MEMORIES OF YEW
Some Poasyum Reportage
Participants are invited to submit their memories and
personal highlights of the convention for publication on the website. This page
will be updated as submissions come in. Please send your stories, either in Word
format or just typed in the body of the email, to
nexovollma @ hoban2005.co.uk
If you're just after vital statistics of the weekend
please click here
Click here to read Lisa Greenstein's 'Diary
of a Some-Poasyac'.
THE RUSSELL HOBAN SOME-POASYUM, LONDON, 11-13 FEBRUARY 2005
by Chris Bell
Yes. You can have three days in London with like-minded souls,
connected to the sky as to a grid,
like human dodgem cars sparking off each other’s
and the warmth; the surrounding energy positively charged.
Life is peopled by unconnected strangers and curiously fleeting relationships;
sometimes, we are even pleased when they come to an end.
But when a group of souls with one mind converges in one place
this union inspires us to the unexpected.
There was so much that might have gone wrong, and yet nothing did.
The truth is that it couldn’t;
it was physically impossible with this force-field of love around us,
blessed by the contagion of smiling, beautiful faces.
You read about couples meeting and marrying on the strength of email and web
And yet this was the coming together of an virtual family that had never met
Spanning generations, we were unified at the Friend At Hand (“Migrants
through love and an appreciation of a life’s work.
And now we are One:
Connexions made over dinner at il Fornello can never be broken;
those smiles have fused, forming a bond;
one that makes the rest of the struggling more worthwhile;
leaving us with images shared and personal:
A hangover seemed to be the right state of mind
from which to view a fibreglass Christ.
So many miles between here and lunch,
from the V&A to the hidden lion at the British Museum.
Somewhere between Lewisham and Peckham
a house like the Bates abode in Hitchcock’s Psycho.
And the Venue in New Cross painted entirely black —
window panes and all.
The people on the streets and in the bus queues worn out and beyond hope;
Western Union money transfers and jerk chicken;
seemingly endless terraces and semi-detacheds in the half-darkness
on the sleepy coach trip back into London from the Canterbury chill
Between Victoria Coach Station and the tube station
(where in the morning the girls working the Costa coffee were Eastern-European
in the evening rush, confusion came at us from all directions;
Crosshatched trajectories, hurrying commuters,
While Africans calmly carried gigantic wooden idols in amongst the chaos.
Nothing could take the shine off this Wonderful Thing,
this confluence of strangers,
the happy magnetic forces of this mysterious togetherness.
I have no photographs but I do have a grab-bag of memories.
I don’t need to try too hard to smell the exotic timber among the cobbles at
Moss & Co.
— the scent of drying lime is like the concentrated pages of books unwritten —
and the spiced savour of the salt beef in Gaby’s Deli spans twenty years of my
As well as a bag of tangible souvenirs I have 33 names:
Alida, Dave, Eli, Ruthie,
Hugh, Val, Gillian, Peter,
Linda, Roland, Richard, Malcolm,
Anthony, Coral, Helen, Catherine,
Emmae, Lisa, Kim, Tim,
Fiona, Martin, Steve, Deena,
Stuart, Toni, Olaf, Diana,
Marion, Yvonne, Franz, Linda
plus Russ, overseeing us all:
A Some Poasyum mantra
For those who shared this incomparable place
This high point in Time
I will never forget
An afternoon in Canterbury,
like the Eusa folk,
shedding tears into the crypt among the stone trees
but surrounded by the smiles beaming on each of these new friends’ faces.
This, then, the realisation: The summation of our efforts,
the concentrated power of our affection.
When what brought us together was suddenly manifest
in the voice of a stranger reading familiar words.
I needed space to take all of this in,
and walked off into the shadows
to touch the wood of stoan trees growing unner the ground
in the woom of her what has her woom in Cambry.
You may not need any of this expressed in words
but since touching that stone I’ve felt compelled
to capture some of what was extraordinary about it,
and yet it will not be documented.
It can only be an abstract,
as it refuses to be contained by language;
it was its own experience, its own sensation.
It can never be repeated.
It will always be The First One, and that’s important now that it’s over;
always be a thing that can never be grasped in its entirety,
never held onto by any one of us;
and, I have just realised, that’s why we did it.
