December 31, 2011

Moving into Movies

Time to put the new into new year. I am now a screen actor. I have accepted the male lead (a baddie) in a short student-made film set in mediaveal times to be shot in Norwich over the next few weeks. At one's age, one likes to have young people about one!

Success will not change me. I will remain insufferably arrogant, opinionated and vain. You wouldn't want me any other way. If I can make such qualities of use to my fellow artists, makers and - by extension - humanity, then how Canne I say Non? In the film I am pursued across a archetypal East Anglian winter landscape by a woman. She is more nemesis than fury, but all the more a nemesis for that. I can't wait.

The photo shows my massive-award winning young cousin Robb Leech (director of My Brother the Islamist) in Edinburgh with me last summer. He'd just got the award. I'd just finished a punishing Fringe run. The mise en scene (oh we get all the in-terms here) is Igg's Spanish bar on Jeffrey St. I am not at all jealous of my six year old upstart relative, as you can see.

December 21, 2011

Lucy in the sky and John

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, still
(I'm chiding late schoolboys)
And still see beauty'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

Ha ha, that had you. Not St John Lennon or LSD or even Lucille Ball but John Donne's timeleless winter solstice poem Nocturnal on St Lucie's Day (the shortest day, today) or rather my own take on it 350 years later. Anniversarie For John Donne on St Lucy's Day. I wrote this poem thirty winter solstices ago today. We are all becoming history. We are all slipping into the dark...

Photo note: Not Cotswolds in the 80s but Norfolk now, it that's not an oxymoron in a place that often feels timeless. This is the twin of the summer solstice photo I took in a slightly warmer dusk six months ago (see blog June 21.) A lot of wassail under the bridge since then. More solstice-celebration in Poem of the Month for December in the main site.

December 17, 2011

from Sergeant Spectre's Lonely Hearts Club Bang

Christmas morning 1963. The Spectre children have hardly slept. After hours tossing and turning, pretending they are waiting to catch Dad as Santa but really just aching for it to be Christmas morning, they peer around the door of the small living room, its neatly wallpapered surfaces and soberly plastered ceiling a magical garden of decorations. There is the scent of earth and pine. The presents are piled up under the tree like fairytale treasure. The lights on the tree radiate happiness so intense it hurts.

Note and quiz question: this is from a just-about ready new novel about the Sixties where Christmases during the decade get revisited. The Fab Force was mainly at Christmas No. 1 in the album charts 1963-1969. But their signature album Sergeant Pepper was actually replaced at the top by an LP that competed for the top spot with every Beatle album from Beatles For Sale (which came out in 1964) to The Beatles (White album, which came out in 1968) and which is therefore arguably a rival as period soundtrack. What was it? Let me know via the comment box. I think you'll be surprised. Clue High on the hill...?

December 10, 2011

Under Weigh

Under weigh - when a ship has drawn its anchors from their moorings, and started on its voyage. (Brewer). I just tweeted this. It's a full moon and a triple eclipse so it seemed like a good idea. I was worried it might be a bit trivial. As everyone is getting their knickers in a twist about X Factor on there (and that's just the men) I think was worrying unnecessarily.

November 28, 2011

An Appointment With Mr Dylan

Rubber Soul type photo taken before and at the recent Hammersmith Apollo Dylan concert by ace photographer Howard Thomas (pictured, bald, no specs ) Dani Thomas, Melanie Calway and the bard on the wire (bald, specs.) Debbie and Thomas Leech joined the photograph later (see next post).

November 27, 2011

Homage to Adomah

adomah mid flow
a wind in the scarlet leaves
that stirs a whole crowd

Wot no picture?. The haiku IS the picture.

November 26, 2011

32nd Anniversary

Real Wife

'So you, you say you wanna be married...' (Hendrix)

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 fifty-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 grownups grown together, more or less,
Our romance is a realistic text:
A dangerous, married, grail-quest of true love.

Notes: If I hadn't been so happily married, I would probably have written much better poems about it. It's a bit like being the 'official' poet of something. You write worthily and triumphantly but not with the aching heart that Yeats tells us creates a changeless work of art. It's a bothersome thought that most of the masterpieces come out of suffering the pangs of love rather than enjoying a 32nd anniversary dinner: the Taj Mahal, almost every pop song worthy of the name (Hendrix's 50th Anniversary, all of Elvis Costello, Sinatra's torch songs for Ava Gardner, Lennon's 'Girl' rather than his mature - and soppy - 'Woman' etc), Romeo and Juliet, Leila and Majnu, Lancelot and Guinevere, Paradise Lost Books 1 and 2, Inferno (which for all its doom beats Paradiso as a work of art every time). Our culture is much better at visions of hell and purgatory than heaven. That's what's wrong with it. Luckily as far as my own creative work is concerned I have the twenty three years before marrying Melanie and most of what happened at work after doing so to provide the spur to the Pegasus flank and fly. All that said, this effort, my favourite from an annual anniversary sequence abandoned at 50, conveys something of the ongoing spur of marriage. After all, as a Sikh once told me on a train to Mumbai, marriage is not the wedding or the honeymoon or even the next 32 years: it's the work of a lifetime.

November 17, 2011

A Home Win

What does a home win smell like?

