Rebecca Gethin: River Is The Plural Of Rain

June 17, 2009

Before I write about Rebecca (Becky) Gethin’s debut collection, River Is The Plural Of Rain (Oversteps Books, £8), I ought to admit that I know nothing – no, really, nothing – about the natural world, whereas Becky, who lives in the middle of Dartmoor, has a keen eye and a keen feeling for it, and knows the landscape like the back of her eye (trying to pull off a complicated metaphor there, and maybe not succeeding). I also ought to stress that the collection is not merely a country almanac, but also contains several poems about her Italian forebears, and, most movingly of all, poems about a sister she had who died young, and whom she can hardly, if at all, recall.

And anyway, I love the book for its sure-handed language, the way she raids her considerable mental dictionary for exact and exacting images. There are bats ‘fletched on my retina [which] quiver the air’; she writes of the ‘rapids’ hurleygush’; the way, at an estuary, there are ‘wriggling creatures/ which the sea has left in its sheen’; about midges which are ‘dancing electrons’. There is a terrific poem about a man called Foale, whose name only survives in maps which describe his ‘Arrishes’ (enclosed fields), and which finishes with a fantastic description of permanence growing out of impermanence:

When another man thought to rebuild/ the inn, repair the walls and till the arrishes again// the land thought different, sucked him/ into its maw, digested him/ into sundew, frogbit, butterwort.

A poem about a blizzard watches swans ‘stream across pewter water/ thickened with curds of snow’. This is nature so tangible you could probably chew it: and better still, it’s nature rendered in a clear, colloquial and accessible tone. If you want to find out how to write poetry in a clear, conversational and contemporary way, start here. Nothing jars about the rhythms. All the surprises are in the images and the ideas behind them, which is how it should be.

But the most startling and tender poems are about her lost sister, Emily: poems which might make you cry without trying. She is a ‘ghost sister’ for whom the writer searches

along the water’s edge/ before I found she’d left behind/ some history I forgot we’d never had.

Best of all the poems in this collection – which includes others meditating on figures like the Italian resistance fighter Rosselli, and re-creations of figures from the Dartmoor graveyards and churches – is the pantoum ‘How to forget’, in which the repetitive form captures the obsessive problem of the lost sister, a poem which subtly alters the phrasing of each line, beautifully subverting the form:

Don’t knock on the door and invite yourself in.

The rooms all seem empty except a shadow

lies in wait for you upstairs,

even when the house is full of people.


The rooms all seem empty except that shadow

hides in the silences between the sentences.

Even when the house was full of people

someone breathed beside me.


Hiding in the silence between sentences

I brushed the skin of her absence …

This is a poem which ought to find its way into anthologies, and into prizes. It was even better to hear it read at the launch, in Ashburton. This is a terrific collection.

River Is The Plural Of Rain

River Is The Plural Of Rain



Selima Hill and ‘Fruitcake’

June 2, 2009

Almost incredibly, since it is only a year since her last sequence of poems, Selima Hill has come up this week with not one new sequence, but four, which are gathered together in Fruitcake (Bloodaxe, £.9.95). Effectively, there are over 250 poems in the books, if one counts all the sections of the third sequence. This is her sixth collection of the decade, not including her major retrospective, Gloria. And even if some of the poems are short, disturbed couplets – she deals in short poems, as a rule – the sheer torrent of the output is almost bewildering. What is more remarkable is that – uniquely, not least because Hill is very much a one-off – you can read the four sequences independently, or as part of one large exploration of motherhood.

Selima Hill's new collection

Selima Hill's new collection

Hill is essentially a beady-eyed surrealist, who can snaffle a moment, however painful, and the moments are often painful, and turn it into something weird, unforgettable. You never know what controlling simile will turn up next. The first sequence Bouganvillea (perhaps the richest of the four) is seen from a female baby’s eye for much of its course, and depicts the baby as under atack from flies, while a helpless and almost traumatised mother sits at a distance, unable to cope with motherhood in any way, shape or form. This is the relentless theme of the collection – an absolute denial that motherhood is necessarily instinctive, linked to a profound and scathing dismissal of any male stereotype that motherhood is ‘women’s work’. Of course, Hill is never as direct as this. It isn’t how she works. She is a constructor of paths through the sub-conscious, and she leaves huge spaces between each step, so that the reader has to fill in the gaps. Her poems become polemics, become stories, or can be read in horrifying and magical isolation.

