Publishing Industry Day in Brighton yesterday was fab

Another great trip to Brighton yesterday.  

Q: Why don’t I just be bold and move down there?  

A: Don’t bloomin’ well know.

As I seem to jump at any excuse to head there and anywhere else in East Sussex that beckons…..hmm?

 Food for thought.

Well, the day itself yielded useful info and great contacts: A possible lead for a literary agent.  An influential, literary lady with a bookshop that sells cocktails who I shall be visiting forthwith. A willing critical reader for my novel.  A new and exciting route to possible publication and delightful conversations over delicious snacks with bookish friends.

Big thanks must go to New Writing South for a great day, organised with a generosity of spirit and friendliness sometimes missing in more hectic London…God.  Victoria Station!  A rat run, even at 6am!

Other news….

Did I tell you I’m reading Margo in a performance of the film script of All about Eve on BH Monday, 26th of May?  No?  Well, pay attention, cos I’m telling you now.  

Tickets from: Old Red Lion Box Office 0844 412 4307

 or book through Euroscript

Juke Box Story @ the North London LitFest

So, flash-fiction fun was had by a discerning crowd at midday yesterday in the leafy environs of Barnet, when we took a slimmed down version of our rocking good show to the North London Literary Festival:

I am pleased to announce that on the day there were several firsts: The first double-whammy-winner in Juke Box Story history.  Nick Black took the £50 cash prize for best story as chosen by the audience but also won the ‘best first line competition.’  You’ll be able to read his story in just a sec, but first here’s his winning first line, which will make sense when I tell you that it needed to be the first line of a composite literary genre, a misery memoir written by a celebrity chef – and Nick wrote:

‘My father sold me for a pack of Knorr chicken stock cubes which, I had to concede, was a more than sensible trade.’

Well done Nick!

Here follows his winning story, I Am What I Am, inspired by the Gloria Gaynor gay anthem with the same title.  I hope you enjoy reading Nick’s story as much as we all did….

I AM WHAT I AM – Nick Black

I am what I am, I am my own special creation. First editing Nature’s mistype with the white-out of Mum’s make up. Then tonsorial experiments, sartorial over-elegance, a wiggle added to walk and talk that caught people’s breaths like burrs on a bush.

As the millennium burnt itself out and we tiny competitive stars strove to flare with light, cosmetics moved from powders and grease smears to the sharp-tongued touch of the medical and surgical, kissing my skin, my body opening up.

‘I admire your guts’ gasped a client, mouth inches away from them. ‘What imagination’, sighed another, atremble. Credit my clever accountants, I thought.

But the value of investments can go up as well as down. Past performance is not a guide to future performance. Gravity tugged. Cells collapsed.

So in came the implants.

The mechanics.

The bionics.

I am now in the tiresome process of leaving physical form entirely. Each day, my plastic lungs exhale my voice into microphones while cameras capture, catch what they can. Lasers nib my profile.

All of these files will eventually corrupt, disintegrate. Bits and bytes of me’ll drift through the networks, bright plankton in black oceans. I’ll be everywhere. I can’t wait.

Anyhow, back to the firsts:  It was the first time we’d condensed the two and a half hour show into one hour.  Which, by the way, we did to the minute.  High Five us!  And, it was also the first time we had a submission from a fourteen year old storyteller, who also happened to be Macedonian.  Yet another first.  And one that deserves a bit of recognition, so, here’s a chance to read Adrijana Peicinovska’s story too…

Bad boy and good girl relationship.

Definitely the biggest cliché ever. And the dream relationship for me, the nerd. So when the schools bad boy offers to fulfill my bucket list, I’m ecstatic. The nerdy me that never skipped class in her life, was suddenly introduced in the life of a bad boy. Riding death traps known as motorbikes, and doing the most reckless things ever weren’t as reckless as falling in love with a bad boy named Derek.

He was sweet, charming, a little pervy, and a hell big of an eye-candy.

Life was looking up. My life wasn’t boring and I had a handsome boy by my side, until the day I decided that I should tell my feelings to Derek.

