Saturday, March 22, 2008

"A Strange and Shivery Season"

IF , like me and family, you'd stalked our City Walls at 11o'clock last night*( six frozen Ghosts of Hamlet's Father, staggering forth on the Elsinore ramparts.)'d have been forgiven for thinking you'd landed in Siberia.

BUT stay, illusion!...Since yesterday it's officially been Spring. And this morning there's azzzzure sky, although the milkman still wears his beanie ( a fetching Peruvian patterned one, with swinging platts) and his thick red mittens... and his breath makes more patterns on the garden wall than you could ever either imagine or shake an icy stick at. The cats won't budge from the house, a corgi just strolled past in a quilted coat (accompanied by guy wearing purple balaclava) ... and I've just pulled on the thickest of socks ( "Fatface" ones, of course) over my shivering blue toes.

AND so Blog (who was brought up to believe we in the UK have 4 distinct Seasons) is now utterly confused and has decided to have a week or two in hibernation.
Hopefully when Blog next emerges , the cats will be frolicking under willow trees and I'll be wearing my Teva sandals...
Look forward to seeing you then.

* After meal at excellent Brasserie Chez Gerard, nominated Best Newcomer in the 2008 local Food/Drink Awards. ( Well deserved)

**AND particularly good to hear Ms. RF in NZ scans m'blog occassionally...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"All You Need Is:..£17,000 per day!!"

It's become a bit of a family anthem...
My father, closing his Father Of The Bride toast at our wedding ( YRS ago!) suddenly burst into it...and everyone else followed.
Donkey's yrs later, my husband, closing his Father of the Groom toast ( months ago!) at second son's wedding, suddenly burst into it...and everyone else followed.

A fortnight ago, the D.J, closing the lively disco celebrating the joint Special Birthday of my brother and sisterinlaw, played it as their friends/family stood in a happy midnight circle..
"All you need is love": that's the song and that's what Paul McCartney thought, all those yrs ago. Then he married Heather. Each day of that marriage (according to her Divorce Settlement yesterday) earned her £17,000.
She should've been eavesdropping at our family celebrations over the years....and no doubt at quite a few others throughout the land...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"Behind Closed Doors..."

Caroline Smailes is pretty, she's bright and at thirty-something, she clearly has a big writing future. Very recently, she called in to chat with one of my writing groups. I'd never met her in person...merely chatted through emails and but it was a treat to meet her and I know my class agreed. We had a great morning.
Strangely enough, when Caroline arrived, we were looking at an extract from Jeannette Winterson's " Oranges are not the only fruit" (the main character telling of her mother's "daily household preoccupation" with The Heathen next door, :"Put some clothes on...Next Door's at it again..")
We then worked on List poems, each line starting " Next door...", then listing ( "creatively", of course!) stuff Next door got up to...( great results: funny, moving, lyrical...we got the lot!) so THIS was all very (accidentally) relevant....
Caroline's second book is an ebook novella. "Disraeli Avenue" tells of a street of similar houses, where no household is really the same, where folk hide secrets which ( I'm cliche-ing; but cliches are cliches because they're SO very accurate, e.g: "make your blood boil", "your toes curl")...and as Caroline says, the book gives you "a mosaic of working class life".
It's a crisp idea; characters who were lightly featured in Caroline's first book ("In search of Adam", published by The Friday Project)... are given voice and their stories more vividly told...
Caroline's book can be downloaded free from her website ( see address above) All that's asked is a donation for a hardworking Charity ( " One in Four" ) which offers support for folk experiencing sexual abuse and violence.
By joining in, you're helping a great cause AND you'll enjoy a writer of whom we'll hear more...
Thankyou Caroline for coming to see us!
But Now For Something Completely Different:
Yesterday, I spotted a lovely old fellow sitting by the chemist counter in our local supermarket; Mr P 's been a neighbour for years and he must be 90. He was awaiting a prescription and the reason was obvious; his eyes were piggy-small and red and they streamed with cold.....but on seeing me, Mr P grinned, then asked after me, my family...and on saying goodbye, he touched his cap, yep, he touched his cap ( a deerstalker , something my long-gone dad would've described as " nifty" or even possibly " natty") ...then as I backed away with my wire basker swinging madly, he raised said deerstalker in gentlemanly salute.
I was touched, deeply. No-one's touched their cap at me for years, let alone " doffed" it. Doffed?
Does anyone under 40 even know what "doffed" means??!
I think the "trying-to-look scary" Hoodies who hang out on scary bikes outside the supermarket should do some doffing...lift up their hoodies occassionally, smile broadly...and we'd all feel a lot better.
OK, I'm easily pleased, but Mr P ( at 90-something) made m'day!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

