Thursday, 10 May 2018

I Look Back At Schooldays

School - one way or another, I've been going to it for thirty, no, thirty-eight years.

I went to school as myself - sometimes with a hop and a skip, sometimes sullenly.  Not creeping like a snail, but weighed down, perhaps by unfinished homework.

I went to school, briefly, as a trainee teacher - into schools in Bristol with hope and adrenalin sloshing around somewhere in the region of my stomach.

I go - have been going - to school for longest of all, as a parent to two boys. 

Here's my youngest on his first day at school, his older brother leaning over him, gently protective.  Look how they match - their coats, their uniforms, their collars poking out.



Tomorrow is the last of the school days.  Yes, there are exams to come, but this is it: this is the moment I've been anticipating - one of those beginning-endings which lift my perspective from the day-to-day, and which lead me to take a long view backwards, forwards, inwards.

I already miss the routine of it - the pattern of my years. The start of the autumn term, which brings late summer heat along with new shoes, oversized shirts, and an upgrade to the next class.  Then the darkening, cooling mornings, the frenzy of preparation for performances, the exhaustion of December before the wide winter skies of January, the walk or drive home under the architecture of leafless trees, red sunsets long before bedtime.

And I'll miss summer sports day which in later years has become athletics day - the day of the year I'd take off work to sit on the grass and watch young people do ancient things - throw javelins, jump hurdles, throw a discus, then run like fury in baton-tied teams.

Then those glorious slumps into long summer holidays - endlessness: endless freedom.  The sheer stretch of it out all the way over August.

For years, we made Monday 'Sweet Day' (why do people choose Friday? - Friday has enough built-in joy).  Monday needs an additional energy - a rationale like chocolate, or ice cream.

We made the best of Mondays and we made the best of the work-juggle - the rush to the school gates for pick up, the days of illness which had to be managed somehow. The exhaustion at my desk, at their desks, the morning after a school concert had gone on past the watershed. 

I'm proud of the way we've have made the best of the my sons' years at school: all that learning done in-between the need to conform - sit down, stand up, be quiet, speak, stand, walk, run, no holidays in term time, no exaggeration of uniform... all that learning we've done, leaning into each other, holding onto ourselves with both hands.





Tuesday, 1 May 2018

I Advertise Poetry


I make a habit of getting involved in the organisation of poetry events - this coming Sunday, I'll be introducing and listening to over thirty poets and musicians as part of a celebration of Wenlock Poetry Festival - the festivals that have happened in previous years, and the ongoing work which happens, with less of a public flourish but with as much dedication, in-between times.

At these events, I am always amazed at the different and complementary ways in which poets express themselves - the variety of styles, the emotional range, the sense of commonly experienced life events expressed uniquely.  I know Sunday will be no different - it's why I keep on getting involved.

This week, I've held a new born baby, sat with someone who's in the depths of depression, congratulated a friend on her marriage, heard of the death of a friend, and yes, done housework, run for a train, seen cherry blossom, despaired at the news from Syria, and felt warm in the sun and cold in the wind.  Life is full, life is hard, life is amazing, life is tragic, life is hilarious - forgive these clich├ęs - but I use them here to illustrate why I have this habit of getting involved in organising poetry events. For me, it's in listening to others make their own sense of these things that I can begin to do the same, and on Sunday, this sense will be made in word and music.

If you haven't already got tickets, just come along on the day, or follow the advertised links below.  It'd be lovely to see you there. 





Friday, 27 April 2018

I Blurt Out Loud

I broke the habit of a lifetime this week, and bought several copies of the Sun, Mirror, Star, Mail - for me, these papers are beyond the pale.

The papers carry stories, such as that about Alfie Evans, which grapple clumsily with issues of life and death, parental choice, the right to life, the right to die, the place of medicine in our lives all under the piercing headline, MY WARRIOR.

When I bought these papers: Sun, Mirror, Star, Mail, Express ... I included the Shrewsbury Chronicle amongst them. I was on the look out for red tops, and the word CHRONICLE appears in bold red text.  On the cover of the April 19th edition is the story of Grace Currie who was evicted from the Shrewsbury Hotel after mistaking the symptoms of her cognitive impairment for drunkenness.  Shame on them.  I know Grace through her artwork, recently exhibited at Theatr Clwyd in Mold as part of Nathan Davies' Save the Welsh Independent Living Grant campaign.  Her work is full of the truth of lived experience.

I also included the Daily Telegraph - as on the cover Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, was pictured in her red dress, straight out of hospital with her son, newly born on St George's Day.  CRY FOR MUMMY, ENGLAND AND ST GEORGE, quipped The Sun. Another red top moment.

I'm sending these newspapers to Antwerp where my own son is designing a jacket, a red top, as part of his fashion design degree.  They will be torn up: made into papier mache. The programme he's enrolled in has received an inarticulate roasting in the fashion press this week following the news that a third year student took his own life a few weeks ago. Students have since been talking to the press about the huge pressures they face on the programme, but the (necessary in so many ways) resulting article is poorly written - perhaps adding to, as much as alleviating, the confusion and sadness, rather than showing a pathway through it.

When I bought the papers, I blushed at the till as I fumbled with my purse. I provided an explanation in bold headline print to the sales assistant:  "THESE ARE FOR A PROJECT"; "I'M DOING THIS FOR MY SON".  The assistant barely looked at me, handing me my change as if what I was trying to say was already fit for tomorrow's chip papers.













