The Curse of the Green Pouffe

The Curse of the Green Pouffe

Strung from lamp post to lamp post, the multicoloured fairy lights wiggled, jiggled and jumped in the wind. An angry sea scratched at the pebble beach. Flecks of sand stung cold raw cheeks. It was dusk.
The world seemed obsolete, nullified by the obviousness of the season. Decay, frost-shredded painted gaiety and cartoon characters diminished by the elements, painted on shuttered ice cream shacks.
‘It’s heaving down here in the summer’, I tell him.
‘How far is it to your flat?’
‘Just a road away. I thought we’d make a detour, so you could see, the, erm . . .’.
We walk huddled hands in coat pockets.
‘You look like your profile picture’.
‘So do you’.
I like the way that the wind ruffles his hair. His cheekbones are much more pronounced than I thought they would be.
‘Wild’, I whisper, meaning the weather.
And he’s slightly taller than me.
There are lights on the horizon out at sea, ships sheltering in the bay, and they twinkle and pulse just like stars, and if it weren’t so cold then maybe I could create my own constellations.
‘I’m cold’, he points out.
And the multicoloured fairy lights throw down a glow which gives us several overlapping shadows, our two forms merged and combined like a pack of cards being shuffled. The iron legs of the old pier stride in to the angry sea like a Victorian lady holding up her petticoats,
‘Really cold’, he says.
‘When we get to my flat’, I tell him, ‘you’ll be warm enough’.

‘What’s that?’, he said, pointing at the pouffe.
‘It’s a pouffe’, I replied.
He walks around the living room, warily, looking at it from several angles.
‘What does it do?’
‘You put your legs on it when you’re sitting on the sofa’.
‘It’s green’.
‘Yewwww . . .’.
‘Shall we just sit down and, er, warm up and . .’.
‘With that thing, there?’
I sit down. He lingers for a bit, and then he sits down, too. We look at each other and we smile.
‘I really liked your profile’, I tell him. ‘We’ve got a lot in common, haven’t we? It was great to chat online, but I’m so glad we’ve met’.
‘Seriously’, he says, ‘it’s called a pouffe?’
‘Yes . .’.
He looks at it for several seconds.
‘I can put it out on the landing if you like, if you’ve got a . . . Phobia’.
‘It’s still been in here, though’.
‘Put it out if your mind’.
He smiles.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to’.
And then neither of us says anything for a while. I can hear the clock ticking on the mantelpiece.
‘A green pouffe . . .’.
He sighs, leans back in his chair.
‘I was in the jungle’, he whispers. ‘They said I was green. Green meant new, apparently. But I was more likely green because I just felt so unwell. The food, you see . . . And everything in the jungle was green, too. Have you ever really looked at the colour green? There are so many varieties. Green leaves, moss, bark, more leaves, green everywhere. And I felt so bad, I really did feel ill.’
‘That’s a shame. Let’s snuggle . . .’.
‘They reckon I had some sort of disease, brought about by flies. Mosquitoes, probably. They do things to the mind, and affect the way that we see the world. You can never tell how it’s going to go. But with me, it was the effect of everything. The greenery. The predominance of the colour green, just kind of crowded in on me. Made me lose my senses, in a way’.
‘Jeez. So, let’s fool around a bit, you and me. .’
‘And the greenery, it did things to me. I became obsessed. We were there to film a documentary, you see. About slugs, and I was the only newbie there, the only green member of the team. And as I say, I was throwing up the whole time . . ‘.
‘You never mentioned the throwing up.’
I try to put my arm around his shoulders, but he stands up and looks out the window.
‘Sure! A never ending spume of it. I was having visions, it was like some kind of hideous trance that the jungle had put my under. So they flew me home. And the film company, they paid to send me out and recuperate in the countryside. But the countryside, oh, have you ever been to the countryside?’
‘Every now and then. Say, aren’t you hot wearing that big jumper? And those . . Jeans?’
‘There was greenery everywhere. Greenery and scenery. And the scenery was mostly green. There were fields and trees and the fields and trees were green. Especially the evergreens. The greenest evergreens I had ever seen. And there was moss and dappled sun and rhododendrons. And there were villages and villages greens. And the village greens were green. And everyone out there eats their greens. And also some of the tractors were green.’
‘Fascinating. Say, has anyone ever said what nice lips you have? Very kissable . .’.
‘So then I came back to the city . .’.
(‘Here we go . .’).
‘ . . And there was lots of green here, too. The Starbucks logo is mostly green. And so is the fungus in the bus station. And my friend Pete’s car is green. And so is the tie I was wearing yesterday. And the traffic lights are occasionally green. Red, mostly, and amber, and red and amber, but occasionally green. And salt and vinegar crisp packets. Again, green. And the District Line is green. And it passes through Turnham Green. And even though the neon signs are multicoloured, you could probably turn ’em green. Green. Everything is green.’
‘Yes, it is somewhat ubiquitous’.
‘And it does things to me. All this green. It really does affect me very badly. I can’t stand it. I get flashbacks. Green flashbacks. You’ve got to understand’.
I laid my hand on his leg and made a mental note not to include broccoli with dinner.
‘I’ll move the pouffe’, I whisper. ‘Take it away from here, if that makes you feel any better. And then I’ll start on the dinner’.
He smiles.
‘Thank you ‘, he replies. ‘I’m sorry. But it really is giving me the willies’.
I get up and I move the pouffe outside where he can’t see if, and then I come and rejoin him on the sofa.
‘Oh my god’, he says. ‘Is that footstool over there beige? Oh no! I was in the desert, you see, surrounded by miles and miles of beige sand, when I started to feel very ill . . .’.
I let out a deep sigh, lean back on the sofa, and I start peeling an orange.

