Of Jet Lag, Disappointing Theatre and Amazing Poetry and Science

I thought I was over the jet lag. I’ve been back at work since Saturday, and MasterB’s insistence on breakfast at seven in the morning has helped get at least that part of my routine re-established pretty quickly. I had one evening when I went to bed shortly before six. It was that or nod off on the sofa. The dark evenings haven’t helped me stay awake. By eight it feels like midnight. I tried having a second cup of coffee one day, but that was disastrous; I was jittery and jumpy, and speaking so fast my tongue felt seriously tired. However, day by day I was gradually staying awake longer and later.

But this week I had tickets to two events in the evening. The first, on Wednesday, was to a play at the National Theatre, the second to a poetry and science event at the Shaw Theatre. Both were with Celia and we have had the tickets for some weeks.

I love the National Theatre. It is quite simply one of the best theatres in the world in terms of the three auditoria it comprises, in terms of its creative vision and commitment, in terms of its productions. actually, it is probably the best theatre in the world. This is the home of War Horse, and the puppeteers who work their magic in that production say there is no other theatre in the world where this play would have been staged; the work that went on for months behind the scenes to make it possible would not have been contemplated anywhere else. You get spoiled in london. It is the the theatre capital of the world.

So you’ll understand I had high expectations of the evening. The play was by David Hare, a writer I respect. On the way there Celia told me the reviews had been mixed. We were surprised to see many of the seats were empty. My experience of the NT is almost uniquely of full houses and anticipatory audiences. The lights dimmed. The opening scene was great, snappy, clever, promising. bUt after that it was slow. A lot of polemic and not a lot to watch. My eyes began to close. I was still listening, but the voices were sounding more and more distant.

I made myself open my eyes. I’m a fidget at the theatre. some people stay in the same position throughout a play. I don’t. I move about in my seat, cross and uncross my legs and arms, reach for my water bottle, lean forward, lean back. This time a lot of my fidgeting was to keep awake. I thought I was doing quite well, but then my head dropped and woke me up. I didn’t last beyond the interval. I wasn’t sure if it was me or the play. Celia stayed. She texted me when it was over: thumbs down. Oh well, put that one down to experience. Continue reading

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Of Cooler Days, Poetic Blackberries, and Sunshine Yellow Flowers

Celia remarked yesterday that the long weeks of relentlessly high temperatures and continuous sunshine seem like a distant dream. She’s right, though it’s still been warm, there is a definite end of summer feel. This evening it’s been raining with a determination which is doubly annoying as I forgot to take something out of the car earlier. Also I closed my windows to keep the rain out and I felt rather too warm, so the sounds of rain fizzling to a stop has been most welcome.

Maybe if it cools down there may still be blackberries when I eventually get to das Boot. I picked lots in NI to have with my breakfast and to add to yoghurt, which was all very geographically appropriate as it is what the Tourist Board likes to call Heaney country.

Blackberries in Heaney Country

In the East, I was planning to do my usual afternoon of blackberry picking in Reach and then freeze most of them to enjoy in the winter. Continue reading

Forty-Eight Hours

In forty-eight hours I shall be at Cousin’s. I’ve missed autumn, and now it’s the build up to Christmas and the shortest days of the year. I’m anticipating dark afternoons wearing a hi-viz jacket when walking Westie Boy, heat from the wood burning stove, and a cold bathroom.

What I hadn’t been anticipating until a text came this afternoon were cats. But I now know three cats have joined the household. What Westie Boy makes of them I am eager to see. Why three, what they look like and how they were acquired, I have no idea. I’m hoping they are able to come indoors. Cold evenings are the perfect time to have a warm cat on your knee.

The plan is to see Uncle Bill on Thursday, so that’ll mean a trip to Belfast. I hope there’ll be a second trip too, but a week goes by very quickly. I’d like to go to the Fintan O’Toole lecture at Heaney Homeplace, but that’s on Thursday too, and I don’t think it’d work. Anyway, who would I go with?

Pylons

Golden


On a long leash


Slieve Gullion

A year ago it’d have been Ann D, but she since died. I think this visit is where I will have to accept that death has happened, because from here I find it impossible to imagine Cousin’s without Ann’s presence and conversation. Maybe that’s where the cats will come in. Cats for comfort and distraction.
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Angela’s Ashes

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of Mother’s funeral, but it was someone else’s death I was remembering last night, Angela’s.

Over the weekend I received a message to say her ashes were to be scattered on Monday evening in the churchyard of Old St Pancras church, the church where her memorial was held. At that memorial friends and colleagues read a selection of poems by Angela. Last night, Nicola, who now teaches voice, and who taught drama and English back in the day when she, Angela and I worked together, had been asked by Rob, Angela’s husband, to read two poems while the ashes, with I hope Angela’s generous spirit, were released into the air.

Before Nicola arrived, Rob, an actor, and now a frail elderly man walking with the aid of two sticks, and very slowly, announced he would sing a song to Angela. It was My Love is Like a Red Red Rose. We stood in the shade of the Hardy tree while his cracked voice rang out, and we knew he felt the pain of her loss as keenly now as when she died. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having suddenly blurred vision.IMG_3923

The Hardy tree is named after Thomas Hardy who had the task of clearing the headstones of the graveyard, and now they are grouped around the tree which has grown into them and joined them in a mutual embrace. Continue reading

In Praise of Poetry Weekends

I’m home again but off to Octavia’s shortly for supper and to celebrate her mum’s 94th birthday, so this will of necessity be a quick, photoless post. Just to be clear, her mum is there, so we shan’t be toastimg the start of her 95th year in her absence.

