Poetry in the Grotto

One of the last places you might expect to see a grotto is on Alan Moss Rd in Loughborough.  I don’t know who Alan Moss is or was; I keep confusing him with Stirling Moss but Google says he’s a cricketer so let’s go with that.  There was a sort of sporting ‘Excuse Me’ theme to the evening as England’s football progress was marked by cheers and shouts punctuating the poetry (punctuated poetry is generally not a healthy phenomenon) but those gathered at Bill Brookman’s house for An Evening of Poetry and Chai merely brushed it off with a smile.  In another age Bill would probably have run a circus or established a theatre; he is a veritable impresario with a highly theatrical manner and a flamboyant style of dress.  As it is he runs musical and poetic evenings, and last night I and a few other poets gathered in Bill’s neighbour’s garden where the audience was sprinkled around under trees, between bushes and beside solar lights, to read (or not read, in my case) our poems.  I generally focussed on comedy, beginning with ‘What Larks’, a sort of grumpy Larkinesque whinge; then ‘The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge’ followed, as it often is, by ‘The Ode to the Upperton Rd Bridge.’  In order to give people a flavour of the original William McGonagall piece on which this is based, Jan read a few verses of ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ (a piece of unintended comic genius) so that people could get the references.  Then we were straight into ‘Is Vic There?’ for Victoria Wood, and to finish we visited ‘The Lady in the Van.’  Other poets did haikus, more meditative poems (mostly free verse) and a couple of comic pieces.  There was also chai (after which I didn’t sleep) pakoras and some delicious strawberry tarts.

Here’s the William McGonagall:



Kirk out

Ah, Yes – I Remember It Well

I’m writing a memoir at the moment.  It’s not something I ever thought of doing until recently; I don’t know why.  Maybe I thought my life would be dull, I don’t know.  But now I’ve started I’ve found so much to say that it’s already getting up to the requisite 50,000 words – and it’s only Wednesday.

LOL.  I actually started it a few months ago and it’s going in for a Mslexia competition in September.  It was my aim to write 5000 words a week and I’ve surpassed that by quite a bit – just as well as there will be a fair bit of revision to do.

Oh!  We interrupt this broadcast to point out that I am in the Mercury again.  Actually it’s quite hard to spot me as I’m little more than a blur in the background of a picture featuring Kenneth Cranham, Joe Orton’s sister and other people who took part in the Joe Orton day on Sunday.  Here it is:


I’m in the top left hand corner looking fed up (I wasn’t – it was a great day).

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand – we’re back.  The memoir started off as an ironic twist on the whole genre as it was about memory loss.  It’s called ‘I am the Anti-Proust’ as it does the opposite of what Proust did.  Proust remembered everything; I forgot everything, and that’s the story.

I started a new poem this morning which was a sort of opposite of the poem ‘The Sick Rose’.  It’s about a flourishing rose – the one in my garden in fact which has done brilliantly since I pruned it.


What else have I done?  Worked on the novel which is about as far from being finished as it ever was; and then started a review of the Alan Bennett book I bought with my birthday book token.  It’s called ‘Four Stories’ and it features ‘The Clothes they Stood up In’ (originally a play) ‘Father! Father! Burning Bright!’ (also originally a play) and ‘The Lady in the Van’ which is strictly speaking memoir and not fiction.  Still, it’s all good and all worth reading.

And that was today.  I am now awaiting a Sainsbury’s order.

Kirk out

I am Alan Bennett

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?

Kirk out

Lizzie the Pinggk!

Wow, what a Pinggk that was!  It was my first ‘gig’ as a headliner, and I am now officially a Landmark Poet of Leicester, a status which I shall treasure.  My ‘set’ as I believe poets call it, took the form of a journey: we started off at Duffy’s bar and travelled West to where the Bowstring Bridge once stood, where we paused to hear the Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge.  From there we jumped sideways to view the bones of Richard III, encased appropriately enough in a Shakespearian sonnet, and then we left Leicester and jumped on a train to London.

You get onto the Piccadilly line and head West towards the airport.  You get off at the station which was once the terminus, before they extended the line through to Heathrow.  Turn left: walk 200 yards; there’s a church.  Go round the back, there’s a house.  And the garden is now a block of flats.

After a poem about the garden of the house where I grew up, we leapt across London to another garden, this time in Camden, and to a place where Alan Bennett’s Lady in the Van once lived.  I did this one as a parody of ‘The Lady of Shallott’


so if you were there, see if you can spot the echoes.  Sticking with parody, I followed this up by a Lewis Carroll take on a woman looking in the mirror, ‘To the Looking-Glass’, and then we were on the move again; this time to stand outside Parliament and protest about the Bedroom Tax.  This poem, called ‘There’s a War On’, proved to be the most popular of the evening.  It was requested again at the end; and it was videoed and will be on youtube.  I’ll put a link when it’s up.

