Category Archives: Creativity

I do like to be beside the seaside – Folkestone rediscovered

Spending a few days in Folkestone, which might surprise those who know I live in Dover. Longish quite nice story. Not for now.

It is beautiful in a way I had not expected even though I work here and live so close. It feels rough and ready in many ways and in many places, with ingrained grubbiness left over from a busier more nautical era that does nothing to reduce the charm and energy that exists there now, rather it acts as a counterpoint, an authenticity. Money has been spent on it, for sure, but that on its own would not achieve the lasting elegance and colour I have found. Wise and clever people-focussed spending is the key. Don’t be misled, there is significant poverty, sickness, mental turbulence. There is also grit, strength and heart to match and manage it, and the emerging beauty in the environment makes use of that and encourages the entrepreneurial activity I can see in abundance. What we create we value. The local initiatives have been rooted in the local communities, and that has given them a better chance of budding and flowering, and many of them have taken that chance and flourished – and those that didn’t are reinventing themselves and sailing in a new direction with the wind behind them.

As I write this I am looking out over the channel – I can see France, it feels as if I can almost touch our European counterparts. I can see the glorious Harbour Arm with Lowry-like people moving like ants in perpetual motion carrying their trophies – the view, a coffee, a book, their dogs leads – often overtaken by arrogant seagulls and for all the world like those desk toys that swing back and forth. Kinetic. That’s it! Folkestone offers a kinetic energy, a comfortable dynamism that is almost tangible.

I am pootling around the town for the next few days in between working. Perhaps there will be more to share with you about this glorious, throbbing, vivid, secretive, smudged, slightly slatternly but beautiful and blossoming coquettish town. It draws you in, promises to show you the sights, honours its citizens – the memorial arch is stunning and moving, all the more so, for some reason, as a result of the knitted poppies that surround it – and  Isaiah-like (“I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places”) keeps revealing, bit by bit, another of its treasures, another half-hidden bauble that it soon becomes clear is a precious jewel, and then yet another follows……

I know I have only skimmed the surface so far. I have plans to visit a few places that I would otherwise miss: have a pint on the harbour, breakfast at Beanos, dinner out somewhere I have yet to decide, spend time in the museum and galleries – there are many galleries and bookshops  in the streets leading from the harbour some of which also do coffee. Books and Coffee, two of my favourite things……There is a fabulous creative quarter – I work actually in it but not of it – and I need, literally need, to explore that. Restaurants and cafes will also be taking a hit.  I also need to walk around the bits that are not attractive to tourists, that shelter the people I probably know best.

Through this week I will be noting the fresh chapters,  great initiatives, seamy side and chequered entity that is Folkestone. It is likely I will share this with you…….brace yourselves.  I will try not to write after that pint! No promises…..

 

Advertisements

Hay Festival 2019 part one, edited highlights

I arrived at Hay on Wye under a sky covered in monochrome laburnum clouds that soon gave way to a warm dry green wonderland. And my gosh I loved Hay this year. My first joy was where I stayed – a beautiful house with lovely hosts and an enviable, huge  and eclectic art collection which brought great happiness –  I wish I had had more alone time to inspect it. But even more delightful were the three women with whom I shared a breakfast table. They were a similar age to me, that is to say mature, and it quickly became clear that around that table no fucks were given, not a one, and we laughed and chatted. We fell easily into our roles: There was a woman-in-charge who poured the coffee and passed the butter unprompted, a mildly forgetful, hesitant  widowed healthcare professional who twittered (in the old-fashioned non-technical way) and a sharp but warm social comforter who reached out and oiled the conversation. They were charming, spiky and lovely, and only one of them liked Dylan Moran. And that didn’t matter. My role was mostly as audience for a welcome change – this break was an intended opportunity for me to speak less and be more alone. Our hosts were a fascinating mix of charm and snob – if he had crowbarred Prince Charles into the conversation any more it would have consisted only of the words Prince Charles – but were warm and accommodating and most importantly made excellent coffee. They opened their house to us without boundaries and with considerable skill and character and displayed  the talents one would expect of creative psychotherapists. They sat in the middle of their wonderful, colourful, often surprising home which was set in the most diverse and pleasing grounds and hosted us with ease and care. Interesting and ingenious they contributed brilliantly to my Hay Festival.

