Archives for the month of: November, 2014

Adobe Photoshop PDF

After I illustrated Grace Nichols’ and John Agard’s poems in the November issue of VivaLewes, the three of us decide to make a limited edition screen-print of their poems with a new image to accompany them. The last time I was struck by the poignancy of Grace’s mother closing the curtains on the Bonfire celebrations – is she Guido’s mother, the mother of a Protestant martyr (16th C!) or the innocent mother of a British jihadist? This time I try to incorporate something of the wry humour of John’s poem, but incorporating references to Lewes (the castle), subversion (the mask) and the real person behind the mask, plus a tiny amount of the debris left behind after the celebrations, that has always completely disappeared by the next morning…

The limited edition of 100 prints, signed and numbered, on 300gm watercolour paper, are on sale at readings and performances by John and Grace, and available at Skylark Books shop in the Needlemakers, Lewes, priced £20.

John Agard is the guest on Desert Island Discs tomorrow (Sunday 16 November, repeated Friday 21 November)




To celebrate Bonfire, VivaLewes magazine invites the wonderful poets Grace Nichols and John Agard to contribute a poem each. I am flattered when they ask for an illustration to accompany them, and particularly taken with Grace’s poignant ‘Fifth of November’:


From day-break the build-up,

which I like best, begins to stitch the town –

threads of an ancient ritual.


The boarding-up of shop fronts

in case of shoving crowds;

in case Prometheus’s children

out to commemorate

his hotly stolen gift, get out of hand.


Already the scent of kerosene invades the air.

Street-food vans take up their stand

as ordinary folk become

transformed into Tudor and Victorian ladies,

blackened-faced Zulus, fine-feathered Indians,

the no-nonsense striped-jersied.


Later in the crowded streets

among the bangers, sparks and brass,

we crane our burning cheeks to see –

the procession of lit torches

soon-to-be burnt effigies

wheel barrows of flaming logs.


And now, the whole town

reverberates and shakes

to the crackling booms of fire works –

the cold air gasps at bright spells cast –

fountains of diamonds

showers of falling stars.


Am I the only one to glimpse

at an upstairs window

the pale face of a woman

drawing her curtains on it all –

as if she were the mother of a martyr

or one called Guy Fawkes?


© Grace Nichols 2014. Published with kind permission.


bonfireYes – the two words go together, like, well… they just go together. Ask any Lewesian or anyone who’s come into Lewes for Bonfire on any 5th of November. It’s the big deal here. The members of the Bonfire Societies work towards the 5th preparing floats, banners, the firework displays, and of course, the costumes.

I’m asked to be a judge of South Street Bonfire Society costume competition, mostly on the basis of having no Bonfire connection at all. I think about what to wear and decide on my best suit out of respect. My fellow judge is the radio producer, David Blount (he knows nothing, too – so we’re impartial, you see).

We watch a parade of members in their costumes – mostly colonial pre- American War of Independence and English Civil War, in different categories: Under 5’s (girls), 5-9 (boys, girls), 10-15 (girls, no boys!) and so on. Great imagination and craft have gone into the making of these costumes, and somehow we have to decide who gets the gold, silver and bronze medals. It’s tough. Young Thomas (4) gets a joint bronze. He chews the ribbon in contemplation of…

The Men’s, the final category, and there are only two contestants. In any normal situation, Benjamin would have won. In his perfectly recreated Civil War musketeer’s costume. But Tony (landlord of The Snowdrop Inn) sashays in as a Time-Travelling Steampunk Medicine Man! I say Tony but he’s hard to recognise: his face has been unzipped and opened out, revealing a ghastly skull encrusted with glittering cogs and wheels and gems, the brim of his topper topped with optician’s instruments and a raven’s wing, his leather-strapped coat writhing with worms of light… on his gauntlet is perched a brass multi-barrelled revolver…  No contest.