And so! we took a train and travelled down to the South coast, to a part of East Sussex where the tide has retreated over millennia, leaving behind markers which mostly seem to be military.  Taking in Derek Jarman’s garden and Dungeness nuclear power station, we paused to frolic on the beach at Camber before starting to make our way back.  Then Jacky was called.  The owner of Duffy’s bar has been so generous to Pinggk over the years, and now that she has to leave and find other premises, I thought it fitting to end with a poem to her.  Here is that poem:

For Jacky

Out on the city’s edge you kept a welcome

for refugees who come from scattered lives

to gather here, doors closed around the heat,

to sing, and dance, and talk and weave our words

into the tapestry that we call Pinggk.

I hope you found us worth it, after all,

after the freezing draughts of economics

had fingered everybody’s spine like death;

I hope you found the poets worth the pain

I hope you felt some measure of our joy.

It’s a cold country, England.  Warmth like yours

no longer heats the back-rooms of the city

– it’s always winter in the banker’s heart

and now that we are up against the wall,

cast out, and left to wander on the edge,

so may you find a new home to keep warm

for refugees like us, out on the ledge.

Kirk out

Life Imitates Arse

– or ‘arse long, y-fronts longer’, perhaps… You know how there was a fashion for young men to wear trousers half-way down their backsides, tastelessly displaying half the underpants beneath?  It was utterly gross and thankfully you don’t see it much any more – but, well!  Daniel has a pair of trousers which saves him the trouble of having them at half-mast * by having a false pair of pants sewn into the top!!!  I ask you!  It’s like having a false ladder in your tights or a false hole in your crotch.  Tights – now there’s another abomination.  There have been a couple of periods in my life when due to work, I was obliged to wear skirts – and hence, tights.  Tights are the work of the devil; they are an instrument of slavery.  Uncomfortable and cold in winter, uncomfortable and sweaty in summer; you only have to look at something sharp to get a ladder in them – and if you’re a teacher you quickly find that old school desks and chairs eat tights by the dozen.  Tights are not a garment – they are an instrument of oppression and should be consigned to the outer darkness.

Having said that, I have some brightly-coloured pairs which I wear for fun – but that’s completely different.  I also have some thick woolly ones which do keep you warm and don’t get ladders in.  But the others – the ones that imitate flesh?  You can keep ’em.

Last night I went to Pinggk thinking poets would be thin on the ground – but there were loads!  It was a great evening with some music, French poetry and songs from Mellow Baku.  I did The Lady in the Van and sold a couple more pamphlets – I now have only two left! which is brilliant.

I may go for a swim today, if the pool is open.

Kirk out

PS  Blast!  It isn’t.

*or half-arsed, lol

Blessed are the pacemakers

That was my thought this morning.  B***er the Greeks.  What’s so special about the Greeks?

Reading Alan Bennett, a collection entitled “Writing Home”.  I’m not sure how we came by this – probably in a charity shop or in our local second-hand book shop.  This is run by an older couple who are very active in neighbourhood affairs and who for some reason either don’t like me or have decided that I don’t exist.*

Maybe I don’t.

Anyway, Alan Bennett: this compilation includes “The Lady in the Van”, about a woman who parked her ancient van outside his house and lived in it, in conditions of squalor, for a couple of decades.  She was a true eccentric, created her own political party and intended to stand for parliament.  Like a lot of eccentrics she did not want to be known and went under an assumed name.  In 1984 she wrote a letter “To someone in charge of Argentina” beginning:

“Dear Sir,

I am writing to help mercy towards the poor general who led your forces in the war actually as a person of true knowledge more than might be.”

and finishing:

“Yours truly,

A member of the Fidelius Party.

…Translate into Argentinian if you wish.”

Dickens couldn’t have made her up.  Recommended reading.

I also have an Isabel Allende waiting but I have to be in a certain mood to read Isabel Allende.  I have to be feeling at least 45% Spanish.  And today (possibly thanks to Bennett) I am around 95% Anglo-Saxon.

Today: to Loughborough to see Mark’s mum.  Collect stuff from the chalet.  I shall have to be judicious about how much time I spend there.

Lots of ideas collecting about the novel.  But sometimes I worry about my sanity.

Kirk out.

*The man always says hallo to Mark and never to me, and the woman looks (and talks) as though she’s swallowed a lemon.