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Chaz'z Blog

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Iíve never really been sure about performance poetry, in exactly the same way that I've never been sure about oral storytelling. Which is not to say that I don't enjoy performance, because of course I do, and I love listening to stories; but these are voices from another culture, one that insists on the merit of immediacy, the unique moment, the shared experience. In a phrase, you have to be there. Whereas me, I always want to assert the primacy of the written word, the imperishable moment, the intimacy of reading, where the relationship is created individually in the privacy of each readerís head. In a phrase, it doesn't matter where you are, because you're always alone with a book.

All of this preamble is by way of finding something to write about that is not death, because Iím afraid this weblog has become a little monothematic, and I could so easily let it slide into a simple unrelieved threnody; and today would be a day to do that, because today we saw Keith off. Once again - as for Julia, as for Peter, as for Joe - there were crowds, too many for the venue; and the people who spoke were amazing, and there was some wonderful music, and all of that. And I might have used convalescence as an excuse to slip away early afterwards, and didn't; but was glad to be offered a legitimate reason later, something else to go to. Traditionally, when the friends of your youth are scattered, you all meet up at weddings and reunions, and then later it's always funerals, and you remark on it poignantly at some apposite moment, but that's not supposed to happen till you're fairly well wrinkled. My generation was knocked out of kilter early on, we spent our twenties and thirties going to far too many funerals; recently, though - since 1996, largely, when anti-retrovirals and combination therapies really started to bite back - Iíd thought we were pretty much on track again. Now Iíve been to six funerals in six months, and I know it's just a statistical anomaly, it doesn't really presage the start of another epidemic; but I feel like I've just slipped back twenty years, and I do not want to do this.

So, a choice came along, and I took it. There was a poetry reading, the kind of event I tend to go to anyway. Not only to show support, I actually enjoy them, but tonight half the city's literati were saying goodbye to Keith, so that was another good reason to go, to do that visible-support thing on a night when attendance might be down; and Iíd already started drinking, because even when enlivened with all the trimmings (ice and lemon, whoo golly...) fizzy water does lose its glitter as a social option, so it was probably quite wise to slip away before I undid all my convalescent virtue.

To the Lit & Phil, then, where I sipped yet more virtuous water and spoke to yet more old friends, and maybe it wasn't so different after all, just the same part of another wood. And then the readings started, and the first set might not have been a reading after all, because she was introduced as a performance poet, and my heart didnít exactly sink (because, as I have said already, I do enjoy performance) but I did feel lightly disappointed. Iíd always rather be read to than recited at, because then you hear the poetís own voices and choices first but know that you can form your own relationship with the words later, because theyíre right there on the page and theyíre not going away. Performance, who knows? It could all be improvised, it could be busked from a few casual notes, it could very well not be available on paper. Performance is transience, which is the opposite of writing.

As it turned out, though, Kate Fox might be billed as a performance poet, but she was launching a book. This made me happier (thoí I did still want to squabble with her publisher when he said that there was a CD tucked into the back, because "if you want to get the best of Kate, you have to hear her". I just think that's wrong. Of course a poet's own voice can lend a charm to their work - but that's the point of reading solo, it's charm-free and what you're left with is the real thing and no adornment, nothing to hide behind). And then we actually got to the work, and I was happier yet, because I enjoyed it utterly. And then Fiona Ritchie Walker read, and she was fab too, as she always is; and then there was a break, and first thing Kate said at the start of her second set was that Chaz Brenchley was in the middle of the front row, and she only knew me through my weblog, and please could I give her a mention?

So I have.

Posted by Chaz at 12:52 AM GMT [Link]

Sunday, June 26, 2005

One of the things I love about living up here, itís eleven oíclock and the sunís only just got around to setting. Itíll be back by three. Party animal, it never can sleep in the summer.

