The Mystery

From the edge of the park I see

The railway bridge and the Georgian row.

The rugby posts catch the setting sun

In a wooden frame.

The people walking by

Don’t see me where I stand,

Melting into the worn brick.

That suits me fine.

Sounds fly in from every side,

Even above, from the birds and planes

And swishing leaves paint a wash

Over the harsh clatter.

There used to be swings here

A lifetime and a half ago.

Tarmac and swings and laughter and fear

On the Mystery.

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I Don’t Remember

I don’t remember when my joints seized up,

When my hair turned grey and my wrinkles grew.

It must have happened when my back was turned and I was living life.

 

I don’t remember when my steps grew slow,

When my memory failed and my waist spread out.

It must have happened when my back was turned and I was living life.

 

I don’t remember when my breath grew short,

When my kids grew up and my sight grew dim.

It must have happened when my back was turned and I was living life.

 

I don’t remember when police got young,

When my neck packed in and I craved more naps.

It must have happened when my back was turned and I was living life.

 

I don’t remember when the charts got crap,

When my shoes got flat and phones got weird.

It must have happened when my back was turned and I was living life.

 

I don’t remember turning into my mum,

With Radio 4 on all day long.

It must have happened when my back was turned and I was living life.

 

I don’t remember when I got so old,

When the years flew past and the past pulled back.

Not that it matters because I’m still here and I’ll keep on living life.

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.

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.

The Cat Under the Stairs

He’d not long turned four when he first mentioned the cat under the stairs.  He’d taken to playing in the space, in spite of how dark it was and the fact that there always seemed to be a pile of coats that littered the floor because they wouldn’t stay on their hooks.  It was a rainy afternoon during the autumn half term, so all the children were in the house and the noise level was reaching critical mass.

I’d taken the fresh laundry from the dryer and as I stood holding the warm bundle in the kitchen, even above the childish din, I heard an almighty yell from upstairs; dropping everything, I ran!  In the room shared by the two younger girls was a horrible mess caused by what looked like paint but smelled like soap.  “He’s ruined everything!” wailed one, “On purpose!” chimed in another!  And I had to agree; quite a few things were definitely ruined!  Their carefully constructed Lego models and a beautiful lamp were now covered in purplish-blue gunk, which was running across the shelf and falling onto the books and toys on the shelves below.  He was standing in the corner of the room, still holding the dripping bucket that usually only saw the light of day during trips to the beach; his hands, T-shirt and some of his hair bearing the tell-tale signs of his guilt but his face the picture of innocence.  “The cat said I should do it!” he stated, quietly and unphased by the commotion still raging.  “We don’t have a cat!” I replied, baffled.  “We do!” he insisted!  “The cat under the stairs.”

Almost without fail, from that day, every misdemeanour, every indiscretion he committed – and there were very many – was blamed on the cat.  He never gave it a name, as many do with imaginary friends, nor could he describe it, even when pressed, yet referred to it as ‘he’ in conversation.  He refused to accept that the cat wasn’t real, although we reasoned with him, emptied the space so he could see there was no cat and did everything in our power to distract him and find him real human friends to play with.

On his eighth birthday, we bought a kitten; a tiny tabby speck with a sweet nature and soft fur.  He refused to name it or have anything to do with its care, claiming that the cat under the stairs didn’t like it and wanted it to go.  Indeed, the kitten seemed to take great pains to avoid the area under the stairs, walking a curious path whenever it neared the space.  Occasionally, she would hiss and bristle at the staircase.  It was unnerving, to say the least.  After only two months, the kitten slipped out unnoticed and, in spite of circulating posters, she was never returned to us.  We decided not to buy another pet.

As the years passed, the imaginary cat remained part of our lives, to the point that he would insist on adding ‘and the cat’ to cards and gift tags and we could see the knowing glances that would pass between relatives at gatherings.  He’d vanish under the stairs, from where we could hear low muttering and long pauses.  We took him to see a child psychologist, who suggested that being a lone boy among several sisters may be behind his wish to have a male companion to himself, even an imaginary one.  It seemed unlikely to me but with no other explanation forthcoming and no other real behavioural problems that couldn’t be accounted for by being the spoilt youngest child, we didn’t pursue the matter.  We simply waited for him to grow out of it.

When he was fourteen, we began to feel very squashed in the house that had been fine for two adults and five children but was less accommodating for seven adult-sized people.  As soon as we began to look for another house, he became almost inconsolable; he barely slept, he spent more and more time under the stairs, even doing homework in there, albeit of very poor quality.  We reassured him that we were only looking locally, that he would still go to the same school and see the same school friends, not that he had many.  He didn’t care; he just wanted to stay with the cat under the stairs.

Before too long, we managed to find somewhere bigger and within our price range so, after a couple of frantic months, we were standing in the new house, surrounded by boxes.  I saw him looking toward the door that formed a cupboard of the space under the stairs; I watched him as he tentatively opened the door, flicked on the light and looked inside.  A strange look passed over his face: relief?  “Is there space for your cat?” I joked, trying to lighten the mood.  “There never was a cat.” He said, looking very, very young, all of a sudden.  I felt my breath catch in my chest at this long-awaited admission.   “But he said you’d worry if I told you he was a goat.”

 

Imperfect Sonnet

They pulled apart my childhood brick by brick.

Replaced it with an edifice of glass,

Or sometimes steel or highly polished stone.

Assured me that this new design would last.

They changed the roads until the way was lost,

And signposts that I knew meant nothing more.

The landmarks that once helped me navigate

Reduced to photographs, labelled ‘before’.

But now I see the new torn down as well,

Its modern gleam no armour, no defence,

Against the cries of “Build us more and more!”

The clamour for elaborate pretense.

Trust nothing but the pictures that you find,

Imperfectly preserved inside your mind.

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.

New Eyes

Suddenly, as if with new eyes I see

This place.

Having passed this way a thousand times or more,

I’m thrown into a panic,

As though lost.

These old bricks, soiled by years of existence

Must have always been this way,

Or similar, for decades.

Today, without real change,

They look so different.

When I first saw this road

They may have been clean

But can’t have been new.

Older than I am,

They’ve watched me pass

And many more before me.

Is it possible that, today,

They have seen me with new eyes?

Do they wonder if I was ever

Untarnished by time?

Stories

Tell me your stories,

I’ve nowhere to be.

Tell me your stories again.

I want to hear about when you were young,

Talk of the “Way back when …”

 

Tell me your stories,

As long as you like.

Tell me of people now gone.

They bring a beautiful smile to your face,

Keep talking; just carry on.

 

Tell me your stories,

Beginning to end,

Whether I’ve heard them before.

Don’t let the present intrude on the past.

Sit down and tell me some more.

 

Tell me your stories

I want them to be

Totally set in my mind.

Then I can hear them all over again

After you’ve left me behind.