December 23, 2010

Letter To The Guardian

Lay off the Pegg

As published in The Guardian, Wednesday 15 December 2010. There is still time to get someone this excellent book.

I have every sympathy with John Harris having to read half a yard of celebrity memoir (How bestsellers lost the plot, G2, 13 December), but he's wrong to include Simon Pegg's Nerd Do Well among the "infantile", "slipshod" works. You can't say these books are published only because the authors are famous and then criticise this author for writing about his real childhood instead of parading his film fame. I've just ordered a copy for my godson, a new teacher, because it tosses into the black hole of the genre an excellent record of how teachers can influence, inspire and amuse the young; a convincing and detailed story of a Gloucestershire childhood; and lots of laughs. I've read "literary" accounts of growing up that are less perceptive, a lot less amusing and no better written.

And the study of his old school tutor and English teacher – pages 34, 82, 175, 176 and 181 – is a classic of its kind.

Gareth Calway

(Simon Pegg's old school tutor and English teacher), Sedgeford, Norfolk)

December 21, 2010

Anniversarie for John Donne on St Lucy's Day


I’ve been watching the fairy bulbs grow into the gloom
Of this Cotswold Christmas city street middle afternoon
And it made me think of you.

Poets are finding it hard to get a place
(I’m chiding late schoolboys) and still see Lucy’s face
A dark looking glass through.

It’s been a long time since 1631
Since metaphysics met a physics you never knew
But what you didn’t do remains undonne.

[Gloucester 1981]

Notes. St Lucy’s Day is December 21, the shortest day of the year. And John Donne’s poem should be written up in solstice lucifers and Christmas tree lights to celebrate - and also this year on the red-tinged lunar eclipse. I always think of it as the dusk comes down on the longest night. It's a poem in which somehow NOTHING IS.

I wrote this little tribute - in a sudden retrieval of self and energy – after getting out on ecstatic parole from a long first term of teaching at Brockworth Comprehensive, Gloucester. It was outside the Co-op in Eastgate, for those who are interested. I never really got the last bit quite right (it refers to Donne and his wife Ann’s gravestone on which is engraved John Donne, Ann Donne, Undone) but this was the best I could do and since I can’t remember what else I was trying for now anyway, it will have to do.

The photograph is Boudicca as the Mother of Britain, taken in the dark and the snow outside the recording studio recently during my recording of the album Boudicca;Britain's Dreaming..

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December 05, 2010

wild chords of geese

somewhere mellow between

the end of the overblown blackberries


the start of the harvested leaves

fused flies

on clinical sills

hint at bleached sun


in the hedges

thistle winds to come

to eyes trained on histrionic heights

of Welsh adolescence,

this stubborn serenity,

these mediaeval colours


endlessly reassuring:

a great grey blanket billowing unbroken from the North Pole

wild chords of geese in its folds;

the flinty, dependable noun

behind mists of adjectives

Note: these pink-footed geese come over the North Pole to our low lying coasts every October to find a mild winter and fill Norfolk skies with their wild music. I've been trying to make a decent sound recording free of wind and other ambience (always some farm machinery growelling and peeping) for over ten years. Might have managed it yesterday in the still snowscape. Got an incidental visual record almost by accident. I wonder what they're saying to each other. 'Wild goose chase, this. It's like the bloody arctic. We might as well have stayed there. That poet's recording us miles from home in the dusk again. Nutter.'

December 01, 2010

Shrewsbury: The Day In Pictures

Could you write these one breath snapshots as haiku? Or do you find that, as Roger McGough says, "to express yourself in seventeen syllables is very diffic-"

Creative Writing Day at Shrewsbury Sixth Form College

Just a perfect day (as someone once sang.) In what I now know is called 'Shrew- sbury' not 'Shrows- bury: though apparently some posh locals insist on 'Shrow- bury'

The 24 students concerned had all opted for the day and even (I believe) put a bit of money where their pens were. I have never known a more positive bunch and with this sort of number and atmosphere felt able to help at an individual as well as group level. This is very satisfying - certainly for me as a writer/group leader and (by all accounts) for the participants also. There is nothing better than working with keen young writers - full of energy, originality, ideas and in this case considerable talent.

I started with some concision skills - using the haiku form as a way of distilling a personal statement of self in a single breath, on a timeless moment, as if your mobile had only 17 syllables of credit or charge left in it. Though mainly a warm up exercise for later tasks, this homage to the imagists' 'say what you want in two/words and get thru/long frilly/ palaver is silly' produced some memorable haiku in their own right.

I then read out my short story 'The Interview' - relying only on the words in the air (or radio airwaves) not on printed copies - and guided students through my editing process of this tale from 5000 down to 2500 words. The clue is in the genre name - short - and a story. I used Dylan Thomas's ultimate short story - 'For sale, one pair of baby shoes. Never worn' - as an example of how much one can leave to a reader/listener to fill in for themselves.

After hobnobs and (far too much) orange juice, I tackled novel openings, using the first thousand or so words of my 70,000+ thousand word novel 'River Deep Mountain High'. The focus was on how this most important thousand words of all divides between hooks and exposition, the former to ensure your reader carries on reading, the latter to ensure there is something substantial - a credible world - for them to read about. How much I was using Wales as a hook - the humour of a half Welshman laughing his other half off, albeit fondly - had a special resonance so close to the Welsh border. It was not the first time I was a little disorientated to realise the Wales nearby was not the Newport valley I have always sensed from the West but the North Wales of Wrexham. The students then started to set up their own novel openings and while I may claim credit for the hook/exposition device and a few ideas about narrative as a starter, none of this would mean anything without the rich ideas, worlds, world-views, narrative originality, characters and gift for language the students already had with them. (This is how 'English' used to be before they strangled everything with frameworks and models 'delivered' onto students' heads by teacher-postmen- viz, the student as expert, the tutor as facilitator.) These were modern sixth formers with stories to tell - what could be more exciting than that?

Time for lunch - and some illuminating conversations with staff about family story telling (now replaced by soaps?) student magazines, the impoverishing requirement to 'maximise' the outcomes of every second of a college day, good and bad Exam Boards, how good the WJEC is, football poets, life in Shropshire - the forgotten county - and the fact that my 1460 AD hotel was supposed to be haunted (it wasn't). And the chance to answer that resounding repeat ring-tone call I'd kept having to apologise for like a naughty student for disturbing the class with all day! (My daughter's revenge for the distress call I made to her which was broadcast onstage on loudspeaker live to the Brighton Comedy Club - and mine for the times this happened when I was a teacher.) The students were very nice about it.

The afternoon session gave this studious and dedicated group a chance to do the talking via my stage and film script Margot's Guinevere. The bad Dad - good/bad daughter dialogue between the heroine and her councillor-father produced some resonant performances - and the two students who performed it entire (and more or less unrehearsed) for the group brought it to life splendidly. I then went through the classic BBC criteria for dialogue, character, variety and humour and some of my own thoughts on monologue, changes of pace, stichomythia, action. 'Write about what you know and if you don't know find out' about sums up my starting point and the adult-teenager dialogues that the students began to write looked very promising indeed. There were funny ones about teenagers borrowing Mum's car and sneaking it back believing they'd got away with it, disarming 'surprise' dialogues where teen and rent actually liked and respected - instead of killed and harangued - each other and some very moving as well as very funny ones about timeless generation gap 'problems' newly experienced and newly imagined. I can see them up on stage and screen already.

