I went to my first ever Arvon course last week. My head’s still scrambled. The tutors, Sarah Howe and David Morley were excellent, inspiring and encouraging. Jacob Polley, the guest reader, was a real bonus – down to earth and better for it. It’s been a long time since my imagination was fired in this way. I’d forgotten I could really think about poems and literature – far too caught up in the day to day. Life had taken over. But I was able to, and I was shocked that I still had it in me. Switching off is not something I can really do, but ‘real life’ seemed very far from Lumb Bank.
There was the usual farce when I arrived. I was early so I decided to have a glass of wine in The Old Gate in Hebden Bridge. The man in the taxi firm I was directed to by Tourist Information nodded very confidently when I told him the destination. As soon as I got in the taxi (which smelled of sick) he asked me if he could drop me ‘at the post office’ as this was the only place he knew in Heptonstall. I politely asked if he might be able to take me a little bit further up the road. He went about 50 yards past the post office, stopped and said ‘here then’. I gave up trying to explain the location, got out and was immediately accosted by an elderly couple asking me if a car with stickers with ‘politzi’ on it was mine and ‘was it legal?’!! I had no idea but I know the walk to Lumb Bank was very long and the wheels nearly fell off my suitcase.
On Wednesday I had a real crisis of confidence and foolishly asked a local man in the lane, with a bouncy Springer Spaniel, how I could ‘get down to the river’, thinking a local walk on my own might clear my head. He gave me very specific directions and I set off in my raincoat. I must have taken a wrong turn, or probably several, and ended up at the end of a steep path that had fallen away. As it was nearly tea time, I started panicking, knowing it was 20 minutes until I would be missed. I decided to climb up a steep, wet bank and found myself slipping back two steps for ever one I took. I held onto the stones of an old mossy wall and one of them went rolling down past my feet into the river. I came up into the wrong place: there were no gaps in the fence and I could see Lumb Bank far away up the hill. I crawled under barbed wire and then up through the fields. I was so grateful to be back in the safety of the house I thought it must be fate that I stay. I’m glad I did. I met some very interesting, warm and talented people. There were some stories shared that I’ll always remember. Funny ones and sad ones.
I felt a bit stunned to be home, with all its expectations – from childcare to bills and of course the ‘toad work’ as Larkin said. I know I need to make some changes and very quickly too.
Today we walked from St Bees to Fleswick Bay. Some of the old grafitti/calligraphy was still there on the cliffs – the earliest was from 1886. There were gemstones polished by the tide and I collected two pocketfuls of them. The smuggler’s cove was mainly under water at high tide, but we were able to lie on the pebbles for a few minues and watch drips fall from the cliffs. On the way back there was a stunned young sparrow on the road, probably clipped by a car. We picked it up to check for injuries. There were none. It was silent and very still – so different to all the birds from Lumb Bank, including the vocal dawn chorus, the birdsong we were played as part of the tutorials and the constant calls and answers from the trees. When we let the sparrow go, it found its wings again and settled in a bush, re-energised.
If any of the Lumb Bank poets are reading this, I really want to say thank you for all your support. I can’t believe I was able to read my poems on the last night and, were it not for the positive feedback, I would have stayed in my room. Probably drinking wine and hiding. Although I said earlier my mind’s ‘scrambled’, it’s also clearer. I know what I want to do and, in a way more importantly, what I no longer want to do.