" Scandalous Doings at The Royal Exchange"

I took a trip on Saturday...yes, literally, a trip.
Hm: not THAT kind of trip but a trip over an invisible matchbox ( or scrap of shopping list) on a pavement outside a Manchester nightclub. I'd been watching two big-boy Bouncers who were watching a dusky-skinned girl ( legs:gazelle-like, mini dress:leopard-print) and I'd been wondering JUST how many clubbers that night had sidled in on freebies ...while the Big Bouncers gorged themselves on passing street beauties..
And then I'd landed in the gore of said street, one arm in a puddle, my bag in a muddle...
We'd been to a matinee ( visiting the M/Ch Exchange Theatre, in itself a treat) to Sarah Frankcomb's production:" The Children's Hour"; this is Lillian Hellmann's 1934 play,which has a gay theme, once eminently shockable. The play was banned in Chicago, Boston, London, New York...finally shown in France, but with a new title:" The Innocents". And later, in 1961, the film appeared, starring Audrey Hepburn, Shirley Maclaine ( see above) with James Garner.
The story is set in a girl's Scottish boarding school. There are schoolgirls, who whisper and giggle ( often sitting, almost in the audience, around the edge of Exchange's circular stage) ...girls who make friends, gang up, tell tales...(the usual girly stuff ) and there are teachers, two in particular who started the school, who have a friendship teetering on the brink of something else, and then there is schoolgirl Mary, who picks out her victims, who blackmails, who terrifies...Mary, whose final dreadful lie carries everyone into disaster...
It's a great production: the snatches of music, the set with its swirling chairs, the perfect placing of characters on the circular stage, the costumes..
Maxine Peake with Charlotte Emmerson gave us strong and moving pictures of the teachers.
BUT STAR OF THE PLAY was Kate O'Flynn as Mary. At school, we met girls who "stir", who "scare" ( a tad) ..but O'Flynn ignited Mary's character; her takeover of both this evil young character AND the production was superb.
*** " The Children's Hour" is at Manchester Royal Exchange until April 5th.
OTHER fun stuff:
On Monday, to 1st Birthday celebrations of Zest! ...
Zest! is the poetry-child of 3 local women poets, including Gill McEvoy. They meet every few weeks at Alexander's, a friendly, cosy bar in our city, where an intriguing band of folk share a vast variety of poetry. Good fun, with some pretty wonderful contributions. These included poems from 2 ex-Cheshire Poet Laureates, John Lindley and Andrew Rudd.
On Wednesday, to Chester Theatre Club at the Little Theatre: Margery Alexander's production of Bob Larbey's " A Month Of Sundays". It sounds gloomy ( set in a nursing home) but the two main characters, Cooper ( John Turner) and Aylott ( Tony Kemp) provided humour along with much food for thought....which reminds me to mention the talented Barbara Jemmett, who as Nurse Wilson, provided tears, cuddles and curling-at-edge sandwiches! A fine evening out!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

"Bell, Boats and Poetry"

This is a painting by Cornish artist Michael Praed; I first saw his work in the Capstan Gallery at Sennen Cove, several years ago. And having visited a Boat Museum last week, it seemed particularly relevant... BUT I digress:

Jo Bell is a pretty AND ( I'm pretty sure) feisty young woman and Jo Bell writes good poetry.
It reflects both herself and her generation, her super use of language... and it gives a peep into her view of the world, with both its pains, its pleasures...
Last Thursday ( World Book Day) Cheshire Poet Laureate Jo launched her latest anthology:" Navigation" at the Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port. I'd met her last summer when she ran a workshop at the Salt Museum, Northwich ( my post June 2nd ) which was enjoyed by all.
The Boat Museum ( ) is a fabulous venue for Jo; she loves boats, in fact she lives on one the other side of the county.. and the Museum's wide open internal spaces plus its situation by the Shropshire Union Canal, couldn't have been bettered for both practicality and atmosphere. AND we were also feted with rather a tasty supper before Jo's readings...

