Wednesday, April 30, 2008

the devil and the floral dance

This is a sample from a Cornish story I wrote, based on the age-old May celebrations in Helston on the Lizard. I much enjoyed writing it, as I could pour all my love of Cornwall and Cornish characters into it. I hoped it would be a story that everyone from 8 to 80 could enjoy; and indeed my most treasured fan letter is one from an 8 year old girl who told me she loved it (and drew for me many of the characters, to prove it).

Legend has it that the Flora began with a conflict between St.Michael and the Devil. The book is available from, and on May 7 I shall be reading and talking about it at Helston Library (see entry for April 18, 'Forthcoming Events').

They met early the next afternoon in Helston's main street. Both blinked in surprise. They had not met for thousands of years.

‘What are you doing here?’ said St Michael.

‘I'm on my holidays,’ said the Devil.

'Summer holidays?’

‘No. Winter break.’

The Devil was muffled up in a heavy black coat and Wellington boots, while St Michael wore sandals, blue jeans, and a white tee‑shirt. It was a typical spring day: one moment the sun drenched the grey, granite houses in bright light, the next, clouds plunged them in gloom. There were crowds of peo­ple out shopping, buying groceries for the next day, May 8th, Flora Day. Shopkeepers were busy hanging out flags and bunting. St Michael was holding the step‑ladder for the white‑coated chemist to fasten a Union Jack and the Cornish flag over his window filled with cough mixtures and hot water bottles. The chemist thanked him politely.

‘What were you buying?’ said St Michael to the Devil, nodding at the chemist's shop.

‘Beechams Powders,’ said the Devil.

‘Stomach trouble?’

‘Jet lag,’ said the Devil, and his face did look a little green. He shivered inside his coat. ‘Bitter weather,’ he complained. ‘I'm not used to the cold.’

‘Goin' have drop rain, are us?’ asked the chemist cheerfully, stepping down to the pavement and glancing up. St Michael knew that when a Cornishman asks you if there is going to be a drop of rain, it's ready to pelt down. Sure enough, huge drops started to fall, and got thicker by the moment. Shoppers vanished into the doorways. It was more like sleet than rain. ‘Come and have a cup of tea,’ St Michael invited, and took the Devil's arm to lead him at a trot to the nearest cafe.

Now, you may be rather surprised by all this, for two reasons. Angels don't have bodies ‑ at least not like ours ‑ and the Devil, after all, is a fallen angel. And why should St Michael and the Devil, who are deadly enemies, be chatting to each other in such a friendly way?

Well, the answers to both questions are quite simple. If you go on a foreign holiday, you like to live like the natives for a while, it's a part of the fun. You don't walk around in a raincoat eating fish and chips from a newspaper ‑ or at least you shouldn't! Both the Archangel and the Devil were on a sort of foreign holiday, and so they enjoyed putting on flesh and blood for a day or two. The Demon was quite enjoying himself really, in spite of feeling a bit sick and dizzy after his long flight; and cold, even in his thermal underwear, after the fires of Hell.

And they were friendly because ‑ well, they had once been close friends, before the Devil fell from Heaven in disgrace. In the shock of meeting again, after such a long time, the old feelings of friendliness had come to the fore...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

bliss was it in that dawn

In May 1997, on the day after a vast Labour Headquarters rentacrowd, cheering and waving Union Jacks, had 'spontaneously' gathered outside 10 Downing Street to greet the Blairs, we now know (thanks to Lord Levy's memoirs) what our Tony did. On his way to play tennis with Levy, he first glanced around to check no one was watching, then jumped up and down laughing and shrieking like a schoolboy: 'I've done it! I'm Prime Minister! I'm Prime Minister! I'm Prime Minister!' On the same day, almost certainly, John Prescott stuck his fingers down his throat to bring up a gargantuan meal so he could eat another one.

What a shower. And what idiots the people who voted for them.

'Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!'

spot the sow

Which is the sow in the above photos?
One is Ahmed Sow, Energy Minister in Mali, and former director of the EU aid section. He arranged a loan of £3 million to a company in which he owned a 20% share. The British official who blew the gaff on him has been sacked --of course-- by the EU.
The other is John Prescott, formerly Deputy Prime Minister of Great Britain, and as such only a dicky heartbeat away from having his pudgy finger on the nuclear button. Every evening he would vomit up his Big Macs and fries from sheer revulsion and shame at the fight-everyone, ban-everything policies of his government. He is also the only male in the UK exempt from the sexual harassment laws he helped to bring in.
So which is the sow? Answers to me on a postcard.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

mad men

Have been watching Mad Men, the glossy American series about corporate life in New York in 1960. The men wear suits, the women elegant dresses which look as if they have been sprayed over their girdles and bullet-bras that barely contain their voluptuous unanorexic figures. Both sexes spend a lot of time smoking and flirting in the office or out at bars. The women obviously don't have a political thought in their beautifully coiffeured heads.

It is, of course, a vision of absolute hell, and I can barely stand to watch it every Sunday evening.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I apologise for my error of yesterday, when I printed a photo purporting to be of Sweden's new cabinet. The photo shows, of course, Germany's new mostly-female cabinet, under prime minister Angela Merkel (centre front row), and I have now corrected the error.


