Thursday, 4 December 2008
Wednesday into Thursday: two books into studio into four books
Bad night, less than four hours sleep. Train from Canterbury in the morning to Charing Cross, within easy walk of the Hungarian Cultural Centre. I leave my travelling bag there and pick up a gorgeous copy of the bilingual Corvina edition of English Words / Angol Szavak, so as to work out a programme for the evening. There is a Hungarian delicatessen just around the corner, so an espresso and a poppy-seed cake before considering the next move which has to be the BBC. Tube to Oxford Circus and lunch in All Bar One until it's time to go into Broadcasting House for The Verb.
Others on the programme include Steven Hall, the writer of The Raw Shark Texts, plus Ben Goldacre and nice guy, a doctor-cum-author, just dashed across from hospital in Oxford still with his scrubs on - I'll provide his name tomorrow - to talk about the Wellcome Foundation and doctors-as-writers, as well a group called The Hot Puppies, who are late from Cardiff, so we sit around with Ian McMillan, while Steven Hall astounds with stories of Nicole Kidman hot on the phone keen to make his book into a movie. Two actors act a short radio play written for the progamme by Steven. Eventually band arrives, I do the first spot, Steven Hall's play is second, the two doctors third with music in between. The words of the songs are neat and original, the girl singer's voice quite special. The instrumentation is very simple.
Everyone says it's a good programme. Everyone always says it is a good programme. I think it's a good programme. It's probably a good programme. Ian McMillan funny, relaxed/tense, moving things on sharply. His questions come at me from an angle. It's like table tennis. Flick back, flick back. Watch the net. I am more nervous here than at any of the other occasions. Perhaps it is being watched by a very smart young writer and two doctors.
We leave the studio almost an hour later than we should. I go back to Charing Cross and head for the National Gallery and stare at The Rokeby Venus for a full half hour, my eyes occasionally drooping. On way out bump into people I know and have coffee. Finally manage to contact dear Hungarian friends who also come to the National Gallery. Chat for forty minutes or so then walk over to the HCC. Son T is already there with bassist Steve. People begin to arrive about the right time. Denise Riley turns up, old friend tall and lovely Nell, Tim Dooley from Poetry London, Ms Baroque, Peter Jay of the Anvil Press, remnants of the Hungarian literary mafia, daughter H and partner R, and, eventually, ninety-one year old father whose taxi has been delayed, appearing just as I am about to read a poem about crossing the border with him in 1956. Gets applause and embrace. About fifty people, pleasingly full considering one London launch has already happened. George Gömöri and I do a double act in middle - he reading the Hungarian versions of four poems, I the English. He does bravura. I do what I do.
Poems, music (T&S), poems, music, poems. Small birthday cake and champagne. A bowl of hot Thai soup after with Hungarian friends, plus H and R. Then a taxi dash to Liverpool Street. Just make it.
Train judders, arrives half an hour late. Nothing unusual in that. C fetches me from Norwich, bless her. It is almost 1.30 by the time we are home.
Full teaching from 9am this morning. Wind belts along as if intent on doing damage. Umbrella turns into sodden handkerchief. After MA group I drop into Nick's Journalism class to do an 'interview' with the assembled students. Tutorials. Then Tom C arrives with copies of Shuck, Hick, Tiffey and sets me to sign a lot of copies. Then a PhD student. Eventually home. It is Dickens night in Wymondham and the town centre is closed off. Bill Sykes has done Nancy in. I have to drive round by way of Edinburgh and Plymouth in order to get down our street.
On the way I hear policeman on car radio declare the mother of Shannon Matthews 'pure evil'. That will please The Daily Mail (note: it does please the Daily Mail). I can just see the police breaking into someone's house, announcing: We have come to arrest you for Pure Evil.
Ah, les Fleurs du Mal and Jonathan Ross and and Hitler and Ian Brady and Judas and Osama bin Laden. Get in there with the rest of them, Karen Matthews.
Enough links for several posts here. But you do get the gorgeous Kertész photograph at the top.