You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and pencil - Hemingway

You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and pencil - Hemingway


Monday, 5 December 2016

Hidden London - The British Library

What is hiding in here is a great cup of coffee with lovely cake, and a quiet spot in the back of the upstairs cafe to look out onto a courtyard garden (too cold this time of year) and chat with a friend.

No need to be a member or reader; you can just walk in off the street and enjoy. And there is always a free exhibition in the foyer - at present on Victorian entertainments, magic tricks and the like. Good to know if you are waiting for a train and can't face Kings Cross or St. Pancras, just watch out as large suitcases cannot pass the front door.

Cambodia Diary Extracts


Imperial, and buzzing like helicopters, swarms of them around a tree on a waste lot as I was stuck in traffic coming from the airport. And again at Wat Phnom, around stupas and across the curved roof tops. And again over the next twelve days at odd intervals by a pool, at a waterfall, at the beach, when I was least expecting them. It was the season.


Under the aerial roots of a Banyan tree I am drinking French wine, ironically enough. It’s not great. A leaf falls into the pool, floats for a while before being swept over the edge by the residual motion of swimmers, to infinity.

Then there’s your Asian swallow

A Wat Phnom, birds in cages. I cannot figure the reason for having fifty or more moth eaten birds per cage at the temple. They have so little room that each time they flap their wings against the humid air they hit each other or the bars. Poor moulty birds. And the same with two cages of spotted doves in blue and grey collars. What is this about? And the mynah birds, two in filthy cages and who have been taught to say hello in English. I wish someone would explain this to me.

Civic pride

Everywhere plastic bags, tossed plastic water bottles, split bin bags, nappies and glass bottles on the beach, picnic places filled with take away and leave behind polystyrene containers of fast food, lumps of concrete, cement dust, coffee cups. You’ve finished your iced drink? Even my driver chucked the receptacle out of the car window, swiftly followed by several cigarette butts. Every watercourse is filled with rubbish, even at Angkor Wat. Every street is piled with refuse. There is a long way to go for civic pride to mean anything. It looks like every music festival I have ever been too, but worse; hardly anyone is clearing it up. Even the park by the royal palace is strewn with litter at the end of each evening. Funnily enough it is cleared at dawn. To my question as to why you treat your country like a garbage dump. A quizzical laugh. Only tourist do recycling. It salves our consciences, but makes no difference in a country where women do their washing by foot as if treading grapes.


is a daily massage either by a blind or partially sighted person at Seeing Hands, or in the spa a short walk down the street. In the daytime I am still enough for one of the hundreds of beautiful butterflies to land on my leg, twice, or on another day for one to choose by breast. I am doing nothing more than looking at strangler fig roots suffocating thousand year old stones. This counts as busyness. Between tour groups it is quiet enough to hear the forest birds singing, and the trees growing.

Photography and children

Watching Korean and Chinese visitors taking their holiday snaps is an entertainment in itself. They strike all kinds of ridiculous poses, which they find highly amusing; looking the same way as the statue, playing with perspective, finger on the top of a stupa, that kind of thing. Hilarious, and presumably designed to avoid having to look at the monuments. Perhaps I need to loosen my sense of what is cool and laugh more often.

Western tourists take pictures of children as if they are monkeys. Why do people act so differently when away from home? No sign of any children being abused by 70s pop stars and their ilk. Protection and phone numbers to report abuse seem to be the order of the day. Yet, one guest house needed to remind us not to bring sex workers to our rooms.

Odds and sods

Unlicensed sales of petrol by the roadside. Fine apparently and not bottles of lemonade. Containers of all kinds.

Dogs with long wheel bases, and of no apparent breed.

Birds in a tree at the beach, noisiest during a thunderstorm. Lightning forking the sand.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Satsuma

Around mid-January, when the fruit bowl looks a little empty, you turn again to the over-sized string bag of satsumas you bought for Christmas, when you were full of enthusiasm for the excitements of the season to come. There are still half a dozen left after others have played their roles in stockings and for snacking. They look great, so you refill the bowl.

Picking one, almost at random, you turn it in your hand. It's skin has sunk and loosened a little, now you come to look at it closely. It's pock-marked. No matter. It'll be great.

