Sunday, February 18, 2018

Words, weaving, and a quick dip into history

Another post with one eye on my project... a parkour ride round Frome past and present, and with time-pressure still set firmly on Silly - that's above High but just below Manic - what's had to give is again music: sadly I heard neither foot-stomping blue-grass Old Boston Tea Party at Grain Bar, nor Don Kipper's Balkan Beats at 23 Bath St. I couldn't resist Emma Harris' scratch band at The Cornerhouse party though, with- great music, great dancing.

And I did get to hear some terrific poetry, at a crammed Frome Poetry Cafe with a February theme ~ đź’–love, naturally ~ twenty poets from the floor and a great atmosphere, with guests Josephine Corcoran and Rosie Jackson both much enjoyed. I haven't heard Josephine before, and really enjoyed her memories of people and places, especially Winter in Trowbridge, the town of three smells: beer, meat pies, and sewage. This and other great poems in her new collection The Misplaced House.
Another evening of poetry too as eco-poet Helen Moore paid a flying visit back to Frome to launch two new books: Intatto/Intact, an innovative Italian/English collection (The Italian poems beautifully read by Annie Lionnet) and The Disinherited, her sad & angry poems about British treatment of the natives and the transportees in Australia. Again a full audience and a great atmosphere, as Helen's readings were further enhanced by readings from two Frome poets ~ Rosie Jackson and B Anne Adriaens ~ and a story-telling by Bard of Bath Kirsten Bolwig.
Most of my time though is still absorbed in interviewing, transcribing, and struggling to wrestle big balloons of information into a shape that, if not logical, is at least coherent.  I've learned an unbelievable amount, not just about the past & present of Frome but unexpected things like the tragic life of the queen bee and the lexicon of graffiti.  I've met a neighbour who was filmed in her punk days, another who was played on John Peel, and many more fascinating people with amazing memories - in fact when this project is finished there's scope for so many spinoffs ~ I definitely want to do something about decorating the fabric of our town too.
So I'll end with a contrasting couple of images: an ancient postcard inscribed with what the publisher considered the sole fact of any interest: Frome, a town dating from very early times, was surrounded by Selwood Forest which afforded shelter to a body of bandits who were the terror of the neighbourhood  - and the newest bar in town, The Loft at 23 Bath Street, with decor by internationally-renowned street artist Paris.

And also plea from the wonderful weavers of Frome, who I also met on my investigations, who urgently need a new home. Big enough for 7 floor looms 18 table looms and stacks of other paraphernalia I failed to comprehend, and a lot of yarn in wondrously diverse colours. In Frome or as near as possible. Anyone know anyone contact them on this link - as soon as you can! 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Romance, murder, and local history

Renaissance Reimaginings is the enticing title of the new exhibition of paintings by Leslie Glenn Damhus at the Hubnub Gallery: they are simply gorgeous, evoking archane medieval myths with a slight twitch of the lips, and they have enticing titles like 'Madonna with an albino wallaby' - definitely not one to be missed.

Hubnub's Rye Bakery also hosted this month's Town Council 'business breakfast' session which I decided to join despite the fact it started at 7am. My pre-dawn sortie rewarded me with tortilla and some tips on twittering. I'd taken my laptop in case advice arrived as a series of tweets but actually it was mostly via old-school flip-chart, with a useful power-point summary from Sarah & Hannah of DNA Worldwide.

February so far has positively throbbed with live music, but I've only found time for only the skimmiest of skim-throughs with a couple of brief pop-ins, though there's been several excellent jazz sessions at the Cornerhouse, Emma's soul at the Archangel, Invisible Eyes punk at the Griffin, 2+2=3 boogie night at From PerĂş to You, Celtic jamming and Grain Bar blues... here's just one image of Nasty Habits at The Sun to represent all this massive local talent, free in Frome.

