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Pam Ayres waxes lyrical

PUBLISHED: 12:53 29 October 2013 | UPDATED: 12:59 29 October 2013

Pam Ayres with one of the goats at Adam Henson's Cotswold Farm Park

Pam Ayres with one of the goats at Adam Henson's Cotswold Farm Park

© Thousand Word Media

We’ve waited seven years for a new collection of poetry from Pam Ayres, but the wait is now over. You Made Me Late Again! is full of those trademark pithy observations and wonderful rhymes, says Katie Jarvis. Oh, and don’t forget the fund-raising lunch

Adam Henson's father Joe who set up the famous Cotswold Farm Park in Guiting Power with Pam Ayres and her husband Dudley RussellAdam Henson's father Joe who set up the famous Cotswold Farm Park in Guiting Power with Pam Ayres and her husband Dudley Russell

Have you met my little grandson?

No, I didn’t think you had.

Who’s he like? Well, some have said

He’s rather like his Dad

Pam Ayres at Adam Henson's Cotswold Farm ParkPam Ayres at Adam Henson's Cotswold Farm Park

My Little Grandson by Pam Ayres

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If you go to The Poetry Archive website – a spine-tingling A-Z (or Abse to Zephaniah, if you prefer) of poets reading their own work – you’ll find on Pam Ayres’s page a quote from the Sunday Times. ‘Forget the corny comedian: Pam Ayres is a proper poet, whose wistful, funny, and perceptive verse captures both the joy and unfairness of life,’ it reads.

Well, der. As if we didn’t know that.

But while Robert Browning is promising to tarry for his true love and Shelley is declaiming the decline of empires, Pam Ayres is castigated by her irate husband, Dudley, for tarrying in the bathroom (Well done. You’ve made me late again!) or declaiming the decline of her teeth. Similar subjects. Radically different approach.

“Someone on Twitter said I should be the Poet Molar-eate,” Pam says, as we sip coffee at the Cotswold Farm Park.

We’re meeting here because she loves animals, and the photo-opportunities are legion. But also because it’s a chance for Pam and Dudley to have lunch with the park’s founder, their long-time friend Joe Henson and his wife, Gill.

How did they meet?

“I probably just thought, ‘Who is that stunning woman?’ and came over to chat you up!’ Joe booms, teasingly.

“Actually, I think it was when you asked me to open some new lambing pens and I demanded a fee of two guinea pigs, which probably infuriated Dudley,” Pam recalls. “The lovely thing about it was that one of your daughters lectured my boys on how to look after them properly, which is just the way it should be.”

There’s an extra reason for coming to the farm park nowadays; a six-month-old reason, who features in Pam’s latest book of poetry, You Made Me Late Again!

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And though the old must fall away,

I see a vision clear,

At my grandson’s great achievements,

I am sure that you will hear,

As he steps up for the Nobel Prize,

This genius of a man,

A voice beneath the daisies say:

‘He gets it from his gran.’

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“I do now have a beautiful grandchild, Arthur,” she grins. “After my performances, I do a book-signing where people come up and have a word. They always used to ask, ‘Have you got any grandchildren yet?’ and say things I thought were rather sugary and saccharine. One lady said, ‘Oh, you wait! It’s like falling in love.’ And I thought, ‘Where’s the exit?’ It didn’t seem like me at all.

“But I’ll never forget the day my daughter-in-law came home from hospital and we went over to see the baby. There was my son, with his darling little baby in the crook of his arm; it was very emotional. So I have been overwhelmed and I can’t see enough of my grandson: he smiles and he beams and is a sunny little boy.”

Well, there you go. And that’s what makes Pam Ayres’s writing so appealing to people everywhere. (Follow her on Twitter and you’ll see replies from the world over.) She takes the common experiences – things we all go through – and views them from a slightly different angle. The Broken Woman is about dancing all night at a 60th birthday party and not being able to walk the next morning. “It was a party over at the end of the runway at RAF Fairford, where Mike d’Abo and his band were playing. Fantastic. But the next day, I could hardly move.” While Did I Turn Off My Tongs? is our every OCD writ large.

------------------------------------------------

Did I turn off the tongs? Well I just cannot say,

My ghastliest fears are rampaging away,

I fret, while pretending to savour the drive,

Are flames licking round my Chanel No 5?

------------------------------------------------

“We went to Badminton this year with our friends and the day was wrecked for me because I couldn’t remember turning off the curling tongs. I was so mad at myself because 99.9 % of me was sure that I’d turned them off and, of course, when I got home I had.”

