A Poem A Day – Eleven to Twenty

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Poems that got me through Corona – Part 2

Part Two.  So in case you didn’t read the previous Poem a Day Part One post, or you haven’t read Part Three, I have been sending a poem a day to a friend of mine who is in the ‘at risk’ category and self-isolating, living on her own and feeling the isolation deeply.  It was Jo I wrote the birthday poem for. It was a way to regularly connect with her, to connect with nature and creativity and to have an excuse to wallow indulgently in some extraordinary poetry during lockdown.  I started this little daily poem sharing  on 25th March – some of them are in the blog already – who would have thought I’d be building up quite such an anthology.  In any case, they reflect my mood and my thoughts on my own personal Corona journey.  Behind every poem there is a story.  I thought I would record them here for posterity (or something), and so that something at least is being posted, maybe this will prompt me to share more of my ruminations too.  In the meantime, I’ll share them in batches of 10.  So here we go, Day Twenty One  to Day Thirty #APoemaDay. Take your time.

 

Day Eleven – The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free

 

Day Twelve – Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry, Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only, Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was
Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day. So it must have been after the birth of the simple light In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.
And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over, I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Day Thirteen – Everything is Going to be All Right by Derek Mahon

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.

Everything is going to be all right

 

Day Fourteen – An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd—
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

 

Day Fifteen – If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

 

Day Sixteen – Have a Nice Day by Spike Milligan.

Help, help, ‘ said a man. ‘I’m drowning.’
‘Hang on, ‘ said a man from the shore.
‘Help, help, ‘ said the man. ‘I’m not clowning.’
‘Yes, I know, I heard you before.
Be patient dear man who is drowning,
You, see I’ve got a disease.
I’m waiting for a Doctor J. Browning.
So do be patient please.’
‘How long, ‘ said the man who was drowning. ‘Will it take for the Doc to arrive? ‘
‘Not very long, ‘ said the man with the disease. ‘Till then try staying alive.’
‘Very well, ‘ said the man who was drowning. ‘I’ll try and stay afloat.
By reciting the poems of Browning
And other things he wrote.’
‘Help, help, ‘ said the man with the disease, ‘I suddenly feel quite ill.’
‘Keep calm.’ said the man who was drowning, ‘ Breathe deeply and lie quite still.’
‘Oh dear, ‘ said the man with the awful disease. ‘I think I’m going to die.’
‘Farewell, ‘ said the man who was drowning.
Said the man with the disease, ‘goodbye.’
So the man who was drowning, drownded
And the man with the disease past away.
But apart from that,
And a fire in my flat,
It’s been a very nice day.

Day Seventeen – I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud – William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Day Eighteen – The Lamb by William Blake

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee? Gave thee life, & bid thee feed
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek, & he is mild;
He became a little child.
I, a child, & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

 

Day Nineteen – The Rainbow by Christina Rossetti

Boats sail on the rivers,
And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
Are prettier than these.
There are bridges on the rivers,
As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
Is prettier far than these.

 

Day Twenty – No Man Is An Island by John Donne.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

 

What can you hear?

There’s a book I used to read with Tess. It was basically about listening and as you turned each page you were invited to stop and listen to the sounds around you. Stop. And listen.

˜What can you hear?”

I’m thinking of it now as I sit in a village graveyard. I’ve taken a moment out of my run, fitness apps have been deactivated, audible is on pause and I have stopped. And I am listening.

What can you hear?

Such peace in the hazy morning sunshine, almost tangible, with smart smooth military marble headstones standing to attention amidst the tumbling crumbling overgrown stone markers of civilian lives lost.

There’s also a small memorial, ginormous poppies – glorious, growing majestically alongside, a guard of honour marking the lives and deaths of those who were victims of the airship crash of 5th October 1930 – local history without ceremony in a rural churchyard.

The birds are singing without a care in the world, the crows coarse cawing in sharp contrast to the trilling arpeggios of the blackbird and the cooing of the doves, or perhaps pigeons, I never seem to know which is which. There’s a lot I don’t seem to know any more. In any case it is a veritable orchestra – no social distancing here – as I take time to stop. And listen. The village church bell has just struck, punctuating the peace with echoes of the past, a reminder of the present and perhaps even, hope for the future.

I’ve been listening to my friend Sasha’s book – Languages of Loss – on my runs which I can only listen to in short extracts before it all gets just a bit too much. She was widowed about a year before me (lines you never thought you’d actually have to say, and certainly not at 51) and the book is an account of her journey through grief – both from a personal standpoint and a professional one, she is a psychotherapist.

By listening to her book, rather than reading it, I was playing a trick on myself, pretending that I was perhaps ready for it, but I’ve had to turn it off now and just sit for a bit. I’m so not ready. Sasha has a 13 month head start on me.

