Sunday, 19 February 2017

Small Acts of Resistance

I came home from the tip to find a bumble bee flopped in our front garden. Early emerged from its hibernation, perhaps. In any event, it looked like it could do with some help.

Two parts sugar to one part water is the recipe - any more water and the bee might drown. 

Serve promptly on a plate or spoon. (I had to go a bit Uri Geller on my spoon to get it to balance properly.)

As soon as I put it down, the bee started to waggle its front leg in the air, but was too exhausted to move, so I shifted the spoon towards it instead.  It tucked in for a while, and then withdrew for a bit of a wash and brush up.

By the time it returned for seconds, a woodlouse had sneaked in ahead, but the bee was clearly a generous soul and didn't seem bothered. 

I didn't let them see the mug I'd mixed the sugar solution in, mind. Nor the actual dog, who was safely shut in the back garden.

After a while, the woodlouse lumbered off and the bee started to jack itself up like one of those ridiculous American truck things.

I decided to leave it to its own devices for a bit. 

Twenty minutes later it was crawling around and looking lively.

Twenty minutes after that it was gone. 

Saturday, 18 February 2017

2017 Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival : The Big Day Out

I have vague childhood connections with Shepton Mallet. My uncle and aunt lived there for a time when I was very young, and driving past the chamois deer that was the Babycham trademark atop the factory roof was the highlight of long car journeys to and from South Devon before the M5 was built. The deer now stands on a bank sheltering under a tree, as Dru Marland and I discovered a few years ago

It turns out that Shepton Mallet is also famous for its snowdrops. I didn't know the story of its illustrious son, James Allen, the first person to breed new varieties of snowdrop from ones growing in the wild, during the 19th century. So it's as well there's now a Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival to bruit his fame. 

In fact, the whole town's really gone to town on snowdrops.

I was there as judge of the first Snowdrop Festival Poetry Competition. First, though, there was a walk, from Highfield House, where James Allen lived, to his family plot in the cemetery on Waterloo Road, for the planting of extra snowdrops.  

We were accompanied by the Big Noise Street Band from Taunton.

James Allen wasn't the most fortunate of men. Botrytis eventually destroyed his collection and only two of the varieties he bred survive today. I was much luckier ... the competition produced a fine crop of poems, from Somerset and much further afield. A pleasant few evenings in January spent sifting and winnowing entries culminated in a highly enjoyable set of readings by the shortlisted poets and presentations to the prize winners, washed down with mulled cider.

Best of all, I got the chance to look at the unassuming snowdrop afresh, through the lens of all the poems entered, and it was a delight.  

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Happy Birthday dear Teddy ... ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬

As you can see, our dog Ted likes to be in the thick of things. 

He also happens to be in possession of a lusty baritone. 

Yesterday it was his birthday. It's a significant day in our family annals, but even more so this year because he was eight in human years and 56 in dog years, and that means I get to post this bitter-sweet poem by Billy Collins. 


by Billy Collins

As young as I look,
I am growing older faster than he,
seven to one
is the ratio they tend to say.
Whatever the number,
I will pass him one day
and take the lead
the way I do on our walks in the woods.
And if this ever manages
to cross his mind,
it would be the sweetest
shadow I have ever cast on snow or grass.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Poets Against Vile Politicians I

Excellent turn out in Bristol tonight for the demonstration against Donald Trump's travel ban and Theresa the Appeaser's complicity.

There's something so British about chanting demonstrators picking their way round municipal wallflower beds in the dark.

I decided on a fairly generic placard. I've a feeling it's going to see a fair bit of use. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A Poem for #WomensMarch

Somewhat belatedly, a poem from my collection, Breadcrumbs, for all the women who marched on Sunday in protest against a powerful man whose behaviour, attitude and language mirror the tactics of abusers.


It’s time to leave this house

Glancing up as I cut the grass
I see three apples, green in leaves,
the first-ever crop on the tree I grew
from the seed of the final fruit
picked in my grandmother’s garden

I’ll watch them swell and ripen
take the pips with me when I go,
plant a tree that might not blossom
in the years that are left

There are millions of seeds in pots and jam jars,
spilling from mouths of paper bags
one for each minute of each day lost, 
copses, forests, wildwood
falling through my fingers

I reach for the hands of my children, my sisters,
our dormant stories stir in earth
make for the light

©Deborah Harvey 2016  

'These are important poems. They carry us through despair and hope, through myths and imaginings, through violence and insight to deliver us to a place where we are not only enriched but wiser. Harvey's poems are astute, well-crafted and delivered with a calm certainty that is hard-won by any poet. Witty, surreal and above all redemptive, this book uncovers truth after truth and, like stars, sets them shining.'                ALYSON HALLETT                                                                                

'I think very highly of Deborah Harvey's work. Her honesty draws you in because Harvey knows that honesty is itself an art form. It needs to be strongly crafted; it is a crafted matter; and she makes a persuasive poetry from the matter of experience.'               DAVID MORLEY

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Tempest live streamt

Whoever came up with the idea of live streaming top theatrical performances into cinemas around the country and beyond deserves all the riches of Heaven bestowed upon her/him. If nothing else, it permits us masses to retain a fuzzy glow about something, even as our human rights are removed, the NHS and schools are sold off for profit, and our children's wages line the pockets of slum landlords.

The first live stream I saw was a 2011 performance of John Hodge's 'Collaborators'a satire based on the relationship between writer Mikhail Bulgakov and Joseph Stalin, in which Simon Russell Beale played the dictator with a (to me very familiar, and therefore terrifying) West Country accent. It was SRB again in a live stream of King Lear three years ago, also at the National, and again three nights ago, playing Prospero in the RSC's latest production of The Tempest.  

Guardian/Tristram Kenton

This time Beale's got his work cut out, being pitted against a jaw-dropping array of special effects that I'd never thought to see in a theatrical production (even one being shown in a cinema). How does an actor impose her- or himself on a whirl of bats, mad dogs, drowning fathers, and fiery spirits, while a pine tree imprisons Ariel before the audience's eyes, tightening and cracking its branches? Rough magic indeed. He manages it, however, as the commanding and mostly calm (but sometimes frighteningly rageful) eye of the storm, ultimately conquering his desire to control others and converting his need for revenge to pity. A humanity that trumps all digital wizardry.

Not all the casting was great. The courtiers were fairly forgettable, Miranda tended to bleat at moments of high tension, Ferdinand resembled Jimmy Carr and was similarly irritating. Stephano and Trinculo were hilarious, however, even though the latter's costume made him look as if he'd stepped straight out of the video for The Prodigy's Firestarter. I was even enthralled by the betrothal masque, through which I usually doze. As for Caliban - well, Caliban made me cry, though that's nothing new. 

In fact, the production stirred a seething of emotions. On a personal level, the settling of post-divorce legal wrangling a few days earlier also put an end to a baleful, 36-year enchantment, allowing me to inhabit fully my brave new world.  More broadly, the intimations in the play of Shakespeare's withdrawal from the theatre, mirrored by Prospero's breaking of his staff, recalled more recent losses, underlined by the first anniversary of David Bowie's death, and I wept a little for all our lost magicians.  And now that the Brexit button is about to be pushed and those who would turn this country into John Of Gaunt's island fortress hold sway, the rest of us must, like Prospero, find a new way forward, where every third thought shall (not quite yet) be the grave.