She trudged along the well-worn path her boots sinking in the freshly fallen snow. In the distance, a muffled hum of motorway traffic was the only sound to disturb the hush that accompanies snow, on this foggy January morning.
In the field on her right, Blackface sheep huddled around a feeding trough. They stopped chewing as one, staring at her passing, with defiant challenge, or ovine innocence? She wasn’t sure which. To her left, a small herd of roe deer emerged from the trees.stepping gracefully in single file along the edge of the field. A charm of chaffinches and one lone robin, red breast flashing crimson against the winter white background, darted in and out of hedgerows searching for food amongst the tight, thorny branches.
As she approached the railway bridge her pace quickened, she’d heard the rumble of an approaching train. Just in time, the London to Edinburgh Pendolino express thundered down the trade passing beneath her on its way to the next stop.
Turning to retrace her footsteps, the wind in her face, she halted to take in the view that always took her breath away. Spread out before her lay the bustling market town of Penrith, nestling in the lee of Beacon Hill, the tops of the mighty Pennines a magnificent backdrop. And this is where I now call home, she thought with a smile, before continuing on her way.
Stepping down from the last train I walk home beneath a summer’s velvet, midnight sky. Myriad stars twinkle around a corn coloured moon lighting my way. I catch the scent of her perfume, sweet and soft as a whisper, before I see my mother come to meet me. The evocative fragrance of sweet peas permeates my garden today. Amongst the cabbage and potatoes, riots of multi-hued flowers climb crazily over the canes. Each precious petal as soft as a kitten’s ears.
There is a garden behind a wall, where hollyhocks stand straight and tall
Lavender roams wild and free, ivy wraps round every tree
Maiden fern and meadow sweet weave a carpet at your feet
Flower heads embrace, entwine, Harlequin and Columbine
There is no bird song in the air, bees and butterflies take care
If you should ever stray near there, take the time to have a look
And see the babble in the brook
One thing you will never see, is my friend Mallory and me
A mandarin moon moves maleficently across the sun creating an eerie orange glow throughout the valley.
The wind sails in on a sea of white horses. Heads rearing, manes tossing, wildness of a bush fire reflected in their bulging eyes.
Trembling trees grow arms to hug and hold each other tight until the tempest passes.
In its wake a Whirling Dervish picks up its skirts, dances a fantastic fandango to the beat of the retreating horses’ hooves. During the dying throes of the dance the Dervish dips its head into its heart, diminishing in the dust.
Last night in dreams I went again to my old house in Castle Lane
I climbed the stairs up to the top, by the nursery door I came to a stop
I turned the knob and the door opened wide, I looked all around then stepped inside
By the flickering firelight shadows danced upon the walls. They leapt and pranced
Tiny footprints led from the door to the tattered rug that lay on the floor
On the window ledge sat Barnabus Bear sadly looking the worse for wear
He’d been to the opera and I think had just had a little too much to drink
His speech was slurred, his breath was beery and he couldn’t see quite clearly
But he got to his feet and with a gesture grand, bowed and politely shook my hand
A pale moon shone on the window seat where Amelia Jane all prim and neat
Reposed sedately in her outdoor clothes, coat, hat, fur-muff and stocking hose
She smiled and beckoned and I sat down, she said she was going up to town
She’d like to offer me some tea but the car was coming at a quarter to three
She tidied her hair with a tortoiseshell comb and told me to make myself at home
A light shone under the cupboard door, then a rumbling noise made me stir
The door flew open, I fell on my back as the Flying Scotsman flew onto the track
With whistle screaming and puffing steam the headlights casting a ghostly beam
Twice round the track he hurtled full pelt then back through the door, but I still knelt
As memories stirred by the pungent smell of the old transformer I remembered well
A race between trains for a tuppence bet and the Flying Scotsman is racing yet
In yonder corner something moves. I hear the thunder of horses’ hooves
With a flick of his tail and a toss of his mane old Beaucephalis rides again
I jumped on his back and took up the reins, we galloped up mountains and down leafy lanes
With the wind in my hair and my hand on the crop we rode round the world till we rocked to a stop
Just then the tramp of marching feet made my poor heart miss a beat. I turned.