I couldn't miss Bookends of Time at Frome Library, three fascinating talks about this area: the Selwood Forest story from always-engrossing  World Tree expert Julian Hight, plus a tale from pre-Roman days when this area was part of the Kingdom of Dumnonia (Flesh and Bones by Annette Burkett) and Carolyn Griffiths' Woad to This, the story of the local wool trade from glory days of dyeing to the dying days of closures. Woad was grown just outside the town and its indelible indigo hue used as the basis for every other colour - recipe books from the 1700s still exist and you can see photos online at Bath Central Library where they are held. This cloak showing various tones of the unblended dye was created by the knitting group at ~ appropriately ~ the Blue House.  
Moving now to Salisbury Playhouse where Murder, Margaret and Me pitches Agatha Christie, a writer who slaughtered her characters as casually as she sipped tea at Claridges, against Margaret Rutherford, an actress who obsessively made all her characters comical. Between these two flits the imaginary character of Jane Marple, claimed by both her creator and her performer, and nicer than both of them. Philip Meeks's play was originally a solo show, quite a challenge to convert a monologue to a three-person two-act drama when nothing actually happens apart from talking, much of it direct-to-audience exposition, and a little soft-toy playfulness. You'd need ideally a varied tonal range of voices, difficult when all three (Kate Brown, Sarah Parks and Tina Gray) are ladies of a certain age and similar cultural class. Maybe it’s one of those Samuel Johnson things.  Director Damian Cruden adds some clever touches, like the anonymous technicians who gradually build a set around the inaction, and the unwrapping and rewrapping of the hard furniture of these bleak lives. Costumes by Dawn Allsopp reflected personalities, idiosyncratic for the sparring duo, sweetly old-ladyish for Miss Marple who is perhaps the most satisfying character: she is frankly invented. Neither the real writer nor actress come across as women anyone would want to spend much time with, the one obsessed with prying and the other with puddings.  On till 24 February.

I'll end with a glimpse of Vallis Vale, where the river merges with Mells stream, where I walked as a break from interviewing and transcribing for my engrossing current project. Still one of the most beautiful places I know.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The land we live on, the town we live in

When Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane came... a tale of treachery, murder, and scots ballet moves.
Multi-award-winning Mark Bruce Company is now fully established in Frome with a superb home here in a fully-fitted out dance studio, so we're privileged that their current opus Macbeth premiered here before its highly anticipated tour. Like their version of Dracula, and their Odyssey, this is powerful dramatic story-telling, the lack of voice increasingly irrelevant and paradoxically more powerful as the story unfolds. The dancers are amazing, the special effects are stunning, and the second act becomes a horror film nightmare of remorse, recrimination, & retribution: Shakespeare fans, this is the best Banquo's ghost scene you've ever seen.

The Land We Live In - The Land We Left Behind curated by Adam Sutherland is the newly-opened exhibition at Hauser &Wirth, an 'ambitious survey exploring the contradictory nature of society’s relationship to the rural telling the story of humanity’s evolving connection to the land, our perception of, and reliance upon it.' There's a huge range of evidential artefacts, from tiny woodblock prints to a wall-sized film of modern farming methods, pointing up every aspect from sentimental to sensual, from exploitative to indifferent, some exhibits puzzling & some deeply moving. Opening night fizzed  and this deserves a second visit for proper scrutiny - on till 7 May.

Land, coincidentally, is one of my current themes so I was fascinated by Angela France's semi-dramatised presentation of her new poetry collection The Hill: tales of Leckhampton Hill and the struggle of Gloucestershire people over a hundred years ago to save their footpath rights. The land wears time as a mantle, bending briars over paths, growing trees to fill a slope, change encoded in every seed and speck of earth.  Several other excellent poets too at Words & Ears, Dawn Gorman's always-excellent poetry night in Bradford on Avon, including Robert Walton and a fine open-mic.

And on Saturday, three Frome authors shared a presentation of their recent titles under the title Bookends of Time, all firmly rooted in locality and soil: Julian Hight explained how the land around here was all part of Selwood Forest, Annette Burkitt talking about the deep history of this area, and Carolyn Griffiths telling the fascinating story of woad in local cloth industry. Flesh & Bones by Annette is a fiction set in the pre-Roman kingdom of Dumnonia, and Carolyn has written a scrupulously-researched account entitled WOAD TO THIS - a traditional instruction to the dyer. Residents of the Blue House knitted this cloak in varying shades of woad-indigo which apparently has the property of losing visibility when mist descends, which enemies must have found disconcerting. I faded my shot to test the theory, and these blues definitely disappear more than other tones. (Makes you wonder why so many cars are silver...)

