Archive for October, 2010

Soul Food


honestly though, I felt like my right hand had been cut off…

Lemon Curd Tart

Lemon Curd Tart (for Sue Peng Ng)

So, I spent a good chunk of yesterday on the phone to BT’s technical support line trying to get my internet connection sorted out. This was in itself a highly frustrating experience – it didn’t matter how many times I told the person on the other end of the line (doubtless in Mumbai) I knew about computers, he still insisted on spelling out ‘ping pingtest.bt.com’ and ‘ipconfig’ and other arcane incantations that I’m quite familiar with. I don’t mind the initial assumption of total lack of knowledge, but persisting with it against all evidence to the contrary drove me nuts. Yes, I know they have their scripts to follow, but surely they must pick up some pointers to good customer service along the way?

In the end he told me there were problems with a server going down and not to worry about it, it would all be fixed by this morning. Ha. It wasn’t. So he said to wait for another 24 hours and he was sure that would sort it out, the engineers were on the case. And then, I’m not sure where this came from, he suggested switching to another router. That can’t have been in the script. And d’you know what, it worked! So they’re going to send me a brand new router and switch me to another payment plan that’ll save me £9 a month. Why couldn’t they have switched me to the cheaper plan anyway? Customer (dis)Services didn’t have an answer to that one.

and… calm…


A yummy cupcake made for me by the lovely Ishbel

So, Pip, what did you do today?

Sorry. Just goes to show how wound up I get by such silliness. I approached today’s task with trepidation – construct a database that will be a more effective storage system for useful information than random pieces of paper. The BT incident had reminded me of how I used to feel all the time when I worked in computing… waiting for the next thing to go wrong, trying to reach some level of common understanding with [geeks/salespeople/management/idiots/analysts/clients – delete as appropriate] all day every day and at the same time trying to persuade f***ing computers to do what I wanted them to do………

As it happened, I had fun with my database building. It’s not finished yet, and there were many little irritations, but the task has reminded me of the enjoyable aspects of working with computers.

Toasted Marshmallows

There's nothing quite like marshmallows toasted over a bonfire you've built and then lit


Twiddling around on the internet, as I do (when I have a connection), I was interested to read Mark Watson’s blog post from yesterday, where he announced a competition to predict the state of the world this time next year – something we will know that we don’t know now, the name of a new band that will be famous, name and synopsis of a new TV show that will be must-watch, etc. The question that struck me was to predict something that will happen in your own life – more points being awarded for the more unexpected happenings. How liberating is that? You could specify absolutely anything!

I predict by this time next year I’ll have been to the moon, and I’ll have got there by purely self-powered flight.

And then I found this other article about some fashion editor type person who was sacked from an extremely prestigious job, and while it was awful at the time she now says it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her.

Kohlrabi and Bacon Quiche

Kohlrabi and Bacon Quiche (also for Sue)


According to Merriam Webster, redundant is defined as: “exceeding what is necessary or normal”

When I was made redundant two and a half years ago, I thought it was the end of the world. People kept saying, “You know, it might be the best thing that ever happens to you. There was this fashion editor type person…” and I kept marvelling at my self-restraint. I didn’t thump a single one of those people.

I spent more than 12 years working for a company that specialised in using information in any way possible to help other companies market their products more effectively. In other words, helping big business squeeze more money out of you and me. And wasn’t that a good use of my time? I think I sold my soul for a nice car and a big house and enough stress to drive me over the edge of sanity. And like a lemming, for a while I desperately tried to get another job doing exactly the same sort of thing.