Mine’s the gas cooker, I confess.

“It’s interesting you say that because, when I sent the poem to my editor, Charlotte, she said she has to take a photograph of her tongs turned off before she goes out.” Pam laughs. “That does seem to be taking it a bit far!”

Many of the poems in her latest collection feature one of her favourite subjects: animals. This month, she’s starring at a special fundraising lunch for Cheltenham Animal Shelter, of which she’s patron, and Canine Partners, which trains dogs to assist disabled people.

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There are rabbits and guinea pigs, fancy and plain,

At the animal shelter in Gardners Lane,

Terriers eager to sniff out a rat,

Puppies who long for a cuddle and pat.

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“I’ve loved animals for as long as I can remember,” she says. “When I got my first rabbit, I was so thrilled; then I longed for a dog; and then I longed for a horse. I liked being with animals and looking after them and making them comfortable. It’s just the way I’m cut out.”

It’s not a sentimental, bunny-hugger (as she puts it) love, though. At their house on the outskirts of Cirencester, Pam and Dudley have a smallholding of sheep and cows, which they keep for their meat. “It’s really nice to have meat from happy animals. I hate them going off but, if you want beautiful calves running around with their tails stuck up in the air and jumping for the joy of life, then something has to go or you’d just be overcrowded.

“If you don’t want to eat meat, then I respect that very much. But this is such a better way of doing it than going into a supermarket and buying any old lump of meat that might have come from Kazakhstan.”

What does she think of the experiment that grew meat in a test-tube?

“Ugh!” she groans. “It makes my flesh creep! I saw it in the newspaper in a petri dish and it looked like an enormous amalgamation of little worms.

“I think we should all have smaller families: we should all just replace ourselves. Nobody wants to talk about that because it’s such a controversial subject; but if we limited the size of our families, we wouldn’t need so much food and we wouldn’t need to make this horrible slime in laboratories – but that doesn’t fit in with everybody’s culture. I’ve got two sons and I’ve loved having two sons and they were enough. I’m one of a family of six but times have changed since then.”

It’s not just cows and sheep down on the smallholding. There are five colonies of bees, too, some rescued battery hens, and 15 guinea fowl. “I did have 16 but the fox has had one, which was terrible. I always think, when people say, ‘Oh, the fox keeps having my chickens!’, ‘well, that’s your fault because you’re not housing them properly’. But the guinea fowl are wild and they wander around and roost up in the trees so I can’t really protect them.”

One of the funniest, most touching poems in this new collection is also animal-based. But, for once, it’s not about one of her own menagerie. The Racehorse Fred concerns a four-legged Grand National competitor who’s far from confident of his ability to stay the course. As a result, he’s making his will.

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I bequeath to my friend Bob,

The haynet where I daily chomped,

And my rug, but he’s a Shetland,

So he may be rather swamped.

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“I didn’t like the Grand National very much because I hated to see the horses hurt. I know it’s improved now and safer, which I’m glad about, but I always dreaded the green screens going up and the shot that rings out. I do love this poem, though. It’s one of my favourites.”

It’s nearly 40 years since Pam Ayres won Opportunity Knocks but her appeal never fades. She’s embarking on a national tour this autumn before heading out to New Zealand in spring - followed by the Dubai literary festival, “So I shall be able to load myself up with bling. It’s a lovely invitation and life is short but I will feel like a fish out of water. Dubai is full of Chloe handbags: there aren’t many people with cows.”

Wherever she goes, observations such as that one always strike a chord.

“People often ask me how audiences differ in Australia or France, but I don’t actually find that much difference,” she says. “After all, if you’re talking about how you wish you’d looked after your teeth, everybody feels the same, no matter where they come from!”

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• You Made Me Late Again!, the new collection of poems from Pam Ayres, is published by Ebury Press, price £16.99. For full tour dates, visit www.pamayres.com

• A charity literary lunch, with speaker Pam Ayres, will be held at Ellenborough Park Hotel, Cheltenham on Wednesday, November 6, in aid of Canine Partners and Gloucestershire Animal Welfare Association and Cheltenham Animal Shelter. Tickets, £75, include a signed copy of Pam’s new book and a three-course lunch with wine and coffee. For further information, call Deb Barron on 01242 548775, Holly Bryan on 01730 716013 or visit www.gawa.org.uk

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