 

As for the Festival……..

Billy Bragg was possibly not at his most comfortable on stage surrounded by a clutch of white middle class privilege but the room was with him and he more than hit the spot with wit and charm. Boom. He built up and promoted the three dimensions of freedom: liberty, equality and accountability. My heart sang as he described their importance, they chimed so closely with me and yet are not trendy or popular and indeed are casually  trivialised, often manipulated. Hearing them normalised and promoted was a good, good feeling and he did it with passion and skill. He equally efficiently destroyed the current faux freedom that veneers the neoliberalism we endure while it imprisons us, but always with respect and courtesy towards other viewpoints. That was, in essence, the point. I needed that.

The poetry collective,despite busting a gut to be diverse and inclusive ( LGBTQ, people of colour, some disability) they failed. No older people. Inclusivity doesn’t cease to be relevant when one is over 25. They were brave and heroic to stand on stage and expose their poetry, but for me they were selfobsessed and selfserious. The phrase “write about what you know” hung heavy on the air and that’s ok, many of the poems were (while being formless, also ok) were worth hearing and benefited hugely from the speaking, offering a degree of depth and clarity. After a while, though, and I own this, they merged, made up in equal measure of pain, victimhood and wistfulness. Also ok. All ok, but not attractive to me. Which is also ok.

Last one on this post, best till last and all that. Benjamin Zephaniah. What can I say? Best gig ever. Possibly, if it mattered to me (it doesn’t), a tad age inappropriate for me, I loved the heat and energy of not only the performers but the audience too. Audiences are a large part of a gig for me and these did not disappoint.  I hugely admired the woman singer in the band, not dressed to thrill or please anyone but herself in her choice of comfortable t-shirt and baggy trousers, her voice and her hot energy blew me away; the bass player who played a fabulous butt-throbbing bass was a greybeard and rocked right alongside Benjamin and the woman singer (apologies I didn’t hear her name) and way harder than the young people who tentatively at first and then bolder and bolder got up to dance at the front of the room. Those dancing people were as much a joy as the performers, all of them memorable, and their happiness when Benjamin left the stage to join them and dance with them was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Zephaniah was a force of nature who absolutely re-connected my politics and my poetry engaging and connecting with the whole room. A funny, kind and passionate man and performer who charmingly took Trump et al to pieces without malice and without violence. He reminded us of our power and our hearts. But he definitely left Trump and others in pieces. I couldn’t dance – never have, too self conscious and now too disabled – but my head and heart danced and my feet beat the rhythm. Zephaniah bounced, rocked, smiled, taught and charmed all evening. And his music and words, the powerful intoxicating music and words, moved us, caught us up and took us alongside the troupe to a magical musical poetic place. The politics and poetry of fun and fairness. Priceless.

 

Part Two of the edited highlights to come soon. Hay is made up of the visitors as much as the performers and this year they charmed and entertained equally and the venue was also unique.

A divot in the verbiage

Today I have found a divot in my verbiage.

I am apparently at the age which has become “the new forty” but I am sceptical. However vibrant sixty is – and it is –  it will never have the juice of forty, ovaries have thankfully ceased to be a challenge although their loss was mourned for a while, and I am finding a few other things melt away on the weary climb to the pinnacle of decrepitude before falling off the other side. Slower on the stairs;  tins are more of a challenge, inexplicably; bearing four live children and a few who did not survive has left some scars literal and otherwise; when I stop moving not all of me does.  Nothing I had not expected. But.

