Dolphins & Dolls Houses


He is captivated. There are hundreds of them, he says, as we sit staring at the sea. They revolve up and round, rising up then diving down into the water. It is an elegant, graceful slow arc. It always lifts us seeing the dolphins. They do not need to show themselves to us but they do. Mermen and mermaids of the sea. Bringers of grace.

A radio feature on dolls houses. The children are in control, says the presenter. It is their little world. It is real but small, says a little girl. Yes, I remember. The making of the real in miniature. Holding the tiny, the delicate and the impossibly small. The scale is 1:12. We only make the equivalent of ten quid and hour but we love it, says a man at a trade show. There are courses that show you how to make tiny ceramic versions of cakes. It is the intensity, the concentrating down of detail. It is a world that one can manage, orchestrate, keep from the chaos of the big, the outsize.

A man in a woolly hat smiles at me.

The rain is heavy. Gum boots and waterproofs and my old rackety umbrella. The early morning air is warm. Students wander about, coatless, in a different reality to me. There is a man in a banana suit. He is with his friend. They are running. Come on, man, he shouts, encouraging him to run faster. I can’t, says his friend, bending over and wheezing. He is carrying a pizza box. Sam’s Fried Chicken is busy. The ceiling lights are white yellow and glaring against the black air. Their customers sit at Formica tables, in t-shirts and vests. Their voices are loud. It is still not 5.00 am.

We have begun watching Citizen Kane. I’ve never seen it. I love black and white movies. I love the stuttering, halted-ness of the camerawork. I love the old-fashioned language, idioms and timbre of the voices. It is clearly a ground-breaking work, even from the little we’ve seen. I think of a Taiwan-ese girl. Everyone calls me Angel, she said, they can’t pronounce my real name. She was taking a film module to improve her English. What is a rosebud? she asked me. She didn’t understand why I had to leave.

If I accept the rain it is beautiful.

I do wander around hoping something funny will happen ‘cos that’s all I’ve got, said John Bishop on Desert Island Discs.

What’s her face was in again yesterday, he said, and she ‘ad a tea cosy on ‘er ‘ed.

I stood on a snail. It was dark, I didn’t see it. I hear the crunch. It makes me sad to take life.

Yesterday a man was set free after thirteen years in captivity. I am glad.



Beauty, 2009 - detail (3)

I want to write a poem. I want to capture a feeling. It is complicated. And yet, I want to make it simple. Reduce it down to an intense singularity of sensation. It isn’t a story as such, more a reaction to something I’ve seen. Something that someone gave me. It is a happening from the past. It isn’t my memory. I wasn’t the one behind the camera and yet, now I have seen it. I wasn’t alive when the film was taken. When the film was made. I was nowhere. I was nothing. Not a jot. And she? She was a child.

She is dressed in a kind of romper suit. It reminds me of the one that Andy Pandy used to wear. It is striped, its legs are wide. She is with another child. Adults surround them. They are expected to play. To preform a kind of play for the adults’ benefit. There is clearly no rapport between the two children. Is it her fault? She is the older child. She has picked up a broom and is sweeping the steps. The other child mimics her. The other child is a blonde poppet, a toddler with a face framed by a cloud of curls.

I remember seeing a picture of that house. Was it that one? The older girl turns to face the camera. Has someone called out to her? In the film her movements are jerky, too fast. There is no sound. A silent picture.

She is beautiful, the older girl. A beautiful child. A child-woman. Her dark wavy hair is pulled back from her face by a hair slide. Winsome. Affecting. She smiles at the man behind the camera. Is she trying to get his attention? The other child is his. She is not. Her parents lurk in the distance. Her father stretches out on a chair, her mother crouches on the ground, her hands outstretched towards her.

Nothing is ever how it seems. This is an new encounter. My encounter. I can only write about my encounter with it for I know nothing else. But there is much to leave out. To write bare. To strip it down, bare. Perhaps the context must be set by the title. And the rest, the shock, the surreal-ness of seeing her, that must become the poem. How do you write such things?
What would her child-voice have sounded like?


High Tides

Mum and Dad on beach

A girl, with hair the colour of straw, is talking loudly to a boy who sits on the wall opposite. It is 5.00 am and they are outside their student house on Llanbadarn Road. I catch a sentence. They’re actually trying to teach people, she is saying, ending the sentence with a lilt, as if it is a question, rather than a statement. I don’t hear his reply. She has a striped rug around her shoulders, which I initially thought was a fur coat, and holds a mug in her hand. It is held aloft like a movie-star with a cigarette. My bright blue wellies make a flump, flump sound as I stride past.

