Walking Thoughts

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Fascinating session considering walking in literature yesterday led by Anna Stenning in Ledbury. We read prose extracts from Robert MacFarlane, Linda Cracknell and Richard Maybey and heard poems from West Midlands poets Ruth Stacey and Jenny Hope as well as the Dymock Poets writing before WWI before we ambled up to Frith Wood.

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We had to finish at lunch time but I carried on alone, which seemed fitting; exploring the well-made path, eating a few of the wonderfully fat sweet chestnuts scattered amongst their bronzed fallen leaves and cactus-prickly burst pods.

 

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Not so sweet when raw; they need to be cooked and their astringent fluffy inner coat removed to taste at their best. Ravens’ argued with aggrieved crows somewhere high in the trees.

 

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Gusty wind swooshed through tall firs like waves across shingle, scattering pale green-gold lime leaves over me. Following a well-use badger track off the main path I found a sett hole close by, with claw marks in the wet clay.

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Coming back towards Ledbury a distant pneumatic drill vied with a chain saw down near the toy town Tesco and a perfumed hit of fabric conditioner wafted from a closed garage on the crescent.

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Walking goes so naturally – for many of us – with thought, creativity, shaping words. Probably the earliest oral traditions of chants, prayers, songs and fireside stories were created walking – or half-waking, semi-dreaming. Langland claimed both in Piers Plowman, while Chaucer, Shakespeare and the Romantics thrived on journeys. A century ago the Dymock poets walked and talked along green lanes and over farmers’ fields. Robert Frost’s “yellow wood” in The Road Not Taken might refer to the wild daffodils of the Dymock area and Edward Thomas’s The Sun Used to Shine is about walking – almost certainly with Frost, according his notes as Anna Stenning informed us.

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MacFarlane set out to map our British wildernesses in words, heading to the remotest distances of the Highlands, for example – and leading to a thoroughly caustic review from Kathleen Jamie regarding the colonial hankerings of white middle class English males (the same “default” male grouping taken to task again recently in the Spectator by Grayson Perry – and, as one of the group today remarked, we have a default sense of entitlement as white British which we all too often forget).

Some writers carry us into the vast unknowns of this world, the big adventures from Christmas camping in the Cairngorms to months of trekking around Kathmandu; trips that most of us will never have the money, time nor tenacity to make. Other writers lead us into our immediate neighbourhood, urging mindfulness, so we recognise nature in the weeds creeping through a new pavement or a spiders’ web in our bathroom window.

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These days I’d think twice about flying off on any long haul, given the damage we are doing to our planet but I do think there is a need for both types of natural appreciation – and both can involve our own effort – and walking is the best way to experience any habitat that’s worth experiencing.

Nature has always been integral to my life. I grew up in a small town in rural Somerset. Behind our home/shop was an old garden where we climbed (and fell out of) Bramley apple trees, learned about creepy-crawlies and experimented growing things in the weedy veg patch. I wanted to know why some things grew and some didn’t. Why we didn’t have hyenas in Somerset? (Excited to learn they were there in prehistoric times.) I was a natural scientist. Heading off to read Biology at Leicester Uni I discovered one of the residence halls stood at one end of the city’s botanical gardens – so I applied and got a room there; it made a huge difference to my time in the city, as did occasional trips to Bradgate Park. Then moving to Cambridge we cycled everywhere along by the Cam, The Backs, even up to Ely. In California I biked to Stanford and around campus, observing skunks, possums and turkey vultures. At weekends we’d escape to Big Sur or Muir Woods, walk along fog-shrouded beaches, take visiting friends to Yosemite. Now I am lucky enough to live on the Malvern Hills and walk there as often as I can. So many journeys we now do by car could be done on foot with a bit of time and planning. Many of us know walking is good for us – and the planet – but “efficiency” trumps in the daily slog of getting it done. I’m trying to buy out of that efficiency at the moment. I have acquired a shopping trolley for heavier shopping (yes, I know, but I refuse to bow to embarrassment) or I use my day pack for lighter loads. It means I have to plan and go more often. It means I meet more people – and can chat to them – and fresh food is fresher. As I trudge back up the hill words sometimes slot into places they wouldn’t if I had taken the car.

