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London’s Mayor appeared on Radio 4 recently, talking about immigration and the projected quotas. Quoting government figures, he suggested that London, on a pro-rata basis, might be ‘allowed’ just under forty thousand immigrants…less than needed to supply the building trade alone (where over 10% of workers will retire over the next five years, apparently). He suggested a special measure for the city that would allow it to have more immigrants, while the rest of England (and of the UK) could continue with its exclusions.

The interesting element in this, which wasn’t picked up by the interviewer, was how, and by whom, this arrangement would be ‘policed’. Presumably some sort of line would have to be drawn around London, and ‘surplus’ immigrants prevented from crossing it , at least so far as moving to other jobs, and to living elsewhere would be concerned. Days out, holidays, and visits, presumably would be OK? Who would draw this line? Who would control its crossing points? London? Or we Provincials? Would we need internal passports to get into, or out of whichever side of the line we inhabited? Would Londoners, wishing to move in to the rest of the UK, or Provincials wishing to move out to London, count as immigrants, and who would be counting?

Either way, it would be the first step in a discernible road. I seem to recall that both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, during their time as Mayors of London, remarked in public, that they thought it entirely feasible the city could maintain itself as a City State, without the aid of the rump of the UK.

In Trieste last year I encountered some campaigners for a sort of ‘free Trieste’. They were convinced that the city – much smaller than London – could successfully go it alone.

When things start to break up it’s not entirely predictable where the fragmentation will stop. We have a surplus of water in this part of the UK, which, global warming continuing, might support the local population if sold at a high enough price to those living in the soon-to-be-drier parts of the present country… Of course, we’d have to seize the reservoirs etc(Just a thought!). 



Lanercost Festival takes place later this month, and as part of it Marilyn Messenger & Brindley Hallam Dennis will be reading from their Ambiguous Encounters collection of short stories, and from other collaborations.  The reading, at Dacre Hall, Lanercost Priory, a couple of miles east of Brampton, on Tuesday 21st June, will start at 12.00 noon.  Copies of their short story collection, and other books will be available on the day, or can be purchased here.









On the following Saturday, 25th June, at the same venue, Mike Smith (aka BHD!) will run a one day short course in the ‘short story,’ picking up several elements from his ‘Facets of Fiction Writers Workshops. Tickets  are available here.


DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAILThere were 14 poems in the first projected version of An Early Frost, but they were whittled down to ten and then had to be boosted again for technical reasons – giving me the chance to bolt on the Ullswater Requiem, which was written in the same time period, and from literally the same perspective.

What surprised me when I finally got around to publishing them, was how many years had passed since they had first been written. In fact, it’s a decade now since the first of them was completed, and just over a decade since it was begun.

Over the years all except one of them has been published, or won prizes, or both (and that one, I think, appeared in A Gatehouse of Fleet window during the recent Big Lit weekend!). Then I was invited to contribute to a reading at Dumfries Theatre Royal (on May 5th!). I sent the collection in and said, I could read a couple from this, ‘as yet unpublished collection’. It was only after I’d made the submission, that I told myself it was time to do something about that.That’s what gave the impetus to self-publish. What I think of as the core poems of the collection were too few, I thought, to interest a small press, and perhaps they are too old now! It’s always possible to perceive as a problem the question of what to do with a poem that has been published already, and here was a whole group of them: written from the same place, facing the same view, and dealing with similar themes, in a similar tone of voice. Though they were written individually, they always seemed, among other writing of the same period and the same place, to hang together. The ones that were pruned out were pruned, not so much because they hadn’t been published, as because they didn’t have that tone of voice. These poems sound as if they belong together, at least to my ear.

