A Busy Life

When people ask me what I do, I silently judge them for their nosiness before telling them I’m a copywriter.  I then explain what a copywriter is, unless they’re fans of ‘Madmen’, in which case I explain what a copywriter isn’t.  But I don’t really have the time for writing at the moment.  Just the creation of that sentence has guaranteed that the bathroom I should be cleaning will, at best, be left with a smeared mirror, while the sentence explaining about the smeared mirror has probably ensured I won’t have time to mop the floor.  If I don’t stop explaining stuff, the bathroom will be a no-go area for all those not in possession of hazmat gear.  As usual.  But the heart wants what it wants and a writer writes and meta crap like that, so I’m neglecting the list of jobs that are mounting up in order to write this.  I’m sure my expected visitors will at least be polite enough to pretend they can’t see the mess as long as they’re here and will only comment on my inadequacy once I’m out of earshot.

There are always things I should do, but don’t.  Find more work, sleep more, get more exercise, wash a dish now and then, train one of the cats to switch the kettle on … important stuff like that.  And there’s also the other list; the things I shouldn’t be doing, or shouldn’t be doing as much: eat less sugar, tweet less, yell less at political programmes, write fewer lists …  But, at the risk of accidentally plagiarising Hallmark’s output for the last century, the thing I should be concentrating on, should have always been concentrating on, is appreciating the things I have while I have them instead of worrying about what I used to have, think I should have had or wish I could get in the future.

Shortly after my dad died at the end of 2014, my mum went into a care home.  Her dementia had left her with short-term memory problems and some confusion, so visits immediately took on a Groundhog Day ambience, only on a 5-minute loop instead of a 24-hour one, and we struggled to have a conversation.  However, a life spent playing board games and doing quizzes had burnt those processes into her brain, so we could still enjoy some quality time together with the Trivial Pursuit or Ludo and little flashes of the intelligence beneath the fog would surface even as she was asking which colour pieces were hers each time it was her turn.  I’d leave when it was time for her to have dinner or for me to go and do mum things instead of daughter things and it’d be just another little interlude in a busy life.

So, when she had an accident last month and went to hospital, we lost those games and had nothing left but Groundhog Day and it was hard to take.  We were all looking forward to the day when we could get her back to the home and slip back into the routine that would let her be herself again, in some small way.  Sadly, that didn’t and won’t happen as she died in the early hours of Wednesday.  Comfortable, clean, sleeping, not alone.  We could all do a lot worse.  Since then, I’ve been cleaning, decorating, making more phone calls than I usually make in a year, eating fast food because I have no time to cook, writing when I shouldn’t be writing and, as ever, not appreciating what I have while I have it.  From now on, when people ask what I do, I’ll give them the honest answer; I fiddle while Rome burns.

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A Sonnet for Liam

It’s now 16 years since my brother, Liam, died from complications connected to his MS.  He was as dark as I am fair, with brown eyes that I always envied and a wiry strength that stood him in good stead as he carried out his gardening work.  He was my big brother, yet now I’m older than him and that’s not something I can quite wrap my head around.  So this poem is for my little big brother.

 

We never looked alike in any way,

Our hair and eyes as different as could be.

But when together, we had much to say,

With common int’rests binding you and me.

The music that we liked, the books we read

Were oftentimes the same or close in style.

We’d talk of these, and many things you said

Would paint upon my face a cheerful smile.

Now that you’ve gone, a chasm stretches wide

Between contentedness and lonely strife.

An unexpected, unwelcome divide

Has brought a core of sorrow to my life.

I never could replace you with another,

My one and only missed and cherished brother.

 

Void

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This year sees the 27th anniversary of the tragedy at Hillsborough Stadium that resulted in 96 Liverpool fans losing their lives.  As the jury consider the evidence they’ve seen and heard at the hard-won inquest into the deaths, it seems as though the 96 may finally be granted the justice they deserve.  Because of that, one last Anfield memorial service will be held for them today, but their names will remain written in a place of honour at the stadium and their flame will never go out.  This poem is dedicated to them.  You’ll never walk alone. (Photo via http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)

No pile of scarves,

No empty seats,

No list of names,

No flickering flames,

No silent minute from the crowd

Will ever fill the void.

 

No heartfelt words,

No tribute plaques,

No mournful tolls,

No prayerful souls,

No sculpted works of stark respect

Will ever fill the void.

 

No floral wreath,

No perfect choir,

No teary eyes

No exposed lies,

No long awaited justice gained

Will ever fill the void.

Ninety-six names on a Wall

On 15th April 1989, thousands of excited Liverpool fans travelled to Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield to support their team in the FA Cup semi-final. In a catastrophic series of events, fans were crushed in the pens and help was slow to come and poorly organised. As a result, Ninety-six of them died. This is for them.

Ninety-six names on a wall. Count them!
Brother and sister and son.
Ninety-six people who should have come home
After the match was done.

Ninety-six seats at a match. Count them!
Father and daughter and wife.
Ninety-six people who went to a game
But ended up losing a life.

