Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Brighton Hip Hop festival's funding has been cut. It's the only UK festival celebrating hip hop. Why should I care? Because my son has been writing and rapping with one of the organisations running it, a fantastic group of people called Audio Active. Their workshops have provided a focus for teenage boys - black and white - in the city to express themselves, to write and communicate what they feel about this screwed up world we live in. The festival's given them an opportunity to appear on the same stage as some of the UK's biggest stars, to learn about the discipline of creating work and performing it. To learn about what it means to be professional and dedicated. To learn about the power of words.

But the same old story seems to be played out endlessly in this city. No money for poetry, no money for hip hop, but plenty of cash for withies and string and clowns..... So the festival, on the seafront in July, just won't happen. Instead, some of the acts due to perform will be at Concorde 2 on Sunday trying to raise cash to keep at least something going. Why does this sound SO familiar?

Oh, there's the excuse of the olympics which is threatening to become one of the old standards, rolled out by the lazy to justify their inability to see beyond their own limited existence. But maybe, also, it's to do with the amount of money poured into organisations that play the funding game so well, that provide sponsors with good seats, with kudos, with press coverage and outcomes and well, we all know.....

The acts appearing at the Concorde 2 are waiving their fees. The flyer reads: Help Save the UK's largest celebration of Hip Hop Culture. The names mean nothing to me, but I like the sound of Dr Syntax. Inconceivable, isn't it, that the city can't back this one? But as an old hippie turned old cynic, maybe not. This is the website address:

Monday, June 25, 2007

I wrote a haiku once about Ellen's party. But that was a gathering years ago in Guildford. She had another this weekend and it was her 50th, so there were many conversations about this transitional, menopausal time, peppered with Jack Daniels and some singing. Ellen's in Jam Tarts, the singing group I've been part of but not part of for a few months and she invited them to perform at her party. I sneaked in at the back to join in with some old favourites, Lorelei, First of the Gang, Cockles and Mussells and it renewed my resolve to return to it in the autumn. Singing, like Jack Daniels, is not necessarily the only answer to anyone's problems but it certainly provides a distraction for the soul at times.

Maybe there's no other way through this bizarre time of change than to keep finding distractions. None of us appear to have an answer to those old insecurities about ageing, the expectations we have about quality of life and work, in particular, how we are less capable of putting up with nonsense.

The rain battering the street reminds me of my first night in Brighton, when I fitted a sheet to my bedroom window, put bedding on my mattress and went out in similar weather to find Ellen's house, where she and Jane were waiting to welcome me. I arrived soaking wet but exhilarated to be in the city so many friends were drawn to. Jane was here, too, for the party and staying with me. It was fantastic to get dressed up again and go out, as we used to. And there were some stunning heads of grey hair dancing through the decades.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Three nights in a hotel room, I'm glad to be home but I like Penzance and I'd like to go back later this summer to that part of Cornwall. The journey to Brighton was a marathon. I left at 4 pm and arrived home at midnight. One train with loos that didn't work, a switch at Plymouth to another train with a fault, so it was back onto the one we'd just left. With all that time to write, I could barely come up with 400 words of the prose I'm working on and notes for poems while dipping in and out of books.

With Brighton as my default setting, Penzance seems delightfully unspoiled and quiet. But I guess most places are quiet compared to this party city. The more often I leave it, the more I realise what a pleasuredome it is. I wonder if it's claimed me now? At some point, my ideal would still be a coastguard cottage on a cliff with the Atlantic just metres away. One day I want to live with the sea in my window, to wake up and go to sleep with it.

As I staggered to bed last night, my daughter woke and called for a hug. Her room was heavy with sleep, warm and scented with one of her many perfumes! It was a lovely welcome. Then this morning my son insisted on playing a new beat he'd composed. So at 7.30 am I was listening to rap - but this is no ordinary rap, there's piano and shifting rhythms, poetry, real poetry and synth like strings.

The journey felt like such hard work but just those two things were compensation enough. I woke to the sun and have spent hours on the allotment surveying slug damage, weeding and transplanting, staking up tomato plants and two aubergine plants I was given. Every squash plant has been eaten and all the beans gone. There may be time for a third planting. But I picked two large containers of raspberries, some potatoes, an onion and lettuce. I love walking back down the hill dirty, sweaty and carrying at least something I've grown. That's supper pretty well dealt with.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Today on Marazion beach, near Penzance, with a view of St Michael's Mount, I've been working with children from a local primary school. We've been making up new names for colours, writing Richard Long/Hamish Fulton style poems and watching kite surfers skim the waves.

The sun's been glorious, wind grabbing the surf. The tide's progressively gone out, revealing the causeway to the mount and people walking across the sand. Tomorrow will be classroom based, but being outside invigorates how we look at things, tunes our senses and perception of all that's around us.