The poems have appeared in several magazines and journals, among them Acumen, and the south-west Scotland magazine Southlight. A couple appeared in the Templar Poets anthology Octopus. Curiously, they have been taken as pairs and trios, as well as single poems, so perhaps it’s not only me who thinks they belong with each other! Ullswater Requiem was one of a different group that won a Sir Patrick Geddes Memorial Trust award, back in 2009, the first time the award had been made to a piece of creative work. It was written in response to a triple drowning in the lake, which I did not witness, but felt that I could not fail to respond to. I still have somewhere the handwritten couple of pages of A4 paper upon which the earliest draft of this poem appeared. I took it along to one of Chris Pilling’s poetry workshops at Keswick, where poet Meg Peacock identified some lines of blank verse in the middle of its half formed ideas. It was this that gave me the sense of the structure that it needed, and became the opening ‘sonnet.’ First three, and then five,six, and finally seven sonnet-like verses, borrowing from the structure of the Requiem Mass, took shape over the next few months. Each step in the process seemed a journey finished, but with something missing, that only longer reflection could, and did provide.

What surprised me, reading through the collection to look for typos and spelling errors – but not to correct – was how fresh they seemed to me, though the years have left them behind. It’s three years now since I worked on the garden that overlooked Ullswater and Howtown Pier, and looked out towards Steel End and Hallin Fell. I haven’t been back, though I’ve seen it from a distance. The place offered a grandstand view of the world it encompassed: water, earth, and sky, and the flames of my frequent bonfires. Sounds flew in along with the birds that carried them. People came and went. The Ullswater Steamers ferried their passengers to and from the pier, and wrote their passages in those ripples, as regular as Marion Richardson handwriting.

I feel as strongly attached to these poems as I did the day I wrote them, which gives me a confidence – perhaps misplaced, as confidence can be – that they are worth the reading: I have a file of some three hundred poems written in the nineteen seventies, and would struggle to pick out more than four I would still put before you (and some sixty of those have been published).

The cover photo was taken from the bonfire place in the old rose garden, looking to the north of west. The collection, An Early Frost, poems named and un-named written above Ullswater, by Mike Smith is available on Amazon, in print form or for Kindle.

If you live more than driving time away from Keswick, England, this maybe not for you! But following the floods that recently devastated the North of England (and elsewhere), a group of local writers from North Cumbria are getting together to present a literary evening in the Theatre By The Lake’s Studio Theatre, at Keswick, England, (that’s the UK England for those in doubt).

BHDandMe will be there, well, BHD will be, me, I’ll be with him in spirit! Tuesday 8th March, beginning at 6.45pm. Perhaps you’ve seen the massive online and off advertising campaign, but just in case you haven’t, why not check those details again – The Studio, Theatre By The Lake, Keswick, England, UK, Tuesday 8th March, 6.45pm – and don’t be late, we’ve only only the place for an hour, that’s 6 minutes each for those of you interested in statistics – and we need to raise squillions to help put back together the lives and businesses that these floods ripped apart.


It would be nice, if so many of you turned up, that they had cancel the show in the main theatre and move us in there instead…it would be nice, if they had to hire trucks to take away the money we raise….Hey, as Kowalski might say, whaddya got ta lose?mildredUnless it’s all a ghastly dream……

Writers in the Carlisle (England) area interested in meeting up for an informal chat might like to know that the next session at Cakes and Ale cafe behind Bookcase on Castle Street, will be on Wednesday January 20th, between 12.30 and 2.30 pm. No performance, not a workshop, not a reading, just the chance to meet up with fellow writers and chew the fat, gristle, bones and meat of anything that needs chewing, and to shoot the breeze, the messenger (sic), the pianist – hope you get that one – and the rapids, but not the fellow-writers! Hope to see you there!IMG_7421

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWriters in the Carlisle (Cumbria) area looking for the chance to chat about their work, or what they are reading, to get feedback or just shoot the breeze, have a new drop-in venue to try out. Members of the Facets of Fiction Writers Workshop have undertaken to be available every first and third Wednesday of the month (12.30-2.30pm) at the new Cakes & Ale cafe on Castle Street Carlisle. There’s no fee, no format, and no agendas: but the F of F writers will make sure that there will be someone on hand to talk with, read to, or simply have a coffee with – the rest, as they say, is future. Why not come along and see what we can make of it? The first event is on November 18th, with follow up dates set for 2nd and 16th December….



