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Stephen Hobbs [Photo (c) Jonathan JT Taylor, cropped here at Lillabullero.]

Stephen Hobbs [Photo (c) Jonathan JT Taylor, cropped here at Lillabullero.]

So, without further ado, may I introduce to you: an act some of us have known for all these years.  He’s guaranteed to raise a smile – it’s performance poet, raconteur and apprentice Storyteller, Mr Stephen (that’s with a ‘ph’, thank you very much) Hobbs.  What we have here is a piece Steve performed at Stony Stratford’s Scribal Gathering earlier this month, the meditative quality of which particularly took my fancy.  It’s published here on Lillabullero now because I asked him if I could, looking for a bit of reflected glory.  I should, perhaps, apologise in advance to the city of Leicester, though in mitigation I will readily express with no little pleasure (even as an Arsenal supporter) my admiration for the exploits of ‘the Foxes’, their football team, Leicester City FC, this season – good luck to ’em.  Anyway, enough with the introductions:

Leicester, Richard III, and my Uncle Lionel
by Stephen Hobbs

My mother and I checked into the Travelodge at Leicester. Travelodge only has the one “L” so strictly speaking one should say Travel Odge or Trave Lodge.  Just another one of those little irritating things like the missing apostrophe on Waterstones.

It had been a long day.  Milton Keynes to Ramsgate in the morning for me.  Lunch.  Then Ramsgate to Leicester after lunch for the two of us.  A four-hour journey that had stretched to six.  My mother had been very talkative –  forgiveable given the circumstances – and at 85 years of age much of it repeated.  I was looking forward to an hour of silence before we sought out dinner.

I couldn’t fault the staff who were welcoming, friendly, and informative.  But it was still Leicester; which day or night has little charm.  This is the Midlands –  Raised by Wolves territory. The only funny British sitcom – in my opinion.  More laughs in one episode than 20 seasons of Mrs Brown’s Boys – in my opinion. To quote: “We’re not Northern bastards. We’re not Southern bastards. We’re Midlands bastards!”.

Is your visit business or pleasure?” the receptionist had asked. A difficult one that. A family funeral on the following day. My mum’s kid brother Li, my Uncle Lionel.  Business I guess?

The funeral was at 5pm the following day so we had a few hours to kill.  Not the right word? “The Richard III Tour is very good” they said.  They seemed proud.  One of their sons?  They found his bones, you recall,  underneath a council car park.

So, after breakfast we went to Leicester Cathedral to see Richard III’s tomb.  Leicester Cathedral isn’t a Premier or even a Championship cathedral.  Probably, an old third or even fourth division cathedral, compared with, say, a Liverpool Cathedral.  I’d say twenty Leicester’s would make one Liverpool.  I mean the Liverpool Anglican of course!  The sort of cathedral that makes you feel puny, insignificant, and forces you to your knees.  The complete opposite of the Liverpool Catholic Cathedral – they’ve got one to spare you know  – which, no offence, is a bit like an indoor athletics track with stained glass windows.

RIII coffinLeicester Cathedral saw off York Cathedral – the Man United or Chelsea of the cathedral world – to claim Richard III’s bones. And what they’ve done is quite quite brilliant.  And only 33 years old – not much of an innings.  The tomb is simple, dignified, and regal. Matched also by the Visitor Centre. Clever, understated use of technology: inevitably I guess, since all they had were his bones which they had to re-bury.

One of the most powerful exhibits is even the excavated grave in the concrete car park; with Richard III’s bones projected by hologram in to the pit. Incidentally, they found his bones on Day One of the excavations! Even on TimeTeam they got three days to do the business.

In another room you’re confronted with a fully armed ready-for-battle Richard the Third – the sabaton, the polyn, the brassart, the gauntlet, the gorget, the bassinet, and all the other piecesRIII skull. It’s impressive protection all right; but rather than present the armour in its authentic burnished steel they’ve had it painted in brilliant satin white. The King as Star Trooper!

