There’s not been much let up since my Thrive residency came to an end. On Sunday 26th June I travelled far north (for a south London gal) to perform at Finchley Literary Festival‘s closing event, the Poetry and Music Palooza hosted by Anna Meryt. The locals were friendly and it was a fun and uplifting evening, despite the drizzle and recent events. Here’s a YouTube clip of my reading. Thanks to Anna for inviting me to read, and to David Gardiner for filming the event.
Then on Wednesday 29th June I took part in my first Stanza Bonanza at the Poetry Café. Billed as a ‘war of words’ between the Clapham and Reading Stanza groups, I was a little nervous, as I’m not keen on poetry as a combative activity. Thankfully, it was all very good-natured, and I volunteered to read first for Clapham so I was able to relax then and enjoy the rest of the evening. The winner? Poetry, of course! And, well, half the Reading team seemed to have connections to south London, so really…
After a bit of a London Undercurrents lull (Joolz and I have both had a lot going on) we’re pleased to have two poems published in the 10th issue of Lunar Poetry magazine. The launch reading was on Tuesday in Peckham and as Joolz was away, I read for both of us.
I’ve also got two poems in issue 13 of morphrog, which has just gone live. Hurrah!
The community roof garden is keeping me busy in a very rewarding way. It’s not just the produce, but the strawberries and raspberries taste fantastic and we’ve had some delicious beetroot. There’s also been a football tournament taking place in France, you may have noticed. And on Monday I was filmed reading a poem in a polytunnel. But more about that another time.
It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque setting for a poetry reading than the Old English Garden in Battersea Park. Here, on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, I read some of my garden themed poems as part of Thrive‘s Chelsea Fringe Festival week of events.
The weather was kind to me, with warm sunshine breaking through on both days. I had a small but attentive audience on each occasion, including some of Thrive’s hardworking gardeners and volunteers. The poems I read broadly reflect my own ongoing journey into gardening, and it was lovely to share some of the poems I’ve written over the last few weeks as I’ve spent time in the gardens Thrive manages.
It’s only three weeks now until the Open Garden Squares Weekend on 18th and 19th of June. By then I hope to have a decent crop of new poems. For now, here’s a recent haiku, plucked from the Thrive Herb Garden:
tall mauve irises,
poodle-proud. one rainbow shade
in time-lapse garden.
Poor old January. Too often a long dark month to get through. Now you’re behind us, and February’s here, the shortest month whose lengthening days speed us towards spring. So it snowed overnight on Monday, and the wind is Siberian, but there are snowdrops in the park, and buds on the magnolia trees.
This bright morning I walked down to Battersea High Street to check out Raynsford’s greengrocers, following a friend’s recommendation, and was not disappointed. Blood oranges, four for a pound. Blood oranges! Sunshine wrapped in citrus peel.
And this afternoon, for the first time since I fractured my right thumb, I ventured out on my bicycle. I’ve been itching to get cycling again, though my thumb’s not yet restored to full flexibility, and I’m still building up its strength. So this was a trial run, in the relative safety of Battersea Park. Four circuits, varying the pace, practising gear changes, making sure I could brake, battling headlong into that Siberian wind. How exhilarating it felt! But, being a cautious bod, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to tackle peak hour traffic, especially after dark. That will come. And beyond this, I’m hatching plans. Changes are afoot. February is definitely looking up.
About a year ago, our local greengrocer closed temporarily for a radical refurbishment, including the addition of a flat over the shop. We resigned ourselves to several months of mildly-aggravating and bit-more-expensive fruit and vegetable shopping in the nearby supermarket, softened by the anticipation of when-Thurgoods-reopens, hoping it would be perhaps a little smarter but still a good and proper greengrocers. With the odd stray apostrophe. Scaffolding went up. A new storey went up. Months passed. Scaffolding came down. Metal shutters covered the shopfront. Estate agent sign appeared: Maisonette for sale. The maisonette sold. Every time we passed, the shutters were down. Only today, as I headed up Queenstown Road, I noticed a light, the shutters up, and this sad notice taped to the window:
So, farewell, Dave and family. There is so much I will miss. Already miss. Loose bunches of fresh spinach, that came with their roots still intact, mud on the leaves and the occasional small stone. The brief appearance of blood oranges early in the year that told me spring was on its way. The cheap bunches of daffs or scented narcissi – 3 for £2 – too good a deal to resist. In late May, bundles of English asparagus, tender spears perfect for roasting or adding to risotto. Then Cyprus potatoes caked in red earth, and the excitement of sighting the first Brussel sprouts of the season. Brown paper bags for mushrooms. Choosing one or two onions, a handful of carrots, just the amount we needed and no excess packaging. And Dave with his friendly welcome, and always remarking that we brought our own bags. A bit of chat about the weather, or football – they were Fulham through and through – while Dave weighed and packed and son Joe or Mrs Thurgood (ashamed to admit I never learnt her first name) rang it all up on the cash register. Have we kept a receipt? And no more Brussel sprout Christmas card slipped into our bag beside the pots and sprouts and parsnips in chill December. The shop is empty, newly painted. I rather dread what its new incarnation will be. Patisserie? Charcuterie? Designer-boutique-whateverie?
