Movie Star

One of the fun things I did at Swanwick this year was to act in Page to Stage. This event allows script writers to see their words brought to life. Because of the short time available to the cast and directors the scripts are performed as a dramatised reading – in fact we’re asked not to learn our parts.

The play I took part in was “Dominoes, Anyone?” written by the very talented Susanna Lewis – I look forward to seeing more of her work in the future. Susanna’s short script is set in a sheltered housing complex where a trio of residents are having trouble with the patronising warden. The facilities for filming the play were very limited, but many thanks to Steve Barnett for his hard work in putting this recording together.

Click on the link to watch Dominoes, Anyone?

By coincidence (or maybe not), one of the short courses I chose this year was ‘Acting for writers’ delivered by the powerhouse that is Jonathan Goodwill. It gave me some excellent tips on how to enter fully into the role of a character, and then by transferring those techniques to the written word to dig deeper into our MC’s thoughts and actions.

I said this was the year I was going to go brave at Swanwick.

Looking round

Old churches can be fascinating places. If walls could talk what stories they could tell of people from ages past – the rich who provided the funds, the poor who laboured on its construction and those of high and low estate who worshipped under its roof.

Sometimes there are fascinating snippets written on stone tablets.

Take for example the plaque inside St Mary’s Church in Dedham, Essex in memory of Judith Eyre “who died much lamented in the 35th year of her age… in consequence of having accidentally swallowed a pin”.

Local folklore has it that the pin fell into a Christmas pudding. It may indeed have been a tragic happening but do you not wonder whether it was genuinely an accident? Or did somebody have it in for poor Judith and, quite literally, spiked her food?

And then there is the tragic tale of Thomas Prockter Ching told at St Mary Magdalene in Launceston, Cornwall. At the young age of 22 he was shipwrecked but then “suffered a more cruel fate at the hands of ignorant savages, by whom the crew was decoyed and murdered”.

This sad story surely raises the question: if the crew was indeed murdered, who lived to tell the tale and bring the gruesome tidings home to Launceston?

But much as I enjoy looking round old churches on my own, that pleasure is tinged with melancholy. Here is John Betjeman’s poem ‘A Cockney Amorist’.

Those last four lines – they get me every time.

The Cockney Amorist, by John Betjeman

Oh when my love, my darling,
You’ve left me here alone,
I’ll walk the streets of London
Which once seemed all our own.

The vast suburban churches
Together we have found:
The ones which smelt of gaslight
The ones in incense drown’d;
I’ll use them now for praying in
And not for looking round.

No more the Hackney Empire
Shall find us in its stalls
When on the limelit crooner
The thankful curtain falls,
And soft electric lamplight
Reveals the gilded walls.

I will not go to Finsbury Park
The putting course to see
Nor cross the crowded High Road
To Williamsons’ to tea,
For these and all the other things
Were part of you and me.

I love you, oh my darling,
And what I can’t make out
Is why since you have left me
I’m somehow still about.

Kith and Kin

Old, familiar places – Gladstone’s Library

It’s interesting how words fall into disuse and yet remain within our vocabulary. If someone said ‘I met kith today’ I would not understand. Yet if they had said ‘kith and kin’ I would understand perfectly.

Kith used on its own is obsolete apart from this pairing. The phrase was apparently already a cliche back in the 13th century. It is pleasantly alliterative. I assumed it was tautological but that isn’t so.

Roo, new family member in Surrey

Kith are friends and acquaintances.

Kin are family.

Kith is derived from the Old English noun cȳth meaning a known familiar country, and also acquaintances and friends.

Hetty, new family member in Devon

My travels over the last eighteen days have enabled me to spend time with both family and friends, even if, as yesterday, it was only a brief stop to see an old friend in Tenbury Wells.

I have also visited familiar and much loved places, including my final stop here at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden. This is a library and a hotel, yet it is more than both. It holds a special place in my affections.

Penny, new family member waiting at home for me to meet

Today I travel home. I have had a wonderful time visiting new places and meeting new people.

But I have also visited old familiar places and my kith and kin.

Thank you all for helping make my travels so much fun.

Jokes and chickens

First published in ‘Your Chicken’

Q: How do you make a chicken run?

A: Creep up behind her and shout ‘Boo!

For an alternative way to make a chicken run:

Take 22 metal poles, fit into 17 metal brackets, fix together with wing nuts

Cut wire mesh to fit, carefully lift into position, secure with cable ties

Piece together 8 blocks of wood to create door and doorframe, add two metal hinges, bolt and doorstop

Add chickens

All work best carried out in blazing sunshine, making full use of unsuspecting aunt who called in expecting a cup of tea!

Joking aside, I had a great time helping my niece and her partner build their new chicken run.

And in due course I hope to be rewarded with some chick pics which I can send off to magazines in return for ready cash!

First published in ‘Chat’ magazine

I crossed the Tamar

Most towns have a famous son or daughter whose skill and reputation they wish to celebrate. Launceston in Cornwall is proud to claim the poet Charles Causley as its own.

And quite rightly so.

His poetry was well regarded by his peers, including Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin and Roger McGough. He was awarded the Queen’s gold medal for poetry and later a CBE for services to literature. He died in 2003 and is buried in the churchyard of St Thomas.

For the last 10 years Launceston has held a literary festival each June in honour of their local poet.

All of which high praise was embarrassing for me because, try as I might, I could not remember what he had written! Not without some prompting from the display at the Launceston House Museum.

But here is ‘Timothy Winters’, one of my all time favourite poems (which I had wrongly attributed to Roger McGough).

Simple, direct, easy to read, a hard lesson to hear. It shows how powerful poetry can be in the hands of a master.

How wrong can you be?

Sir Francis Drake – in cool dude pose

Today I visited Buckland Abbey in Devon to see an exhibition about Sir Francis Drake.

Francis Drake was born in 1543 in Tavistock, the town where I am staying, so he is very much a local hero. And, like many famous people from history, not all the stories about him can be believed.

Apparently it wasn’t Francis Drake who introduced the potato to Europe – they were brought from Peru a few years earlier by Spanish explorers.

Did he insist on finishing his game of bowls before sailing to repel the Spanish Armada? Maybe, but only because he knew the local tides and judged it was not immediately safe for his boats to set sail. And I thought it was because he was totally laid back and a cool dude.

In Henry Newbolt’s famous poem “Drake’s Drum”, I only realised today that for years I have been misquoting the second line. I thought it was “Captain, art thou sleeping down below?”

If England is ever in peril then Drake can be summoned to protect his country by banging on his drum. I would so love this to be true but I wasn’t able to put it to the test. The original* drum, which I’m told was kept at Buckland Abbey until just a few months ago, is now under lock and key with Plymouth Museum. Now we’ll never know!

* It appears that what the volunteer guides assured me was the ‘original drum’ may in fact only have been a replica. The true drum is apparently stored elsewhere, in a hermetically sealed case, somewhere in central England. I’m imagining a vast storeroom where magically charged artefacts are stored, as in ‘Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark”.

Gown and Town

I had my last early walk along the River Cherwell yesterday morning. I really enjoyed my three days exploring this beautiful city, whilst reviving my inner student and staying at Corpus Christi College.

Longhorn cattle, Christ Church Meadow

Saxon Tower at St Michael of the Northgate (climbed on the first day for a better view of the dreaming spires)

Pelican Sundial, Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi Chapel

Oxford – Gown, Town and Beer