You read Hill for her images, I think. Try this, about the mother:

‘Her lonely days and nights/ pass like ponies// eating flowers/ by the railway’ – these two couplets suggest a kind of acceptably romantic kind of separation from the world, but they are exploded by what follows: ‘…railway// where trains go hurtling by/ and hit the ponies//but no one cares/ because they’re not their ponies!’ In Bouganvillea, mother and child are abandoned, and the mother is abandoned even by herself. At one point, a short poem about a pool interrupts the proceedings:
‘The gloomy ponds/ where fish as big as lorries// ply slowly up and down/ ask no questions.’

Poems like this have a kind of suicidal tone. Their strangeness comes from the shock of the distance the simile has travelled. A fish is like a lorry. The change of scale is quick and unfussy. In the secvond sequence, Nylon, about a girl handed over to two aunts (the sense of story is very strong in Hill’s narratives, which is what makes them so unusual), we find this about a kitchen:

‘Everything is blue/ like fitted water// but stretchy – as if seen/ from a trapeze …’
Later in Nylon, the child is left with her aunt’s poodles who ‘come upstairs// and nibble me/ like blunt-ended scissors’. These strange, oddball turns of image are wonderfully unusual. You can trust Hill to frighten your imagination about every other poem, to yoke together different impossibilities so that they make a new whole. I love her work, and it seems to me that this is her best, better surely even than Bunny, her most well-known sequence. The third sequence here, Bunker Sacks, is the most explicit about the real lack of understanding that men have of what it is like to be a mother: ‘The women, I am sorry to say,/ crawl around feeling sick, and gasping,/ as if the air was gas. they gasp and croak. / No wonder these brave men are setting off/ to find a place where air is air for once, / men who have no faults, dynamic men,/ men who are so tall they can’t quite hear,/ far below them, shaky voices calling.’ The last sequence adds the perspective of an Asperger’s child, and, I am tempted to say, a real one, not a Mark Haddon comedy autistic.
Hill has consistently now written about pain and magic and melancholy in the most exquisite and bizarre sequences, for a decade or more. This new collection is a riot of ideas, tales, spells, wonders. It is like a gentle bomb being chucked into any place where British poetry suspects itself of being exciting.

Bonnie and Clyde and creative writing

March 12, 2009

I think probably the most successful creative writing session I’ve ever devised – I must have used it over thirty times, with everyone from sixteen-year-olds, to an evening class in which there were two over-80s, to a group of visitors to the University of Plymouth from Oklahoma – has been based on a clip of Bonnie and Clyde, or more specifically, two of them. The first one is Penn’s recreation of the capture in 1934 of Clyde’s brother-in-law, ‘Buck’, and his wife Blanche at Dexfield Park in Iowa (the other three of the gang escaped); the second is the closing sequence, in which the pair are betrayed, and their car left looking like a badly-designed colander, after both have been ambushed and killed.

My main aim is to suggest ways in which you can write a poem, but I don’t say that. If you use the word ‘poem’ to nine out of ten people, in the same sentence as ‘write a’, a degree of panic sets in. So the first thing I do is to ask them to compare a written narrative of the events in Dexfield Park with the 1967 film (controversial in its day for myth-making, for glamourising crime) with Penn’s re-creation of it. In an underhand way – subliminal is a nicer word, but most of my teaching is underhand, which is why I hated and hate the obsession with telling students what they are about to learn: surprise is a great weapon in education – I am getting them used to the idea of transforming words into pictures, although I focus on the accuracy. ‘Accuracy’ is relative, of course, because the account I use, although not sensationalist, is edited, like all writing, for effect.

The iconic image on which the end of the first scene ends is based on this contemporary photo:

Dexfield Park: Blanche Barrow on the left, being held

Dexfield Park: Blanche Barrow on the left, being held

What always strikes me about the film is actually how little Penn tampers in this scene with what happened. There are changes in pace and viewpoint, and some melodramatic twists, but it ends in drama-doc style with Blanche (Estelle Parsons – the only performer from the film, incidentally, to win an Oscar for it) repeating exactly what Blanche said.

