Sunday, 5 December 2010

Our own silent disco...

For some reason - I can't trace the trigger - I was reminded the other day of a moment from the summer of 1996, a moment shared with my oldest friend.

We were in Turkey, having decided to spend two weeks travelling around with the help of a 'Lonely Planet' guidebook and a 'Rough Guide', using each alternately to choose places to visit, places to stay and places to eat.  It was a brilliant trip - a kind of mini-backpacking experience.

On the day of the 'moment' we were staying in Goreme, marvelling at the Troglodyte dwellings and enjoying the twists and turns of paths that would take us, without warning, from an almost Star Wars type landscape into an infinite field of sunflowers.  It was a fascinating place; I've never been back but I'd love to...

We'd climbed up from the town (village) and were high on a flat-topped rock, looking out to our left towards the 'fairy chimneys' of the dwellings carved into the landscape.  Down to our right was the main road.  Wherever we went, we carried books and walkmen (the chunky musical appendage of the pre-iPod generation).  It was sweltering up there - a potentially perfect place to rest, away from the traffic of the centre and in sight of our extraordinary surroundings.

I can't recall exactly who started it.  We were both listening to music, cocooned by our headphones and unaware of each other's tape of choice.  One of us started to dance up there on that rock, initiating a silent disco of her own, moving in time to a beat that only she could hear.  What I remember more clearly is the two of us, up on our feet, dancing and jumping around to our individual playlists, oblivious to everything apart from the heat, the rhythm and the sight of each other swaying and twisting and laughing.

My own recollection is of an immense freedom - that 'dance like no one is watching' feeling which removes all sense of inhibition.  It was a stripped back, solitary moment, shared with a person I'd known for almost 20 years.  And then we noticed them.  People in the street below were looking up at the two apparently crazy Western women, silhouetted against the sun, arms spread wide, twirling and whirling for no obvious reason.

How could we stop?  The tracks were unfinished, the dances yet to end.  It would have been easy to sit down, embarrassed, to pretend we weren't really there but the moment demanded more than that so we continued, undaunted by our audience.

I think I'm right in remembering that shortly afterwards some other people joined us on the rock, not to dance, but to introduce themselves and share their travelling stories.  I'm vaguely aware of conversing in schoolgirl German with them but I don't remember how the story ends other than the fact that we must have come down from the rock eventually, packed up our things and moved on to the next adventure... 

Monday, 21 June 2010

I want poetry and music and some laughs... Belle and Sebastian sing in 'Family Tree'.  And, whilst not in that exact order, so went my weekend.

After a day of house-hunting on Saturday - too tedious to blog about but, nevertheless, ongoing - Bristol beckoned in the evening.  The 'Sing Out Bristol Summer Sing Out' was my destination: venue, the Anson Rooms in the University's Student Union.  Over the years I've seen many gigs there: Evan Dando's Lemonheads, one of Badly Drawn Boy's wonderfully everlasting shows, a superb and sweaty Ash, and the White Stripes spring to mind...  This one, however, was of a somewhat different flavour and, as such, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect.

The evening began with the Stepford Singers, a really entertaining Bristol-based women's choir who made a beautiful sound.  Their enjoyment was tangible and when their final song was introduced I felt sorry that I wouldn't be hearing more from them.  It was the perfect opportunity to cool off though - the hall was warming by the second - and a welcome cider reminded me of the delights of the Union bar.

Sing Out Bristol are fantastic and from the moment they took to the stage until the resonance of their final notes, the evening was a treat.  The choir - find out more at - is a vibrant group and their varied programme for the evening made for an evening of laughter, poignance and sheer admiration - 'America' from West Side Story must be a real vocal challenge and yet it was crisp, clear and captivating throughout.  Time slipped by without even a glance at my watch and before I was ready for it, the finale arrived with both choirs - the Stepford Sisters and Sing Out Bristol - raising the roof.  Personal highlights were 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' complete with dance moves and attendant 1980s nostalgia (how could anyone forget Tight Fit?) and the male ensemble's 'Lean on Me' - a mesmerising soloist was sensitively supported by his colleagues, making for a beautiful texture.

It was great to be back in Bristol again, to see some familiar faces and places, and to share in what really felt like a special evening.  I've already got 18 June 2011 in my diary...

What followed on Sunday was a perfect afternoon of friends, poetry and sunshine.  In Reading for the 10th Anniversary Whiteknights Studio Trail, I was party to a moment which I know I'll treasure: Adrian Blamires, reading from his second collection, The Pang Valley (published by Two Rivers Press).  Both Adrian and his fellow Two Rivers poet, Peter Robinson, read a range of their latest poetry, framed on one side by a dazzling blue sky and on the other by friends, family, poetry-lovers, and a bemused ginger cat with striking eyes.  A friend and colleague of mine, Adrian's latest book, the follow-up to his 2005 collection, The Effect of Coastal Processes, made an immediate impact when he gave me a copy; poems such as 'Directions' and 'Tennessee Williams' compelling me to read, and read, and re-read.

I'd been anticipating Adrian's reading for some time, looking forward to hearing his work; for me, poetry takes on a new dimension when heard, rather than read, solitary.  When read by the poet, it feels possible to glimpse a little deeper, to catch something of the moment of conception perhaps, as voyeuristic as that sounds...

