Sunday, July 17, 2005

Vanity Fair… no, it’s not just a book you should have read!

There were poetry readings, art on sale, Iain Sinclair (left), spit roast pig, a Corona van, poetry bingo, DJs, free books, shirtless men, sweaty bodies and a policeman looking bemused. Yes, it was Vanity Fair, Clerkenwell’s Street Party… and the end of a fantastic Clerkenwell 2005.

In the upstairs room of the Green Pub, with the sunshine, music and laughter from the street fair spilling in, the great and good of self-publishing gathered to discuss doing it yourself. Hosted by Kit Hammond curator of Publish and be Damned, a packed room of self-publishing enthusiasts, readers, writers and ordinary drinkers listened to ‘Good for Nothing’s Neil Boorman, Andy Ching from ‘Donut Press’, Micalef from Sniffin’ Glue, Tim Wells publisher of Rising Magazine and Richard Marshall of 3AM (, the online magazine discuss what made them set up their ‘zines.

“There is a crisis in publishing… the top ten bestsellers is the way the industry views itself,” Richard said, “so if you’re a first time writer or struggling, outlets (such as ’zines and online sites) play a very important role”. Whilst Neil’s goal was to “make money to buy new trainers and shop at Selfridges” (and why not?), Tim’s Rising has since earned the heady moniker of ‘the Reader’s Wives of Poetry’. Andy, inspired by Rising (and possibly hoping for his own heady moniker) wanted to create something that you could “read in bed with someone”. All the guys had one overriding goal and that was to get as much new, good writing out there, even if they had to re-mortgage their homes, live in cardboard boxes and exist on less sleep than Thatcher.

After this inspirational talk, the self-publishing fair began, with free poetry readings from, amongst others, Micalef (“Shane McGowan stole my pillow”), Tim Wells, the caustic wit of Lee Nelson, Steve Clark reading from his first novel ‘Chasing Tails’ (who, Richard, our host admitted, ‘proves you can get self-published work into bookshops if you work for them. You can check out his website on, Anne Brooks’ sensual poetry, and Clerkenwell’s poetry celebrity Agnes Meadows. The thing about self-publishing is that it’s driven by a desire to see your work out there, for better or worse, and I was struck by the cool bravery of all our self-publishers.

In between all of this, the street party was taking place which lasted well into the summer evening. If you were there yesterday or stumbled onto this cool, happening corner of Clerkenwell, then you know how fab it was. A big thanks to all of you who visited and made it so great, to all those who took part in the events and especially, to all those unsung, unpaid volunteers who stood at doors, picked up glasses, stacked chairs and spent hours and hours pounding the streets giving out the flyers which got so many people in. Clerkenwell is the first literary festival to have its own blog, so hope you too enjoyed reliving it online!

Can’t wait for next year…

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Judgement Day… ‘Am I hot or not?’

…. The energetic Phil Dirtbox hosted (left). The anonymous faces flashed up on the projector and the audience raised their cards and cheered ‘Hot’ or ‘Not’, not knowing whether the person had a kind heart, a charming way with words, the effervescence of Jonnie Vegas or the sexual magnetism of Darren Day. Even Alan Rusbridger of ‘The Guardian’ was not immune to a bit of objectification. In other words, a typical Saturday night out in London.

I’m not retiring… I’m moving to the country!

… Or so The Idler magazine’s debate on ‘Back to the Land: … the pleasures and pitfalls of rural living’, might as well have been titled. This was far and away my favourite event, a big, bolshy debate about giving up the urban and becoming rural.

The debate that took place between Chris Yates (record-breaking angler who once caught the biggest carp in the UK), Richard Benson (author of The Farm who doesn't live on a farm), Tom Hodgkinson (editor of ‘the Idler’ who has a ‘teeny-tiny weeny holding’ in North Devon) and Sophie Poklewsky-Koziell (editor of Resurgence magazine, whose dream was to bake bread and have a worm compost) (pictured left to right, below left) was timely, especially with the rise in importance of organic farming, ‘getting away from it all’, ‘downsizing’ and ‘life-work balance’. Ekow Eshun (head of the ICA who can count the number of times he’s visited the countryside on one hand) hosted the event, debating whether rural living is possible for the urban dweller used to 24-hour supermarkets and no pigs in the road.

