For One Night Only, For Those Who Are Out Every Night

I shall not begin by asking you, dear reader, what you are doing for Christmas as I assume most of you are like us doing very little. We have reluctantly decided not to see our daughter and family this year as it’s not worth the risk and it’s heartening to see many people coming to the same conclusions. So a big cheer to all of you and hugs to those facing the season alone. I hope you can find someone to zoom with at least.

Big boos this week to Jacob Rees-Mogg (need I say why?) and Priti Patel (just for being herself but also for deporting people in the middle of the night and not understanding why people might care about this). But let’s forget about this pathetic excuse for a government for a little while and think for a moment about those who not only have no-one to see at Christmas but nowhere to be. Crisis at Christmas isn’t even happening this year so god only knows what it’ll be like for the homeless. There’s a woman I see in Loughborough selling the Big Issue: I don’t know her name but she appears Middle-Eastern. She has two children and lives in a caravan – and she’s one of the lucky ones. I’d better not think any more about this government or I’ll spend the whole post ranting. Anyway, for one night only (I’m going to take it down tomorrow as some publishers won’t accept posts published on your blog) I’m going to share with you a poem called Spike. This was written when I was Poet in Residence at Sound Cafe, a homeless project in Leicester, and was performed as part of a homeless mass at Leicester Cathedral. Here is is:


(first performed at a homeless concert in Leicester Cathedral, a response to anti-homeless spikes in doorways)

There’s a spike in the figures today

rough sleepers are up

in the early dawn

before the cleaners come

to clatter up the cans

and bin the burger-boxes

before the real people come:

the ones who count

the ones who work

the ones who earn

the ones who pay.

Pick up your bed and walk away.

There’s a spike in the figures today

poor people are up

in the early morning

before the bailiffs knock

to clear out the beds

and change the locks

before the real people come:

the ones who rent

the ones who work

the ones who earn

the ones who pay

Pack up your stuff and go away.

There’s a spike in the figures today:

the unemployed are up

in the late morning

to wait in line

for a face-to-face with a face behind glass;

the glass says, Go away:

these jobs are for the real people;

the ones who fit

the ones who work

the ones who earn

the ones who pay.

Fold up your forms and go away.

And the afternoon comes on

And the rain sets in

And the jobless go home

And time drips by

There are spikes in the doorway at dusk;

they have grown there all day

like silver bulbs pushing through concrete.

The bulbs say, Go away:

this space is for the real people,

the ones who count

the ones who work

the ones who earn

the ones who pay.

Pick up your feet and walk away.

And the evening comes on

and the rain sets in

and the clubbers come out

in their sleeveless shirts.

There’s a man on every doorway

and the man says, Go away.

This club is for the real people;

the ones who join

the ones who work

the ones who earn

the ones who spend.

Pick up your bags and walk away.

And the night comes on

and the rain sets in

and the clubbers go home

and the doorman

locks the door.

There’s a man on a bench tonight:

worn out by the world, he sleeps.

No-one wants this man

he is moved on from place to place

he is down and out in London

and everywhere.

And the real people,

the ones who count

and the ones who rent

and the ones who fit

and the ones who join

and the ones who work

and the ones who earn

and the ones who spend

and the ones who pay

and the ones who sing

and the ones who chant

and the ones who kneel

and the ones who pray:

they are all asleep

in the deep of night

but the son of man

has nowhere to lay his head.

(c) Sarada Gray, 2012

Kirk out

PS You’ll be relieved to know the car passed its MOT

The Cafe of Sound

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:

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage and indoor

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.

Kirk out

Hust! Hust! O Hust!

Last night, along with a hundred or so others, I went to the local hustings at the Cathedral.  According to wikipedia the word originally meant ‘house thing’ and was a gathering of the whole household of an important figure.

I guess you can see the connection.

