Thursday, 27 March 2014

I Write About Crisps

This is a blog tour. It's not like one of those sinister chain letters when breaking the chain may lead to bad blog luck.  No, no. It's a way of getting people to know about writers and their blogs.  Each blogger answers the same four questions.  Here are my answers:

What are you working on?
My new pamphlet of poems, 'Mending the Ordinary' to be published in May by Fair Acre Press. And my non-extruded Crisp Sequence for the Cheltenham Poetry Festival.
How does your work differ from others of this genre?
I'm not sure that it does, though I have never used the words 'iridescent' or 'ethereal' in poems.  Not even my Crisp Sequence.
Why do you write what you do?
Because I find it satisfying to distill everyday extraordinary experience into words - intellectually, emotionally, psychologically and physically.
How does your writing process work?
I eat crisps and then I think, "I want to write a poem about that flavour I can't quite put my finger on: the feeling of loss mixed with desire (salt and vinegar) or joy mixed with terror (prawn cocktail), as expressed in that wave of a hand, or scrape of chair, or the unspoken affection of sharing a pack".  But I don't think it quite like that.  I feel unsettled by something I've noticed.  I connect this feeling to an image or happening, and I write it out till it feels a bit more slotted into place.

Here are some other blogs to read ...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

I Join A Club

A couple of weeks ago, I was playing badminton with my son, and towards the end of our hour, Steve and Ross on the next court asked for a game of doubles.  I didn't know they were called Steve and Ross till we lost to them conclusively and they invited us to join their club.

When I was a teenager in Highbury, two brothers, John and Len, ran a badminton club on Saturday evenings.  John had lost the sight in one eye due to a squash ball accident, so he occasionally missed a shot. Len never did.

In the year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee, I was paired with Len for the club competition.  Len explained that this was because I was the youngest and taught me to play a tactic called 'front and back'.  This meant he ran around at the back of the court retrieving the shuttle with style and speed, whilst I batted the occasional net shot, sometimes over the net.  Len was the kindest man I knew, and showed me how to do stealthy serves with the feathered shuttles.

On my first visit to Ross and Steve's club, not one of my stealthy serves was stealthy.  They passed no comment about this and were very welcoming.  This evening, I rediscovered the knack.  The stealthiness involves serving short, just over the line, towards the outer edge of the court.  The angle of the serve is therefore rather obtuse.

When Len and I won the competition, it was was one of the unexpected moments of my childhood.  I was given a keyring and a round of applause.  I can still see the keyring's hexagonal silver sculpted edge and dark blue plastic centre inlaid with '1977'.

I kept my keyring for years.  After it broke, I put it with two sixpences, a thrupenny bit, a gymnastics colours badge and several buttons in a drawer in my bedroom.  I haven't seen it since the house move after my mother died when everything got a bit confused, but I can still feel the weight of it in my hand.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

I Listen To The Radio

Yesterday evening, I spent two hours lying foot-to-foot on the sofa with my son revising his presentation for French GCSE entitled, Mes Vacances.  I was a little perturbed initially to find that he'd written me out of a holiday I took him on last summer, but understood when he explained that he didn't want to have to get to grips with the feminine.

I listened to his presentation again this morning, with the result that I was a little later than usual leaving for work.  This was just as well, otherwise I'd have missed the Poulenc which played as I was  pulling into the car park.  I nearly missed it twice as I'd started listening to Radio 4's The Life Scientific, but lost track of the scientific early on, so switched to Radio 3.

When Poulenc's piece was announced, I heard it both as Les Chemins de l'Amour and Les Chemins de la Mort.  While I was listening to the intense beauty of the arrangement for cello and piano,  I found myself wondering if death in French is masculine or feminine.

I thought for a while about how love is a little like death, and not just because of la petite mort. 

I find French easier now than when I had to learn it myself.  I think it's something to do with not having to revise for exams.  Much of it remains a beautiful mystery; but I love the sounds, and the feel of it in my mouth.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

I Launder My Watch

I have found my watch.  It fell on the floor as I pulled my duvet cover out of the washing machine.  I hung up the cover and put the watch on a radiator.

I'd looked for  my watch earlier when getting dressed. I searched on my chest of drawers and on my desk, then had to catch the train for work. Whilst delivering a lecture, I glanced at my wrist twice, then had to ask my students the time.  After I'd  looked for the third time, one of them took off his watch and handed it to me.  It felt solid,  like it would withstand the pressure of a dive to a depth of 30 metres, and a spin in a twin tub.

There are many things I wash that I don't mean to: swimming goggles, coins, elastic bands, shopping lists, tissues. Whites with blues.

The watch reminds me of my father because, though he didn't choose it, I bought it with money that he gave me. 

I can't recommend putting a watch into a washing machine, but mine looks cleaner than it has for a while, and, after an initial stutter, it's caught up with itself.

