In the concluding chapter of his excellent memoir, ‘Don’t Mention the Night’ (Five Leaves Publications, 2022), David Belbin writes:
“The hippy in me had all but gone, as had the crippling, adolescent self-consciousness. A working-class Stevenage girl, Sue initially took against me. She found my forceful political opinions suspect. I’d yet to shake off the naïve arrogance of youth, although, without that, I might not have had the confidence to pursue a woman, who was, in every respect, out of my league. Still, we had a lot in common and never ran out of things to talk about. I hung in there, somehow seeing off several other suitors, and regrew my beard, which she liked. We were a couple by the end of her year-long teacher training course.”
In this way, David introduces the reader to his partner for life, Sue Dymoke.
It is perhaps always invidious to speak of people and ‘leagues’. In truth, this passage is a good example of the deft self-deprecation that ornaments David’s memoir. Yet, if each of us has a group of people of whom one might say: ‘Goodness, I am glad to have met you’ – and we surely do – for me, Sue numbers amongst them.
No special claims of long friendship are made. I only met Sue in 2019, within a year or so of joining the Board of Nottingham City of Literature of which David was the dedicated founding Chair.
She was a welcoming presence. An unfussy and unsentimental eye – with a twinkle never far away – was cast over whatever subject came to be under discussion. They included contemporary artists, books, our avian friends, food (what to do with their abundant apples) and human foibles.
Her poet’s ear seemed to hear, unerringly, the word that elevates a poem. One example coming straightway to mind is the last line of ‘The Dry Mouth’ by the Irish poet, Catríona Clutterbuck, which speaks of a memory of sloes, once bitten, as “nuggeting in my mind against the dry mouth”.
Another share, this time from Sue to me, was ‘Melodeon’ from Thomas A Clark’s ‘The Threadbare Coat’ (Carcanet, 2020):
“The thin organ-like tone
Is produced by air
Blown across the reeds”
It was sent partly as a response to the susurrus – that low, soft rustling sound generated by the wind blowing through the salt-marsh reeds of Norfolk. I remain so delighted that there she saw the godwits – a bird she had not seen until that visit – and that they were showing well. She wrote a poem about them, of course.
Over the course of an all-too-short friendship with her, the sense I gained is that Sue and David were strong adherents to the wisdom contained in these lines:
“The friends though hast, and their adoption tried
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel”
We never spoke about Shakespeare and now I worry that Sue was not a fan of ‘Hamlet’! Though I wonder whether she would have had much truck with the Dane’s dithering, she had – and has – a great circle of friends. It was a special privilege to see that, at first hand, for the celebration of her 60th at the Ukrainian Centre, off Mansfield Road – a party deferred from the month proper to mid-summer on account of the pandemic. Sue more than had her dancing shoes on that night and gave it big (and stylish) licks on the dance floor, to a playlist no doubt lovingly compiled by her Dave.
Periodically, David and I meet for lunch. He will, I hope, forgive me, if I say that when the last one needed to be switched from going out to a meal round their table, I was rather pleased. Not only was the home-prepared food likely better – a Mediterranean/North African theme on offer – but it afforded more chats with dear Sue. Though no doubt a redoubtable effort was made by her, Sue was on good form and her parting suggestion was to get hold of a copy of ‘Super-Infinite’ by Katherine Rundell (Faber, 2022). It’s about John Donne and like the person recommending it, a tour de force of intellectual curiosity, wit and sparkiness. Yes, of course I got the book and one poet’s recommendation about the transformations of another has been nuggeting away with me ever since.
Theirs is a long love and it endures – as will the comfort and company of friends. On the following page of his memoir, David writes:
“Over the next few years, while teaching full time, Sue and I supported each other’s writing, neither of us resenting the investment of time that learning to write well requires”.
If ever you want an exemplar of making a better world with words – and from words – look no further.
I miss you Sue. Here’s a bar-tailed godwit, for you, reaching for the air, elated by flight. With much love – and thanks – from all your friends at Nottingham City of Literature.
Patrick Limb, June 2023