This was in many ways a model day. The increasingly official and curriculum cited role of a writer in school is sometimes misunderstood as a kind of glorified masterclass, doing an OFSTED outstanding version of what the teacher would do if only there were world enough and time (and energy.) But no visitor can have the sort of knowledge of a group the usual teacher has and anyway why pay someone a consultant fee to do something the teacher can do themselves? Better and cheaper to come off timetable for a day and do something 'in house' if that's all you are after. A visiting writer is an expert in a certain field and should be employed to explore and guide in areas the teacher really cannot, in this case the skills and experience of a professional writer. Clare Hodgson, saving her blushes - and the rotating team who observed - or rather participated in - the workshop all day, managed all this brilliantly.

My only regret was that I had to leave the college, students, and this historic but (to me) very happening and 'now' Tudor town on the Cadfael border, after only one day. As well as two mighty mediaeval church towers outside either latticed window, there must have been ten places a pen's throw from the hotel where a writer could eat like a King (or an Empress Maud) and I had the best biryani I've had since India. And the best full English next morning since ....the Angevin Empire.

Thank you Shrewsbury. Thank you Shrewsbury Sixth Form College (even if, as the Priory Grammar School, Chris Woodhead once disgraced your progressive portals.) Thank you English department for your hospitality and appreciation. Thank you Miss - even your hurried sketch map along the mighty Severn to the Station at the end of the day was effective. Thank you Shropshire lads and lasses, scholars and scribes.

And don't forget to send me what you've written!

November 17, 2010

I am The Enemy You Killed, My Friend

Memorial (11/11/96)

Around the village memorial
A local brass band is playing.
The duffle-coated, white-bearded bugle player
Does not really approve
Of tributes to men who line up
With medals on their uniform chests.
Just at the point where the heart
Should be hanging on the notes,
He jazzes it up,
Turns the Last Post
Into the Temperance Seventy.

I can smell the dead Autumn leaves
On the still air,
Incensing the pavements.
More distantly, I smell
A generation of condemned men.

You’ve opened the door of this cottage wide.
It's letting out all the heat
And, like the broken chairs your bulk entails,
It bothers me that this bothers me.
You're standing there with your wife
In the distressed brown leather jacket
You got on the insurance.
Your bullshit face
Is stunned with reverence.
You smoke,
Pause for a long time between puffs.

For an age, it seems that you feel too respectful
Ever to put the cigarette to your lips again

And when you do,
The fact that it's a roll up, like a soldier's,
Make it somehow right.

As so often, I hate
The person I am in your presence.
I'm in the middle of a story
Telling you about the bugle player
When your reverent abstraction
Silences me.

I'm fascinated
By the change in you,
Overcharged, overcharging
Child of the '80s,
From self to love.
I'm thinking
He's an old bollocks

But I love him.

Later you tell me, you were thinking
About your granddad:
If he hadn’t survived the trenches,
You’d never have been.

It’s the most awful thought in your pantheon.

Notes: Not just the eleventh hour but even later due to a PC crisis, I wanted to post this photograph from an extraordinary Norfolk graveyard that always seems like a dream once I've left. This is because, uniquely in my experience, it houses German WW2 Luftwaffe graves cheek by jowl with RAF ones, according each equal respect and honour for their sacrifice while somehow making it clear - in the accretion of deaths of airmen on both sides through the years 1939-45 - that this was no easy act of Godly detachment. After all, these ridiculously young Germans must have been shot down in flames onto the English soil they are buried in by enemies fighting bitterly for their lives, homes and survival - and who they were trying to bomb, including some of the ridiculusly young Britons buried beside them. And yet, in this area of land no bigger than the distance between the fron line trenches in WW1 (about 40 yards - 2 cricket pitches), this peace. There is more spirituality in the air and earth of that cemetery than almost every other area of 'special sancitity' I have been in the world put together. And it always seems to be both brilliantly sun lit and yet cool, serene. Even now, I wonder how it can be there.

The poem has no real connection with the photo except in its mood of vexed warfare between men who would love to love each other if they weren't so hell bent on killing each other. This is a very minor and subtle war - but in the end, it's the thin end of the vast black hole into the trenches and holocausts.

Two More Brockworth Poems

Bad Boy

Back of the class
By the bin.
Gleeful as sin.
Needle hair red
In the sinking sun
Of a late afternoon.
Taught lessons all day,
Last of the day
Wasting away.
Those aren’t kisses in your book you know!

No, I’m not laughing, I’m cross.
(Yes I am and no I’m not.)


Final Assembly

The unpurged images of term recede
And, hark, the herald angels with dirty faces
Sing in excruciation.
They get younger each year and I,
To serve them half my days resolved,
Get no younger with them.
The praised boy who fishwise leapt with joy
Five Christmas terms ago
Grins at the clapping school now, sardonic.
Where has he gone - are we going - so fast?

O Jesus! still these discordant Years,
That carping torn, that gong-tormented Sea.

Notes: These are two poems I forgot to include with my November of the Month celebration of Brockworth School's classes of 1981-86. Bad Boy was in 4 Leckhampton and first my ever CSE class (studying Lord of the Flies because even lower sets followed proper book-led curriculums then) and contributed amusing comments like 'Are you a bit an alky then Sir?' and when I reproved him for calling his House Head 'Boorman' with the teacherly 'MR Boorman to you' retorted 'Boorman to you.' I didn't laugh then but I nearly let the mask slip and I'm certainly laughing now. I wrote this poem for homework. Sorry it's late. The dog ate my markbook.
'Final (and in those days religious) Assembly' is my last ever public occasion with 5 Coopers - with whom I spent 5 years from 1 Coopers 1981-86 - and the 'praised boy' described (in case anyone wants to know) is Matthew Bunting, one of the first names called out from the twice-daily daily register. The poem is about all of them but it's his face I saw in that moment - or two moments, Christmas 1981 and July 1986. I felt sad because I was leaving Brockworth as they mostly were too and I assumed I'd never see any of them again. Little did I know...

Sir' looking supremely uncomfortable in this - my first Tutor group - picture and sidelined by the House Head too. Interesting how I move centre stage for the 2 Coopers pic and then get sidelined by the group itself in Year 5. They grow up and I grow sideways. But that 1 Coopers shot of me is truly horrible. I'm 24 and I look 68, in my wedding suit jacket donated by my father in 1979 and already looking as dated as Hitler's moustache. As Dylan once yowled, 'I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.' More school poems - including Brockworth ones - available in 'Exile In His Own Country' (Bluechrome, 1986, ISBN 1 904781942) and on my CD 'Marked For Life.'  By the way I hear Heather Roberts (see all three photos) is pregnant. Never thought I'd announce that. Congratulations, Heather! I'm glad the Sex Ed lessons finally worked out.

November 02, 2010

Not November Poem of the Month

First Year Drama

- Sir, Eric Osborne can't come,
He's got concussion!
- That's all right. What was he doing?
-Announcing, linking, Viking...
-What! Go and tell Mrs Britton
Quick. - Where is she, Sir?
-O never mind. I'll go myself.

- Right, that's settled. Now where's
Gwen? we're on in five minutes.
Dafydd, go and find her. Yes. Now.
The rest of you come over here.... Wilfred Saxon!
For goodness' sake, get your costume on! Now!
Ah, there you are, Gwen, we've been looking
For you.... All set then?.... Where the flap's Dafydd?
- You sent him to look for Gwenhwyfar, Sir.

- Shh. She's introducing us.
- Sir, I'd better.... - Shh!
- Sir, I'd better.... - Shh!
- Sir, I'd better.... - Shh! - I'd BETTER
- SHH!....What? I'll be prompting
From this. (Shh) Where the hell's the one
I gave you?....
- I left it in the Art Room. - Shh
- Can't I use yours, Sir?