Words. My main hobby and place of work. Worshipping at their altar and making a living manipulating them perhaps I began to take them for granted and they are making their presence, or absence, felt simply as a reminder. I take a shade longer to identify the best word for a sentence or description, it takes a mite longer to recall names, running up against white noise instead of the expected tumble of potential sentences is shocking and unexpected. I do not think it is a clinical issue but having noticed it, it matters to me. I can sort-of bear the loss of sinew, suppleness and strength and there are compensations: as an old lady I can be less careful and more legitimately honest – although that was never really a problem – and can walk away from crap more easily, if a little stiffly; I do not feel any pressure at all to dress appropriately; knowing more stuff means I can reflect more effectively and that is a blessing and a curse. Grateful to have reached an age at which I have become a closer approximation of who I am and have learned about a variety of things, I am also burdened with that learning, the realisation of things.  Understanding is often over-rated. Comprehension can be crushing.

My usually lush and well watered verbiage that has grown and thickened over the years is becoming a little pock marked and faded around the margins. It takes a little longer to grow – still lush, still a pleasure to walk on, still fragrant and opulent but with signs of fatigue and some of those heavier footprints take longer to disappear, the turf breathing just that bit harder when forced to restore itself. And that divot, ah that divot…….for now I will walk around it and stand on the abundance that all but covers it. Because who knows if it will heal itself, or the lawn wither and die anyway, or if it will simply sit as a divot and behave itself with grace as a reminder that  am just lucky to be here, now, at all.

Poetry will continue, my life as a storyteller will continue. My colours may simply be a slightly different shade and bleed into one another a little more.

 

 

Waiting…..

Waiting.

Waiting for my Dad to get home from the pub triumphantly and unsteadily carrying before him his bribe of chocolates and bread-and-cheese.

Waiting for my Mum while she cleaned someone else’s house and I sat in their front room reading, or colouring, or dreaming.

Waiting for the sibling that never arrived.

Waiting for my Dad to get home from work, smelling of tobacco, brickdust, cement, beer.

Waiting for the coach to France to take me to the monastery.

Waiting for the assault to be over.

Waiting for test results.

Waiting for my turn in the bathroom.

Waiting for my soon to be husband to make his mind up.

Waiting for Christmas.

Waiting in the Post Office queue.

Waiting for the sales.

Waiting for the music to start…

…and stop.

Waiting at the vets.

Waiting for the paint to dry.

Waiting for the rejection letter.

Waiting outside the court.

Waiting for the pain to come.

Waiting for the pain to go.

Waiting for my children to be born.

Waiting for my children outside the club/venue/station/school/hall/clinic/university.

Waiting for the phone call.

Waiting for her to speak.

Waiting for him to speak.

Waiting for them to settle down.

Waiting for the kettle to boil.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Waiting for the alarm to go off.

Waiting for the letter.

Waiting for my grandchildren to be born.

Waiting to finally grow up.

Waiting for my Dad to die in hospital.

Waiting for my Mum to die in hospital.

Waiting by the graveside.

Waiting for the ferry.

Waiting.

Waiting for the waiting to be over.

 

 

The damn book

One more martini, spoken, not slurred

One last anecdote, edges slightly blurred

Got to go home now, that next drink is deferred

Leave while ahead, now, dignity preferred.

 

Weave up the stairs now, miss the last one

Hit the sack before morning, avoiding the sun

Drink a pint of water, has to be done

What pain we endure just to have fun.

 

Wake with a headache, fumble for pills

Damn birds and their chatter, squawks and shrills

Move slowly, look down, give up, lose the will

Lie back wait for sanity, try to be still

 

Another one this evening, no way not to go

The party is for me and it matters, I know

The books out this week and we have to make a show

It’s what they expect: go, be that braggadocio

 

Just take the damn Milk Thistle.

