Tuesday, 21 March 2017

I Text The Poet Laureate

"Yours, Friday evening, 8pm. Okay?"  is what I texted to the Poet Laureate this morning. I've always admired her, and she's been instrumental in some of the highlights of my life so far, in particular endowing the Roy Fisher Prize.  When I won that back in 2011, I finally came to terms with myself as a poet, even saying the word close to my name on occasion.  But I didn't mean to invite myself round, especially on a Friday night when she will have had better offers already.  There's respect from a distance, there's gratitude, and then there's overfamiliarity.

There's a danger with texting / emailing and so on, of sending the wrong text to the wrong person, or the right text to the wrong person, or the wrong text ... you get the picture.  I did this once before, explaining to one person what I thought about another (who, in my defence, had hurt me) only sending it to the another by mistake. It led to a free and frank, robust and, in the end, very healthy conversation.

As the background to this morning's mistake, I'd meant to text my good friend Carol, as we need to rehearse for our upcoming performance of Still Life.  When I explained to her what I'd done, she texted back LOL!!!!

As for my first text, I'm still waiting for a reply.


Saturday, 18 March 2017

I Fail At DIY

I need more storage space for my stuff, so last week I bought a shelf to add to a wall.  It's more of a wall-box - something into which spice jars might go, or anything that will free up cupboard room for, well, other stuff.

I've done shelves before.  In a previous home, I put up a Good Enough floating shelf onto which I could place things which wouldn't roll down a slight incline. Considering my own advice in the light of that experience (I Put Up A Shelf) I decided to follow instructions.  Sadly, no instructions were supplied with the shelf. I went ahead regardless with my usual kit - electric drill, rawl plugs and two inch screws. 

The Rule of Stuff to Space Ratio seems to be that Stuff > Space where Space = anything from a small tent to a large house and Stuff = Stuff one could mostly live without, if push came to shove.  So, I know in my heart, and possibly in my mind, that an extra shelf won't make any difference to my storage space problem, and will inevitably lead to the acquisition of more Stuff and the need at some future date for more Space DIY.

I measured up where I should drill holes, then drilled the holes, the drill bit getting hotter and hotter.  It was only after a couple of frustrating hours that I realised I couldn't physically screw the shelf to the wall because of the angles involved.  I probably need to draw some annotated instructions - How Not To Put Up A Shelf - to show you what I mean.

So at the end of my afternoon of DIY, I had a wall with four new holes in it, and an abandoned shelf, for which I need to find some storage space.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

I Volunteer For The parkrun

Shrewsbury parkrun volunteers - March 11th 2017.  Photograph by Margaret Connarty

The Shrewsbury parkrun has become an important weekly routine, so much so that last weekend I ordered the t-shirt.  It's orange - a colour that makes me look ill - and I have to say that the first time I did the run back in November, I felt so sick at the end I had to sit down immediately I'd finished.  Now, though, running 5K on a Saturday morning has the effect of making me feel very well indeed, and afterwards I stroll home nonchalantly.

At the beginning of the run last Saturday morning, there was a shout out for volunteers.  It was my 12th run and I hadn't yet helped out, but I faced a dilemma.  Missing a week sets me back in so many ways. I've started going for jogs on my own, but there's something about being in a group that makes me keep going for longer.  So when I found out from Glenn that I could volunteer and run, I emailed the volunteer organiser.  Within minutes Susan had signed me up for set up and token counting.

I have done many things as a volunteer in my time, some of which (such as re-wiring churches and cutting privet hedges) I prefer to forget, and other things (such as organising sports evenings with the youth group in the park) I remember fondly as rewarding but hard work.  However, if you were to ask me which of all the voluntary activities I have ever done I would most recommend, as of today it would be token counting for your local parkrun.

Setting out cones before the race, unwinding the tape and pushing the starting flag pole into the soft ground were all great fun (especially as I was able to chat to my friend Julie throughout) but post-race token counting takes the biscuit (though I need to point out, for the sake of clarity, that I've given these up for Lent).

To understand the pleasures of token counting, imagine a café.  Imagine being served a cappuccino by James who was the same class as my son in primary school, whose his smile and chatter is warm as the new sunshine edging its way through the windows. Imagine a light space with colourful tables. Imagine on one of the tables well over 500 small pieces of numbered plastic in one large tub, and 5 smaller empty baskets.  Imagine sitting round this table with 6 year old Jess, and her mother Kathryn.  Imagine them telling you, very gently, how to sort the tokens first into their hundreds, and then their tens and finally into consecutive order. Imagine the pleasure, as Kathryn said, of making order out of chaos.  Imagine coming across the token numbered 0001, handling it like Olympic gold. 

Imagine doing this on a Saturday morning, body at peace, having run 5K; doing this chatting about the London and Paris marathons with people who are actually going to run them; doing this with the whole of the rest of Saturday stretching ahead; doing this with people who care about their community; doing this at the beginning of spring, the daffodils just coming out, the birds delighted with everything, the trees about to burst into leaf.  And all of these things adding up to something necessary to write about.

Tokens similar to the ones we counted at Stop Café in Shrewsbury ...

Sunday, 5 March 2017

I Turn The Page

I'm reading John Suchet's biography of Beethoven - this morning I found out about the lengthy court cases in which Ludwig aimed to gain sole guardianship of his nephew, Karl.  Beethoven comes out very badly  - it is "an episode for which is it hard to forgive him".

How do we integrate our knowledge of the darkest sides of artists' behaviour with our appreciation of their work?  Ever since I came across people who refused to listen to music written by anyone they judged 'corrupt' (most music) it's something I've wondered about.  But does knowing that Beethoven sought to deprive his dead brother's widow of her young son - a son who clearly longed for his mother's care - does this knowledge change the way I listen to his music?

