Thursday, November 2, 2006

Too much Frou Frou for my own good

Hallo Louise - I've frou-froued this evening, just for you, and I hope you feel the benefit - never let it be said that anyone should leave The Daily unfulfilled.

It's almost 22.30 and I've just finished work on Chasing Freedom, again (I dream about this database, you know), so you'll have to excuse me if I'm lacking a little, well, frou-frou (look it up, you know you want to).

Kit-Kat Kate, my friend who is currently holidaying with her parents in Africa, texted me this morning to tell me that she had watched the sunset over the Atlantic yesterday, whilst sat next to a penguin. This puzzled me for quite some time. Penguins? In Africa? Well of course, I had to consult my friend Google (I dread to think what Google's cache of my searches looks like - this evening I followed a search for Sylvia Plath with a search for African penguins, ah the sheer eclecticism of the human mind...) and it turns out, yes, there are actually penguins in Africa. And if you don't believe me, you can look it up yourself at:

I decided that as I was so tired this evening this was as good a time as any to get around to posting some of Sylvia Plath's poetry - hence the Google search for Plath this evening. Then, of course, I remembered that Plath's work is closely and jealously guarded by the Plath estate and that they personally hunt down and paper cut to death anyone who dares quote her without permission. The most offensive thing about this is that the Plath estate is actually run by Olga Hughes, Ted Hughes sister, and there has been much speculation by Plath biographers that Olga is more interested in protecting her brother's reputation than in preserving or commemorating Plath's memory and work. To get even more gossipy about it, some people have even alleged that Olga never even liked Plath, and don't get me started on how Hughes burnt two of Plath's notebooks after she died.

So I was going to just post links to her poems instead, and guess what I found? That in the last few days, a new Plath poem had been 'discovered' (took their time), called Ennui, and for the reasons cited above, I'm not allowed to post it here, but I can provide you with the link. The poem is about fortune tellers and the impossibility of reading the future and it was written in her senior years at college in the mid fifties.

If you're a fan of Plath, this will be a pleasure, and if not, this may be your chance to discover her, though I would recommend starting with her fiction and then moving to her poems. My favourite Plath poems are 'Daddy', 'Tulips' and 'You're'. In that order. The picture I've posted of Plath alongside today's entry also hangs on my bedroom wall, alongside a portrait of Germaine Greer and the Women's Movement Creed (ah, I kid you not!).

Today's Beautiful Things

1. My mum, for all the usual reasons

2. The crisp, shining cold of this morning after a night of crazy dreams

3. Finishing work!

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Chasing Free Time

Today is All Saints Day, which was originally a feast day to honour martyrs although I learnt today that how exactly this day came to be associated with the Saints is a bit of a mystery, so answers on a postcard via the usual comments box, please.

On the topic of saints, I was inspired to search for my birthday saint since The Chief mentioned it over cheesy chips yesterday. American's searchable Saint of the Day feature informs me that the Saint for the 3rd July is, would you believe (you'll see what I'm about to do here) St Thomas the Apostle, or, as he is more commonly known, Doubting Thomas. No similarities there then.

I have spent all day working from home, buried up to my neck (apart from 2, hour-long breaks) in Parliamentary Papers from Chasing Freedom. It is imperative that we get these in a digital format so that everyone working on the exhibition can work on them. It is involved, detailed and arduous work, and I have knots the size of watermelons in my shoulder muscles to prove it!

On the plus side, there is nothing like the sense of peace and accomplishment that spreads over me at the end of a long working day. The Angel of Virtue sits on my shoulder, smiling and I know I will sleep like a well-fed cherub tonight. However, there is not so much interesting news for me to report to you and that's one of the costs of barely leaving my computer chair, I'm afraid. I'll try to make it up to you over the weekend by going wild in Norwich. Doesn't sound that likely, does it.

Take some inspiration though from some quotes that the Chief has been sharing with me recently.

If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.
Jim Rohn

Our lives are frittered away with detail. Simplify, simplify.

It is only the wisest and the very stupidest who cannot change.
(This quote intrigues me, but I've struggled with Confucius ever since I found out he also said,
"One hundred women are not worth a single testicle.")

Destiny follows in the footsteps of the untiring traveller.
Bhagavad Gita

Speaking of the Chief, as I often do these days (I expressed a concern recently that I might have to name the whole site Chronicles of the Chief), I am intrigued by my anonymous commentor of the night before last, who posted, simply, "I like the Chief."

So do I, but if you tell him I shall flatly deny it. And if you like the Chief more than you like me simply from reading my blog, I should be ghost-writing his autobiography.

Today's Beautiful Things

1. John William Waterhouse - The Mermaid (tonight's painting)

2. Glenn in a suit (work, not birthday). Oh yes.

3. The winner of the 'For the Sheer Hell of It' Award Du Jour,

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Let Them Eat Pumpkin Pie

Hallowe'en and the air is buzzing with a sense of magic. Today I have been feeling erratic, ecstatic, only a few degrees away from out of control. I like the frisson and the fizz, the phantasms and the phabulous phantasy.