The tides are high. Yes, they’re always high at this time of the year, he says, though he can’t tell me why. The chorus from Blondie’s song plays in my head. The promenade is a mess, sand, pebbles, rocks and seaweed strewn everywhere. Thank goodness for my wellies. The crunch of them is most satisfying.

I am not alone. It must be the mild night. People, students everywhere. They sit on walls, on benches and in cars. One is asleep in his car, his stereo thumping. At the harbour car headlights blind me. I drop my torch and it breaks, its bulb tumbling down onto the beach. It is too dark for me to find it. So be it. I pass another car with music. Two bodies in the back. I walk on. Do they call it dogging?

I took the bar of chocolate. He’d been there the night before, perhaps he’d be there again. Don’t wake him, he’d said. Of course, I won’t, I’d said. I’ll just leave it next to him. There were two of them sleeping in the shelter in sleeping bags. One of them shifted their body as I walked past. Was it a girl? I left the chocolate at the other end of the seat. Might it bring some pleasure? A small thing. A sweet thing on a cold morning.

I think about a dying man. One to two weeks she said. How does that feel? How does it feel to know that your end is close? Is there peace in the knowing? Death brings life into focus. A sharp focus. She told me she rubbed Vaseline on his lips. That’s a kind gesture, particularly as they’d never got on. Didn’t see eye to eye. But she is kind. Humane. A good woman. My friend. My dear friend. I wish them peace. All of them. All of you. When it comes, as it will to all of you, all of us. To me also. May I be ready.




Worm webs

I saw them on the trees as I walked in the early morning. Not here but far far away. I asked her about them later. They’re worms, she said, they’re worms that spin a kind of web.

Someone on the TV was talking about moths in piles of leaves. I don’t watch TV usually but in the gym they’re on all the time. He was encouraging us all to participate in some survey. There haven’t been many leaves up until now. This morning I waded through them. I love the dry rustling, even in the dark. Later I saw a moth on the black rubber footbridge that leads to our flat. It lay, wings outstretched, next to a leaf. It was the exact same colour.

They’re all leaving. First Ronaldo, then Melvyn whose gone to work for DHL and now Wellington. I’ll only come back, he said, if Shubert is still here. I was so upset, said Mohammed, when Melvyn went without telling me. Ten years he’s been with me, ten years. It is sad. Those changes. This changing. It won’t be the same. Wellington wants to bring his family here. It is difficult. The old order is changing. I understand that people have to move on, says Mohammed, offering him another After Eight, but to not tell me. That hurts. Small changes. Not on a global scale. People leave. People move on. Nothing stays the same. Is it the small changes that unsettle us the most?

A woman sweeps the leaves on the pavement. She has left her front door open. She wears an old-fashioned pinny and slippers with a roll of fake fur along the top. The wind keeps blowing the leaves back. She sweeps on regardless.

I put a splash of BRUT on my wrists and neck. It is a smell heavy with memory, though I don’t know why for I don’t know anyone who wore it. It is iconic. Still going. Still in the same green bottle. I use it to scent the hoover. I don’t mind smelling of it. It is a comfort. It brings something back. Something, I am not sure what.

I watched the film again. Her movements are jerky. I am assaulted by her prettiness, her perfect innocence. So long ago. And now she is gone. Long gone.

I couldn’t think who sang it. Princes. Princes they’ll adore you. Marry me, marry you. It was the Spin Doctors. Yes. That’s it.

Gusts of memory, Proust called them. Gusts of memory carried along by a warm stink of aftershave.



Speaking Soul - Teach Yourself English Grammar - 1000 pix

The moon was huge. A great yellow orb. No kidding, just like a cheese. A truckle cheese you see in the shops in Amsterdam. I walked out underneath it. Seeing it caught my breath. It’s reflection was caught in the upper window of one of those big houses on St David’s Road. It ran like molten gold. The woman on the radio said it would be pink.

Raymond Carver wrote that he didn’t have the time to invest in novel writing. He died young. Barely forty. He could write poems, short stories but a novel requires more. Yes.

