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If you are at all following the US election (and if you’re not, you should be dammit!)…here’s a blog that yes Nancy directed me to. I love it. I have no idea if it’s real. They say it’s real. But they would. I don’t care. I like it when someone, anyone, can speak his/her mind with feeling. It helps that it’s a mind I agree with. And that it’s from TEXAS. (And yes, Nancy, sometimes Maine!) Go check it out. There are like 400 comments a day on this thing:

Margaret and Helen

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I absolutely cannot believe how long it’s been since I’ve been able to get to this page, this computer. I can’t even bear to make a complete list of what’s been going on. Chickens, lack of heads. Hedges backward. Meeting myself coming. Etc.

Despite my general meltdown, everything seems to have gone just completely swimmingly. Where did I leave you? Ah yes, after wonderful Canterbury Poet of the Year. Then there was the Booker verdict night: really good fun, a good read, good writers — and a surprise winner in The White Tiger. Canterbury’s verdict was Philip Hensher’s Northern Clemency. I’ve read the former (which is why I was a little surprised). Will now read the latter, which got absolutely rave reviews, particularly from Andrew McGuinness, one of the writers there.

Then on the 16th there was the Canterbury Laureate reception and launch of the anthology from the year, called Entirely New: which was wonderful. I was digging deep as they say that day, starting exhausted. But the readings — the children, the adults — and my purple cardigan and tights — kept me going. Another good turnout, and a chance to read some new work. A real corker of a night, an uplift.

THEN at the weekend, a write around town day, only I didn’t do the around town bit. I went down and set up some triggers for whomever was there, then fetched and carried E to piano, made lunch, etc. Then popped into town for the end, to see how it went. By that point I was feeling altogether grey with it all.

Meanwhile the poems from the labyrinth day have been exhibited, and Jan Sellers and I have spent the last couple of days fine-tuning those to go up on — Canterbury buses! Yes, wonderful isn’t it? More on this when it comes to fruition.

Finally (for me, anyway) the Tuesday Readings I’m organising at University of Kent. We had Matthew Welton, then last week Perdika poets, and coming up I am thrilled to say that we have Moniza Alvi and Marianne Boruch joining us. I just can’t, can’t wait. They are both just superb, and exciting, and…if you don’t have your tickets and can get one, come. You won’t regret it. (Meanwhile I am charged with the nuts and bolts which are always the pain of it all: where to get the wine from, how to pay for it, how to pay the guest house, how to make sure the tables get set up when I’m busy with the writers and no one seems to be able to do it, surprise surprise. Etc. Hair-tearing.)

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But beyond all this, more and most importantly, two things:

1) M went to Howlett’s zoo with wonderful friend Nancy (see photos from flickr in sidebar). And how lucky were they?! Lions, tigers, bears…and M’s favourite show, Roar, being filmed! Nancy being Nancy, they managed to keep out of camera shot as requested, watch the whole thing, and get a photo of M with the presenter (who happens to be the one on this clip!). M has been drawing lots of animals this half term, freehand, and has committed whole books of information about them to memory. Hmm…a vet in the making?!

2) E played 5 different instruments in 5 different ensembles on Wednesday night at the Simon Langton Boys Grammar concert. Oh yes he did. Triangle in orchestra (hilarious! not as easy as you’d think, but it doesn’t half look funny); bassoon in wind band (again, an odd instrument really), sang in the choir (by the Rivers of Babylon, fab), some kind of massive drum in a New Orleans jazz band (that woke M up!). And his first piano solo in this school, Brubeck’s Take Five. He did a stunning, stunning job, strolling on without music, jazzing through it, standing up with a nod, and strolling off. Needless to say. We forget he’s only twelve. He seems to have a huge capacity for life, and remain essentially level-headed. We try not to be embarrassingly proud.

 

So, just so we remember what’s important (apologies for sound quality — went for a decent performance rather than purity of sound…amazing just how many performances of this piece are quite, well, below par, speeding up all over the place, messy…makes me realise just how accomplished E is, she says, once again basking in her son’s talents…):

For those of you who knew it was going to happen, it happened. For those who didn’t: I threw a surprise party for R last week. 

Oh yes I did.

