One of the best

It’s been a busy week! Monday was relatively quiet – just a school for the Music Festival project, and it was all fine; nice kids and nice school. Apart from that, I didn’t seem to get much done, although I was busy all day – several long phone calls took up much of the time.

On Tuesday I went to the prison, only to find that it was a training day. When they have staff training, all the prisoners are kept locked up, and there’s quite a lot of training happening at the moment. This is obviously good, but tough on the prisoners – and indeed the whole of the education department, and me, because we didn’t know that this was going to happen. I did some other things, and came home early. Good news is that I have permission to go ahead with my big project – I want to get 80 prisoners and 8 staff writing a diary for 8 days in August. Lots of prizes as an incentive, so I’m hoping it will happen… we’ll see. I went to the prison on Wednesday, too, but again there were problems – neither of the writing groups I was supposed to run had enough people present to make it worthwhile – they were doing videolink evidence, or had visits, or were at the dentist; and of course some had just gone, as they do. But I did lots of one-to-one sessions, which are always valuable. I didn’t like to talk about my holiday with them, but in fact they were keen to hear about it and pleased for me. Bless.

In the evening we visited the theatre in Ledbury where OTWAP will be on next week, to check on the technical stuff. It’s a lovely theatre, and just right for the play (not too late to get your tickets! 6:30, Wednesday 8th, Market Theatre Ledbury; tickets from Ledbury Poetry Festival box office).  The tickets aren’t selling all that well, but I’m hoping that a lot of people will just turn up and buy them on the door. The Festival itself is doing really well in terms of ticket sales this year, which is especially good news given the reduction in sponsorship money.

And Thursday. I went to my last music festival school in the morning, and again it was all easy and straightforward. I did lots of practice for the slam that evening – this was the qualifiying heat for the radio 4 national slam. You have to have won a slam in the last two years even to get into the qualifier, and when I saw the line-up of poets, I knew I had no chance of winning, but, well, I had worked hard to get my poems down to the right length, and I wanted to do my best. And then – oh, gosh! – the phone range. The person on the other end said, “Is that Brenda? This is Roger McGough.” My hero – phoning me! Ok, it was just about transport arrangements for the Ledbury Festival (I was managing his events), but even so… I was all of a dither.

So, off to Birmingham for the slam. It was hot; very hot. This was excellent for me; I perform much better (in fact I do everything better) when it’s hot, and of course most people flake out a bit. And, well, I won – joint first, in fact, but two people go through so that worked out well. The three poems all went well, but that wasn’t the only reason why I won. Some people just hadn’t taken the care to get their poems within the strict 2′ 15″ limit, and they lost points, and that made all the difference, I think. I don’t understand it, really – everyone knew the time limits; everyone knows that these are an important feature of slams; but some people just didn’t bother. I  felt sorry for the ones who were only a few seconds over, because that can happen to anyone, but the ones who were a long way over have only themselves to blame, I guess.

Anyway, I met lots of old friends there, and it was a lovely evening, and the judging was excellent (but I would think that, wouldn’t I?), and I am very chuffed. The semi-finals will be recorded in September. If I do ok, I’ll tell you when they are to be broadcast. But what a day!

Friday saw the start of the Ledbury Festival, so it was off early for the event managers’ meeting. I popped home to change and tidy my car a bit (I was to collect Roger from the station), and then back again. Roger was great; the audience loved him and it was a really feel-good start to the Festival. Just before it began, the partner of the Festival Director said to me, “You do realise that the entire success of the Festival hinges on your introduction, don’t you?” He was joking, obviously; and fortunately the intro I did for Roger’s event was fine.

Roger’s second event was yesterday morning; this was for families, and again went down really well – but how could it not do? His poems are playful and clever and fun; he delivers them really well and he knows how to hold an audience. But even more importantly, he said that I looked nice. Now, you may have detected a little tiny bit of hero worship going on here; but please remember that it was Roger McGough who first led me to a love of poetry, many, many years ago, so it’s not surprising.

Back to the Festival in the evening for a poets’ supper; but in between I managed to do some shopping and gardening and even a bit of work. It’s strange, sitting in the hospitality room in Ledbury. It’s all so lovely, surrounded by really pleasant and interesting people, and it’s very difficult to drag yourself back to real life.

But today I have done and must continue to do so. It’s been work, work, work, but at least I think I can begin to see that I might just possibly catch up with work if all goes well this coming week. I’ve had some really hard weeks over the last few months, but this last week, I have to say, has been one of the best. Aaah!

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