Archive for December, 2015


We are going to see a pantomime,
Peter Pan, at the Empire, Liverpool.
(She could choose to take one of two glove puppets –
Captain Hook or the Crocodile – so it
could enjoy the treat. She chose the crocodile).
We are going by train – past some fields,
the backs of many houses, through a cut
and then a tunnel under a river.

An odd story for a panto, effete
and no dame or an obvious clown
but she watches literally open-mouthed
whether from her own seat or, as she tires,
her mother’s lap. She is oblivious to
or, rather, transcends, the local celebs,
the Scouse jokes, the inevitable camp
and Merseyrail purring below us,
to enter a brave new world of a flying
boy and girl, a large and gentle dog,
Pirates, Indians, much singing, some dancing,
a fairy we can save by clapping,
the Captain with his eye patch and red coat
and her focussed Croc, tock, tick, tock, tick.
As the curtain falls, tearful, she asks,
‘Why has it stopped, why, why?’




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I am reminded of Professor Wallofski’s
Omelette, Prince of Demark, and the rotten egg
the curate ate, watching this particular
‘peasant rogue…tear a passion to tatters’
as if each word were merely a bagatelle
on a stage the size of a tennis court.
‘Oh, what a noble mind…’ But, yoking apart,
who would wander those chill corridors,
discouraged by the guttering torches
in their sconces, where duty and hatred,
love and negligence throng in the smoky
shadows only words discombobulate –
or be unsettled by the Baltic surging
at the cliffs where ambition leaps ‘Even,’
as the lad himself said, ‘for an eggshell!’




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I am unsure what has resurrected –
the right word – the memory of his death,
whoever he was. Perhaps it is
this windy night of cold rain almost snow –
and blinds drawn against the dark. But police
and the ambulance were called at first light.

Behind our house is a row of pre-fab
concrete garages. Even building regs then
forbade the use of the final concrete slab
as prohibiting access. Whatever his name,
he parked his mini there. We remember
his gender and the type of car but not
the reason for his choosing that the
last thing he would see was a high brick wall.

We were busy parents, busy at work –
yet not to have remembered the details
of why someone should have made such a
momentous decision fifty feet away
seems extraordinary and, in retrospect,
shameful. I know now we would record each fact
and grieve for a stranger. Maybe youth
is cursory in remembrance and age
is diligent in death.




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Pursuing our Holy Grail of finding
four balloon back Victorian dining chairs
in good condition, we drove, to furthest
Cheshire – near where the motorway grows
and the villages have Anglo-Saxon names –
the second Saturday before Christmas
to an antique centre once a dairy farm.
In seven erstwhile milking sheds, covering
fifty thousand square feet, were displayed
a range of products of the industrial
revolution – A Hornby train set,
a tractor seat, a Singer sewing machine,
a framed, signed photo of Edwina Currie,
a Parker-Knoll chair, a room full of plastic
Disney figurines, etcetera,
etcetera. We ate an over priced
toasted sandwich each and left chairless.

Heading home, we stopped, on a whim, in Nantwich –
one of Cheshire’s three ancient salt towns –
where you had spent your early adolescence.
This was the pub your parents ran, there
was where the Girl Guides met, here where you
and your best friend Joan took each other’s snaps
with a Kodak Brownie. We entered
St Marys, the fourteenth century
parish church – grand as a cathedral – Joan
had ten years later been married in.
A choir was rehearsing a Christmas concert.
We sat in the loud stillness churches make.

As we drove to Chester on the A51,
twelfth century Beeston Castle was
silhouetted in ruined splendour
against a sunset of streamers of pink
tinged with grey. We talked of the singing
we had chanced upon and, almost wistfully,
of that long, eclectic tradition
seemingly transcending time and fashion
as if it were something substantial not
a trick of stone or shadow.




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When, having walked up from Central Station,
we reach Hope Street – that long sentence stopped
both ends with cathedrals – she protests, ‘My legs are tired!’
but, with the promise of ‘Rumpelstiltskin’,
we make it to the Unity Theatre,
the old Hope Place synagogue. She knows
the story well but watches keenly as the imp,
out smarted, stamps his foot through the earth’s crust.

Very properly reared by atheists –
free of chapel, mosque, shrine, shul and temple –
she encounters the Christmas story
at school. She speaks, knowingly, about ‘The Star’,
‘Mary’, ‘Baby Jesus’. So, though infidels,
we buy a set of nativity figures –
wooden, the size of netsuke, made
in China. Too late, we notice there is
no Joseph – or, rather, like any jobbing
repertory actor some guy is doubling
as carpenter (aka accidental
saint) and one of the shepherds, hence the halo
and the crook. She sets them out as in the play –
in which she was one of many narrators –
mother and crib at the centre, the rest
in a semi-circle facing them.

The world is full of stories, although not all
earth shattering. Some abound in common nouns.
These two are pseudonymous. She remembers
both of them equally well – the baby,
the straw spun into gold.




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