December 17, 2008

Gareth Calway (And All His) Works Social

My works Christmas social/office party has been arranged to coincide with my wife's. She is joining dozens of colleagues in a swanky hotel near Norwich for a seasonal lunch. I and all my staff will be calling in - toil permitting - at the Gin Trap in Ringstead for a club sandwich and a pint of Wherry. "Table for one, please landlord."

Happy Christmas everyone!

November 05, 2008

God bless America!

How blue can we get? Blue as a Virginian sky, blue as an Ohio dawn, blue as a Florida sea board, blue as a Democrat dream ticket, blue as a black man in the White House.

Well I woke up this morning and there was a man with a brain on his way to the Oval office in January. First time in a while.

I never felt more like singing the blues.

God bless America.

October 11, 2008

Perspectives on Literary and Linguistic Theory

Link here for a copy of my extension area of Hodder Education's living literature A level teaching resources. The deal is, you pay Hodder a modest sum on behalf of your school and your A level students (and, for my section, star spangled mega bright AEA = A++ A levels students) can then teach themselves a way into fabulous pass grades.  However, as they don't seem to be available through such official channels, the link above will take you to a copy of my AEA area of the text. I am more than happy to rescind this link as soon as an official one is functioning. Shame for all that good work to lie fallow.

Well, here's how it starts-

In this unit the focus is on extending and enriching your understanding of theories that have developed around language and literature. For this purpose the unit has been split into two sections: Literary Theory and Linguistic Theory.
The Literary Theory section introduces some of the main schools of thought on how literature can be read from different perspectives, for example placing the writer, the text or the writer at the centre of the reading. You will be encouraged to test out each theory for yourself and to apply it to a varied selection of texts and extracts.
The Linguistic Theory section offers valuable insights into such linguistic greats as Bernstein, Orwell, Whorf, Chomsky, Labov and Halliday, providing access to extracts from their work and interesting ideas to put their theories to the test.
Your will have the opportunity to practise the following skills:
experimenting with reading literary texts using different critical theories
analysing complex linguistic theories
investigating the structure of language at lexical, syntactic and text level
describing language using different linguistic theories
challenging your own perceptions of language and its relation to society
This unit will stimulate you to think in new and refreshing ways about the texts you are studying in you English Language or English Language and Literature courses and it may prove a useful resource in preparation for undergraduate study.
If you enjoy thinking outside the box, this is the unit for you.
Note: Please come back to this area of the website in September 2008 for the full unit (including interactive activities). Perspectives on Literary and Linguistic Theory
In this unit the focus is on extending and enriching your understanding of theories that have developed around language and literature. For this purpose the unit has been split into two sections: Literary Theory and Linguistic Theory.
The Literary Theory section introduces some of the main schools of thought on how literature can be read from different perspectives, for example placing the writer, the text or the writer at the centre of the reading. You will be encouraged to test out each theory for yourself and to apply it to a varied selection of texts and extracts.
The Linguistic Theory section offers valuable insights into such linguistic greats as Bernstein, Orwell, Whorf, Chomsky, Labov and Halliday, providing access to extracts from their work and interesting ideas to put their theories to the test.
Your will have the opportunity to practise the following skills:
experimenting with reading literary texts using different critical theories
analysing complex linguistic theories
investigating the structure of language at lexical, syntactic and text level
describing language using different linguistic theories
challenging your own perceptions of language and its relation to society
This unit will stimulate you to think in new and refreshing ways about the texts you are studying in you English Language or English Language and Literature courses and it may prove a useful resource in preparation for undergraduate study.
If you enjoy thinking outside the box, this is the unit for you.

October 07, 2008

National Poetry Day 2008 (Work)


Through broken dreams
The shattering trumpet shrilleth high
The alarm clock aubade.

Delirium of wavelengths,
The hour of our reckoning cometh nigh,
Coercion of tuning.

Now switched on to the Voice,
The ever ready Voice
Of Dawn Greenwich:
I'm afraid we can't play your request.
We've chosen another for you.
Going to work,
Don't wanna go…
Ah well,

A path through the woods,
A forest of nerves
In my finger tips.

