 9/11), upheld the honour of the state against foul would be usurpers (terrorists).

I am sure someone will have told Palin to play up her common side as we all like someone like ourselves. Personally I want someone less common than myself. I want someone cleverer, more agile-minded, stronger, more wise and compassionate than myself to run the country. I would make a lousy job of running a country you may want to bond with someone like you but being lead by them is an entirely different prospect but perhaps many voters are too narcissistic to go beyond this approach.

Click on this link for a bit of fun (well not that funny if she does become Vice president). Make sure you click on various objects in the room to get full value for money out of the link.( Thanks to Anne for telling me about it)

If you want to see a rather good video of William Carlos Williams' famous poem about the plums you can find it here. It is the second of three poetry films by Matthew MacFadyen. Sonnet 29 is worth a watch as well. Nothing startlingly innovative but just quietly doing the job of making you listen to the words afresh.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Dancing and Eating Kebabs as the Banks Crash and Burn

It seems to have been one of those weeks that I wanted to eat every time I turned on the radio, as any pervasive atmosphere of depression always drives me into the arms of hot buttered toast with jam or now and then donuts. The radio alarm woke me up to the sound of the death knell for the Icelandic banking system, the car radio as I drove through the fens muttered into the foot well about downturns and global recession and when I came home at night and switched on the TV the face of strained bankers full of gravitas smiling in a particular wan way to try to summon up an air of confidence and ‘this too shall pass’ greeted me. All this demanded I resort to suppers consisting of shepherds pie and custard the ultimate comfort food stuffs.

Meanwhile, as if to pile on the guilt, Jamie Oliver was inviting the good souls of Rotherham to lightly tickle a salad with the fingers to coat it in a dressing cheerily shaken in a jar, like a fluid filled maracca. I watched with my tub of bought custard and admired the man’s drive and evangelical spirit to make the diets of some people, particularly children, nutritional better. He had witnessed children in African orphanages for Aids victims eat a better balanced and nutritional diet than a child he came across in Rotherham who lived on kebabs and burgers, he sighed to camera. I now not only felt gloomy about the economy I imagined my liver and the whole nation accumulating fat at a rate of knots from similar tubs of custard. Perhaps his Ministry of Food idea will become the new soup kitchen of this depression.

Given this sense of going to ‘economic hell in a handcart’ it is no wonder that I have embraced the return of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. A Saturday and Sunday night filled with sequins, twirls and minor celebrities attempting to rumba as if their life depended on it can only lighten the heart, if not the scales, as a glass of wine and a bag of crisps serve to heighten the whole glitzy experience for me.

I long to dance but at 6’ 3” the likelihood of finding a partner who might skip the light fantastic with me or hurl me round the dance floor in a giddy waltz was never going to happen. At school Miss R the PE teacher gave us a term of ballroom when we reached the fifth form. Young women could not be released into the world post 'O' level without the rudiments of the foxtrot and cha-cha to ease their way into polite society. Thirty, rather cynical young girls, who had just discovered the pill, Mary Quant eye make-up and the pouting sensual lips of Mick Jagger were never going to do justice to the quick-step. I always had to lead and take the male part as I towered above everyone, it was either that or dance holding a small chair as a stand-in partner (I did go on to dance at parties with many a plank later in life so it stood me in good stead and taught me not to expect any conversation or witty repartee whilst dancing). I presume Miss R thought that either I would never be asked to dance by a man or that I would somehow, as if by magical kinaesthetics be able to reverse all the steps in the flurry of excitement that would occur in my head at the prospect of being whisked onto the floor by a man.

I did go to a formal dance once in my twenties and surprisingly I was asked to dance by a man who elegantly swanned over to our table in full black tie and tails, this could be my Fred and Ginger moment, I too might get to fly down to Rio. However he had arrived late after I had already sat down to dinner and had not seen me on my feet. I have to hand it to him he never batted an eyelid when I stood up and all of his 5’ 6” oozed confidence that this dance could be achieved without loss of face on both sides. He was wrong, as soon as the waltz struck up there was an almighty clash of chests as I tried to lead, well strictly speaking it was a clash of breasts and face as his nose wedged itself into my cleavage. He should have known when I became totally confused about how to go into the woman’s hold and we ended up in a tangle of arms and apologies that the situation was beyond repair. Miss R would have been proud of the way I firmly grabbed his hand and placed my other one in between his shoulder blades, but this seemed to cause his eyes to pop out of his head like a cartoon figure and demanded he rise up on his toes, like a small boy trying to peer over a wall. Why had I agreed to dance was the only thing that was racketing round in my head as I desperately tried to reverse like a huge articulated lorry having to back up at speed to avoid being rammed by a small Ford Escort.

