Monday, April 25, 2005


Next Thursday as a Commonwelth citizen living in the UK I get to vote in the UK General Election (in NZ we are not so accommodating to the mother country). I figure I have two choices, Labour or Lib Dem (there's no way I'm voting Tory). What I vote for may come down to whether or not I could still vote Labour even though they took the UK (and the world) to a war that was not justified. I'm not sure I see the war as a reason to not vote Labour, although I don't want a Labour victory to be seen as the electorate condoning the war.

But I struggle to see the difference between Labour and the Lib Dems on anything else.

Thoughts or persuasion anyone?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

We do the Walk of Life

Spent the day walking round Oxford with the lovely Ruth from the lovely Edinburgh. Am taking the opportunity in the evening to blog a bit while the sky turns a moody grey. Then off to see Tom and Elaine who got married a couple of weeks ago. We're meeting in a pub called 'Far from the Maddening Crowd'. Why do Oxford pubs have such fine names? Some (like my father) might say 'Wanky', but I would say he's wrong.

Been doing all this while listening to Dire Straits' live album. Fine, fine music but a fashion disaster. Good grief, Mark what were you thinking?

Self Promotion

This blog is turning into a poetry fest. Sorry 'bout that. This week I'm off to Poland for a week, then I come back and see the Go! Team (I am soooooo looking forward to them), and then.. the cricket season starts. Poetry takes a break in July. I'm sure I'll think of other stuff to write about... But it's about July that I want to write now.

In July I am (all going to plan) putting on a gig of my own. Ok, with Steve Larkin's help, but I am putting together the return of The Fugitives to Oxford. The Fugitives are some of Canada's finest poets and were last seen at the Four Nations Slam. Because they were coming back to the UK and because I wanted to see them again, we have got together and we are working on a gig. I've never done anything like this before... But I have faith in Steve, Brendan and Barbara (two of the Fugitives) and I have faith in me.

But just so you know.... You Oxford folk, you should expect me to come asking for help!

Some of the Fugitves: CR Avery, Barbara Adler, Brendan McLeod, Shane Koyzcan

Slam in the Slammer

One of the organisers of Hammer and Tongue, Steve Larkin, has been involved in teaching performance poetry to some students from Oxford-Brookes University. Part of the course has included working with some of the inmates at HM Prison Grendon. This is described as a therapeutic prison, whereby prisoners choose to take an active role in their rehabilitation. This can be done through art, craft etc.

Last night saw the culmination of the work. For the students it was an assessed piece. For the inmates it was an opportunity to show off to their pals. For the rest of us it was a chance to see a bunch of different poets in, what has to be said, a very different environment to your average slam.

Upon arriving at the prison we were sent through in groups of ten. For those of us at the back of the group, we had plenty of time to examine the vibe. We had the mandatory hurricane fencing with rows of barbed wire, the large wooden gate that wouldn't have survived much of an assault from Grond the battering ram (although if the Witch King and thirty thousand orcs were on the prison threshold I suspect there would be other issues at stake), and a token gesture at flowers, a large circular pipe planted vertically with some flowers. We also had ample time to become familar with all the regulations that were dispalyed on the signs plastered over the aforementioned gates. Aside from the stringent warnings about bringing in drugs there were also notices about how escaping was verboten, sorry forbidden (not quite the POW ethos of 'it is your duty to escape'), a mission statement, and the obligatory notice about how discrimination would not be tolerated. We were told that failure to meet these regulations would result in us not being given access to the establishment. I suspect that that same punishment did not apply to the prisoners.

Finally we made it through the gates whereupon we were searched and had a drug siffer dog examine us. I guess this is the only instance of a dog sniffing ones crotch being socially acceptable. It's funny how when you know that you've done nothing wrong you can still feel guilty and afraid when people in authority are examining you.

We then had to wait in a small shed while were cleared to go in. One of the posters on the wall had a picture of a little hand holding a big hand with the caption "mummy, who will look after me when you got to prison for bringing in drugs?"...

The slam itself took place in a hall in the middle of the prison, near the exercise yard. By the time we arrived all the inmate were waiting for us. Steve was introduced by one of the senior wardens and we were off. The students and performing prisoners all had the names put into a hat (actually, it was Steve's pocket) and were drawn out one by one to determine the running order. Approximately thirteen poets from the inside and the outside read. A lot of the poets read from very similar themes (I fear, and Imagine you're an object) which reflected the course material, but not all. What impressed me most was the diversity in the subject matter. There was a poem about turning to jelly when faced with a beautiful woman, there was a poem about being a remote control (this is a remote area, control is impossible), there was a poem about potty training the prisoners young son and there was a poem that was devoted to water. Now, I do water for a living. Water is one of those things I know about, but this guy impressed me. It would never have occurred to me to make a link between snow and the water of the womb, and the breaking of that water bringing life. Without being disrespectful to the students, I felt that the cons had the stronger poems. The one exception was the woman who read a poem that described a tramp. It was if she was in the head of the man.

The most moving part was the camaraderie between the cons. All the prisoners backed their pals, and their were more perfect tens than your average slam...

