Here I am being mentioned in dispatches on the Sound Cafe website, only not by name as sadly they don’t put people’s names up. This is for perfectly sound reasons (ho ho) but is disappointing for me as I’m starting to apply for Poet-in-Residence jobs (paid ones) and need to get as much publicity as I can.
And here I am poeting on the Criterion stage:
There is a video as well, though I can’t share that here – but if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook you can find it on my wall.
The BBC has been forced to issue statements reassuring people that the world is not about to end. ‘The apocalypse is not upon us,’ tweeted BBC Head of Comedy Julia McKenzie yesterday as Nicholas Parsons missed his first episode of Just a Minute in the show’s fifty-year history. Shock-waves rocked Radio 4 audiences up and down the country (‘and around the world!’ as Parsons was so often heard to say) as instead of our beloved Parsons, we heard the mellifluous, unctuous and utterly irritating tones of Gyles Brandreth (for it was he.)
In all fairness, Brandreth didn’t do a bad job; in fact I found him much less irritating as chair than as a contestant as he’s forced to be impartial and can’t squeeze in any of the nauseating tributes to Margaret Thatcher of which he is so fond. JAM is a difficult game to play, which explains why so few new contestants stay the course: Sarah Pascoe was last night a case in point, struggling to rack up more than a few seconds on any of her given subjects. But it must also be a hard game to adjudicate as you have to listen carefully and make finely-balanced decisions whilst remembering that this is supposed to be entertainment. Paul Merton is an excellent foil to Parsons (and toned down his usual piss-taking of Brandreth for this episode) in fact he seems to have been born to be on panel shows, which is not something you can say of every comedian.
The BBC has denied that there is anything wrong with Parsons and said that he just wanted a rest; which at the age of 94 is fair enough. But one wonders just how much longer he can keep going. There may be JAM tomorrow – but will it be Parsons JAM?
Well first of all a quick catch-up. I’m always gratified to see that my readership doesn’t slide into the abyss when I’m absent for a few days, but as you will see I’ve been busy. First, the gigs. All poets are basically frustrated rock stars: we talk about ‘gigs’ and ‘touring’ as though we were Mick Jagger or Suzie Quattro (that dates me I expect although someone last night commented that they’d recently been to see the Stones and said they were brilliant.) So on Saturday four of us (three musicians et moi) took the stage for a fundraiser for Momentum at Leicester’s Criterion pub. Thirty or so people came along to listen and I did a 20-minute set featuring a poem about Corbyn (JC4PM), ‘Spike’ the homeless poem, a couple of poems about Blair and a couple about Jo Cox and her memorial picnic. These were very well-received and you could hear a pin drop even when the waitress came in to serve pizza. I like hearing pins drop.
Then last night I finally made it to TABAC which sounds like some underground wartime group but in fact stands for Thurnby and Billesden Acoustic Club, where a good crowd of musicians assembled. I’m always slightly dubious as to how poetry will be received at these events but I needn’t have worried; it was received with enthusiasm. It was a great evening with a terrific variety of instruments being aired including a whole caseful of harmonicas, a piano-accordion played by a retired headmistress; a concertina and several guitars and of course Jan with her recorder. I did three poems: ‘Is Vic There?’ for Victoria Wood; ‘The Lady in the Van’ and ‘Spike’ again. The evening ended quite late with a lengthy impromptu rendition of ‘Yellow is the Colour of my True Love’s Hair’ to which my contribution was ‘black is the colour of my true love’s feet’. And so to bed; except that first we had to drive back from Thurnby with missed turnings and diminishing petrol.
What I missed last night (but will catch up on, thanks to the miracle of iplayer) was the final episode of A Very English Scandal, a dramatisation of the Jeremy Thorpe affair in the ’70’s. Hugh Grant is a revelation in this! I had him down as this generation’s John le Mesurier, only good for one particular brand of romantic comedy – but I was wrong. In this miniseries, a drama with a touch of farce, he is utterly thrilling as the dark and menacing Thorpe; in fact he has the man (appropriately enough) to a T. Ben Wishaw is also brilliant as his victim-turned-blackmailer Norman Scott and Alex Jennings (Charles in ‘The Queen’) plays his Machiavellian sidekick.
