Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Slip of the tongue?

In the pub on Sunday, discussing my plans for the rest of this trip, I did a sudden double take as I realised that I had said "And I fly home on the 28th".
It was an entirely unconscious and unplanned use of the word. I wonder when I started thinking of Baiyin as home.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Intentional? Sadly, probably not.

While wandering from pub to pub in Harbourne last night, trying with little success to avoid the Olympics opening ceremony, we found ourselves in on bar while a bit of musical song and dance was going on. Given all the ridiculous publicity and ceremony that accompanies the event it seemed rather ironic to hear on the sound track The Jam's "Going Underground".
The public gets what the public wants.

Bilston Voices

I'm back in the UK for the Summer and determined to get to (not to mention perform at) as many poetry events as I can before returning to China. So I visited Poetry Bites at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in King's heath on Tuesday and Bilston Voices on Thursday. At Poetry Bites Jane Seabourne and Nick Pearson provided their usual solid performances ably supported by more excellent open mike readings than I could count, let alone comment on. It's a perfect venue and it was a great night but it was Bilston Voices that I was really looking forward to, as I used to try to attend every month before I left for foreign shores.
I had originally intended only to watch as my own booking there is next month but an eleventh hour telephone call informed me that my old writing group - Scribblers were being recorded for a CD and they wanted me to do something for it.
The recording that they were making is a CD of the combined talents of Bilston Writers and Scribblers and much of it had been recorded last month. The remaining poets were to perform for the microphone on Thursday.
They kicked off with the remaining two Bilston Writers poets - Carol Howarth and Marion Cockin. Carol's great strength is her voice which perfectly matches the descriptive quality of her work - whether she is reading a lyrical account of a visit to a butterfly reserve or an amusing piece about a sheepdog's retirement party. Marion followed with an accomplished group of poems including her popular piece about Walter Raleigh's head being kept by his wife after his death.
Then it was the turn of Scribblers with readings from five of us.  Andy Moreton kicked off with four poems - two of them in his customary humourous style and two somewhat darker and more serious pieces. All four were very good though the tale of Nigel the moth has always been one of my favourites. Jill Tromans gave us a change of pace with a story rather than a poem - a  tale of ghostly apparition in a pub which was chock full of her trademark humour and had the whole audience chuckling along. Another tale followed, this time from Neil Howard punning on the concept of Metro-Gnomes. he rounded out his set with a short descriptive piece about a badger before handing over to Silvia Millward. Silvia's great trick is to write poems that while firmly rooted in Bilston's industrial heritage manage to be both moving and lyrical. Then it was over to me to do a brand new piece on it's first time out - "Nothing" - a list poem about birthday presents for a father who always tells people not to buy him birthday presents.
The CD will, I am told, be available in September.

The second half of the bill was back to the normal format. No recording and three longer sets. Madge Gilbey opened with her Black Country dialect poetry. I confess that I am not a great lover of the form but Madge pulls it off smoothly, in part due to her accent always sounding natural and never forced but, mostly, because the poems are witty enough and strong enough to stand on their own merits.
Next up was Al Barz who cut a strange figure - an older, bearded chap who began his set by setting up an electronic keyboard to accompany his recitations with digital sound loops and rhythms. It was a format that worked well, lending an unusual quality to his strong humourous verses. I was particularly taken with "With This Ring" the tale of a serial philanderer. His entertaining set would have been the highlight of the night had he not been followed by John Edgar with a brace of well crafted and wonderfully told shaggy dog stories - about a struggling actor and a good man who fails, on a technicality, to get into heaven. he threw himself into a dramatic performance with such vigour that it was hard not to get carried away by it all. he was the perfect choice to end another great evening at Bilston Voices. I've been away for a year but it's lost none of it's quality. I shall be back next month and then, sadly, gone again. I shall miss it.

Thursday, 19 July 2012


I will be appearing at City Voices in Wolverhampton on 14th August and again at Bilston Voices at the Cafe Metro in Bilston on 23d August. I hope to perform different sets (though they will have one poem in common and an announcement of sorts). The Wolverhampton set will be linked in that it's all poetry I have written in China or immediately before I went.
The Bilston set will be drawn from a cycle I have written about a day in my life in the city of Bayin, Gansu province. The whole cycle is too long to perform but will apear in my next book when I get round to creating it.

I also hope to appear at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden, on7th August but as that's open mike it depends on all sorts of stuff- whether I can get spot, whether it runs in the middle of the Olympic chaos, whether I can make it to London.

These will be my only performances this year (or, indeed, for the next couple of years as I may not make it back to these shores for the next couple of summers.)

Friday, 13 July 2012

Don't Touch That Dial (or Click Those Links)

I have just, for the first time in a year, had a chance to actually look at my blog, as opposed to posting blind, by email.
And I see that some things on the last couple have posts have linking on them.
It's third party spam and I don't know how to get rid of it.
I HATE SPAMMERS. You don't want to know what I'd do to them in whichever pit of hell they should be consigned to.
Whatever is putting those links on is beyond my control. I have only very limited access to my blog from China and even here in England can't figure out how to stop this.