If there was one overriding observation it was that even though I was in a prison with some hard nuts, I felt completely safe. There was no segregation between inmates, students and visitors. There were only a couple of bored warders at the back of the room. It never even occurred to me to see the criminal behind the person. I'm sure that these people have inflicted a powerful hurt on the community, but it was useful to be reminded that rehabilitation works. Which is not to overlook their victims. It was a shame when the prisoners were all trucked off to their cells at 7.45pm. But prison time is prison time and they don't put the systems on hold for a bunch of hippy poets...

So respect to both Steve for doing the course, and respect to the inmates for being so damn receptive to him. And respect to the prison authorities for letting the rest us of stay on till all the students had finished, after all, seeing as the inmates were gone there was no reason for us to be there.

Postscript: The Prison has a registered charity associated with it called Friends of Grendon. They support arts and crafts initiatives at Grendon, encourage the local community to get involved with the prison and spend time actively encouraging inmates in their rehabilitation. Now it may just be me, but it seems to me that members of the community getting involved with a prison is very far-sighted, and ultimately beneficial to both the prisoners and the outside world. After all, surely an offender who has felt respected is more likely to be a 'valuable member of society' (whatever the hell that is) than one who has been ostracized?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Benedict XVI

So we have a new pope, and it's the last pope's enforcer. I don't know a great deal about him, but care of Russell Brown, I have read an interesting article on Cardinal Ratzinger by New Zealand theologian, Mike Riddell. Mike is catholic layman in Dunedin and a very good friend of my old pastor.

Some of the points of note include:
Everyone knows that the Catholic Church has a long-established franchise on The Truth, and any attempts by lesser brands to trade on its hard-won market dominance will be vigorously resisted. There is no surprise in the fact that Ratzinger, the Vatican's Schwarzenegger of doctrine, should come out with a statement reasserting Catholic monopoly on divine revelation.


The tone of Cardinal Ratzinger in Dominus Iesus brings to mind the attitude of the alleged patriarch of the Catholic Church, the apostle Peter, before he had a conversion experience described in chapter 10 of the book of Acts. Peter too was of the entirely orthodox opinion that there was no salvation outside the Church; only his Church was that of Judaism. It took a mystifying and subversive vision, followed by raw experience, to help Peter understand that God's intentions were wider than anticipated, and that the Gentiles had a place in the scheme of things.

At least Peter and the early Church took history and culture seriously enough to know that they needed to allow its creative encounter with their tradition. Perhaps it is time for Rome to acknowledge that not only did the Reformation happen, but that there was significant error on both sides. The arrogance of current claims that the only way forward is for errant Protestants and Orthodox to return to mother is as spectacular as it is repellent.

I particularly resonate with this:
But if faithfulness to God was as simple as "reconfirming" that which had been handed down in the past, then the Pharisees would be right and Jesus wrong. We can no more give allegiance to a dead tradition than to a Jesus who remains in the tomb. The affirmation of Christian faith is not just that God acted in the past, but that God continues to act in history. Faithfulness demands more than a routine recounting of received orthodoxy; it requires the encounter of a living tradition with a continually changing culture.

My faith is about a fundamentally living and changing experience with a living and active God. To say that the church should fight against the pressures of modernity and not change seems to be self-defeating. I would never say that as a church it should give up its core and I don't see that it is. After all, isn't the fundamental message of the church the message of Christ; that there is a risen and living God and that salvation can be found through him? At the risk of heresy, to me the rest of it is just window dressing.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


(There are so many puns I could have used here)

Tonight at cricket practise a South African turned up and asked if he could have a bowl. He's the fastest bowler I have faced in a couple of years. All I can say is thank goodness for protective equipment, and we aren't talking about pads. Or gloves.

Let's just say that it was one, er, into the box.

Needless to say, we signed him up on the spot.

Postscript added the morning after:
It turns out in the same net session he also broke my friend James' thumb. In true bloke form, James batted through another ten minutes, finished his net and then wandered off to casualty. He's claiming bloke points for that. The trouble is, I suspect that for every bloke point you get, you also get one stupidity point.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Getting over myself

Patrick has used a turn of phrase (he told me he was sorry I was in a mood) in an email that reminded me of those horrible adolescent days of hormones and taunting brothers. The proverbial slap in the face that this has provided me with has given me an incentive to get over myself and to grow up.

He has also pointed me to this. It's a South Park character generator complete with accessories and backgrounds.

While a bit of a timewaster, it is also a lot of fun. The scary thing is the alter-egos you can create, and just what they might say about you...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Emma makes good use of blogdom. If I wrote more simply my blog might be half as good as hers.

Making things better

Today has not been a good day. Something about making bad choices about a year ago, the implications of those choices arriving with a vengeance today, and something to do with my responses to them.

Rhys has suggested that vanilla Haagen Dasz ice cream covered in Baileys can make things better. This is true, especially if eaten with a teaspoon.

Whiter Shade of Pale

This is the snow that fell on Friday afternoon. My photography skills are rubbish and aren't really up to catching the moment but the snow was heavier than it looks.

