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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.

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Savage

The words chucked and hurled themselves at her hitting her soft, bruised shame and taking her breath away. More words followed, slicing into her, stinging, aching, pinning her against the wall, sagging and limp.

Grey and filthy brown swirled down inside her like dirty water down a plughole draining her life, leeching into the floor staining it straining it. Staggering backwards into the next room panting and heaving, sick with pain and effort, her legs weakened and knees softened under her. Drifting backwards she closed her eyes, shut out the sights but the sounds wouldn’t be driven away, the words that plunged into her, twisted around, severed her will.

Cold hands touched her face and she realised blankly, bleakly that they were her own crippled hands. With an energy that was already almost entirely depleted and raw she crawled into her cage. The stinging aching pains died as she lay down and drew up her legs. Here was comfort. She dissolved.

Bosom buddies over the years

My bosoms have been around the block a bit.

Early development brought early attention from older men as well as other students, long bus rides to school being littered by moments of leering and lurching, scary intimations of what being a grown up would be like. I was not alone in that, it just happened a little early for me, while I was still colouring in my future and playing with dolls. Fascinated by the appearance of maturity I soon became shy of the evidence, covering them up to stop the leers, rejecting them as evidence of change, and slowly having their deficiencies brought to my attention. Too big for comfort when horse riding, too small for instant popularity, too this, too that, two much.

And then I began to understand they could be fun as well. If I chose to share them it could be quite nice and they have joined me in a few lovely moments bringing some happiness to me as well as to someone else. Large and juicy and bouncy they caused me some joy, and spread a little of that stuff too.

And next thing I knew they were useful. I fed four children with them, nourishing my children, making them strong and healthy, bonding with them deliciously and creating memories for me and relationships for us all.  I spent a decade or so either pregnant or breastfeeding and it was, perhaps, the best time in my life. A wanton, verdant space in which my body made things right and that was all that mattered.

And after that, another opportunity for some joy. Short lived, but memorable. Because then I noticed things of all kinds changing, a little less overall bounce and more wobble and not just in the bosoms, part of a generalised weary reduction in joy and upswing in tasks and a tangible draining of verve, less noticeable purpose and a slipping away of meaning and value. The devaluation of the bosoms echoing a reduction in worth. The bosoms that had created such fear, then joy, then deeper joy and meaning, were entering a new and unexpected chapter. Cause and effect, or effect and cause? Outwardly so much was satisfying, so many achievements, but inside there was a little necrosis every day, a spreading of the dark shadows and the loss of significance, the essence bleeding away into a sticky vacuum of regrets, guilt and exhaustion.

But then, with little ballyhoo but with such a warm and welcome relief, it stopped mattering. My bosoms – MY bosoms – triumphed and became part of my story. They were mine and I dressed them for me, washed and cared for them for me. This old feminist remembered who she was and hacked and whacked through the  flourishing detritus uprooting the pernicious growths of expectation and control, flinging them onto the waiting pyre and planting nutritious saplings and mature thoughts in their place, where they have established and now thrive giving me colour, energy, the scent of a life to be lived. These bosoms have been through the mill, alongside the rest of me, and here we are having emerged from that vacuum into glorious sunshine and promise, with some beautiful hands to hold and memories, some obscured and some hovering on the surface, waiting patiently for me to sift and sort and calibrate them with proper reflection and some context. It may take a little while but I know now I am up to the task.

Two of my favourite, doubtless irritating, phrases are A Work In Progress and Onward and Upward. I have come to realise that both are applicable to almost everything, including me. And you.

Whoever you are, if you feel the pull of that vacuum, the quicksand beneath your feet, please: remember your unique merits, own your Self, live your life. It is yours, colliding with others but yours to fit into whichever jigsaw you choose, yours to steer or not, to enjoy the ride and harness the journey as well as savour the peace when it happens. Hard to see when the waters are closing over you, but swim upward with all your might and take the hand that opens for you. It is there.

Onward and Upward.