Here are some snaps and snippets from my recent trip home. Home? To the city where I was born, where I grew up, that I made a conscious choice to leave many years ago. London is home now. Melbourne is family, a few friends, home-but-not-home. What’s that line from a Gang of Four song? ‘At home she feels like a tourist.’ I need a map, I’m given a Myki, sometimes I can’t understand what the shop assistants are saying.
I sliced through my thumbnail whilst shredding lettuce for a salad. Cut thumbs seem to be the poet’s injury of choice – witness Sylvia Plath’s Cut, and more recently Josephine Corcoran’s post. Luckily, it was my left thumb, and the friendly fireman who lives across the road from my brother and sister-in-law bandaged my thumb up expertly.
I helped my brother construct a squirrel-shaped cake for my niece’s ninth birthday. This was a big hit, and also a lot bigger than any real squirrel, so entirely appropriate in the Australian context. When I first arrived in London and saw squirrels darting about in the parks I was surprised at how small they were. I’d expected them to be a similar size to possums. And hedgehogs – well, they must be about the size of an echidna, surely?
Quality feline time with Mr Mao. Note also the fancy footless tights I acquired from a shop in Port Melbourne.
On this trip, I only visited a couple of bookshops. In the Brunswick Street Bookstore I bought issue 3 of Melbourne based story magazine The Canary Press, which I read on the flight back to London. Some great yarns accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. I also bought Liquid Nitrogen by Jennifer Maiden, which I’m very much looking forward to reading. I have a poem by Jennifer Maiden pasted onto the first page of the first journal I wrote in when I came to London. And I picked up the Text Publishing edition of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride since I couldn’t track down a copy in London. Books for Cooks on Gertrude Street is packed with mouthwatering foodie books, both new and second-hand, so just the place to lay my hands on a very reasonably priced first edition of Donnini’s Pasta Book. My brother had made pasta with Donnini’s Garlic and Oil Sauce – simple and delicious – so I thought this recipe book was a must-have for my chef at home in London.
Coffee is practically a religion in Melbourne. The latest cult is the pour over, and I was initiated into its ritual preparation at the Victoria Market outlet of Market Lane Coffee. It’s a rather gentle and quiet process, but requires precise measurements (weight of coffee grounds, volume of water, optimum temperature) and some classy equipment (ceramic filter cone, stainless steel kettle with a slender spout ‘for precise pouring’, glass jug). It was a pleasure to watch the measuring and timing and the circular pouring; and then to savour the delicate porcelain mugful of 100% Rwandan Nyarusiza bean pour over coffee, on an unhurried Monday lunchtime. And while they sell most of the equipment, and bags of beans, and Market Lane aprons, the Bolivian hats on the whitewashed walls are for display only.
I enjoyed other coffees too. I stole a couple of hours for myself one afternoon, and sat in Barry on High Street, Northcote, with paper and pen and a good latte, and cobbled a few sentences together. And jotted down my exchange with the waitress.
Waitress: “What can I get you?”
Me: “Just a latte please.”
I think this packed week off is catching up with me. Deep breath…
So, Wednesday night to Loose Muse at the Poetry Café. I wavered, feeling tired and a kind of non-specific low-level anxiety, and then the intermittent flurries of snow did little to improve my mood. But I convinced myself to go, and the walk to Sloane Square and sight of the new moon above Albert Bridge lifted my spirits. And I’m so glad I did go, as it proved to be an invigorating evening. Margaret Eddershaw, now resident in Greece but visiting London, read a short selection of poems, including Like George, based on an encounter with a mixed race man in Alice Springs, a powerful and troubling poem. Morgen Bailey, introduced by Agnes as a ‘prolific blogger’, shared tips and insights into the world of blogging: why you might want to blog, how often to do so (she puts me to shame!), how she got started, the downsides as well as the upsides. In addition to her main blog, she has set up five on line writing groups, and posts inteviews and podcasts with other writers. Her energy, generosity and support for other writers – established and starting out – are formidable and admirable. Notes from her talk are, of course, available here on her blog.
