Monday, 31 March 2014

A shy, frightened teenager at High Royds

The Dark Threads - Jean Davison
Oxfam Bookshop 25 March - partnership event with Leeds Combined Arts

Barbara Kirk writes:
I started reading the book at a time when Channel 4 were showing the series My Mad Fat Diary, based on Rae Earl’s book, and though Rae’s remembrances happened a couple of decades after Jean’s, I felt that nothing much changes.

High Royds Hospital, Menston
There was quite a large turnout at the Oxfam Bookshop.  Someone had asked Jean beforehand if the book was about the textile industry – Jean did grow up in Bradford when the mills were in operation, but this was not about that.  She said that during her time at High Royds Hospital (pictured), she had been a shy, frightened teenager and the names of the doctors, nurses and inmates had been changed in the book for reasons of privacy. Jean reflected on her life in the mid to late 60’s – at 18 she had an office job and went out with friends to coffee bars and discos as a normal teenager, but she was unhappy at home.  The book includes a remembrance of her mother having an affair with a neighbour, and her father being affected by this.  Her brother tormented her a lot too, this fed into the general social anxiety she experienced, and she found night life empty and meaningless.  When she saw her GP, regarding her dysfunctional family, she said she would like to see a psychiatrist, although she really meant she wanted to see a counsellor.  She was sent to High Royds for ‘a rest’, and over four months she was given a number of drugs and ECT treatment which sent her into a downward spiral.  I understood very well about the Valium and Melleril dosages she was put on as I experienced the same blocked feelings on these when I attended Pinderfields Hospital several years ago. 

Jean had a further few months as an out-patient, and over the next five years she thought she was being treated for depression, but eventually on seeing her case notes, she had been labelled as ‘schizophrenic’ by the doctors.  She described the medication she was prescribed as addictive and leaving her in a near-vegetative state.  In her early twenties around the mid-seventies, Jean gradually came off the medication and left home. Jean later asked one of the psychiatrists about improvements in psychiatric treatment in particular in relation to her medication.  Newer drugs were said to be less harmful, but she had her doubts. Jean then spoke about some of her more humorous experiences whilst in High Royds.

At the day hospital, she and her friend Marlene listened to relaxation tapes, but the medication made these redundant to her.  Marlene would go off to sleep and Jean heard her snoring.  Whilst in the Occupational Therapy department after a time of ‘knitting dishcloths’ Jean was eventually asked to work in the library.  There she met Horace, another assistant, from a long-stay ward, who was previously a tramp.  He told Jean and another assistant, Hazel about his life on the streets and that he had been sent to prison after stealing a pork pie from a meat factory.  The staff liked him, though he would impersonate several of them behind their backs.

Horace and Jean did ward rounds, taking the library trolley into ‘locked’ wards.  One woman, Nancy, chatted to them about what she’d read and looked out for more books to read.  She seemed to Jean to be the most aware patient on the ward.   Another patient, Victor, wanted to shake hands with Jean, but he squeezed her hand too hard and a nurse had to restrict him.  The hospital parrot, Popsie, said ‘Oh be joyful!’ to various patients.

At High Royds, Jean wrote on scraps of toilet paper in the toilet, as this was the only way she could get privacy to document what was happening.  Subsequently, when she was living at the YWCA and later a bedsit, she still documented her life, and eventually channelled her experiences into the book.  She had read several similar memoirs beforehand to get a feeling for how it might read.  It took a long while to get the book organised into a reasonable form, as after leaving the hospital, she got into full-time work in an office and attended evening classes.  Eventually Jean achieved a degree from attending creative writing classes.  During the writing process, she would be affected by the memory of what she was documenting, but had to write it all down anyway, she had seen a number of things happening to the patients she felt uncomfortable with, however the inmates at that time were not allowed to have a voice.

