Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Breaking Point / New Job

This will be my last night in the Leamington Garret for almost four weeks.

I am exhausted, running on empty, having not had a break since February. I cannot wait to take a break from the endless routine of slogging up and down the superslab between here in Leamington and Lewes, East Sussex.

I am so, so sick of those motorways, the endless delays, the lousy weather, the whole shooting match.

That said, I have not been especially unhappy this past month. I am almost resigned to my plight. I like Leamington in the summer, although what a summer! The bloody British weather had better improve for the next three weeks or so!

It is 11.22pm and Dylan is on the music centre. I was going to stay in tonight to pack and write this valedictory missive. Instead I went out with my flatmate Attila for a couple of pints of Guinness at the St Patrick's Club, beside the Leam. A fine evening!

So, I shall be keeping this blog (and flashback) short. I need to be in the land of nod by midnight for a 6.45am start tomorrow.

Poetrywise I have been fairly quiet this month. I did a gig at PureAndGoodAndRight in Leamington. Elvis McGonagall was headlining. He was excellent and a decent bloke to boot. Laura King, supporting, was equally good. There were a million other poets on - another fascinating poetry marathon. The variety of styles at Sean Kelly's club is remarkable.

The other great event of the month was the 7/7/7 Cotesbach 400 celebration at Cotesbach, Leicestershire, mainly on the country estate attached to Cotesbach Hall.

It was a hectic day for me because I also had to drive to Oxford and back for my dear mater's 70th birthday lunch (and got stuck in enormous traffic jams). Both events went well.

In Cotesbach, where I have lived twice, it was really strange to see more than 1,000 people wondering about the estate - for an event to mark the land riots in Cotesbach four centuries previously. The live music went on late into the night.

Sophy and Tom Newton and all the others involved in getting together this event did an incredible job. And the weather, for once, smiled, as you can see from the very grainy sunset photograph above.

Not so for most of the rest of the month. Over the weekend the park beneath the front of the Leamington Garret was a lake. I was in Lewes but, fortunately, Attila took these photographs.

Looking at these images of Jephson Gardens and the Pump Room Gardens, I wish I'd been here. Apparently, the Leam bursting its bank proved a hit with the tourists.

The chap at the Irish club, however, said it was nothing compared with an occasion in the 1990s when the bandstand in the Pump Room Gardens (which I am looking at as I write this) almost completely vanished under water in the biggest flood in living memory.

All the same, I cannot wait to get away. From Friday, I am free for more than three weeks.

I am planning to go to the Edinburgh Fringe for a week and hope to get on some minor bills reciting my doggerel.

Otherwise, I just want to chill and do nothing. Nothing at all.

New Job (Flashback to Tuesday, 4 January 2005)

First day of my new job. This is the weirdest feeling. I am working in a field in Warwickshire after being in jobs or work in London since 1988.

Everyone is making an effort to be friendly, but it is cold here and I can feel the change of culture hitting me like an iceberg.

Last month I was working for bishops. Can my life get any odder?

* I have decided that this is going to be my last "flashback". I have enjoyed doing them, but, going back into 2004, the events that happened to me were too painful for me to wish to recall.

It is best to look forward...

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Monsoon Season

Image of monsoon with lightning
June was a cruel month. The rain fell relentlessly washing away so many hopes and dreams.

It poured through the sills of the living room in the Leamington Garret, after a freak downfall which overwhelmed the guttering, scoring a direct hit on my vinyl LPs, CDs and tapes. I discovered what had happened when I tried to switch on my old music centre - and got a large electric shock. Two hundred and forty volts running from the casing, which had shorted to live, through me to earth. Never had the sticker on the centre - the Power in Music - seemed so apposite.

Nearly all my music was soaked through. Last week was hellish with the Garret stinking of damp, with every LP cover and sleeve and CD or tape notes spread out on the floor to dry. It is amazing how much space LPs and CDs take up when fully unwrapped. There was not a spare square inch in our living room.

It has been a tough time for other reasons. The day-job has been hard. I haven't taken a break since February and the daily grind has been getting me down. As has the weekly commute, made more tortuous by the incessant rains and my ailing constitution. I feel jaded. I have not even taken any photographs this month, as you will see from the dearth of them on this particular blog.

On the night that the Leamington Garret was flooded, however, I did venture to Coventry, which was virtually submerged, to make my poetry debut on the local radio station, BBC Coventry and Warwickshire Radio. I was on for about half an hour, with the station's "Poet Laureate" Jo Roberts - a most amiable lady - and the presenter Alan. Jo read a topical poem and then I read three of mine, Women, Cook And Drive, and Lose Hill.

Between poems we chatted about the state of modern poetry and, to a lesser degree, comedy. I was pleasantly surprised by how interested the presenter was. It was a really good conversation.

But it was soon back to reality. My head has been in all sorts of places in June and, after making a big effort to put a good selection of First Anniversary poems on the Oliver's Poetry site, I found it hard to get down to writing or revising my poems. Although I have plenty of ideas for new poems, I haven't started writing any of them.

I did, however, make an effort to learn some of the old ones, through tape-recording them and playing them repeatedly on my long commutes. Partly for this reason, I had a great gig at the Word in Leicester, where I performed Probably Not, I Fought The Law And I Won, and Chav.

It has not been a very creative time, though, partly because I feel burnt out by my continual efforts to find a day-job closer to home. After applying to the local council - the most difficult and time-consuming form I have ever completed; it took a week of my evenings to do - and not even getting an interview or a call back when I phoned them, I almost lost the will to live! I fear I shall be stuck in Leamington forever.

At least Tony Blair has gone. He is a remarkable character but I do not think he was a good Prime Minister. I was trying to think what is Blair's true legacy. Did he make Britain more peaceful? (because of Northern Ireland), or more bellicose? (Iraq), or nicer? (as Matthew Parris has suggested). No. His legacy is making Britain much more bureaucratic.

Over his 10 years at Number 10, almost every part of British society has been pervaded by a Civil Service culture, where form-filling, grant-applying, process of every ilk, and generally gratuitous pen-pushing has usurped real work. Where once Britain was a nation of shopkeepers, now we are a nation of bureaucrats. This is Tony Blair's true legacy.

I quite like Gordon Brown. I have fond memories of the occasion in the 1998 when he phoned me up for a chat about Scottish football (I was writing an article for a supplement in The Times). He was good humoured and witty, even it must have been absolutely obvious to him that my only knowledge of Scottish soccer was coming out of a two quid book I had purchased at the corner shop. He certainly did not embarrass me by pointing out my ignorance. But whether he cuts the red tape that is strangling British life is doubtful. All the same I wish him well.

The smoking ban had also come in. A few years ago I would have thought this a bad thing. Now I am enthusiastic about it. Life in the Leamington Garret has been more pleasant since it went smoke-free late last year, and if the ban stops commuters lighting up as soon as they jump off trains, that would be bliss.

Things can only get better. Who said that? 

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