Happy New… hic

Dear readers, I know how it looks. But really, there is no connection between The Case of the Missing Blog and my happy reunion with alcohol after a month of teetotalitarianism (foolishly pledged in the middle of the mulled wine season). Nor have I been lying in a dark room weeping helplessly at the loss of my Cheshire Poet Laureate crown, which has now passed on to another lucky person… I just forgot.

The New Year starts with resolutions (write 30 new poems, put a new show together, conquer the world with poetry, remember to write blog) ; and also with lots of activity. The boat engineer came and confirmed that my vast engine was not harmed by my stubborn polar expedition (see Shackleton of the Macc, below), though my propellor is probably the size of a lollipop after hacking through all that ice. My Cheshire Poet Laureate ‘minder’ came over to discuss the handover to the new chap; and we continue to take orders for Lifemarks, which is almost sold out now. I am also plotting and planning for a year of new events including a St George’s Day feast of poetry and English food, and a possible successor to our sell-out show Bunch of Fives.

This week, though, I have mostly been looking over the loose heap of efforts that will soon be my book Navigation, in the light of comments by the three critical friends who bravely read it over Christmas. No-one loves to be critiqued – it’s like taking all your clothes off and asking strangers to point out your wobbly bits. But half of British television now consists of exactly that… Critiquing is vital to improving your writing. Anyone who shies away from it, saying ‘my friends and family love it,’ and taking umbrage at more serious comment, deserves to be hoist by their own pentameter. So I girded my loins, sent out my MS to three poetic people, and two have returned comments already. Either they’ve been very gentle with me, or I have less work to do than I had feared. And of course, all my friends and family love it.

Recorded my new podcast this afternoon with Rob, the splendid sound technician who happily for me, moors on a nearby boat.  It may sound a bit rough as I’m struggling with my magnificent annual cough, which is of epic proportions better suited to Dolly Parton’s chest than to mine. Tune in soon for more… if I’m spared…

Shackleton of the Macc

All began splendidly on Friday morning – I went to collect my lovely boat after her stay with painting genius Andy Russell. I traipsed up to Poynton with trusty crew member John, and there she was moored right in front of us as we emerged on to the canal side – her new name TINKER emblazoned right across the side. She looks fantastic, a completely different boat. 

Then the fun began. Being observant types, we had noticed already that the canal was frozen over. Towering icebergs, penguins etc…. we didn’t see any polar bears but they were surely lurking in the undergrowth around Bollington. But it was a sunny day, and I so wanted to get home after a fortnight of staying with friends. Being used to soft Midland canals which seldom freeze solid for long, I blithely assumed that it would thaw out as we went along. Did it bugger. We had at least 1.5 inch-thick ice all the way. A three hour journey took us four and a half. It was really unnerving – I knew the hull could stand it, but as sheets of ice came flying up at the bow and thick blocks of it skittered away across the surface, the noise was incredible. Tinker was only just making way under full steam. As my home berth finally appeared, something gave way and clouds of steam and smoke emerged from the engine room. All my lovely neighbours at the marina suddenly emerged and started risking life and limb to break up the ice on my mooring, and I slid in with vast relief.

Everyone was congratulating me on the new paint job when (being observant still) I observed that water was pouring in to the boat at the back – this one was a sinker! I cursed myself for being so stubborn as to move the boat through all that ice. What had I done? Quickly we established that the weed hatch had somehow wiggled itself loose as I crushed my way through the last few vicious icebergs. The weed hatch, non-boaters, is a thing which must never ever be undone while the engine is running, as it can sink your boat in ten minutes.  I blanched as I realised a) how close the boat had come to sinking in the last stretch and b) how lucky I was it hadn’t worked loose at any earlier point in the journey – we would have been knee-deep in ice water with no way of reaching the bank, and my lovely new paint job would be meaningless if the whole boat had to be raised, drained and re-fitted!

Poor John had to cadge a lift back to his car at Poynton as we tightened the hatch, and a vital pump chose this moment to break down. My fantastic neighbours gathered round, a tiny bottle of champagne was opened and shared, and I stopped shaking quite so violently. Next time it’s iced over I will say ‘sod it, let’s go to the pub’.

I move around a lot in my normal work, but two weeks away is a bit too much. It was so lovely to settle in to the boat with the fire lit, familiar smells, my books to hand and my own kitchen available. The marina is all decked up for Christmas – my neighbours have fitted their boat out with flashing reindeer and tinsel on the roof, and we have a ten-foot high inflatable Santa outside the shop. I called in to Bakewell Farmers’ Market yesterday and bought my last few presents – some lovely lavender cakes, bulbs in bowls etc – and when I saw a Salvation Army man walking past with a tuba, at last I believed it was Christmas.