Jean also got into ‘truth’ in memoir, and she asked friends to confirm events, while she looked in her own diaries to confirm the accuracy.  She sent the manuscript out to book publishers – some offered encouragement and others didn’t.  Eventually a publishing agent called Maggie Nowak got in touch, but mainstream publishers would not touch it as it wasn’t commercially viable.  Maggie became ill and died, and Jean sent her manuscript to another agent, Hazel Cushion, who said she would publish it, but also said, “and now the hard work begins”.  Jean did most of the publicity work herself, and sent the book to mental health practitioners and universities, eventually getting in touch with Dorothy Rowe, who read the book and advised on it, promoting it on her website.  Jean also had to contact copyright holders on quotes from songs and poems used in the book, especially the poem ‘The Weaver’, by Benjamin Malachai Franklin, printed below.  A copy of the book was sent to relatives of the pastor responsible for the poem in the Bible belt area of America.

The talk was followed by a lively question and answer session where it appeared many people in the audience had experienced life in High Royds Hospital, either as day patients or had undergone longer term treatment. Jean ended with the observation that life in a mental health ward was like society in microcosm, in that everyone was confused and looking for a way out.

The Weaver by Benjamin Malachai Franklin.
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why
The dark threads are as needful
In The Weaver’s skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.

Intimate and charming - Doug and Maria Sandle

A Pair of Sandles - House Event
4.30pm Sunday 30 March

Doug Sandle explained at the beginning of this charming, intimate house event that the LitFest's overall theme - Surviving - was going to be broadly interpreted, which was fine, of course. He said 'coping' was possibly a more appropriate word. The collected talent - himself, Maria Sandle, and poets Lis Bertola and Sheila Chapman - spent a pleasant hour and a quarter proving that he was right, not that it mattered that much. We sat drinking them in, helped by the wine and nibbles provided.

Maria Sandle
Maria Sandle selected items from her repertoire about the survival of the environment, the concept of nationality and deportees (the Woody Guthrie protest song about migrant Mexican fruit-pickers) and read several poems by her father, including one entitled Daffodils Revisited, a parody of the famous Wordsworth poem which was written in 2002 when Foot and Mouth Disease was rampaging through Britain. Its opening lines are 'I wandered lonely as a sheep'. She also read one of her own poems, written in the 1990s, about the survival of a little mouse.
Doug Sandle

Doug Sandle read a broad selection of his own poems, beginning with Journey by Boat and Train, which is an autobiographical narrative about how he first came to the city after being brought up in Douglas, Isle of Man. Douglas, the town after which he was named, was featured in one of two moving 'disaster poems',  about the terrible events of 1973, when fire spread through the Summerland leisure centre killing fifty people. The other poem in this genre was about the 1966 tragedy in South Wales, in which the line 'There are no children of nine in Aberfan' is repeated. The Retired Athlete is about ageing, and Auction of Promises was written after the poet promised to provide a poem as part of a  fund-raising campaign in aid of the Leeds Labour Party. We heard an amusing account of how the writing of this (for a man in his seventies) was put off until the very last moment. The poem was finally delivered, and received with gratitude and applause, from the recipient and from the current audience as well.

Lis Bertola

Lis Bertola told us that she had thought about the theme, and that she had decided that most of her poems are about surviving anyway: "Well, I am living to tell the tale!" She dipped into her knowledge of Greek mythology with Travelling to Ithaca, written after a holiday in Cefalonia during which she had taken the boat for a day-trip to the adjacent Ionian island where Penelope had waited patiently for Odysseus. A storm had threatened, and the poet had considered at one point whether lighting a candle to the sea god Poseidon might be a good idea. Her witty and heartfelt poem Team Spirit, about how she had dreaded the selection process for sports teams at school, written for last year's LitFest, was brought out again, to general audience approval.

Sheila Chapman
Sheila Chapman's poems are often inspired by her Irish origins, and in particular by the memory of her mother, who was brought up in a small village in the west of Ireland. It all chimed in well with Doug Sandle's preoccupation with his Manx origins. Her first poem was about the village, next to the sea, and her final one, entitled The Mermaid in Birmingham, was about how part of her mother's make-up was always back there on that coast, when she was out of the water and in a big city.

Audience comments:
1.     Lovely afternoon! The songs are lovely and the poems were interesting. Thank you.

2.     I found the poetry from Doug and the other readers very interesting but I particularly enjoyed Maria’s singing and her tape recordings.

3.     I was moved by two pieces in particular – the ‘button box’ poems and the Nanci Griffith song ‘blackbird’s wings’ – true survivors pieces to me – thank you

4.     Deportees – enjoyed hearing that song from Maria – it’s very relevant to today. Good to hear Lis B’s ‘Team Spirit’ again too. Certainly an enjoyable afternoon.

5.     Surviving: heavy theme. So glad Maria/Doug finished on a more upbeat note. Lovely singing Maria. Pleasant afternoon and some thought provoking poems read. Thanks, Butter Box

6.     Enjoyable blend of music and poetry – well played and well read – thought provoking and amusing in a friendly environment.

7.     I nearly didn’t come as I knew I would be a few minutes late and would probably not know anyone. So glad I did – so many images painted with word and music. Welcomed in and felt at ease.

8.     A very enjoyable afternoon with varied poets, lovely singing and original and humorous words. In touch with feelings, imagination and life.

9.     Enjoyed the songs and poetry, in a pleasant, informal environment, and we were made to feel very welcome. Thanks very much.

10.  Very friendly informal place to listen to beautiful singing and very interesting poetry. I enjoyed the different poets’ work and could have listened to more from all of them. A strong confident voice of the singer, I am going to buy the CD.

11.  Enjoyed this event – the mix of poetry and music. It was a very relaxing, convivial afternoon and the standard of poetry and singing was very high. Atmosphere friendly and beautiful song, as well as poems by Doug, Lis and Sheila. Good that one could buy a CD of songs by Maria.

Looking Out, Looking Up

Looking Out, Looking Up - Peter Spafford, Richard Ormrod, with guests
7.30pm Friday 28 March - Heart Centre

Audience Comments
Richard Ormrod

1.     A remarkable smorgasbord of literary delights. 

2.     Brill! Lovely entertainment – varied!

3.      A very enjoyable and varied evening – good to give a space for younger performers to join with more seasoned professionals.

4.     Brilliant evening of live music. Varied and original.

5.     Fantastic event. Came to support my daughter who played and I’m so glad I did. Wonderful venue and great to see some new and very different talent. Poet Lizzie was inspirational and so insightful for one so young. Peter and Richard were funny and poignant and their take on nursery rhymes was so different but made me very nostalgic. The Graham Browning Trio had such thoughtful lyrics, great harmonies and a fab double bass. For a 17 year old like Hannah this was a great opportunity to perform to a new audience. An unexpectedly entertaining and enjoyable evening – and just how many instruments can Richard play!!

6.     Lizzie Hawkins excellent. Music fascinating. Peter Spafford great. People should not be allowed in late and definitely not mid-number!

Lizzie Hawkins

The Pleiades, Betelgeuse, Cassiopeia, Charon:
We pass these to each other like sweets
and trace the bent back of the Plough
turning our heads up, finding the white necessity of the Pole Star.
7.     An odd, but fascinating, mixture of music and poetry (and poetry set to music). The musicians were inventive and had the audience enthralled. 

8.     Very good event.  

9.     Compelling, innovative first part. Wanted more of the young poet. I didn’t enjoy the trio but people around me said they were in tune with them. Welcome exciting sounds returned in the third section. Prufrock will never be the same again but in terms of congruence of words and music Crossing the Bar worked best for me.

10.  A nice variety of words and music. Good to see young people performing too.  

Graham Browning
11.  Very invigorating and heartwarming. Lovely atmosphere and variety of performers.

12.  Extremely exciting music and range of instruments. Quirky words from Peter and lovely youthful poems from the young poet. The ukulele player had an exceptionally strong and plangent voice. The Graham Browning Trio – music pleasantly dreamy, lyrics mediocre. Loved the Browning, Eliot and Tennyson. A lot more of Peter and Richard would have been good.

13.  A great evening, sensitive, exciting and most melodious. Thank you. 

14.  There were some really exceptional songs from various performers – brilliant. All of the people taking part were highly talented – I greatly enjoyed the evening.

15.  The sort of evening you would never find in London. A kaleidoscope of music and words – a joy all round.

16.  A truly remarkable evening – the musical skills truly magic, the singing and ????? Sheer satisfying joy.

Hannah Swalwell
17.  An entertaining and illuminating variety – performance of music and poetry. More of this kind of event – Headingley LitFest is value, through and through.

18.  Wonderful evening – varied, full of imaginative creativity from a range of professionals and young performers. Nursery rhymes and T.S Eliot were a joy.

19.  Something for everyone. Varied. Lovely evening.  

20.  Great evening. Good way to hear poetry in a musical setting!

Peter Spafford adds:

The Breeze is a song about war, in particular The First World War. It's based on a true story told me by a very old man in the West Country many years ago. Music never stopped a war starting, but it's worth a try.

Images: Lizzie Coombes/Betty Lawless. Ukelele: Richard Ormrod.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Extraordinary Stories at Café Lento

Extraordinary Stories
Partnership with Café Lento
8pm Thursday 27 March 

There's something really special about Café Lento, a sympathetic and intimate ambiance which makes it a perfect venue for events like this. It is well known for its brilliant music evenings - often top-notch jazz - and less well-known for words evenings. This might be about to change, after this beautiful evening.
Richard Lindley

Seven readers and performers told us stories, both true and fictional, which by turns shocked, amused and entertained us. The hazards and tough times which some people go through! Sally Bavage told us the story of how members of Scott's 1912 expedition to the South Pole risked everything, in horrifically cold conditions, for a few penguin eggs, Richard Lindley, Lento's owner, referred us to a YouTube video and explained how cave divers had tried to recover a body from a watery hell-hole in South Africa and Jane Oakshott brought us some welcome light relief with poetry and an account of an AmDram actor's embarrassing  experiences with a cloak which got screwed to the scenery.

Richard Wilcocks took on the role of Moritz Schiller, the owner of that famous Sarajevo deli in 1914, for his story of how Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip had been lured in to eat lunch - Ćevapi, the local speciality - just before the archduke's car stalled, Peter Spafford told us a fable about how a young boy walking along a beach had stopped Death (in a black cloak of course) from climbing up the cliff to his grandad's house, and Linda Marshall, the inimitable Linda Marshall, was all too brief when she read us a selection of her poems. Beth Kilburn was impressive and moving when she delivered to us the words of a letter written by a woman during a First World War zeppelin raid. 

This sort of event is at the heart of the LitFest - small-scale and extremely well-done.

Audience Comments:

An excellent, varied evening – thank you! It’s a very good idea to give several people a theme and let them get on with it!

Varied, bracing, lovely idea!

Some interesting stories of survival. I particularly liked the café-owners story. A couple 
of interesting stories from Richard Wilcocks about the Beckett Park war hospital.
An interesting story on TB from Linda Marshall.

Great evening, lovely people and some fantastic stories!

A good mixture of poetry and prose. Also very informative. A good variety, with acting
 too,the evening went as well and as quickly (i.e. enjoyably) as any of the events I’d been to this year.  

Very moving and high quality performances that offered a great variety of material.

Some compelling stories. Very touched by Peter Spafford’s story and how after many 
years have found out the story behind a hymn that I would often sing with my mum and
 finally I sang it to her on her death bed. All the stories/poems were marvelous!

Excellent – intimate friendly atmosphere – talented readers – excellent stories and 
accounts. Entertaining and hugely enjoyable – brings the pleasure and power of words 
and writing. Long live the LitFest!!

An eclectic and entertaining evening of poetry, prose and anecdotes on the theme of 
‘Survivors’, ranging from an expedition to collect penguin eggs in Antarctic winter 
conditions, to an amazing take on Noah’s ark from Noah’s wife’s perspective.

War and Peace - Maggie Mash's house event

War and Peace - house event
2.30pm Sunday 23 March

Sheila Chapman writes:
                                                                            Photo: Sheila Chapman
Maggie’s front room is striped with magic –music, song, drama and poetry. I love being there entranced by the power and inspiration of words rendered with passion, integrity and talent. I was truly moved by the range of work and the way it provided such an insight into the lives of people who survived, and found hope, sometimes in dreadful situations.

Dave Robertson gave us a dramatized reading of the dialogue between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon (his mentor) as the young poet struggled to find the ‘right’ words – this particular struggle resulted in Anthem for Doomed Youth!

Maggie Mash and Ruth Sillers told us the story of women during wartime - taking on men’s jobs, fleeing persecution, working for the resistance, and finding a personal freedom not normally available to them in peacetime. The story was told using the women’s own words with powerful readings by Maggie and Ruth of excerpts from books and from poetry. We went with these women on their journey and heard them talking directly to us.

Finally – the ‘Chansons’. Maggie Stratford and Daniel Bowen took us back in time to listen to French ‘chansons’ which inspired us all. Maggie’s wonderful voice and skilled introductions together with Daniel’s beautiful music took us back in time, and to another country, to be moved inspired and uplifted. I am definitely going to learn the Java – even at my age. Bravo! Encore!!

Thank you so much to one and all.

Excerpt from Pat Barker's Regeneration.                                                                 David Robertson
Excerpts from Ruth Siller's audiobook, War Girls.                          Ruth Sillers & Maggie Mash
Excerpt from Janina Bauman's Winter in the Morning.                                           Maggie Mash
Excerpt from Marcelle Kellerman's A Packhorse called Rachel.                             Maggie Mash
French chansons.                      Maggi Stratford (singer): Daniel Bowater (piano & accordion)

Wolf White writes:
                                                      Photo: Sheila Chapman
Very well attended and warmly welcomed into Maggie and Bob’s home. Ruth Sillers did ensemble piece with Maggie Mash about the previously invisible women who suddenly became visible everywhere doing ‘men’s work’ with great expertise. Of this period we know much from male poets but many women wrote also – where was their work? I learnt a great deal from this performance about women’s thinking in a range of voices. Brilliant. Maggie Stratford (and pianist and accordionist Daniel Bowater) then gave us a very French rendition of wonderfully energized and sung chansons. Maggie’s intro to each piece set the context both personal (regarding the song writer) and historical. Hats off to Headingley LitFest for making this truly a community arts event - inviting local people to provide the intimacy of their homes for some of these presentations. It’s a great and practical means of people crossing paths in mutual enjoyment of local talent and thinking about ways to render the theme of surviving.

Audience comments:

Beautiful selection of material. Wonderful interpretation by ALL concerned.  

Please more time between heart moving poetry readings. There is so much to comprehend!
A superb event in every way!! Thank you so much for setting it up.

What a fabulous afternoon. What a feast of talent and a plethora of emotion! Many thanks – I’d like to have it all over again. Bravo Maggie!

French singing was very lovely indeed. Readings too were fascinating.

What a wonderful afternoon! 

Most interesting and entertaining. Thanks to all concerned for making a very enjoyable afternoon.  
A fantastic performance and getting insight into the women’s perspective through some amazing poetry and prose read with great feeling and emotion. Beautiful French songs – so tuneful!

Superb afternoon. Poignant and delightful. A wonderful mix of memories & sentiments. 

Wonderfully nice and varied programme of poetry, prose and music – poignant, haunting and amusing! Fantastic!

A wonderful collection of poetry, prose and songs. I enjoyed very much. Thank you.

Very lovely rendering of poems and great voice, introduction and songs.

I enjoyed talking and singing and playing

Enjoyed yes – Readings very interesting and informative from WW1 and 2 war girls. Superb and what more to come Encore - well done to Maggie and Daniel. Well done to hosts – thank you very much.

A very enjoyable afternoon. Well thought out and researched. ‘Encore’ was very entertaining and their enthusiasm was obvious and made the audience part of the experience.

A most enjoyable afternoon of poetry and music. Thanks to everyone involved. Will look forward to future events.

A brilliant event! Exceptionally well-read poetry and prose and a stunning rendition of French songs.

A lovely mélange of poems, prose and songs. Five talented performers and two separate instruments – piano and accordion. A great range of themes and periods. Skilful rendering of the moods of women during WW1. 

Brilliant! A wonderful way to treat a sad subject. Couldn’t be more interesting and entertaining.  
An unexpected mixture. But the readings were nice, and the French chansons are indestructible. 

Most enjoyable. Tremendous combination of verse and song. Brought home the suffering of women and war – the pity and the sorrow, but also the sweet chagrin of love that can ….. (complete as you see fit).

Beautiful poems and chansons. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon!

A wonderful afternoon of moving and exhilarating poems and readings and songs. Many thanks.

Really excellent. I loved the readings and the musical numbers – a very enjoyable afternoon. 

Wonderful afternoon – inspiring and moving. Lover every element – songs, readings etc. Thank you.

A wonderful introduction to two aspects of war and often think about –the women and the music.

 Fantastic reading, absolutely stupendous. Inspirational female talent channeling their energy into meaningful drama. Thank you. ‘Barbara’s’ final song was so sweetly sung and played. I can’t speak or understand a word of French … did it matter? Not at all, I was in awe.

A most enjoyable afternoon – (as a guest). Wonderful performances and fascinating history of the First World War. Thank you so much.

Lovely atmosphere engendered by private house venue. A collection of wonderful performers and unusual material. Great variety and total entertainment in widest emotional and intellectual sense. Brilliant to be stretched by songs in French! (or any foreign language).  

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Stories from the War Hospital - Review

Mabh Savage was in the audience at the New Headingley Club last Friday 21 March. She posted the following review on her blog at which we reproduce with her permission: 

There is an odd camaraderie at New Headingley Club, between Leeds Rhinos rugby fans about to head off to cheer on their team, and LitFest fans here to listen in contrasting silence to Stories from the War Hospital, a performance and introduction to the book of the same name.

Headingley LitFest 2014 is sub-titled Surviving, and Richard Wilcocks' painstakingly researched volume pays tribute not only to some of those who survived the First World War, but those of the 2nd Northern General Hospital at Beckett Park, Leeds, who tirelessly worked to save and rebuild the lives of those back from the front in a bad condition.

Richard introduces the book, a collection of true stories of sick and wounded soldiers, nurses, doctors and volunteers. There are clearly members of the audience who are very invested in this publication, as murmurs and even shout-outs about military acronyms and familiar names mingle with this introductory piece. One of the audience is introduced as an interviewee for the book.  There is a sense of pomp and circumstance that belies the plain and basic trim of the wooden block stage and identical folding chairs; this volume has evidently been a labour of love and great effort, and the people involved are proud to see it come to fruition.
Contact for your copy

The performance itself is brought to us by The Vedettes, who are Richard, Katharina Arnold, Charlotte Blackburn and Hannah Robinson. The three women are in period VAD nurse's uniforms, although the wide range of roles they each take steps far outside this costume choice. The performance focuses on three of the stories from the book: the stories of Robert Bass, Dorothy Wilkinson and Margaret Anna Newbould. Imagine snapshots of the period brought to life for a brief moment; there is this sense that we are looking through a lens into the past, into tiny fragments of these peoples' lives. I think this is accentuated by the fact that these are completely true stories; the events have been retold by descendants of the protagonists; the dialogue is from the retelling of those closest to the events.