That was my last and only ballroom dance. Luckily all that jigging and waving arms about on your own in front of each other was the dance of the moment and I could do that and still can. As for the smoochy, grab each other dances, that occur at the end of discos, weddings and awful office parties it seemed to be ok or maybe it was the booze that made it feel ok for men to just bury their noses in my bosom and for me to rest my chin on the top of their heads and we would shuffle round as if we were the disabled elderly using each other as a Zimmer frames.

So I sit and sigh and watch the dancers on the TV do their thing, and imagine myself doing that in another smaller life. There are worse things to do though, perhaps we may frown at the thought of Nero fiddling whilst Rome burnt, but quick-stepping whilst the global economy crashes and burns seems fine by me.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Davros, Stavros and Christopher Reid in Women in Love.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa I have been remiss in posting. I make no excuses other than the fact that I have not simply been lying down in a darkened room contemplating my naval or should that be navel, I have always had a soft spot for maritime people and verbal dyslexic tendencies have got me into more trouble than I care to contemplate. I was at the Kings Lynn Poetry Festival last week-end and seemed to spend half the time making linguistic near misses (this is the verbal form of having to call on the camera to decide whether a ball is in or out at Wimbledon; nearly, nearly in but just swerving over the line at the last minute) which cannot be subsumed under the heading spoonerisms or dottiness.

In a conversation about Dr Who and the Daleks, which was initiated because a member of the Kings Lynn Festival committee happens to have a life sized Dalek in his house (complete with egg whisk hand and plunger eye) I, as a keen Dr Who watcher since childhood referred to Stavros as the creator of the Daleks. After a short pause the assembled company came up with every possible way of doing a Dalek voice with a Greek accent and summoning up the vision of Harry Enfield’s character saying something along the lines of ‘Well it’s extermination ain’t it peeps.’

Last year at the same festival I managed to congratulate Anthony Thwaite on his poem about two dogs on a roof which of course I knew was by Christopher Reid but some how it just tumbled out. I love Reid’s work he can be precise and observant, tender and witty all at the same time. In this poem he manages to describe a tortoise going down some steps with tender funny precision. But of course this mistake on my part was a simple matter of idiocy and poor memory combining to make for a buttock clenching embarrassing moment rather than a prime linguistic moment of 'just skimming the line'.

My mother was always one for taking words and phrases and either twisting them or losing the thread somewhere. She talked of condescension on the windows, people dying of pantomime poisoning (ptomaine), rules having to be stripped related (stipulated) and the lady up the road had an hystericalectomy. She once told me that a thing of beauty is a boy forever and that someone was barking up a dead herring and that to become a saint you had to be beautified. This was way before the Alzheimer’s took hold and after that a mixture of her natural tendencies and aphasia served to make me a past master at clever interpretation of intent. I knew instantly that when she told me ‘the clicker needed battering’ that the TV remote control needed a new battery. ‘The Duke of Kent is wanting a whip round’ meant that a picture of my father needed dusting (for some reason she became convinced that she had a number of photographs of the Duke of Kent in her house and I think my father would have been pleased to have been upgraded to royalty).

So when I start to think of Stavros as the Dalek creator and that DB Pierre wrote Vernon Little John I shall only be following in my mother’s verbal liquidising which might not bode too well for my career as a writer and a poet but then again it does mean that language becomes a surprising thing now and then and those strange synaptic leaps in the brain that suddenly join up to apparently unconnected dots may be one way of thinking outside the box.

I was telling someone about this Stavros/Davros mix up in the office yesterday and in order to prove that I really did know the difference told her that I even knew that Marlon Molloy played Davros and also Mike Tucker in the Archers. It wasn’t until she had glazed over and escaped that I realised it was Terry Molloy who had played Davros and Marlon Brando who had played the role of Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront. See what I mean about the memory ball just skimming the line, but then Marlon Brando playing Mike Tucker moaning that he could have been a contender for the parish council may be happening in a parallel universe somewhere, with Robert de Niro playing Sid Perks and Meryl Streep as Jolene.