As ever, the open mic spots were popular, and it’s fascinating to hear the variety of work being written and performed by women, and mostly of such high quality. The evening concluded with Rosemary Harris talking about and reading extracts from her novel The Invisible Riot, currently with an agent, hopefully to be snapped up by an astute publisher soonest. Harris explained that she wanted to write about the suffragettes, and particularly the very militant and violent struggle in the years immediately before the First World War. The novel has a fractured narrative, written from a number of viewpoints, including a constable involved in violently breaking up the suffragettes’ protests. The extracts Harris read were gripping, and it sounds like an important and exciting book. It prompted quite a discussion about writing about violence, the importance of trying to understand the mindset of someone who enjoys such acts, Harris’s use of the second person as a means of exploring that character, and the way this particular part of the suffragette movement and how empowering it was for many women has effectively been written out of history. A truly stimulating evening.
As to the rest of my week, I wrote a little; thought more about my writing; started reading The Garden Book by Brian Castro; continued reading the latest Magma, Mslexia, London Review of Books; had a naughty-but-delicious fried egg on toast for lunch on Thursday, good fuel for the afternoon’s walk to Tate Britain and another rewarding look around the Schwitters exhibition; just about kept on top of my journal; updated my blog. If only I had another week off now to recover.
I’ve recently discovered a wonderful community garden less than 5 minutes’ walk from our flat. Yesterday, the first properly fine day after a long wet week, I dropped by for an hour armed with some onion sets kindly sent to us by Nick’s mother in Norfolk. I am a gardening novice, but the Doddington Community Roof Garden, located between two tower blocks, on the roof of a community and business centre, is a welcoming and tranquil place. It’s a great initiative by local residents to transform a neglected space into a flourishing community garden. Unlike allotments, there’s no waiting list, no rental, and no individual plots. If you want to get involved, you turn up, pick up a spade or fork, and get stuck in. The produce that’s grown is shared, and we’ve already sampled magnificent kale, rainbow chard, and freshly picked broad beans and peas. Yesterday, with helpful guidance from a couple of the more experienced gardeners, I got my hands dirty digging over a small patch of ground and planting three rows of the diddy onion bulbs. I’m already looking forward to making my vegetarian version of pissaladière with community-grown onions.
Then, after a quick VLT (vegemite, lettuce and tomato) sandwich back at home, I hurried along to Battersea Park Adventure Playground to help with the campaignto keep Wandsworth’s adventure playgrounds staffed. Wandsworth Council is proposing to sack all the staff from the borough’s three adventure playgrounds and then spend £500,000 replacing the equipment and converting the areas to unsupervised playgrounds. Around 60% of the borough’s residents live in flats with no access to outdoor play areas – apart from the public parks. It is such a short-sighted (cynical?) measure to cut the staff from these well-used and much valued playgrounds. The play leaders are vital for maintaining a safe and fun environment for local teenagers to hang out in – resolving disputes, keeping troublemakers at bay, providing first aid, and building self-confidence and a sense of responsibility. The local – and wider – community understands this, and in just a couple of hours we gathered more than 600 signatures for the petition in favour of retaining fully staffed adventure playgrounds. We were also leafleting to promote the rally opposing the proposed cuts on Wednesday 20th June from 6:30 p.m. at the Town Hall, Wandsworth High Street, when the council will be deciding the future of this crucial service. People’s livelihoods, and the life-chances of local youngsters, are at stake. That’s definitely worth fighting for.
Ten days down and six to go of our short trip to Melbourne. Ignoring the vagaries of the weather, we have packed in quite a lot, in between catching up with family and friends. Highlights so far:
Cafe culture. It would be easy to believe all Melbournians spend at least a third of their time sitting in or outside trendy local cafes, chewing the cud and sipping specialist coffees. Best latte I’ve had so far (and all have been streets ahead of a London latte) was at Penny Farthing, accompanying a plate of Smash – not instant mashed potato, but a mouthwatering mix of avocado and Persian feta on sourdough toast. Bliss.
Collected Worksbookshop. To my shame, I’d never visited this bookshop before. The focus is ‘Poetry and Ideas’, and the shelves are packed with an impressive range of poetry volumes, pamphlets and magazines – new, obscure, cannon, avant-garde, antipodean, UK, translations, anthologies, lit crit – complemented by philosophy, politics and quite a bit more. There’s room to browse; the walls are covered in posters and leaflets for readings and events, chronicling Melbourne’s literary past and present; and often a photocopied review, obituary or photo stuck to the shelf above the work of an individual poet. What makes a visit to this shop an even more pleasurable experience is the friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgable bookseller, Kris Hemensley.