Ninety-six names on a wall. Count them!
Woman and child and man.
Ninety-six reasons to cherish the truth;
Spread it as far as you can.

Ninety-six reasons to pause. Count them!
Mother and Lover and friend.
Ninety-six stories contained in a flame;
A fire that will burn without end.

The Photograph

The flecks in your eyes,
The curve of your face,
The swing in your hair,
Your bright, quiet grace.
The line of your lips,
The strength of your chin,
The slant of your nose,
The sadness within.
The tilt of your head,
The sweep of your brow,
The strength of your poise,
They’ve all faded now.
I can’t see your face
When my eyes are shut tight,
So I look at this picture
And miss you tonight.

Tell Me

I see her face, her form, her bright soft hair.
But some of her is just no longer there.
“Tell me …” she says and I know every word to follow.
“Tell me …”
Two words that hide a wealth of sorrow.

A mind that once was strong and sharp as steel
Now struggles to retain much of what’s real.
“Tell me …” she asks, as though some record plays.
“Tell me …”
This is the soundtrack of her days.

So, I recite the litany of life,
That left her now a widow, not a wife.
“Tell me …” she says and so I start to tell.
“Tell me …”
Two words that loose the gates of hell.

Getting lost

Somebody told me, today, that I’m the image of my mother; apparently, they think he’ll be out of the cast by March. Don’t judge me! Unless your mother is Angelina Jolie or Charlize Theron, it’s not what a woman wants to hear. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that and I have to grudgingly admit that it’s true. I have her blonde hair and her blue eyes; I should give them back really – she’s scaring the kids. We do look alike, though, and I’ve inherited other things from her: a love of reading, a memory that seems hardwired to store poetry, dates, useless facts and phone numbers, a virtual addiction to olives and big feet.

It’s harder to say what I’ve inherited from my dad. Perhaps when all my hair drops out, it’ll be easier to spot any resemblance but, looks-wise, it’s difficult to see any similarities. My squidgy nose is nothing like his Roman one and in spite of his brown eyes, a recessive blue-eyed gene obviously allowed me to take after Mammy. I also have excessively long femurs as opposed to his tiny ones that meant I’d have to push the car seat back a foot if I drove his car.

Looks aren’t everything though and I take after him in other ways: I don’t like to spend money unnecessarily, so I’ll have the washing machine in pieces year after year rather than buy another; I love a good detective programme and have shared many a happy hour with him, watching Columbo or the Rockford Files, and I have one of the most appalling senses of direction ever seen in a person who hasn’t been blindfolded and spun for an hour on the Waltzers. My brother-in-law nicknamed my dad ‘Pathfinder’ and it wasn’t a tribute. All who have ever had a lift from him have come to dread the tell-tale signs that a ‘short-cut’ was imminent: the turn down an apparently innocuous side road, the inevitable three-point turn when we would meet the dead end, followed by the attempt to retrace some or all of the turns that had led to us being hopelessly lost and, often, irretrievably late for an appointment. Similarly, I have been known to get lost in my own work building – although I must point out that this was before I worked from home – and after a drive through Aintree, I caused hilarity in the office by asking the question “What racecourse?” Yes, truly, I am ‘Daughter of Pathfinder’.

So, I know that I am in some way ‘a chip off the old block’ and this is a comfort because, earlier this month, he died. At the age of 91, after a lifetime of working hard and being daft and funny when it was right to be daft and funny and being serious when it was right to be serious and being the western world’s foremost advocate for the eating of bananas, he collapsed in the house with my mum, for whom he had long been a carer, and there was nothing anybody could do for him. After being lost with my dad or on my own so often, in many ways now, I think I’ll always be lost.

Ninety-six Faces

On 15th April 1989, thousands of excited football fans went to watch their teams play.  Ninety-six of them were killed in the worst football-related disaster the UK has ever seen.  After twenty-five years of public slurs by people in positions of trust, the ninety-six Liverpool fans who never came home are drawing closer to justice after the opening of fresh inquests.  You’ll never walk alone.

 

Face after face after face;

Ninety-six lives cut short.

Snippets of your stories,

Told to a silent court.

Your hopes, your dreams, your wishes,

What you mean to those left behind.

Trying to catch your essence;

Impossible words to find.

 

Life after life after life,

Stolen without a warning.

Parents, siblings, friends,

Burdened with permanent mourning.

Ninety-six empty seats;

Reminders of futures broken.

Names above a flame:

Icons of words unspoken.

 

Year after year after year;

Families forced to fight.

Struggle to reach that justice

That was always yours by right.

To banish every page

Where foul lies are found.

To shine a light upon those lives

Lost on Hillsborough’s ground.

Pairing Poem

Treading water.

Holding breath.

Fighting fires.

Facing death.

Asking nothing.

Getting less.

Taking chances.

Saying yes.

Running faster.

Tiring out.

Spreading rumours.

Sowing doubt.

Trying harder.

Failing more.

Losing battles.

Waging war.

Solving problems.

Making friends.

Finding purpose.

Joining ends.

Breaking contracts.

Meeting strife.

Causing trouble.

Living life.