AND THEN we saw vivid images:
Jo writing on love: it came "like a blow to the neck"... and about ourselves: "we carry our lives, like overcoats over our arm, ready for rain" and Jo's glimpses of people and places: " a clean-faced woman pulling upstream in a blade-like boat" when "the Trent was pewter-pink, all innocence" .
In another poem, we read of schooldays, when "Mark Davidson could undo a bra strap with one hand", when she learned " to kiss like eels fighting" and "talk like a miner's wife" and when Jo discovered ( as we all eventually do) that " I was on my own"..
There's a sense of place too: the Welsh travelling on roads other side of the Wirral estuary: "soft salt-darkened roads" where " birds are settling like miner's ghosts"..where there are " lights in dark Welsh hills" and we'll wonder, as we did last night, what they're doing over they'll wonder: "what we're doing over here".....

But my favourite lines are from " Andrew's garden" when Jo was:
"...sent for mint, and came back in
to wood smoke and calm oboes;
hopeful as the cat"...

Wood smoke and calm oboes; a mantra for peacefulness, if ever there was one..

Friday, March 07, 2008

"Sparing Some Thoughts For Endings"

Tonight, painter Ben Johnson puts finishing touches to his Liverpool Cityscape in the Walker Art Gallery.
On Tuesday, a friend and I watched his progress and listened as he told how his masterpiece was created; it's an incredible story and a fabulous one for Liverpool.

Johnson's been working on the painting for three years, originally in London, now in Liverpool. He's used 670 different colours, 25 separate stencils for each group of buildings, taken 3,500 photos, had 40,000 visitors, and one building took over 3 months to draw...
Johnson describes himself as a public servant, lucky to indulge in his craft; this indulgence, he says, is only due to support given by others and he's clearly delighted and grateful.
And in his painting, no building stands in or casts shadows; this is because he believes we, like his buildings, all have the right to be seen as clearly, as vividly as possible...
The end of the painting of Cityscape is in sight; Johnson's feelings must be mixed....because good or bad, endings evoke response , endings breed varied emotions...

On a totally different scale ( but nevertheless, important to me) ....I have an "ending" myself next week. I'm"retiring" from my two creative writing classes after almost 7 years; I shall miss them HUGELY...not just the planning, researching, the writers, the writing...not just the buzzzzz of designing workshop exercises ( which I've particularly loved), or the recording of an entire class's work for the radio, or the making of an anthology, or the merry lunches at Christmas.....or watching a scientist smile as he creates a shady character or a nurse write dialogue that provokes and stirs and certainly thrills us:

BUT I shall miss 34 lovely folk who have gelled and taken delight in each other's work and company... There's the men: Liverpudlian Ron, Irish Neil, Mike the Jazz man, Welsh Desmond and more, all of 'em..and the women: the Lizs's, (Liz, who ran the NY Marathon, Liz, who paints in colours as bright as her words, Liz, who decades ago, ran a theatre in Sydney ...lots of Lizs) Sylvia and Kay, who ALWAYS do homework, Gill who slays us with sly-dry humour, Jean who creates illusions and images with her truly magic writing, Joan with her voice like rich gold honey, Derek whose analysis always goes the extra intriguing distance, journalist Elizabeth, who once worked with Stevie Smith....and then there's Anthea, Lucy, Ann, Marg, and those who've been and gone, like Deb who went to Turkey and Annie who had 4 sons and made Birthday Cakes and Jonathan the poet and Liz ( another!) who sat in her car in the carpark and smoked a cig and returned with a "masterpiece"..and ....I COULD go on, I could mention "everyone" because "everyone" made up the Whole..
AND YES, yes, I'll miss the talking, the fun of learning, the sharing of ideas...I'll miss the blossoming of someone's quiet confidence, the laughter, and sometimes, even the tears...