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Ted at his desk

An Insight into: Ted Booth

Who is Ted Booth you are asking?  This month’s Insight is a bit different. Instead of interviewing a local business owner, WHL sat down to have a chat with Ted Booth, who is the current writer-in-residence for the Friends of West Hampstead Library. Ted’s a very cool guy but wouldn’t consider himself as such – he’s far too modest for that. He is retired and his last job was lecturer in creative writing in the art faculty at Middlesex University. He said it was ‘terrific fun’ as he was working with art students on writing; they would discuss diaries, poetry, short stories, postcards and occasionally lyrics.

Ted’s been writer-in-residence at the library since June 2016. He was suppose to finish his stint in June this year, but was asked to stay on until September because as Friends’ chair Simon Inglis, put it – we are looking for ‘someone younger’. Ted will end his stint with another evening of poems with Cllr Flick Rea in September. I really enjoyed the last one, so watch out for that. And if you can’ t wait you can also read his blog here.

Ted at his desk

Ted at his desk

Before his library post, Ted was artist-in-residence for the Friends of Fortune Green (2013/14), where he started writing a poem for National Poetry Day, on a different theme each year. Last year, the FoFG gave away more than 500 copies of this poem to passing commuters (and you can also see the poems of other years on the FOFG website). Look out for this year’s poem, which will be published on September 28th. Ted really does bring a touch of poetry to West Hampstead.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

“Simple, my wife Janet’s work brought us here as she started the Mulberry House school. We moved from Leytonstone. People used to say ‘where’s that?’ but now it’s a bit more on the map.”

What is your earliest memory of the area?

“It was seeing this house. The estate agents showed us three houses, a couple on Burrard Road and this one. I soon as I stepped through the door, I thought “wow'”.”

Just a small part of Ted's poetry collection

Just a small part of Ted’s poetry collection

How has West Hampstead changed?

“I’ve noticed the rapid turnover of retailers on West End Lane and here up at Fortune Green.  There’s hardly anything left that was here when we arrived. Although the wonderful West End Lane Books had just opened then and that is still here.” Ted and I discussed a nearby corner shop which has been in turn a wine merchants, wooden flooring shop, motorbike showroom and now a skiwear shop and also the long-standing scuba shop in Child’s Hill. London is certainly full of odd shops we agreed.

What’s for lunch?

Ted surprised me. “I’m very fond  of Café Plus”. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the greasy spoon café on Mill Lane, near Tiffin Tin.  “I also like the Bridge Café opposite the Overground station”.  He says Café Plus offer quick cheap and tasty food, “It’s always very welcoming and run by immigrants making a living.”

Otherwise – and Ted has many facets – he likes the Nigel Slater mid-week dinner which he cooks for himself and Janet.

Describe West Hampstead in three words

Happy, peaceful and enjoyable

 

Flick channelling Edith Sitwell

An Ode to poetry evenings in West Hampstead

Just as the camp monthly quiz night in the Sherriff Centre, which caters to the 20-somethings, was getting started, the Friends of West Hampstead Library were kicking off their ‘evening of Hampstead poetry’, which seemed to appeal to a more mature audience. I’d been to the last quiz (and really enjoyed it), so it seemed time for some poetry.

The evening was organised by the FoWHL and Ted Booth, who is writer in residence at the Library. He was joined for the readings by local councillor and former actress, Flick Rea. Ted is a long-standing West Hampstead resident and a generous, gentle guy. And quite a good poet to boot, so it was no surprise that there was full house for the evening.

Flick channelling Edith Sitwell

Flick Rea channelling Edith Sitwell

Ted structured the evening as a programme of a dozen or so loosely linked poems, all by poets from Hampstead and its surrounds. If the poets were local, the poems ranged far and wide. A Year in London by Tobias Hill (formerly of Minster Road) took us on a journey down the Kilburn High Road, while Coming Back by Al Alvarez, and Autumn in Toas by DH Lawrence took us all the way to New Mexico.

We returned close to home with two poems of the same name, Parliament Hill Fields, by totally different poets: Sylvia Plath and John Betjeman. Ted said it would take a consummate actor to do both of them justice, but fortunately we had Flick on hand – and even with a nasty cough – she performed with gusto.

Earlier on she had read Portrait of A Barmaid, by Edith Sitwell, which Ted felt was surreal, but Flick just weird! Also in the programme were two works by Owen Sheers, a welsh poet who, like Tobias Hill is both a poet and author. The first, Mametz Wood, takes us back exactly 100 years to the battle of the Somme. The second , Coming Home, is about the awkardness of returning to the childhood home as an adult. Good stuff, and someone new to me.

The short evening ended with The Mission Jazz Band, written by Ted himself and recited by him and Flick. It was the lightest poem of the evening and brought back memories of warm summer afternoons in Golders Hill Park. Ted left us with some questions to ponder, what did we think of the evening? What did we think of the poems? I’m glad I went; it was a pleasant evening, it’s good to try something different and don’t we all, young or old, need a bit more poetry in our lives?

Water: A Fortune Green poem

Today is National Poetry Day. You may not know that Fortune Green has an official poet. Ted Booth is the artist in residence for 2013-14, and has already written a couple of poems, which you can read here, including one about the film screening of Back to the Future.

Today’s poem is inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “water, water, everywhere” from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Given the forecast for this afternoon, it is apposite.

Water

It  rains
It  rains
Up  above  us  on  the  Heath
levels  in  the  ponds  rise  alarmingly
It  rains
It  rains
Under  The  Green  is  a  fleet  river
it  speeds  downhill
to  the  Fire  Station  and  Pizza  Express  
It  rains
It  rains
The  water  pours
over  the  grass
along  the  paths
flooding  the  roads
pooling  into  unlucky  basements
ankle  deep  in  sodden  gardens
It  rains
It  rains
It  rains
It  pours
Over the page
The  flag  stones  are  awash
at  the  mouth  of  The  Green
the  stone  fountain
after  weeks  of  temperance
drinks  its  fill
and  vomits,  startling
the  doused  pigeons  into  flight
It  rains
It  goes  on  raining
Water,  water,  everywhere.

About Ted Booth
Ted was born in 1938 and educated at the London School of Economics. He is a retired lecturer in creative writing at Middlesex University. A part time poet, Ted has published two volumes; Rough Draft (1998) and Fair Copy (2010) and is anthologised in Football: Pure Poetry, Vols. 1 and 2 alongside Seamus Heaney, Roger McGough and Adrian Mitchell. Ted has lived in West Hampstead for over twenty years.