We're still so close
(Correlation Street)
But it's just a walk into work
Work work...
Ah well

And it's-
Hello until five o' clock
And squeezed humour grease
Embrocates the blisters.
Take a walk on the wild side
With the mowing machine.

I like grass.
I don't like cutting it.
Is this all right Jack?

Bloody rain
Arms the grass against us,
Blades that attack
Our mowing machine.

I like rain
And I like wet grass.
I don't like cutting it.
Is this all right Jack?

The fence is broken down again
And to that place a story appertains
-The cows have escaped and now we must catch them.

I like cows
Living in fields.
I don't like mending fences.

Is this all right, Jack?
And do you like me Jack?
And do you love your fellow man, Jack?

And is it TEA BREAK SOON Jack?
And how do I switch off
This machine Jack?
Jack? jack? jack?

Summer 1973

Note: this is the earliest poem I have kept/not lost. It records a holiday job working for Monmouthshire (or was it Gwent?) County Council maintaining the lawns of Torfaen across its schools, 'settlements' and council properties. Ah! the scent of fresh cut grass, the thrill of the scythe through the nettled wilderness, getting the hang of the hook, the chug chug chugging of the mechanical mower (rendered here in the repetition of my instructor and workmate's name, Jack. ) Jack did the Mirror crossword, I did the Sun, during the (many and welcome) rain breaks. I made the tea also, which they thought was putting me in my place but it was my favourite bit of the day. Poor old Jack, he's in his nineties now probably. We'd book overtime on every day except Friday and spend Friday 12 noon to 4 pm - well 2.25 anyway but once 4pm - in one of the Pontypool pubs. (12 noon to 4 pm were the opening hours in Wales in those days, quite liberal for the era.) The nightmare job was Snatchwood Junior School built on a mound whose every inch was infested with ants. It took all day - four of us - and the ants got well and truly in your pants and bit everything they found there. 'Cynddylan' Jones - my name for him - worked the tractor and apparently always considered himself a bit above and apart from the rest of us once he'd got that post. The young and perpetually fraught foreman always thought I was too clever by half for the humble position I held (well, I was: I was a Grammar schoolboy doing A levels ) and spent any time he was present putting me in my place. That and warning (rather longingly) during school postings, like at Twmpath Sec Mod, that 'these girls'll ave your trousers off I if we dont watch it.' The older guys would exchange an old fashioned look when he did so. Percy on the other hand - a maverick under-foreman who often operated with a separate team of breakways including me- won my respect with his wit, his subversiveness and his ability to irritate Brian even more than I did. Whenever I smell cut grass, even to this day, I am right back in that 1973 summer between the lower and upper sixth, with a head full of the songs and poems 'alluded' to (sub-Eliot fashion) in this poem. Wordsworth, Tennyson's Sir Galahad, Sergeant Pepper, Supertramp, Genesis, Lou Reed - they're all there, man. All in all, it was one of the best holiday jobs I ever had. It was also my last summer at home - by the next summer, a huge gulf had slammed down between me and everything in that valley, notably the family and the home (in Groveside Villas) that they'd sold within a year of me leaving. And my A levels were done and my schooldays over. So it's a poem that suspends in time a valedictory summer I was never to regain. I'm still rather pleased with the way I captured some of my 'green' (and wet behind the ears) hippy protest against the machine in the refrains and the ending. And there are a couple of signs too that the boy who wrote it was a bit too clever for his own good.

Anyway, happy poetry day eveybody. I wish you joy in your work, whatever it is

September 19, 2008

The Signing!

Are the reflections in the window actually the real world or is the young model on the cover actually more real and present than the ageing author?

I think Waterstone's might be overselling me somewhat, billing me as the new JK Rowling. (The hint of Northern Rock in the distance in the final frame is probably nearer the truth). Thank you Norwich. Hope you enjoyed the little extract from the love story I read you. If anyone remembers the earlier and much younger student Gareth with the campaigning 70s newspaper stuttering out his slogans - well, that story today was what all I was really trying to say back then.