You pierce it with your thumbnail and start peeling until you have a neat sphere of pith-free segments, and are ready for them to live up to their early promise: a great taste, great juice, and greatest of all, no pips.

You pop the first one onto your tongue and bite, but instead of sweetness, your mouth is filled with cotton rags, and for a moment you can't speak.

You spit it out, disgusted and look again. Some of the pieces are very dry, as if they have run out of any idea or pretence of being a satsuma. Some are distinctly brown with the early stages of rot.
You throw the whole thing in the bin and think about trying another, which you know, deep in your heart, is utterly pointless.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Oscar Wilde in Paris

On Thursday night I had the great pleasure to listen to a lecture given by Oscar Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, at the Irish Cultural Institute. He spoke on Wilde and subversion, with particular reference to Dorian Gray, that so offensive novel, today given to A level students to read as an example of fine prose writing.

Oscar's "mistake", he explained, was, unlike other visitors to the culture Paris represented, to take it home and publish it, putting himself at risk of ostracisation for being a purveyor of decadence.

As we all know, his critics bided their time until he broke the law and they could rid society of a rebel who 'called out' hypocrisy; he had pushed Victorian society to the limit of its tolerance, Holland concluded. A fascinating event.

Last evening, I visited the Oscar Wilde exhibition at the Petit Palais, which Merlin Holland curated and for which he wrote the (in French only) catalogue. It is small, rather too small in terms of physical space, which is why the weekend queues are so long, but it is very worthwhile. Book and get there as soon as you can.

Chronologically it presents Wilde's life and writings using related paintings, photographs and prints; everything from portraits of the actresses to whom he addressed sonnets, to the Pre-Raphelite paintings he wrote about as an art critic, to Beardsley's wonderful prints for Salome and so on. The manuscripts on show include those of Dorian Gray, various of the plays, and De Profundis; his script in the latter smaller and more careful, as paper was a rationed commodity during his incarceration. First editions are all there, dedicated to the influential and famous, along with many letters. I enjoyed reading them all, or as much of them as I could through their perspex protection. The highlight for me was exhibit A from his libel trial - the infamous Queensberry calling card.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Ben at the Musee Malliol

Mildly amusing for about an hour if you want to dodge a rainstorm, but the bon mots and mots drole about art tired me out pretty quickly. Yes, he has nice hand writing. Yes, he is witty, but honestly, unless you are a die-hard fan, I'd give this a miss. He's been doing pretty much the same thing for over fifty years now. Time to move on, I think.

Plus the rather childish, boy talks about sex red boudoir installation, had me yawning. Nothing shocking here. I should have known what I was in for when the first wall piece explains his fondness for women, Once, perhaps, radical. Now, to be frank, a bit dull.

Oh and the permanent collection...lovely portraits, pastels and sculpture, but I can do without a bronze with legs akimbo and totally biologically accurate (female, of course). I'm not a prude, but I know what I look like, thanks and I'm not sure it is art or radical.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Free Verse Fair and giving back

This Saturday the Free Verse Fair opens its doors to publishers and poets to spend a day showing their wares and selling as many books as possible. Poets and poetry lovers will attend for a day of readings and poetry wallowing. I can't wait to catch up with a myriad of friends and have a thoroughly good time.

I am not reading myself as only one of my publishers, Eyewear, will be there and they have, quite rightly, chosen from among the more recently published of their stable to do their allotted reading. As I have a new book out next year, I shall cross my fingers for 2017. Still, I will enjoy the readings and the book buying and have set aside a tidy sum to support all those small presses who do so much for poets and poetry in the UK.

My contribution will be a few hours of helping out. I have volunteered to greet people on the door and hand out welcome packs, and relieve stall holders wanting a break. This is a small gesture to say thanks to the poetry gods for all the good things that have happened to me over the years that I have been involved in this precious art form. I look forward to meeting you as you arrive.

Friday, 9 September 2016

La Rentree

Everyone is back. Not everyone went away. Things are starting to happen in Paris. Again. I am being bombarded by notices of what's on art openings, theatre, exhibitions, poetry readings. There is just too much to choose from. Help! Cultural overload for the months ahead. Wait, is that a thing now?

I love my life. Just not sure when I am going to be doing any writing any time soon. Oh wait! That's what the Eurostar is for. Bonne Rentree.