 

Go Ahead, Read Some Poetry

I fell over a Walter de la Mare anthology a few days ago in my local library, a newly printed hay-smelling glossy pristine book full of his poetry. As I read I felt and smelled the time I discovered him. A child who spent more time in the library than in bed, I had pulled an old, huge, purple book off a shelf and tumbled into the musty smelling beating heart of beauty that was Walter de la Mares poetry, and which created my own love of poetry, a love that has never left me, let me down, smelled of sweat, ignored me, snatched the covers off me in Winter, trivialised me or in any way disappointed me. I remember my first de la Mare poem better than I remember my first step, first kiss, first boiled egg. My tastes changed over the years until I finally realised that my poetic needs simply morph with where I am and who I am at any given time, it isn’t about taste.

And we have Simon Armitage, Danny Abse, Heaney, Haddon, Ginsberg, Corso, Cassady, Whitman, Angelou, Neruda……so many and so much beauty, challenge, wonder. Please, read some poetry, wander into it and out the other side a better person. Or at least a person who has had some fun.

 

Here is some Neruda. You are welcome.

If You Forget Me by Pablo Neruda
I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

But
if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine

Smell the coffee, make a difference

If you click the picture a charming video plays. Please take a couple of minutes to watch. I think this makes an effective point, and one with which I agree. These days I make sure to spend time smelling the coffee, so to speak. For years I rushed, head down, trying to do good stuff. When my parents died I realised how much I had missed and how much I had made other people miss in my hurry to be good. In my hurry to be good I had been, perhaps, less effective. Now I take time to sit on my front steps and watch the birds in the sky and listen to their songs; I watch people as they hurry by, perhaps missing things too; I watch the clouds and wonder how to paint them properly and then go and try; I smell the earth. I still make a difference sometimes, and still try to be good: I work doing things I believe in with people I admire and respect, but I don’t do it exclusively any more. I also choose words for stories, colours for paintings, actually hear the music I am playing. My life is the better for it and I think I make a better difference now. Working smarter not harder is a cliche, but it is a cliche because it makes sense. I just wanted to share the point…If you have some interesting work, let me know. I am your woman.

 

I write therefore I am…….

 

I sit in front of a nude page, stark and scary with no place to hide. I realise I have nothing to say but I type anyway, words falling like snowflakes

Down

To

The

 

Bottom

 

 

Of the

Page

 

Where They

 

 

Form

SludgeAndSedimentAndCongealDirtily

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of One

I am outing myself as an Only Child. Not only an Only, but also dual nationality and on the easy end of the autistic spectrum with synaesthesia thrown in for good measure. Good grief, I am even professionally interested in myself.

 

There are tensions and delights to be had from all the above. I am Irish/English, and until I started school at a convent where I lived in London I had thought I lived in Wexford with trips to Dublin. I only ever met Irish people and they only ever talked about Irish things. My streets were Irish streets filled with Irish people and Irish papers. We visited Ireland many times and it was where Family was and where Family happened. Good stuff was there. So………slowly realising we lived in London and I was a little bit English was a bit of a moment. And the accent! Well, that was finally knocked out of me once I hit Grammar School in the Shires. As a bright pupil I was lucky enough to have earned a proper education for which I am grateful, but no room for diversity back then! Conform or suffer, the stuff of Grammar and Boarding Schools throughout the  Counties back in the day, and I am not sure it has changed much.  I chose not to suffer. Well, not too much……….