When the sun colours the sea it seems to fill the body with water and silver. And the beach is littered with the most beautiful stones. So much to look at, the kite surfer entertaining us all.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

On the train to Cornwall, two posh teenagers, brother and sister, are waved off at Plymouth by their dad. The boy starts complaining about the state of the seats, claims he can smell vomit in a carrier bag. He chucks it into another seat, moves to a table closer to me. My heart sinks.

Their voices are loud with privilege and inheritance and they’re as expensively dressed. The boy’s wired. From vomit he switches to the announcements and for a moment is quite funny as he mimics a conductor’s increasingly desperate attempts to enforce the no smoking rule. But the humour’s brief. The two of them pull out of nowhere – it sounds like a private joke – a psychotic conversation about murder, torture and genocide of children.

Between Saltash and Liskeard they start to roll a joint. The sister doesn’t actually know how. She’s bluffing a lot and talking about the long rizlas she’s found, her arms wide, like the clichéd angler. They seem to have an odd relationship for brother and sister. Rizlas are mentioned several times a minute. Daddy by now must be back with his second wife. I’m speculating. There was something about his set smile that suggested relief.

Momentarily, they’re sweet in their naivity, desperation to shock. Mum’s mentioned. I was right. They’re going back to mum and the boy says we can get some of mum’s, meaning marijuana, remember she’s an alcoholic, he says.

How sad for these two kids, travelling between parents on a Sunday night with their packets of sandwiches, in the rain and back to whatever domestic arrangements she has. Not even the privilege suggested by the boy’s arrogance, clothes and accent, has protected him from this journey and the anger that straightens the peak of his cap. The two of them thrown into a relationship that borders on boyfriend/girlfriend rather than brother/sister.

They’re making a seven course meal of the joint. The boy’s ‘arsing’ and ‘shitting’ to try and up the shock value but the carriage is studiously unaffected. The announcer tells us we’re arriving at Bodmin and still the joint’s under construction, but one rizla’s torn and another’s been wrecked by water on the table.

She’s ‘arsing’ too and he’s talking to her, I imagine, in the way his father speaks to him when he’s trying to explain a problem. He’s holding the joint in the air for the carriage to see, while delivering a commentary on a woman walking along the platform with her case on wheels. Disgusting, he says and comments on a man’s weight. They’re talking more like brother and sister now, almost squabbling about the sister’s bodged second joint.

I’m wondering if they’ll be off to the loo to smoke them or if they’ll wait until they get off the train, hanging around for mum. By Par (for Newquay) they’re onto paedophilia and the story of a girl at school who had an affair with a teacher. The boy tries to make a joke of it but their heart’s not in it. They knew the girl. They say her name.

The sister goes to the loo. By St Austell they’ve run out of anything to say. The carriage is silent. They’re riding Cornwall’s spine on a Sunday evening when they’d probably rather be with friends, anything. The journey unravels back to the moment they got on and I can see now their father’s enforced jollity, over-compensating discipline, played out in the construction of the joint – boy and girl transformed into mum and dad – until they exhaust themselves and the train’s rhythm calms them back to themselves, the damp green outside softening the light between stations, becoming a ballad of home and simpler evenings before divorce and the intricacies of rizlas, all that rests on a teenager’s ability to roll a perfect joint, to forgive his parents.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The World's End is a gift of a name for a pub, isn't it? Especially when it's in London Road. I was diverted there by Brendan Cleary the other day, when I was off to the bank. I'd left myself so much time to kill that it was a relief to have something to do with it other than the mundane daily life stuff. Brendan is a good friend and a great poet but for some reason neglected, or overlooked. He and I have our own theories about this, most of which are too rude or bitter to write down, but somehow don't seem unreasonable to utter by the 4th or 5th pint.

Not that we went to those lengths the other day. It was mid afternoon and actually, I stayed on a pint of orange juice. It was a bit tricky having a conversation on the pavement, but it was a fine day and too gloomy inside. That goes almost without saying for a pub with that name. The lorries that pound out of Brighton mostly go down London Road. Sean O'Brien, another poet who used to live in Brighton many years ago, wrote a good ballad about London Road. He's gone onto Dante's Inferno now. I wonder if there's any connection?

I keep wanting to tell people I was at the World's End. It's like a man I know who's called Jesus. That too is a gift, when you tell someone you saw Jesus on Lewes Road. And for a moment they think you're mad or perhaps have had a bad day. It would be interesting to combine the two. Oh, I met Jesus at the World's End.....

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fifteen years ago, at dawn, my son was born. Strangely this morning I woke at about the same time and lay there travelling through those years. It's been hot today, as it was then and if there's any certainty in this sometimes disturbing, sometimes amazing world, it's that on June 13 in Brighton it will be hot. There hasn't been a day when it wasn't.

