A purely personal account of the weekend. It is what is
filtered through the clouded haze of my recollection, and
warning, it doesn't half go on a bit. No owls were harmed
in the making of this account.
I get on a train
at Sunderland on the Friday lunchtime, looking forward to the
time away and to meeting people, slightly apprehensive because
I know that I will be the only person there who hadn't already
met at least some of the others. The forecast was for heavy
rain and high winds, but as the train rattles along the north-east
coast the sun is shining. I relax into the journey, I like travelling
by train when I am on my own, watching the world slide past
the window, noticing the other passengers on the train, wondering
where they are going, why they are going there. Change trains
at Middlesbrough, and travel away from the coast, into the green
rise and fall of the moors. The train stops at a hundred stations
to let no-one on, small platforms half the length of the train,
tiny station houses with window-boxes and hanging baskets all
dripping colour. At one station we pull up alongside the steam
train that runs across the moors. it is brighter, shinier, larger.
In all probability it's faster too. Eventually the train curves
under an impressive viaduct, rounds a corner, and there before
us is Whitby, all coloured roofs and forests of masts. The view
of the abbey on the hill is spoilt by the large telecoms mast
that towers behind it, perspective pulling it close so that
from this angle it looks as if it rises from the middle of the
abbey itself. Have visions of Dracula shouting into his mobile,
"HELLO! YES, I'M IN THE COFFIN! TALK TO YOU LATER, YAH."
I fight my way off the train through a shoal of schoolchildren
and wait for a bus. Still a little nervous. It's always amusing
trying to catch a bus when you don't know where it is you're
going to be getting off. I look out for things that say Fylingthorpe.
At least if I get off too early or too late, it's still a
nice day for a walk. The bus climbs and descends some hills
and hairpin bends that make me wonder what the journey must
be like when it's icy. Then the bus crests a hill, the ground
falls away before us, and I see the whole sweep of the bay
around to the cliffs at Ravenscar. Beautiful. A few minutes
later, I'm there. A short walk from the bus-stop, and at the
end of a narrow lane I see Thorpe Hall. It's even more impressive
than it looked in the picture that I had found on the web.
I walk down the drive and meet Dawn, the first person to arrive.
The enthusiastic man who is there to meet us shows me all
over the house. I look at the oak panelling and the leaded
windows and the aged red leather sofas and chairs in the lounges,
and wonder if anyone would notice if I put the whole room
in my bag and took it home with me. I get shown to my room,
past paintings and wooden sculptures and what looks like a
Sheela-na-gig lurking on the stairs. The enthusiastic man
and I talk about lightbulbs for longer than I thought it was
possible to talk about lightbulbs, and then I unpack and explore
the grounds. Taxis come and other people arrive, and I try
and guess who is who before I find out for sure. I do pretty
well at that, and am obscurely pleased. It's slightly awkward,
as these things always are, but everyone seems very nice and
I feel included in the conversation, which I appreciate. Jeff
and Mark and Gary are staying a short way down the road in
another b&b. It appears that the b&b is guarded by a gate
of Arthurian properties that only the virtuous and worthy
can open. When everyone arrives, we mill about for a while
until it is decided that we should go into Robin Hood's Bay
to get something to eat. There are many times over the weekend
when the group's milling is turned into decisive doing, and
this time, like the others, I suspect that it is Tamar that
has managed to do the near impossible and gain both consensus
and prompt everyone to act on it.
We wander down the hill. On the way down, we notice men in
crampons and oxygen masks clambering up it, assisted by teams
of Sherpas. This suggests that the walk back up may be just
a little more taxing. It is starting to get dark, and the
crooked alleys of Robin Hood's Bay are lit up by a soft glow
from windows. I can hear the sea, I can smell the sea, and
decide that the place is magical. My stomach barges into the
quiet romance of the moment by rumbling loudly. We pile into
The Dolphin, looking for food and drink and somewhere to sit.