September 17, 2008

Book signing - Norwich Waterstones

River Deep Mountain High

Don't forget, I'll be signing copies of this in Norwich Waterstones, Castle St, on Friday 19 September from 12.30 noon to 2pm. You can find a few extracts on this blog and on the website

Radio Norfolk gave the book and its feature on Roy Waller's programme 4 stars last spring (if you can call it a spring) and Keiron Pym in last Saturday's EDP was going along the 'Great Comprenhensive School novel' route too. Flattery will get you everywhere, fellas, and - having spent 27 years teaching in comps - you can't say I haven't done my research. It's also a romantic comedy and a love story in which the romantics among you will not be disappointed.

I was there 30 years ago, at UEA. See you there!

August 17, 2008

Maynard's gold

As I confidently predicted (meaning I was desperately unconvinced but hoping), Maynard got his first City league goal and spread the love across Bristol - south of the river anyway. But City seem to be losing one key player per game for a long period out injured at present, which doesn't help. By Bonfire Night, the chairman might yet be accepting my offer of my own striking services (my Ashton Gate stats: one attempt on goal, one goal) because everyone else is in hospital. Congratulations also to the Match Live Centre on the club website which showed the draw, points tally and league position at 5.00 pm, 20 minutes before kick off - an omen I could have done without. Meanwhile, in Bejing (how was that ever called Peking?) Britain gets more golds in a day than it has since 1908, when she ruled the world - and had done since we outsailed Napoleon at Traflagar in 1807. Mind you, Britain also provided a third of the total Olympics athletes in those days. We can still out-sail, occasionally out-swim, out -cycle, and out-row the world anyway. (And are pretty good at Olympic rowing as well, as the poolside diving spat revealed.) Meanwhile, imgine Nick Maynard's golden moment - the ball comes to him, he's only 21, just a lad, the media is alrady on his back, the Bristolian crowd might soon be, he's worth his weight in gold (2.5 million) and he hasn't scored yet, Brian Wilson ( not just a Beach Boy) comes on as sub and feeds him the ball, he shoots, he scores. The crowd goes wild. City go (temporarily, equal) top...More of the same please, Nick.

August 14, 2008

Hullo again

Hi everyone (anyone?)

I've just posted off my July and August poems of the month for the main site to my webmaster. They should appear shortly. Apologies for the long lay off. In the long interim, I have slowly recovered from my calf injury (four months), got my first ever pair of reading glasses and (on 08 08 08) a jolly comfortable armchair in a sale. I have also got, on the second attempt, tickets to see Leonard Cohen. I have also watched dear old Dicky Attenborough confer an excellent University of Sussex degree on my daughter, celebrated that with some of the wildest and most beautiful girls in Brighton and had a haircut.

And City have won their first two games. Speaking of the latter, you can read my first poem of the season in the Bristol City versus Derby programme this Saturday. That's the first matchday mag poem for a couple of seasons. The next one will be celebrating Maynard's first goals for the club - a club once again being written off by everybody, I am pleased to see.

Despite my novel, SATs are still (a) in existence and (b) in the news for being a complete waste of time. If something's not right, it's wrong. Get rid of them and bring back proper teaching now.

I've also written two new books of poetry, one about King Arthur the other about a pilgrimage to Meher Baba. And completed my Cinderella novel about the 60s, Rubber Soul. Oh yes and marked over 700 A level papers. If you're celebrating your A level results tonight, have one for me.

All we need now is some sun. I'm off to Paris soon whether it comes or not. Paris ou il fait du soliel tojours, as we used to say in O level French class in Abersychan. With Ma Tucker, God bless her.


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June 25, 2008

Hunstanton Festival June 24th

A full house for this double act of poetry and jazz bringing a bit of real class to town - wine bottles and candles on tables etc - as well as warm hospitality, interval eats, a proper warm sunny June evening and a final hour of r&b and dancing from Eddie's groovers. The audience was lovely, really appreciative, receptive and ready to enjoy themselves.

My favourite bit was rapping my 'Life Is A Bitch But the Songs Are Great' with Eddie's band providing the brass, strings and drums behind me. But then it would be. It's great to feel a band that knows what it's doing driving you on - normally of course I'm carrying everything sotto voce. In the best traditions of jazz, we did not over-rehearse. In fact, we did not even meet until the night and did not rehearse it with the music until we actually did it. Nice...

