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It’s not often that a poet’s sock is handed to you in the local pub and rarely is it as exciting as the insulated brown one that was dangled in front of me last night whilst squeezing the last of the Butterley bitter out of my shrinking pint glass. This sock has a story to tell.

The sock in question was the one made famous by Simon Armitage during his mammoth trek down the Pennines during the summer of 2010. The walk, which was later chronicled in the fabulous book, Walking Home, relied on people paying Simon what they thought he was worth following readings at various locations each evening. He was paying his way with poetry and the sock was employed as a means of collecting the rewards.  As far as a sock’s life goes, this one’s had it pretty good. It must have wondered, however, what it was now doing in the Riverhead with a bunch of strangers after such celebrity.

The sock was in the company of the poets, Michael Stewart, Julia Deakin, Gaia Holmes and William Thirsk-Gaskell who were preparing to set off to the Ilkley Literature Festival by walking the 47 mile Stanza Stones Trail.

The Stanza Stones consist of six poems by Simon Armitage. Each of the poems have been hand carved by Pip Hall into ancient quarried rocks at atmospheric locations along the trail. The walk covers the 47 miles between Marsden and Ilkley. Each of the poems focuses on water in its many forms and, mysteriously, there is another stone, the seventh stone, which, at this time, remains undiscovered. You can find out more about the trail here Stanza Stones

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Enjoying its break from retirement and having been sent to Michael rather enigmatically from Simon without any note or explanation, the sock was collecting for charitable causes following some excellent readings by all four poets as a way of launching the project, aptly named, Walking the Line.

Members of the public are invited to join the walk over the next three days which will also see readings taking place at Hebden Bridge, Saltair and finally, the Ilkley Literature Festival. You can find out more by visiting Walking the Line. I had hoped to join the team for the first leg but a rather unfortunate incident with a scaffold board and bag of chicken food has left me receiving strict orders to rest.

Having returned to normality after an extraordinary summer that saw great holes being excavated in my front garden (more later), European road trips and sun, poetry has once again come back into focus with lots of exciting events.

Last weekend saw the fabulous Marsden Jazz Festival (I’m sure there should be an international in the title somewhere) host the fourth Poetry Jam. This was the first time I’d managed to make the Jam due to work commitments, and what a fantastic event it was. Hosted by Write Out Loud’s very own Julian Jordon, the family friendly event saw poets from across the country lining up to read to the packed out pub. You can read an excellent review here Marsden Jam

In other news, I’ve had a couple of new poems accepted for publication by two excellent on-line journals and also two poems have been selected by Templar Poetry for their latest anthology, Peloton, due for release in November. I will be reading at the launch event of the anthology at 12.00 on Sunday 03 November during the Derwent Poetry Festival. The full programme can be accessed here Derwent Poetry Festival .

In the Halls this week, getting heavy rotation alongside excellent new albums from Lanterns on the Lake and Pearl Jam are Embrace whose new album will hopefully be released in the next twelve months (Embrace fans will understand). While we wait, here’s the poetic Higher Sights from the debut album, The Good Will Out. I’ll put a sock in it now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJBoolS6JXo

Tuesday’s weather was September blue with the milky sun of the weekend finally giving way to the cut throat light of early spring. Shadows were long and in stark contrast to the flood of sun light, the hills still bore numerous slips of white as the cold air cosseted the last of the snow. It was a good day to be out and about so at nine a.m. I did what every self respecting lover of landscape should do on the first day off work and climbed into the dentist’s chair.

Now there are worse things in life than the punishing quarterly ritual of the ear piercing jet being manoeuvred beneath the gum line against raw nerves but, looking out over the trees into the deep blue sky, I was struggling to come up with any examples.

The trouble with four days off mid-week at half term is that without really trying the days suddenly become laden with activities, jobs, and treats. Most school holidays follow a similar pattern: it’s the tartan of time that we picnic on however this half term would be slightly different.

With the three monthly meditation exercise over (it is true that you can beat pain by focusing on a screw in the light above your head), and the family waiting outside, we were off – to paint an attic room. Now as you might guess; feeling a little like a newly hatched chicken blinking in to the sun, setting off with a whiter kind of smile to paint a room put me in a bit of a grump. It was the first day off to coincide with a real sun blast since weeks before Christmas and the next nine hours of my life were mapped out to include five litres of Dulux best, a brush and a roller.