Late summer in the year 539... - Get ready
Everyone. Shh. ...Hey, where's she going
With the book? - Out the other side, Sir,
She's a Villager next. - I can't breathe, Sir.
-Shh. Never mind. Lights coming up. Wait. Shh.
- I've bitten my lip, Sir. - Shh - Sir, I'm nervous.
- Don't be silly.... Right, on you go.
Not that way.... Where's Wayne?
- He's round the other side, Sir. - Shh. What?
(OI! YOU! SHUT UP!) - He's round the.... - Shh.
Never mind now. On you go, Shh. No! Let the
Others come off first! Shh! Shh!
- SHH! for goodness' sake....
-SHHHH! SHHHH! ... Ready for the chants
On sound effects, boys? Shh! - All set, Sir.
- Good. Now, John: just die once you've said Valhalla
O.K? Don't say "ow" .... Shhh!
Wait, Ceri.... Shh - Do I go on now?
No! Calm down! Wait for the chants....
Now, boys!....
NOW, boys!....

Notes: For the full set of Brockworth school poems go to Poem of the Month for November on my main website. Dora Brooking, a much-missed colleague in my first ever English department at Brockworth Comprehensive in Gloucester, did what my own school never did - she got me acting in school plays. Then she got me producing them, including this memorable - and near psychotic- episode. Another House play I wrote and produced was Telemachus starring someone or other- my first ever script. A few short years later, in my next school, I was writing and producing epic school productions and not long after that - inspired and supported by Dora's National Youth Theatre child star David Izod - I was touring the country performing my own stuff. Still am. So let's hear it for Brockworth.

November 01, 2010

Correcting The Guardian

From time to time I have to correct the Guardian's metrocentric mendacity (see letter published under that heading at towards Wales and the West and oh dear it happened again last week in their otherwise excellent cock and bull Brydon and Coogan article. Here's a correction letter they were too ashamed to publish:

"The first steam locomotive was actually in Wales not Manchester - Methyr Tydful downhill to Abercynon, 1804. And like most people educated in England, Coogan seriously underplays the leading role played by the mighty Welsh coalfield (the largest in the UK by some square miles) in the transformation of the world, including the construction of the entire iron railway networks of the USA and the USSR out of Blaenafon. We will grant him the Manchester Co-op and the North much else that is noble and progressive but there is no need to claim an offside goal against Wales to do it."

My readers will be relieved to hear that these hard facts are, because of my stint as writer and editor for Collins education, available to a generation of British and world schoolchildren in the pages of Aiming At Level 4 Reading (Collins Education, 2008) currently Isambard Kingdom Brunel steaming into classrooms all over the world. One can only hope that future editors of the Guardian will have been taught from these books.

October 25, 2010

Review of Agamemnon at the Cambridge Arts Theatre, Thursday 14 October 2010

‘The Greek Play’ at Cambridge is like a Norfolk bus. One arrives every three years but when it does, life suddenly accelerates into a different universe. Greek theatre is such a perfect dialexis of epic drama, choral poetry, hybris, hermatia, pity, catharsis and catastrophe that one of the regrets of my life is that I have no Latin and less Greek. Fortunately, knowing the plays back to front and also (as in these Cambridge productions) getting the surtitles means I am free to luxuriate in the percussive and lyrical glory of the Ancient Greek and so the relative lack of spectacle (fifth on Aristotle’s list of tragedy requisites) and of modern – meaning often trivial - psychology in the characters is no loss. The grandiloquence of Aeschylus equals the grandeur of his subject, the murder of Agamemnon on his return from Troy by his wife, the mother of the daughter the great general sacrificed to get a fair wind ten years before. What won’t a man sacrifice in to win a war and what fury is unleashed by a mother’s grief in response, his archetypically named wife Clytemnestra. What a show! It’s like being able to read (and hear and see) Dante in the original. I hoped this production would live up to the billing.
The chorus (of old men who couldn’t go to war) was compelling, their clothes Edwardian black, their movements jerky and their faces blacked across the eyes like some sinister cartoon of Blair. They also looked and sounded rather like Hasidic Jews crossed with Victorian music hall which might have some private resonance for the director if not in any conscious sense for me. It didn’t matter – it worked well as a hybrid of outsiders and oddities. There was also much of the Great War about the Trojan War depicted here, which again works as it stands as the same sort of grim archetype of all war for Western civilisation now as it the Trojan war did for the Greeks then. Clytemnestra, acted by a Hellenic ‘yellow-haired’ (Helen-like, and hell-leashing) woman, was a great mixture of gender signs, the dressy top of what appears to be an evening gown but is in fact a trouser suit capturing her ambivalent thrusting seizure of the Agamemnon-vacated role as man of the house (with her lady’s lady man Aegisthus in his flowery shirt) competing with her profound maternity and intuitive practical femaleness. Yes, this woman has a clitoris and a will (fiercely awoken by her husband’s actions) but she also has a broken heart : the Trojan war and all its peacock posturing is clearly a boy’s game to her compared to the rending reality of the ritual sacrifice of her daughter and her maternal loss. What won’t we sacrifice to make war holy, a crusade/ jihad. Other resonant moments were the entry of Agamemnon from the pit in a Great War trenchcoat but with the overweening and portentous feathered helmet of a classical age and the ravishing look behind given by Cassandra – the look of startled and exotically beautiful, Arab-dark foreign girl – and then her extraordinary scene, much of it harrowingly and beautifully sung, of horrified omen-seeing, her apprehension of her own and Agamemnon’s death by Clytemnestra’s hand, which (following her curse) no-one will believe (though – against all the rules of theatre, the chorus waver and - almost - intervene).
There were some irritating flaws. It was effective to have a shrine, including the child’s yellow dress and child – and never to be bride – photographs, to Iphigenia as a backdrop to Clytemnestra’s furious grief. But even given the remote foreign language, there was no need to have the Chorus enacting the sacrifice onstage on the dress – ridiculously and fetish-istically - when Aeschylus, and all the unities and rules of Greek theatre, convey the horror with such epic grandeur and dignity and pity in the words, images and sounds. (The bringing in of the ashes of the Troy war dead in jars – or the modern equivalent - during the relevant chorus – was by contrast very effective because it was language-led and hauntingly enacted through gesture, movement and chant.) Nor was there any point in having Cassandra onstage in her leotard and knickers for much of the last quarter of the play, both pre- and (splashed with ketchup) post-mortem. Violence is supposed to happen offstage Greek theatre - and to be reported in appalled language in and Aeschylus is more than capable of handling this without assistance from a pantomime aesthetic. To paraphrase Peter Cook, we get enough at that at home – on the telly. And Cassandra was so ravishing and forlorn in the one look she gave behind, it was criminal to throw this impact away, to turn the rending of her prophetess robes into a strip tease. Her tragedy is a hard enough fall without becoming a farce. Also, although the stillness maintained by both Cassandra and Agamemnon on the (farcically angled and pantomime-bloody) death bed was a tribute to the great skill of these two epic actors, was all that effort really worth it? Yes, here were corpses played with utter conviction by real actors for ten minutes and more – but after the first impact (a second) all this effort added nothing to the drama: only, reductively, to the spectacle. Over and over again.
Despite the small flaws of over-literal spectacle noted, this production was well worthy of its genre, author and story: and that is high praise indeed.

