Surrey Steampunk Convivial IV -Utterly Bonkers Splendid!

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writing steampunk poems:

Recently I contacted Ben Henderson, who, along with his wife Tixia, organises the annual Surrey Steampunk Convivial, to see if I could offer my poetic services. He was very kind and accommodated my idea of having a steampunk poetry workshop as part of the event, which took place last weekend. I arrived bright and early on the day, to the Royal Oak pub in New Malden, the main venue for this weekend festival, along with the Christchurch Centre, conveniently across the road from the pub. The place was already buzzing with stalls selling various wonderful steampunk accoutrements in the shape of dragon-dwelling hats, goggles and spectacles, be-cogged and geared jewellery and vintage steampunk-style outfits.

There were already several steampunks milling about wearing fantastic garb, drinking tea, and settling in for the excitement to come. A few people dared to try out a writing exercises or two and below is my friend Anna’s rather marvellous poem, which captures the spirit of the Convivial perfectly:

 

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Anna Stickney’s poem:

I wandered lonely as a clockwork snail,

that clanks along o’er cranky planks,

when all at once I saw a crowd,

a host, of extravagant steampunks

beside the cakes, beneath the teapot,

duelling and posing at the Royal Oak.

 

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 loading the specially-built cannon for the ‘fling a familiar’ contest

The two days were a blur of familiar-flinging, snail-racing, tea-duelling, steampunk morris dancing, belly dancing, anamatronic steampunk R&B, snake-snuggling, beer drinking, corset-limbo, radio-play performing, superb steampunk dj soundtracks, shadow-puppet theatre, intellectual superciliousness slamming, storytelling, great live music and bands to dance to and many other bizarre, eccentric and hilarious-but-always so so stylish- steampunk occupations to keep everyone busy.

 

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‘Be Splendid’ is the motto of the steampunk, and indeed it was, and as well as all the fun and frivolity, the Convivial was marked by the friendliness, generosity, good humour and welcoming attitude of everyone there, especially to the newbies amongst us, of which I was one. But- no more a newbie- I am hoping to be back for more creative steampunk mayhem this August, when, due to its’ popularity, there will be a second Surrey Steampunk Convivial of 2015, where I hear rumours of marquees in the beer garden…and possibly flamingo croquet…?

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So please, grab your top hat, goggles, corset and kraken….and join in the fun!

More pics from the event below.

For more information head over to the Surrey Steampunk Convivial website here.

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Diggory mole makes it into the hat

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the purple platypus winner

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‘around the world in 8o days’ radio play

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serious dunking – click here for tea duelling rules

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tense atmosphere at the tea-duelling

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tea-duelling champion

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preparing to snail race

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umbrella duelling

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Herr Doktor’s Raygun

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me, trying to hold on to the super-speedy corn snake

 

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Ichabod Steam’s animatronic  Steampunk band

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 sword-wielding belly dancers!

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the winner of corset limbo shows how it’s done

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 Darren Gooding’s amazing storytelling

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shadow puppet theatre!

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audience participation invloved languishing and carrying a bagful of sky

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 intellectual superciliousness slam…nincompoops!

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 me reading some steampunk’d poems

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the marvellous Moth with Ben and Tixia

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Choro Bandido

 

Never Pounce on a Porcupine #Imbolc #NatureWords

???????????????????????????????“Never pounce on a porcupine!” was my son’s conversation opener this morning- wise advice, nice use of alliteration- and the perfect way to start this post, my first of 2015.

The word alliteration has been added to the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary- however porcupine has been removed. Can you pounce on ‘a rodent with a coat of sharp spines, or quills’? Probably- although you would be foolish to do so- and the alliteration does not exist without the word porcupine. How much meaning is being lost in removing this one word, which tells us, rather delightfully,  all we need to know about this creature? The same goes for the word piglet – it is no longer in the Oxford Junior Dictionary- it has been removed. Where would Winnie the Pooh be without Piglet? Piglet’s favourite food is acorns– or as he refers to them, “haycorns” – another word which has been deemed irrelevant to children’s vocabulary in the 21st century. Alliteratively (and poetically): Pink Piglet- yes…Pink Baby Pig- No….

