Right, well if it has been a little quiet around here it is because I’ve been away for a week in a place with no signal. The week before I went was so busy that, although the servants managed to get Baroque Mansions neat as a pin and slightly degreased for the guinea-pig-sitter, not all the work managed to get done and not even all emails were answered before we decamped to the Slad Valley.
(One of the things I was doing, of course, was working out what I was going to do with my groups of Gloucestershire teenagers, and finding poems to do it with. Aficionados might like to know that I took with me Hannah Silva’s ‘Gaddafi Gaddafi Gaddafi’, Philip Gross’ ‘Elderly Iceberg off the Esplanade’, Alexander Hutchison’s ‘Hole House Farm’, ‘The Crash’, by me, ‘Portrait of a Neighbour’ by Millay, and a few others. But the main thing, for them as for me, is the wonderful place we were in, and we used the location and its objects as a springboard for ideas – the main thing being to get them looking and writing.)
The Slad Valley is, basically, heaven on earth. It’s like the Catskills. I feel like I slot in there like a missing puzzle piece, or else it slots in around me like the missing rest of the puzzle, and that’s the reason why – Stroud is a bit like Woodstock, even. The whole area is full of artists and writers and little galleries and people working little local jobs alongside their ‘real’ work, and it’s all intensely local. Everybody knows everybody else in that way there is in places like that. Histories are shared. The thing is integrated. The hills hold you and the green is greener than you thought green could be, and the vines are climbing the trees, and the flowers are waist-high.
That localness is how I was able to cobble together so much information about the house we stay in, to tell the kids. Because people remember stuff, and have known other people all their lives, etc. This is what I’ve always loved about Stoke Newington, but that’s changing now, and anyway there is just something about being surrounded by clean trees… (There are ghost stories and they are very real. The teachers were more scared than the kids, I will say! The last couple of days after lunch we ended up just sitting in the gazebo on the scattered cushions and having Ghost Story Time, before I sent them all off with their notebooks to explore the house…)
The lynchpin of the place is the Woolpack pub, which is where Laurie Lee (or, as he’s known locally, because everyone over a certain age knew him, ‘Laurie’) used to drink. They sell a cider called Rosie. The day after we arrived we went to the first of a series of Sunday-evening events that are being held in the Woolpack for Laurie Lee’s centenary – a reading from his poetry, a reading (by Jamila Gavin, who wrote the novel Coram Boy) from his prose, and then from Adam Horovitz’ memoir, A Thousand Laurie Lees, and some jazz. All this sitting on the terrace overlooking the best view of the valley! BLISS.
(N.b., I dropped my phone while attempting to take this picture, off the terrace and down, down onto a little road about I don’t know, 20 feet below; it came apart into phone – cover – case, but it was fine. Even the screen was not even one tiny little bit scratched. Samsung S4 mini, in case you’re looking.)
Last night the second reading – they’re set to go on till Christmas – was a bit earlier, at 5pm, to accommodate the World Cup final. Even art must bow before sport. And the music was played by Philip Rush, who as (the ultra cool) Head of St Peter’s High School in Gloucester is the person responsible for bringing me down there to work with his pupils – so I was a bit gutted to miss that!
It wasn’t quite the same, nipping down to the Birdcage when we got back. Fortunately Adam’s book has some amazing pictures of the Woolpack which we can look at over the winter. (The day we arrived, he arrived down the path with his bicycle, brandishing a bottle of Rosie’s Kiss cider, a special-edition centenary commemoration made from 100 varieties of apple. It was dry and light and appley and sublime, and I am also gutted not to have been able to get a case to bring home.) (If you’re local and want to go in with me on an order to cut delivery costs, get in touch! You won’t regret it.)
Anyway, it was a busman’s holiday – it is also my actual holiday – but fortunately I love being a busman, and it’s some bus, and the kids are great. A couple of them were actually inspiring. I worked a bit on a recalcitrant long poem. I organised some things into the start of a possible pamphlet manuscript. I got a bit of perspective on things. And every day even while I was working I was surrounded by the buzzing of the bees and the butterflies, and we saw buzzards overhead and mice in the hedges, and a badger, and a cricket in the long grass, and heard the deer barking in the woods, and ate our breakfast outside, and walked along lanes and paths, and dropped into the Woolpack whenever we felt like it.
Anyway, now I’m back. So whoever you are, your stuff will be done SOON. x