The ending is a bit of a bloodbath, but no-one has ever (it always worries me!) complained, which says something either about how polite they are, or how film blood no longer worries us. The ending is highly stylised, too, with a porcelain doll on the dashboard (did you know the a dashboard is from horse-and-carriage days and referred to the board which prevented mud ‘dashing’ the clothes of the passengers?), a suspiciously green apple, and a symbolic flight of birds, and a slow-motion sequence. Nor had Clyde left the car (and nor were the deaths so clean, since over a hundred bullets hit the pair). This time, I ask the participants to think of words they could use to describe what they see. I write these words up on a whiteboard.

And then, using their words and their words only, I write a poem on the board, about twelve lines long, in three minutes. As I usually say, it’s the Rolf Harris school of teaching poetry. I consciously use techniques like repetition and line breaks and internal rhyme or assonance. And then (because it is a draft, and rarely particularly good, modesty obliges me to say), I allow them to come up and cross words out, and add words, and improve it in any way they want. So it’s about drafting. It demystifies the process: which is what teaching, for me, is all about.

I was reminded of this by a good documentary on the Barrow gang, which told me many things I didn’t know, including the existence of a memoir by Blanche, ‘recently’ found (she died in 1988). Since she seems to have recorded an account, which is/was available on CD, I don’t really know how much it actually added. But as an excuse for the programme, it served. I also didn’t know that the most famous pictures of Parker and Barrow posing with guns (the images copied by Beatty and Dunaway) were found on undeveloped film left behind after one of their many getaways.

The Oklahomans were particularly amused by the Dexfield Park sequence (Penn has a car explode into flames when it is shot at). ‘That ol’ car always goes up,’ commented one of them, and explained that it is apparently very hard to explode a car with a rifle. They all nodded sagely. I think I learned something about a popular pastime in Oklahoma, but I was too polite to ask further.

Words not to use in poems

January 25, 2009

In 1993, I went on a three-day workshop with the poet Peter Sansom, who co-edits The North, and runs the Smith/Doorstop imprint. He’s also the author of Writing Poems, Bloodaxe’s perennial seller. And a nicer guy you couldn’t hope to meet. My aim at the time was to unclog the effect of years of writing parody, to find out if I had a voice of my own after years of impersonation. I’m still not sure.

Peter had one golden rule (it’s mentioned in Writing Poems, too): do not under any circumstances use the word shard. This might strike you as very peculiar. But  if you were to start to teach poetry-writing, you would know exactly what he meant. There is something about the word shard that fatally attracts every other would-be poet, each of whom, quite innocently and separately, comes across it, and thinks ‘that’s a good word, a very good word. I’ll have that,’ rather in the manner of Burglar Bill. Of course, the entire group of writers (he must be sick of this) immediately wrote shard poems to twit him. But he was right. There are some words which turn up so often in the work of aspiring poets that an anti-preservation order should be slapped on them.

Here are a few more. They may seem irrational, but I promise you, they occur to people with an almost desperate frequency, and the result is an accidental smack of the hackneyed.

Seeps, seep, seeped: Don’t know why, but some variation of seep seems fatally to recur, usually to do with light, i.e. in a metaphorical, synaesthetic way. ‘Light seeped in through the window.’ Don’t do it.

Crimson: Much-beloved version of ‘red’, especially to do with dawn, but unfortunately also beloved of both Victorian poets and heavy metal lyricists. Avoid like the plague.

Translucent: looks good, but it’s actually quite a confusing word, since it seems often to be used to mean both ‘clear’ and also ‘as if through frosted glass’, i.e. not very clear. Usually used to make light seem posh. (Ditto pellucid.)

Myriad: poety word for ‘lots’, with a terrible whiff of archaism.

Languid, languour: these ones are marginal cases, but they always send me back to poems written between 1870 and 1920. They aren’t exactly archaic, but there are plenty of contemporary alternatives.

Evil: whether a noun or an adjective, this is just too heavy an abstraction for a contemporary poem – in fact, most abstract nouns are suspect (hatred; time – especially if capitalised; passion;  and so on).

Curlicue: I was caught using this by a friend, who said that she was always seeing it in poems, and I think she’s right.

Soul, mind: usually soul is used to indicate deep feeling, and is redundant because of it. I think you have to be very good to get away with it. Mind usually pops up to indicate inner feeling or emotion, in which case it too is redundant. Just think of the hopeless Michel Legrand lyric ‘The Windmills Of Your Mind’ – a text-book example of how not to construct metaphors.

Woe, sorrow: abstract nouns for feeling very unhappy, but never heard in colloquial language (quite a good test) these days.