Last night there were half a dozen candidates on the platform, with Bishop Tim wearing Jonathan Dimbleby’s hat, and sometimes his voice.  The only MP there was Jon Ashworth, who also happens to be our member.  I know that he’s well thought-of locally, and I can see why: for a politician he came across as genuine and personable: however, he has a tendency to toe the party line even when he disagrees with it, so I won’t be voting for him.  The others were representing, in various capacities, the Greens, the Lib Dems, the Tories, TUSC and UKIP.  The discussion was perfectly civilised, but I found it somewhat weak and lack-lustre.  None of the candidates spoke with any real passion or conviction: the person who came closest was the Lib Dem guy (also the only Asian there) who did at least seem to believe in what he was saying.  However, they’ve made such a terrible fist of being in government that I wasn’t even slightly tempted to vote for him.  The Green party candidate was warm and fuzzy but frankly wet, and said hardly anything about the environment – in fact he said hardly anything about anything.  What the TUSC * guy said was good, but he said it without a spark of passion, and the Tory was frankly awful.  He didn’t seem to know what he thought about anything, had trouble defending government policy, and stumbled over more than one question.

But the worst thing about this debate was that, in a panel of six candidates, not one party managed to offer a woman speaker.  In fact, so male-dominated was the debate that I was the only woman to speak at all – and that was when I asked the question why, in 2015, when we have had a national TV debate split 50-50 gender-wise, this hustings couldn’t muster even one woman to speak.

I’ll still be voting Green in spite of the wet guy, because I like their policies and because there’s no Left Unity candidate locally.

And so we walked back under the stars to our house-thing.

Incidentally, have any of you Leicester people noticed that they’re changing the lamp-post bulbs?  They’ve replaced them with LED, which are brighter and presumably more energy-efficient.  They also light downwards, enabling us to see the stars more clearly.

Kirk out

PS  Oh!  And I heard today that Leicester Cathedral are getting more than 2000 visitors per day!  I shall probably see some of them as I hie me to Sound Cafe…

*Trade Union and Socialist Coalition

B-e-a-utiful Beatidudes

Yes, I did write beati-dudes by mistake and then I thought it was a good portmanteau word so I kept it.  Last night’s Beatitudes concert was amazing!  It was a mass for the homeless which took place in Leicester Cathedral and what was particularly brilliant about it was the coming-together of professional – or at least highly accomplished – singers and musicians with the amateur but enthusiastic and also stunning Sound Cafe choir.  The professionals shone in their way and we in ours – and no, that isn’t being patronising; we really did.  The two soloists, Beryl and Giles, sang from the very core of their being, and everyone else put their entire heart and soul into the work.  Considering that we’d only been properly rehearsing for three weeks, the result was truly amazing, and all the credit for this must go to Helen.  Helen is not so much an enthusiast as a force of nature; able to enthuse and engage people from all across the social and musical spectrum, from the all-clerical choir 8tave to the secular and highly-polished ensemble Amici; from the percussionists and soloists who performed the Beatitude Mass in the second half to the rainbow coalition which is the Sound Cafe choir, it all gelled.  And it worked.  I could never bring something like that together in a million years; let alone organise all the rehearsals, entry and exit of instruments and people, not to mention the food that was laid on for us in between rehearsal and performance so that we didn’t have to go home.  There was even a room for us to keep all our stuff safely while we performed; though I was a little startled to find it full of clerics of both sexes in various states of undress, all gaily stripping down to their underwear without a scrap of self-consciousness.
Gosh.  We never had that in my day…
My poem, ‘Spike’, was very well-received and a lot of the credit for that must go to Andrea.  Andrea is an Italian student who learnt to play the djemba, or African drum, on the banks of the river in his native Napoli, and he’s very good at it.  The drum and the poem work very well together, and now I’m really looking forward to Sonja setting the poem to music.
The audience were great: really supportive and enthusiastic and in the end they didn’t want to leave – we practically had to shove them out of the door so that the cathedral could be prepared for today’s services.  Bishop Tim got up and spoke, which must have been hard for him as he has recently lost his daughter.  He is, however, a great supporter of the project.
There will be photos at some point, and both radio Leicester and the Mercury were there, so I will be posting photos and links when they appear.  Here’s a preliminary report from the Mercury: I’m not in the photo because I wasn’t there on Wednesday.
If you were there last night, thanks so much for coming – and if you weren’t, you missed a great evening.  Part of the proceeds of the evening went to One Roof Leicester: you can donate online to them here:
I’m not sure how you can donate to Sound Cafe online: a google search turns up this blog at the top of the list.  But if you’re in Leicester and free on a Wednesday afternoon, come along to St Martin’s House.
Kirk out

Who’s That Weird Woman?