Merry Christmas to you all – may it bring fantastic relaxing times, great presents and a chance to rest for a while amongst your friends and family. See you next year….

Poetry sales and shiny boats

A busy week flogging new book Lifemarks, a fundraiser for the MND Association. The Derby launch on Tuesday went brilliantly, with about 20 people including co-editor and MND sufferer Arthur Gardner. Wednesday found me in icy Staffordshire, guest-hosting the Biddulph Literary Society with star storyteller Xanthe Gresham doing Gawain, and I shifted another handful of Lifemarks books. This group is amongst many who’ve been brilliantly supportive during my year as Cheshire Poet Laureate – the post ends soon but I hope the support doesn’t.

Thursday, a meeting to discuss a future poetic/ archaeological/ graphic masterpiece for Derby Hospitals, with friend and collaborator Hannah Fox. Then we headed to That London to see the Wellcome Collection, a newly-opened collection of medical objects and weird stuff. Japanese sex toys, shrunken heads and even the box that Mr Wellcome’s ashes came in….. Fantastic exhibition, beautifully curated and thought-provoking; and FREE, as all museums and galleries should be. And another launch for Lifemarks at the Poetry Cafe – not well attended but it all helps.

I am homeless whilst my boat is painted and on Friday I went up to Poynton to see how Andy Russell, craftsman painter is getting on. Oh, the lump in my throat! I could barely believe this was the boat I left him with a week ago. The rust patches are gone, the dull green paint and patchy anti-slip  has been stripped, and she is a black-and-white mirror-finished princess already. Andy scowled a bit at the memory of the rust, but she looks absolutely bloody marvellous. Sorry purists, I’m changing her name without taking her out of the water (bad luck be damned). She’s no longer Cariad but Tinker. It’s a good solid boat name, and it’s mine too when there are too many Jos in one canal community. Pity my counterpart, Joe the Log (tree surgeon). A week to go before the boat is back in my hands – let’s see if I turn into one of those cap-wearing morons who say ‘MIND THE PAINTWORK’ as they go under every bridge.

Saturday – took Shelley to the airport for her annual I Hate Christmas escape, then back to the House of the Ever Patient Foxes for a last night’s stay,  Orla’s tenth birthday party and a bout of Trivial Pursuit in which Team Tinker resoundingly thrashed the others. Today I finally depart the HEPF, where I’ve been made endlessly welcome during my period of boatlessness, and heading to the glorious Peak to stay with mum and Alan. After all, they are contractually obliged to put me up during such episodes….

Tune in next week for before-and-after pics of Cariad/Tinker, and a gushing page of boaty joy.

Poetry in the UK…

I’m in That London. Yesterday’s meeting with William Sieghart, hugely-important-yet-charming founder of National Poetry Day, fell through for the very good reason that he’s changing the world in Gaza with his charity Forward Thinking. Other meetings were about raising money for National Poetry Day so that we can keep spreading the word about poetry, and removing all the barriers to enjoying it. Spent the evening with friends Jonnie and Victoria, and their unfeasibly charming little girl Tilly (aged one) who is teething and in lots of pain. She broke our hearts by appearing with a puffy face, hopefully bearing the medicine bottle and a little spoon…. J & V are having a big hole dug underneath their house by some Polish people, in which they are going to put lots more rooms (and me, apparently, when I come to stay).

To Derby this afternoon for the launch of our new book Lifemarks, whose proceeds will go entirely to the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Friend Arthur was diagnosed in the summer, and will be with us to read his poems and introduce the book. Three other events this week in Staffordshire, London and Cheshire will sell as many copies as we can before Christmas. Also I’ll be meeting with a woman at Derby Hospitals, in the hope that Hannah and I will be working on a poetry/art installation there for 2009. And finally…. I’ll be sending out the manuscript of my own poetry collection to ‘critical friends’ (aren’t all friends critical?) to garner useful comments from them so that I can tweak it before it goes to print in February.

Am tired and snotty today so will try to scintillate more in future….

Going to the chapel…

Oh look, I’m a blog. This blog will contain a short (probably weekly) commentary on what I’ve been up to in both poetic and personal worlds. Feedback please….

Just got back from friend Kirsty’s chapel in Gloucestershire, where she had a ‘topping out’ ceremony to celebrate the completion of her roof, by her own fair hand. She’s a role model and a half – restoring a rickety old chapel to its former glory bit by tiny bit. When a roof needs replacing she learns how to roof. When windows need replacing she learns how to glaze, etc etc.  Today she brought fifty people together on a sunny December day to sing together and eat food, and just rejoice in friendship. Hallelujah.

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