Dave's review of Friday 1st February 2008The Author performs on a Friday 2008
All night long the wind’s been whipping the tiles, and I’ve set my new super duper DAB alarm for six thirty but I can’t get to sleep and it’s already turned two. Somewhere in the ether is a heavenly choir which forces me to twice check to see if I mistuned the sleep function, aagh the horrors of technology. Then I get it, about three thirty by now, quite clearly and unmistakeably “We’re walking in the air….” etcetera. That four year child next door is playing the bloody CD I bought him as a token but well-meant Christmas present. Musing on the cruelty of fate I wonder what his mother is doing until I hear the creak, creak, creak of what I take to be a rowing machine or step machine or cycling machine. Either she’s taking the opportunity to catch up on a bit of body-toning or she’s got him tied to it making clandestine inputs to the house’s electrical circuit.
Notwithstanding these distractions when thejazz (my new wake up station of choice) goes off, I put the snooze on twice before leaping out in a state of panic to face a freezing morning and a drive to Wigan at walking pace. Because today Tony Walsh and I or me are going to be “Poets in Residence” at the Eighth Wigan Partnership Convention!
The JJB Stadium, like the Reebok, is obviously a conference Mecca, and the roads leading to it, exotic Anjou Way, and prosaic Stadium Way, are thronged with conference goers. I am greeted by a woman in a dressing gown, obviously a bit of a themed registration from which I am excused, and whizzed off to meet Dave Guest who’s going to try to hold the day together. Tony arrives and we try to piece together an agenda from the three different ones we are holding. We realise we’re going to have to busk it but somehow deep down I know it’ll be alright. The three hundred delegates are from the Council, the Health Service, other public bodies and the voluntary sector, and it is to the latter that I will be pandering. Unfortunately it’s difficult to tell who’s who on a dress-down Friday where the leader of Wigan Council, Lord Peter Smith, appears in denims. I’m one of the few in a suit because I like to challenge pre-conceptions, but this is quite mind-boggling.
The agenda stretches from Wigan’s new Neighbourhood Agreements to their invitation to host the Ukrainian Olympic team in 2012, to celebrate the links between the displaced Ukrainians, unable to return home after the war, who ended up down the local pits. We have a telling film made by teenagers from Shakerley Estate, young dancers from a local High School, a kind of roly-poly dance troupe of the over seventies led by a stunning young woman in black. We have numerous DVD and power point displays all plagued by the inevitable hitches and glitches, we have motivational speakers babbling on about passion….. and we have us.
After a brief introduction by Dave Guest I open proceedings with a morning prayer followed by Tony who after doing “it’s hard to be a culture vulture in a counter culture vulture culture”, informs everyone of the Haiku competition, and gives a few examples (he doesn’t do the “shit happens” one) and gets them laughing. Then we retire until first the film and then the motivational DVD hit problems. Tony is there in a flash performing his uplifting poem about four girls sitting on a wall drinking Stella. This goes down really well, almost as well as a pint of Stella would at this point. We then sit back, joining in table discussions, and pretend to write meaningful pentameters, before adjourning for a classic Wigan pie, peas, and pickled cabbage lunch. Very appropriate as I’ve been developing a serious piece of work “Community Day in Pie Town”.
Straight into the fray after lunch I hit hard with ten community haikus of a political nature after ascertaining there are still some community reps in the audience. Tony follows with a reading of some of the many Haikus already submitted (they flow in throughout the afternoon); not a stranger to politics himself he makes sure the ones submitted by the Assistant Chief Executive and Council Leader are among those he reads. After more motivational exhortation we have the aforementioned dancers which raises the spirits and quickens the pulse. (This is a Friday afternoon and we have expect the audience to have died, fallen asleep, or sidled away, but thanks to the skill of Dave Guest and the threat of the firing squad from the bosses, most are till there at three as we prepare to wind up.) Knowing Tony will leave them on a cheery and inspirational note I eschew Community Day in Pie Town for more verses from my Community Requiem. They’re not here to enjoy themselves. Get a plug in for Write out Loud of course.
And then it’s over and I crawl back into Bolton tempted to drop off at The Howcroft but mentally preparing myself for a Riders night at the Socialist Club. When I eventually sort through the inevitable bag of junk mail, bills and circulars, and head for town it’s cold very cold with snow in the air, so cold that there’s hardly a baker’s dozen to start the show, but Alabaster has obviously been here as the “stage” is littered with instruments. Come half time the show is rattling along, the numbers have doubled and everyone’s having a great time, which I only spoil by my over-reaction to a distressed heckler in the front row, threatening to smack him if he doesn’t shut up. I’m too old to be banned from every town centre pub. It was stupid (memo to self “get in touch with lighter side, remember Buddha nature and spend less time with Salford Men’s Action Group”). Riders is a great success again, Nat comperes skilfully with great wit, the turns all rise to the occasion, stimulated I think by Paul’s bargain buy of little pink flickering electric candles, fabulous, straight out of Hairspray. Alabaster, John Fairhurst and Company bring the house and almost the ceiling down, and like fools some of us take up the invitation to jump a ride to Withington in the crew bus, for another four hours of inspired jamming. Vaguely remember getting home at quarter to seven, it’s snowing. Somewhere, just somewhere, I think I hear “We’re walking in the air….” , look skywards and decide that either I’m hallucinating or it’s that child next door again (memo to self “be more careful if you buy a well-meaning if rather cheap Christmas present next year”). I decide I’m hallucinating and Friday was just a dream.
This article first appeared in Write Out Loud, February 2008