Welcome to the Café Abersychano

These superb photos capture two Abersychano Grammar Technical School old boyos now in their own mid Fifties reliving on a beguiling October day in 2010 their schooldays in the late Sixties and early Seventies in the valleys. One of them happens to be me, silver-haired, coal-jacketed bard in exile; the other (the photographer, pictured at the end, also a confirmed expatriate with roots still deep in valley) is Kevin Fackrell. We were both in 2X in 1968. Then in the third year (now Year 9) Kevin took the Tech route; I went the Grammar way: not to the everlasting bonfire – at least not yet – but to an early retirement from our nine to five careers and with it the heaven of taking a day out of time like this. Through the old wrought iron heaven and hell gate behind me (now disused) you can see the old coal hole and above the window where Mr Padfield, the Headmaster, used to spy on any late arrivals, smokers, truants, boy-girl couplings and other miscreants. Almost by accident, Kevin captured some images of our adolescence amid a mighty Welsh industrial revolution that was once felt from the USA to the USSR, that was getting to be a spent force even in as we reached 13 in 1968 and which is now, in the remote valley pictured - once the clanging, winding, bustling, steam-trained, demon-frenzied, coal-driven, Satanic-milling locale of the Blaensychan, Tirpentwys and British pits - surely the finest living outdoor museum in the world. This valley and mountaintop strides purposefully – as did we – from Craig Ddu to Talywaun. I was staying in Bristol, eating in Clifton and had been at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature the day before so – used to the seven choices of coffee now de rigeur - blithely ordered a Café Americano with hot milk at the local café while local builders tucked into sausages the size of horses’ appendages, causing waitress panic and a referral to the manageress, before receiving, ultimately, a Café Abersychano. There were two options on the chalked board: Instant Coffee and Instant Milky Coffee. Ninepence and a shilling and Instant Karma at number two. Kevin went for the milk, now forever to be remembered as ‘Latté Abersychano.’ It was a long, mountainous, exhausting but exhilarating day. And it seemed to last about fifty years. Because of course it did.

October 11, 2010

George Crabbe Poetry Competition 2010

Wentworth Hotel, Aldeburgh, Sunday 10/10/10

An auspicious date, beautiful warm weather and a very happy day. We drove from sea to shining North sea (the North Norfolk and East Suffolk coasts of what used to be called ‘The German Ocean’) without once leaving the ancient Celtic queendom of Icenia. I was there to deliver my adjudication of the George Crabbe Poetry Competition 2010 hosted by the Suffolk poetry Society. For the record, I also read half a dozen poems from ‘Exile In His Own Country’: namely, Glad To Be A Guy, Boudicca Britain’s Dreaming (done in homage to our ancient Celtic queen without book, by and from the heart and – in that Icenic sea side setting and to that audience, one of the most satisfying experiences of my performing life), Mocks, Healthy Norfolk, Coming Down and Cooking Up A Revolution. Sold a few books too. I append below some general comments about the adjudication and where to find the individual comments on poems. But first, a handful of telling incidents. The organiser and several of the poets took the trouble to thank me for the detailed comments I made and for the way these framed and introduced their readings. Poems take a lot of writing and I do think it’s important to give due credit for the blood, sweat, tears, craft and inspiration they require. There were some harrowing experiences grappled with, mastered and made into a Muse: for the poets to write about pain so brilliantly and then get up in front of so many people and share this triumph deserves more praise than I can give here. Suffice to say, the conversations I had with several of the poets about these struggles were a privilege and a reminder of what greatness inheres in the art of poetry and the human soul. There were some funny-painful moments too… but I think I’ll keep these for the novel after next! It was a glorious day.

George Crabbe Poetry Competition 2010. Judge’s report.
Despite my title, no-one should feel Judged by my choices. The large entry of 300 – a fat bundle the size of an old style Telephone directory or family Bible – contained few if any bad poems. Or even ones that broke the rules. No-one exceeded the 50 lines and only two people left their names on the entry. Most poets had something to say and/or said it rather well (usually both) and even as I reduced that original 400 to 65, I was often still admiring lines and parts of these ‘first exit’ poems as I placed them in the reject pile. But when the competition is as strong as this, the whole poem, needs to work as a whole and poems that, say, depended too much on a portentous last line that didn’t quite deliver, or that began to preach or assert rather than entrance or move – even if only in parts – or that contained even one or two weak lines or bad conceits or groaners among much good writing had to go. And even then, poetry being an art rather than an exact science, I know that some other adjudicator might have made a different selection. This last point is even more pertinent when it came to reducing the 65 to the winning 10.
Prior to the judging, I had just marked several hundred A level English Literature papers for the Welsh Exam Board and it was a delight to be dealing instead with creative writing - poems - that were almost all in the ‘A’ grade band and for which I could bring my own criteria. There IS an objective Standard in terms of craft and inspiration that will mark out good poems anywhere, and certainly here. But, once you've done that, you can only be yourself and I chose poems that appealed to me. I am not much interested in poems that draw attention to their own cleverness as an end in itself, or that have remained an ‘exercise’ rather than – as evidently happened many times in what I assume are excellent writing circles – a means by which a poet can achieve something unique and urgent and emotionally charged. I also think it is important to know that poetry has moved on a bit since Browning – not necessarily to embrace vers libre and to reject all quaint diction because every poem will have its own language and tune and a poem about or in the voice of a granddad (for example) may very suitably have a Georgian or Edwardian music. But this should be a choice made from the full range of poetic languages available in 2010 , not the result of the mind having stopped short like that old Grandfather clock in the middle of another age. I like complexity – the fascination of things difficult – but there has got to be a pay off: I like scholarship but not reference-loaded intellectualism for intellectualism’s sake, if only because it’s such a waste of learning, literacy and effort. The language of the heart should beat through the exciting firework display and necessary gymnastics of the intellect. Occasionally, the sheer eloquence and skill of a poem will impress me by itself – will itself be moving (just as occasionally the subject is so touching that it partly transcends considerations of craft) but on the whole I have gone for poems where first and foremost the subject is (to me) worth the candle of its writing and reading – and, a close second, where the technique does it justice.

The general standard was high and the best hundred very high: a lot of poems achieved a sort of plateau of quality that made the sifting process satisfyingly difficult. George Crabbe’s name has not been taken in vain. The top 20 entries would, in my opinion, have graced any poetry competition anywhere and I would like to mention briefly together the half dozen or so who just missed out on my winners/runners up and commendations. These found ingenious and attractive ways of writing about Boudica, personal mortality (the line ‘between my boots their compressed voices creak/like snow’ was as good as anything else in the competition), cancer and cliché, the lost child within (‘wild echo of the girl I used to be’) and exotic lands. In a smaller or more average quality competition entry, these poems would have at least won commendations. If I missed anything with these poems as a whole, it was that very few poets wrote both with humour and the highest poetic quality, or generally wrote about the joys of life with the same sharpness and literary excitement as they did about its miseries. The old debate about whether it is possible to write as well about happiness as about mortal longing, agony and grief (and there was plenty of it here) is raised by this – I think it is, but certainly the best poetry entered (and there was lots of it) tended to line up nearer Sylvia Plath than PG Wodehouse in evoking the tragic-comedy of our existence.

The winners/runners up and commended poems...

These and my comments on them are available in the published anthology and on the suffolk poetry society website.
Gareth Calway
Sedgeford, Norfolk, July 2010

September 18, 2010

Brighton Rock

old guy
in gentle
cruising the lanes
in eggshell-blue
window wide open
sound system

That was a 'next day' poem. I was actually in Brighton that weekend to be Conference Poet at the Voices and Visions Conference at Brighton University. This was my second stint as a conference poet, the first was NATE 2007. There is a full report and great pictures of the Brighton University day on the Voices and Visions page of the Brighton University website and some further details of my own experience on the blog of

This diary of my own day takes in the following elements:

Limerick Icebreaker, Haiku Workshop, Conference Poem

Diary begins-

Brighton Voices and Visions Conference, September 16, 2010

Who – Me?

