Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sun Sets on The Astra Martin

Astra Martin RIP

The Astra Martin is dead – long live the Astra Martin!

My beloved motor went to Vauxhall Estate Heaven this afternoon, having clocked up more than 183,600 miles.

Readers of this blog may know my dream was to get her up to 200,000 miles - but it was not to be.

Her heart – or “head-gasket” – gave out again and, sadly this time, there was no way back.

I had no strong feelings about the car when I first drove her some five years ago.

But during my two-year weekday incarceration in Leamington, I captained her constantly up and down the M23, M25 and M40.

Astra Martin speedometer

Soon I gave up the five-hour Monday morning crawl to the desolate field in Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, where I worked.

Instead, I would preen the Astra Martin on a Sunday afternoon and then let the pedal hit the metal.

Often I did the 150-plus mile journey – from the centre of lovely Lewes to the centre of (whisper it) Leamington – in two hours and 17 minutes.

However hard I tried to better that time, I could not.

Granted, I am no Lewis Hamilton and the Astra Martin is no super-Max FI S&M spunky spank-mobile, but I would sometimes achieve remarkable speeds on the superslab, only for the town centre or M25 to let me down.

Still, I’d often make the journey in the 2hrs. 17mins. and go straight on to performing at a Sunday night poetry gig, before collaping with exhaustion and joyance in the Garret at midnight.

The Astra Martin’s finest drives were reserved, however, for the journey home.

Like in the Great Escape, I would tunnel my way out of the field hut on Thursday afternoons and drive from Stoneleigh to Lewes like there were no tomorrow.

Astra Martin engine

Of course, the M25 gridlock often clipped the Astra Martin’s wings.

But cometh the M23, cometh the woman!

With South Downs air in her lungs, she would be tonning it - Thin Lizzy or Van Morrison playing at full-volume on the boogie-box - with me struggling with all my thew to keep the old girl on the winding road as her 1.7 litre diesel engine burnt off Porsches, mother-effed Mercs, roaring like a tigress. . .

The Astra Martin R.I.P.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

First Season at Lewes Pint of Poetry

performance poet Rachel Pantechnicon

The first season at Lewes Pint of Poetry climaxed with an extraordinary, eclectic show featuring some of the most unbelievable poets.

It was gratifying to see how quickly the club - upstairs at the Lewes Arms, East Sussex, UK - has formed a character all of its own.

For when I first told friends in Lewes of my idea of setting up a poetry club in the town, at least one of them said it would never work and I should forget it.

At times, over the past six months, it has indeed been tough-going. . . with many top performance poets not exactly jumping at the chance to drive hundreds of miles to a little-known town in the deep south.

However - through hard work and perseverence - there have been some remarkable nights.

Italian poet Emila Telese

The visit by the 'Birmingham Poets' - Dreadlockalien (former Brum Poet Laureate Richard Grant), the superb Melinda Deathgoth (pictured bottom), and Simon Lee - was a particular hightlight, with local poetry stars John Agard and Grace Nicholls in the audience.

Legendary punk poet Attila the Stockbroker's incredible 100-minute performance to a packed house in mid-March was also very memorable.

Italian poet and broadcaster Emilia Telese (pictured above) brought an unusual and classy flavour to the club in June.

Before launching Lewes Pint of Poetry, I had been used to playing (fine) gigs in Leamington and Leicester where the audience almost entirely comprised poets.

So, it has been thrilling to find myself running a club where the majority of the crowd are genuine spectators who have paid to be entertained rather than to perform for around three minutes.

I wanted to genuinely bring together the published poets and the performance poets, and this has happened with the likes of gifted published poet Catherine Smith sharing a stage with great performers such as Lorna Meehan or Rachel Pantechnicon (pictured top).

Melinda Deathgoth

Of course, my free-wheeling hybrid of a poetry love-in is not everyone's cup of Assam.

A couple of grumpy open spot poets have deigned to give me the benefit of their inexperience with advice that I should run the club entirely differently, with more poets, with less stage time each, and a conventional approach to MC-ing a poetry gig.

Yet, despite my flawed approach in their estimation, my some miracle Lewes Pint of Poetry continues to flourish! Come September, it will be back with the best of page and performance.

I can hardly wait! See you on September 26.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford cover Ford Madox Ford has fascinated me ever since I read his classic First World War tetralogy Parade’s End – one of the most thrilling works of fiction ever written.

So I was interested when the modern novelist Julian Barnes wrote in the Guardian Review about his take on another Ford Madox Ford novel, The Good Soldier.

The story's narrator – a bland, American millionaire named Dowell – is not to be trusted, argues Barnes.

Ford Madox FordJulian Barnes believes the reader must treat every “sentence with care and suspicion and must prowl soft-footed through the text”. To illustrate this, Barnes cites the first line of The Good Soldier - “This is the saddest story I have ever heard” – and says the narrator is telling the story not hearing it.

It is a moot point. Dowell repeatedly says he is trying to tell the story as if “at one side of the fireplace of a country cottage with a sympathetic soul opposite me”.

Therefore, Dowell is both telling and hearing the story.

In other respects Julian Barnes is spot-on: Dowell’s account is not to be trusted.

Julian BarnesAlthough the story is supposedly told in one sitting, his views of the other major characters – his love-aholic, unfaithful friend Edward Ashburnham, long-suffering cuckquean Mrs Ashburnham, and Dowell’s cheating wife Florence, change as he goes on.

Far from being a “bumbler obliged to convey an intrigue of operatic passion which he only partially understands” as Barnes suggests, Dowell is pulling the wool over our eyes.

Through his indolence, dullness and baffling belief that beautiful women should marry him and be happy, Dowell mixes the brew for the tragedy, culminating in the untimely deaths of Edward and Florence. Dowell is the true villain.

But through his sly, propagandist telling of the story, the narrator shrouds his abject culpability.