Thursday, 13 August 2009

Sail Away Sail Away Sail Away

I'm heading up to Scotland tomorrow to pick up the boat for three weeks of wind, tides and decisions of what to cook for tea.

I feel absolutely ready to turn my back on emails, word documents, phone messages, solid floors and a jungle garden.

In some ways sailing is the epitome of making the ordinary extraordinary – living in a world dependant on weather forecasts, tidal streams, two other people I might not see from week to week, let alone minute to minute, ropes, knots, canvas and in-your-face-physics highlights everything we take for granted (or at least I take for granted) in ordinary life. It’s a magnification of what we live amongst without noticing.

And that’s when it’s going smoothly. We took the boat up to The Clyde at the beginning of July and met with a series of quite extraordinary events, more extraordinar than you'd expect for a 24 hour passage:

  1. The road bridge at Glasson broke (despite having three mechanisms for opening) so we were unable to to lock out of the dock until 12 hours later (the dock only opens at high water). This was 1am on the Saturday.
  2. At this point the Met Office was forecasting an occasional 6 (as it had been for the last 12 hours), 21-30 knots of wind. By 5pm Saturday afternoon, with Whitehaven on the Cumbrian Coast behind us, the Isle of Man clearly ahead and The Mull of Galloway - Scotland!! - to our right, this forecast had bumped up to steady 6 with occasional 9 (47-54 knots). Although they were saying it would be brief, over within six hours. Those are still pretty strong winds.
  3. This was followed quickly by news - securite - securite - of an abandoned mast with rigging and sail last seen in the southern area of the North Channel. Great. The tide would be taking it in the direction we were heading.
  4. We made the decision to divert to Belfast Lough, to give our relatively inexperienced crew a full night sleep post storm. This was the safest spot to head for - a marina rather than an anchorage (on which me and Anni, another owner would spend the night tossing with the boat, angsting anout anchor drag). At that point Belfast Lough was as close as Scotland. It would just mean a longer sail the following leg. But that would be after the storm, after sleep.
  5. As we entered the Lough the wind was gusting 9 from behind, the sea was rolling and twisting us, and we could smell burning. Our engine was fine. Then we noticed a fire, two fires, tens of fires scattered on the hills around the lough. Even in the gale winds and siling rain huge pyres lit the sky. It was the 11th July.
  6. Because of the unexpected diversion, we were working off a large scale chart. And this is when we made the classic mistake of enforcing our desire upon the landscape: we wanted to be in shelter so we decided the lights we could see were the lights of our marina. We made three attempts to enter a harbour, radioing the harbourmaster to ask why we couldn't see the red wall light. "Are you’re sure you’re here?" He asked.
  7. The Coastguard put out a call to us, after overhearing this radio conversation, to say a member of the public had seen a boat try to get into Groomsport three times. Was that us? Groomsport was not even marked on our chart. Rain lashing us. The boat (even in the calmer waters of the lough) was bouncing about like a child’s toy. And then pulling away from land for the third time we sawthe red light we’ve been looking for – probably another half miles down the lough. The marina. Our marina. Half an hour later we were tea and toasting it in the comfort of a marina.
  8. Marching bands played to our departure the following day.

So, naturally I’m hoping the more leisurely return trip (north from the Clyde to Oban before south to Mull, Colonsay, Islay, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and Lancashire) will be extraordinary in the more mundane benign sense of nature: gannets, seals, basking sharks, secluded harbours and the odd Spar (as in your friendly local supermarket not piece of rigging from another boat).

If you want to know how it all is on a boat, then you can squizz through past posts on my myspace site

Friday, 7 August 2009

the real thing, honestly

Honestly, there are another ten odd people out of the picture.

And, yes, honestly, that is real sunshine.

And and, yes, yes, I'm holding papers with poems on them. As I said I was going to do, I read from my sequence of family poems. Being about Plymouth Brethren, they're quite subdued, which made reading my audience tricky. No dramatic rendition this time. But people semed to be listening; they were certainly attentive, and I can only hope to my words and not their skull cinema.

Also great to go paddling in Grasmere afterwards (if I'd thought I'd have brought my cossie) with the hilltops be sharply lined and crinkled in the light and shadow.

We are where we are.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Wordsworth Trust

I'm reading at Dove Cottage this afternoon and the sun is shining (for real, not just metaphorically), so with any luck we'll be outside in their garden.

It's a lovely treat to be reading up there. I go up reasonably regularly for the Wordsworth Trust season of poetry readings which are a fabulous resource for us here in the North West. They have a fabulous range of poets come. Last week Ruth Padel and Tom Pow were reading from sequences of poems, which were equally absorbing and engaging.

Tom Pow read from a series of poems charting the inhabitants of the Crichton asylum, with such compassion and lyricism it was a delight to fall into what might have otherwise been discomforting surroundings. His charisma and passion for the subject linked the poems to other individual poems he also chose to read.

Ruth Padel's Darwin sequence was the reason I was there. Previously I've never got on with her work particularly although I had heard her talk about her tiger book and found her an easy and generous speaker. And so she was last week. She took us through Darwin's life, focusing mainly on his marriage rather than his work, punctuating the poems with historical links so building this overarching narrative through the evening. The poems were insightful, textured and touching, melding the emotional with the theoretical. Lovely lovely. And made even more enjoyable by her reading - very subtley she used tone, pace and volume to illuminate the poems.

And so I've been inspired to read from my sequence of poems, Bedrock, for this afternoon, to think about the narrative arc of the selection, how to link them and what I might say between each poem to help the audience gain entry to a slice of a largr body of work. This is exciting. All my recent readings have been far more 'performative' or perhaps dramatic is a more accurate word: more physical. This will be a variant storytelling.

And since I'm on the subject of Bedrock. Below are some possible images for my forthcoming book, Host. Any opinions much appreciated.