Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sphinx and The Poetry Business

I’ve finished writing four reviews of chapbooks for the excellent Sphinx magazine. I’ll let you know when the next issue is due.

The best of the chapbooks was 19th Century Blues by Patrick McGuinness, published by Smith/Doorstop, the imprint of the Huddersfield based Poetry Business, who also produce UK poetry magazine, The North. I’d thoroughly recommend buying 19th Century Blues. At £3, it’s a real bargain, and probably the best written poetry chapbook I’ve read all year.

In addition, you’d be doing The Poetry Business a favour, as Kirklees council has withdrawn their funding for the next three years because (in the words of a councillor) they are “now not working as effectively as other applicants to contribute to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the district.” (!)

But it seems that no literature organisation within this borough now gets a council grant. You can find out more here.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Les Fleurs du Mal

fleursdumal.org is an incredible and exhaustive site. It contains everything you’d want to read by Charles Baudelaire – both the original French and a variety of English translations for each poem. I’ve just found the site and have read a few poems. It’s definitely one to bookmark.

The site is great for reference. However, I prefer paper. I can’t read any more than a few poems at a time on a computer screen. I don't know what it is, but I find it hard to concentrate on poems online. Often, if I really like a poem I find on the Internet, I'll print it out to read it properly.

Can anyone help by pointing me to the best book collection of English translations of Baudelaire?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What Governs Your Writing?

What poem, or lines from a poem, governs ('informs' might be a better word) what you write?

What I mean is – if you were asked to quote from a poem (or from a piece of prose) to express what writing poetry means to you, or what you wanted to achieve by writing, what lines would you choose?

Here’s mine:

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, ‘You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.’

The man replied, ‘Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.’

And they said then, ‘But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.’

From The Man with the Blue Guitar, by Wallace Stevens.

Maybe post your lines on your own blog and let me know in the comments box. Or if you don’t have a blog, post them in the comments box direct. Of course, don’t post whole poems for copyright reasons.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What Matters?

Darlings, we’ll all be known for some detail,
some nick in the chiselled brow, but it won’t weigh much
in the scale’s careening pan. What others think
of us is the only thing that matters,
to us and to them. You are stuffing squash blossoms
with porcini mushrooms. I am somewhere else, alone as usual.

I must get back to my elegy.

- John Ashbery, from Novelty Love Trot in Where Shall I Wander (Carcanet, 2005)

The Poetry Environment

In discussion over an earlier post here on choosing poems for a manuscript to send to publishers, James Midgley wrote:

"In the end I suppose it's important to 'stay true to your feelings' (blech) -- but by now those feelings have been hugely tempered by the poetry environment anyway, so it shouldn't result in anything majorly off (in theory)."

Now that made me think (thanks, James)! I read a wide range of contemporary poetry and I know it influences my writing, but I would want to resist the whole idea of choosing poems for a manuscript according to any ‘poetry environment’. Now, perhaps my attitude is a delusion and, subconsciously, I can’t help doing so.

But I’ll suggest one thing. The contemporary poetry I read exerts an influence on me, that’s clear. But another (more important?) influence is the poetic tradition I choose to stand in, and that may stand at an angle to dominant trends in UK poetry. For me that tradition is partly the softer side of the New York School and partly European surrealism. Of course, these traditions find a degree of common ground further back in time, but my point is that these traditions inform my work in a stronger way than the latest collection by poet X, however good or popular it is and however much I might learn from it. The tradition is the foundation, the contemporary is decoration.

Of course, reading Michael Hamburger’s brilliant The Truth of Poetry has pulled me even further in this way of thinking than I had gone before, and it’s partly the reason I’ve rejected otherwise strong poems for my current draft manuscript. They don’t represent where I am at the moment, although it’s still possible I might get over it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Another HappenStance Scoop

I’ve just found out that my poem Hangover Hotel has been Highly Commended, taking 6th place, in the Poetry on the Lake Competition 2007, judged by John Hartley Williams. There were over three hundred entries.

Only the top four win a prize. It’s nice to get a commendation, but one of these days it would nice to win something! Can’t complain, I suppose…

Poetry Magazines and Book Manuscripts

One difficulty in getting a poetry manuscript together is the need to assess my own work, to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. One thing that makes me wonder about myself is the way I am consistently rejecting poems that I have previously published in magazines – not everything, but a fair number.