Time. It went back. Lots of programmes on the radio about time. The clock in the kitchen adjusted itself. We weren’t sure. I was a little anxious. I didn’t know how to do it. And then in the morning it was done. I fixed the one in the car. Look, he said, and we watched as the hand whirred round anti-clockwise. Clever girl, he said, clever girl. It felt disconcerting to see it going the wrong way round.

The street lights don’t know the time. They came on an hour early the next day. They usually don’t light up until five. It wouldn’t have mattered. The moonlight was enough.

I only saw cats this morning. A black and then a tabby. The black one flumped down and began to lick inside its inner thigh. Oh, yes, and there was a girl. We caught each other’s eye as we passed in the street under the light. It was 4.15 am. She wore a white t-shirt under her open coat. Her mascara had smudged. She didn’t smile.

Are you sure you still want the calls? I asked her. Oh, yes, dear, she said, I look forward to them. That’s fine then, that’s alright then.

He shuts the car door and drops the newspaper on the floor. I had to go into SPAR, he said, Smith’s had run out and the guy at the till kept saying Ow’s it goin? You a’right? Over and over, Ow’s it goin? You a’right?

A dear friend emails me. Her father-in-law is dying. He’s barely got two weeks left. He’s gone yellow, she writes. Her husband, his son, has read the advice sheets. They tell you to touch them, she writes, but they haven’t touched each other in years. He tries to hold his hand, but is it very difficult. Yes, I know. And so little time to smooth it all out. To sort it all out. To say goodbye with love. With grace.

Lady Meyer in an article in The Times, talks about being estranged from her two sons for over ten years. It is so difficult to talk to them. I don’t know what to talk about, she says. No, I know. But there is love, she says. Yes, I know. There is. In the end that is all there is.

I wish you grace. Both of you.



Test text (13)

They call it a thunderclap headache, she said.

I had to go up there five times yesterday. Five times. It was too much. The late one especially. And he looked so crestfallen at the end, his confidence punctured. So much so that at first I thought it might his wife that did it. But no, that would be ludicrous. A man in his position. But then, I thought perhaps it was another woman altogether. A lewd phrase followed by ‘I love you’ and a heart and a smiley face. Right across the window for all to see. Was she angry on his behalf? Maybe. I’d sensed some anger, some antagonism when she’d burst in. The men in suits staring, their banter temporarily ceased. I told him but no one else. He can keep a secret.

Five times and today I am knackered. I’ve tried to work. To write myself better. To write myself clean. Tiredness makes me ragged, even dirty. Unkempt. Nothing seems to come right. I write regardless. I am still forming. Forming my story. I’m moving forward, even if I had to return to it. Write the thousand words. Do as I say. The rain is heavy. The sky is a grey white, featureless. Rainy Saturdays. What are they good for? So many of them. He is sleeping off a cold. I don’t know how you managed without paracetamols, he says. His voice is thick, he speaks through his nose.

Aren’t your nails bright? I say to the waitress as she delivers the food to our table. They are a fluorescent yellow. I hate them, she says in a strong Liverpuddlian accent. The colour looked nice in the bottle. When I’m washing up I keep thinking they’re bits of sweetcorn. I hate them, she says. I’m getting rid of them this afternoon, thank god.

Three students in fancy dress walk past our car into town. Oh, God, he says, here we go. No doubt you’ll see them coming home in the morning. And I did. One was a tall male in a pink tutu and the other a girl in cat’s ears and whiskers, a tail dragging behind her. They were eating baguettes from the all night SPAR.

She looked tired, strained. The vein under her right eye was inflamed, blue. Sometimes we drive ourselves too hard. Five times in one day. Sometimes we just need to stop. And listen.

A man on the radio is reading from Vincent van Gogh’s letters. He taught himself to draw, to paint. His early work was poor, a woman is saying. He was so diligent, so determined. It took all his strength to keep going. No one wanted it, no one was interested, except Theo. No one believed in him. You need to feed the source. An artist date, Julia Cameron calls them. Do we all have something? Do we really all have something to offer? Sometimes the doing is enough. Doing without expectation of reward, acknowledgement or even completion. To be in the writing. To be in it.

I thought writing would be cleaner. That I wouldn’t feel, at times, so sullied by it. It isn’t true. It’s the same thing. It comes from the same source. You just have to work your way through it. Who makes us feel sullied? Whose voice is that?


I missed the ending. Did Lorna Doone die?