With Nick (my brother-in-law’s) birthday today, Rich’s on May 13th and then the anniversary of Nick’s death on the 15th, it’s a strange old time. May – harbinger of new life as the goslings snuggling together on my riverside run attest – but also the month that carries with it the stark reminder of two brothers’ lives wiped out within 5 months of each other.

It would have killed their poor mother – but she was dead already. Sitting amongst the soldiers’ graves, I think too particularly at this time of those poor women who lost their sons, one after the other, brothers in arms in the war, as the village’s VE day bunting flaps carelessly in the breeze. I shudder to think that in another horrific time and place my three sons would all have been called up to fight for their country and perhaps their father too, but I digress.

I miss Rich constantly of course, but some days far more keenly than others. Those joint May birthday parties were always such fun, inevitably the two boys would end up laughing uncontrollably at some joke or other, private or shared, it didn’t really matter.

Within a few moments of their mutual giggles bubbling to the surface, the infectious laughter would overflow and the family would all be weeping with merriment – invariably with no idea why; our slices of cake and glasses of fizz momentarily abandoned. Three years ago both brothers and their families had been dancing the night away together at Rich’s 50th birthday party.

Family G

And then last year, Rich was not here to celebrate. Last year was the first since Rich’s birth that those brothers were unable to speak to eachother, to laugh, to hug, to celebrate and then Nick too died, just a week after his brother-less birthday.

Sash’s book tells me everyone grieves differently and explores the various stages of grief as defined by eminent professors, physiotherapists and psychotherapists through the years. She says it is fine to follow, ignore, embrace and/or merge the different ways of managing, deciphering, processing, comprehending and/or understanding grief. It’s all too much for me.

All I know is that I am clearly still in denial, ˜the denial stage”, doing that keeping busy thing I do. Of course it is a joy to have the kids home due to Covid-19 restrictions and there is a constant stream of busy things that need doing, good news for me – cooking/cleaning/chatting/eating/drinking/tidying/clearing/ironing/sorting/reading/playing games….. It is precious time that I am determinedly making the absolute most of. But to have a moment away from it all, away from them all, to just sit here in this graveyard and reflect and listen is an unusual gift – ‘me’-time snatched from the maelstrom of my ‘keeping busy’ life, and actually it feels good.

What can you hear?

A dog barks, a car drives off in the distance, muffled voices waft past as a young handholding couple embrace life on their daily exercise, together. How envious I am of them, their freedom, their future.

A lawn mower fires up with a vengeance and breaks my reverie and so life goes on. Those crows. Those pigeon/dove whatever the fuck they are birds and that bell again, marking the passing of time.

For whom the bell tolls.

This one is for Nicko and Richy. Happy Birthday boys.

A Poem a Day – One to Ten

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Poems that got me through Corona.

I have been sending a poem a day to a friend of mine who is in the ‘at risk’ category and self-isolating, living on her own and feeling the isolation deeply.  It was Jo I wrote the birthday poem for. It was a way to regularly connect with her, to connect with nature and creativity and to have an excuse to wallow indulgently in some extraordinary poetry during lockdown.  I started this little daily poem sharing  on 25th March – some of them are in the blog already – who would have thought I’d be building up quite such an anthology.  In any case, they reflect my mood and my thoughts on my own personal Corona journey.  Behind every poem there is a story.  I thought I would record them here for posterity (or something), and so that something at least is being posted, maybe this will prompt me to share more of my ruminations too.  In the meantime, I’ll share them in batches of 10.  So here we go, Day One to Day Ten #APoemaDay. Take your time.

Day One – The Guest House by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 

Day Two – We thought We’d Write a Poem by Emma Garrett
Written at the end of an extraordinary exhibition to Kenya 24th February to 4th March 2020 

We thought we’d write a poem
We thought we’d write a poem about this special time.
We had no real ideas but we knew it had to rhyme.
We knew it had to capture these most amazing travels.

And make us smile with happy thoughts whenever life unravels.
Our hostess Helen Jackson had the marvellous idea
To pull together Bahrain friends now scattered far and near:
‘Come and climb a mountain?’ she asked us all one day – 

Twelve of us gave the thumbs up and soon were on our way.
We bought our boots and trained a bit, to varying degrees,
Escalator Annie was almost on her knees,
Elen got quite dizzy as her route was back and forth
From the Ritz round to the island, east, west, south & north. 

Anne gave up the alcohol, a major feat for sure –
Victoria went to Scotland where the air is clear and pure.
The brutal Seven Sisters were Emma’s training ground,
Bionic Jane stuck to her guns, her metal ankle, sound.