 

 

 

 

Call out for actors

Whoop 'n' Wail

Dora

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Theatre are casting 8 actors (ages between 40 – 80, including specifically BAME) for a one-day table read of a brand new play, But For Us, by award winning playwrights Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman. This is an unpaid opportunity for actors with a passion for new writing and an interest in the welfare state, social inclusion and politics. The plan for the day will be a read through followed by a discussion, then work on individual sections as decided by the director. This is to inform an ongoing R&D process with a view to a future production.

Please visit the casting page on our website for the full details and character breakdown. Deadline for submissions is Tuesday 18th December 2018.

Synopsis

Welfare’s in a state and the pensioners are revolting.

In 2022, the Uncoupled Kingdom is feeling the pinch and welfare’s in a state. Prescription…

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Us

When did you become the grit in my eye?

The stone in my shoe?

The itch in my arse?

Which door did I go through that closed behind me?

Horticulture it ain’t…….

My garden, my net, my sanctuary, where I feel safe, has sanctuary for my friends too.

Pigeons, like fat blokes trying to be cunning, sneak faux-stealthily past me to the seeds and crumbs I share with them.

Seagulls wolf down the curry I threw out, only needing a foaming pint to be the lads that they are, a gang of Ross Kemps with feathers.

My garden, where the shade I sit in calms the shade inside me.

My garden, where the sunshine dances with the bees and magpies in a whimsical waltz that makes me smile.

My garden, my net, my sanctuary.

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.

 

 

Recruitment? Don’t make me laugh. Seriously.

I am passionate about recruitment – it is one job we really have to get right, so crucial it squeaks. Without the right people in the right places we might as well fold and go home. And the time and effort we have to put in if we get it too wrong is unbearable. After laughing until I also squeaked about a recent interview experience of my chum  – to be described at various points in this blog but briefly it was a bit 1970s sitcom awful – I drifted off into a daydream about what it is that makes recruitment go well. So here goes.

I have worked with too many organisations who don’t actually know what they want in a candidate, or even in a role, but plough on anyway perhaps thinking they know or perhaps not knowing what knowing and not knowing looks like. Bear with.  Looking in from outside, understanding where the organisation has come from and where it is now (which happens because of conversations that are had….), without the emotional investment in the place that people often develop, I can often see a different picture. Organisation A thinks they want a process driven go-getter with bells and whistles to grow the business – what they really need is a relationship builder who will warm up the group and grow friends for them and grow it that way. What organisation B thinks they need is a chummy friend to get the best out of people – what they actually need is a ballsy battleaxe who will weed out those irksome poorly practicing people and replace them with the right ones so that the good ones are enabled and retained. All without a damp eye but with definite precision and skill. On the inside it can be difficult to see clearly for all the fog of commitment, fear, pressures, emotional baggage, time constraints. From the outside none of those things impact and the clear air allows a forensic view to be taken. So often, before we even get as far as a JD PS and advertisement we are on the wrong tracks.

Tip one: be rigorously clear about what is needed and before you can do that, be rigorously clear about why you are recruiting. What outcome do you actually need rather than what kind of person do you think you want?

So, we have decided what we want. Now we set about finding the who.

My chums sitcom style interview (if only that had been intentional……) was such a hoot he was almost left lost for words. Props: a desk, some chairs, people with double sided A4 pages covered in pre-set questions (probably taken off t’internet) who were congenitally unable to deviate from script. Questions that seemed unrelated to the job itself (asking someone if they can perform a certain task, apart from begging an affirmative – who says they are crap at things during interview?! – relies on that task being relevant to the job ) demonstrate very clearly the interviewers own lack of skill and understanding. It was almost as weird as asking someone interviewing for a job as an HGV driver if they can ski or  bake bread. A bit WTF.

