May, what a month

May is a disruptive month, with its double whammy of bank holidays, and it proved that time flies when you’re having fun.

PAMPER

Not one to forgo the pleasures of a ladies day (remarkably, I realised that the comforting sound of ‘lady chatter’ is especially rare in my life), the first bank holiday was an opportunity to get together with ‘my homies’ in cossies and towels, with prosecco in hand, for a bit of ‘RnR’. Fortunately, the specially selected Magic Mike DVD was forgotten about, and I got to give a good few pedicures (love feet. Just love them). Had some reflexology, which was spookily accurate about my many and varied minor ailments.

SONIC GORILLA

The nearest I came to a theatre this month was at Warwick Arts Centre for a digital programme inhabiting the public (and a couple of very private) spaces with sound work. It was a very special event for me, because it was programmed by my former boss, Simon Bedford, whose sensibilities I have long admired. Featuring a descent of woodpeckers (3-D printed, and pecking, via a panel the visitor controls, numerous surfaces inside the arts centre and in the car park); a veritable community of little perspex bugs (about 50?) that perch in all kinds of unimaginable places and communicate with one another by buzzing against the surface they perch on – the bugs (utterly adoptable) are inconspicuous, but once you’ve seen one, you can’t help but notice the extent of the ‘infestation’; for the potty mouthed among you, there’s a specially commissioned sketch show for the loos, controlled by arduino and motion (hoho) detection – so when you sit down, a sketch is randomly selected to accompany your business in the littlest room; and there’s a bell, but saying any more about that would be quite a spoiler.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

Part of Sonic Gorilla, but so splendid it deserved a heading all of its own, is the art work created by Lisa Heledd Jones ‘Behind Closed Doors’. An enquiry at box office allows the participant to procure a box file, which has a series of envelopes to open. One introduces Lisa, and explains what the experience will be like; another gives you the combination for a padlock on the shed that you probably saw on your way into the building (I missed it. But then, I am often ‘in another place’). Once in the shed, seated on a folding chair like those from a football stand, the listening commences. With Lisa in your ear as guide, narrator, confidante and explorer, the story unfolds. It’s a story of the 1987 victory of Coventry City football club in the FA Cup, it’s a story of friendship, it’s a story of euphoria and legend. Mostly, though, it’s about memory – about constructing and reconstructing our past, about the way that what’s gone isn’t done – it’s somehow present, shifting and changing as our distance from it becomes greater.

It’s a glorious piece of work – funny, clever, and absolutely heart-felt. The sounds of the cheering crowds from that fateful cup match moved me to tears, and the story drew my own to the surface, making that twenty five minutes in a shed in Coventry as much about me (and the many tears I’ve shed about Coventry City Football Club) as it was about Lisa, about her friend Paul, about the legendary goalkeeper Oggy. I can’t stop feeling it, and I want that piece of work to live forever. I told Simon that commissioning that piece of work could be one of the proudest moments of his career – one to look back on and cherish in years to come.

CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW

rachel carter sculpture

Look at those woven copper alliums gleaming in the sunshine

Rachel Carter is a friend from college. She’s also, perhaps, the most successful of the fifteen of us that worked together in 2002/3. Rachel spent the last two years perfecting a technique of casting her intricately woven sculptures into bronze. This was her fifth year at Chelsea Flower show, and I was really chuffed to be asked to be her helper on the first day of the show. I saw Rachel’s nerves before the judges came around (awarding four stars for her trade stand), her panache with the journalists and the care with which she constructed not just what the punters see out front, but her miraculous cupboard out back.

INDEPENDENT FOREIGN FICTION PRIZE

I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Summer Reads readers’ circle last year (check the selection out here), but had no idea it would lead on to more reading excitement (and, crucially, more Taittinger flowing than is probably decent). So I jumped at the chance to be part of the shadow jury for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and in usual book-nerd style, I read the whole shortlist. We shadowers were asked to answer particular questions about the books we read, which were edited into two blog posts on Booktrust‘s website. My answers, in their completeness, are over here. The winner, announced at an event that we were graciously invited to (see earlier note: Taittinger) was Hassan Blasim (author) and Jonathan Wright (translator) of The Iraqi Christ. Not an obvious winner, I thought – but certainly one of those books that rewards you for persevering.  The final two short stories of the fourteen changed my opinion of it entirely. My favourite, nay, the book that changed my view of writing forever was written by…

KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD

Never meet your idols? That’s right, because you will make an absolute fool of yourself, and loathe every fibre of your being for the rest of your days. Especially if you pray that your idol will realise, just from the act of you passing over his book and saying hello, that you and he are one. The same. Peas in a pod. Cut from the same cloth. etc. etc. etc.

In spite of illustrating what a woeful human being I am, going to Norwich to see Karl Ove Knausgaard and Don Bartlett (translator of Knausgaard’s books from Norwegian to English) in conversation with Philip Langeskov was a wonderful way to spend a day, not least because I spent the whole time with my ‘excellent and admirable’ sister. Who manages to be a proper adult, hold down a smart job, bring up her awesome son, love her terrific husband and still dream. I can barely do the latter. I love spending time with her – she brings out all that is half-decent in me, and in her generous, humble way, she makes me feel like I’m the brilliant one. What a lady.

So Becky, sister-dear, trekked across an engineering afflicted South East London all the way to Norwich with me to see three men she’d never heard of talk about books, writing, life. She’d enjoyed it immensely, recorded the event for (my) posterity, and leaned over part way through the second half to whisper in my ear ‘you are very alike, you know’ – validating my previous suggestion that if I woke up tomorrow as Karl Ove Knausgaard, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Becky also bought me Boyhood Island, insisted I queue to have the book signed, and graciously glossed over me being an inarticulate wimp. There’s more to say about Knausgaard, of course, but with another four books to read (and a peculiar sensation of having found my book soul-mate), there’s time enough for that. Right now, the moment goes to Becky, jewel among northerners, my beloved sister.

READ YOURSELF FITTER

Last, but by no means least (does someone, somewhere, get a royalty for that phrase? They ought to) was a fantastic event at the laudable bookshop (and my new second home) Bookseller Crow. Titled ‘Read yourself fitter’, the event featured Andy Miller, author of The Year of Reading Dangerously, How 50 great books saved my life, sharing his ten rules to read by. Sounds worthy, doesn’t it? And leaving the shop having made a (legal and binding) pledge to read one book each of us had always wanted to read is certainly a solemn undertaking. But the evening was incredibly funny, slightly controversial (if you start a book, finish it), and (for a newbie to the bookshop community) a great evening to bring people together, rooting for each other. There’ll be more on this next month, when (I hope) I can finally articulate what I feel having read the book I’ve been wanting to read since I learned of its existence.

BOOKS

Final swift mention on this over long (comprehensive?) post – having been floored by A Man in Love, I went back to the start of My Struggle and read A Death in the Family. I also read a Flight Club arrival Familiar (which demonstrated one thing to me: I am a language snob) and a beautiful tiny memoir/musing on the attraction of the ocean Land’s Edge by Tim Winton, whose book Cloud Street I really liked (it was diagnosed for me by a book doctor). All these reads were thanks to @booksellercrow

What does June have in store? A good lie down. And some Virginia Woolf.

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