On the York Train in Spring.

The young man was tall and good looking, with the tiniest of jet black ponytails, carefully dressed, just the right side of flamboyance, in a light leather jacket, black shirt and pale mesh jumper over black cycling shorts. He settled into his seat with quiet self possession, opened his bag and took out his make up. Ignoring everything around him, the movement of the train, the interested looks, the noise and disruption, he began to do his make up, comfortable in his own skin. He held out his mirror high in mid air with some style and surveyed his face with practiced skill. The young women already sitting in the seats around him whose cheerful chat had been made up of sentences punctuated by wide eyes, plenty of reassuring, affirmative nodding and the word like, were fascinated. Finally one of them spoke up.
“I don’t know how you can manage to do that on a train.”

He was too busy concentrating to answer straight away, lost in the world of his own face. They were right to be impressed. When he was finally happy with what he saw it looked as if he was wearing no make up at all, but had simply been blessed with excellent skin. He snapped shut his shiny black mirror, smiled and introduced himself, announcing his name, explaining where he lived- a very nice area- and asking them what they were up to and where they came from. His manners were impeccable. They were delighted by him and chatted about their plans for the day, the relative merits of supermarkets and his job in a gallery.

The elderly lady sitting opposite me, dressed in a carefully arranged pastel scarf and safe, comfy fleece and anorak, listened with a kind of bewildered amusement, darting shy glances at them. An exotic bower bird had constructed his bower in a table seat of carriage B of the TransPennine Express and performed a display right next to her. She would ring her friend up and tell her about it when she got home.

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Aesthetica Art Prize Exhibition. York St Marys. 06-04-15

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The Aesthetica Art Prize exhibition, a small show featuring the top eight shortlisted works, is well worth a visit. There is plenty to make you think and sometimes great beauty. The exhibition has quite a sombre, contemplative feel and sometimes as with Julian Day’s piece Requiem, (2012-1014) and Fear by John Keane (2012-2013) the works strike sparks off each other when images of people facing the terror of Stalinist show trials are accompanied by the steady plaintive hum from the synthesisers close by. The four portraits which make up Fear are beautifully painted and very moving. You look at them helplessly as they stare out silently, asking for recognition and justice and there is nothing that you can do.

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I was lucky to see Mobius by Owen Waterhouse on a day when sunlight was flooding in through the church windows, lighting it perfectly and showing off the sinuous movement that runs through the curves of the polished steel. It is beautifully constructed, a very fitting tribute to the steelworkers of Sheffield.

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When I first saw the photographic images which make up Marcus Lyon’s Exodus (20210-2014) from a distance I thought that they were stained glass windows. He is interested in the way that the world is too visually complex for us to make sense of within a single image so I suppose that is as good a comment on them as any.

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An interesting show, right in the heart of York. I hope that some of the hundreds of people milling around in the streets around the Yorvik centre will find their way inside by chance and be surprised by it.

Advancing Brambles.

Sprung bows of living barbed wire
are stretching themselves,
feeling their way,
sensing the air,
shooting arrows
of fresh life into the sunlight,
making war on perfection,
staking a claim.

Tiny shoots of pale green perfection
are unfolding,
exploring,
testing the light.
Among the withered husks of last season
an ordinary magic is stirring,
enfolding,
gathering strength,
filling empty space,
making itself new.

A patch of wild abandon,
spitting defiance
at flowers in comfortable beds,
mown lawns
and trimmed hedges.

The fightback continues.

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Daffodils are Blooming.

All over the land
as the air warms
and the light strengthens,
daffodils are blooming.

In organised well drilled ranks
across public parks.
In clumsy offerings
made from love and used egg-boxes.
In out of the way patches
of long grass where nobody goes.
In front of a much loved name
to show them new life.

Daffodils are blooming.

In cheerful clumps of happiness
beside rivers and streams.
In the button holes of elderly ladies
walking slowly to the shops.
In a fanfare of golden trumpets
under ancient city walls.
In plastic buckets
for a bargain price.
In defiant splendour
crushed in the road.

Daffodils are blooming.

Peering through the mist,
staring into the sun,
swaying in the wind,
shaking off the rain.

Enduring.
Familiar.
Abused.
Taken for granted.
Yearned for.
They are back!

Daffodils are blooming.

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Spring Tide.

This is a mad March day
when the sea abandons itself
to the clear light of another Spring
and shakes out the grey of winter.
Hair flying, voice roaring,
it scatters wet jewels into a blue sky,
able to breathe freely at last.

A sweet breath of clarity
throws water in the face of an old friend.
Spring stands shivering in the cool air,
a declaration of life, another chance.
Daylight streams around half remembered corners,
dust swirls upwards into spirals of hope,
and the soil begins to move.

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Short Story: Jack’s World.

Jack was worried. He was on his own, away from the safety of his sheltered housing and he had lost his scarf. He didn’t like hospitals. They kept telling him that he was doing very well for ninety but sitting in an almost empty hospital waiting area made him miss his wife Edie. She would have sat with him just like he had sat with her. She would have told him where his scarf was. She had been through a lot. There was nothing for him to do now but sit here and remember until someone told him to do something else. Twenty one years is a long time to miss somebody. That’s what happens when you get left behind to live a long while. He didn’t like hospitals. Coming here brought it all back. His hair needed cutting as well. She’d have made sure he saw to that.

