Northcote Library reading

We had a blast reading from London Undercurrents last Saturday morning in Battersea’s beautiful Northcote Library. And what a lovely audience we had!

Beautifully dressed audience at Northcote Library. Seated at the front two women, one dressed in a green and black striped skirt, green to and purple, green and white scarf; the other wearing a vibrant blue and yellow African print dress, matching blue tights and silver shoes.
Beautifully dressed audience at Northcote Library

The event was unusual for a couple of reasons. This was our first in person reading together since early 2020. And performing in the morning is definitely a novelty! Luckily the walk from Hilaire’s place to Northcote Library was a good 45 minutes in fresh sunny conditions, so we were both warmed up by the time we arrived.

Senior Library Assistant Courtney had thoughtfully set out a table display of books by and about women writers, plus a plate of chocolate biscuits and some bottled water for us. All we had to do was add a few copies of London Undercurrents to the display.

We began with a brief overview of our book, and how we came to write it, followed by reading the first fragments and Hilaire’s opening poem First Crop, which imagines a Huguenot woman in the 17th century tending her asparagus crop in Battersea Fields. We roughly alternated north and south poems, with Hilaire reading a couple more from the south side of the river given our partisan audience.

It felt special to perform The Cook Sisters Contemplate a Final Trip to Nazi Germany together, Hilaire reading Ida’s lines and Joolz Louise’s, less than 10 minutes’ walk away from the sisters’ former home on Morella Road. Jeanne Rathbone, whose recently published book Inspiring Women of Battersea includes a chapter about Ida and Louise Cook, informed us that there are two biographies of the sisters coming out later this year.

There were other fascinating anecdotes from the audience, recalling Battersea in the sixties, and other characters from the past. We answered questions about our research, and discussed how important our local libraries and archive services have been. And at Jeanne’s request, Hilaire read her poem Battersea Pre-Raphaelite Diptych, about another inspiring local woman, the artist Marie Spartali, to round off the event.

A low table with library books and copies of London Undercurrents poetry book displayed on it, plus a small bottle of sparkling water, a glass and a plate of chocolate biscuits. In the background is a window with Venetian blinds half open and colourful strips of colour on the glass.
Books and biscuits!

What a life-affirming return to reading in real life, rather than online. Support your local library – we’re so lucky to have these free resources on our doorstep. It could kick-start your own research into local women or local history. Thank you to Northcote Library for the warm welcome, and to everyone who attended our event, engaged in lively discussion and bought our books.

Reading in person

We’re excited to be giving our first in-person reading together in a loooong time on Saturday 25th June at Northcote Library in Battersea. As well as reading poems from our collection, we’ll discuss how we found out about and researched the women in our book, including Charlotte Despard; 17th century asparagus growers in Battersea Fields; Price’s Candles factory workers, and their north London sisters.

When: Saturday 25th June at 11:30am
Where: Northcote Library, 155e Northcote Road, London SW11 6HW
Booking: the event is free, but please register your interest so the library has an idea of numbers by emailing northcote.library@gll.org or phoning 020 7223 2336.

And to whet your appetite, why not check out our short pre-recorded reading for Wandsworth Heritage Festival: Sporting Women from London Undercurrents

Northcote Library

Sporting Women from London Undercurrents

This year’s Wandsworth Heritage Festival theme is ‘Sporting Wandsworth’. The festival kicks off on 28th May, with the final whistle blown on 12th June. We decided to rise to the challenge and record a short reading highlighting sporting women from London Undercurrents, which will be available on Wandsworth Libraries’ YouTube page throughout the festival.

Recording the reading did prove to be quite a challenge, as we wanted to incorporate a PowerPoint presentation, and swap who was on the Zoom screen depending on which one of us was reading. We set aside a Saturday afternoon, and with a bit of trial and error, and lots of laughter, we managed to record the reading in short clips, which will be edited together by a technical wizard at Wandsworth Libraries.

On your marks for our reading

The full festival programme can be dowloaded below.

Landing on Planet Poetry

As keen listeners of Planet Poetry podcast and fans of poet and host Robin Houghton’s work, it was a pleasure to be asked to feature on the February 2022 episode. Our first ever podcast!

