Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pheasants and sunrise

Ludlow butcher - shooting season
When I was 17 I worked at a chateau in Brittany teaching a 12 year old boy English and helping with domestic work. This Ludlow butcher dunked me momentarily into that Breton summer.
I haven't seen as many dead pheasants since (one of the main family occupations was rearing and selling them).
Ludlow was final stop on a half term road trip that started with Wales for a college open day, Cardiff to see Pete and Alison, then Ludlow to drop in on Jane. The drive towards Llantwit Major was drenched in autumn sun, a Dylan Thomas of a journey filling the car with light. Giya and I clocked up nearly 700 miles.
I'd almost forgotten it was possible to leave the house, I was so tied into post summer cleaning and clearing, waking before dawn and working or reading. There were advantages - autumn sunrise. When I was finishing Commandments I spent the first week of November in Gower. The light was still round and burnished, dawns pink. The drive west and this dawn reminded me I must find time to immerse myself in that way again.
Elms on Hartington Road - another October dawn
Our road trip ended on Friday in time to make a surprise joint 60th birthday in Guildford for Mandy and Nigel. I met them when I started as a trainee on the Surrey Daily Advertiser and needed somewhere to live. The problem was, I was on strike.
Those days seem impossibly long ago, written in black and white pics, re-made in films or novels.  In a review of Made in Dagenham the excellent Telegraph critic Charles Spencer remembers the cameraderie of our long strike as well as the cold on the picket lines.
Mandy and Nigel took me in anyway and I was their lodger for many years. We were all so young.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The urge to clear

Water's entering my cellar from the front garden and a broken soakaway and an unidentified leak next door. Damp wanders through the house with its smell and condensation. So there's a trench in the front garden and bags of earth and chalk from under the kitchen to dry it out. The dehumidifier's been going since the beginning of summer, the cellar hums constantly.
And I'm starting to associate this permanent drone with that recurring question - what is poetry for? I was reading recently at Lauderdale House in London with poets Lorna Thorpe and Shanta Acharya, plus George Hyde, translator of Mayakovsky. On the way from Brighton, on the train, Lorna and I were passing it between us. We didn't arrive at any conclusions, but maybe talking was enough to dispel some of the isolation that question induces.
Perhaps doubt is a motivator to write if it doesn't tip over into paralysis. The poet James Berry once said to me that writing was just about stamina. It is important just to keep going, not to worry about writing poems that don't make the grade - eventually they will.
I gave myself the summer to write and looking over the results I wonder how three months produced so little. But I guess anything is a bonus cradled in the autumnal urge to clear and re-arrange the furniture that this space also seems to have delivered - some basic need to prepare for winter, stack the logs, dig out the hot water bottles and stack up the recycled paper for another go at poems.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October afternoon Brighton

Urban sheep - Brighton council's flock on Whitehawk slope
 My neighbour's little springer has been wary of the council flock of sheep ever since she was a puppy and first saw them. Of course, they aren't totally free when they graze the slopes of Whitehawk - there's an electric fence. The now grown dog associates the sheep's baaing with that pain in her nose, the jolt backwards into brambles, and yesterday wouldn't go within a hundred yards of them. So I slogged up the steepest bit of the walk, masochistically, and she ambled up a much gentler incline. The sheep are a peripatetic curiosity - have even made an appearance at one of the local secondary schools - and at one point several of my friends were tempted to apply for the urban shepherd job advertised in the local paper. But Whitehawk's exposed - the wind comes straight off the sea and while it's still a great place to meander in autumn, by January it's a bitterly cold ridge. The compensation, in winter, is the clear blue frosty skies and the sort of display I caught yesterday, when the sun was forced through gaps in the cloud cover onto the sea.
Silver sea

Often up on the ridge with the golfers to my left and sea in front, I imagine myself a long way from Brighton. Whitehawk is a causewayed enclosure, a camp older than Stonehenge and one of a dozen in England although there's nothing to tell us dog walkers, wanderers or even the travellers who stop here every summer, about its history. Several ancient burials have been found here - it was apparently a place people gathered for big events and rituals. Now they gather for racing and bank holiday markets. There used to be a souped up car meeting at the racecourse and sometimes there are wedding fairs. In the summer, travellers left a small boat beached on the turf. Down towards the tip you can sometimes smell methane from the pipes sunk into the earth. And on hot days you can take a path and find tents in a circle among the brambles.