Wednesday, 30 September 2009

I Know #1

Spiders are more frightened of me than I of them
If you swallow chewing gum it will wrap itself around your lungs
I would give my last breath to my children
Teenagers are emotional toddlers
Walking matches the rhythm of iambic pentameters
Nothing rhymes with orange
The recipe for the world's best chocolate brownies
Fast yeast is not at all like easy yeast
Getting lost isn't difficult
When I'm going uphill I'm heading north
A map of the world will always have the ability to surprise
Iron Knob is a place in New Zealand
Train tickets are surprisingly tricky to book
Books jostle for position as favourite
Headlice do not make affectionate pets
The pencil is mightier than the pen
Everything has a museum dedicated to it somewhere
The Pencil Museum is in Keswick
By law, all folk songs must have 95 verses


I'm not saying I have to grow a beard, he said, But I'll look weird if I don't. I moved into the spare room. You have to draw the line somewhere. He went out three times a week to practise; sticks, swords, pigs' bladders - these days you can get anything off the Internet. I'll be home by nine, he said, then ten, then eleven. Not that he could sneak in after a skin-full. His bells gave him away. And you can't tiptoe in clogs.

I've never liked Morris anythings. There was a Maurice at The Playhouse. The handyman. His wife - Mrs Maurice - passed out at a cast party, in a bed on stage. La Traviata, a big four-poster all trailing lace curtains and satin sheets. Maurice was in the Green Room goosing the usherettes. That summer, when the theatre was dark, he painted the skirting boards in the ladies' loo red. People said it was tactless. A bit pointed. I never understood what they meant, but then I was only sixteen and there was a lot I didn't understand.

There's a lot I don't understand now, if I'm honest.

And the other Morris. I'd offer my cheek and he'd turn my head to kiss me full on the lips. Sometimes he tried to slip in his tongue. Cold lips, like a dead fish. I kissed him out of politeness, because it would have been too rude not to. Once, he crept into my bedroom. I was half asleep, half awake - almost dreaming. He loomed over me and I saw my mother. And even though I was twenty-four, I raised up my arms like a child to hug her, then felt those clammy lips stealing away my breath and screamed. As if a scream would stop a man like him.

Something happened in a Morris Minor. It wasn't minor, that's all I want to say about that.

So you can see, I'm not being hysterical. And I am glad my husband's got a hobby. A man needs a hobby. Just not this one.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Foreign Food

He smelled of almonds, oranges, star anise;
sweet salt in the curls clinging to crevices,
like vermicelli on a steep-sided panettone.
And where his skin was smooth
the planes of his shoulders
were burned crème caramel.

Hair black as fig,
grown too long and tangled
like the oily linguine we ate in Venice;
the twisted limbs of baby squid impaled
on my fork, raised to his lips.

And later, frantic kisses sharp
with garlic, basil, a peppery tongue thrusting
to lick the inside of my mouth.
He trickled Limoncello down my thighs,
was slender hipped, his buttocks curved
like cantaloupes - and just as sweet.

My husband groans and heaves onto his front.
The lounger's plastic bands striate his skin,
his foolish Speedos struggling.
I baste him with Hawaiian Tropic
until his back is shining,
glistening like a roasting pig.

I'll leave him cook for just a little longer.
His feet will burn,
so I will find a cafe in the square,
sip Ouzo and choose wisely
from the menu.

Thursday, 24 September 2009


I'd been smitten by a poet - unexpectedly smitten,
because I'd never been all that faffed on stuff that he'd written.
Maybe hearing his words in his voice just rang my bell?
Who can tell?
But it was a warm night,
the trees in the square sparkled with blue lights,
and some flyer promised some music in some gallery.
Arty party. Dante and Beatrice, Stanley Spencer,
a guitarist harmonising like James Taylor.

I'm full of Stargazy Pie,
catching the eye of a bloke in a suit -
always been sweet on suits -
we're at the point of smiling,
when I walk smackbang into Bridget Riley.
Lines of lines.
My eyes are dancing.
I move close, almost touch the canvas
with my nose, but still can't focus.
How can straight lines send your mind whirling?
Make your perspective so defective?
Goggle-eyed, gossy-eyed
- she left me reeling.

