Friday, 29 May 2009

The Walcott-Padel Affair

Just don't start any rumours, ok?

But Oxford's Professor of Poetry chair has certainly been hotly contested to the point of hitting the national headlines.

Derek Walcott was all set to walk it when rumours of his hitting on a couple of his female students with inappropriate comments and behaviour in the US many years ago suddenly surfaced. Not major-league stuff, and probably no worse than what many another famous male poet gets up to in his attempts to sexually coerce his less-enamoured female students into sharing a bed with him, but suddenly the whole thing blew up.

Mr Walcott duly bowed out, not wishing the post to be brought into disrepute. So almost by default, rival poet Ruth Padel got elected. However turns out that Ms Padel had sent a few 'innocent' e-mails to journalist friends detailing some aspects of Mr Walcott's alleged past. Stranger still, turns out that 200 letters containing 'strikingly similar' phrasing to Ms Padel's had been dispatched on the same day from the same London sorting office to key Oxford academics in the literary world.

The pressure was mounting and Ruth Padel herself stepped down.

Mysteriouser and Mysteriouser.

Thus the Oxford Professorship of Poetry remains unclaimed and awaiting a new selection process. For myself, I can promise not to descend into a dirty tricks campaign to get elected or slag any of my rivals off. My strategy will consist of a perfectly open and honest attempt at stating my case to the selection committee with the aid of a Powerpoint presentation. And an AK47.

Commensurate to the values of the world in which I live I shall demand to be elected on a 'poetic futures' basis - ie if I am elected they will be freeing me up to devote all my time to writing the poetry to end all poetry. The poetry that sinks a 1000 haiku's and launches 1000 sestina's. And not least being as I am still under 40 and a late blossomer, I do feel the best is yet to come for me artistically, so I'd represent a good risk and potential return for their investment in me.

Poetry fun and games aside, the other news story which caught my attention recently was that of a gentleman I share a housing trust committee with. For four years Andrew Wood has, without a word to the rest of us, been battling against the Metropolitan Police to have photographs they took of him without his consent at an Arms Trade AGM in a London hotel destroyed. And quite so. Why should anyone attending a perfectly legal meeting or protest (of whatever kind) be criminalised in this way, not least when the public are no longer to be allowed to photograph the Police in return, even when the Police are themselves acting illegally!

At last Big Brother Britain has received a well-deserved bloody nose for its pains, with hopefully many more (metaphorical) bloody noses to come as the innocent subject fights back (peacefully of course) against the Police State our once-proud nation seems to be turning into with the law-abiding singled out and persecuted at every turn. The irony of this case though is that Andrew genuinely is the most peace-loving, eco-friendly, community-minded, ethical individual the Police could have picked on. So why on earth it should be assumed that this least-hypocritical of human beings would suddenly wish to become the very ilk of threat to peace that he so abhors and protests against beggers belief.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Life And Other Battles...

Well I have almost caught up with all the Quincey episodes I missed owing to being only five or so when they were first screened, but apart from that, unemployment is a tough old game.

If you are not applying for jobs, you are looking for openings, sending speculative applications to possible openings, trying to keep up to speed with various knowledge and training in your field and signing on at agencies, the whole caboodle - aware of the growing competition all the time for each post as more and more people come onto the jobs market.

Then there are all the annoying side-issues to deal with such as battling the council and DSS just to prove you are who you say you are and entitled to the entitlements you have paid your taxes to receive (the council have now had two copies of my bank statements and two copies of my rent book/documentation, yet are still finding excuses to delay my claim).

And yes, I have considered becoming an MP for an easier life, free of having to justify myself all the time! I found it most interesting to read that Mr Brown amended the 2003 Income Tax (Earnings & Pensions) Act to exempt MP's expenses and allowances from tax! Nice work if you can get it indeed, though hopefully things are set to change for the more honourable following the current scandal.

Another battle is with my mobile phone company who are refusing to let me out of my 18 month contract after 6 months without massive penalties, despite having such a pants signal that I am scarcely able to use it and many complaints to their Indian call centre since I've had it, the staff of whom are perfectly polite and helpful within their strictly limited scripts, but evidently living in terror at losing their jobs by 'allowing' me to cancel my contract, even with the penalty they insist I would have to pay. Apparently the poor b*****ds are all on 7 week contracts! Finally at their request I returned my handset to the Glasgow repair centre to be checked, which I did via the Oxford 3 shop rather than risk it in the post. Two days later the repair centre e-mailed me with a picture of a broken screen saying that my contract did not cover repairs! So someone has either accidentally or deliberately damaged my handset. Luckily it was personally checked by the Manager of the 3 shop for physical damage and forms signed on both sides before they sent it away, so I doubt they have a leg to stand on in claiming I sent it in that state.

Separately to this I ordered an item from a printing company some 4 months ago which never arrived, despite the company insisting they dispatched it twice. Now they are asking me to send me their bank details by e-mail??!! I don't think so.

It is said that life is sent to try us. I have often joked that if ever I pen an autobiography it will be entitled; 'If Things Don't Get Any Better In Six Months, Then, I'll Kill Myself', the joke of it being that it's a rolling six months, and by the time I got round to killing myself, I'd be 95 anyway!

But I realise there are people worse off than me, and that if I stand on one leg with my neck craned at 45 degrees in a certain room of my house I actually get a perfect signal on my mobile and it only cuts out occasionally!