I never get used to hearing myself.  I know it’s something I have to do, the more I intend to perform in public, but my voice sounds so different from how it does in my head that whenever I hear it on the radio (or wherever) I think it seems very nasal.  It makes me feel like I’m two people: in my head I’m Helen Mirren – but on the radio, I’m Janice from Friends:

But Mark says I don’t sound like that to him, so maybe it’s just me.  Maybe my ears are nasal…

It’s not only what you sound like though – it’s the way you look.  More and more these days people are being videoed, photographed and splattered all over youtube, like me in this clip from Sound Cafe:

Even people with a high public profile have this problem: we’re all used to the sight of Stephen Fry and I guess most of us don’t analyse the way he looks; we just think, ‘Oh, there’s Stephen Fry.’  But apparently he hates the way he looks and spends as little time looking in the mirror as possible.  I don’t much enjoy looking in the mirror either, but that’s something most of us get used to.  We prepare a face to look in the mirror: but when you see yourself on video it’s a whole different ball-game.  You don’t only look different from the image in your head; you behave differently.  There are gestures you weren’t aware of; mannerisms you’d forgotten; facial expressions you didn’t know you made.  It really takes you aback: and you look at the screen and say, ‘Is that really me?  Is that weird woman really me?’

I don’t think I look particularly weird on video, but I do think I appear a bit dumpy.  Mark (bless him) says not, but I think so.  I’m really not fishing for compliments here; it just interests me the question of image, how we see ourselves and the imponderable question of how others see us.  When you look at me what do you see?

Don’t answer that…

On a positive note, I’ve had a couple of very encouraging and supportive comments on my Mslexia blog-posts, so that’s all good.  Read them here:

What do you think of the profile pic?  I was going for ‘studious and slightly scary.’  Does that work?

Kirk out

Falling Towards Land

During the past year I’ve had the feeling of doom continually threatening but not actually striking.  Looking back over the last twelve months, we’ve been threatened with having to move out shortly after moving in; we’ve had Daniel on the verge of liver failure and we’ve had the perpetual threat of financial meltdown.  I kept thinking we couldn’t possibly survive another month – and then we did.  On the other hand, an awful lot of good stuff happened in 2014; Holly started at Uni, I have been the support act at Word! and run some poetry workshops including the effervescent ‘Spring!’ at Embrace Arts; I’ve started going to the Quakers where I feel very comfortable, I’ve attended the launch of Left Unity both nationally and locally as well as the launch of the People’s Arts Collective; and of course we had our housewarming.

There were various other jolly social events, such as the Martyrs Barn Dance, cinema trips and dinners with Steve, Drink and Think, the Joe Orton celebration and trips to the pub with Peter and Andy.  I also did gigs at Sing for Water, World Book Night, Everybody’s Reading Week and Embrace Arts.  Some of these were even paid events!  Publication-wise I got another story into Everyday fiction and was accepted as a blogger for Mslexia.  Oh!  And Sound Cafe began.

Yet still the sense of impending doom refuses to lift.  But then I look at it this way: if you keep falling but you miss the ground every time – that’s called flying.

Here are some of the highlights of my year:

Happy New Year!

Kirk out

The Heartbeat of Artbeat

What a lovely bunch the Artbeat crew are!  The organising group of the Clarendon Park Artbeat Festival are a wonder: a seriously organised set, equipped with digitising tablets, spreadsheets, notebooks and diaries (‘I can’t do the 20th, I’ll be in Verona’), they could so easily be forbidding and unfriendly – but they so aren’t.  Andrew and I, the newcomers, have been welcomed and included into the fold, our ideas taken on board and our plans listened to, just as if we were long-time members of the group; and when we went for a celebratory drink at the Cradock (it was safe, though I think I caught a glimpse of Creepy Guy) I was immediately part of things.  I met several new people including a teacher who is going to run a workshop on music journalism and a kinesiologist with an interest in ghosts who is proposing a mural project.  The group positively fizzes with ideas, and, more importantly, it seethes with the determination and ability to put them into practice.

