In which I learn to play an (un)musical instrument…

This week began and ended with poetry. In between were dogs and walks.

On Sunday I had to go into Manchester for a Poets&Players planning meeting at the Whitworth Art Gallery. Oh my, that was an eventful journey. On Sunday the tram network was disrupted ‘bigly’ by ‘engineering works’, so the tram I usually take to St Peter’s Square terminated at Exchange Square. I had a long walk to the Principal on Oxford Rd. to get a bus to the Whitworth; and when I did get the bus, I overshot my stop and had to walk back. The homeward journey was just as disrupted.

P&P heard recently that we have received Arts Council England funding for another twelve months, so we were able to plan our 2020-21 programme with confidence. Our high-quality events at the Whitworth continue on February  22nd with J O Morgan, and a poetry translation-collaboration between Maria Stepanova and Sasha Dugdale. The ‘player’ this month will be Phil France. You can find our developing programme on our website:

Tuesday to Friday daytimes I spent at my daughter Amie’s house, dog-sitting her two lovely Cockerpoos, Cooper and Sonny. Her sisters-in-law walked their dogs with us, so I had the confidence to let Amie’s boys off the lead for a good run. I’ve lived in Saddleworth for thirty plus years, and this week I discovered three lovely new-to-me walks. On Tuesday I walked up Lark Hill from Dobcross. It was mizzly and wet when we set out, but half way through the cloud broke up and the sun came out, revealing lovely views across Saddleworth. The dogs enjoyed it, especially Cooper, who found some fox poo to roll in. Oh my word, caked! And foul-smelling! We had to give him a good bath before I could take him indoors. In the afternoon I took them for a second walk in Delph park, behind the Chippie, through meadows beside the River Tame with its gentle waterfalls. How did I not know about this? And on Friday we walked again from Delph, this time behind the White Lion pub, through meadows and wetlands. It was messy, up-to-your-eyes wet mud, but it was a crisp, frosty morning and the panoramic views were amazing.

On Friday evening I went into Manchester with Hilary. It was the gala celebration event for the Manchester writing prizes, established by Carol Ann Duffy as an aspect of her Laureateship. The event was held in Chetham’s Library, an historic and atmospheric venue next door to Manchester Cathedral. We arrived in time for a celebratory glass of wine before the finalists read their work. It was a diverse and wonderful shortlist and audience. Hilary and I sat behind some visitors from Cincinnati who were there to support a finalist friend.  One of them had brought a bag of kazoos. Of course, Hilary and I cadged a kazoo each to augment our applause; and we learned to play it, which is more than some of our neighbours managed. Hilary’s was in her favourite shade of orange, mine a confident pink:

My beautiful new Kazoo

Samples of all the finalists’ works were read out; if the writer couldn’t attend, one of the judges read for them. There was some seriously exciting work; as you’d expect from a competition with a prize of £10,000 each for the winning poetry and fiction writers, a liberating sum designed to give the winner the financial security, time and space to be able to develop their writing. The winner of the poetry prize was Momtaza Mehri, an exciting new voice whom I’d heard read at Verve Festival in Birmingham last year. The winner of the fiction prize was artist/writer Tim Etchells, who is Professor of Performance at Lancaster University. This is a competition that attracts and showcases the most original and exciting of contemporary writing. Congratulations to all the finalists: being on the shortlist of such an amazing competition is a prize and an achievement in itself. Hilary and I had a lovely evening, met up with some poet friends, heard the best of modern poetry and fiction writing, and had complimentary wine. Afterwards we went into Mamucium for coffee and cheese scones—which were cleverly masquerading as cheese and onion pakora. Also, the tram journey was uneventful, which is a bonus. All round, a perfect evening.

On Saturday I had a family day: my sons Richard and Michael visited; Amie cooked lunch, a lovely vegan moussaka with Greek salad, and White chocolate and raspberry ‘brownies’ with ice cream for dessert. Michael came to collect the Grundig radiogram Amie was giving away: he’s a devout vinyl collector. Richard came just because. It was a lovely day, a perfect evening. As I parked my car when I arrived, I found the Ugg mitten I’d thought was lost forever: it was on Amie’s neighbour’s wall, wet but wholesome. Which was especially nice, because, also thinking I’d lost it, Amie bought me some pink Ugg gloves to say ‘thank you for Cockerpoo Sitting’. I have a plethora of Ugg gloves. I am truly blessed.

I won’t leave you with one of my poems this week. Instead you can read the Manchester Prize shortlisted poems here:

and the Manchester Prize shortlisted fiction here:

I hope you will check them out; they are well worth the read.

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