Often the poems I’ve written that I like best are those which magazine editors have rejected, often several times. In some cases, this could be because I have missed something, or because my sense of what makes a good poem is all wrong. Sometimes I read weak poems in magazines and wonder what possessed an editor to think they were any good. Then I wonder if there’s something lacking in me, if I can’t see quality when it hits me between the eyes.

On the other hand, I also believe that strong poems, rejected by magazines, still find their way into collections and find an appreciative audience in that context. That’s my hope anyway, and I hope am not deluding myself.

Monday, July 23, 2007

HappenStance Authors Scoop BBC Award

Good to see success from two of my fellow HappenStance authors in the BBC Wildlife Magazine poetry competition.

Matt Merritt got second place, and Gill McEvoy received a commendation.

Well done, folks. Next up, the Forward Prize!

Sunday, July 22, 2007


I started a MySpace site some time ago, but did nothing with it. Recently, I posted a couple of blog entries there and now even have a few ‘friends’. I might try to upload myself reading a few poems, but not today.

There’s not much there to occupy your time, but if any of you have a MySpace account and want to add me to your list of friends, then please go ahead. It will make a change from most of the requests so far, which have been from young women using their MySpace sites as a cover to refer people to rather naughtier places. I’m not sure what attracted them to me. Maybe they are closet poetry fans. Or maybe they are simply friends with everyone.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Jack Mapanje or Boris Johnson?

Well, who would you choose?

Ms Baroque was lamenting the lack of coverage given to the Forward Poetry Prize nominations by bookshops and newspapers and I replied with a few dimly formed ideas. But when I looked at the Bloodaxe site, particularly their speel on Jack Mapanje (whose book, Beasts of Nalunga, is one of the Best Collection nominees), I begin to get the picture.

From that, here’s what Bloodaxe report on the Jack Mapanje feature from The Times:

The main feature was dropped from the paper, but the full story from Dalya Alberge can be found on the on-line version of The Times.

And here’s what they report concerning the feature in The Guardian:

Due to extensive news coverage of four Russian diplomats being expelled, plus Boris Johnson’s decision to stand as Mayor of London, all coverage of the Forward Prizes was dropped from the paper. However, the piece by John Ezard can be found on Guardian Unlimited.

It’s all a question of priorities. A right-wing buffoon entering the race for Mayor of London appeared more important to these newspapers than the poetry of a former political prisoner and dissident. The Times and The Guardian can share the blame, but it’s good to know that we can also blame the pathetic Boris Johnson. Anyone who votes for him needs his/her head examined.

Publicity Opportunities

I have to admire Salt’s industry in making the most of a publicity opportunity. No sooner do they have three poets nominated for the Forward Prize than they create a blog dedicated to the books and to anything else even vaguely related to them.

Makes you wonder what the other publishing houses are doing. Bloodaxe and Carcanet both have a page on their websites featuring their nomination. Arc, astonishingly, have nothing at all. Maybe their website designer is on holiday, as I’m sure they must be delighted at their nomination. Random House/Cape don’t seem to have mentioned their two nominations either. Nor have Faber & Faber. Nor have Picador. Strange – but it shows how hard it is to get poetry in the public eye when even some of the nominated poetry publishers don’t seem bothered.

Back to Normal

A couple of days ago, I had to sign into my own blog and complete word verifications, even to make edits on my own posts. Apparently, Blogger robots had decided that this blog had characteristics comparable to a spam site! I had to click on a button requesting a human inspection to check that I wasn’t a spammer.

Within 24 hours, I received an email from Blogger acknowledging that Surroundings wasn’t spam, and I can now post normally again.

Who knows how these things happen?

And of course, Blogger Team, if you want to make Surroundings a "blog of note" or give me high-profile publicity following your human inspection, then I won't object.

Friday, July 20, 2007

More on Middle-Age

Last Saturday, I wrote fifteen guidelines for middle-aged poets.

Colin Will has responded with a poem which does all the things the guidelines said shouldn’t be done.