I had a fabulous time in Northern Ireland; three poetry events in three days at the Heaney Homeplace. The highpoint for me was undoubtedly Simon Armitage on Saturday afternoon, but I enjoyed the rest and have a book of Nick Laird’s poetry to add to my shelves.

Simon Armitage is the real deal; funny, profound, poignant, his poems provide a commentary on the world about him. He opened with Thank-you for Waiting, which for an audience no doubt familiar with both Easyjet and, in particular, Ryanair, sent ripples of knowing laughter round the Helicon, as the auditorium is called.

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When I went into my local Poundland today in search of boxes of paper hankies, I picked up my wire basket and prepared to voyage. Armitage checked that his audience knew what Poundland is, and commented that when he read the eponymously titled poem in Oxford he wasn’t sure people knew what he was talking about. The poem came about when one of his students told him he had seen a copy of Ezra Pound’s poems for sale in Sheffield’s Poundland for a pound. Armitage having, as he put it, a bit of an obsession about Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey, the two ideas collided to create something very wonderful. Read it here.

Nick Laird on Sunday was a new name to me. As a local lad, he attracted quite a crowd. He’s from Cookstown where I spent some of the summers of my youth. Or rather I spent those weeks in the country not far from Cookstown. Cousin’s son-in-law went to the same school, as indeed did some of our family who belong to my generation. He’s currently based in New York, but if he’s doing readings anywhere near me on this side of the pond, I shall certainly try to get there. He has also written novels and there’s a television series he’s authored coming this year on, I believe, the BBC. I really liked the look of the anthology he has edited, but I only had a small in flight bag, and so I chose a slimmer volume. Continue reading

Aaargh Oh Knee and Ian McMillan, the Great Punster

OK, so it’s not a great play on words, but I have been listening to the Great Punster Ian Mc Millan, and if your knee felt like mine has been feeling you’d be pleased you could still laugh. Is that self-pitying enough? Bear with me.

My left knee is my good knee. It has been the dependable one since I bashed my right knee in 1993 and spilt the meniscus, cue lots of pain, gradual onset of arthritis, and a sick note for life saying I must not run. Although of course I have run, usually for the bus, but to vary things, sometimes it has been for the train.

Not at the moment. My left knee started to grumble that it had been doing the lion’s share for nearly twenty-three years and it wasn’t happy. I’ve learned to listen to it, to anticipate when my days are likely to make it cranky and take painkillers in advance. It’s been pretty grumbly recently. Though intermittently. It can be fine one day, then feel like a piece of wood has been wedged in it the next. In my abortive efforts to field MasterB from catching the baby wren, I think I wrenched it, so the last ten days both front and back of my knee have hurt, and I’m getting pains running from ankle to hip. My work means I am on my feet a lot, so there’s not been much chance to rest. Continue reading

Wonderful Words

Some great reading this week. At the weekend I finished Penelope Lively’s Ammonites and Leaping Fish, A Life in Time. It’s a memoir, but being Penelope Lively she bypasses all the clichés. It’s a social history as well as her history; beautifully written which is a given with her as an author, and absorbing. It’s perceptive, observant, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant. There is a little impatience with the ageing process but never self-pity. The only time Penelope Lively has disappointed me was Spiderweb, which I think was written not long after her husband Jack’s death, so might be forgiven as a potboiler.

I won’t go into all the structure of Ammonites and Leaping Fish. There are lots of reviews you could read. I rather like this one. But this is how the book begins:

This is not quite a memoir. Rather, it is the view from old age. And a view of old age itself, this place at which we arrive with a certain surprise – ambushed, or so it can seem. One of the few advantages of age is that you can report on it with a certain authority; you are a native now, and know what goes on here.

I borrowed my copy from the library, but there is so much in it that I want to return to it will soon be on my shelves. Continue reading

Of Aunt and Angela; Two Remarkable Women

Aunt has gone from thin to gaunt. Her eyes look too large for her face. Her shoulders are blade sharp. Weariness is etched in every movement she makes. Her voice reveals the effort speaking costs her. “I know we don’t get to choose,” she said, “but I don’t want to linger.” I told her about A, and that I have to go home tomorrow as it is A’s funeral on Friday, and her memorial on Saturday. I shared memories of A that made Aunt laugh and then look sad.

 

Aunt’s in bed now, and I am downstairs in the guest room, a reluctant witness to the woman upstairs television tastes. Or a stupid witness. I have my ‘phone, I have my Kitsound pocket boom. Let’s Rock!

 

That’s better. Good old Snow Patrol.

 

I have told her I shall take a photograph tomorrow to send to Uncle Bill who has just had a few days in hospital. Offered the chance of early parole, he opted for house arrest. As a family we don’t make great patients. Anyway, it’s his ninety-fourth birthday on a Friday, of course he wants to be at home.

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Cows

I should be in bed. I should be asleep. It's late and I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow. But today I got the message I have been expecting; A has died. Maybe I shall give her full name later, but for tonight, just enjoy this poem by her, one I liked the moment she handed it to me to read sometime in the early 90s. My copy still has the creases where I folded it into eight.

 

I hope it gives you a flavour of her eye, of her humour. Continue reading