Walking with Ollie

Many thanks to all of you who have expressed your condolences; they have been a comfort in this terrible time. I’m closing correspondence here, but I’ll leave you with words from the man himself. He’ll be walking with Ollie now.

“The time nears when Ollie receives his clean bill of health. Each day for the past few weeks we have been jogging together in parkland, still using the leash, just to get him moving a bit faster, to warm his muscles. All this enforced proximity has finalised our bond. He has actually come up to my office and wagged his tail. He sits under my desk when I type and sometimes he licks my bare feet, which can only mean they taste nice.
Very soon the moment will arrive when his normal life returns. I am itching to slip the ring and let him go, because there are two things I have missed during the period of his confinement more than I would have imagined possible. One is watching him run. The other is walking with him, out in nature, seeing him free, and being free myself.”

From ‘Walking Ollie’, by Stephen Foster.

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Coming soon

Possibly in a new jacket; views pls.

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Long time no poem

The Whitsun Weddings

By Philip Larkin 1922–1985

That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.

All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept
For miles inland,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new and nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.

At first, I didn’t notice what a noise
The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys
The interest of what’s happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls
I took for porters larking with the mails,
And went on reading. Once we started, though,
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,
All posed irresolutely, watching us go,

As if out on the end of an event
Waving goodbye
To something that survived it. Struck, I leant
More promptly out next time, more curiously,
And saw it all again in different terms:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes,
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that

Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.
Yes, from cafés
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
Were coming to an end. All down the line
Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing: children frowned
At something dull; fathers had never known

Success so huge and wholly farcical;
The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;
While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared
At a religious wounding. Free at last,
And loaded with the sum of all they saw,
We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.
Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast
Long shadows over major roads, and for
Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem

Just long enough to settle hats and say
I nearly died,
A dozen marriages got under way.
They watched the landscape, sitting side by side
—An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,
And someone running up to bowl—and none
Thought of the others they would never meet
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.
I thought of London spread out in the sun,
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:

There we were aimed. And as we raced across
Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Travelling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

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Coming soon

On the Manchester City bench Mancini offers his assistant a sweet, it looks like a fruit pastille. They are playing Balotelli on the left wing (he is a striker) and now here he is again, gathering a pass on the dead ball line, jinking, stroking it back to a team mate. He has mesmerising balance and a horrible sang froid. His hair is a tight rectangular Mohawk, already he is sweating up but that means nothing. Another corner to them and he and Walters are at it again, this time Balotelli getting a little rattled as Walters makes a stronger effort to let him know he’s there, in his face. Balotelli turns on him, tells him to fuck off. The ball is cleared to the half way line but the relief is temporary, here they come again, they are developing a slow wave of attacks. Now it is the turn of their left back Kolorov, a Serb in the 13 shirt (my lucky number – a horse in the 13 cloth in green silks at a big price in Ireland will often help you out) to surge forward and to skid the ball low into our six-yard box where Shawcross dives in late and deflects it into the side netting with an outstretched leg. Ooooh. The moan is low; from many angles it looked an own goal. Another corner to them, Balotelli and Walters getting to know each other better and better…

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East Anglian Book Awards

Have you had a novel or collection of stories published that is/are predominantly set in East Anglia? We are looking for entries, details of the judges: here.

The book must be published between for the first time between August 1, 2010 and July 31, 2011. The other categories and the entry details are to be found on this link

East Anglian Landscape, Winterton-on-Sea

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Impartial Beeb

I’ve never seem anything like the coverage of yesterday’s Epsom Derby. What happened was this: the Queen owned the favourite, Carlton House. Carlton House ran well and came third, so was beaten by two horses, one of which, Pour Moi, the actual winner, was delivered with a blistering late run in which he made up at least four lengths in an eighth of a mile. His jockey, 19 year-old Sasha Distel-a-like Mikael Barzelona, stood up in his stirrups and raised his persuader in victory before the horse had even crossed the line and while he was the merest of short heads in front. He effectively pulled the handbrake on the animal while the second horse still appeared to have a chance of collaring him. It was a sensational piece of sportsmanship and horsemanship which positively reeked of sang froid. Mikael’s ‘antics’ were later to be characterised as exactly that, and as foolish, unseemly, and dangerous to the animal. All of which is nonsense. It was marvelous. Had Pour Moi belonged to the Her Majesty the Queen then Barzelona’s ride would have been hailed as the finest piece of riding in living memory. As things stood, the only surprise was that no one called for him to be taken to the Tower.