Pent: maybe as in pent-up, but otherwise, a relic of reading Wordsworth.

Hence, thence, whence: any word which makes you think that the nearby verb should end in -est, as in Whence comest thou?, is best given a wide berth. Too biblical.

Yesteryear, yonder: if used, you are probably writing poesy.

Then: obviously permissible, but in nine times out of ten, implied by the order of the words, and their sense.

I have more bugbears, but that’s all for the moment. Feel free to suggest others, and forgive me if you find them in what I write (or rather, don’t. I need to be ticked off).

Les Paul, the internet, and surfing

January 14, 2009

I am a fully-paid-up faddist. I watched a (repeated – he’s 91 now) tribute to Les Paul, the guitarist and recording genius, made for his 9oth birthday. I’ve always liked ‘How High The Moon’, his duet with his wife Mary Ford, and, like most people, I thought he’d invented a guitar (whereas he gave his imprimatur to one – and later withdrew it). Now suddenly, I am a Les Paul fan. So off I went on a digital surf (the only sort I will ever do. Waves are big and you fall off, and drown).

In no time, I found myself here – at a site which has free, downloadable recordings – eleven of them – of radio shows Les Paul and Mary Ford made in 1950, playing live music against pre-recordings of their vocals and guitar-work, so that the double-tracked harmonies come hauntingly out of the loudspeaker. There can’t be anyone else on the planet who got his career break playing with Gene Autry, but who went on to play with Django Reinhardt, Bing Crosby, and Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck (the latter continuing to look as if he is still under 30). Nor anyone who was as at home in country as in jazz (he claimed Miles Davis had asked him why he, Miles, never had a hit. ‘Play the melody,’ advised Les Paul. The idea that Miles Davis actually wanted a hit record is a curious thought).

But having travelled to the web-site by accident, I found I’d stumbled on a treasure trove of public domain recordings, including a host of 1943 radio shows made for GIs overseas, including some which threw into one mix unlikely couples like (say) Groucho Marx and Judy Garland. So my hard drive is now swelling with old radio broadcasts, and I am not sure I dare to go back to the home-page of the site for fear of what else I will find which uses up my not-very-precious time.

It is of course just a bit wretched to find your hero’s hero some decades after your hero-worship began. Steve Miller was certainly my hero guitar-player in the early 1970s; Les Paul turns out to have been his godfather, and to have taught him to play (Miller’s father was Les Paul’s best man). This is the kind of stuff I am supposed to know off backwards. Maybe all those music magazines I read have started to dwell on the same factoids every month; maybe I am just becoming a careless reader. Or maybe I am just forgetting faster than I am remembering.

Surfing the internet is a killer and a kick-start if you write. I wrote a poem about lungs last year (you heard), but it started out as a poem about leaves. Somehow I got distracted, and found myself reading Gray’s Anatomy, or, more precisely, looking at the pictures. Did you know that lungs are pink when they are young, but turn all too quickly to a vague shade of grey? If that isn’t tragic, I don’t know what is. You get to five years old, and already it looks as if you’ve been inhaling creosote or ash.

So now my head is ringling (the right word, I think) with Les Paul’s nippy guitar-licks and Mary Ford’s harmonies, I’ve laughed at a Groucho Marx one-liner, and I have a vague idea of what my lungs looked like. One of the most common slang phrases of the day is ‘too much information’. Maybe so. Hit the internet, and your brain (always grey, I imagine) starts thinking ‘not enough information’.

Add to that the news today that two Google searches use as much energy as a kettle, and I think that tea may never taste the same again. Hot beverages or a swill of info. That’s the kind of choice no-one in their wrong mind should ever have to make.

And a postcript: in the back of my head, I could hear George Harrison humming the Les Paul and Mary Ford hit ‘Waiting For The Sunrise’. I woke to realise it was George (not playing) watching Carl Perkins do his take on a special recorded about 20 years ago. Youtube, as ever, has it:

Poetry 2008 (uncut)

November 28, 2008

Space considerations led to my article today in The Independent on the best poetry of the year being cut: five poets were omitted. So here’s the full piece:

Choosing a baker’s dozen of the year’s poetry collections begs the question ‘What were you looking for?’ Answer: poems to make me look out at the world, and think, repeatedly, ‘I’ll never see it the same way.’ Good poetry takes the familiar, makes it strange, and, doing so, makes even the mundane memorable.

