Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Christmas and a Poetic New Year from Lewes and Leamington!

This may be my shortest blog ever:

Merry Christmas and a Poetic New Year to all my friends!

The run-up to Christmas is an incredibly fraught time for me, so I feel I am writing this entry on stolen time.

Please enjoy this gallery of Christmas images, taken in the last week in Lewes and Leamington.

Tomorrow is my 23rd (times two) birthday, and I shall toast you all with a birthday drink.

See you all in the New Year!

Love, Oliver xxx

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Seedy Side of Royal Leamington Spa

For a change I thought I'd show you the real Royal Leamington Spa - the side of this quaint, Regency town in quaint old middle England that visitors don't know exists.

All the decay, tumbleweed and dereliction. The many bits of this tourist town that the council's vast income from tax, parking charges and other sources does not reach.

The flaking paint, crumbling buildings, faded glory.

My good mood continues unabated (I thoroughly enjoyed taking these pictures, although I am deliberately not publishing images of the countless mentalists, vagrants, druggies and alkies who comprise the denizens of the badlands of downtown Leamington).

I am getting into the Christmas spirit and trying to enjoy myself in moderation. Never easy for me!

The Festive Season is always wondrously fun but also hugely dangerous. This point was more than adequately illustrated at a Christmas party in a hotel near Leamington the other Friday when I got trolleyed and, for reasons unknown, started swinging from a thick, wooden beam high above the dance floor.

I was achieving tremendous height with my swings when the inevitable happened - I lost my grip and took off like an Exocet missile some eight foot above the dance floor. When I finally hit ground, it was onto my back with a sickening thud. By God, I felt that. Instant agony.

The people around thought I had broken my back and, indeed, it seemed absolutely miraculous that I got up. The next morning, I found myself wrapped in bruises: back, arms, ribs, wrist, you name it. I was a mess.

Later when I heard accounts of my trajectory and the enormous crack that my bonehouse took as it smashed into the none-too-pliable dance floor, it seemed incredible that I had not ended up in hospital (I like to put it down to the John Paul II rosary beads in my pocket bringing divine intercession, as occurred with him and the swerving bullet).

Why was I so totally out of my head? I had been all right at the same event on two previous years.

Well, I suppose my old mate Mike Knapp's funeral that day had upset me far more than I had expected or would have admitted.

Michael Geoffrey Knapp (10 May 1961 - 29 November 2007) - as writ on the service sheet - was cremated at South West Middlesex Crematorium. The chapel was packed with family, friends and old colleagues from Express Newspapers.

It was an emotional and memorable service, although I'd say not because of the 'humanist celebrant' who was, I felt, as dry as a bone. (Think, ticket collector).

Mike's old friend Dave Paul spoke very movingly, as did Mike's dad and brother. It was very hard not to be tearful.

Like me, Mike was a 1961 baby and, afterwards, at the wake overlooking The Thames at The Bell Inn in Hampton, I pondered how and why he had been taken so young.

When I first knew him in 1988, I would never have imagined he would have died before me.

I liked Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep, the poem read at the funeral (although the humanist did not, in my view, do it justice):

In those quiet moments in the still of the night
Remember to rejoice and celebrate life
Do not think of me gone and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on the grain
I am the gentle autumn's rain
When you awaken in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in flight
I am the soft stars that shine
You will hear my gentle voice
and remember to rejoice
Never give up your fight
and remember always
to Celebrate Life....

Seemed so apposite. I guess Mike Knapp enjoyed his life and checked out with few regrets.

I have been finding it very hard to make the time to write this journal. In the week since Mike's funeral, life has been a little bit of a social whirl.

With my flatmate Attila, I went to a surprisingly entertaining (and hilarious) gathering of video game makers at the Royal Pump Rooms in Leamington. It was nice to him to get me in and the booze was only a quid a beer.

Also in Leamington, I led a seasonal booze-up of colleagues which turned out great, as more and more youngsters arrived to party. It ran from 5.30pm in the White Horse to past 3am in Kelseys. Wisely, I knocked off at around 1.15am in the Robbins Wells (and for once gave the Big K a miss).

A great craic, and I caught up with my photographer friend Jason Tilley (see Images of India) who dropped by for a chat and ended up crashing on my sofa.

On the Friday night, I met my dear friend Brian in London, which was looking particularly Christmassy and beautiful.

We met at the Coach and Horses in Soho (now rebranded as 'Norman's Coach and Horses' with four to five quid-a-piece sandwiches - what would Jeffrey Barnard have made of it?) Otherwise, it was mercifully similar to its former state.

That night it was the annual party at my club, the Colony Room, which was celebrating its 59th birthday, so we adjourned there.

It seemed even more wild than usual. One member had brought in his hound; another was staggering around, hopelessly drunk (like me in years past).

It was very great to see the gaffer, Michael, who is the life and soul of the Col. I am looking forward to next year's bash, the 60th. I remember the 50th and it was an amazing night.

Brian and I had a nightcap at The French House which is a timeless public house, virtually unchanged since it was home from home to the exiled French in the Second World War.

Knocking back numerous half-pints of Guinness (the French House does not sell pints), the atmosphere of that place was tangible.

I almost could picture the wartime French haunting their old haunt.

I did my last poetry gig of the year, at PureAndGoodAndRight, now in the vaults of the Robbins Well, Leamington.

As often happens with pre-Christmas gigs, there was a poor turn-out, so I took the opportunity to workshop a couple of new poems hot off the press (I'd written one on the train from Lewes to the gig).

They were very much work in progress but listening to the reaction of the small crowd was useful.

The atmosphere was good and the headliner, Ash Dickinson, was excellent. He certainly didn't let the dearth of punters put him off, enthusiastically performing two sets. Another great night!

Now I am gearing up for Christmas. I have two more days in Leamington Spa before heading south for the season.

I am still trying to plough through the New Oxford Book of English Verse, and have just read Andrew Marvell (1621 - 1678), a poet I know and particularly like. So it is definitely looking up.

And I am very pleased that my long article about the poetry scene plus my review of a CD of William Blake poems set to music has been published on the centre pages of The Stage, the ever-interesting actors' and performers' newspaper.

Somehow I don't feel ready for Christmas. This year is not quite complete.

Indeed I do not even like to reflect on the year because I have failed in so much of what I resolved to do in 2007.

Nevertheless, my spirits are high. Even though I still ache all over - nine whole days after my spectacular Christmas party crash!

It is 11.30pm and I am checking this blog before emailing you all about it and an update of Oliver's Poetry.

A crescent, almost UFO-esque moon is to my right. A bit of magic in the night. But bitterly cold on the street.

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