Philippa got muddy along the Cotswold way,
Nicki in the Malvern Hills went walking every day,
Alyson went cycling on her ‘e-bike’ fast as poss,
While Tessa, walked the compound with her lovely doggy – Joss.

Scooby & Habibi were Lisa’s training pair –
And Hels & Jacko hiked their way up to the Abedares.
So training programmes all complete, we soon were Kenya bound,
Our children – 42 all told – left scattered all around.

No one can prepare you for a challenge such as this –
No one can explain it, or tell you what you’ll miss.
No one knows how scared you’ll feel when starting on your climb
Or how you’ll laugh, and how you’ll cry

Throughout this special time.
It tested us, our stamina and our determination,
This trip was never going to be an ordin’ry vacation
While 12 went up in spirit, as the summit came in sight

6 of us got to the top – Lenana’s mighty height.
With Kieron, John and Isaac we were in expert hands,
And Bongo’s cooks, were magic as they filled the pots and pans
With hearty warming dishes that helped make us feel strong

As we fought sore heads & sickness – wishing they’d be gone.
Our friendship and our good intent was never in dispute
As we tramped determinedly along the Chogoria route.
How blessed were we to all be here on Kenya’s rugged peak

One thing’s for sure, we won’t forget this quite extraordinary week.
At Soame’s Hotel – we talked at length of what we had achieved,
We drank chilled beer and hugged and smiled and felt somewhat relieved.
The mountain view reminded us of quite how far we’d been

But oh that shower, that Rosé, and those sheets – the best we’d seen!
And so we headed back to town, the end was now in sight,
But not before a final lunch and drinkies – it seemed right
To celebrate our Kenya voyage in this tremendous way

As Nicki, Vic and Lisa headed back to the UK.
6 of us left for the beach when Wednesday morning came
While 3 stayed to go shopping – yes, seriously – AGAIN!
They kissed giraffes then headed off to fly from JKA

While sun kissed palms and cocktails beckoned at Watamu Bay.
And so this little ditty I must bring now to a close,
It’s just a token gesture and I mustn’t get morose.

Suffice to say this trip has been the most amazing time –
12 International Women who really are sublime.
We’re planning our next venture (not quite so high next year?!?)
But we won’t forget our Kenya trip, that much is very clear.

Addendum 

That virus called Corona seems to have escaped a mention,
Which seems a little silly as it caused a bit of tension
We fought off plagues of locusts too (just one to be precise)
And dealt with runny tummies (which really wasn’t nice)

But what this really shows as my poem finally ends,
Is that nothing on this earth will disrupt true lifelong friends.

 

Day Three – Rilke

Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling  is final

 

Day Four –  “Blind Faith?” by Philip Le Brocq (my Dad)
Dad has been writing a sonnet a day through lockdown.  This was from Wednesday March 25th

The sun still shines out of a clear blue sky
As we face “Lock Down” – tighter than before;
The total deaths are rising; we ask “Why”?
And wonder what the future has in store
The TV Bulletins enhance our gloom
As they list shortages and lengthy queues
Of panic buyers fearing early doom,
Insisting on their right to pick and choose.
But children fill their windows, rainbow bright,
And we light candles too, to show we care.
And ring our friends, and if we can, hold tight
To prove we’re still alive with love to share.

We’ll come together to defeat this foe,
Knowing we can succeed as time will show.

 

 

Day Five – from My Brilliant Image by Hafez
A poem for two astonishing friends, Lucy and Elen

I wish I could show you
When you are lonely or in darkness
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!

 

Day Six – The Map-Woman by Carol Ann Duffy
I didn’t know this poem – it was sent to me as part of a poetry exchange. It takes the reader on an extraordinary journey

A woman’s skin was a map of the town
where she’d grown from a child.
When she went out, she covered it up
with a dress, with a shawl, with a hat,
with mitts or a muff, with leggings, trousers
or jeans, with a an ankle-length cloak, hooded
and fingertip-sleeved. But – birthmark, tattoo –
the A-Z street-map grew, a precise second skin,
broad if she binged, thin when she slimmed,
a précis of where to end or go back or begin. 

Over her breast was the heart of the town,
from the Market Square to the Picture House
by way of St Mary’s Church, a triangle
of alleys and streets and walks, her veins
like shadows below the lines of the map, the river
an artery snaking north to her neck. She knew
if you crossed the bridge at her nipple, took a left
and a right, you would come to the graves,
the grey-haired teachers of English and History,
the soldier boys, the Mayors and Councillors,

the beloved mothers and wives, the nuns and priests,
their bodies fading into the earth like old print
on a page. You could sit on a wooden bench
as a wedding pair ran, ringed, from the church,
confetti skittering over the marble stones,
the big bell hammering hail from the sky, and wonder
who you would marry and how and where and when
you would die: or find yourself in the coffee house
nearby, waiting for time to start, your tiny face
trapped in the window’s bottle-thick glass like a fly. 