I fell in love with Sara’s nape,
Between her short black hair and collar.
Tonguetied and ugly as an ape,
I fell in love with Sara’s nape,
Its coolness, whiteness, slender shape;
She never knew I was its scholar.
I fell in love with Sara’s nape,
Between her short black hair and collar.

(For a few weeks when I was 15 I was in a coed class, for
the only time in my education. Sara sat in front of me.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

germany's new cabinet mostly female

Germany's new mostly-female cabinet

Germany's prime minister, Angela Merkel, (centre front), today appointed a mostly-female cabinet. In his inner cabinet, shown here, are, middle row, far left, Birgit Nilsen; third from left, Helga Krull; next to her, women's rights minister Ursula Seyss-Inquart; third from right, finance minister Eva Braun; far right, Wanda Andersen; front row, left, foreign minister Ilsa Quisling; right, Gudrum Fleyhart.

forthcoming events

Wednesday 7th May 2008
The Devil and the Floral Dance - a reading by DM Thomas in Helston
Helston Library, Trengrouse Way Helston TR13 8AG
Internationally acclaimed Cornish writer, DM Thomas will be reading from his children's book which celebrates the Helston Flora. Come and find out more about this great Cornwall tradition, enjoy the story and poetry and, who knows, join in a rendition of the famous song.
Copies of the book will be on sale at a discount - or order, post free, here, quoting 'Floral Dance Reading'.
Free - open to all
Email: Telephone: 01872 322005

St Ives Literature Festival - A Pride of Publishers
Wednesday 14th May 2008
Fal Poets
A reading at St Ives Arts Club
DM Thomas, Victoria Field and Jane Tozer
Three of the fal poets will be reading from their various collections. DM Thomas' Dear Shadows celebrates a lost era of village life in Cornwall and won the Holyer an Gof Award for outstanding literary merit. His revised, The Devil and the Floral Dance, set at the Helston Flora combines poetry and prose. Victoria Field's first collection Olga's Dreams received warm reviews ('delicious' Poetry London) and her second Many Waters is based on a writing residency at Truro Cathedral. Jane Tozer's Knights of Love is a new translation of the 'lais' of Marie de France, the earliest named woman poet in the French language. Her lais are rollicking song stories in the tradition of the Canterbury Tales. The Times described them as 'faithful to the world of Marie, representing her tone of wistful admiration and earthy humour... intense, obsessive, sad, fey and movingly sexy.'.
fal books will be on sale at a discount
St Ives Arts Club, Westcott's quay St.Ives Cornwall TR26 2DY
For more information and booking, telephone Bob Devereux on 01736 795003

Thursday, April 17, 2008

'A' levels again

I was in a literature class. We were all about 16 or 17. Our teacher introduced the topic of First World War poetry, leading into W.B.Yeats. I'd been absent for a few days, and I realised the others had worked very hard in the meantime, as one by one they popped up from their desks to talk brilliantly about Yeats. I tried to get in, lifting my hand from my desk as a signal to the teacher, but always someone else got in first. The teacher was even looking at me, almost inviting me to contribute; but I would hesitate a split second and it was too late --some young genius would speak. I love Yeats and know quite a lot about him, but I was becoming intimidated. I thought, I seemed bright in my elementary school, because it had a working-cass intake, but these boys and girls have been to prep schools, and they're at least as bright as I.

Then I woke up properly, having half-woken an hour earlier and turned the radio on, and realised I was listening to Melvyn Bragg's wonderfully erudite Radio Four programme 'In Our Time', and this morning four scholars were discussing Yeats... They --overheard subconsciously-- were my alarmingly knowledgeable and articulate fellow students.

As I wrote a while back, it's very unfair to be dreaming of the anxieties of youth as well as those of age.

A memory from University High School, Melbourne, when I was 15. We were being introduced to serious Shakespeare --Macbeth. Our teacher asked for a volunteer to be Macbeth, and I wanted to do it. But I hesitated for a split second, and another boy put his hand up. I had to settle for Banquo. Fuck Banquo. If you want something badly, never hesitate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

my aussie clone

Don Thomas researching for his book
'Boomerangs and Balmaidens'
I am haunted by certain key choices in one's life, often depending on some chance event, which sends that life in a crucially different direction. In a parallel universe there is a Don Thomas who decided not to return to Britain with his parents in 1953, but stayed in Melbourne, living with his sister's in-laws. Here is a brief biography...

He studied English at Melbourne University, then taught at a high school. Married Sara Goldberg in 1960, and had two children, Jacob and Petroc. Published a slim book of verse in 1966, Cousin Jack (Dingo Press, Ballarat). Divorced in the same year, he later married Sheila Trencrom, of Cornish descent. They had one daughter, Demelza. In 1980 Thomas published a novel, The Blue Motel , which achieved considerable success in Australia. His second wife divorced him in 1983. The following year he moved in with fashion designer Audrey Goolagong. Thomas has always retained a keen interest in the Celtic countries. His scholarly study of the relationship between Celtic and Aborigine myths and culture, Boomerangs and Balmaidens (also published by Dingo Press) was well-received. He retired from his post as Deputy Head of Geelong Grammar School in 2000. Later that year he and his wife spent a six month vacation in Cornwall. They now live in Launceston, Tasmania. Thomas says, 'Living in a city with a Cornish name somehow keeps me spirituallly in touch with my place of birth. I often wonder how my life would have differed had I returned to Britain in '53. I have a clone in some parallel universe who did just that. I wish I could say to him, Goodonya, mate!'

