the art of wiring: or, poets on the dance floor. plus, how to get an email from a poet

From the Tweed Suits of September to a roomful of poets with Spiderman powers. Sometimes life’s just like that. Came back from my five days in Norfolk, not just to a tight deadline for a piece of work which will pay three weeks of rent next month, but also to a barrage of urgent messages about the elderly Baroque aunt in Chiswick. She has had a dramatically bad turn. There was a story, and the upshot is that the locksmith took the lock back out and left because she wouldn’t pay him, and the next-door neighbour missed an important dinner for which she had bought a new dress and gone to the hairdressers’. The people I had to speak to were: my aunt, the GP, the friend, the other friend, the social care team, the mental health social work team (twice), the bank manager, the upstairs neighbours, the next-door neighbour and my mother; and there are more family calls to be made, as well as power of attorney to sort out and yet more emails to write. (The locksmith will have to wait.)

Then Mlle B and I crossed London to inspect the damage. The aunt sat in horrible filthy pyjamas and ate a chicken & leek ready meal as if it were Christmas dinner, and tried to argue as to why the annual statement of account on her loan was ‘all wrong’ and needed to be ‘taken to the solicitor’ before she could sign a routine form and send it back. And about the young men who live above, who are conducting a campaign of conspiracies and practical jokes to mock her – why else would she have lost the key to her garden door? That’s how they get through to have their wild parties in her back garden. And she says they are sticking wires from upstairs down the inside of the wall, to tweak her curtains open, so they can look in at her and laugh, and she ‘wants to speak to their mothers’.  Did some scoping out (the loan statement is fine), and scooping out, and taking out (three black bin liners), and fly spraying and air freshening. Spoke to all the neighbours. Found the front door keys, but not the bank cards necessary to pay someone to put the door back.

You can’t do all that in a tweed suit. But Elizabeth Bowen in jeans? I don’t think so.

The great news is that all these teams are now on it; something will happen, somehow: the flat will be cleaned, and support will be put in place, even if we have to release equity to do it. The awful irony is that they had no power to do anything as long as she still had enough wits to refuse all help, but now she’s just sitting there and taking it. We await the diagnosis.

Then a day of editing, and out into yesterday’s summer evening, to the launch of a poetry publication in London’s trendy Shoreditch. We were surrounded by young hipsters, and old – well, a couple of them I’m not really quite sure what to call them. There were some rather sad attempts at dashing facial hair…

The poetry publication in question? Published by Christopher Reid in the age-old manner of gentlemen of letters, it contains work by (in no particular order) Roisin Tierney, Luke Heeley, himself, and the Salt poets Liane Strauss, Simon Barraclough and Isobel Dixon. The old gang, in other words. The book being called The Art of Wiring, the event was held in a downstairs room (wired for sound and rhythm, but certainly not for anti-material coat-hanger curtain-twitching) at the old electricity showroom, now a trendy bar called The Electricity Showrooms.

On the way downstairs, I passed an old Victorian washstand in a corner, with its tiled splashback, and two stools beside it. It looked very far from everything it had once known.

And once in, well, we had the treat of seeing the reading introduced by Christopher Reid (in his corduroys) on lit-up disco squares. (Roisin whispered to me: “Doesn’t he look great on a dance floor?”) Others of the group stood more gingerly on the edge of the carpet, as if afraid to fall in. And the dance area was a hole in the middle of the room, where few stood – we’re just not used to it in this walk of life. (Indeed, I caught a couple of people looking down my top in the mirrored ceiling…)

Liane read her ‘fine’ poem. (Worth buying the book for. I haven’t got the book yet though – I know, but it’s money – so can’t quote, and am not sure how you get it. If you are interested, email me at Baroque Mansions and I will get one of the poets to email you.) There were other great poems, and then there was dancing. And more dancing. (They lulled us with Bowie. They placated us with Peter Gabriel. And when Gaga came on, one person scowled, turned heel and left, practically in the middle of a sentence. In truth the DJ did become ever louder from that moment on. We went out on a tide of Donna Summer and Marvin Gaye, so I wasn’t complaining.)

Hipsters in skinny jeans and tutus kept wandering down from the main bar and looking perplexedly at this group of lumpy old people bopping on the floor. They couldn’t see it, but we also had our fair share of groovier types who do, you know, have a life off the page, some who can dance with authority, one gorgeous Vivienne Westwood outfit, and a few salsa queens.

As well as a good few over-sixties who just would not leave the floor. And after the events of this week, that really cheered my heart. So we were all fine.

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