Personal News

Ceredigion, December 2005


The biggest event of the year was our trip to Toronto at the beginning of November for the launch of my new book, Whereabouts. This is a collection of very short poems on the theme of place, handsomely produced by rufus books, and provided a good excuse for a working holiday. I gave two classes, a lecture and four poetry readings; we dined at the revolving restaurant at the top of the CN Tower, and visited Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake ('officially voted the second-prettiest town in the world'). Toronto was having an autumn heatwave when we were there, which caused our hotel-room to be infested with ladybirds, but was otherwise welcome. We got the full glory of the autumn leaves, though everyone apologized to us that they were only golden rather than red because of the hot summer. It was Halloween when we arrived so the houses were festooned with polyester cobwebs and draped unnervingly with hanging corpses. Toronto is a multicultural city which manages to seem brash and dignified at the same time: downtown is dominated by glass towers and uptown by the precincts of the university where small black squirrels dart across the lawns. There is also an 'Underground City', which enables the inhabitants to go from one side of town to the other without exposing themselves to the winter climate. This was redundant when we were there, but we were intrigued by it, especially as you reach it by following signs that mysteriously say 'PATH' in multicoloured writing. Our first meal was in the Greek Quarter, where we were held up for some time by marching bands and small boys in white kilts, celebrating the anniversary of their victory over Mussolini, before finally getting a spectacular lunch of flambéed cheese, grilled squid and red snapper. Throughout our stay we were generously entertained by my publisher, Ágnes Cserháti, and others, with the result that I put on 5lbs and Creina 2, and we are now on a yogurt-and-fruit diet. Miranda was looked after by our Romanian cleaner while we were away, and seems to have coped with our absence better than usual. We got back to find a whole tin of crab put out for her (normally she gets half), from which she had, characteristically, just licked up the juice.

Toronto was our only holiday this year, as I was busy writing over the summer. We had trips to London, Bath and Portsmouth, and a weekend in Cambridge where I lectured at a conference on W.S. Graham, but most of our expeditions have been closer to home. We have become very fond of the southern Ceredigion coast, where there are some stunning cliff walks, good beaches and secluded coves, and it's possible to see seals and dolphins. Seen from above, the dolphins look black rather than blue, and tend to move less dramatically than I would have expected, arcing gently through the water instead of leaping out of it. But the bellows sound of their breathing is impressively loud. Our favourite places to eat include an open-air café in the tiny village of Cwmtudu that does enormous bacon rolls, a more sophisticated café in Llangranog where you can watch the blue-green waves (the colour is more Cornish than Welsh) and eat fish chowder and, further south in Pembrokeshire, the Tafarn Sinc or Zinc Pub, a large metal shack with sawdust on the floor and hams hanging from the ceiling.

At work, we have started a poetry workshop to replace the one we used to have in Winchester. It turns out that most of my colleagues, not just the ones who teach creative writing, write poetry, even if, up to now, they have been keeping it to themselves. All of a sudden lecturers who are supposed to be concentrating on literary criticism and theory are sending poems to magazines and talking about compiling their own collections.

The redecoration of the house is finished for the time being. Eventually we want to fit up a music room so Creina can play the piano while I am playing snooker next door, and make some changes to the kitchen. But first we have to redo the roof, with traditional pegged slates, and the porch. We came home from Canada to find the cellar under two inches of water, so that needs work, too.

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