Currently I'm still in full-on project mode so again this post will barely skim the surface of  the last two weeks in Frome. But there's been too much music to ignore all, and though I've missed jazz & blues (& also King Sporks who promised 'hand-crafted artisanal funk, seditious jazz and ungentrified reggae in an outrageous night of original live music' at the Griffin), here are the events I just could not pass up: the totally brilliant Raggedy Men at the Grain Bar ~ new boys on the music block shaking up the scene with extraordinary vigour ~ also the even newer Borrowed Light, who shared their exquisite traditional songs and melodies at the Three Swans. and a Sofar Sounds Frome session ~ three excellent guests, introduced by the man who, with Anna Dina  and Beth Monk, brought the concept to Frome: singer-songwriter, town councillor & general rep for creativity, Al O'Kane.  Sofar is an excitingly quirky concept which transports anyone of my generation back to those magical '70s days of wandering night streets looking for a party you knew must be somewhere, following the people who had a bottle in hand because they must know, and always ending up somewhere with great live music playing... it's a lot more organised these days of course, but there's still a sense of secrecy and passion for music and a great buzz ~ and Frome is the only town in the southwest to have joined this international initiative. And I can't miss a mention of the rock & blues jam session at 23 Bath Street since (it was research, honest) I somehow ended up on stage with Elaine Pugsley knocking on heaven's door with the jammers.... thanks David Goodman for snatching my camera from the bar and grabbing some shots of this unlikely occurrence.

Final footnote: it did look published but it wasn't properly (because self-publishing on Kindle is not as easy as it looks, folks!) my second novel with Hodder & Stoughton Sleeping in Sand now an e-book, thanks to David Goodman who not only created the cover but tidied up the text within. It will cost you 99p to verify this, but you can't get a coffee anywhere for under 2 quid these days - go on, spoil yourself! 

Monday, January 15, 2018

shows, faces, words, wildlife, and a dilemma for Frome

Black Swan Arts current exhibition is Face to Face, paintings and drawings by Oliver Bedeman, which has been widely enjoyed. I loved every piece ~ tenderness without sentimentality, life-style insights without ever seeming clichĂ©d. Most of the titles reference song lyrics but the pictures aren't labelled so when you look in the catalogue your first impression becomes illuminated and extended. The boy with gun is a Southern Man, wondering maybe how long, how long...  the young man on the train is a Nature Boy, travelling very far, very far to learn the truth about love...
Another excellent writing workshop from Louise Green for the growing group participating in Words at the Black Swan brought extra dimension to our responses by inviting us to write pieces that explore these resonances. Here's mine:
Urban Scrawl
I see you face to face in this abandoned site, your trail 
of challenges in skull-white smiles and broken glassy eyes
your watchful burning tower blocks tagged with flourish of defiance
your celebration of dystopia, private army of grotesques;
fantastic fiendish friends, their cacophony of questions
unanswered in the silence of stubborn Saxonvale.
As a footnote, Black Swan Arts complex is currently being unified which hopefully will be good news for visitors of this vibrant resource. The assurance is that jobs are safe and in future "The cafe will be at the heart of everything we do."

First meeting of the year for Frome Writers Collective, held as always at Three Swans, featured an excellent talk by Peter Clark on the value and practice of writing a regular diary.  Peter has travelled all over the world with on British Council business and literary missions but he's far more disciplined than me and confines himself to 300-400 words a day: he reckons he's clocked in over six million words over the years, which will be material for quite a few books.  So far his Damascus Diaries and his Emirates Diaries have both been published. His talk was entertaining as well as informative: Peter refers to his raw diary as 'a blend of malice, self-pity and narcissism' and confesses the final books, while extensively edited, are still 'indiscreet.' Witty reminiscence and top tips for writers, another excellent FWC evening.

