Friday, 27 May 2011


When Dean posted his kind comment on my previous blog – thanks for that, Dean - I was reminded once again of how lucky I was to have taught Creative Writing at the MMU.

At my graduation in 1997, John Singleton (RIP), then head of Writing, asked me to come back in the new academic year and take some classes for him. I remained a part-time member of the MMU Writing team for the following dozen years.

I was happily employed by Keele university too, on and off, but my heart is in the Manchester based institution where I spent my own student days.

The money the two unis paid me was well enough to pay the bills and the hours were such as to give me time for my own writing. Sorted.

As a student, my eyes had been opened to a million new ideas as well as confirming, to my great relief and vindication (and with all the necessary back up data), conclusions I had already drawn that were out of step with the people I had been surrounded by up until I took my place at that hallowed seat of learning.

‘My’ students were a constant, life-affirming inspiration to me. You simply cannot be around such bright, gifted, funny, profound, kindly, enthused younger people for any length of time without being immensely rewarded.

In all those years I can count on the fingers of two fingers, the students I’d rather not have met – that precise number of fingers being appropriate, you will agree.

The two exceptions were both equally talented and equally obnoxious people. I haven’t troubled to follow their subsequent careers, but no doubt, in the way things often are, they have done well for themselves.

Apart from those two fading shadows, I am immensely grateful to each one of the thousands of students I have had the good fortune to work with in all those years. Thank you each, severally and all.


On the music front: StringFing is playing the Etruria Canals Festival on Saturday 4th June between 12 noon and 5pm.

We are delighted to be sharing the gig with multi-instrumentalist and top performer Andy Casserley. Andy specialises in music hall songs. Right up my street, doods.

My old grandfather, William Theodore Palin, could knock out a music hall song or ten on the old Joanna.

He never had a music lesson in his entire life, my old Bampa. For him, rules were for fools in schools. He demonstrated that there are other kinds of music from the music schools of hard knocks whose pupils obey no clocks and follow the sounds of their own worlds and the rhythms of their own hearts.

Picture me old granddad in our best room, sat at my mum’s creaking Broadwood upright with the bad yellow grin, jacket off, waistcoat buttoned all the way; watch chain hung with rugby medals glinting in the light from the candles in the brass sconces on the mother-of pearl inlaid front board of the piano; silver armbands holding his shirt sleeves away from his pounding fingers: bass and chord/bass and chord/bass and chord/twiddly bit . . .

‘I’m going to sing a song for you this evening
I’ve been a lovely singer since me berf
And when you hear my lov-e-ly notes aringing
You’ll say I got the finest voice on erf

Before the king I once appeared and when I sang, he loudly cheered
He said to me, ‘You really are a marvel, of singing you have really got the knack’
And from his scarf he took a diamond tie pin
Smiled at me . . . and then he put it back.’

That’s a fragment of the first song I recall hearing him singing at the ol’ ivories. I don’t even know what the proper title of the song is, and what’s written above is all I can remember of the lyric. Maybe some of it’s misremembered. I can’t say for sure.

What I can say for sure is something that I will never ever misremember, and that is the sheer human joy of his performances; their cavalier rawness and audacity; his indomitable don’tletthebastardsgrindyoudown sense of humour. His whisky and tea breath. How I loved that man.

Hey if anyone does happen to know that song, please let me know.


StringFing is starting a new regular monthly gig at the Holy Inadequate, Etruria – 1st Sunday of each month – on 5th June.

StringFing will be playing its existing regular gig at The New Inn, Derby Street, Hanley, on the 16th of June

The Woodlanders are down in Chebsey on 25th June and the main band at Congleton’s Food and Drink Festival on the 26th June.

Alf-Alfa is out on 3rd June.

I have the pleasure of helping to judge the SG World Schools National Poetry Competition Finals later on in June, on a date to be arranged. I am preparing my short list from hundreds of entries – more than ever this year. A hard slog, but hugely interesting and entertaining.

Lynda and I have been invited to a couple of parties as well.

Festivals, pub gigs, barn dances, poetry competitions and parties, June is, as they say, busting out all over.

Have a good one.


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