That was the worst day of my existence.

Derek, the bad boy which I spend my last year with, was lying to me all along.

Derek was supposedly dared to make me fall for him, and he succeeded.

My love was suddenly turned to an emotionless jerk. Sleepless nights and flashbacks were filling my days until I decided it was enough.   If he could break my heart, then I will break his, as impossible as it sounds.

(Inspired by: Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away”)

After the show…so much going on, being filmed, being interviewed, preparing to read for the keynote speaker David Nicholls at 6pm.  YES.  DAVID.  NICHOLLS.  Which meant that my post-Juke-Box-Story period turned into  a bit of a blur…. but the reading from One Day at the festival’s closing event went very well indeed, with Mr Nicholls describing it as ‘beautifully done’.  Thank you Mr Nicholls. You are an artist and a gentleman. There is a snap of himself and me after the event to prove it really happened and if I can bring myself to, I shall post that in due course too.  Now though, time for a rest……





Second-Entry my dear Watson…

Oh dear, that sounds rude!  But what I’m really going on about isn’t rude at all.  It’s simply to say, that I am entering a second story in the Mslexia short story competition and this one’s called, Drunken Donuts – Borrachuelos.  I hope you enjoy reading it and thanks to all of you who read Behold the Lamb, your comments made such a difference to me……

Drunken Donuts – Borrachuelos                                                                            

At uncle Miguel’s funeral in October some of us had promised to meet up and cook the dishes the older folk used to make.  So here we were, on a foggy Saturday morning a few months later, aproned up in Orelia and Miguel’s small house in Northolt.  Orelia, uncle Miguel’s wife and now his widow, had always believed herself to be a great cook, even certain of having extended her husband’s life a little with her food and the pleasure of it.                                    

“Fresh fish, fresh meat, I buy the best, only the best fresh food for him every day and cook it all fresh.” She had beamed crazily at the hospital consultant as he tapped for a vein in poor Miguel’s dying body for the morphine feed on that last night.                                                                                                 

Today, though, borrachuelos; seasonal Spanish Christmas sweets known as drunken donuts, were on the menu, and so far, we had had quite a time of it.  Out of all of us, apparently, I had a natural knack, although according to Orelia, I still made the doughy squares a bit too small.  Chiri, Miguel’s youngest sister tired easily and her efforts were the weakest.  Orelia didn’t say so but I imagined her thinking, ‘typical’.  Chiri was the black sheep of this part of the family.  Sexually precocious, she had ‘experimented’ at 12 and married at 16 when already pregnant with her only child Lucy, now 24, and kneading away in the kitchen with the rest of us.                                                                                                             

Looking over at a still very attractive Chiri, I remembered how as a child, I had always been in awe of this wild aunt and her salty reputation.  She had seemed so very sophisticated when she flicked her shiny, heavy black hair in my direction before swanning off on a date.  But over the past 20 years, I’d only seen her a handful of times and mainly at funerals.                                                             

Phase one, over, we took a break.  Orelia and her son Steve set up the deep fat fryer for phase two, while Chiri seized the opportunity to nip out for a ‘cheeky fag’ as she put it, and I joined her.  Somewhat shy in her presence, I paced about making signs and sounds to combat the cold, while she sparked up her rollie.                                                                                                                            

“Look at you!”  She said, blowing out sexy smoke rings and winking at me, “remember how you used to like me doing this?”                                                             

“Sure I do.  You nearly killed me teaching me how, and Mum nearly killed you, when she found out.  Remember that?”  I said, wondering again, as I had at my uncle’s funeral, how I’d come to be estranged from this side of our family?  Had it really been down to my mother’s influence?  And if so, why?                                                 

My Mother, Esther, the eldest of the three siblings had been the first to escape a Morocco, readily disgorging its expat community in the mid sixties.  To give her her due, she had followed through by safely transplanting the rest of her family to London a few years later.  But filial duty done, she had then dumped them like left luggage, in North Acton’s farthest reaches, while she stayed put in her new life in Bloomsbury.                                                                                   

