Friday, 8 October 2010

Fear and Loathing on the Calder and the Tees: from London to Middlesbrough via Hebden Bridge, in the company of drunken poets and a motley crue of lesbians

Reader, I am sorry. I am sordid. I am cheap. I am a tease. For I ended the last post with the tantalising phrase 'what could possibly go wrong?' suggesting, of course, that something terrible was on the point of occurring. A come-uppance, perhaps, for my smugness following my Covent Garden triumph. Alas, this was not to be. I may as well tell you that my Hebden Bridge gig, under the auspices of Write Out Loud, was as much of a success as my second London gig. Some jeopardy was involved, though, as, on arrival in Hebden Bridge, I found myself held hostage by a gang of notorious lesbians...

As a fan of Alison Bechdel's brilliant graphic memoir Fun Home, I had long coveted a copy of  The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, the only UK collection (to my imperfect knowledge) of her syndicated comic strip following, in that turgid soap-opera phrase, 'the lives and loves' of a group of lesbians, gay guys, guydykes, trans dykes, trans guys und so weiter in a city which may or may not be Minneapolis. And so, while in London, pootling about on my second day, I found myself in Foyles bookshop. I had mainly decided to go for a coffee in their excellent jazz cafe, but I was consumed with guilt over my purchase of a Kindle, which, many of my book trade friends had told me, was tantamount to me sticking a knife in their hearts. I resolved to show my commitment to the bound codex by purchasing some books at this cathedral of the UK book trade - and besides, the Kindle is not well-served for graphic novels, so a trip to that section of the bookshop seemed the best bet.

It was a toss-up between Dykes and the new, hardcover edition of the Morrison/Quitely Batman and Robin series, and I would probably have got both if Foyles' ridiculously well-stocked LGBTQ section hadn't had a copy of Julia Serrano's Whipping Girl, but in the end I found hanging out with some lesbians more appealing than spending time with a guy in a leather batsuit. Almost too appealing, in fact, because, after making myself a cafetiere of the Taylor's of Harrogate coffee so thoughtfully provided by the landlady of the apartment I'd rented in Hebden Bridge, I found myself devouring page after page of Bechdel's strips, unable to tear myself away. There is a lot to be said for the one-page strip in graphic terms: it's incredibly moreish and, because of the built-in need for cliffhangers, the temptation to say 'I'll just read one more, and then go out' is almost impossible to resist.

Resist I did, however, and I did a fine job at Write Out Loud's regular gig at the Hole in the Wall. I did the tried-and-tested trio of 'Tension', 'Eggshells' and 'Suicide', and, during the second half - when everyone is invited back to perform another single poem - I did 'NSFW', a poem about sex and sado-masochism which caused a bit of a stir. It needn't be said that, of course, I'm the girl in the poem, but in fact it did need saying to one audience member who kept referring to it as the 'schoolgirl-strangling' poem while simultaneously saying how much she'd enjoyed it. Huh. Some people are always looking for an entirely different sense of transgression in your work than the kind that you're trying to convey, I guess.

Speaking of transgression, I drank a lot more than I'd intended to at the Hebden Bridge gig, and was very hungover when I departed for Leeds the next day. I knew that some Middlesbrough poets were planning a National Poetry Day event at the Writers' Block in their town, and was keen to go, but wasn't sure a ticket from Leeds to Middlesbrough would fit within the budget for my trip. As it happened it did, so I buggered off there and read at this excellent, free-form event organised by PA Morbid, was pleasantly surprised when the Crow King Andy Willoughby, who I knew from my Hydrogen Jukebox days, swung by, and generally had a nice old time there and at one of the local hostelries afterwards. Oddly, for an incredibly scary man, Andy has an ability to set you at your ease, and, even though I didn't know any of the other poets there (which made me feel impossibly old), I found myself talking to them like an old friend (I suppose I might grudgingly admit that two plastic cups of wine and three pints of Kronenbourg may have helped here...). Anyway, Andy and co saw me off onto a train from Middlesbrough to Newcastle, but not before entreating me to send poems for various magazines and presses, come back for other gigs etc etc. It was all quite wonderful, and sustained me very well during the bum-breaking 90-minute train ride back to Newcastle on a knackered old pacer that seemed hell-bent on stopping at every butt-fuck of a town between the Tees and the Tyne.

And so I got home, went to bed, and slept in until 1pm today. Sorry readers. I know it's not the end of Easy Rider, is it? Still, count yourself lucky it's not the neverending end of the Lord of the Rings films, or the end of the Sopranos, I mean what the hell was that, finishing up in mid-sent-

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