Pastry Nibbles

Rhubarb tart and cheese pastry & marmite snails (one of which is escaping)

Thankfully, I didn’t manage to get another job in IT (although I would have thumped you if you’d said so at the time). So gradually I reinvented myself. I’m not a Software Development Manager any more. I’m a writer, a poet, and a student. I’m totally skint, and like a mad fool I’m trying to carve myself some sort of career in the writing and creative arts industry, which is grossly under-funded and poorly paid. But f*ck it all, I’m happy with what I do! I’m studying, which I love. I’m writing, which I love. I’m reading, which I love. I’m meeting so many new and interesting people – talk to a computer programmer, then talk to a poet… compare and contrast…

If anyone had said to me a couple of years ago, “By the end of 2010 you’ll be a full time Creative and Professional Writing student, you’ll have a part time job with a publisher, you’ll be reading and writing poetry, and your ambitions will include returning to academia and starting up a small press, and what’s more, you’ll be happy” I think I’d have been too bewildered to thump them.

Just goes to show, you can never predict what’s round the corner.

(and I never thought I’d turn out to be good at making pastry either…)

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What has the Old Bat been up to since her last blog?

Writing in the third person, apparently…

Enough of that. I’ve been stupidly busy, keeping up with uni work and Five Leaves work and Nottingham Poetry Series workshop work, and, you know, other stuff. But it’s all good. I’m doing stuff I like to do.*

Mouthy Poets

Mouthy Poets flyerYesterday evening I went to the first Mouthy Poets workshop, run by the inimitable Deborah ‘Debris’ Stevenson. As it’s intended for young people aged between 15 and 25, I was really only there to help out, but somehow I accidentally ended up taking part. I’m very very very very glad I did!

I’ve seen the amount of work Deborah put into preparing for this workshop. A HUGE amount of work. The only reason I emphasise this is: if you’d been there you wouldn’t have believed it. Her delivery of the material was so natural and genuine, there wasn’t a feeling of we need to get on with it now and keep to the plan because she’d prepared for all eventualities. She did talk through her workshop plan with me on Thursday, but to be honest I really don’t know if she stuck to it or not, I was too busy enjoying myself!

Deborah, preparing for the workshop

Deborah, preparing for the workshop. Note Relentless, Monster Munch and Jelly Babies...

So, why was it so f***ing amazing?

The mix of participants. Black and white. School, college and university students. Artists, singers, rappers, writers. Very diverse social backgrounds. But somehow everyone learned from everyone else. For example, we had to put together a short performance in small groups, and I learned from Jordan, Mitchell and Emily that it’s not beyond me to read my words with something vaguely resembling a hip-hop rhythm, and it can actually sound ok.

Watching inspiration fill the room. Everyone was there because they wanted to be, for various reasons. At the start of the workshop most people were nervous, unsure what was going to happen and what they were going to get out of it. By the end every single person shot their hand into the air when Deborah asked who’ll be coming back next week. There was a real feeling of we can do amazing things together, and I have no doubt that they will.

Deborah 'Debris' StevensonWords. This kind of follows on from the mix of participants, but the sheer variety and richness of words that came out of the session was incredible. The second writing exercise (which we developed our performances from) was to write about what would make us feel happy, what success in life means to us. Even leaving aside the inventive performances, the actual words themselves left a smile on my face and tears in my eyes.

I guess, for me, it opened up new possibilities. Which at my advanced age is something quite precious. I’m sure every single person in that room felt the same.

Page versus stage

This has crystallised my thoughts on the whole ‘page vs stage’ debate. I can’t be bothered with it. Yes, some poems work better when performed or read aloud. And some poems work better when you read and re-read them in black and white print. But… some poems rhyme and some don’t. Some poems follow a strict form, others wander about all over the place. Some poems talk about nature, others about the human condition. As long as the words respect the ideas and communicate them as effectively as possible, who cares?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Table Talk, July 12, 1827
I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose = words in their best order; poetry = the best words in their best order.

Get involved…

If, by some chance, you’re a poet, lyricist, writer or storyteller aged between 15 and 25 living in Nottingham, and you’re not already involved in this project, WHY ON EARTH NOT? It’s going to be something quite amazing. Get your arse down to the Playhouse next Friday at 5pm and be prepared to work hard and have the best time you’ve ever had.

If you don’t fit into the above category, either pretend you do and get along there anyway, or watch out for the Mouthy Poets, because they might well take over the world. And what a world that would be!

