Thursday, 26 March 2015

Debate on censorship at Ralph Thoresby School

The two teams. In the middle - Paul Thomas
Comments from young people involved:

Organiser comments:

A debate on the nature of censorship in art was enhanced by a special customised performance by Trio Lit of the show they had performed for LitFest a couple of weeks earlier.

I thought that it was a really nice little event last night and I would certainly like to continue working to raise the profile of these kind of events. “  said teacher Thomas Stubbs of a collaboration between Headingley LitFest, the Leeds Salon and Ralph Thoresby school. 

Just a quick note to say the debate and performance all went off as planned -- in the end we did the entertainment while the judges were out of the room, making the decision, so the audience had that nice element of suspense to add a spark to their attention. They seemed to really enjoy Censored! and even became an enthusiastic crowd shouting at the end (Weavers Out!)…   He (the teacher who organised it) was brilliant -- a great good thing all round, for positive input and unflagging energy!  Jane Oakshott, one third of Trio Lit.

“Though having a teacher on each side meant that there was too little of the pupils really – though they both did well and showed their potential as debaters, and the teachers were also able to set a good example of debating. But it should also still add to the knowledge and experience of those who took part and those in the audience towards the future – and I hope you’ll take part again in the qualifying rounds for next year’s Festival school debating competition.” Paul Thomas, Leeds Salon organiser

A quote and a poem from Censored! performance:
“Assassination is the extreme form of censorship” from The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet  by George Bernard Shaw, 1911
           Atrocities, by Siegfried Sassoon

?       Did Sassoon’s publisher reject this version in 1917 because it was not up to Sassoon’s usual standard, or because he thought the content was subversive for wartime?

           Original version, written 1917

           You bragged how once your men in savage mood

           Butchered some Saxon prisoners. That was good.

           I trust you felt no pity when they stood

           Patient and cowed and scared as prisoners should.

           How did you kill them? Speak and don't be shy.

           You know I love to hear how Germans die.

           Downstairs in dugouts "Kamarad" they cry

           And squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

           I'm proud of you. Perhaps you'll feel as brave

           Alone in no-man's-land where none can save

           Or shield you from the horror of the night.

           There's blood upon your hands - go out and fight.

           I hope those Huns will haunt you with their screams

           And make you gulp their blood in ghoulish dreams.

           You're good at murder. Tell me, can you fight?

    Revised version, pub 1983 in The War Poems ed.Rupert Hart-Davies

You told me, in your drunken-boasting mood,

How once you butchered prisoners. That was good!

I'm sure you felt no pity while they stood

Patient and cowed and scared, as prisoners should.

How did you do them in? Come, don't be shy:

You know I love to hear how Germans die,

Downstairs in dug-outs. "Camerad!" they cry;

Then squeal like stoats when bombs begin to fly.

And you? I know your record. You went sick

When orders looked unwholesome: then, with trick

And lie, you wangled home. And here you are,

Still talking big and boozing in a bar.

Stories from the War Hospital in the Leeds Library

Richard Wilcocks                                         Photo: Laura Cummins
Charlotte Gray writes:
It was a bit of a privilege to be able to set foot in the members-only Leeds Library for today’s event. Bedecked floor to ceiling with books and hiding seemingly secret passageways atop spiral staircases, its atmosphere was one that could only have been kept alive by the most dedicated of bookworms. In this vein, it was the perfect venue in which to be given a glimpse into a book that seems to have been a true labour of love.

Richard Wilcocks’s talk on his book  Stories from the War Hospital was an engaging insight into the lives of the people that were treated and worked at the Beckett Park military hospital in Headingley during the First World War. The detailed and careful way with which he retold some of the more personal aspects of wartime life in Leeds really worked to shed light on previously forgotten elements of the city’s wartime history.

What really stood out for me was that Richard’s approach to the hospital’s history was a personal and heartfelt one. A testament to this was the fact that family members of those featured in the book were present in the audience and that Richard took the time to include photos of them in his presentation and to engage them in discussion during the talk.

Some of the most interesting moments were those in which Richard shared unexpected anecdotes about the hospital and about life in First World War Britain. One of the highlights for me was the picture shown of soldiers at Beckett Park dressed in Pierrot costumes who called themselves the ‘Cheeros’. We were told that British military hospitals were often equipped with these kinds of costume as it was firmly believed that humour and entertainment were significant aids to recovery.

Personal and heart-warming insights like this – plus the love stories, drawings, and poems of the staff and patients of Beckett Park - were what set the event apart. I, for one, am eager to read the book and find out more about this rich and previously untouched piece of Leeds’ history.