And who might you see, short-cutting through
the Grove to the Square – that line there, the edge
of a fingernail pressed on her flesh – in the rain,
leaving your empty cup, to hurry on after
calling their name? When she showered, the map
gleamed on her skin, blue-black ink from a nib.
She knew you could scoot down Greengate Street,
huddling close to the High House, the sensible shops,
the Swan Hotel, till you came to the Picture House,
sat in the musty dark watching the Beatles 

run for a train or Dustin Hoffman screaming
Elaine! Elaine! Elaine! or the spacemen in 2001
floating to Strauss. She sponged, soaped, scrubbed;
the prison and hospital stamped on her back,
the park neat on her belly, her navel marking the spot
where the empty bandstand stood, the river again,
heading south, clear as an operation scar,
the war memorial facing the railway station
where trains sighed on the platforms, pining
for Glasgow, London, Liverpool. She knew 

you could stand on the railway bridge, waving
goodbye to strangers who stared as you vanished
into the belching steam, tasting future time
on the tip of your tongue. She knew you could run
the back way home – there it was on her thigh –
taking the southern road then cutting off to the left,
the big houses anchored behind their calm green lawns,
the jewels of conkers falling down at your feet,
then duck and dive down Nelson and Churchill
and Kipling and Milton Way until you were home. 

She didn’t live there now. She lived down south,
abroad, en route, up north, on a plane or train
or boat, on the road, in hotels, in the back of cabs,
on the phone; but the map was under her stockings,
under her gloves, under the soft silk scarf at her throat,
under her chiffon veil, a delicate braille. Her left knee
marked the grid of her own estate. When she knelt
she felt her father’s house pressing into the bone,
heard in her head the looped soundtrack of then –
a tennis ball repeatedly thumping a wall, 

an ice-cream van crying and hurrying on, a snarl
of children’s shrieks from the overgrown land
where the houses ran out. The motorway groaned
just out of sight. She knew you could hitch
from Junction 13 and knew of a girl who had not
been seen since she did; had heard of a kid who’d run
across all six lanes for a dare before he was tossed
by a lorry into the air like a doll. But the motorway
was flowing away, was a roaring river of metal
and light, cheerio, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, ciao.

She stared in the mirror as she got dressed,
both arms raised over her head, the roads
for east and west running from shoulder
to wrist, the fuzz of woodland or countryside under
each arm. Only her face was clear, her fingers
smoothing in cream, her baby-blue eyes unsure
as they looked at themselves. But her body was certain,
an inch to the mile, knew every nook and cranny,
cul-de-sac, stile, back road, high road, low road,
one-way street of her past. There it all was, back 

to front in the glass. She piled on linen, satin, silk,
leather, wool, perfume and mousse and went out.
She got in a limousine. The map perspired
under her clothes. She took a plane. The map seethed
on her flesh. She spoke in a foreign tongue.
The map translated everything back to herself.
She turned out the light and a lover’s hands
caressed the map in the dark from north to south,
lost tourists wandering here and there, all fingers
and thumbs, as their map flapped in the breeze. 

So one day, wondering where to go next,
she went back, drove a car for a night and a day,
till the town appeared on her left, the stale cake
of the castle crumbled up on the hill; and she hired
a room with a view and soaked in the bath.
When it grew dark, she went out, thinking
she knew the place like the back of her hand,
but something was wrong. She got lost in arcades,
in streets with new names, in precincts
and walkways, and found that what was familiar 

was only façade. Back in her hotel room, she stripped
and lay on the bed. As she slept, her skin sloughed
like a snake’s, the skin of her legs like stockings, silvery,
sheer, like the long gloves of the skin of her arms,
the papery camisole from her chest a perfect match
for the tissuey socks of the skin of her feet. Her sleep
peeled her, lifted a honeymoon thong from her groin,
a delicate bra of skin from her breasts, and all of it
patterned A to Z; a small cross where her parents’ skulls
grinned at the dark. Her new skin showed barely a mark. 

She woke and spread out the map on the floor. What
was she looking for? Her skin was her own small ghost,
a shroud to be dead in, a newspaper for old news
to be read in, gift-wrapping, litter, a suicide letter.
She left it there, dressed, checked out, got in the car.
As she drove, the town in the morning sun glittered
behind her. She ate up the miles. Her skin itched,
like a rash, like a slow burn, felt stretched, as though
it belonged to somebody else. Deep in the bone
old streets tunneled and burrowed, hunting for home.

