The Craftswoman – for Peggy

I wrote this poem after the death of my mother-in-law on 16th October 2018.  I was really pleased that the family liked it enough for my brother-in-law to read it out at her funeral this week.

In her youth she learned to make things,
Oh yes, her boys were testament to that.
Her needles clicked to keep us warm,
and her machine trundled stitches,
turning tailored suits for working life
and childhood clothes for grandchildren.

With painted nails and silk threads she wove
bright flowers, embroidering colour
into all the corners of her home,
where friends and family shared the yarns,
those times that knit a life
worth wearing.

And all the while her garden grew.
Every plant, she knew, by name,
their differing hues and habits,
like children sown with confidence and skill
the clematis, fuchsias and scented stock
all flourished in her daily care.

Her nimble fingers now lie still,
the crafts she loved abandoned,
and in that belovéd garden
the last roses sadly droop their heads.
Yet her flowers will still bloom in spring
and fond memories will forever warm us.

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I didn’t have a sixteenth birthday party
I’d fallen out with me dad
Over a Beatles song
Who knew a man could be so mean
To snap his purse shut
For being proved wrong

Did he love me?
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Well, he said he did
But he wouldn’t pay for a party
For an ungrateful girl
Who disagreed with her dad

So while hippies swayed at Woodstock
And the man walked on the moon
I sat in my room and cried
Over my own stubborn streak
And a dad who didn’t
Please me.

The Flock

There were geese this morning.
In the field behind my house.
I heard the noise first.
That cackling and squabbling
of disgruntled old ladies.

Then through a gap in the hedge
they came into view.
Sixty or so I should think.
Fat Canada geese lost in the dry fields
of Nottinghamshire.

I rued my lack of long lens
as ten took to flight,
gliding not six feet above the ground until,
daintily lifting their undercarriages,
they cleared the boundary on the Eastern side.

Ten more followed the first, while
the others waddled on,
‘til, in synchronicity, they rose
chattering and flapping and nimbly forming a line
that went clear across the morning sky

Their bodies, too heavy for the ground,
looked sleek in the currents.
I waved them off, though they didn’t see me,
aimed as they were, with their arrow heads pointed
towards their mysterious, distant, destination.

The Fading

The bedroom window lets in
night drafts, the double bed is cold,
downstairs though, the room
is cosy and warm,
though no real fire now,
just radiators drying clothes.

The kitchen is full
of unused things.
You can see the garden from there.
The overgrown grass and
the dandelion heads nodding
amongst the rosehips.

Still the birds come
and find the insects and crusts.
Bathing in the puddles on the
cracked path,
they still sing,
oblivious to decay.

The woman who lives here
painted bright walls beside her love,
filled the nursery,
sewed the curtains,
kneaded bread.
Alone, she remembers

party balloons, Easter egg hunts and
trips to buy Christmas trees.
Collecting up the toys, then
getting tipsy and curling up
after the children went to sleep.

Moving from her old armchair
is difficult, but the carer lifts
her gently, and reminds her
that’s it’s time for bed.
She makes the cocoa
then closes the door behind her.

It doesn’t have to be that complicated

Neatly, tidily tuck away the treasures
Fold and press out the creases
Polish those brass memories
as though they were gold

pick up the broken pieces
close the curtains, shut the doors
and turn the key in the rusty lock
trip down the fusty garden path

Move on to clear spaces
open roads and green fields
where soft breezes cleanse the air
to give an oxygen high

The cottage by the sea
barefoot on the sand
dancing in the dark, simple,
grow your own life

 

 

 

Learning to Breath – a short story

Meg was feeling slightly sick as the little dinghy bobbed about on the swell. She and six others were all crowded on to the little rubber boat, tanks between their knees, pressed up against each other, sleek in their wetsuits.

She had got most of her kit on on-shore, struggling into her skin-tight wetsuit, heaving the heavy weight belt on with fingers numb from the cold Atlantic breeze, and strapping the big bladed knife to her thigh in case of trouble. Then, pleased to be feeling like ‘one of the boys’, she’d helped carry the rubber dinghy from the car park, down the pebbled beach, to where they launched it on to the choppy grey ocean.

This was her first ever open water dive. A virgin diver, the lads called her. She was the only woman on the trip, although there were one or two others who came to the weekly meetings at the echoey old Victorian pool back in London. That was where she’d trained and suffered, and where she’d very nearly drowned on many occasions in the five months or so since she’d joined the club.

She remembered the first lesson, when she was told she would have to swim 10 lengths with the weight belt on before they’d even consider teaching her anything else. Grim determination got her there, her arms pulling the water out of the way and legs kicking frantically, just managing to keep her slight frame afloat. It had taken four attempts, but she finally succeeded and progressed on to the next stage.

Clearing your mask.

Doesn’t sound very difficult she had thought at the time, but it proved to be another stumbling block, that, in truth, she still struggled with a bit. The trick, they told her, was to grasp the bottom of the mask and lift it up at the same time as blowing through your nose. Theoretically that should empty any accumulated water from it. But usually Meg ended up with her eyes stinging and feeling more like a goldfish peering through its bowl at the world beyond.

Nevertheless, as the weeks passed, she became more confident and was eventually able to attempt the final hurdle, which was to put all the equipment on at the bottom of the pool. Again, it took several attempts. Just diving down there was difficult enough, and then to position the weights across her legs before gasping at the air was well, challenging. On several occasions she just didn’t have enough air left in her lungs to blow the water from the mouthpiece before taking a breath, and resurfaced gasping and floundering. In the pub afterwards, the men would tease her mercilessly, but she’d stuck at it, and eventually built up the strength to get through it.

She had seen the advert for the diving club in the local paper. She’d tried one or two other types of clubs in the past, even the WI, but found, as the ‘new girl’ the small talk and false camaraderie made her feel like a fish out of water so she hadn’t stayed for long. She had never even dreamt about doing such a potentially dangerous thing before, but now she was alone, she felt that she needed something, a distraction, just to feel alive – to do something extraordinary to get away from the daily grind of surviving. Sod the danger.

Working as a receptionist at the surgery she’d always felt like piggy in the middle, with both the patients and the Doctors harassing her. She tried to be professional, really she did, but recently she’d found herself not only making uncharacteristic silly mistakes, but snapping at patients and colleagues alike, and to make things worse, she’d been called in for ‘a chat’ with Di, the Practice Manager who had even suggested she might benefit from medication. Bloody cheek!

Although she was slowly coming to terms with being on her own, the split had left her feeling bewildered, lost, hurt and angry. She knew very well that she’d been prickly and often said things she regretted later. She suspected, that that was probably why Dan had decided to leave her and go and live with his dad instead. A 15 year old boy only has so much understanding to give his mum.

Anyway, he had been very interested in her new hobby, and she was hoping that he might even start to join her at the pool every week. At least it would be regular contact. Not like now, when he often seemed too busy to even talk to her on the phone. She’d tried texting too, but her texts were clearly not so urgent as the saucy ones from his fan club of girls.

Now, though, now was her time. The virgin diver. She sat on the edge of the dinghy confidently adjusting the straps of the tank, pulling on the big black flippers, and tightening the mask that she knew would leave those unattractive ridges on her face when she took it off. Someone turned on her air supply and she put the mouthpiece in and immediately blew out, as had become natural now.

She tipped backwards over the edge of the dinghy, and briefly glimpsed her flippers against the sky before sinking. The shock of the cold water made her entire body contract as though the pressure on the outside had purged everything inside. She heard the comforting, and now familiar, mechanical sound of her breathing, and smiled to herself, before sending a quick ok signal to her companion. Then feeling strong and free she headed off into unknown waters.