An Interview with Becky Nuttall

Becky Nuttall is a staunch supporter of the arts scene in Torbay. A painter whose work explores themes of religious iconography, relationships and memory, she’s also a poet whose work looks at similar themes. Her first collection, Nick’s Gift, has just been published. Becky lives in Brixham and organises the Stanza Extravaganza poetry nights at the Artizan Gallery in Torquay. She is also a member of various local cultural boards and committees and as such works tirelessly to promote local art.

It is a pleasure to know her and to listen to her poetry on a regular basis. Becky has often involved local poets in some of the events and exhibitions that she has curated at places such as Torquay Library, Torbay Hospital, and the Artizan Gallery.

I was glad that she met me ask her a few questions.

Hi Becky. How did you get in to writing poetry? Has it been something you’ve always done?

My dad was a playwright. He had his first play broadcast on television not long after I was born in the late Fifties. It starred Dame Flora Robson as Edith Cavell and its success enabled him to get an agent and become a professional writer. He worked from home. His studio at that time was downstairs and we could hear him tapping on the typewriter. It was his job and we absorbed it and its rules . I had access to an endless supply of paper. In those days everything was in duplicate and I had the thin paper for the carbon copy. I was my father’s child, I instinctively understood the importance of his work. He was a pioneer of television screenwriting in the Sixties. He was also a film screen writer and novelist. I wrote poetry and drew pictures constantly. I didn’t know any other child that was writing like I did, none of my local friends did. It was all solitary. Dad and some of his friends would read it and encourage me.

You came from a very artistic family. What kind of environment, artistically, did you grow up in?

My parents friends were artists and writers. Dad went to what is now The Royal West Academy in Bristol and came to Brixham after he married my mum, Jenny. They founded Milton Head Pottery in 1950 and sold it in 1959. Their friends were an enormous influence on me. They compounded my belief, that the creative life was hard and a mystery. However it is a vocation. My parents didn’t have much money when we were young children but the house was full of art by dad and the people we knew. My dad had links with Dartington because he was a founder member of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen with Marianne de Trey.

You are also a fantastic painter who uses lots of religious iconography, yet you’re not a religious person. How did this come about?

