Sue Tyley and Stella Klein round up our MIRLive International Women’s Day Special
MIRLive on 6 March was a celebration of International Women’s Day (8 March), and featured stories focused on or inspired by women. Five of the six readers were women – suggesting, as MC Alison Hitchcock pointed out, that MIRLive had noted last year’s IWD theme of stepping up efforts to achieve gender equality and was unapologetically tipping the scales the other way.
Victoria Briggs opened the programme with “Pigalle”, a funny, exuberant, cautionary tale about the unforeseen consequences of buying a pair of shoes – style: the eponymous Pigalle, with black patent uppers, red lacquer soles and killer five-inch heels. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t just Graham – whose personal relationship with Jesus has driven you to up the ante on your fifth date – who fell victim to the femme fatale footwear in the rooftop bar of the Trafalgar Hotel.
London wildlife also featured in Ruth Ivo’s moving story, “The Lion”, specifically, the lion the narrator meets in Kensal Rise at 4 a.m. one Sunday morning, while hiding in her neighbour’s garden from the man who’s been following her from the bus stop. The image of the girl and the lion walking side by side down the middle of the road and into the park – the girl with fierce joy, the lion with its ragged paintbrush of a swishing tail, patchy, dirty gold fur, grave stare, huffing, snorting and rumbling – and of the lion pushing its waxy-maned head into the girl’s palm as they play by the bandstand will linger long in the minds of the audience. In her introduction, Alison revealed that MIRLive was the first time Ruth had read her work in public, and that, the night before, she’d asked her 83-year-old neighbour, a former showgirl, for advice; the coach can feel justifiably proud of her pupil’s performance!
For the third reading, Stefanie Seddon transported listeners to her native New Zealand, and its Maori myths and traditions. “Kākahu” evocatively described how, on the day she was unable to wake her cold-to-the-touch mother, ten-year-old Marama was drawn to the cloak of feathers (the kākahu of the title) her teacher had brought to school; how, by putting it on, she felt like a bird, transformed, comforted by its mossy, wooden smell; and how, when she feared she had ruined it – with a Pepsi stain, and the “tiny snaps like bones breaking” she heard when she handled it – she was assured by her teacher that it was a strong cloak, and finally achieved flight of a sort in the teacher’s open-top car.
After refilling our glasses we snuggled down in the Harrison’s basement for another round of stunning stories.
First off in the second half, Birkbeck’s own Sarah Armstrong burst onto the stage full of the joys of early spring to celebrate International Women’s Day with her witty and wonderfully disastrous “Powerlifting for Girls”, a blow-by-blow instruction manual-cum-health warning for how to build the perfect female, muscular body, chapter-by-chapter, “arse-attacks” and all.
Next, Matt Hutchinson treated us to an extract from his beautifully crafted story “A Long Way Through”, in which the still very much alive Mary hits the road in her ancient Triumph Dolomite. From Finchley to her daughter’s home in Surrey with its superior golf courses (but who wants to commute?), she ventures across Central London and south of the river, alone and free (with only the ghost of her grumbling dead husband, Bill, beside her on the passenger seat to try stopping her), to a soundtrack of driving songs compiled by her granddaughter. A joyful take on the achievements of an eighty-eight-year-old-woman, looking back on a life well lived in 20th-century London.
Finally, K J Orr read from her deliciously stark and haunting story “The Island”, in which protagonist Frankie contemplates her troubled feelings for Euan, her vain and faintly sadistic boyfriend and travelling companion. Set in a beautiful yet menacing remote tropical resort, there is – as in every other story in Light Box, Orr’s breathtaking new collection – the uneasy sense of teetering in slow motion towards a moment of crisis.
MIRLive’s celebration of International Women’s Day delivered an outstanding line-up, whetting the appetite for more. Roll on the poetry special on Monday 15 May!