Last night was the December edition of New Words, Fresh Voices hosted by The Seagull Theatre. Unfortunately, because of the frost and the cold and the general wintery feel, it was quite empty. However, there were a few new people, which is always good to see. There were a couple of guitarists/singers, and they were good, and a man who wrote poems about vegetables. Very unexpected, but very funny.
Considering that it's coming up to Christmas, the best time of year (in my opinion, but I dare someone to argue with me on that), there was one performer who read out three extremely miserable pieces, which kind of brought a downer on the whole evening. Good job there was a duo with a banjo, singing silly songs to lighten the mood.
And of course, there was me. I went along with the general theme of Christmas/winter, because I love Christmas and snow gets me all excited (even though we haven't had any here ... yet) like I was a child again!
Do you remember when we used to sit
by the radio listening to local
stations waiting for the news reports to
say the name of our school? We knew this meant
school was closed and we could all enjoy
a day at home with hours of frozen
fun ahead. The initial signs of rich
whitewashed pavements filled our thoughts with blizzards
and wonderlands. Glistening bright diamonds
of meltable presence would tap at our
windows, beckoning us to play. The crunch
of the first footprint on the unsullied
path sounded as satisfying as the
taste of the first flakes to fall onto our
outstretched tongues. Running in crazy circles,
creating rushed patterns of welly-boot
ridges until the soft snow carpet looked
more like dog-chewed lino. Our mums tightened
our scarves to the point of breathlessness – or
was that the excitement of a snow day?
Wrapped up so only our wide eyes peeped out
above our snug woollen face protection.
Gripping massive balls of numbness in the
tiny palms of our hand-knitted mittens,
then lobbing them at anything standing
in our way, watching in amazement as
they exploded and the fragments whizzed off,
so speedily, in every direction.
Being pulled along on home-made sledges
or in crates found strewn on ice-white sand by
our dads while our mums watched from the warmth of
the house, behind the kitchen window. The
coldness crept its way up through the seats of
our trousers but we didn’t care. Gazing
at beads of water glazing over, that
turned into ice on metal railings, and
being tempted by the unknown taste of
this clear confection but being told not
to lick them as our tongues would get stuck. Each
tree looked the same as the next and we would
ping the branches so that the soft powder
bounced as if on a trampoline. It would
fly up in the air and then float back down
upon our faces as gracefully as
fragile, injured angels fluttering
from high, so that we could dance beneath our
own mini snowfall. Jumping off the sea
wall onto the beach but ending up knee
deep in snowy slush that seeped over the
tops of our boots and soaked into our socks.
Slipping on ice-ridden paths and tripping
up snow-hidden kerbs in a rush to be
the first person to scrape the snow off the
car and use it for ammunition. The
wind would send shivers through our skin, coating
our cheeks with flushed red flecks (the freckles would
hide in order to avoid the cold) and
make our noses sniffle, yet the air was
fresh and inviting, even if it was
raining. Knife-like icicles dangling from
guttering, ready to snap, drop and stab,
at times seemed to be frozen tears when looked
at in the right light. These prisms shimmered
with rainbow brightness against dark walls. Wet
puddles became our own mini ice-rinks
after Jack had cast his frost spell on them.
Skating back and forth over the shiny
glass panel that was barely big enough
to fit two feet on, yet we skidded and
flailed our arms with as much elegance and
style as Torvill and Dean. Light blue skies were
the backdrop for the escaping plumes of
pallid mist we expelled from our chapped lips;
we pretended we were smoking. Building
odd-shaped snowmen that never looked as good
as those on the telly. Their heads always
were a bit lopsided and our carrots
were not proper triangles, making them
appear witchlike rather than the friendly
overgrown ice-lollies that we wished would
wake up at night with a blink of their coal
eyes and take us floating high above the
rooftops. The pure body of winter would
always turn into muddy slush before
tea-time and after tea it was always
too dark to go back outside. Toasting our
toes in front of the open fire with Grange
Hill, Blue Peter or John Craven’s Newsround
in the background, anticipating a
steaming stew or casserole to heat our
freezing bodies. Laying on the floor, the
fire still burning, playing Connect4 or
Spirographing to eternity by
overlapping patterns, shaping our own
indoor snowflakes from paper scraps that would
not thaw out but survive until summer.
From the comfort of our rooms we would watch
droplets of winter float from the sky and
glimmer in the faint glow of the streetlamps
and then go to bed wishing that it would
be exactly the same in the morning.