Later in the cafe, a women I couldn't make up if I tried
sighed, "Write me a poem for Bridget Riley.
Inspire me."

So I told her how my eyes dance
when I press my husband's smart shirts.
The steam iron ploughs through furrowed cotton,
candy stripes suck me into the ironing board -
giddying, dizzying as if I'm standing on a ledge,
about to stumble.

One day I'll fall, keep falling, tumble
headoverheels until my limbs are spinning
like the sparks on a Catherine Wheel.

I stood in front of that striped canvas,
big as my living room wall,
and thought about ironing.
I'm fighting the battle of creases and crumples
and no matter how hard I try, Bridget Riley,
I'll never get anything straight.
That's the danger of looking at Art at night.
It's too bloody late.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


We were put from the land,
three hundred forced to the shore.
Our crofts roared, thick smoke tearing our eyes.

We walked in silence,
hearts ripped, left in the stones
we had pulled from the earth,
the soil we had ploughed,
the burns and lochs we fished.
Our fathers, our mothers,
and theirs, and theirs, and theirs.

A woman broke from the crowd,
limped across tummocks of sharp grass
to the dark mound too fresh for a stone,
a scar in the graveyard as raw as her grief.

She clawed at the dirt,
grabbing handfuls to knot in her skirts.

Then came the others.

Old men, faces cracking, took soil
from the graves of the fathers and grandfathers;
angry sons, bitterness in their fists;
and mothers stowing the dust of sisters,
lovers, of blue-born babies
into pockets and aprons,
between bible pages,
in scraps of cloth.

Carried on the boats to Skye,
the mainland,
and Aberdeen,
Edinburgh, Glasgow,

We were a great tree felled.
Iron gouged at our trunk,
the stump burned black to the ground,
but through that dark, dry loam
our roots inched
and spread.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Imaginary Beasts

I saw an angel in the pines at Formby.
It was a woman in a white mac
picking up dog muck.

I saw a sphinx by the lake in Sefton Park.
It was an old man frozen to his bench
by cheap cognac.

I saw a griffin pouncing in a tapas bar.
It was a fur coat rippling
from chair to floor.

I saw a vampire prowling by my bed.
It was a dry-cleaned dress swinging
on a closet door.

I saw a serpent in the Mersey by the Prom.
It was corrugated pipe oozing
at low tide.

I saw a zombie howling in the bathroom.
It was a fleeting mirrored image paled
by neon light.

I saw a roc swooping down to claw my neck.
It was orangewhite EasyJet roaring
off to Spain.

I saw a baby ghost lying dead in a puddle.
It was a discarded tissue flattened
by rain.

I saw a phoenix in the blue gas of an oven.
It was a crinklecut chip cremating
in dripped fat.

I saw your smile reflected in Littlewood's window.
But when I turned to kiss you, I found
I had imagined that.

Monday, 21 September 2009

First Food

She tugged my darkened nipple
to the back of her throat. That sulky bottom lip,

pleated by milk-heavy breast, curved into swell
of silken cheek. The bald imperfections of her skull.

At night, her smallest breaths grew loud; she snuffled
like a hound rooting for truffles.

Her hand a pale star stretching,
grasping wildly, reaching

into my mouth, worming her thumb
against the slippery warmth of gum.

I licked her fingers, knuckles, nails; laid my lips
against her fat palms. The undeveloped lifelines,

heart-lines mapped with my tongue, breathing
in her sourmilk smell, nipping skin with gentle teeth,

lapping at the gathered folds of flesh on wrists.
She cannot remember any of this.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Overheard Conversations #10

Location: Living room, interior, evening.
Characters: Mum, Teenage Daughter (Banshee), (Not so) Small Boy.

Small Boy (ENTERING LIVING ROOM WAVING SHEET OF PAPER): I've done my homework!
Banshee (WATCHING TV): Shhhh!
Mum: Well done.
Banshee: Shhhh!
Mum: Did you spell check it?
Banshee: SHHHH!
Small Boy: Forgot.
Mum: Pass it here.
Mum: Why's it in German?
Small Boy: What?
Mum: WILL YOU TURN THAT DOWN, PLEASE! (TV VOLUME IS LOWERED). Why have you done your homework in German?
Banshee: It's German homework?
Small Boy: I don't do German. I do French.
Banshee: So why's your homework in German?
Small Boy: Babelfish.
Banshee (SNORTS): Babelfish's rubbish.
Mum: What's a Babel Fish?
Small Boy: It's an online something that translates something into something else.
Mum (CONFUSED): And what homework is this?
Small Boy: History.
Mum: Why have you written your history homework in German?
Banshee: Because he's an idiot.
Small Boy (PRODUCES A CRUMPLED PIECE OF PAPER FROM HIS POCKET): I've got it in English, too. I can read it out.
Banshee: I'm trying to watch TV.
Mum: Go in the other room.
Small Boy (CLEARS THROAT AND READS LOUDLY): Our great leader, Adolf Hitler -
Mum: What?
Small Boy: - is a much misunderstood man, who -
Banshee (TURNS OFF THE TV): This is gonna be good.
Small Boy: - is not at all violentistic -
Banshee: Violentistic!
Small Boy: - but very humoristic and in the privacy of his own home he often curls back his upper lip and does an excellent rabbit impression -
Mum: WHAT?
Small Boy: He is a vegetarian who is kind to small children and animals -
Small Boy: - and takes a daily walk in his local park, stopping for a nice warming drink in -
Mum (SNATCHING THE PAPER FROM SMALL BOY): What on earth is this?
Banshee: He's a Nazi. I warned you. Woodcraft Folk, then Scouts -
Small Boy: I'm a spy!
Mum: A what?
Small Boy: A spy. The thing is, Mum, I'm pretending to be an English spy pretending to be a German journalist and I've cleverly revealed lots of information about Hitler so that then The Allies will be able to use it -
Banshee (SIGHING LOUDLY): If only Churchill had known about the rabbit impersonations!
Small Boy: - and then they'll send a group of undercover assassinators -
Mum: Assassins
Small Boy: Assassinators -
Banshee: Disguised as small children and animals?
Small Boy: To assassin him. They could poison his nice warming drink -
Mum: You can't hand this in! Your teacher will think we're a family of fascists!
Banshee: And?
Mum: What was the title of this homework?
Mum: What has this got to do with the Vikings?
Small Boy (SHRUGS): Nothing.
Mum: Then please explain why you have written an essay on how wonderful Hitler is in German?
Small Boy: Babelfish wouldn't do Viking.

Roll Credits

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Invisible Mending

In the kitchen, my daughter is speaking French;
dough rises in yeasty bubbles;
somewhere a TV burbles.

I have yards of blue cloth stretched
across my knees; a patch of sailor’s sky
on a cold, grey day. My fingers are searching
for holes; moth-damage, cigarette burns, tears;
a slashed hem from a sharp heel.

The women in this house mend invisibly.
We steam the damaged fabric flat;
unpick pockets, unbind a seam;
fray edges with a fingernail,
tease loose the hidden strands of silk.

I thread my needles, dart them like a shoal
of silver fish, weaving warp and weft;
tacking, slipping, backing, stitching.

Soon the wounds are closed; bare ripples
in blue sea. I press the dress, fold its arms
across the bodice in a starched caress,
gather up the skirts in sheets
of tissue, brown paper, string.

When the man knocks, my daughter is waiting.
The parcel swings lazily from her fingers.
'Ma mère dit, "Prennez mieux soin de vos vêtements." '
She giggles, tries to curtsy, closes the door loudly.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Lusts of the Flesh #3

You'd be forgiven for assuming this post is about crumpets. It's not. Instead, I present: The Cheese Sandwich.

