Monday, 31 March 2008

Earth Magic

Got a magical Lady Day (25 March) card from Amber S
by Penwith-based artist, Sarah Vivian. It certainly
conjures the spirit of West Cornwall, being the image
of a standing stone that is, well, more than just a stone.
From certain angles, it's a shape-shifter, a sprite
(or Piskey, since we're in Penwith) with a
honey-coloured face. Cleverly done. It reminds me of
Turner's Colossus, although the images and style are
very different: it's all about perception - now you
see it, now you don't. Is it a giant in the sky, or is
it clouds? Is it a sprite in the grass, or just a hunk
of Cornish granite? But granite radiates. The land
down in Penwith crackles with a most peculiar energy.
Most peculiar.

The following link to Sarah Vivian's website with
details of the exhibition she is holding jointly with
Japanese painter of 'a fey other world' (in Amber's
words), Izumio Mori. I shall check them out. It will
be good to drive down to Morvah in early April, when
the sea wind is sharp and the light clear. My old
friend, Jackie Blackthorn, who lost her life to cancer
some fourteen years ago now, used to say she could
hear the ghosts of the Old Ones at night sometimes in
the ancient Celtic fields above Penwith. Maybe she is
with them now.

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Friday, 28 March 2008

Good Friday with the Barmy Army

This was sent to me by my friend, Stan, 'the ever fresh 71 year old travelling marvel' with terminal wanderlust. It says a lot about the blokeish world of
cricket (and Rosie O'Grady's not so pukka pies):

"Matthew Hoggard opened the batting for the Barmy Army
against a Hawke Bay eleven in Nelson Park yesterday
and was bowled first ball by a well flighted off
spinner. The pavilion appeared to be the only place
selling beer in town, Good Friday meaning most places
remained closed for the day. However, if it's a beer
or three you want, Mr Guy is your man. You can sign
yourself in at the Retired Serviceman's Association
and then pints are available for only 4 dollars. You
all stand up when the bugle sounds at 6 pm to remember
the fallen comrades and then you get on with the
party. There's no point missing out just because it's
Good Friday, after all Friday is Women's Darts Night
and when the ladies came out with their arrows
sharpened, us lads scattered from the snooker tables
pretty quickly to the safety of the restaurant area.

There was even a band, though I'm certain the
Musician's Union might offer a different explanation
for the sound that was produced after 8 O'Clock.
Personally I reckon they were English chancers seeking
Political Asylum on the basis that they would be shot
if they ever returned to Blighty producing such a
terrible noise. Still they got Stan, the ever fresh 71
year old travelling marvel, shoes off and on the dance
floor, to rock around the clock and shake rattle and
roll. It was a strange way to spend the evening before
such a crucial Test Match for Michael Vaughan's
Endland side.

As the supporters took their seats in beautiful
sunshine before the toss, further stories emerged
about the Good Friday drinking regulations. Apparently
pubs were allowed to open in the evening, but you
could only buy a drink if you also paid for something
to eat. Hence at Rosie O'Grady's people were going up
to the bar and ordering three pints and a pie. By
10.30 pm there were so many piles of uneaten pies that
there was no space to put your glass down."

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Friday, 21 March 2008

Good Friday

Making the Good Friday visit to my grandparents' grave at Kenwyn, Truro, it occurred to me how much an inscription on a stone can tell about the relationship of the one buried beneath it to the ones who put it there - in perpetuity.

My grandparents are buried on a gently sloping hillside, with an idyllic view of Easter lambs and golden daffodils in the Cornish valley below. In the row below theirs is a grave whose inscription always moves me to tears. ('You're not crying, are you?' my daughter asked, as the March wind reddened my cheeks.) It's for Gisela, born 1923, in Westphalen, Germany, and reads: Bis uns wiedersehen, mein Schatz. If someone put that on my headstone, I'd be resting happy.