(introducing myself to conference) I’ve always dreaded that so-called ice-breaker moment when you have to tell a group of conference strangers who you are in 20 seconds. As I have the luxury of 2 minutes, I’ll try to say who I am and who I’d like to be in two different poetic forms.

Who I Am (the limerick form, so that I don’t let this 3 minutes of fame make me take myself too seriously.)

I was schooled in the Sixties in Frome
When Apollo was seeking the moon
Education’s meaning?
To lead out from within,
To pant at the stars like a loon.

Trained and taught through the Eighties in Wales
As the steel and coal industry fails
Os and As, CSEs
Coursework folders, Mode 3s,
Free as Coleridge’s bird in the sails.

I’ve been a Youth Theatre Director,
I helped raise a beautiful daughter.
Early Years to Uni
Laughs and cries like a loony.
I sleep with an Ofsted Inspector.

Taught in Norfolk for 23 years,
Led departments through frameworks and fears
Education by numbers
Or progress through blunders?
Wrote textbooks, squared a shoulder for tears.

So from Dis-next-the-Sea Comp I travel
With my schooldays poems and novel.
My lesson for health
Is - To think for yourself
But debate is what keeps us all stable.

Who I’d Like To Be (free verse)
Star teacher
Look at the sky child
There’s Sirius, the Dog,
Orion, the Hunter.
There’s the Plough.
That’s how according to our lights, we know.

Now reach.

Workshop: Haiku- a poem on a single breath
Icebreaker: Introduce yourself in seventeen syllables, shaped 5-7-5..

i‘m gareth calway
I taught for three decades then
published a novel

That seventeen syllables would need work to become a haiku. A haiku is a snapshot, a timeless moment, not sequential and not linear like this. But that three lines does have the haiku- virtue of cutting to the essentials. As the imagist Ezra Pound put it-
say what you mean
in two
and get thru
long frilly
palaver is silly

A haiku is not a list or sequence of events/things. It is an eternal NOW. Is this (haiku attempt and record of a start at Grammar School in 1967 by Gareth Calway) a unified Now?
First day at school

uniform despair,
ear blushing from thump,
work to take home he can’t do

How ideal/ inspiring an education does it capture?
Latin meaning of the word education (‘to lead out from within…’),

Wordsworth: How little that to which we give/The name of education hath to do/ With real feeling and just sense’ (1802)

Assessment (focuses/objectives) arguably impinges upon current educational theory and practice more now than at any other period of this University’s history. But what inspires workshop delegates about the education process, what really keeps us breathing, hearts beating.

The haiku form is supposed to be the exact length of a single breath – can you concentrate the essence of all the thoughts and feelings and written material concerned into that one haiku breath?

Inspiration/respiration/perspiration etc are all from same (Christian) Latin root: spiritus, spirare- esprit (de corps) - spirit, - ‘breath.’ (Genius is 100% spirit, however divided between perspiration and inspiration.)

The recording
The ‘breaths of fresh educational air’ in the trace box were by: Gareth Calway (workshop leader/ conference poet, a poem written in the 1980s and performed to delegates near the start of this conference) Dave Simpson, Laura Tunstall, Yaa Asare, Sandra Williams (all Brighton University School of Education) and an initially reluctant Pam Ansell (retired Headmistress). The aeroplane that flew over as Laura was speaking - describing her first day of the Soviet education system - is a good marker of 2010: a very different plane from the ones that sent Pam Ansell out of London and Brighton (as she describes) as an evacuee in 1939. Delegates wrote and recorded the poems on the fifth floor of the recently built Checkland building and had a view, on this sunny September day, of beautiful Sussex downs, of trains passing up to Lewes and down to Brighton, and of two Universities, this very modern one high on its hill and the (then New) 1960s University of Sussex on the other side of the tracks.

Voices and Visions Conference: Impressions of the day

(as this had to be done in 40 minutes, not so much emotion recollected in tranquillity as in panic!)

Six centuries past at the Battle of Lewes,
Democracy trumpeted a first flourish.
Two centuries past in a pub in Lewes,
Tom Paine’s ‘Common Sense’ hinted how it should finish.
Last night, keynote speakers gathered in Lewes
To mark a century of democracy’s progress
In its lifeblood – education – from Brighton’s Richmond Terrace
Up to Checkland in Falmer, organised by Pamela…(Lewis).
Tonight I’ll ring my wife and tell her that Ofsted
Got the biggest laugh in the poem I read!
Suzanne spoke of continuity and change:
100 years of inspections (no change there) and commitment and a rage
Of new curricula and content, not always well thought out
But that ‘still’ of Fifties teacher and pupils sharing learning and a smile: still what it’s all about.
The Keynote lecture: in 1900 the teaching profession
Was mostly pupil teachers or teachers who’d been one.
In 2010, Governments are still finding their way from thence
From Model B to Model A: as Tom Paine would say, it’s not rocket science, it’s Common Sense.
New words for education (Governments take heed) are a language for life:
Breadth. Balance. Relevance. Progression – get the ducks in a line.
Education has a moral purpose, it’s the future, the life chances of all
Needs a broad, long term view not the politics of a football.
Looking for the needle in a haystack of words on a line of dusty shelves:
The most effective teachers never stop learning themselves.
Enjoy it. Like it when the pupil or the PGCE student twigs,
Isn’t tired out by ‘Continuous Professional Development’ but inspired - given breath by it - to live.

‘Learning conversations’ all took up the notes of the keynote address:
A step back from point-scoring or head-lining, more a shared intellectual breath.
‘CPD descends via advisers who impose a line without question.
This University’s culture: never accept anything without question’.
‘As a consumer, as it were, of your students’ - ‘many feel bound by the system
Freed by shed frameworks and judgements, but also lost without them.’
‘External judgements and top-down frameworks are acting like straitjackets
Making the teacher’s own ideas and skills feel inadequate: even lunatic.’
‘What have you been thinking about this week?’ asks the liberal Head:
‘I haven’t had time, I just teach, I’m the hand, you’re the Head.’
‘Government Initiatives, for want of a ruder word,
What comes out of a charging bull’s backside is by definition a…’ (couldn’t think of a rhyme)
‘Will Hill Crest in Hastings crest the hill?
Or will all that money without impact on the culture just spill?’
‘Doctors and Teachers are both professions potentially diminished
By all the auxiliaries being added – but Doctor’s still Doctor; is Miss still – Miss?’

‘Young teacher, look 20 years ahead. Have the confidence to risk and even fail
Rather than be outstanding inside a template that makes you stale.’
Change will change and change and change in this, the oldest profession.
To teach is to learn and vice versa. Here endeth the lesson.’