A simple snack. Sourdough bread jetted in from San Francisco's famous Boudin Bakery. Pale Normandy butter, glittering with crystals of sea salt. Farmhouse Cheddar Cheese from Somerset, smooth and firm, with long, rich nutty flavours and a sharp almost sour tang at the end.

Slice bread, spread with butter, add slices of cheese - pickle optional - eat, enjoy.

No, no, no, no, NO!

My dream sandwich is made of the cheapest white bread - spongy, almost flaccid but curling slightly at the edges - spread with bright yellow value margarine (Stork in massive catering tubs is perfect), with a pile of grated orange cheese (of no identifiable provenance but definitely not a Kraft Single) and a thick ring of raw onion.

The sandwich must be wrapped in clingfilm and left unrefrigerated for several hours on a shelf just below a display of dry roasted peanuts, next to a jar of pickled eggs which would defy carbon-dating. The cheese will sweat, the margarine gain a subtle rancid quality and the onion will become ever more acrid in flavour. The bread will somehow manage to become both dry and soggy. Ohhh...

I have attempted to psychoanalyse this particular Lust of the Flesh. Hangover food? Afternoons spent in smoky boozers after long and tiring mornings in bed? A giddy stumble to the pub? It wasn't the food, mate, it was the company...

But if this were so, I'd eat burned crumpets dripping in (again) cheap margarine, whilst The Archers Omnibus burbles in the background, and I reminisce happily about feeling utterly, utterly spent.

My perfect cheese sandwich is simply a slutty snack; a true lust of the flesh.

Friday, 11 September 2009

I have never...

...danced the tango in the Russian Tearooms
with a slim-hipped man in snakeskin shoes.
Duffed up a ruffian,
Juggled more than two balls,
Slept in a cave with damp, mossy walls.
Petrified a lover,
Raced a grey stallion,
Wrestled a pirate for a chest of gold bullion.
Cut class,
Measured up,
Mended invisibly,
Gone missing in action or been lost at sea.
Brokered peace with large spiders,
Spoken French with conviction,
Parsed Latin with mastery,
Understood much of anything.
Crashed a car,
Crashed a party,
Trusted electricity,
Dodged jail with a nail file, a mirror & string.
Nurtured a houseplant,
Heard a bird's heartbeat,
Swum through the branches of underwater trees -
Never said I love you frivolously.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex

...but were too afraid to ask.

Q: My friend (who is a missionary) says that most sex is immoral, and unmarried sex is an abomination before the Lord. Is this the Missionary Position?
A:Yes. Indeed. However, may I suggest your friend tries the Reverse Cowgirl and thus avoid the dirty looks.

Q: Since it's called blow you have to blow?
A: Most certainly. But don't expect to get a tune out of it.

Q: My Friend Ivor Biggun is having a few issues settling in. Any suggestions?
A: Yes. He should explore the area, making a note of major landmarks. Joining a group activity is never a mistake. Classes are good. Car maintenance or upholstery. Something will always need stuffing.

Q: Should all orifices be made available for all purposes?
A: No, some should be reserved for typing, filing and shorthand.

Q: A gentleman of my acquaintance respectfully asks what is the proper post-coital etiquette......does one fart before or after falling asleep?
A: DURING coitus trumps before AND after.

Q: Should one spit or swallow?
A: This is entirely a matter of personal taste.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Eat Your Heart Out, Philip Larkin...

Location: American-style restaurant. Interior. Afternoon.
Characters: Father - late 60s; Mother - ditto; Daughter - not telling.

Father: Next?
Daughter: It's a shop.
Father: Next?
Daughter: They sell sofas. You wanted to buy a sofa.
Mother: Where are we going after Next?
Father: After next? That's not even English.
Mother: He needs towels.
Father: Only the people of Inverness speak English properly.
Mother: The Welsh speak perfectly good English!
Father (LOOKING AT DAUGHTER): Most of the time I haven't a clue what your mother's saying.
Daughter: I thought you said you wanted bedding?
Father (SNORTS): At my age?
Daughter: Duvets. Sheets.
Mother: He thinks he's funny. (LOOKS AT FATHER). You're not.
Daughter (QUICKLY): Are you scattering Uncle John's ashes tomorrow?
Mother: Yes. The lifeboat men are doing it.
Daughter: Where?
Mother: At sea.
Daughter: Where at sea?
Father (HEAVILY): Wales.
Mother: It's what he would have wanted.
Father: He lived in Clapham for sixty years. There's no sea in Clapham.
Mother: There is actually. A capital C!
Father (LOOKING AT DAUGHTER): She thinks she's funny. (LOOKS AT MOTHER). You're not.
Daughter: Shall we have a coffee?
Father: The Welsh are not a funny race.
Daughter: Mum, coffee?
Father: Name me a single funny Welsh comedian -
Daughter: Dad? Coffee?
Mother: Max Boyce.
Father: Max Boyce? Funny?
Daughter: Ignore him. He's winding you up.
Father: Another thing about the Welsh -
Daughter (EMPHATICALLY): Who wants coffee? I'll have an espresso. Mum?
Mother: Tea. I'll have tea.
Father: Angela wants to move back in.
Daughter: Who's Angela?
Mother: One of his tenants. She moved to Newcastle.
Father: She wants to move back.
Mother: Do you want her back?
Father: She's a lovely woman.
Mother: She committed a sex act in The Bay Horse!
Father: As I said, she's a lovely woman.
Daughter: What did she do?
Mother: Sex acts. (BEAT). Plural.
Daughter: Wha -?
Father (LEANING BACK): We'll finish the shopping in the morning.
Mother: We're going to Wales in the morning.
Father: Chester. It's on the way.
Mother: We are not shopping in the morning.
Daughter: Ignore him.
Father: I'll have a cappuccino -
Mother: We are not shopping in the morning.
Father: And a brandy -
Mother: We are not shopping in the morning!
Daughter: Ignore him.
Father: Where's the dessert menu?
Father (TAKING MOBILE PHONE OUT OF HIS POCKET): I think I'll give Angela a ring -

Roll credits

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Overheard Conversations #9

Location: Outside a hut set in waste ground . Exterior. Evening.
Characters: Mum, Teenage Daughter (Banshee), Small(ish) Boy.

Mum & Banshee are standing outside the hut. It is dark and cold.

Banshee: I can't believe you've let him come here.
Mum: It's good for him to join things.
Banshee: Look at the place!
Mum: What about it?
Banshee: It's in the middle of nowhere.
Mum: We're in Garston.
Banshee: They could be teaching him anything!
Mum (CONFUSED): What?
Banshee: It's a paramilitary organisation.
Mum: It's the Scouts.
Banshee: I wouldn't let my child come here.
Small Boy: You have to sign this for next week!
Small Boy: My shooting permission slip.
Banshee: Ha! What are you going to be shooting, Rory? Jewish people?
Small Boy: I'm going to camp next weekend -
Banshee: To learn how to make bombs?
Small Boy: I need to take a cake -
Mum: I'll make you one -
Small Boy: And a sleeping bag -
Banshee: A detonator, plastic explosives, a hunting knife -
Small Boy: And wellies. Have I got wellies?
Mum: Yes, they're under the stairs -
Banshee: Not forgetting the black balaclava, latex gloves -
Mum (FIRMLY): How was Scouts?
Small Boy: Great! We chopped up a piano with massive axes and burned it!
Mum: What?
Banshee: Next week: book burning.
Small Boy: Ken, he's the leader, he's got no feeling in his left hand -
Banshee: Has he got a hook?
Small Boy: When he was a welder a piece of white hot metal jumped inside his glove and destroyed his nerves -
Mum (BRIGHTLY): Let's go for the bus -
Small Boy: And the first he knew about it was when he smelled the burning flesh.
Banshee: Lovely!
Small Boy: Ken says I can train my grip by squeezing a tennis ball. Have we got any tennis balls, Mum?
Banshee: Perhaps you could practise on small animals?
Mum (THROUGH GRITTED TEETH): Yes, we've got a tennis ball.
Banshee: When he grows a small, black moustache don't say I didn't warn you.

Roll credits