I could see Orelia and Steve were still busy in the kitchen, and as my attention flicked between them and Chiri, I mourned the many other imagined celebrations and feastings that had gone on without me over the years.  Stamping my feet harder on the crazy paving to banish the creeping cold, I vowed to myself things would be different from now on.  I was not my mother’s daughter and had my own choices to make.                                                                                                            

Steve hollered us in for lunch and buoyed by my new determination, once at the dining room table, I ventured a toast to the ‘family,’ including Miguel’s name in this.  A mournful silence filled the room, as everyone looked at the photo of him Orally had set out on the sideboard, now lit by a flickering, votive candle.  Orelia and Chiri wiped away tears.                                                                                     

As we ate a little too much of Orelia’s green lentil stew, talk turned to relationships.  Warmed through by the morning’s promise and the tasty meal, I shared a little of my own story here as a distraction, mainly for Orelia who, now at rest, seemed shrunken and full of tears.  I ventured that I had finally met someone, which was a blessed relief to me, after so many years of drifting in the no-romance doldrums, but a distracted Orelia cut across me,                                                

“Not like you eh, Chiri?  You should never have let Ronnie go, you were so silly to do that.”  

Orelia was still grieving, we all knew that, aside from which, she had an erstwhile reputation for bluntness and we all knew that too.  Nonetheless, this seemed an odd direction for her to take the conversation.  Miguel’s candle flame sputtered loudly, distracting us for a heartbeat before Chiri replied,                              

“What did you just say Orelia?”  Steve, Lucy and I looked towards her briefly, before I returned my uncomfortable gaze back on the entirely fascinating candle-flame.                                                                                                                         

“I said,” Orelia continued, “you shouldn’t have let Ronnie go and I’m not the only one who thinks so.”                                                                                      

“Orelia.  For the last time.  Ronnie.  Was.  Not.  A nice.  Man.  Why have you never wanted to believe that?” Chiri snapped back.                                                             

“Well, you must have turned him then.  Worn him down.  He seemed like a nice man to me, to all of us.”  Orelia was clearly spoiling for something and the lunch was in danger of being spoiled too.  The ghost of my wryly, smiling mother flickered across my mind, warning me that I really didn’t know these people at all.                                                                                                                                   

“God Orelia, of all days.” Chiri’s voice rose in pitch and quakiness.  “Ask Lucy what her father was really like.  Go on.  She’s here for once, so you might as well.”                                                                                                                                     

“Mum!  Please.  You don’t have to do this.” A very weary-looking Lucy held up her hand.                                                                                                                                     

“Oh yes I do Lucy!  I came here today for my brother and for you.  So everyone could meet you properly after all this time.  And then Orelia has to spoil it all by bringing Ronnie into it!  Sainted Fucking Ronnie.”                                                           

“Oh God.  No.  Here we go.”  Lucy put her elbows on the table, and sank her face into her cupped hands.                                                                                                                          

“Um.  I think I’ll start clearing up,” Steve said, getting to his feet, only to be thoroughly ignored by us all.  Chiri who was now rocking in her chair, let out what sounded at first like a lament, her voice so low,

“him, who threw me against the wall in my bedroom, again and again, with the telly turned up loud so no one would notice.  Ronnie, who tried to break my leg so I couldn’t get away from him when he wanted sex.  I wore him down!”                                                                                    

“Oh Mum please stop!”  Lucy had closed her eyes.                                                 

“Shut up Lucy.   Don’t you dare move Orelia.  You asked for it, and now you’re going to hear it, because you don’t know anything.”  Chiri was now standing behind her chair and using it for support,

“when we were all sharing the house back in Acton, none of you wanted to know.  I was there with all of you, Mum, Dad, you, Orelia and Miguel, locked in my room – just a child, 16 years old being,” she took a deep breath, “raped regularly by my husband who everyone thought was so nice, so quiet –“                                                                                                 

“Oh, for God’s sake don’t be so dramatic Chiri!”  Orelia had banged the table with her hand, “always telling stories.  Always the drama-queen,” but she tailed off.  Chiri was by her side, about to strike so it seemed, before changing her mind and rushing for the garden, with Lucy, close behind. 

