Friday, 22 May 2020

Changes and chances

Today should have seen us off to Scotland, for a week walking in the Trossachs, a week pursuing some research for a biography I'm working on, a visit to old friends and a 70th birthday party. Needless to say, none of those will be happening in the present situation. Hopefully the visits and the walking can take place when life returns to whatever will pass as the new "normal" but the biography project will have to go on ice for the time being. This is particularly frustrating as it had a long gestation phase but has made significant progress over the last couple of months; most of that progress however has been based on historical records and others' accounts and memories. I really need to "walk the walk" and get a feel for my subject's original environment and experiences.

Looking at the positives, however - the Hay Festival this year is not as we have always known it but is freely available to everyone virtually. Do look at the programme if you haven't seen it. Starting today, I've booked for a dozen events to which I certainly wouldn't have had access in other circumstances. I'm really looking forward to hearing Mererid Hopwood and Ali Smith - favourite authors of mine - and I've also booked for a couple of sessions quite outside my usual sphere. A good opportunity to open up other horizons without feeling you've spent unwisely if they turn out to be ones you'd rather leave orbiting elsewhere!

Friday, 8 May 2020

Celebration or commemoration?

My father, Roland Garrett, in 1941
The period around the Second World War is one that interests me a lot and I've written a fair amount about it in both poetry and prose over the years. The war had only ended a short time before I was born and it was still having a massive residual effect on people's lives, both negatively and positively, throughout my childhood. So I'm perfectly happy that today, the 75th anniversary of VE Day, should be acknowledged and marked by present generations. But I see commemoration as a far more appropriate approach than celebration. .

Yes, our parents or our grandparents may have been celebrating that six years of hardship, separation, trauma and loss had come to an end, but more importantly they were looking forward to what they could now make of the world and their lives in it. Much of what we're seeing today, in the media and in the (socially-distanced!) street celebrations, seems backward looking, nostalgic, sentimental. We're dealing with our own crises at the moment and - with the evidence they've thrown up of so much inequality, mismanagement of services over a long period of time and so many other social injustices - we need to be looking forward, as our predecessors were in 1945, at what we can make of our world when they're all over. In no small part so that we can give the still-surviving veterans something much more tangible than the fleeting attention and praise they're getting today.

Friday, 1 May 2020

"April is the cruellest month ..."

What a strange month April was - in more ways than just having the unusually great weather! Our first full calendar month of lockdown and all that that entailed. Since writers so often bemoan their lack of time, you'd think we'd all be grateful for an abundance of it, but that's certainly not how it's felt. Dealing with all the additional on line activities the situation has generated seems to have kept me very busy, to say nothing of the NaPoWriMo challenge (thankfully now at an end, with several embryonic poems worth pursuing if not many completed). But the virtual workshops I have managed to make have at least kept me in touch with the wider writing community and a couple of acceptances of submissions for publication have cheered things along too.

What has really kept me sane in recent weeks though has been the availability of local walks  - within minutes of leaving the front door I can be on riverside or hillside, well away from the human world and very close to the natural. We are incredibly lucky to have all this on our doorstep and lucky that we can, in however limited a way, get out into it. My heart goes out to those in much less happy circumstances, in less conducive environments or confined completely to quarters for shielding, to say nothing of those personally affected by Covid-19. I realise every time I'm able to step outside how fortunate I am.

Light at the end of the tunnel?
A perspective on the Wye.

Monday, 20 April 2020

"These are the hands ..."

I'm delighted to read that These Are The Hands - Poems From The Heart Of The NHS  (eds. Deborah Alma and Katie Amiel, Fair Acre Press) is selling incredibly well. All profits are going to the NHS Covid-19 Emergency Fund. It's another small way in which we can support the outstanding staff who are risking everything to keep us safe. Having spent the whole of my working life in health care, I stand in awe of what those who have followed me are doing day in, day out with an appalling lack of resources. If you haven't seen the collection, do check it out - and if possible buy a copy.

Sunday, 5 April 2020


You would think that self-isolating would allow so much time for writing, making progress with projects, moving forwards. But I seem to be in the company of a lot of other writers finding that "having nothing on" actually means being quite busy with the minutiae of everyday life - and that the stress of the present situation isn't really conducive to ready creativity.

Five years ago I took part in NaPoWriMo - and vowed never to do it again! I'm not a fast writer and my poems usually need a long gestation before they see the light of day on the page. I'm always so envious of those who, after a twenty minute exercise in a workshop, can work a mini miracle! But I've decided to take the plunge again this year; I know it's only day five but I'm hanging on in there. If last time is anything to go by, the end of the month may only see three or four poems worth the name but a lot of writing from which to take ideas, to incorporate into other work. If you're doing the challenge too - good luck with it!

I'm very heartened to see that the BBC news website has had one poetry item each day lately - usually an actor or well known personality reading something appropriate to the circumstances. I was reduced to tears on Thursday by the television presenter Sophie Raworth reading the poem "These are the hands" - it was written by the children's author Michael Rosen for the 60th anniversary of the NHS, now himself hospitalised with Covid -19. If you're not familiar with the poem do check it out - it's very simple but an outstanding accolade to everyone who works in health care.

Friday, 27 March 2020

A strange Spring

I've been using my one permitted outing of the day for early morning walks with the dog in our local (deserted) woods.  This morning, with all the primroses, wood anemones and violets out, the birds in good voice and the sun coming up on the other side of the valley, it was as if the natural world was at odds with the social. Everything was so peaceful, so as it should be, yet only a short distance away health care staff are fighting for the lives of so many patients in this our worst-hit part of Wales.

But now it's back to the desk with an article to finish by the end of the day. There should be few distractions to keep us from our writing for the time being, of course, but the temptation to go for frequent news updates is difficult to resist - though it probably doesn't much help our mental health.  Better to immerse ourselves for a while in worlds of fiction, poetry or less depressing fact!

Thursday, 19 March 2020

The written word

I was thinking this morning about the contribution of writers and the value of the written word in these increasingly stressful times - certainly to communicate accurate information but also to provide diversions from the seemingly relentless march of problems thrown up by the corona virus. Books, magazines and on-line reading materials will hopefully be good companions for many of us in our enforced isolation. The book I'm reading at the moment, "All Among The Barley"  by Melissa Harrison, is transporting me to the very different world of 1933. It was a world that had big problems of its own of course, but the book is beautifully written and the story of farmer's daughter Edie Mather's coming of age is captivating.

How important our own writing about the present situation could be too - our "unprecedented" situation, as we're continually reminded by the politicians. As a small child my father lost his eldest sister in the 1918 'flu pandemic and my father-in-law was only a year old when his young mother succumbed. There was hardly a family in the land, indeed in the world, that wasn't touched by the outbreak. There's plenty written in the medical and history textbooks about it but I've found comparatively little, other than brief mentions, in personal, family history accounts.  "This too shall pass" and, when it's all over, no doubt there will be endless dissection of the details in the press and the textbooks. But something so major, with such far reaching implications for our individual lives, surely deserves chronicling on a more personal level for our future family readers too.