It spoke for itself In the words of Russell Hoban;
And when those words all came together in our minds
we got this One Big Thing made of just two little words:
~ ~ ~ ~
DIARY OF A SOME-POASYAC
by Lisa Greenstein
Quarter past eight had been the wrong thing to think. Oh-eight-fifteen had been
the right thing to think. But the numbers didn’t tell me that till I squinted
hard at their little square selves. Oh-eight-fifteen says the plane ticket. Oh
shit, I say. Max and I are on our way to meet an imaginary aeroplane that should
fly at quarter past eight. The real one flew hours ago, is probably juddering
onto a Heathrow runway now as we peer out at Cape Town's afternoon rush hour.
Until the revelation of the square numbers four lines ago, I was The Picture of
Calm. Now at the airport, the picture is slightly muddy.
"Your chances of getting on standby are quite good," says Imtiaz, the Passenger
Services man. "There are always nine or ten no-shows. You can usually count on a
I know, I think. You're looking at one. I feel like I've arrived on opening
night asking for an audition. Noshowtime. Hi, my name is Lisa, this is my
passport and I'd like to play the passenger in 43C, please; for an audition,
I'll be giving my rendition of I'll Be There By Eight, in E minor, and a terse
monologue entitled Really Wanna Be in London by Tomorrow. I can make it it a
real tearjerker, I think, but although no one shouts "Next!" it's fairly obvious
no one is transported.
I have an hour to kill before they announce the cast list for the flight. Buy a
notebook and a banana milkshake – all the ammunition I need for this unwitting
hour. A suspenseful performance. The Academy Award (TM) for Poker Face
Performance must surely go to the people at the standby desk, who maintain their
expressions of stony indifference even as they announce, fifteen minutes before
the plane leaves the ground, that I should send my bag onto the conveyer belt
and advance one flight further on my adventure. Lisa Greenstein, cameo role: the
passenger in 43C.
Lost and found
The plane lands at 5.30. Delayed, ready to dock, we wait among the smells that
build up in an aircraft: a breathable residue of cooked eggs and plastic, black
foam earphones and thin airline blankets, cramped sleep and dreams left with
their mouths open. I am suddenly walking into the strangeness of my mission. If
I didn't know there were no other delegates from South Africa, I would be
tempted to walk around holding up a book as my sign.
Once you are through customs at Heathrow, you could be in the hub of the whole
globe. You can tell from the wrapping around each head: a turbaned, bearded
head; a head which has lost a war against a fine-toothed comb; a head which
earns more in weekly highlighting foil than some countries earn in monthly
income; jetlagged hair; 12.30-meeting-in-Zurich hair;
never-to-be-revealed-from-beneath-a-headscarf hair. On the tube train, I am
reading The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz. Every time one of the
heads glances inquisitively at my cover, I think: where are you going? Who will
be there to meet you? Could it be me?
The book is speaking to me fiercely. My Leo sign has always growled within,
restless, trying to live given too little space. The pages are offering a little
more space; each page, a little more place to prowl. It was something I saw in
Leonhard when we first met: sea eyes in a mountain creature. A wider plain in
which to unfurl.
I check in at the Lord Jim hotel. The man at the desk has a pale forehead and
thin dark hair. I mistake his accent – where are you from? I ask, expecting
Spain, Italy, Portugal, maybe France. Somewhere you could eat salted sardines
and wine from a stumpy, pitted glass. North Africa, he says. You are from the
south, I am from the north.
It is 7.30 and London's sky is silvery white and gleaming.
The North African man points me towards the breakfast room and coffee, but I
have in my mind the idea of a tiny bookshop where I found – and failed to buy –
a beautiful copy of The Medusa Frequency last time I was in London. Now I
am here just for the birthday celebrations of the author, it seems the obvious
place to go.
In my mind's eye, the book was on a shelf behind the door. At the shop, there
was no shelf behind the door. Never was, said the man behind the desk. Still,
the book was there – the same one, with the Vermeer girl on the front, shining
behind the plastic jacket. I wondered where the shelf behind the door had gone –
or where it had come from. The Vermeer girl had neighbours: all beautifully
covered first editions. It was difficult not to buy all six. I left the shop
with arms full of purchases: Pilgermann and The Medusa Frequency,
both of which I'd been seeking for a while. And Riddley Walker, a gift
for Lara who didn't come to London except in spirit and who accompanied me
quietly going There! How about that! Aren't we lucky to be here! even though she
Have lunch with Alice. Catch the number 14 bus to get there, obviously. Hear
about Richard, who I call Plummy because Alice's Cape Town accent goes all Eton
plummy around him. But Alice says Richard's not the plum for her.