Steve chose this moment to come back into the dining room.  He and I looked at each other and not knowing what else to do, I uneasily joined him with the clearing up.  Orelia too, gathered up a pile of plates noisily, and chin jutting out like a bulldog announced to no one in particular,                                                                                                

“You can’t say nothing to Chiri.  She always walks away.  I didn’t say nothing wrong.”                                                                                                                         “Anything mum.  It’s anything, not nothing,” corrected Steve, to an uncomprehending Orelia, “it’s anything not nothing?” he repeated.                                       

“Well, I think, Chiri’s really upset Orelia, I don’t think she’s making this up.  Surely you can see that?”  I risked.  Feeling guilty for my silence so far.                         

“Oh don’t you go believing her too easily.  Chiri, is always upset and you Connie, you don’t know nothing.”                                                                                     

“Anything, Mum, it’s anything,” Steve said, more exasperated at his mother’s grammar, it appeared, than anything else.                                                             

“I don’t care!”  Orelia banged down the plates.  “Anything, or nothing it’s all the same to me,” this at Steve, and then to me,

“it’s easy to get upset all the time, don’t you think?  What I said to Chiri is true and anyhow, I don’t need to apologise to her, I always helped her, always.  Me, and Migule, always gave her money.  I know her.  You don’t.”  And with that she stomped into the kitchen muttering to her son who shuffled in her wake, while I made my exit into the garden to check on Chiri, who was pacing, smoking, crying and spluttering,                       

“Oi un ruido pero no vi nada!”                                                                                    

“In English mum, English.  You keep slipping into Spanish and not everyone can understand.”  Lucy said, as she saw me approaching, assuming my Spanish was not that good.                                                                                                 

Wiping her face and looking at me, Chiri translated, “my father-Abuelo, didn’t see anything.  Didn’t want to.  It was too close to home, in every way.  Did you know, my Mum, his wife Abuela, would come and sleep with me, not to protect me, but because while she was in my room, with me in my bed, he wouldn’t touch her.  Why do you think we had Yale locks on all our doors?”                         

“Connie doesn’t know about the Yale locks Mum.  Come on.”  Lucy gently coaxed Chiri over to a wooden bench and beckoned me to join them.  Once seated, Chiri turned to me again,                                                                                               

“Connie, they all believed what they wanted to.  Miguel only found out on his deathbed.  He asked me for years and I wouldn’t say but he kept asking me, even as he was dying, so I told him.  Probably shouldn’t have done that.  Don’t think Orelia is very happy about it.  But I just couldn’t keep it in anymore,” she sobbed.                                                                                                                       

“I’m so sorry Chiri.”  I said,  “I had no idea.  About any of it.”  I looked around the dusty and lifeless garden for inspiration, but heard only a distant, low-level drone from the A40, and felt the lentil stew lying heavy and undigested in my stomach.                                                                                                             

“No, I’m sorry.  Chiri said, followed by the appalling, “I only stay alive for Lucy.  She knows it too, which is such a burden for her.”                                                           

“Oh Mum, I’m alright.”  Lucy stroked her mother’s arm.                                               

“Three suicide attempts, you know?  One at 16, one at 25 and one just after Abuela died, but still no-one could see.”                                                                         

“Come on Mum, that’s enough now,” Lucy said, taking her mother’s hands in hers and leaning over for a kiss.                                                                                     

“Chiri could I have one of your cigarettes?”                                                           

“Sure, Connie but you don’t smoke.”                                                                        

“I know, but I’d really like one?  Can you roll it for me please – I don’t know how?”                                                                                                                         

“Sure.”  Chiri calmed a little as she got out the Rizla and filled it with tobacco.                                                                                                                        

“That’s why I haven’t got a man Connie.  I just don’t feel safe.”  She said, as she absent-mindedly began smoking my cigarette and Steve loped out to inform us that Orelia had begun frying the Borrachuelos.                                                             

“She says she needs more oil.  She’s run out of oil with all the frying.  So one of us has got to go and get it, yeah?”  He said.                                                                         

“I’ll go.”  I jumped up glad to break set, but Chiri looked crestfallen. 