I enjoyed the two sets I put together, all from Exile In His Own Country plus one short extract from River Deep. (Set list below) It built into a sort of exploration of the British Dream - and naturally included my monologue from the Exile show, 'Beatle' (the embodiment of that Dream as available to everyone including the national football teamcirca 1966- 1968). It was good to do a new concept, using but not repeating the Exile In His Own Country touring show or the Edinburgh Tales Out Of School fringe show, both of which have had their day. I particularly enjoyed the musical connections of many of the poems - Crowded House, Sinatra - and the luxury of time to introduce the pieces, not being tied into a staged performance, plus being able to talk and interact around the poems with the audience. A Norwich City supporter and a teacher both freely announced these afflictions to the world, an indication of how relaxed and accepting the atmosphere of the evening was...
Part One: Toucan resistance (first memory); Cooking up a revolution; 1970; England win the world cup (1966/2003); Beatle, From The Welsh.
Part Two: The voice (tribute to Sinatra); Boudicca, Britain's Dreaming; Bard of Bristol; Mocks; Afternoon break extract from Rver Deep Mountain High; Life is a bitch but the songs are great (rap).

June 05, 2008

Poem of the Month - June

My latest Poem of the Month is published at my website,  here. It's called Sister and was originally written for my youngest sister Donna in the 'orrible 80s. I'm resurrecting it in memory of a recent very happy hour spent in a tapas bar in Cardiff, my crutches swaying drunkenly in the corner. 'Sister' was published in Britain's Dreaming in 1991.

June 03, 2008

Hunstanton Festival and All That Jazz

Tuesday 24 June 2008

HDFA: 7.30pm: Poetry & Jazz Evening at Hunstanton Town Hall. Local poet and international playboy, man of mystery and author Gareth Calway plus the Eddie Seales Band. Tickets £10.

I'm going to concentrate on poems with a musical connection, which actually doesn't exclude many, I notice. A couple of Boudicca poems may well get an airing, especially as it's Norfolk venue - I may not have the hair anymore or even both the legs but I can still punk it up when I need to - and the world jazz rap Life Is A Beach (or something like that) is very much on the cards. One of the poems I'll definitely be reading is this, about a jazz singer those of you aged over ten may have heard of-

The Voice

Sinatra is singing All The Way on a foreign radio station,
Across the North Sea and down my snapped aerial.
He's singing from the heart, from the words, he means it,
Holding each vowel like a hornplayer,
Phrasing the lyric through the breaks of the song
Like a love-struck shark performing underwater.
I turn it up. And a foreign language is saying he's dead,
Ol' Blue Eyes, is dead - this morning - of a heart attack
And he, even he - never quite gone - won't be coming back.

The Voice, the voice of the little guy, just telling
A story, lives on, though, like a May morning
As it did through all the crackling
Interference of decline: the ghost (impressing
My pillow between Sixties rock) of June
Through even his September years, but
On a pungent whiff of Fifties record deck, tossing
Pennies From Heaven to a post-war world
That wanted to dream again. He was my Granddad
In double-breasted suit and Godfather turn-ups
Beaming down on my New Deal mum and dad
On Songs For Swingin' Lovers. He was the soundtrack
(Borrowed from Dad along with the suit) at my
Seventies wedding, singing
Love Is Here To Stay.

The Lean Lark could act, too, outside of the songs,
Natural lines delivered with blazing blue eyes
And finger-snapping aim. A doorman says,
You can't
Bring that black boy in here….
He’s the sax-player
Says Frankie. The doorman sneers, He’s a n-
He’s my brother says Frankie, with a sweet left hook.
Corny. But true. Like -
There's a lot of people out there, Frank,
Don’t know how to say I love you.... You gotta
Say it for ’em. And he does it, so tenderly
(And as lone and rogue-male as a lounge wolf)
It could melt Alaska.

Sinatra is singing All The Way on a foreign radio station.
A girl steps through the stalled traffic, naked-
Thighed, soaked to the skin, carrying her shoes,
A gorgeous lithe animal let loose in the city,
Easy and self-possessed as a Sinatra torch-song
Delivered from a bar stool at three in the morning,
It's quarter to three, there's no-one in the place,
Except you and me.... sung for Ava Gardner, and all the others.
Or later, tireder,
I have been a rover, I have walked alone,
Hiked a hundred highways, never found a home
Sung for strangers, in the night, for Farrow, for this girl.