As I was beginning to write this the perfect quote came from Mr Pink, the ex-soldier-now-teacher character in the current Dr Who series: ‘I don’t want to see more things; I want to see the things in front of me more clearly.’

Absolutely, wherever we are.

 

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Swindon Drag Kings, Cwmmy Crab and more

Dusty in here, isn’t it? Tch. Blog neglect due to a mixture of far more exciting things happening or laziness when things are not happening (and a fair bit of day job intervening, too).

I really should plug things before they happen but here are some recent highlights:

Swindon Poetry Festival’s Drag King finale event, performing with Diane Torr and poets/writers Clare Shaw, Rachael Clyne, Hannah Linden, Jill Abram, Juliet Platt and Louisa Davison. Diane has been running Man For A Day workshops since the ‘80s and her workshop was a tiring but fascinating full day. Men’s clothing (and strategic socks) was the least of our worries. As make up – mainly involving scarily convincing facial hair – went on we became someone different and then found ourselves trying to work out who we were, these almost-unfamiliar men. Most of us had time to visit the local Tesco to see how it felt, assess others’ reactions (or disinterest). Then we were on stage at the Swindon Arts Centre reading our poetry. Diane’s aikido breathing exercises had dropped my voice to a lower register – something my guests in the audience commented on afterwards. A huge thanks to everyone involved – Hilda, Diane, my co-poets, Lower Shaw Farm. A transformative weekend in so many ways.

Myfanwy Fox, Rachael Clyne, Hannah Linden at the start of Man For A Day

Myfanwy Fox, Rachael Clyne, Hannah Linden at the start of Man For A Day

Here’s “Alex” Fox on stage (photo credit: Hilda Sheehan, with permission).

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There’s an excellent account swiftly blogged by Louisa Davison HERE. Plus, be warned, I shall be on about Swindon’s Drag Kings again when the Festival-commissioned film (yes!) comes out AND there may be something in a well-known magazine soon, too.

Other stuff which I should also have plugged before it happened not after events includes reading my Cwmmy Crab as part of Ledbury Poetry Festival’s Paul Henry-led Poetry Orchard Project reading at beautiful Hellens, as part of The Big Apple, Much Marcle’s celebration of our apple harvest season.

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And last Friday was the Malvern Slam, which I enjoyed from the audience (having sensibly – for once – decided I’d be too busy/tired to be any use participating). Brenda Read-Brown the deserved winner with some stunning competition on the night. Well done to everyone taking part! And well done to the ConFab Cabaret management, Amy Rainbow and Catherine Crosswell, for running it.

 

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ConFab Cabaret X

ConFab Cabaret moved to a Saturday night at The Cube. The room was packed, the bar was busy and the atmosphere – as always – excellent. I’d been at work all day so my brain didn’t quite keep up with the pace, names and even some of the jokes. It was billed as “ConFab Cabaret X” where “X” may have been the show number or refer to some of the material read or sung, ending up with Catherine and Lindsey’s double act of double entendre and, even more, straight up filth with poetry, song and parody.

The audience chose “naked selfies” and “dinosaurs” (equal volumes of cheering) as joint themes for Fox Pops, The Audience Poem. As always, there were a few entries I struggled to read. One chap helpfully translated his first line, then, after he’d departed, I realised I couldn’t read the second, either. One joke I missed as I sticky-taped it all together but realised – belatedly – as I was reading it to the audience. Never mind, I was also the butt of a line or so, which must mean they love me. Or hate me. Hmm…

Here it is:

Jurassic Park, what a lark!
Jeff Goldbum shows his bum
and if he’d had an iPhone
he’d have taken a picture of it, and saved it in the iCloud
But they hadn’t been invented then

I knew I was ferocious because I’d studied
my reflection in my glazed cubic home
at the natural history museum and longed
for a digitised way with which to terrify the world.

I’d like to be seen on the front page,
though they’ll go in tomorrow’s bin;
but with such tiny dinosaur arms,
all my selfies show is my chin.