Friday, 13 April 2018

I Scoff My Emergency KitKat

My emergency KitKat has served useful purposes today:

ONE - It lay in my unopened drawer, more than a month after I put it there. It signalled (to whomever might have been interested - probably only me -) that I am, in fact, capable of restraint. As long as I hide the chocolate.

TWO - I noticed it [having opened my drawer at 8.17am to look for a paper clip] for the first time for a couple of weeks. The sight of it gave me hope.

THREE - At 3.34pm, when drinking a cup of coffee, I chose to eat it.




FOUR - Yum.

FIVE - My emergency KitKat transformed scoff into a transitive verb.

SIX - Without it, I would have scoffed today. I scoff.

SEVEN - The objectification and consumption of a KitKat saved me from scoffing. An unkind thing to do.

EIGHT - It also reminded me of the other use for KitKats, and the reason I had a spare, emergency KitKat in the first place: their suitability for use as piano keys.






Sunday, 8 April 2018

I Affix A Toilet Roll Holder To My Shower Room Wall

Four years ago, I picked up a toilet roll holder in a charity shop for £1. It was still in its packaging - an important virtue, I feel, in a second-hand toilet roll holder.

This weekend, I bought the necessary fittings to affix it to the wall next to the toilet.  When I say 'I bought', I mean, a kind friend said he was going to Abbey Hardware. I asked my friend to pick up a couple of rawl plugs suitable for plasterboard, gave him the money.

Abbey Hardware has featured here before.  Forget Harrods (once reputed to sell everything): Abbey Hardware is one of the best shops in the world - a shop where it's still possible to go in, be served immediately by someone able to answer any question which begins with, 'Have you got one of these ...?' - a shop where the revelation of something pulled from a pocket, or drawn on a scrap of paper, or pictured on a phone, is met with serious attention.

For the past four years, the toilet roll holder has been asking to be fixed to a wall.  It took me two years to make the choice about next to which of my two toilets to locate it.  I can't explain the delay of two further years - not adequately, anyway.

Four years and two hours after buying the toilet roll holder, I screwed it to the wall in the shower room. I used a spirit level, a pencil, and a Phillips head screwdriver.

It wasn't that difficult, really.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

I Thank My Younger Self

During yesterday's school concert , I got one of those throat tickles that makes my eyes water.  It came out of the blue, and within a few seconds I was struggling to contain a cough.  It arrived in the second half, and I'd bought a bottle of water at the interval which I quickly opened. The water soothed my throat and I didn't interrupt the young man who was giving a solo from Les Miserables his full and intense purpose.

Only an hour previously, I had expressed my gratitude to my former self, the one who'd thought to leave a packet of mints in the car for those occasions when, on arrival at a school concert after a long day at work, my mouth feels fuzzy with the coffee drunk at elevenses.

Those acts of water and mint, coming so close together, were kindnesses, forethoughts, on behalf of my slightly younger self to my slightly older self. So I said, "Thank you, Liz," out loud.

So too the plastic bag stashed in my handbag, the tissue in my pocket, the plaster in my purse, the emergency £20 note under the cover of my mobile phone - all these are thoughts I've had for my future self for which I may, one moment in the future stood at a till, or having cut my finger, or reaching for my purse and finding it gone, be grateful.

It's easy to say to myself, "You Idiot!" those times when I late for a meeting and have to hurry, or when I accidently throw away a piece of my car when cleaning it or checking the tyres, or when I set fire to my table because I hadn't thought about the combustibility of packs of poppadums; but I've noticed that practising compassion to myself includes not only going easy on myself when I didn't anticipate the future as it turned out to be, but also acknowledging the small triumphs of preparation which make my days better.

There are more memorable kindnesses too: this evening I'm grateful to my slightly younger self for having the forethought to buy two tickets six months ago for the live transmission to our local cinema of a performance from the Royal Opera House - a Bernstein Centenary celebration in dance and music.

The celebration of Berstein's work was full of wonder, power, depth, rhythm and grace. A performance of the Chichester Psalms, to which the Royal Ballet danced Yugen, moved me unexpectedly. The choir sang in Hebrew; the set was simply monumental, the red costumes flowed against the sensitive lighting: all this adding to a sense of sacred space.  The dancers were sculpted like immortal beings, moving to the music with fluency and power, to a plan thought out long in advance.

http://www.roh.org.uk/showings/bernstein-celebration-live-2018

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

I Receive Royalties

Chatting with a friend today, she told me about seeing the Queen when in London earlier this week. "Did she look like the Queen?" I asked. "Yes!" came the reply, along with photographic evidence.  Republican or Royalist, you'd have to admit she looked dazzling and very much like herself in a bright orangey-red coat and matching flamboyant hat. https://www.royal.uk/queen-visits-royal-academy

I have had encounters with royalties of my own today.  A four figure (plus decimal point) sum was paid into my bank account courtesy of ALCS - the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society.  https://www.alcs.co.uk/  This made me feel, for a moment, like a poetry princess.

Like most famous people, The Queen is shorter in real life.  Very early one morning, I once saw the Royal Train on the platform opposite me on Shrewsbury station.  I thought I saw a curtain twitch. And once I saw Peter Ustinov in the Oriental Hotel, Bangkok.

I earned the taller-than-I-expected royalties because I registered my poems published in anthologies, and my own pamphlets, with ALCS.  I did this after I'd seen a friend's post on Facebook about this organisation which collects money on behalf of writers from libraries, and those who've legitimately photo/copied their work.

When I receive money which comes from my poetry, I like to spend it on something memorable. I think I'll be spending these royalties on a meal out with my sons and heirs.