The children were in on it. It took weeks to plan. On top of everything else. I don’t know what got into me, except this: we have a tendency to be away for his birthday. In fact, we haven’t been home in years  on the actual day. So I wanted to make an effort. I  said I’d cook him dinner. He was panicking (stop laughing). We sent him outside to his shed until we were ready. He was panicking. He thought that the best he could hope for was take-away Chinese.

The children led him in the front door, eyes closed. When he walked in —

18 people were sitting on the floor of our living room.

I’d done it! We’d done it!

He was gob-smacked. The first thing he said was Who thought this would be a good idea? In fact he said this several times in the first two minutes. Which panicked me somewhat.

Then we poured him a glass of bubbly.

Friends had sent cards. Sarah and Mike had sent flowers. Nancy and Hamish had sent a strawberry tart from the Goods Shed. Everyone had brought food. So R’s fears were unfounded. And it was good food. Even better, it was great.

The children popped all the poppers and then watched loads of episodes of the Simpsons with their friends.

We ate and ate. R opened his presents (cookbooks and wine!). 

His brother called. His father called.

He had a birthday. He is Eeyore no more.

(But I hated the white lies. Shiver.)

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We are lunging for the finish line that is called our annual holiday — hurray! So will be out of commission on these pages for a coupla weeks….Will return with photos and quite a bit fatter no doubt (though I’ve earned it: gym three times a week, yay!).

Til then: peace. Read a good book.

Right. Several things to say:

Went to the eye-doctor’s yesterday. He said, and I more or less quote: I hate to mention the ‘a’ word, but you are at the prime of it for this. By ‘this’ he means presbyopia. By that I mean: reading glasses. And, for the days when I’m not in contact lenses, vari-focals.

Dig it.

Yesterday I also went to the hair-dresser’s. To gently,  um, cover the, um, grey. At the prime age for it, you understand.

Also yesterday (after the hairdresser’s!) I was talking about reading glasses (as you do), and someone I barely know said, but you’re not past 40 yet, are you?

Flattered, but ultimately — confused. 

*

And also yesterday: writing group. Wonderful. Such great work, so exciting. Craig reminded me of one of my all-time favourite stories, indeed probably the first literary story I ever read. And what a story: Secret Snow, Silent Snow by Conrad Aiken. If you don’t know it, read it. 

Just thinking about that story, the memory of the rush of how very remarkable it is — plus Nancy’s amazing cheesecake — I felt five years younger.

Today in the half hour between another laureate school assembly and a dissertation student, I got myself some funky blue glasses. Hey, I can live with it. I’ve decided to live with everything, as long as I never lose art.

 

It’s been a tough old week. After Tilly, a number of things. But it’s also been life-affirming in many ways. Mainly because of friends. And R and Mom. And E and M. 

I came to friends late in life, having the ‘desert them before they desert me’ mentality of someone used to not trusting anyone. For good reason, I might add.

Anyway. Despite several wonderfully loyal and giving friends hanging with me through my teens, twenties and most of my thirties, it wasn’t until my late thirties that I finally stopped running. I looked around. I saw wonderful women (mostly) around me, offering friendship, true friendship. Most of them had been there for some time. I have the feeling somehow they just decided not to give up on me. For which I remain absurdly grateful. Such a simple thing.

I have a thing about not taking anything for granted. Seems almost disrespectful to do so. Yet some things are meant to be taken for granted. They flourish by being as a ‘matter of course’; they quietly sink roots beyond the surface, where wind and a heavy rain can’t dislodge them. They need tending, but only in the daily run of things, no more, no less. They are there, no matter what happens.

No matter what happens! No matter what happens. This is the secret celebration for me, the unexpected. It’s no big deal, no drama. No questions need to be asked, no unspoken price.

Two phonecalls, three texts, many blog comments. Several emails. Four, five, six face to face conversations. A raucous dinner.

So, to all of you, thank you. I’m not looking forward to the week ahead, but — cliche upon cliche — you’re making it bearable.

I started this post wanting to point you to my good friend Nancy Wilson‘s Flickr widget that I’m so thrilled with. I love her stuff, really love it. I just wanted a bit of her kind of light on these pages. 

To get you started. And me. Happy Monday.


I HAVE MOVED

From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning

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Who am I?


A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.