Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Cumbrian Adventures

Yesterday we visited William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Basil Bunting, driving around the Lake District. After the plunging landscape of North Wales, I thought nothing could impress me, but my God. I've never been to Lake Windemere before, but I was gobsmacked. I never realised we had anything so stunning in the UK. Sadly we did not have time in our schedule to visit the Pencil Museum.

Obviously I knew who Wordsworth was before we arrived, but I didn't know Southey or Bunting. Bunting's grave was in a Quaker burial ground, where - in keeping with the principles of Quakerism - all the gravestones are of a uniform size and shape, so no one is raised above anyone else. By contrast, the graves in Southey's churchyard were all huge exercises in morbid ostentation, festooned with cherubs and laurels and big enough to kill a toddler.

Bunting was a conscientious objector during the First World War and spent time in Wormwood Scrubs. He believed that poetry was meant to be performed. He died in 1985.

Robert Southey was a supporter of the French Revolution who grew more conservative as he aged and was eventually embraced by the Tory establishment, becoming Poet Laureate in 1813. He was the first person to write down the story Goldilocks and the Three Bears. He died in 1843.

Here are sample poems by Southey and Bunting - if you like 'em, I really recommend you check both guys out a bit more deeply.

I Suggest (by Basil Bunting)

1. Compose aloud; poetry is a sound.
2. Vary rhythm enough to stir the emotion you want but not so as to lose impetus.
3. Use spoken words and syntax.
4. Fear adjective; they bleed nouns. Hate the passive.
5. Jettison ornament gaily but keep shape

Put your poem away till you forget it, then:
6. Cut out every word you dare.
7. Do it again a week later, and again.

Never explain - your reader is as smart as you.

Sonnet I (by Robert Southey - one of his piece on the slave trade)

Hold your mad hands! for ever on your plain
Must the gorged vulture clog his beak with blood?
For ever must your Nigers tainted flood
Roll to the ravenous shark his banquet slain?
Hold your mad hands! what daemon prompts to rear
The arm of Slaughter? on your savage shore
Can hell-sprung Glory claim the feast of gore,
With laurels water'd by the widow's tear
Wreathing his helmet crown? lift high the spear!
And like the desolating whirlwinds sweep,
Plunge ye yon bark of anguish in the deep;
For the pale fiend, cold-hearted Commerce there
Breathes his gold-gender'd pestilence afar,
And calls to share the prey his kindred Daemon War.


Thought I'd just throw up a selection of pictures from the last few days, including some beautiful Wales and Cumbria countryside, some performance shots and other randoms. Thanks again to all keeping up with us/coming to see us/looking after us

Bombing around the valleys

Sunday was a long day. We’d been sat up the night before, looking at potential routes around Wales.  After several hours we came up with a route that’d score some good grave and we went to bed feeling pretty chuffed, having got postcodes for every location.

Our first grave was Henry Vaughan’s. We entered the postcode, drove to it, but it led us to a totally different church in the valleys. Not ideal. It took us half an hour of running round the graveyard to realize our mistake, before tacking across the country roads, waving phones in the air, desperately trying to get some signal so we could work out where we’d gone wrong.

It turns out that we were 40 minutes away from the churchyard we were looking for. As we bombed our way over and bundled out of the car, we saw a vicar walking out of the graveyard. We asked whether Henry Vaughan was buried there and got a very dry
‘Yes. He hasn’t moved yet.’

It might be the ridiculous nature of this trip and the lack of sleep, but we were really, really deliriously happy to have found him. It was like we’d really kept the faith and soldiered through. It felt (weirdly) like we’d achieved something.

After that we had to get a move on to get to Shropshire. We were visiting the grave of A E Housman. We listened to a load of comedy routines and passed round some haribo. During the drive we also discussed which kind of grave we’d like the most. None of us are overly keen on dying, but we had some ideas.

1. A death mask of your face, massively increased in size, where people could walk through the mouth.

2. A stone tablet/table, that would ensure virility for anyone copulating on top of it. Basically, if you create a legend around your gravestone, you know that it stays relevant.

3. I kind of like the family vault/mausoleum idea. A huge block of stone – one size for all the family.

As with most of these conversations, we ended with the same conclusion: we really, really don’t want to die. Then we put some music back on.

After getting to A E Housman’s grave in Shropshire – or at least getting to the scaffolding that surrounded it, we had some lunch and headed on. We were off back into Wales to go and visit the grave of Gelert – a dog from Welsh legend. It was probably the most beautiful location we’ve visited so far – and his grave was huge. Supposedly, two stones were buried into the ground – one at Gelert’s head and one at his tail, to show how huge it was. I’m pretty sure he was bigger than Mixy, to be honest.

That evening we performed in Tremeirchion in North Wales, to a wicked bunch of people – they were really warm and kind and tolerant of wild-eyed, slightly manic poets. We each wrote a piece for the audience during the break, based upon their suggestions. I was given the following words

Bendigedig (a welsh word meaning ‘fantastic’)

Feel free to have a go yourself – I’ll put my attempt up later tonight/early tomorrow.

After a long day on the road, we were given apple pie, whiskey and beds to sleep in by several very kind audience members. I can’t say this enough -  we are SO SO lucky to be meeting so many kind people on this tour.  Only a few days left, but it’s already made me think a lot about my own life. The examples of kindness I’ve seen have been more moving than the gravestones.