De Hepe's splendid emporium on Bath Street ~  in the local news last year for responding to aesthetic trolling by putting it in the window for the entertainment of passers-by ~ is owned as you would expect by a genial & flamboyant individual. Robin Cowley isn't naturally a small-town dweller, but he's as passionate about Frome as, well, as I am. His current concern is a very real issue, and after we talked I suggested that this blog might be a small start to wider awareness, and Robin agreed. This is his point: When Frome was down on its uppers it was individuals taking the challenge offered on Catherine Hill that provided the impetus for the change we needed. And now that that’s all come to fruition, other people are taking advantage of it by raising rents, and actually it’s penalising the very people that did the planting of the seeds in the first place. And I think that the landlords have a responsibility. I don’t begrudge anybody taking advantage of the popularity and the rebirth of the town but we need to remember why Frome is popular now.  And it’s not because of massive input from multinationals or even the District Council, so we need to remember our roots.
A serious point, which the council as well as anxious tenants will realise: combine this with rising house prices which will drive out many of the next generation ~ even if they'd intended to work in a family business that won't otherwise survive ~ Frome in the future may no longer be a popular hive of small independents and idiocyncratic self-confident style. Well, it's happened before... I refer you to Cobbett in his Rural Rambles nearly 200 years ago, on a return visit to Frome which he'd last seen when it was busy and affluent, finding destitution among the cloth workers: "Yes, these men have ground down into powder those who were earning them their fortunes: let the grinders themselves now be ground, and, according to the usual wise and just course of Providence, let them be crushed by the system which they have delighted in..."

After missing press night due to December's lurgie, I finally caught up with Beauty and the Beast at Tobacco Factory too late to recommend it, though it'll be in my column for Plays International, because it's now sold out until the end of the run. And so it should be. This delightful co-production with N.I.E directed by Alex Byrne represents the triumph of simplicity over flamboyance, with a cast of six talented actor-musicians and no gimmicks, just the magic of storytelling and song creating a fairytale drama to satisfy all ages. With only a flutter of leaves and occasional props, the scene shifts back and forth from castle to forest hovel (le gĂ®te terrible, as we are in France) where newly impoverished merchant Maurice is attempting to relocate his horrendous twins, aided by beautiful Isabella, non-avaricious misfit of the trio. Most of the comedy is inventively created by the appalling sisters, played by Samantha Sutherland and Elliot Davis, who can't grasp the concept of 'poor' - they can't pronounce it actually, rhyming it with 'Mwah!' which is the sort of sound they're more used to.
Roles follow the fairytale mostly, but this is a feisty Beauty who chooses to confront the Beast herself. Act 2 abandons tradition too, following (with much audience consultation) the besotted Beast's attempts at wooing, on top of a table in Mad Hatter chaos of chocolate mousse, terrible jokes, and wild dancing. It's all going quite well until Beauty realises Maurice is ill and dashes home for a dad-snatch in a wheel-barrow. The ending is a mix of classic and original too, with a touching moment of transformative love, but also a kind of Thelma-and-Louise-gone-very-wrong finale for the wicked sisters.  So I'm sorry you've misssed it, all I can say is, look out for the next NIE production, and for anything anywhere where Elliot Davis is performing. Especially in a frock. And look out too for other developments at Tobacco Factory Theatres.

From devised to revived:
I've been a massive fan of Stephen Mangan since The Hunt for Tony Blair, avidly watching every episode of Episodes and, as a writer for stage, I'm obviously in awe of Harold Pinter, so when I saw The Birthday Party was celebrating its own 60th birthday at the actual Harold Pinter Theatre, I promptly booked. I like my Pinter plain: I fretted over BOV's explosive version of The Caretaker last year, and was quite happy there were no distractions from the dense perplexity of Pinter's belief that 'the more acute the experience, the less articulate its expression.' We're not really supposed to understand, the programme explains, any more than we really understand life.
The story starts like a sit-com in the boarding house of a stoic husband and his dim ditzy wife ~ Peter Wight and ZoĂ« Wannamaker excellent in these roles ~ which has only one resident: Stanley, who might or might not have been a pianist, but he's not doing anything now, until two men arrive, who might or might not be Dumb-Waiter-style thugs, and the mood changes to menace. Stephen Mangan is electric in the role of dominant Goldberg, with good support from Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as McCann. They arrange an unwanted party for Stanley ("This isn't my birthday!"). Strange and sad things happen. Stanley might or might not know why, and as audience we are left with our own assumptions. I didn't think Toby Jones was quite compelling enough in the role of enigmatic victim, but that might come from direction. With a big stage it's hard to create tension as you don't get a real sense of menace when everyone's spaced out, and perhaps Ian Rickson aimed to keep that feeling of nearly normal life, just a bit weirdly messed up.  He did that well. I don't think I'll ever forget Goldberg's quiet, babylike, request Blow in my mouth....

