Sunday, October 28, 2007

Resting in Lewes

For once I am writing from the Lewes Garret (with images recently taken of Lewes rather than Leamington).

Although the Oliver's Poetry Garret blog was always intended to be split equally between Leamington and Lewes, the majority of the entries have ended up being written in Leamington.

Keere Street, Lewes, East Sussex, UK

This entry is entitled Resting in Lewes, but in reality the only rest has been from the day-job. On all other fronts it has been full systems go on that seemingly impossible dream of sorting out my life.

I have been feeling upbeat during the last few weeks, and set about this week off with a determination to get things done.

Of course it is never that simple. I am writing my set for my performance at the Reckless Moment comedy club, Leamington, on Monday - and struggling. But I have edited two new poems for the Poetry Society's National Poetry Contest and sent them off.

 I have made a massive effort of late to enjoy life more, and not to let the minutiae of living in two places drag me down.

For instance, last week in Leamington I went out three nights in a row - seeing my old mate Andrew O'Neill at the Reckless Moment; quaffing a gallon of ale with a new Pole in town; and checking out Barnstormers Comedy, at the Spa Centre.

The latter event, which I have reviewed for Oliver's Poetry's sister site StandupCom Magazine is extraordinary in that it is the only connection between Lewes and Leamington I have ever found (apart from myself, of course).

King's Head, Lewes

Barnstormers used to be Lewes's comedy club, but now its compere Kevin Precious has taken it on the road, with a monthly residency at the Spa Centre in Leamington.

A very fine night it proved too, with former Joe's Comedy Madhouse acts Steve Day, Gary Delaney and Kevin Precious putting on a superb show.

And the week before I performed at the special Warwick Words edition of PureAndGoodAndRight, at the Zetland Arms, Warwick.

poet Laura King

My attempt at a slam poet rather bombed I'm afraid when I opened the evening, but I returned later with I Fought The Law (And I Won) which went a little better.

Overall it was a fine evening, wtih some strong poetry from Laura King (pictured above), Scrubberjack (Jackie Smallridge) and the usual enormous range of performers.

Chores of various kinds have kept be hectically busy this week. When you spend your time working and travelling between two medium-sized towns, you don't get round to doing the routine things: going to the dentist, cutting a spare key for the car, pruning the trees in the garden, digging the allotment et cetera.

My allotment is at a place which glories in the name Earwig Corner. A pleasant spot in a pie-slice betwixt two roads. On Sunday we had a lunch party there which worked out brilliantly. The weather was amazing; the Sussex countryside stunningly beautiful. We cooked a couple of organic chickens and vegetables and transported them up there with the required furniture.

I made a fire and warmed up some mussels on it for a starter. Then, with our guests, we ate and drank wine in the warmth of the October sun, before walking over the neighbouring Malling Down. A wondrous afternoon.

The day before we watched the rugby. Of course it was disappointing that England lost to South Africa, although I felt we did extremely well to be second in the tournament.

My personal theory - unsubstantiated in fact, of course - is that they lost in the final because Gordon 'Mr Bean' Brown was in the crowd. The sight of his dour Scots mug nominally egging on a team he would love to have seen beaten by Scotland would be enough to anyone off. Just a hunch. . .

I have read quite a lot of late which has been good. I read the Irish novels Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe and Reading In The Dark by Seamus Deane. Two of the most depressing books I have ever read.

Butcher Boy is at least compelling, albeit gruesome, reading. The latter I found painfully hard to complete, with its infinitely depressing take on guilt and betrayal and Irish family life before and during The Troubles.

Why do they inflict this material on teenagers? Even at my age I find it hard to cope with, although there is good writing in both books.

I have also embarked on reading the New Oxford Book of English Verse. Currently, I am on page 159 of the 945 pages, and, coincidentally, on poem 159 of the 884 poems contained within.

It is in chronological order. I have thoroughly enjoyed the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries and part of the 17th century and poets including William Langland, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Dunbar, John Skelton, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Edward Dyer, Sir Philip Sidney, Johy Lyly, George Peele, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, Michael Drayton and Samuel Daniel.

The poet I have found toughest to read so far is Edmund Spenser, and the one I have enjoyed most is, predictably, William Shakespeare.

Now I am reading Thomas Campion (1567 - 1620) - poems such as Laura.

It is Sunday afternoon now. My time resting in Lewes is almost at an end. In an hour or two, I shall have to drive through the atrocious weather back to Leamington Spa.

On a brighter note, I went to the opera at Glyndebourne yesterday to see Macbeth, which was very good. And this week off has given me the chance to catch up with some old friends. 


The highlight of a good week off has been the Lewes Live Lit festival - an amazing series of events for a small town to stage.

On Friday night I went to the Lewes Live Lit Cabaret - a great event with excellent acts and Harvey's ale flowing freely.

All the turns were good. I enjoyed guitarist and singer Peter Blegvad, and the enormous eccentric Jane Bom-Bane, performing with her funky harmonium and mechanical hats (it is pretty bizarre) and accompanied by the superb multi-instrumentalist Nick Pynn; and also the raunchy dancer and chanteuse Pam Hewitt. Very sexy.