It was just as I thought, a hundred lead soldiers advanced from their fort
The armies lined up, English and French, I watched them do battle and choked on the stench of gun powder, smoke, the wounded and dying, I stood there transfixed and silently crying
The room grows silent. I feast my eyes for one last time ere the fire dies
The memory has faded, the dream it has fled. I wake in the chill morn alone in my bed
Yawn, stretch, a voice calls, ‘fetch.’ No not yet, I tell my pet
I’m warm and cosy in my bed, don’t want to raise my sleepy head
Sniff! Sniff! Something smells good; I’ll get up now it’s time for food
Pitter patter cross the floor, hurry up pet, open the back door
Ah that’s better; give myself a shake, now I’m feeling wide awake
Today is Sunday if I’m not mistaken, that tempting smell is frying bacon
Chairs push back – breakfast’s over, pet’s scraping plates, ‘come on Rover’
What’s this in my spotty dish? Last night’s cold, leftover fish
Allsorts came out of an exercise in thinking about an ‘Invisible Woman’ …
So they say
Men survey. Women are surveyed. Or so they say. Not Wilma, the Unseen Woman though. She is outside now, listening to workmen rebuilding the storm damaged wall, discussing imaginary conquests and what could be paraphrased as their bra sizes, simultaneously rolling stones into groups defined by their largeness. She goes downriver, where fishermen are comparing their catches both pescatorial and pectorial. She reaches the harbour. Here the ships are in and the sailors strutting. The talk is of salt, seaweed, barnacles and spray. Brandy and wild wide waves. Depth, and swell.
Wilma steps out of invisibility and enters the ocean.
Road building in Poland, August 1961: Lost innocence
She melded in the Tatras.
The only girl, small, neat, bright and American, among a motley bunch of British students on UN vacation work experience.
Ostensibly road building, she lit up days off in the mountains and by the river.
We met, relaxed, in pre-Wall Berlin, about to ‘do good’, naive, self-important.
We returned, frightened, to find the Wall and armed guards.
Clinging to our passports, hers, being American, was most scrutinised.
She alone stayed calm.
We all had fallen for her.
Then she disappeared.
She was called Ruth.
Where is my son? Handcuffed and swept, Unwitnessed, from a street at dawn. A hood over his head, the pressing gun Butted against a mother left to mourn. Jammed behind a passenger seat Hearing only the engine’s growl, And a passing siren that’s not for him. An electric prod sparks, and naked Howls leave sores exposed and weeping, Whilst grief seeps through bones, Turning my chestnut smooth to grey. Everyday I visit this place For I trust in you my Lord. I listen to all the Government’s reasoning, The lies fantastical – no one can quibble Suffocate in fear and longing for truth.
The woman came to me for cutting.
My mother said NO.
I went back to school but nobody would speak to me.
Without cutting there will be no husband.
I didn’t understand.
We moved to a shack in the city.
My Mum cried. I cried.
At my new school the teacher took us to see a film.
A lady said that the cutting was bad for us.
Two of her children had died when they were cut.
The lady on the film was my Mum.
Her two children were my twin sisters Marti and Fatu.
Now I understand.
I dress ‘to kill’ in my feathers and skills.
Shimmering moonlight fills the bedroom. The stone walls glinting, reflecting movements of the river below.
I am cool and white like the moonlight, silky, smooth.
My naked body, cool in his hands.
Weightless, substance-less, I am about to float into space, a familiar journey. When he tries to stop me.
‘Open – your – eyes,’ he commands. He wants to see me.
My body is performing skilfully but I cannot open my eyes. I am only partly there. I have almost gone. Trapped in terror between the worlds of visible and invisible.
I always make my real self invisible …
The First Time
The first time Tom saw Dylan, in 1965, there was already a buzz surrounding this young American songwriter. Queueing, Tom chatted nervously to the girl in front of him. Her A- levels, like his, were near. Once inside the City Hall she disappeared to the balcony.
Eventually Dylan was on stage and for about fifteen songs epitomised presence and lyrical virtuosity in equal measure. At the end of the best two hours of Tom’s young life he filed out for the last bus home, but under a streetlight, smiling, stood the girl from earlier. ‘I can hitch home’ he thought.
Sunday teatime table set, linen tablecloth, lace doilies. Best china polished off and gleaming. Homemade cake, scones and strawberry jam. Hot toasted teacakes run with butter.
Around the table animated talk between mother, father and teenage children. Love, laughter and warmth radiate.
Sunday teatime table set, oilcloth. Crockery chipped and mismatched. Shop bought cake. Mother’s apron hangs forlornly on a hook. Father sits alone, children grown, seeds scattered on the wayward wind.
Sunday teatime table set, linen and lace. Best china adorned with homemade fare. Everyone engaged in animated conversations. Mother seated centre table, heart and soul of the family.
Colette knew they would be coming to claim another victim for Madame Guillotine.
