Captain’s Log 07/07/18 11:23
I’m sitting on a park bench in Worsley in the baking sun. I’m here to drop off Mark’s poem, but I’m early. I know he’s having a meal with his mam this morning and I don’t want to arrive before them; so I sit and take in the scenery, watch the ducks and the dog walkers go by. Once I’ve killed a suitable amount of time, I head over to his house.
When I get there, I see the big wooden gate is open. I step into the courtyard and I see the door is also open. I shout hello and a lady with black hair and an orange blouse comes out. It’s Mark’s wife, Michelle.
“I’ve come to deliver a poem,” I announce, as if this is completely normal.
“They’re just by the canal. Go down that path and you’ll see them,” she says, pointing behind me. “Do you want a drink of anything?” I ask for tea.
I walk down a little mud path, canopied by lots of trees. The garden is right on the water, there's only a metal fence dividing the grass from the canal. As the path veers to the left, I spot two people at some garden chairs around a circle table. It’s Mark and his mam, Yvonne, who’s looking quite arty, wearing a pearl necklace and bold blue eye shadow.
Not only did Mark text to say his mam was coming today, he’s told me that she loves poetry too. This is quite daunting. The piece I’ve brought isn’t exactly Dylan Thomas.
“I thought you would be older,” she says, smiling. I tell her I’ve heard she’s into poetry. “Oh yes, I was just reciting the Pied Piper of Hamelin to myself on the drive over.” This sounds promising. Nothing too high-brow.
Mark explains a little bit about how I came to be here.
“I told Rowan I’d always wanted a boat, but Michelle didn’t think it was a good idea.”
“I think it would be lovely,” she says.
“Me too!” I add. We’re clearly on the same page, it feels like a good time to get the poem out. When I finish it, they both seem quite excited. Michelle comes over with my tea.
“Michelle you need to have a look at this,” says Mark. “You play quite a big role in it.” She reads it and gives me a smile.
“I think anyone would enjoy that,” Yvonne adds. “And I love your accent. Can I ask, did you grow your hair long when you became a poet? Or was it always like that?”
We chat for about 40 minutes. Mark shows me where he’d like to moor his boat if he was allowed one. Yvonne tells me about how she used to work for a hotel group and enjoyed it because she could do lots of talking. I’m getting pretty comfortable here, but Mark has to take his daughter to a doctor’s appointment, so I start to make my goodbyes.
“Thank you, Rowan,” he says. “I must say, I didn’t really know what to expect when this long haired man turned up at my door. But I’ll be getting this framed, it would be great if you would sign it. And I’d also like to offer you a tip as well.” He holds out some notes.
To be honest, I really didn’t know what Mark was going to make of all this. I certainly wasn’t expecting a tip. But even though he’s clearly offering this out of genuine feeling of gratefulness, I decide I can’t take it. It just isn’t what the project is about. I explain that, in 3 years, I’ve never accepted any money from anyone on a doorstep. It’s about offering a gift, no strings attached. But seeing how enthusiastic Mark is about something I’ve written though is worth its weight in gold. Instead, I wave to him, Yvonne and Michelle, and head on my way.
She tells him that it’s just a passing phase,
his passions have flared up and will subdue;
when many of us reach our middle age
we try to fill a hunger from our youth;
if he got one now it wouldn’t be the same.
But in his heart he knows the aching truth:
For his whole life, far back as he can quote,
all he’s ever wanted is a boat.
No mighty speedboat’s roaring does he crave, mind,
no superyacht to navigate the world in;
just a humble barge to float down the canalside,
where she can be the Rosie to his Jim;
the pretty circle windows on the side,
the varnished wheel, the engine gently humming.
But she doesn’t want to hear another word,
says it’s the worst idea she’s ever heard.
Imagine how much this is going to cost
and all the more important things to buy,
the cleaning and the maintenance involved
and when exactly would you find the time?
There’s mooring rights, insurance to be solved…
He knows he’s lost, but he hears not these lines;
for, in his mind, he’s standing on the prow,
a little captain’s hat upon his brow.
What is this life? All wove with compromises,
we paddle to a future we won’t see.
Tragedy attacks in many guises
and blows us off to strange and distant seas.
Are all our dreams just pointless exercises?
If we abandoned them would we be free?
She tells him to stop being so dramatic
and suggests they rent a caravan that’s static.
Captain’s Log 08/07/18 11:00
I’m walking very quickly along the canal in Monton, gasping for air. I’m on my way to Worsley to drop off the very last poem of the project- Robert’s poem. It’s another scorching day, there’s not a cloud in the sky. My plan is to deliver this, then go and read out a selection of everything I’ve been working on at a family festival on Duke’s Drive. After that, I’m going to get the train to a friend’s house, where I’m staying the night. When I left the B&B, it was checkout, so, as well as my trusty briefcase, I’ve got a backpack full of clothes, a camera, a laptop, a notebook and the complete works of Lord Byron (which I’m very much regretting bringing at this point, I can tell you).
