The uplifting pause of a Line Break

I’m going to enjoy writing my blog this week.The sun shone some warmth on these old bones and I spent the week with two lovely poet friends, Hilary Robinson and Polly Atkinson, on our Line Break week. We were reading and writing poetry and generally having fun. Cayton is a small village between Scarborough and Filey, and it was here we spent the week, in a small cottage in the grounds of Killerby Old Hall.

I got up on Sunday morning and started my Couch to 5K challenge again! I wasn’t looking forward to it; I’ve been putting it off. But it was much easier this time around and I have to admit to quite enjoying it in a masochistic sort of way. I ran three times this week: Week 1 ticked off (again). I’ll be starting Week 2 later this morning. I went for a swim after my runs in Cayton, all before breakfast.

Sunday morning we had a workshop led by Polly, three-hoursof writing poetry to prepared prompts, including a list of five furniture words to get into one poem; a retelling of an Emily Dickinson poem using the cut-up words of the original; and a writing activity from one of those folded paper fortune-telling toys we made as children, like a section of an egg box that you put on your fore-fingers and thumbs then open and close to find your fortune in words, numbers and colours. We finished the workshop at 1.00 p.m. and that was when our online shopping was delivered from Tesco. After we’d stored the shopping we took a walk to Cayton Bay to see the sea. Hilary bought a kite from a beach shack, which we took to lots of places but never got to fly because we never found a long enough stretch of beach when the tide was out. It was a steep climb down to the sea front at Cayton Bay, which meant a steep climb up again after. Luckily some kind town planner had allowed a pub to be built at the top of the climb so we stopped for an al fresco pint of cider. The sun was lovely, even on that first day. I cooked us a chilli-con-Quorn for tea, with plenty for a second meal later in the week. We spent the evening reading aloud from the numerous poetry books we brought with us. I went online and bought us train tickets to York for Monday.

On Monday we called a cab and caught the train from Seamer Station to York. It was a planned visit: I had prepared small tasks for us to undertake while we were there. One was to record small snippets of conversation we heard while we were out. We got our notebooks out on the train. Do you know how hard it is to hear people talking on a train? Not because of the noise of the train, or because they whisper; they just spend so long on screen devices that no-one talks anymore. Mostly we spent the forty-five-minute journey noting things we saw from the train windows. We arrived in York at about 11.00, made our way via quirky boutiques to the Castle Museum area. The first job of the day was to visit the ‘Shaping the Body’ exhibition, about the impact of fashion on (particularly women’s) bodies. It was a fascinating, interactive display; but to get to it we had to pass through several other exhibitions first: York through history; the changing domestic scene; the development of the chocolate trade in York. The fashion exhibition was fascinating though; I was struck by how (particularly women) have courted death in maintaining a ‘look’: the use of arsenic, mercury and other deadly substances in fabric, the dangerously constrictive use of corseting. And all for the sake of being the woman a man imagined a woman to be, Madonna or whore. We left the Castle Museum at just after 1.00 because we had a visit to Jorvik planned at 14.40 and we needed sustenance. Luckily, just outside Jorvik is a Carluccio street shack, so we stopped for a sandwich and a Peroni: very civilised. It was easier to hear snippets of conversation here too. Bill paid for our tickets to Jorvik, bless him, because I couldn’t make up my mind on Jorvik or the ‘Shaping the Body’ display when I was planning the day out, and he thought we should do both. I’m so glad we did. We’d all been to Jorvik before but it’s such a good experience we enjoyed it all over again. Last year it was reopened, refurbished after the York city floods. We had the task of making notes of things that particularly appealed, including any language we heard. We finished our York visit with a walk around the ancient streets, and an al fresco brew before dining at Betty’s. We caught the train home about 9.00 in the evening after a lovely and very full day.

Tuesday: I started the day early by prepping writing activities based in our visit to York; then day two of running and swimming; breakfast, then my workshop on a theme of old keys. I incorporated our York visit into the writing activities. We worked for three hours with a short break then shared our writing at the end of the morning.  In the afternoon we took the bus into Scarborough. We stopped for a pint and a plate of chips while we decided what we wanted to do. Hilary knew of St Martin’s On The Hill church, which has stained glass windows by several eminent pre-Raphaelite artists. She found their website which said the church was open until 4.00 p.m. on Tuesdays so we made our way there. Believe me, it is indeed on a hill; it was a steep walk up to the church. When we got there the notice on the door announced that it closed at 2.00 p.m. So, update your website! We didn’t get to see the stained glass after all. And it would have been a lovely day to visit: the sun was shining relentlessly, it would have lit up those windows, given them life. We caught the bus back to Killerby Old Hall and Hilary cooked tartiflette, which we enjoyed with crusty bread and a crisp dry white. Lovely. In the evening we played a word game, ‘Pass the Bomb’, over another crisp, chilled white.

