Comments on my story have been generally favourable – it would be good to hear what blog readers thought of it, too. If you haven’t read it yet here it is:
I’ve had a very busy weekend which involved, in no particular order, Kenneth Cranham and Joe Orton; poeting for Indian Summer with a background of tabla and sitar; a marsala dosha, a half of some very odd beer at Barceloneta where we gatecrashed our daughter’s gathering; Tomatoes and an ordination. At the Indian Summer event I did The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge followed by ‘There’s a War on’ with tabla and sitar accompaniment. The tabla beat brought a whole extra dimension to the poem and I was able to feel a different rhythm in there – it was great!
Rishi Chowdhury is a brilliant tabla player and together with his friend on sitar they are excellent and a great accompaniment to poetry. The Joe Orton day at the University was also great: it included a talk by his sister Leonie who is the keeper of the Joe Orton archive; a talk by the director of the 1993 production of ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’, a discussion with two academics (both sensible and not full of academic jargon) and of course a showing of the ITV film (black and white) of ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’, a play about repressed sexuality and homosexuality. Kenneth Cranham turned up as well, full of jokes and reminiscences about Orton and people who had acted in his plays.
I won’t go on and on again about how little Leicester celebrates its literary heroes; at least they’ve gone some way to redressing that here.
On Saturday Mark and I went to the cathedral for the ordination of our curate Simon. There were several other ordinands (as they are called while they are being ordained) and the main Bish was unable to be there so the assistant Bish called Christopher had to do it instead. I like him a lot better, for reasons I won’t go into at the moment. It was quite a moving occasion; the liturgy contrasting with a certain humour and informality in the addresses. There is something to be said for the old-fashioned liturgy on these occasions, I feel, so long as you don’t have too much of it.
And now God let thy servant depart in peace…
Yes, I have gone and got something published again! Yay! This time it’s a short story about the summer of the Olympics. Do you remember that news story about workers bussed into London and then left under a bridge because no-one knew what to do with them?
This is about that. It’s also about debt and greed and art; it’s called ‘Olympic Summer’ and you can read it here:
I can tell you it feels really good to see my name up there. Most of the comments are very positive too, so please visit and add your own. Thanks!
This brings the total of my publications up to six.
I feel I should celebrate somehow. Maybe by drinking six pints? Hmm. Last night we went to Occupy Leicester Cabaret where I did some poems and we had a drink or two. This morning Mark said he felt a bit rough. ‘You only had a pint,’ I said. ‘A pint?’ he quipped, ‘that’s very nearly an armful!’
And so it is… after all, they used to say it’s what your right arm’s for…
Off to Tomatoes now
If you are squeamish about genital anatomical details then look away now…. This is a post all about my attempts to obtain a cervical smear – or rather the attempts of various nurses to fathom (quite literally) the depths of my somewhat unusual anatomy. OK. Now until I was with child (I have decided to use this rather archaic but lovely phrase instead of the ugly and functional ‘pregnant’) I had no idea of any anatomical irregularity. I always wondered vaguely why tampons didn’t seem to work on me, but apart from that I had no clue as to what I was really like. But to my surprise when I went for my first scan they discovered not one but two uteri! Not only that, but there was a septum (a wall of skin) which went right down almost to the outside, giving me two cervices and effectively two vaginas. That explained a lot. It meant that I needed caesarians in order to give birth (had I tried to give birth vaginally god alone knows what might have happened) – it also meant that the babies were likely to be small (they were, though not dangerously so: Holly was 6 lb 4 and Daniel about the same). And now came the problem: the smear tests. Now that I knew I had two cervices I knew I had to have two smears done, which meant twice the pain and double the difficulty.
If you don’t know how a smear is taken, here’s what they do. You have to lie flat and they insert an instrument called a speculum. Clearly having any sort of instrument inserted anywhere and particularly there, is not a comfortable experience either psychologically or physically, but when you have a septum separating the available space into two smaller spaces, it’s downright bloody painful. They insert the thing closed and then winch it open like expanding a pair of bellows; then they take a swab on a stick and swipe your nectar card (sorry, I mean your cervix) so they can check if you have cervical cancer.
