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Friday, 22 September 2017

“The Dry” – Poets’ Corner Book Club (PCBC) book of the month

We were to meet in the mighty Mirth, Marvel & Maud for the inaugural  meeting of the PCBC at 8 pm Wednesday 20th September. The old cinema was strangely still as I made my way upstairs to where my fellow conspirators were to congregate. I looked around the faded faux 17th century baroque interior that was once the glory of the old Granada Walthamstow. Ghosts moved in between the tables and chairs as the teenaged screams echo’d around the walls, undimmed after more than half a century. I caught the final refrain of “She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” and I was transported back to my teenage days in Hove.

Couples were talking, lips moving but no sound issued from those cherry red lips. I was caught in the opening chapter of some dystopic novel set in the near future and the author was playing with me. I felt my throat tighten, I’d forgotten to buy a pint – then I caught a glimpse of the founder members of the PCBC. Their furtive behaviour should have warned me – I was entering the danger zone – the reading of books is banned.

“I’m getting a drink.” I said “Does anyone want a top up?” They stared into their half full glasses and shook their heads. When I went downstairs to the bar I glanced at the sign placed over the counter.  “Books are dangerous, books can lead to crime. The reading of books or any book extract is forbidden. You have been warned.” The barman looked closely at my hands when I handed over my ten pound note. My hands were soft , worn smooth from the turning of pages. Had he noticed?

We talked in hushed tones, in code fearful that the innocent looking couple a few feet away were actually members of the state-run Book Squad – tasked with tracking down book readers wherever they may be. We talked about the progress of one of our member’s pregnancy, the prospective home birth and the radical home alterations planned. We exchanged views on the new people in Poets’ Corner, work and the latest TV drama: all the time we were, in fact, talking about books. image2
I was sure that no would realise that “I know, the baby’s due in November – time’s just flown”, and “We’re moving the bathroom up stairs – I can’t cope running up and down the stairs – not in my condition.”  were references to the Hell sermon in “A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man.” I did think we were sailing close to the wind when one of our group mentioned the new car they’d just bought and that it was a Qashqai. I was sure someone eavesdropping would realise they were talking about “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

We all needed another drink to settle us – well I did. Then we came to the point of the meeting: what book would we choose as the first for our book club. We decided on a secret ballot, self consuming paper and invisible ink. The winner was “The Dry”.image3 A few copies had been circulating via the dark bookcase and Harriett Gilbert had secretly chosen it as her book of the year before she was incarcerated for reading a bed time story to her youngest.

Anyway, after that momentous decision we drifted away, one at a time, so as not to arouse any suspicion. When I got home I bolted the front door, turned the TV up loud and settled down to read “Wind in the Willows”. I poured out a large glass of milk. I mean how subversive can you be!

Monday, 18 September 2017

"Going up Camborne Hill, coming down"

I've just come back from staying with friends in Cornwall. They're not on the Cornish Riviera - more the monsoon fields of Bude.

The grass is very green there - due to the average 400 inches of rain a month during the dry season. To be fair everyone was complaining about this year - even the locals. When it wasn't raining we had lovely weather which enabled us to see Poldark not being filmed at Castletown, and not eat at Rich Stein's fish restaurant in Padstow. We did however join the National Lobster Protection League.

My friends' place in Poundstock just outside Bude is amazing. They have sheep in their paddock! Well OK they're stationery sheep but they look very real. They have two Bearded Collies, Lottie and Luca, who are great at herding us up. I'm sure I've told you about Poundstock before. It has very few people, a church, a 16th century Guidhall and three cemeteries. One non conformist and a CofE with an overflow.

The Guidhall is the hub of the community as I found out on my arrival last Wednesday. A talk by a renowned local gardening expert who was going to let us in on the tricks of the trade. Viz:how to get rid of moles from your garden - get some badger poo and stuff it down their holes...There were other expert tips along similar lines. Putting a cat litter tray in the garden, letting all the neighbours' cats use it, pour the litter into a bucket, add hot water and strain it. I don't recall what you were meant to do with it next.

We went to Widemouth Bay to exercise the dogs and to meet dogs and dog lovers in the area. The beach is pretty impressive, with masses of worn down rocks which when the tide receded were exposed. I stumbled amongst the rocks and gazed into rock pools, turning over stones to see tiny crabs scurry away. It took me back to my childhood in Brighton and the chalky beaches of Rottingdean.

We discovered a newly opened micro-pub in Bude, selling Cornish beer and cider along with Cornish wine and gin. It's the county past time - setting up a micro brewery or still. We didn't have any beer or cider but the bottle of Cornish wine was not bad.