It's a tiny pub, but cheerful and welcoming, and we manage
to cobble together enough tables upstairs for everyone to
sit around. There are signs which say that tonight is a folk
night. We're not sure where this is going to happen, but agree
that it might be entertaining and interesting. As it turns
out, we are right on both counts, but perhaps not in the way
we imagined. Dinner is ordered and drinks are drunk, and conversations
start around the table. They tend to be fragmented, as the
size of the table and the noise of the place make cross-table
talk difficult. We don't have to wait long for the food, and
it's brought to us by a cheerful waitress. There's lots of
it, and mine tasted good, and other people seemed to be enjoying
theirs. Then more drinks, and more conversation. The ratio
of beards to people increases dramatically, and it becomes
apparent that the entertainment is about to start. A man sings
briefly to the audience, and then four large men stand up
one of them says. "We're Monkey's Fist. We are a sea shanty
And so they are. I spend most of their first shanty just enjoying
their name. It doesn't sound like the name of a folk band,
more like that of a heavy metal band or of a Hong Kong kung-fu
action movie with floating vampires in it. They shanty on,
all in tune with themselves, if not with each other, and we
watch and listen and drink and talk as much as you can only
feet away from four burly men shout-singing shanties about
hanging people. I believe that it was at this point that Keith
and Mark are asked not to talk, as this is disturbing the
shanty-karma or some such thing. The Fist give a rendition
of what they claim is a genuine native American song about
rivers, but Jeff looks sceptical. Eventually, they stop for
a break. A raffle is drawn, and we don't win, despite having
high hopes that come from possessing about half the tickets
that had been sold. Before Monkey's Fist come on again, someone
stands up and rather pointedly asks that people keep quiet
while the artists were performing. As one we decide that sitting
in a pub without talking was a rather dull way to spend an
evening, so en masse we get up and leave, more pointed comments
about our departure ringing in our ears. Keith and Mark look
sad at the prospect, as they want to stay behind to try and
buy some autographed copies of the Monkey's Fist CD, but they
have to depart with the rest of us. Des says that he did quite
like the singing, but I am not sure whether he means this
or not. Roseanne is forced to abandon her whisky for the cause.
We wander down to the sea for a few minutes, then climb the
hill back out of Robin Hood's Bay. I don't remember much about
the climb apart from a ringing in my ears and several mystical
experiences caused by lack of oxygen. Tamar phones Neil and
Phil, who are still on the way down from Glasgow, to let them
know where we will be for the next couple of hours. Fortunately
there's a pub near the top of the hill, and we walk in warily,
looking out for folk singers. There are none, only the pub's
tape of Best Hits of the Eighties (Volume 48). It is a tribute
to the powers of Monkey's Fist that this tape sounds OK. We
chat for a while, and then as the pub is about to close, Neil
and Phil appear. Lawrence's cunning disguise fools Neil for
a few moments, but then all is made clear. There have been
many changes in facial hair since Storyville last met. The
pub eventually closes, and we walk back to the hall. I am
tired, and I think that many of the others are too, most people
have spent a long day travelling. I spend some time in the
lounge enjoying the conversations, and then call it a night.
I drift off to sleep, the moon shining through the leaded
windows. Owls hoot. At least, I think they are owls.
I wake up, and for once have no small child trying to tell
me about his bizarre dreams, or trying to smother me with
Bagpuss. I am relieved to find that the locals from the
Dolphin have not constructed a giant wicker man in the grounds
of the hall. We have breakfast in a large room overlooking
the gardens at the back of Thorpe Hall. Breakfast is good,
conversation is muted. People are still waking up. After breakfast,
Jeff and Mark and Gary arrive from their b&b. A bizarre touch
is that the woman changing bedding and sorting out the rooms
is the same woman who was our waitress in The Dolphin the
night before. We indulge in some patented Storyville milling,
but then coalesce into a organised group and all walk out
united to Robin Hood's Bay. As we reach the foot of The Hill,
and make plans to walk along the clifftops, a separatist movement
makes its presence known. This is not a bad thing though,
as it allows everyone to use the word schism repeatedly, and
it is *such* a good word . Some of the group stay on the
beach, with plans to fly Phil's kite. The rest of us carry
on, but our plans are thwarted by paths closed because of
the foot and mouth outbreak. We speculate about biological
warfare for a while, find an alternative route, and carry
on up and down the hills (in apparent defiance of the natural
order of things, there appear to be two uphills for every
downhill). Some more of the party decide to make for the beach,
and I watch them go, with considerable worry and concern.