That flaccid grip on national identity has an upside. As an Only I am not a natural joiner, I stand back and evaluate, I overthink, buying into something is not an easy gig for an Only and that apartness, the sense of being outside, brings strength as well as missed opportunities: strength to say no, to weigh up friendships ruthlessly, to maintain integrity and authenticity even at the expense of relationships or career choices – to maintain rightness. Juggling the Irish English that is deep inside is made easier by the lack of joinership – without that need to be within, to join, there is less of a sense of loss of identity as the roots are not firm but swim and sway back and forth under the connecting Sea. The downside is the crushing disappointment that can be had if what one has bought into is revealed to be corrupt or decayed. Childish disappointment in an adult can be corrosive. And that smug integrity can mean an intolerance for others who disappoint, personally and professionally. But, topically, this background makes it easier to understand current cultural issues: amidst the multitude of “communities” that take root around the UK many individuals claim to be ignorant of some of the dreadful things some people within those communities plan and commit. Nonsense. An entire community that can maintain its identity so precisely within another host community does so only by knowing what is happening within and either supporting it or allowing it and by controlling its members. I do not believe those protestations of innocence that are paraded on the tellybox when an atrocity happens. They are not credible. I was on the verge of radicalisation myself – although of course we didn’t know what that meant then –  as a young girl with family members in Sinn Fein when the IRA was casually sold to us as a romantic and necessary part of our culture. My apartness saved me then, and I am grateful for it.

I was “home” recently in Enniscorthy. Travelling alone allowed me to reflect as much as I needed to: I went to see family and friends, spent time simply watching and hearing the Slaney and listening to the birds and the horses, soaked up the familiarity of the places and enjoyed the simaltaneous detachment that is in the DNA of an Only. I watched and listened – something Onlys do a lot. My synaesthesia means that listening is an often joyful and often inadvertent experience, as well as sometimes complex and distracting. The sound of the horses hooves on the turf became a very visual experience for me, the birdsong I enjoy every morning provides a colourful backdrop to activity. I can be surprised by a visual experience from an unexpected sound or some music that I had not expected to hear – delightful, if a little unnerving at times! And Ireland has the best beach on the planet in Curracloe, and I spent time there too. My children all had their first experience of sand there as babies, deliberately.  Saving Private Ryan was filmed there. The fine pale sandy beach is in surroundsound and stretches away right and left fringed by the magnificent dunes and rushes, and the ocean, with its mauves and greens and blues rolls away to the horizon where everything surely falls off and magically glides back home………It fills the vision and the senses and recalibrates everything within a few short breaths.

I also spent some time at my parents grave. No comfort there, I thought, just pain and grief. I was on the verge of an internal meltdown as I sat on the edge of the grave and ran my fingers through the pebbles and stones covering what remains of my parents. And then, a tiny dog appeared from nowhere. Genuinely, I was sitting in the centre of the graveyard and the dog had not been visible, and then he was, and he made a fuss of me and insisted on sitting on my lap and I had no option but to fuss him and talk to him. And slowly the world righted itself again and things came back into focus. Job done, he ambled off, only to return magically just as I was about to leave, insisting on a final fuss and chat. Small wonders make ones day. And as a wise friend said, The universe can be a calm and comforting place , the gentleness of its messengers can heal and support in the most unexpected ways.

So, in a circular way, we are back at Integrity and Rightness. A part of grief grows directly out of regrets: regrets for things done and not done, for mistakes that can never, now, be put right, conversations that can never, now, be had, and love that can no longer be shared or spoken.  However we treasure our integrity – my integrity – it will always fail somehow. And that is because we are all flawed and broken to some extent and we will forget to do things, or will choose activity that we later regret. And sitting there next to the place my parents now share as they shared so many years together before that, I started to understand it better. In the end we are all alone with our grief and our regrets as well as with our triumphs and achievements.

I feel grateful that things conspired to make me aware very early on of the Power of One. It made me a better leader and a worse follower, oddly both non-judgemental but also intolerant of hypocrisy, created in me an over-thinker but thoughtfully balanced that with a resilience and drive that has led me along a fabulously interesting and rewarding pathway. Not an easy companion but I hope a rewarding one for those who choose to be close to me, and I cherish those who choose to be so. Celebrating your own Power of One and connecting with that solitude that nourishes, you will discover the strength within. Trust me, I am an Only!

 

 

 

 

Hay Festival 2014

The Hay Festival couldn’t be more middle class if it changed its name to Pippa and married its cousin. And I love it. And if it becomes more Hay Market than Hay Festival at times, with the clear purpose of shifting tomes, then who cares? It delivers what it promises: a literary festival, a celebration, putting the word above all else and giving us all permission to sink into a proper vocabulary and literally indulge in wordplay.