Friday, 15 May 2009

My Mother Kept These 'Just In Case...'

'Just in case' of what, she never elaborated. Certainly they weren't even fashionable when I was a size 0 (-6 months).

This is the sort of humilation a baby could expect to be subjected to in the early 1970s. Only worse. If only I could locate the snaps of my infant self dressed in my grandmother's bobble-hatted nightmares and cruelties-by-crochet (honestly, you'd call the NSPCC retrospectively!)

Unsurprisingly these days I have developed a real chip on my shoulder when I see infants wearing better clothes than I can afford.

Death by designer cuteness makes me sick.

I mean a baby 'surf suit' for heaven's sake!

Even their buggies look more like Formula 1 racing cars and bear macho names such as 'V6 Explorer'. My sister and I were ensconced in a no-frills stripey fold-up pushchair of the most basic kind. Not a hint of padding for our darling baby bottoms. Even a hole or two through which we could see the tarmac passing beneath us.

But hey, the mittens-sewn-onto-sleeves and bobble hats may have been awful but they were character-building. What chance have the spoiled little Emperor brats of today got of escaping a bland and bored existence with nothing to rebel against? And every parent who succumbs to the temptations of Mini Boden (or if they're really rich, Baby Bateau), is making a rod for their own backs on the pester power front for the rest of their lives.

Something else these kids miss out on is the chance to revisit knitting in later life (ok, so my therapist made me) and discover it's not all bad...

Friday, 8 May 2009

Renaissance of The Victorian Internet...?

Many Victorians enjoyed three postal deliveries a day - Breakfast, lunch and teatime. In most towns and cities it was possible to post a letter in the morning and receive a reply by teatime, or even return of post! Although telegrams caused a stir when they arrived, they were prohibitively expensive for all but emergency or overseas communiques. It was the Royal Mail's Post Office which offered the real Victorian 'internet' for the masses with its famous nationwide Penny Black stamp for all letters.

Over a century later, I was a huge devotee of letter writing and really enjoyed both sending and receiving them - until the rot of e-mail came along and infected me too, reducing my postal output to Christmas cards and the odd scribbled postcard.

Now, thanks in part to my thoughtlessness, our Post Office is at risk with branches closing weekly, many sorting offices closed or inefficiently amalgamated between cities and towns many miles from each other, and the Post Office struggles to deliver post to our homes even once a day, often long after the occupants have left for work and given up waiting for that important letter or cheque to be delivered.

Yet I have found from recent job applications that I receive far greater response from 'snail mail' applications than electronic ones. Has it really become so unusual to receive land mail and so common to be deluged by e-mail that more notice is now paid once more to the three-dimensional variety? And while I am always careful to type a relevant subject heading in any e-mail heading box, I can imagine that an awful lot of e-mails end up in people's Junk boxes, though of course there are those who conveniently pretend they have never received a message.

When not extolling the benefits of snail mail to my fellow unemployed, I have just seen another and greater glimmer of hope for the future of our Post Office. Namely that when all e-mails and mobile phone calls are intercepted (ok, stored for use) by our government, people will revert to writing letters in their droves as the only private means of communicating over distance. Certainly this move to spy on us all (just in case we develop some bizarre yen to take up a new career as terrorists) is bound to provoke a mass public reaction, and this would be the obvious one.

I have also, spurred by economic necessity, reverted to using my local Library a great deal more lately rather than buying books (another public service under increasing threat). 'Use it or lose it', as they say.

Ironic though that the Victorians had a better postal service than us. And a more extensive and reliable rail network. Not to mention nicer architecture. Some 'progress' would appear to be going in a backwards direction...

Friday, 1 May 2009

Pretending To Be Scottish

Last night I performed at a rather fun gig at Whitechapel Art Gallery, presided over by bitingly satirical Scottish poet friend Elvis McGonagall, (now a regular on Radio 4's Saturday Live).

The theme was Kilts, Caravans & Cookery and we all had to wear something tartan. Some very strange approximations abounded and a good-natured Clash of the Tartans ensued!

Which reminded me of the strange phenomenon that happens whenever one goes to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and which inspired me to pen the following poetic monologue (print version beneath podcast for those without speakers).

Pretending to be Scottish

It starts innocuously enough, usually on day three of the Edinburgh Fringe
You're traipsing down the rain-reflective cobbles of the Royal Mile
For a traditional Scottish lunch of
vegetarian haggis, neeps and tatties at World's End
And you pass a knitwear shop
Selling jumpers five sheep thick
And suddenly you want one
No matter that the weather in England
Is never quite that polar and it's £200 quid
Then you see bolts of clan tartan for sale
And it looks quite nice
A piper on a corner pumps up a mournful dirge
And rather than flee the bag of cats being strangled
You are assailed by a wave of emotion, strangely nostalgic
For your adopted homeland
All normal thoughts of violence translated into a donation of 50p.
Day four. An unexpected obsession with Rabbie Burns
Prompts a lingering visit to your idol's museum
And a rash investment in his entire works, never opened.
You nearly buy a ticket for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, but wait until the feeling passes, usually 10 minutes along the mile long queue.
By day five, the cod Edinburgh accent has manifested
The locals are staring, the drunks no longer tapping you up and shirtless performers cease thrusting endless flyers in your hand.
Or could it be that you're carrying that caber in your sporran the wrong way round?
Och aye the noo, it's time to go home.

© LS King 2009