Canterbury/Taxi Tales

Yesterday was 25 October, the 610th anniversary of Chaucer’s death. By sheer coincidence, our Canterbury Tales discussion event took place. It was a good event. But I feel frustrated. Still. Having slept on it and done boring household chores. Why do I feel like this?¬† I feel I didn’t do the event justice, I didn’t give full enough or coherent enough answers. Some of this was simply not being on form and some of it was due to the format, with two other people on stage who had fascinating things to say. John Prebble had really done his homeword and the questions were excellent. Whenever John asked Peter Brown or Trevor Eaton a question and they answered it was great. I was part of the audience. Then, when John asked me something, I found it hard to switch back into adrenaline mode and do it justice. I was too relaxed. Quite tellingly, I said my best piece at the very beginning when the adrenaline was flowing. What would I have liked? Probably three separate events: one of Peter giving a lecture on Chaucer in the medieval world and his legacy followed by a Q&A; one of Trevor being the Chaucer man and giving us an entire tale in Middle English as I experienced at the Cheltenham Festival; and one of me reading my versions followed by a Q&A. Interestingly, I did that at the Southward library and was really on form even though it wasn’t billed as a Chaucer event. Finally, I would have liked more questions from the audience afterwards. The ending was a bit of an anticlimax.

Having said all that, I think the event was brilliantly orchestrated by John plus Peter, Trevor and I made a fantastic trio: Peter has the academic perspective yet made everything accessible; Trevor brought the Middle English to life and has previous academic experience he could bring to the table; and I have the creative and contemporary perspective. I’m sure the audience had an enjoyable and stimulating evening and that’s important too.

I’m currently on my not enough time to write soapbox. It happens now and then that deadlines and gigs infringe on the creative space and there’s a real conflict of interests. For that reason I’m aiming to be very very selective about what I take on next year, leaving myself whole months to write without other events invading the space. I know some writers who take six clear months off rather than do it part-time for twelve. It’s tempting, very tempting. Of course, I already have an Arvon booked and posssibly the Oxford Literary Festival. Also the Brookes Spring semester visit. But apart from them, it’s looking remarkably quiet the first few months of next year. Probably due to the recession. Anyway, I need to start getting more ruthless about stuff and learning to say no more. Sometimes, it’s not so much the gigs but the little must-dos that pile up and what with things like accounts that must be done, I end up spending half my precious time not writing. I fully see the irony of complaining about not writing as I’m doing that very thing.

To change the subject, I had a mixed visit to Cabco a couple of weekends ago. I chose Saturday because I thought it would be busy. It was, which meant the men were driving rather than hanging out in the office. On the plus side, I managed to get an insiders view of how the cab controller operates things and allocates jobs to various drivers. I sat behind this computer screen with various zones on it and saw who was where. Each cab has a number. You get a real sense of the activity going on. The phone didn’t stop ringing. Ben does a 6pm to 6am shift and was great at filling me in on stuff that goes on. He says cabbies have to turn a blind eye a lot. They’re often asked to give evidence: sometimes to the police where they comply, but more often they’ll get e.g. a woman calling asking if they picked up her husband and where he went. Obviously best not the get involved. So a lot of stuff I’d class as a story they wouldn’t necessarily see that way. They’d be more blase about it. I kept going back to the seven deadly sins, partly because the Father Christmas poem I’m working on references greed and a couple of other stories covered pride and gluttony. Not the most original framework but could fit nicely with the Parson’s tale if the cab tales are woven into the existing fragments. I think there’s twenty-three tales if you count Chaucer’s Sir Thopas and Melibee as one. And thirty pilgrims. Leaving seven missing tales. (Every time I do the maths it turns out slightly different and does my head in.) So I’ll see how the cab tales go and next time I go in may well mention the seven deadly sins to see if anyone can give me specific stories. So far I’ve been general in my approach. Time to zoom in…

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In Southwerk at the Tabard…

Well, I wasn’t exactly at the Tabard cos it no longer exists. It’s now a Copyprint business centre but it has a people’s plaque outside to pay homage to Chaucer. I walked in, stood in the queue of one for about 30 seceonds then walked out again. Another Chaucer nutter they must have thought as I scuttled back onto Borough High Street. That was a couple of weeks ago. I had a gig at John Harvard Library, 211 Borough High street (great gig by the way, Sandra Agard was MCing. We could have gone on all night with the Q&A). A brilliant coincidence because it’s a five minute walk from the site of the Tabard Inn. No-one knew I was working on The Canterbury Tales. I’ve been meaning for months to go for a drink somewhere close to the original site and ended up sitting at The George Inn, a stunning 16th century¬†galleried inn just off Borough High Street. There I rehearsed the Manciple’s and Parson’s Tale for the imminent gig and generally soaked up the atmosphere. I’m already thinking about the book launch (which I nice because it means I believe it’s actually going to happen. Visualise the launch and move gradually towards it). Graham Henderson of Poet in the City said he’d get me Southwark Cathedral which is a stunning venue but quite formal. I’d be able to perform The Knight’s Tale (when it’s rewritten), even the Parson’s. But certainly not the Millers. Other poets could do it but I believe I’d be struck down if I blasphemed in church, let alone a cathedral. Anyway, I thought a more appropriate venue would be a southwark pub. And The George has function rooms. Unfortunately they were busy at that time but you won’t need to twist my arm to get me back there to check them out. It was a special day. I felt like a real writer connecting so directly with a dead one. Yes, I’ve called myself a poet for twenty years but I’ve never so absolutely followed in the footsteps of a past master. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, like the Friar’s Tale…