Bag Lady

Speaking Soul (3)

Are these yours? she is asking me, pointing at my coat, gloves and hat that I had left on the table when I went to the loo. Because, she continues, I’d left a book open on that chair. Yes, I did find one, I reply, but I thought it was just left behind. No, she says. Do you want to sit here? she asks, for I won’t be long. No, no, I say, picking up my coat and things, you must have it, please.

There is no doubt that she is disconcerting. I do understand his irritation, even if I don’t share it. She scuttles about, rarely being still for a moment. First the toilet, where she leaves behind puddles of water, and then this table and then the next. She never orders coffee, or indeed buys anything from the counter, she merely pours herself a glass of water from the jug and sits down. And there are all her bags. Three of them. Full to the brim with papers, tissues, books and scarves. One day I also saw her carrying a box.

Today she is dressed in fur-lined boots, an ankle-length cotton printed skirt, several jumpers and a parka. And there are two silk flowers Kirby-gripped to her hair.

She has just moved herself and her bags from the table I vacated for her. For Christ’s sake, he says. Look at her, look at her.

She is clearly disturbed. Her actions are obsessive. The other week she stood up to go and clear a table that someone had just left. She piled all the plates onto a tray and put it on the condiments shelf before returning to her seat.

She scribbles and scratches in her books. Sentence after sentence is underlined.

Look, he says, she’s nabbed someone else. I turn to look. She is talking to a young man on an adjacent table. I cannot hear what he has said but she is taking one of his chairs. Five minutes later she is packing up her bags again to leave. I watch from the window. The White Lion has not opened yet. Look, I say to him, they’ve not even got their A boards out yet. That’s odd, he says. What will she do? I ask. Who? he says. The lady with the bags, I reply, she usually goes into the White Lion after here.

I see her crossing the road. She hesitates in front of the locked door. Then strides off up the hill.

I suppose one could spend all day wandering from café to café not actually buying anything, I say to him. Yes, I suppose so, he replies. There’s no harm in it, I say. It’s company, isn’t it? She’s not doing anyone any harm. No, he says, she’s just bloody irritating.




Household Tales closer email

I thought they knew. I thought mothers instinctively knew. That they knew what to do.

What is it, baba? she is saying to the crying infant. She’s already sniffed the nappy, no, it’s clean. Are you hungry, she asks, trying to encourage the bottle’s teat into the screaming mouth. Ah, baba, is it your teeth? Come here, she’s says lifting her from the pram into her arms. There, there. She turns the rigid little body and leans it against her chest, rubbing it’s back.That’s it, she says as the baby lets out a loud burp. You’re all smiles now, aren’t you? That’s it, sweet pea. That’s it, she says, sighing.

I belong. I belong to this family for this weekend. I am part of their chaos, their noise, their mess. And I love it. I love holding her. That little weighty bundle of tears and chuckles. She stares open-eyed at the world. Trusting it, trusting me, with her heaviness. I love holding her.

They have planted the municipal beds with wild flowers. Scabious, Michaelmas Daises, Love-in-the-Mist. Such haphazard, raggedy beauty. A cost-cutting exercise. They need less attending. I’m glad. Though they have their own fragility. The wind takes the petals. A confetti of white strewn across the rubber AstroTurf of the playground. Kiss it better, shouts the mother to the little boy who has just fallen from the climbing frame, scuffing his hands. Naughty climbing frame. Naughty climbing frame.

We always see her in her cab when we come out of the Indian on a Monday night. How’ye doin’, he asks her, and how are the children? The other day we met her coming out of Morrison’s. She was out of context. Hi, we said. How are you? She looked flushed, happier somehow. Got to rush, she said, I’ve left them at home. Have a lovely day the two of you. Bye. I didn’t realise she was so tall. Her legs, though long have thick calves that are mottled with the cold. He left her three years ago now, for another taxi driver.

Two mornings running now there have been bodies on the Perygyl. In the dark I hear them before I see them. The first morning they were huddled in a group at the end, with one of them, a girl sitting on the wooden floor staring at the stars. This morning there were two on a bench. Each stopped talking as I approached.

A poet has moved to the Shetlands. I was in rapture for the first year, she said.