I saw Terry Molloy (the actor not the character) in the flesh as he had a role in a friend’s stage play ‘Frobisher’s Gold’ when it started life in Cambridge. It went on to play at the Shaw Theatre in London with Janet Suzman giving her imperious Elizabeth I. Fraser Grace the dramatist now has a website up and running so you can check that play and his other work out for yourselves.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Observing the Big Bang and Responsibility to Awe

So the epicentre of an almighty cosmic catastrophe did not occur in Switzerland. Whizzing particles were busy saying cheese for the camera (or should that be Swiss cheese as a friend pointed out to me) and no black hole or the entrance to another parallel universe or an unscreened episode of Buffy, opened.

It’s always the way when you are observing something nothing spectacular ever happens, the moment you turn your back of course all hell may make loose. I can’t begin to count the number of fabulous photographs I could have taken seconds after I stopped looking through the viewfinder. The one at the top just failed to catch a spectacular leap out of the water by a whale. I have several photographs of a dustbin just as a skunk has left, I even have a rowing eight on the Cam seconds before it crashed into a barge at a rate of knots. But then the Swiss can be relied upon for 24 hour surveillance (why else would billionaires keep their money there) and the boffins are too shrewd to let anything get past them. You don’t spend years and millions of Euros building something whose sole purpose is to hurl things together then step outside for a quick fag or shuffle off to the coffee machine at 3 am and miss it all. I enjoy physics although I don’t understand it at any level other than the most basic but then you don’t have to read a single note of music to enjoy a symphony.
All the hoo-ha about Cern and the observation of the big bang a nano second after made me revisit a wonderful collection of poetry by Rebecca Elson called ‘A Responsibility to Awe’ (published by Carcanet). I knew Rebecca slightly as we attended a poetry workshop together for a while in Cambridge. She was an extraordinary woman, an astronomer who had worked on the Hubble Telescope project, specialised in looking for Dark Matter and who wrote some of the most wonderful poetry about her science and sadly later her diagnosis of cancer. She died at only 39 and I am sure if not for the cancer she would have gone on to be a major figure in the world of astronomy and poetry. The collection was lovingly put together after her death by her husband and her friend and fellow poet Anne Berkeley, who I know spent countless hours pouring over Rebecca’s notebooks, diaries and essays to produce the book which not only contains her poems but extracts from her notebooks and an essay about how she came to be a scientist. If you are at all interested in science and poetry this book repays any time spent reading it. Below are a couple of her poems about astronomy to wet your appetite.

Girl with a Balloon
(Most of the helium in the universe was created in the Big Bang)

From this, the universe
In its industrial age,
With all the stars lit up
Roaring, banging, spitting,
Their black ash settling
Into every form of life,

You might look back with longing
To the weightlessness, the elemental,
Of the early years.

As leaning out the window
You might see a child
Going down the road,
A red balloon,
A little bit of pure Big Bang,
Bobbing at the end of her string.

The Last Animists

They say we have woken
From a long night of magic,
Of cravings,
Fire for fire, earth for earth.
A wind springs up.
The birds stir in the dovecotes.
It is so clear in this cold light
That the firmament turns without music,
That when the stars forge
The atoms of our being
No smith sweats in labour.

Day dawns,
The chill of reason seeps
Into the bones of matter
But matter is unknowing.
Mathematics sinks its perfect teeth
Into the flesh of space
But space is unfeeling.

We say the dreams of night
Are within us
As blood within flesh
As spirit within substance
As the oneness of things
As from a dust of pigeons
The white light of wings.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Anxiety Bloat, Whitesnake and Tea and Cake in the Biker's Tent.

The novel manuscript is with the agent, the poetry collection is with the publisher and so I wait. I feel like a pregnant woman waiting to be told the results of the scan. Come to think of it my stomach seems to be expanding, this may be a kind of anxiety bloat or due to the fact that I am eating my way through the freezer in a fit of economy and ‘waste not want not’ admonitions in my head from endless generations of thrifty northern women from which I descend. I have discovered unlabelled, undated plastic bags lurking at the back; chocolate sauce or that rich gravy. Food, once frozen takes on a strange sculptural form, especially sloppier food items which mould themselves to fit the space available and tend to take on a darker hue. One bag, seemed to take on the shape of Henry Kissenger’s head. It contained what I thought was raspberry gloop made in a fit of Nigella envy last summer, it turned out to be carrot soup, once it thawed.