It smells like cider.
It smells like the Nova before the tobacco ban.
It smells like November in August, sweet as the blackberries that came and went untasted, coming back on the rain.
It smells like the river under Clifton's suspension bridge of disbelief, at the turn of the tide, flooding out towards the sea.
It smells like the turf of Ashton Park.
It smells like home

Earthquakes In London review

Earthquakes in London. We saw this exhilarating Brecht-tinged Dionysia in Cambridge Arts Theatre last week and the review (link above: you will probably need to copy and paste it) by Culture Vulture on the Glitterazi website, says it all for me. All I'm adding here is my photo of Trafalgar Square's lion with the improvement made by last spring's indignatos

October 21, 2011

An Appointment With Mr Yeats

It's a sad fact that collaborations can divide rather than multiply and there was every chance that this unlikely merger of the wonderful Waterboys and the incomparable Yeats would come up with neither and less. But it's a triumph. Every time Kate Kim sings the word 'Politics' every ounce of what Yeats meant by 'Oh that I were young again and held her in my arms' hits the spot. And Innisfree as a blues? Genius. And the rhythms of Come away , come away at the top of the album make you want to believe in all that Celtic twilight whimsy Yeats brought to its apotheosis before moving on to become the greatest Romantic of the Twentieth century, and a Modernist the equal of Eliot. Before the World Was Made sung once by Mike Scott and then Katie Kins and then together kind of makes Yeats' point. And the playing's vintage Waterboys. It's the Waterboys AND Yeats and AND something more than the sum of these parts. I haven't stopped playing it for two weeks and unless my wife threatens to leave me on that account I can't see that changing any time soon. A supreme vindication of cheek and of not letting anyone's reputation stop you from trying to approach what they did in the cheeky way they did in the first place. Romantic Ireland's not dead and gone or with the Yeats Heritage industry: it's here smelling of Yeatsian Roses.

October 16, 2011

Sedgeford October

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

Just noticed that I missed out October in my Poem of the Month this year. So I'll sneak it in here and hope I get away with it. It's very much an end of October poem anyway, especially this year when it's been like the Costa del Sol half the time. This poem hung in our local Sedgeford pub for years and got read in another local pub (Ringstead's Gin Trap) this year. I'm putting together a calendar of Norfolk poems: this one will be very hard to shift off the October page.

September 21, 2011

Caz Captures The Last Boudicca

Ace photographer and Brighton fashion icon Caz captures Fringe veteran Gaz as he gives his final Boudicca to the cool and kooky of Edinburgh on Friday 26 August.

September 17, 2011

Reviews from my second Edinburgh run

ThreeWeeks - the Edinburgh Fringe review magazine - have published their review of Boudicca; Britain's Dreaming, which they saw on Wednesday 24 August. It's three weeks after the run ended so its not going to boost my audiences now but those who saw it may be interested, particularly the great crowd I had in that night. Best front row ever - dudes you know who you are. I also publish here the Scotsman's August 24 review of the brother show Arthur, seen August 16. This proper big newspaper review feels like a pat on the head from a grown up, even though the reviewer was probably half my age.


Boudicca’s story is reinvented as a punk fable in this history lesson/political speculation. When Calway speaks about Boudicca’s tale itself, he’s impassioned, ruthless and funny, close to a poetic ‘Horrible History’ book. The direction is energetic – particularly the clownish interactions with the ‘Masks’. ThreeWeeks Sunday 11 September 2011

Delving into British history, this is slam poetry with a patriotic twist. Attempting to tell what is essentially the story of Britain from the time of Arthur to the present, this madcap production combines tales of the ancient world with football chants and sports commentary.
... What is clearly a long-held passion for the glittering career of a great king is told in an arresting way... (Calway) races from the heat of battle to a cricket match; from the valleys of Wales to John O'Groats, and on to Land's End.
Despite the confusion, this interpretation is full of boyhood glee. It is a yarn well spun, with a few stiches dropped, but vibrant and poetic enough to be a commendable effort.
Catriona MacLeod
The Scotsman Weds 24 Aug 2011

POSTSCRIPT A slightly longer of Catriona MacLeod's original print review has finally turned up on online on the following website
Her other reviews are well worth reading too.

September 10, 2011

Receding Fringe?

