Month: December 2012

Writing Groups in North Staffs need to get together

I am pleased to say that at the end of 2012 the health of writing groups in North Staffordshire is very good. From what I can work out there are 8 groups regularly meeting and there may be more, plus the classes and groups which meet at the local colleges and universities. There is some cross-over of members, so I reckon around 100 people are part of one or more groups.

I attend Renegades Writers because it offers very helpful criticism of my own work and an interesting and often very entertaining selection of work from the others, which I readily offer I hope constructive criticism. Not everyone wants this, they just want to perform. There seems a move to develop a regular performing night at Bad Edit in Burslem, which would include music, this would be a good addition, though the space is far from intimate and doesn’t have the sort of feel that say The Frog and Bucket had in Manchester and was so successful for many years.

With so many groups meeting this offers the opportunity to group together to get funding for workshops and training. The work the City Council did in the past was ok, but, well I didn’t exactly find anything in their programme I wanted to participate in. There are skills which I am sure many would wish to develop, such as marketing e-books; poetry and prose performance; re-writing and editing.

Where can funds come from? There would need to be a ‘union’ of writers groups to apply for funding from Trusts, Foundations and grant giving bodies such as the Arts Council. There has been a huge grant given to this area for a project through Arts Lottery Funding, it may be possible to tag into that, though I would prefer autonomy from Staffordshire University and the other partners.

I feel this has to be a challenge for 2013. It is not easy as there are many egos at play in these writing groups and I am sure each would have their own ideas of what was needed. But to really develop writing and performing skills top class training is needed and the only way to get that without members having to fork out £50+ each is find grants.

Why put a photograph on Facebook?

On Facebook I have just put up a photograph of me in 1976 making a film during my last year at Cardiff College of Art. It is a long time ago, and yet I can still remember that day quite clearly, even the breeze coming off the sea; the taste of the beer a couple of hours later; the smoked filled Ninian pub even later trying to watch the European Cup Final in a haze of drunkenness.

So why put a photograph on Facebook? Back in 1976 there wasn’t even an inkling of what we now take as everyday. Computers were around, but they were not things available to someone like me. I remember when I had a summer job at British Steel in Cardiff, working on the coke ovens, that walking home I would pass a quite large building and through the windows could see huge boxes with reels whirring away, which probably had less than a hundredth of the power this machine has.

Few people see what the future will bring, those who do and speculate are probably the billionaires of this world. Science fiction films purport to see into the future, I remember reading that Motorola designed their mobile phones on the Star Trek communicators! It is now strange to see what the past saw of the future, After London by Richard Jefferies published in 1885 about a post-apocalyptic Britain a hundred years later has horse transport, with no notion of the absolute revolution in oil powered transport. The film Blade Runner made in 1982 set in a futuristic and at the time highly believable Los Angeles, did not see the mobile revolution and the hero has to find phone boxes!

It has been said many times that science fiction as well as genre like the western is really about the present. So why put a photograph on Facebook?

If like mine an old one, to amuse people with the hairstyle, clothes, situation. Psychologists would probably say to draw attention to yourself. I put this one on for all those reasons and also maybe to prove to people who know me that at one time I made films, had hair and was remarkably thin! Image

Worrying Signs

As nearing the end of a year is often a time for reflection I realise that since 1st January 2012 I haven’t left Stoke-on-Trent or Newcastle-under-Lyme! In fact the furthest I have been is North Staffs University Hospital!

So how has this situation come about? Poverty.

Well that is one perfectly good answer there are probably others. After my last car was written off I haven’t owned a vehicle since early 2007, it makes financial sense of course and to be honest after initial ‘withdrawal’ symptoms I haven’t really missed one (except when trying to get to Renegades Writers on winter nights!). It would probably be more frustrating having a car sitting outside my flat and no money to buy petrol and all the extended costs a car takes up. Opposite me is a bus stop and another about 20 yards up the road; a couple of miles away is Kidsgrove station where I can get a train to London for just £8 each way! So few excuses not to go places, except that whenever I get enough together another bill comes in and seems to drain my resources.

In 2009 I began to feel that my grip on finances was running away, and on a chart I keep of my level of depression I could see worrying signs. I receive Incapacity Benefit at the full rate because I had paid my taxes and National Insurance for around 30 years. Despite what many Conservative politicians may think, £98 per week does not stretch very far! So from the beginning of 2010 I began to keep a close record of my finances using Excel spreadsheets. At first I felt like some sort of Scrooge without the welcome intrusion of the ghosts, keeping a record of every pound I spent. But it has lightened the burden, I now know how much I have left; what I have to keep funds for; the daily costs of gas and electricity so not to run out. It can get (for me) fascinating after a while, I will not bore you with all the facts but over the three years I can see the differences in costs, for instance in 2012 I have spent on average more than £10 per month than 2011 on gas and exactly the same on electricity; my shopping bill (for probably less stuff) has gone up by £24 per month and yet in the Other category (travel, clothes, fun stuff etc…) expenditure has gone down by £34. I will not go on but you see the trend!

In reflecting about these things I remembered that my father kept a little red notebook in his jacket pocket, and whenever he spent anything he wrote it down, then I take it worked out, like I do, what his income and expenditure was. He was an extremely brilliant mathematician (I am not!) who if born into an upper class family would probably have ended up in the City rather than teaching. His father worked on the railways and the family struggled in the early 1920’s to get him through grammar school then university. After my mother died and I went through her things I didn’t find any of these. It would have been interesting but one of us must have destroyed them when he died in 1980. Pity really.

Time to walk the dog in the rain.


I should try to blog more. Well I see my last posting was 2011. Why?

I was talking on the phone to an old friend on Christmas evening and we both agreed that it is not a great time if you are on your own. I was telling her that although people are very kind and invite me to lunch I feel a bit like the ‘charity case’ who people feel should not be alone. So over the past ten years I have, except for one year, cooked for other people, rather than being an addendum to their family, and left then pretty quickly.

She told me about a house in Sheffield where people on their own go and share Christmas lunch, so are part of a ‘family’ and have a shared experience. Sounded a good idea. I like Christmas, and although have no interest in its religious significance appreciate that it is great to have a celebration, share special food, give gifts and generally have a break at what is the darkest time of year. Christmas is about the past, we try to recreate those magical years in our childhoods, then when they are not shared by others, it is difficult. So a celebration where everyone understands the situation we find ourselves in, then that sounds good. Better start the planning!