Saturday, 17 January 2015

Self Portraits

Everything is a self portrait
telling and holding back as much.

As much as yellow mixed with black
can make a lover cry
and say this is not a good close kiss
with those sore hands, the pink and red
going into warm blue, a warm blue,
how is that possible?

Or later, in the dark the orange-yellow lily pollen
on my chest, the smell of it,
telling me to get back downstairs and paint
your shape out of every shape.


See how who you are now
talking to you through thin sheets of paper
so that no one knows we really still
think about each other,
a morning,
the shape
of that morning.

If you cherish it, your almost same shape
will come to undress in the memory.
A photograph glued over another face
does not make anyone else but you.


We do not pin ourselves on walls or gardens
but keep little notes of our shapes
as incidents and wind-up toys.

This is not about getting away from
where you are, who you might be,
the mystery is still as big as ever.

People who smile at themselves in mirrors
are likely to be extending their lives by
at least five years even if they hate the idea.

So, you've been warned.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

What Was Said


The old man has not been seen for many years, nor has he been missed. In all this time a kindly neighbour has placed packages of food by the old man's front door. Some weeks the food disappears and other times it is still there a week later, becoming smelly or pecked at by birds. Then, one day, the old man is seen opening his front door and he steps into the street and stands in the road, wearing a  red velvet robe and slippers. A young fair woman walks along the road, hands in pockets. 'She's shrunk!' the old man shouts out and points at the young woman. 'That girl! She's shrunk!' The girl hurries on quickly as the man continues to shout.

People come into the street and try to calm the old man. They wonder if there could be something wrong with his eyes. 'Have I shrunk in your eyes?' a man asks the old man. 'No, no, you're just the same size as I always remembered you!' the old man says and the man seems happy with this response. 'Have I shrunk?' a lady asks and the old man shakes his head and mutters that she has not. 'But that girl, has shrunk!' the old man says.

The young woman is questioned by many people who know her, some who before now did not. They ask, have you shrunk? Now people who know her and some who do not know her are calling her The Shrunken Girl. Her father says: It is true, you do seem a little smaller than you used to be, in some ways. The girl is baffled and angry. She plots to move away. Meanwhile, the old man has become a lot more sociable and visits his kindly neighbour for lunch every other Sunday, and keeps his garden tidy, and attends church for Wednesday Evensong, though he was never previously a religious man.



At a certain point in the evening, after a few glasses of wine, you will tell me about your mother just before she died. She lay in bed but just before she died sat up a little and held a finger in the air and just like a contestant on a television quiz show said: 'Is the answer vinegar?'

Your mother was a wise woman, a thoughtful musician, intelligent, worldly. She was not known for anything except knowing the right thing to do. You could turn to her for advice and she would give it to you gently.

When your brother Billy suggested your mother hated vinegar, even the smell of it made her nauseous, you had a terrific argument. So it is now that you have not spoken to each other for almost a decade.



Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Pinky Christmas

a Grandmama story

Daddy's sister has come to stay, just for a few days, because it is Christmas. The children do not remember meeting Pinky before - and is that really her name? What is your real name? They ask her. She refuses to say very much. She sits on the sofa and watches the children, and seems a little afraid of them. She is tiny but seems to eat and eat, and has smudged spectacles and a lot of red hair. She does not look like Daddy very much.

'You don't look like Daddy's sister,' Jupp says.

'Oh?' Pinky replies. 'What does Daddy's sister look like?'

'Have we really met before now?' Gretel asks.

'Yes, but you were babies,' Pinky says and stuffs a candied fruit into Gretel's mouth. 'And babies forget things. I expect you have forgotten lots of things.'

'I don't forget anything,' Jupp says in a low voice that he hopes makes him sound like a policeman. 'I don't forget a thing Pinky.' He opens his mouth wide and Pinky puts a candied fruit into his mouth. He takes a step backward and makes a low bow. Pinky laughs like a horse.

Jupp shakes his head. He walks across the room to Hugo who has been watching everything. 'Is she really Daddy's sister?' Jupp asks Hugo and Hugo shrugs.