I have not been so interested in the work, today, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices. It was also the first day of birthday celebrations for the ever fabulous Lisa Clark, which meant that the office became an oasis of pink joy and song, and lunch time became the Festival of the Cheesy Chips. Even the Chief joined in, though his tastes are usually far more discerning.

Lisa Clark is always introducing me to wonderful things and today, she brought me NANOWRIMO!

'What's that, Sarah?' I hear you cry.

Well, it's National Novel Writing Month (obviously), which encourages people to write or begin a novel of 50 000 words during the month of the November. All you have to do is to join up, oh, and write, obviously. I've joined, and I hope that some of you will too. It's a fabulous initiative, and a great encouragement to people who might not usually consider themselves a "writer" - and what an elusive category that is - to put their pen to paper and create. So, go on. 'They' say there's a story inside every one of us. What's yours?

Tonight, to kick off Lisa's birthday week, Miss Sally organised a jaunt to the cinema and Lisa chose for us to see Marie Antoinette, directed by Sofia Coppola. I am so glad that she chose this film, though I have heard some really appalling reviews, but I really enjoyed it. As with all of her films, Marie Antoinette (based on the biography Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser - available at your local library) is a visual delight, and I'm a fan of Kirsten Dunst (in the main) anyway.

The film concentrates exclusively on Marie's story from her marriage until the fall of Versailles, and is a portrait not just of a famous historical figure, but of a time and a class that still has much resonance in contemporary affairs today. Most importantly, the film had Miss Sally, Lisa and I talking long after we had the left the cinema and tucked into our first glass of wine. I recommend you go and see it, and it has a fabulous soundtrack, too, which I think allows the film to be read as a metaphor for contemporary stories about the distribution of wealth, freedom and democracy on a global scale, today.

Today's Beautiful Things

1. Hallowe'en and the bond between witches

2. Laughter and song in the office - again

3. The vicarious happiness of other someone else's birthday

Monday, October 30, 2006

I think that's worth an E minor

My friend Howard (over from Canada) came to visit Glenn and I yesterday, a flying visit ahead of our trip up to see him and his family in Norwich at the weekend. It's hard to describe how good it feels to catch up with Howard, although all of our lives are, in one way or another, a bit crazy intense at the moment.

Howard, Glenn and I were joined at the hip for a few years when I was in my late teens and early twenties, and we have all known each other for almost 12 years. For the last heavens-to-Betsy-knows-how-many years, Howard has been living in Canada and we don't get to see as much of one another as I know we would all like. Combine this fact - which means that we all miss each other a lot - with the fact that when we all get the opportunity to hang out it is like being 19 all over again, then I might be close to the reason why I was so sorry to say goodbye to Howard this morning - even though I know I'll see him in 4 days time!

Yesterday, suffice to say, was beyond description. I often describe myself as an emotionally open person, but from experience, I also know that I can be very good at burying things that upset me when I need to. With this in mind, I had no idea of how much I miss Howard until I spent yesterday with him and Glenn. I think I had forgotten what an amazing person Howard is, I had forgotten than I don't know anyone else who is even remotely like him, and I had forgotten that being around him and around Glenn gives me a sense of homecoming the likes of which I can only compare with my family.

The Chief made mention in the pub the other night of the 'family we choose' and I like this idea immensely. Howard and Glenn are two of the family I have chosen, and I am forbidding Glenn to go anywhere, because not having access to both of them might be more than I can bear. Maybe it's because I don't have a lot of men amongst the people I count as close friends, but I find being with the two of them an utterly different experience to being around my female friends.

For example, if any of my female friends suggested that we spend an hour or so running about on the Common playing frisbee, I can guarantee that my answer would be short, to the point, and highly obscene. But if Howard and Glenn want to, then I'm there (I swear I'm just the amusement value in this - I can barely catch the thing and I refuse to humiliate myself further by describing what happens when I try to throw it. I can't believe throwing a round thing can be so hard, and I'm deeply humilated by how serious I am when I say that).

Howard and Glenn are both guitarists, too and this means that I get the enviable (yes, I mean it) role of sitting back, drinking beer and listening to them play. I will not lose for quite some time, if ever, the image of Howard sitting in front of my window, last night, playing guitar. An Oasis song was playing softly on the stereo and he was playing along with it. Listening to him play brought back that feeling of sitting in his rented room when he was at Uni, some dozen years ago; feeling so safe with these two men, so utterly myself. All these fears that belong to my daily life right now, these moments of anxieties appeared, while he played, exactly as small as they are, exactly as important as I make them. I felt more myself than I remember in a long time. When Howard left this morning, I just cried and cried.