I must confess to a bias: I am a committed city-gal. Although Chris spoke eloquently of having a connection to country living through his love of fishing and Richard waxed lyrical about the joys of the closer-knit rural communities, I was unconvinced. Especially when Tom admitted that all he’d wanted was a place to write a novel and ended up “driving round at 10:00 pm to local pubs trying to find fags”. Sophie gave an even more harrowing account, explaining how she went from “trying to grow carrots in her window box in Old Street (eight years ago)” to the reality of farming life (“long unsociable hours, filth and muck… unless you have a fleet of children who you forbid to leave home”).

There was, however, plenty of fodder for thought. Tom debunked the myth of the countryside being a place of “peace and tranquillity… and lawlessness” by telling us stories of rock bands in barns which acted as amplifiers and travelling hundreds of miles to North Devon, only to land snooty suburban neighbours with twitching lace curtains. The panel discussed the pleasures of growing your own food, the challenge of not having control over events (such as rain and slugs eating your strawberries), of communities rallying around failing farms, of being in a five-year checkmate with a fish and of farmers who supplement their income with internet gambling. At the end, however, I was none the wiser about where ‘rural’ life might be, because when an audience member asked if moving to Bristol counts as ‘country living’, Chris answered yes.

It would be impossible to encapsulate every argument here, but the panel’s passion, dedication and love of the countryside was fully evident. For my part, I have to say that it appears family life has an enormous role to play in making the urban-to-rural transition worthwhile… kids gain from security and space not found in the average London estate. And Richard admitted that being single is difficult in a rural environment, as his brother found out when he searched for a new local mate on the internet… and came up with his ex-girlfriend.

To be honest, it sounds great and it probably is great, and rewarding and utterly fulfilling, but I suggest you ‘become rural’ with someone else and face it as a team. If, like me, you love London but crave the countryside, then do as Sophie suggested and adopt a ‘rural’ attitude: buy organic, source local food, shop at farmers markets. That way, when you do decide to relocate (retire!) to the countryside, those farms and that magical countryside will be still there for you. Even if you only move down the road to Epping Forest.

Growing up and Jelly Beans….

I am certain that no one who attended the first event of Saturday will be reading this blog, not because we did anything bad to them, but because they are all under seven. Yes, this was Clerkenwell’s kids event at Finsbury Library, mixing Paul Lyalls’ stand-up comedy (left) with Joanna Walsh’s storytelling (right, caught in the glare of the media circus).

It’s not often that you wish you were under-seven – not least because it means your mum is no longer trailing you and insisting you blow your nose- but also because it reminded me that non-technological experiences can make kids very happy. Paul Lyalls entertained the kids with his energetic performance, trying to rope the adults into playing along. He showed us his inimitable slinky feline wriggle, then attempted to get the gorgeous Lucy to wriggle along, but sadly, Paul simply had the moves… or perhaps, just a lot more practice!

It was like an episode of ‘kids say the funniest things’. One little boy orphaned himself by announcing that his mother wasn’t in the room, much to her surprise and dismay. When the kids were asked to imagine something different in the world, their confident answers ranged from ‘what if the world was made of mud (“It would be Glastonbury everyday!”)… What if everything was big (isn’t it, to a seven year old?)… What if Pianos were like crocodiles (“I’d like Jazz more”, replied Paul). He has an answer for everything.

Joanna Walsh’s reading from her illustrated book ‘Amos Jellybean Gets it Right’ was good, but it was her ‘make your picnic’ that was better. Out came reams of ‘noodle’ string, cheese-and-ham sponges and assorted ‘squishy things’ to make a special ‘Amos’ lunch (see a final example, right). I’m not sure whether the kids or the adults had more fun making their special meals. Check out our charismatic Clerkenwell co-ordinator Richard and his carrot (above, left). I’ve seen buildings put together with less concentration and dedication.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Peach Bellinis and Cultural Consumption: Cooks and Their Books

The downstairs room at Zetter Restaurant, an elegant and very pink affair, played host to an event which must be every gourmand’s dream: eating a three-course meal cooked by Megan Jones from the Zetter, whilst being entertained by three of London’s heavyweight cooks in discussion.

