Friday, 25 February 2011

Hush and Other Poetic Events...

Wednesday was Hush. A night of poetry at Earth Cafe. It's a monthly thing, and I've never been before. But I was lucky enough to be invited to read by the evenings organiser and host Gerry Potter.

Earth is a vegan cafe with very wholesome gorgeous foods. In the basement of the Buddhist Centre, it is all red brick and wood, Buddhas and prayer wheels, peaceful and light and calm. Gerry has created a very friendly, warm monthly event. I was surprised by how welcoming it was. People drifted in and scattered themselves at tables around the room, and then at a huge table in the middle of the room are sat poets and audience together. There was quite a gathering. I might guess at about forty people, or a little less. There are cups of tea and coffee, people eating, and it was all very cosy.

Gerry opened and closed each part of the evening with his own poems about men, read in his wonderful scouse accent, tender and acerbic, comic and beautiful. And he brought together three very different poets.

I was the first, and I read some poems about my childhood, about friendship, love, loneliness, the city and rain. This is quite unique as an event, as for a start, I was sitting down on a chair with other people sitting on chairs, so I was with the audience, and I was also part of the audience. It was quiet, attentive and warm. People listened, clapped, asked questions, and I was in the middle of them, not on a microphone, no need to project my voice above any peripheral noise.

Alabaster DePlume read next. I have met him before, but never seen him perform. And his performance was magical actually. He has a very unique, eccentric style and reminds me of a cross between a wizard, a Shakespearean actor and a comedian. His poems made us laugh a lot. His delivery was wonderfully timed.

Ben Mellor is a poet I've never come across before. Handsome young man in cap and jacket, with a relaxed and rhythmic style. Funny, political, moving. I loved one of his poems about paper... Bloody brilliant.

There is something intimate about having a quiet poetry night, like a soiree, or a sharing of poetry amongst friends. I really enjoyed the way, there is an open invitation to anyone in the room to read a poem after the guest poets. I liked the milling about and chatting, the casual to and fro of comments and questions, and the way we were all sat down together.

It's been a very poetic/literary week.

Monday was Beatification at Sand Bar. John G Hall's Beat Poet film and poetry night. I had cancelled plans so I mooched along on my own, and stayed for a while. It was worth it to hear Jackie Hagan's poem. I can't even recall what the title was, but she took us on a journey through her life, different ages and experiences, personal, exposing, funny, tender, painful. I really like her stuff. I think she is an amazing, brave and talented poet.

Thursday was Pen-ultimate at the Contact Theatre. Ben Mellor is part of this collective of poets, actors, MCs and playwrights, and we heard about it at Hush and decided to give it a go. A brilliant night of poetry, music, MCing, freestyling. I wouldn't really know how to describe it. Like a mash-up of poetry, hip hop and performance. There were some brilliant poems, some very funny moments, political stuff. I like unexpected or spontaneous nights out. They are full of surprises.

Busy, busy. This has been the poetic part of my week off work. I had nothing planned and have filled it with love and poetry, reading, writing reviews, a little digging, a short story and a lot of sleeping. Bliss...

Monday, 21 February 2011

My February

Today, I went to the allotment after an extended break. The allotment is almost bare and sad-looking. It's that end of winter barren time. Most of last year rotting back or composting. Plastic and carpet-covered ground. Fruit bushes bare. Empty raised beds. The pile of cow muck is sinking down and stinking. It's wet, flooded in parts, boggy or squelchy most other places.

Eric and Dave have built the frame of my greenhouse and it is waiting for some solid foundations, and some glazing. It's a lovely square metal frame, and I am hugely grateful for their kindness in acquiring it for me, picking it up and putting it together. I have been absent and kept away by the cold, wet weather and not feeling 100%. But they have inspired me to get back to it, work hard again, and start the new allotment year.

On closer inspection, there are signs of life everywhere. My rhubarb is poking through and has new leaves. Onions, garlic, shallots that I planted in Autumn are all pushing through. Crocus bulbs, the first shoots of my tulips.

We dug over the space where my greenhouse will sit. Pulled out dead brocolli rotting in the ground and bird-pecked. And we drank tea. Of course.

