In the same year that JFK was shot – a moment which awoke my mind to understand that things could go wrong – my cat died. He was an elderly Tom who had made his mark on the feline character of Stithians.
Two things happened.
I got a piece of paper and a red biro and I wrote my first poem, sitting on my bed leaning on a rickety card table – my first desk!
And….I saw myself doing it.
It is a most vivid and complicated memory, as I was both there, making something which was me and yet external to me, looking out through my eyes, making marks, searching for words, feeling the rhythm, making choices, and I was also outside of it all, looking at this act, watching a moment that has shaped my life.
A second moment occurred in one of the huts which was a classroom in the grounds of Poltisco. I had not clambered up the hill for lunch. There were a few of us there. I found myself behind the master’s desk making a speech – a political speech, drawing on arguments, incidents, ideas which I had gleaned from reading The Times, which my father got every day. I can’t recall the subject, but I recall two things – the sense of finding a mode in which I felt fulfilled, being carried on the flow of language, and the mental process of processing fact, intuition and argument into something to be said – the others listened. I don’t know where it came from, the instinct, the passion, the intuitive structure – neither do I know how I’m able to balance on a bike!
There were many other moments – hitting my first chord on my Tatra Classic guitar so that it rang – no rattles or dead strings – hearing Bessie Smith singing from a battered record player in a friend’s house in Falmouth – sitting in a hedge when Alderman Kimberley Foster opened Stithians Band Room with a banner which read ‘FREE KERNOW’ (I was 8 at the time) – meeting my Uncle Roy (Jennings), whom my granny treated like a lord because he’d played rugby against New Zealand –
Hearing my granny playing boogie-woogie piano in her best lounge in Adelaide Road, Redruth, and singing ‘Looking High, High, High’ by Ronnie Carroll – my first performance, followed by ‘All things Bright & Beautiful’ in Stithians Village Hall at Harvest Festival – making it up – nobody had showed me what to do, or how to make the noises, but it happened ok – finding the sound of the Brainiac 5 in a garage rehearsal at Trewellard by fitting words to a blues riff – ‘Marilyn, Marilyn, Marilyn Monroe/ Tried to be a big star/ Got drowned by the show’ – hundreds of gigs all over the place and one line which has never found its song – ‘Racing the moon under motorway bridges’!
My first meeting in Truro City Council chamber – Arnold Hodge, having condemned my standing up for whoever had written ‘Remember 1497’ on a wall by Truro Cathedral the night before Penhaligon’s funeral, so it would be seen my Mrs Thatcher, and asking why the Council did not invite that person to say to it what was on their mind – what did ‘Remember 1497’ mean? Arnold slapped me on the back and said: ‘You enjoy that, Boy?’ I looked up angrily. ‘Never take it outside the room!’ he said. We became firm friends. He taught me my trade.
Then, sitting in a room at the Ponsmere Hotel, Perranporth, listening to Catherine Rachel John, an historian, speaking about ‘symbols of identity’, buildings which personify a civic entity – soon after, immersion in the campaign to ‘Save Truro City Hall’ – speaking about the innate knowledge in Cornish minds that this is a nation – a civic and cultural entity – ‘Kernow Matters!’ she whispered, with tears in her eyes. I awoke!
Strands of pastoral care, creativity, political management, public responsibility, making policy, helping individuals, practicing social justice, chairing, campaigning – all plaiting and winding together, and I, slowly discovering that poems, drawing arguments out of my instinctive well, speaking them clearly, and that politics and civic life could all interact with each other, feed each other, and articulate a deep sense of identity, care and anxiety – it was all the poem! I gave up wearing ties!
So, on this website any visitor will find language used to try and find a way – ideas contributing towards solutions – a passion for the layers of stories, structures and memories that make up a town, a nation, a network of cultural alliances and contrasts, and a craft, worked at daily, for language and place making sense of existence – I have a strong sense of being precariously anchored by gravity on a lump of debris hurtling ever-outward from a primal explosion – BIG BANG – and being a person folded into being a son of Trurra, a citizen-poet, and the two senses being one and the same thing! We can only be who we are, and strive to be better at being simply that…………
PS I’m very grateful to Ian Hibberd, who has made this book for me to write in!