Following last week’s perched offerings, I realised that architects and hoteliers have caught on with humans’ perpetual fascination with treehouses. So there are now more new places high above the trees than ever before, where you can eat, study, play or even pray, indulge in your Tarzan fantasy… for the right price.
Megan Beech is young, loud, unashamedly intellectual and feminist. She is one of the freshest voices in the powerful spoken word or performance poetry movement, which is gaining momentum especially amongst young people in the UK. You may have heard of Kate Tempest and her audio recordings in Britain or Saul Williams in the US, one of the leading lights of slam poetry – which is like a sort of ‘dance-off’ for poetry. Megan is just as talented, though less well-known (so far) and I love the way she combines her bluestocking propensities with wit, humour and outspoken candour.
When I grow up I want to be Mary Beard.
A classy, classic, classicist,
Wickedly wonderful and wise,
full to brim with life…
Although this is poetry to be heard rather than read on the page, I’ve had ot make do with this slim volume of poetry entitled When I Grow Up I Want to be Mary Beard, published by Burning Eye Books in 2013. There is something clearly declamatory and more direct in this kind of poetry than the one I am used to reading. So much depends on the personality of the poet, I suppose, how they ‘perform’ the poem. It is also much more political – a form of protest poetry.
So sit down, retire your reckless, restless rhetoric
and actually start listening.
Make some decisions.
Sort out the system.
Or better yet,
give me a Britain that’s actually Great
and not this state that I live in.
However, although it looks artless and ranting, spoken word poetry is also carefully planned and balanced, it has to sound just right, there are internal rhymes, puns and word plays. The rage and indignation are carefully controlled and edited – yet still ring true and raw.
The charm of fearless youth is that there is no subject that is off-limits. Michael Gove, rowdy students, negligent parents, Easyjet, a boyfriend with widely differing musical tastes, Harry Potter and a couple snogging on the Circle Line are all targets of her barbed wit. I particularly enjoyed the rant about ‘Behind Every Great Christmas There Is Mum':
…it seems crazy we’re embracing
misogynistic depiction presented by ASDA-ian dictum,
whereby women must be prim, proper and Christian,
and only give birth to children
in order to spend Christmas in the kitchen.
Having no sense of own volition
under patriarchal systems
which are clearly non-existent.
While her family insist on
a swell of patronising applause
which only stands to reinforce
subservient slave is her dictionary definition.
I can’t wait to see what Megan Beech does next. I hope she doesn’t lose her wild streak and continues to expand her subject matter. You can see Megan in action in one of the videos featured on her website.
A week of full house and survival mode: my parents coming to visit, yet another day off school for the children, lots of admin to do, birthday celebrations to organise and celebrate (no less than three in 2 weeks).
So don’t expect any coherent blog posts from me this week. Instead, here are some who can speak much prettier than me:
Children always reinterpret their parents’ sense of obligation as compulsion. It’s not They did it for me but They did it because they wanted to. She wanted to bake that bread; you told those bedtime stories every night, really, for yourself. There’d be no surviving without that move, the debt guilt would be too great to shoulder. In order to supply the unique amount of care that children demand, we have to enter into a contract in amnesia where neither side is entirely honest about the costs. If we ever totted up the debt, we would be unable to bear it. (Adam Gopnik)
When we met, you told me The Story of Your Life. I told you about My Writer’s Beginnings, about Why I Write, and How Literature Saved My Life. You said you supported Women Writers at Work and Writing a Woman’s Life. We discussed Aspects of the Novel. Had I finally found the partner who fit into my Narrative Design? Or would you be just another man who Eats, Shoots, and Leaves? (Audrey Ferber punning with book titles)
It’s pleasant and rewarding to tell our acquaintances that the bardic spirit seized us on Friday at 2:45 p.m. and began whispering mysterious secrets in our ear with such ardor that we scarcely had time to take them down. But at home, behind closed doors, they assiduously corrected, crossed out, and revised those otherworldly utterances. Spirits are fine and dandy, but even poetry has its prosaic side. Let’s take the wings off and try writing on foot, shall we? (Wislawa Szymborska)
One more thing to think about when putting a novel together: make it hard. Set your sights on something that you aren’t quite capable of doing, whether artistically, emotionally or intellectually. You can also go for broke and take on all three. I raise the bar with every book I write, making sure I’m doing something that is uncomfortably beyond what I can manage. It’s the only way I know to improve over time… (Ann Patchett)
“People are constantly asking me, how do you do it all? And I usually just smile and say like, “I’m really organized.” Or if I’m feeling slightly kindly, I say, “I have a lot of help.”