I’m running late. I don’t want to be late. I’m very rarely late for these kinds of things. So I’m speed walking; speed walking in the blistering sun, with my briefcase and the backpack that contains everything Byron has ever written. It is intense. I’m beginning to sweat. A lot. But I am on a mission. I zone in to my breath, like I’m running a marathon. I am the poetry terminator. Nothing is going to stop me delivering this.
By the time I get to Robert’s street, I am literally dripping sweat from my head on to the tarmac. This is not the optimum physical state to be in. I try standing around near his house for a minute to catch my breath, but the sweat isn’t going anywhere any time soon. I check my phone, I’m already 15 minutes late. I walk up to the door and ring the bell. Robert answers and invites me in to his much cooler living room. I sit down on his cream corner sofa, above the cream carpet.
“How are you?” I ask.
“Good. We’ve had some good weather recently haven’t we?”
“Yes,” I say, trying not to pant. “Although, I’ve been working indoors quite a lot.”
“Oh well, better than pounding the streets I suppose.”
The conversation has reached a pause. I really wish it hadn’t. The truth is, I need some water and about 5 minutes to catch my breath. But I sense there’s not really the time.
“I’ve got your poem,” I say, as calmly and enthusiastically as I can. I read it to him while another drop of sweat falls off my head on to the carpet.
“Thanks very much. I can tell you’ve put a lot of work into that. I wish you all the best with it.”
From New York’s dizzying labyrinth of towers
to Worsley and its Tudor village scene,
I can’t think of a change of home more drastic
than when you moved here from across the sea.
The Empire State no longer pricks the heavens,
instead the heron’s flight takes up your sky.
You’ve swapped the mighty rushing of the Hudson
for waters of a much more orange dye.
No more the thousands pushing past in Times Square,
the endless car horns, billboards flashing signs.
A cow that’s fell in the canal is now
the most chaotic thing you’ll ever find.
But I think I can really understand
why you say Worsley is like an oasis:
You’ve had your fill of wading through the madness;
you’ve worked for peace and quiet, and you’ve made it.
To be honest, after yesterday, I would be lying if I said this didn’t feel like a bit of an anti-climax. But as I stand outside of Robert’s house, I take a moment to remind myself that yesterday’s responses were very unusual. Two of the most enthusiastic I’ve ever had, in fact. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it’s that not all interactions as a Door-to-Door Poet are the same. People respond to things in different ways. And besides, Robert has invited me in, he told me he really liked the poem and he wished me well. There’s absolutely nothing else you could ask for.
So I make my way over to the Bridgewater Weekender in Duke’s Drive. I get to the spot of the festival. There’s a big stage where a man is playing ambient piano jazz versions of The Stone Roses. There’s about 10 tents, selling everything from ice cream to burritos to hand-crafted clothes and crockery. I watch the men, women and children of all ages slowly gather, till there’s about a thousand.
I’m sitting in a little tent for the staff, having a cup of tea before my show when, suddenly, I spot Chris, who I wrote a poem for about ice skating along the canal in Barton. He’s here with his son, little Chris, and his Dad who is, hilariously, also called Chris. It’s 3 generations of Chris: Chris through the ages. And they’ve all come to listen to me read out the stuff I’ve written. Oldest Chris has brought a collection of his poems for me to look at.
“If you could tell me what you think, that would mean a lot to me.”
I get up to read the poems. Despite the lack of music, there’s about 4 or 5 children at the front who dance through the whole thing. Then, as I come off stage, I bump into Mark from Worsley.
“I’ve got to dash but I just wanted to say well done,” he says.
“If I’d have known you were here, I would have pointed you out when I did your poem.”
“I know, that’s why I didn’t tell you,” he says, smiling.
Then, as I walk back towards the performer’s tent, I bump into Steph, who I also wrote a poem for in Barton. The fact that so many of the people involved have come down to see me feels really special.
Me and Steph hang out for a few hours and take in the sights of the festival. She tells me that getting involved in this has made her want to start writing poetry again. When I have to leave, she comes with me, pushing her bike alongside until we get to Patricroft train station.
“I hate goodbyes,” she says. “It makes me feel like it’s the end.” It dawns on me that Steph was the first person I met here and she’s the last person I’m going to see.
“It’s probably a good way to end the story though,” I suggest. “With you riding off on your bike into the setting sun. Like something from Casablanca.”
“There’s a dead pigeon over there,” she replies, pointing behind me.
We agree to meet up if I’m ever in the neighbourhood. I tell Steph that if she needs anyone to read a poem over for her, I’d love to help. It’s moments like this that make me really pleased that I pushed through all those initial fears and worries and gave this a go. It’s one of the most incredible things I’ve ever had a chance to be a part of and I’m really gutted it’s over. I give Steph what is probably a very sweaty hug, then head into the underpass to catch my train.