Last night was the October edition of New Words, Fresh Voices open mic event, hosted by Ian Fosten at The Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft. It's a bi-monthly performance of poets, story tellers and singers/musicians. I'm not going to lie, some are really good and some are really not so good, but I guess that's a risk of an open mic event; there's no quality control. But don't get me wrong. It is an enjoyable evening, and it's great to hear people's creative outbursts.
The standout performer last night, for me, was a singer/guitarist called Kesha (I believe that's her name; I'm useless at remembering important details like that). She sang two songs and they were beautiful. Very haunting and moving. They sounded like traditional Irish songs; kind of Enya-esque, not drunken Guinness fuelled ditties. Absolutely amazing. Last night was the first time she'd performed at New Words, Fresh Voices and I hope she comes back.
The other performers consisted of a banjo player (who didn't want to be compared to George Formby), a singer/guitarist who regularly performs funny songs, a woman from Blythe Valley Radio who reads poems by people she has on her radio show, a poetic technical expert, a few free verse poets, and me.
The loose theme for this evening was autumn, and post Olympic/jubilee 2012. Normally I read out something I've written years ago that happens to fit in with the theme, but this time I wrote a new poem, and here it is.
Well it’s been a typical English summer
With rain and cloud and rain,
I recollect the sun made an appearance
But then it was rain again.
Yes I did get horribly sunburnt, twice
And yes it was quite painful
But that was quickly cooled right off
With the vast amount of rainfall.
So now the leaves are crunchy
And the conkers are getting ripe
But regardless of the weather
Us Brits, we enjoy a good gripe.
It’s too hot, we say when it’s sunny,
It’s too cold, we say when it’s cold,
But how about we forget the weather
And focus on the silver, bronze and gold.
Who laughed out loud at the queen and Bond
As they parachuted over London?
Who got sucked into Boyle’s garish vision
Of fantasy, celebration and wonder?
Who covered their house in bunting
Roof to foundation in union jack?
Who flew the flag with the rings
Of blue, gold, green, red and black?
Who spotted Wentlock and Mandeville
Dotted around the streets?
Who yelled and roared and shouted
For team GB to win their heats?
Who stood up tall as the anthems played
No matter what the nation?
Whose thumb was glued to the remote’s red button
As it flicked through all the stations?
Who cried along with Chris Hoy
As he cycled to first place?
Who screamed along with Farrah
As he easily won his race?
Who jumped along with Ennis
As we willed her to go far?
Who held their breath with Tweddle
As she twirled around the bar?
Who smiled along with Phillips
As she got rewarded by her mum?
Who freestyled along with Adlington
As in to third she swam?
Who whacked along with Murray
As he won the final game?
Who punched along with Adams
As she boxed her way to fame?
Who cheered along with the Brownlees
As they ran in first and third?
Who flew along with Daley
As he dove right off the board?
Who felt some pride for Ogogo
Our local Lowestoft lad?
And because of all this, who has decided
They now want to become an Olympiad?
Who posed along with Usain?
Who held the Olympic torch?
Who, hourly, checked the medal tables?
Whose bum was stuck to their couch?
Who loved the slow-mo recaps
As faces contorted and gurned?
Whose hearts broke as athletes tripped
And stumbled and crashed and burned?
Who watched far too much telly
Over that historical two and a bit weeks?
And who were the lucky ones
Who had tickets for the Stratford stadium seats?
Who sang along with Madness , Elbow,
The Spice Girls and The Who?
Who cringed along with George Michael
As he crooned all out of tune?
Who’s seen the bronze postbox
On the outskirts of our town?
Who felt empty when it was all over
And the hype had all died down?
Who misses the sense of patriotism?
A kingdom united, for once.
Strong bonds between organiser,
Performer and us, the audience.
So let’s not moan about the weather
That the summer did or didn’t have,
And turn our memories over
To the jubilant events of 2012.
And I read a story that I had written a while ago, but it followed the theme so I thought it was appropriate.
Partridge and pears
It’s Christmas. It’s the end of September. The barometer needle still points to ‘sunny’ and the mercury has settled itself in the low 20s. Slowly, the shops have started sneaking packs of Christmas cards and dusty tinsel onto their shelves. Everything is half price and people are buying it. As I walk down the aisles, past the glitter and the sparkle and the motion activated dancing snowmen, the shops’ music systems intersperse classic Christmas anthems amongst the usual middle of the road pop drivel that is played on a continuous loop. Someone somewhere has been paid a fortune to scientifically produce a playlist that encourages people to buy more than they actually want. The songs can’t be too aggressive or too relaxing, just in case they heighten the emotions and cause unnecessary outbursts of excitement. The aisles would be full of old people rolling around on the floor, clutching at their chests and making the experience of shopping more frustrating than it usually is. The songs have to be easy listening, nonchalant, blah. It’s called muzak apparently and there’s a skill to it, and it drives me crazy. I work in one of these shops.
This morning, Mum asked me to pick up a bag of pears and some Christmas wrapping paper when I leave off work. She said she wanted to get everything bought, wrapped and out of the way by November. She says this every year and every year she rushes around half past three on Christmas Eve trying to find something nice for someone she doesn’t like. I don’t know why she pretends it will be any different this year.
I reluctantly buy the most hideous wrapping paper I can find, there isn’t really much choice, and a bag of pears, and make my way home through the crowds of posing boys, prancing around with their shirts unbuttoned, hoping to impress groups of silly school girls giggling into their make-up mirrors. My sister Jenny is one of those girls. She’s sitting on a wall near her school with her skirt barely reaching her crotch. She catches my eye and glares. She flicks me the middle finger as I walk past and yells something at me in text speak. She’s delightful. She really is.