After twenty nine days at the Edinburgh Fringe, treading cobbles in the rain to granite cellars to watch more shows in one day than I’ve seen in the previous year, while performing two shows of my own, I’m back to gentle Norfolk sunshine.
My chief impression is that ‘Fringe’ no longer describes it. Mainstream stand up by people off the telly, pantomimes, children’s shows, safe reassuring comedy are the shows that bring in the coach-load audiences blocking up the elegant narrow genteel streets. Alternative comedy and challenging theatre is everywhere but most of it attracts the kind of audiences that ensure the Fringe average stabilises at three. The alternative New York underground legend Lach - a countercultural mid evening show and witching hours cellar cabaret – is critically acclaimed as the essence of Fringe but played to more empty seats than walked out of some of the larger commercial promotions. Empty vessels make the most noise? And even then the group of brainless drunks who had their photo taken with Big brother ‘star’ Pete, outside before talking loudly through the first twenty minutes of Lach’s heartwarming and kooky show had to be given the option of pursuing their quest of vacuous celebrity elsewhere by Lach himself. ‘I’ll turn my back and if you’ve attended by mistake you can disappear’ – which they duly did to relieved applause from the rest of the house. ‘They were sucking my energy, man.’ The audience’s too.
I saw a physical theatre production of Steven Berkhoff’s Agamemnon that was so stunningly good I attended it twice. Twice more than the reviewer who arrived late, fell distractingly asleep in front of me, and then left after twenty minutes. The cramped venue ensured that all of the work the performers did at floor level was not seen by anyone further away than the front row – and, if they were that reviewer, not even by them – but everything about this production was fresh, vibrant, starry, young, brilliantly new: the kind of multi arts and innovative experience the Fringe should foster. It was well supported but hardly registered in a city devoted to celebrity reruns – not to mention shambolic imitations - of what audiences already see on TV all the time.
The star system the reviewers use can make or break you at the box office but it lacks any objective criteria – witness shows that get one star in the Scotsman and Three Weeks and four stars from some of the sixth form publications. That wouldn’t happen at A level: or let’s hope not. If the performer is famous, and therefore the house is full, there are already stars in the reviewers’ eyes. More worryingly, ‘weird’ seems to be a reviewer negative – is this the Fringe or Top of the Pops? - and among all the thousands of mega-bankrolled advertising campaigns fronting the big shows and the modest ones fronting the little shows, I read of one obscure one man effort that got hammered as ‘an exercise in self-publicity!’
Henry the Hoover and Friends was genuine kooky comedy and Shakespeare’s Monkeys combined joyously skilful Shakespearean acting with a two woman audience-interactive politically incorrect stand up which debunked everything from celebrity cookery programmes to Dame Judy preciousness (no offence to the real Judy)– the use of spoons instead of daggers for Macbeth a moment of comic heaven – in a way that would have had the Bard himself chortling with joie de vivre. Significantly, both of these were part of the Free Fringe and this may well be the future of the Fringe spirit (though apparently the Scotsman doesn’t review the Free stuff). Money corrupts and it also corporatizes. It’s a bit like punk rock – what started as a shocking deconstruction of culture has become, through audience demand and promoter control, a sentimental replay of reassuring Punk Hits.

September 01, 2011

My best night at the Fringe

Lach's Antihoot Line-Up for Tonight (Thursday Night): A Fantastic Night of Top Comics and Songwriters!
BULLETIN: TONIGHT: 1/2 Price TKTS (only £6!) plus a full bar!
"Top Five Late Night Shows at Fringe"- The List
"Five Stars!"- The Herald
Thurs.Aug.18- 1) Trevor Browne, 2) Bob Fletcher, 3) Kaley Northcott , 4) James Hazelden, 5) Abie Philbin Bowman, 6)-Alev Lenz, 7) Gareth Calway , 8) The Vans, 9) Nick Sun, 10) Laura Theis, 11)Tom Oakes, 12) Dan Wright
August 18 at 12:26pm

PS In Norfolk, I usually go to bed at 10 pm. Here, I was onstage behind a mic rocking for Boudicca at 2 am, and we were still celebrating at 4 am. I think we even helped some young ladies create an arts installation out of repressive traffic cones until a police car approached. Then we went home like students a third of our age to tea and toast as dawn came up over the Firth of Forth. Magic.

August 16, 2011

Nearing Half Time

The ref's just looking at his watch as Arthur and Boudicca come up to half time. It's raining - again. I'm beginning to wonder if there are any actual punters in Edinburgh or whether every audience is actually just a collection of performers in other shows temporarily 'resting' from their own sales pitches, showcasing, flyer-ing and performing. If so, what is the collective noun for such an audience. An Eden burgher? Seriously, if anyone who has ever enjoyed any aspect of my work is in Edinburgh this week and wants to see the Arthur show, Saturday is a really good day. The Scotsman is reviewing it and it would be great if she had a big audience around her as she does so.

PS (added later) A very fair review from the Scotsman and three much appreciated stars. A great audience too, some of them such good performers themselves that if I'd known in advance I might have been too scared to go on at all. But I'm very glad I did.

July 27, 2011

Gin Trap Folk

I usually keep this gig quiet as it feels more like an evening at home with friends than a public event but I feel bound to sing the praises of Norfolk folk before I head north to Auld Reekie for a month of Fringe. Last night's monthly session at the Gin Trap Inn, Ringstead, was particularly brilliant with no less than three rootsy folk versions of Lennon-McCartney songs - Let Me Roll It, Norwegian Wood (well she would wouldn't she?) and Get Back - that make you realise how folk-inspired the greatest pop band of all time actually were. And much else besides - a harp, sea shanties, blues, group sing-alongs, Sloop John B with every kind of vocal and instrumental accompaniment - they even let me bang my bodhran- unaccompanied ballads, Italian love songs a capello from the lurvely landlord, endless good humour and banter and a place for poetry too. We have the timeless folk tradition on our doorstep in these parts and even if most of us are Sixties and Seventies veterans and getting on a bit, it doesn't look like ending any time soon. Performing the 'rap' below with the whole pub joining me on the 'life is a bitch' refrain (very funny when you see and hear a pub growling this in unison) was one of the high spots of my performing life and the very best confidence-booster to send me off to represent Sedgeford at the Edinburgh Fringe. Let's hear it for Gin Trap Folk! Cock-a-doodle-do! (or whatever you call that sound that pheasants make)