Have they never seen Alien? It's always the ones who go off
who get eaten first. The rest of us follow the cliffs on for
a while longer, and then descend to the beach ourselves.
The tide is out, there are many rock pools and interesting
things to look at, and we can walk along the beach all the
way back to Robin Hood's Bay. As we walk along in that direction,
I think I can see what looks like fleeing children and a brightly-coloured
kite swooping down over them like an hawk diving to catch
a vole. I decide I must be imagining things and go looking
in rock pools instead. Jeff wanders a long way out, right
to the edge of the sea. The siren song of the squid must be
calling from the deep. Lawrence shows Tamar and I the fossils
that can be found on the beach. He gives me one, and I put
it away to take home for Aidan, planning to lie a parental
lie and tell him that it is a dinosaur bone. The beach is
in parts covered by the sort of seaweed that has little pods
on it that pop! when you walk over it it's like a gigantic
covering of bubble wrap. We wander gradually back along the
bay, collecting fossils and talking and popping. I take a
lot of photographs, and hope that they come out looking interesting.
I have an interesting conversation with Tamar about writing,
one of many with many people across the weekend, I step in
a lot of pools and get my feet wet. The promised squalls and
showers and hail have not arrived, the air is clear and the
sun is bright and walking along the beach I am very happy.
We all meet up again in the Dolphin, for a well-earned drink
and some lunch. In a bid to imitate the now-popular sports
bars with huge-screen TVs and Sky Sports, the Dolphin has
a tiny portable telly stuck on the bar. This can only mean
one of two things. Either we're going to be assailed by the
Monkey's Fist Video Collection, or the football is going to
be on. Another schism develops. Some of us settle in to watch
the England match, others decide to explore the nooks and
crannies of Robin Hood's Bay. Before the football starts,
Dave turns up, as he has travelled up that day. Now all of
those who could be here, are. I am pleased so many people
were able to make it, and hope next time that some of those
who couldn't, can. Dave passes round a novel with a fawn-coloured
front cover, which he had read on the train. It does indeed
contain some of the most overwritten prose I have seen. Purple
prose indeed. Well, maybe a fawny shade of purple.
The football is about to start. Mark gets nervous. Events
later prove that this was a smart move. Neil, in an admirable
spirit of self-sacrifice, tells us that he hopes England will
win. Then he reveals that this is only because otherwise he
knows we will all be unbearable company. I find out that both
Keith and the jolly barman are both Liverpool supporters too.
I settle back to watch the match, looking forward to swapping
smug banter about how well Fowler and Gerrard and Heskey and
Barmby, the four Liverpool players, are doing.
It is half an hour into the football. Fowler and Gerrard and
Heskey and Barmby are all playing like they are true professionals.
Unfortunately the profession is accountancy, not football.
It is half time. Oh dear.
The second half starts. Oh dear.
We suffer through the last forty-five minutes. It is edge
of the seat stuff. Every time a goal is scored, the local
eccentric-man-who-drinks-in-the-bar-all-day leaps up, says,
eh? has there been a goal? and stands three inches in front
of the TV to watch the replay, blocking the view for everyone
else. Those present who smoke, do so. I wish I had never given
up. People who have never smoked wish that they could start.
The tension is almost unbearable, and then Beckham scores.
Everyone cheers and shouts and then it is all over. Neil watches
out for the Scotland result. Jeff wonders about the US-Mexico
result. There are certain matches I have watched that will
always remind me where I was at the time I saw it watching
Liverpool lose to Wimbledon in the FA Cup with friends at
university, watching Ireland beat Romania in Italia '90 with
the woman I would eventually marry, watching England play
Argentina in France '98 with my friends. This would join them.