Hey T-Rex will you give me the horn
Not me, neanterthal –
Try Ceratops –

Titan-Myfanwi-Rex
Did not need any keks

What a glorious shot of that sexy T-rex
As nude as a newt except for her specs.

Took a selfie with my Stegosaurus,
but he wears no clothes ….
more like a Dreg-osaurus.

A portrait taken on my Samsung Galaxy bone,
Remarkable there once existed a [poke?] the size of a trombone.

The selfish selfie was seen by
more than herself.

And how a snapshot, so intimately produced, in a moment
of cheeky self-celebration can transform into an object
of mockery and shame.

It was good for Dave, Barak and the Danish chick.

The hole in her tights was hidden by her knickers

Triceratops was at a party
Brontosaurus felt quite arty
Velociraptor pulled a stunt
and asked “Do you mind it I say cunt?”

And I’m turning ‘round my cell phone to
snap my naked T-rex-sex

Try annus sorrus Rex tried to take a selfie in his vest
He picked his teeth to look his best
but forgot is arms were too close to his chest
And ended up with a snap of his breast.

I found myself in the bush of a naked dinosaur called Selfie
who was 84 years old and very wealthy

with a cauliflower gripped in
its Jaws came dancing over
the horizon….

Naked iCloud girl you are so very clueless
But don’t worry, I know where to find some Bloomers.

If only more people would get naked in public
there’d be no need for these fucking naked selfies

That dinosaur has no clothes –
it’s not so very strange I spose.

Shyly we stripped
held the phone before us
away we slipped
but a Brontosaurus…

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Are you positive?

I’ve just watched a beautiful, uplifting video about success. It was aimed at women – all the images and speakers were famous women – but could equally apply to men in its message: work hard; focus on what matters; know that failure is part of the journey – use it to learn. If you do these things, you will be on your way.

For a moment it won: it made me feel hurrah! for those wonderful women and slightly unsettled that here I am, messing about writing poems, managing a charity shop, an impossible jungle garden and a family. Really, shouldn’t I be successful by now? Hell, I should be rich, famous and botoxed. I’d better concentrate, get on my way.

But on my way where, exactly? All the images were famous women – writers, sportswomen, politicians. But, at any one time, only one person can be ranked first for a sport; only one person can be leader of a political group; only one person can top the bestseller chart, or the most watched TV show stats. So how many of us does that make failures? The entire rest of humanity?

One of those captioned photos on social media listed ways to success including:
– think positive
– don’t listen to people who talk negatively
– keep your focus no matter what
– put yourself first
– because you’re worth it

‘Scuse me, but aren’t those traits of all those overbearing politicians and CEOs who know they know best and don’t give a shit for the rest of us? The Boss-suited tycoons who sign away rainforests, enslave poor communities and don’t pay taxes on their offshore profits? The lobby lick-arses who get off on undermining accountability?

Positive thinking does have a role in life – many of us will have benefited from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, sports psychology, mindfulness or life coaching – but it’s not the answer to everything. Nor is it an excuse.

Negative thoughts – providing they don’t wake you in a 3 am panic attack night after night – are our checks and balances. They stop us doing utterly stupid things. They make us discuss ideas with friends we trust or at least our bank. What if …? When negative thought is banned silly projects go ahead: remember Thatcher’s Poll Tax? Anyone with half a brain could see it would not work because it would be far too costly to keep track of everyone and – back then – the technology was not up to it. So many schemes of all sizes flounder because of yes men, yes thoughts, where negativity is banished.

‘Hey, Mr Fabulously-rich-CEO, what led to your success?’
‘Positive thinking and hard work.’
Bollocks. Sure those two factors played a part but they are not the full story. I’d bet family money, a good education (meeting the right people), networking (meeting the right people), charm (meeting the right people is the key to success) and perhaps even psychopathy all have more effect. As another captioned photo of barefoot women carrying vast piles of firewood on their heads says, ‘If wealth were based on hard work, these women would all be millionaires’. The myths of positive thinking and hard work are cognitive dissonance for those of us with money to feel we deserve it.

