Poetry, Pain Thresholds, and Imaginary Bridges

Top of January’s High Spots is tonight’e event at the Royal Festival Hall when the shortlisted poets for the TS Eliot Prize will each read from their work for eight minutes. It was Celia who introduced me to this pleasure several years ago when she had a spare ticket. I think it may have been the first time I saw Simon Armitage perform live. Bliss.
Tonight there are about eight of us going and sitting together, meeting two more whose seats are waaaay behind ours, and almost certainly seeing Kate and Jane who like us are serial recidivists. I have only just realised that Nick Laird is one of the shortlisted poets. Delight. I saw him read at the Heaney Homeplace in February 2017, that magical weekend when Cousin’s friend Ann and I enjoyed three successive nights of poetry. Laird grew up around Cookstown, so not far from Bellaghy. Ann has since died from cancer which makes that weekend infinitely precious. There was a good local crowd, and I enjoyed a chat with him afterwards, learning that for a time he had lived near where my home is in South London. He was savage about Boris Johnson and the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle, so no wonder I warmed to him. I’ll have a quick gargle so I can whoop at the end of his set.
This part of London is known more for its actors than its writers. There are writers, but they tend to live less in the limelight. The most famous name is Charlie Chaplin. He left London to go to the US with Karno’s Circus along with Arthur Jefferson, better known as Stan Laurel.
Yesterday I went to see the new biopic Stan and Ollie. I loved it, and I don’t think it’s a real spoiler when I tell you may favourite line was “with a very high pain threshold”. It’s gentle, undemanding, the acting is uniformly good, and I am somewhat mystified why it has been made now. Laurel and Hardy were retired before I was born, and I am not sure how I knew of them. Were their films shown on Sunday evenings on television? I remember disliking the violence, the way Ollie seemed to boss Stan, the way Ollie always seemed bad tempered. I revised those opinions last night. But how many of the audience had ever heard of the duo before this film is another thing that makes me wonder. Most in the cinema where I saw it were in their twenties. But it was an audience that knew London, and there was a palpable and collective huh? when to show that Stan and Ollie had arrived in London they were seen looking out of their train window at a view of Tower Bridge as the carriage trundled over a parallel, and entirely imaginary, railway bridge.

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