I realised that I had forgotten about feeling a bit nervous
about not knowing anyone. This was all due to the company,
rather than to me.
I leave, and join some of those who are exploring more of
Robin Hood's Bay. It is a fascinating place, full of little
alleyways and steps and passages. It reminds me of Staithes,
a little further up the coast, but rather prettier and better
kept. We call in at the off-licence for supplies, and I walk
back up to Fylingthorpe with Mark and Dave. People are putting
their feet up, having a rest, resting some of the work which
people have brought with them. I enjoy spending some time
looking through it, and wished that I had the time to read
more. As well as the quality of the work, I'm impressed by
the diversity. This is one of the things I like most about
Storyville; it's to be reinforced later. We phone ahead to
the Fylingdales Inn and let them know that a party of fifteen
are to descend on them shortly. I think this flusters them
somewhat. The Best of the Eighties tape is swapped for the
Fifteenth Best of The Seventies tape, perhaps in an attempt
to calm things down. When the food finally arrives, it is
good. We pass some of the time waiting for the food by investigating
a machine which dispenses strange presents. Phil acquires
an alien, I win a football which is the world's most useless
puzzle, Dawn gets a very fetching necklace, and Trevor meets
Dwayne, an event which I suspect could be life-changing.
We wander back to the hall for a night in. The fireplace groans
under the weight of the bottles assembled on it. People chat,
laugh, discuss things, in little groups and as a whole. This
is enjoyable, it is good to be together as a group. Jeff passes
round some photographs which entertain everyone, Tamar produces
some photographs which include one of a dog stuck to a ceiling,
and then Trevor baffles everyone with a series of card tricks,
with the assistance of his helper, Dwayne. I'm impressed.
It's easy to do such things on the TV, but here I am, a few
feet away, and I still can't work out how it's done. Liz reveals
that her father is a member of The Magic Circle, and there
is much speculation as to the rituals of this shadowy organisation.
There's a discussion of the nature of Storyville, and whether
this meeting is genuinely Storyville in spirit. Des speculated
that the weekend was a fleshly corruption of the true spirit
of Storyville. I quite like the idea of being a fleshly corruption.
Then it is time for some creativity. In the best oral traditions,
the group invents a story off the cuff, each member contributing
a sentence (including Des, even though he is No Longer A Writer),
and soon after, just a word. Dwayne emerges as the hero and
protagonist of much of this story, which doesn't so much verge
on the surreal as plunge into it from the beginning and stay
there. Someone remarks that it was a shame that no-one was
writing it down. I furtively check my secret tape recorder
to make sure it is running. When one of the Storyvillains
sold the film rights to their work and was nominated for best
screenplay Oscar, then my blackmail attempts would begin.
Eventually the story ends, or is put to sleep in a mercy-killing.
More drinks are drunk, and there is great speculation as to
the uses of irony concerning a subject my English teacher
Late in the evening, it is time to listen to the stories.
There is some uncertainty at first, which I found a relief
people whose writing I admired were obviously feeling nervous
too. Dave breaks the deadlock by offering to read a couple
of stories for people. Mark takes the plunge and offers his
up first, and then Gary his, and by then the awkwardness is
overcome, and we have two hours that I enjoy as much as any
in the weekend. Dave reads both Mark's and Gary's pieces well,
and I think that gives confidence to everyone else. I think
it was Des who afterwards said that he felt privileged to
have been in the room that night. He certainly spoke for me,
and I think for everyone else. The quality of the work, the
performance of some of the readers, the diversity of styles
and subjects I feel very lucky to be there, and know that
I will remember it for a long time. As I will the rest of
the weekend, but this part, for me, is special. What is so
good is not just the excellence of the writing, or the pleasure
of hearing it read by the author, but the way in which everyone
really *listens* when the work of others is being read, and
the enthusiasm and support with which it is received. Towards
the end of the evening, I read something of mine. I had almost
not, nerves getting in the way. But I know that if I don't
I will kick myself for being foolish, so I do. I have to speak
in public a lot as part of my job, I've acted in the past
and had to speak to an audience of two hundred and fifty,
six nights running. But tonight my throat narrows and my mouth
dries, and I realise how nervous I must be. The support and
warmth of everyone there when I have finished makes me very
glad I didn't pass up the opportunity, though. I think that
Jeff is the last person to read, and Ambergris seems a fitting
place to finish. People drift off to bed, some of us talk
a while longer, and then the evening is over. But I will remember
And so all good things pass. There's always a certain sadness
to the last day of a trip like this. Even though there are
still things to do, conversations to have, and tacky seaside
Dracula museums to explore, the end always seems to loom heavy.