 

I have spent most of this week sloshing around in mud listening to and talking with people who love words, people with something to say but who reached that point by listening to others and by reflecting and not by following dogma.  Joyfully reaching for the right words and finding them, hearing new ways of using them, turning context on its head and finding a new way to slip the surprisingly appropriate word prolepsis into general conversation – thank you Margaret Drabble! – has been a genuine inspiration.  Rustling about happily under the trestle tables in the Oxfam bookshop in the boxes filled with rummageable delights waiting in the dark to be found was the best time I have had in weeks. Possibly months. WarHorse and Michael Morpurgo  thrilled everyone, watching Marcus Brigstocke casually overtake a bunch of feathered aliens without a second glance on the path outside the Friends coffee shop was a little surreal, noticing the fact that we probably all had a proper education under our belts and were using it to good effect was a significant pleasure, and hearing children pronounce their words properly and insert the letter “t” in the right place was phenomenal! No extraneous or dropped aitches either, bliss! Not a baggy trousered foul mouthed rap artist in sight or hearing, and there were times when I was one of the youngest in the queue, and it is a long time since that happened………

Listening to a group of academics with serious life experiences attempt to shed light on prison life and its consequences – dear to my heart – it occurred to me that even in a room full of Telegraph readers, and I am one, the Grauniad Effect (my husbands media drug of choice)  was apparent. Most of us gave a damn, giving the lie to political drubmongers who like to insist on the differences rather than the similarities between groups of people.  That was also apparent in other conversations, and one that focussed on corporate greed was particularly pertinent. The workshops around Social Enterprise were a real pleasure and welcome at the heart of the Festival as a demonstration of how things can be done  ethically and well.

Downsides? Well……..I was unprepared for the ill mannered stampede of middle aged middle class audiences as they clambered over and around people to find their favourite seats! The wonderfully patient and charming stewards allowed those of us with mobility issues into the tents first to avoid catastophe – no-one wants Hay Headlines about mangled elders or the dissed disabled – but as soon as the hordes, or to use their title Friends of Hay (and I am also one) were released into the tents all Hell broke loose with disabled feet trodden into the dirt and bags ground into the floor as they shouldered and elbowed their way to “their” seats. Clashes were inevitable and there was,  I am sorry to say, a degree of braying involved at times. And although the lavatories maintained their dignity against all odds I did occasionally wonder, as I took my ease,  on  the number of buttocks that had been pressed against those seats during the week……..I was also a little alarmed to find I shared Jonathan Millers haircut and colour so startlingly that I wondered who had put the mirror on the table as I entered the bookshop……..

Being a seasoned Hay Friend I staggered my meals so that I ate between the usual meal times and avoided the crowds and it was very pleasant with all tastes catered for, although I did wonder if vegan and gluten free also meant salt and pepper free a couple of times as I searched for seasoning – but once I had found it the food perked up. In fact, the food even for us fussies was indecently good and I enjoyed it very much. Good choices, well prepared, charmingly served. The people running the show, from box office to stewards to food hall and more, deserve a medal!

The B&B, The Old Vicarage in Prestiegne, where I always stay was, as usual, perfect and this year they even have alpacas as well so I woke to the sound of sheep, alpacas and chickens and a real symphony of birdsong, and breakfasted brilliantly with a view over the fields and with the sound of a stream in the background. It couldn’t have been better. Best start to a Hay Day ever.

 

And now my Hay Days are over for 2014, but the mud is still on the car and my boots – and my jeans and my skirt and my jacket! And I have a fresh stash of books, images and memories and the certainty that words matter, that we can use them better, and that we should.  And I will plan for next year when I hope that we will make Hay in the sunshine and not the rain and I can rummage and read and rest and draw comfort from more wordsmiths. Hay Ho.

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: