Thursday, 12 March 2020

Refuge - Heart

Sally Bavage writes:
During this year's ever-popular local creative writers’ event, I was reminded of the lines from the 1969 Peter Sarstedt song (yes, I know, it's a clue to the age of the writer):

But where do you go to, my lovely
When you're alone in your bed?
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head ..

The Osmondthorpe Hub writers took as their theme 'A Special Place', and the range of locations  they explored with us were as wide-ranging and poignant as their writing always is.  It was notable, too, that the writers frequently smiled as they called up fond memories.

Julie reminisced about a holiday to Germany some years ago, where what might have been more ordinary pleasures for some had left deep and vivid impressions for her.  
Mandy was always happy to be where her mum was, especially when by her mum's special seat at bingo. 
Lee's poem told of his joy at recently being allocated his own flat, number 6, somewhere special that was his, where “My independence blooms.”
Annie recalled Benson Street where she grew up.  Remember liberty bodices with a little pocket for a camphor ball (or, in my case, a house key)?   Leaving school at 13 to earn 13 shillings a week, she recalled the best of neighbours. Aged 91, the memories remain undimmed.
Sue smiled with pleasure at the friends she meets every day at the Osmondthorpe Hub, where they congregate to chat, watch TV, sing, do reiki or  boxercise – and do creative writing of course.
Robert had loved a trip to Australia by himself, staying with an uncle and aunt whose back garden had a pool you could swim from end to end.  And he had got to stroke a koala bear at the zoo.
Pamela had loved a trip to Spain, exploring the town after checking in at the hotel, as well as being with family.  The beach and swimming had been delightful freedoms.

The group agreed that a place can be special to us alone.  Time, or its location, or the company of our family and friends, can give us memories that last a lifetime. 

Some of the Osmondthorpe contributors

Our writers from Headingley took a similar theme, Sanctuary, but interpreted it in so many different ways.  They used prose, prose poetry, creative non-fiction, an acrostic, a memoir and even a sonnet to draw descriptions in our minds' eyes.

Julie answered her own question, “What does sanctuary mean to me?”  She loves the quiet of night, a place to calm her mind, or walking in the weather.
Karen loves the sky, its colours of pink and bright blue, not the grey rain she remembers from watching through the classroom window.  It was her transport to another realm, certainly one beyond the consultant by her hospital bed giving her unwelcome news.
Marie-Paule reflected on a migrant's bus journey, giving us a young girl escaping from the bombs and guns, alone, hungry, all family dead. She couldn't go home, at least not now; her face and eyes told the story without words.
Rosie told us of Bootham Crescent – the spiritual and actual home of York City Football Club. Echoing a riff on the psalm 'The Lord's My Shepherd', with ritualistic preparation for the match, ascending the steps to the ground of the gladiators and, of course, some commentary on the qualities of the referee.
Eileen's poem on a 'Crime Story' took place in a library not dissimilar to the one in the Headingley Community Hub, where books on Climate Change were listed as being in the Crime section.  But none were there.  Adult denial of their crimes? Books on Climate Change could actually be tracked down in the Children's section, and a child found fearlessly reading a book 'This Earth is Our Sanctuary.'  Indeed it is.
Liz wrote of a Photograph, with a mother-in-law whose memory is now fragile lace robbed by dementia, but showing shafts of sunlight in the darkness as she gazes at the beautiful woman and handsome man from 60 years ago with whom she will shortly be reunited.
Dru wrote of No Sanctuary here in Leeds for the homeless sleeper you and I encounter, huddled in a shop doorway as a refuge from the wind and rain. Human but unwanted, no hope of finding a sanctuary.
Barbara's tale of a Black Swan, featured on Look North even, recounted a rare visitor to the Leeds and Liverpool canal.  Dark stranger, and escape or a choice?  A sanctuary? How long will you bring your magic to the other ducks and geese?  Five days, as it turned out.
Myrna's Time - “I wasted time, now time wastes me” explored a jigsaw of lifetime experiences.  Photos, certificates, receipts, letters, house deeds, tablets, potions kept in a jumbled profusion that recall emotions from the past still here to support the need for meaning in a disordered house.
Jim spoke too of football, this time Leeds United based at Elland Road.  Always a thrill to go there, observe the rituals and the action.  A place to get away from the ordinariness of life, travel outside oneself.
Linda wrote a Postcard to Myself, where her dreaming self tells her waking self what the Land of Nod has to offer. Architecture and landscape to tempt, sensational and exotic foods – even if the postal service isn't always reliable and the card doesn't arrive.  And why is the card plain black? Because you can't photograph your dreams. 
Malcolm decided You Can't Judge a Book … exploring the parallel streets that have rich and poor residents.  One rich in money, but with families cowering in fear from a bully in a house that is not a home.  Another rich in love and neighbourliness; so much more a sanctuary.
Terry's memoir of his mother's kitchen, her domain where the family felt excluded.  It was her dreaming place, her sanctuary from the unfulfilled life of cheap holidays, little intellectual stimulus and separate life she led outside.
Bill's first poem told us of Green Thoughts in a Green Garden, where lazy bees and floral scents were delights in a verdant world centred on his patio chair refuge for his diminishing days.  His second poem, Memories, took us back to his childhood days: its smells, sounds, small kindnesses and parlour library. 
Cate's Memento Mori to growing older, of a point in time where memories are a place of sanctuary, like walking through an old house full of distant voices caught in nooks and crannies and released by a dreamcatcher mind.
Howard wrote of drifting into submission in This Bed, where sleep and dreams take you to a refuge without stirring.  The Sanctuary of Stars saw him fantasising as a small boy in his mother's jewellery box, along with the ballerina and the plush padding, the sparkling points of light from the pearls and diamonds creating a haven of peace and beauty.

So much imagination and careful wordcraft. How could you possibly top all that?!   By repairing to the back of the hall for cups of tea and generous slices of homemade cakes that showed more careful crafting from our LitFest volunteers Mary and Rachel. 

Particular thanks to Karen Hush, the new tutor (since January) for the Osmondthorpe creative writing group.  An experienced teacher, but what a job she has done in such a short time to build trust and the writers' confidence in their abilities to recall and reveal.  Thanks too, of course, to Liz McPherson who leads the Headingley creative writers' group.  Once again, a cornucopia of ideas and genres reveal writing talent and honesty as well as vulnerability. That has to come from the group's faith in her thoughtful commitment.

Headingley LitFest is indebted once again to the sponsorship by the Workers' Education Association, as well as the support by Mike Bould, education co-ordinator based in Leeds, whose aim is to organise courses covering a broad curriculum for a wide range of students.  And he was ace on getting the IT to work!

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Ours: Football

This event was one of our contributions to Leeds Lit Fest   #LLF20

New Headingley Club - Friday 6 March 2020

Ours: Football by Lee Ingham

Richard Wilcocks writes:
I was the interviewer on this occasion, and can say with confidence that in terms of good-humoured openness and loud responsiveness, the capacity audience (75) in the New Headingley Club was one of the best ever. It was united in its passion for the game of football, and a number of rival teams were represented by vocal supporters: Burnley and Leeds, for a start. There were similarities with other large audiences that Headingley LitFest has called to the Club in past years, but obvious differences too. Similarities include the facts that it was mainly middle-aged and contained people who asked the author, Lee Ingham, how he had planned the book and how long it had taken him to complete, questions which turn up whenever visiting novelists are on stage. Differences include the overwhelming maleness when most LitFest audiences have a majority of women, and a sense of surprise amongst many that a non-fiction book about football and its future could be included in a festival and be categorised as literature.

Lee Ingham's book, his debut work, counts as an item in the comprehensive world of literature for me, undoubtedly. He was inspired to write it after attending a Headingley LitFest event three years ago when James Brown promoted his book of footballing memoirs and opinions 'Above Head Height'. Lee's book runs along similar lines, and is funnier. As well as the game, it is about male and family bonding, childhood memories, the need for community spirit and standing up to corporate, money-grubbing powers. There are fascinating snippets of historical information, for example that the Inghams of the 16th century owned land which incorporated Turf Moor, now the site of Burnley Football Club stadium, information which Lee found in a book called 'The Lancashire Witchcraft Conspiracy'! There is plenty about his opinionated Dad, who turns up in a number of anecdotes, for example in a memory of Lee's first game at Turf Moor for Burnley against Liverpool:

...the thing I remember most was Tommy Smith...picking the ball up to take a throw in directly in front of me and my Dad. At which stage my Dad shouted out to the hard man of football: "Smith, you big pudding." To which, Smith (ball in hand) turned round and out of the back of his hand told my Dad to "fuck off!" Tommy Smith swore at my Dad! I remember walking back up Centenary Way after the game and thinking, the Inghams have arrived on the world stage of football.

Lee read out a series of whole chapters, all of them short, gathering confidence as he proceeded. He added asides and comments to accounts of the kit he is used to wearing, watching the game on television, talking about the game in the pub (often Woodies in Headingley) and favourite Burnley chants. His amusing, self-deprecatory style won everybody over, and all the teasing was friendly.

It was an event of two halves, and the interval had to be extended due to the popularity of the pie and peas which were served in generous portions. We have served cake slices at LitFest gatherings before, but never pie and peas. Something to think of to do again? 

The second half was more serious, addressing the 'Ours' part of the title. We looked around. Not many women. Just a few from minority groups. A couple of young people (well, it was Friday evening). How many young people go to matches nowadays without their parents? I nearly mentioned that the same question applied to classical music concerts. What's the attraction of going to a match nowadays anyway, now that it's sit-down only? With proper barriers in place, why can't people stand? Now that the Elland Road stadium has been more or less cleansed of racist chanters and hooligans, what's the problem? 

Football is no longer the be-all-and-end-all in my life, said Lee, mainly because it has been so corrupted by the vast sums of money involved and by the needs of television schedulers. What happened to the old Saturdays where you began the day with reading the football section in the newspaper over your breakfast, then journeyed to the ground to watch your team? It was engineered to fit into your day off. Lee is furious. Why should people have to travel long journeys, sometimes at short notice, sometimes having to stay overnight? He adds: 'And that's why I do not have and never will have, Sky or BT Sport' and brings in an array of facts and figures about the financial sums involved, and the ways they skew decisions; '...for the 2019 - 22 seasons, games have been sold for £9.3 million per game, as opposed to the £10.2 million that they are currently being sold for'.

The answer is to Stanleyise the game. Accrington was one of the 12 founders of the football league, and now has a turnover of just £2 million per annum. It is a time capsule, and takes pride in belonging to its supporters and the town. Lee says, 'At my first ever visit to their ground I received a flavour of what football had lost and I can safely say that Accrington Stanley v Forest Green is one of the best footballing days I have ever had'. It's a big community success. And it even has a group of Norwegian supporters who fly over regularly.

Thanks to all who bought the book (now available on Amazon) and who donated for the pies and peas, the cost of the room and the Football Supporters Federation.

Friday, 6 March 2020

I Wouldn't Start from Here: The Second Generation Irish in Britain

One of Headingley LitFest's contributions to the Leeds Lit Fest 2020

5 March in Headingley Library

Conrad Beck writes:
More than fifty were there in Headingley Library, all of them appreciative, plenty of them as middle-aged as my diplomatic self and most of them, at a guess, with strong links to Ireland made by memories of living there, memories of long-ago childhoods or memories of stories told by parents. How many were second generation I do not know. The evening was, of course, about identity, a nebulous concept which has interested many an essayist, a word which can stir up stark sentiments, perhaps the equivalent of the German Heimat.  

Kath McKay
Kath McKay read from the contribution to the book of  one of those essayists, Moy McCrory: 'Memory and Authenticity' is a well-researched academic exploration of 'how the role of imagination and embellishment in storytelling contributes towards how we view the past as it challenges ideas of authenticity and belonging'. Ian Duhig spoke about his outsider childhood in London, where the Catholic secondary school he attended was divided into four houses - Irish, Italian, Polish and The Rest - until the system disintegrated. His contribution, 'The Road', full of literary references, was witty and laughter-provoking, for example when he got to this:

My father had been a wrenboy in his youth but when I mentioned this at a poetry reading once, I couldn't understand why people were coming up and congratulating me for my brave revelation: eventually, one of them explained that they all thought I'd said he was a "rent boy". 

Ray French spoke about his upbringing in England, his father's permanent state of rage at leaving behind a rural past by the sea where the most common meal was fish and potatoes, and the conflict about his identity:

Ray French
My mother however was delighted when I lost my accent. When I was eighteen she told me I was English.
    'How could I be English? I was born in Wales, you and dad are Irish. Where's the English in that?'
    'But you speak properly, not like me and your dad.' 

Teresa O'Driscoll
He compared the Irish to the Poles and the Italians.

The fiddle music before the first and second halves was provided by the brilliant Des Hurley and the equally brilliant young Owen Spafford. Teresa O'Driscoll sang a little (why so little?) and wore the best hat in the room.

All the books in a small consignment from the publisher (why so small?) were sold out in about thirty seconds. You can buy it online, published by Wild Geese Press in 2019.

Des Hurley and Owen Spafford listening, Ian Duhig speaking