Sunday, December 31, 2006

Odd Ends / Poisoned

Odd Ends, New Year's Eve 2006

This is my final blog of 2006 and to reflect on the end of an odd year I have garnered a selection of my favourite odd ends of photography that I have taken over the past couple of decades.

Image of Fiat car standing on water in Cambridge, UK

If your photography began in the digital age, you may not even be aware of the natural flaws that film photographers encounter. Growing up using 35mm film, the aim was to get as many shots as possible from your usually 36-exposure strip of film. The by-product of this was that the first shot was generally only half or three-quarters of an image, as the rest had been fully or partially exposed while the film was loaded into the camera.

I love these shots with their jagged yellow and red lines and other interesting effects, such as a cigarette stain yellow sheen with much of the initial image silhouetted beneath it, false lateral dawn or a weird, surreal collage of hues and shapes.

Beheaded deaf comedian Steve Day at the Edinburgh Fringe

These images were taken by me in locations as diverse as Athens, where orthodox clergy anxiously awaited their leader; Cambridge where a little Fiat car appeared to be standing upon the water of the Cam while we punted past (a prank by engineering students, I believe); at a boathouse in Ecuador where the 'odd-end' enhanced the image with its brilliant 'sunrise' glow; inside the Vatican at the Beatification of Mother Teresa; the Edinburgh Fringe with a beheaded comedian; Robert Maxwell's grave in Jerusalem, and many others.

However, I enjoy them just for their odd looks and hardly think of where or when they were taken.

Sisters of Charity at the Beatification of Mother Teresa

2006 has been a very odd year. I cannot hand on heart say it was a particularly good one for me. One of my New Year's Resolutions is to get on with my life.

In terms of other endings in 2006, an old friend, Sam Towers of Cotesbach, died in October. After Sam's funeral at St. Mary's, Cotesbach, I wrote a poem about him, Do A Little, and also a blog, Sam Towers 1918-2006 (16 October 2006).

Recently Sam's son kindly emailed me to say how much he had appreciated the poem which he had read on this site. A friend from Cotesbach Hall told me on the telephone that she had been read it to Sam's widow, Dorothy, who had been moved to tears.

A couple swapping clothes in a nightclub in Benidorm, Spain

On Christmas Eve, my great aunt Aenne died in Bremen, Germany, at the grand age of 93. I felt very sad; she was a kind and serious lady who always made me and my brothers very welcome in her home. I am told she felt ready to go. She certainly enjoyed a long life.

On Christmas Day, the Godfather of Soul James Brown died, aged 78. I interviewed 'Mr Brown', as everyone who met him was instructed to call him, twice and found him polite and friendly, although you felt he was always far more interested in the young ladies in orbit around him than your impertinant questions!

Big Ken the Leamington Spa town clock

I have greatly enjoyed the Christmas season. It has been a relaxing time. 
Image of boathouse in Ecuador, South 

The derelict tumbledown pier in Brighton, Sussex, UK

Image of Robert Maxwell's grave in Jerusalem

 And now it is New Year's Eve 2006. Strange, it does not seem long ago we were celebrating the turn of the millennium, or the end of the Eighties. I even clearly remember how I spent the night when the Seventies became the Eighties (drinking at the Stepping Stones pub and then yelling: 'Good riddance, Seventies!' across the playing fields of Broadstone, Poole, Dorset.

Image of waterfall in Austria

As well as odd endings, this year has seen odd beginnings. This was the year I did my first poetry gigs, the year I moved to Leamington (part-time), and the year I conceived, designed, launched and developed the Oliver's Poetry website.

Oliver's Poetry has been a wonderful journey although I am still not quite sure why I ever embarked on it.

I suppose that because in my first year as a poet - 2005 - I wrote 52 poems, I felt I needed an outlet to display some of them, along with soem of my photographs and the work of like-minded poets and photographers. It has achieved that.

It is fair to say that, although visited and appreciated, Oliver's Poetry is yet to find a mass audience. However, I would prefer it that way rather than compromising my vision for the site by turning it into a commercial enterprise.

In 2006, I believe I wrote 35 or 36 poems. It is hard to be precise about the number because I am not one of those people who sits down in the morning with a pencil and a particular pad and writes for two hours and then carefully transcribes the work.

I am far too busy living. I write on trains and planes and inside buses and on park benches in my lunch break, while waiting in queues at shops and just about everywhere else.

I also write on the back of parking tickets; in scrawny notebooks, exercise books, shorthand pads; on receipts, napkins et cetera, and with chewed biro, fountain pen, pencil, crayon, or whatever comes to hand.

The 2006 work is generally either more thoughtful or funnier than the 2005 canon. One of the things I am trying to do in the dying hours of 2006 is to find and transcript my poems of this year (most of them unfinished and in dire need of revision) onto my computer in case I lose them. Much time in my traditional booze-free January will be spent, I suspect, reworking them.

I have a list of New Year's Resolutions the length of my arm with which I won't bore you. One of them is to spend less time worrying about and working on the website (and its blog!) - and more time writing, learning and performing good poetry.

I wish you all a happy, peaceful and fulfilled New Year!

Odd Ends poem

Poisoned (Flashback to Maundy Thursday, 13 April 2006).

Leamington Garret. 6.58am. Overcast. I should not have gone out last night. I feel poisoned by the smoke, and all the booze didn't do me much good either. Why do I do it?

Greek Orthodox clergy in Athens, Greece

I was beaten up in my nightmares. I was making an off-the-cuff leaving speech in a room where half the people were sectioned off by a glass partition and would not stop talking. I was most upset.

A play I had written was performed in my honour by the staff. It was atrocious; the script was terrible, the acting worse, and somehow the audience had become soaked during the performance. Certainly they were covering their faces with red towels.

