Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Great Expectations

‘So,’ says the guy with guitar cutting such a lonely figure on the stage, ‘are you here to see John Martyn?’ Tempting though it is to shout, ‘No, mate, we’re waiting for Guns N’ Roses. Where are they?’ or ‘Well, we didn’t stump up the best part of fifty quid to see you!’ I manage to restrain myself. It’s tough being the support act and even tougher if you’ve been busking in an underpass just moments before being thrust on stage and told to keep the audience amused. Oh, okay, I’ve no evidence for that but it certainly how it sounds, nevertheless I manage to applaud politely when the poor man winds up his set to everyone’s relief.

I’ve been looking forwards to this evening but I’m a bit apprehensive too; some of these songs are going to stir up memories of people no longer in my life, like Kay who disappeared after university never to be seen again. With thoughts of the past reverberating in my head, it’s a shock when a huge fat man in a wheelchair comes on stage and I have to reconcile the John Martyn in front of me with the John Martyn I last saw some twenty years ago. I knew he’d suffered a leg amputation but the physical changes in the man are a sharp reminder of how much time has gone by. It’s a bitter-sweet kind of evening; some of the songs are only saved by a very accomplished band and it feels uncomfortably like watching a tired old boxer in one fight too many, and then there are moments of sheer dazzling genius. One song in particular, almost reduces me to tears because it is so perfect, so painful and so beautiful. Whilst Tom declares the evening to be ‘sheer purgatory’ there’s enough for me to take away and feel glad I went.

It’s lovely to be able to stay with Lily and Russ in their Cardiff Bay flat and we get up the next day and go for a windy walk under a crisp blue sky to the barrage and back before heading into town for the game. Our neighbours, Mr & Mrs Across-the-Road, have been kind enough to offer us spare tickets to watch Wales v All Blacks. They’re ‘getting a few in’ at a town centre pub but it’s a first time at the Millennium Stadium for both me and Tom so we get there early to soak up the atmosphere. OMG! It’s amazing! Everything’s well-organized, our seats are brilliant and, look, there’s James Hook glowing orange in the lights, booting the ball between the posts from the other half of the pitch (why didn’t you do it in the game, James?), there’s Dan Carter, fully clothed, unfortunately, and here come the Regimental Band of the Royal Welsh and the Pontarddulais Male Choir.

The sense of anticipation is enormous; every Welsh supporter in the 75,000 strong crowd firmly believes that the boys are going to win. Mr Across-the-Road gets warm commiserations when Mrs Across-the Road, a Kiwi, bravely sings the New Zealand national anthem and then the rest of us nearly take the roof of with ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nahdau’. ‘Now we get the girly dance,’ Mr Across-the-Road, says dismissively of the Haka and finally, after a bit of posturing, the game begins. Well, Wales do win for a little while before the All Blacks overwhelm them and whilst there is, shall we say, a little disappointment in the crowd there is never any of the aggression and hostility I’ve witnessed at football matches despite the huge amounts of Brains being consumed.

Along the way I make a new best friend when the man on my right stops making rude gestures with his sausage roll to indicate his opinion of the players and suddenly turns his attention to me instead. ‘So, where’re you from, then?’ he says, before determining to discover every detail of my life… (and what was Tom doing whilst this was happening? Nothing! I swear I could have gone off and had a drink with my new chum and Tom wouldn’t have blinked!). Game over, Mrs Across-the-Road takes me down to the front to have my photo taken with Dan Carter; she has a cunning plan to snap us together as he goes into the tunnel. Alas, her timing is a bit off and we end up with a photo of me and a steward instead. We return to our other halves to find Mr Across-the-Road has become rather emotional. He gives us a very stirring rendition of ‘Myfanwy’ which rounds the evening off nicely. And so out into the Cardiff night to find ourselves in the middle of the country’s biggest street party attended by lots of girls with hair straightened to within an inch of its life and wearing tiny skirts made of the Welsh flag. Hard to believe, looking at this lot, that their team has just lost. What a weekend!

And finally…I’m sitting here writing this looking at the view in Tom’s painting, ‘Hidden Summit’ above. It’s a beautiful day with soft light on the hills. Some compensation, perhaps, for the funeral I’m so sad to attend tomorrow.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Beginning, End, Middle.

On Monday evening I did a quick check of my email and saw the message I’d been waiting for sitting in my inbox. I immediately went all butterfingered and almost sent it winging into space instead of opening it. Keep calm, Chris, don’t get your hopes up, it’s probably bad news… but it wasn’t. Tom was outside in the studio, putting the final touches to a frame.
‘The publishers want to see the rest of the book!’
Much hugging, jumping around, another look at the email just to make sure I hadn’t been seeing things and a glass of wine. Then the phone rang.

It’s strange how hearing my cousin’s voice didn’t ring any alarm bells. But then Auntie Joanie had been doing so well and most of the recent news had been positive. I suppose I’d started to think that she would just go on despite being so terribly ill. And it was such a shock to hear that she wasn’t there any more. The end had come quite suddenly and had happened just at the moment Tom and I had been celebrating. Life gives, life takes away, an ever-spinning wheel.