Colin says of it, “Literature it ain't, but I had fun writing it.” I have to say that I disagree. I think it’s pretty good.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

In Performance

I went to an event last night at the Forest Cafe in Edinburgh. American poet, Elizabeth Gold, who has recently moved to Edinburgh, was on the bill. I’d heard her read a few poems before and had been impressed by them. I enjoyed meeting up with her and her husband. I also met a very nice Bulgarian poet and writer (who writes in English), Kapka Kassabova, whose new collection, Geography for the Lost (looks really good!), has just been published by Bloodaxe, and who had come to cheer on Elizabeth.

The venue itself was OK – haphazardly-arranged candlelit tables, movies playing on a side-wall with the sound turned off, a bar selling home-made snacks, a strange mixture of smells: food, alcohol and sweat – it brought me back to my student days and the place was indeed full of students.

Other than Elizabeth’s set, the event itself was abysmal. In fact, it reminded me of how bad things can get. It was like the worst of performance poetry without any attempt at performance. The lowest point of the evening came when a young man announced he would read a story, which “wasn’t too long and wasn’t too short either.” It’s usually a mistake to draw attention to the length of a piece, particularly when it turns out to be fifty minutes long, particularly when it’s crap, particularly when you only have enough material for a two-minute vignette.

I could forgive the others – they got up on stage, read their poems for five minutes, and sat down. Fair enough. They had nothing to say, but at least they didn’t take long to say it. I’ve been there myself, perhaps sometimes I’m still there. The boring guitarist played for longer, but it was possible to talk quietly during his set, as he was amplified and easily audible over conversation. It was like having live mall music. Or perhaps traffic noise through an open window. But the story was excruciatingly bad.

Louise Doughty, says something along the lines of how the problem with most stories written by beginners is that nothing happens. Of course, the longer nothing happens, the worse it gets.

Elizabeth read well. It wasn’t the ideal venue for her, but her poems worked well and she even drew a good round of applause. She read her first ever published poem, about a killer spider, from a 1998 Notre Dame Review, which I confess I read on the page around the 35-minute mark of the aforementioned story. Maybe I missed the story’s high point!

I caught the last bus home, but a fight broke out at the bus stop, which involved three men and several women who were with the men. A quite beautiful Spanish woman and I stood there in astonishment as fists flew and bodies fell around us. We just had to remain motionless and hope that none of the participants would notice us and take a swing. Luckily the bus arrived, and we both got on in one piece. It was one of those nights…

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Forward Poetry Prize 2007 Shortlist

The shortlist for the UK Forward prize was announced yesterday. It’s an interesting list, partly due to the success of Salt, who have collectively more nominations than all the usual big publishing names.

I think of myself as a dedicated reader of poetry, but I’ve only read two of these collections. Firstly, Gift Songs, by John Burnside, a complex examination of meaning and place in a secular reality. It's an ambitious collection, and the writing is terrific in places, but it's not my favourite Burnside book (The Good Neighbour is my favourite). I got bored at times, although that might be more my fault than Burnside's. Secondly, there's The Harbour Beyond the Movie by Luke Kennard, which blends wit and surrealism to emerge as a vastly entertaining and uncategorisable read. You can read Luke’s reaction to the news at his MySpace site, and decide whether you want to kill him or not. I think I’d rather just read his book again.

Best collection prize (£10,000)

Domestic Violence by Eavan Boland (Carcanet)
Gift Songs by John Burnside (Jonathan Cape)
The Drowned Book by Sean O'Brien (Picador)
Birds with a Broken Wing by Adam Thorpe (Jonathan Cape)
The Harbour Beyond the Movie by Luke Kennard (Salt Publishing)
Beasts of Nalunga by Jack Mapanje (Bloodaxe)

Best first collection prize (£5,000)

Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues on Dimitri Shostakovich by Joanna Boulter (Arc Publications)
Galatea by Melanie Challenger (Salt Publishing)
Look We Have Coming to Dover! by Daljit Nagra (Faber and Faber)
Andraste's Hair by Eleanor Rees (Salt Publishing)

Best single poem prize (£1,000)

The Hut in Question by David Harsent (Poetry Review)
Thursday by Lorraine Mariner (The Rialto)
Dunt by Alice Oswald (Poetry London)
The Day I Knew I Wouldn't Live Forever by Carole Satyamurti (The Interpreter's House)
Goulash by Myra Schneider (The North)
The Birkdale Nightingale by Jean Sprackland (Poetry Review)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

from Angels Espresso to the Forest Café

I met Andrew Philip for lunch today in the Angels Espresso café on the Canongate. It was good to catch up with him and to exchange our current manuscripts. I’ve only had time to glance at the first three poems so far – good stuff!