Fifteen years ago, too, my first pamphlet was published - Black Slingbacks - by Slow Dancer Press run by John Harvey, a lovely man and the creator of Resnick. The title poem of that pamphlet was about a woman being reminded of a man cheating on her as she was going through her accounts. A cheque book stub for a taxi brings back an image of a pair of shoes just inside the door of her boyfriend's flat.

Many people I've talked to have noticed how creativity seems connected to pregnancy and birth. Oh, of course, we moan about not having enough time and there isn't, ever. But I believe your first child comes with emotions you couldn't ever have imagined, energy too, presumably that served a purpose thousands of years ago and which, in our more reliable world can be the impetus for anything you want, as well as child care.

My fourth full length book comes out in October. It's called Commandments and much of it is also about rules being broken, relationships damaged by adultery. But I think it has humour, too, more wisdom than Black Slingbacks, and a wider remit, taking in religion, too, and the mind. I'm reading the proofs now. It's a nerve wracking process. Like having a teenager, maybe. I will have faith in it. That's all I can do.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Last night, alone on the allotment planting out tomatoes and lettuces, watering and weeding, tasting the first raspberries of the year that always catapault me back to childhood - I have no control over that link whatsoever - I drank a can of lager and listened to magpies. A man walking along the top road said hello and did I know of any interesting sheds? Occasionally, from behind the bank of brambles that shield my patch from the cars, I caught bits of mobile conversation, girls arranging where to meet, discussing types of make-up and who else would be at the party.

My two children were both at parties and now, after years of intense mothering, I'm in another phase where these patches of free time are delivered to me. They feel so precious, I don't like to waste them. What does that mean, to waste time? I want to savour them and put them to some use, to match what I do in this time to how important and special it is. Because it represents the transition they are going through from child to adult. A transition that is at a much earlier stage for my daughter, but my son, 15 this week, is immersed in it.

It takes some imagination to cast back so far to that time. I can summon up moments, feelings and atmospheres. The places are easy, they're imprinted, aren't they, on us, those landscapes of childhood and adolescence? I can stand myself in certain spots, the only time travel that's feasible right now, and maybe something happens in my brain to take me back to those moments...

There was the long walk from the Frensham Road to the kennels where I worked. The bus dropped me at the end but then I had to find my way to where I worked so early in the mornings that in winter it was dark. The pond was to my right and to my left were woods. I can't remember if I ran, possibly I did because I do remember the fear and the feeling that I had no choice but to make for work - behind me was the road and more stretches of common leading over the hill to the other pond.

I can remember, too, the phone box on the recreation ground and the swings where I sat with friends. The smell of the horses at Clive's stables and saddle soap in the tack room.

But because it's summer, perhaps my strongest memories right now are walking along the stream, cow parsley almost as tall as me, towards the main road for the 19 bus into town, in a purple crepe skirt and stripey shirt. On the other side of the stream there were some guys cutting the grass. John Mayall's Turning Point was in my head as I walked.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

My first swim of the summer was last week on the Jurassic coast in Charmouth. It was baptismal, one of my earliest outdoor swims for many years and I lay on my back in the water looking towards the fossil packed cliffs, wanting the moment to stretch forever.

Perhaps it has and I'll come across it again years later preserved for me like a tiny crystallised ammonite neatly defining a grey pebble.

I am writing about a summer when I was 17 and events, thoughts, situations I'd forgotten are emerging as I write, tampered with of course by the years in between. Many of them may only contain elements of so called reality and many of them did not happen at all but I'm placing them there because I want to try and summon up a small village in Brittany, a time in the 1970s and an incredible summer.

The more I write, the more energy I seem to generate for this story I am still reluctant to call a novel, so I've given it a title, The Cathedral. Perhaps none of it is original or will be worth reading. Perhaps I'm only using it to see me through this summer until Commandments appears, to ease me through that time when poems are so hard to write because the to-be-published collection has exhausted the stock of them.

I have been writing early in the morning. It's one of my best times anyway for writing, but I think it's helping with the connections I want to make, links between people and novels, thoughts and events, places and language, the past and present. The exhaustion it provokes in me may also help find a state of mind that's more open to bizarre links.

Maybe that seems pretentious. The way I've put it down seems abstract but I've been drawing hard on the novelists I read at that age, re-reading Camus, Orwell, Huxley, Greene, Godden (Greengage Summer knocked me out) and on my way back from Dorset, listened to a novel that my mother encouraged me to read, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I still need to find Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier. I think I've lost my original copy. Camus, I'm reading in French and English, depending on what I have in the house.

Re-reading these books serves two purposes. One is to try and recapture a spirit, or at least approximate it, that may have been partly down to a mix of this fiction. Another is to try and understand what made these books so compelling to me at that time.

It is an intriquing process and added to research about the period and place, utterly pleasurable, utterly addictive. So different to the process a poem goes through.