And now for something completely different: a walk round Rodden Nature Reserve on Sunday morning, with about sixty other enthusiasts, organised by the Mendip branch of Somerset Wildlife Trust and led by Eve Tigwell, who pitched it perfectly for our motley crew, some experienced bird-spotters, bat-supporters and otter-counters, some tabula rasa like the toddler who toddled enthusiastically ahead, and some in the middle like me, enthralled by Frome's very own nature reserve. With hundreds of wildlife residents and thousands of visitors, this is a real gem and it's right outside Asda so you can just park and stride! but you only have two weeks before the breeding season means a lengthy closure till the autumn.
Back to work now, it's been fun sharing. As Blaise Pascal said, I would like to have written it shorter but I didn't have the time.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Begin again

A short medley this week, and future blogs will be sparse for a while as researching my current project is taking about 23 hours a day.  'Research' is the grand name for a labyrinthine process, as googling leads me instantly into a web of fascinating irrelevances. Chat sites especially are glitterballs of distraction, as when I somehow landed, while searching for something entirely different, on an old mumsnet thread about choosing books which included the comment "There is a writer called Crysse Morrison, one of whose books looks quite interesting and whose articles I have seen in magazines. But I won't read her book because she spells her name such a daft way."  'Unquiet Dad' sounds delightfully like my father, who would never read anything by a woman or an American.
So here we are in a new year, looking in Frome today pretty similar to the one we just kicked out. Short sunny days, good company and great music - here's an afternoon jam in the Three Swans with a mash-up of bands plus various acoustic instrumentalists and a bit of electric too.

And here's a powerfully evocative new figure created by Marian Bruce, who gave me permission to share. This one is unnamed, but her other figures represent consequence and this one also resonates a sense of human suffering. Marian says people find her art 'hard', but viewers struggled with Guernica too: Picasso said the purpose of art is not please, it is rather to bristle with razorblades.

We live in a world that dreams of ending, says Brendan Kennelly in Beginhis sublime celebration of mundanity, yet something that will not acknowledge conclusion insists that we forever begin.  I usually quote that poem in full to end the year but for a change here's a little ditty inspired by research: another distraction that won't make the final cut, but it seems appropriate now I'm going dark, as the theatre folk say:
The coffin path passed through the pub
and as each corpse's journey paused,
pall-bearers & grievers shared a round 
before proceeding to the waiting grave. 
This cadaverous custom must
have comforted mourners as dust returned to dust, 
and probably enlivened the funerals no end.
That's it from me, now a new year is out of the box let's see if we can keep it nice this time.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

winter woods : the Nature Watch edition

Dendrophilia literally means simply 'love of trees' but like arbophilia it's become seen as  a sort of sap-induced sexual arousal. A passion for woodland walking is a simpler sensuality for most of us: it's about smells of moss & lichen, sound of birdsong and crunchy leaves, the green & auburn tones of midwinter, the tranquility, and our deep instinctive awe at the timeless majesty of these tall life forms we call trees. Perhaps it's more like animism ~ our ancient understanding of the super-natural powers of everything living on earth.
This post is mostly about binge-walking.  At winter solstice my walk from Frome into Wiltshire with David took us along the Sustrans path through Longleat woods, always beautiful. Here's one of the fairy-tale creatures inhabiting the parkland over the festive season. There are owls, too, though sadly in cages. Next walk was with my family and in the opposite direction: we took a field route around Radford Mill, including the ancient holloway named 'Jenny's Path' after the little donkey that hauled coal between the mine and the canal in the late 18th Century. And then on Boxing Day, my favourite close-to-home walk, along the field edge just south of Frome to Roddenberry hill fort, flanked with beeches, glorious in every season.

This has been a good week for music too, with several open mics, Pete Gage Band at the Cornerhouse (his new CD is amazing) and a big tribute event for Griff Daniels, one year gone and still much missed, at the Roots Session in the Grain Bar. Nikki Mascall and Steve Loudoun led an epic musical gathering including Simon Sax, Mike Peake on trumpet, and Paul Hartshorn guitar.

