Wordsmiths

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Last week I spent  time with poets and writers, both published and unpublished, on a writing course run by the ever generous  Jan Fortune of Cinnamon Press.  We stayed in the wilds of Snowdonia at Pete the Poet’s place and did not have internet access, which is my excuse for the absence of blog spots.

I fell in love with two poems especially, and perhaps the poets too.  KateThomas who wrote about her mother and, I guess,  struck a chord, and Pete (the poet) Marshall.

I know Pete as a performance poet, and very funny he is too. He can also be moving. When we ventured into the hills he read some of his poems inspired by the view.  It was almost like listening to music: the more familiar a piece the more affecting.

Growing old / Shades of Blue

 

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I take a trolley round the local old people’s home every once in a blue moon, we have a well peopled rota.  One old chap who comes as a day visitor for lunch and to have his washing done and generally have the once over, tells me he has had more than a hundred birthdays and seems to study me for my reaction. He is as surprised as I am that he has had so many.  To have survived is an achievement worthy of a telegram from the Queen.

He has a lot to say for himself.   He’s been a stone mason and a shepherd and came from South Wales originally.  Love brought him north, he tells me.  He usually likes to buy something.  His wallet, much thumbed and rather grimy with food is wedged into his pocket and his fingers no longer have the strength to pull it out.  He asks for help, which I can give without delving too deeply.  He is not short of notes.  I suppose, after a while, when you can no longer get to the shops, a pension stock piles.

He settles for two small bars of chocolate, a packet of chocolate digestives and a banana, but because he asks in Welsh  and I only have a smattering I ask one of the staff to help.  I don’t want to get his order wrong and today he seems most insistent.  When the wallet is safely stowed the chocolate bar is immediately unwrapped and enjoyed.  In fact it gives so much enjoyment I have to come back to sneak a look.  His pleasure gives me pleasure. He asks for help to unwrap the second bar, his licked fingers fumble with this one and he is gently dissuaded. It is nearly lunch time and he sees the sense in keeping it for when he is at home.

All the staff are women and most are young.  Without exception they are kind and patient.

I was wondering what it must be like to be really old. Could it be so different from  60, say? ( I am so close now, but can remember when that age  was distant and seemed almost obscene.) Affronts to dignity must be no less painful, just more frequent, I suppose. Or is it that the older you get the less you care?  Perhaps nature’s way of softening the blow is to let everything decline gradually.  You see and hear less, most reactions have slowed, just getting up  a task and a half.

We went for Sunday lunch at a local hotel.  The Boxer chose roast pork.  It was slow going, just cutting up the food is  hard never mind eating it.  ‘How’s your dinner?’  Not a very original question, but the reply was heartfelt  ‘Lovely.  I don’t often have a roast dinner.’

How true!  We don’t often have Sunday Lunch, the day seems too precious to spend it in the kitchen.  I want to be out doing something vigorous, not indoors cooking and eating.  But yesterday, I conceded and the Boxer’s pleasure gave us pleasure.

Ad Hoc

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I fell talking with a woman from Sweden in the summer who had just walked the Camino. I do not now recall why we came to speak of  feminism and care of the elderly.  Perhaps we asked each other what we did in our lives when we were not taking time out for pleasurable pursuits.

‘Women are not automatically expected to take on a caring role in our society,’ she told me. ‘Besides, in Sweden. caring is not such an ad hoc arrangement as it is in yours.  We pride ourselves on funding proper care homes, so the elderly and infirm actually look forward to it, when the time comes.’

I wondered.

I googled Sweden’s take on the elderly and the apparent success.

Sweden invests more of its gross domestic product in its elderly than any other country in the world. As a proportion of GDP, Sweden’s allocation to elderly care is almost five times the EU average.

The  latest pronouncement from some government minister that we should all be more caring and look after our own is true but, there speaks a man who has someone else to do the actual caring.

There was a joke among teachers that went something like this: those who go gooey eyed at a classroom of small children, ‘Aahh the little darlings,’ know nothing about children or teaching.

 

Fascinating Lives

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It was interesting to hear how little is spent per capita, per annum on the arts in the provinces compared with the (princely) sum spent in London.  It is a fact that did not need confirming;  justifying, may be.

Perhaps it was ever thus, for there is a long tradition of community ventures in most small towns:  am dram, choirs, orchestras, art groups and exhibitions,  even in Stockport, Greater Manchester, that northern metropolis, where we used to live.  Only, when we did live there, the lure of the professionals, (heavily subsidised no doubt, but not as heavily as  in London) took us to places such as the Lowry and the Bridgewater Hall, rather than South Cheshire Operatic Society in Wilmslow Sports Centre. ( An example plucked  at random from thin air, and no disrespect intended to SCOS, if they exist, or to denigrate WSC as a venue for the arts.)  The point is, in a city, or even a large town, community ventures passed us by.

Here, in our north-western outpost, we need them.

I may have mentioned how blest we are with festivals but there are still the lean, mean, in-between times,  those long, dark and chilly nights to fill.

Theatr Fach, or Little Theatre, housed in a rescued and restored chapel in the old market town of Dolgellau at the foot of Cader Idris, is a community theatre, par excellence.  The other night there was a talk and film show called ‘Framing the Word in Film and Print,’ an illustrated talk about the late Vivian Ridler, amateur film maker and professional printer, given by his son.

That Vivian Ridler was printer to the University of Oxford for Oxford University Press for thirty years, was incidental to this talk. This was homage to the man as father who made beautifully shot shorts films using his sons, when boys, as actors  and an opportunity for the audience to handle  some of the books printed by Perpetua , Vivian Ridler’s  own  independent press,  including books  of Anne Ridler’s poetry, (Vivian’s wife of more than 60 years.)  We also heard extracts from a diary Vivian Ridler kept of the time he was an extra in the most magnificent flop/masterpiece western of all time,  Heaven’s Gate.