Anyway, better get moving. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

life is one big road with a lot of signs... signs signs signs

It's been a mad first week and we're now half way through the tour.
Today we left Oxford at 8.30am and are on route to Wales. We have a few graves to see then a gig in north wales tonight that we're all looking forward to.
I've never been to Wales before so it'll be a nice adventure. I hear it's mainly mountains.
Did you catch us on BBC news? I'm pretty happy with it, that was the day I last blogged where we popped over to the isle of wight then missed our return ferry after Mark practicing his race car driving. Tim is also doing driving shifts now, I have a licence but am not insured on the car so I'm mainly talking bubbles, freestyling over beats for entertainment and smoking roll ups.
Just wanted to say a big thank you to all who've put us up, fed us, booked us, came to see us, tollerated and supported us so far. We've met some great people.
We also met the great, great, great grandson of poet John Clare, Josh Clare at our gig in Cambridge. Here's a pic of us together plus a few randoms of the ferry we missed, the view from the ferry we didn't miss and sone performance shots of Mark and Tim

Saturday, 12 October 2013


We're recovering in Peterborough after an epic few days rattling across the UK visiting dead poets and meeting new friends.

On Wednesday we barrelled over to the Isle of Wight in search of AC Swinburne. We were very worried we might miss our ferry so we raced across the island, ('raced' might be an exaggeration, given the number of buses and farm vehicles we got stuck behind, but still - we did our damnedest) found the little churchyard, and dashed about it calling 'have you found it? I can't see it?' like participants in a particularly macabre Crystal Maze.

We didn't find it. Gutted. The churchyard was maybe 20 metres across, but we couldn't see it. Eventually we had to abandon the search and sped back across the island, only to see our ferry pulling away from the dock.

Missing our ferry made us an hour late for our trip up to Somerset for Siegfried Sassoon's grave. I never knew much about his life, but he seems like an incredible character. Acts of suicidal valour, a packed sex life, and the middle name 'Loraine'. What a sweet dude.

In the evening, we performed to Canadian students at Castle Herstmonceaux in East Sussex. Again, we only just made it in time, blundering on stage to a ridiculously warm reception. The BBC were there filming us, so I'm glad we got away with it! The castle itself was stunning - it even had a moat!

I'll post more when I get the chance. At the moment it's go go go. I'm having such a time.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

this is dead

You're gonna have to excuse the inevitable spelling mistakes and bad gramma to follow.

So, this tour has been pretty lively. Different is an understatement. So far, It's day 4, 6:39am and we're looking to head for the isle of white. I've never been but hear it's nice. I also hear going and coming back in one day 'can't be done' so we'll see about that. We had a debate yesterday and nearly decided against attempting the trip as it's a very busy day already (getting up at 6:39 is not usually how I roll) but the feeling was, if we don't even attempt it... well we'd be massive wastemen. So let's go.
So far we've done 4 gigs and visited... 7? About 7 graves. Which is nice. A lot more to come over the next week.
We're performing and staying in a castle tonight which we're all pretty excited about. That is if we don't get stuck on the isle of white.
If I've worked out how to do this on my phone, you'll see three attached pics.
One of Mark taking a piss near the river taw, one of Tim standing, waiting to steal dirt from a graveyard, and one of Mark and Tim walking through the moors  (I don't fuck with 'selfies')
We'll keep you in the loop with our survival


Lest these posts descend into smug back-slapping about our lovely gigs and lovely hosts (the gigs and hosts have genuinely been really lovely, by the way - we're having such a time) I want to give a heads up to some of the shit parts of the tour.

Today we spent over an hour hiking through drizzle to find Betjeman's grave. The car now smells completely on-theme: a mix of corpse-rot and crotch odour and someone trying to cremate a wet schnauzer. After searching in vain on the bleak moor yesterday, I now have blood blisters on my feet.

On Monday night, workmen were digging up the road outside the pub with some of the most crazily massive, heavy duty machinery I've ever seen. And they kept bringing new vehicles (topped with flashing orange lights) till around 3 in the morning. I got eff all sleep, and I now feel like I'm staggering through a kind of waking dream full of tombstones and bright lights and the occasional screamed poem.

My new poem about the famous St Bernard from San Diego, a dog called 'Bum', died on its arse. Apparently, saying the word 'bum' two dozen times doesn't count as entertainment! Honestly!

We are less than a quarter of the way through, and tomorrow morning, we have to be up at 6am to attempt our assault on the Isle Of Wight, where AC Swinburne lies buried. If we miss a ferry or take a wrong turn or can't find the graveyard, we're screwed for the whole day. Everything is on a schedule with about five minutes of wriggle room. And we'll have had 5 hours sleep.

If we survive tomorrow, we're ending the day in a haunted castle near Spike Milligan's grave. Along the way, we're taking in Seigfried Sassoon, and I'll be reciting poetry by some of the poets we've visited so far (like Hardy and Day-Lewis) to Mark and Mixy from the backseat of the car, like an annoying, smelly uncle.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite Sassoon poems, 'Base Details':

IF I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath, 
  I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base, 
And speed glum heroes up the line to death. 
  You’d see me with my puffy petulant face, 
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,        
  Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young chap,’ 
I’d say—‘I used to know his father well; 
  Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’ 
And when the war is done and youth stone dead, 
I’d toddle safely home and die—in bed.