Monday, February 26, 2007

Man flu: update

Good news. I lived.

Now, of course, all others around me are losing their heads and blaming it on me.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

'Man flu'

Man flu is a ghastly and most debilitating ailment, and bears no resemblance to the kind of flu that women get. It's certainly not a 'bit of a sniffle' - a phrase that I've heard being unkindly bandied about in our house.

I would say it's more like malaria. That same feeling of one's bones being slowly crushed from within...the uncontrollable chattering of the teeth...the raging thirst for liquid...any liquid. (Although tea for preference. And maybe a digestive biscuit to go with it, but only if you happen to be passing the Co-op on your way home from work.)

Horses used to get something similar, I believe, or perhaps I'm thinking of cattle. It was known as 'the staggers'. Or was it 'the botts'? I'm so delirious I can't remember, but I do know that they usually died of it and I'm hardly surprised. This would definitely kill a horse, what I've got.

They found a cure for horse flu but nothing for man flu, as yet, so we must take whatever comfort we can. My Dad used to swear by the 'whiskey and hat' method for treating the condition. It's one of those simple old country remedies that seem to have gone by the by, along with ducking-stools and blood-letting. You get yourself a bottle of whiskey and sit yourself up in bed with it, having first hung your hat on the bedpost. Any class of hat will do, but take Irish whiskey for medicinal choice. Then you drink the whiskey and stare at the hat.

Just keep on doing that...sipping at the medicine and watching the hat. Eventually, if you look closely, you'll see that there are actually two hats. Maybe more.

At this point, stop. Put down the medicine bottle and go to sleep. When you next awake you'll be cured - or cured of man flu at any rate. I gather there may be some residual side effects, but I can't say what these might be as I've never tried it. Whiskey makes me gip.

Ah me. I wonder if the priest is still awake. Maybe I ought to get him to pop round. I had to miss my Wednesday night game of snooker this week, and that's serious. But there. I don't suppose there's much he can do for me now.

No, quiet fortitude is the only way through man flu, and so it's aptly named in that respect. We don't complain.

More weird collector stuff

Online writer friend Robin Slick (see 'writer' links) has been showing me how to do the Amazon associate thing - it's that piece of flash gittery down on the left there, with all the book jackets. I'm in two minds about it. Selling books is good, but not at the expense of the small independents.

However, some of those displayed on the left are actually independents who've linked through Amazon themselves, so perhaps I shouldn't feel too bad.

The title that caught my eye as I was wrestling with the html was 'We're Going On An Airplane', one of my pop-up books. Best price £39.67, it says. Seems a bit expensive, I thought. But when I click on the link I see that used copies of this book are priced at up to £156.48. I could find no easily available information as to why this should be. What's going on? Are those crazy collector type people branching out in another direction or is this just a spolling mistook?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Introducing the book

This is a hoot. I don't seem to be able to get it up as a direct link, but copy the URL and take a look if you've ever been trampled down by the march of technology. Very funny.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Elephant Fayre

Twenty five years ago, maybe a bit more, I did a couple of summer seasons as 'musical director' of a touring theatre company called Atlantic Union. It sounds quite grand put like that.

Atlantic Union was actually one of many 'experimental' theatre companies that burgeoned in the late seventies, run on a shoestring, artistically dodgy, and grubbing for whatever gigs were available. Here today, disbanded tomorrow. We toured the hippie fairs - Wrexham, Hood Fair, Narberth, Elephant Fayre - did the show and moved on to the next muddy field. We were based in Wales, and so some of the fields were very muddy indeed.

The company was directed by a guy called Pete Brooks. Pete was a great cook, and his idea for Atlantic Union was to run it as a touring restaurant-cum-cabaret. Not for us the impromptu performance on a couple of shabby gym mats. We were to carry a full marquee with tables and chairs and gingham tablecloths, portable ovens, proper place settings, the lot. God knows how Pete ever raised the sponsorship, or got it organised, but he did.

And it worked, sort of. We had a big old Merc van, that classic touring theatre prop, with the marquee poles strapped to the top, a list of venues lined up, and a tank full of diesel. The first summer was enough of a success for the floating company members to be persuaded to come back next year and give it another go. Second time around I enlisted different musicians - old mates of mine Richard Madelin and Pete Bendall - along with a percussionist whom we only ever knew as Cyrus.