For magic, read Pauline Stainer’s Crossing the Snowline (Bloodaxe, £8.95). Stainer’s language has a frozen, exacting piety; she re-invents the world as myth, even religion: ‘the river/ writing its monograph/ on mosses’, ‘a daylight moon/ suspended on gimbals.’ Her bizarre takes on nature have the quality of polished gems. Equally magical, but madcap too, is Selima Hill’s The Hat (Bloodaxe, £7.95), a sequence as dark as Bunny, and using the same, elliptical glimpses and startling analogies. The Hat captures how a woman is crushed: ‘Look at those heavy bags of hers!/ They huddle at her feet like ducks and geese/ waiting dimly for their new home.’ Hill writes with instant, mock-flippant precision. Harder, but worth the work, is Peter Bennet’s The Glass Swarm (Flambard, £7.50), a selection of peculiar parables, eccentric but demanding legends – as if assembled by an English Scheherazade. The language grabs: ‘It is too late, with sunshine in my eyes,/ to care which insect air force is commencing/ a mass-attack of lullabies.’

The best poems strike up conversations. Try Sandra Tappenden’s Speed (Salt, £12.99, hardback), whose drollery persists, testing ideas, strolling along fantastic tangents: ‘Etiquette is a load of stupid nonsense;/ anyone can move into your dreams/ without making an appointment/ or even bothering to get dressed.’ Similarly, Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw (Carcanet, £9.95) looks around, half-suspiciously, funny or moody: ‘Locked in a jail of ribs, the passionate heart/ judders/ the way a cranked car used to do,/ the whole system/ suddenly coughing.’ Against these laconics, set cheeky Catherine Smith, whose Lip (Smith/Doorstop, £7.95) delights in the absurdity of love, sex, separation, and everyday erotica: ‘Send me your bed, but please, don’t change the sheets./ Pay two strong men to load it on a van,/ and drive it through the rain at one a.m./ I’ll be awake, I need to search for stains.’ Perfect put-downs; perfect pick-me-ups. The same applies to Kathryn Simmonds’ flint-hard whimsy in Sunday at the Skin Launderette (Seren, £7.99). Great images here (Jesus ‘transfigured’ as a contemporary ‘Dave’; elderly women dancing), and killer phrasing, as when trying to fix a broken TV: ‘With two hands on its shoulders/ I try rocking it to sense,/ like a priest conducting an exorcism/ gone badly wrong.’

Four gimlet-eyed, understated collections: Leontia Flynn’s Drives (Cape, £9), Allison McVety’s The Night Trotsky Came To Stay (Smith/Doorstop, £7.95), D.A. Prince’s Nearly the Happy Hour (HappenStance, £8), and Michael Laskey’s The Man Alone (Smith/Doorstop, £9.95). Flynn’s poems include recreations of the famous (Hitchcock, Fitzgerald, Bishop), tender personal elegies, and also real or imaginary journeys. Her poem ‘Airports’ nails them all: ‘Airports are their own peculiar weather./ Their lucid hallways ring like swimming pools./ … the planes, like a child’s mobile, hang at random.’ McVety manages the rare feat of trawling her family history, wittily shaping its stories, making her experiences ours: ‘On a side ward/ my father is trying his death for size./ It’s off-the-peg, but even so,/ consultants attend to the tailoring,/ consider a final tuck.’ Prince explores similar territory, but adds beautifully composed snapshots, as here, of cormorants: ‘a sandbar black with solid sound/ screaming a goal for the home team,/ the fans gone wild, winging their yah-yah-yah …’ Laskey is a meditative writer. Wry, curious, mischievous: his writing seizes on incidents and turns them quietly inside out, as at the end of ‘Lesson’, about having his wallet swiped – ‘Apparently it’s always happening/ with backpacks, but after the shock/ and the hassle, it’s the deftness/ I’m left with, how I didn’t feel a thing,/ how you need to keep practising.’ A mini-master-class in echo.

