The inevitably titled “London Calling” blog post

I have a confession to make: I like London.

I’ve been told, in the past, that I’m not supposed to like London; I’m a ‘Northerner’ and, therefore, supposed to be genetically programmed to dislike the City. Somewhere deep down in our ‘Northern’ DNA we automatically expect Hogarthian scenes of depravity, vice, and eighteenth-century decay. Or perhaps we’re expected to be humbled ‘oo, it’s SO BIG’. Or we expect to be deafened by yahboorah buybuysell types in 80s pinstripes and/or ginormous Dynasty shoulder pads. Or be out-cooled by Shoreditch hipsters in chocolatey coloured corduroy turn-ups and no socks. Or succumb to being swamped, taking a tumble while the busybusy-outta-my-way-scum-I’m-too-important-for-you-crowds of the Tube rush hour crush you, and your dusty, barely used Oyster card, into the grubby tiling.

Outdated tropes. Outdated views. Outdated modes of thinking. (Although the latter situation did happen to me in Euston once. In a slightly less hyperbolic way.)

Anyway. I went to London on Monday night for a Tuesday symposium – a lovely Greek word used for being a bit fancy in depicting ‘a meeting or conference’. I’ve written more sensibly about the symposium on the Writing Rochdale blog.

The rest of this blog is given to whimsical memories that are possibly not completely faithful nor verifiable. . .

An image of Waterloo Bridge at sunset in May

‘Dirty old river, must you keep rolling, rolling into the night?’

London is one of those places where I feel like I’ve lived many other lives in this one life. I love walking through the City. In 2001, before I had read any Iain Sinclair, I had read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway several times – a character whose life was miles away from my own – and enjoyed Clarissa’s London perambulations, her internal ponderings of home, flowers, and the roadsides, ‘beauty everywhere’ (apologies if I’ve misquoted). A boyfriend-of-the-time lived in the City and yes, there are the nostalgic memories: skipping down myriad streets until lost and using maps in bus stop to relocate ourselves; kneeling in the wet grass to watch bumblebees in lavender in one of the many parks – I can’t recall which one; getting covered in the anti-climb paint on the Cutty Sark. That first-time-feeling of falling in love, and then strangely beginning to love the built environments: the concrete weirdness of Elephant and Castle, the ginnels near Aldwych, brutalism meeting medieval buildings – like two people who probably shouldn’t be friends but somehow are. Walking over Vauxhall bridge, following the changes of the worlds above the pavement. Curving around the Oval, a diversion through Kennington Park. Then the fast food fug – a chorus of grease, cheese, meat, the sharp note of warmed tomatoes – on the way to Camberwell.

Fourteen years, or so, ago, well after Camberwell, the clichéd and inevitable, ‘it’s not you, it’s me’.

No, let’s have an alternative London memory, another version of a life. Thirteen, or so, years ago – the handful of years of squats, campaign camps, joss sticks – three of us went to an all-night club. Walking from the south, accompanied with an outgoing sparkly haze that gave an aura to everything. Early sunlight bouncing off the painful red of a phone box outside the bright Portland stone of St. Paul’s Cathedral. ‘Dome’ became a word with bass resonance, pursed lips, inexplicable humour: duh-oh-meh. The perfection of a spider’s web at 6am, pear-shaped dewdrops filled with a refracted aspect of the cathedral in miniature.  Then, a small breeze whipped up a cone of white polystyrene pellets, pure magic.

What a strange thing it is to be alive, to move from place to place and to somehow take a piece of each place with you – even if only half-remembered. Mismatched memories. A patchwork of the physical and emotional. Wear it like a gown.

Or, go back further, thirty-three, or so, years ago, and I’m smaller with a blunt-cut fringe. My family and I have walked over Tower Bridge, heading towards the Beefeaters (why they weren’t eating steak?), the ravens, and the Tower. A stranger had chased after us; I had dropped one of my yellow security blankets on the bridge. I took it back with a shy ‘thank you’. There’s a photograph from that day, taken outside the gates of Buckingham Palace my face is part-hidden in the blankets. They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace. Christopher Robin went down with AliceWe were ‘Northern Tourists’, swinging hands, adhering to the visitor rites: the sights of the sites. Before the Shard. Before the London Eye. Welcome to the London Eye. Before the second Ring of Steel.