“Sorry, did you want to go?”                                                                                      

“No.  You go Connie.  It’s alright, I’ll just stay here.”  She offered me a faint smile, like a child who realises after the biggest cry of their life, that everything just carries on, only in a slightly drained out way for a while.                                     

“Ok, I will then.”  I said, “I won’t be long.”                                                           

When I returned, the house stank of Mazola.  Lucy and Chiri had joined Orelia and Steve in the kitchen in what looked like a wounded truce.  I opened all the windows and the door to the garden to let in some air.  When the Borrachuelos had cooled, and had been dipped in booze and sugar, we ate far too many of them.                        

          We parted, saying we might try learning a few other recipes in spring. 

Driving home through traffic and heartburn, gratitude towards my mother had replaced my earlier regret, but I stopped myself there.  To imagine the real substance of what she might be concealing didn’t bear thinking about.  I turned the volume up loud on the radio and as soon as the lights turned green, accelerated.    






















My Way (Your Way)

News fellow wordsmiths!

I’ll be co-hosting a slimmed down version of Juke Box Story at the North London Literary Festival with the delicious Em Fleming on April 3rd at midday.

We’ll be reading a selection of flash fiction inspired by pop songs on the theme of ‘identity’ with a short open mic where you can let your spontaneous creativity shine.

So crank up the wireless (in the old fashioned sense of the word), pick your tune and send
200 words to by the 24th of March.  If your story is successful, we’ll get in touch.

…Just to get you started….Boy Named Sue….That’s Not My Name….My Name Is….


Respect your eggy water

…and please add this tune to your playlist.  I want it played at my funeral.  Enjoy.

Competition season is upon us

Everywhere I look there seems to be a call for a short story or a poem, a pamphlet or novel.  Here is a sad little story I’m thinking of submitting to one competition next week.  Tell me what you think?


Behold the Lamb      

Bessie, a maid at the Ambassador’s house on Bedford Square, pushes the murmuring bundle strapped tight to her breast a little deeper into her slackened boddice.

“Stay down my little mite, my little bud.  It be raining cats and dogs.  You stay dry in there my love.”  She yanks the grey shawl tighter about her shoulders.  It’s a useless gesture, for the shawl, like the rest of Bessie’s rough clothing, is soaked right through.  The one warm, dry patch on her young body, still plump from pregnancy, is the secret space between her and the three-week old infant she is carrying.

In the lashing rain she makes slow progress.  But her tarrying is only partly caused by the weather, as this morning’s destination is unkind enough to put anyone off trying to reach it.  ‘At least’, Bessie thinks, as she hefts one leaden leg in front of the other, ‘at least this one’s still alive and if I ‘ave anything to do with it, will live’.  She is out on a special ‘errand’ and owes cover for her few hours of escape to Mrs Grenville the Housekeeper.  Nora, as she calls Mrs Grenville when Nora comes to her in the night and they share comfort.


It was stern but fair Nora, who saved baby Duncan in the first place.  When he rudely entered the world that bitter morning, ‘so cold it was’, outside, where she was cleaning the staircases to the basement yard, and too quickly, he slid out between her legs in a rush of blood and water, it was Nora who wrapped him in a large drying cloth and hid him in a drawer in her housekeeper’s office where no-one would find him.

Baby Duncan’s arrival had been that hasty because he wasn’t Bessie’s first.  ‘That one, well, that one’s best forgotten and the next, but not this one.  Not baby Duncan, please God. No.’ When Bessie told Nora about Duncan’s dead older brothers, Nora vowed there and then that she would see to it personally that this time this child would live.  She would help Bessie get rid of him.  No, not like that, she’d said.  She meant she’d find a place for him.  Properly.

Good as her word, Nora had gone herself to put in a request. Then that frozen week in February when the Good Lord chose to bring the poor child unto the world of men early, news came through to say that baby Duncan’s name had been matched to a white ball.  That blessed white ball, Nora had told Bessie, was what they had been praying for; was baby Duncan’s passport to life.