In the gloom before work, let the radio play,
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

The longer I live the more I must say,
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

Ruin hath taught me to thus ruminate
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

Twenty years of schooling merely dictate
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

Flowers will wither and teeth will decay.
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

Everything passes; your heart still aches.
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

You mortgage three decades then death awaits.
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

You dream siren-holidays: the alarm clock awakes.
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

You want the Maracana: you get Ashton Gate.
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

A shop-till jingle with words by Yeats,
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

In the name of love, you self-procreate,
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

You lose the plot, like Chandler, like Blake,
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

The Kylie bird sings and no guitar breaks.
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

Saturday ends in a month of Sundays.
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

I came here for Eden and got Bill Gates.
Life is a bitch but the songs are great.

Life is a bitch but the songs are great.
Let the heartstrings soar, the brass (or in this case, the folk) resonate.

July 26, 2011

King Arthur Rides Out: Holt Festival

King Arthur (One Man and His Masks Part 2) Rides Out - and more sure footedly than a world premiére might though I have been preparing it since March 2010. Holt Festival is a very good place to be: securely organised, energetic and with lots of sell out houses and I believe I was the first act of its Ubergrandanonium. King Arthur to the fore as always. The long applause at the end and even a whistle (this is becoming a trend and I'm all for it) made brave music in my ears. Norfolk audiences, as I know from my years in the Sedgeford pantomime, often give no indication whatsoever of what they're feeling throughout a show but then thunder out their approval at the end. So my heart was in my mouth for much of this but it's beating as a steady as an Arthurian gallop now, ready for anything - even the Edinburgh fringe.

July 11, 2011

Will Ye No Come Back Again?

The Rest Is History

The rest is history, or Arthur Mee legend.
A lost summer country hollow Inn,
The Green Man, cheering on a Great British win,
An Avalon that isn’t there in the morning;
A dream awoken to this light’s cold day
Where in spite of my shin-struck, wounded need
For thundering hooves in defence of these islands,
He doesn’t come back. And he was never
Called Arturus Rex, whoever he was,
And in some accounts, not even ‘Arthur’.
And he was never mediaeval and never a king.
And who cares? Not Me. I stand on this tumulus
Of boyhood, layers of chalk written on clay,
Craters and knolls, his monk-buried legend
Scarred in my flesh, his doubt-defying
Desperate defence of wonder (which
Is what he was) an earth ditch like mine;
His weapons, toys of tin and
strapped wood and skin,
Like mine, on a May hill that may have been Badon
And may have not, blades
of peaceful grass troubled only -
And not just now - by rain, wind and ghosts
And a White Horse, God-large in memory,

God-large still.

This is from The Lost Land, the text (or libretto if we're being arty) of Arthur; Britain's Making. The show premiéres at the Holt Festival on Monday 25 July. High noon. 45 minutes. Free but you gotta book. 01263 711284 website - look in the ubergrandanomium section. I put together various Celtic British voices for Arthur and his knights and goddesses and ladies for the show and this particular one - suggested by the romantic vision that vanishes with the morning mist 'he does not come back' comes out as Scottish and with a Skye boat song lilt. I grew up in Somerset and visited Westbury White Horse frequently. The prehistoric White Horse carved in the hillside was indeed as large as God and when I went back to Frome on the train a few years ago the horse, seen from the railway line, seemed just as epic. So a fair amount of the show comes out in a West country voice but there is much Scottish material in this great British legend and the hero fights as many battles from the north as he does from the West. Sir Gawain of Orkney, Arthur's Seat and all that Celtic jazz. This continuing defence of daring and wonder travels to Edinburgh and the Celtic fringe to join its sister show, Boudicca; Britain's Dreaming, at venue 53 theSpace@Surgeons' Hall on 6 August.

May 19, 2011 repeat

Repeat of the Reading Room broadcast that closed the Lincoln Book Festival last Sunday is on Siren FM 107.3 tonight from 8 pm and also at
Boudicca is on about 5 to 10. Further repeat from 10 am Sunday and my bit will be at 5 to noon. Or see it here