At nine years old I said I was going to go to art school. My parents took it seriously and that’s what I did when I left school. However I had a very traditional education from seven years old. We were taught the classics. Dickens was the author read out to us in class. We were taught the Greek myths and Roman culture, Shakespeare and Chaucer. It was very dry and closed. No discussion of modern social or world context. I loved it though. The problem was it was a convent. We stood out from other students because of our background, we were Church of England and I was seen as disrespectful for questioning the oddness of a religious life. I was scruffy because I wore my two older sisters’ hand down school uniform. I went on the bus to school from seven years old, I was bullied to and from school including by the bus conductors. I have no idea why my parents thought it was a good idea to send me there, I hated it. The alternative must have been worse. However religious art is the foundation for what follows in art history. I plunder it gleefully. It’s revenge for the emotional abuse I received from some particular nuns and Catholic teachers.

Your poetry is very autobiographical. What are your other influences?

All work is autobiographical and all art is a self-portrait – it’s just the different means we use to cover up or expose it.
As well as writing poetry from about seven years old, I starting reading it too, we were taught poetry in school and how to write it. My dad wrote poetry and my mum’s father wrote poetry in the Second World War. Rupert the Bear stories rhymed. There are obvious influences like Edward Lear, Hilaire Belloc, Christina Rossetti. Then I asked for Thom Gunn and Crow by Ted Hughes, for my 13th birthday. I made a leap, probably influenced by stuff lying around at home and some seriously good television programmes in the Sixties. I had The Poets Manual and Rhyming Dictionary for Christmas ( not a success). I wrote and drew equally, one influencing the other. I loved pop and rock music, for a while lyrics were my main influence. At art school , and for my degree, I studied Modernist art and writing and the work of Dada, the Surrealist artists and writers. I loved Gertrude Stein. I read Huysman’s Against Nature. I absorbed it all. What society saw as a counter culture seemed perfectly acceptable and natural to me. I’d given up children’s books at about eleven and raided my parent’s bookshelves. We weren’t censored.

You are a very stanch supporter of the local artistic scene. How would you describe the state of art and culture in Torbay at the moment?

I support the local art heritage because of my dad and his connection to Torbay. I wanted to honour our own heritage. Although growing up in such creative privilege was influential, it was a period of time that passed and became forgotten. It wasn’t idyllic growing up with an artist, it was messy and dysfunctional and I moved on and beyond. Gradually I came to understand the context of mid twentieth century culture and that my family had lived it. There is a move to recognise Torbay’s place in this and I wanted to help. It happened that the community, in Torbay and the South West, I first saw doing the most for the arts when I ventured out again was, and still is, poets. It was the kindness of poets that encouraged me to support the arts in any way I can. Contemporary art suffers because it is led by money and gate kept with value judgements. Torbay is slowly, I hope, starting to break this cycle by bringing back into the community.

How did it feel to read or perform for the first time?

I first read and performed poetry when I was at junior school, it was mandatory to stand on a stage and sight read. I think the school thought it was character building to make me perform as I had a lisp, a problem with Rs, a gap in my front teeth, naturally scruffy and a mild stammer. They under estimated how much I was a show off, entitled and a contrary pain in the neck so I loved it. I performed my own poetry at art school at student events. I was mentored by the creative writing tutor so the showing off was moderated. The next time I performed was in 2016 after sneaking in the back of poetry performances for a while. It was exhilarating and addictive, bouncing off the talent in the room.

Who are your favourite poets or artists?

I thinks is easier to come to my house and look at my bookshelves…

What is your process for writing a new poem?

Research and more research. I’m driven by the academic and art in equal measure. I treat every poem and every picture as a small thesis.
For instance, the poem ‘Spaceflight’ is essentially about the moon
I find the idea, most of mine are rooted in my past, a memorable occasion, a memorable person.
The influence of recent visits, The Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Spellbound at the Ashmolean, Certaine Wytches at The Devon Guild of Craftsmen; another poem I’d written, Nick’s Gift.
Remembering fleeting friendships in gloomy bus stations. The isolation if you were different
Text my daughter about her thoughts on the themes as she visited Boscastle with me. Connect it subliminally to Robert, who asked me to perform with him.
Research symbols attached to the objects in the poem, cultural and religious influence on people, objects and places drafted in the poem.
Research the language and roots of words.
Print off all the research and collate it.
Type the beginning, print it and hand write on it mind maps, lists of a chronology of events, the message, the character in the poem who carries the message, the sadness, the universal at the core of the poem over it. Compose and type it.
Listen to rock music, David Bowie, research childhood stories on the theme of the moon and witches. Turn it on its head, change the title to change the perspective, music. Compose and type it. Edit and edit, read it out loud, change the punctuation, change the page format for reading.
Proof read it

How would you describe your book, Nick’s Gift?

