Saturday, 28 May 2011
From Poetry School to Football School
Earlyish train to Cambridge to take a class for The Poetry School. Eight people and one of the best classes yet with a majority of interesting original poems, so a real pleasure. People come from quite a long way - one all the way from Lewes. It's five hours teaching with an hour break, but we decide to restrict lunch to about forty minutes as there is a great deal to say.
In the market square a boy on a monocycle is juggling knives. The woman on the hot dog stand gives me 20p off because that is all the change I have. I have time to drop round to David's bookshop where I pick up two books of poetry for £1 each, one The Very Man, by Charles Boyle, the other by Alistair Elliott.
I read most of the Boyle on the train back - a good sign as I wouldn't do so if I didn't like it so much, but it's rather brilliant: thin, lost, dangerous poems, a lot of elegance. Somewhere in the vicinity Michael Hofmann is speaking in a low voice. Ian Hamilton stalks the area too. Is that Hugo Williams in the distance? Well yes, these other voices help orientate but it's just a part of town we're talking about, not a crowded flat. The poems are absolutely delicious. There is something annoying about them in their svelteness, but I even like whatever is annoying me. Lovely things.
A tall rough looking woman sits down opposite me on the train as I read. She asks if she might read my newspaper and I say, of course. A working class woman with a bit of education. Friendly. Her face is comical, hard, a touch masculine, her voice deep, faintly London overspill. Not as deep or overspill as the woman in the seat opposite us across the aisle with her teenage daughter. They must be returning from somewhere abroad or overnight because they are both sleepy, and soon enough the daughter, whose voice is very quiet, curls up and falls asleep. Mother's voice is pure Eastenders. An attractive woman, possibly in her forties, she is on the phone a lot as it keeps ringing. She barks loudly back down it without malice but without much patience. She isn't really barking: it's her normal voice. I suspect she has a fist on her that she would not hesitate to use in a quarrel. Daughter remains asleep.
After the woman with my newspaper returns it to me and gets off at Thetford, I am on my own for one stop, still reading until, at Attleborough a fat man with a very bad limp levers himself into the seat facing me. He is wheezing and creaking. Everything is an effort. He wears a natty light suit,a slim boldly patterned tie and a black felt hat. He has a big white beard that froths about his face and billows from under the hat. He eventually manages to tuck his legs under the table. He immediately gets into conversation about the weather. He tells me he has been staying at an adults-only holiday camp where there was absolutely nothing to do. Half an hour allowed for breakfast, half an hour lunch, an hour dinner, he says. And by the time he got to the head of the food queue they were out of whatever he wanted. Attleborough is just one stop from my station and only about ten to fifteen minutes. As I prepare to leave he asks what I do. I say I write. What, books? he asks. Yes, books, I have time to reply as the train draws in.
As I am leaving the station one of our near neighbours, an elderly woman with a beautiful face, gracious manners - she was once a journalist - seems to be rushing onto the platform with someone younger. She says hello. You'll have to run, I say. The train is about to move off. Then I myself move off and walk down the hill and across the traffic lights. A car stops and a woman I don't recognise hurries towards me. I'm sorry, she says. I wasn't thinking. Would you like a lift? I tell her I only live about 400 yards away. I know she says. That's where we're going. The driver is the elegant elderly neighbour. They weren't going to catch a train: they were meeting someone off it - the young woman in the front seat. So I get in the car. A brief friendly conversation follows. It is the shortest lift I have ever had in my life. It is charming.
Then in the evening I see my team get the pasting of its life, by an out-of-this-world Barcelona, who are heaven to watch. Or rather they would be if it weren't my team they were beating. United are lucky to lose 1-3. Mind you, I think to myself, if you have Messi in your team, you can beat anyone on a half-decent day, and this day is more than decent. Messi drifts and spins and wriggles through the tiniest spaces with the ball never more than an inch from his feet. He has scored 53 goals in 55 matches so far this season. Park haunts him and harries him for the first ten minutes, but even 'old three-lungs' has had it by the middle of the second half. Everyone panics when Messi has it and forgets about anyone else. They are, of course, quite right to panic. Only they shouldn't. The rest of Barcelona fly this way and that. It's like being caught in a swarm. Rooney scores a great goal but it's out of nothing. Giggs lasts the match which is the best I can say for him. No one actually plays badly, they are just worn down and perhaps even a bit frightened. Now Messi has 54 in 56. Better than Maradona, I say.
It's no shame losing like this though. This Barcelona is by far the best team I remember seeing since the Real Madrid of the fifties and sixties. They are a lot faster, of course. Some say they are the best team ever. Not having been around for ever (though close!) I can't personally say, but even if they are the second-best ever, it's no shame. I don't think any other team would have beaten them. Maybe a wholly defence-minded team might have lost just 1-0, but there's no credit in that. So congratulations to them and thanks for the pleasure. Because that's what it became after a while. If you're going to be beaten get beaten by angels. Back to mortal business.