The ensuing post-race analysis turned into a post-mortem and rather took on the atmosphere of a wake. Presenter Clare Balding, who had earlier impartially twitted: Every time I think about the reality of the Queen winning the Derby I get a rush of nerves/butterflies/adrenalin. This is why I love my job could scarcely prevent herself from blubbing at the iniquity of the outcome. And then she had to interview the winning connections, a gig which normally lasts a minute but to which she devoted two whole seconds, and then she had to oversee the presentation of the trophy at which she did a terrific impression of a lady in waiting trying not to throw her breakfast up. As they re-ran the tape pundits queued up to explain to us poor baffled loyal subjects what the hell had happened – the Queen’s horse had been forced to run wide because of the path that it took! Those dastardly French, except: Pour Moi had run even wider while Barzelona took a look at the place and both horse and rider were always behind Carlton House until the moment it mattered. How they had managed to impede the royal animal from there was totally unfathomable. In the end Willie Carson summed the whole scandal up. ‘I have to admit it,’ he said, ‘…sadly, the best horse won.’

It was by a distance the most craven sports coverage I have ever seen, disrespectful of a magnificent sporting performance and disrespectful to a field of twelve further animals, jockeys, trainers, connections, the lot. The name of the second horse was never once mentioned – Treasure Beach (25/1) was relegated to a silent footnote in the narrative of the whole tawdry fix.

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Now then

If I can just find those Porsche keys I can call round on Venus and do the full Thelma and Louise…

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The alternative name for Dionysus who was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, and of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. He has had a mention in the forthcoming book; he is exactly the sort of Stokie who could forget he owned a Porsche.

Second Century Roman Statue of Dionysus, after a Hellenistic Model

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Iconic prescient eulogy song

I never mentioned much on the passing of Gil Scott-Heron earlier in the week. He was a key artist for me in the eighties, representing a number of essential musics and ideals, he was the Godfather of hip-hop, a jazz singer, a soul man, a poetic political protester (Winter in America is the best of these songs, for me, a proper elegy – it will make you cry). He was very cool too, of course, like drug addicts can be. When Red Ken was in charge of the GLC he had a habit of setting up free gigs on the south bank just across the river from the Houses of Parliament, expressly designed to inflame Maggie, Norman St John Stevas, and the Daily Mail. I saw Gil Scott-Heron and the Midnight Band down there a couple of times (‘And to my left welcome Brian Jackson on flute!’ – you don’t here that one at too many gigs) and on one of these occasions GSH himself smiled at me. No, I didn’t imagine it, he really did: I was a twenty year-old in a trilby on a summer’s day. I wrote my first published work about him – a letter to the NME, and at my height of dope smoking I listened to his album Reflections a thousand times. I can still recite the thing if you like: B-Movie is the great tune. I am sad he has gone; but he has taken everything a man can take in his time and that will always cut you down short. Sometimes artists are just like that because that’s the way they are. He has left a piece of himself behind, a real legacy; can you ask for more?

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Coming soon

In the second half, on the seventieth minute, the mood changed. A cold white panic swept through the crowd as the young Arsenal player Jack Wilshere went in on Pennant with his studs up. Our winger took exception to this by shoving his forehead into Wilshere’s face. It was not exactly a headbutt, but these moments are judgement calls, and it could easily be interpreted as such. It was not a certainty for a sending off, but that was a definite possibility and if the possibility came to pass then Pennant would be suspended for the final. Here was a disaster in the making, a turn of events that would strip us of half of our available width and flair. And, as things stood, we could be without the other half anyway: Matty Etherington was on the treatment table where he’d been for a couple of weeks; there was nothing in Stoke-on-Trent that was causing more concern than the state of the left winger’s hamstring. The confrontation between Wilshere and Pennant took place on the touchline right in front of us; Shawcross came over to speak to the referee. We could not hear what he said, but anyone could guess. ‘It’s the FA Cup final you’ll be putting him out of ref, please (hands together, gesture of prayer), please don’t do that.’ As he awaited his fate and the crowd held its breath Pennant put on a virtuoso cameo along the touchline. He is slight, he has many tattoos, including a selection that rise from his neck, he is rather beautiful and he is very cool. He is so rich that he forgot he owned a Porsche which he had left behind him down in Spain. One change of outfit into a sequined bodysuit and he could step directly into a British seventies soul band. His cameo consisted of an exasperated mime along the touchline. He was being persecuted here, for sure, for being ex-Arsenal, for the goal he had already scored, for the one he had set up, for having the nattiest hair. But, be that as it may, most crucially, and beyond any reasonable doubt, he was innocent. The ref fingered his card pocket and went walkabout.

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