At the nadir of positive thinking we come to victim blaming: you are poor because you didn’t try (if you are poor it is because you deserve to be poor; if rich people earn their wealth then the converse applies); you didn’t think yourself better which is why your cancer is spreading; it’s your fault you are so depressed; you could cure your arthritis if you put your mind to it. Robin Williams being selfish in his despair because what right did he have to be depressed with his success?

I’m not “successful” in terms of fame or fortune but I was born into a first world country and have reasonably healthy, happy life. I try to be positive, think carefully, make good choices in all the little details of daily life. I think pros and cons. I think gratitude, joy and also things that should be challenged.

I think myself lucky.

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Gillian Clarke will be our Autumn Dinner guest on 26 November

Myfanwy Fox:

I’ve heard wonderful things about Gillian Clarke reading at Ledbury last year so I am really looking forward to this.

Originally posted on Malvern Writers' Circle:

Malvern Writers’ Circle are delighted to announce that GILLIAN CLARKE, the National Poet of Wales, will be our Autumn Dinner guest speaker on Wednesday, 26th November at the Mount Pleasant Hotel in Great Malvern.

Gillian Clarke is a Welsh poet, playwright, editor, broadcaster, lecturer and translator from Welsh, becoming the third National poet of Wales in 2008. In 2010 she was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry and became the second Welsh person to receive the honour. In 2011 she was made a member of the Gorsedd of Bards. In 2012 she received the Wilfred Owen Association Poetry award. Her book Ice was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize in 2012.

Wednesday 26 November, 6.30 pm, Harcourt Room, Mount Pleasant Hotel, Belle Vue Terrace, Malvern. WR14 4PZ. £20 ticket includes dinner.

Gillian Clarke will speak at 7.00 pm, before dinner.

14 Autumn Dinner Menu Choices 2014

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ConFab Cabaret – with Hollie McNish and Al Barz

Another FAB show.

Here’s the Fox Pops audience poem. One of my suggestions was “football”. The audience shaved that down to something more specific on the world cup:

Brazilians

There’s a rabbit in my window box
…so many nuts, so little time!
Ronaldo, Rbinho, Ronaldinho, senna
coco cabanna, Rio and dancing with Hanna
I know very little about Brazil – apart from
it rhymes with HILL and ILL and the football’s there!
A South American frenzy of balls
Or a frenzy of cutting remarks on the ref
one makes you shout till your hoarse
The other makes you deaf
Riot of colour, passion played
out in the street – who? Brazilians.
I favour your favela
Favelas as nesting boxes perched on the hill
No go areas filled with corruption and poverty
Oh Brazil you drive me nuts, the truth
is in favelas away from chance the ball
How many millions in a Brazilian?
There are lots of fellas
in favelas
millions and millions
of Brazilians
Suz read a poem and hairs, zillions
and you go and ask for something about Brazilians.
They have an awful lot of coconuts
in Brazil but give me a good
festival every time
Brazilians I don’t like,
I want to write on WESTFEST
Because of all the Malverns
WEST is BEST
They’ve got a whole lot of coffee
There’s a really nice cocktail
at Wetherspoons called Brazilian
it’s mango flavour and really yummy
A Brazilian is a strip away from Hollywood –
yet they’re inches away on a map!
The chainsaw breaks.
The rainforest is saved a close shave.
My hedge trimmer is broken
MY topiary is not symmetrical
The first cut is the deepest
A close shave with you alright!
Faithful and trusty landing
strip
A landing strip is not my trip – I let it run – amok,
but a Brazilian on Prince William is how I like to rock!
It’s only hair – it’s meant to be there
A fluffy muffin is just as volcanic
Bright brilliant Brazilians sleekly shaved
in all the right places – shaded from San Paolo’s sunshine
I tried it, it’s not like in the pics,
a red itch plucked chicken with a landing
strip clit
must be time to polish the rabbit
DON’T DO IT!

 

 

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Garden Party

Originally posted on Malvern Writers' Circle:

MWC annual bring and share garden party in a gorgeous garden and with perfect weather. Readings from war poetry and members’ own work.

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