For Fern.

I look for you out of habit
to see you raise your head,
your tail stump beating,
but you are not there.
Sometimes you knew what I was thinking.
Always you knew what I was feeling,
and you tried to work out why.
I was always at the back of your mind,
Your champion.
Your protector.
Your anchor.

I walk the paths where you ran,
knowing what you would have searched out,
looking for the remnants of your passing,
but the grass is still
and the water is silent.
There is nothing more
that you can bring to me.
Your grubby treasures will stay hidden.
You are not watching.
The dog in the distance
is never you.

My hand is deep in my pocket,
clutched tightly around your empty collar
as I walk, doggedly,
keeping you alive by force of will.
You gave me everything you had,
every bit of strength,
every thought,
until only your iron will
to live for one more day,
one more step, remained
and it was no longer enough.

Copy of Fern - 2008 01 07 - 001

The Turning of the Year.

A late September day begins
with burning of mist,
scattering of clouds
and melting of frost.
A first breath of Autumn
glides over the dew
leaving the unburied skeletons
of saw-wort and hemlock shivering.

The first few errant leaves
flicker through the searchlight beams
of swirling light,
dodging, taking their chance.
They lay themselves to rest,
shrouded in dull gold, ochre and brown.
They have given everything
yet still the worms will demand more.

A time of dampness,
soft smells,
and gathering.
Seed-time and withering.
Beauty in decay.
A time of endings.
A time for remembering.


Short Story: The Price of Art.

The painting was finished. Henry knew that, not by looking at it, but by realising that whatever it was that had left his hand and heart and found its way out onto the canvas among the colours and shapes was gone. It had become itself. There might be parts of it that he didn’t like- he hadn’t quite captured the delicate fall of light on the left hand side of the window for instance- but there was nothing more that he wanted to do. It was no longer his business. He could breathe again.
“It’s done.”
Susanna was tired of sitting. She looked at him questioningly, wary of his temper if she hadn’t heard him right.
“It’s done. You can move now.”
She closed a silk robe around her naked body, shivering slightly from the draught and came round behind the canvas to look. It was important not to say anything. He watched her, hoping that she would stay silent but wanting to hear what she thought.
There was a short silence while she searched for the words that he might want to hear. He would know immediately if she lied to him, but sometimes finding the truth was difficult. He expected her to know and sometimes she just didn’t. They stood off from the painting like two wild creatures, frozen in a moment, unsure whether to fight or flee. Finally he won, as he always did and Susanna spoke quietly, eyes downcast.
“It’s rather…….. bright.”
“And I am horribly fat.”
A slight smile crossed his lips.
“Too fat?”
She raised her chin sulkily.
“You always say that you must paint what you see.”
He was pleased- she was learning.
“And not what is there. Quite right.”
“I think I like it.”
He turned her to face him.
“You think you like it?”
She smiled. He was playing at being angry but that could quickly change into the real thing. Not this time- she knew what to say. Sometimes saying the right thing was easy.
“I mean I do like it- I like it very much.”
She kissed him gently on the cheek.
“Especially the light shining on the wall by the window.”
He sighed. There was still some way to go.
“Thank you my dear. You have been very patient.”
“Patient……… and fat.”
He turned away and started to gather his brushes together ready for cleaning. Sometimes he allowed her to do that for him but not today. Instead she allowed herself to enjoy the curve of his back and the delicacy of his wrists as he bent over the sink. He was not handsome- not at all. It was the intensity of his looking that was irresistible. Knowing that she would be watching him he turned and threw her a grin.
“You are not fat.”
She rearranged her robe carefully and preened herself, stroking her hair back from her face. It was about time he said that. He had still painted the fat though. Every bit of it.
“When you paint someone else do you sometimes think that they are more beautiful than me?”
“That’s irrelevant.”
“But do you?”
There was no answer. Just the running of a tap in the butler’s sink and the smell of turpentine. She didn’t expect an answer. He always refused to be drawn into those kind of conversations. When they made love she could be sure that he wanted her at that moment and that had to be enough. She was more beautiful than his first wife, that was undeniable. All the hard work that Charlotte had put into helping him build his career, keeping the world at bay so that he had nothing to think of but the canvas standing in front of him, had come to nothing when he had first seen Suzanne. She had relished his desire the first time that he painted her, without once touching her, and she had known what was coming. She had felt every brush-stroke. It had been new and exciting but things had changed now. She was no longer a slim, dark eyed seventeen year old. It could happen again. There was something in Charlotte’s face when she brought William round for his weekend visits that made it obvious she knew it too. It would happen again. All it would take would be a knock at the door.
“Are you pleased with it?”
What she meant was, are you pleased with me. Did I do well for you? Was I good enough?
Was the problem her? Was she good enough?
“I may alter some of the background- but probably not- nothing for you to worry about. I won’t need you.”
Of course he didn’t need her. Henry didn’t need anyone. Only his work. His indifference to mankind was completely without prejudice. He did care, sometimes, but on his own terms. He did as he liked and she had learned not to ask. What you didn’t know couldn’t hurt you. All you could really hope for was the chance to face the fierce gaze of his selfishness for long enough to be remembered for ever, because his work was good, very good, nobody should be in any doubt about that. His work would last and she was the one who had set fire to his talent.
She stood in front of the painting and looked at it quietly.
“I don’t know what you see in me.”
Much later, Art critics would talk about colour and line and the boldness of her gaze, the light in her eyes, the delicacy of the skin tones and, yes, the unsure handling of the paint on the left of the window, but all she could see was her own self, chilly and rather bored, and her fine bones covered with rather too much flesh, sitting on a cane chair that had already appeared in twelve paintings. She preferred his early portraits of her, when he had taken her into his arms as soon as he had put his brush down but she would say that, wouldn’t she? She had not needed to ask whether she was beautiful in those days and she could remember what the young girl staring out of the canvas had been thinking. Those sittings had been long and intense. His work had been precise and detailed back then, with tiny obsessive brush-strokes and his frustration had sometimes brought her to tears until she finally learned how to please him simply by sitting still. He had taught her many things, patience, resilience, suffering, passion.