And how is it that I saw the sunset tonight, me whoís been so sick so long and should have been abed? ĎCos I was out, thatís how, and walking home. Two whole days without regurgitation, and today I have actually been taking solids: toast and honey, specifically. Canít work out whether this is a convalescent or an adolescent diet, but I think the two are pretty much the same thing anyway (I seem to have spent the bulk of my teenage in recovery, mostly from being a teenager), and certainly both take their inspiration from the nursery. Besides which, I like toast, and I like good honey.

So, with all that energy & fibre inside me and seeming to plan on staying there, I did venture forth tonight to Peter Sarahís memorial concert at the Theatre Royal. Something of a mixed bag, inevitably, Scenes from the Shows and youíre never going to be excited by all of them; but the Northern Sinfonia gave us a lovely Brandenburg 3 (with a link: Bradley the first violinist was also playing at Joeís celebration last week, which only really underscored how many people the arts community in Newcastle has lost this year. Peter, Julia, Joe, Keith - itís enough, already...), we had a fabulous pas de deux from the Rambert and Barrie Rutter was as witty, as charming, as loud as always. And I made it there, I made it through and I made it home; which is good news, because itís Keithís funeral tomorrow and I wasnít going to miss that anyway, but Iíll be glad not to be playing invalid or spewing all over the Assembly Rooms floor. Attention-seeking behaviour, we really donít need it.

Posted by Chaz at 11:59 PM GMT [Link]

For those of you keeping score: I havenít thrown up all day. Which is a good thing, but it leaves me a little adrift. If Iím not being ill, what am I doing? Well, Iím not going to my good friend Valís ever-so-slightly-more-than-49 party, which is where I was meant to be. I may not be throwing up, but I havenít actually eaten anything for three days or so, and this is not the time to start chucking alcohol into my poor abused stomach, and lovely as I am, I donít believe I could actually get through a party without drinking. Never done it, never tried it, never want to. As well go to dinner and not eat...

So, in my newly pure and cleansed state, I have been taking advantage of this uncorrupted palate and testing all the various waters I have in the house, from bottled mineral to freshly filtered tap. Interestingly, I have come to the same conclusion Iíve been working on for years, in my utterly impure, unclean and thoroughly corrupt state: which is that filter it as you will, tap water is still dull and flat and tasteless, while Volvic remains my bottle of choice.

Having asserted this, I set about improving the tapwater with heat, honey and lemon: which felt bold, but had no ill effects. No whisky, please note: the boy is seldom a good boy, but he is not entirely stupid.

The other thing I did - in tribute to Valís party, because I promised that I would, in my absence - I shaved my head. Been thinking about it for years; never been sick enough to do it before. This time, if people laugh I can blame delirium. Not that itís that dramatic, next to the deeply-short haircuts Iíve been favouring anyway. Just a lot cheaper, really, given that you can do it yourself. Thoí I may have to buy a razor of some kind, if Iím going to make a habit of this. When I say Ďshavedí, what I actually did was run the beard-trimmer over it, which leaves me with a close stubble. Having come this far, I find I am curious to know what it would be like entirely smooth. Me and Jacob, itís a brother thing...

Posted by Chaz at 12:34 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, June 24, 2005

Good grief. Who would have thought the old man to have had so much matter in him? If Iíd wanted to lose weight, Iíd have gone on a diet, or exercised, or whatever the latest fad is. I like fads. But I would never have picked purgation.

Still. If youíre going to throw up anyway, doing it in bed only makes you feel worse. I am discovering a whole new spectrum of ways and means of throwing up: at the computer, checking e-mails or writing weblogs (yesterday, one sentence; today, ooh, paragraphs. Though they are taking their time, and hiding hiatuses. Hiati. Whatever); in the front room, watching - God help me! - Wimbledon (tennis is not a sport, itís an exercise regime. Biff-boff, hurrah, boff-biff. Itís like watching unattractive people in a gym); in the back yard, in the sunshine. Today I was adventurous past measure, and walked down the road in the rain, all the way to the cemetery. Somebodyís tidied up Joeís grave, and taken away all the flowers. To be sure, there is no merit in dead flowers, but it seems a little ruthless. I threw up on the way home, but I can hardly claim that to be a comment, in the circumstances.

