Benjamin and the Frog. Hmmm… Sounds like a children’s story doesn’t it? Well it isn’t, having recovered from a really sleepless night and an exciting day in The Out, I thought I would tell you all about my meeting with poet, Benjamin Zephaniah at Blackfriars Arts Centre in Boston, and a meeting with a little frog the night before.

I was very excited that I was going to read my poetry to Benjamin Zephaniah. He is someone Colin and I worshipped from afar in the 1980s, those heady days of alternative cabaret and comedy. Tadpole and Co majored in disasters set to jazz and poetry, such as Herculaneum and the Titanic. These were surprisingly popular considering they were in very bad taste. Those days in the mid-eighties were brief but happy times brought to a premature end by the surge in interest in samba bands and the desertion of our percussionist, Richard Bett, aka Riccardo Thunderfingers. He was the only man I have ever met who was capable of sustaining a rhythm on congas whilst simultaneously being thousands of people going down with a ship or getting buried by volcanic ash.

Yes, we certainly did some crazy back stuff then. We performed music and poetry in gigs and literature festivals from Hastings to Edinburgh. Some of it was even quite good but it was the comedic disasters that earned us our Yorkshire bookings, courtesy of Wild Willie, and the opportunity to share the stage with such worthies as Henry Normal and Jo Brand. We never performed with Ben, but he was “Up there!” and when the opportunity came to meet him at Boston, read some serious poetry and discuss it we leaped at the chance.

The night before recording the interview I couldn’t sleep. I was nervous, excited and in that terrible place where the more you try to sleep the less likely it is to come. Add to that an annoying tune that kept running through my head courtesy of an advert on TV… you get the picture. Eventually I must have dozed off and about three thirty to four in the morning I was woken by a cat coughing. Now, when said cat is a Himalayan and there is a history of heart murmurs in the breed you worry, so I got up to check on him.

He seemed fine, but was scrabbling around his water bowl. Then he pounced on a blanket I had hanging over a box full of stuff I really ought to sort through, donate, throw away… you know the sort of thing. I lifted the blanket and in the semi-darkness of my Pusheen nightlight, I saw what looked like a pile of poop.
“Urgh”, I said, turning the main light on, but it wasn’t poop, it was a frog! We have an empty vegetable container we use for trapping and releasing flies so I grabbed it quickly and, with the aid of a piece of card, I easily caught the sleepy looking frog.

By this time Colin was up and about and wandered into the bathroom.
“You wouldn’t believe what I just caught in my bed room,” I said.
“Just a minute,” he grumbled.
He must have been half asleep because the surprise of finding a frog in the house didn’t register. Nor did he offer to do the gentlemanly thing and put it out for me. So here I was, standing in my nightie and slippers in the twilight before dawn, trying to unlock the front door while Froggie got more and more excited and jumped up and down in his box. He was released to the water feature by the pond (I know frogs hide in there). I was surprised that he made no attempt to escape after the first hop. I guess he is a very laid back frog and in my experience frogs are not scared of people.

P1060681

Now, I have no idea how a frog came to be in my bedroom, nor do I have any idea how long he was in residence. All I know is that he certainly seemed settled under the blanket and that one of the cat water bowls showed signs of dust-bunnies and what I assumed was a frog poop right in the middle. Cue vigorous cat bowl scrubbing and changing of water… I then went back to bed and caught about three hours sleep before I had to get up for an early start and our journey to Boston where we were due to read poems and discuss immigration, Pilgrim Fathers and Boston amongst other things.

I suppose I was a bit ring-eyed and stupid for my interview with Ben. It took me a long time to relax and come out of my shell, but he is a lovely, genuine man and seemed interested in my poems and Colin’s too. When it was all over the three of us chatted for a little while about the eighties, alternative cabaret and the parallel universes we seemed to exist in. Somehow we never shared the stage with Benjamin Zephaniah back then. Hopefully when the programme comes out, we will finally get that wish.

Yesterday’s post raised a few red flags, I know, because I used a Gary Glitter song to illustrate the primal effect of repetitive chants and as an example of entitlement leading to abuse. There were some more serious but less emotive points that I wanted to make too and I felt they would be better in a second post.

I have always been concerned about the bigger issues when it comes to politics. When the environment comes up I am likely to be angry about fracking or anything that is destructive to the planet. I am less angry about “eyesores” in posh areas or dog poop on pavements. These are the little things we can probably live with. As someone who was brought up as a Christian (High Church Anglican in fact) I consider we are stewards of the Earth and, in the manner of Saint Francis, that all its inhabitants are our brothers and sisters. As the dominant species it is up to us to act responsibly as protectors of other animals and not behave like mindless bacteria intent on eating up every resource and pushing Nature out of existence. Those are things that I believe very strongly and they lie behind my personal stance on alternative energy, on population growth and on sustainable farming and industry. We have to make careful, moral decisions on matters that affect not only future generations but the entire ecosystem because the World has no choice. We do.

Anything that falls short of this has to be contested. However conscientious you may be when it comes to singing hymns or paying your tithes it all matters little if you subscribe to unnecessary and polluting energy sources for financial gain. It is possible to heat our homes and power our businesses with the natural energy of wind, water and sunshine. It is possible to develop synthetic fuels to keep our aircraft flying without causing damage. Even more to the point, it is possible to take polluting petrol and diesel engines off the road and use electric and clean burn fuels. I would go as far as to say it is our Christian DUTY to protect our planet for all its inhabitants. Believe you me, any high-tech interplanetary rescue mission in the future will not be for working people like you and I. We are collateral damage in a game played by the rich and powerful as are all living breathing organisms on land or in the sea.

When I was active in politics we were often asked our views on contentious issues, pro-life being a big one at many meetings. Personally I would never have had an abortion unless I would die without one, although these days to be honest it is not an issue for me. However I believe these issues are personal and in Britain ideas on abortion, animal rights and Israel are just not party political. This has helped us avoid the mess the USA is currently in where a group of right wing, climate sceptical, patriarchal rich men want to dictate to ordinary folks. They have latched onto abortion as a way to get the orthodox Christian vote and proceed with the most offensively Un-Christian programmes imaginable.

Yesterday, following some tweets in support of John Pavlovitz, I was unfollowed by a fellow author who is a Christian. I can only guess why and perhaps I am wrong in my assumption, but I would like to ask him and others like him the following questions:

How Christian is it to persecute strangers (immigrants) when the Bible says we should care for them?

How Christian is it to refuse healthcare and assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable in society?

How Christian is it to tell a young girl who has been raped that she can’t have an abortion and then refuse to help her bring up the child because of her “immoral behaviour”?

How Christian is it to tell a woman carrying a dead baby inside her that she must risk death just to carry it to full-term and then have a “natural birth” of a rotten corpse risking further life threatening infection?

How Christian is it to deny climate change in order to make money from oil, or to sell arms to oil producing countries that routinely finance terror or kill civilians?

How Christian is it to risk the Earth for personal gain by denying that humanity has so far played a major part in raping God’s Creation?

I will leave it as that. I don’t want to be part of any foolish gang that wishes to gamble with the world’s future for the sake of greed and says “Just pray, everything will be OK.” I think more is expected of us, don’t you?