May 16, 2011

Boudicca at Lincoln

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'The Reading Room' is an event run by Lincoln's community radio station Siren 107.3 FM and broadcast last night to the world. The event also closed the 2011 Lincoln Book Festival and as I was last on, I can claim to have the closed the festival, something my Norfolk heroine - Boudicca - certainly did in AD 60 when she wiped out the Ninth Legion. Lincoln is a big city for us, coming out of our Norfolk village for the day, and it is certainly a happening modern place but it still feels very Roman and mediaeval and the historical buildings and glimpses of buried Romnan walls - and the Miss Marple tea rooms - all add to this effect. We loved it, even if Boudicca seems (as so often though perhaps here more understandably than usual) written out of the his story. The kaleidoscopic stained glass of the Cathedral windows was just as described in Lawrence's The Rainbow and after the welcoming smile at the door no-one rugby tacked you for a fiver before they let you in. The Bishop Greave theatre where the Reading Room was broadcast and staged is part of the University College and took me back to gap year Sunday afternoons gate-crashing Weymouth Teacher Training College residences in 1975 visiting a girlfriend: probably the combination of being very there (psyching myself up for an evening performance) and not there at all (modern students living a life for me gone by.) There were fourteen performers in all and I enjoyed the passionate acts of communication taking place. Being a writer /performer is a solitary life so it was good to share it as a community like this. As my own bardic persuasion has moved more and more into narrative, theatre and sound/music, I have half forgotten how good it is sometimes to just present an image, how eloquent and timeless the haiku end of the poetic spectrum can be. There was plenty of that and also some well told stories from very different places than my own furrows and we got some humour in the second half too and a striking singer songwriter with great lyrics and a great voice in both halves. I loved every second of my my eight minutes of Boudicca on voice and punk bodhran at the end knowing that the microphone was broadcasting it to the world (I had emails from Spain and Wales when I got home) as well as to the generous theatre audience in front of me. This is a community radio station that really cares about community and a community we certainly were. And it's going out as a podcast so all you need to do is click in the link on the Siren radio webpage and you can experience it anywhere in the world all over again - even (my dear Uncle Tom) in darkest Weymouth.

May 15, 2011

Boudicca Live At Bishop Greaves Theatre Lincoln

I'm getting the old Union Jack T shirt on again this evening at the Bishop Greave Theatre, Lincoln, doors open 6.45 pm, in a live radio performance as part of Siren 107.3 FM's Reading Room event at the Lincoln Festival. The Reading Room is live on air 7.30 pm. Yes, I have a face for radio and a T shirt and white shoes too but there is Method in my Bardness - while mainly a radio event there is also a theatre audience present and some filming going on and Simon Crawford's superb masks are always worth introducing to the public gaze. I'm doing my favourite excerpt from the show, 'In The City/The Anarchy Tour,' where the idea of Boudicca's revolt as a punk rock tour is probably at its strongest. Especially with a mic in my face. Boudicca's greatest military triumph was arguably when (after burning down Colchester) she annihilated an actual professional Roman army - the Ninth Legion - that marched out from Lincoln after the sack of Colchester to teach her a lesson. So as we drive up there today from Norfolk, her ancient Iceni heartland, there may well be a few ghosts with me. The Boudicca excerpt will close the show which stages two hours of five minute readings and which runs from 7.30 to 9.30. I guess Boudicca will be setting fire to Lincoln from 9.20 approx. Further information about the event as a whole on

Live excerpt (film) here-

April 26, 2011

Man Friday: 25% Extra Large Easter Triptych

1. A Jolly Good Friday

Jesus was an Englishman,
The Son of Grace (W.G.)
Cured 99 limbs on the village green
And a leper before the Last Tea.

Jesus remained a gentleman
Though the crowd’s game wasn’t cricket,
Carried His cross with stiff upper lip
And was only politely anti-Semitic.

2. Easter Saturday: 0-1, 2-1, 2-2.

The team I follow is full of Jesses who think they’re God’s gift, diving Christians
and Daniels up against Lions

A voice in the faithless crowd calls “Judas”
As our transferred ex-Saviour applauds ex-fans.

Nil-one, man down, the game as dead
As a frozen church, the comeback beckons.

On thawing cold feet, we are glory glory singing
It’s all worth it, after all, and then it isn’t.

3. Sunday: Petering Out

Nailed upside down at dawn,
The cockerel crowing with the crowd,
I tried to speak up for You,
"Love Can Turn The World Around."

Gravel-voiced but choked
Out of a throat of clay
I threw my word of rock
Too hard, too hard, away.

Now across this sheer water,
A crystal light
Turns and returns
Upon memory's tide.

My father is fishing
Still waters at sunrise.
He turns and winks:
I fear no evil when he is with me.

What voice sounding sure
In the depths of my heart
Drowns the distant breaking
Of a shell's lost cry?

4. Easter Mundane

Nothing happens.
I don't feel a thing.
The rock doesn't roll.
The angels don't sing.

Good Friday isn't bad.
Saturday hangs on
A Sunday that rises
But not for long.

The hiker at the crossroads
Asks for directions
Down unbridled Ways
To non-consummations.

The cyclist’s windy map
Winds in endless rotation
Of his pre-booked, pre-cooked

The City get hammered.
I don't feel a thing.
The cock can't crow
And no angels sing.

Notes: This little sequence came out of the Unsunny Easter of 2003 originally. The only consistency with 2011 - and now 2013 - is my team's Easter form. It's an effort to do a modern version of the Renaissance Easter painting in which all the Jewish characters looked Italian, here a triptych. The impulse of 'Easter Mundane' is that post holiday void which is also the post-Christian void. I read an Easter Saturday 1972 poem (by Tom Leech, pictured) many years ago in which a crowd of pub-punters talk about a 'transferred' player who, the reader gradually twigs, is Jesus. The picture shows Tom earlier this year in India, one of the few holy lands I got to before him. 'Petering Out' fuses St Peter's story - he asked to be crucified upside down as contrition for that legendary denial - with a rare and precious memory of fishing with my father at Shearwater Lake near Longleat, Wilts, one Sunday morning about a hundred years ago.