A Friend in Hand is worth two on the bus
We spot them almost instantly at the back of the pub, recognisable by the size
and mottle of the collection, by their photographs (of course) and also by the
hint of slight amazement on each face that this peculiar and excellent gathering
is happening and is here. Here we are, a variety of tall and short stories – the
website never hinted at height we all notice, as the towering infernos burn
alongside tiny fireworks and tapered candles. Each shedding their own light;
altogether something to see and hear.
Nine o'clock on a Saturday in London is not the same as nine o'clock in Cape
Town. Nine o'clock in Cape Town is halfway through the morning, with a mountain
under your feet and the sun furious in your eyes and last night's love long
burnt away in the mid-morning heat. In London, you might worm out of bed by
eight, if you really have to, into the grey morning that hasn't quite given up
night yet. Huddle in a coat through damp streets. How can a walk through the
streets of London be anything but a search for kindling, for love?
It is morning and we are gathering at Hammersmith to go to Moss & Co, a
timberyard which Russ visited in researching his novel The Bat Tattoo.
From here we will follow a trail of locations and artefacts: Fulham Broadway,
the neighbourhood where the author lives, where most of his characters live too.
To St John's Church, to see the fibreglass Christ that Roswell Clark visits in
The Bat Tattoo. To the Science Museum to look at Klein bottles and other
gorgous pieces of 3D geometry.
"These truncations are doing my head in," says Dave Awl.
I know what he means. I could stay here all day. My world is hijacked daily by
mathematics textbooks: writing them, rewriting them, overwriting them, pasting
them up and then tearing them apart again. Mathematics buys my days, paying in
heavy coins that cover the passage to London for just long enough to taste
different kinds of days, the kind that aren't bought. And now, on one of those
very days, I find myself back with geometry, marvelling at it from behind glass.
"So, you came quite late to Russ's writing," says Olaf, walking beside me. "I am
intrigued: which of the books convinced you to fly all this way, all the way to
London for the weekend?"
I think: I have never been good at choosing favourites. As a child, questioned:
What's your favourite colour? What's your favourite food? What's your favourite
subject at school? I line up the colours in my head. Would I know the culprit if
I saw it, and would it look the same hauled out of the line-up?
"I'm not sure," I tell Olaf. I say: it was more the feeling of the thing. I like
the ideas in Russ's writing, the idea of his writing. And I like the idea of a
gathering, especially a gathering that takes such an irregular shape: no long
oval tables or horseshoes here. There is no agenda. What discussion happens,
happens over food, between underground stops, on the bus from Canterbury.
We take the tube to Nomad Books. A walk through icy streets filled with no
people. Are we lost? Eventually we see a door, a small board outside. Inside,
lights, books a few clusters of people. Near the back of the shop a man in a
purple waistcoat looks brightly toward us. I recognise the eyes, the gleaming,
which is even brighter in real life than in photographs.
The first event of the evening is Punch and Judy. We see Punch kill the man and
we see the crocodile come after Punch. Afterwards, the puppeteer tells about
life with Punch. It's all about incoume, he says. The relationship with the
police is, there isn't one. The ones that pay, they're the poor and the working
class. No, not the wealthy. Yes, he gets heckled. Yes, he gets angsty women
protesting the violence of the show. Yes, he tells them to fuck off.
A little later, we sit on chairs in the children's section of the shop. Russ
sits in front. He reads the first chapter or so of Come Dance With Me. He
is carried by the prose; he carries us with him. His voice is light in
conversation; in reading it becomes weightier, textured, full of surprises.
Afterwards, he takes questions, fielded by Diana ("I stood on my hearing aid on
New Year's Eve," he says, glinting, "so it isn’t working.")
There's question and answer time. Russ talks about the writer as a shaman, about
the voices that you hear that you write down… He talks about the 'period of high
energy' in which he wrote Pilgermann and Riddley Walker; talks
about his childhood; about coming from a Jewish family, the migrations that
pushed and pulled Jews across the sea to America, and later, the personal
migration that drew him across the sea to London.
"And then I stopped writing about toys and started writing about men and women,"
he said. Which made me think of the tellings of ourselves: are we not the
stories we tell of ourselves? And how many men are brave enough to cross the sea
in order to leave their wind-up selves behind and find their bigger story on the
other side? Braver than me, I can't help feeling, and a little of our shared
nomadic blood curdles slightly at the thought.
There is a pause. A man standing at the side asks, "What is the role of the
Russ blinks, then glints.
"Oh. I think we spoke about that before – with the shamans. Yes. See above."
Undeterred, the man pressed on:
"Then: What is literature for?"