Don Taylor’s series of plays God Revolution, have finished. I miss hearing them. They were so powerful. I didn’t want to listen at first. That’s not for me I thought. I was wrong. It was the same yesterday morning. A forensic anthropologist on Desert Island Discs. Too much gore, I thought. And it was but there was compassion too and a calm acceptance that I wasn’t expecting. She talked of Kosovo and finding the scraps of a Mickey Mouse T-shirt that helped identify a young boy who’d been blown up by a mortar. One cannot even begin to imagine but we need to hear, don’t we? Don’t we?


We went to the zoo. It was a chill morning. It’s a surreal place. They’re mostly rescue animals. The leopard was a pet, the keeper tells me. A pet? he says, Christ. The lions, she continues, are a gift from Bristol. What are their names? he asks. The male is called Troy and she’s called Wilma.

She wouldn’t go in the reptile house. I can’t, she says shuddering, I’m scared of snakes. I had no idea.

You smell lovely, she says to me later, giving me a hug. It’s been good, hasn’t it. This belonging. All of us, belonging. I shall miss you. And it won’t last, you know, this struggle. It will get better. I promise. I promise you.



Mum and Erik (2)

Marina Warner talking on the radio about Grimm’s Fairy Tales. See Kiki Smith’s Daughter, she tells us. A little girl, the offspring of the union between the wolf and Red Riding Hood. A little girl with a hairy face dressed in a crimson cloak.

Snapshots. Details. A woman skittering out of the SPAR at 4.30 am wearing pink, six-inch platform shoes. Outside of the Library the volunteers are loading the visitors to the Day Centre below into the coach. See you soon, Stan, bach, one of them shouts to an old man in a wheelchair. He raises his hand in a feeble salute. Bach is the Welsh word for small. It is a term of endearment usually applied to children. There is a little lifting platform at the back of the coach that raises the passengers one by one into its interior. An elderly woman stands on it, her head held high. She is smiling with glee. All the volunteers wear yellow high vis jackets. The stars were a mass this morning.

He was at his window smoking when I got back home from my walk at 4.45am. Are you a bad sleeper? I asked him. Oh, no, I just sleep at odd hours, he said. I like him. There is a world of knowing behind his pale eyes. Enjoy your breakfast, he called after me, closing the window.

They come tonight. I can’t wait. Family. Little ones. Her offspring. We shall make sandcastles. I shall think of them driving over the mountains. In that dark.

We watched Sunset Boulevard. It wasn’t what I expected. It was sinister, a film noir. William Holden was urbane, taciturn. Gloria Swanson magnificently over-the-top. It has stayed with me, still resonating. There was a fantastic image from the inside of the pool looking up – innovative, marvellous. It’s a treat to see what comes next.

And I finished DeLillo’s White Noise. Marvellous writing. I loved the background noises – the radio, the TV adverts. And the ending with Wilder taking his little tricycle across the interstate. It is just life. Living with the fear of the ending. And then just accepting it as living. The price of living, I suppose. Written with such compassion. Even toward Mr Gray who defiles his wife. Thank you for bringing it to me. Thank you Library, what a gift you are.

The sun shines glorious. An unexpected pleasure. Soon we shall go to sit in Eddy. A bientot.




There are crows on the roof outside my studio. Two of them, preening their plumage in the morning sun. Then they are off, caught up like black plastic bags in a sudden gust. Before diving down, out of my sight.

Lemn Sissay on Desert Island Discs. I am ashamed. I didn’t want to hear him. He’d had something I’d wanted. I wanted to not like him. But I couldn’t help it. I was charmed. What a joy. That luscious Northern brogue. Lancashire. So open, so generous. Kirsty Young was captivated. So where we all. Marvellous.

I was up there early this morning. Opening for the new curate. Still the same theme, he said. Winning and losing. Is he eloquent? I cannot judge. He doesn’t walk up the hill any longer. He used to remind me of a tortoise. I don’t mean any offence. It was his bag. That big bag strapped to his back. And the hill making him walk slowly.Trudging slowly, tortoise-like up that slope. And all in black. Perhaps more like a turtle. He is a little withdrawn since being ordained. More serious perhaps. World-weary. Carrying the world in that bag.

When are you coming? she asks. Soon, I say, soon. Oh, that is good, she says. I think of you a lot, I say. I think upon you too, she says. There is little else to say. She sounds well. Her voice, on the phone, is alert and lively. She remembers me. That is enough. That is enough.


Ratatouille, moans Jazzer in The Archers, too many vegetables in one dish, it’s not natural.