Darter Dragonfly.

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A tracery of fine parts
lit by the sun.
It wears its beauty lightly,
slipping through the cool air,
dancing out a short life.
Barely there,
back and forth,
here and gone.

Engineered by nature
for zero tolerance.
Nothing ugly,
nothing needless-
exuberance contained.
Barely there,
back and forth,
here and gone.

A flash of perfection
when seen on the wing.
A moment of gracious stillness
when set down at rest.
A fleeting gift.
Barely there,
back and forth,
here and gone.

 

Me Flu Jab.

I’m here to have me flu jab
I’m not sure what to do.
I toddle up and stand in line-
there’s a massive queue.

We’ve been through all sorts between us-
shingles, our Barry’s death, Emily’s fall.
One little jab, straight in, straight out,
that’s nowt to worry about at all.

We shuffle forward slowly,
letting poorly folk go ahead-
the lost and the bewildered-
at least we’re not all dead.

The doctor’s young and cheerful-
I once were just like that.
Before the winters raced on by
and left me standing here- just another old bat.

The jab doesn’t hurt- all done he says-
but they want me to sit still.
Never mind being faint I say- I’m off home now.
I don’t want another bloody pill.

They help me get my coat back on,
they needn’t but I don’t mind.
They don’t intend to patronise-
it’s only being kind.

I wander home, I take my time,
that’s today’s excitement gone.
Ready for the short days, the dark nights,
I might put me heating on.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare’s Globe. Via live relay. 11-09-16

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Katy Owen as Puck.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play that responds well to experimentation and playfulness and in this summer’s production at Shakespeare’s Globe it got plenty of both. This is a loud, full hearted, boisterous account of the play which means that some of the quiet magic that can, and should, be there is lost but it still works beautifully. In her first production it is already clear that the new artistic director of the Globe, Emma Rice, understands exactly how this unusual and potentially exciting space works and what can be done there. This is a brave production which takes risks and they pay off. If young people don’t like this version of the Dream then there is no hope. Before name checking Bon Jovi and Hoxton hipsters during a Shakespeare play you had better know what you are doing or you are going to look like a dad dancer, but the sold out audiences this summer have been delighted and in spite of it not being quite my own personal idea of the dream so was I. It had so much energy and joy that you just had to give in to it and admit that it worked.

Sometimes you see a performance in a particular Shakespeare play, after watching a good few productions, where you think yes, that’s it, finally, that’s how it should be, and Katy Owen as Puck did that for me. She was a bundle of energy, vulnerable, sweet, cute, capricious, totally in thrall to Oberon. I have never seen that relationship so clearly thought through. It was both moving and a little bit disturbing. She was a star.

The cabaret artist Meow Meow played Titania and she looked and sounded fabulous. A real diva who was every inch a fairy Queen. Her first entrance was a joy!

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Meow Meow as Titania.

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Bottom and the fairies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There has been a lot of talk about one of the four lovers, Helena being played as a gay man- I’m not sure why. Ankur Bahl gave a perfectly judged performance as Helenus- never over the top as it could so easily have been- and his dance with Hermia early on was a classic. It worked so well that you really didn’t have to make any allowances for the change at all and in some ways it made the ending for the four lovers more moving as Demetrius came to recognise his true self.

csgtlthw8aaljvxThe rude mechanicals were very funny in Pyramus and Thisbe but I think that perhaps they lost some of their effect given that the whole production was very full on throughout. I really liked Alex Tregear as Snout-especially when she played wall with her little face shining out from her cereal boxes.

All the music, composed by Stu Barker, was beautifully judged and performed. The sitar and oboe had exactly the right kind of ethereal quality. I also loved Moritz Junge’s costume design which fused Indian and Elizabethan elements with modern street style. Everything came together to make an aesthetic of its own, with a lovely little puppet version of Titania’s Indian changeling child setting the tone. We could have been anywhere and nowhere which is a always a good place to be when watching a timeless Shakespeare comedy if you get it right.

I was really grateful to be able to see the final performance of this production via a nicely directed high quality live stream. For once I almost felt as if I was there among the groundlings whose rapt faces I could see.

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Short Story: Small Children are Boring!

“Is that all he does?”
Baby Liam lay back quietly in his baby seat, eyes half closed, clenching and unclenching his fists adorably. Amanda looked at her friend, startled that her little bundle of joy, whose name she never mentioned without an admiring adjective shining out in front of it, was not getting the unqualified adulation that he deserved. I mean, he was perfect! Wasn’t he?
“He tried to sit up yesterday.”
“Brilliant.”
There was a short, heavy silence. Holly had tried for the right enthusiastic tone but she hadn’t quite managed it.
“No, I mean it is, brilliant. Almost sitting up. Wow!”
Amanda allowed herself a smug smile.
“He shouldn’t be doing that for another two weeks.”
“Right.”
Holly imagined a roomful of university students settling into freshers week and getting to know each other for the first time, comparing baby milestones.
“When did you first sit up then?”
“Two and a half weeks.”
“Bloody hell, that was early. Have a beer!”
“See him over there- he rolled over onto his side for the first time a full two weeks earlier than anyone else in his mother and toddler group. He’s a sure bet for a first.”
Baby Liam blinked and made a made a little noise a bit like a cat’s mew. Amanda picked him up and squidged his mouth into a pout, grinning at Holly in delight.
“So funny. Little chubster.”
“Priceless.”
Holly smiled back and clapped her hands at him. They were all just babies, that was the thing. All of them- just babies. Of course you couldn’t tell their mothers that, especially when you had none of your own, but the truth was that they were no different to baby lambs. Their mothers and doting grandmas could tell the difference between them but everyone else just had to pretend. Babies all looked the same. The big secret about tiny children- especially other people’s tiny children- was that they were boring. Really boring.
Amanda put her head on one side and held Liam out towards Holly.
“Do you want to hold him?”
This was a question with only one answer. Holly nodded. Liam was passed over to her with exaggerated care. He stared up at the new face. She put her tongue out at him and wrinkled her nose. He really was quite cute.
Amanda smiled.
“One day.”
“One day what?”
“One day it might be you.”
Here we go. Holly looked down and gave a tiny shake of her head.
“Don’t you want children? You love Liam.”
Holly froze. She did not love Liam. She had never said that. She had never thought it. Amanda had no idea.
“He’s very sweet.”
“Well then.”
It was going to have to be said.
“I can’t have children.”
Amanda frowned. She looked like she wanted to take Liam back.
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s OK.”
You could say that it was OK as often as you liked but nobody ever believed it. Especially if they were a mother.
“You could always adopt.”
There was a long silence while Holly remembered all the people who had said those words to her before Amanda, starting with her mother. It was the quickest way that people could find to get themselves out of an awkward situation and make things right. Except it didn’t make things right. It was presumptious and patronising. You must want what I have. You must put right the shameful inadequacy of infertility and find a way to be normal. They would tell you that you were “childfree” but they didn’t mean it. You were childless, a leper who walked the world ringing a bell of emptiness and that void had to be filled- by force if necessary. It was nonsense of course but they believed it and that was what mattered. Perhaps it was how they coped with the fact that their lives had been completely taken over by someone else’s needs and would never be the same again.
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
That was a lie but telling the truth would have felt like slapping baby Liam in the face. Please don’t let her mention IVF.
“Have you thought about IVF?”
“I have no eggs.”
That emptiness again.
“Oh.”
Usually that shut people up but Amanda opened her mouth as though she was going to say something else. Holly got in first.
“It wouldn’t be my child- if it was someone else’s egg. And before you mention my sister, just don’t. That would be a complete nightmare.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Amanda reached out a hand. Holly bit her lip. How had she managed to be pitied about the lack of something that she didn’t even want in the first place?
“It’s fine.”
“I know. Sorry.”
Liam started to grizzle. Holly gave him back to his mum and stared into space. At school they had been best friends, then part of a small. close group who went clubbing and ate pizzas together. One by one the members of the group had fallen by the wayside, hijacked by motherhood. Only she and Amanda had hung on. All that had changed after Liam was born. They had only met up three times since then and it had been all about Amanda’s meet ups with “post natal mums”, tiny glass bottles of expensive sludge, marauding health visitors, useless dads, calpol, sugar free juice, baby led weaning, and disposable nappies. Hundreds and hundreds of God awful disposable nappies. They had hardly seen each other.
“Try not to get down about it.”
“I’m not down. I’m bored if you must know,.”
“Bored?”
“I could do with a change at work. The new manager is a real pain and I have to share an office now. Nobody even asked me. I was just-”
Suddenly baby Liam’s face changed and an enormous roar came out of his tiny mouth. Amanda’s attention was gone in a heartbeat and the words that had been coming out of Holly’s mouth trailed away into silence.
“Oh baby! He’s starting teething already.”
Liam was hugged, comforted, soothed. His bottom gum was rubbed and he was given a plastic ring to suck on.
Holly watched as Amanda looked at her baby- it was a look that she would never share.
“So clever.”
Holly sighed. Amanda pulled a face at her.
“I know. Poor boy!”
Holly nodded and Amanda turned her attention back to Liam, satisfied that a mutual bond had been demonstrated.
“I can’t wait for him to be big enough to fit in the swings.”
That was why they had to come to the park. It was where all the mums congregated to compare buggies, baby outfits and waistlines. Holly was an interloper. The mothers had sailed off together in a flotilla of self congratulation and obsession, powered by love and guilt. She shouldn’t be here. She didn’t belong. She had been left waving them off from the cliff top.
“What were you saying about your work?”
“It doesn’t matter. Just office politics. Nothing interesting.”
“Oh right.”
Amanda really didn’t want to know. She got out a baby wipe and cleaned Liam’s face all over again.
“He’s got milk down his front as well- messy pup.”
She held him up in the air in front of her and they giggled at each other.
“Whatchou been doing?”
His baby gro had I LOVE MY MUMMY printed on it in big blue letters. Holly looked at it with dislike. There was really no need for that.
When Amanda decided that Liam wanted to go home Holly said goodbye with lots of hugs (snuggles for Liam snugglebug) and then walked alone across the grass until she reached the far side of the park, away from the playground. A group of ducks were feeding, flipping up their tail ends and shaking the water from their beaks while a little row of ducklings followed in their mother’s slipstream. That was the other thing you did here if you had children, fed the ducks. A small voice piped up behind her.
“You don’t give them bread.”
A little girl with a tiny blonde top knot on her head and pink glasses came to stand next to her.
“It makes them fat.”
“It’s all right- I haven’t got any.”
“I’ve got some barley.”
“Good. They like that do they?”
“Yes. Look.”
A tiny hand delved into the brown paper bag that she was carrying and she splayed out her fingers and sent a spray of grain out towards the ducks. They scattered to go after it, in waves of excitement, quacking loudly, sending the baby ducks rocking in their slipstream. The little girl made a tiny jump and clapped her hands, sending more barley onto the mud at the edge of the pond.
“See?”
“Who told you about the bread?”
“My mummy.”
“My mummy” was hurrying across the grass towards them.
“Evie- I told you to wait for me. Come here.”
She didn’t say “I told you not to talk to strangers”, but she would do as soon as Holly was out of earshot.
“Sorry- is she bothering you?”
That was code for keep your hands off my daughter.
“No, it’s fine.”
Evie was pulled away to a safe distance and her cardigan was straightened. “My mummy” kept glancing back as though there had been some kind of incident. It was hard for Holly not to stare back and give her more evidence. Well perhaps she should remove all doubt. She stood up, stretched herself and sent a shout ricocheting across the water towards them, scattering the ducks.
“SMALL CHILDREN ARE BORING!”
It was deeply satisfying.
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Autumn Dance.

The skeletons of summer
sway gently in the morning breeze,
scything through the mist.
Sparse, dark beauty, seen in death,
is spotlit by the morning sun.
Their time has come and gone
but they still have their pride,
as they hold out their branches
in a final funereal dance.
Reluctant to take their leave,
they stand tall, heads high,
celebrating the sweet, pulsating softness,
which once flowed freely,
through their wizened stems.

Life has been carried forward.
Their work is done.

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Another Country.

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Sturdy legs need help to stand.
Shy face knows it should smile.
Hands hold tight to a little mug.
“I drank it all up. Warm cows milk.
I’m a good girl I am.”

Spotted pinny over white dress.
“I’ve seen some spotty pigs.”
Shoelaces double knotted,
hair ribbon falling out.
“I’m a good girl I am.”

“I held my cousin Audrey’s hand.
We found some squelchy mud.
A big horse blew its nose at me.
I wasn’t a bit scared.
I’m a good girl I am.”

A special time. “I wore Gladys’ hat.
They all laughed and then I cried.
All these people looking at me-
I wasn’t right keen on that.
I’m a good girl I am.”

More than fifty years ago
that little mite was me.
So much to learn- so many thoughts-
new things ahead to see.
“I’m a good girl I am.”

August Bank holiday.

A girl arches her back
and lets her legs flow out behind her.
Waves lap at her hair.

A dog points his tail
and tests the strength of his lead.
He is on his way.

An old man slumps down ,
face hidden behind his hat.
“I’m resting my eyes.”

A gull soars up
on a breath of summer air.
Somewhere there are chips.

A child is buried
in a heap of soft warm sand.
There is always one.

A small girl struggles
with a board bigger than her.
“Mum said I could have it!”

Far out in the blue
a white sail glides with calm ease.
Going nowhere fast.

A solo swimmer strides out,
Towards the light blue of the deep sea.
She isn’t messing about.

A dad in long shorts
pushes his baby through the soft sand.
“Better than the gym, this!”

Hot dog in cold mouth.
Shrieks, gasps, laughter and splashes.
Warm air on cool skin.

A tiny fly lands.
A bright flash of iridescent green
lights up a windbreak.

The waves creep closer
to a pristine tartan rug.
“Frank! We should move.”

Intersecting lives.
Each taking the last of the summer
and running with it.

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