Today is B’s birthday. She got lots of jolly cards and she and J were off to a pub for lunch when I saw her earlier. They had also been to her native Bedfordshire yesterday for a catch up with school chums which was postponed from December.
Coincidentally, Celia and I have been planning a birthday treat. Celia’s birthday is 26th April, mine 1st May. We met and became friends through the poetry group which was a monthly affair at our local library. It was, as I have written before, cemented in 2013 by the awareness of other mothers’ increasing fragility, and then by their deaths. Before the summer had ended we were both orphans. In the autumn we went on a Dead Mothers Walk, a few miles of time out and blackberrying picking. We got lost, of course we did, but it was refreshing and we picked a lot of blackberries. It remains a stand out moment in my memory of that year: sitting on the ground, eating as many blackberries as we put into the containers we brought with us, often silent, being. I don’t actually remember much about that year at all. Death is like that. It is so consuming that when you look back things are a blur. So I am pleased my memory has hung onto that day.
Back to our birthdays. When I was in NI for Uncle Bill’s 100th at the end of October I was also able to attend the John Hewitt Birthday readings in Belfast. All three poets were great, and one knocked my socks off. Gail McConnell reading from her book length poem, The Sun is Open. Several of my friends received it as a Christmas present. I’m on the Heaney Homeplace mailing list, having been, in my small way a regular, if distant and sporadic supporter since it opened a few years ago. I saw that Gail McConnell was going to be there 30th April, talking to Jeannette Winterson.
Several years ago, again with Celia, I went to hear Winterson talking about her then new novel The Gap of Time. For those of you who don’t know Winterson, she’s not one of those shy violet types. The event started with incredibly loud music. I don’t recall what it was, but it signalled this was to be as much rock show as literary evening. We were hyped up before she walked down the aisle, a diminutive figure in jeans and a white shirt, a huge smile on her face and owned the podium.
Oh my, I wanted to be at the Homeplace 30th April. Snag. It’s close to where I stay with Cousin, but she will be just returning from Australia after visiting two of her children and their children – including a new granddaughter – for the first time since the start of the pandemic. So not possible to claim her hospitality this time.
Bellaghy, where the Homeplace is, is not the most accessible of places if you don’t have a car. Having trawled the net I failed to find any accommodation within walking distance. No bother I thought, I’ll stay in Belfast and take the bus there. There is no direct bus to Bellaghy. I’d have to get off at the same stop I use for Cousin’s, wait for the bus to Bellaghy. There’s one every two hours. So it would take the afternoon, but I could get there. The problem was getting back to Belfast. The last bus from Bellaghy leaves shortly after the event is due to start.
I emailed the Homeplace to ask if the event was going to be live streamed. No answer. So last week I rang, spoke to someone delightful on the phone, who said she’d ask her boss. I explained I had emailed but not heard back, and that I had failed to find anywhere local I could stay. Did she know of anywhere? She thought she might. A woman had recently called in asking for leaflets to put in a property she meant to let out as an AirB&B. I got her number. A few days passed, then an email to say no live streaming. Recording? I asked. No recording either. I rang the number I had been given.
We had a lovely chat. She sent me pictures. It looked perfect. Not to go would be to fly in the face of providence. Maybe I’d stay on in Belfast for a few days afterwards. It felt good. I told Celia about it last night, wondering if she’d like to come too, and we could celebrate both our birthdays. I didn’t really think she would. But tonight we have bought our plane tickets, reserved accommodation for a couple of nights in Belfast, and I for one am tingling with excitement, though wondering what we shall eat that first night as our flight arrives later than we’d hoped.
So for those of you with influence with the weather gods, please put in a word for us so that our birthday treat in the dry. And also that I can arrange cat care for MasterB, or I shan’t be going anywhere…