Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Schlepp and slap

I foolishly agreed to chair a poetry event. I agreed to do this because an old friend asked me to, and not because I know anything about poetry. The old friend is one of those persuasive enthusiasts who say things like "Really, you'll be great". Deep down, you know they are thinking not so much of your "greatness" but of your "convenience" and the fact that if you say No, they'll have to spend a week finding someone else to sucker. So I said Yes but in reality, I get far too nervous for these events ever to be a good idea.

Worse - when I arrived at the railway station, I realised I'd left the house without my overnight bag with all my make-up. I'm 44 - standing on stage without my make-up infront of 200 people was not a goer. Instead of going straight to the venue as planned then, I had to schlepp into the centre of London for emergency slap. I tried getting a professional to "do" me (possibly I would have been better staying in King's Cross for that) but it turned out it was too close to going-home time. Instead, a charming girl at Space NK in New Bond Street waved me towards their make-up displays and said that I was welcome to use what I wanted. I just resisted stripping to my bra and knickers and getting the curlers out. I settled instead for ambling among the products transforming myself (or at least covering up the eyebags and trying those eyeshadow colours you'd never buy in real life.) I considered myself morally obliged to buy a few bits and pieces though I'm supposed to be on a credit crunch budget and there is no expenditure column in my Excel spreadsheet for "General Incompetence". I'll file them under "Groceries."

My second problem was that I now looked OK but smelled bad. All the burrowing into and out of rush-hour tubes in magic knickers and a Barbour Jacket had left me a sweaty mess. I had to buy two different types of deodorant, one for me and a posh Channel jobbie to spray all over my cardigan because I had to sit really close to the poets on the stage and I didn't want them thinking bloggers were smelly. (The deodorants are going under "Emergency Personal Hygiene".)

The idea was I gave a ten-minute introduction and then welcomed each of the Big Name poets. Two people (I know because they introduced themselves to me afterwards)- three if you count my friend, four is you count his partner and five if you count his mother, knew who the hell I was. The audience was not interested in hearing my witticisms, and they were particularly uninterested in hearing my announcements on "feedback forms" and how to book tickets online for the next event about "Poetry and Mental Health."

They wanted the red meat of the event - they wanted the poets. They loved the poets, they laughed heartily at all their jokes, bought their books and waited attentively for them to be signed. Noone asked me to sign a book afterwards. At least I got to stand at the bar looking as if I just happened to be there, rather than sit behind a table being ignored. (And Thank God for the nice couple with the holiday cottage in Northumberland who talked to me.) It was one of those character-building experiences - I've written one book, one of the poets the brilliant Sophie Hannah has written seven novels, two children's books and her latest poetry was nominated for some massive prize. She's 37. Another of the poets Kit Wright has written 25 books. Jackie Kay may be the next Poet Laureate and has an MBE. Wendy Cope is a legend and Paul Farley's use of words could have me writhing on the floor, shrieking and possessed by jealous demons. My name is the Wife in the North and I blog. It doesn't even rhyme.