Now, as someone who thinks that all cooks are either like Jamie Oliver (salt-of-the-earth good fellas) or Gordon Ramsey (cut-you-up-and-eat-you mafia dons), I was hoping for salacious kitchen gossip involving tirades and tantrums… and for at least one of the waiters serving to rebel, but everyone was perfectly behaved.

Simon Wright, columnist and author, compèred the event, and tried to debunk the TV myths, but Rowley Leigh (Kensington Palace), Sam Clarke (Moro) and Fergus Henderson (St John’s), proved far too entertaining for that (above, left).

Samuel Clark made my day by admitting “you can get some pretty sadistic female chefs”. The audience laughed heartily… and missed the irony when later Rowley Leigh admitted that the aggression in kitchens has kept out women and Fergus Henderson said that he had more “girls than boys in his kitchen”. I know whose kitchen I’d like to be a fly-on-the-wall in!

Its odd what catches your eye during these events, but I found out that, in London, only the Zetter and Sadler’s Wells have their own well! The Zetter’s is 1500 feet below the surface and, if you are lucky enough to stay in one of their hotel rooms, you get a complimentary bottle (left). I turned down all the other delights to try the water… and yes, London Tap Water, eat your heart out.

The 45 guests (including Lucy, Jo and Tom, right) who had paid £45 a head (with a waiting list of 15 people), had a fabulous time and were last seen singing the praises of Zetter as they wandered away from Clerkenwell, full of veal chop, sorbet and the Zetter’s very delicious Peach Bellini. Bon Apetit!

Alas! The Last Poetry Lunchtime! What a sad day for us all! The last poetry lunchtime event took place today in the cool shade of The Long Walk at St James’s Church. But what an end it was. The softly-delivered, intimate poems of Esther Morgan (below, right) and the entertaining Neil Rollinson (below, left), whose foodie themes meant that The Three Kings pub did a roaring lunchtime trade.

Neil’s poem about paté (“the fruit of suffering”) and Esther’s reminiscences about food, which competed for attention with the barking of a dog - and won! - made everyone devour their lunch a little faster. If those vegetarians in the audience (who, strangely, didn’t see to want to commit to their ideals when asked) had a lump of vegetable in their throats, Neil’s shocking ode to the cucumber (“If I don’t get struck down for reading this in front of a church, I never will”) would have dislodged it quicker than you can say “Fuck the Duck” (thanks, Neil… again).

Afterwards, as Clare Pollard, the organiser of the lunchtime events signed copies of books (right) and the forty-plus crowd rushed for their free G&Ts, the office workers and passer bys lingered, enjoying the sun and the afterglow and serenity which poetry, even that involving French teachers who give a new meaning to extra-curricular activity (Neil!), bestows. For just a few moments, there was a sense of peace in our little part of London.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Sundowner: Literary classics... on a DIY tip...

If you thought that turning up to an event and trying to write about it was tough, imagine writing about something you were involved in, but that is the position I find myself in, so forgive me if I use the words 'electric', 'entertaining' and 'kick thyself, you missed a real treat'.

Sundowner took place on a sultry evening in the upstairs room of the Three Kings Pub with an audience of about thirty (including local resident and Clerkenwell Celebrity Martin Hancock- also the judge at our flagship Bloody Mary Competition- see blog of 11 May).

Our host, Richard (above left), who is gathering alter-egos by the minute, including Richie Scurvy, punk poet and The Flyering-King, explained the DIY theme and introduced the audience to the readings... and to the bar downstairs, well-received in the sticky heat!