Seventeen, or so, years later, after Camberwell, back in London in 2018: watching the sunset from Waterloo Bridge and the sun dip behind the buildings. A walk along South Bank towards Blackfriars, witnessing a Waterloo Sunset was incidental; a gorgeous coincidence. Talking about possible futures (what to do post-PhD, where to go post-Brexit), wondering whether my long-suffering Doc Martens would survive a random attempt at mudlarking (possibly not), then offering to take a picture of a lad and his girlfriend (he would rather it be a Selfie). I wonder where will they be in years, or so, later? Crossing over the metal backbone that forms the Millenium Bridge – a cyberpunk throwback to The Matrix. Walking up towards St. Paul’s and finding it inevitably closed. Outside the building, a newly married couple took cheeky photos with a handful of well-dressed friends as if to pretend that’s where they were wed. The bride’s veil was the length of a black cab, a sea froth of chiffon. Past the couple, heading towards St Martin’s In the Fields, a bin cart rattles past, over the speed limit, bumping out a violent guff of bin juice, the scene now somewhat malodorous. But it’s OK, it’s expected; it’s the sort of thing that brings one back to the present, away from the trap of nostalgia. This ancient city with its ghosts, its memories, its palimpsestic mappings, its quotidian stories, its ups and downs, its human cruelties and opportunities, its dirt and glamour, and its literary depictions.

Yes, I like London, and it’s woven into my many lives.

(REPOST) Poetry Collaboration – ‘A Woman’s War’ (link to the poem)

This is reposted from my PhD research blog: www.writingRochdale.wordpress.com.

***

Rochdale Rainbow

Wandering past the leisure centre heading towards the rainbow: last night’s walk to KYP’s headquarters in Rochdale.

I have written a brief summary of last night’s event organised by KYP, however, because I can’t quite work out how to reblog it verbatim, here’s the link to Touchstones Creative Writing Group’s website* where I’ve just republished our poem: Earnshaw & Bailey debut new poem commissioned by KYP.

I enjoyed this whirlwind process, getting back to research, and the challenge of writing a poem in a week over email as the snow scuppered any face-to-face meetings. (Some of my reflections on this process are in the two previous blog posts.) Working with Eileen was a complete joy; it’s not the first time I’ve written/created with others but it is the first time that I have co-created a poem. Collaboration is ace.

I hope that we’ve captured some of the voices and tales of the women, I feel that there are still so many narratives to learn and many we never hear. I will try writing something more substantial on last night’s event, mainly because there were stories that I was unaware of and alternative perspectives that I need to think about some more. This will be in the future as there was quite a lot to digest  – not just the amazing basmati rice and samosas! – and the next blog posts on Denis Wood and the Northern Powerhouse have already been planned and are being drafted.

Note

* Just want to state, for transparency, that I do facilitate writing sessions and am part of the group’s voluntary committee where my main role is web/digital coordinator for the writing group. I’m still working on fettling that website!

Writing back into it

I had a job interview last week, I didn’t get the job. It was a (very) part-time, temporary post, but I still would have liked it as the department looked ace. I did, of course, put a lot of preparation and thought into it. (Not going to whine: this preparation isn’t wasted as I can use it with my creative writing groups and future interviews.) This meant that last week the work towards PhD thesis completion was a little limited.

I have a month to go.

I’m so close. It’s nearly at the complete draft / rip bits up / rewrite problem areas – or at least flag ’em up for potential discussion / neaten and sort out the (blasted!) referencing stage.

‘Er, Jen?’ I hear you say, ‘If you’re so close then why the heck are you writing here rather than in Chapter Six 19.09.17.docx?’

Well, since you asked so nicely, it’s partly because I feel a little burned out and therefore moderately distractible/down, partly because of the time of year, but mostly it’s The Fear. The last two chapters were supposed to be the “best” chapters, the two I feel that I know most about. A chance to showcase some of my own creative work.

I open the document.

Know what I have to do.

Then stare at the cursor, it beats on the screen as if it’s constantly giving me the finger.

Flip, flip, flip.

I’ve built it into this impossible thing – where ambition outstrips ability (and time-scale). To evoke a simile involving the South Pennine fringe: it’s like climbing up the surface of the sheer gritstone face of Summit Quarry in the rain, with no carabiners nor any climbing nous. I’ve gotta climb this beast and the only way, for me, to do that is to write into it. Et voila, a blog post.

Hyperbole aside, while this piece of work, ultimately, won’t change the shape of the universe: ‘there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle’. Over the past few years, it’s taught me a few things about writing. In creativity, there is ‘a place for the genuine’.

Rather than a WOW! These Ten Writing Tips will BLOW YOUR MIND, the following is a list of things I find helpful (when I remember to put them into action). And I’m sharing them in the hope that it’s a helpful list! Would love to hear your thoughts too.