They even have a replica MRI scanner with an audio post-mortem analysis of the King’s bones. “Death”, I’m quoting here, “… was almost certainly caused by massive trauma to the ossipital skull bone; consistent with a downward blow from a halberd struck from behind”. So much for medieval chivalry. “Several stab wounds” another quote, ” through the ribs into the chest cavity – probably post-mortem”. So, they stripped his armour off him, and then stabbed him for good measure.

By now it was 1pm – four hours until the funeral service, so we went in search of lunch. It was my mother who found the Spud-u-Like. Surely a forgotten relic from the 1980’s that existed only in Leicester? Or maybe, a canny but  oh-so-slightly ironic nod towards multicultural foodism from a smart Leicester entrepreneur?  It was heaving.

Apart from Richard the Third and the Spud-u-Like there isn’t much else to detain you in Leicester; other than the friendliness of the locals. I guess it’s like many of our work-a-day towns. Too busy manufacturing to worry about architecture. If Milton Keynes is warehousing and distribution; then Leicester is most definitely swarfega!

And so to our own funeral. My Uncle Lionel 79 years old –  a decent innings. We walk in to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (nice) and there’s a couple of hymns Abide with Me and Amazing Grace (almost certainly not his choice). I stand respectfully not singing. I don’t believe in “Him” and I stopped singing hymns once I understood the words. The music for “Personal Reflection on Lionel” is Kate Bush’s Man with a child in his eyes. Now, I am in tears. The Committal Music is the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin which calms us down. The Eulogy is a disappointing third party affair. This is one responsibility you really shouldn’t shuck off; even if it hurts like hell.

It spoke of his National Service in the RAF, his meeting and marrying Carol their two children and their divorce.  And Lionel’s subsequent interest in art and athletics.  Interest?  He was a genius with a paintbrush!  He spent his National Service in Cyprus painting big-breasted women on the fuselages of aircraft. He was an obsessive runner! And my Auntie Carol was like the sun!  When she held out her arms for a hug you ran!  And when she hugged, you stayed hugged! And My Auntie Carol even smelled different to all the other aunties. If they were Lemon Verbena or something from Yardleys; well, Auntie Carol was probably something called “Nights in White Satin”. But, Auntie Carol, as I had learned from my mother in that long car drive up from Ramsgate the previous day,  had lead my Uncle Lionel a merry dance. There was talk of “other men”, “abandoning her children”, and Lionel’s failed suicide attempt. None, of which I had known anything about.

RIII aerial viewWe leave the crematorium to Dire Straits Walk of Life which is jaunty and a cause for smiles. So: Richard the Third, David Bowie, Terry Wogan, Father Jack, George Martin and my Uncle Lionelrest in peace.

© Stephen Hobbs

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Scribal Dec 14At the December congregation of the Scribal Gathering, Mr Stephen (“that’s with a ph”) Hobbs delivered the Top of his Poetry Pops for 2014 oration, assisted nobly in this endeavour by Mr Philip “PowerPoint Presentation” Chippendale, Bard of this parish.  As the countdown proceeded in the manner of the BBC’s lamentable/late-lamented (delete as applicable) popular music charts rundown programme Top of the Pops, Mr Chippendale, on this occasion paper-free and unplugged, was required to provide acapella the catchy opening riff of popular beat combo Led Zeppelin’s early opus Whole lotta love, which Mr Hobbs had transcribed as “Da da da da dan, dan dan.”  As things developed, Mr Chippendale was joined in desultory fashion by some members of the audience.  Here, almost verbatim, is the text of the oration, though not, you may be pleased to see, in the Comic Sans font Mr Hobbs provided.  (Oh, and Close Encounters/Brief Encounter – anyone could do it.)  Lillabullero is honoured to be featured at No.13; other events of the evening will be mentioned in despatches at a later date.

Photo from Jonathan JT Taylor

Photo from Jonathan JT Taylor

Hello Poetry Pop Pickers!

This is the Top of My Poetry Pops for 2014.  Da da da da dan dan da.
[This refrain will now be taken for granted for the duration].

