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Hot Nuts and Workhouses


It’s been such an exciting week, it’s hard to know when to start. Also I am on steroids which is making me feel a bit wired. But I wasn’t last Wednesday which is when we launched the new poetry book at the Hatton Gallery here in Newcastle, with pink cava, hot nuts and strawberries dipped in chocolate. It was, in the corniest sense, a night I shall always remember. The audience seemed particularly HANDSOME with shining hair and bright eyes, and everyone seemed so alive and in the moment. I had a whole range of all my favourite musicians playing songs and poems, and Jackie Kay was my star celebrity guest. It was much better than a wedding ! I felt really lucky and happy and even relaxed.

The next day I went to the Turkish Bath and oozed for a while. I am setting one of my new radio plays in the Turkish bath and I keep making lists of all the features in there….cracked marble and paintings of naked ladies. I seem to be writing so many things simultaneously at the moment. My brain is chuntering about like an old amstrad. On Friday all my creative energy was interrupted by a visit to the hospital for my usual drip, but it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare as my liver started hurting, and I got sent for x rays. Pain always makes everything more surreal, nightmarish and bizarre, and for one awful moment I thought I might end up in the dreaded Ward 37 where I once languished in agony some years ago. It has become a symbol of everything I most fear, my dark and bloody chamber where no one hears you when you scream. However, this was averted by some timely paracetomol that stopped the pain in a very simple, unassuming kind of way. But they put me on steroids just incase, which is why I am feeling rather jumpy.

Armed with drugs I set off to do a reading from the new book at Southwell Festival near Nottingham on Saturday with Elizabeth Smither, the New Zealand poet laureate. We were driven by Tony Ward and Angela Jarman from Arc Press in a very comfortable car, so that everytime I got into it I fell into a deep and delicious sleep. We were reading at a National Trust place called The Workhouse, and honestly, it was SO austere and spartan. It was more plain than even the Quakers. In fact, the Quakers are wild hedonists compared to this place. We were in a room with a stone floor and plain walls, reading from a single chair to a terrified audience….well, maybe not terrified, but certainly muted. It was so different to Wednesday, I wanted to dance and shout. All the poems fell into a pool of silence. Somehow the absence of any sign of the people who had worked there made the place full of ghosts. Perhaps things soak up spirits? I could feel them everywhere. I have never been anywhere so spooky!

More driving yesterday in the sleepy Arc car, to Lancaster and its whirling one way system. I had a great time. My friend John Hegley was there doing his elegant, erudite, unpredictable (run out of words that begin with e) delightful show, and I enjoyed my own reading and felt connected to the audience. It was sad to leave Elizabeth, who I had got to know over the weekend. Do read her poems, they are lovely.

Today I chugged back on the train, from Carlisle to Newcastle, next to the wide river and all the doubtful sheep. Next weekend I am going to Scarborough! My life feels almost wild.

Thanks to everyone who came to the launch. I feel we are experiencing a wonderful time for literature here in the North East, as if everything is suddenly alive and moving and truly creative. Is it just me?