To which, Hugh pointed out later, the only necessary answer would be: "To read."
Still, Russ drew a few lines to join the man's dots before moving along to
signing heaps of books, each with an inscription. I was cross with myself for
bringing so many – what a birthday present, I thought, tendonitis from signing
your own work. Greedy us, I thought, greedy me, wanting ever more signs from the
The Episode of the Little Man and the Scarf
Sunday brings a trip to Canterbury – or, as it's written in Riddley Walker,
Cambry. The coach is warm, sleep-inducing, and the trip is long – almost two
hours each way. When we get there, the air says, More north here it is. Icy. The
coat that was thick and enveloping in London is lightweight in this kind of
The tour of the Cathedral starts in about an hour, says Richard, so we should
entertain ourselves, perhaps eat something, meet back here at one. I am eyeing
the heated clothing shops, all open for Sunday shopping, picturing a big woolly
hat and scarf. I don't feel like shopping, but thick and warm is a tempting
Eli is telling us about the ruins of Canterbury Castle. He and Coral and Ruthie
are taking a walk there; would I like to join them? Of course I'm coming to the
castle, I say, shutting out thoughts of the frost and imminent hail. As the
group exchanges plans and begins splitting off, I feel something brush against
my back. A little man – perhaps half my size – smiles up at me then turns away.
Wait! I think, but the thought doesn't even reach my mouth by the time he has
raced away. Instinctively, I press my hands into my pockets to check: wallet,
yes. Then one to my camera – yes, that's there too. Anyway, the little man
looked friendly, like he wanted to tell me something, without talking, like he
wanted to be helpful. And now he's disappeared. Why so quickly?
I turn to the group around me. They are stomping feet to keep warm, caucusing
about who's going where. Did anyone else seen the little man? I ask. Eli?
Ruthie? Coral? I get odd little smiles. Little man? What little man? Suddenly
I'm in the Punch and Judy, shaking my stick for some audience participation: You
must tell me, Which way did he go?
The others are still smiling at me oddly. I look down at my jacket. I have been
wrapped in a thick woollen scarf. Dark blue and green tartan. It's not mine, I
say. I look around – someone might have lost it, I say. I turn around again. No
one anywhere looking scarfless, and the little man has gone.
Who put the scarf on me? I demand. They look back at me.
"It wasn't me," says Coral.
"The little man?" someone suggests with more irony than I can try to unravel.
I am skeptical. It is not beyond this bunch of trustworthy weirdos to collude
with a dwarf-man in order to scarve me in some sort of obscure way.
"Well, you have a scarf," offers Ruthie. "Whoever gave it to you." By now we are
walking to the castle, into the wind, and she's right – I certainly have a
scarf. A dark, thick tartan scarf, caked with generous streaks of human snot,
but definitely warmer than no scarf.
I decide to overlook the snot, although I find it an unusual feature for a gift,
think the thing about the gift horse and the mouth, wrap the scarf around my
neck and head off for the castle where we will dizzy ourselves looking up at the
clouds through the broken window gaps.
Just before we reach the outer wall of the castle, a little voice, out of
breath, stops us.
"I'm terribly sorry," says the little man. "I'm so terribly embarrassed…the
"It's not mine," I say.
"Yes, it blew away," he says, looking tiny and miserably. "And I picked it up. I
thought it was yours – there was nobody else."
"And when I turned to tell you, there was no one there."
He retrieves the scarf, doesn't seem to see the snot. I'm glad its not his own
scarf; it's easier to conduct transactions over neutral snot.
Eli gestures with his camera: "Would you mind – it makes a great story."
The little man looks up at me and beams.
"Tall and short, too."
We stand side by side, a tall and short story outside Canterbury Castle. When
the picture is done, both scarf and man are gone.