Audience comments:

Great to have a chance to visit Leeds Library. No bag/coat policy a little disconcerting. Quote from the 1923 book well-chosen: "They came with the soil of France upon their great-coats... Some were entirely covered from view and of these some would not have been recognised by those who knew them best." A pen picture which enhanced the presentation. 

Powerpoint was well-paced. Good to have Mr Bass with us - a living link. Eva Dobell poem made me tingle. Rousing song! Great range of sources to inspire empathy in us for WW1 folk.

The best contribution to First World War history of Leeds I have yet come across. Could the Playhouse perform your play?

A very interesting and informative presentation of an interesting topic with memories of my grandparents and parents. Thank you.

Really enjoyed Richard's talk. Interesting facts. A very succinct speaker. It was lovely to hear about my grandma and grandad and for their name to carry on. I was extremely impressed that Richard did the whole talk from memory. His knowledge and interest are inspiring!

I found the talk really interesting from my Spanish point of view. I feel I know now a bit more of Leeds and its history.

I really enjoyed the talk. It was full of interesting information and personal stories involving the hospital. My grandfather, who I never knew, served in the First World War and he was very ill with his chest. I have been wondering whether he may have attended the hospital, but I don't think so now.

Having already read the book the talk illuminated it very effectively. A good idea.Maybe we should try the formula again with other books on Headingley matters.

A subject that should have been researched earlier.

Informative especially as I am not a local! Would have preferred a different venue so I could see the slides.

Excellent record of the stories of patients, nurses and doctors at the Beckett Park hospital. Richard has a wonderful lively manner of recalling stories, adding his skills of singing.

A very interesting talk - clear, relaxed, good pace. Some new information and fascinating stories of individual cases of the wounded, the medical team and the nursing team.

Very interesting and quite funny stories about the war hospital. Richard Wilcocks was quite funny when he was describing about the staff and patients at that hospital. I have been inside the Thackray Medical Museum a bit and found that very interesting.

Interesting and informative, with lots of opportunities for questions.

Very interesting "shaft of light" on a previously unknown piece of Leeds history.

Liked the presenter's sense of humour - a lively - though sobering presentation.

A fascinating light shone on the buildings and how they were used in wartime. Adds another dimension to my local knowledge.

Thoroughly enjoyed talk and slides, especially as missed it last year. Would love to see the play performed!

A very informative session. A great story well-told in an entertaining way. Thankyou for the opportunity to find out more about the background to the book.

I have read the book and seeing the photographs added another dimension. Varied and interesting. Extremely well presented.

Lots of fascinating local knowledge. Very well researched. A great addition to local literature.

Didn't know of the hospital previously. Interested to hear of pioneer medical work at this hospital and of who staffed it. Also, funded by private subscription.

Very engaging stories about individual doctors, VADs, nurses and patients at the hospital brought this talk alive.

Excellent thank you.

Fascinating talk full of well-researched information and well-illustrated with photographs. I have a copy of the book which is equally interesting.

Fascinating stories from the people who lived in wartime Beckett Park. A building I lived close to for over 20 years without realising its history.

Very interesting and moving stories about the history of the trained nurse, the treated soldiers and the war hospital. Definitely, my views toward the building used as the old hospital have been broadened. Thank you.

Well done and very interesting.

Well-presented and very interesting. Thank you.

Very informative and interesting talk.

Interesting and very well presented.

A fascinating talk. Thank you.

Poetry by Heart

Rosemary Jackson writes:
Paul Adrian          Photo: Rosemary Jackson
Last night, LitFest teamed up with the monthly event Poetry by Heart at the Heart Centre Cafe. Amongst the line up were a number of acclaimed poets including Mike Barlow and Paul Adrian, both winners of the National Poetry Competition and Carole Bromley, winner of the Brontë Society Literary Competition 2011.
As I arrived at the Heart Centre I was pleased to see an impressive number of people entering the building and inside the cafe was buzzing with poetry fans. Holding the event in the Heart Cafe is a brilliant idea, with the relaxed atmosphere complimenting the tone of the evening. It was also great to be able to grab a coffee or even a glass of wine throughout the show.
The first poet was Jane Routh, who specialises in poems about nature and wildlife. Last night she treated us to some of her collection The Gift of Boats, which captured the spirit of the sea perfectly. Next was Ron Scowcroft. It was particularly interesting to hear that Ron was first influenced to write poetry by listening to Bob Dylan Records and this comes across in his poem My Father’s Phonograph where he describes his old ritual of record playing with his father. Helen Burke then read a range of her poetry, from poems about her mum, dad and her hometown, to her experiences in New York, to one about hens inheriting the earth; her work was full of character and wit.
Next, Paul Adrian read a variety of his work, including one about drinking alone with the moon. It was impressive to hear that when Paul won the National Poetry Competition with his poem Robin in Flight, which was sent just before the deadline and he did not have high hopes for it, but since then he has gone on to write a number of successful poems. Carole Bromley, creative writing teacher at York University, then read us some of her touching poems primarily about death and mourning. The poem I found especially moving was about her best friend who passed away. It explains how she had a feeling she should get in touch and so sent her a bunch of flowers, but they never made it to her in time. The final poet of the evening was Mike Barlow whose reading included an interesting poem about his time as a probation officer, capturing the life of a charming young man he once supported.