Earlier this year, I doubted any collection would match Ciaran Carson’s astonishing sequence For All We Know (Gallery Press, £10.95), in which a fugue of fourteen-line, fourteen-syllable, but six-beat sonnets conducts a mystery tour through love and political intrigue. It’s like Graham Greene crossed with a passionate Bach. But suddenly Carol Rumens’ Blind Spots (Seren, £8.99) arrives, her best work ever. Philosophical, playful, formal – umpteen forms expertly managed – free or experimental, Rumens opens with pieces inspired by Eugenio Montale, before exploring further her fusion of the personal and political. There is no word out of place – even in her delightful poem about allowing poets to wander off the subject – but my favourite is a sequence (‘Suite: Minus Ten’) about her deteriorating eyesight. ‘The smart in the eyes is grief-like;/ the urge to lie down on blank metal/ where the books that no-one borrowed/ lived their last years, and sleep,/ becomes almost uncontrollable.’ This collection will still be read decades from now: it must already be installed as a certain prize-winner.

Thirteen’s unlucky, so here’s a bonus track, as Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley would say, admitting he’s studied how music is marketed. His In Person (Bloodaxe, £12) is 2008’s must-have anthology – or rather, its two DVDs are, offering six hours with thirty poets (the anthology’s their script). From Adcock to Zepahaniah, 163 poems are filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce without flash, with fluffs, stumbles and noises off. Celebrating Bloodaxe’s thirtieth year, it introduces unfamiliar voices (in this country) like C.D.Wright and Naomi Shihab Nye. It makes you wonder if every collection should attach a DVD. And it captures terrific readings, most notably David Constantine’s ‘Common and Particular’, which you might reckon poem of the decade after seeing him speak it.


November 26, 2008

A month or so ago, I was at the Torbay Poetry Festival, than which festivals don’t come more polite and friendly (how many festivals put you up at a hotel, and give you a room about as large as your house?). It was a Friday night, and it was a good audience, and I wasn’t sleepy. So I wandered into the bar, at the end of the evening, and there he was, the entertainer the hotel had hired for its guests (as against the festival for its punters). There were five people in the bar, tucked in a far corner, bantering good-humouredly. The barman was benign. His shift was surely due to end soon, and his space behind the counter was ship-shape (and Bristol-fashion, let me off on a tangent here: the reason objects are ship-shape and Bristol-fashion is because a ship entering Bristol harbour, when it was active as one, had to make extra-sure that its cargo was evenly distributed, because the tidal drop in Bristol was the largest in the world, and an unevenly-packed hold would cause a ship, stuck in low water and silt, to keel over; where was I?). He was beaming.

The cause of all this good will was the nature of the entertainer. He was singing (he had a good voice) a series of songs which took his fancy, or which the group in the corner called out, in a spirit of extreme good-will. He was balding a little, had some extra weight around his middle, some grey in his hair – yes, he was about my age. It always takes a moment for the penny to drop that I am now a few years shy of 60. I still think of myself, deep down, as 30 (deeper down, I am about 10). He was singing ‘It’s Now Or Never’, the Elvis hit, the one which is based on ‘O Sole Mio’, and which has in turn spawned an equally singable advert, ‘Just One Cornetto’. Don’t you hate that about adverts? The way they steal your favourite songs, and put them to work flogging this, that and the other? From the AA (‘You’ve Got A Friend’) to Zip Firelighters (‘Light My Fire’, get it?), they’re all at it, plundering the soundtrack of my teens.

Anyway. It’s not that I don’t get out much, although I don’t: it’s that I am rarely if ever somewhere where karaoke is going on. I’m not much of a pub-drinker, and if I ever am, I’m never in the kind of pubs where karaoke is the evening’s entertainment. I hadn’t cottoned on until that evening, either, that people with a decent voice are actually going out, equipped with all the clobber and the computerised backing tracks, and making a bit of a living out of it. And I saw the appeal. You don’t need a backing band any more, you just need a powerful sound system, and you can be backed by anyone from The Dakotas to Nelson Riddle, from the Philharmonic to the Funk Brothers.

And I also realised that there was a possibility for part of my act, which involves singing spoofs of popular songs, including one mocking Boris Johnson, and called ‘Born To Rule’, to the tune of Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’. Perhaps I could get the backing track? Can I? Yes I can: I was idling in Exeter yesterday, trying to keep away from the second-hand record shop (failed), and came across a shop which downloaded (obviously for a fee) any backing track, pretty much, that you wanted. So now I have the E-Street Band option available for my next performance. On the other hand, perhaps what makes people laugh is that (a) I can’t sing that well, and (b) I lose the tune. Obviously, they’re laughing with me, not at me. That is obvious, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

It is a bit late in life to discover karaoke.

It’s now or never.