The readings veered from the sublime (Keisha Watson reading Clarissa Pincola Estes' 'A Crescent Moon Bear', above right), to the fantastical (Lisa Maria Carter reading from 'Myths of the World', left), to the amusing (yours truly reading from Umberto Eco's 'Foucault's Pendulum', right), to the grotesque (yours truly, 'how to skin an ox' from John Seymour's 'Complete Self-Sufficiency Guide', right).

I have to say I worry about an audience that derives such masochistic pleasure from the gory intricacies of skinning an ox and then applauds when told that all this effort results in ox-tail soup, but perhaps that's just me. Still, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves... and remember, if after all that you still want to up sticks and move to the country, then its on your head. You'll have to learn how to weild an axe, bake bread, strangle a chicken and do your own paperwork. I suggest you stay in London and enjoy this week's Clerkenwell.

Do it yourself? No way. Do it in style.

Don't forget the Poetry Lunchtime today! Its Meryl Pugh and Salena Saliva. 1:00 - 2:00. The Long Walk, St James's Church, Clerkenwell Close, EC1.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Punk poets, miner’s marches and writers ripping up their books… it can only be the annual CLF Bloody Mary competition

It was a sunny evening and an attractive crowd was milling outside the Three Kings, drawn by the jazz music and the scent of vodka being given out in shots. It didn’t take them too long to overcome their shyness and rush forward to claim their free drinks, snatching them up before the last drop even landed in the glass.

Once things got going, the 150-plus crowd was gathered on St James’s Church steps, perched on the curb and even in the road. It’s amazing how a drink mixed with vodka and tomato juice can bring out the bring out the daredevil in us, but somehow everyone survived the evening (although I’m sure most were a little worse for wear in the morning, judging by how quickly those BM’s were knocked back!)

The atmosphere was as electric as a Spice Girls concert (although way cooler), as Phil Dirtbox compeered. Now this guy makes me laugh. When I first met him he kept telling me that a miner’s march ended in the square, a fact which I found mildly interesting, but which the audience reacted to with applause, which leads me to wonder if under that middle-class façade there weren’t a few hidden miners.

Richie Scurvy (seen geeing-up the crowd below), a punk poet, whose alter ego is Richard the Flyering-King (see blog of 7 July) gave a hysterical rendition of his Maggie Thatcher poem which had the crowd (especially those secret miners) stamping their feet and punching the air. Richie, I salute you. Who else would come up with the fabulous line ‘Maggie Thatcher, Maggie Thatcher… from what reptilian egg did they hatch her?’ You saw him first at Clerkenwell… and learnt the truth about the Iron Lady.

Now… what about those Bloody Marys I hear you cry? Well, while we were entertained by the in-yer-face Mr Scurvy, the fabulous jazz band and by Sophie Parkin and her beautiful hair-flowers, the talented local baristas mixed up a storm. In case you tried one and need to know where to get it again, those who took part were: Janine at Medcalfe (who won last year and was back to defend the title in style), Polly at Al’s Bar (a mean mixer), Mario at The Zetter (also hosting Friday’s Cooks and Their Books event – a must see, that one), fantastic Jeremy at Cicada, the cute Glenn at Epicurean Lounge, sexy Natasha at the Crown, the buzzing Chris at the Green, the dazzling Diana at the Eagle and the effervescent Marcos at the Well. Our judge was – ‘is it really… oh yes it is!’ – Martin Hancock, Clerkenwell Celebrity and Spider from Coronation Street, who, it was great to see, really took to the ‘spirit’ of the occasion (see left- posing!)

But before I tell you the outcome – which is what you really want to know! – I have to make a special mention of Mark Watson. Someone give him a TV show, a comedy night spot, heck, a patch of grass in Hyde park, because this guy can rock a crowd. I’ve never laughed so hard. Mark, you understand, was meant to be reading from his book ‘Bullet Points’ but chaos ensued when he claimed ‘I don’t want you to hang yourselves’ and tried instead to flog the book. Unfortunately, instead of rushing to buy it, the crowds cried with laughter, particularly after he declared that ‘anyone who has writing on their t-shirt must be literate’. This sent Mark into a pleading spiral which ended with him ripping up his own book (‘2-3 years of work becomes a piece of shit!’), making one possibly frightened girl concede to the pressure (that's her getting her book signed, right). I like to see a man bare his soul and Mark, you gave great street theatre!