That's ok, too, at least I know I have something precious. When Howard finished playing last night, he told Glenn and I about a guitar that Paul McCartney played in the Beatles. He had the original guitar stripped down to the bare wood and covered in a layer of varnish, and now you can buy them like this, Howard told us, and it'll set you back £2,000.

Howard played a strong, deep chord that echoed across the silence for a moment.

"I think that's worth an E minor," he smiled.

Today's Beautiful Things

1. Sacred Harp singers - I'm Going Home

2. Tonight, watching Elizabethtown, on the recommendation of the chief

3. The Spinnaker lit in yellow and looking like cross between a cage and a banana

Today's Strangest Sentence

"You know one of things that scares me most?" asks G, "The hulls of boats."

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Best Ships are Friendships

The last few days have been crazy rich in material, so many interesting things going on around me and appearing, as if by magic, from nowhere. Last night yielded an ab-soul-ute jewel of an experience, courtesy of the magical Shirley Collins, who appeared at the Third Floor Arts Centre. Although Shirley described the venue as a dull place, "without even a bar, " I believe she could have performed in an abandoned basement and the audience would have hung from her every word.

I bought tickets for 'America Over the Water' - an evening based around Shirley Collins reading from her memoir of the same title, describing her year in America with the folklorist, Alan Lomax, peppered with extracts from the music Shirley and Alan collected and accompanied by the actor Pip Barnes - for Bean, for his birthday. Bean - along with my mum - is a big fan of folk music, but I have only ever really known of folk music through them, particularly as I grew up. The closest I have come to folk music as an adult has been through Billy Bragg, especially more recently in his Woody Guthrie albums.

The evening was more than a delight, it was a treasure, and I was only sorry that there were not more people there to enjoy it (problems with publicity maybe). Shirley's writing is stunningly evocative, the extracts from the recordings that she and Alan made during their trip across the American south took my breath away, particularly, I have to say, the women who sang (my favourites were Almeda Riddle and Bessie Jones).

In 1959, Shirley and Alan travelled through Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, recording the songs of the South, wherever they went. The extracts played at the performance are breathtaking, especially when one keeps in mind that they are now over 45 years old. The pair travelled to open air Baptist meetings to record the fervent prayer that took place in song (and incurring the wrath of a very strict minister whilst so doing), to Fyffe, Alabama to hear the Sacred Harp singers in their Big Sing, and deep into Northern Mississippi where they discovered the legendary Fred McDowell.

But don't worry if you missed the evening, because the performance is based around Shirley's memoir of the same title, published by SAF Publishing and available from all the usual places, as well as from Shirley's website at:

Even more than the recordings, however, was Shirley Collins herself; a gentle, softly spoken but utterly compelling woman. I found her writing as compelling as her subject, and her descriptions of people, places, feelings and times so evocative that to picture them was no effort at all. And underneath the story of music she was telling were so many others: the story of a young woman falling in love and acting with such courage in unforgiving times, where to sail to America to travel around the Deep South with your lover was not as acceptable as it might be now, stories of race, of class, of religion, and the story of people making music, not to get to Number 1, not because anyone might ever hear it, but because we are people and to create is what we do. I woke up this morning and switched on my television to see Justin Timberlake strutting his squeaky stuff in yet another image based track, and understood anew the importance of the recordings that Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins made.

We bought a copy of one her cd's too, which we listened to as soon as we returned to my flat. The album, titled The Power of the True Love Knot, was recorded with Shirley's musician sister Dolly, in the late 1960's and includes a beautiful version of Over the Hills and Far Away. It hasn't been off my stereo since we bought it, which also means I'm going to have to stop mocking my mother for her love of English folk. Bugger.

Should I ever get the opportunity to see her again, I will rush for it, and I'll take the majority of my friends with me.

I've spent the afternoon searching out more musical clips in the same vein as the music Shirley introduced me to last night. I have so far been enchanted by Fred McDowell, Sacred Harp singers (there's a group of Sacred Harp singers in San Francisco, even!) and a Google search for Sacred Harp led me to Alison Krauss' Ain True Love from the Cold Mountain soundtrack. My real ambition though is to track down some of the recordings that Shirley and Alan collected in 1959, and Amazon has about five volumes listed that feature the same artists. I have, of course, added them to my wish list. But not before I ordered the first two. To hell with the overdraft, I'm feeling risky.

I highly recommend that you go and register for free at the Alan Lomax online archive, too, where you can access a gazillion extracts from sound recordings that I think everyone will find something to their liking in:

Anything that he collected from America in 1959 that you find here will probably have been collected with Shirley Collins. Oh, and did I mention that she has a book? And I've already checked for you, it's on the shelf at Portsmouth Central, where a friendly library assistant is just waiting to help you find it!

Today's Beautiful Things

1. Howard and Glenn

2. Getting over a very bad wake up call

3. Shirley Collins, obviously