Friday, 22 September 2017

I Live In The Present

I Wake Up In Bed
I Regret My Late Night
I Push Back The Duvet
I Turn On The Shower
I Wash My Hair
I Turn Off The Shower
I Towel Myself Down
I Roll On Deodorant
I Decide What To Wear
I Put On Some Clothes
I Change My Mind
I Brush My Hair
I Swap My Jumper
I Squeeze An Orange
I Boil The Kettle
I Moisturise My Face
I Boil The Kettle
I Apply Mascara
I Make Some Tea
I Dry My Hair
I Make A Cheese Sandwich
I Drink Tepid Tea
I Pack My Bag
I Lock My Door
I Descend The Stairs
I Ascend The Stairs
I Check My Door
I Walk To The Station
I Stop Off At Waitrose
I Queue For Free Coffee
I Meet A Stranger
I Hum A Tune
I Buy A Ticket
I Chat To The Ticket Seller
I Catch A Train
I Take Out My Book
I Turn To Page 254
I Stare Through The Window
I Remember Something Sad
I Take Out A Pen
I Look At My Hands
I Write Something Down
I Put Away My Book
I Disembark From The Train
I Arrive At Work
I Work For Eight Hours
I Rush For The Train
I Take Out My Book
I Turn To Page 254
I Read About Willem
I Mark My Page
I Get Off The Train
I Lope Up The Hill
I Reach My Home
I Hug My Son
I Boil The Kettle
I Make Some Tea
I Drink Hot Tea
I Mix G And T
I Add A Slice Of Lemon
I Cook Ham Hocks With Sweet Potato Fries And Green Vegetables
I Apologise To Vegetarians
I Whip Up Blueberry Pancakes
I Share Pancakes With My Son
I Recommend Vanilla Cream
I Enjoy Eating Seconds
I Chat About Shostakovich
I Put On My Pyjamas
I Boil The Kettle
I Blog My Day

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

I Review A Collection

The Knives of Villalejo
Matthew Stewart
Eyewear Publishing 2017

Those of us caught in mid-life, between generations - our children to one side, our parents (alive or dead) to the other - will find much that resonates in Matthew Stewart's first full collection. 

Expressions of loss: of his father, primarily, but also of the contents of his childhood (including an elegy to the dying art of milk delivery: Milko - "by the ebbs and surges of daily pints you knew who’d grown, who’d aged, who’d upped and left") exist in tension with the fearless tug of his child's growing. Stewart explores this mid-state primarily in the ordinary incidents and objects of a daily life, albeit a life lived between West Sussex and Extremadura.  So some of the ordinary is extraordinary, as exemplified in this exquisite moment:

Home Comforts

Until you’ve lived in a country
full of kitchens full of saucepans
that slowly creak to the boil,
a kettle won’t seem to whistle
like the owner of a loose dog
calling it back, calling it home.

Whether he is disposing of his father's ("small electricals?") razor at the dump, taken back in a gasp to the moment his father's teaching him to tie a tie, or Making Paella with David, "learning how to shell langoustines, exploring their cartoon-alien faces and train-track bellies", Stewart uses what's viscerally familiar, what's most noticeable only when it's gone, or shifted, or seen through a different, younger life, to draw us in: his sparse, precise language, engendering curiosity.

Though these poems are accessible at one level, there is nothing simple here. They are to be read and savoured like a complex wine with a minimalist label - to be sipped, held in the mouth a while.

Matthew Stewart will be reading at Shrewsbury Poetry on Thursday January 4th 2018

Saturday, 2 September 2017

I Set Fire To My Table

Back in the height of summer, you know, when the clouds were lowering over the horizon just as the school holidays started, my friend Emily and I plotted a small party, mainly to celebrate her birthday, which is today (Happy Birthday, gorgeous), but also to continue the warming process of my new home.

I've moved into my home gradually.  Dawn downstairs reminded me that it's been five years, near enough, since I started buying it.  I shared it for three years in a system called 'nesting' (more of this one day, maybe) and for the past 18 months, it's been all mine. 

Wanting to ensure we had at least one guest, Emily and I created Hugh Jape, a mannequin dressed for the occasion in one of my son's hand-made coats and draped in fairy lights.  We stood him in welcome, at the bottom of the stairs, calm as anything.  We discussed food, seating, dancing, ice, candles.  We discussed my new table, the quality of its oak grain, and the need not to damage it with water.  We protected it with a plastic table cloth.

What happened to my table halfway through the party was entirely my doing.  It involved tea lights and the careless placement of a packet of poppadums (Waitrose). Back in the 70s at school, we used to shrink crisp bags in the oven and wear the miniaturised Smiths Salt and Vinegar or Cheese and Onion packets as badges.  The bag of poppadums didn't shrink - it burst into flames.  The plastic cloth underneath quickly followed suit.

My first reaction was to try to put out the flames with the second pack of poppadums (Waitrose). Maybe one guest brought both packets (thank you, and I'm sorry).  I completely forgot about the fire triangle (heat, fuel, oxygen) in my haste.  Fortunately, Mike hadn't, and he calmly poured water (sparkling, natch) on the table top fire.

Afterwards, Mike said that what'd come to hand first was lemonade, but that he'd had enough time to choose sparkling water.  I was glad about that, as the smell of burning sugar added to burning poppadum and plastic would've lingered.

As it is, the smell is nowhere to be smelt today and I am urged, once again, towards gratitude: I'm so grateful that the party didn't end in a panicked alarm, that the table isn't damaged, even though in the few minutes of Ted and Mike doing the clearing up and re-dressing-the-table-in-a-duvet-cover-process I had reconciled myself to its imagined imperfections.  

Yes, the cloth with its gaping charred hole had to be thrown away (along with the now-laminated poppadums) but what of it?  What of the small losses in comparison to the warmth of my calm-as-Hugh-in-a-crisis friends who have seen me through to this gift of a place, this sanctuary of rest and creativity.