Last month, Oxford lost a wonderful poet and an inspiring, compassionate friend. Helen Kidd will be remembered for a very long time. She was so much a part of our lives. We will cherish her memory.
I had the privilege to work with her recently on the Waving Hello project. She had a tremendous presence and wit and wisdom in equal proportions. She was delightfully wicked sometimes. Her humour was quite unique. I know for a fact she helped to keep colleagues at Ruskin sane when they were trying to work under the weird vagaries of certain management figures. She was indomitable. She never lost her humanity or her ability to see the funny side. She was tremendously dedicated to her students - and to her colleagues.
I remember the first time I met Helen. I didn't know it was her. I hadn't even heard of her. She was in a penguin costume waddling up the middle of Holywell Music Room where Oxford Concert Party were playing. I still had no idea who she was at the end of the concert. It was totally anarchic and somehow also quite sweet. There was an underlying vulnerability to the strange intruder.
The second time I met Helen, she was in human form. Her office was stuffed with books - she was terrifically well-read - and owls - she was also terrifically knowledgeable about birds. There were toys and daft jokey things of every description - her googly eyeballs had me in stitches. But soon it was down to serious business - a planned workshop for her students. What was I interested in bringing to the group? Did I need any photocopying doing? I could tell how deeply respected she was when she introduced me to the students. I could also tell how that respect was reciprocated. She was a brilliant tutor and also a mentor - I include myself here. She was rigorously honest, incisive and encouraging about my work.
Later, we would read together in Oxford at the Poems for Jeremy Corbyn launch and I would see then how dazzling she could be in her anger. She wasn't a righteous person, but she was darned right in my books.
I only knew Helen for a short time. She has left an indelible impression.
Poetry Reading at Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford
I recently had a marvellous afternoon in Witney Community Hospital gathering stories and poems from people on Wenrisc Ward. It's really heartening that my local hospital has taken on an arts coordinator and already it's easy to see the difference that's made. Clinical care is not enough on its own. People's emotional and mental well-being must also be taken into account. Do people who feel valued and respected make better recoveries? I don't know, but if their time in hospital is nourishing and memorable for lots of positive reasons, then surely that's a good thing. Also, one shouldn't underestimate the ripple effect. It can have a profound effect on the morale of staff. The NHS is being battered on all sides - by the government and by malevolent hackers. I'm not saying the arts are a cure-all, but at least we can re-affirm our humanity and creativity.
I've just begun working at Chilterns Court OSJCT home in Henley. This comes on that back of the Making of Me Project. The OSJCT are a very forward looking organisation and there seems to be a genuine willingness to roll out arts projects through all their homes. Again, I am working with the amazing Angela Conlon (pictured above with me).
And finally, another date for your diaries - Waving Hello is going out with a splash - or a symbolic one at least. Here's Isabel from Oxford Concert Party doing a Blue Peter number:
Sail your own boat with your own message on Sunday 25th June 12:00 - 16:00 in Bonn Square, Oxford. Show you care. Tell the world that refugees are welcome here.
This is my haven, won’t you come in?
No longer a stranger, welcome my friend.
Long was your journey,
many the ways.
Long was the passing
of months, hours, days.
Now you are safe and out of the storm;
Here in the harbour, sheltered from harm.