So here's the deal. I can't do anything much about ti but my advice is this.



Sorry but that's about all I can do for now.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Ah, good old reliable China

Today I'm leaving to go back to England for the summer.
I leave Baiyin at four thirty this afternoon, fly to Beijing, take an
early flight to Paris tomorrow morning, take another flight to
Birmingham and hey presto I'm back in England and freeloading off my
friends for a few weeks.

So, I got up this morning. The weather here is gorgeously sunny and
very hot, the downside of which is that it's very sweaty and sticky at
So I got up this morning and went to take a shower. Or I would have
gone to take a shower. But this is China, good old reliable China
where scarcely a week passes without at least one of our utilities
going off. Today, you guessed it, it's the turn of the water. I
noticed yesterday that water pressure was low but today it's gone
I can't take a shower.
I can't shave.
I can't wash yesterdays dishes which are in the sink.
I can't have the last mop around to clean the apartment before I leave.
I can't even go to the goddam toilet because I have no way to flush it.

I'll have to stay dirty.
The dishes will be festering there until September and then the new
tenant will have to buy a Hazmed suit and clean them.
The floor will remain unwashed.
I'll somehow have to survive without a toilet for the next eleven
hours until I get onto the plane.

A week ago China put three astronauts into space, had them stay at the
space station and brought them back safely but it's beyond the wit of
their sanitation engineers to keep the water running.
Or for that matter the electricity and the gas.
I've said it before and will doubtless have many chances to say it
again next year - in China everything works, but nothing works well.
But why couldn't the water have gone off tomorrow instead of today?
Now I'm going to have to travel to Baiyin all grungy and smelly. I
just hope the shower is working in my hotel.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The picnic

As the time for my departure to England comes closer I am being
invited to even more lunches and dinners by just about everyone I have
ever met in the city. Yesterday a group of the teachers invited me for
a picnic. Well it was pitched as a picnic but it turned out to be more
of an outdoor barbecue and in many respects it was typical of our
barbecues in the west. That is to say - food that ranged from raw to
incinerated, tasting of charcoal, eaten from plastic plates with dirty

In other ways though it was different.

For a start, it began at eight O'clock in the morning rather than
eight O'clock in the evening. Valerie called me at 7:45 and said that
she was outside my apartment in a taxi with her small daughter. It
took us to the bus station where we were met by four other teachers
and one more small child - Lucy's son.
Half an hour later we got off the bus in what seemed to be a
collection of a dozen ramshackle houses in the middle of nowhere and
set off along the road on foot. Only by being extremely persistent did
I manage to get them to let me help by carrying one of the
inexplicably heavy bags that they all had.
We turned off the road and into a large complex of buildings. It was
The Yellow River Tourist Leisure Resort. The buildings were leisure
centres, hotels, holiday apartments, sporting facilities and even a
large conservatory full of exotic plants.
Down by the river water had been diverted into some fishing pools and
a long, wide, paved path followed the bank. On the path canvas
shelters protected picnic tables and chairs from the heat of the sun
or, as the water-filled bulges in the canvas suggested, from the rain
should it be necessary.

We arranged ourselves under one of them and moments later two resort
employees brought a portable barbecue and a selection of implements
and condiments. The others set about barbecuing. It was about nine
I tried to help. I really did. They just wouldn't let me. It was
certainly a novel sensation, sitting there in the sunshine like the
lord of the manor while five women went about the business of
preparing a very early lunch for me. The kids were playing on a large
sponge mat that Valerie had unfolded from a carrying bag. They played
happily while the cooking continued. At one stage they got into a
screaming competition. Standing facing each other and taking turns to
see who could scream the loudest - the non-screaming one being allowed
to laugh or giggle. Lucy told them to go along the path and see how
far they could get before we couldn't hear their screams. At two
hundred yards, where the path bent and would have taken them out of
sight, she called them back. From that distance the noise had been
reduced to merely ear-shattering.

The meal took shape. There were green peppers, green beans, aubergine,
broccoli, chicken wings, sausages - even a couple of very large, whole
fish. No wonder the bags had been so heavy. All the teachers present
were English teachers and most of the conversation was conducted in
English. They wanted to know primarily if I would be returning to
number ten school next year. As I have told them before, I would love
to return but it isn't up to me. It's up to the school and Jane. As
Jane seems determined to send me to school number eight next year I
don't think it will happen.

The food was, as I said, cooked in the typical random botulism method
of western barbecues and everything - be it animal, vegetable or
mineral, tasted charred - albeit, charred with a hot peppery spice

It was around two when we finally cleared away and left and around
three thirty when I got back to my apartment leaving me just time to
shower and change out of the charcoal smelling shirt before I had to
rush off to my next apartment - dinner and mahjong at my friends'
apartment a few blocks away.