I was looking forward to going home, as I missed my wife and
my son, but I was also sad that such a good weekend was nearly
over, and that these people who I had not even met forty-eight
hours earlier, would all be going their separate ways.
After breakfast we settle our bills Thorpe Hall was a magical
place to stay, and Tamar (and Dawn, I think) deserve so much
credit for finding it and doing all the hard work of booking
and co-ordinating people and pile into cars to Whitby. It's
gusty, but the promised storms have still not materialised.
We walk along the cliff, down into the town, and visit the
no-not-tacky-at-all Dracula Experience. Dry ice blows, dummies
turn round to stare balefully, and someone who is probably
in the middle of sixth-form college lurks about menacingly
moaning at people. We assume that he works there, although
someone does speculate that maybe it's just his hobby. We
climb the steps to the abbey, and admire the view. I am carrying
my case around, because I know that I will be heading off
to the station shortly, and the cars are parked on the other
side of town. Lawrence insists on carrying it for a while,
and Phil offers too, which I appreciated. We make our way
back down into the winding streets of Whitby, and stop for
coffee and something to eat. Soon, too soon, I have to make
a move. I say aquick goodbye, a very quick goodbye because
I hate saying goodbye about as much as I hate saying 'please
sing more shanties', and I make my way to the train station.
The journey home takes half the time that the journey down
took, and my son is there to meet me. I love the way he gets
so excited when he sees me, nothing tugs at my heart more.
I am home again, and the weekend is over.
Over, but not finished. There are many things that will stay
with me. Unfortunately, one of those things is a small monkey
that follows me about, lurking in the shadows with red eyes,
and shaking its fist at me. Too much green tea, perhaps. Still,
whenever I see it, I spit at it. But there are other things.
It was good to meet everyone there a nicer, funnier bunch
of people I have never met, and I look forward to the next
time any of us have a chance to get together. I will remember
that Saturday night, that glorious morning spent messing about
on the beach, the beauty of the place we stayed in, the incessant
hooting of those bastard owls. But something else, too. I'm
starting out on something that many of the others have been
doing for years, fumbling my way along, making my mistakes,
learning as I go. It's hard sometimes, discouraging, easy
to lose heart when another rejection arrives. But the level
of encouragement I received over the weekend, the level of
support, the help and the kind words from so many people,
have meant that I have come away from the weekend feeling
motivated, feeling that I can keep going, and feeling part
of a community of writers. And that, I will always appreciate,
and always remember. That and Dwayne, of course.
 A cultural artifact akin to the Clangers , except
rather than being a small pink space creature, he is a large
floppy pink and white stuffed cat who comes alive. And excuse
me for being a celebrity name-dropper, but my wife knows one
of the people who did the voices for the mice on Bagpuss.
 Small pink space creatures who live on a moon, an important
cultural symbol for British people of a certain age. Apparently
maligned in some way by Jeff on the list, hence the gift.
Also apparently responsible for Mark's interest in sf. They
appear in some of the photos on the 'moon-landing' site.
 qv also Noggin The Nog, Ivor the Engine, The Magic Roundabout
 Schism. Schismschismschism.
 See 
 See 
 You shouldn't be reading this footnote, as it is not actually
referenced anywhere in the text.
 The End.