Thursday, April 10, 2008

coach house workshop

We have one place left on my 'coach house workshop', May 23-26. Anyone interested in being helped to write creatively, in the inspiring atmosphere of Cornwall, email us for a brochure at

coming home to roost

Woke up from a dream this morning about eight; thought, 'I guess that meant my hens are coming home to roost...' Sleepily turned on the radio, to hear a man saying 'Our hens are coming home to roost.' He was talking about the economic situation.

In my dream two hens had come fluttering around my head, in bed. Not threateningly, but I felt the bedroom was not the right place for them. We (I and my then wife) used to have four hens. They were beautiful, proud, though messy, creatures. One was taken by a fox, others would fly into neighbouring gardens, or get completely lost. We were actually happy if they came home to roost at night. The old saying, meaning roughly 'what you sow, you reap', has a bad sense, perhaps because farmers are innately pessimistic. But our hens can come home to roost in both good and bad ways.

My dreams so often incorporate past epochs, past marriages, past jobs, past derelictions of duty. I'm constantly getting lost. I guess everyone does. I'm still worrying about whether I'll pass my 'A' levels --alongside anxiety about ageing, which seems very unfair. In this dream I was in Toronto, leading a writing workshop, but a student had to help me up a high step. Martin Amis,was there too, and he was interested in my memories of John Bayley, my old Oxford tutor, whose biography he was writing. I'd never met Amis, suspected I wouldn't like him or he me, but we got on quite well in my dream.

Memo to myself: must re-read Alice in Wonderland.

Since I'm positive he reads my blog: Hi, Martin! Nice meeting you!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

a night at the opera

Went to the opera tonight. Anna Bolena by Donizetti. Opera doesn't often come to Truro, but it was the ETO and they're good.

Now, I'm not familiar with Anna Bolena, and I deliberately chose not to look it up before hand, preferring to come to it freshly, as I did last year with the ETO's magnificant Jenufa. I'd drunk a bottle of red very quickly before the opera, so was in a pleasantly fuddled, drowsy state. The Italian lingo passed me by, and the English mini-translations flashed up were a distraction. Anyway, in opera it's all love, grief, remorse, despair, whoever is singing. The stage was dominated, in a physical sense, by a stout, plain, double-chinned lady, warbling on about love, grief, remorse, despair --and religion and salvation. I felt it was a pity they'd chosen such a stereotypical plain, matronly, religiose, lachrymose Catherine of Aragon. I waited for Anne Boleyn to appear; I believed she was the sultry, sexy, gypsyish young woman who haunted the wings and looked baleful. I kept wanting bloody Catherine to get off the stage. Donizetti was twisting history by giving her ex-lovers who appeared at regular intervals, but opera composers do that. I thought it was daring of Donizetti to hold Anne back for so long --an hour by this time. Foolishly daring, perhaps. Anne's first notes would have to be sensational. I waited for the stunning, hanging-back brunette to make her move, to be greeted by thunderous audience applause. I began to have slight doubts just before the interval. And at the interval Angela confirmed my growing suspicion that the stout, doublechinned lady was in reality Anna Bolena.

I've nothing against fat ladies, in fact I love them; I think they're usually a lot sexier than thin ladies. But this particular one was just bovine, it seemed to me --surrounded by beautiful girls in the superb ensemble. I'm sure Anne Boleyn wasn't bovine.

Anyway, my mistake gave us a good laugh. At the end, when the fat lady sang on and on, before getting her head removed, I still couldn't see her as Anne Boleyne. Catherine of Aragon. She was Catherine of Aragon. By the way, isn't it odd that they had those complicated names-- Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves, Mary Queen of Scots... I don't introduce myself as 'Don of Truro'.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

increasing cultural diversity

In the interest of diversity, cultural organisations seeking Arts Council grants are now to be required to state whether their employees are gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual or 'not known'. This is much-needed, as I have hardly ever seen a heterosexual actor, dancer or musician.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

'sexual harassment' arrests in Cornwall

Employee of Fung Yu Restaurant, Truro, being arrested today
for allegedly calling customer 'my sweetheart'.
In consequence of the new law making it a possible offence to call someone 'love' in the work place, police have made 84 arrests in the County of Cornwall. The arrested persons are accused of regularly addressing staff and customers by such terms as 'my sweetheart', 'my love', 'my handsome', and even 'my lover'. 'We have acted', said a spokesperson for the police, 'in response to massive complaints from the public. Such so-called endearments are unacceptably sexist, ageist, racist or homophobic, and cannot be tolerated in today's climate, when we are rightly concerned about sexual harassment. For a shopkeeper to call a complete stranger "my lover'' beggars belief, yet this happens all over Cornwall all the time.'