Tomorrow evening (Wednesday 18th July), I plan to take in a poetry reading in the Forest Café, 3 Bristo Place, Edinburgh, from 8pm. Elizabeth Gold, an American poet I ran into at StAnza earlier this year (she had a poem selected for George Szirtes’s masterclass), is one of the readers. I don’t know the venue, but it’s described as having a “hippie vibe,” which could be either bad or good.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Poetry Manuscripts

I’ve been attempting to put together a manuscript of poems for an as yet mythical future collection. My first attempt to sort my poems out into ‘possibles’ and ‘rejects’ yielded 97 possibles (the rejects, including several poems I’ve published in magazines [euch!], numbered far more than that – these don’t include other poems that didn’t even make the rejects’ cut, and I haven’t selected any poems from my chapbook).

Since then, I’ve got it down to 59, but I’ll have to cut further. It’s quite hard when it gets to this stage. It’s all gut reaction. I cross out poems without thinking too hard about why. But I might be making all the wrong decisions.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Guidelines for Middle-Aged Poets

Well, I always like to give others the benefit of my experience...

1. Never write a poem about being middle-aged. No one will take you seriously.

2. Establish in people’s minds that you are three-quarters of the way down your poetic career path, even if you have no idea what, or where, that is.

3. You must allude to contemporary song lyrics at least four times per collection. And once per conversation. This doesn’t mean you actually have to listen to music.

4. Abstain from alcohol, but take every opportunity to mention how heavily you drank the night before.

5. No matter how old you become, your bio photo must have been taken when you were under thirty-five. Or use someone else’s photo.

6. If you are married, refer to your spouse as your ‘partner’ and talk uninhibitedly about your love life.

7. If you are unattached, sleep around. Or at least say you’re sleeping around. If you repeat anything, people will believe it. Cultivate an ambiguous sexuality.

8. Invent stories about how a poem got you laid. Never tell exactly the same story twice. Even better, write a poem about how a poem got you laid. Have it translated into a dozen languages.

9. Joke often about loose-fitting pullovers, bald patches/stretch-marks, and dieting. Never write poems on these subjects.

10. Cultivate two accents for podcasts and performances: ‘smart-arse cockney’ and ‘Hollywood movie-trailer’. But use only one per occasion.

11. If you catch yourself opening a supermarket magazine, you must purchase a violent video game and play it until you drive your fist through the computer screen.

12. Never use the word ‘crisis’ of yourself. But use it liberally to describe friends of a similar age, especially other poets.

13. When referring to your ‘contemporaries’, include only poets at least a decade younger than yourself.

14. Refer to the strong influence of da da and the early 20th century Russian avant-garde on your work. Shake your head at the mere mention of ‘concrete poetry’. Wear dark glasses in bars and cafés.

15. Never choose clothes or sport a hairstyle corresponding to the decade in which you felt happiest. Unless that time is now. Which it won’t be.

Friday, July 13, 2007

For Those Who Dislike Poetry

I'd be interested to know people's opinions on contemporary poetry, especially those of you who rarely read it. Why do so few people read poetry (as opposed to writing it, which is still a popular activity)? Is because it's too much effort? Or because you don't know what to read? Or has what you've read been too abstract or boring? Or, alternatively, are you put off because the contemporary poetry you've read is too dumbed-down, too crowd-pleasing?

I really aim to write poetry that attracts people who normally don't read it. I think poetry offers something that no other art form can offer. At its best, it takes a sideways, unconventional look at the world, and it speaks into the heart of human experience (even if a poem itself isn’t drawn from direct experience at all). At its best, poetry can’t be mistaken for prose, even if it seems ‘like prose’.

But equally, I'd like to write poems that people want to read without sacrificing complexity, as human life is complex. What I write isn't obscure, but I guess it wouldn't be considered simple either.

I was listening to the talented Luke Wright. He is reaching out to new audiences, but my style isn’t anything like his, and never could be. However, imaginative live readings in interesting venues might be one way to go. On the other hand, I read an article in PN Review recently, which argued strongly that live readings were all part of a poet-as-product ethos, and should have nothing to do with the art of poetry.

