Sunday, 22 September 2013

Catching up with last week

It has been a rather crazy week from last Monday onwards. In fact it has been like that since returning from Malaysia, but the week just ended was something else. Four days in London, three nights.  No chance to write much just moving and talking. This is really a group of fragments

Train to London to stay with son Tom ready for early departure to Canterbury on Tuesday. Tom is waiting at King's Cross and we walk to Farringdon to find somewhere to eat in Exmouth Market. It's quite a long walk so Tom trails my trolley while I lug my bag. Why the luggage? Chiefly books for Canterbury but also a big ring binder for the Stephen Spender judging on Thursday, plus a change of clothes etc. We find a nice restaurant and settle down to talk over pork bellies with some mash. I love talking to Tom. He is a wise, intelligent, civilised, good-hearted man, interested in a range of things at a fascinating stage of his life. What's there not to love? We talk an hour or so, maybe more, then set off for Stratford where he lives. I sleep in his spare room, which is also his music studio. For some reason I sleep very badly, in fact hardly at all, perhaps an hour or so. So getting up is fraught with anxiety. Will I last Tuesday?

Two events, the first in the morning at the Univerity of Kent in Canterbury by invitation of the novelist Alex Preston. It's a simple enough journey from St Pancras on a very new train, mostly empty. I am half awake but am properly awake by the time we get to Canterbury West where Alex has a taxi ready for me. I arrive a little early but soon Alex is there with a group of four students, who are then joined by a group of students from Russia who are studying translation. They are with their teacher. We find the room, and there is old colleague and fellow poet, dear Patricia Debney. Warm greetings. My job is to occupy two hours in a useful way. The two hours speed along, mostly me talking and proposing ideas and instances, with some questions. According to Alex the next day it has gone splendidly. The Russian students nicely enthusiastic.

Back by slower train to Charing Cross and straight back south via Waterloo to Portsmouth. A much older train. No sooner do I sit down that there is Bill Herbert, happening to board the same train and the same carriage, so he sits down and we talk all the way down - of China where we have both been,and  of Somalia where he has been recently. We find a cab to take us to Portsmouth Grammar School where we are to meet Tim Liardet and Maggie Sawkins, as well as Chris Holifield, for the first leg of the Eliot prize tour. The venue is the school library, a panelled room, the audience fanning out. It's well attended, the readings go very well, we sign books, then I dash back for the London train that is very slow. I nod off a little before arriving at Waterloo. There I catch the tube to Euston and walk to my hotel-for-the-night in Euston Square.

This is a hotel I have stayed in some three times for previous Eliot Prize readings. It seems the room has been reserved but not paid for and that they are charging £150 for the night because it's London Fashion Week. The room is just big enough for a model to huddle up in, clean but no wi-fi. Never mind this will be sorted out later. And it is.

After breakfast get over to Stratford again, dump the trolley and the coat and out again to Kings Cross to meet Clarissa. We decide to go to Guildhall Museum to see the steam punk exhibition but get off the tube too early and walk for ages until we get there. Once there I realise I have forgotten my art card that would let me in free and being very tired now, somewhat grumpily decide not to go in but sit with a coffee at one of the metal tables in the blindingly sunny forecourt. The young man selling coffee has decided his is God's gift to ironic conversation, which is the last thing I need. Or not quite the last. The last thing I need is to be sitting at the table with a paper cup of double espresso and a newspaper and for a sudden gust to blow the newspaper inside out so it upsets the almost untouched coffee all over my jacket, though I do not realise that for two or three minutes,when I head off to the toilets and try to dab it with water, which is of limited use. By the time Clarissa comes out I am committed to carrying the jacket on my arm. Thus we go and eventually return to Stratford to Tom, who is working from home for the day. Shall we go out? Tom decides to cook us a chili con carne that he does and lo, it is very good. So we talk more though I retire to sleep for an hour. Last thing we sit down to watch Skyfall which has some interesting questions about ageing, empire, mother-fixation and patriotism, clearly trying to intellectualise the Bond model. In my still half-dopy mind I see the Olympics stunt again, Bond parachuting from a helicopter, not with the Queen this time but with Judy Dench.

In the morning to the University of London for the judging of the Stephen Spender Poetry Translation Competition. Robina is there as is Edith Hall, soon enough Susan Bassnett and Patrick McGuinness arrive. It's my last year as judge, and Patrick's too, so there is some conversation about who might succeed us. Not to be revealed of course. The actual judging takes far less time this year as the winners are clear to us from early on and the talk is about runners-up and commended. Though there is agreement on winners there is some difference on the rest , but most of that is quickly resolved through the usual compromises. Some of my favourites have not made it on to any list, so I sound a trumpet for them, as do others for theirs. Maybe I can mention them in my report for the publication. I say a fond goodbye to everyone - it really has been a pleasure - and meet  the beautiful Clarissa in Carluccio's near Russell Square. We arrive home in the evening.

Friday - into UEA to meet Peter W and Meirion Jordan.

Saturday - Norwich City consumes about six hours in all. Train there packed and tickets unvaliable so long queues getting off the platform. Long slow crowds ambling out afterwards. We have dinner at a place in Wymondham. Afterwards I write a little.

Much to do now.

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