Grainger Museum. This is a fascinating museum, showing just a fraction of the composer and pianist Percy Grainger’s extensive collections and archive. Housed in a modernist, semi-circular building designed in close consultation with Grainger himself, the museum displays memorabilia from Grainger’s years as a feted concert pianist, travelling from Australia to Europe, London and the United States; his pioneering work documenting and recording folk music on wax cylinders; his broad and eclectic interests ranging from vegetarianism to decorative arts and textiles across cultures and eras. As well as Grainger’s first practice piano, the museum showcases experimental instruments developed by Grainger and others. He emerges as a complex man, endlessly curious about the world and its people, and modest about his own (actually very substantial) achievements.
Heide Museum of Modern Art. Home of John and Sunday Reed from the 1930s to their deaths in 1981. The current exhibition celebrates 30 years of the gallery’s existence, and features key works from the Heide collection including early Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester and many more. As well as the artwork, it was fascinating to see the original farmhouse where the Reeds lived, entertained and encouraged many budding Australian artists. Sidney Nolan painted his Ned Kelly series in the dining room, and on the floor there is still a small section decorated by Mike Brown in the 1970s. Black and white photos by Albert Tucker on display in the kitchen capture breakfast gatherings and arvo teas en plein air. In the modernist house built in the late 1960s, progressively more abstract works from the ‘6os by the likes of Fred Williams are on display on the ground floor, while the lower floor shows varied and vibrant work from the ’70s generation of artists, exploring the new synthetic paints and exploding the conventional boundaries of art. I particularly loved the junk constructions of the Annandale Imitation Realists, which are playful and iconoclastic. Great, also, to see some of Sweeney Reed’s concrete poetry.
Such a rich cultural history springing out of a few hectares of bushland on the outskirts of Melbourne.
I’d lived in Battersea for years before I discovered there’s a traditional greengrocer’s just seven minutes’ walk from my block. And even though I’ve been frequenting Thurgood’s for a good few years now, I still get a tingle of anticipation each time I set off for their small but invaluable establishment. A proper greengrocer’s in Battersea! What new seasonal produce will be in stock? Once – just once – there was black cabbage, but, to my own bemusement, I was too scared to buy any. I wish now I had. Today, for the lucky sum of £7.77, I came away with a bag of English Cox’s, a few tomatoes, bananas, four blood oranges (hooray! the first this year, and one of my personal harbingers of spring), flat leaf parsley, a cos lettuce, a handsome swede (for Burns’ Night), two limes, one lemon, minimal packaging, and two bunches of scented cheerfulness. They look and smell gorgeous. Cheerfulness, a pound a bunch. That’s a bargain in my book.
Later in the year, there will be Cyprus potatoes with chunks of red earth still clinging to their skins, English asparagus for roasting, Scottish raspberries, nectarines… Long live the greengrocers!
A breezy, summer’s-last-hurrah day. A rare lie in, cups of tea, Radio 3. Late breakfast: wilted spinach and poached eggs on toast, to set us up nicely for the day’s cultural exertions.
First stop, the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair at Exmouth Market, organised by the excellent CB editions. An inspiring, if slightly overwhelming, event – more than 20 small poetry presses plying their wares, and free readings going on throughout the day. Half an hour’s browsing resulted in the purchase of six books, plus a good gathering of leaflets and postcards. Then upstairs to catch the final reading, by a trio of poets from Waterloo Press: Niall McDevitt, Philip Ruthen and Jeremy Reed. All intense performers of their work, in different ways. A bubble of concentrated poetic energy in a rather poky room above a church hall; Jeremy Reed bringing a flourish of glamour to the space, tossing handfuls of sequins up in the air to shower down on us mortals.
Next up, a free sauna courtesy of London Underground as we travelled to Embankment. Enjoyed the views and the cool air as we crossed Hungerford Bridge. Our final destination: the Royal Festival Hall for a concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The highlight for me was the UK premiere of Mar’eh for Violin and Orchestra by Matthias Pintscher. It’s extraordinarily exciting to hear a piece of music for the very first time and to be completely gripped by it. From my notebook immediately afterwards: edgy, liminal, marginal; breathy flute; scraped and scraping (strings); underplayed percussion; intense; chattering. Through it all the violin line, played by Julia Fischer. So much of the power of the piece came from the textural qualities of the music, and a kind of tentative, quiet delicacy. By contrast, the final piece in the concert, Scriabin‘s Prometheus (Poem of Fire) was a thrilling, full on, cataclysmic glory. Oh, and there was Beethoven and Liszt too. No wonder I feel shattered today.