Is there some middle-ground between the commercial popularising of poetry and the wilful obscurity demanded of ‘high art’? Surely, like the best alternative rock/pop bands, there must be ways of gaining attention for one’s art without compromising its creative centre?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More on Greenfields

I mentioned Richard Price’s new collection, Greenfields, the other day. I’ve just noticed that Richard has started a blog as part of his MySpace site. The first two entries have been about poems from the collection.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Poetic Image

I’m on a no-buy-books month, out of necessity, as our family holiday has left us with not a lot to spare. In any case, I have four poetry chapbooks to review for Sphinx magazine - my verdict so far is that one is excellent, one not really my kind of thing but good nevertheless, one quite poor, and one which I’m not sure I’m up to reviewing (it might be good, it might be bad, I don’t know…)

But I at least managed to steal a glance at Richard Price’s new collection, Greenfields. I enjoyed a lot of his first full collection, Lucky Day, so I’m looking forward to reading this when I get round to buying it.

The book is split into sections, and a quote at the beginning of one section caught my eye:

“an image is a stop the mind makes between uncertainties” (Djuana Barnes)

I like that, as it reveals the endlessly questioning, always provisional yet potentially illuminating, nature of poetic truth.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Publishing: Your Stories

Yang-May Ooi, of Fusion View, is looking for your stories on your experiences of publishing a book, whether self-published or otherwise. The deadline is 31st July.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mad Hatters

The Mad Hatter’s Review, issue 8, is now up. There’s a section entitled Eclectic England, featuring poets, Patience Agbabi, David Constantine, and George Szirtes.

The publication is huge, almost too big (at least I feel that) for the Web, but there’s plenty of interesting stuff there.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Truth of Poetry

I read Michael Hamburger’s The Truth of Poetry over my summer holidays and it was a quite absorbing read. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in modern poetry, although it might be tough going for those new to poetry. For anyone else, I’d say it’s a must-read.

The book starts with Baudelaire and examines the development of modern poetry. There is a rough chronology, but Hamburger often interrupts the sequence – William Carlos Williams, Brecht, and Auden all feature in the chapter centring on Mallarmé, for example. And it’s more than just a history. Hamburger attempts to reveal the roots of issues and tensions that have enveloped poetry in the last century and shows how these have developed from generation to generation.

For instance, the idea that poetry embodies some kind of “truth” has not been denied by poets, even those “who have gone further than Baudelaire in the search for a syntax liberated from prose usage, for an imagery not subservient to argument, or for a diction determined more by acoustic values than by semantic exigencies. It is an error to assert that poetry since Baudelaire’s time has developed in only one of those directions.” And these three directions sum up many of the major tensions in modern poetry, tensions that still exist today.

What’s so good about this book? Firstly, there is the largely jargon-free fluidity of Hamburger’s prose, which made this an engaging read from start to finish.

Secondly, there’s the scope and internationalism of Hamburger’s research. It took him ten years to prepare and write the book – unsurprising when you consider he covers Baudelaire, Laforgue, Rimbaud, Yeats, Rilke, Pound, Eliot, Vallejo, Stevens, Williams, Lorca, Celan, Montale, Pessoa, Neruda, and a whole host of others. His knowledge is staggering.

Thirdly, there is Hamburger’s openness. On the perennial debates over “accessible” or “obscure” poetry, Hamburger considers Robert Frost’s statement that “the initial delight [on reading a poem] is the surprise of remembering something I didn’t know I knew.” But other poets recognised that even “the things which people don’t know about themselves, or about anything else, can be recognised when they appear in a poem.”

While some poets wrote rigidly from camps and movements, which lent themselves either to accessibility or obscurity, “the best poets of the inter-war period achieved a balance between personal and public utterance, between exploration and reference, between the poem’s freedom merely to ‘be’ and the inescapable tendency of words to convey or imply meaning.”

He later goes on to talk about the anti-poets, who rejected trope, metaphor and other aspects of “poetic” technique, as a reaction to what they saw as modernist excess, and created the plain, prosaic style we know so well today. Hamburger sees further than the camps, and recognises that the best poets don’t entrench themselves in positions that reject the best ideas of their “opponents.” Even if they do so in positions they take publicly, they use the resulting tensions not to exclude opposing ideas, but to use them and make them new. He writes – “Every modern poet worth reading contains an anti-poet, just as every modern anti-poet worth reading contains a Romantic-Symbolist poet. The wider and the more strongly charged the field of tension between them, the greater a poet’s potentialities of achievement and progression.”