Waiting On the Tide’s Turn

This story came to me from a retired head-teacher. His school was one of the village schools on the north Cumbrian coast, where the Eden and Waver and Wampool rivers run out into the estuary of the Solway Firth. It is low lying land; so low that the high tide laps and washes the shoreline pastures, and below their crumbling edges the mud is smooth as silk, and soft, and the gullies and little streams that run into the estuary, that lie, mere trickles between high, mud-soft banks when the tide is out, fill to the brim with rushing waters when the tide has run in.

The story involved one of the mothers at the school he ran. She was an aristocratic lady: haughty, imperious. She was better with horses and dogs than she was with people. She kept the dogs on a short lead and barked out orders that they obeyed instantly. They gazed at with attentive eyes awaiting her next command. She kept her horses on a tight rein and they pricked up their ears when she was nearby, and rolled their eyes at the sight of the short whip she carried. She wore dark stockings and tweed skirts, with a flounce of something soft and white at her throat.

She used to bring the dogs with her when she delivered her children to my informant’s school. She had no cage in the back of the car, and would let the dogs out to be patted by the children. But they wouldn’t jump up and make a fuss like ordinary dogs. SIT, she would command, and they would do so, immediately, and stare up at her as the children crowded round to pat their heads. Then when the tide had subsided she would rap out IN, and the dogs would leap back into the car and take their places, not on the seats, but on the floor behind the driver and passenger seats, where they would curl up and tentatively sleep.

One day, the ex-headmaster told me, she came into the school at lunchtime. The dogs were not with her. She looked distressed. In fact, she looked as if she had aged several years in the few hours since the morning. Have you seen my dogs? She asked. Nobody had seen them since that morning’s school run. She was distraught, and the colour had risen to her cheeks. It was unheard of that she did not know where they were.

That evening, when she collected her children she looked even worse. The headmaster was so concerned that he reached out to touch her arm. That she did not pull away, or look scornfully at him when he did so was perhaps even more disturbing to him. She looked embarrassed, he told me. I’d never seen her show any signs of human doubt before. The dogs were not in her car. Have you found the dogs, he asked, thinking that he knew what the answer would be.

Her voice faltered as she spoke.

I had forgotten them, she said. This morning, when I left after dropping off the children I had taken them for a run on the foreshore. There was a ewe, struggling in the mudflats of the estuary. I told the dogs to sit, and wait, while I tried to free it. It was mired deep, and I struggled with it for maybe half an hour until it finally came clear. I was in such mess then. It scampered away, as they do, over the sea washed turf, as if nothing had happened, but I was soaked and filthy. I went back to the car and drove home. I showered and changed, and then I went down to have coffee. It was only then that I realised the dogs were not with me. I couldn’t think what had happened to them, where they might be. They have never wandered off before. She said, I thought perhaps, they might have come to the school, which is why I drove over to ask you if you had seen them. It was when I turned back that I recalled the events of the morning. They were always such obedient dogs, and I had told them to wait.

And were they still there, he asked?


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI paid a visit to the Keswick Film Festival last week….to see the film ‘Radiator’, which was set, and shot, largely in Mungrisedale – merely a long day’s walk from where I live.

I hadn’t done due diligence in advance, but friends had told me about it – local film, interesting old house, elderly parents. Well, I thought, many a good cheese fiddled on an old player.

It was probably the best decision I’ve made all year. The festival programme quotes a local publication – ‘a darkly comic examination of family life, marriage, age and love.’ There are no clichés in the film. The opening long shot of protagonist Daniel striding through the rough moorland beneath Carrock Fell, from one side of the rock steady frame to the other is a suitable metaphor for the steady gaze that the film will hold as it confronts the absurdities of mortality and old age.

Radiator is full of these visual assertions: the breath of the wind on a water surface, home-made model boats drifting apart on the wide ocean of a lake, morning sunshine on a toothbrush in its glass. In places the poignancy is almost unbearable, and the humour cuts you to laughter like a shard of Lakeland slate. The subtle wordplay as Daniel spars with his father, Leonard – played by Richard Johnson – reminds me of my own mother’s last years: testing words, delivered with a sly, almost child-like, upward glance from wary eyes; the most unreasonable demands couched in the most reasonable of terms.