April 21, 2011

One Man and His Masks at the Holt Summer Festival

One Man And His Masks Part Two; Arthur; Britain's Making gets its premiére at the Holt Summer Festival at noon on Monday 25 July at Gresham's Pre-Prep School. Just before going up for its run at the Fringe. Here's a shot of a rehearsal in the gardens of Ancyrian a mystical Celtic cottage in North West Norfolk, believed to have been once inhabited by the Celtic gods Ann and Cyril.

The show is Bardic storytelling with one man theatre, poetry, some posing with a toy sword and shield and a bit of Celtic drumming/ folky vocals. The invisible sword Excalibur - 'blade of lightning' - appears as does the invisible magical white stallion Hengroen on which Arthur rode to battle. It might look more like the groin of a chap in cricket whites stretched over a wheelchair to you but after all we're in Cervantes Don Quixote territory here. Bring your imagination because this is where most of this romance and Celtic legend is staged.

A Jolly Good Friday

Jesus was an Englishman,
The Son of Grace (W.G),
Cured ninety nine limbs on the village green
And a leper, before the Last Tea.

Jesus remained a gentleman
Though the crowd's game wasn't cricket,
Carried His cross with stiff upper lip
And was only politely anti-Semitic.

Here's wishing everyone a jolly Good Friday. I wrote this in 1982 not long after an Arvon writing course at Easter in Totleigh Barton in Devon (still a very fond memory) around the time I was doing readings at the Barge Semington in Gloucester. You had to fairly pithy or the good natured Gloucester crowd would tell you to pith off. It was published in 'Exile In His Own Country' (Bluechrome, 2006) though it never made it into the Church Times. I was young and naive and couldn't understand how Christianity could get to the pogroms from a Jewish Messiah born of Jewish parents with Jewish apostles. I am older and worldlier now and this sort of ingenuity no longer surprises me. Nevertheless, out of the mouths of babes...

March 29, 2011

It's My Birthday And I'll Write A Ghazal If I Want To

My other half

My other half is a picture, her painted eye like a rose,
Her body held in a soft flame of stillness, freed in a pose.

My other half is a dancer, unfastened hair like a tide,
Her fingers fly out of time's rut: and pluck my heart as it blows.

My other half is a priestess who trails her heaven scent
To hell and back round a navel the musk-deer* endlessly roves.

My other half is a goddess, whose neck is softer than sky,
She turns to me like a planet, and everything else explodes.

O h(e)art, this quest is your own end, you're lost and that's why you win,
You’re stripped of even your held breath and kiss what God alone knows.

*The Kasturi-mriga, a deer of the Himalayas whose navel yields musk.

Notes. This is a ghazal, an Indian love-lyric: it ought to be in Urdu but this is the best I can do in English. The form is said to have inspired the Renaissance Italian sonnet from its base in the nightingale and garden culture of Persia at a time when the Arabs were teaching us - among other things - chivalry towards women. The quest of the hart/ heart through the forest as an allegory of a lover's pursuit of the beloved is about as courtly French romance as you get though and this one is included in my Arthurian play for teenagers. I saw a deer at close quarters in the fields outside our cottage today: it should not have been there but I'm awfully glad it was.

March 20, 2011

March 19, 2011

The quest of the red hart

The robin flutters east to choir his team,
Through sunset’s rose and night-denying dream.

The Sunday School turns East to praise a word
That weeps in blood between the lines that seem.

The nun retreats to heart-denying cell
And turns to God her blushes and her beam.

The King St lover walks where lights are red
But will not stop him daring for his Queen.

The rhyming market trader sells his soul
And scarlet ribbons to a lonely teen.

The cat scales down the great sun’s glowing fire
To purring window’s perfect-bedded dream.

The hart pursues her navel’s heaven scent
To hell and back to where she’s always been.

Oh Bard, don’t preach the way to go to Sea
When home is where each hart is, by the stream.

Notes: On Monday I drove 45 Norfolk miles to Norwich to watch a football match (Bristol City - the Robins - lost 3-1, though that's not how I saw it.) For most people that would be it and it was certainly more than enough. Not me. I carry this poem around like a headache all week and finally locate the ache somewhere nearer the bottom - of my heart - and write the thing by the light of an amazing full moon in the early hours of Saturday morning. It's not easy being a poet you know. The form, for those who care about such things, is the Persian ghazal, a highly disciplined yet intoxicating Urdu love lyric much used by Hafiz and with pretensions - in Hafiz's case real aspirations - to the Divine. The 'message' is based on a Meher Baba discourse called The Deeper Aspects of Sadhana. This includes the tale of the Kasturi-mriga (the deer whose navel yields musk) fatally pursuing the divine scent thinking it was outside herself and whose realisation of its true location on dying brought 'inexpressible peace.' So Mr Calway's day/night out in Norwich as seen through the prism of the story of the Kasturi-mriga.

March 12, 2011


A moment in the life of Prince of Wales Road, Norwich, ( 7.05 pm, March 10 AD 2011.) Prince of Wales was the road taken by we two UEA alumni to meet Melanie's 'old' history teacher from the 1960s, appropriately a princely Welshman from Cardiff and - in defiance of all the other evidence here - still sporting a determined head of curly hair. History shall not pass.

