Wednesday, 2 July 2014

From National Gallery to Care Home,
via Southwold, football, and a Cat-whisperer

 Blyth105 FM, Southwold

Five days since the last posting. Let's try and keep this regular as and when possible. A quick summing up.

1. Art and political change
On Monday in London to the National Gallery. First I meet Sue, poet, novelist, and art journalist in the NG cafe to discuss a possible exhibition / event about (from my point of view) the drift to the right in European and UK politics and / or (from her point of view) the political engagement of contemporary visual artists. There is common ground but more to be explored before we can begin to think of a coherent framework.

2. Making Colour
From Sue to Gill H in the NG itself. I am due to give an NG poetry workshop on Saturday based on the Making Colour exhibition. First to see the show. It is organised in terms of one colour per room. The questions asked are: what is the raw source of the colour, how it is processed, how produced, how used, how it lasts and how it affects art, each room showing art works specifically related to the discovery and use of the colour.  My job is to introduce some ideas on colours (I have myself written a few hundred sonnets based on specific colours), to offer ways in which one might go about writing and developing, and to produce work based on the exhibition. There is a firm structure to the day, the workshop is full and we have six hours excluding lunch.

3. Interview
On Tuesday to Southwold to do an interview for local radio. The station is in a small octagonal building on the sea front next to an old row of cannons (see top pic). My interviewer is Chrissie who has done her research so we have a good conversation lasting about an hour with a couple of musical inserts (including part of one of Brahms's Hungarian Dances - I am honoured). I read six or seven short poems, including poems for children. This is all in preparation for my hour long spot to come on Saturday for the very first Southwold Arts Festival. It's an ambitious and enthusiastic venture (enthusiasm is central to all such first steps) and looks rather good - in fact it is still going on as I write this. See for yourself.

4. Cat-whispering
On Wednesday the cat-whisperer cometh. He is in fact Attila Sz. a Hungarian animal behaviourist whose wisdom is fabled in the region (and whose performance skills are on evidence here). He has come to discuss Pearl, our attack-cat. Having listened through he suspects she is just hard-wired that way and that certain stimuli set her off. No guarantee, no cure, he says, though there are little things one can do to keep her from being too miserable and snappish. Attila seems a very nice man and thoroughly competent, except he leaves his hat behind so I have to run after him with it. He seems all the nicer for that. No decisions taken yet regarding Pearl, though somebody has written on Facebook that she might be more than happy to adopt her.

5. Football days
Thursday and Friday are fairly quiet apart from the enthralling World Cup.  We invite our neighbour Elizabeth's daughter, Pip, who is over from Australia to watch the 5pm match with us. She is quite passionately well-informed. That's fun. We eat supper together. God know what happened to Friday. Oh yes - up to Norwich to meet Meirion and then to buy some clothes.

6. Preparing
I spend Saturday and Sunday preparing for Monday's appearance at Southwold. It needs more preparation than usual becaue I am performing solo for an hour and intend mixing material from poems, translations of both poetry and fiction, poems for children, libretti for music and the microfictions featuring Langoustine, Child Helga and the rest originally written for - and on - Twitter.

I have never done anything like this before. No visuals, no music, just standing up and speaking. It's a risk mixing the material but it all emanates from the same core of things so there's a chance it might work. This is onlyinterrupted by the visit of Ken, a local composer I have often worked with, who is currently setting my Scrapsongs (The First World War for children, in verse - I will put it up here.) Football in the evening.

7. Performing
Southwold. Monday. A fine day. We pick up Tom C on the way from Halesworth and drive over to be met by Oonagh who shows us where to park, then head off for coffee followed by a Cromer Crab at the nearby Adnams with the festival committee. Then to the event at St Edmunds Hall. The room itself is small so gets a decent looking audience and the hour flies by, not just for me but for them. Bags of enthusiasm, a drink of fizz and book selling / signing. I am relieved, delighted and a little high. People do actually buy books, which is very good of them at £12 a ticket to start with.

8. Visiting E
Tuesday. It's some time since we last saw E in the care home - her children have been over a while and have seen her most days. She is asleep in her room when we arrive and I have a faint apprehension she might be dead. She is very still, very grey, her position looks uncomfortable. But then I see she is breathing. Clarissa touches her hand and she wakes, slightly disorientated at first. The room is bright with sunlight which dazzles her when we sit at her bedside on the window side since there is no space on the other.

She decides to sit up on the edge of the bed and does so with some help. She is almost without colour and her arms are like twigs. Her eyes don't focus immediately but she is very much compos mentis bar the forgetting of personal or place names and times. She does ask us once where she is and we tell her. Two or three times she mentions that 'they' won't let her go home. (She really couldn't cope at home now). She hardly eats but does drink some of the cup of tea one of the carers brings. Talking is possible. I joke and she smiles.

She seems to exist on at least two levels, one being the same as ever, interested, amused, masking a sharp intelligence with self-deprecation; the other three-quarters out of the world, willing herself to be wholly out of it. Do you dream, we ask? No, she answers. She doesn't even think, she says. She tries to fill her head with nothing, but maybe there is just nothing there anyway. Nothing, she keeps repeating. A blank. But if there is nothing there she is remarkably conscious of the fact.

It's a hard job rowing one's way to death but she pulls steady for long periods then needs to take a rest. The room is clean though it does have a faint smell. The view outside is of lawns and gardens. She says she sees a car outside but there isn't one. There is a white wooden board leaning against a wall. The car she sees is white.

9. Last thing at night
The most wonderful game of football between Belgium and the United States, enthralling, moving, heart-stopping, the US team scrupulously fair, no cheating, no pretending, intelligent, inventive, full of commitment; Belgium gifted, professional, also honest, on the attack, on top - no pretending there either. The game is very dramatic. Extra time throbs and pulses. In the end the Belgians win but almost have to win twice.

All the most inspiring teams in this World Cup have been from CONCACAF, the North and Central American and Caribbean group: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, the unfancied, the so-called naive. Something thrilling about them all. Sorry to see Algeria go out too, with something of the same straight commitment and invention. It is an echo of what used to be known as the Olympic, or Corinthian, spirit.


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Gwil W said...

A cat fanatic friend of ours adopted an aggressive and bad-tempered one-eyed cat. She tried every trick in the book and several not in the book, but it was all to no avail. It would even go up the other placid cat in the same house and try and provoke it by spitting or striking out for no obvious reason. I reckon it was mad , completely nuts and I thought nothing could be done with it. It lived in a wardrobe under a mountain of rags. One day it suddenly died. It's own anger killed it I suspect.