Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Twinkle Twinkle Seeing Stars

Who'da thunk it? Two of my favourite things teaming up - Jodrell Bank and Simon Armitage - and right here in Kansas!  
What is she on about, I hear you ask? 
Goostrey's annual arts festival in October and Simon's reading under the stars for only £12 per ticket - still some available - if you're quick! 
Promises to be a sparkling evening.......!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Going Underground

Last Saturday we whizzed into Manchester on the Metro and became tourists for the afternoon, joining a guided stroll through Manchester city centre. Except the main attraction of this tour wasn't the opportunity to appreciate amazing architecture and anecdotes about the city's history. Well, not history experienced at street level, at least. 
This tour, Underground Manchester, examines what's occurring below the city streets - the defunct canals, the re-routed rivers: the Tib, Irk, Cornbrook, the £4 million atomic bunker (sadly, you don't get to visit). It concludes with a wander in the dark through the caverns that provided wartime shelter to Manchester's citizens. 
Our guide turned out to be Ed Glinert, an old friend I've not seen for years. Ed has an incredible memory for quirky local history knowledge (of London as well as Manchester) which makes for a very entertaining couple of hours. 
No swimming allowed in the stagnant stretch of canal under Granada Studios - such a disappointment.....(But if, like me, you like (the thought of) that kind of thing, see what you make of Silent UK ..... what a website...)
Down there in the dark you get a sense of the dire misery of air raids and how hellish life during the war must have been.
And this poem by UA Fanthorpe came to my mind.....the secret life of repressed rivers.....

Rising Damp
‘A river can sometimes be diverted but is a very hard thing to lose altogether.’
                                                                    Paper to the Auctioneers’ Institute, 1907
At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London
Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet
Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.
These are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.
They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.
They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They infiltrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken 
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.
Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.
Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet
It is the other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface.We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the surface below
Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.
U. A. Fanthorpe

Saturday, 10 September 2011


Although I've lived in Manchester for almost 34 years - I came here as an eager young student in October 1977 - I'd never visited Jodrell Bank before this summer. Driving through the Cheshire countryside, I'd marvelled at it from a distance, or from the top floor of the carpark at the airport, but until earlier this year I never got up close to the mammoth radio  telescope.
It started to pulse on my radar when I stumbled across a page on the internet about work placements there for school students. This seemed like a fantastic opportunity as Eddie, our son, has become really interested in astronomy and astrophysics, thanks partly to his excellent teachers at Chorlton High School, and partly to Professor Brian Cox and his winning ways on the BBC.
He just missed the closing date to apply this year unfortunately, but we went out to take a look for future reference anyway.
The site has recently opened a new visitors' centre with gardens and cafe and there's such a magical pull to the place we've been back 3 or 4 times with various family visitors over the summer. The telescope itself is awe-inspiring, I don't think that's too strong a description. On a couple of our visits it's been 'parked' for maintenance and painting 
which is impressive enough, but when it's active and moving it actually tingles the hairs on the back of my neck. 
The history of Sir Bernard Lovell's brainchild is brought to life in archive footage from the 50s and 60s which runs on a loop in the discovery centre. These films include a tour of the inside of the telescope - breathtaking camera work as they scale the metal ladders up into the filigree structure supporting the dish. 
The technology, the words and language, the open space and nature, the coffee and cake - there's something for everyone!
Among the poets who've written their impressions of the place is Patric Dickinson
Amazingly, this beautiful poem manages to distil so much into 16 short lines

Jodrell Bank
Who were they, what lonely men
Imposed on the fact of night
The fiction of constellations
And made commensurable
The distances between
Themselves, their loves, and their doubt
Of government and nations?
Who made the dark stable
When the light was not? Now
We receive the blind codes
Of spaces beyond the span
Of our myths, and a long dead star
May only echo how
There are no loves nor gods
Men can invent to explain
How lonely all men are. 

Patric Dickinson 

Friday, 2 September 2011

Remembering Linda

I'm looking forward to a tribute to Linda Chase at the Manchester Literature Festival in October. Her poems old and new will be read by a selection of poets, and her final collection - Not Many Love Poems - will be launched.
I'm glad the Guardian are featuring her for this week's Saturday poem.