In at Number 20!

The 4th Bardic Trials in January 2014! Despite being match fit with 6 gigs in two previous weeks Stephen Hobbs was knocked out in the semi-final with the Bardic Crown going to Phil “Pyrophoric” Chippendale. Pyrophoric – an ancient word meaning “How the fuck did he DO that?”. [Stare at Phil]

At Number 19!

At An Evening with the Bard in June Bard Chippendale demonstrates his Bardic credentials by imitating an agitated methane molecule followed by a four-apple juggle in the courtyard. The audience agrees that this transcends poetry.

At Number 18!

Richard Frost’s final Scribal Gathering before flouncing off, despite Stephen Hobbs’ heartfelt poem imploring him not to go:

And give a nod to the Scribalman’s trick
Of putting the dick into Bardic!
But much much more is owed
To the Scribalman who sowed
The poetry seed that fell on stony ground
But flourished all around.
And whilst this metaphor
May not make us feel better for
The frost that kills these plants
We’d rather take our chance
And keep his capability to help us grow.
Richard Frost – please don’t go!

But Richard went…..so much for the power of poetry.

At Number 17!

Naomi Zara Wilkinson’s breathtaking Naked Zoom at “Stony Live!” A powerful confessional narrative of poetry and drama which deserved its sell-out audience.

At Number 16!

Danni Antagonist’s debut poetry collection Empty Threats sells out its first printing! Hooray! Danni orders a second printing with “additional swear words”! A great stocking filler at only £7.

At Number 15!

The first two printings of Steve Allen’s debut poetry collection Forbidden Fruit are now sold out; but it remains the only poetry book to have been sold at The Stables! What a trooper and still no television!

At Number 14!

John Cooper Clark at The Stables. The man who invented performance poetry back in the 80s. Even then he looked like a walking cadaver. I expected a greatest hits dawdle and went to pay my respects to the Mick Jagger of performance poetry. What I got was fire and brimstone from a man clearly at the height of his indignation. Wonderful, and life-affirming.

At Number 13!

Dave Quayle’s blog Lillabullero – tintinnabulation in a humanist key from a Kinks fan which is always the first go-see after a Scribal night or indeed any happening in Stony Town. We all say we don’t care what Mr Tintin thinks about our performance, but we do still like to take a peak and get a tad miffed when we are not even mentioned. You will have to forgive all the train and Kinks stuff (we do not watch Brief Encounter for the trains) but you will find gold and inspiration in them thar hills. [Aw shucks – ed]

At Number 12!

Stephen Hobbs finally wins a poetry slam. Having first ascertained that both Mark Niel and Richard Frost (infamous slammers) were out of the country. He even “forgot” to tell his poetry chum Dick Skellington in case he should take it from him. Three times he denied his conscience! But £30 AND a 30 min headliner slot in November? Come on?

At Number 11!

The Echo Chamber BBC Radio Four Sunday afternoon at 4.30pm. At last a poetry programme that isn’t poetry easy listening aka Poetry Please. Shame on you Roger McGough! Paul Farley’s new programme is all muscle and sinew. This is what poetry is really about. Glorious!

Da da da da dan, dan dan: At Number 10!

Peter Ball’s spoken word programme The naked word on the radio on http://radiomk.co.uk/. It’s ostensibly an extended interview with local arts folks but there’s a hint of Kirsty Young and Desert island Discs about our Peter. This is in addition to his writing, his poetry, his music (fiddle, melodion, keyboards, vocals) and his painting! There’s a lovely two hour chat with the late Dick Skellington which is worthy of your attention. [Here’s the Mixcloud link for Dick’s appearance: http://www.mixcloud.com/radiomk/the-word-02-sep-2014/ ; other show featuring some Scribal regulars can be found at http://www.mixcloud.com/radiomk/]

At Number 9!