I have a willing boyfriend, who is handy with spade and has been patient with me as I told him all my plans, told him how I want things done. The allotment has been my solitary project and I always find it difficult to let others in. I love occasional help, but am strangely possessive over my plot, and like things my way. He seems to be accepting of this, and let me boss and criticise a little when I didn't realise I was doing this. I caught myself though and felt a little bad.

I must learn to share.

I must learn to let go of the control a little, and let others help me in their own way.

We spent our first whole weekend together. It was lovely in a most ordinary way. We cooked and ate, we watched TV and chatted. We went to the pictures and laughed (a lot). He is much more relaxed than me. I tend to rush around and do do do, achieve, busy busy. He is laid back, likes to see what comes, take the weekend as he finds it. He is teaching me his ways.

It's funny how another person can be a mirror, making me realise how I am, my own peculiar habits and ways. He seems very accepting of the aspects of me I dislike and are difficult. So far...!

I've had a few setbacks in my health again. I'm having some tests, and went on a dairy-free diet for two weeks. My GP asked me to go dairy-free, then eat dairy again to see how it affected me. So, on Thursday I ate two chocolate muffins, buttery toast and some milk. I felt a little ill, but wasn't sure if it was psychosomatic, so I had some more milk, and spent all the next day very bloated, gurgling and in pain. It was a bit horrible. So I went dairy-free again and what do you know, I'm feeling so much better.

So, maybe all the problems over the past few months, the weight loss, and so on, is down to being lactose intolerant.

It has been a whole adventure working out what to eat without dairy, and the idea of this being a long-term thing is a little daunting, but I'm hoping that this might be the answer. I reckon I can manage this, and it feels a relief to have a possible answer.

It's been a strange. Most people haven't really realised it's been tough for me, they just notice the weight loss and are like, wow you look really well. Then yesterday, someone I've not seen for months said straight away, concerned, god, you've lost a ton of weight, have you been sick? It hit home, how worried I've been and that actually it is a little frightening, not being in control of losing weight, or what food I can eat, or whether it's going to make me ill, and how ill. It was good to have someone notice. I feel as if I've been going on about it a lot and that others are thinking, what's she bloody moaning about, loads of people would love to lose a bit of weight.

So, anyway, maybe cutting out dairy might be the answer. Hopefully this is the reason, and I can get back to enjoy my food again.

I am in love with many things at the moment. Black eyeliner. PJ Harvey Let England Shake. Making mix CDs. Poetry readings. Woolly tights and skirts. Avocados. And I've not felt any depression whatsoever since the end of November. How good is that.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Sticking Two Fingers Up to David Cameron's Big Society....

I left University in 1994, not sure of what I wanted to do with my life, what career I might have, what use I might be in society. I decided to spend six months doing voluntary work full-time for a charity. I wanted to be useful, give something, but also learn something about myself.

It wasn't the first time I'd done voluntary work. I spent one day a week for a year while I was at University, helping in the classroom of a special school. I'd done numerous activities to raise money for charities. When I was a teenager, I spent Sunday afternoons visiting an old people's home for a while. I helped serve dinners, made beds, emptied bed pans, chatted with the oldies. Maybe a strange thing to do as a teenager.

But then, I come from a family who brought me up to think of others, to help people who needed help. My grandparents did supported lodgings for all kinds of people, I'm not sure exactly who they were, or where they were from, but mostly there was a string of men they supported, drinkers, addicts mostly I think. It was just normal for me growing up, something I never questioned.

I'm not unusual.

Most people I know give to charity, or help out a neighbour, or volunteer.

Plus, I've worked for three of the biggest children's charities in the UK, for most of my working life. I get paid for my work. So, it's not done for free.

But in the work that I do, I see families who care for each other, who physically care for their relatives or friends and neighbours, who take in the children of friends and bring them up, who make meals for people who can't cook for themselves, who do cleaning, washing, shopping, give lifts to people. Some of them work full-time and dedicate themselves to others in the evenings or weekends. Other people claim a meagre carers allowance. I've seen people care for relatives through terminal illness, care for people in their families with chronic disabilities. I probably don't need to keep giving examples...

