Uplifted

Sometimes a week can be uplifting. Sometimes I feel like James Bond in the trailer for Quantum of Solace – he just stands there, while explosions happen and things fly past him and hit him. Sometimes a week can be both of these things, and this was one of those weeks.

But first, a friend sent me a phot he had taken of me writing in the park as part of my LitFest stint. I hadn’t realised I look so serious when I’m writing!

Serious poet in the park

Serious poet in the park

I started the week by backing up all my files, which made me feel better straight away. I have once lost all my computer files, and after the initial feeling of freedom, it was a pain, and I don’t want it to happen again.

The Wolverhampton school on Monday was ok. It was their first day back after half-term and they seemed a bit tired; but most of them got the hang of what we were trying to do and wrote away well. I stayed overnight with my mum, which can be a trial; but this time all was fine, and we didn’t have any arguments – except that she always wants to force-feed me on stodge. I escaped by bringing home a small apple crumble and a treacle tart – delicious, but not really a good idea.

The next day was a meeting held in Ellesmere Port library – my happy hunting-ground as a child. It’s an excellent library – plenty of space and well-used. The people in the shops in the town were as friendly as I remembered, although it still all looks a bit of a dump. I was really tired when I got home, but dragged myself off to a rehearsal of Pygmalion; our beleaguered director needs support.

So far, so good. Then off to the prison. Three of the best writers have gone – transferred to other prisons or released – and the excellent guy in the print shop has been taken out of the print shop, although no-one knows why. Or at least, no-one is telling why. I felt a bit downhearted after all this, and other problems to do with finding rooms – I just seemed to be getting nowhere, with problems facing everything. They don’t even have a flipchart! They have splendid interactive whiteboards in the classrooms, which don’t work well (in my experience, interactive whiteboards, although a great idea, never work well), but anyway I can’t go in classrooms because they are all in use. I really need a flipchart.

But the next day I asked to interview a prisoner who had attended a families day. These are lovely occasions when prisoners can have a relatively normal time doing fun things with their families. I know some people (like my mother, for instance) might think that this is soft on prisoners, but maintaining good contacts with families is a great help in preventing re-offending, so people who complain have no reason to. Anyway, I didn’t do an interview. I asked him one question, and he spoke, simply but eloqently and from the heart, for about 5 minutes. It was so moving that by the end we were both nearly in tears – and this was just leaning on a table in the open area in a prison wing. The day had been so important to him, giving him time to be part of a family again; and the fact that it had all gone so well had even been a boost to the other guys on the wing.

I stayed overnight with some lovely friends who just let me come and go, and be myself. That’s what I call friendship.

Friday was busy – so much to do, for Poetry on Loan, and TRA, and prep for the prison. I haven’t done half of it yet. But a parcel arrived for me – ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha! A mole deterrent. You fill it full of expensive D batteries and stick it in the ground, and it vibrates and emits a high-pitched sound that moles don’t like. Perhaps my garden won’t turn into a wilderness of dunes this winter. All I need is to get the batteries.

My son came home very briefly during the week, and asked about the parcel; he was also intrigued by a firework I bought (but haven’t set off yet – too wet) called a Parallel Universe, but he didn’t notice the other box in the kitchen – whioch allowed me to say a sentence I expect I’ll never say again: “So you noticed the mole deterrent, and the Parallel Universe, but you didn’t see the new kettle?”

And last night – well, last night I went to Cardiff to see Leonard Cohen. I was never a great Cohen fan when I was younger, although pretty well everyone else I knew found him an excellent accompaniment to undergraduate angst, but now I really appreciate the lyrics which are full of humanity, and I just love his voice. And there he was, 74, and no thought of facelifts – some of the drumskin-faced celebrities could learn a lot about dignity from him, I think. He started at 8 and performed for 2 hours, and was of course called back for an encore. he came back, again and again, and finally finished at 11. He is a consummate performer, with a great team of musicians, and it truly was an uplifting experience. His voice was like rainwashed gravel, an emollient exfoliant, a soapy loofah, a cashmere scrubbing brush – as you can see, I amused myself on the way home thinking of comparisons.

And today – well, in a minute I’ll be going to collect my friend Jackie, who is on a visit here from New Zealand, and it will be as if we saw each other yesterday.

Who knows? Perhaps I’ll be on such a high that this week I might manage to write something. Or perhaps I’ll get buffeted about again, and be able to do nothing more than just stand there. I like to think it will be the former.

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