Iím sorry, this is just so much more information than you need. Thatís the peril of weblogs, you see: unpoliced, at either end. Just ask the archbishop.

Posted by Chaz at 03:34 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Tonstant Weader fwowed up. I just knew youíd want to know that.

Posted by Chaz at 11:03 AM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Eww. I am not well. I feel all slimy and semi-digested, like Iíve disagreed with something that has eaten me. Am going to bed now, with cat and bear and radio, bottle of water and pile of Chalet School books. The world shall hear from me again - but not for a while, maybe...

Posted by Chaz at 04:38 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, June 20, 2005

At last a hot day, a sunny day, a day worth going out in. I have spent the day indoors.

In this interstice, while I wait for judgement from America - do I still have a career worth the saving, do I still have a life? am I still a publishable writer? - I have been revisiting Moonshadow, the young-adult fantasy proposal. Work on that has been suspended for six months, while I did the Selling Water rewrite. The nice thing about this process, though, is that things donít dry up or fall apart from neglect. There's a literary equivalent of a deepfreeze, somehow, so that you can go back to unfinished work months or years later and it's still fresh, still interesting, in whatever state of undevelopment you left it.

So Iíve been cutting, reworking, introducing a new character and yet making the whole thing shorter, sharper, clearer (I hope). Now I need to produce some vestige of a synopsis for the next two books down the line. Yurk.

I did actually slip out earlier today, to visit Joe's grave down the road. Just to put this-all in context, I absolutely disbelieve in psychopomps and Messages from Elsewhere, okay? Itís just coincidence; but I hadnít been to the interment part of Joe's obsequies last Friday, so I didnít know where in St Nicholas the grave was. I went in confidence this morning, sure that I could find a new grave in an old cemetery, but of course I couldnít. And was halfway up the main path, still looking baffledly to left and right, when I was mobbed by a single crow. This has never happened to me before, but it shrieked and swooped at me time and time again, till I felt I'd strayed into one of my own fantasies. Refusing to give way to this avian imperative, I kept on walking - until I was halted and then turned back by a barking black dog ahead. This hasn't happened to me for years, though it used to be a commonplace. Anyway, I turned and walked a different way back down the hill; and there of course was Joe's grave, waiting for me to find it.

I like having him so close still, just five minutes down the road. We've been near neighbours for a quarter of a century; it's good that he hasn't gone away.

Posted by Chaz at 03:21 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, June 17, 2005

Apparently the Archbishop of Canterbury has been criticising blogs, on the grounds that they are Ďunpoliced conversationsí. Does the man really think that conversations ought to be policed? Lawks...

Still, never mind the Archbish; I shall continue to blog. Police me if you choose.

We were policed this morning, but very gently so. It was the day of Joeís funerary rites, which were scheduled to begin this morning in the park opposite my house. So a couple of other friends came round for coffee first, and we were just gathering up our coats and heading towards the door when we heard the distant strains of music coming along the road. And went out, and there was Joe in a white coffin on a handcart bedecked with flowers, being towed by his brothers, while I donít know how many dozen fiddlers walked behind, all playing the same repetitive line. And behind them came a long parade, and half my friends among them. Joe was one of the first people I met when I moved to Newcastle, twenty-five years ago; it was that student and post-student culture of shared houses and shared lives, a tight little community that may have scattered but has never split. Itís been a good day, a good long day of remembering and mourning and celebrating Joe, but the best of it was that moment, when everyone he loved came walking past my house.

Posted by Chaz at 10:44 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I had mífriend Stephen for lunch, and he demanded the recipe for the smoked haddock chowder, so here it is. Simple as anything, and really rather gorgeous.

Cut half a dozen rashers of smoked bacon into strips, and fry them in a big saucepan in a couple of ounces of unsalted butter for a few minutes, till they start to colour. Then add three slender leeks, sliced finely, and sizzle till soft - another ten minutes or so.