"I know you are particularly interested in green men," says a man called Andrew,
who is neither small nor green. The green men aren't green either though; they
seem to have lost their green with the ages, and now are only their carved stone
selves. Andrew shows us around the Cathedral, leads us to the painting of St
Eustace, and tells us the legend as we look up at the fading green and orange
We are shown the place where Thomas a Beckett was murdered/martyred. Where the
pilgrims would come. We stand on the stairs, looking into the places where only
monks would go. We can go there now, and there are few monks, posing for
photographs with Japanese tourists. A candle still flickers over the place of St
Thomas's grave. Before it lies an intricate patterned pavement, inlaid on each
side with relief tiles showing the signs of the zodiac. A lion in the cathedral,
I find myself thinking. Right in the middle of the pilgrims' target, the grave
of the martyr. Lions and scorpions and goats. I wonder what the pilgrims thought
After this, we go into the crypt. Here, in the heart of the cathedral, Eli will
read The Eusa Story from Riddley Walker. There will be no photographs,
since Andrew was severely reprimanded for overlooking two photographs taken at
the Eustace painting. No filming, no recording, just some wooden chairs and us,
the red-haired man and the book, and that's it. And the organ music that starts
way back in the church and rumbles through us. There is only the hush and the
reading and the listening. Eli reads, casting his quiet light into 'the hart of
the wud' and leading us in. Willingly, unmoving, we follow him in, into the
heart of the thing; open and listening, we are torn in two and brought again
together with Eusa and the Littl Shynin Man, all in Eli's voice, all in the rare
hush of the place, in the crypt in Canterbury Cathedral.
"Eusa sed, Is this a dream? The Littl Man sed, No. Eusa sed, Wuz the other a
dream then? Wen I had a wyf & childer? The Littl Man sed, No Eusa that wuzn no
dream nor this ain no dream. Its aul 1 thing nor yu cant wayk up owt uv it. Eusa
sed, I can dy owt uv it tho cant I. The Littl Man sed, Eusa yu dy owt uv this
plays & yul jus fyn me in a nuther plays. Yul fyn me in the wud yul fyn me on
the water lyk yu foun me in the stoan. Yu luk enne wayr & Iwl be thayr."
~ ~ ~ ~
THE RUSSELL HOBAN SOME-POASYUM
- VITAL STATISTICS
Black trees, bare branches.
Some travelled far to view it--
little old Hoban
* A total of 52 participants officially signed up to the convention, of whom 33
registered for the full weekend and the remainder came only to the Nomad Books
* Participants came from the US, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland
and Austria as well as from around the UK.
* The convention opened on the evening of Friday 11th February at the
Hand pub in Herbrand Street and later at
Il Fornello in Russell Square.
Participants were presented with welcome packs which included the
Some-Poasyum Celebratory Book as well
as specially-designed badges, bookmarks and postcards;
London Underground also
donated mouse-mats and pens, and participants were able to buy
t-shirts and mugs.
* Some 15-20 people took part in the London tour, which slipped behind schedule somewhat but was still great fun;
a particular highlight was Stuart Duncan, the manager of
Moss & Co timber yard,
mentioned in The Bat Tattoo, giving us a lecture on lime and other woods.
Also, the Chinese "bat bowl" from the same book would not have been viewable on
the day of our tour as it normally lives in a gallery of the
Victoria & Albert Museum
which is currently closed for a security review, but Ming Wilson, one of the
original V&A staff who helped Russell Hoban with his research on the bowl, moved
it to an open gallery specifically so we could see it.
* Around 60 people attended the
Nomad Books event, which was also a great success. The evening opened with a
Punch & Judy show by
Konrad Fredericks, followed by a short lecture on the life of a Punch
performer. Russell Hoban then gave a reading from his new novel
Come Dance With Me and submitted to a question and answer session
lasting about 45 minutes in which he spoke movingly of his childhood, his
American and Ukrainian roots, his literary and cinematic influences, and what
literature means to him. Afterwards he signed a vast number of books, both new
and old, with the help of his longtime agent
Bruce Hunter, who came along to all three nights of the convention and
proved to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Some-Poasyum.
* Some 22 people took part in the Canterbury
trip and were given a fascinating tour of the cathedral by director of
development Andrew Webster, the focal points being the wall-painting
Legend of St Eustace, which originally inspired Hoban to write
Riddley Walker, and the crypt, in which the group was treated to a
wonderful reading from the novel by Eli Bishop, webmaster of
Annotations, an invaluable resource for scholars of Hoban's masterpiece.
* The weekend was rounded off on Sunday 13th February with a second group dinner
Troubadour in Earl's Court, attended by about 25 participants, which was
accompanied by the showing of Hoban-scripted animations
David Anderson). Several participants also gave readings of favourite
passages from the novels and there was a prize-giving ceremony for the winners
of the Hoban Quiz - the first prize, a complete set of signed
Bloomsbury Hoban novels, kindly donated by the publisher, was won by Deena
Omar of London.
Click on small photos to see big photos
The group dinner at Il Fornello (Friday night)
The London Tour (Saturday morning)
Coming home from Nomad
Outside the Lord Jim (photo by Marion Stevenson)
For more photos see the various events' respective pages.