For more than a decade, I've lived within walking distance of the Torriano Meeting House, a venue of repute for free-wheeling poetry - but I've never been there before tonight. The occasion was a reading by Bernard Kops, whose book of collected verse, 'This Room in the Sunlight', contains - in my lay view - some real gems.
The room reminded me a little of austere political meeting places of times gone by. It was certainly intimate. If more than forty people had attended - which, alas, wasn't the case - there would have been no room. There was a stage of sorts, with clutter hidden by old style room divides. The audience, several of whom read (or sang) their own poetry in the first half of the evening, reminded me a little of the assemblies in Donald Rooum's cartoons ... assorted individualists and, in a kindly way, oddballs.
Bernard Kops writes accessible and engaging verse, and straddles the embers of the Jewish East End, the strident Soho youth culture captured in fiction by his friend, Colin MacInnes, and the contemporary idiom. His subject matter extends from the holocaust to tender accounts of his family, from a pre-occupation with death to a celebration of human solidarity. Much of his verse is about his wife, Erica, who was also there at the Torriano. I do wonder what it feels like to hear love poetry about yourself recited in your presence to a roomful of strangers.
Kops mentioned this evening that a great hero, W.H. Auden, had come to see one of his plays. They met in the bar in the interval. It's the subject of his (very) brief poem, 'On a Brief Meeting with Auden':
Leaning against the bar
as if receiving extreme unction,
his face amazingly crisscrossed
like Clapham Junction.
Pissed out of his mind in total elation,
beautiful boys surrounding him in
It's in the new book!
What I remember most from my first visit to Agra, almost twenty years ago, is the parakeets. At Agra station as dusk gathered, parakeets roosted in their hundreds just the other sides of the tracks. I'd never seen such birds in the wild, and their raucous assembly and vivid colours lodged in my memory.
Fast forward to the present, and parakeets are one of the more common birds on Hampstead Heath. I've seen them on occasions from my kitchen window in NW5. The exotic is now at our doorstep.
But this globalisation of fauna didn't prepare me for what I saw yesterday at Waterlow Park, one of north London's more hidden away and entirely glorious open spaces. I've seen herons there, and on one solitary occasions a kingfisher - but turtles?
There on a log peeping out of the top pond was a basking turtle, about the size of a side plate. On the bank a few yards away, another one lazed a few inches from the water's edge. So, what's the back story? I didn't think there were any indigenous turtles in these parakeeted isles?
Not that I'm complaining. It's wonderful to have turtles in Waterlow Park.
So, where's the beef? I love elections. It's politics in the raw. There's an excitement - an air of anticipation. But where is this election? Where are the canvassers, the posters in the window, the leaflets through the drawer?
True, if you ranked the most marginal constituencies, mine probably wouldn't be in the top 500. But I still expect a bit of action.
There's was just a smidgeon the other day when an elderly guy carrying a wad of leaflets got on my Northern Line carriage, shouted a few indistinct (I don't think flattering) words about Gordon Brown, canvassed one bemused commuter ... and then gave up. I never even discovered his party allegiance.
This evening, there was a bevy of canvassers outside the tube station handing out leaflets. Or so I thought. I've posted one here - it's to promote a local gym. Never mind 'Forget the Politics', for most people it's 'Forget the Election'. I feel a little cheated.
The 'Guardian' had an article over the weekend about collecting political memorabilia. Nice to know I'm not alone! But very curious to find it in the 'Money' section.
It's said that new authors are forever checking sales by tracking the Amazon book charts - I should know, I've been in seven figures, not in sales but in the rankings - and certainly new webmasters anxiously seek signs that someone, somewhere is coming to their site.
Well, yesterday was a good day for this site. For the first time, it attracted more than a hundred 'unique visitors' - to use the jargon - in a day. 136 to be precise. Most coming to listen to the remarkable century-old recording of 'The Land Song' that I've unearthed.
A century for a century!
A quick visit, kids in tow, to my home city of Leeds. I haven't lived there since Ted Heath was PM - yet I am still shocked by how much has changed. It's difficult to find reference points as you walk around the centre. The majestic Town Hall is still there, a monument to late nineteenth century municipalism. And Albion Street. And the market. And the arcades. But where's Barron's mill? All the department stores of my Saturday afternoon shopping-with-parents childhood - Schofields, Lewis's, Matthias Robinson, Marshall and Snelgrove - long gone. I can't find a single shop in the same place as it was. Some of the pubs have survived, but that's it.
I suggested to the kids that I take them to see my old school. I thought they would resist. Sternly. But they didn't. The Grammar School has moved - the site is now part of the University - and what we used to call the 'new building' has been demolished, but the chapel and the old main building survive in their gothic mock grandeur. And indeed they look quite impressive.
I drive round Hyde Park Corner and Woodhouse beyond. Bolshie Books went decades ago, the record shop where I used to spend school lunchtimes also a faint memory - but some of the streets of back-to-backs survive. I pop in to Ridge Mount where a friend used to live - I remember it as an overgrown slightly mystical row of imposing houses, hidden away and distinctly bohemian. The houses are still there, even more imposing, though a little bare stripped of the bushes and undergrowth.
At least it's a tangible link to an earlier existence. And with curiosity at least partly satisfied, and sentiment lightly aired, we head back down the M1 munching Easter eggs and playing new CDs.
I am waiting for Saturday's 'Guardian' with even more excitement than usual. Put it another way, tomorrow the thud on the mat - always so much louder at weekends - will arouse a touch more than the customary Pavlovian saunter towards the front door.
The reason: I want a 'Step Outside, Posh Boy!' T-shirt, and I will be suckered to take part in whatever quiz, competition, lucky draw or other torment that fine liberal paper has devised to win one. I know I stand about the same chance as Huddersfield Town being promoted in one bound to the Premiership, but I'm still going to go for it.
For those who require it, here's the back story. On April Fool's Day, Thursday, the 'Guardian' published an immediately transparent but none the worse for that - after all the BBC's 'Spaghetti Tree' story of decades ago can't have fooled many but it has lingered in the popular memory - piece about Labour's new campaign posters. 'In an audacious election strategy, Labour is set to embrace Gordon Brown's reputation for anger and physical aggression, presenting the prime minister as a hard man, unafraid of confrontation ...'.
Of the posters accompanying the article, the most memorable is one of a moody, sullen, in yer face Gordon Brown with the legend: 'STEP OUTSIDE POSH BOY Vote Labour. Or else.' You do wonder whether it might deliver for the party!
According today's 'Guardian', mutations along these lines have gone viral. 'Shut it, you slag' ... 'DID YOU SPILL MY PINT?' ... and indeed '1 bottle of Buckfast 7.2 seconds. Vote Labour. Or I'll wreck your hoose.' You get the sort of thing.
John Prescott (and as far as I can gather, this isn't part of the April Fool stunt) tweeted that the 'Guardian' should offer 'Step Outside Posh Boy' T-shirts. '"You'll sell more 't' shirts than papers;"', he twerped. And hence, the 100 T-shirts to be won tomorrow. For gullible enthusiasts for political ephemera, it's a trophy to be prized - and of course worn.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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