Talking of feeling pregnant yesterday was the BOO’s (Beloved Only Offspring) birthday. I phoned her on the mobile. Where are you? I enquire as I can hear a lot of noise in the background. “At a Bikers Rock festival”, she replies. ”It’s tipping it down, my tent is now a waterlogged paddling pool and I have had to buy a pair of surplus army boots as my shoes are leaking.” We are of course talking motor-bikes here not push bikes. A large muddy field full of bikers arriving to enjoy the likes of a WhiteSnake tribute band called Snakebite and other heavy metal delights sounds like a good way to celebrate your birthday. The Boo tells me that they have found a fantastic tent being run by the Christian Bikers Association where tea and cake are really cheap. She seems to think that potential double pneumonia and tea and biscuits from the Biker God Squad with someone belting the hell out of a drum kit in the background is a good way to spend a birthday and it probably is if you’re in your twentiesand don't feel the need for hygenic toilet facilities,a comfy chair and the promise of a decaff skinny cappacino now and then.I am proud that I refrained from asking if she was wearing a vest but I couldn't stop myself asking if she had a decent sleeping bag. "I should have but it hasn't arrived yet." she replied cryptically which sounded rather ominous.

I have just watched the Whitesnake link through. I had completely forgotten all that era of ‘crotch rock’; boys in tight leather and flowing locks playing ‘air guitar’ with a real guitar photo-shopped in and lots of women in the videos tossing their hair about too, whilst always scantily clad. Totally unpolitically correct, feminism wise almost mysoginistic.That brand of Heavy Metal was always more about shiny platinum discs than heavy metal music of course. Am I being strangely nostalgic for those unreconstructed early male metal bands like, AC/DC, Jeff Beck, Deep Purple, Hawkwind, Led Zepplin, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep. But then Ossie went onto reality TV shows and Alice Cooper advertises Staples and appeared with the Muppets; so slip all icons into the arms of necessity to pay the bills. On the day I gave birth to my daughter Tainted Love was at Number One, swiftly followed by Prince Charming with Adam Ant looking rather like a youthful de-toxed version of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.Come to think of it the Rolling Stone, raddled icon, Keith Richards, turned up in that as Johnny Depp’s dad. How have the mighty fallen and the hell raisers of yesteryear grown mellow like old cheese. If Amy Winehouse was a man would we just nod and accept that the icons of the media industry was ever thus and that in twenty years time she will be advertising hairspray on TV? Female stars seem to have less slack cut as boozing drug-riddled hell raisers; less hope of them slipping into becoming acceptable shuffling, monosyllabic elder statesmen of what rock and roll is all about.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Boxers, Yapping Dogs and the Floating Dog Lovers Vote in the American Presidential Election

Autumn feels as if it is starting to arrive with that particular smell of new pencil cases, vests and in the Fens a slight ‘je ne sais quoi’ on the breeze coming in from the Urals. Having spent nearly all of August with my head in front of a computer screen working on the novel (definite article) and the poetry collection (another very definite article) I am now attuned to the view from the window next to my computer desk and can spot all those minute changes, even the urban grass verges with their weekly tide of wheelie bins signal that summer has washed by. The rose bush in next door but one’s garden look like a lanky older woman trying to maintain a gesture towards youth by a slight smear of red lipstick.Nearly all the leaves have dropped, succombing to time and gravity but the odd bloom hangs on doggedly, much like myself.

I spent Saturday at an informal poetry workshop in a garden. Some exercises to get the juices flowing and much food. I managed to squeeze out a few drops of work I could perhaps use at some point from, what felt like, my desiccated brain. I was happy to be in the company of two dogs, resident in the house; a very solid black Labrador and a quietly content cocker spaniel. I miss dogs, being out at work all day I feel it is unfair to have a dog but in my childhood and teenage years I was never without a dog in the house. The first I recall was
a far from stupid boxer who took me from two years old to fourteen years old. She was the exception to the rule that boxers are basically friendly but very stupid. She was a smart dog; unfortunately she took her role of surrogate nanny to me very seriously, someone must have read her Peter Pan as a puppy and she took her template from the Darling’s dog. We would play together in a tiny garden but should I venture towards the gate to go out onto the road she would firmly stop me by either literally hanging onto any item of my clothing she could get her teeth into and pulling me back or sitting at the gateway and head butting me back into the garden. As I grew older and was allowed out of the gate on my own she found this very worrying and would fret at the gate until I returned. I could never take her for a walk on my own even as a teenager; we would get as far as the gate and she would sit down and refuse to budge giving me a very firm stare as if I was being caught in an act of unbelievably stupidity. She would sit at the door awaiting my return from school unerringly at the right time, even when we had half day holidays from school she would sense a change of timings and be at the door at the new return time. This was a dog of magnificent intelligence and empathy.

