Monthly Archives: February 2010

Making Bread

21-28 Feb

Another busy week… Busy is good, I suppose, but …

A storytelling friend of mine from Chagford (a creative little community on the edge of Dartmoor) Austin, a fabulous puppet-maker and keen baker, once said to me: ‘If you’re too busy to bake bread, you’re too busy.’ It’s true. Boy, how I wish I had time to bake bread – alas, I’ve too busy making dough – but at least this week I managed to do a couple of things to just nurture myself (my Shiatsu masseuse said I should treat myself – so I did, with a shiatsu massage). I also went for a much-needed haircut – my annual crop – my barber was a friendly young guy with an Elvis tattoo called Joe. We talked enthusiastically about films and books. He’s very fond of the Gangster genre (The Godfather series; Scarface, etc). Eastern Promises, (Kronenberg’s London Russian gangster movie starring Viggo Mortensen) we both agreed, was unjustifiably neglected (Viggo has recently done another star turn in The Road – which has incredibly lost out on the gongs so far). At one point he was singing the praises of American Psycho while wielding a cut-throat razor behind me… Anyone with a nervous disposition might have felt justified in worrying at that point, but all I left with was a great barnet, my head considerably lighter!

Apart from the ubiquitous OU marking quota, there was the following to keep me out of mischief…

Monday was my last session with the Saltford Older Learners (a six week stage two course entitled ‘Keep Going in Creative Writing’).

Tuesday it was my novel writers. It’s going well, but there’s the inevitable tailing off of numbers – a fact of life in the Adult Education sector. It always baffles me why people who sign up for these courses – parting with good money – often drop out. It shows a real lack of staying power. Their writing dreams are hardly likely to manifest with such poor self-motivation. How many hours of practise did our local Gold-winner Amy Williams put in? An inspiration to young and old alike. If you want your dreams to come true you have to work at them – hard.

On Wednesday Susan Mears, literary agent (and, as it happens, mine), was the guest speaker at Bath Writers’ Workshop, which I co-run with David Lassman. Susan gave fantastic, informative, practical and inspirational talk about the Business of Writing.

I gave a one-to-one consultation with a woman working on a screenplay. Her comments were positive afterwards:

I felt your feedback was constructive and has helped me sort out the starting issues. I came away thinking the project’s achievable, worthwhile and could work very well as a 90 min feature.

I was sent a link to the short film Rob Farmer made of the Bardic Picnic at Delapre Abbey – my old haunt – last Summer in Northampton. I was one of the judges and performed the opening set. It was a creative, successful day – made especially poignant being in the place I spent much of my childhood, where my fledgling bardic self was born. It shows what can be achieved when folk work together – a testimony of the vision and effort of the 3 J’s – Justin, Jimtom and John – well done guys!

Thursday, it was my evening class in Trowbridge – riding home in the lovely lashing rain!

Saturday I ran a creative writing dayschool for Wiltshire College in Devizes. It was a lovely run and back again in the Spring sunshine and it was nice to browse in the local bookshop during my lunchbreak.

The week ended with another great night at Chapel Arts Centre – the new programme is out and looks very impressive. Looking forward to the next Garden of Awen there, in a week’s time. Here’s to the green fuse!

Tiger Heart

Lion Dance at Assembly Rooms, Bath, Sun 21 Feb 2010 by KMCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

14-21 February

St Valentine’s Day happen to be the same day as the Chinese Lunar New Year – the Year of the Tiger, auspicious, but not for the faint hearted!

On Valentine’s Eve, Chapel Arts Centre held a great ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’ party – everyone was dressed up as ‘mobsters and molls’ and it was a brilliant atmosphere with music from the Good Fridays. Another successful night from a venue that is rapidly becoming the best night out in Bath.

The following day I performed a mini set of poems at the Bath Storytelling Circle in the Raven to celebrate Lupercalia, the pre-Christian origins of Valentine’s Day: a Roman festival of fertility sacred to the she-wolf who suckled the twins Romulus and Remus. I did my ‘Wolf in the City’ poem in honour of the wolves of love!

The following Sunday, I attended the event below…(traditionally the Lunar New Year falls between 21 Jan and 21 Feb).

Lunar New Year Celebration

21 Feb, 2010

Today I went to the Lunar New Year celebrations held by the Museum of East Asian Art in the Bath Assembly Rooms opposite – the Regency splendour providing a surreal but splendid context for this Oriental Hogmanay. Tables were arranged around the main hall, more used to Jane Austen era glamour, offering a colourful assortment of activities: make your own money bag (used to gift money to family and friends); have a go at a tiger mask, origami, or paper cuts – a traditional Chinese New Year decoration. Before the afternoon programme got under way I popped over the road to the Museum for free Chinese tea and saw many impressive examples of these paper cuts by contemporary Chinese artists. Apparently at this time of year, the old ones would be taken down, to be replaced by the new ones, displayed fresh in windows. A far more creative and environmental way of getting festive than our Xmas excess.

Last Sunday was the actual New Year – it fell auspiciously on St Valentine’s Day – but according to the Chinese astrology website I viewed, Wayangtimes.com (found after a brief google) Years of the Tiger are often times of war, not love:

Drama, intensity, change and travel will be the keywords for 2010. Unfortunately, world conflicts and disasters tend to feature during Tiger years also, so it won’t be a dull 12 months for anyone.

It sounds like we’re in for ‘interesting times’. ‘Far reaching changes for everyone’ it predicts, rather broadly – basically, the only certainty is uncertainty, the only constant – change.