The subject was collaboration. A subject very close to our hearts, which made it even more special to collaborate with Robin and Peter Kenny, who co-hosts the podcast, on this episode.

Listen in here. There are lots of other brilliant episodes to catch up too, featuring poets such as Pacale Petit, Rishi Dastidar (Season 1) Ashanti Anderson and Kim Addonizio (Season 2).

Virtual tour of Paddington

For one reason and another, we decided to take a virtual tour of Paddington last Sunday, rather than meet in real life. We connected on Zoom and then Joolz got in her virtual car, shared the Google maps street view of the Paddington area and off we went.

As we cruised around Paddington Green, down Edgware Road, and into the side streets towards Paddington Station, we discussed the architecture, signs of recent change – a whole block of brick buildings gone since we were last in the area and another metal frame and concrete building going up – and wondered about what layers of history are buried beneath these streets.

Hilaire had delved into The London Encylopedia so knew that both Edgware Road and Bayswater Road were once important Roman roads, and that there was an Anglo-Saxon settlement near the junction of these roads. The name Paddington is thought to derive from an Anglo-Saxon chieftain Padda. Can we imagine ourselves this far back in time, and write as an Anglo-Saxon woman? Time will tell.

Screenshot from Zoom of Google maps street view showing a 205 bus on Praed Street. The street and pavements are mostly empty.
Eerily empty of people – Google Maps reflecting lockdown living, 2021

Google street view, capturing images in 2020 and 2021, also reminded us of much more recent history. We both remember the Paddington area as a bustling, noisy, cosmopolitan place, with bumper to bumper traffic on the roads, commuters pouring out of the mainline and underground stations, and office workers, tourists, shoppers and families jostling for space on the pavements. It was a strange experience to travel along these mostly empty streets, and seeing the occasional person wearing a mask. It was also curious to jump back and forth through the seasons – with streetviews captured at different times of the year. One minute the trees were in leaf, round a corner they were bare, the next the sun came out.

Of course the most famous character associated with the area is Paddington Bear. Joolz mentioned that the first English word his Aunt Lucy’s spoke was London. She sounds like our kind of woman, though whether she ends up in a London Undercurrents poem is up for debate. Marmalade sandwiches, anyone?

Another chance to watch

The Wandsworth Heritage Festival, postponed from last year, kicked off at the end of May, and on the third of June we gave an online reading from our co-authored poetry collection London Undercurrents. We’d chosen poems that related in one way or another to the Festival’s theme of Homes and Housing, and accompanied each poem with one or two images. And although we hadn’t given a live reading together for quite some time, as soon as we started it all seemed to flow and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. More importantly, so did the audience! The reading was recorded and is available to view on Vimeo, thanks to the Battersea Society who hosted our event.

North side
South side

Wandsworth Heritage Festival 2021

We are excited to be reading at this year’s Wandsworth Heritage Festival, which has a focus on homes and housing. Most of the events, including our reading, are free and there is a mix of online talks and in person walks.

Our event is on Thursday 3rd June at 7pm on Zoom, and is kindly hosted by the Battersea Society. We’ll be reading poems from our collection and discussing some of the inspirational women behind our closely researched work. To book please email events@batterseasociety.org.uk

Do check out the Festival programme to see what else is on offer.

Looking for a Galentine’s Day gift?

 In true Leslie Knope spirit, London Undercurrents grew out of, and deepened, a friendship between female pals. And when Holland Park Press published our joint poetry collection, two female friends became three – with the addition of the human dynamo that is Bernadette Jansen op de Haar, HPP’s founder.

Our book celebrates women’s resilience despite many different circumstances and it makes a great gift for this year’s pandemic-tainted Galentine’s Day. Gift it to those marvellous women in your life to say thanks; thanks for being there, for telling you you’re on mute on the Zoom call, for sending you silly cat videos to cheer you up.

After all, female friendships have prevailed despite everything and anything that life can throw at them, and that is worth celebrating. You can buy a copy here and Bernadette will post it to your galentine.