No theatre to review week but I'm chuffed that the new issue of Plays International has a image of The Tin Man at Bristol Old Vic on the front cover, as featured in my column on productions in the southwest within. Still on a theatrical theme, I'll end with an odd tale which began in July when I stumbled upon ~ that's the term for an unexpected and fortuitous discovery I believe, though actually they were on a shelf ~ a pile of Theatre World magazines from 1962. This monthly publication is long defunct but it was once prestigious, and my father was their reviewer for various festivals and many London shows. (His style was caustic rather than effusive, in case you were wondering where I get it from.) Anyway, he sometimes took me along, and the May '62 issue includes one I remember vividly: the first English production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, at the Aldwich.  I was overjoyed to find these back in the summer, and now I'm overjoyed all over again, as my wonderful family have framed the entire collection of covers ~ or rather, a hi-res image of each, no magazines were harmed in making of this gift. Isn't it great? All I have to do now is find somewhere to hang it...

Sunday, December 17, 2017

'Twas the week before... Poems, songs, and wild wood pigeons

Frome Poetry Cafe last week was a midwinter word-fest of images and memories, thoughtful, fantastic, and mirthful. Our guest Robert Walton gave us two terrific sets from his new collection Sax Burglar Blues ~ one poem in particular, with the unlikely title Making a Herringbone Harris Tweed Garment, impressed the audience immensely with its evocation of a colour-filled fabric growing as 'the weaver wove from the yarn of weft and warp on the beam and loom.... ' And a great Open Mic too, from twelve poets all offering a different take on what this season means, from John Christopher Wood afflicted by Santa Claustrophobia, to more serious thoughts and even melancholy. The 'secret santa' gift recipients, chosen by Robert, were Linda Perry for a powerful poem about the winter sea in Cornwall and Rosie Finnegan for her clever pastiche 'Twas the Night Before Brexit ~ brilliantly performed too.

On Friday I finally got to see the Merlin pantomime, a quirky take on Hansel & Gretel written & directed by the truly awesome Claudia Pepler who seems to keep the theatre vibrant by a combination of tenacity and fairy dust, supported by volunteers & foyer sales on zero funding from Somerset or the Arts Council. That's a reason to buy tickets even if there were no other, but there's much to enjoy in this ensemble production full of song and comedy as well as wintry sorrow. Unlike the heavy-duty contemporising of the Old Vic's Little Matchgirl, this re-telling keeps us from the start in fairy-tale-land, but the dark fears and distress are all the more real for that. Some really inspired touches, like the ginger-bread children and the evil weasil, marvellous graphics by Howard Vause, and a super performance by the Grimm Brothers themselves ("Jake and Will - we are story-tellers", "or disrupters, if you will") as wood-pigeons both saving & confusing the lost children in the woods of their deepest dreads. Dillon Berry and Pete White surely have careers ahead on stage or screen. You can read the full review from Fine Times Recorder here. Images Dave Merritt.

This has been a hectic week but as it was mostly either work or seasonal private get-togethers ~ three writers' group meetings and the same number of parties ~ there's not much to post.  I'll finish with a picture from the final Nunney Acoustic Cafe of the year: a rousing rendition of Honky Tonk Woman from Frome musicians Paul Kirtley and Colin Ashley. Paul also sang a couple of the songs he's written about ideas in poems of mine, including a new one, and I did my current party piece, a new poem I have to read because I haven't learned it yet. It's a bit of a marmite one, I've found. Anyway, happy solstice all!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hans Anderson, Artisik Ego, and happier tales

