Personal News

Ceredigion, December 2013

Muscovy

Once again this year I published a book in May, this time my poetry collection Muscovy. We launched it at the University Bookshop as before, but this time the family celebration was in Bath, where we all met for a meal before my reading in Topping's bookshop. Not long after, I read at the Hay Festival with Tiffany Atkinson, competing with the sound of the rain on the canvas roof, the wettest tented experience since my brief career as a boy scout. Another memorable reading was at Lauderdale House in London: after I'd read my poem about the seventeenth-century poet-politician Andrew Marvell, we were shown a plaque a few hundred yards away that marked the location of his London lodgings. Not content with this bit of nocturnal sightseeing, we then asked our hosts to drive us to the house just off Hampstead Heath where Creina's mother had trained as a dancer when a young woman. I had another expedition to London this autumn, where I recorded some of my poems for the Poetry Archive: they will be available on their website and as a CD. The reviews of the book have again been very good. It is my first-ever poetry hardback and looks a bit like a bar of chocolate with a cover the colour of red wine, which should increase its appeal. Meanwhile, last year's publication, my book of short stories Singing a Man to Death, was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year: it didn't win, but we got to go to a very elegant reception at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

This year, Creina, after a couple of years practising in a desultory way on her electronic keyboard with the cat for company, decided she needed piano lessons. Her tutor is a baroness, now separated from the baron and living on a remote Welsh hillside with a grand piano, a yogi partner and some holiday rental yurts, a combination that doesn't sound so eccentric in Wales as it would in most other places. So Creina nudges her way between the tractors and the jaywalking flocks of sheep on the country roads every fortnight for her lesson, though it sounds as if she and the baroness spend as much time talking as they do playing. The experience made her long to take a yurt holiday, and as the baroness's yurts were fully booked, we rented one in Carmarthenshire for a weekend in September, The yurt is a sort of wigwam made of felt; they are designed for the cold arid climate of Central Asia, so need to be waterproofed for Welsh conditions. This one was very comfortable, with floorboards and a big central woodburning stove, though the romance slightly faded after a few trips across the wet grass to the separate bathroom wagon. Also I seem to be allergic to both felt and woodsmoke, so I wouldn't make a good nomadic herdsman.

That was the nearest thing we had to a holiday this year, as I have been very busy at work, especially with revisions to the creative writing syllabus. I did get a bit of writing done, a sequence of twenty poems on the seventeenth-century scientist Robert Hooke and his experiments with the microscope, which I am hoping to launch at the Royal Society in 2015, to mark the 350th anniversary of his book Micrographia. And we have done quite a bit of travelling, in Wales and England, for readings and visits. Passing through the Cambrian mountains on one winter trip we saw a spectacular frozen waterfall. We also found a sheep trapped in a fence and took a long detour to a farmhouse to report it: they are a depressingly common sight in the countryside. One expedition was to Malvern in the early spring to visit our old friends David and Jennifer Shales, whom Creina has known since her days in what was then Rhodesia: David had recently fallen ill, and sadly died this autumn. Creina returned to Malvern for the funeral while I was travelling to London for my Poetry Archive recording.

I am continuing to play chess, with mixed results, but haven't been able to fence recently because it doesn't fit my teaching timetable. This term seems to have been more crowded than usual, and we are going out almost every night of the week. We are looking forward to the holidays when things should calm down a bit.



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