 

Day Seven – Invictus by William Ernest Henley
However dark this pit of Corona lockdown feels, there must always be hope

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.   

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.   

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

 

Day Eight – John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us
A blessing I came across – so poignant and pertinent for these times

“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”

 

Day Nine – A Powerful Army by Matt Kelly
This one was doing the rounds on social media, the poem marches on like the powerful army it describes – I have no idea who its author is

I’ll tell you a tale, that’s been recently written.
Of a powerful army, so Great it saved Britain.

They didn’t have bombs and they didn’t have planes.
They fought with their hearts and they fought with their brains.

They didn’t have bullets, armed just with a mask.
We sent them to war, with one simple task.

To show us the way, to lead and inspire us.
To protect us from harm and fight off the virus.

It couldn’t be stopped by our bullet proof vests.
An invisible enemy, invaded our chests.

So we called on our weapon, our soldiers in Blue.
“All Doctors, All Nurses, Your Country needs you”.

We clapped on our streets, hearts bursting with pride.
As they went off to war, while we stayed inside.

They struggled at first, as they searched for supplies.
But they stared down the virus, in the whites of its eyes.

They leaped from the trenches and didn’t think twice.
Some never came back, the ultimate price.

So tired, so weary, yet still they fought on.
As the virus was beaten and the battle was won.

The many of us, owe so much, to so few.
The brave and the bold, our heroes in Blue.

So let’s line the streets and remember our debt.
We love you, our heroes. Lest we forget.

 

Day Ten -The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins
I wrote my dissertation on Gerard Manley Hopkins at University all those years ago.  My Father introduced me to him as a poet when he taught me A’level English.  I’ve always loved this poem, particularly when walking on the South Downs, it comes to me out of nowhere….

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

        No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

 

Reasons to be Cheerful & Mushroom Soup

Reasons to be Cheerful & Mushroom Soup

I’ve just made myself mushroom soup with an onion that had seen better days, some rather sad looking mushrooms, a dodgy bit of stock powder, some water, a squeeze of juice from a mouldy old lemon I found at the back of the fridge and some sour cream – it isn’t meant to be sour but hey beggars can’t be choosers.   The funny thing is, it was absolutely delicious!

COVID-19 has thrown us all into a bit of a tizz but as I rummage around in my store cupboards and debate with friends via WhatsApp whether ciabatta flour from 2013 is OK to use, I reflect that there are many good things to come of this pandemic; reasons to be cheerful if you like, and I’m not only talking about  mushroom soup.

2020-03-22 17.17.27Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 1  My babies are home. That’s got to be a plus. I mean, I know that they will eat me out of house and home, drive me up the wall leaving clothes all over the place, not to mention coats, trainers, glasses, plates, etc etc. Their washing will pile up in the laundry basket and they will all miraculously vanish every time I ask for help with washing up/drying up/washing/hanging out washing/ tidying/cooking/cleaning/ironing etc etc. But they are here. They are here.  We are playing games, reading, going for family walks, laughing round the dinner table, baking – and with a Queen’s Speech scheduled for Sunday, the only thing missing really is the Christmas Tree, and Rich.

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 2  But Rich is here too. As I hang out the washing in the glorious sun, about the only thing around here not self-isolating, I come across his T-shirts and sweatshirts.  Much loved and well-worn items of clothing, now distributed equally between the 6 of us, and of course every item of clothing brings back a memory or reminds me of a story.  We’ve been looking at photos too – while we can’t plan anything beyond today, we are drawn to our yesterdays and the photo albums Rich and I so diligently filled for the first 15 years of our marriage, before everything went digital. Birthday parties and holidays, things we can’t do now. I love this one I found of me showing my Mum my engagement ring. Richy looks so pleased with himself and yes, the Think Pink sweatshirt lives on with Toby having laid claim to it these days, I hung it on the line earlier…..Engagement ring photoI’m grateful that the Coronavirus has given me time at home to wallow self-indulgently in these photos and these memories.

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 4  A friend left a jam jar of freshly picked garden flowers on my doorstep, a tiny gesture of friendship that meant so much to me. There was such colour and joy in this tiny little handpicked arrangement, such life – it took my breath away.

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Reasons to be Cheerful Part 5. I’ve been cooking, baking and leaving care packages for friends – sausage rolls, cheesecake, bread, and the famous family carrot cake which have been welcomed by the recipients, and this gives me such pleasure.  It also helps me clean out my cupboards and I have learnt valuable lessons – for example, the ciabatta bread mix with a use by date of 2013 mentioned earlier, should be thrown into the bin.  If you come across similar, do not attempt to make ciabatta with it, it categorically will not rise to the occasion.  However, the good news is that red lentils of dubious heritage will make a delicious supper for all the family if you just zhuzh (or is it juj) them up with some onion and garlic, a squirt of tomato puree, a tin of tomatoes, and the top secret ingredient, a teaspoon of marmite.  You can vary this recipe by putting mashed potato on the top for a veggie shepherds pie or by adding bacon for the carnivores.  Delicious, and thanks must go to Sarah Howie my friend and colleague at Zenith North all those years ago when we worked with two young boys, Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, but a couple of cheeky orphans in short trousers at Newcastle’s Byker Grove.

2020-03-24 16.41.22

Reasons to be Cheerful Part Six.  I’ve started to run again and am fortunate that I am able to take the dog over the fields and far away. We run along the bank of the Great Ouse, and the Heron and the Robin appear – it may sound deranged but I think of them as the reincarnation of Rich and my brother John respectively, and it is always so comforting to know that they are here.

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Rich also came to me in a dream – funny how he appears at key moments – I felt his presence so keenly that when I woke I reached out for him and for a split second expected him to by lying there beside me.   But of course, he was not there. 

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 7.  I’ve been added to a Poem Exchange, not normally something I have the time to countenance but it has been illuminating and the poems I have been sent have been an extraordinary mix of the familiar and unknown, from WH Auden to Carol Anne Duffy and Robert Frost to Rilke. Here is one of my favourites from today, more a blessing than a poem:

“This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let

The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.”

John O’Donohue

What a privilege it is to have the time to read and absorb such sentiments.  I’m sharing one a day with a friend of mine, it has brought us closer together even though we can’t actually meet in person, an anthology of poems to help us survive Covid-19.

Reasons to be Cheerful Part 8.  There has been much talk of community and the bringing together of people as a result of this pandemic.  I’ve signed up to be an NHS Responder and I’m the street rep for our area.  I popped leaflets through doors, I’ve chatted to neighbours at 2 metre distances and I’ve marvelled at the support on offer for those isolating or vulnerable.  The Teddy Bears in my bedroom window wave at the kids on their bear hunts and tomorrow I will paint a rainbow to stick that up there too.  We clapped for the second Thursday in a row as our street joined the nation in applauding the NHS and all key workers.  I hope and pray that the sense of community will continue long after the airborne coronavirus particles have blown away.  The WhatsApp messages that punctuate the day with amusing videos will cease of course, the tiktok routines will lose their competitive allure, the virtual Zoom meetings, and online House Party gatherings will be replaced by the real thing.

But perhaps neighbourhood friendships and FaceTime Family chats will endure.  Perhaps, wherever we may be in the world, we will remember to make the time to spend with eachother, virtually or in person, and will understand far better, the fragility of life; the message that will prevail – you are not alone.  I was so moved today when my eldest showed me this video – a song from Dear Evan Hansen that moves me at the best of times,  performed here by the cast remotely and socially distanced and yet united.

And so for now, I must gather my children in and protect them as much as I can, for as long as I need to. As the flags all across Italy fly at half mast and my sister-in-law buries her mother with only six people allowed at the humble graveside funeral, life seems so cruel and unfathomable but by the same token, I feel grateful for so much and I am not alone as I find my feet on fresh pastures of promise.

“And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning”

2020-03-22 17.58.22

 

Update

It’s been a while since I have written.  That sounds a bit like a confession. 

“Forgive me readers for I have sinned, it has been a while since my last blog post” 

Actually that is not strictly true.  I am half way through a piece entitled I Cry In The Bath.  It is an account of the day of Rich’s funeral, the last few days of his life, but it is too hard to write and too difficult to finish so it will remain in the drafts folder for now.

I guess the dearth of composition is a good thing in a way as it must indicate that I am sleeping better, which I am.  Although the downside of that is that I am absolutely exhausted, physically and mentally, emotionally and physiologically.  In the scheme of things, I have worked out that is really quite a lot of exhaustion to cope with.  And in two days I head off to climb Mount Kenya.

I’ve been doing that thing I do – being busy being busy, to fend off the demons, resisting the grief mavens who tell you what you should be thinking/feeling/doing/reading.

I’ve recorded a podcast with the amazing Nicky Vincent.

This is Strong

I’ve been interviewed by the local paper one year on.

I’ve sold a business. 

And I cried at yoga yesterday.  That is a new one on me.  Not only do I cry in the bath (blog post to follow, eventually), I now cry at yoga.

It had been a long day.  I met my new best friend the beautiful Jo Green for coffee.  She was pretty fucked off with life to be honest.  She wants to be in her 50s again (hey Jo, its not all its cracked up to be).  She wants to be loved, and feel useful and feel fit but as it is she is 72, living on her own wondering what to do with her spare time when not looking after her niece’s daughter, the lovely Elsie, and she wants her hip to stop hurting.

To get the measure of Jo you need to read this.  I wrote it for her birthday. I want to be her when I grow up, although maybe without the creaking hip – oh wait, I’ve actually got that already….

Jo
(with apologies to Hilaire Belloc)

There is a girl whose name is Jo
A feisty lass I’ve got to know
Her sparkly eyes, they shine so bright
Her hair is gorgeous, nearly white
She’s got this coat, its warm and green
The nicest coat I’ve ever seen
She says she bought it for a song –
A charity shop if I’m not wrong.

And one fine day by happy fate
our worlds collided, an auspicious date.
You’d never guess she’s 72
(we’ll keep that quiet – just me and you;
the others, they don’t need to know
that she was born so long ago)
She lights the world up as she goes
With her passion and laughter, her jewellery and clothes.

Her high flying career has made her so wise
She’s seen so much with those sparkly eyes
So we praise the day that the stunning Jo Green
Burst magnificently onto this earthly scene.
Religion and politics – don’t get her started,
She’ll win any battle, but don’t be downhearted.
Her mind is so strong, her thoughts are quite bold
At 72 she is far from old!

A bionic woman, her one good hip
Is made of titanium, it makes her zip
(the other one’s not quite so strong
but as you’d expect, she keeps running along)
chasing her little sweet Elsie Bear,
the joy of her life, and they’re quite a pair!
They sing and they dance, they giggle and play
Then they say goodbye ’til another day.

And Jo Green meets me to have a chat
We laugh, cry and talk about this and that:
Love, and the universe, good and bad luck
(She swears like a trooper, she always says fuck)
Jung is her hero, Jesus is too
She’s sassy and spiritual and I think that’s my cue…
To say what this poem was written to say
HAPPY BIRTHDAY my friend – have a Wonderful Day!!

Thank you Jo Green, my new best friend
Much love to you, with this poem I send.

So we had coffee, or more precisely I had coffee, she had green tea having been throwing up all day yesterday.  I think we gave each other a little bit of strength as we hugged goodbye and went our separate ways, me to climb a mountain, her to get a porch light fitted so that when the love of her life does come knocking at her door, she can actually see him (any eligible suitors let me know).

I then met another feisty woman Zara to talk about an International Women’s Day event she wants me to get involved in on my return from Mount Kenya – I go on Monday, did I mention that??

I then came home and set up a dropbox folder for the people buying my business.  I wanted to give them a toolkit for taking over which would help them take things forward.  It felt a bit like when your kids are being looked after by someone for the first time and you write a long list of dos and don’ts.  What food they are allowed, when they have their nap, what they can watch on TV, what to give them to drink and when, who the Doctor is, what smelly teddy they like to cuddle at night, what story they like best etc etc. (by the time you are leaving your fifth child you just run out of the door, skirt inevitably tucked in your nickers, grabbing your passport from the side, if you remember, as you fall into your taxi shouting ‘the number for Dominos is on the fridge’). 

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Letting go of The Kiosk is a bit like letting go of a child.  I gave birth to that business 8 years ago, having first approached the borough council in 2009 to ask whether it was feasible to turn an empty shell of a building into a little community hub.  Two and a half years later they finally handed me the keys.  And yesterday I handed those keys on to the new owners. 

Kiosk portrait (26 of 35)

I really do feel the time is right to let it go. I feel proud of what I achieved there, creating something out of nothing, a safe place at the heart of the community that I know provided a haven for many people – first time Mums at the end of their tether, grandparents needing comfort as they looked after recalcitrant toddlers, the lady that arranged to meet her blind dates there because it felt safe, the youngsters who were given their first ever pay packet, the homeless guy who always got a hot cup of tea, the autistic smiling man who came with his career every week and who clutched our hands and asked us to marry him, the 400 strong crowd that gathered every Christmas Eve to sing carols as a community, the families that appeared dressed as Wally for the Where’s Wally run, or Santas for the Santa run. Most important is the fact that I have handed it on to people who will take care of my baby and who will help it to flourish and grow. People who care. People who will continue to make a difference. I am ready to let it go now.

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And after an afternoon of coffee and stocktaking, sitting outside on a chilly February half term day, it was reassuringly busy as families huddled in to get hot chocolates having fed the ducks/braved the tennis court/cycled round the park/played on the swings/kicked a ball around.  And so I went to yoga.

And let it all out.  I’m not sure quite why I sobbed so much but the tears flowed at the end of Julia K’s session.  A relief.  A release. A letting go.  Another step in the right direction towards the rest of my life.

But first Mount Kenya.

I Cry in the Bath (Part 1)

I started to write this on 3rd January 2020, the anniversary of Rich’s funeral service. I still haven’t managed to finish it, but this is Part 1. It takes us to the point of gathering at the Crematorium and then it stops. As if I can’t bear to re-enter that space where we had to say goodbye, with its fake flower arrangements – it bothered me so much that in the midst of thinking about everything, and making all those myriad of decisions that you have to make when the person you love most of all in the whole wide world dies, I didn’t think about the fact that there would be fake flowers in the Crematorium. I hate fake flowers with a passion. But nobody had said anything, and I hadn’t thought. And so we had fake flowers. FFS.

I cry in the bath.

It’s odd. Not sure why. Is it because it’s one of the only places I can be alone? It never used to be like that. I used to be the Mummy Elephant in ‘Five minutes Peace’, desperately trying to get away by escaping to my bath – but things have changed.

Maybe it is because I think of how he used to bring me a gin and tonic in the bath as I was chilling after a long day. And I miss that.

Or is it because I play his playlist and am enveloped in memories associated with the songs.

Or is it because I remember how he used to always get in to the bath on all fours, like a playful puppy. And chew the corner of a flannel. He always did that.

It’s another anniversary today although an anniversary of a different kind. The anniversary of his funeral.

There were elements of humour in the lead up to the day. My sister, Josh, India and I went to the funeral directors to make all the arrangements. Josh needed the loo and Malcolm Jones, the rather cuddly proprietor, for I think that is a word appropriate for the gravitas of such a role, said that he was welcome to use the facilities, however he would have to go through the embalming room. He then pointed out that there were no bodies currently in situ, to Josh’s relief, and he went, and relieved himself.

Rich was dressed a pair of faded cotton ethnic patchwork shorts picked up in India on his travels and his beloved Grizzly Bear rugby shirt, laid in a woven casket that looked rather like a gourmet picnic basket. This seemed fitting for the man who loved picnics, gathering family or friends together be it on Mount Tamborine in Australia, ‘The Quarry’ in Bahrain – an area of the ‘desert’ we used to go to which was actually more like a moonscape, or his beloved Pevensey Castle. This was the man who used to cruise round the carpark at the Twickenham 7s trying to find the best looking picnic and hoping it belonged to someone he knew (and he knew a lot of people) but in any case, even if it didn’t, he would make every attempt to join in!

The beautiful fresh flowers resting on his wicker basket mirrored those I’d carried in my wedding bouquet, 26 years previously – we’d celebrated our last anniversary together with Champagne, looking over wedding photos in the hospice with our Best Man Crofty, just 3 days before he died. It was as if he wanted to get to that milestone before he left me.

We had eschewed the various hearse options offered by Mr Malcolm Jones (voted best Funeral Director in a prestigious cuddly proprietor Funeral Awards thingy – who knew?) and decided that to travel en masse in The Big Blue Bus and various other vehicles would be a more appropriate, fitting cortège. Only problem was that Big Blue Bus which had been our trusty chariot for trips to Scotland, Wales, Jersey, mainland Europe, and the party bus for ferrying revellers around on numerous occasions including 18ths, 21sts, 50ths and Garsington Opera and Longborough Opera Festivals dahhhhling, was looking decidedly grubby and in need of a spruce up. We took it to Rainbow Hand Car Wash for a full-on valet which was amazing (£150 well spent???) but unfortunately did not offer a seat drying service.

Sooo my brother & my nephew were to be found ahead of our departure adapting black bin liners Heath Robinson style, to create seat protectors.

It’s incredible how your mind goes to mush, quite literally when you are grieving. I know I go on about this but I bet there’s an actual diagnosis. In the old days you would have been wearing black, so everyone would have known and would have given you the benefit of the doubt and a wide berth. For me, one of the reasons I want to write these details down now is so I never forget them. An aide memoire if you like for the grieving widow with the mushy brain.

The hearse arrived and cuddly Malcolm got out, although he had been transformed Mr Ben like into Funeral Director and looked the part in his top hat and dark 3 piece suit. He walked in front of the hearse initially as we all followed Richy on his final journey – the soggy Big Blue Bus following deferentially behind, with yours truly at the wheel. We all wondered whether Malcolm was going to walk the whole way which was an amusing distraction for our numbed brains. He didn’t, it would have taken us rather a long time. We followed the hearse to the crem, three cars in all I think, me up front in the dress and coat I had bought for the occasion on one of those shopping trips you never want to make. My nephew in his mini, my sister-in-law in her people carrier and the cortège was complete.

And so we arrived at the crematorium and Dad, as he always does, took photos. Which I am glad of now.

And the big blue bus watched silently, soggily but sparklily on.