Interviews, which only occur after a bit of screening, should be a conversation, not a set of boxes that get ticked. Those boxes will tick themselves if you talk in the right way. Sitting behind a desk asking a series of usually pretty meaningless questions (“describe your management style” “well pretty shite really, I am a bully and I hate my colleagues”……..) is the death knell for relationship building. We talk endlessly about networking, the how why and wherefore, and in reality interviews are the budding start of a working relationship and an opportunity to connect. Wasted if we just sit there asking if someone knows which piece of legislation goes where, but so so useful if we chat about experience and knowledge and see the person. A personality unfolds in front of us, we share stuff, we connect. Even if that person isn’t the right one for this job that relationship is started, and who knows where you might all end up. There are lots of bits of research, practice guidance, training courses, manuals, that all try to teach people about interviewing and recruitment, but at heart, once you know what you are looking for and  realise you might find it in an unexpected place, having a conversation is the best way to find the right person. The rest follows.

So, Tip two: throw away the bog standard question-and-answer nonsense. Have a nice conversation that everyone can enjoy being sure to incorporate those requirements without making a big fat hairy deal of them. Be interested in the candidate, who is, after all, a person, and one with background, experiences, views, skills and probably a nice sense of humour and some pictures of their kids/grandkids that would be nice to see, possibly some Out There hobbies that would grab you, maybe even a great recipe for soda bread (yes, I blagged a really good soda bread recipe during an interview – it was brilliant).

Finally, if someone has taken the trouble to apply for a job, has had a detailed conversation with a recruiter or similar about it and has been put forward, courtesy kind of tells you that a quick email or phone call with the outcome would be appreciated. It would be good manners. It would be kind. Not, as happened recently, the candidate following up and receiving an email by return that simply said “This position is no longer available”. Nothing else, nada, zip, tumbleweed. In what realm is that ok? Even just in terms of relationship management – presumably that candidate will remember that recruiter in the future, perhaps when recruiting to positions themselves. But really just common courtesy, which after all oils the wheels of relationships.

And I guess that is really where I am heading with this. Our whole journey is about relationships. Trust, courtesy, honesty, purpose. If what we are doing is a barrier to that rather than a bridge we are doing it wrong. If we are doing it wrong, it will not go well for us.

So……have a chat, make some coffee and get out the good biscuits, make sure there are enough cushions and the room is warm without being oppressive. And if you are recruiting to a social care or health care post, make sure the people that will be on the receiving end are at the heart of it – not a boltontokenpopinboxtickingshallow here-we-are-with-some-punters-aren’t-we-inclusive-and-personcentred-and-lovely effort, but a genuine involvement with proper engagement and listening to the people with the lived experience and then using that and showing it working alongside each other.

Are you hearing the passion, that real passion I have for recruiting? Well, if you are recruiting and you don’t feel that passion you might want to get someone else to do it for you………….I mean it kindly. xx

 

 

My Fizzog

I look up into the mirror as I brush my teeth. I see not my Mother as women are expected to see, but my Dad…..

….his jawline, the indentations on his cheeks where he smiles, his neck, the way he holds his head.

Tears, like yawns, are contagious. The tears of the woman in the mirror catch my throat and cause me to sob.

I sob for my selfish self, lonely and fatherless, motherless now too.

I look at my face. It is a different face to the face I had a decade ago.

It is my Dads face, my Mothers face, my face, the face of my childrens mother, the face of my childrens childrens grandmother. Less lovely than when I hated it but easier to love.

The sobbing stops and is at a distance. It belongs to someone else.

Staring at the red rimmed networked green eyes I see only me again. I smile a rumpled smile.

You old fool.

Savage

The words chucked and hurled themselves at her hitting her soft bruised understanding  and taking her breath away. More words followed, slicing into her, stinging, aching, pinning her against the wall sagging and limp.

Yellow ochre and grey swirled down inside her like dirty water down a plughole draining the life from her, leeching into the carpet staining it straining it. She staggered backwards into the next room. Panting and heaving, sick with pain and effort her legs weakened and her knees softened under her. Drifting backwards into a chair she closed her eyes, shut out the sights but the sounds wouldn’t be driven away, the words that plunged into her, twisted around, severed her will to be.

Cold hands touched her face and she realised blankly, bleakly that they were her own crippled hands. With an energy that was already almost entirely depleted and raw she crawled into her cage. The stinging aching pains died as she lay down and drew up her legs. Here was comfort. She dissolved.

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