When the knock at the door finally came, eighteen months later, and Suzanne answered it the girl standing there was heart-stoppingly beautiful. There was no decision to be made. Henry would adore her. She was everything that he searched for. Young, unspoiled, innocent. Enough like Suzanne for her to be reminded of what she had once been. A perfect blank canvas for Henry to remake in his own image. She might as well have brought her bags with her. He would devour her. The poor child had no idea…………
“I know this is a bit of a cheek but I’m an Art student and I wondered if Mr Mitchell would mind having a look at one or two of my drawings. I doubt that they’re any good but anything he could say to help would be…… you know.”
The girl’s voice trailed off. She was expecting to be sent on her way and that would be easy to do. Very easy. Except that the work which Henry would produce when he saw that face and long sinuous body would be better than anything he had done before. Suzanne might not know much but she knew enough to know that and nothing mattered more.
She smiled wearily and held out an arm, inviting the girl in.
“Don’t worry. I’ll let him know that you are here. He won’t mind. He’s working but he’s due for a break.”
The girl walked in, peering anxiously around her, and Suzanne followed, knowing that her future had changed. It would only take one look.

Storm at Sea.

The storm fights its way along the horizon,
bickering with itself.
Lightning strikes out against the sea
sending pulses of deadly energy
flailing against the waves
Swirling air hurtles into empty space
and rolls out across the water,
an invisible wrecking ball
of pure sound.
This is war.

Slowly, hesitantly, a rainbow
shimmers into life.
For a few short minutes
it transforms the light
into a band of reluctant hope,
before fading back into an angry sky.
This is peace.


Terry Frost. Leeds Art Gallery. 26-08-15

Terry Frost is one of the most important British painters of the twentieth century. He was a modernist who worked in Cornwall and then Yorkshire, producing abstract work which has a fine sense of colour and line. I hadn’t seen his work properly before but the exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery gave me a chance to have a good look at some of his best work and I liked it very much.

I spent a long time looking at two of his Yorkshire paintings, High Yellow, Yorkshire c1955 and Orange and Black, Leeds c1957.

  • IMG_0098
      High Yellow, Yorkshire. c1955 Terry Frost.

High Yellow suggested to me a patchwork of fields seen from above. It is a beautifully balanced work- calming and satisfying to look at. Abstraction with its roots in the natural landscape where I grew up. I would have liked to take it home.


Orange and black, Leeds. c1957 Terry Frost.

Orange and Black is a very dynamic painting with plenty of energy and presence. It would dominate any room that you put it in and the sheer depth of vibrant colour seems to glow with a light of its own. It is almost like a stained glass window and your eye is led into its depths through the central shape and the vertical lines.

In the 1960s he taught in California and some of the bright, playful sculpture and painting that he produced at that time is also on display. I liked the earlier work that was more rooted in landscape better but the hanging discs casting shadows on the white walls of the gallery looked very much at home.


I wish that the group of small children who were adrift among the paintings in high visibility jackets with their nursery staff had found someone to engage with them. One of two of them were showing an interest in the colours and shapes on the walls but they needed someone to ask them what they thought. It was the kind of work that might have given them something to talk about if the right questions had been asked. A lovely, uplifting selection of work which is a nice legacy of someone who knew how to look.

Travel Broadens the Mind.

“How are you?”
“Oh, busy, busy busy-
you know how it is.”
Move on, rush, achieve.
Take, arrange, meet, do.

How far have you come
from the front door
of your own mind?
What have you seen?
What have you noticed?

Stillness is a long, hard journey,
but there is contentment
in exploring exactly where you are,
a joy in staying put to examine detail
as you wait to grow where you were planted.

There is a world under your feet
Know your roots.



Along every hedgerow,
every field,
silver seeds are flying out,
leaving home to make a new summer.
Parent plants stretch their stalks,
clinging, stroking.
Don’t go!
Not now………. not yet.
Just a few more days,
a few more hours to hold you.
The seed heads quiver
and their children shake out their hair,
ready to take their chances,
longing to soar.
They tumble out,
spilling onto the wind.
A kiss on the wild air
and they are gone.
A farewell and a promise.