I grew up as a teenager in the Seventies. Between 14 and 16 years old I absorbed everything I could out of the sight of my family. I was against the patriarchal authority and society that said what was acceptable for teenagers. Mostly it was wonderful, sometimes it was horrible. The stars aligned though and here I am. Nick’s Gift is mostly about those influences, now moderated by the love of good people.

What does the future hold for the poet and artist Becky Nuttall?

After my twenties I still thought my achievements had be validated by a third party, that acceptance by a ‘better’ person was a high achievement, that I had to be shown, repeat, copy. The negative experiences far outweighed anything positive, I didn’t respect the ones I chose to teach me. I had grown up with better artists and tutors whose influence could sustain me and I was more than capable of finding out the rest by osmosis. I had to get on with it, stop procrastinating and thinking there was some formula for success held by a snake-oil salesman, some power/status merry go round; find my own voice.
Now I’m much older I still don’t need validation. If you like it, great. If you don’t, I don’t care and I move on. I develop my craft on my own, like I did when I wrote poetry as a child. I’ll carry on because it’s in my genes. It’s my journey and my heritage I see reflected back and there’s some way to go yet.

You can find out more about a Becky and her work, and order her book Nick’s Gift, here

Ant – A solemn investigation 

It has been apparent for some time that a solemn investigation were needed into the effects, physical and psychological, of an ant crawling on someone’s hat. Seeing it as upon myself, (the theme, not the ant), I set out, in a somewhat grave manner, and yet bravely, into such an investigation. 
The manner this investigation took soon revealed itself to be poetical in nature, and within a couple of hours I had completed a poem based on the theme of having an ant crawl on someone’s hat. Yet this did not fully satisfy me, and a further poem was written.
At this time, I was bitten by the bug, (again, not the ant), and more poems began to arrive. The theme of an ant on a persons hat soon took over my life and all of my creative output, until such a time arrived that I could think of little else. Indeed, the poems began to resemble a Groundhog Day syndrome, the same repeated themes, the same story with different outcomes, different languages and tones, until within a month I had thirty such poems.
The good people at Mardy Shark publishing soon recognised their worth and a pamphlet was soon produced, titled, simply, Ant.
Ant stands as the zenith of my creativity, a full flow measure of poetic and literary sensibility, all inspired by the horror and the bizarre situation of having an ant crawl on ones hat.
You can download the Kindle version of Ant here
Or you can send off for the physical version here

The Most Significant Full Stop. (Part Eleven).

Yesterday I extrapolated a full stop from a text of writing, and then using screenshots, managed to magnify it to such an extent that it took up nearly the whole screen.

In doing so I was imbuing the full stop with far more significance than it might otherwise have. The next step was to print off the full stop on to some A4 paper, and affix it to an ordinary wall on the back of a shop, down an alleyway, in Paignton, Devon.

The full stop was certainly striking and again this imbued it with far more significance than it should have had. After all, this was just an ordinary full stop taken from some text, typed with no idea that it would be such a statement of intent, typed merely to aid the comprehension of the text.
Kafka’s father said that he was ‘morbidly preoccupied with the insignificant’ and I believe I understand what Otto Kafka was alluding to in the sudden elevation of this full stop.
The next part of the project was to reassign the full stop with its original intent, that of aiding in the comprehension of text. By taking photographs of the full stop as it hung on the back of a shop in an alleyway in Paignton, I was able to stand further away and keep on taking photographs, until the full stop was just a dot again.

Using poster making software, I coloured in the photograph with the exception of the full stop.

 I then added the full stop back into some random text, where it once again functions as a full stop, and not as a statement of insignificance. Can you spot it?