© Gareth Calway 2010

September 03, 2010

Review - McCartney by Peter Ames Carlin

I thought this was a much better Beatles book than most - and I've read a few. The most interesting point to me is the identification of McCartney as the heart and the riddle of the Beatles. The author traces this to McCartney's actual childhood - a warm working class family home blighted by the death of his mother Mary from cancer - and then through all the other deaths and black hole griefs that Macca has brave-faced down with no other faith than music. As the film 'Nowhere Boy' sympathetically shows, this loss of a mother and his refuge in rock n roll is what linked him in that mirror opposite relationship to Lennon. It proposes McCartney as the tormented and difficult genius, rather than as the usual straight man to Lennon's romantic agony. The book is generous to George except in terms of coverage (very Beatle that) and more or less ignores Ringo (the usual mistake) but it is very interesting about the problematic nature of Paul's joyous (apparent) simplicity and gets to the arrogant Paul revealed in those Beatles songs where he insists on seeing it his way (We Can Work It Out, I'm Looking Through You). The book may not be correct in seeing Paul rather than George as the real dark horse - but it does not commit the cardinal sin of biting the Beatle hand that feeds it, or of making you feel and think less of its subject. It takes a clear-eyed look at the darkness that McCartney lit up and gives him due credit for facing it down and if it finally can't tell you why McCartney is a mystery in a way that's the point.

August 12, 2010

On The Frome Double

On The Frome Double

Was that the demon of Frome?
The Frome flyer? Robin-red John
In cricket whites? Or Lady Luck I saw
Walking across Shearwater Lake
While a kingfisher streaked
Out of Berkeley woods
As a bluebell in flight
Through a Mendip May morning?
And have all those legendary feet
Of ancient time returned
As Mark Salter, scorer of 37
Vintage first team goals
In Frome Town’s winging flight
From the Western League Premier
And into the heights
Of the Southern League?
No, no. This day dream was real.
It wasn’t Lady Luck
Or any of these ghosts,
It was: Richard Fey, Edward Quelch,
Adam Missiato, Paul Farrell,
Jonathan Crowley, Jamie Cheeseman,
Stewart Bryant, Jack Metcalf,
Daniel Harvey, Steven Hunt,
Leigh Burke, Alex Lapham,
Sam Duggan, Joe Gomes,
Simeon Allsion, Dean Caslake,
Liam Fussell, Ian Kennedy,
Shaun Percival, Mark Salter,
Matthew Rawlins, Danny Thompson.

A goal kick away
From Badger’s Hill, believing
In King Arthur and England’s quest
For a holy grail called the World Cup.
I learned to read from a football Book
Written by Kim and Tony, while
Alf the groundsman dubbined
That leather medicine ball we played with
In Rodden Estate fields
My mother washed the club’s ten red shirts,
One green, numbered 1-11
In big white numbers: the whole
Of Frome Town hung out to dry.
Now, forty years on, giant-killing Frome
Have their wings on the Somerset Cup
And a claw hold in the Southern league
And the whole Mendip valley is soaring.
Let’s paint the town robin red
And sing the names of local heroes
In a cider-summer glow.
Richard Fey, Edward Quelch,
Adam Missiato, Paul Farrell,
Jonathan Crowley, Jamie Cheeseman,
Stewart Bryant, Jack Metcalf,
Daniel Harvey, Steven Hunt,
Leigh Burke, Alex Lapham,
Sam Duggan, Joe Gomes,
Simeon Allsion, Dean Caslake,
Liam Fussell, Ian Kennedy,
Shaun Percival, Mark Salter,
Matthew Rawlins, Danny Thompson!

Note: I'm sick to death of England and its Premiership primadonna pantomime-booing carthorse carry-on and it's also a bit of a quiet, suck it and sneer time to be a Bristol City fan. So as the season kicks off, I'm defaulting all the way back to my Frome Town roots with a poem written in celebration of their great triumph the season before last. To all the Badger's Hill believers...

August 03, 2010

Ruby Wedding Red Plus Six

Forty years today, following the reds
From the Bristol derby at Eastville,
October 3 1964 (1-1, Bush) to
2-2 at Saltergate with ten men,
(Murray, Coles) usually at least one
Division below where, at our best,
We would grace the game, and you dare
To ask, would I do it all again?
Of course not! (All right then, yes.)

October 2 2004

And six years later, securely one division up on that, aged 54 and now a fan of forty six years it's still YES. The new season is sitting with the key in the ignition, after a false start that might be just nothing or might be a problem with fuel or carburettor or electrics, but the seat belt is on and we have the England number one in goal. Never saw that coming. Come on you reds.

June 28, 2010

My New Elizabethan World Cup Sonnets 4. V Germany

My New Elizabethan World Cup Sonnets 4. V Germany

The 'golden generation' fill their boots,
Those sponsored hospital slippers, with lead
And take the field Franz seeds - with golden shoots
Of 'here to win it' sweat - with wee instead.
Each grail-knight, like Midas in some yob's G
Grade essay into Greek 'Methodology'
On a Trojan carthorse, wins less than Greece
And Turkey have on none of the salary.
A Glazered-over Premiership-serving
Slave to loveless lucre's Un-manning debt,
Petrified Rooney absent as Scholes, King
Of England's nothing, dream-theatres shed.
Stuffed as 'bankers from the Thatcher Error'
Just less fit, and Fritzed by youth and terror.

Significantly, the only group winner not to go through so far (or probably
at all) is USA, who actually beat Slovenia and were - in terms of objective
position as well as spirit etc - better than us. So we were in the worst
group and couldn't win it. We are about as good as Ireland, on a par with
Greece and Turkey but with less success in tournaments since the immediate
post second world war period: ie 1966. Fact. The next time we should
regard ourselves as plucky underdogs and rejoice if we qualify, go berserk
if we top our group and faint if we get any further. Oh and draft in the
English Defence League as our defenders - do them good to get a kicking and a
reality check and probably still slightly improve our results too.

Note: Greedy King Midas was granted a wish and asked that everything he touched turn to gold - not working out in advance that would include food, drink, lover etc . Carol Ann Duffy has written a poem about it from the wife's angle. It would do as her official poem about England's traditional doomed tilt at the World Cup.

June 26, 2010

Rhetorical Question?

Here's one. Because we allowed the USA to pinch our place in the World Cup (as it has in the world), we now have to beat Germany, Argentina and Portugal to get to the final in a competition where France and Italy go out shockingly early. When has that ever happened?

I'll tell you when, Mr Rhetoric. 1966.

The one team we didn't beat then and the world said we needed to to really prove our case (flash in the golden pan winners 1958, 1962 and 1970) was Brazil, whom we will doubtless keep waiting in the rain this year before beating them 1-0. Just to put 1970 straight.

That's the way I'd write it anyway.

June 24, 2010

My New Elizabethan World Cup Sonnets 3. V Slovenia

The lazy lion lumbers into life
To cuff aside the mouse of fate, then roars
It to the corner’s sanctuary and strikes!
And strives - and fails - to pin its tiny paws.
The beast its leader ‘knows’ is in the field
And taking chances – one – and missing five,
A cat among the pigeons, roaring ‘Yield!'
'Fierce England, Fabio-faced, is still alive!’
The might and mane – a little balding, true -
Of Rooney moves in for the ruthless kill,
Our winter king, asleep since March (and June?)
To chew the post, and limp off, looking ill.
And so our doppelganger, Germany,
The old invasion game, then home for tea.

June 19, 2010

New Elizabethan Sonnets 2 v Algeria

“Inglorious and goalless Ing-ger-land”
The mourning papers Nayed in ‘66
In hopeless headlines that, like Ferdinand,
Stood not the test of time – but stand for this.
A team without a heart, a head, a smile,
A hurst, a moore, a charlton or a ball,
A drab grey outfit, no nobby yet no style,
The walk-on-waters sinking in the pool.
A sponsor-burdened team who could not play
A season with this globe like Germany
Because ‘our’ ball is some fat cat’s, and so are they
And paid each draw more than my salary.
We grub all week for victory’s floodlight
To stare down a black hole of endless night.