We were clearing Uncle WA’s house, which, at first sight, appeared to have been used as a store for the last forty years worth of racing papers. WA didn’t like to throw things away. He had passed away just before the festive season and Amanda and her sister (the only remaining relatives in the UK) had worked tirelessly since the new year to clear, scrub, clean and throw away as much of the hoard as they could fit in the back of the family estate. It had been a Herculean effort and timed to coincide with the arrival, from Ireland, of Uncle John (WA’s brother) and his large white van. I scalded myself for being a little grumpy and left the walking boots at the back of my mind.
Five white van tip trips later (yes, we had to take the death certificate) and several coats of white paint and the house suddenly began to quiet down and stop moaning at the thought of being clean and tidy. We had done it, just, and it was time for tea.

Now, should proof were needed that being a six year old child is the best thing in the world then the following day provided all the evidence. It was ash scattering day. WA’s first and only love in life had been the horses: race horses. With this in mind, Amanda had made an enquiry to York Race course to see if there was any possibility that we could hold a little ceremony near the track. ‘Of course,’ said Tom, who appeared to deal with all things ash scattering, ‘no problem at all. Many people like to use the finishing post, that’s as long as they’re not racing!’

So, on a bitterly cold grey Wednesday we found ourselves, after a short guided tour of the facilities (never one to miss a sale) stood beneath the finishing post at York Race course with a large tub of ashes. As we arrived at the post and Tom said his fair wells and good wishes it became clear that the world had lost a few racing fans over the course of the winter. Flowers clung to the post and piles of ash dotted the track side. We all looked at each other and secretly wondered what to say. We didn’t need to worry. Lydia and cousin, Daisy suddenly seized the opportunity and grabbed the pot of ash. No one else was getting a look in. ‘Come on,’ they both chorused furiously shaking the ashes over the grass. ‘Let’s be having you. Come and see the horses.’ They continued, chatting merrily away to their great uncle.

It was a good send off; something that WA would have liked.

We thawed out in Jamie’s Italian as a bit of a treat. It was good to enjoy the food without the strange feeling I had the last time we took Explorer George to the Manchester version for his birthday treat. Unbeknown to me throughout that last meal and proceeding drinks I was harbouring the Noro virus and hours later would discover the exacting peculiarities of being sick as a dog. It would be four days before I ate again so at least the last meal had been a fine one.

The day finished with The Marsden Write Out Loud open mike night. We’d landed back in the village just after the M62 rush hour (2 – 7) and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try out a couple of new poems to our monthly group. The secret must be out. Arriving in the Mechanics a little past the starting time I was greeted with a number of new faces and emergency chairs! Our normal sedate group of around ten to twelve people had swelled to well over thirty and everyone was raring to go. Some had just come for the pleasure of listening whilst others, including myself, were happy to read a couple of poems – just a little faster. I always find reading new work to an audience extremely rewarding. You get that instant hit of whether the poem makes the right emotional connections. The shorter introductions and speed reading had the desired effect and, along with the usual five or six, the day ended in the Riverhead.

Exactly two nights later the same emergency chairs where waiting for me again in the Mechanics, this time for the annual beer festival. It was a great way to end the week, sharing numerous local brews with friends and neighbours. Only towards the end of the night was I introduced to a Finnish lady who now lived next door to where I had spent most of my child hood. Small world! The village has changed so much over the last twenty years or so by becoming a set for countless films and TV programmes as well as a tourist centre and second home for people from Lancashire, so to hear that many of the old neighbours, including Donald with his infamous home brew and Alan from across the road where still there was strangely comforting.

It’s just a bright blue sky

Whilst searching the enclaves of zero plays within the Halls this week I came across a tune from what was one of my album of the years in 2012. It’s a proper start to finish record and my only regret so far is that I’ve not seen the band live. The video for Chapel Song by We Are Augustines was also included on the album, Rise Ye Sunken Ships and as I’m not a fan of freebies and extras at the end of a record the track was promptly unchecked and un-played.

It’s a great anthem and a fitting end to the week. Follow the link to watch the video.

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