They love their fish down there -not surprising since Cornwall is very watery. The fish and shell fish is very fresh and delicious. For someone who only eats fish occasionally and then battered or as a fish finger I found the variety of seafood on offer intimidating. I did, however, have some really tasty dishes of fish, mixed with shellfish and other mollusc. That reminds me - the strained cat's piss is great at deterring snails.

My stay was over before it had begun and I was on the GWR from St David's Exeter to Paddington last Sunday afternoon. I'd booked first class - well you do when you're a baby boomer with an inflation linked final salary pension, no mortgage and a two up, two down in Walthamstow worth more than the GDP of the Central African Republic. The journey down was great. Lush seats and very few passengers and a hostess who couldn't do enough for you. The journey back was a different story.

I'd missed the notice which mentioned re-routing because of scheduled track repairs. I was surprised to see a student type sat in my reserved seat - in the First Class carriage. The train was packed: apparently GWR believe in wringing every penny out of its captured clientele. I was worried when we stopped at Bristol Temple Mead, really concerned when I spied the Georgian terraces of Bath and relieved when we appeared to be heading in the general direction of London when we bowled up at Swindon. And stopped, and stopped, and stopped...for 15 minutes. When I enquired why we'd stopped I was told that it was a scheduled halt. Apparently to pick up the contents of another train lost in the wilds of Wiltshire. The station announcement informed us that we were on the Paddington train - the next stop being that august station in west London.

So I was surprised when our train "captain" let us know that the train was stopping at Oxford to change cabin crew. As we pulled into the station three of the crew walked past me. There we were pretty pissed off with the overcrowding and delays and these railway men were whistling as they left the train. I swear they did it deliberately.

Finally we arrived at Paddington after a three and a half hour journey. There are two lines I can take to get home. The Hammersmith and City takes me from Paddington to King's Cross and the Victoria Line to Walthamstow or the Bakerloo Line to Oxford Circus and again the Victoria Line. I prefer the Hammersmith and City line, whose entrance is miles away from where the train comes in. I got there only to find the entrance to the station locked. So I have to trundle all the way back and catch the Bakerloo line. There was no indication anywhere on the station that that was the case!

The driver of the Bakerloo train to Oxford Circus must have had an equally frustrating journey because at every station he would close the carriage doors before anyone had a chance to got on or off. It was with some relief that I stumbled into our house around 9:30 pm.

I had a lovely time with our friends in Cornwall, but can we organise it so that it isn't so far away and serviced by GWR?

Monday, 4 September 2017

Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more ...etc, etc.

I haven't been blogging for a while because my "creative juices." ( not to be confused with "Precious Bodily Fluids") have been directed elsewhere. No, I've been on a creative binge which has left the Bloggersphere bereft of my "bon mots".

This artistic blitzkrieg has result in two abandoned novels, a collection of dubious poetry and a sense that I missed my vocation by not training as quantity surveyor. In January I made a great declaration. No longer would I channel my energies into improving the lot of the increasingly middle class and Mumsnetty Walthamstow. No huge endeavours to get the Street Clean up and running. No massive effort to organise a Poets' Corner Street Party. I will give myself over to private pleasures instead. To wit - a writer's life for me. And I meant it.

I joined a writers' group here in sub Bloomsbury Walthamstow. I joined a poets' group and the Poetry Society. I even did two open mic sessions - reading my oeuvre to an enraptured audience of pensioners. I started on a detective novel, I entered poetry competitions. I was on a creative surf board, breasting the rolling surfs of creativity and emotion. (see what I mean!).

To no avail. My novel, set in the sleepy town of Haywards Heath and involving multiple murders, sex and fiendishly complicated detection has petered out...after some rather harsh but valuable criticism. It languishes, half finished on my Google Drive a finger twitch away from oblivion. I started a second opus -a majestic sci-fi a la Arthur C Clarke: but it's boldly going...nowhere.

I signed up for an advanced writers course and an intensive poetry workshop. All confirming I'm a can short of a six pack. I know how J K Rowlings felt before she became the richest woman in the UK.

I had visions. Pulitzer prize winner, Nobel Laureate ( any one would do), Order of Merit, Book of the Week on QVC Remainders. But it has all come to nought. All my dreams lie at my feet in ashes which mock my puny attempts at immortality (Ed: for fuck's sake cut the crap!).

So now,  chastened but renewed, my latest project is a reworking of  Dante "Divine Comedy" aimed at the under fives. There's a real opportunity here: links with all those social media things and "Facebook". Mothercare has shown some tentative interest - as have a number of rather unsavoury characters on my Twitter feed.

No it all going tickity boo as we say in E M Forester World - another of my web enterprises.

Keep your eyes wide open!