But this morning Nora had been unusually fierce with Bessie, turning her back on her while issuing her orders; Bessie must be quick.  On no account should she tarry.  She must get her ‘errand’ seen to well before luncheon.  There was only so much she, as housekeeper, could do to cover, and Bessie had to promise on her life, to be back before the Master’s luncheon bell sounded.  They were one serving-girl short upstairs, and his Lordship had asked for Bessie as a replacement, perhaps he suspected something? Well, there was nothing Nora could do about that.

Bessie knows full well she must make haste but the rain is pelting harder now and her legs are heavier than full sacks of wet cornmeal, so there is nothing for it but she must stop for a rest by the Plough Tavern across from the grand, new palace Bessie knows to be the British Museum.  There, on that free bench, empty because of the downpour.

“No ‘arm done eh my bud?  No ‘arm done if we sit ‘ere a mo’ and take the weight off is there?  I won’t tell if you won’t.”  She strokes the top of her baby’s crown gently.  A fuzz of spun copper warm to the touch.  “Nora be only trying to help, and she’s gone and found us a special place for you my lamb, and that’s where we’re ‘eading.”  Cold rivulets of rain trailing off Bessie’s bonnet join warmer tributaries on her face and she rubs both away with the back of her calloused hand.

Mostly, Nora has been that kind to her because, Bessie is certain that she too, in more fetching days, has known what it’s like to be pushed against the low sink in the downstairs pantry by the Master, or one of his gentlemen friends from the Americays, as Bessie calls that far away land whence comes the Master’s fortune.

Those men, with their knotted hands, blotchy faces and ugliness for all to see, when they descend below stairs without the coverings of their periwigs or fancy clothes, who force their oily palms against a serving girl’s mouth to stop her cries and press their cold-capped knees between her clamped, trembling thighs.  Bessie’s certain Nora has known what it’s like when the so called ‘gentle-man’ don’t take ‘no’ for an answer like, and carries on as if you was not there, was not real, was just a wraith in his dream, and the business he is doing to you, that sometimes hurts, oh how it hurts’, his god-given right, an enlivener on his sleepwalk, a tonic for his sleeplessness.  All part of the service he expects and gets at his good friend the Ambassador’s house.

Skitter, then splash and the sound of hob nailed boots.  A baker-boy Bessie recognises wheels by his piled high barrow towards the fancy mansion on the square, and when he notices her calls out something fresh.  Cheeky so and so.  It’s her signal to move on, and with difficulty she resumes her course toward Russell Field.  She pulls her bonnet down hard against the strafing weather and spots that her usually shiny black boots are sloppy with mud.

Nora’ll never stand for that.  She won’t stand for no kind of dirt.  No kind of dirt at all.  I’ll have to be sure to clean ‘em proper before I go back inside, that I will!

If she just carries on in a straight line down Guilford Street ahead, Bessie knows very well she will be at her destination in three beats of a lapwing but she can’t help herself, and despite having covered only a few hundred yards more, once again veers from her path and turns off into Queens Square.

The sheltering porch of St. George’s in the far corner beckons with darkness, and there, pulling herself into the coffin-like vault of its doorway she sits.  Her sodden skirts, a fan of sorrow upon the steps, she takes out Baby Duncan from his tight swaddling and with no one about in the downpour,  eases out a wet nipple onto his puckered lips, rubbing it there before he latches on.

“We can’t let you be going off hungry now can we my little bud?”  Then, to herself, you must be strong.  You must live, followed swiftly so as to prevent her confidence from seeping further into the gutter, Nora is right.  For you to live, this be the only way.  The only way.  The baby suckles and she strokes his head.