The Dalmatian that followed was barking mad, literally; she was also an escape artist of Houdini type ability. Whilst I was at school my mother spent hours wandering the neighbourhood rattling a tin of doggy chocs to try and locate her. She was returned to us from far and wide, kind people reading her address on the collar and delivering her back. This was her forte, escaping, running for miles, acquiring new and admiring friends who would feed her, pet her generally celebrate her adventure and return her back to the arms of her family who were, puzzlingly to her, a mixture of angry, relieved and joyous. The Dalmatian came into our lives at the same time as my mother’s menopause and the two did not mix. The daily stress of her escapes lead her to give the dog away to a family that had two rumbustuous young boys who were also always escaping and getting into trouble. This was a match made in heaven. The boys and the dog bonded so well that on her death many years later two grief stricken grown men insisted that she be placed in a very expensive doggy grave at the local pet cemetery.

After the Dalmatian my mother decided to downsize to two pugs. I had virtually left home by the pug era but I remember them as loud, yapping to a frenzy when anyone came to the door, true lap dogs and, I say this grudgingly, as I am not a fan of small dogs, full of character. They wheezed and snorted their way through life with heads that seemed to be permanently cocked on one side, like victims of severe whiplash. They were in a car accident once, my mother driving into a bread van or vice versa depending on which version you listened to. They refused to abandon their roll as guardians of the back seat of the car and had to be removed eventually very gingerly by a policeman who threw a coat over them. They didn’t stop yapping until placed in the ambulance with my slightly dazed mother where they promptly sat on her lap and refused to budge. They had to be given a ride to the hospital with her (very much against the rules) until my father arrived to collect them and my mother, whereupon both mother and dogs lapsed into acquiescent relieved silence in the presence of the alpha male of the pack.

I discovered a recent article that cited the results of a poll that 42% of pet owners favoured presidential McCain and only 37% favoured Obama. Amongst dog owners the margin is even bigger. McCain did release pictures of himself in hunting mode with gun and dog, thus targeting the gun lobby and the dog owners in one fell swoop. The fact that Obama is without any kind of pet, apart from his running mate, Joe Biden, who has been likened to an attack dog, may not help his cause. If McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin turns out to own cats, dogs goldfish and budgies there may be many a democratic vote lost to the animal lovers demographic. However her strong fight as Governor of Alaska to try and stop Polar bears being listed as an endangered species as this would effect gas and oil exploration may count against her. Cuddly endangered polar bear cub versus a family pet. This may be a green crusty eco warrior with small dogs on pieces of rope group versus owners of spoilt poodles, man hunting bloodhounds and property protecting Dobermans.It is unlikely that the former would have voted Republican anyway and the latter dog owners are probably already entrenched in the Republican camp. It's the floating dog-owning voters that need rounding up into the Democrat fold. Obama has stated he intends to get a dog at some point; this may be too little too late to grab that floating dog-owner voter.

Harry Truman a famous presidential dog owner once pointed out that the only way to have a friend in Washington was to have a dog. Of course Harry Truman agreed to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hitler also liked dogs, being deeply fond of his Alsatian dog Blondie; dog ownership is therefore no indication of a deep love of humanity in general or an ability to lead with compassion. Perhaps Barack is relying on Biden to be faithful unto death and also the American electorate to have some common sense. Hopefully both will prove to be true but I am not holding my breath. Maybe Sarah Palin will be revealed as having agreed to lost dogs in Alaskan dog pounds being put to sleep, cue for photo opportunity of dog with soulful eyes staring down the camera lens; then those floating voters may not be lost to the Democrats after all.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

A Thought on Conventions, Tillie Olson and Bolt

Apart from when working hard on the agent’s suggested re-writes for the novel (definite article) I find myself relaxing by watching other people sweat in the Olympic Games. Mr Bolt seems to be the fastest human on two legs now, the ability to propel yourself along a track faster than others is still quite compelling. He was considered too tall to be a sprinter, legs too long to move that fast. I was told the same at school I was pushed into (or should that be up to) the high jump. Trying to do the Fosbury Flop onto a wet concrete hard sand pit was probably the cause of my spine being re-arranged temporarily into something akin to a toppling Jenga tower. There was a particular kind of thud as you hit the ground and if unlucky the cat shit which the local feline community deposited there. I may have been crap at sprinting but at least I would have liked an opportunity to dodge the cat shit. Well done Mr Bolt, well done those people who told him that conventions can be overthrown

