Thursday, 23 November 2017

Ye Grete Derknesse

Every autumn equinox, I run through a quick refresher course on how my trusty Lumie Bodyclock works and tell myself it's going to be fine this year - I'm not going to be such a big baby about winter and Ye Grete Derknesse, I'm going to light candles and wrap myself up in colourful handknitted blankets and get out somewhere beautiful and sustaining on every single bright and sunny day that is granted to us. 

But some days there seems to be no daylight at all, just continuous dusk and it's exhausting. And the bright days always seem to fall when I'm due in work, or I've agreed to drive my mother half way across town to buy a packet of Cathedral City mature Cheddar cheese because it's 30p per 350g cheaper in a supermarket there than it is locally. ('That's six shillings!')

So has it been this November. Instead of a bit of easy living post poetry festival, there's been the torment and tedium of funding bids. Two days out arranged - to Dartmoor and South Somerset - didn't happen through no fault of anybody's. And though these last two weeks there has been much chauffeuring of Son the Actor to be done - about 450 miles altogether, to a beautiful location the other side of the city with stunning autumnal walks - it's all been done under cover of darkness, the first round trip through the evening rush hour and the second last thing at night. We've seen a total of four foxes and something that looked smaller and somewhat malevolent in the headlights as it pushed its way through a hedge. Gollum, or a svart maybe. 

I did manage to fit in Simon Armitage's reading at the Bristol Poetry Institute. He read mostly from his new collection, The Unaccompanied, plus some older poems, including an extract from his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which I love. If you haven't ever been to hear him read, you are missing a treat. Armitage is the Jack Dee of poetry. His poetry-reading persona during his introductions is downbeat and self-deprecating. Then come the poems which are engaging and often very funny. I think I must have heard him read half a dozen times over the last - I don't know, 15, 20 years? - and I enjoy it as much as I ever did.

Between chauffeuring stints I also fitted in the launch of Anna Bianchi's book Becoming an Ally to the Gender-Expansive Child. The evening consisted of readings, conversation and questions, and I gained fresh insights, not just about questions of gender and identity, but privilege too.
I was expecting an intimate evening, but I've never seen the upstairs room at the Greenbank in Easton so packed, which was fantastic and a great tribute to Anna, the quality of her writing and her indefatigable heart. Oh and there was a big urn for the making of tea too. Inspired. 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

O Brave New World

I'm going to call her a collie-doodle, but apparently the correct nomenclature is bordoodle, which seems like a wasted opportunity to me. 

Anyway, Lucy is gorgeous and she is eight weeks old and she has already padded her way - and tumbled headlong - into our hearts. (Sorry, Ted. Or rather, Uncle Ted. Just remember that love is not like a box of Bonios, it's infinite, OK? And you won't have to see her every day.) 

OK, I am going to do a snooze now

Promise you will not do anything interesting ...

You did a murmur! What is a murmur? Can I do a murmur? 

Maybe I'll just stay awake and not miss anything. 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Satchel of Poems and St Melangell's Good Hare Day

Sunday - and there was more birthdaying to be done. Or at least, we had to go to Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire to pick up my present. This was The Satchel Of Poems commissioned by the Northerner from our dear friends Chris and Jinny, who together comprise Skyravenwolf, and whose work is extraordinarily accomplished and very beautiful. 

Little did I know - which is as well, as I would have worried if I had - that my brief for the bag had caused Chris herself some concerns. I hadn't really thought too long about what I wanted because I knew I'd love whatever she and Jinny came up with as long as I could wear it crosswise over my body and fit sheaves of A4 paper into it.  But Chris wasn't sure that her pattern cutting was up to making a satchel. Then there was the question of decoration.  I love foxes and I love hares; I don't love blood, however, so a hare and a fox interacting in a way that wasn't violent was mooted, as were bees, as that is the meaning in Hebrew of my name.  And then - inspired, I suspect, by the stately mushrooms we'd spotted in the field of Chris and Jinny's handfasting not long before - the idea of Fly Agaric And Other Assorted Fungi insinuated itself.  Little did I know that Chris, who is expert in wrens and oak leaves, fritillaries and may blossom, crows and mistletoe, green men, mermaids and lurchers, wasn't at all sure she could do a fox. Or toadstools. Especially toadstools that Don't Grow Together In Nature on account of being found in different habitats.

Once we arrived in the Canal Tavern, however, it became clear that she could do all of this. Very well indeed. 

My only sorrow is that I can't see both sides at the same time.

And there were so many other things to delight in too. The magical plaited strap, for example. Which Jinny assures me she doesn't do by magic at all, though I'm not sure I believe her. 

And the toning lining with its beautiful stitching, and the pockets I omitted to mention at commissioning stage but which are both Beautiful and Useful. (Oh, how my hero William Morris would have approved of The Satchel Of Poems!)
All was now happiness and relief. I managed to keep my weeping under control. And Chris now knows that she can do foxes and hares and satchels and mass assemblies of toadstools very very well indeed.
(Of course all those toadstools wouldn't grow together. They are in symbiotic relationships with very different trees that also don't grow together. Nor is a fox likely to run past a hare without at least drooling. But that's what artistic licence - and poetic licence - are for.) 

