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

Where’s the Social Capital Again?

So I’ve been wondering lately whether it’s at all possible to add up how many people we know in Leicester.  Nearly everywhere we go we see an acquaintances or friends – and somehow Leicester is That Sort of Place.  We all say the same: that Leicester is the sort of town where everyone knows everyone; as opposed to London, where no-one knows anyone.  I hate London: I hate standing at a bus stop and not being able to pass the time of day because the other person will think you’re a loony; I hate going to the same places every day and never getting to know anyone; I hate travelling on the tube or walking down the street and not being able to make eye contact with anyone.  I grew up in London and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

The complete opposite of London was Leigh, a small town in Lancashire where after a year I knew practically every person in the place.  Of course, there are disadvantages to knowing everyone, gossip being one of them; and sometimes it feels good to be anonymous.  But Leicester seems to combine the best of both those worlds: you can disappear if you really want to, but if you don’t, there will always be someone to talk to.  Take our immediate neighbourhood: besides the people who work in the shops we know people from church (about 150), people from the Mosque or Hindu temple, neighbours to nod to, folk from Yesim’s Turkish cafe, old yoga students and colleagues, fellow-students from Philosophy (I’m heading into town now) people from Drink and Think, political allies including CND members, Secularists and people from other churches we’ve attended; Quakers, Home Educators, parents and children from playgroups, and of course poets… and still I’ve not covered the half of it.  Sometimes it can feel like a burden knowing so many people but mostly I like it.  I have chosen it after all: I don’t have to talk to people wherever I go, but I do, because I’m interested in people.  I’m a social animal and as Mark frequently reminds me, we may not have much financial capital but we are staggeringly rich in social capital.


For example yesterday, as a result of going to the Crime Reading Group (of which more anon) I sold all the rest of my pamphlets and spread the word about my forthcoming ‘I Hate Poetry, a Poetry Workshop’ (Sept 28th 11 – 1 at Westcotes Library, FREE!).  Attending the Crime Reading Group is partly a social event, and it sharpens my ideas about writing as well as giving me insights into a group of ordinary readers.  AND, predictably, there are a couple of people I already know – one from church and one from Home Education.

So that was good – afterwards, it being Mark’s birthday, we went across to Yesim’s for a coffee.  He liked the Chris Conway CD I bought him very much, as well as the Cafe Direct coffee the children gave him: then in the evening we went – as I predicted – for a thali at Mirch Masala and then on to Pingkk Poetry where I did the Wm McGonagall parody, ‘Ode to the Upperton Rd Bridge’.

It was a packed and varied evening with a competition on the ‘Earthword-Blackbirk’ genre of metrosexual verse.  Hang on, that’s not it.  It’s ‘Earthwork Blackburn’ – no, it’s

bugger it, I can’t be bothered.  Here’s a link:

Nope.  The only links are to this blog.

Ah well.  I guess you’ll have to post your own…

Kirk out

Nice dress, Doctor

When I was a kid I used to confuse Norman Hartnell with William of that ilk.  Norm was a designer of elegant (ie boring) ladies’ dresses and I seem to remember designed something for her Madge,


whereas Will was the first Time Lord and before my – er – time, since my first doctor was Patrick Troughton.  Hence the confusion.  As a child I was easily confused, as it never occurred to me that two people might have the same name; hence I worried for years about how my teacher, Lester Piggott, was able to pursue a career as a famous jockey as well as turning up for school every day. *

Had a brilliant day yesterday – and will probably have an even better one today.  There were loads of people at Tomatoes to hear my rendering of ‘The Ode to the Upperton Rd Bridge’ (see below) and I left with a commission to to a poem for ‘Sing for Water’ as well as an idea for a poetry pamphlet.  Then home to make tomato soup (we always get some left-over tomatoes) and potato-and-pea curry for dinner and an evening with the iplayer watching David Attenborough’s excellent retrospective


(what a career that man’s had!) and an episode of ‘Mastermind’ where a blind woman wiped the floor with her three male, sighted opponents.  Great stuff.

Here’s a taste of the Upperton Rd poem: it’s a tribute to William McGonagall’s ‘Tay Bridge Disaster’ poem:


Ode to the Upperton Rd Bridge

Beautiful bridge of the Upperton Rd!

You have borne full many a load

of lorry, bus, van or car

– some of which were going very far –

The traffic flowed; except when it jammed:

your easy progress had been dammed

by the traffic lights on Narborough Rd

(which were operated in accordance with the Highway Code)

as you dipped towards the setting sun

you bore the cars bravely to the M1

while the other way in a graceful arc

you took us to Nelson Mandela Park.

Happy Sunday!

Kirk out

* he also had a career as Dave Fegent’s uncle and is apparently still alive, though not well