Yesterday there was work to do reading my typescript for the umpteenth time before emailing it to the publishers. I’d also been asked to say something about myself and it was so hard trying to make myself sound vaguely marketable with an aching heart and hurt that was almost physical. Still, it was probably good to have to concentrate on something other than grief. I’ve done the best I can and now all I have to do is wait.

November is my birthday month and some folks, ie my sister – look away now, Kid – think I make far too much fuss of my birthday. A big fat fuss, in fact. But, hey, I’ll never be this young again! On Friday I’m going to see John Martyn in Cardiff which I’m really, really looking forwards to. I love John Martyn; if I was ever stuck on a desert island I could easily take at least eight of his records… except that wouldn’t leave any room for Nick Cave and I could just as easily take eight of his… but what about Nick Drake and Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’? Oh, well, hopefully I won’t ever be stuck on a desert island in which case I can just listen to what I like at home. On Saturday we’re going to see Wales v All Blacks which will be an experience too. A couple of celebrations before the funeral next week and then my lovely daughters and their boyfriends are coming to stay. Life goes on.

And finally…
Thank you to everyone for your very kind messages. And thank you, Edith Mary Joan, my lovely Auntie Joanie for everything you gave me.

The painting is 'Oily Dawn' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Writing In My Head

Ever since Tom and I took the loo to bits trying to find one of my contact lenses I’ve had ‘Buy new specs’ on my ‘To Do’ list. The thing is my prescription is so chunky is it doesn’t matter how nice the frame is or how far the lenses have been slimmed down, I still look like Nick Robinson (‘though, hopefully, with more hair) once the glasses are made up. Anyway, I’ve done the sensible thing and the pair I collected yesterday have, once again, lost something in translation. I quite like them but the combination of retro frame and very beady lenses makes me feel as if I should be sporting a gentleman’s Fair Isles waistcoat and striking a pose on the front of a knitting pattern. I’m thinking about taking up pipe-smoking too, just to complete the look. Although I’m not exactly sure what you do with a pipe (from what I remember as a little girl, folks seem to spend most of their time trying to light them) I’d welcome a touch of the zen-like calm that seems to go with the whole ritual, not to mention a sense of purpose.

Purpose is sadly lacking from my writing at the moment; at the beginning of the year I was merrily rewriting FTT in the firm hope that I’d be well into the sequel by now. It wasn’t even the agent deciding she couldn’t get it published after all that threw me – hey, I’m a big girl now, that’s what happens to writers – but I just don’t seem to know where to go next. What’s making it harder for me to know what to do is that in the summer a friendly publisher asked to see some sample chapters of FTT and I find it sooooo hard waiting for their decision - but, hey, that’s something else writers have to do too. If the publishers say ‘yes’ presumably they’ll want more of the same and if they say ‘no’ I’m free but still unpublished in fiction. I suppose the advice I’d give someone else in the same position is ‘write the book you want to write’. There’s no point in trying to follow a trend which, more than likely, will be gone before your book’s in print. It’s also back to the old advice about choosing your rut carefully; if you don’t love what you’re writing neither will anyone else, it’s a simple as that.

I do have the faint stirrings of a novel in progress but it’s mainly in my head at the moment… hmm, if I actually wrote all the books in my head instead of thinking about them I’d probably have got this cracked by now. In the meantime I’ve got a couple of short stories to think about, one for next OU assignment and another for Mslexia’s short story competition (By the way, I heartily recommend Mslexia for a refreshing, intelligent approach to women’s writing). Short stories are a complete mystery to me so this is going to be quite a challenge.

And, speaking of competitions. Tom’s painting didn’t win the Tenby Open Art Competition but he says the main point is that it’s in the exhibition. Anyway, here it is.
'January Sea' by Tom Tomos

Saturday, 8 November 2008

What's Hot and What's Not at Hotel H...

Three days and counting. In the meantime here’s a quick guide to the measure of things at Hotel H this week:-

Going Up:
1. Weetabix – the new prunes
2. Aleshia Dixon
3. Fluffy jumpers
4. Welsh water Рthe new Cr̬me de la Mer
5. Flog it! (not to be confused with 5 below)
6. Escape to the Country – just don’t do it for real
7. Babies
8. Christmas-size packs of cashew nuts

Going Down:
1. Prunes – movers and shakers now out of favour
2. Camilla – what does she think she looks like?
3. Jo Brand
4. Katherine Jenkins
5. sex/violence/language/other
6. Silence – what is the point of it when you can squeak your slippers?
7. Salad – indigestible
8. The Planet - severe run on heating oil accelarates climate change

Ah, well. That’s me on page one of the naughty book then.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The Outlaws Are Upon Us!

This blog has been temporarily suspended for the duration of Mil and Dil's visit to Hotel H. Normal service will be resumed when the blogger has had a little lie down.