March 06, 2011

Sick To The AA Gills of This Metropolitan Prejudice

I don’t have the advantage of The Sunday Times’ ‘Table Talk’ correspondent AA Gill’s sneering metropolitan ‘insight’ into Norfolk. I only live here. Nor of his gastronomic critique of The Rose and Crown, Snettisham. I only eat there once a week and pretty much every special occasion. (Lest this appear incestuous - a term he uses with rather more freedom than evidence- I also regularly eat in London and other major cities where restaurants offering half this range and quality charge three times as much for the privilege. ) I do not have the advantage of Mr Gill’s national platform from which to fire a Broadside against this beautiful rolling landscape. (Yes, rolling. The Fens like the Hereward the Wake he places here in North West Norfolk are actually much further south, in Ely, which is in Cambridgeshire and in any case have a unique 180 degrees skyline and sense of freedom that metropolitan city dwellers typically long for. ) But I hope an inhabitant of what he variously slanders as both Narnia and Hernia will be allowed to ‘do different ‘ (Norfolk’s motto) and challenge his narrative with an alternative one, a habit championed in the past by the various heretic voices he demonises. Julian of Norwich, pioneering proto-Protestant female prose writer and ageless mystic, Thomas Paine, proto-democrat and prophetic author of Common Sense – all of it now adopted common practice - whom he belittles – and Boudicca, whom he omits, possibly because after invasive deracinating outsiders (Romans) had insulted and robbed her of herself, she burned down the London they came from, a London that had sold its soul to bankers, tiled floors, square urbanity and monuments. Gill has some deep problem with Norfolk that appears to distort his perceptions so much that I simply do not recognise the one he describes. Perhaps he should have a psychiatric treatment – or maybe just an eye test? Or just a pint of the Rose and Crown’s excellent Broadside ale – a sure cure for the bile of his ‘London Pride.’ (The latter guest ale is as excellent as all six real ales and the twenty nine fine wines served by the Rose and Crown but I think Mr Gill needs something a little more rustic – and stronger). My problem with London is that instead of the homely combination of real pub and cosmopolitan menu that sets the Rose and Crown apart – ever changing, inexhaustibly first class, effortlessly continental but restlessly and excitingly world-cuisine – instead of its two restaurants, two log-fire bars, oak beam and stone thresholds worn down by half a millennium of folk and large modern family area (the only part Gill reports) that the 14th century Rose and Crown offers, you can spend a day trying to find a shop that sells a digital radio before your realise that they are all in Tottenham Court Road: a hundred and one versions of the same shop. And that Leicester Square in the ‘heart’ of London is basically ten giant cinemas and ten thousand tourists and that you will find more of ‘real’ London in Leytonstone – though you won’t find a Rose and Crown worth the name there – or Burnham Market, which up here in Norfolk is known as ‘Chelsea sur le Mer.’ ‘Real’ Burnham Market – the butchers, the unlocked flint Nelson- redolent churches, the playgroup, the school – is a community that really works. The ‘Chelsea’ influx that comes there to exclaim in very loud voices and very loud clothes HOW QUIET IT IS HERE over their overpriced Chablis is one that AA Gill would doubtless feel quite at home in. And one we locals merely enjoy watching with a tolerant smile.

February 24, 2011

Boudicca at the Norwich Puppet Theatre

The Norwich Puppet Theatre staff were as always consummately professional, friendly and helpful all afternoon. I love this venue - a wonderful building (one of Norwich's many converted flint mediaeval churches) and a staff to match. I also got a decent-sized house - with an age range of (I guess) 9 up towards 80. It was great to have a front row of enthusiastic children learning about their unsung heroine whose giggles at the gags turned to rapt attention at the more sombre aspects of the story. And the older children (ages 12-80?) joined them at the end in the longest applause I think I've ever had. It's such a relief to get this thing out of rehearsal and before the public after so long. This show is well and truly on the road. Right - you've read the write up. Now get on the phone and book it.

February 23, 2011

Boudicca Tour: we're off

Here's the first set of the tour - and it will be hard to beat. It's an oak circle evoking the Celtic world and not just that - it had the actual 4000 year old Sea Henge just behind the audience. You can see its shadow cast in the floor between the two masks - perfect. I was facing it the whole performance, my Union Jack reflection putting me happily but paradoxically both on-stage and in the audience. So a genuine sense of occasion for the project starter. Tonight Boudicca's royal progress across her old quendom continues to the Norwich Puppet Theatre 01603 629921. It's a very UEA show - my other alma mater - so it's fitting that it should home in now to that fine city.

February 21, 2011

One Man and His Masks CDs and booklet for schools

My bardic storytelling tour of Britain 2011-12 gets under way in Norfolk this week with Boudicca; Britain’s Dreaming. One Man and His Masks is a verse-based modern retelling of early British history using performance/masks/Celtic drum and aims to present the heritage stories of King Arthur and the relatively unsung British heroine Boudicca to modern teenagers in exciting new ways. Part One tells Boudicca’s revolt against the Romans as a punk rock tour, emphasising the Celtic and matriarchal angle more than the standard Roman view. Part Two tells Arthur’s legend as a sports channel covering the Grail/Cup Final - Camelot City versus Saxon Forest – with commentary, crowd noise, post-match analysis and call ins and emphasising the ancient Celtic more than the traditional Norman versions. Arthur is more boy-friendly and Boudicca is more girl-friendly if those terms mean anything anymore but they’re both designed to appeal to both genders: there’s heaps of battle narrative in the Boudicca and plenty of love poetry in the Arthur. If you can’t get to one of the gigs (full details 2011-12 Tour) there are school-friendly studio CDs of both performances, and a lyric booklet for Arthur.