Obviously this is a useful and necessary procedure but I hate it. This time the nurse at the GP’s decided I was in so much pain that she would refer me to the hospital where – or so I thought – I would have a different kind of procedure called a colposcopy. But then, when I got there and found I was going to have exactly the same procedure only (supposedly) with better equipment, and that only if that didn’t work would I be referred for a colposcopy, I was not best pleased. I also had to explain – as I always do – the exact nature of the abnormality referred to in my notes. Would it be so hard to put ‘double uterus with septum’ instead?
And so to work. First you have to put on a gown that ties up the back – designed to make you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable – and then they make you put your legs right up in stirrups. And then begins the agony of having your insides penetrated and prised open. Thankfully the nurse was sympathetic and pleasant and the whole thing didn’t take too long, but let’s just say I’m pleased I don’t have to have another one done for five years.
I don’t know if I mentioned this, but on Saturday before going to Carol Leeming’s excellent singing workshop I went and spent my birthday present from Mark, which was a book token. Or rather, a Waterstone’s token (book tokens, like record tokens, don’t seem to exist any more) which according to the view just inside the door, could be spent on notebooks, sketch pads, cards, mugs, photo frames and coasters – oh, and I could buy a book if I really wanted. Determinedly penetrating the interior like some pith-helmeted Victorian explorer, I located a shelf of Proper Fiction and my eye lit immediately on a lovely volume of Alan Bennett’s entitled ‘Four Stories’. Very like him to be so prosaic, I thought.
I opened it up and saw that I had already read at least two of the four, ‘The Lady in the Van’ and ‘The Clothes They Stood Up In’ – but no matter. Bennett always bears re-reading and so, after a cursory examination of the shelves to see if they yielded anything else I really wanted, I plucked the volume from its resting-place and bore it to the counter.
On getting it home I realised that three out of the four stories were familiar to me as I had already come across ‘The Laying on of Hands’ somewhere – but I sat down to read anyway. In no time at all I had finished all four of them and I am now on my second go. But that’s the thing: with Bennett there’s always something to enjoy second, third, fourth time around. He is subtle and highly intelligent; and apart from The Lady in the Van which is all the more fascinating for being memoir rather than fiction, I recommend the story about a dying parent, ‘Father! Father! Burning Bright!’
Unlike Alan Bennett I am not great at writing for the theatre and have never attempted a theatre play, but I have occasionally ventured into the realm of radio drama. I guess it’s because I have a good ear for dialogue and not much sense of where things are on a stage – anyway, when I was deaf a couple of weeks ago, Mark and I took to writing our conversations down, and one of the things we discussed was, as ever, his gender dysphoria. After we had recorded one of these dialogues in my notebook it occurred to me that I could turn it into a radio play; so I now have a sheaf of ideas and some fragments of dialogue. I think the theme should grab the producers anyway: the play will feature a character called Leon who wishes to be known as Leonie. I’m finding it quite therapeutic.
So maybe I’m more like Alan Bennett than I know?
Mark is in search of himself. That much should be clear to all of you followers of this blog (incidentally welcome to new follower llamacroft aka Sarah Eaton whose bike I ride daily and whose blog is here:
and that the rest of us are in search of a way to make sense of what Mark is doing. Even referring to Mark is problematic these days as Mark prefers to be known as Someone Else and wishes to have an ‘s’ in front of the pronoun ‘he’, both of which I decline to do. This can lead to some rather asymmetrical conversations, like this:
Caller: Is Amanda there?
Me: Sorry, no. Mark isn’t here.
Caller: When will she be back?
Me: He’ll be back in an hour.
Alternatively I could say, he’ll be back in a few years or possibly not at all. Who can say? Oo, look – I’ve just found a purple button? I wonder if that’ll make this post any easier to write?
People often (oo, that’s a different shade!) ask me how I’m doing, to which my standard response is ‘How long have you got?’ The unfair thing about these situations is that it’s the one doing the changing (Mark has just pointed out that I am now writing purple prose) who gets all the attention. People queue up to fling scarves and dresses at him; they come round on purpose to give him nail polish and advise him on jewellery, and I start to think ‘Where’s my dress? Why does no-one give me any stuff?’ To do Mark justice (he is now asking me to mention how great it is that he doesn’t wear tracksuits any more. OK. It’s great that he doesn’t wear tracksuits any more.) As I said, to do him justice he is concerned on my behalf that I don’t get enough support or attention. It’s just that I feel I’m living in this asymmetrical world where nothing matches up, and I need a metaphor to describe it. I’m not happy unless I have a metaphor – whereas Mark isn’t happy unless he has a paradigm. Buddy, can you spare a paradigm?