That's you, Frank, because your roving gave it all:
You never found for yourself what your voice hit for
In all that swing, all that swooping caress, all that
Loosed from deep in the heart of you, a voice born
Of this roving-spotlit, rat-packed, shot-at century
(Calling you a spick, then a commie, then a gangster):
Born of the blues, of a Jewish violin, of Little Italy.

The nearest to home you got in it was four families
Squabbling over your loot. Well, "Sultan of Swoon",
King of the broken heart-voices who gave their faith
To this world's lost ways, I hope you've found it now.

Frank Sinatra, born Dec 12 1915, died May 15 1998

May 24, 2008

Pass me the can, lad, there's an end of May

from "The Chestnut casts his Flambeaux"

There's one spoilt spring to scant our mortal lot,
One season ruined of our little store.
May will be fine next year as like as not:
Oh, ay, but then we shall be ...fifty four.

We for a certainty are not the first
Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled
Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed
Whatever brute and blackguard made the world...

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.

Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936) (with apologies, I have changed twenty four to fifty four)

May 13, 2008

A good luck chant for the terraces

John Lennon said there's nothing you can do that can't be done and we've done it. 4-2.

A Bristol Palace
In a crystal city
Is where I want to be.
It's the Ashton gate
to the Promised Land
And they call it wemberley

(all this talk of first legs and second legs and I'm on crutches!)

April 18, 2008

NATE Conference 2008

In a sentence (I'm impeded by a damaged leg at present, so I'm going to post a fragment now and continue later)

Ian McMillan summed Genesis, the universe and everything up in Barnsley dialect - Nowt, Summat, Leets on, Watter, Bloke, Lass, Thou'art got no cothes on; Thou art got no clothes on neether; Get out - and made we wish the Government would write their educational volumes with the same clarity and pith - Francesca Beard was a revelation, her quiet epiphanies packing every bit the same punch as McMillan's ranting angel of the north, an Ariel-like poet whose performance was as deft and moving as her words and whose words came to spell-like life in the performance they deserved, and got, Bethan Marshall made educational rocket science look like the common sense it is, or perhaps we are so used to philistinism and minds that 'multiply the smallest matter' in education it merely was common sense but seemed like the gnostic gospels in contrast, and the apostolic-acting RSC kept me awake and buzzing when several days and nights of real learning had exhausted every last brain cell and effort of concentration. All in all, a transifiguring experience for tired and trampled teachers...

April 14, 2008

Then we take Cardiff...

That's it, the novel is now well and truly launched, lunched, wined, dined, courted, consummated and even in several cases read and reviewed.

The final launch (Cardiff) was made rather more fraught than it need have been by my having to panic-buy the wine and glasses at the very last moment, but the event itself was a happy and successful one. The big Tamala Motown/ Neapolitan striped posters looked very fine indeed in the window and everyone agreed that the cover is a fabulous one and that the publisher is a genius for having designed it. It fits the mood of the novel in every way.

I felt very grateful to be able to launch this Welsh novel to such an appreciative audience in the capital city of Wales and I got the chance to read a couple of extracts that I hope show why that matters to me. The city was buzzing as usual and there certainly was a kind of Welsh all over the shop (see prefix to Book 2 p.227). I loved it anyway, and hope all the attendees did too. If you were there, thank you for making the effort – considerable distances in some cases – to get there.

I spent the previous day visiting my old school in Abersychan, climbing nearby mountains in a pair of sturdy M&S shoes and patronising The Cellar, the nearest thing to a wine bar in Blaenafon, and one of the friendliest places in the Eastern valley. Then I went to Newport. So I have now, I think, done the River Deep Mountain High tour - through time as well as space - of all the key locations in the novel.

The two photos at the bottom are a diptych called Cardiff Arcadia. You couldn't be anywhere else.

Bristol slip: Calway out for rest of season?

Well, I didn't expect this. I’m out of action for 2-5 weeks following a ludicrous injury sustained on the way to the Bristol City v Wolves game on Saturday. Just as I was looking forward to some R & R after all my recent lather of activity, I get A & E!