On Christmas Eve Pinky puts a stack of small parcels beneath their Christmas tree. The lights on the tree are blinking on and off, though they are not supposed to do that. The silver fairy is just about to fall from her top perch and Jupp and Gretel want Daddy to put her back properly but Daddy is too busy in the kitchen. They ask Pinky if she will help the fairy on the Christmas tree but Pinky shakes her head and says she doesn't believe in fairies.

'What do you do?' Jupp asks, 'when you are not here?'

Pinky rubs her hands over Jupp's hands and on his cheeks. She has very rough hands. Then she rubs her hands on Gretel's hands and cheeks, and then Lucas and then Hugo get to feel Pinky's rough hands. They must guess what sort of job she has, what kind of life she has. She won't tell them, they have to guess. They guess she might be a teacher, a nurse, a shop assistant, a washing-up in a restaurant person. She sits on the sofa and shakes her head. She feeds them more candied fruit sweets.

'How are we all in here?' Grandmama says, coming in from the kitchen with a tray of drinks. 'As it is Christmas Eve I've made us all some nice cocoa. I hope you like your cocoa very sweet Pinky, that's the only way I make it I'm afraid!'

They all sit and slurp their cocoa. It is a tradition that they can slurp their cocoa just as much as they like, and lick their lips as much as they feel it is necessary, and they stir their cocoa and clink their spoons. Lucas doesn't like his cocoa very much and feeds it to Pinky who sips it graciously. Lucas loves feeding Pinky and shrieks with excitement so that Daddy says it really is time for bed.

'But Pinky has not told us a bit about herself!' Gretel says. 'We were doing a guessing game and now she won't tell us!'

'Tell you what?' Daddy asks.

'I've forgotten the answer,' Pinky says quietly. 'Good night everyone, sweet dreams,' Pinky says and disappears upstairs.

The next morning, Christmas morning, and Pinky is nowhere to be found. Where has she put herself? They check her room but the bed has been made and her suitcase has gone. The children open their presents quickly but are distracted because they want to know where Pinky has gone. And the fairy from the Christmas tree is missing. So there are two mysteries. Grandmama says a lot of 'oh dears' and Mumski says a few 'told you so's'. They look high and low. Is Pinky playing hide-and-seek?

'My sister has always been a little shy,' Daddy says. 'She comes and goes, she always has. Even when she was very young. She would just - puff - disappear!'

'How extraordinary,' Grandmama says. 'Now who would like to help me lay the table?'

As the family are vegetarian they are having most of the Christmas trimmings but not the turkey. The children all love sage and onion stuffing so much, Grandmama has made two packets of it and has decorated the stuffing with sprigs of holly from the garden. Daddy stirs the vegetable gravy and adds a little sherry, because it is Christmas.

'I do wish Auntie Pinky was still here,' Gretel says quietly. 'Beth and I were going to do a dance for her later.'

'Beth isn't real!' Jupp says and sticks his knife in one of Gretel's potatoes and steals it from her plate. 'She is a figgy of your imagination! She is a figgy pudding of your imagination!' He sticks the whole potato in his mouth.

'Merry Christmas one and all!' Grandmama says and raises her wine glass.

Hugo raises his wine glass. As he is the eldest and because it is Christmas he is allowed to have a tiny drop of wine. 'Merry Christmas to my very silly family!'

'Yes,' Daddy says and raises his glass, 'yes Merry Christmas silly family! Now eat up! and thank you Grandmama for once again making such an excellent job of the stuffing!'

'I think someone's had a little too much wine,' Mumski says and clinks glasses with Daddy. 'Cheers and good health to us all!'

'Yes and please do eat all the brussel sprouts!' Grandmama says and raises her glass again. 'And let us not forget those less fortunate than ourselves. And let us remember all those people we have loved and miss!'

Gretel raises her glass, 'And let us remember today is the first day of the rest of everything else to come! And what's for pudding anyway?'

Jupp raises his glass and says, 'yes what's for pudding anyway?'

Everyone raises their glass and says: 'What's for pudding anyway?'

'Oh dear,' Grandmama says then, quietly, 'oh dear I quite forgot.'