Global warming my arse.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Oxford Literary Festival

The Oxford Literary Festival is on at the moment. Because I have a job and a bunch of other commitments this is essentially passing me by. However, this Friday night the Hammer and Tongue folk are putting on a poetry slam.

Details are as follows:

A Celebration of Oxford's Live Poetry Community
8-11 pm £7.50 Holywell Music Room
A live literature revolution is taking hold in Oxford. At its centre is Hammer and Tongue, the U.K.’s largest poetry slam—a monthly live poetry competition with an international reputation. Mixing hip-hop, humour and raw emotion, Slam is a spoken word sport in which the audience judges—like Pop Idol for poets but with real soul. Hammer and Tongue present a special showcase slam, inviting you to judge and enjoy some of the best new live voices. Compèred by award-winning poets Steve Larkin and Jim Thomas, the evening features Dreadlock Alien, shortMAN, Sophia Blackwell, A. F. Harrold, Inspiyah, Rapunzel Wizard, Stephen Hancock, Peter Wyton, AYM, Claire Fauset, Lizzie Mc, Joe Butler, Laura King, Dave Todd, Tabitha Troughton, John Hoggett , Richard Brotherton and George Roberts.

Come along and while you're there, buy The Nail. It's the Hammer and Tongue magazine. I'm in it. As a reviewer. No, I do not receive any royalties.

A Walk in the Park

On Friday it snowed again in Oxford. For about half an hour it chucked it down. It's making me think that the global warming people might have it wrong after all...

Yesterday all things were back to normal. It was warm and sunny, so Kate (who doesn't have a blog so there is no link to be attached) and I went for a walk through Magdalen (pronounced Maudlin - it's an Oxford thing - a bit like the Thames being called the Isis.) College gardens. Usefully Kate is a member of the university so she can get into them for free, and she's allowed to take a guest with her. Saved me three quid...

The Magdalen Gardens are another reason that Oxford remains the best city I have ever lived in. They are an enormous green space with deer, wild flowers, canals and a river... that is literally in the centre of Oxford. Yesterday they were covered in daffodils, daisies and other flowers that looked pretty but because I need to maintain some sort of masculinity I don't know what they are called. On the edge of the gardens is an enormous mosque complex and just to the northeast is the very old St Clements church. The whole time that Kate and I were in the gardens the Magdalen Chapel bells were ringing.

The picture below has the gardens as essentially the large empty space with the rivers through the middle. The Oxford High Street is the curved red road at the bottom of the map.

Thanks Multimap.

Friday, April 08, 2005

seven red stripes, six white stripes and a hell of a lot of stars

I have found this.

I've stolen the best response to this that I could find from Russell Brown's Hard News:

The participants of a discussion forum have been discussing whether is it, in fact, The Gayest Thing Ever. I think this post summed it up: "Now, understand that I don't use the term "gay" when deriding something. I think it's an insult, saying that homosexuality is as bad as whatever the thing is. But, after seeing this, I can't help but paraphrase Eric Cartman and say that that was the gayest thing I've seen."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Poetry Review

I don't feel creative today and I don't have the words to use to do the slam last night, um, justice. I don't even remember most of the words from last night. Maybe it's cos I'm tired. So in the words of Homer, you tried and you failed. The lesson is, never try.

Instead I am going to resort to the lazy authors trick of The List. Here is a List of things that I remember last night.
  1. Lizzie Mac; you were tremendous. That was one of the best performances I have ever seen.
  2. Having spent the evening doing the lights and vote counting, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the H&T people who every month give up the opportunity to soak in the poetry and instead work behind the scenes. You guys rock.
  3. Steve Larkin; you rock a lot.
  4. It was refreshing to see a bunch of new poets perform. The two Andy's were quality. Respect to the second Andy for the Shakespeare. C'est bon to hear something different.
  5. Justice; what can I say? Congratulations on making the finals. I know I'm biased, but it's nothing more than you deserve.
  6. AYM; I'm glad you finished within the time limit this time around!
  7. Leviathan and Beyonder were stunning. Leviathan, I'm listening to your CD today as I work and letting thew words wash over me. Any chance you can send me a track listing??
  8. I wish I had more energy to write today. I'm tired.
  9. I wish I'd be able to hang more with all those folk I knew who were there last night... Kate, Meredy, Tess, Emily, Anita, Justice, Alberto, Liz, Chris...
  10. UKIP might be a xenophobic party, but my respect to the candidate from the party who came to speak last night. A more scary audience I could not have imagined. Besides, I believe in debate and people who challenge my views can only be good for me.
That is all. If I can rewrite this I will. Don't hold your breath

Monday, April 04, 2005

Poetic Justice

Tomorrow night there is another poetry slam at the Zodiac. It starts at 8pm and costs £6.

There will be feature sets from a Torontoite?, Leviathan and a Londoner, Beyonder. Nope, I have no idea who these people are either, but then that is part of the fun with these slams, everytime I go I find someone new.

Oh, and my friend Justice will be performing too...

Friday, April 01, 2005

Let's Go to Oxford, Team!

The Go Team! are coming to Oxford in May. We like the Go Team!. A lot. They make the most fun music.

You can be sure I'll be going and that I'll be writing a poorly worded gig review afterwards.