Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Margaret Hodge's reported comments that white Brits should be given priority over new immigrants when housing's allocated are so deeply suspect as to be incredible.

I listened to the radio thinking she must have been misreported. But this was Radio 4. So reliable. Her comments are what I might expect from an extreme right wing Conservative because these days, not even a moderate Tory would dare voice what Hodge said.

Hours after hearing her opinions, my daughter came home from school and told me a 12 year old in her year had been beaten up because he's from Pakistan. He was on a life support machine, a trainer brand imprinted on his face.

This is the reality away from your dining room and cosy constituency office, Hodge.

It's the boys and girls at school, in parks, on their way to and from football or basketball, visiting friends, who feel the impact of this racist rubbish adults spout.

You should know better. You're well enough in tune with how the media works to be aware of where your comments would go. Let's hope they lead to you being deselected when your local party picks its candidates again.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mildew has hit my tomato plants, so together with the slugs' decimation of my bean seedlings, I'm prompted to wonder how on earth I'd manage if this meant the difference between eating or not, later in the summer. I guess I'd do what I am doing and that's planting again, but I don't know if it'll be too late to bring on more tomatoes in time. The beans will no doubt be fine and shoot up.

I met some more of my OU students yesterday at a poetry day school in Croydon and have spent two weeks marking assignments. Today must be a day for digging again. I wonder if this sense of another place is part of a writer's toolkit? Although my other place is only the allotment, it reminds me of the opening of a poem by Edward Thomas called Digging - "Today I think only in scents." I often need a break from words or from making sense in words, as opposed to that direct link between body and the world that happens through the senses. The link that children have and that we lose so quickly if we're not careful.

The sun's out and it promises to be dry. And now I'm a taxi service again. Duty calls.

Monday, May 14, 2007

John Wyndham's The Chrysalids was published in 1955. I picked it up in a charity shop recently. The back cover describes it as set in a world paralysed by genetic mutation. The story's compelling, told by a boy in an isolated community attempting to purify itself through violent, uncompromising intolerance of any so-called deviation from the norm. On the fringes, the deviants live and further afield, monstrous plants, animals and wasteland where nothing grows.

I count this among one of the best novels I've read recently and coincidentally it complements some of the others found like treasures in charity shops, After Many a Summer by Aldous Huxley and Graham Greene's Doctor Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party. This seam of reading began with a re-reading of 1984, by George Orwell, that set me off on rediscovering novelists of my teens.

What happened next was confirmation of and renewed admiration for the storyteller's ability to foretell the future, to warn, to predict, to prepare. Yes, these masters of story telling are oracles of a kind. We know that, but need to remind ourselves sometimes when we're surrounded by the white noise of advertising that pushes publishing's latest money maker. We know the best writers dig deep into human behaviour and show us ourselves in a way no confessor or therapist can do, because the novelist, short story writer or poet puts us in context.

Who knows what research went into these novels written about the world we are now living in. Maybe scientific journals, maybe a magpie attraction to odd news stories, maybe daydreaming. Greene's is the least futuristic, but nevertheless somehow deeply oracular and reads as a horribly appropriate parable for today.

As a counterpoint to this compelling prose, I've been indulging, and yes that is the only word for it, in Michael Longley's Collected Poems that arrived from Amazon the other day, significantly cheaper than my local bookshops since I bought it with a copy of Rene Char's poems and Mary Oliver's - both in the Bloodaxe world poets series.

Longley's poems are such a delight and rather like spending time in the landscapes he summons up - his work engenders a sense of peace, of understanding and reassurance of elements back into their rightful places, rather like burning frankincense, actually. I guess the common denominator in his later work is the wisdom it gives off.

The Collected Poems is also fascinating for mapping Longley's poetic journey. When I did my MA many years ago, I wrote my dissertation on the influence of Dylan Thomas on Sylvia Plath - clearly there in her early work. I thoroughly enjoyed reading her chronologically for that dissertation, witnessing how she'd developed, looking back to poems that were indicators of where she'd go. It's the same reading Longley - there are early signposts among some of his clever and more self-conscious poems, of the clear sighted, confident and humane writing he offers us now. And I realise as I work my way through, how he's our foremost writer of elegy, clear that lives should be celebrated and marked in poetry.

Mary Oliver's also a great discovery and I'm looking forward to reading this collection properly. Rene Char, too. I'm reading him in anticipation of a visit to the Avignon festival in July.

Domestically, a French boy staying with us as part of an exchange that my daughter did in February. Poor boy, it's been stair rods of rain, other than on Saturday when she was singing and playing sax on the seafront, then we wandered through the Laines for the Streets of Brighton festival. But from the day he arrived it's been storms, wind and deep, deep puddles. Today he's in London. I hope there's a let up. How far away that mini-drought of April is. All my bean plants, nearly, eaten by slugs. I am wondering if I'll be able to grow more on, use the propagator. I dread to visit the allotment. It'll be devastation, I know. I had the most beautiful row of lettuce seedlings. I am already mourning them.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Brighton Festival begins today and the city can truly preen, since it's voted itself into history with the largest concentration of Green councillors in the country. The children launch the festival with a parade through town - an excuse for Brighton mums to put on fairy wings while dads take charge of landrover-sized buggies. The Green vote in Brighton's fantastic. Years ago, a socialist puritan, I wouldn't have dreamed of voting in any way that might have split Labour. But I remember years of Thatcherism and the desperation as values were discarded left, right and centre. I felt relief when Labour seemed to regain ground, but oh, that old moan is so true - this Labour lot are Tories in disguise.

Labour in Brighton has been shamefully cowardly, pandering it seems to superficiality and gloss, making deals with private developers in education and major community projects like the library. There's been no evidence of really new thinking. It's a council that has promoted the view that the seafront should be built on, that has failed to curb the ludicrous numbers of cars now clogging once quiet streets, that has failed to do anything about the rise in private landlords cramming terraced houses to the brim but giving nothing back to communities, that has failed to provide facilities for young people but instead encourages the police to stop and search innocent teenagers at will so they become utterly disaffected...the list goes on.

Labour's seen that it ignores Brighton's individuality at its peril. Here, we don't tow any line. Another example of lack of imagination, lack of intelligence, lack of humility that goes with tiered seats, mayoral chains, invites to the party - I've never met a Labour councillor. Not once in about 19 years in the city has one ever knocked on my door. You don't deserve a vote if you can't knock on doors.