The nuns in the communal grave at the top of the slope have the formal but beautiful requiem, 'Lux eterna luceat eis'. A little further up are two 'beloved children'. And how said this one is, for Alan died, aged 7, in 1963, his sister Lynn, aged 12, in 1978. I thought about their parents, getting over Alan's death and trying for another child, a daughter this time, who arrived some three years later, only to be taken from them before she reached the age my daughter is now. Then there are the 'reunited' couples and the man who drowned while bathing at Perran Porth (sic) in 1812.

Then come the 'of aboves'. My grandma one of these: 'Also Edith, Wife of the Above'. There are some infants from the mid 1800s, too young, I guess, for their parents to have risked a bond with them, who are brothers and sisters 'of the above'. It reminded me of orphaned Pip, from 'Great Expectations', explaining to the convict, Magwich, that his mother is 'also Georgiana', an unknown quantity buried in a windswept grave on Romney Marsh. Commissioning the tag 'of the above' on someone's headstone is testament either to the inscriber's gross failure of imagination - or to something much worse: a coldness far more morbid than the remains on which it stands. Please God don't let me be 'of an above'. Let me be 'reunited' or 'beloved', or, best of all, 'Mein Schatz'. With light perpetual shining on me.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Ponsanooth Publishing

Ponsanooth is a Cornish place name, meaning 'The Bridge of the Goose'. It's also the name of a new self-publishing house set up by Amber Smithwhite in a bright, blithe spirit of Celtic generosity. Amber bought ten numbers from ISBN (the minimum they will release) and gave the first one to a poet friend, Marianne Barber, whose collection, 'Strands' is out now under the Ponsanooth imprint. The remaining numbers will be used by Amber herself and by two other unpublished women writers, aged 50 plus, with Cornish connections. The books will be novels and novellas 'and not necessarily more poetry' (I like that).

Astrologer, Liz Hipkins, writes that Ponsanooth is a perfect name for a publishing house because:

'A bridge connects things and allows safe passage.'

'The goose is a totem to aid communication of the written word.'

'Goose stimulates the imagination and facilitates the process of writing.' (I like the idea of a goose - commonly used to signify dullness - being thought of as a muse.)

'The (goose) quill was once a standard writing implement.'

'Goose is the...symbol of fertility. The V formation of geese in flight symbolises an opening to new possibilities; its arrowhead shape new direction and an openness to new ideas.'

'It's crystal is quartz - a receiver and transmitter.'


Thursday, 13 March 2008

The Ultimate Networker

I'm off to Paris again soon, but yet again, I won't be there on Sunday, which is the day Jim Haynes invites anyone and everyone to dinner.

An American living in Paris since the time of the flower people (see, Jim keeps open house to like-minded souls on Sunday evenings almost every Sunday of the year (there's a modest charge for food and wine). That's a lot of Sundays, Jim, and a lot of guests have passed through the doors of that atelier. The last time I was there (which was before my daughter was born), I met two French actors, who tracked me to Cornwall, forcing me to pretend I was my 'mother in law' when I answered the phone. I don't like people dropping in unannounced, unless they are very old and very intimate friends, and these comedians were neither.

This makes me, I suppose, the world's worst networker. I have never been any good at it which, for a writer, or anyone working in the media, or any other profession, I guess, for that matter, is pretty disastrous. I remember standing like a lost soul at The London Film Festival premiere, to which I was first invited as an award-winning writer in 1989. The man I went with promptly abandoned me to talk to a famous Italian director; completely lacking in gumption, I hadn't the nerve to push out on my own into the sea of cocktail dresses and tuxes and network to save my life. Curious, really, since I had no problem asking people questions wearing my journalist's or teacher's hat. I just have a problem selling myself. There has always seemed to me to be something indecent in self promotion; I'm afraid of implying that I (not my skills) am for sale. I guess that's just a sort of self-defeating pride.