The Rose Fyleman Fairy Book* possibly with the exception of trawling the internet to find possible stockists for the forthcoming new edition of The Rose Fyleman Fairy Book, which has been deeply depressing. You wouldn’t believe how many nutters there are out there in internet land. The book itself is a lovely piece of nostalgic gorgeousness – “There are fairies at the bottom of my garden” is the first line of the first poem – yes, that’s where it came from – so if you happen to know anyone into this sort of nonsense this would be a great Christmas present for them.

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Strange Little Girl

Growing up with libraries

Sad Cafe - Strange Little Girl

Click to listen...

I grew up without a TV. This had a profound effect on my life in many ways. I was always the strange little girl at school, left out of conversations about TV programmes I didn’t even know existed, and unaware of many nuances of popular culture that were ingrained into my peers. I remember being shocked that people thought my house was weird because we didn’t have a living room carpet (we had a wooden floor, which my mum would polish every month with an extremely odd machine that had headlights).

On the positive side, I discovered the joys of reading very early on. My parents started teaching me to read when I was two and a half years old – I remember the utter exhilaration of getting the word on the flash card right – and by the time I went to school I was a fluent reader. The teachers didn’t believe me until I proved it to them…

Mrs Trembath: “So which of these books looks nice, dear? Look at the pictures and see which one you’d like to try.”
Pippa: “Don’t you have any books with more words in?”
Mrs Trembath: “??????”
Pippa: “I can read, you know.”
Mrs Trembath: “Yes dear, I’m sure you can. Now which book would you like to look at?”
Strange little girl moves over to another bookshelf and pulls out a book at random.
Pippa: “How about this one – it’s called ‘The House at Three Corners’. I’ve seen it in the library but I haven’t read it yet.”
Mrs Trembath: “!!!!!!!!”
Strange little girl proceeds to read the whole of ‘The House at Three Corners’ to Mrs Trembath.
Mrs Trembath: “Mrs Hartigan, come and see this!”
Mrs Trembath asks strange little girl to read the book again. Mrs Hartigan looks on in amazement.

That was the first time I noticed my strangeness.

I spent a lot of time at my local library – Woodley Library, on Church Road. It moved to a new building close to the shopping centre while I was at university, but the original building was an old house with a terrapin-type extension attached. The children’s books were in the old house part, and that was my home from home. We were only allowed to take six books out at a time, so until I was old enough to go by myself I’d badger Dad to take me at least once a week.

Have Spacesuit Will Travel, by Robert HeinleinI didn’t just choose books, I lingered over them, I read them there and then, I ran my fingers along the spines, I talked to the librarians and asked them for recommendations. Quite often I’d ask random people which books they liked – I discovered science fiction that way. I must have read Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel at least twenty times. I went to the jungle and the Amazon and the ocean floor with Willard Price, to the moon with Tintin and the Olympic Games with Asterix, to ancient Spain with El Cid, to Where the Wild Things Are with Max and the Night Kitchen with Mickey…

At weekends and in the holidays, we lived in Dorset, in a remote village which didn’t even have a shop, let alone a library. I used to borrow books from everyone who had them. I read Mills and Boon (and didn’t understand it), Christian educational tales from the ex-missionary who lived over the road, PG Wodehouse, Thomas Hardy (didn’t like that much), Swallows and Amazons (wow! I wanted to be Nancy! which coincidentally and bizarrely was the name of the ex-missionary), tons and tons of Enid Blyton… then, when I was about 10, the mobile library started visiting the village once a fortnight. Suddenly the long summer holidays became so much more exciting…

I honestly think I’d have gone insane without the Berkshire and Dorset library services. I would certainly be a very different person. I remember the faces and voices and smiles of every single librarian at Woodley Library. I could draw you a plan of the shelves and tell you exactly where each section of books was located. In some ways I have more memories of that library than I do of my childhood home.