I could also have been watching the latest episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. So I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that in yesterday’s sign-off I said it was Tuesday when it was in fact Monday. All day. For some reason yesterday seemed like a long day. Maybe it was because I felt tired – the close, thundery weather that never seems to break can be quite oppressive – or maybe it was because of the sheer Bank-holidayness of it all, but whatever the reason I became a day ahead of myself.
I also wondered if I’d get comments about the title. Why Jason? Then again maybe you’re all far more educated than I give you credit for and had sussed straight away the connection between Argos and the story of Jason and the Argonauts:
Argos (the store) is of course named after the hundred-eyed monster of Greek myth:
Eyes also feature strongly (and disturbingly) in King Lear, the latest production of which was broadcast last night. More on this later as I have yet to catch up with it since we were catching up with The Handmaid’s Tale having watched A Very English Scandal on Sunday night:
It’s all go.
We seem to be undergoing something which I am resisting calling a sea-change – let’s call it a land-change – on how to mark death. Death as a subject is almost as taboo as sex used to be when I was young: it’s considered in poor taste to bring it up in polite conversation. You can talk about illness all you like, but don’t mention the d-word. On the other hand there is an explosion of public grief at events like the anniversary of the Manchester bombing.
Let me say this at once: the Manchester bombing and other similar events are terrible. It could easily have been our daughter had she been a few years younger, and the targeting of young people is particularly horrible. That those directly affected should show grief in public is entirely understandable. But as Matthew Parris pointed out yesterday:
(it’s about 21 minutes in)
the stiff upper lip has gone and is replaced by almost compulsory public grief. I can’t summon up much grief for the passing of the SUL, and yet I think somehow things have got a little out of control. Private grief is probably best expressed privately, by which I don’t mean on your own with a box of tissues (unless that is genuinely best for you) but shared with friends, family members or counsellors. However that is entirely different from feeling compelled to express emotion at events which don’t affect us in the slightest (Tony Blair comes irresistibly to mind here.) It’s not enough to care; you must show that you care, and the best way to do that is by shedding a tear. If you’re being interviewed about some crisis in your life, better cry a little – that way people will take it more seriously. They will ‘feel your pain.’
On the other hand, there’s the whole funeral phenomenon. Funerals used to be a time for wearing black and looking solemn; for walking or driving very slowly behind a big black hearse; for wearing veils and looking at the ground. But nowadays you’re as likely to be asked to ‘wear bright colours’ and ‘celebrate someone’s life’ – and I can’t help feeling there’s an imbalance in all this. I dislike enforced cheerfulness even more than I dislike enforced misery: at least when wearing black you could look sad; but now we’re all supposed to be joyful. I’ve even seen a blue hearse – and don’t even get me started on the speed of the average cortege as it nips down the road. It’s like the one in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ (I can’t find a clip but you know what I mean.)
So on the one hand we have ubiquitous grief on the media; on the other we have bright colours and fast hearses. What is going on?
I’ve no idea what this post is going to be about but the title came to me and so I put it in. But I’ve started so I’ll finish, as Magnus Magnusson used to say, and tell you all about easing. Not quantitative easing (not that I know what that is, though I seem to think it’s about easing the economy by putting a bit more money into it; a sort of Keynsianism lite) nor dressmaking ‘easing’ (which means sewing together two pieces of fabric of different lengths so they end up at the same place) but the normal everyday kind of easing that comes after a period away from work. Of course, not all of us have that luxury; in today’s exploitative work environment holidays are a luxury, not a right and you are expected not only to hit the ground running but also to make up for lost time. Bastards.
But since I am my own boss and only crack the whip when I deem it necessary, I am easing myself back into work. This involves a morning of cutting the hedge (hardly a relaxing activity) followed by a nice cup of tea and a sit-down.
This is of course a British institution and needs serious conservation work in the age of people having ‘a latte to go’ or some such nonsense. I mean, most places don’t do proper pots of leaf tea – and when do you EVER get extra hot water? It’s an outrage.
Anyway, that’s my morning of easing. Nice’n’easy – and yes, maybe you should try this at home.