The uncredited star of the show is the house in which nearly all of this action takes place, buried beneath the real lifetime’s clutter of writer and director Tom Brown’s own parents’ lives. A ripple of laughter spread through the theatre from those in the know, as, during the question and answer session after the showing, someone asked about the ‘props.’

The named stars, Richard Johnson and Gemma Jones – playing Mariah, Daniel’s at-her-wits’-end mother- were totally believable with Johnson, I think, getting a mangy lion’s mane share of the good lines and the on-screen time. As in a classic novella there is a palpable and shocking turning point, beyond which the story rattle sticks its way to an inevitable conclusion.

If you get to see only one film this season, make it this one (if you get to see more, count your blessings!): no blocks are busted, but world weary cynicisms and emotional up-tighteries are simply blown away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt a meeting convened by Edna Croft a few weeks ago a discussion took place on the merits and feasibility of a ‘literary festival’ for Carlisle. Subsequently a number of those present began to pursue the means of staging such an event. I had been present at that first meeting, and came away with a head full of ideas, augmented by suggestions sent to me by writers from Litcaff (Carlisle’s own monthly writers get together). The first problem to overcome was that of exactly what was meant by a ‘literary festival.’ I hope it is not unfair to suggest that for most people the common assumption would be that it was an event at which celebrity authors promote their publications. Such a model would fit most of the literary festivals I have visited, where the word ‘books’, meaning mainstream-published books, is incorporated into the title.

I would like to take up a little of your time in consideration of another type of festival, one in which the emphasis is on engagement with and participation in the act of writing. In fact, I would call this a writers’ festival if I had to give it a name.

If I were starting up such a festival, I might aim to fill a day, and two or three venues. I would call upon the involvement of several – half of a dozen or more – local writing groups, and I would ask each of them to stage a themed workshop event – poetry, fiction, drama for example – and to send members to each of the other groups/ workshops. The workshops would be spaced throughout the day, in the same, or, if available, in different venues. The work created would form the basis of a reading that evening – in which perhaps, for a time, the workshop groups would eclipse the writing groups, allowing colleagues to see each other in a new light! A festival publication might also be drawn from this work.

Elsewhere, during the day, I would run a day-long workshop/performance event on recording your writing, in audio, and audio-visual formats. Some pre-planned slots would be set, but an ‘off-the-street’ element would allow spur of the moment recordings too. This material too, could be used later, by participants, or on a festival webpage (Face-book/Vimeo etc). There is a lot to learn from seeing and hearing your own readings, and the event would also provide an on-going performance/audience opportunity for those who were interested, but not actually writing.

A third element would be a festival bookstore, promoting small-press, local and self-publications. Famous writers would, of course, not be excluded, but they would have to creep in unannounced: the playing field would not only be level, the game would start with a nil-nil score!

Two fundamental ideas stand behind such a festival. One is that the practitioners and the audience are indivisible: as at our LitCaff event, the readers arise from the audience, and sink back into it. There are no elites; no stages; no spotlights; no hierarchies. There will be however, writing that is thought to be ‘better’ and some that will be thought to be ‘worse.’

The other fundamental is that the groups to which the whole event is ‘farmed out’ will carry the burden of staging their own part of it. This is a festival for those who wish to share their involvement in a chosen cultural activity, and for their friends, and the curious passer-by. It is not a commercial, promotional model. It is a cultural, participatory one.

If such a model worked, by bringing together and ‘entertaining’ the members of half a dozen local writers’ groups, there would be no reason why the net could not be cast wider in subsequent years, drawing in more groups, providing a wider range of activities over more venues, and extending the duration.

Darren Harper and I have discussed this and would be happy to use the LitCaff event (and its supporters) as a cornerstone of such a venture, and to support it wholeheartedly. We think it might be carried out in co-operation with a more traditional festival model, or as a stand-alone venture. We think an August 2014 date would be manageable if support were to be pledged reasonable quickly. If you think these ideas are worth considering, refining, or refuting, please do respond via the blog, or by e-mail direct, and do please pass this posting on, by re-blogging, networking, quoting from etc, to any groups or individuals that might be interested.