Worse still, live horses were being used in most scenes and kept bolting and throwing their riders. I watched it all in dumb-struck horror with a profound sense of shame.

Weird white, red and yellow image

Leamington Garret. 4.42pm. The Town Hall Clock is bathed in bright sunshine while braving gusty winds.

As I was driving down Leamington's Parade a few minutes ago, a horrible yob shouted really loudly into my ear through my open car window. Boy, it hurt. I have a headache now. Why is there such thuggery instilled in the young in this pretty little town?

Yesterday, a teenage girl spat on my shoe as I was returning from the shops. Her punk boyfriend laughed. The day before, a huge 'yoof' called me a 'wanker' in the street. For absolutely no reason! I was walking along minding my own business. Unbelievable!

I must type out my new poem.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Being Santa

Leamington Garret. Life is sweet. It has been amazing recently. I feel like I have emerged from a deep, dark tunnel. I walk around with a permanent grin on my face.

Suddenly everything seems so much easier. I am enjoying life in Leamington again. I feel relatively comfortable and am really looking forward to Christmas.

Funnily enough, I was asked to be Father Christmas the other day. A mum called Mel approached me in Lewes during the interval of a magic show.

'May I ask you a favour?' she asked.
'OK,' I replied awaiting the worst.
'Will you be Father Christmas for a school Christmas Fair?' she asked.
'You have a smiley face.'

Well, that won me over. I agreed and so, late last Friday afternoon, I was dressed in full Santa costume and awaiting my first customer in a grotto like a Bedouin tent.

My first little visitor proved to be the one of more than 150 over the next two hours, by which time I had almost lost my voice with a mouth full of white synthetic hair.

But it was great! All that hope and expectation on those little faces was an inspiration. I had never before fully appreciated how much pleasure and joy the myth of Saint Nicholas brings to the young.

I asked every child if they had been good that year and they all said: 'Yes!' 

Life is getting better. The Day-Job has been good; order has returned to my Leamington existence, and I have been writing much more poetry.

There are also good omens, such as the return of my wristwatch. I was given it on my birthday. My sixth birthday, some 39 years ago. It was a present from my German grandparents (now long dead).

On the back is engraved 'Oma und Opa. 22/12/67'. I recall proudly wearing this full-sized man's watch on that day in 1967 – while The Beatles were still together and before Man walked on the Moon!

I wore it until, I believe, my third year at Hull University when at this time of year in 1982 I lost it at the Silhouette Club, then on Spring Bank. I do not recall what happened that night in that club, although I did return many times in the hope of finding my watch.

My grandfather had died by that time and I swore that I would never wear another wristwatch until it was recovered.

Last month when clearing out the London Garret, I found the watch at the bottom of an old biscuit tin I had used to knick-knacks while at Hull University. I had had no idea it was there and hadn't seen it for almost a quarter of a century. Its face was smashed and, obviously, it was not keeping time.

Now, thanks to an old watchmaker in Lewes, my beloved Kienzle is returned to its pristine state, with new glass and a repaired mechanism. The watch is back on the wrist!

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

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Friday, December 08, 2006

The Reckless Moment

The Reckless Moment

Leamington Garret. Leamington Spa has a wonderful little comedy club called The Reckless Moment. It is run by students who attract a remarkably strong line-up of professional (or semi-professional) turns and only charge the punters a quid on the door.

It is 13 months now since I closed Joe's Comedy Madhouse – London's, and probably the UK's, craziest comedy club – after eight unforgettable years.

After that I suspected I would rarely again visit comedy establishments.

But espying a sign for a comedy club called The Reckless Moment – even on a Monday night when I was dog-tired from having risen at 5am to get up to Leamington from the South Coast – I could not resist.

I was amazed to find that the club, in the vaults at the Robbins' Well in the 'well rough' end of Leamington, was populated with old mates.

Punmeister Gary Delaney (pictured left) is a regular there. He now lives in Leamington, having apparently quit the converted lock-up that he used to inhabit a stone's throw from my house in Stoke Newington, London N16.

My dear friend Andrew O'Neill appeared during the current season. I had not seen Andrew since this year's Edinburgh Fringe where I reviewed his show Winston Churchill Was Jack The Ripper (see Edinburgh Nights. It was great to see him and I was impressed by how great his straight stand-up set now is.

I was also stunned the other Monday to be rounded on by Anthony Miller, who cut his comedy teeth at Joe's Comedy Madhouse performing weird songs about molluscs.

Now he is much more mainstream, even attempting some interaction with the audience. He certainly managed to embarrass me by revealing to a packed room of students my past as the Catholic Church's King of Spin in England and Wales.

The Reckless Moment is run by compere Tom Hughes, who looks disturbingly like Jack Black (JB) from the awesome new movie Tenacious D with his baby face, wrestler's bulk and mop of brown hair. He is assisted by his housemate 'Pete the Meat' – a highly intelligent carnivore. Against all odds, they are the stars of the show!

The acts can also be wonderfully quirky, such as Ivan the deranged hospital radio presenter, or the bloke who stripped down to his knickers and cowboy hat with hardly a line of (comedy) material to support his new character act.

Their courage certainly reminded me of the oddball new acts I used to promote at Joe's Comedy Madhouse, such as Daniel Kitson, Jimmy Carr and the Comedy Terrorist.

Tom Hughes carries his MC-ing by sheer dint of personality (and probably has a bright future in comedy) while Pete the Meat entertains by eating large plates of exotic meats (generally venison or offal). This may not sound funny but combined with music and a running commentary, it is hilarious.

Pete also rounds off the show by reappearing having donned a celebrity mask to butcher one of their hits. On the last of the run, it was Prince doing Purple Rain.

Superb stuff!

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