These are just ordinary people, who are relentless, selfless, who have little money but loads of love, kindness, or just do it because they have no choice... who else is going to do it. Sometimes they get a little bit of help from the State... a bit of money, a small grant, a ride to a day centre, a bit of respite care, someone who listens, a group they can go to and get a break, or training, or a laugh, sharing experiences. Sometimes.

So, when David Cameron talks about a 'Big Society' it makes me really fucking angry.

It makes me wonder where he comes from and what kind of upbringing he had and what on earth he thinks people are doing in this country. I listen to him talk about a 'Big Society' and all I can hear is a man of privilege who has no clue of the struggles that people go through, or the way communities already rally round, or the amount of voluntary caring and giving people already give, of the amount of charities there are out there working in communities already doing so much to improve peoples lives.

I want to ask him where he thinks the money is going to come from for all this extra work in the community, because nothing is ever, truly for free. Good volunteers need training and support, they need resources, buildings or spaces to work from, they need protection. If groups are going to run libraries and post offices, then they need books, they need lighting, heating, chairs, a building, they need organising. They need money.

Because, most charities I know get money from government funding, local councils, as well as other funding sources, and they get it from the public. Only the government are cutting funding left, right and centre. They are cutting the budgets of local councils, and people are losing jobs, have higher bills, higher VAT, and they just don't have spare cash for giving to charities.

The charity I work for is launching an emergency appeal for funds.

The local council where I live is cutting funding to many of the places that are the hub of community work, voluntary work, helping, caring, supporting, forcing these to close if funding doesn't come from somewhere else by the end of March. That's six weeks time.

There are people I know who rely on support, childcare, groups, services, community resources so that they can keep going.

I know it sounds like I'm hamming it up a bit. But seriously, not everyone has it easy. Having a library that has a homework club can be like a lifeline for some parents and children. Or being able to go to a parent and baby group when you're 17 and know nothing about being a parent can give support and skills that mean a child is looked after properly, safely. Someone who has three kids and is a single parent feeling suicidal because it's so cold that they can't heat the house because they have no money, or they're isolated from their family, or they're ill... this person might just get by because they have a worker (a trained, paid, skilled worker) who visits them every week and gives them just enough support to keep them going...

I want to ask David Cameron...

So, who is going to be part of this Big Society? Who are the people who are going to fund it? Run it? Have the 'passion' for it? The spare time for it?

And why the bugger are you cutting the funding and the resources that are already out there, if a Big Society is needed this much?


I'm actually ashamed at the moment, of our Government, my local council, and of the organisations who aren't standing up against what seems to be happening in our country at the moment.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

and the weeks roll by....

Here am I, collapsed on the settee after a bit of a tiring day, Coronation Street on the box, belly full and almost nearly ready to head up the stairs to bed.


It's as much as I can do to finish work, make it home and make tea at the moment. I mean, that's probably an exaggeration, but still, energy levels are ebbing, and I'm waiting for those lighter nights. Can't wait for allotment weather.

I'm itching to talk about my new bloke, but it's early days and I'm not tempting fate by saying too much.

So, I'll just say that. And smile.

And tell you about a reading I'd doing on 23rd February. It's called Hush, and it's hosted by wonderful Manchester poet Gerry Potter. It's at Earth Cafe at the Buddhist Centre in Manchester. 7.30pm. There are three poets, Ben Mellor, Alabaster Deplume and little old me.

Gerry describes Hush as 'a unique intimate arena where performance poets gather to chat in free-verse to the audience around them. A new experience allowing the poets real not amplified voice to mingle gently with the audience sat cheek by jowl. A very human experience without the ego of the microphone. The poets voice, a most important tool. The voice a wonderful and nagging constantly informing and decieving instrument. Performance and not performance, more than a chat yet as fullfilling as gossip. A home of truth and lies. Come and share your own timbre with a poem in our open sit-down and add your voice to the sound of our crowd and remember HUSH!'

Be good to see you there, if you fancy it... x