Edna Croft has kicked the wasp’s nest… it’s up to us to provide the stings! Mike Smith.     LitcaffPosterJune2012001

Mick North (Editorial geni behind Eden Arts’ New Writing Cumbria & Weekly Word website and e-letter) and us (BHDandMe) received the photo-journalism treatment this week – both in the classic poses of the local writer. That is, leaning against a pergola and sitting in front of a computer. And with a grin on faces for the former; not so for the latter. I tried to persuade photographer Jenny Woolgar that a smiling writer (unless it’s one of those sinister smiles you would get in a horror movie – no comments please about it BEING one of those sinister smiles you get in a horror movie ) is as much use as a chocolate fireguard, and I know about chocolate fireguards, metaphorically speaking, but for financial and legal reasons I am unable to go into the details of that at the present time.

There’s also the issue of Fire Cranes. Some of you will have been lucky enough by now to have seen copies of Mick’s new publication: The Fire Crane. Published with the aid of several sources of public money (otherwise known as us – what else are you gonna do with the VAT off heating fuel?) this features poems, interviews and visual arts from Cumbria (and elsewhere), and will, I hope, be the first of many. Produced in a newspaper style (except of course without the dodgy intrusions, distortions and damnations – if you’re going to do alliteration, go for three I always say – of the contemporary journalist), this is a nice print job with excellent content. It features Josephine Dickinson’s poetry which can’t be bad… no, believe me, it simply can’t be! It also has a story by Christine Howe, one of the Facets of Fiction fictioneers, and poetry by my good neighbour Mary Robinson, who led a very enjoyable day of study on Norman Nicholson recently at Rosley Village Hall near Carlisle. There are also poems by Martyn Halsall (who has read several times at the Carlisle LitCaff -at Merienda bar/cafe on Treasury Court, third Wednesday of the month – £3 entry, £2 if you concede, 7.30pm start). This is a Free publication (? – The writers and artists, presumably not getting paid, the printers – who drive, I suppose, expensive cars and take foreign holidays, being remunerated I imagine at full commercial rates. Anomalies are always instructive), so pick one up somewhere. Libraries will have them. Merienda’s will have them. Even I have some, for the moment! The artwork, beyond my competence to judge, is striking. Those good old Hunters in the Snow (Breugel – you knew that) are there, but so are some cracking images from Lionel Playford, and photographs by Ian Hill, Horatio Lawson and others. It is, truly, packed with visual and textual goodies!

The name intrigues. Myself, rich in ignorance, assumed it was some sort of mythical bird – and there must be a story in that somewhere – flash fictions on The Fire Crane, to BHD on – we’ll put some in Weekly Word and I’ll donate a copy of my new collection of short stories, Talking To Owls (due out from Pewter Rose on 31st October), to the one I like best of those received within this October. I wasn’t the only one to make the mistake, and so at least two us spent a fruitless few minutes trying to make out the avian in the logo. The fire crane in question however, is a metal gizmo, of ancinet provenance, that swings out over a fire, and from which may be suspended a kettle, or cauldron, or very small victim. That’s why it looks like a gallows. It’s not a well known fact that Cowan Sheldon began as a manufacturer of Fire Cranes, nor that they were known to migrate from central Asia, annually, passing over Tibet, India, Arabia, the Mediterranean, Southern Europe and the Iberian Peninsular, and finally into the Western Seabord of the British Islets, where they gave the Romans a hand, or rather a beak, lifting the stones onto Hadrian’s Wall. Not a lot of people, as Michael Caine observed.

Other publications of interest this week include the Sentinel Literary Quarterly, for July-September, in which the Me half of BHDandMe has an essay on using detail in short fiction. There should also be, around November time, an issue of Sentinel Champions with the (small) prize winning story Sand in it, from BHD! On which note of rumour, this blog ends! Except to say that the photo at the top of the page, shows BHDandMe, not quite somnolent, in the light of candles, in the new Facets of Fiction writers’ room out here at Curthwaite!