Monday, 10 March 2014

I Go For A Swim

I've never been a Brownie, but I went swimming with a dozen or so this evening.  This wasn't intentional, but when I arrived at the pool, a lesson was in full flow.  I heard a girl say that Snowy Owl was teaching in the shallow end, so I decided to do widths mid-pool.

For some reason, when I go swimming I usually count what I do.  It's easy to get competitive, and easy to feel a sense of failure, so this evening, because I haven't been swimming for a while, I didn't count.

There's a cost-benefit analysis to be carried out in relation to swimming.  It's an inconvenient activity, involving, as it does, getting wet.  I weigh up my desire to feel weightless, against the feel of cold air on my drying skin; the sense of muscles stretched, against the post-swim frizz of my hair; the peace of good tiredness against the £4.90 plus 20 pence for the locker, the avoidance of breathless exhaustion against the knowledge that it would cost £0 to go jogging.

A banner at the side of the pool informed me that a 30 minute swim would burn 350 calories.  I wasn't quite sure on which side of the analysis to place this information.

At ten minutes to the hour, the Brownies got out and the lifeguards divided the pool length-ways.  I switched direction and, as I swam breaststroke towards the deep end, saw a boy surface-diving like a pearl fisher to touch the bottom of the pool 12 feet below.  He came up straight, his mouth pressed tight against escaping bubbles.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

I Learn My Lines

When I perform 'The Seven Rages of Woman' as part of Threesome, I recite my poems from memory.   At first, I thought it would be easy to learn lines I'd written myself off-by-heart, but it isn't.

The way I do it is by repeating the words aloud over and over as I drive to work.  As a result of learning my lines in this way, the miles go by less noticed, and  I once arrived unexpectedly in Nantwich.

When I write, there is something about the act of writing words on paper which helps to create the poem.  For me, a poem starts with a spoken or thought phrase; I write the words down to develop the idea.  Unlike some poets, I can't find poems solely in speech or in my head - I make them by hand.  Maybe this explains the challenge of learning them.

If I forget my lines in performance, I make up new ones.  I think I can do this because  I've spent years standing in front of students having to make things up on the spur of the moment. When I say, 'make things up', I don't mean that I lie.  I mean that I reconstruct my knowledge there and then in response to their questions.  

The lines of poetry I make up are the ones I've forgotten, but in a different order.  When I leave one out altogether,after the show, I feel a sense of loss.

My next performance is in two days' time.  I'll be talking to myself in the car tomorrow.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

I Microwave A Curry

I felt lunchtime hungry at 11.12am today, despite having porridge for breakfast.  I usually try to hold out until noon, but I'd brought some of last night's leftover chicken curry and rice into work and whilst I was answering emails, I saw the plastic box out of the corner of my eye, and it winked at me.   

I put the curry, with rice, onto a paper plate into the microwave in my office, and set the timer.  I ate it with a plastic fork at my desk, looking at my inbox.  The plate and fork are part of a never-ending stock which someone extremely optimistic brought to the 2012 Christmas party.  I burnt the roof of my mouth, slightly.

In my experience, the heat of food heated up in a microwave tastes different from the heat of food heated up on a pan or oven.  But I often mistrust my experience, so I searched, 'Is food heated up in microwaves differently hot?' on the internet. 

According to Yahoo Answers, in microwave cooking, the outside of the food gets heated by direct radiation, whereas the inside has to be heated by conduction. Conduction is a much slower process, and so the few minutes my curry was in the microwave was long enough to make the surface of the rice grains and sauce very hot, without the whole meal having an integrated sense of heat.  In future, I will leave microwaved food to stand for a few minutes and conduct itself properly.

Lunch, for me, was over by 11.32am.  In my experience, I'll be hungry again before home time.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

I Resemble My Mother

People who remember her tell me that when I have my hair up, I look like my mother.  I put my hair up yesterday, which is maybe why I roasted the potatoes under the chicken.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Delia Smith told us, in her Complete Cookery Course, how to make roast potatoes crispy on the outside and fluffy inside.  Following her instructions, I have occasionally managed this. I parboil the potatoes for ten minutes, shake the pan to roughen their surfaces, then roast them at a very high temperature.  

My mother cooked a roast lunch - shoulder of lamb or chicken - every Sunday of my childhood.  She'd prepare it before we went to church at 11 o'clock.  Just before leaving the house, she would put the potatoes into the roasting tin around the meat. When we got back, she'd make thick gravy, and boil the peas and carrots.  The meal would be on the table by 1 o'clock, whatever the length of my father's sermon.  It was always the same, always delicious.

One thing I make differently from the way my mother made it is crumble mix.  I include oats, nuts and cinnamon with the flour, butter and sugar.  Sometimes, I add ginger or pine nuts.

Some days, I put my hair up; some days, I leave it loose.  I've never been able to decide which I prefer.