Acorn comes from the Middle English- it is a very old word which we have been using for hundreds of years- but will children now refer to acorns as ‘fruit of an oak, consisting of a single-seeded, thick-walled nut set in a woody, cuplike base’? No- because, according to the Oxford University Press, who publish the Oxford Junior Dictionary, these words have been removed to make way for words which are more suitable and relevant to the indoor and technology-focused lifestyles of children now.
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primrose is another word to have gone from the OJD

This erasure of nature-based words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary is not a new situation- but has received more press coverage again recently. Religious and magical words (bishop, goblin, elf, sin) removed in 2007, have been added to with words such as catkin and even conker, in the 2012 edition. Words that in my opinion are still intrinsic to childhood itself, and to our relationship, education about, and understanding of the natural world around us.

The Guardian ran a piece on this in January, and many writers including Margaret Atwood and Michael Morpurgo have written to the OUP regarding this worrying state of affairs.

As a poet and a writer who writes about place, and as a mother of a seven year old, I felt determined to do something to raise awareness about this but until this weekend I wasn’t sure what that would be.

But…this weekend I went to Glastonbury to meet up with dear friends and celebrate Imbolc with them, also known as Brigid. Brigid or Bridie is the Goddess of Inspiration, Blacksmiths, Fire and also Poetry. This is a celebration of the First Stirrings- where the begins of growth are apparent: in snowdrops, the first lambing, and green shorts daring to peek out in the freezing weather.DSC02656

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After the celebration at the White Spring, we came out into the bright, watery-sun morning and gathered in a circle across Well House Lane, between the White Spring and the Red Spring at Chalice Well. There was an open invitation for people to share their thoughts, inspiration, songs and poetry. This is an event I always try to get to, as it is a great way to begin the year proper, and is a joyful meeting of like minds and community, in the best place to be.

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Some amazing poetry was performed and read, a wonderful guided visualisation was offered, inspirational stories were told, and the ever-joyful Hemp man was there to impress the gathered throng with the benefits of hemp consumption and production.

I had chosen two poems to read, and thought I had neatly folded them into my bag, but on arrival realised I had left them behind. I was disappointed for a moment but instead I found the printed list list of nature words which have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary lurking unexpectedly in my rucksack. It was after Lisa Goodwin performed her fantastic poem, which included the repeated line What would Bridie Do? that I knew I had to do it.

She asked if anyone else would like to contribute and I stepped into the circle and explained that the Oxford Junior Dictionary had removed a significant amount of nature words, and that as this was a day for poets, language and inspiration, that this seemed the right place to say some of them, and would everyone repeat them as I spoke them?

Here are all of the words, with the ones I remember saying, shouting even, highlighted.

adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox,oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren. Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran,bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip,crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender,leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow
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crocus- omitted from the OJD
I picked them out randomly, and in the moment but as I stood there and said them myself, and heard them come back at me, with the audible surprise and indignation in some people’s voices, I realised the power and meaning attached to these words, especially to people who feel spiritually connected to nature, to the earth, to the turning year, to the seasons….
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 I am very glad I did it, and afterwards, as we walked through the side gate into Chalice Well, and headed towards the warmth of the fire, and cups of coffee and ample blocks of delicious banana cake, a few people approached me to talk about it. So if a few more people know about this then these words will be fought for more fervently, as they should be.
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This is how we communicate our connection to nature, as well as claim our heritage and our traditions. For example think about what the word ‘conker’ conjures in you….
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the words won’t die because they aren’t included in one children’s dictionary- but it is symbolic and symptomatic of the disconnection with nature that is not only happening but also apparently being accepted as ‘normal’ in many sections of society. George Monbiot wrote a great piece in The Guardian about children losing their connection to nature and the future implications of this, which is worth reading.
After my nature-word incanting at the weekend my aim is to explore some of these words with my son this year and post the results on here from time to time.
I hope that OUP reconsider their decision and send out a positive message by putting these words back into the next edition of their junior dictionary. For updates on the campaign to bring the words back, this is the place to go: http://www.naturemusicpoetry.com/campaigns.html
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To finish up, and as something to consider…here are some of the words that have taken the place of the words above…what do they mean to you?
Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and
paste, analogue Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate,EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate,
endangered, Euro Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum,
classify, chronological, block graph