And now…

Now, in this time of austerity, my local council (Nottinghamshire) has just announced huge cuts in its library services:

  • Staffing cutbacks of 83.4 full time equivalent posts
  • Reduction of opening hours including one day a week for the bigger libraries, two days a week for the next level down
  • 28 smaller libraries to become “community partnership libraries” on reduced hours
  • mobile libraries to cut their visits to once a month
  • book budget to be cut by 75%
  • the life of a book to be extended from an average 5.4 years to 21.5 years

To quote Ross Bradshaw:

The cabinet member for culture, John Cottee, said that “we are committed to libraries being at the heart of the community”. If so, this is a heart attack.

Nick Clegg is very pleased with himself at the moment – he’s announced a package of measures to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds learn more and have more access to education. Without access to library services, that’s like sitting them at a fancy dinner table and shoving empty plates in front of them.

I’m speechless. I don’t know what they’re thinking. I feel sorry for all those strange little girls, and the normal little girls and boys, who won’t have the opportunities I took for granted.

If you live in Nottinghamshire, write to your council member to protest. If you live elsewhere in the UK, write to your council member in support of your local library services. Do it now, make your voice heard before it’s too late.

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Yesterday was a right old mixture. There was one good bit and one bad bit, and the rest was coloured grey by the bad bit.

The good bit

Next Year Will Be Better, by John Lucas, from Five Leaves PublicationsI attended the book launch for John Lucas’s wonderful Next Year Will Be Better, an autobiographical account of the 1950s, and his new poetry collection Things To Say, from which Carol Rumens selected the gorgeous Easter 1944 as poem of the week in last Saturday’s Guardian. Things To Say, by John Lucas, from Five Leaves PublicationsThis was held at Bromley House Library in the centre of Nottingham, which I haven’t been to before but certainly intend to go to again. It’s a subscription library (costs £75 per year, or £40 for full-time students), which is about the only down side. The entrance is easy to miss – a nondescript doorway next to Barnardos charity shop on Angel Row – but once you go inside it’s kind of like the wardrobe in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. There are three floors of books, ranging from modern novels to Victorian novels, church history, economics, old issues of Punch…

John Lucas book launch at the Bromley House Library

John Lucas book launch at the Bromley House Library. If you look carefully you can see Ross the Boss...

Meridian Line at Bromley House Library

The meridian line.

The first floor has a room with a ‘meridian line’ – a brass line on the floor running exactly North-South, which, in conjunction with a panel covering the window with a strategically placed hole, and a plumb-bob, enables one to determine exactly when midday is in Nottingham. According to engraved silver plates on a nearby grandfather clock, this is 4’33 later than midday at Greenwich, and 4’10 later than St Paul’s Cathedral.

Spiral staircase at Bromley House Library

The spiral staircase

The second floor is reached via a rickety spiral staircase. Notices tied to the banisters at the top and bottom with red ribbon ask that only one person uses the staircase at any one time. A balcony runs round above one of the first floor rooms (crammed with books, of course), and there are many nooks and crannies where members can curl up with books and read quietly.

Attic at Bromley House

One of the attic rooms

A notice on the way up to the third floor warns members that the same level of comfort is not to be found in the attics, and recommends wrapping up warm in the winter! Then you get to the top of the stairs and find a heavy duty torch placed strategically… there are in fact lights, but I did wonder how reliable they are. I found some gorgeous maps of the town centre, showing how it had changed over the years. I didn’t spot a date, but it looked as if they showed an original draft sometime in the 1800s (did you know there used to be two skating rinks on Talbot Street???), with red outlines drawn over to show how the city looked at the time – sometime last century, probably around the middle of the century. I want to go back there just to look at those maps again.