My pre-match ritual has always involved climbing over a fence near the Bristol CREATE centre and then cutting down onto the old railway line into Ashton park. This will now cease - my boyhood is finally over - as my little 1970s shimmy down a steep sleeper onto the track ended at 2.45 on Saturday. with a rupture of rather a lot of calf muscles and four hours in the Bristol Royal Infirmary A&E. By the time I was seen, Casualty was being shown on the tv and was simultaneously happening in real life, cops and all, all around me. For one very bad half hour about eight pm - Handcock's Half Hour - a hospital admission was mentioned and I was metaphorically wetting myself in preparation for an op followed by exposure to all those bugs they give you in hospital these days. Luckily the X ray treatment worked.

I have one normal leg and one very solid balloon for the other. However, I am British and Christian ( as elicited by the receptionist clerk) so I will survive. My stock went up in the waiting room considerably as soon as I came back out in a wheelchair and minus my trousers for the backwards trip down to radiology. Not my best side, I said, as the guy took his radioactive snaps. (One leg - the Welsh one - being twice the size of the other.) For a few moments I felt like my hero Chris Garland (or maybe Judy Garland), injured in 1978, and who I met in Newport of all places last Thursday. Chris still has that winner's sharpness and mentality Bristol City will need (along with a big new ground and some big game strikers) to go up and stay up. Meanwhile, it's bed rest and boredom for the Bard.

If any of you are expecting me over the next 2-5 weeks, it’s probably not going to happen. I hope forlornly to be at the Preston game to see City go up but, as with last season, this glorious day may have to happen in my absence. Freud would say I secretly don’t want to go ("There are no accidents").

I'm probably more likely to score than the City forwards even in this state at the moment. Back at my B&B, a man dying of cancer helped me up the two flights of stairs and a wannabe writer standing behind me at death's door shared a few kind words to help pull me through. I was in a 'comfortable and stable position' ie lying on the floor like a dead cow for the longest Saturday night. However, I was chauffeur driven all the way home next day and now it’s just the doctor, the frozen peas, the physiotherapy, the elevation, the constipating ubiquitous analgesia, the agonised wondering about the route not taken...

March 23, 2008

Away At Cardiff

In this much as muchness second division,
Let's consider our position,
Near the end of a season of seeking promotion
We're finally safe from relegation

March 09, 2008

World Tour of Weymouth, Wales and Worcester

I've had a busy World Book Week. Setting off for Wessex in my trusty and gracefully aging silver Volvo at 3.50am on Wednesday, I staggered into Upwey at about 10.30am and then walked the last ninety minutes to Weymouth beach. This is the landscape of my childhood summer holidays but more poignantly of pre-student days Chatterton-teethed shivering through a gap year. The coastline was gloriously sunlit across an aquamarine bay - much stronger and warmer colours than I'm used to now on the spartan easterly-blown North Sea washed Norfolk coast. I went into the Hotel Prince Regent where I worked as a relief porter from May-July 1975 and enoyed being waited on instead. Then I finally revisited Abbotsbury Road - the nearest I could get to Abbey Road in those days - finding they had built a road on stilts across Radipole Lake, one of the most beautiful and uniquely wild town centres in Europe. Why not just add a floating car park in the bay? None of the changes that had been made to my old walk from the beach to my illegal one pound a week sub let made any sense. There was even a comedy subway from the pavement over the road to the beach.. to the pavement over the road to the beach. I ran across the road, like Iused to thirty five eyars ago.

Next day was work - five hours in a first school at Milborne telling stories and getting pupils to do the same, in drama and on paper. Beowulf went down so well, assembly was extended so that I could finish it - through luckily I was not doing the full epic ten thousand lines. Lots of little kids wanted to hug me at the end - this does not happen in secondary schools! After that, it was a morning on Cinderella, with groups improving the transformations in ways that only young children can imagine - quite wonderful the world these kids live in. Alas that they cannot stay there until the SATs monster has finally been slaughtered. My favourite Cinderella transformation was the detail of the white horse reverting to a squeaking mouse on the hall floor as the princess legged it without her slipper. This is the kind of subtlety that only a child or a genius would add in the margins of the action. The afternoon was based on my OUP work on Fire, Bed and Bone by Henrietta Branford and these 8-9 year olds (the 'seniors' of this fantastic and close-knit rural school) swiftly adopted the Black Death and the Peasants revolt into their stories told by an animal. I suggested dogs or cats: they came up with squirrels, mice, and -my favourite - 1066 from the point of view of a duck! Their energy was extraordinary and mine of course ran out long before theirs.