Blue Peter Christmas
Mr. Weatherly was the best headmaster
you could ever wish for.
He was a classroom celebrity,
a man of credibility
famed for gliding through assembly
on a birthday boy’s skateboard
and not falling off.
Famed for knowing the names
of every one of his school’s students
and their parents.
A man so vibrant, likeable, respectful, wise,
even when he was telling someone off
he had kindness in his eyes.
So frightful that everyone stopped speaking
when he walked in the room; even the teacher.
So benign that no-one minded him being there,
so involved and inspiring and always had time
for everyone in the building
Famed for not only being the best headmaster
you could ever get,
he also worked as a Blue Peter vet
taking care of George the Tortoise,
sitting inside our telly, giving pet advice.
And because of this he got to take
the year fours onto the Christmas show
to sing carols, huddled in the BBC studio,
wearing scarves and hats
beneath the flowing fake snow
as the presenters took turns
to light the advent candle crown
made of tangled bits of coat hanger metal
covered in tin foil and tinsel.
I was so excited at this awesome prospect
of being on television
with all of my school friends,
to get signed photos to stick on the fridge
and of course the Blue Peter badge
that we’d wear with pride,
that would give us free entry
to museums and galleries
and loads of theme park rides.
It was the key that every child craved
to unlock local attractions,
this excellent invention,
it was what we lived for
this blue and white treasure
that we’d cherish forever,
that would turn into retro attire
after a handful of years.
Our mums would tape us
with fingers poised over the record
and play buttons on the remote control
waiting for Andy Crane or Andi Peters
to introduce Blue Peter at 5pm.
Once five thirty came
they’d eject the cassette
and stick tape over the holes in the VHS
so that the moment would never be lost
and accidentally erased
to be replaced by an episode of
Hale and Pace or Anneka Rice.
And we’d play back the event
for years to come,
everyone convening in the living room,
inventing a game of “Where’s our kid?”
Watching wide eyed
as the cameras panned from child to child;
There she is, a finger would point,
There she is again,
That’s her back,
That’s her arm,
That would be my taste of fame.
I couldn’t wait to be 8
and for this time to come.
When I was in year 1, I’d hurry home
after a long day of learning to watch
Mark Curry, Yvette Fielding and Caren Keating
fighting with sticky back plastic
to make homemade Christmas decorations
The children would sing their hymns
and force their grins
and not stare directly into camera,
and I would join in
in my living room
but in three years I would be there.
When I was in year 2, I’d rush out of school
into the dark evening to watch
Mark Curry, Yvette Fielding and Caren Keating
showing us something they’d made earlier
from under the counter
looking better than anything I ever created
with scrunched up tissue paper
and reams of sticky tape.
The children would stand in lines
and sway in time
to the music from the Salvation Army,
and in only two years
I’d be one of those
gladly clapping around the Christmas tree.
When I was in year 3, I’d walk home quickly
to be greeted by Caron Keating, Yvette Fielding and John Leslie
baking cakes or making cards
and presenting the nativity
getting us ready
for the Christmas holidays.
The children would grip their lanterns
in hands hidden in mittens,
holding back their nervous laughter,
hoping they don’t forget the words,
and in twelve months
that would be me on Blue Peter.
When I was in year 4, we sat on the floor
of the hall for morning assembly
in the first week of September
eagerly waiting together
for Mr Weatherly to enter.
But he didn’t.
In his place was Mrs something or other,
even now I can’t remember her name,
shows just how much of an impression she made.
Mr Weatherly had moved.
He’d changed schools.
He’d left us,
So in December, through the icy weather
I’d reluctantly turn on the television
and watch, with great jealousy and feigned boredom,
as Yvette Fielding, John Leslie and Diane-Louise Jordon
welcome the pounding brass band
and accompanying them, the school children
from across the nation
crooning in unity,
chanting in harmony,
alongside Mr Weatherly,
Mr Weatherly will always be
the best headmaster you could ever have
but I will never forgive him
for leaving before my year 4
Blue Peter outing.
A coach ride to London,
an escape from the humdrum,
a day of sun in the middle of winter,
something that rivalled the arrival of Santa.
Ten years later,
speaking to a friend at High School
I mentioned Mr Weatherly.
She told me she knew him.
I asked her how,
and her answer:
he was her headmaster
when she was in year 4
and he took her class on Blue Peter.
The next event is Sunday 20th January 2013. I won't be there as I'll be in sunnier climes, but if you fancy performing some of your creativity, or you just want a bit more information, get in touch with Ian Fosten, the MC for the evening.