Invisible in the background, never acknowledged, she was a shadow, a faithful, loyal wife. She prepared canvases, mixed paint, even painted whole areas of the portrait. He was the foremost painter of the day. The patronage of the nobility gone, he had fled to England.
The knocking on the door was insistent and she answered fearful for her life. Instantly she recognised the visitor. It was the leader of the mob who insisted she paint his portrait.
Colette became a fine miniaturist.
She divorced her husband.
On becoming invisible
Don’t look for me, I’m gone, but look in the morning shadow across the landing, the sag of the bed, the dregs in the cup, the living, breathing void, a space in the air where my heart still beats. So eat from the fridge, and drink from the tap, walk on the cinder path with bare feet, hold on to everything, and I’ll be holding too. And when your hand slips across the sheet one cold early morning, seeking warmth let me meet it, and let me carry you across the threshold.
Snow fell like confetti, drifting towards the windscreen where it melted instantly. The surrounding countryside was being transformed from a barren winter landscape into a white wonderland. As light began to fade large flakes fluttered silently in the yellow beam of the head lamps.
The sweep of the wipers had a mesmerising effect and Rhona’s eyelids grew heavy. ‘Damn it, stay awake, you idiot! You’ve come too far to turn back now. You’ve got a long way to go before you can embrace the luxury of sleep.’ The words spoken aloud brought her fully alert. For the time being at least, she would have to keep going.
It was almost dark when a figure slipped out from behind the trees and stood in the middle of the road, arms waving erratically. Heart pounding with fright Rhona braked slowly, anxious not to send the little car into a skid. As she drew to a halt, the figure ran towards the passenger door and pulling it open collapsed onto the seat, bringing with them an arctic blast amidst a flurry of snowflakes. Rhona couldn’t tell if her hitch hiker was male or female, head and features buried amongst a swathe of scarves. It wasn’t until they unwound the scarves that she could discern the face, white and pinched looking up into hers. Rhona was not a religious person but despite this she closed her eyes and began to pray.
‘You didn’t expect to see me again, did you?’ The voice sounded ethereal, floating eerily around the interior of the car. ‘Why were you in such a hurry to leave? Was it me? Something I said? I thought you had more strength of character than you displayed back there, Rhona. Look at me. Tell me you made a mistake and want to make amends. Well, did you, do you?’
When she was able to speak, Rhona’s voice was barely above a whisper. ‘You were dead. You are dead.’
When I find it hard to pray
My thoughts to music start to stray
Music soothes a need in me
It helps me form the words to say
That as a child slipped glibly off the tongue
But have been lost along the way
A life enriched with music brings
Compassion, love, a soul with wings
Music fills my heart with joy
And the power that it brings
Is more primitive than prayer
In the Valley of the Kings
A prayer at night, a prayer by day
My parents’ gift to me was music
Their legacy is prayer
It had been talked about for weeks. Discussed at bus stops and ruminated over in queues at the Post Office. Digested with the collection of milk tokens from the Welfare Hall and been the main topic of conversation after Sunday morning mass. And now the day of our Street Party had finally dawned, but there was still hours to go before I could put on my blue sailor dress with its big white collar and new red sandals.
At last I stood ready, fidgeting under mam’s hands while she plaited my hair. We walked to the village hall and took our place in a long line of women, some men and lots of children. Inside there was row upon row of trestle tables with long forms for us to sit on. Each place setting had a Union Jack flag beside it.
When we were all seated an army of women descended upon the tables carrying plates of sandwiches. I’d be lying if I said I remembered the food but the fillings were probably staples such as egg, fish paste and perhaps SPAM. There would have been scones, jelly and ice-cream and I’m sure cake of some description. The food wouldn’t have interested me too much, as I was there for one thing only, and that was the silver crown.
My recollection of how the afternoon played out is a hazy blur, but one thing has stayed in my memory for ever. I’d been told that every child was to receive a Coronation mug and a silver crown, and that was all I could think about. Councillor Barnes, who owned the Fruit and Vegetable shop on Front Street, stood by the main doors and handed out the trophies as we left. I was almost shaking with anticipation, so when it was my turn and I was presented with a Coronation mug and a silver penny, my disappointment knew no bounds.
Even my four year-old self knew the value of a penny, silver or otherwise. It would buy 2 half-penny chews, 4 Black Jacks, 1 stick of liquorice or 1 hard sherbet lollipop. I thought the crown was for my head, just like Her Majesty the Queen and I was inconsolable. However, I still have that crown today, so somewhere along the way I must have come to realize the value of its worth.