Personal News

Ceredigion, December 2010

Mandeville peformance

Instead of a frost hollow, we live on a sort of thaw plateau. There can be thick snow all round us but it doesn’t usually settle in the village. As I write there is frost outside the window and it is bitterly cold, but we have avoided the early snow that is covering most of Britain. We got some last year, one of the coldest winters for years, but the main weather-related problem was a lightning strike that put our internet connection out of action for what should have been a day or two and became a couple of months. It was probably a mistake to switch ISPs at the same time, and to do it over Christmas, but for a while I felt I was living in a Kafka novel, endlessly repeating the same telephone conversation where they once again took my details, and once again promised to get back to me in three days, though I knew they wouldn’t. Somehow I escaped from the cycle with a new connection and a new website, whose address is above.

My novel, The Book of the Needle, is finished and I have started another waiting process, this one familiar to all writers: no news from the publisher yet. I have had better luck with my book of short stories, which had been accepted by a small publisher but was never published. It has now been accepted by Cinnamon Pressand will be appearing in April 2012. My poetry collection Mandeville been published in a beautiful new edition, with parallel English and Italian text and authentic medieval illustrations. The translator is Oliviero Pesce, who emailed me to suggest the project a couple of years back. We have been consulting by email since, and this year we exchanged visits: Creina and I had dinner with the Pesces in their London flat and later they came to stay with us. Mandeville also led to another collaboration, with the early music group Pavane . We did a show together at Newport Library in March and are about to do one at Aberystwyth Arts Centre (Wednesday 8 December). They play a variety of instruments from crumhorns to recorders as well as singing, and I read my poems.

Creina has finished her memoirs up to the time she left England for Africa at the age of seven, and sent copies to friends and relatives across the world. She writes in the evenings when I am out playing chess. She has also resumed her piano-playing, as I gave her a keyboard for her birthday. She is trying to master Scott Joplin, but I don’t think she has ragtime in her soul; she does better with Beethoven and Purcell. However, the music suffered a blow when she got her first computer this year. She spends hours on it writing emails, and I get called in to provide support when it misbehaves.

We spent a week in Shropshire staying in a cottage on a farm. It seems odd to go a region of hills and sheep when we already live in Wales, but it was one of the best holidays we’ve ever had. We missed most of the rain that blighted this summer, and had some wonderful walks on Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge. Ludlow is a fascinating town, self-consciously old-fashioned, as we discovered when we tried to buy underpants there - I don’t mean they had never heard of underpants but they rummaged around in an oaken cabinet for them rather than fishing them off a shelf in a cellophane packet. It is famous for food, and we marked our last evening by having dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant, La Bécasse. About a quarter of the meal was made up of little extras, the amuses-bouches, the pre-dessert, the petits-fours, all of them delicious, and all round the room we could hear waiters patiently explaining everything on the plate to the diners. I disappointed the wine waiter by ordering Beaujolais: "You would not prefer something with a bit more body?"

We had several other trips: to Bath for the launch of my brother Richard’s latest novel, The Old Spring, to Brighton for the bar mitzvah of the son of my oldest friend Ivor Fried, also dropping in on another friend, Ann Butterfield, in Lewes, to Swindon for the wedding of two of my students, to Cambridge to read at a poetry festival at my old College, to Penarth and Swansea for chess tournaments. In July we celebrated the graduation of my first two PhD students, Tammy Yoseloff and Steve Wilson, and made a house party of it. Other visitors included Ann Butterfield, Steve Horn, our godson Nigel Okwanga, Creina’s cousin and godson Simon Aitken, and a swarm of bees that moved into the hollow concrete leg of a patio table, looking like a mass of gently undulating black and gold fungus. We now know our local bee-warden, who came with smoke-gun and veil to take them away. He says they are very good-natured bees and we are welcome to vist them any time.

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