Back in the Assembly Rooms, I pulled up a chair and watched some poetry reading by a Chinese poet, who read her work in English and Mandarin – it was fascinating listening to the soundscape of her poetry – a very different set of phonemes to English ones. It’s great to see poetry being an important part of cultural life – over the Lunar New Year celebrations, homes are often decorated with paper cutouts of Chinese auspicious phrases and couplets. Can you imagine people decorating their homes with poetry in Britain? The common theme to the poems she recited involved reflections on time and good fortune. She mentioned a great Chinese saying: ‘An inch of time, an inch of gold: an inch of gold cannot buy an inch of time.’ A good message – time is infinitely more precious than gold, which is merely a naturally occurring ore. (Our time is priceless yet we sell it cheaply in the market place – a buyer’s market). Yet the Chinese, being shrewd in business, place great importance on it – the accumulation of wealth – praying for wealth and wearing red for luck. I recall in South East Asia – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia – the symbolic bank notes they would burn in the temples.

Next there was a sample of Chinese opera – two members of the London Chinese Opera Society, looking splendid in their costumes, performed a shy, gentle mating ritual on the stage – like two birds in the Springtime: the male making his advances, the female coyly dismissing them… The man sang in a falsetto to symbolise the fact he was on the cusp of adolescence! It was charming, but after a tiring ride back and a fitful night’s sleep I struggled to keep my eyes open.

Chinese Opera performerI went for a walk outside in the lovely spring sunlight to try and wake up – wandering to the Royal Crescent and back. Then I girded myself for the final events with a pot of lapsang souchong and a couple of stem ginger biscuits in the Assembly Rooms cafe. This helped to keep me going for the grand finale – the magnificent lion dance, followed by the letting off of fire crackers. There were two ‘lions’ on stage, operated by two guys each. Both were decorated by ‘fur’ and lots of gold, one was red, the other white, and they lively cavorting reminded me of the rival ‘osses’ of Padstow. They wove their way through the crowds, to the delight of the children, who followed them, Pied Piper-like outside, where gunpowder awaited! The event certainly ended with a bang – in fact several, leaving a strong Guy Fawkes-like odour in the air. Of course, the Chinese invented gunpowder, as they did paper – centuries before the West cottoned on. They are a remarkable civilisation – it’s such a shame that their current regime has so poor a human rights record. I cannot forgive them for invading Tibet – something that seemed to be conveniently overlooked at the last Olympics –  but this was all forgotten today. It was a joyous occasion and quite rightly so. Beyond their oppressive government, they are a polite and cultured people, and on a beautiful sunny day they brought a cosmopolitan richness to our sleepy city.

The following day I used the Chinese Zodiac in my Creative Writing class at Saltford Library – getting my Older Learners to write a poem in the voice of their respective ‘animal’ – a cultural transfusion that enriches the heart and broadens the mind.

Licking Honey from a Thorn

Licking Honey from a Thorn

Garden of Awen: The Thorny Rose, 7 Feb 2010

1-7 February

A busy week – mainly taken over with teaching and marking. Mondays, Saltford with the older learners; Tuesday, my novel-writers at Bath Central Library; Wednesdays, Bath Writers Workshop; and now, on Thursday, running a new creative writing class now for Wiltshire College in Trowbridge. And this week – if that wasn’t enough on top of running three online courses – a dayschool on Saturday in Bath for the Open University.

But it wasn’t all pedagogical grind. Monday visited Glastonbury for the Imbolc Ceremony at the Goddess Hall – for the new book. It was great to roar down to the Tor on the Triumph – it’s first outing of the year. Then at the weekend I took the Legend up to the Edge, the stunning hills passed Stroud – and visited the beautiful rococo gardens near Painswick to see the snowdrops with a mate.

snowdrops at Rococo Gardens, PainswickSunday I ran the third Garden of Awen, exploring ‘The Thorny Rose’ of love, with excellent contributions from poets, storytellers and musicians. I launched my new collection, The Immanent Moment, with a set. I introduced the evening by citing a Welsh saying: ‘loving a woman who scorns you is like licking honey from a thorn’ – as I wanted to set the tone of the evening: a ‘sharp and sweet’ look at love. It wasn’t going to be all ‘Mills & Boons’. But this marvellous spiky metaphor might sum up one’s relationship with work and what we have to do to earn a buck. It drains us as we draw nourishment from it, and we hope that the gains will outweigh the losses. Last night, Anthony congratulated me on being such an inspiration to people. I said I felt like a rotting log – a tree that that falls, giving life to many other organisms in its decay! I had exhausted myself putting on a fantastic night of bardic entertainment – the atmosphere was great, the acts were fabulous, and we had a healthy turn out, but not enough to break even, or reciprocate the effort that myself and Svanur, the centre director, had put into it. However much it might all be worth it in the grand scheme of things, unless it sustains one while doing it, it can lead to burn out or bankruptcy. I get a buzz out of encouraging creativity in others and providing a platform for them to shine – but I still have to pay the rent. Would it were otherwise. That one’s efforts were reciprocate by qualitative rather than quantative value – I would be a rich man! But I guess one gains a different kind of capital. It all goes in the karma bank, I suppose…

As with love, we cannot see it as a strict return investment – measure for measure – we just have to trust in it as it is shared. A tree gives selflessly and is all the more glorious for it – even if it ends up home for fungi!