And those things are true. But they also are not true . . .
How do you do it all? The answer is this: I don’t. Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another . . . That is the tradeoff. That is the Faustian bargain one makes with the devil . . . You never feel a hundred percent OK; you never get your sea legs; you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost.
Is it too early to be dreaming about holiday escapes? Or homes where it feels like you’re on holiday all year round? I rather like perched houses: after all, they provided our ancestors with such refuge. There is a beautiful poem by Romanian poet George Bacovia about the ‘lacustrine’ homes on stilts of long ago. Although, this being Bacovia, it is anything but cheerful… I’ll just translate the first stanza for you below:
De-atitea nopti aud plouind,
Aud materia plingind…
Sunt singur, si mă duce un gând
Spre locuintele lacustre.
So many nights I hear the rain,
hear solid matter cry and drain…
I’m all alone, my thoughts go back again
to the lacustrine dwellings.
Hamburg is one of the most interesting cities in Germany. A city of contrasts. Still a port town with traditionally a working-class population, mainly fishermen and dockers. It is also increasingly a hub for business and the German town boasting the highest percentage of high-income people (and convertibles, despite the less than stellar weather). Yet decidedly less conservative, ‘chi-chi’ and stiff than Munich or Bonn. Less achingly hip than Berlin, it is nevertheless a city justifiably proud of its rebellious streak, innovative thinking and a distinctive local dialect.
I hadn’t been in Hamburg for over 10 years, so was looking forward to spending half a day just reacquainting myself with the town at the tail end of my business trip there earlier this week. Sadly, the German railway employees decided to strike yesterday, so I preferred to stay at the airport, for fear of missing my flight. So this is what I did NOT see yesterday:
1) One of the most spectacular harbours in the world. I always have what the Germans call ‘Fernweh’ (‘farsickness’, the opposite of homesickness) and harbours even more than airports convey this world of limitless possibilities…
2) The Reeperbahn, also know as ‘the most sinful mile’, is a notorious street in the nightlife district (also red-light district) of Hamburg. The Beatles played the clubs here in the early 1960s, and the area is mentioned in many songs worldwide (including Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, The Police). However, I know it from a book we studied at school Faust auf der Reeperbahn, stories about and by Willi Bredel (a German socialist realist writer, imprisoned by the Nazis, fleeing to Russia and later resident in GDR), in which he describes a performance of Goethe’s Faust performed for the working classes on the Reeperbahn. The audience starts booing Dr. Faustus and try to force him to marry Gretchen after he seduces her. A very funny story and ‘Hoirad’n soll er sie, hoirad’n!’ (he should marry her) is a line that I still use for any simple and obvious solution to a complex problem.
3) The rebels of St. Pauli. St. Pauli is a neighbourhood of Hamburg (and yes, it’s the one that houses the Reeperbahn). The traditional entertainment district for sailors, it is also home to the local Chinatown and best known for its football club, St. Pauli FC, with its distinctive pirate’s flag. Although it hasn’t always been successful on either the national or world stage (and struggles to stay in the Bundesliga), it’s a club that has achieved cult status for its anti-establishment, left-wing tendencies and for banning any right-wing hooliganism at its sports events.
4) Leuchtturm 1917 stationery. This was one of the things I was looking forward to buying: several years’ supplies of the distinctive, high-class notebooks which originated in Hamburg in 1917 and was then re-established there in 1948. Shock, horror! At the airport, I could only find the ubiquitous Moleskine and even asked the newsagents and booksellers why they didn’t stock their local product. Are they not aware of the brand’s international reputation? Or has Moleskine pulled out all the stops to be the sole supplier?
This, incidentally, is my 600th post since I started this blog in February 2012. I’m not big into round-figure symbolism or celebrations, but I’m pleased it happened right now with Hamburg. I couldn’t think of a nicer town (that I very nearly saw) to write about…
An odd rumble-jumble of personal pictures here, of things around us, places we’ve seen, the small and big things which make us happy. For those days when we don’t have the budget for chateaux, treehouses and writing sheds.
And if you’re wondering why Thursday has become the new Friday for the Friday Fun posts: that’s because today is Ascension and a holiday here in France. The umpteenth one for this month. I can remember a time when days off school made me happy… Tell me what makes you happy, both big things and small!
For those who need some cheering up today… more escapism than ever… or are simply thinking of buying property abroad and becoming a non-dom. It’s a sunny day, so winter may finally be over, it’s 70 years since VE Day, it’s a holiday here in France.