It was, for a while, as if I'd been transported back to a time when I connected with poetry in more ways than as 'teacher'.  In my postgraduate days, I immersed myself in poetry - it was my day's work - and for a moment, in that sun-scorched passage of time - I was back there, quenching my thirst.  Adrian read in a way that seemed, to me, characteristically 'him'.  Having only known him since September last year it feels somewhat presumptuous to claim to 'know' him and yet the gentleness, the humour, the erudition and the emotion with which he gave voice to his writing made for a falling-into-place of the setting, the occasion and, perhaps most poignantly, some of those who people the collection.

It was hard to leave the afternoon behind and return to a different reality.  The Pang Valley: a resonance I'd not expected until then...

Monday, 22 February 2010

The well wrought iron...

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I love the intricacy of this picture; the shapes, the lines.  From the lower curve with its inbuilt arcs and swirls, to the upper fan of straight lines intersecting, this snapshot of the Eiffel Tower tells only a part of the tale.  Standing beneath it, on a cold and monochrome April day, I set it against the pale grey sky, thereby capturing and emphasising its artistry; bold inked geometry gives way to a backdrop awash with lightspun clouds...

Sunday, 21 February 2010

My Desert Island Book...

...would have to be Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  I first read it for my A Level English Literature course, two years of trepidation at the hands of a teacher who began our relationship with the observation that I'd failed to reach the heights predicted of me in my school examinations.  Another puncture to my already pin-cushioned self-esteem; I'd been gradually convincing myself that those grades wouldn't matter once I took my place at the local sixth form...

Try as she might, she couldn't stop me loving English; she couldn't stop me being excited by the new things I was reading.  And when Wuthering Heights showed me what pre-twentieth century fiction could be, when it took me away from prim ladies and conventional gentleman, I was captivated.

Today, over twenty years later, I still feel a sense of wonder when faced with Bronte's narrative - non-linear, multiple-voiced, the confident immediacy of the opening line ("I have just returned from a visit to my landlord--the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with").  The extremes of love and hate, tenderness and violence, life and death that provide the novel's pulse are, in my opinion, unmatched.  From the wrist rubbed to and fro on the broken pane to the "eternal rocks" of Catherine's love for Heathcliff, the writing exemplifies Bronte's brilliance. 

For some time, I read the book again every summer.  I never tired of it... but I did run out of time for re-reading; my bookshelf began to buckle under the weight of unread texts, and so Bronte was put aside.  Nevertheless, as difficult as it would be to discard Larkin, Woolf, McEwan, Keats, Owen, Waters and Longley amongst the others who people my personal library, if I were to be cast adrift on an island with just one book for company, without doubt that book would be Wuthering Heights.  

Monday, 15 February 2010

She, she, she shine on...

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The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia.  I took this in the summer of 2007, in the midst of an amazing trip up Australia's east coast, starting in Melbourne and ending in Port Douglas, with stops along the way in Sydney, Brisbane, a 24 hour sunset and sunrise trip to Uluru, and a brief stay in a stunning rainforest treehouse...

Everything came together perfectly at the moment the shutter depressed.  The winter sun illuminated the Sisters, bringing them sharply into focus, setting them alight and adding a warmth to a day more suited to gloves, fleecey hats and gradually numbing toes.  The shadows in the background, stretching towards more distant mountains and the horizon beyond, create a textured backdrop, naturally supporting the Sisters and allowing them to shine for this fleeting moment.

Sunday, 14 February 2010



The Sunday lunchtime surge is over.
Clearing crisp packet origami
from parasoled tables
she inhabits the limbo between
now and when.
Checking her watch she looks forward
and catches the wind.

In a poltergeist moment
the glass in her hand fills with sand.
Time did not stop.
She did.
Disbelieving, she turns,
only convinced by the dying umbrella and
the grit in her eyes.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Bright Eyes and beauty...

'This is the first day of my life' sings Conor Oberst...  From the delicate acoustic opening, to the final hopeful words bred out of previous failure ('I mean I really think you like me') this track is a thing of beauty indeed.  If you have ever been in love, skirting around the edge, too scared to articulate the reality in case the dream fades, then this song will sing to you.  The fragility of chance juxtaposed with a pragmatic conviction - 'But I'd rather be working for a paycheck / Than waiting to win the lottery' - conveys the mutability of a lover's certainty.  Everything is new, different, known but unknown in a way that leaves you wondering if you've ever really seen before...  'I think I was blind before I met you'.

The simplicity of Oberst's voice - gentle, tremulous at times, emphatic as he extends those final, personal syllables - conjures images of shyness, hesitancy, the simultaneous isolation and embrace of moving beyond 'like'...

Listen to this song.  Play it again and again as you sit in the dark remembering how it feels to be overwhelmed by something so beautiful that you need more time to look, and look, and look again.

'I'm glad I didn't die before I met you'...  the intimation of futility...  the understatement of relief...  the 'I' and 'you' separated only by 'met', a word in which the two are brought together in a glimpse of a life as yet unlived.


Monday, 1 February 2010

And so it begins...

My blog.  A place to write about poetry, books, music and other stuff...  A place to think...  A place...

I'm not yet sure how this will turn out.  But it's a new way of quenching my thirst.

Hello.  Come right in.  Pull up a chair...

Let's do this.