Katharina introduces the performance with a piece on acoustic guitar. The guitar is then used as a break to indicate the beginning of each new story. Music of the time is also included as part of the stories, again creating this snap shot feel; people standing together and singing, people at Christmas sitting together carolling; all little snippets of everyday life that hammer home how real, how horrifyingly accurate the descriptions of the sickness, the suffering, the wounds and the wailing really are. At one point Hannah is rocking backwards and forwards screaming, and I shiver to think of how much worse the volunteers at Beckett Park must have had it; not just one screaming soldier, but hundreds, many with no hope except the consolation that kind words and the promise of a letter home can give.

We learn of Robert Bass, the soldier who survived wounds to the leg and shoulder, only to have a shell mutilate his jaw, teeth and face. The vivid imagery of this - severed lip, smashed jaw, destroyed teeth- is hard hitting and reminds us not only of the catch-all phrase 'horror of war' but that conflict is not the large and faceless concept many of us presume it to be, but a visceral process that obliterates individuals' hopes, dreams and souls; in short, everything that makes them human. My friend Jonathan notes that often the numbers for 'Dead and Wounded' are lumped together, as these are all people who can no longer be fed into the war machine; in short, a wounded man is as useful to the military as a dead man.

Thankfully, this performance, and in turn, the book it comes from, shows us that lives can be restored, and that the de-humanising process is not irreversible in every case. Robert undergoes revolutionary maxillofacial surgery at Beckett's Park, and indeed finds something of a happy ending... Well, I won't spoil the story utterly, go read the book!

Charlotte plays the role of Nurse Margaret Anna Newbould, a nurse at Beckett Park who became Acting Matron of the Formosa, a hospital ship that carried casualties from the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Vedettes create a gut wrenching image of the sweat, sickliness and overall sordidness of life on board a ship overfull of the dead and dying. You can feel the heat and the hopelessness. Margaret was much decorated for her service, and one can't help but feel that a medal is the least someone deserves for being one of the only bright lights in these poor souls' existence... 
Katharina and Hannah play the couple Dorothy Wilkinson and Clifford Pickles: sweethearts torn apart by war, and then damaged further by Clifford's onset of shell shock. This for me is the most heart wrenching story; psychological trauma is an enemy one cannot fight with bullets and aggression, and of course in the time of the First World War, little was known about how to treat it. Both performances here are strong, human and touching.

As the show finishes, I'm left with a conflicting set of emotions; once more I am shown the grim reality of war, yet to see these close ups of the people affected most strongly by it is something of a privilege. I feel like I have been invited to see behind the scenes of a great play, and am not disappointed by the backdrops and actors. Richard points out, that out of nearly 500 staff that would certainly have worked in the War Hospital, we know of only a very few in detail. Yet it gives me hope that these stories are now recorded for future generations; not only so we don't forget the shocking reality of the effects of war, but so we can remember how great, how resilient the human spirit is, and how there truly are those who work tirelessly for the good of others.

UPDATE - website for published book Stories from the War Hospital is at

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of Stories from the War Hospital please email .

After the War – the Secret Survival of Gavrilo Princip

Aritha Van Herk with (inset) Gavrilo Princip
Don't miss the finale event of the main programme for 2014:  Aritha Van Herk, award-winning Canadian novelist and critic, will read from her latest work in a new Headingley LitFest partnership event with the Yorkshire Network for Canadian Studies.

Gavrilo Princip (1895 – 1918) was a Serbian nationalist who became the catalyst for the First World War when he assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, starting a chain reaction which led to the beginning of the war only one month later. So much we know. Or do we? What of Gavrilo? Do we know the truth?

Meet Aritha at Headingley Library on  Monday 7 April. The event starts at 7pm and will be finished by 9pm. For more information contact Catherine Bates:

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Flamenco in Mint Café

Ana Luisa Muñoz
Monday 24 March - partnership event
Mint Café North Lane - Flamenco Diez

Richard Wilcocks writes:

There is a theory that all poets should be able to sing their work - or at least get somebody with a good voice to do it for them. What are a poet's words but notes, and what are notes but an excuse to play music? Didn't Homer and the performers who learned his lines sing about Troy and Odysseus? I bet they didn't clutch little scraps of papyrus in front of them as they mumbled tonelessly! I agreed with everything I've just written on Monday, when I was crammed into Mint Café, which was exotically warm for our gypsy romances and where the thrilling voice of Ana Luisa Muñoz affected everybody so much that they clapped ecstatically.