And that leads me to the fourth thing – the recognition of the various tensions as they exist in one’s own work. When you know what you’re doing and can identify its roots and progression in the history of poetry, it may be easier to decide which directions you want to go down with your own writing.

Sadly, Michael Hamburger died on 7 June 2007, aged 83.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Lucifer in Starlight

I thought this poem, Lucifer at the Starlight, by Kim Addonizio, was terrific. I like the clever rhythms and the way it slips in and out of straight iambic pentameter (especially the foot short on "stumbling" at line 13), and those final sinister, mysterious and politically-charged images.

I didn’t know the George Meredith poem it’s “after”, but I managed to find it. It’s interesting in itself, and I’ve pasted it below. Interesting too, how KA has used and altered some of the imagery of the original poem.

Lucifer in Starlight
by George Meredith

On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
Above the rolling ball in cloud part screened,
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
Now his huge bulk o'er Afric's sands careened,
Now the black planet shadowed Arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
With memory of the old revolt from Awe,
He reached a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he looked, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Holiday Mail

I’ve been rummaging through mail that has arrived during my holiday. Most of it has gone straight to the bin. I had hoped for a little good poetry news, that some of my submissions had found a home in one magazine or another, but there’s nothing – only one rejection slip.

On the other hand, my copy of Orbis issue 140 arrived with two of my poems in it, and Magma issue 38 is here too. I read through the essays last night, and found that Roddy Lumsden, discussing new developments in poetry, gives a favourable mention to this blog (thanks, Roddy!). Eleanor Livingstone has a fine article on Scottish poetry. Magma editor, David Boll, has a very interesting piece on why poems get rejected (although it doesn’t really tell me why some of my better ones get rejected by magazines!). Mark Doty talks about the influence of Frank O’Hara on his work. Really good stuff. I’ll start on the poems this evening.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Back from the Algarve

I’m back from Southern Portugal and fourteen days of unbroken sunshine, but there won’t be much sense from me today. We had to get up at 5.30 this morning to catch our flight home an I’m now feeling exhausted.

But it was a great holiday – sun, beaches, nice people, good beer and food. My daughter loved it, which meant that my wife and I could relax. I read three books, two of which were really excellent – The Truth of Poetry by Michael Hamburger, and Coming to Terms by Harry Guest. I’ll say more about them in days to come. I also read Douglas Coupland’s novel, JPod, which was a good laugh and perfect for light holiday relief, although not his strongest novel. I didn’t pack Roy Fisher’s book in the end – too heavy. I know there’s lots of good stuff in it anyway, as I often pick it up and read sections from it. I read most of Annie Freud’s debut collection The Best Man That Ever Was on the plane home – definitely very interesting, but I’ll have to read it again when I’m a bit less brain-dead. It deserves a close read.

One weird moment yesterday. This three-year-old boy, Niall, was throwing inflatable rings around the pool area. His parents kept telling him to stop, but he carried on. Then he picked up a surfboard and threw it into the pool, and it narrowly missed my daughter’s head. His family continued to sit there and again, the mum said, “Don’t do that again.” He promptly did it again. His mum said, “I don’t want to see you do that again,” but she continued to sit on her sunbed, cigarette in mouth, and made no attempt to get her son to do as she had asked.

Niall then picked up an inflatable ring and threw it at my daughter. Then he went towards the surfboard again. I stood up, went over to Niall and told him to leave the surfboard alone. Brief pause. Then for the first time, members of his family actually got off their arses – but not to take action against Niall. No, instead they started shouting against me for daring to tell their child what to do. I replied that their efforts had been so woefully ineffective that I was forced into taking action, and would do so again if necessary. Well, they were furious. They glowered away, gave me black looks every time they passed by, even stuck their fingers up at me occasionally.

But my daughter had the last laugh when later in the afternoon, she crept up behind Niall and, without warning (and, I have to say, quite out of character, as she is a gentle wee soul), shoved him into the pool. It was hard not to laugh, but she apologised immediately and we told her she must never do anything like that again. It didn’t make that other family like us any the more though!