Before I even put my key in the door, I can hear Mum singing Christmas carols in a painful falsetto voice. As with every song she sings along to, she mumbles a garbled noise to the parts she doesn’t know the words to. She’s sitting at the desk staring at the computer. She’s warming her hands against a roaring open fire screen saver that Jenny downloaded for her. She has no idea how to use the computer other than to turn it on and to set the screensaver. On the mantel piece is a little wooden nativity scene that she found at a jumble sale. She gets it ready extra early every year. She cleans every figure individually with a grubby, yellow duster. Over the years the scene has fallen foul to the taste buds of our dog, Big Bird. Mum allowed Jenny to name the dog. Big Bird chewed the head off one of the wise men, and swallowed the baby Jesus in one gulp. The centrepiece of the nativity is now a conker in a manger, who is being visited by two wise men and a Lego Darth Vader.
I notice a pile of paper, a pair of scissors, jars of coloured glitter and a pot of glue sitting next to her on the desk. I ask her what it’s all for. She turns around and grins. She tells me that she’s getting a head start on making the decorations. She insists that the ones in the shop are so tacky and she likes the personal touch. She throws a string of paper chains towards me and the glitter pings off in every direction. Guess who’ll be clearing that up later. She stands up and asks if I want a cup of tea. As she gets out of the chair, a snowfall of tiny paper pieces tumble off her lap onto the carpet. Guess who’ll also be clearing that up later.
I plonk the bag of pears down on the kitchen work top. She rushes over and rips the bag open. She has a look of determination in her eyes. She shovels a pear into her mouth as though she hasn’t eaten for months. I take a few steps back just in case she eats me too. When she’s finished, she spits the pips out into her hand and puts them in a sandwich bag that appears to have more pear pips in it already. I ask her what she’s going to do with them. She grins and rushes into the living room. She returns with her hands behind her back. She wants me to guess what she’s holding. I don’t want to guess. She shows me a dead stuffed bird. It’s a partridge.
She tosses me the bird and I throw it onto the table. She knows I hate taxidermy. She grabs the roll of paper from my hand as she walks past and does a little skip of excitement. She waves it in the air and knocks the lampshade but she’s singing too loudly to notice. I tell her to stop being such an idiot and she tells me to stop being such a Scrooge. She’s too preoccupied with the reindeers in Santa hats staring back at her from the wrapping paper to remember that she offered to make me a cup of tea.
I tell her that I saw Jenny flashing her pants to the world. She closes her eyes and continues to dance around the room. She never listens. Big Bird hobbles up to me. I feel sorry for him. He can’t escape Mum’s Christmas obsession. He especially hates her motion super sensitive dancing characters. He stretches and a fat Santa in a metallic red jumpsuit holding a sprig of mistletoe jumps to life, singing I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. He perks up his head when the postman comes and he has to endure Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer spewing from a scary looking reindeer with a dodgy eye and a red light for a nose that flashes erratically. He sneezes or scratches and the whole house is filled with the dulcet tones of a squeaky voiced snowman wearing a top hat bobbing up and down warbling Frosty The Snowman.
I take him for a walk. The door latch clicks behind us and all I can hear through the open window is a medley of badly recorded Christmas songs. I’m glad to be out of there. I see Dad walking along the pavement towards me. He’s carrying a box under his arm. Big Bird pulls forward and sniffs Dad’s crotch. Dad tickles him under the chin and he lies down in the middle of the pavement, right in the way of all pedestrian traffic. A woman sighs loudly and takes an exaggerated step over his tail. I glance at the box Dad’s carrying. It has a picture of a giant Christmas tree on the side. Dad rolls his eyes. Your mother asked me to pick it up, he explains. She wants me to set it up when I get home, he sighs. We’re going to have a six foot inflatable Christmas tree sitting in our front garden for the next three months, he winces. I doubt it, I reply. It’ll be stolen in a few days, I continue. He nods in agreement. That’s why she had me order four more, he mumbles, and they’ll be delivered on Friday. He leans down to pat Big Bird but he’s too occupied by an ant scuttling along the pavement. I wish Dad luck. He chuckles. He tells me not to be late home for dinner. Mum’s cooking turkey.
I pull at Big Bird’s lead and almost dislocate my shoulder. He’s a big dog and he’s a stubborn dog. When he’s ready he gets up and pulls me towards the beach. I let him think that it’s all his idea but we were going there anyway. It’s empty which is the way we like it. I let him off the lead and he chases his tail for at least thirty seconds before running after a rabbit.
It’s warm, not hot, just warm. There’s a bit of a breeze in the air but that’s welcome. There is a boat straddling the horizon. It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Big Bird rolls around in seaweed and digs to China to find the best stones. He sneezes and awaits the awful sound of a Christmas character. It doesn’t come. He goes back to playing. I start to sing Jingle Bells to myself and then scream. There’s no need for that. Big Bird comes running towards me with a clump of dried seaweed in his mouth. Tangled up amongst the seaweed are a Dutch crisp packet and a used tampon. He shakes his head vigorously to kill it, thankfully flinging the tampon back into the sea. Once convinced it’s dead, he drops the creature from his teeth and runs towards a black groyne sticking out of the sand at the water’s edge like a rotten tooth. He sniffs it, rubs his back up against it, sniffs it again and then cocks his leg. A minute later and the groyne glistens. Big Bird turns on his heels towards home. I’m done. Let’s go.
All copyright belongs to me, so don't even think about stealing these pieces.
The next New Words, Fresh Voices is on Sunday 2nd December. If you're a writer and you've never read your work aloud, come along to the next one. It's a lovely little confidence boost, which isn't a bad thing at all.