 

 

 

#Declutter 1: Plastic Wood

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This is the Year of the Horse but in my house it is also the Year of the Declutter. It might even be the first in Two Years of Declutter. The loft is slowly emptying and giving up its dusty (understatement) Scooby-Doo web encrusted treasures, which are then sorted into piles of ‘keep/bin/charity shop/ebay’. This inevitably went in the bin and whatever ‘Plastic Wood’ was I will never know as the tin was jammed shut and I guessed from its lightness that the contents were long gone…

Out-of-body-in-the-flesh: Seeing Coil Play Live 10 years ago

At the time I was still married, still living in Bristol, living a completely different life to the one I have now. Since 2002 I’d been on a path of re-discovery, of working out why I was feeling so out of sync with myself. There were lots of reasons…seeing Coil was another piece of the puzzle falling into place, if you’ll forgive the cliche.

I’m not sure when I first heard Coil- it was some time in the late eighties, and it was probably ‘S is for Sleep’ from The Elephant Table LP, which my boyfriend of the time had.

I remember him coming home with the Horse Rotovator LP and it changed everything, and profoundly influenced our own music-making and thinking. After that we bought all the Coil music we could. I still have my vinyl copies of Scatology, the Hellraiser themes and a signed copy of Windowpane, amongst other Coil goodies, all stashed in the loft, waiting for the time when I eventually have space for them again. I’m not a completist and apart from a few bits and bobs on cd I don’t have many of the recording they went on to make in the nineties and early noughties. Besides, my life changed and I was no longer making music, although I was still being creative in other ways from time to time.

Hearing Coil play live was something I never thought I would get the opportunity to do, to see them performing out-of-body-in-the-flesh.

The closest I got to meeting them was years before, when I wore my John Crancher shirt, emblazoned with gold devils, to a gig we were all at, maybe Meat Beat Manifesto, and they had joked that they wouldn’t release their next record until I gave it to them (I didn’t) …

They played the Ocean in Hackney, long since gone, on what I remember as a hot and dusty Sunday evening. Where my ex was desperate to leave by the end of the gig, I was desperate to stay to the very last, even after they’d finished, and ‘Feed the Birds’ from Mary Poppins was blaring out of the PA. I’m very thankful I got to see Jhonn and Sleazy play live- it was as beautiful, disconcerting and transporting as I had hoped it would be. RIP.

Magick moments.

(The Quietus wrote a great piece on Coil in 2011 to honour the first anniversary of Peter Christopherson’s (aka Sleazy) passing. Find it here)

 

 

 

The British 10k

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On Sunday 13th July me, my son and my Dad left the house at 7am and got on a train to Waterloo. On the train, and when we got to London there were lots of people in running gear, many of them wearing tshirts proclaiming the charity they were raising money for by running the British 10k.

It’s a big race- 25000 people taking part, all ages and levels of ability. I was definitely a bit nervous. Although I’ve run a couple of races before this was the first really big run I’d entered. Once I’d dropped off my bag at one of the many numbered bays and said goodbye to the Nipper who was ‘bored’ and wanted to drag his Grandad off to explore, I followed the other runners to the route and found myself queueing up by The Ritz on Piccadilly. It was about 20-30 minutes of slowly shuffling along with the crowd before we got to the starting line but by this point I was buzzing and ready to go.