The 30 minute headliner slot in November at Pure and Good and Right in Royal Leamington Spa – Slam Winner Stephen Hobbs. Let me repeat that: The 30 minute headliner slot in November at Pure and Good and Right in Royal Leamington Spa – Slam Winner Stephen Hobbs. Yes, I know that Slams are trivial and demeaning poetry events: but just occasionally, once in a Blue Moon, just for a change, (nobody gets hurt) it’s so nice to be asked if everything is all right and knowing that no one has a stopwatch on you. Stephen Hobbs is working on his rider.

At Number 8!

Being the Value Added Poet at Coco Comedy (twice)! It’s a neat trick of the AntiPoet to stage comedy nights in Croxley Heath for a fiver where you also get a free Value Added Poet whether you wanted one or not. What poet could resist? To add insult to injury poets are then paid a tenner – half what the comedians get.

At Number 7!

Memories of Dick Skellington who died in September. He was also knocked out of the Bardic Trials in the semi-final along with Stephen Hobbs. He called us the Nearly Bards. He curated a performance of First World War poetry, which after his death had 4 performances of varying length throughout Milton Keynes. Back in the 1970’s Dick spent a night in prison for throwing a tomato at the Minister for Education, one Margaret Thatcher. He missed! Dick Skellington – a true friend of Scribal but a lousy tomato thrower.

At Number 6!

The people who somehow find their way to Scribal and then discover their inner poet. The scribbled scraps of paper, the moleskin notebooks, the printed sheets, the smartphones and the iPads. It may have been a dare, a bet, or even half-acknowledged therapy. It can’t have been for the lollipop! Long may this curious process continue.

At Number 5!

Poeterry guest comperes Scribal. Let me repeat that: Poeterry guest comperes Scribal. POETERRY GUEST COMPERES SCRIBAL. Whilst his poetry carers despair; Poeterry demonstrates that rules and conventions are for mere mortals, and that the true spirit of poetry will not be constrained. Terry, we love you! Me done!

At Number 4!

Richard Frost sneaks back to Scribal Gathering after his “hiatus”. It’s a partial open mic-er return in October, followed by the Full Monty compere thingy in November. It’s a dream evening. Frost gets his mojo back and all is well with the world.

At Number 3!

Not strictly poetry but any performance from Terrie Howey (aka Red Phoenix). Who can forget her bloody porridge, her Death scrumping pears, or her acorn up the anus actions. Her Crown of Feathers & Fins was the great under-rated event of “Stony Live!” And she directed and shaped Naomi’s Naked Zoom. A truly magical weaver of words and emotions. At last we have a true artist living in the Frost/Phoenix household. Terrie’s even got a Churchill medal; and surely due a second one for sharing a hearth and home with ex-Bard Frost!

At Number 2!

Any AntiPoet gig. The Chinese have a saying: Today is the best day for business. And so it is with the AntiPoet. It’s always “Yes” – worry about the actual gig later on. It’s always 100% and it’s always as if it’s the very first time or the very last time they’re doing that material. They never cruise or just go through the motions. Watching the AntiPoet has taught me that if you don’t love and cherish your own material, then why should anyone else? Faced with a poetry dilemma I do ask myself “What would the AntiPoet do?” This year it’ll be over 250 AntiPoet gigs and that’s in a rest-from-Edinburgh year! So to the Antipoet I say thank you Ian, Paul, and Donna. Mwwaa mwwaa.

Da da da da dun, dun dun
At Number 1! The Top of My Poetry Pops for 2014 is ……

Scribal Gathering! In February next year Scribal will celebrate its 5th anniversary and its 50th gig! It is a curious beast and for its continuing survival we must thank Richard Frost and Jonathan Taylor with, of course, special thanks to their respective carers Terrie and Jill. Scribal has come through that difficult fifth year; and I would like to acknowledge the quiet, unassuming, but vital contribution of Jonathan Taylor. Would Jonathan and Richard please step forward to receive “The Top of My Poetry Pops” award for 2014. [Present giant lollipops] Thank you.

H&C2

And step forward they did.  And those lollipops were enormous.  And so say all of us.  Normal service will be resumed shortly.

 

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