“Nora says, you, my little lamb, be like my very own little Moses.  And he, well we know he grow’d up to be the Lord’s Own prophet didn’t he, a hero for the Chosen People, eh my bud?”  Her latter-day deliverer sucks and gurgles as he continues to feed, and biblical consolations exhausted, Bessie reaches nervously for the further reassurance of a small leather pouch at her waist.  She checks the tokens inside for the hundredth time.  A snippet of coloured ribbon embroidered with exotic parrots and a scrap of paper upon which Nora was good enough to inscribe a portion of the poem she’s been reading to Bessie at night to stop her crying.  Bessie can’t read herself but making sure her finger is dry so as not to smudge the ink, she traces along the elegant black indentations and swirls, and mouths what she remembers,

Hard is my Lot and Deep Distress                                             

To have no help where Most should find

Sure Nature meant her Sacred Laws                 

Should Men as strong as Women bind

She skips the next bit, as she can’t remember it too well and bites her lip hoping this will stop the dry choking in her throat until the taste of hot iron tells her she has drawn blood.  Her finger moves on to the last few lines, the ones she likes best of all.  She slows down here and speaks what she’s memorized,

 That I in Better Plight may Live

 I’d try to have my boy again

 And train him up the best of Men.

A wood pigeon rattles into flight from the church roof.  Looking up in the direction of the noise, Bessie’s eye is caught by a blue clad, small statuette of the blessed Virgin tucked away in a shadowy niche.  Mary  has her arms spread wide in benediction beneath her beautiful cloak.  At this sight something in Bessie settles.  ‘The Holy Mother ‘erself will be looking over him’ she convinces herself, and reaffirmed in her pitiful pledge to come back one day to retrieve her golden boy if ever she can, and sure of the love tokens she is sending with him, she decides to push on with the morning’s terrible task.

She folds the paper back up, ties it with the pretty parrot ribbon and tucks it back inside the leather pouch she must hand in with Baby Duncan very soon.  These are their pathetic signifiers; that he belongs to her, and she to him.  The markers she will need to match together again if she is ever in a position, no, when she is in a position to come and fetch him back.  But she mustn’t think of that now or else her heart will stop, so it will.

The belfry clangs hard.  The masonry resounds.

“Sweet Jesus!  The noon bells.  Even more will be lost if I be late.  Nora said so.”  Bessie gathers herself up hurriedly and Baby Duncan mewls back weakly in protest.

“There, there my little bud, my lamb.”  She picks up the small basket resting by her side and reattaches its string loosely around her neck so it will hang once more down her back as she walks.  She mustn’t forget that, it’s Baby Duncan’s precious cot.  She wove it herself and wants him to have it, to keep forever.  With the metal peal still rattling her damp bones, Bessie dives into the thinning, needle-like rain.  There’s no going back now.

At the top of Lamb’s Conduit Field the hospital comes into view.  It is an oddly luminous building, bright, chalky white, with short, fat towers at either end.  Bessie thinks it looks like a small, fairy-tale castle.  Like one of those she has seen in the Master’s children’s books in the nursery.


 “Miss!  Miss!  You’ve got to push him through.  Like this.”  The queue has been shuffling steadily towards the point of no return.  Bessie has fallen into an odd stupor and is unable to deliver her  bundle through the slit in the wall into the hands of the gruff warden on the other side.  Her hands simply will not do it.  Another woman’s helpmate in the queue pushes through the press and comes up to hurry Bessie along.  None of them can afford to miss this lifeline because of any silly carrying on.  The keen-faced girl takes Bessie’s hand in hers and with it thrusts Baby Duncan’s basket hard through the hatch so that before Bessie can do anything, he is beyond her reach.

“No!  My boy!  My life.”  She yelps but the warden has grabbed cot and child and through his ample, yellow-stained beard, barks,

“Come on Miss you know it’s for the best.  No one’ll thank ‘ee for ditherin’.”  He shoves a large ledger back through for Bessie to sign.  He sees her hesitate, “just put a cross there at the bottom on the right.”  How she does it, she will never know, but she picks up the stubby, filthy quill he has given her for the purpose and leaves her mark – a cross for a child.  She hands quill and book back through the aperture, and the warden, with not so much as a good day, brings down a shutter to mark the end of the transaction.