I was at an informal Society of Authors lunch today in a lovely hotel in Falmouth with misty moody views across the harbour (which, incidentally, is the third largest natural harbour in the world). I usually avoid writers' gatherings like the plague, since writers are the very worst - and most aggressive - sort of networkers (because the stakes are so low, because they have nothing to lose); but I went along at the invitation of a very old friend, who had sent me a copy of his book (It's A Dog's Life, by Noel Stuart - well worth getting hold of, too). No one networked. Everybody chatted and got along well; and, this being England, there was none of the smoking you get in Paris where delicious food is all too often ruined by the toxic atmosphere.

Cut back to Jim Haynes.

The atmosphere there is (or was) toxic enough to give you emphysema. But Jim's parties, networking meccas though they may be, are one of those experiences one comes across in life that are worth seeking out and trying - if only the once. Jim Haynes brings strangers (and strange folk) together in his own time and space -and it is very much a living space. He risks far more of himself, blase though he may be about it all now, than do the Facebookers and other instant internet companions. You open your laptop and no one sees who you are (unless, of course, you've got your webcam wired). But opening your front door, like Jim does, to let the world in, you have to show your bona fides. You have to open your mouth an show your heart.

Cheers, Jim. Maybe next time...

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Lion Aunts

It's Mothers' Day tomorrow, but the person I would like to celebrate is my Aunt Valerie. She is not by anybody's standards a high achiever. She isn't beautiful or clever or well educated. She lives, in fact, in the house she grew up in, left in trust to me and my heartless brothers. She has worked as a lollipop lady at a local Catholic primary school since retiring from work as a secretary in a cable factory some fifteen years ago. At the age of 71 she has just ordered a new Ford Ka, apologising to me on the phone this morning for doing so. She had a vintage Mini, bought new about twenty five years ago, and with only about 40K miles on the clock (she only drives to the local town - a distance of two miles, or to the local park, even closer), but was ripped off by the garage man who told her it would be too expensive to repair the radiator, browbeating her into leaving the car with him gratis, as 'recompense' for the costs of scrapping it (I bet...). Why should she not have a brand new car? Why shouldn't she?

And I also celebrate Valerie's mother, my Nana Betty, who inspired in me a love of singing. She sang in musicals, put on by a Mrs Lyon (Mrs Lyon's Shows), and I used to sing the best tunes in the car on the way to North Wales, numbers from Carousel and Show Boat and South Pacific and Oklahoma. Oh, and Desert Song. Betty was crippled when she was a child after slipping on soapsuds on the kitchen flags and injuring her arm. Because there was no National Health Service in those days, the bone was never set properly, leaving her with a bump on the forearm and a jutting out elbow joint. I always thought this was just cosmetic, and her preference for three quarter length sleeve blouses an attempt to disguise the disfigurement. It was only when she died that I found out she hadn't been able to move the arm at all - even though she always seemed to be doing things with it. She was always doing for somebody. Aunt Valerie will get a lift with her neighbour tomorrow to put flowers on Betty's grave. Betty wanted to be buried with her beloved mother - a tiny matriarch, known as 'Mick'; but Mick had nine other children and there was no room in the grave for Betty's body, so her ashes were put there instead.

And finally, I celebrate my awesome Grandma Edith, born in 1905. She got herself an education at a time when women weren't expected to be educated. She went to business school and spoke French and German and ended up as personal assistant to a Bradford wool millionaire, attending tennis parties and tea dances at his mansion in the 1920s. She was captain of Cornwall Ladies' Golf team although she always said her sport was tennis. When she was widowed and blind and deaf (she went deaf at 27, though never let it inhibit her), she took her friend's advice and stoically confided in the fire. 'I've been in every capital in Europe,' she told me. 'I can't complain. And I've always been lucky, dear, always lucky.' I celebrate her for being formidable. For Having a Go. I wished that she and Betty had been living when I was diagnosed because I know that they would have been there for me, unconditionally. I think they were there, really. They still are.

To Lion Aunts and Grandmas everywhereI salute you.