Back in the car for a 4 hour drive to Abergavenny - via Bath at the rush hour - and a hospitable stop over at my sister's. We may have had a glass of wine - have I told you this before? - I can't remember. And then of course a glass of wine. Stunning views from a stylish attic room - of the Sugar Loaf, the Skirrid and a Welsh dusk coming down over the tops, mighty and menacing and magical. And did I say we'd had a glass of wine?

Beautiful March morning walk along the Castle Meadows in Aber the next morning with a dog called Speckles feeling like a B side of a famous Lonnie Donegan song and then off again, guided by Sat Nav, to a secondary school in Droitwich, Worcs. Went slightly wrong at the end and nearly drove up Thatchers Way by mistake - would probably have ended up in Mass Unemployment or the Falklands. The school was huge (1600, and 400 in the sixth form) and had the friendly Midlands atmosphere I remembered from West Brom, despite the surveillance camera shot that was taken for my visitors' pass. I noticed that the staff all had passes and mugshots as well! I looked for kids with passes marked Swat or School Bully but didn't see any. I set up for my Tales Out Of School show nervous as always but not as psychotically so as my pre-Edinburgh fringe days. My host, Mr Izod, oozing gravitas and easy ardour, came up with the subtlety of integrating my 'education' set into the typically scruffy sixth form common room itself, thus adding a self-consciousness to the audience as well as to the piece. Nice. I was pleased with the way I made the cane work as a metaphor for 'relentless pressure, pointless league table and perpetual examination' as a development of the 1970s Carrot and Stick Approach to Education - without the Carrot. I had to explain the parrot bearing a identity label "Education, education, education" as the parrotry of exam-driven learning and the white rabbit caught in the headlights which is how I used to feel as a head of department faced with relentless decisions. But it didn't stop them laughing. I am just as furious as I always was about the way "how little that to which alone we give the name of education hath to do with real feeling and just sense" but now I'm managing to get it laughed at. It would be wonderful to get it laughed out of existence but meanwhile, it's better to laugh than to cry. The audience were lovely - sixth formers - lots of them - and bright with it. Young people in the audience always bring energy and openness. I also had some teachers who of course (I think) knew all too well what I was getting at. And I also had a couple of students 'working' at the back throughout whose exams it would be justificable to chat next June! Thanks for joining in, folks!

I built three extracts from the novel into the show and then did a poetry reading/ novel reading version of the above - mostly using different extracts - for an after school Friday cake and culture spot in the staff room. It was a good laugh and I sold a couple of books. One interesting insight - audiences listen to novel extracts/ stories with heads cocked on one side and their eyes allowed to wander into their own self-created worlds. It is a subtle and restful engagement - not the eyeballed and grabbed broader-stroked engagement of one man theatre - and even kids don't get enough stories told them these days. Adults never do and it's a pleasant feeling when it happens. I still enjoy the bolder buzz of the theatre though. Whether I can continue to pursue both modes at ocne remains to be seen.

After this, I was invited to play 5 a side staff football on the asphalt and won't bore you with the details. Except to say, they had an ex-Villa player and I scored two goals (the first with my left foot), hit a post, cleared three goals off the line and chinned a 'low and hard' corner from under my own posts out to safety with minimal damage to my jaw. I also gave the ball away in midfield once, a mistake that ultimately led to a conceded goal but none of team mates mentioned it, while giving lots of praise for the rest. As I say, mere details and not worthy of inclusion in this literary blog.

An evening a cordon bleu, wine cellar red and a brace of brown Worcester Broadside Ale (in Mr Izod's cheery local) followed. Then rigor mortis from the football set in. How I managed to drive back early Saturday morning remains a mystery.

I left my mobile phone in Weymouth, my washbag in Wales, my wig (and several other props and papers, my cheques and cash, pants and socks) in Worcester and my heart in all three. A big thank you to all my hosts.

March 02, 2008

Then We Take King's Lynn

…Then We Take King’s Lynn

Nearly fifty people converged on King’s Lynn Waterstone’s on Friday February 29 to help me finally launch my novel.