Audience comments:


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

British Surrealism Opened Up

Jeffrey Sherwin                 Photo:  Richard Wilcocks
Charlotte Gray writes:
Headingley library was packed out last night for Jeffrey Sherwin’s talk introducing his new book: British Surrealism Opened Up. Having had surrealism pop up in my studies before, but never having encountered the British side of the movement, I was interested to find out more.

What struck me about Jeffrey’s delivery was the honesty with which he talked about art. He wasn’t apprehensive about admitting that he wasn’t an art historian, but just a man lucky enough to have been friends with artists and who had collected their work. For a newcomer to the concept of British surrealism, this honesty allowed for an engaging talk on a subject that could have been quite intimidating.

He said that what appealed to him about specifically British surrealist art was the placing of everyday elements of British life in a new and interesting context, which immediately intrigued me. He then went on to show photographs of several works that made up his collection and showcased this turning of the familiar on its head.

As well as providing a background to the art itself, Jeffrey made room in his talk for unexpected anecdotes about well-known artists. As a former Leeds City Councillor and leading figure in the building of the Henry Moore Institute, he had delightfully Yorkshire-based stories to tell about Moore himself. He also turned out to be quite an authority on the history of Salvador Dali’s moustache!

British Surrealism Opened Up was an altogether enjoyable evening that inspired me to find out more about the art of the British Surrealist movement. Framed by jokes, anecdotes, and plenty of pictures, the talk introduced a book that looks set to be an enjoyable and accessible way in to a fascinating group of artists.

Audience comments:

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Mestisa at Mint Café

Mestisa                                           Photo:  Richard Wilcocks

For bookings:
Tamara Carew writes:
We were treated to authentic South American sounds by a Yorkshire-based band, Mestisa. The foursome performed in Mint café, a very warm and intimate venue in Headingley. When listening to Mestisa's music it was hard not to feel as if you were being transported to some hot, sunny beach, or to a village high in the Andes. Their music choices were from across South America including Colombia, Paraguay and Peru. 

The songs, all of them in Spanish, many of them beautifully delivered by Ana Luisa Muñoz, often had humorous tales behind them, which the band was more then happy to share with the audience. I remember one song in particular that was dedicated to men with commitment issues. The rhythms - and the emotions - were strong. Towards the end of the evening, they played several cumbia pieces: this is a popular music genre throughout South America, especially in the Andean region. It is the result of musical and cultural fusion between Native Colombians, Panamanians and colonial Spanish people and was originally a courtship dance. Several members of the audience certainly danced in the Mint back room, though at a guess they were already married rather than courting

Towards the end of the first set there was some lovely poetry based on life lessons and learning from one's mistakes read in English by Richard Wilcocks -  I’ve learned by Paolo Coelho (Eu tenho aprendido), the most famous poet in Brazil, which was very moving. 

** Paolo Coelho's inspiring and symbolic story The Alchemist (O Alquimista) was first published in Portuguese in 1988, and has since been translated into many other languages. Take a look at his current blog to see the words of I've learned by clicking on 

Audience comments:

A fantastic evening. Delicious food, great music and fantastic singing and songs.

La música fue bellisima. Me encantó escuchar la idioma de español. Gracias.

Una noche maravillosa! Todos los miembros de la banda son verdaderos profesionales que tranmiten perfectamente toda la emoción de la música latinoamericana. El poema de Paolo Coelho fue leído muy bien en inglés. Creo que ahora voy a comprar su libro 'El alquimista'.

Brilliant. Very uplifting. Great music. Great food. Great poetry.

Fascinating and very moving music and poetry. Delicious food and friendly staff and patrons. A truly special and wonderful evening! Let's have more please.

Wonderful and cosy.

The music/poetry mix was very unusual and worked well in this wonderful, friendly, intimate venue. The musicians surpassed themselves with their virtuosity and sheer talent and the food was superb.

Beautiful music, lovely intimate and friendly venue. Great to experience Latin culture locally and Mestisa never disappoint. The reading was lovely too.

The evening especially the music was like a wonderful pot pourri of (unfinished)

Music was great and poetry was fabulous.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Tales of the Unexpected - Maggie Mash's house event

Serene Leong writes:
I walked up the gravel path to a red door, not sure of what to expect at Maggie Mash’s house event Tales of the Unexpected.