Blue skies and sunshine for the last Independent market of the year, with seasonal decor, music, and pop-up-party places.You probably all know by now what the tented carnival in Frome streets looks & sounds like ~  just add tinsel and collectors with buckets for Fair Frome Big Christmas Get-Together.  Yes, it's that time of year again, and having just seen The Man Who Invented Christmas at Frome's little independent Westway cinema, I'm feeling a lot less curmudgeonly than usual about the C word, an delighted to find confirmation that this delightful version of the writing of A Christmas Carol is essentially, mostly, true (apart from that odd & unsatisfactory change to the final ghostly visitation.) Overall this movie is a sentimental treat, in the original sense of touching emotions, and Dan Stevens is charismatic as Charles Dickens feverishingly penning his novella in six weeks.
There's a fascinating, though irrelevant, link between Dickens's story and the next item, which I found while checking Hans Anderson's dates: these two writers not only coincided time-wise, they also met. They also became, for a while, friends, with shared concerns over increasing social inequality and poverty, until the Danish writer overstayed a visit and was asked to leave and the relationship terminated. Which all goes to show you can make a mess of reality, but stories live forever, just like Yuval-Noah-Harari says.
So, returning now to the comfort of imagination: The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales at Bristol Old Vic originated last year at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. It's a blending of Hans Anderson's tales directed by Emma Rice, who has now parted company with the Globe after her neon-lit disco for a Hackney-located Midsummer Night’s Dream was not appreciated by the Board (well she did publicly opine ‘the only reason to do Shakespeare is to mess it up,' so they were warned.) This flamboyant production delivers what we've come to expect from their main shows: an ensemble piece with a big cast and on-stage music, a quirky take on an old tale, and a thoughtful strand of modern moralising ~ a formula designed to appeal to all ages. Making Stage Relevant to our Screen Generations is a problem for all theatres, and BOV are very aware of this - a pre-show talk by chief executive Emma Stenning emphasised a new role for the building after its £12million injection ‘ending the journey of trying to fix from the inside and thinking what it wants to be as part of this city.’  Which now includes being provider of brunch and private functions, as local firm Fosters take over the catering - well someone had to, it was dire: I used to linger in the taxi rank cafe at the station rather than take a chance on their coffee machine. Good luck to them all, and back to the play: As well as the poignant central story ~ a hungry child at risk in a big city ~ there's much fun with the Princess & the Pea and The Emperor's New Clothes, and long look at the more obscure tale of Thumbelina which seemed to be there largely to add another puppet. Perhaps it's the continuing legacy of the War Horse effect: a conviction that the one thing stage can do better than other media is puppetry. It’s not infallible ~ viz. their puppetised Midsummer Nights Dream in 2013 ~ but a child-size, silent, observer-participator can certainly play a powerful role as a kind of innocent flâneur. The match-girl story arc for me was more successful than the Thumbelina story, which made for unsettled focus between the actor and her miniature alter-ego. Puppets by talented duo Lyndie (designing) & Sarah (directing) Wright, and Vicki Mortimer brought the strands of narrative together with fantastic, and sometimes very funny, costumes.

Another, though different, diversity of narrative plus moralising next from Mik Artistik's Ego Trip, on tour and in Frome especially for a Momentum support event at 23 Bath Street (aka Wheatsheaf). With excellent, and essential, musical support from Jonny Flockton & Benson Walker on guitar & bass, Mik's Leeds-toned growl delivered a couple of hours of social observation combined with abuse to a packed and cheering audience. Mik knows his market: his material is pitched to an ageing generation, evoking the music and memes of more rebellious years. Most of it scoffingly. Your kids aren't bothered about the fucking Pixies and anarchy ~ yer wasting yer time... His audience loved it all, even Mik's jeering yells of "This is boring! BORING! and YOU PAID for it." A night to remember, as officially declared by the oddest rock god ever.

Black Swan Arts' current exhibition in the long gallery is From the FieldsCarry Akroyd's prints inspired by the poetry of John Clare, a series of vibrant anthems which both celebrate and mourn the changing face of our land. Think Robert Macfarlane's Landmarks, there's that kind of wandering energy in these beautiful precise accounts, layering past and present together. On Monday our ekphrastic writing group met, steered by Louise Green, to take words from the pictures in the way the artists took from the poems... You can see some of these on the Words at the Black Swan website.

Still with nature and its preservation: another of the many wonderful moments my current project research has given me: Asda has been in Frome for 12 years but I'd never realised that part of their 'rent' for this presence was the establishment of a wild life area on some of their land. Rodden Nature Reserve survived this pragmatic inception because of a sextet of committed locals, two of whom I met last week. There's much to tell about the wild life, and their work, but for here I just want to celebrate their passion and commitment. If in some future incarnation I find myself a Bonaparte's gull then I hope I hatch in Rodden reserve, where some really great people really care.

Some seasonal glimpses now: the tree at Frome Library adorned by the Blue House knitters inspired by Mary Henderson, and 12 Days at the Round Tower, a collection of wintry images from just some of the superb visual artists around Frome, collected and curated by Paul Newman. Missing images from this week's round-up include some terrific music ~ The Raggedy Men at the Griffin, and Blue Midnight at the Cornerhouse ~ as my pictures don't do them justice, and Hansel & Gretel at Merlin Theatre because I didn't get to use my ticket as the lurking lurgi caught up with me again. 
Ending this post with the reminder, if you're in or near Frome on Monday, it's Frome Festive Poetry Cafe night at the Garden Cafe!