  1. That little voice, you know, the one that says ‘What the hell are you doing?! What right do you have to do that? You know that it’s going to be rubbish anyway? You can’t!’ may not go away but there are ways of coping with it
  2. You ARE good enough. And you CAN do this. Just gotta believe it – while retaining a sense of humility.
  3. Foster a resilience: learn it, remember it, put into practice.
  4. Locate your allies, they do exist. (In my case: my supervisory team, friends, family, fellow creatives.) If low, and feeling on your own, they will be there.
  5. Unless someone has something constructive to say, ignore the trolls. (I know, it’s hard, people can be gits.) As Taylor Swift sings: ‘Haters gonna hate, (hate, hate, hate, hate)’.
  6. Sometimes you’ve got to write your way in, or around it, to get where you need to go to. Or, if not, to take you on a wobbly, or even circuitous, route elsewhere.
  7. Your writing &/or research is important; there may not be many other people writing about, or looking into, this area (yet!).
  8. LOOK! You just made something up/wrote something down that wasn’t there before. That’s some kind of magic, yes?!
  9. If you can’t write, do something related to it. (I make stuff in a joyous amateur way, possibly not/never for sharing!)
  10. Nothing is ever really completed.

I think I might have written somewhere before about the feeling that when you make something, and then share it, that sometimes it is like putting your heart on a platter. And with that, I’d better pop off and get that organ ready for plating.

Flip, flip, flip off cursor.

***

In other news, this week marks 20 years since I left home for a tumultuous three years in Sunderland. If someone can go back in time and tell the tempestuous little idiot pictured below that, while everything won’t quite be all right, it’ll be more or less OK.

Red eyes! I think that I got an infamous Boots 'Quality Control' sticker for this one.

Red eyes! I think that I got a Boots ‘Quality Control’ sticker for this one.

On not completing poetry and the near future…

So, didn’t quite achieve a poem a day like last year. Partly because I’m writing up, partly because of the onslaught of bad news, partly because I didn’t have a solid theme. I will do better next year!

Follow the route against the current. (River Goyt through Woodbank Park, Stockport, Greater Manchester.)

Follow the route against the current. (River Goyt through Woodbank Park, Stockport, Greater Manchester.)

All concentration is now focussed on finishing my PhD thesis – not as easy a task as it sounds. Writing up various notes, editing bits that – whoops – are currently ropey and need smoothing and/or expanding. And I’m thinking of the future. I was worried last September that time had zoomed by and that I would be unemployed/underemployed/unemployable by October 2017. Basically, I love this job. I love the mix of outreach which has incorporated teaching/tutoring creative writing, the research, and writing. Statistically, however, I may not be able to break into an academic role. I’m not as worried now, though; I’m sure that I can use this academic knowledge to share skills in different, possibly unorthodox ways! I am confident in my skills as a speaker/teacher, even with some “stage fright” at conference times. (Anyway, public speaking is just acting, like creative writing is acting.) While my research is niche, I do have publishing ideas with the work I’ve done so, hopefully, I can get that out there when I’ve finished. Finally, being “Doctor B” will be awesome (no, not that sort of Doctor but I can pop you in the recovery position if need be).

So yes, there will be more poetry/writing but it may be after I’ve finished this 80,000ish word document!

And with that – back to writing Rochdale.

A Poem a Day #7: Thinking through making

Dodgy perspective but I'm happy for a first attempt!

Thinking through making

I craved green
so I tried to weave a wall hanging,
it came apart – the warp the weft – there were no threads left

I craved green
so I knitted a blanket to wrap the day up in,
vivid shades of jade, viridian,
it was unravelled by the cats.

I craved green
so I organised a picnic with herbs:
lacy white cow parsley, wild garlic, jack-by-the-hedge
the static rain made the grey tarmac black

I craved green
so I painted
so I potted
so I pottered.
A watercolour landscape looked grainy,
a thrown pot the same.
I walked in the park and found
dying daffodils, bald spots,
tried to grasp handfuls of grass
a reward of muddy fingers.
Looked left: a blue glass pyramid,
looked right: a beige housing estate
in front: all sloping browns,
behind: listing trees, broken brick.

We are not being bombed, or attacked.
We have fresh water from the taps.
This park isn’t (yet) being fracked.
So, why is this melancholy tract
not trying to make sense of that?

Thinking through making,
making and thinking,
wanting something to sink in
wanting something to stick.

There is more to this than craving green
and wanting to do more than making
but this will have to do for now,
this will have to do.