Wednesday it was our planned visit to Whitby; I drove us there and we found a Park and Ride. A bus was waiting so we took a short cut to the bus by shinning under a three foot fence: too high to get over easily; also too low to get under easily, apparently. I got stuck, then couldn’t get out for laughing and needed my friends to pull me out. But we made the bus with time to spare: so we could have taken the path! Hilary had planned a leaflet with things to look for while we were there. We visited another museum, in Patten Park. We had a brew in the Alice-themed  café downstairs: all playing cards, white rabbits and mad hatters, then  we visited the museum exhibitions; we used our student cards for concessions which always causes amusement among cashiers because we are all late-sixties, early seventies age. Some people just don’t know when to give up! We had to find the most unusual exhibit in the display and write something about it. I found a ‘sea bishop’ hiding among the seahorses: a sea bishop is a con that fishermen made from dead seahorses to sell to gullible tourists. I also found a small set of dentures—although they contained about ten incisors, so not good replicas of human teeth—made from walrus tusks; and a ‘hand of glory’, the mummified hand of a hanged felon that criminals kept as a charm against ending up on the gallows themselves. We fancied a chippie lunch, but the chippies all fry with beef dripping and Polly and I are vegetarian, so we settled for an un-Cornish pasty. We had the left-over chilli for tea when we got home. In the evening we read poetry and had an early night: it’s hard work enjoying yourselves.

Thursday morning, early, I picked up an e-mail from my Director of Studies. I sent him nearly 16000 words of my thesis, integrating some of the creative and the critical work into one whole, as we’d discussed. He attached a NAWE document (2018) the gist of which, he said, was that the creative and the critical elements should be ‘separate but inter-related’. After my initial reaction, which was to panic, I read the document myself and didn’t see that message in it at all. I highlighted several passages which seemed to me to be advocating integration. I went out for my run, adrenalin pumping so strongly that I actually ran an extra 50 or 60 metres in the same time as Tuesday’s run. I emailed Jean when I got back to the cottage, because Jean and I have always discussed integrating my poems into the thesis. Antony’s email nagged the back of my brain all day. After breakfast, it was Hilary’s workshop, lots more lovely writing prompts including exploring the form Karen McCarthy Woolf calls the ‘coupling’, where you take a few lines of prose text, lineate them as if they were poetry then alternate them with response lines of your own poetry. That was interesting and I have thought of several ‘couplings’ I can write for my portfolio. Hilary’s workshop concentrated a lot on forms of various kinds, which I always find quite liberating: I can often write to a tight form when I can’t think of anything in free form. We also wrote a memorial poem to someone or something. The hard part is thinking of your subject, and it took a few minutes of pencil-sucking before I settled on Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, the French police officer who offered himself in exchange for hostages in a terror siege at a supermarket in southern France. I was quite pleased with it, although the subject is distressing. That was our last workshop and we all had writer’s cramp by the end of it. In the afternoon we took the bus into Filey, walked around the shops, went down onto the beach, not wide enough or windy enough for Hilary’s kite, and looked for fossils—we found some in large stones—shells and sea glass. We tried to find chips, but beef dripping again, so we had to settle for a half of cider and a bag of crisps. I heard back from Jean, whose reading of the NAWE document coincided with mine, so I don’t know what DoS is getting at. I’ll find out, no doubt when I meet him on Tuesday. Polly cooked a lovely vegetable biryani for tea and we nattered till late in the evening.

Friday was our last planned visit, to Robin Hood’s Bay. We took the bus, sat in the front seat upstairs for lovely views across the North Yorks Moors. Driving down into Robin Hood’s Bay was a bit hair-raising from that viewpoint though, like a free roller coaster ride. Polly had planned activities for RHB: we sat among its quirky narrow streets and wrote: Hilary wrote a poem about how difficult it would be to conduct an illicit affair living in each other’s pockets like that. We visited the Old Lifeboat Station, a small interactive museum. I wrote a poem about Polly working the wind machine in there. We visited the mosaics on the old sea wall, a commissioned piece involving local primary school children.

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Photographs courtesy of Hilary Robinson

I would have loved to have been involved in that project. And, at last, we found a chippy that cooks in oil, so we had a box of chips sitting in their outside space, looking out over the bay, watching blackbirds feeding on dropped chips. Polly made another biryani, the first one was so good and we took our time over the meal. It was after ten o’clock when we cleared up.

Saturday we packed up and left. Roll on next year’s Line Break.

I’ve gone on long enough so I won’t post a poem: I haven’t had time to write them up yet anyway. Next week you can have a poem from Line Break. Right now, I have to go out to start Week 2 of my run.

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