Note. Apparently we're not playing very well because the 'boys' are bored. They need more freedom.

They don't need more freedom. They need to grow up and start earning their celebrity lifestyles by winning a trophy for a change instead of going on a jolly and getting knocked out in the quarters and expecting us all to carry on cheering !

June 13, 2010

The Tony Hancock School of Football Management

I am posting this response from John H Davies (to my World Cup sonnet no 1) in full. John is remarkable man in many ways. I will list only four. He is convinced the 1958 England team would have won the World Cup but for the Munich air disaster (plausible enough) and believes the 1970 team - Charlton plus Mullery, before Ramsey took Charlton off and we never qualified again for the rest of the Seventies - was atually better than the 1966 one and would have beaten Brazil in the much predicted Final. As a nineteen year old, he was present at Wembley when we actually won the World Cup. He saw George Best in his pomp (ie his shins kicked to blue murder by 60s centre halves but still getting through and scoring). And he is a Manchester United fan who actually comes from Manchester. Here are his thoughts on the present England World Cup hopefuls...

"Thanks for the sonnet. Now Capello knows what it is like to have an interest in England's football team. Dragon-faced? Yes, I like that image. It is accurate and well-observed. However, he remains a Tommy Cooper look-alike, and the buffoonery that surrounds him may eventually be revealed to be of his own creation. Rio Ferdinand has been injured for two seasons. Why take him? Ledley King must have been a sop to political correctness for the inclusion of the chronically disabled. Why take him? John Terry seems to be as tactically and spacially confused as he is morally confused. No doubt he is quick at getting his kit off but he is slow on the turn and on the sprint, an ageing thug, a shadow of his former self, worn down by years of self-indulgence and belief in the hype and flattery of the John Motsons of this world, starry-eyed fat boys who were never able to do it themselves, but who revelled in fame-by-association and were, therefore, obliged to continue the cant well beyond Terry's sell-by date. Carragher, slower than a journey through the traffic lights in King's Lynn. Reliant on the scything tackle, the outstretched arm, the push in the back, but unable to deploy any of these normal Premiership devices in the absence of Premiership referees. Johnson, a man who runs forward very fast but who cannot run back to defend, who always stands in the wrong place and who is always totally unaware of the presence of the winger when a ball is crossed over his head from the other wing. Green, a goalie who can't catch. Heskey, a striker who can't strike. A damp match of a man, tried time and again but who refuses to ignite, but who is chosen time and again and again and....Lennon and Wrong-Phillips, both flatterers to deceive. Milner, a one-paced work-horse who has been unable to train for three days because of a bout of ague, chosen to mark the American's key player, Donovan. Lampard, scorer of thousands of goals in the Premiership where everyone and anyone can score (apart from Heskey), but who can't shoot for toffee in international matches, linked again with Gerrard, whose face has the tortured look of a man who has sold his soul and skills to the devil of Liverpool and who last season suddenly realised it, when every human being in the world - in the igloos of the Arctic, in the mud huts of Pygmyland , in the yurts of Mongolia and Thornham - knows that they cannot play together. Every mother in the world must have said at some time "You mustn't play with him. He'll end up getting you in trouble!". So why doesn't Capello say it? Capello's is the "Tony Hancock school of football management" - he who cannot head is picked as centre-half, he who is weediest is picked as mid-field enforcer, he who cannot catch becomes goalie, he who cannot shoot becomes Heskey. And Rooney is tired and frustrated and lonely and, sorry to say it, ineffectual. So Copello is Tommy Cooper after all, a Steve Mclaren without and umbrella, a Graham Taylor without a turnip. The USA, a team comprising of rejects from Watford and West Brom, journeymen from Fulham and American Soccer! leagues, and a star player who was dropped from the Everton team after a brief loan spell, were too good for us for long periods of the game. Oh dear oh dear oh dear! Roll on the next game. You have my full permission to turn this into a poem. Name it In Memoriam, or Lament For Alf And The Boys Of Sixty-six. Bobby Charlton was at yesterday's match. Why didn't Capello bring him on?"

More responses like this please. Let's live while we can.

My New Elizabethan World Cup Sonnets 1. v USA

By a spooky mis-chance, though I watched all four on TV I managed to be out of the room for all four goals previous to the first England game. Not having HD, I didn't miss -

And so the first two goals I do not miss
In this World Cup both come from Eng-ger-land,
The first from Gerard, like a lover's kiss
Sudden, sweet - the second, Green's self-fumbling hand.
The night was African but winter chill,
The kind we like to get our kit on for,
And get our balls across, and shoot to kill
As Stevie did, and then that Green barn door.
The date was set as Lady Luck's perfume
Filled all our heads, our white knight stormed the keep
Capello's dragon-face burst open in a plume
Of wizard glee, our Green knight...made her weep.
At least we scored, that grey suit seems to say
Slumped, solo, on Green's dirty sheet next day.

June 11, 2010

My World Cup Dream

I mean - literally - the dream I woke up with this morning. I was on the touchline for the US game and Beckham was there in an enormous othopaedic boot. It was about a foot high. When I queried his presence in that condition, he grinned cheerfully and said in that boyish twang,'I've been selected for senior field duties. Anything to help out.'
'What - you're actually playing - but you're injured?'
'Yes.' said Emeritus Golden Balls,' with a likeable shrug.
'But that's incredible!'
What didn't seem incredible - in the dream - was that I was also about to go on as sub. No, I'm not injured - well, that football-related injury down a railway embankment en route to a Bristol City game which left put me out for the rest of the 2008 season still troubles me - but I'm 53 and have no experience of football above a village green standard.
And it seemed perfectly natural when Beckham long-balled me soon after from midfield with an inch-perfect assist which I scuffed-tripped over past the keeper with all the grace and assurance (don't knock it - it works) of an accidental Crouch deflection. In most dreams, especially mine, the ball just won't go in. This did. It was wonderful.
Back to reality. I woke to a newspaper picture of a third choice English captain who can't speak and a singularly ugly and unprepossessing team in grey Marks and Spencers drill looking very ordinary there (with the exception of Rooney, already booked in a friendly for swearing at the ref, who looks like a potato but who in form, a genuine great and the heart and lungs of the side ) among the galaticos of Brazil, Spain and (maybe) Argentina.

Ah yes,but it's chilly in South Africa this time. For once, we have the weather on our side. And a fierce Italian manager who can out-think tricksy Latin tacticians because he is one. And a dead ball specialist who can come on for 'senior field duties'. (No, that was just the dream.) If only we had a few foreign players as well, we might still do it...

I worked out that we probably need to get past Serbia in the Last 16, France in the quarters and Italy in the semis (the newspaper says Brazil) to lose to Spain in the final. We can't meet Portugal until the final this time and I don't think they'll get there anyway, or possibly even out of a group containing Brazil and Ivory Coast. Simple as that.

And then I really woke up?

June 10, 2010

June 2006 v Portugal

Er Indoors had gone to Barcelona so not only did I have nothing to distract myself from forty years of hurt, I also had to cook my own meals!
I went for a 36 mile cycle ride– a 5 hour pub crawl either side of a pub lunch - to ‘take my mind off it’. Apart from a team weakness on the left side (the feminine side?) that cried out like a lost childhood for Ryan Giggs, this surely was the best England side - since 1998… 1996… nay, that Mullery-graced 1970 team that was even better than 1966...
I cooked dinner. In stages. I ate my veg in the doorway so I could keep an eye on the meat between eyefuls of Ronaldino, Rooney and red wine. ‘We can win this. Beckham don’t get sent off. Rooney don’t get crocked…’
Something exploded in the kitchen. I swear left the boys for no more than a second. By the time I came back, Rooney was injured, Beckham sent off...
No. The other way round.
Another ‘last chance’ of seeing 1966 come to the finest generation of English footballers for a generation - in the bin with my dinner.
And we all know -deep down - it's all going to happen again.