It was all in Spanish, mind, but that didn't matter in the least. What lyrics, what emotion! Some of those present might have been reminded of  García Lorca, Spain's most revered poet, who was featured in the Headingley LitFest two years ago in both Spanish and English, and who was present again in spirit on Monday - Verde que te quiero verde...

Look out for this group. They are back soon!

A wonderful if sobering event

Mud, Blood and Endless Poetry – Dr Jessica Meyer
House Event – Sunday 23 March

Richard Wilcocks writes:
It was revelatory: few in the audience in my front room knew much, if anything, about the poets who were the focus of  Jessica Meyer’s talk. Wilfred Owen made an appearance, but with the little-known, seldom-analysed The Chances, which was written at Craiglockhart and published posthumously in 1919 in Wheels. Written, as was so often the case, at a time when the literate officer classes tried to adopt the accents of the less-educated horny-handed sons of toil, in a nearly-accurate version of the dialect of working-class London, the poem deals with what was known as shell-shock:

‘E’s wounded, killed, and pris’ner, all the lot –
The ruddy lot all rolled in one. Jim’s mad.

Jessica Meyer knows plenty about shell-shock. Her brilliant, well-researched article on the subject is in the recently-published Stories from the War Hospital (available  from in which she makes it clear that she links it with her ongoing research into masculinity in the war.

‘Woodbine Willie’, a padre who originated in Leeds (Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy‘s father was vicar of St Mary’s in Quarry Hill) preferred a similar dialect for To Stretcher Bearers, whose heroic activities are well-documented, incidentally, in Wounded by Emily Mayhew, our guest of last week. Kennedy’s Anglican Christian convictions are made apparent in the final lines of his vivid, dramatic poem:

‘Ere we are, now, stretcher-case, boys,
Bring him aht a cup o’ tea!
Inasmuch as ye have done it
Ye have done it unto Me.

Ewart Alan Mackintosh (killed in action 21 November 1917 aged 24) wrote In Memoriam in something like his own voice, that of a humane, caring officer addressing a father:
Ewart Alan Mackintosh

You were only David’s father,
But I had fifty sons
When we went up in the evening
Under the arch of the guns,
And we came back at twilight –
O God! I heard them call
To me for help and pity
That could not help at all.

I Have a Rendezvous with Death by Alan Seeger (yes, there is a link - he was Pete Seeger’s uncle), who died as a member of the French Foreign Legion in the fighting around Verdun, is a poem well-known in the United States, but not here. Procreation, love and happiness is contrasted with death and destruction to great effect by a poet who knew what was surely coming to him:
Alan Seeger

God knows ‘twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Ford Madox Ford has come back into fashion, arguably, because of Parade on television, but an excerpt from his Footsloggers, which deals with love of one’s land and our relationship with the State in wartime, was new to all except one in the room. Haunting memories of a particular place which come to an officer in the trenches (a filthy rat-infested ditch) are the subject of From Steyning to the Ring, by Lt. John Purvis, and Simon Armitage deals with the soldiers who survive in his 2008 poem The Not Dead:

We are the not dead.
Neither happy nor proud
with a bar-code of medals across the heart
nor laid in a box and draped with a flag,
we wander this no man’s land instead,
creatures of a different stripe – the awkward, unwanted, unlovable type –
haunted with fears and guilt,
wounded in spirit and mind.

So what shall we do with the not dead and all of his kind?

Simon Currie adds:
I thought you and Jessica Meyer provided a wonderful if sobering event. I read yesterday two of the poems to our Shakespeare-plus-poetry group at Harrogate theatre and the people were bowled over.