On the Feast of the Epiphany, a glum occasion: I take down the Christmas tree while my ten-year-old, Ella, is at school. She hates the packing away of the fairy lights and tinsel even more than I do. I get started as soon as I come home from the school run, ruthlessly piling the glittering baubles into a black bag like a burglar. I remember Ella exclaiming with delight the evening we put the tree up, as she pulled out the decorations familiar to her since infancy. Into the bag - the red glass bird, the blue ballerina. The room feels sadly plain once I've finished, like a clown's face scrubbed clean of its make-up. Our young spaniel hides behind the sofa polishing off a chocolate bell.
The wonderful textual artist Stephen Raw is slowly working his way through my house, painting poems, or parts of poems, on the doors. This involves taking the door in question away to his studio. He arrives to return the kitchen door, which on the hall side, in gold, has the last verse of George Herbert's "Prayer" ("Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the souls blood,/The land of spices; something understood") and on the kitchen side, the whole of William Carlos Williams's poem "This is Just to Say" ("I have eaten/the plums . . ."). I am cheered up no end by this gorgeous work, and so is the house.
When Ella gets home she points out that I have got the date wrong - 6 January is tomorrow! We could have had the tree up for another night!
To the cinema with Ella and her friends Rosie and Annie, and their mother, to see Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong. I'm a huge fan of the original, which inspired my poem "Queen Kong". Alas, I find Jackson's film overlong and the portrayal of the black "natives" of Skull Island embarrassingly racist. It's also, now, difficult to watch the scenes of fleeing New Yorkers and the moment where Kong falls to his death from the top of the Empire State Building without thinking of 9/11. The Beauty and the Beast love story is well handled, though, and Naomi Watts's
scenes with Kong are witty and touching.
Annie clings, scared, to her mummy throughout the film. Afterwards we take the girls to a restaurant where they can make their own pizzas.
Saturday, favourite day of the week - no school! Ella has flute and piano lessons, so I get to drink tea and read the papers. What sweeter sound is there than a child practising scales? The papers are full of Charles Kennedy, and I'm surprised at the lack of sympathy shown by his colleagues, how they claim to have felt so compromised for so long by "lying" for him. Alcoholism is an illness. Surely they could have tried to help instead of "covering" for him as though they were dealing with a form of sleaze? I've only been to the House of Commons once, but I remember how, at around 6pm, the polished doors in the long corridors burst open to reveal bars, dining rooms, private function rooms, parties, and how foreign catering staff rushed up and down shouldering trays of wine and whisky. The joint was jumping. I wonder if the next leader of the Lib Dems will table a motion to make the House of Commons dry?
Hear with delight that Christopher Logue has won the Whitbread Poetry Prize for the latest volume of War Music. He's a fiercely intelligent talent and, with Adrian Mitchell and Dannie Abse, part of a generation who were and are fantastic at performing their work. Christopher once paid me the compliment of saying my poems had become good enough for him to steal from. I hope he wins the overall prize. I hope, also, as Whitbread is ending its sponsorship, that a new sponsor emerges. It's a unique prize, spotlighting as it does poetry, biography, fiction and children's writing.
It is the second leg of the GCSE Poetry Live tour, which Simon Armitage, Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker, John Agard, I and others undertake annually. Devised by Simon Powell, these events often involve audiences of 2,000. I am to visit Newcastle, Wolverhampton, Bath, Bristol, Lancaster and Plymouth. I have a driver to get me home for the end of the school day, so it's usually three hours on the motorway, half an hour on stage, then three hours back. To see me through a thousand miles I pack Sebastian Faulks's Human Traces. For the next week (Liverpool, Nottingham, Reading, Oxford and London) I have ordered the new Sarah Waters novel, The Night Watch. The tour ends in London on 3 February.
Carol Ann Duffy's latest collection, Rapture (Picador), has been shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize; the winner will be announced on 16 January