My son lent me the book because he is a big fan of Beethoven's music. Yesterday, I turned the pages for him as he played Beethoven's 32 Variations in C Minor.  Not one of Beethoven's best-known works, it's well worth a listen.  The emotional palette is comprehensive, and the fluctuations between vastly contrasting moods occur often, and quickly.

One of my favourite essays on literary criticism is Roland Barthes' Death of the Author in which he contests that once written, a work is separate from its maker.  According to Barthes, therefore, it is no matter (for his music, at any rate) that Beethoven's treatment of Karl and his mother Johanna was so relentlessly cruel.  According to Barthes, the 32 Variations exist separately from Beethoven, the man who raged his way through life.

Turning pages for a pianist involves concentration and good timing - it also gives the privilege of being up close to the music and musician.  As I focussed on getting it right, I was able to watch the relationship between the score and my son's fingers flying over, caressing and articulating the keys.  I felt his mood change within and because of the music - one moment light, soft: rising in exquisite harmonic progressions; the next furious, wanton: pounding keys in frantic thirds or octaves.

I watched the score closely, enjoying this moment of proximity to my son's drive, passion, talent, sensitivity, intelligence, and commitment to life.  He played so in his music, utterly absorbed and separate, entirely as himself.

In rehearsal ....

Murray Perahia plays Beethoven's 32 Variations in C Minor

Thursday, 23 February 2017

In Have A Go At Innuendo (blame my dear friend Penny)

Although noted for my plumbing, never one to decline a DIY challenge, and being short of hanging space, earlier this week I screwed up two knobs.

I'm outta here .....

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

I Order A New Washer

At a poetry reading last year, I was introduced as the Poet Who Blogs About Washing Machines. 

I'm good in a crisis but this unsettled me.  Flexing my poems, I managed to carry on and give my planned reading, but I felt flummoxed.  (Great word, flummoxed, as is feckless ...). 

"Has it come to this?" I thought. "Adopting the stage name Someone's Mum in a moment of irony, writing the poem 'Killing the Angel  - after Virginia Woolf' (Virginia-give-up-the-domestic-martyrdom-or-die-never-having-written-anything-Woolf!), leads to this!  Moi, now known for my blog about washing machines?"

In calling my blog, I Buy A New Washer, I wanted to be known for my plumbing.  In addition to being a small disc, often made of rubber and used in taps, a 'washer' can, allegedly, be a washing machine (for sure, for short) but not in my vocabulary.  Unless it's a washer-dryer.  But then, if I was writing about washer-dryers my blog would be called, I Buy A New Washer-Dryer.  This lacks punch.

Several long months later, I can set the record straight.  Today, dear readers, I ordered a new washing machine.  My old one isn't entirely broken, but has been stuck on one very long and arduous low spinning programme for the past year, leaving my washing heavy and unwilling to dry in a hurry.

So, averse to out of town shopping and white goods decision-making, I popped into The Two Ronnies earlier and chose, from their selection of three, a washing machine with a spin speed of 1400, a door which opens and several programmes.  It's white.  With the odd silver knob.


Friday, 17 February 2017

I Arrive In Norwich

I set out for Norwich thirty-eight years ago.  I was 14, and the night before I'd been helping Ian re-wire the church.  This had involved crawling under floorboards, which was pretty exciting for a Friday night in 1979 in Highbury.

I set out for Norwich to attend a confirmation service in the cathedral.  I set out with my mother and one, or maybe two, brothers.  Did my father come too?  He might have done.  Or he might have been preaching the next day.

I set out for Norwich, but I didn't arrive at the cathedral until last Monday.  I didn't take a direct route.  On the way, I completed my O levels, climbed Snowden, studied TS Eliot, learnt to ski badly, went to Durham, fell in love, ate street food in Malaysia, served baked potatoes out of the back of a garage, taught Scottish YTS joiners about safe sex, took an MA in Psychology, understood more,  moved house, had my wisdom teeth extracted, made brownies, sang some Handel, gave birth, understood less, planted grape hyacinths, gave birth, wrote some poems, had therapy, changed a washer, cleared the attic, squeezed two oranges, wrote one particular poem ...

I set off for Norwich, and before I arrived last Monday, I fitted in a lot more than expected on the way.  In particular, I fitted in acute appendicitis.  I don't know if it was the re-wiring, but by the time we reached Cambridge (it was still 1979) I was in a lot of pain.  I lay on my big brother's bed in his King's College room, moaning, whilst my family ate sandwiches and chatted.  After too long, my mother drove me to Addenbrokes.  I spent five days in hospital whilst my family, undaunted, went on to the confirmation, arriving 38 years before me.

I set off for Norwich from London, and I arrived there last Saturday via Durham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Shrewsbury, and then waited another two days, enjoying the comfort of The Butchery and some incredible, warm, delicious hospitality.  On Monday morning, I woke early and jogged the last leg of my journey to the cathedral.  When I arrived, I remembered that I'd set off 38 years ago.  For most of that time, I'd forgotten where I was meant to be going.  I was wearing shorts and a thin film of perspiration.  I was thirty-eight years late, badly dressed and out of breath.  I decided not to go in.

Later, in sight of the cathedral once more, I read at the Café Writers prize event, alongside Andrew McMillan and many other poets.  It was a fantastic experience - the warmth of welcome, the quality of the work, the camaraderie, the positive response to my poems - and at last, the feeling, the sense, that there, amongst the rag-tag wonderful bag of poets, that finally I had arrived.