But the highlight of the evening for me were the West Indian poets. Jean 'Binta' Breeze was a self-proclaimed 'song and dance woman' who truly sang her poetry, and John Agard was excellent - his poetic voice is erudite, rhythmic and subtly humourous. I particularly like the poem Sloth.

Two nights before, we went to see Adrian Mitchell perform upstairs at the Royal Oak in Lewes. It was the veteran poet's 75th birthday and he read poetry about old friends, young relatives (some of his grandchildren were in the audience) and death, with a sidekick at Blair and Brown over Iraq.

I was struck by what a magnificent performance poet he is - fluent, emotional, naturally funny.

Modern performance (and published) poets could learn so much from him.

French singer at the cabaret of Lewes Live Lit, Lewes, East Sussex, UK

Afterwards, we got him to sign one of his books and I said hello and that I had started to perform poetry.

The great man grinned at me and said: 'Keep on keeping on!'

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Autumn in Leamington Spa

Autumn is here, winter beckons.

I cannot say September was a great month. I returned from the summer break full of beans, determined to get things done. But it is never as easy as that. I look back over last month and realise that, for all my efforts, I did not make a whole lot of progress.

Swans on the Leam, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, UK

Not that it was without its compensations. For instance I was walking down the street on one typically tedious Leamington night and was amazed to stumble upon my old Joe's Comedy Madhouse chum Jimbo. Jim told me that he was taking part in a talent contest down the road at the Royal Spa Centre, the town's large theatre.

What ensued was a hilarious evening. Jimbo was to perform in a cavernous and almost empty hall, in a competition funded by Warwick District Council, the people behind the zone parking outrage mentioned in my previous blog.

Most of the acts on the bill were singers with 'tuning issues' - as they used to say on the Joseph show on TV - so bad that even I could detect when they weren't hitting the right notes.

After four of these performances, there was an interval and Jimbo, a madcap legend on the London comedy circuit, reappeared in the bar. He said he was on second after the break, and I remarked, 'You must stand a good chance here, Jim, all those singers couldn't hold their pitch!'

Jimbo, a veteran of many a provincial talent contest, shook his head. He was not so sure. And so it proved. His wacky brand of humour went down like a lead balloon. The hall's accoustics did not help. It was quite hard to hear the gags, with his trademark vocal hiccups. Up in the circle, I laughed like the idiot I am but was in the minority. Only a group of teenagers joined me. The judges sat po-faced.

Jimbo was followed by a brother and sister music double act who were good. And the evening was rounded off by a precocious schoolgirl singing an awful composition of her own. She was from Leamington Spa.

I realised the three judges included the council official responsible for the parking debacle. His talent spotting was no better. The Leamington school kid came in first, and Jimbo was not even placed.

Still, it was great to see the old stick. He is an extraordinary act and a lovely fellow.

In September I did wonder at times if I was losing my marbles. I began to find living away from home increasingly unacceptable. And even though life is not that bad, I felt depressed and unhappy for a substantial amount of the time.

The best thing was seeing old friends. I went on a day-job course in London one Friday and met my dear friends Dominic Baster and John McJannet as well as dropping into my club, The Colony Room. I felt so at home, so happy, for a few glorious hours.

I caught up with another old friend after a conference in Bath and saw another friend in Kilburn, north London.

Poetry-wise, I have only written one poem in the last month, What Is The Word?, and don't seem capable of memorising it.

I am drinking too much, have terrible nightmares, and have missed two poetry gigs this week through simply having no transport. I have made virtually no progress on my set for the Reckless Moment comedy club at the end of this month, and even less on my Edinburgh show. I just cannot get a handle.

I suppose the highlight of the month in terms of poetry was appearing on the local radio station again to read some poems. I enjoyed that, although it seemed slightly weird slipping in poems between speedway reports.

At the beginning of September, the weather was pretty good (as you see from the images on this blog that I took one night) and I seemed so full of hope. The fairground was in full whirl beneath my bedroom window. It was rather noisy and weird as a sight (as you can imagine seeing this image from your bed).

Fair from bedroom window of Leamington garret

I really hoped, and expected, the autumn would be bring change for me.

Now I am flush with doubt and wonder how sustainable this lifestyle is.

It is dark and cooler now. I have opened the windows to air the garret. At least the threat of wasp attack has receded. (They have died of their own accord). I am on to my second beer and staring again at the brightly lit windows of the flats opposite as I type this, matchstick figures moving around within the pigeonholes.

I should read this through, but I can't be bothered. I am going to scatter the images randomly between the paragraphs and publish (although, of course, I may spruce it up at a later date).

Ricky Lee Jones is on the mono (the stereo does not work) and I need to pack to return to Lewes tomorrow night.

I feel like going out tonight and getting trolleyed, but then again there's work tomorrow, and endless admin. and the all that.

Life isn't so bad. If only I could be happier.

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