They are also an extremely generous bunch.  I did a little pitch at the end for the Sound Cafe concert and, though no-one was available to come as they would all be in Italy, I got donations almost totalling the price of three tickets.  I’m so glad I joined them.

My bit of Artbeat, which will take place in June next year, is a poetry workshop followed by a performance in Fingerprints, plus pop-up poetry on Queen’s Rd.  I will also be one of a panel of writers talking about their work.

And just in case you don’t know, here’s the info about the Sound Cafe concert:

Beatitude Mass

for the Homeless

Leicester Sound Cafe, a Cathedral-supported project, announces the first performance of its Choir for the Homeless. This choir will be singing at a Beatitude Mass at Leicester Cathedral on 31st January at 7.30 pm. Liz Gray has tickets and information.

Mass for the Homeless

Leicester Cathedral

31st Jan, 7.30 pm

Tickets £5 from Liz Gray

Kirk out

Sound Cafe Guest Poem

This is a poem from Barbara, one of the Sound Cafe volunteers.  Barbara has really burgeoned as a poet, and she wrote this Christmas poem during our last meeting.


Christmas is a time

for giving and sharing

not putting yourself first

others before yourself

Not the cost

it’s the thought which counts

Thinking about those

Who are on the street

who have no roof over their head

who are sleeping on the streets

when nights are freezing long

and cold

Longing for the day to come

when hopefully the day is bright

and cheerful

those who have no family

only memories of Xmases past

May they be comforted

in their loss

by many good, kind and caring

Friends at this time

of the Year.

(c) Barbara Kolaczek

A New Guest Poem From Sound Cafe

Sound Cafe goes from strength to strength, and poets are bursting out of every corner, as are painters, musicians and singers.  It’s amazing what talents people have – and I find that as artists people tend to be very clear-eyed, down-to-earth and unpretentious.  Poems are accumulating in the Sound Cafe folder and soon we will have enough to produce a Sound Cafe booklet.  How great would that be?

I shall be strutting my stuff again at St Martin’s house today, so if you’re in the area come on down.  It’s from 1.30 – 3.30 pm, St Martin’s House Leicester:

Meanwhile, here is today’s guest poem from Maxine:

On Board

On board on board

There runs a train

Steam, steam she goes

Steam, steam she blows

Ticket, whistle and go

A funny track of time I know

Every tree every field

Searches for me

Words to sing

Words to rhyme

Inviting you to

Sound, sound cafe

Here I train Here I come.

I Was On Radio Leicester Yesterday!

Yes, it’s true – Radio Leicester came to Sound Cafe yesterday and recorded the whole thing LIVE!  Eek!  I hadn’t realised it was going to be live, so that made me twice as nervous – goodness knows how Helen was feeling, having to co-ordinate the whole thing, but it went swimmingly.  I love Sound Cafe – it’s a place where things are just allowed to evolve and where the ‘clients’ – horrible word which nobody uses so let’s find a better one – the people who come, shall we say – take charge and organise and produce work just as much as the official organisers.

The music’s coming along well: we’re practising about half a dozen songs to do for a January concert at the Cathedral when we will be a properly constituted choir.  I’m hoping there will be some poetry there as well, but for now it was enough to be on the radio.  I was full of admiration for Rupal, the presenter, as she had to juggle an evolving live situation without proper timings and slot in news, weather and transport; playing some records and holding interviews – and get it all into a two-hour slot.  That’s some feat.  She was followed round by an assistant carrying a timer on an electronic device, rather like those things they have at Olympic swimming events, to make sure she got the timings right.

And it was all terrific!  You can listen to it here – just click on the link.  Our bit kicks off at about 8 minutes in, and the poetry is about 40 minutes in, followed by an interview with me.

Kirk out