In a lovely room, an expectant crowd of fifty sat happily on mismatched chairs, many of them borrowed from neighbours. For an hour or so, we listened to poems from Maggie Mash and Linda Marshall, short stories from Jane Oakshott and readings by Tony Todd, David Robertson and Frances McNeill. There was even a sneak preview by Stuart Fortey of his new detective story Scandal in Scarborough.

As the warm spring sunlight filled the room, we sang along with Teresa O’Driscoll and John Kilburn -  the Retrolettes. Harmonising to Climbing the Mountain with a Baby got me really excited and everyone there was giving their best shot at making sure we stayed in tune! 

It was a wonderful afternoon, full of exciting performances and much laughter. Tales of the Unexpected was a little scary, a little magical and a whole lot of fun. Thank you to Maggie and family for the great hospitality! 

Maggie Mash

Here, she is the character Death in a Somerset Maugham story.
Jane Oakshott

At the end of her delivery of a mock-gothic tale, the audience jumped out of its collective skin.
David Robertson

He read from The Turn of the Screw - really frightening.

Stuart Fortey

Playwright Fortey has written his first detective story - set in Scarborough.
Frances McNeill

A new Kate Shackleton story set in the ghostly old Leeds Library - includes an exorcism.

John Kilburn

Brilliant and accomplished as ever. YouTube doesn't do him full justice.

Teresa O'Driscoll

Brimming with charm and musicality. Should cover more Carter Family numbers.
Linda Marshall

Headingley's poet laureate. Well, one of them...
Tony Todd

He read from his first novel - and left us cliffhanging

Audience comments:

Tea and Cakes with Oscar Wilde

Victoria Clarke writes:
Speaking in front of a full house at the New Headingley Club, amateur local historian Geoff Dibb discussed the thirty years worth of research on the life and lectures of Victorian literary legend Oscar Wilde.

Hailing from a wealthy family in Ireland, Wilde was born in 1854 and was well educated, eventually moving to Oxford to study Classics at Magdalen College - where he also began his creative and journalistic writing practices. Following his first class graduation, he moved to London with a friend to work on his poetry. In 1882 he embarked upon a tour of America, giving lectures on art and literature, extending this lecture series to Great Britain and Ireland from 1883-4, during which time he met and married Constance Lloyd. Over the next decade his two sons were born, he commenced his doomed relationship with the Lord Alfred Douglas, and he built a strong reputation as a respected journalist and playwright, in addition to publishing his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. The following year he unsuccessfully fought a lawsuit from Lord Alfred Douglas’ father and was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for ‘gross indecency’. Following his release in 1887, Wilde exiled himself to France and died destitute in Paris in 1900.

It is Wilde’s 1880s lecture series that Dibb became interested in. Having read several biographies of Wilde, he noticed an emphasis on the peak of his writing career in the early 1890s, with little information on the background informing it. Having noticed in one of these biographies a letter from Wilde, informing the reader of his stay at the Great Northern Railway Hotel, Leeds, dated December 1884, accounting his lecture on rational dress for women at the Albert Hall, Wakefield, native Dibb was intrigued. He journeyed to the Leeds City Library to research some contemporary newspapers, finding advertisements and reviews of these lectures. It was through his library research that Dibb was also able to bridge the historical gaps in the names of these Wildean Leeds landmarks - the Great Northern Railway Hotel being situated on Wellington Street next to the old train station, and the Albert Hall having since been incorporated into the Leeds City Museum.

Dibb recalls that it was at this point that he began to suspect that his library research was generating new information. He began to travel around West Yorkshire in search of records of other lectures, and it was at this point that Dibb’s suspicions about his work were confirmed. He was delighted to reminisce to the audience his being contacted with an American academic working on an Encyclopaedia of Oscar Wilde, to which Dibb contributed an entry on the 1883 lectures. Dibb found that these lectures spanned a variety of topics, and were performed twice per day, seven days a week, but mostly followed the themes of art, socialism, and proto-feminism.

A lively Q&A session followed the lecture, with audience members’ interests varying from contemporary gossip, with, “what do you know about the Whistler/Wilde rivalry?” to the technological advancements of our own age, with “would he be on Twitter?” The informative and entertaining session would not have been complete without the occasional recitation of Wildean aphorisms, to which the audience responded with great enthusiasm.

Geoff Dibb’s book on the Wilde lectures, Oscar Wilde: Vagabond with a Mission is available for purchase now. A more detailed biography of Wilde’s life is freely available online.

Thanks to Victoria Clarke, who stepped in to blog our Oscar Wilde event at the last minute.  She writes her own blog, on the food in Tolkien - shame she wasn't at our Beowulf and the Hobbit event last Wednesday! There's a recipe for Lembas too.

Audience comments: