I have never quite lost the habit
of picking up conkers.
They lie there abandoned,
ripped from their womb.
Freshly varnished,
newly fallen, vulnerable.
Crying out for life.
I need to feel them in my hand,
take them home,
hide them away.

I hold on to one last sliver
of innocence that refuses to die.
A reminder of far off seasons,
games of conquest, drilling holes,
twenty-niners and worn out shoelaces.
A wish that this perfect shining veneer
of innocence and hope,
this essence of tree,
might last forever
and that, just this once,
when I lift it from its hiding place
my childhood will still be there.


A Little Life.

I have led a little life.
A life of small hopes
and small dreams.
A life lived between the cracks
in the pavement,
watching strangers quietly,

Fish and chips
eaten out of newspaper
on a cold, wet Sunday afternoon.
A quiet “now then”
from someone I barely know
as they walk on past.
A small child running,
shouting my name for the first time.
A worn and broken wedding ring.
A half crown, never spent.

My grandfather shining his boots
as he dressed up for a whist drive.
His shrug as he came through the door
when he hadn’t won.

Mist rising on the Howgills
to reveal a landscape
glorified by sun.
The breath of a horse
warming my hand.
The jaws of a caterpillar
moving along a leaf.
The fall of rain far out at sea.
Sunflowers turning, seeds sprouting,
wild roses flowering,
frozen leaves, dandelion clocks,
and sharp, salt winds.

Small things.
Easily missed.
So many things
That only I remember.
So many things
that didn’t count.


The search for Ruby Slippers. In the discharge lounge.

Hospital discharge lounges are not the most cheerful of places, they are filled with people who would really rather be somewhere else. You can put up nice prints on the wall, scatter magazines on tables and be careful to bring cups of tea exactly as the person likes it, but several hours in a hospital discharge lounge is never going to be a day out. You are left waiting for medication, waiting for patient transport, waiting for life to resume normal service. For some that isn’t going to happen as not everyone who is discharged from hospital is well. The healthiest patients will probably leave hospital without ever seeing the inside of a discharge lounge, only the elderly, the vulnerable and the lonely tend to end up there. They have been patched up, made just well enough to cope outside a hospital ward for a while and now they are being sent away, wearing imaginary ruby slippers, on the grounds that there is no place like home.

Amy would have suited Ruby slippers, sparkling ones with kitten heels. She was in her mid seventies, perhaps older, tall and thin as a dry twig, with bulging varicose veins and mottled skin but that didn’t prevent the girlish elegance that she had graced in her youth from showing through. Her hair was pure white, nicely bobbed at chin height, and her eyes lit up her face, intense and sparkling. She wore only a thin girlish nightgown that suited her very well, lace edged with tiny flowers. She had tremendous interest in everything around her- especially the people. She had once been beautiful- she still was in a different way- and she had not lost the ease that beauty often brings with it. People noticed her.- they always had. Weakness and worry were a nuisance but people were also kind. A fall- so silly- had left her with an injured arm but the kind nurse kept coming to position it properly in the sling (each time she walked away Amy absent-mindedly took her arm straight out again and laid it carefully on her knee) or return her to her chair if she floated away to have a wander. Perhaps she was looking for the stages and catwalks that her beauty had led her onto in her youth. Not that she was confused. She had found her keys, told them that she wanted to try a night at home to see how she got on and they had given her the phone number of a care home who could fit her in if she found that she couldn’t cope. It would be all right. Things usually were. For now she had found someone to talk to.

“You see there is good in everything. If I hadn’t been in here I would never have met you.”

Amy’s new companion was older than her, ninety two in fact. His name was Joseph and he was a self proclaimed ladies man in the best sense. A gentleman. Short and stocky with a kind, thoughtful, intelligent face. A former translator who spoke six languages. He was one of the many Polish men who came over to Britain to play their part in world war two. He had met Winston Churchill, and the camp commandant of Auschwitz back then, and Margaret Thatcher later. He had liked Churchill very much because he made you feel like a king when he talked to you, and when he had time alone with the commandant and he was asked “what will you do to me” he gave the one answer that the commandant didn’t expect. “Nothing.” He had seen war and wanted no more of its brutality. He didn’t tell Amy any of this of course- gentlemen don’t talk about themselves that much- but we had met before during his weeks up on the ward. She liked him and turned herself towards him, making eye contact, content to be listened to. If only the years could have fallen away it might have been the beginning of a love story.

Amy finally left with a shy smile and a gentle wave. A thin, pale blue hospital bedspread was wrapped around her and flung over her shoulder where a cashmere shawl might once have been as she made her way out into a first blast of cool air. I watched her leave thinking quietly that people don’t really change, they just become more themselves.


Stroking the dog.

An elderly man sits by his hospital bed
and comforts his soft toy dog.
He is lost in a past where dogs run, bark and play
on half remembered parks and beaches.
He strokes, pats, murmours,
he feeds it Maltezers.
This is no place for a dog.

A visiting stranger asks the dogs name.
It doesn’t have one, he says.
The visitor tells him that it is called George.
She tells him that George doesn’t like Maltezers.
He looks at the dog and shakes his head.
The dog has no name,
of course it hasn’t,
and Maltezers are all that he has.
Deep inside the man’s past,
far away from his inaccessible present,
he retains a grain of truth.
It has no name because it is not a real dog.
He can feed it anything.

He picks the dog up and holds it to his face,
finding calm in his caring,
taking pleasure in control.
A mind drifting towards an unfamiliar world
is coming home.



I hold the knowledge of my ancestors
deep inside my sub- conscious.
I am cleverer than you think.
Nobody taught me- as if you could-
I just know.

I stretch my neck, I’m on the make-
What you have is what I take.

My iridescence catches the sun’s fire.
The sun burns for my pleasure.
My blackness flares out into the world.
I like that word.

I take my time, do as I please,
I hop, I glare, I stab, I tease.

I watch your movements.
I keep my distance- just far enough.
Take your time, do what you like,
You will be gone soon enough.
I can wait.

I strut my stuff, I walk my walk.
I jab, I pose, I preen, I stalk.

I have nothing to prove.
You are merely an inconvenience.
Do not imagine that you are clever.
Others have thought that in the past.
They were wrong.

I will outlive you.


Henceforward. Stephen Joseph Theatre. 29-09-16


Bill Champion as Jerome. Production photograph by Tony Bartholomew.

I saw the first production of Alan Ayckbourn’s Henceforward at the Stephen Joseph in 1987 when I was in my twenties. A lot has happened to both me and the theatre since then. The revival at the SJT this year is quite a brave thing to do in some ways. The play was very successful both in Scarborough and in London where it won the Evening Standard award for best comedy when it transferred to the West End with Ian McKellen and Jane Asher. It would have been easy to leave it safely in the past, resting on its laurels, but I’m glad they didn’t. It made a big impression on me at the time. It was the first time that Ayckbourn had introduced science fiction into one of his plays- I loved NAN300F- Barry McCarthy was great as the lead character, Jerome, along with Serena Evans as Zoe and I still have a strong flashbulb memory of the ending in the original production. That doesn’t always happen. I saw plays thirty years ago that I can barely remember now. Every now and again if they have revived an Ayckbourn that I didn’t like nearly as much I have grumbled that they should give Henceforward another production- this made seeing it again a bit like high noon- how is it after all those years? Was my young self right? Was I going to be disappointed?

It remains a very clever idea- more successful still, for me, than some of the later futuristic Ayckbourn plays. It is set in a dystopian future where the streets are under mob rule and even opening the front door is dangerous. A composer, Jerome, is trying desperately to find his creative energy again and write, holed up in a tower block with only a faulty robot nanny for company. Throughout the play the world outside remains very real- a clear and present danger brought to us by videophone and entry security screens. Jerome has asked a young actress up for an interview, hoping that she will play his wife, allowing him to provide a semblance of normality and persuade his real estranged wife to allow him to regain contact with his daughter Geain. He is also desperate to find fuel for his creativity, given his isolation, and he does this by recording sounds- everything in fact- that he hears in the flat to sample in his work. There is both comedy and some heartfelt emotional writing and it is the second aspect that I think has stood the test of time best as the plot plays out.

Bill Champion is very good as Jerome. He is a very intense, truthful actor and you certainly believe in his Jerome as a difficult, gifted man. I liked Laura Matthews as Zoe too. That character needs to bring some lightness and airiness into the room with her to counter everything else that is going on and I particularly liked her first scene where she is clearly both falling apart after being attacked and also desperate to hold onto some normality and do the interview that she has come to do. I loved Jacqueline King as NAN300F but in spite of some very convincing acting as Corinna I didn’t think that the production had really got that character right this time. You need to feel that she and Jerome are meant to be together- that there is still something there, a warmth underneath Corinna’s outer skin of bitterness and frustration, and I didn’t quite.

It was fascinating to see the play again in my middle age. The heart of it has certainly stood the test of time- maybe the character of Mervyn has dated a little but not much else has. Henceforward certainly deserves to stay on stage alongside some of Ackbourn’s better known comedies and I am glad that my wish to see it again has finally been granted.