The best stories of that time can't really be repeated in a blog that children might visit, but I can reveal that the band were a sodding liability. I doubt there was a single date where we didn't have to be dragged from some bar or other in order to come and play. We were supposed to be accompanying the floorshow, providing the background music to a performance that never made the slightest sense to us. You know the type of thing - three girls in leotards being the sea, whilst somebody else stands on one leg and chants the word 'turpentine' over and over. We took a sceptical view, unfairly perhaps, of conceptual art. Emperors' clothes and all that.

But we got to do sets by ourselves, just the band, and so that was fun. My favourite of all the venues we played was Elephant Fayre. This was set deep in the West Country, far from the quagmires of Wales, an event that had been growing for some years and which attracted some fairly big names. I think Siouxie and the Banshees were headlining the year we were there. Heathcote Williams was reading. Lol Coxhill, I remember, came and sat in with us for a set on soprano sax. It was a wonderful atmosphere, although a diet of hedge-clipping soup and donkey turds on a stick got to Richard and I after a while, and we had to keep escaping into the surrounding villages for cream teas and sanity.

Elephant Fayre grew too big to be sustainable, alas. There was trouble policing the event, and a year or two later it had to be shut down. A shame, because the setting and the vibe were wonderful, a real summer music festival in its heyday.

Twenty five years on, when a writer friend, Charlie Shields, told me about the Port Eliot LitFest, a few bells started to ring. There was something familiar about the name and the locality - St. Germans, in Cornwall. But it wasn't until I spoke to the organisers and got myself invited that I realised that this country estate was the original site of the old Elephant Fayre. The beast had risen again, reborn as a literary version of its former self, but still retaining the musicality of its origins. Brilliant.

The feel of the Port Eliot LitFest is young and lively, as it should be, but there are still plenty of old hands attending who remember it first time around. I'm very glad to be there again. (I'm very glad to be anywhere at all, of course.)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Port Eliot LitFest

This is the first of what may be several plugs for the Port Eliot LitFest. I've weaselled my way into this marvellous book festival for the second year running, and am already looking forward to it.(Actually I think they're quite glad to have me - they say they're going to be quoting me on this year's promotional literature, banging on about how brilliant the whole thing is.) I've put a permanent link up, under 'Events'.

For three days each summer the Port Eliot Litfest takes over the huge private estate of the Earl of St. Germans, down in Cornwall. Port Eliot House is your classic, slightly crumbly stately home, set in God knows how many acres of countryside - woods, lakes, walled gardens, the works. It's all very beautiful, and would likely make you want to attack the current Earl of St. Germans with a jealous-stick if he wasn't putting the place to such good purpose. What better use for the house and grounds than to turn it into a haven for the arts and to open it up for such a cracking summer festival? The good Earl is very much involved, too, and if you need a lift from one venue to another it's quite likely to be he who picks you up on his quad bike and ferries you there - your head going up and down like a cocktail shaker, your carefully written notes leaving a paper trail behind you. Noblesse oblige, what?

'Glastonbury for Books' is how the LitFest is often described, and though that's a bit misleading there's certainly a come-of-age-hippie feel about the whole thing. Lots of brightly coloured food stalls, cabaret marquees, fields full of tents, music, poetry, barefoot kids - and books. It's great.

Last year I did a couple of spots - the first a paper-engineering workshop, and the second a talk on writing for children. The latter was mostly geared towards people who were themselves interested in trying to break into children's book publishing. Difficult to know how long one can talk on any given subject, but in my case it would usually be about two minutes, so I was slightly daunted by the forty minute slot that I was given. About an hour and a half later festival organiser Rick Worthy had to more or less drag me out of the marquee, and stick me under a tree where I carried on yakking to anyone who'd listen.

Cornwall is a long way from Yorkshire, but I still managed to bump into a couple of old friends down there - people I hadn't seen for years. I wasn't entirely surprised, perhaps because Port Eliot would be such a magnet for the like-minded. My big mistake was falling in with boogie-woogie man Diz Watson - a great musician. We'd known each other vaguely through a mutual friend, writer and guitarist Richard Madelin, but had never really spent much time together. This weekend we did, drinking sack and carousing into the small hours in the exact way that doctors advise middle-aged men not to.

Port Eliot has some other resonances for me though, from a much earlier time, and maybe I'll put those in a future post.

This year's festival runs from 20-22 of July.