February 20, 2011


Dear Howard,
Life in this tough old valley follows its same old course.
The same old Afon Llwyd
Though the ‘llwyd’ is less industrial now.
I would like to say
‘Fresh from my stream of romantic conquests
I am taking the women of the vale by storm’.

I could settle with sigh, I suppose, and live with my past,
Marry one of the sisters’ friends.
Marry her then, you have to make do
(With clouds of white and dirty linen)
And teach the children to climb and reach
For that slag-heaped grey-sheeped mountain top
Where I went to school before them.
You have to learn to make do in the end.

Through numb and blackened hungover eyes,
I watch the weary sun rise
Over dancing daffodils mistily pale,
Pagan mirages amidst the trees,
Ghosts of the past hymned by the breeze
Over and over mountains that mark, settling with a sigh,
Deep-seated struggles long past.

There’s a lot of my mother in this poem. I don’t think I was the only one who had the (disappearing?) privilege of this sad conflict because of University. The first half of the last line is from my A level Geography notes. The penultimate line includes the word 'mark' which anyone who has played Rugby in the ruck and maul-rolling valleys will know allows its shouter a 'stop the world I want to get off' moment. Usually followed by a crunching late tackle from some human brick outhouse intent on keeping it less than detached.


In AD 60 at the time of the Emperor Nero and in his name, in the year of St Paul’s trial for the love of Christ, twenty seven years after the flogging of Jesus for the love of God, the Iceni Queen B’dog... Buddugs... was robbed of her dead husband’s kingdom, tortured, flogged and her nobles enslaved. Her women were sold. Her children were raped. In response, she united half of Celtic Britain in a revolt that shook the Empire, killing some 70,000 Romans. She was a Noble Savage who, like our founding fathers, and unlike our current Emperors, fought for what she believed in. She also gave to the Celtic tribes a British identity in arms only the druids had given them previously in spirit.

The revolt didn’t end happily for the Iceni. Their famously fertile lands made rich by the salt that was the oil of the Ancient commerce - Roman soldiers were even paid in salt, hence the term salary - were now salted into wastelands as a punishment. But Boudicca 61 marked a decisive change in Roman rule. Governors were subsequently careful to woo and win over tribes they had previously robbed, raped and slaughtered in their way to the bank.

Notes: this Roman view of Boudicca (a brythonic/Celtic word meaning 'Victory') is from "Boudicca; Britain's Dreaming" which is pilot-touring Boudicca's heartland of Norfolk this week. Boudicca's revolt against the Romans told as a punk rock tour.Tuesday is King's Lynn, Wednesday is Thetford and Wednesday night is Norwich. Details on the main site / 2011-12 Tour. 07790960868 for on the road info.

February 08, 2011

Welsh Rugby

Welsh Rugby

John scores a hero's try
and breaks his collarbone.
It's only a Games lesson
but it feels like The Grand Slam.
I took his drive for the line
right on the boil on my upper lip.
"Nasty place to have a boil," muses Terry Cobner,
the Games Master: Pontypool, Wales, Armageddon,
the Great British Lion who taught me everything
if I come a second late to his lesson
he hits me so hard on the backside with a redflash dap
I can't even cry with the pain.
Last week, Rhys broke his shin failing to make a mark.
I saw the white bone
hanging out of the skin, and the chunks of blood:
one look was enough.
then up to Ma Kinnock's for 'istory:
leather jacket, hard consonants, Llewellyn the Last and
"well boys, did you see the match - Cardiff and Arsenal?"
(no r in Cardiff, none in Arsenal).
The break she saw me fracture Thomas's nose was the proudest break of my life
but she is as beautiful as the Barley Mountain in spring
and I'm getting to the age when I want to keep my teeth
(I don't want to be Gareth Edwards,
I want to be The Beatles.)
Last week, watching "Terry" hang out of the window
in the middle of another of his recycled RE lessons
yelling at someone on the Rugby field to tackle even harder,
I decided it was easier to study Prince Llewellyn
than to re-enact him on the pitch.
I know already that all peoples (even gentle ones)
who've had their sovereignty stolen by a superior force
produce males who all their lives have to prove
it's no reflection on their manhoods.
It's difficult for the English to understand this.
It's why Rugby isn't cricket in Wales
but War.

From "Exile In His Own Country" Bluechrome 2006

A school contacted me today asking for a poem suitable for Year 10. So I sent this. The shirt in the photo will be performing Arthur;Britain's Making at Venue 53 at the Edinburgh Fringe throughout August 2011. With me inside it.

January 19, 2011

windows on the world

Taken with a Sony Mavica CD 500. a bit like using an old wooden and leather radio when you can use a tiny MP3 player. Music in a glory box.