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.

IMG_0049

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.

IMG_0004

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.

The Girl on the Wall.

IMG_006660

 

For decades you looked out calmly from the wall
of a room that was frozen in time.
rarely visited,
never spoken of,
kept for Sundays.

All through my childhood as I learned and grew,
you watched as I took my time for granted.
perfectly serene,
gently composed,
safe from harm.

You looked enough like me to make me wonder,
although I knew that I should never ask,
lost in a half smile,
bow perfectly placed,
pinafore pristine white.

Everything else about you has been forgotten,
only a single image moves on through time,
your favourite games,
your special times,
the sound of your voice………..

all gone.

You have seen me muddle my way through a lifetime
while you waited behind your wall of dusty glass,
wasting chances,
taking opportunities,
snatching advantages.

Still and silent you are my eternal sister,
left behind while I move on to count the years.
You do not judge,
you do not feel pity,
you do not mourn or laugh.

The great aunt
who never grew up.

A snatched moment from life on the farm.

IMG_0003454
There are photographs like this one hidden away in tattered albums or pushed to the back of drawers in houses all over the country. There is nothing special about it, but it is a favourite of mine and someone once thought it special enough to be enlarged and mounted on card. It shows my maternal grandmother, Annie Maud Shipley and her daughter Edie. I am guessing from looking at my Auntie Edie that it may have been taken in the early nineteen thirties. A single daughter would have been a surprise to them as the husband and father of the family Robert came from a family of twelve but there had only been one baby born apart from Edie, George who did not survive infancy. My mother Nancy, Edie’s only sibling, was born twenty years later than her, well after this photograph was taken.

Edie is a much loved but uncosseted only child and she has been dressed in her best clothes, probably hand sewn. This was a farming family in a small hamlet on the Vale of York and having a photograph taken would have been an event in itself, something that you prepared for, talked about, and waited to see. Annie is also dressed in her best but that outfit is not new- the belt has seen some wear and the shoes are carefully polished but well worn. There was no money for luxuries. It is very touching how they have just taken a kitchen chair out into the yard, plonked it down and posed. These kind of shots would usually have been taken in a photographers studio but doing it this way was a way of saving cash and it made a charming second best when a special record was wanted. It is carefully posed- look at Annie’s crossed ankles and Edie’s hands behind her back- and this gives it a sense of occasion that belies the informal setting. There are other photos taken around that time- especially at harvest- so I think there must have been a camera around and someone who was interested in photography has been asked to make a special effort.

Most moving to me are the faces. My gran looks older than her years, although she didn’t change much. That’s what the hard work of farm life, both inside and outside the house does to you. There is a calm confidence in her eyes and a serenity that I remember well from when I was a small child. My Auntie Edie has the shy, kind look of a solitary young girl who doesn’t see people very often but who is willing to do her best and pose for her mum. She lived in another tiny village very close to where she was born all her life, doing a mixture of farm work and domestic service, married but remained childless, loved her half acre of garden, kept chickens and grew vegetables and never travelled very much. I think that you can see in her expression that she is going to stay close to home and live quietly. Family was very important to her and she stayed loyal. I was very fond of her and spent a lot of time with her later in her life, sitting quietly with her dog.

IMG_0076