Argh, it’s gone all black again…
I’ve fiddled about rather today, thanks to a late night last night at Chris Conway’s 25 year anniversary gig. This was quite well-attended, considering that some unmentionable sport was on; I particularly enjoyed the time-shifted updates Chris gave from time to time (England 0, Normandy 1; England 2, Germany 0 – and latterly, England v France entering the 900th year of extra time) updates which touched on the tribal nationalism of football. The appeal of the game completely passes me by and always has; I’m not much of a team-sports person anyway as I prefer individual games such as – oo, wait! tennis! Isn’t Wimbledon due to start next week? Let me check – yes!!! It starts on Monday! Deep joy. Three days to go… The question is, will I be able to break my live TV fast and only watch it on iplayer? I should, but it’ll be a test of nerve. I’ll have to avoid the news so that I don’t know the result – a bit like that episode of The Likely Lads where they spend twenty-nine minutes trying to avoid hearing the result only to be told it in the thirtieth minute.
It’s rather a beautiful day down here in Clarendon Park; I’ve just been for a bike ride and Kasabian are due to play some time soon on Vicky Park, so the whole area is fenced off like some kind of gulag. Tomorrow I am going to a singing workshop so that should be fun. Oo! and while I was at the Musician I discovered that the divine Webb Sisters are going to be there in July. If you don’t know what they sound like, here’s a clip. I’d love to go but the tickets are £12…
Have a good weekend,
I’ve been very poetic this week and have stormed ahead with a few new poems. I’ve done one as a tribute to Maya Angelou which I may well do at the next Pinggk, and a couple on sexism including one called Il Giocondo (the male version of La Gioconda, and I’m sure you all know what that refers to) – and this prose poem, which was pretty much off the cuff:
The house breathes. ‘He is writing again.’ The door is closed, the bowl of soup grows cold on the floor. This is our joy. I wash up, plumb the toilet, say my prayers. Then I pick up my pen and start to write. As a matter of course.
He has the passport to paradise; the ‘get out of kitchen free’ card. Where do I get one of those?’
This is about the fact that the prevailing idea we have about genius is a male one; of a man who can work all day and possibly all night on his art because he has people (usually women) servicing his life. Meals appear, clothes are washed, the garden is dug and the dishes cleansed. But there’s the rub: the artist also, according to this model, has a tendency to go off the rails. He may drink or take drugs; he may lose his marbles in various ways. And it is my contention that if said man were to take some time in the day to do some gardening, or cooking, or washing up, or whatever daily tasks need doing, it would ground him. It would keep him in touch with physical, everyday reality and he would be much less likely to go off the rails. Not only that, it would free up the women around him to pursue their art too.
I’ve taken to writing poetry first thing in the morning in the sunlounge (or conservatory as Mark calls it). It’s warm and sunny in there and a great place for writing – I’ve even set up my desk in there now so I can continue to work on my memoir and my novel. Both are coming on well, thanks partly to the fact that Mark does all the cooking and lots of the shopping.
PS and ‘la gioconda’ is the alternative title of the Mona Lisa. But you knew that…
I was getting together today’s blog post, and then a little flag went up in my mind which said: ‘haven’t we been here before? Haven’t you blogged on this subject before?’ And I had – the subject of foul-weather friends, which was occupying what I am pleased to call my mind over my egg and soldiers this morning, was one on which I blogged about eighteen months ago. But it’s come up again, and I’m sure some of you weren’t around in January 2013, so there’s no harm in covering the same ground.
So: foul-weather friends. We hear a lot about fair-weather friends; people who are around only as long as you’re famous or rich or successful or happily married, and who disappear the minute the solids start to hit the ventilator. We’ve all known them, we’ve all had them. But what about foul-weather friends? This is no less real a phenomenon and yet it is not nearly as widely known: the friend who is constantly by your side during trouble; who seems to be (and is) a really good friend, supportive, caring, understanding and tolerant. You can’t wait for the tide to turn so that you can share the good things with this friend, but when things finally turn around they are nowhere to be seen. I had a friend like that; she was there for me 100% during the bad times, but when I finally had some good luck she sort of faded away, and now I hardly ever see her.