I was talking with someone a while ago involved in a project to introduce ‘literature’ to a group of young single parent women on a council estate that is struggling with a number of problems. These women firmly believed that literature was only for ‘posh’ people. When at school ‘literature’ was a special word used for books written only by a special few. I suggested they might like the short story ‘I Stand Here Ironing’ by Tillie Olson, the American socialist writer from her book of short stories ‘Tell me a Riddle’ (If you haven’t read it then you should, it’s probably one of my Desert Island Books). All of them without exception instinctively understood this story at a deeper level; some of their lives had echoes of this story. All of them were desperate to read more stories by her. One woman apparently said, this was the first time she was glad they hadn’t been shown the film first as the teachers at school usually did that to make them think the story was worth reading. ‘This one was better with words and what was in my head.’ I mention this only because the new convention seems to be that adolescents will only engage with literature if the carrot of the DVD is there. You’ve seen the film…now read the book. If it isn’t selectively used this approach could deny some the right to create their own images in their head. Does Harry Potter look like the actor who plays him in the films in everyone’s mind now? I am still unable to shake off the trauma of seeing Great Expectations updated and transported to Florida and New York and Jennifer Day warbling in the background.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside no brass band required to play tiddly om pom pom

I have not seen the sea for three months, I am beginning to feel the need. Summer holidays and no seaside to mark it seems distinctly sad. Seeing the sea was an annual prerequisite when I was a child, even if only on a day trip. I lived in the Midlands so I understood rivers and canals, I understood what it felt like to be surrounded by land but the sea was always something extraordinary. I still can’t go over the rise of a hill without expecting to see the sea from the top as this was my first embedded sight of the sea. Seaside of course came with all the razzmatazz of ice-creams, fun fairs, donkeys, sandcastles, shops that sold everything you may need on a beach. It was, however, the actually sea that excited me. The tide was a mystery no matter how much my father tried to explain about phases of the moon and gravitational pulls it only succeeded in deepening the mystery of why the sea came out and in. The sea always seemed to breathe to my childhood psyche, out and in, very slowly, like some great animal. I still don’t fully grasp how tides work, the change of times, equinoxes etc.

I haven’t seen the sea since early May, not long by my childhood calendar as then I only saw it once a year. I nearly drowned when I was six, I fell off a small pier in Devon in a place called Beer (for ever afterwards my Dad would joke that I nearly drowned in Beer and laugh heartily). My father dived in and rescued me whilst my mother (who was unable to swim) waded in up to her waist until a local fisherman stopped her as two people drowning, he pointed out, was not advisable. All I recall is being the centre of attention on the beach when I was pulled out and a doctor, holidaying there, declaring me fit for purpose once I had thrown up copious amounts of salt water. I have never held this incident against the sea, but it has deepened my respect for it. There is an old superstition, usually amongst people whose livelihood and well being depended on the sea that there is a duty not to save the drowning man. The drowning person is seen as a sacrifice to be paid, a propitiation of the sea gods. It was believed that if someone is rescued from the sea it will claim the rescuer at some point. My Dad never drowned and three cheers for the National Lifeboat Institution. I always give money to them on their flag days, a sort of small propitiation of my own.

Of course what I reflect on now is also that both my parents were willing to risk their own lives to save me. What ever the arguments and problems that may have occurred later in tempestuous teenage years that was always a baseline, their knee jerk reaction was to save me whatever the consequences. You can’t expect more than that from a parent.

I’m hoping to see the sea later in the month, just for a day, Brighton..posh seaside not rock pool wild or working class stick of rock seaside but it will suffice. Last time I was there I watched a huge muscular seagull swoop down on a woman’s bag of chips and neatly take them out of her hand; he almost had a grin on his face, if beaks can grin. Of course the other superstition is that seagulls hold the souls of those lost at sea. A superstition used by David Harsent in this poem from his wonderful collection Legion.
If I had drowned in Devon, I like to think I would have subsequently enjoyed stealing chips from unsuspecting holiday makers.