A nurse came down the corridor pushing a wire mesh trolley with four tattered brown files sitting on it.
“You all right love?”
“I don’t know where my scarf is.”
“It’s on the inside of your coat- here look, tucked into your sleeve.”
Jack looked down. So it was!
He tried to turn his coat round. It was heavy. The nurse pulled the scarf out and showed it to him.
“There you go. There’ll be somebody along to sort you out soon.
She trundled off cheerfully. Jack watched her go.
“Thank you kindly.”

He didn’t mind waiting. He spent most of his time waiting these days. He had nothing better to do. He was missing his programme though, that was the only thing. The nice couple who sold houses. He liked them. They had sold one a few weeks back that reminded him of his old house. It had been worth a fortune and he had wanted to tell Edie about it. They had said it needed doing up but he had liked it as it was. There was too much of that these days. Things being changed for the sake of it. They had taken away the old wooden bench behind his bus stop and put these blue plastic things there instead. It was nothing like as comfortable and they weren’t proper seats, they were too thin and they tipped up when you stood up. You had to watch yourself. They matched the bus company posters and that was about all you could say for them.

There were posters all over the shop here. Telling you things because there were no people to tell you. Wash your hands. Evidently if you asked nurses if they’d washed their hands they wouldn’t be offended. He couldn’t make anything of that at all. That was as good as telling a nurse she was dirty. They’d not like that. Course they’d be offended. Bound to be. He had seen a notice near one of the wards he had walked past and there had been a number written in a box saying something about how many of them had washed their hands. Made no sense at all.

They had taken his blood pressure and weighed him before they told him where to sit. Not that he was going to take much notice. If you can’t have a bloody biscuit when you’re ninety when can you have one? They never said anything about it mind you. It was just what they did. He thought about having one of his mints but it would be too much fuss getting them out and the woman sitting opposite him had already picked his stick up for him once. He didn’t want her having to do that again. It was very kind of her, he just didn’t want her doing it again.

Edie’s friend had said to him, “there’s one thing- your daughter won’t let you down” and she had been right. Janet had been a big help but since the new job she lived too far off to come every week. She kept telling him about something called face timing and she had shown him his grandson on a computer she could hold in her hand but he couldn’t fathom that at all. He was all right so long as she was there showing him but he couldn’t fathom that sort of thing out for himself. They had to make do with the phone. He didn’t mind. She had her own life to lead and he didn’t want to be a burden. He didn’t like being looked after by anybody, let alone Janet.

They had told him what was wrong with him years back but he couldn’t remember what they called it. It was just the word he’d forgotten- he knew what was going on- he wasn’t daft. His heart was beating too fast and there was a word for it. He had tablets. To start with they had said at the doctors that it was some crab he had eaten but it wasn’t. It was his ticker. He had never eaten crab since, mind you, and he used to like buying a dressed crab when he went to the coast. Best not. He had wafer thin ham and philadelphia cheese now. They kept talking about giving him a pacemaker but so far it was just talk. If it ever came to more than that he would say no. Edie had had one of those and he hadn’t liked it.

It was too warm in here. No windows. No air. At least the good weather and the light nights were coming. He would be able to sit out soon and see the kiddies coming back from school on an afternoon. Like little chirping birds pecking around their mums.

The door of the consulting room opened and the young bloke in the red t-shirt came out looking cheerful. It would be Jack’s turn soon. He had seen his file go in. He didn’t like being asked questions and seeing the doctor write about him. Sometimes he wasn’t sure he had said the right thing. Do you get breathless? Well, no. It would be a bad lookout if he got breathless watching Countryfile and if he felt badly when he was out he slowed down. He was ninety. What did they expect? The bloke in the red t-shirt had gone away fast enough. Not a fat lot wrong with him, or not that you could see at any rate. Jack watched the door anxiously. It might be his turn for bad news.

Edie had taken her bad news very well considering. She had been more worried about him, but that was Edie. There wasn’t so much they could do back then. Twenty one years is a long time. He could still see her face when they told her; the sudden stilllness of shock and her hand gripping her skirt. It had taken nearly six months. Plenty of people had said afterwards that she would be looking down on him but he wasn’t sure about that now. She would have said something.

There was a pile of leaflets on the corner table telling you about support groups, giving you numbers to ring, with smiling people on the front. People were mad keen on telling other folks their business these days. They shouldn’t do that. Folks weren’t bothered. Those who wanted to know would ask and those who didn’t want to know should keep their noses out and not expect to be told.

The door of the consulting room opened and the nurse who had taken his file in came out. He caught a glimpse of the consultant next to his computer screen. At least it was the same doctor.
“Jack Harrison”.
He started to get up but he had his stick, his coat and his carrier bag to manage and he fumbled around for a few seconds too long. He turned and frowned at her.
“Can I leave my stuff out here?”
The nurse swooped down and took his coat without asking.
“I’ll take these for you.”
Jack put his hand out towards his scarf. It was still safe. She bustled away ahead of him without looking back. He lifted himself slowly from his chair, balanced himself with his stick and followed her into the consulting room obediently. The consultant stood up to shake his hand and the door closed gently behind him.