Meanwhile, peel and dice a pound of potatoes, and bring them to the boil with a couple of bay leaves in a pint of milk and a carton (284g, or some such, in this country - is this half a pint? Itís ridiculous, whatever it is) of cream - I use a luxury Jersey pouring cream, but plain single would do, or whipping. Simmer the potatoes for ten minutes or so, till soft; then add two fillets - about a pound in weight - of undyed smoked haddock, skinned and cut into chunks. As you chunk it, youíll find a few pin-bones, which you can work out with your fingers. Simmer a couple of minutes longer, till the haddock starts to flake. By now the bacon-and-leeks will be ready; pour the creamy fish & potato mixture into the other (I told you to use a big pan, now didnít I?), stir them together, season with black pepper - it wonít need salt - and bring it back to the boil, then serve with a scattering of parsley.

Posted by Chaz at 03:55 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

When I was young in Newcastle, a quarter of a century back, a lot of my friends were vegetarian or vegan; hell, I was veggie myself. I never went this far, but some of íem preserved the sanctity of their bodies by spurning caffeine and other stimulants. Their hot beverage-of-choice was a thing called Barleycup, the sort of coffee-substitute that gives wartime ersatz a bad name. Bring back acorns, thatís what I say. Anyway: we who didnít drink the muck renamed it Blandeycup, on the grounds that it had almost no taste whatsoever.

Iíve been reliving those days a little since Joeís death, which is why it comes to mind, but really I was only looking for a simile. I have spent much of these days watching the televisual equivalent of Barleycup: nothing challenging, nothing edgy. Nature programmes - but not your regular big-cat-red-in-tooth-and-claw type of programme, which are the staples in this house. These have been British nature programmes, where the meanest carnivore is a hedgehog eating slugs, and the whole thing is a celebration of how lovely is the spring. Bland, unchallenging, nice happy viewing for the whole family. It serves my purpose.

But several times this last week - and itís been on the radio as well as the TV, it is the theme whose time has come - people, alleged experts have been talking about climate change and the threat to British trees and such, and the one thing they keep coming back to is Ďnow that summers will be longer and hotter...í

Uh, hullo? Have you guys actually looked outside this week? Itís mid-June, and we have a north wind blowing, and itís so damn cold Iíve got the heating on. I moved some more chillies out into the mini-greenhouse ten days back, and I really wish I hadnít. Iím leaving them there, though, because I need to get my head around the way it works, and I can only do that by watching what happens. The chillies that I put out a couple of months back have really not done well, compared to their brothers who stayed on the windowsill indoors. Scrawny little things they are; which could seem odd, because when the sun shines the greenhouse gets seriously hot and steamy, far more so than the windowsill. My guess is that what they donít like is significant fluctuations in temperature, and that it must get pretty cold out there at night. I donít suppose a sheet of plastic offers much insulation, compared to glass and brick. Thoí people lived in benders quite happily, down at Greenham Common (and thereís that nostalgia trip again. Memo to self: donít fight it). Maybe what the greenhouse needs is somebody to sleep in it, exuding warmth. Not Misha, though, she is a sponge, she absorbs heat, she doesnít give it out; and not me, for I am too long and thin. And, these days, unpliable.

Posted by Chaz at 11:57 PM GMT [Link]

One of those endlessly interesting questions that life throws at you; after a devastating event, what do you actually do? And, doubled up for those of us who keep a diary, public or otherwise: after reporting such an event, what do you actually write about? Nothing stands up, nothing is good enough to justify itself, nothing has weight enough for the moment. You set yourself up for a fall, because nothing can follow that.

But this of course is what the word bathos was invented for, so letís go into it wide-eyed and deliberate. I was meant to go to Appleby this weekend for a crimewriting jaunt, but obviously I didnít; I stayed home and wrapped my cat around myself, kept in touch with people as distressed as I am, repotted a few chillies and watched a lot of television, listened to the radio, read practically nothing. That last is partly a function of concentration and commitment, utter lack of, but actually I havenít had a book on the go for weeks. I think itís because Iíve been so devotedly reading and rereading my own work, word by word for the rewrite, I just canít face more words-on-paper at the dayís end, or at least nothing that demands any degree of involvement. I have been reading magazines and recipes, but nothing more exacting.

