06/12/11 - Newcastle. Her name is Kirsten. She is petite, enthusiastic and dazzling at her job as a coordinator for Apples & Snakes. We met earlier this year when I worked at the ARC in Stockton, she is wearing a pink wooly hat and I bear hug her a hello. Outside Newcastle train station, her husband Matt plucks us from the pavement and we speed through the crispy freezing streets to Jane and Martin's living room, the hosts for tonight's leg of the Candy Coated Tour. I grab one of the huge cushions Kirsten and Matt have brought for the event from the back seat, walk through the door, past the flight of stairs on the right, the front room on the left and into the kitchen/dining room where sits the princess of the manor, Annabelle, drawing on the table.
She is four years old and will not match my gaze or answer my questions. Martin laughs at his daughter's sudden shyness. James, a poet from London who is a close friend of the family's says I should give Annabelle a couple of hours and I won't be able to stop her talking. In the next room, her brother Issac is focused on his favourite show which I'm told he gets from YouTube, he logs onto the web with the t.v. remote control, finds the episodes and plays it on the television screen. Isaac is three years old. The show is about endangered underwater animals which chimes with his mother's job; Jane is a marine biologist and when she arrives home from work she dumps her bag, changes her clothes, plays with her kids, joins in the setting up for the guests soon to arrive. Her email address is 'CaptainJaneaway@...' I thought it was a reference to the Star Trek series and cannot hide my disappointment that it's simply to do with her travelling a lot, and always being away and on large bodies of water. To appease me, she changes into a shirt that looks uncannily like a Star Fleet uniform. All is right with the world.
They guests begin to trickle in on time, the most punctual so far - neighbours, friends, musicians, poets, Neil the strummer for the evening and finally the Monkfish Spokenword collective I worked with in june when I first met Kirsten: Claire, Robbie, Viv, Sarah, Ian and James. The place is packed, wine glasses fill and empty, Kirsten and Jane work the room doing their best to get everyone comfortable and ready. Lights dim and the living room gig begins with James who reads tightly, clearly articulates each word, confidently using silences to let ideas, concepts that hang in the air to settle, masterfully reading 12 poems in 15 minutes.
When James is done, Neil, who is well known to the gathered, takes the stage - which is the glass roofed and walled section of the kitchen, he takes the stage, sits and tells sprawling, quirky stories between songs. His fingers are quick and he plucks the strings expertly. A light rain patters the glass roof above him mixing with his music, voice, the silence, us... He tells stranger tales of working on allotments, using meat compost delivered with live piglets... he sings one more and bows out before the 15 minute break.
I choose a set of poems I hope fits with the vibe and enthusiasm of these folks who whooped and hollered for Neil and James. There is a buzzing in the room, an infectious type that bounces from person to person, coats conversations. James says folks here come out to have a good time and will have one before the going gets started; to arrive alone is enough to cheer about, it isn't like London where some* audiences sit, arms folded with that 'go on, show me what you got; entertain me now' curl to their lips. The job of the performer here James says, is simply to not f*ck up. I'm still nervous. Kirsten introduces me once the light dims. I say a couple things and begin with the poem 'Of all the boys of plateau private school...' Time flies. I watch their faces, I peer out at them as I read. This close, I can see the corners of their mouths form upwards before a smile lightenings out. I can see a few wipe tears from their eyes when I read 'Candy Coated Unicorns' I can hear the hush descend in 'Fragments of bone'. This close you can FEEL them and I have to control myself not to rush the poem, not to break the steady pace, to walk them to last full stop, and there, not to slam the door, but to click it closed and breathe after.
There is my last poem. There is applause. There is wine and I sign books for A.J. Sky, Ian, Claire, James, Sarah, Tom, Aunty O, more names than I can possibly remember. A lady asks that I address a book to a friend who'd just lost his mother but sees sentimentality as weakness. I write 'The End is Near. The Beginning' and wish her good luck... Soon the house is empty, Kirsten leaves very satisfied with the show, everyone is pleased to have come out for poems. I sit with Jane, Martin, James and another close family friend of theirs to talk about relationships and arguments, the passage of time, children, music and rice pudding. Jane has an early start tomorrow, I kiss her good night, thank her for opening her home to me, gather my belongs scattered generously over the the kitchen table and climb into sleep.
Newcastle is freezing! I wake to wind howling at the window of the room I am beached in, and roll off the bed to the shower, to a breakfast of hot porridge and golden syrup that Martin makes. James who'd slept in the front room joins us and when it is time to leave, we shudder into the car. Martin drops us off near the city centre and Newcastle is freezing. I try to walk down Grey's road to the Baltic or the Tyneside Cinema, the scenic parts of the city, but my Nigerian blood mutinies, refusing to warm my legs. I shelter in a coffee shop, watch the clock tock towards my train's arrival and when it's time, cross, enter, sit and watch the sun glinting off roof tops, filling my coach with light. The lady to my right who fills the window seat beside asks if I mind? I shake my head and she pulls the blinds down like curtains. I imagine this is to be the last shot in a film, now the golden lion roars, now, The End.