So, that was fun. I also interviewed David Belbin, Sue Dymoke and John Lucas about the 1st Beeston International Poetry Festival for an article in Left Lion, which I shall write as soon as I’ve finished this blog post. And John’s readings from his books were well worth hearing. I loved the story of how Thorn Gruin was born…

The bad bit

Actually, I don’t want to write much about this. Suffice to say, I rear-ended someone at a roundabout (from stationary – I’m sure she’d started moving then stopped…), pushed her car forwards about 3 yards, and she went into a huge drama queen act, refusing to speak to me (apart from shaking her head vigorously when I asked if she was all right), making a phone call, and then putting her head down on the steering wheel and not responding to anything… I panicked and called for police and ambulance, who couldn’t find anything wrong with her but took her off to hospital because she complained of neck pains (presumably whiplash from shaking her head at me so violently).

I’m fairly sure she was scamming me. A really kind bloke and his son who stopped to see if we were all right and stayed with me till it was all over were very sure. The soul-searching bit was that this bloke took one look at her, saw she was Asian, and immediately became uncomfortably racist. I know I should have refused to put up with it, I know I should have argued with him, but I was so grateful for his kindness and help that I didn’t… and I feel bad about that.

Oh well. That’s another 2 years off my no claims bonus. Grumph. At least I still have my copy of Things to Say and my photos of Bromley House Library to give me some good memories of the day.

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Cobwebs on Jubilee Campus

Walking onto Jubilee Campus in the morning, plants alongside the lake festooned in dew-covered cobwebs.

So much going on! This is not bad, mind you. It is, in fact, good. It does mean I’m in danger of letting the blogging slip though, but I’m determined not to do that again.

I don’t have time to write a deeply considered blog today, so I thought I’d tell you about a couple of projects I’m going to be working on as part of my Creative Writing degree course. They are related, and they both come from an ongoing theme in my head – what happens when you crash two ideas together? That, in turn, came from looking at haiku and discovering that it’s possible to whack one idea with another and capture the resulting explosion in a very small poem. Which is, in itself, an explosive idea, if you think about it enough.

Writing for Markets

This is a core second year module, the main aim of which is to teach us how to produce a proposal for a non-fiction book. We had the first class last Thursday… and when the tutors asked if anyone had any ideas for their proposed book I don’t think they quite expected me to stick my hand up and say I was interested in the ways image can be used to enhance poetry, looking at it from a historical and psychological perspective, taking into account ideas from symbolism and semiotics and post-structuralism…

I suppose, thinking back on it, I did sound like I was crawling into my own navel. But honestly, the whole subject fascinates me. Why does “a picture paint a thousand words”? What words can it paint and what words can’t it paint? How have artists used text, and writers used image, and designers used both text and image, to enhance the communication of the ideas behind their work? And I’ve been looking for books and/or papers about this subject for months now and not come up with much… and I don’t believe no-one else is as fascinated by the subject as I am. So I shall write a book. Or at least come up with a proposal to write a book.

I giggled when one of the tutors asked, “Will it be a coffee table book?” Um. No. Probably not.

Third Year Project: 10×5

The reason I’ve been looking for background material on the subject is, I’m doing my third year project this year (yes, alongside a second year module, don’t ask, it’s complicated), and I came up with the idea of writing some poems and using images and/or other graphical representation techniques to enhance the poems. Ideas have been bubbling around in my head for a while now, but they finally came together last night when we had our first project support session and were asked to think about a detailed project plan. So, what I’m going to do is:

  • Write a series of ten poems, each on the same theme but in a different style. So there’ll probably be a list poem, a prose poem, a sonnet, a modernist poem of some kind, a ballad… stuff like that.
  • Come up with five different ways of presenting those poems. For example, I might illustrate one set, I might create an animated set using Flash, one set might be represented entirely within images.
  • Produce five pamphlets, each containing the ten poems represented in a different way, and a commentary on the ideas behind the representation.
  • Research and write a marketing plan – is there a market for such things? if so, how would I tap into it? how could social networking help? etc etc.

I think this is going to be FUN!

I’m conscious that I’ve included no images or links in this post, so I shall share with you a couple of pictures I took on campus yesterday. They have little relation to the subject of the post… but they’re quite cool.

Fish chasing coot

This was originally just a picture of a coot. Then I saw the rather scary carp chasing it. Hope the poor bird escaped!

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