This narrative begins at Wetherspoons in City Station in Leeds, while I was waiting for the train and enjoying a quiet pint (‘Eden’ by the Elland Brewery, 4.2 per cent ABV) in an atmosphere of transience.
I had connected to the free wi-fi, and was checking Facebook to see if there were any messages, particularly any relevant to the forthcoming Grist reading. I could see a message from Matt O’Brien, the bean-pole whose county of origin I had got wrong in the blog about the launch in Huddersfield. I “sniffed” this short piece of text, and I smelt alcohol. I ignored this finding at the time, but it returned to me later.
I found my way from Bradford Forster Square station to The Beehive quite easily, because I work with two Bradfordians who had provided me with excellent directions. It turned out that the pub was called The New Beehive according to the sign on the building itself. It is on a busy road in a sleazy district of inner-city Bradford. As a venue, it promised to beat even Bar 1:22 in Huddersfield.
As soon as I walked through the door, I noticed that it had impressive original wooden panelling and open fires giving a faint odour of wood smoke. And plenty of real ale. The place seemed at first to be deserted, but I saw Gaia Holmes. This was a nice surprise because her name had not been on the running order sent to me by Michael Stewart. Michael arrived shortly afterwards, lugging a box of anthologies, video camera and tripod.
The reading was to take place in a function room at the back. Both readers and audience started to arrive, and a cosy and congenial atmosphere pervaded. I was chatting to Gaia and Michael. Greg White, a fellow contributor whom I had met first at the Huddersfield event, arrived.
I went to the bar, and the lady who was serving asked me if there was a member of our party called William Thirsk. I said that probably meant me: William Thirsk-Gaskill. She said she had had a phone call from one of my Open University colleagues, who had paid twenty pounds by debit card for my use in buying drinks. She sent her best wishes to me and Jane (who was at home). Very little in life surprises me, but this did. The only thing to do was to accept the gift in the spirit in which it was offered. In view of the difference in our incomes, it was particularly touching. I was drinking a well-hopped bitter called ‘Fiddlesticks’ (3.8 per cent ABV).
Matt O’Brien arrived with a young blonde woman who looked like a fellow student of his and whose name I did not catch. Matt was obviously drunk. Except for his height and linearity, which had not changed, he looked completely different from when I had last seen him. Last time, his hair had been neatly concealed under a knitted hat. This time, he was bare-headed and his black hair looked oily and unkempt. Under the brighter lights of the new venue, he looked pale – almost consumptive. He had shadows round his eyes. Before, he had been showing extensive, brightly-coloured tattoos on his forearms. This time, his arms were covered by the sleeves of a white bomber-jacket.
Michael had suggested that we read in alphabetical order of surname, and so I was third from last. Michael Stewart began by reading ‘3am Phone Call’ and ‘You’ve Sat On Your Phone Again’, the first two poems in the book, by Jacky Tarleton.
Tim Ellis read ‘The Musk of the Full Moon’.
Gaia Holmes read ‘Imported Goods’ and ‘Camomile Tea’.
Matt O’Brien read ‘How An Old Man Leaves His Life-long Wife’. He got through it, just. He did not attempt to read his other poem from the anthology, ‘A hermit with a parking permit’.
Matthew Stoppard read ‘Glass Bottom Boat’.
I read ‘Sweet Nothing’, ‘Dear Jared’, and ‘Throwing Mother In The Skip’.
Angela Varley read ‘The Day You Left’ and ‘Five Black Crows’ (the last two poems in the book).
Greg White read ‘Tumbler’.
There were various contributions from audience. We did not have a stage or a microphone, but people were very attentive and the atmosphere was good. I read ‘Walking in Scotland’, ‘New Styles’, and ‘Mr Tickle’.
I certainly hope to be going to more readings at The New Beehive Inn.