This was the first time I’d run 10k. I’d been training and had been running about three times a week, the longest distance I’d completed up to this point was 7km. Then a couple of weeks before, very stupidly, I’d worn a pair of gorgeous shoes I’d found in the back of my wardrobe, only realising too late why they were in the back of my wardrobe. Ouch! Hello blisters- not the worst thing to happen- especially if you’ve ever seen dancers’ feet- or the footage (ahem) of Eddie Izzard running his marathon of marathons… so I had no excuses really but it did make me wary of running the longer distances I had hoped to in the last weeks of my training. And then I hurt my right foot a few days before the race when I spent a day walking around London.

But by the time I was lining up to start all thoughts of sore feet vanished and I was enjoying the atmosphere. I am a very slow runner and that’s fine by me- I got to plod around central London with thousands of other people, on what started as a grey, damp morning, and by the time I’d finished had turned into a gorgeous sunny Sunday. I am still amazed I am able to run at all, having been the sickly child at school, always off sick, and unable to do PE. Then a few years ago being diagnosed with post-viral fatigue was such a shock – at the time I never thought I’d be able to do half the things I had taken for granted, ever again. But here I am running 10k, cycling to work and having a super busy life.

I am very very lucky- I do however try to pace myself, and I get very tired sometimes- I can’t push myself as hard as I used to and I try and stay within my limits (most of the time). Running seems good for this- I’ve found that mentally it helps me to focus on my writing, and physically it gives me stamina and is also a great stress buster. I can judge how I’m feeling and tailor how far I run, how often and how fast (mainly not very fast). But I can do it and I am able to keep doing it.

I wasn’t sure if I would be able to complete 10k on the day but when I got to the 5k point I knew I’d be fine and at that point I even speeded up and loved every minute of the rest of the run.  I raised £190 for Gingerbread – thanks to the support and generosity of the people who sponsored me. Single parents deal with many different challenges and Gingerbread is the go-to charity for people in this situation who need advice and support on a whole range of issues affecting them.

Before my Mum died, in fact just when she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and was in hospital, now eight years ago, we got to talking about running and for some reason I made a promise to her that I would run a half marathon. Maybe she was saying I should keep fit and look after myself, I don’t know. But I have never forgotten this.The next time I run, I am hoping it will be a half-marathon and I would like to raise money for Macmillan. The Macmillan nurses who looked after my mum were amazing, and it would be a way of keeping my promise to her and doing something positive with my run. But I’m not going to do it until I am ready- watch this space!

In the meantime THANK YOU again to everyone who sponsored me and supported me. XXX

RIP Maya Angelou #StillIRise

Aren’t we lucky to have had Maya Angelou in our midst, blessing us with her poetry, her life…what a trove she leaves us with.

Forward March

I nearly fell off my chair when I read the email from those wonderful people at Structo Magazine, who had written to say they were nominating my poem, Lunch in Ars en Re, for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. I am so glad I ate lunch in Ars en Re that day… it was a very fine lunch too- in fact here is a picture of it…

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February #SmallStone

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A day of believing the hype: buds on trees, blue in sky, windows open for fresh air, energy to have friends over for lunch; I will make something of this paper, I will make something new and feel good about it. One day we’ll have a space in the city to dance in.

a gift of a morning teaching young children how to play with words and have fun. I can’t remember a better one. I wanted to go home and tell my mum.

a Gordian knot of resolve and frustration. Is this it? I hope that one day I will pull the rope free of the bind and move on into a new space.

an ancient woman in Frank Thomas bike boots throws chunks of bread at a wall on the corner of a street in Tooting; shouts toothlessly, picks up a scrunched up ball of paper from the scattered bread. Pigeons lined up on the crumbling wall above, look down on her quizzically; I look away, remember my last trip here was to buy material for my wedding dress. Fourteen years passed with no reason to return, till I pass through this afternoon, on the way to somewhere else.

attempt to embrace clods of shit, look at them through kaleidoscope, they disappear into space while you count stars before bedtime.

calm descended on the house this afternoon,  the year starts to form its shape, a few hours removed from worry, watching the storm from a safe spot, for now.

controlled demolition/ invisible construction by sleight of hand/ mute communication of desperation. Concrete boots  contain the gift of a straw to keep breathing. Just.