Ok, Ok, you’ve been waiting long enough. After a drink-off equaliser Glenn (left, ‘if Angelina Jolie walked in right now, I’d get down on my knee…s’) at Epicurean Lounge won. It might be my hearing, but I think he won a trip to Mauritius, although they might just have said that his BM was vicious. Glenn, you did great, but I have to leave the last word to Marcus from the Well (right, who came either second or third, I have no idea): ‘It’s totally unfair. I was drunk’. Drunk on Bloody Marys, I hope.

Approaches to Doom: A tour of Clerkenwell’s East Side

Now, this isn’t the kind of thing I would normally go on, but it was fascinating and I totally recommend that if you missed this one, you make it to the Sunday event.

Alternative historian John Nicholson (look out for the white beard) led a group of fifteen on a route from St John’s Street to Angel, telling us grizzly tales of animals brought to Smithfields for slaughter.

Over the roar of the traffic – and eavesdropped by perplexed office workers ending their working day – we heard about carcases dripping, of animals crammed into trucks by wily drivers who made detours through the fields to avoid paying tolls, and how pubs would lend farmers money to bring the animals to London. Try getting a free drink out of your local and you realise how the apt the phrase ‘ah, the olden days, I do miss ’em’ is.

We were entertained by Performing London (John and Armorel, who when not singing funny little ditties and passing around Percy Pig sweets to the utter bemusement of passer bys, perform in a folk band) and had free beer at the Peasant.

So, until you have listened to tales of animal slaughter delivered with frightening relish by someone who paradoxically looks like Santa Claus, you haven’t experienced all that London has to offer. I will certainly never look at a ‘Passing Alley’ in the same light… I guess you had to be there. It certainly was history coming alive!

Slam Poetry for a Sunny Afternoon!

The sun may have been making a rare outing, but in the cool shade of The Long Walk, all you could hear were birds and the whisper of passing traffic. We were here to listen to Poetry and drink free G&Ts, and as the punters began to arrive, you could sense the excitement. After an introduction from the gorgeous Lucy who runs this show and the superb Clare Pollard who organised the poetry events, we were off!

Who of the thirty-or-so of us could have imagined that we would hear from the guy the Metro called ‘The Nigerian Slam Veteran’ and from London Underground’s first Resident Writer. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Inua Ellams - aka Phaze - went on first, a shockingly talented and easy-on-the-eye twenty year old who only started Slam Poetry two years ago. His super-cool confidence and rap-stucco delivery charmed the crowds, drawing people in off the streets and into the shade. As workers ate their lunch, they were entertained by intelligent, referential, political poetry… not what we’re led to expect from the youth of today. Who else, but Phaze, could have had the lines ‘Lugubriously labelled’ and ‘A Hug from God’ in the same set? Although my favourite line has to be ‘Fury of the Last Bohemian’, which would be a great way to sum of these energetic Slam poems.

In between breaks, the crowds enjoyed free G&Ts, relaxing and chatting as if on a summer holiday. I sat back and marvelled at the cross-section: older, younger, men, women, right across class and race divides, its wonderful how poetry can unite. It makes you wonder if our politicians took to free-style, how different the world would be.

Now, if Phaze is the cool, sussed Benjamin Zephaniah of Slam Poetry, then Abe was a sultry Barry White (without the belly). Richard, the charming compeer, introduced him as a ‘sensitive, sensuous, assured poet… like being caressed by a particularly skilled lover… with a bit of a bite’. Easy there, Richard! But you see his point. I’ve heard Abe before and he is just mesmerising. This is true performance poetry, delivered in a languid deep bass, slipping in and out of characters, as if he was telling us a conversation overheard, drawing us into through the voices, perceptive one-liners, and again… that deep, slow voice. You can see why Richard was so moved. Indeed, one member of the audience cried at Abe’s poems, which is impressive, seeing as she was distracted by the constant clapping of her two-year old. Abe told me afterwards that he always looks out for the one person in the audience who is really listening… Abe, those two were all yours. My line to take away? ‘Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you sometimes to do, but doesn’t get you anywhere.’