These patterns seem to repeat in life, just like they do on this blog; just like they used to at the cinema in the days when you could go in at any point and keep watching the film on a loop until you’d seen it all, at which point you would turn to each other and say ‘Is this where we came in?’
Another thing that goes round and round is a record on a turntable – and joy! for today my birthday present is arriving – a record player! Yes, Mark asked me what I wanted and I said what I wanted, what I really really wanted (apart from never hearing the Spice Girls again in my life) was something to play my records on. And it’s coming today!!!!
I wonder if Chris Conway has ever thought of recording on vinyl? To me there’s something about a vinyl disc that CDs cannot replicate, much less downloads. it’s immediate; you can see the tracks and the recording; you feel a connection with the artist that a little silver disc inside a machine just doesn’t give you. CDs just don’t cut it.
Well, Chris? Have you ever thought about recording on vinyl? Oh, unfortunately he’s got headphones on at the moment and can’t hear me. I’ll have to get back to you on that one…
I was born in the era of baked beans and the Feminine Mystique; and unlike the Heinz slogan, my title actually does mean something: as of yesterday I am 57 years old, and I was born in the year ’57. I am a child of the Cold War; one of my first words was triggered by news about President Truman (‘hernia’) and I remember vividly the winter of ’63 when it froze so hard that a pile of snow my Dad had shovelled for me to make a snowman, froze solid for weeks. I never did make that snowman… I remember school milk and the subsequent slogan when That Woman was Health Secretary; ‘Thatcher, Thatcher, milk snatcher’ – however, I do not remember the Feminine Mystique. This phenomenon, analysed by Betty Friedan in her book of the same name, was the attempt to make sure men returning from the war had full employment by dispatching women like Rosie the Riveter smartly back into the home.
This was achieved partly by promptly sacking all these women who had done such sterling work during the war, but also by trying to persuade them that housework and all its attendant drudgery was in fact romantic and fulfilling. See this advice to women from a Singer sewing manual in 1949:
All this, however, passed me by, as in general women in our family worked for a living. Our mother began teaching when the local primary school was desperate for staff – asked by the Head whether she could help, she objected that she had a three-year-old at home. ‘Bring her along,’ said the Head briskly – and so began a long career in primary teaching. My aunt also worked once my cousin was in school, starting as a secretary and working her way up in the teeth of boardroom sexism, to sit on the board of the firm. Even my grandmother worked and had a trade, though after marriage and children she had to give it up. Women in my family were, however, primarily responsible for the household: although my father helped, it was our mother who did the cooking and shopping and who off-loaded jobs like cleaning and laundry as soon as we were old enough to do them. We never had brothers (not even of any kind) but she always said any son of hers would have been taught to look after himself; and I have proceeded on that same principle. Daniel knows how to use a washing-machine and does his own laundry; he can cook simple meals and is made to tidy up after himself. This has been a bit of an uphill struggle but I refuse to raise a son who thinks that women are made to run around after him.
Anyway…. bit of a ramble today. Thanks for all the birthday cards and wishes yesterday – I had a very chilled day drinking wine and watching DVDs.
Around fifty people came to wish us well in our new home. Thanks to you all and yah boo sucks if you didn’t, except of course if you were ill or unavoidably elsewhere. Some people made a special effort even though they had other things on, so I was very touched by that. We had, from the Martyrs, Richard, Margaret, Debbie, Rosemary and Nina; from Home Ed circles Ceri, Rob and family and Yvette and Isaac, from Facebook Steve and partner; from philosophy Stephen and Jan, from round the corner Peter, from Scotland via Birstall, Andy and Lynne from poetry Carol and Mike, aka Spock, from France and Cornwall, Jan and Yvan (some good French conversation there) … let me see who else? The children had a bunch of friends over – oh yes, from round the corner, Andrew, from family Jonathan and Nerissa, and oh gosh, if I’ve forgotten anyone I apologise.
The music and poetry didn’t really happen although we had limericks later in the sunlounge, which was fun. Oh, and Steve said he liked the rest of my novel, so that was good.
There was oodles of wine and more than plenty of food, so that was all good. Thanks to all who came and to Mike for taking the photos. These will follow.
Today being my 57th birthday, I shall be mostly doing… nothing at all. (Now gasp and say, ‘no! You can’t be 57!’