dog blanket and smoke stink bus, see inflated rain coats billow through smudged windows on the way to the hospital; told to come back when its worse. Walk past the Turnmills site and remember those nights, then- and now move on to cramped, joyous poetry night Wa Dem Do replaced Super Sharp Shooter again.

flash fast blue- the halcyon shimmer lives here in dull space between petrol-choked housing estate and grid-locked no-dream dump. It dives and soars between land and water, brown and grey, never stops its journey; finds fish in the future but now hungry, sight fogged in silt flood churn

homeless at home still bites occasionally, Hokey cokey weather sunshine boy’s bike ride blows away frustrations, surprise marigolds greet me with their seventies upholstery colour scheme. What are they doing here now, in the flood? The river rushes on.

 I could burst like a balloon any moment, cause a flood, ruin a scene, spoil the moment, drained forever, a fool, a failure at making a judgement. I don’t trust my heart. I walked away from home, from a chance of connection. Rationalised away in fear of discovery that: I am right about myself.

increments to normality: rolling pastry, roasting vegetables, appreciate eating. Still no patience with a recalcitrant son; Atlas is holding up my To Do list, but he can’t do it for ever.

 investigating frustrations and paralysis in space; time shifts, un-sticking personal tectonic plates; but I hold onto frustration at the table instead of letting go and trusting you will work it out.

lapping black mood buffered by experience : a mindful voice says in the middle of darkness- there will be a different day, where you don’t feel a mess, a failure, a vague fuddled weakness. Counting the good things in each day is the light to guide along the path.

my body is telling me to rest, all the warning signs are there, thumping wheezy chest, heavy head and grumpiness – these are the times I am desperate to do more – when will I learn to listen to my trusty vehicle, instead of pushing it to breakdown before recovery?

planet rendered to its marrow, assets stripped; inhabitants gleefully minced ; lungs compressed, water putrid.                       Investment mansions, inherited mansions, empty mansions, festooned  mansions, derelict mansions.                                                                 Luxury penthouse apartments built on sites historically reserved for the discounted, decanted and leprotic. Stink of polish, lilies, ordure and meat remain in great halls of tastefully accessorised cannibals; fuck plastic, eat oil.

small stones become cairns, dams, bridges, buildings; given time who knows what we can construct with present pebbles.

ten of Stones. Home . Building minus blocks . Anaglipta walls concave in . This is not my house

the alley became a pine forest, carpeted in burnt needles, rippled over the fractured concrete and sludge. Needles shored up against subsiding pebbledashed fence foundations, pooled in front of the wise woman’s cottage, a patchworkof of greens, moss cavey home for She Who lives at the edge; a  garage door in need of paint.

the invisible pugilist plants another right hook, uppercut, avoid the rabbit punch, least-expected sucker punch; no Tomato Can. Throw in the towel, dancer.

walk of word games; blue angular sunshine; white blossom rockets into the sky. Spend the day on the big push through undergrowth, searching for permaculture; community vision through a telescope to my one good eye.

we wish on the silver sliver of moon – I won’t tell you in case it doesn’t come true – I wish for good health and a return to my regular run – we run alongside the park railings –you point out lines of symmetry-trace them accurately in metal.

what is love for – what does it do? I realise I have no idea any more for myself. Few hours I felt real attraction.  Inhabited Home again briefly, as a person I recognised after a long absence, in a place I recognised as a life, after all those years.  From wandering alone to knowing the coordinates of the whole city, with company. Mutual; I hesitated, mute.

Found Poetry Project at Housmans Bookshop

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Since January I have been visiting Housmans in Kings Cross to look for ‘found’ poems in the £1 Book Basement of this famous radical bookshop. Housmans have very kindly allowed me to rummage through the goodies in this section, which is currently being re-organised moved into a new space. You can see my progress on the In-Hous Tumblr I have set up to track some of the finds and investigate the process of ‘finding’ poems out of the old books and pamphlets.