May 05, 2010

It's Got To Be (The Real) Gordon

Remember that New Labour May in 1997? Oh what bliss in that dawn to be alive. To be ten (as our daughter is in the picas and I was in terms of political naivety ) was very heaven. So where are we, exactly 13 years later?

Well the polling booth pictured has long since moved, replaced by a tick box jury. And the last two elections I've found it hard to summon up any interest at all let alone the enthusisam I felt for Obama's historic marathon to the White House. And to complicate matters further the Labour condidate for North West Norfolk has mixed his manifesto up with the BNP's and called his party leader the worst PM in history so it's all a bit weird.

But suddenly it does seem to matter. Not just because it's close but because it's got real.

Accepting that we all see the narative we want, in football as in elections, and in my case through rose-tinted specs, I have been struck by the contrast in energy projected by David and Gordon so far this week. David is buzzing round all over the surface of the country like a blue arsed fly with his sleeves neatly rolled up for the camera 'ready to clear up the mess' (oh please!) while Gordon's lumbering volcanic energy seems to have come from a sudden deep taproot in the man himself, the social justice socialism of his chapel soul, born of hurt and humiliation and some healthy self-accusation. The former is much nearer to the media witch Blair, the latter more like Old Labour.

In that long lost May of 1997, I fancy both flash and reality were at work but I reckon, back against the wall and at media bay, this at last is the real Gordon, warts and all.

I'd like to see him elected as such and governing like it too.

May 02, 2010

Burkes, Bantams and Ballast

I see from my drive across Norfolk to its fine city capital yesterday that once again large empty fields (some of them full of impressive bulls) are declaring their timeless political allegiance for the Conservative Party. I didn't catch their bullish candidate's name - Oxy Moron was it? - but he's pledging himself as he has since the Normans ( Tebbit, La Mont, St John Stevas) for conserves that change. Or is it change that conserves?

'Change that ye may conserve' as some Burke once said.

But what's this - an energetic young puppy is bouncing onto the scene as I cross North Norfolk. The Strange Rebirth of Liberal England. Will he turn the tables of government or just knock them over?

Only in the fine old city itself do some Labour posters appear. Old Labour as in poor old Labour.

A funny thing happened on our way to in the city centre. Cockerels crowing and sheep bleating. There was a mini farmyard outside the forum. Is it another media circus carefully upsetting Gordon's campaign? Infamy! The media have all got it in for me.

So if I was interviewing the three candidates for the job, who would get it? Certainly not someone whose central defining slogan sinks millions of pounds on a slogan that conveys the inability to think in a straight line and whose concepts of change and conservation don't add up. Can this Tory team think? Will the detail of 'Honest' George Osborne's gambler budget add up any more than that slogan?

So you're faced with someone who has energy and enthusiasm and youth and may well be a big hit when he gets his feet on the ground and his hands on the wheel. Young Nick. Or the old guy who everyone is jeering at but who kept us afloat when the waters got really choppy. A man carrying a bit more substance than is strictly healthy but what labouring been-there battleship doesn't?

April 08, 2010

To My Beloved Godson On His Marriage

The last time we shared a church occasion,
You were naked and a little bit sloshed,
And had to be carried home by a woman
And fed through a dummy and washed.
Remember your wife is not your mother!
And you will have saddened, stunned and shocked her,
If you mix up your mate with your madonna
Your angel or nurse, she’s only your doctor.
I’ve little knowledge of the married state,
Your funky uncle only married once
And stayed so through the good times and the great
But here for what it’s worth is my advice:
When Love makes an offer you can’t refuse
Embrace it thorn and rose, win as you lose.

Chris and Tanya's big big day April 10. And I mean big. Let them church bells ring out. She's a doctor, his mother's a nurse. As long as he doesn't go into teaching everything should be hunky dory. Seriously though, they're young, they're brilliant, they're utterly head over heels and life stretches before them like a highway of diamonds. Nice day for a...Welsh wedding.

April 03, 2010

Let The Good Times Roll

Standing behind the Wedlock goal,
watching the barcodes in soft yellow in the rain
like they don’t want to get their kit dirty
against our red-blooded last-ditch knights
(until we let them back in at 2-1)
my daughter said it was the best game
of football she'd ever seen –
all four goals right in our faces,
smell of the turf, rage of the crowd,
ever-changing, undetached narrative
and the world at stake along the white line
for 90 minutes. Can't beat it.
Then alone by an internet radio for Barnsley,
hearing an early lead crumble to 2-1
and then surge to 5-2, the wish to be there
almost as strong as the old dread
that returns – albeit briefly - at 5-3,
I think ‘we’re staying up then’.
And now behind the goal at Peterborough, from top
to bottom in one week, on terraces
built fifty years before the Taylor report
and a thousand years before civilisation,
remembering nine bleak years in the small time,
recovering from the optical illusion of Maynard
in long shorts and socks rolled up in the warm up
as the red tights of a Prem primadonna,
watching a grey game burst into brief red life,
the players larger than life and closer than TV,
as Clarkson nods, winks and ghost-smiles at Hartley
and points at a spot the Posh can’t see
I say to the stranger next to me: ‘Clarkson to score!’
and he does, like it’s my birthday (which it is)
and like we’re too good for places like this (which we aren’t yet)
and start to dream again.

I thought this was the Atyeo?

March 11, 2010

Real Wife

We're not the teen-dream lovers of the songs
And films n’ soaps n’ mills n' boons n’ ads,
The 'hunters' living with their mums and dads,
The twenty-something dramas, dinging-dongs,
The sizzling catalogues of straps and thongs,
The Darcys, Juliets and golden lads
In modern strip from tales in which the cads
Are forty odd like us and cause all wrongs.

Our story didn't end like these above
In frozen celebrations, wedding-deaths;
We've raised a daughter into Now and Next,
We're grown ups grown together, more or less,
Our romance is a realistic text:
A dangerous, married, grail-quest of true love.

This was for an anniversary a few years ago. We've clocked up thirty years since and we're fifty somethings in this picture though forty something in the poem. I always visualise the Norwich City kit in line 7 (because of the golden lads). But for fidelity through better and worse, Ashton Gate is more like it. I shared a long Indian train journey with a Sikh once who told me that you don't get married on your wedding day - it takes at least ten years. We're getting there.

February 04, 2010

Breathless on a peak in Venezuela

To our daughter on her 23rd Birthday
and her imminent departure for Venezuela

So once again, my love, we have to let you go,
Our Spanish sunshine woman, our child of English snow.

The rosebud has to petal, the flower has to bloom,
The young heart has to open and love must let you go.

In realms of gold or breathless on a peak in Venezuela
May that flower of peace you chase within you grow.

These hands that used to be your anchor, wave you farewell now:
Love’s imprint travels with you, and everywhere you go.

O parent, what a burden a beloved child is on the heart:
What chords and strings are plucked, what music wherever she goes.

Dec 28 2009

Note: a bit late posting this but I've been closeted in a room with Oscar Wilde (writing a 100 page study guide on the Canterville Ghost) all day every day since. Our daughter is still in Venezuela, the next beach from Norfolk albeit over thousands of miles of Atlantic and Caribbean water. On the phone her voice sounds simultaneously far away and shockingly close.