I usually try to come up with a theme for each blog; often a theme suggests itself; but this week I can see no pattern at all. So here we go – a chronological account of my week.

We visited the theatre last Sunday – the Cheltenham Playhouse – where the one act festival was to take place. It’s been refurbished and is superb; good seating and excellent acoustics, and a reasonably-sized stage.  The rehearsal later went really well, too.

Prison on Monday; it was ok, but the first session of a new course couldn’t happen because prisoners were on medical visits or elsewhere. This often happens in prisons. It’s all a bit chaotic. Meanwhile I was coping with the worry of how not to go on holiday with my brother and his girlfriend and my mother. My mum wanted me to go mainly because she was paying for a double room and it would cost very little to add me in. She seems to have forgotten completely that the two holidays we have spent together ended with blazing rows. Personally, I woudln’t really enjoy a holiday spent worrying about when everything was suddenly going to blow up. She rows with my brother too, but they are very similar people and get over it quickly; I am reduced to being a three-year-old by my mum, and can’t stand all the confrontation. As it happens, I can’t go; I can’t rearrange things booked for that week, so I’m off the hook. I still feel guilt about not going with her, though. Mothers, eh?

Loads done on Tuesday! A session with the oldies first, which included a delightful moment. I was speaking to an 86-year-old gentleman, who told me about the time about four years ago when his wife died, just the day after his dog had died. I expressed sympathy, saying how difficult it must have been for him. “Yes, it was,” he replied. “He was a lovely dog.” Hmm.

I wrote up the poems written with the oldies, and answered some emails (not enough, though), and finished preparing a book of pieces written by prisoners, and got everything ready for the next couple of days, and went to a meeting of TADS (my local amateur drama group). It looks, rather worryingly, as if I will be directing our next full-length production. How will I find the time? Is there no other way? Probably not; nobody else wants to do it, so at the moment it seems down to me.

I was delighted to be invited to perform in the Cheltenham Science Festival slam, although at first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it – and, even  if I could get there, whether I would find it in me to write the new poem required for the first round. But I can make it, and I have written the first draft of the poem, whcih will be called Me and Bert.

Wednesday was the prison again. I had some good one-to-one sessions, and then was really frustrated to find that the guys for my afternoon group did not have their names on the list. This meant that they would not be brought by prison officers to where my course was running. Did I mention chaos? This was an admin error, and I did get a little cross – especially because I’ve had problems with this before, and had made a point of checking on Monday that the names were there. But – some of them came, and they were amazingly good. One guy, who works in prison as a cleaner and left school with no qualifications at all, is a natural poet; another writes with great vigour and really works hard to improve. Very satisfying…

…and then off to Nottingham for a Writers in Prison network conference. I stayed in a city centre Travelodge, which was really near the conference venue. Unfortunately, it was also really near the main road, and groups of drunken people were out there shouting until all hours. But – I had some fun! I went for a ride on the Ferris wheel just round the corner from the hotel. Aren’t I the wild one? The conference was interesting and helpful, and the little difficulties I have had at my prison are trivial compared with some of the others.

Friday was a hospital day, and it went really well. The first woman I worked with said, after we had been talking for a little while, “This is really therapeutic!” I spent the afternoon with an artist, a painter, and it was like cross-artform working – interesting and moving.

In the evening I went to the one act play festival. I knew that one of the plays had a fantastic reputation, and I wanted to see it anyway, but I admit that there was an element of eyeing up the opposition. It was very good indeed; an excellent script, extremely well-directed, with lots of difficult physical comedy that came off perfectly. But. Only one of the parts was played by a man, and he was really over the top. I know some people like this – the adjudicator certainly did – but I like acting to be understated, on the whole, and it really put me off. The result was that even though I could appreciate that the play was full of funny lines, and everyone around me was laughing their heads off, I didn’t laugh once – which was a shame, because I had expected to have a really good time. I felt like Margo in The Good Life, saying plaintively, “I think I have no sense of humour.” But it was just this one actor, really.

And so we come to Saturday. Shopping, TADS meeting minutes, an attack on the email mountain, tidying. And then off to Cheltenham. My play, Once this was a poet, was on first. They did it really well, apart from two tiny technical hitches. I think my techie was having an off night. The adjudicator was full of praise – he had expected to hate the play, he said, but it all worked. So – Paula won best actress; Ian was nominated for best actor (won by the over-the-top actor from the night before); and we won. We won! Only by one point, but we won! This means that we go through to the quarter-finals of the all-England one act play competition, on April 18th. Our groupie, the lovely Pat, was almost as pleased as we were, I think.

But today everything is back to normal, and I have to move themelessly back into the real world. (I’m sorry, but that pun was bound to come in sooner or later.) Emails are giving me nightmares. I am determined to finish going through them this evening. Until I am emailless.

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