Ian Clayton column: Another year nearly done

featherstone gala
featherstone gala

I have felt December in my bones this week and it’s made me go running to look through my diary to see what I’ve done.

I took my dog John to the vet for his annual booster in the first week of January as I usually do. He was 13 this time, which I guess makes him an old man in his 90s by our age.

Apart from a slight bit of arthritis and whiskers as grey as mine, the old lad is bearing up well. We had a bit of a scare around bonfire night when he was frightened by one of those rockets that bang ten times in mid air. He ran off to the fields and stopped out all night, I suspect under a hedgerow. I was looking for him in a bit of a panic but he found me all right the next morning.

In February I went to work at Leeds University. I run a creative writing course there and I met some lovely talented young writers. I love doing the writing workshops, it’s a real two-way process, I show people how I go about writing and I always come away with loads of new ideas for my own work.

I started work on a book at Castleford Community Learning Centre in the spring. The learning centre started out as a soup kitchen during the miners’ strike and now 30 years on they offer all sorts of courses to people who want to learn. The book provisionally titled “Striking Back - A celebration of learning since the miners’ strike.” is due for release in March and it’s a beautiful one. I’m as pleased with it as any book I have ever worked on.

In March I went to work again with the Annapurna dance company. From time to time I perform alongside their brilliant group of Indian dancers and musicians as a narrator.

This means I have had to learn ancient stories from the epic, Ramayana. My party piece has become the story of Lord Rama’s wedding to Sita, one of the best stories of romance, forgiveness and battling that I’ve ever come across.

By April I was working in a power station near Grimsby with my mate the artist Harry Malkin. We were commissioned by an events company to record the shutdown for repair and maintenance of North Humber Bank, a very modern gas-powered station that utilises some of the most advanced technology in the power industry anywhere in the world. I produced a little notebook of stories that welders, lagger and scaffolders tell and Harry produced a wonderful exhibition of men at work.

Billie’s eighth memorial concert in April was again a joyous affair. We gave away the usual violins, flutes and guitars to local primary school children and the ones who have received them in previous years came back to play a medley.

Our special guest this year was Rebecca Newman, the people’s soprano who had a number one hit on the classical album charts with her new CD.

In May, our Eddie celebrated his 18th birthday. I asked him what he would like for it. He said: “I’d like to go on the Magical Mystery Tour in Liverpool to see where The Beatles grew up.” We had a smashing day, Eddie said: “Ringo lived in a bit of a rough neighbourhood didn’t he dad?” I said: “He did, but he lives in Monte Carlo now.” He just went: “You never know where a bit of musical talent can take you eh?”

Later that month I realised one of my own musical ambitions when I took a trip to Paris with Heather to see the legend that is Juliette Greco, the French chansonniere.

She is 86 now and she stood in a spotlight at the Olympia Music Hall for two hours accompanied minimally by accordion and piano and it was sublime.

In June I was asked to speak at the NUM headquarters in Barnsley at an event to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the strike. We marched behind a brass band beneath the banners in the pouring rain, but a lovely crowd of Barnsley folk came out to cheers us on. I felt right proud to have been asked.

The first week of July is always Featherstone Gala, one of my favourite local events of the year.

I enjoyed it a lot this time, I had three free ice creams given to me and they were all lovely. I’ll write something more about the rest of my year next week.