And then there was this, drawn by Dru. 

She's St Melangell with her rescued hare. As Dru says, probably the earliest ever sab. I shall find her a beautiful frame and hang her in our Marland gallery. 

The Satchel Of Poems will get its first outing on Thursday at Words and Ears. Fittingly, this is in Bradford-on-Avon, and Chris will be there, along with Jinny and Dru who will be reading their poems.  

All I have to do now ... all I have to do now ...  is write words that are worthy of being carried in it. 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk Part II: But the weather turned around

High in the attic of Brown's Hotel, Storm Brian sounded very loud indeed. It woke us several times in the night. I wondered if we'd complete our walk. Maybe we'd have to come back and stay another time. I wouldn't mind. 

Laugharne looked sullen the next morning. The cockerel weather vane swung moodily. 

The castle glowered. 
Parked next to the salt marsh was a trailer crammed with hounds. Some of them had blood on their faces. 

I don't like the hunt. I don't like the unloved life of the unloved hound. 

We took the path signposted Dylan's Birthday Walk up through the woods. 
These days the route is punctuated by information boards and benches inscribed with phrases from 'Poem in October', but it was originally built to help pickers access the cockle beds more easily. 
It was fairly steep, very muddy, and deserted apart from us and Brian. 

Carmarthen Bay came into view - sort of.

At a point where we could look back at the Boathouse and the estuary, the Northerner read 'Poem in October' while I sat on a bench inscribed with the legend Summery on the hill's shoulder.

A  little further on we came to a fingerpost carved with the words The Last Verse. Apparently, you're supposed to descend the path here, and if it is your birthday, read the last verse of the poem aloud. We looked at the track and at each other. It was really steep and really muddy. It wasn't my birthday any more. And it didn't seem right to read aloud 
'O may my heart's truth still be sung
On this high hill
In a year's turning'
when you are no longer on the high hill in question. 

Oh and neither of us care to be told what to do ... unless it's by poetry, of course. 

By now, Brian was thrashing fleets of trees across the sky with a terrific creaking. 

We climbed another precipitous, muddy path out of the woods and up to a stone stile, which led Over Sir John's Hill. Beyond it, cattle were grazing threateningly. The Northerner doesn't much care for cattle. I don't care for precipitous, muddy descents of tracks I've just climbed, especially not since I broke my leg.

We braved the cows. They ignored us. 

As soon as we'd passed the castle, it started to rain. Mission accomplished, it was time to go home. So we did.  

Monday, 23 October 2017

Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk Part I: And there could I marvel my birthday away

The sky turned red and then stopped being red and the Poetry Festival ended with readings from Sarah Howe, Karen McCarthy Woolf and Rishi Dastidar; plus two poetry shows, The Venus Papers and the resonant and enthralling Leasungspell. I hadn't managed to get to every event, but still clocked up ten in a fortnight which is a lot for an introverted type much more at home wrapped up in a knitted blanket with a cup of tea.  It had been great ... but exhausting.

There was a birthday - mine - looming too, the observation of which I've always found a bit overwhelming. But the Northerner sets store by such markers, so I girded my lions and other big cats and we set off for Laugharne in Carmarthenshire ... 

... to Brown's Hotel, to be precise, which we'd visited earlier in the yearThis time we were staying the night. With the dog. Because in Brown's, dogs are welcome.  

After a settling-in drink, we set out on Dylan Thomas's Birthday Walk, which provides the grist for Poem in October ...  

... a long, lyrical excursion which is, I suspect, especially beloved of his fellow October-borns.   

Having visited Dylan and Caitlin's grave in May, we didn't feel the need to go back there so soon. Better to focus on the living word. 

As it was, the churchyard was rather more sombre than it had been in the lushness of May.

At the church door we encountered a woman who was just finishing the cleaning, so I asked her if I could pop in for a moment. 'Are your boots clean?' she asked. I looked down at my walking shoes which were still covered in a slip of grey Sussex chalk. Luckily they are grey anyway. 'Sort of,' I said.

She'd lived in Laugharne all her life, she said, and asked if we liked Dylan's poetry. 'He was never as bad as they make out,' she said. 'It was That New York that Did For Him.' 
She mentioned Augustus John, and when I said he'd been Caitlin's 'lover' when Dylan and Caitlin met, she winced a little. 'You know, I think they only did what poetry told them to do,' I said, borrowing a useful line from Birthday Letters. 'Or ... art - you know - in the case of Augustus.'

10th century Celtic Cross

We continued our walk, which took us down a deep lane that eventually wound around to the coast. 


Field Maple

The good red mud of the West Country which had been overlain by the grey chalk slip of Sussex was now being covered by the good red mud of Carmarthenshire. 

Rhossili Down and Worms Head in the far distance

The Boathouse, decidedly less bustling than in May

We'd intended to continue our walk up over Sir John's Hill, but while we were wandering, the weather had turned around, as in the poem, and Storm Brian was blowing in. 

So we repaired to Brown's and Ted, who thinks everywhere we visit is potentially a new, long-term abode, made himself at home. 

The Pelican, where Dylan's parents were tenants from 1949 to 1953 and where Dylan's wake was held