It was great standing in the doorway greeting people from so many different parts and phases of my life. Some had come a long way in terms of miles, and as many had come enormous distances in terms of years.

There was plenty of wine courtesy of my publisher and amazing support from Kate Garner at Georgie at the bookshop itself. It made the 27 years of researching the book and nineteen years of writing it all worthwhile.

I introduced the book by saying how at Abersychan Grammar Technical school in the early 70s, as a prefect required to contribute a Bible reading to Morning Assembly, I always planned to read a Leonard Cohen lyric instead of the Bible extract. I never had the nerve to do it. So I launched the novel with the following quotation from Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan”

They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them,
First we take Abersychan, then we take King’s Lynn.

I read three brief extracts from the novel and appeared to achieve my main ambition with this novel – to make people laugh. As one student friend at UEA once said to me, “You have a certain entertainment value.”

I also touched on the romance in the book with my dialogue of Young Megan and Young Dafydd studying Biology under Colonic Irrigation Ken (absent having a fag in the staffroom) all those years ago.

After that, it was the longest signing session in my own personal literary history – not that I’m complaining.

It’s impossible to express how good it was to see so many years of friends/colleagues all in one place – the major players of my career were all present among many others it was great to see. I can also claim the distinction of having the gentleman who looks after my bike, the gentleman who looks after my house (I even commissioned him for a bit of stonework while he was getting his book signed), the gentleman who used to look after my house in the days when he and I were younger, the lady who photocopied my earliest publications, a London cabbie who occasionally ferries me from Bristol City games and more often celebrates them before and after, and all sorts of other people who keep me going in various ways. My dentist was conspicuously absent and there was no known nurse but luckily neither was needed – though I hope both will buy the book in due course!

And I did finally get to read Leonard Cohen to an assembly.

Next stop the Cardiff launch - Borders Books and Music Stores, Good Friday March 21. Invitations will be going out shortly.

February 28, 2008

Roy Waller

I've had some dodgy radio interviews over the years and some hilarious moments. In fact, I must compile them for some sort of presentation. Once, being interviewed with a French woman called 'Aude' the interviewer spent about ten minutes establishing how to pronounce her name and then called her 'Odd' throughout. In my very earliest interviews on Severn Sound in Gloucester, I could never shake off the associations of Beatle interviews I'd watched as a child and kept going into Fab One mode - answering questions about what my poetry meant in inappropriate Liverpool accented Lennonisms like "Nothing." Or "It's about Lucy the sky... with diamonds. If it was about LSD, I'd have called it LSD." I've also had some interviews where everything seems to click from the start and you see what an amazing process good interviews can be - a conversation with thousands listening in which the joy and fun of your art gets conveyed.

But I think this interview with Roy must be the nicest of all. He is a genuine voice of Norfolk, relaxed, unassuming, unpretentious - and sharply focused on the things that matter. He reminds me of a chap in our village - Norfolk born and bred (though incredibly a Bristol City supporter, as is Roy's wife - what is going on around here?) who when I observed how well he'd done for himself said, "Yip. Got everything 'cept brains and money" And has plenty of both of course. The Eastern Daily Press gave the feature four stars and I think it was the pleasantest four stars I've ever earned (give or take the nineteen years toil it took to write the novel.)

Roy said lots of generous things about my new novel but the biggest compliment he paid was to say I was the kind of teacher he wished he'd had. It doesn't come much more flattering than that.
"Get us five stars next time," beamed the continuity guy on the way out. There's no pleasing some people!

February 24, 2008

Launch/ Signing of Maiden Novel

Well it's here at last. I've been writing it since 1989 and River Deep Mountain High finally hits the bookshelves at King's Lynn Waterstone's on Friday 29 February. (Officially - it's already sold hundreds via Amazon etc)

The official invitation event is that Friday. But there is a signing open to the public on Saturday March 1 in the same venue, the date the novel is set on. See you there between 11 and 12 noon!

January 10, 2008

The Novel Arrives!

Avoid the Amazon (etc) postal charges if you're in Norfolk.

Drop by and buy a signed and dedicated copy - free bookmark!

Free gender-specific book-reading demonstrations given (illustrated below)