“Get a move on girl, can’t you see as how there’s a lot of us perishin’ out here.”  Bessie can’t be sure if it’s the same girl from before calling out, but what does it matter?  Her deed is done.  The bells of St. George’s mark the half.  Bessie takes in the meaning of the aborted carillon.  She is to get back to work before they ring again at the quarter.

Her head full of rain, stomach void with the loneliest hunger, and legs unsteady like empty barrels, she yanks her wet shawl tightly about her, turns on her muddy heel and walks away.


Teching up

So, I’ve been a little quiet of late.

Distracted in part, by my birthday last week – and the celebrations persist, as I like to spread them over a week, at least, in order to derive the maximum pleasure and highest present quota possible.

Two memorable gifts so far – and I live in hope that they will still be exceeded – being my new Mac Air and iPad mini which are leading me Regent Street-ward at least once a week at present, to benefit from One-to-One at Apple, still an unrivalled post-purchase customer care service.

My one and only gripe is that after two hours perched on a stool in the upstairs training area their air-con is making me shiver.

Time for tea and cake methinks.

From techno-numpty to proud deployer of widget

As several of you have asked me how you might follow my blog woop-woop, (apols for my techno-numptyness and profuse thanks for your persistence by the way), I am proud to announce that, necessary widget now duly deployed, you can do so at the click of a mouse…squweeeeek….squweeeeek….(sound of mouse being clicked)….

Oh, and given that the dreaded V Day was less than a week ago, I thought you might like this:

Father Love

You sent me a Valentine’s Day card Dad

Should I have therapy?

It was kind, though a little uncomfortable,

I did and didn’t mind.

 I think it was better than

Not getting any?

 (February 2009)


Random thoughts for a grey Tuesday morning

First random thought – Insomnia has its upside – waking at five am, I decided to tuck into one of my Christmas presents, Kate Atkinson’s, Life After Life.  Two hundred and five pages in, and I am enjoying it enormously.  Visions of well-to-do Edwardian family life banishing all remnants of the ‘mares’ that had awoken me.  A second upside to waking early and having tea and hot, buttered toast before dawn is that I now feel perfectly entitled to a second breakfast of, a home-made soyacino (my preferred proper milk having run out) and healthy custard creams – i.e., Belvita Yogurt Crunch breakfast biscuits.  Better still, the soya didn’t even curdle when heated.

Second random thought – Red lipstick and red nail varnish are the best antidotes for melancholy moods which otherwise might be hard to shake.  The shade of both, though, being key to the cure.  It cannot be cheap, thin or watery but must be deep, lush, highly pigmented, terrifyingly exciting and conjur all the glamour of the best of retro Hollywood in one heady application.

Third random thought – my poetry muse has been on sabbatical for the better part of a year….but……may….be….returning….?..

Elegant Martinet

She worked so hard at self-control,

aches plagued her un-oiled parts at night

at this effort of fighting life.

Or fighting for her life?


The years wore on.

Then, came a battlefield too far,

the horror of it.

Family the howling enemy,

ripping through blood ties,

and her not so serried ranks,

heckling that her decorum had been in vain.

Her life’s greatest battle pointless.


Where aches once were, came

a slow, silent crack ,

rendering shell, bone and softer matter.

And then the unraveling.

Speech first.

Gaping with wider blanks

from which she perilously hung,

terror in her eyes,

as she trod the missing language

and desperate forgetting to come,

worse than one drowning.

Ok. Ok.  So it’s only a first draft, and only a possible beginning, snatched from the arms of morpheus…..cut me a little slack.

…More random thoughts to follow shortly, no doubt.

My funny Valentine…..

On this happy/sad day that vexes some and pleases others, a poem:


Hard flower of my Heart

Flower of my secret

Flower of my secret Heart

 You Bloom

Your feathers unfold and prick

In the night-heated dark.

 You push apart

The fleshy petals of my heart

As it resists

And there you glow

Bright, White and Golden

A molten Presence with wings

Wings of Desire

Wings of Fire

Male, godlike, harsh, fleet

In a moment Gone,

 Absence in your wake, like Valentine’s Day.

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