Slam Poetry in the Clerkenwell sunshine… I totally recommend it. Turn up with your sarnies, hang out, let our daily dose of poetry relax and entertain you. 1:00 in The Long Walk at St James’s Church… it has to be heard, to be believed!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

One Day To Go...

Well, Clerkenwell is almost upon us and we made it to that bastion of cool events, The Guardian’s ‘Must List’, beating Rubber Johnny and Quentin Tarantino. I hope you’re as excited as I am and looking forward to a week of ‘age-old literary traditions of subversion and drinking too much’.

It all starts on Monday with poetry readings and John Nicholson’s guided tour of deaths in Clerkenwell, and of course, the event I know we’re all desperately awaiting… the Bloody Mary competition at the Three Kings.

I’m going to be there, with my notepad and pen, taking sneaky notes and looking out for those who drink too much and talk too much… Make sure you drop in here on Tuesday to find out all the gossip from the night before.

See you then.

Your Official Blogger, x

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Flyering- a Guide!

It was the wrong day for Richard's mobile to die!

We were flyering central London- that is, drumming up publicity for Clerkenwell, which, if you're here has obviously worked. If , however, you stumbled across this while searching for porn, you can check out what the fuss is about at:

Incase, like me, you're new to flyering, this meant: visiting every bookshop between Oxford Circus and Green Park, carrying a thousand flyers in our bags (sorry to those tourists we almost decapitated), giving our best impressions of 'trustworthy fellas running kick-ass lit festival' and mastering the long-lost art of dropping flyers on the table and running, before the word 'no' was uttered.

There are two things you need to know if you decide to flyer this area. Number one, there are ALOT of bookshops (although they're almost all chains which makes them easier to spot amongst the McDonalds and tourists) and the second is, take an up to date map. With our battered AZ, Richard's list of bookshops ('I got it off') and a rudimentary knowledge of London streets ('is it Barkeley or Berkely?' 'depends how posh you are'), we must have looked like posties on our first day. And not good ones. Forty-five minutes spent finding one out-of-the-way bookshop (which was bordered up and looking for new owners) must be some kind of flyering record. I'd put money on it. Well, ten pence at least. They're not paying me for this, you know!

There must be an art to this flyering business. Or at least a teach-yourself book in some dusty region of Borders. You'd think I'd have checked since I spent all day in bookshops, but all I learnt was that The Da Vinci Code is reduced everywhere (for the 1% of you who haven't owned/bought/had it bought for you) and there is a new craze called Su Doku which seems to involve putting numbers in boxes. Not a challenge I realised we in Britain faced, but perhaps its an effect of climate change.

Richard is an old-hand at flyering. When I was sweetly turned down in Waterstones, he fluttered his lashes at the manager and succeeded in getting Clerkenwell a prime position. Apparantly, it's not that men respond better to Richard, its down to his many years of flyering Cambridge as part of his comedy group. I can't imagine what Cambridge must have looked like while Richard was there, but judging by how many leaflets we left in central London bookshops today, I imagine they're still cleaning up.

I don't know about Richard, but I learnt alot about myself. For example, if someone tells me their mobile phone is dead, I will proceed to telephone them and leave endless messages asking them where they are and telling them what my next move is, even though I am well aware they won't receive them in time and will spend the next day trying to work out what I'm on about. I also realised that despite being something of a marathan walker ('Finsbury Park to Islington? Its only a two-hour hike. Lets go!'), flyering central London felt like spending two weeks being pigeon-marched around the Tate.

Still, it was fun and it means your festival has received even more publicity, which means even more people at the events making them even better! Feel free to print off the events listings and put them up in your local bookshop. And lastly, thanks to all the fabulous booksellers of central London who kindly agreed to put out our flyers. We couldn't do it without you!