But radio, cat: there was an idiot on the radio, a professor, an expert in vocality, who asserted that nobody knows why cats purr. Hah! We know perfectly well why cats purr. Itís because theyíre smug, self-satisfied, utterly content with being the highest life form known to exist. More specifically, a small black cat of my acquaintance purrs because she has eaten to her satisfaction, she has enjoyed her litter tray, she is anticipating the sleep of the just, and in the meantime she is sitting on Chazzie, which is just absolutely fine by her. What more reason does she need?

Posted by Chaz at 12:04 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, June 10, 2005

Sorrow floats. Like oil, like scum: it coats the world in greasy, sticky layers.

I had meant to be writing about the process, the effects of finishing a book, and how different this time is from ever before: how thereís no sense of relief or accomplishment, only a grinding anxiety that has sapped any pleasure out of it. Self-pity, in other words, all dressed up in neurosis.

But two old and dear friends of mine were killed in a hit-and-run incident on Wednesday night, and sorrow floats; whatever I give my attention to, suddenly Iím back to that. They were near neighbours of mine, and were walking down the hill that is to all intents and purposes our hill, that weíve lived on and off for twenty years and more; they were going to the pub that is to all intents and purposes our pub, where weíve been drinking on and on for the same length of time; everything familiar, comfortable, secure. And then some kid in a BMW takes a corner too fast, and theyíre dead, and I canít count the number of lives that are devastated.

Sorrow floats, anger is an undercurrent. Traditionally, itís a part of the mourning process; here there is more obvious cause for it, but Iím afraid I may end up raging against the system. Killing two men with a car is not a motoring offence, itís a crime of violence, and it should be treated that way, but my suspicion is that it wonít be.

Posted by Chaz at 12:32 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Even now, even after all these years, I can still astonish, appal, infuriate myself sometimes. God alone knows what I do to my friends...

But anyway: loaded down as I am with excuses (I have finished my book, or near enough, and am totally focused on these last few laps of the marathon; I am in constant pain, more even than usual, and having mega-physio and acupuncture for it; I am distrait for a dozen reasons else, and more than usually drunk therefore), I still hate it when I do stuff like this. I had made a beef stock, clear and light and lovely; I was reducing it to a demi-glace, for reasons of taste and space and convenience (I like to freeze stocks in cubey lumps of high intensity, to be diluted as needed later); knowing that I was going out - to the dentist, and then to town for more reading/working - and that I have a wonderful history of forgetting that I have left things on the boil, I stood over it in magnificent concentration for fully half an hour. And then somehow got distracted in the last seconds, and forgot it, and wandered out. And was out for hours, and am probably lucky that I had any kind of a house to come home to.

What I did come home to, of course, was a house that stank and still stinks of that lovely burnt-metal smell of a ruined pan. I am burning scented candles and joss and essential oils in every room, and nothing shifts it; and meanwhile I am mourning my pan, which was old but an old favourite, which is irrecoverable. And the only goodness in this (you can tell Iím at the end of a book; I wouldnít say I had turned optimistic, never that, but I am determined to find a goodness, not to let anything spoil that feeling of completion) is that there is actually this set of pans I love, that I have been determinedly not buying for months, on the entirely spurious grounds that I havenít got any money and I really, really donít need any more pans. Now, of course, I do need at least one pan; and a couple of months back I cooked a dinner that used every pan I had, so actually I do need at least two, so I might as well buy a set; and I always buy something to celebrate at the end of every book, and never mind that I did that already with this one, I am finishing it again so I get to shop again; so guess what Chaz is going to do, in a day or few...?

Posted by Chaz at 09:52 PM GMT [Link]

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© Chaz Brenchley 2002/2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.