Monthly Archives: July 2020

Southwold, Suffolk

Image (2)

Beach huts in Southwold, Suffolk

Later today, I’m on a ‘virtual’ writing weekend. Part of the preparatory work was to write a 16-word poem about a place on the coast, but not about Whitby – which is where we will be based ‘virtually’. That brought back memories of my many visits to Southwold in Suffolk. The expensive beach huts there are legendary. The smell of beer brewing at the local Adnams Brewery is an acquired taste!

Several times we rented Shrimp Cottage, at the front. Whoever stayed in the main bedroom on the first floor, had a view of the sea from their bed. We were the women I met on holiday in China, as one of our regular reunions. I’ve also stayed there with friends from Manchester and, twice, my brother and his family in the Netherlands got the ferry to Harwich and made the short drive up the coast.

Southwold Sailors Reading Room

 

I visited Southwold in all seasons. There was just one house between Shrimp Cottage and the Sailors’ Reading Room – a Grade II listed building from 1864 and still a refuge for sailors and fishermen. Another forty footsteps took us to the Lord Nelson pub. The poem is included in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd  in November 2019.

 

Southwold posts

 

Nautical miles
The sign outside the Sailors’ Reading Room is

a series of thin wooden planks, painted white:
Den Helder, IJmuiden, Hoek van Holland.

Across the horizon, they are less than a hundred
nautical miles from Southwold in Suffolk

where the narrow beach of pebbles –
grey, brown, black mostly –

is held together
by couplets of groynes, slimy green.

Both our languages have the word strand.

 

 

Celebrating creativity …

marigolds

Too many gardening programmes can seriously damage your health! They said if you plant out your marigolds you will get a splendid display, but Nigella hasn’t had a single flower. Monty Donkey. What does he know?

During lockdown, the first thing I did after breakfast was to go to Facebook to see what my poet friend Helen Kay had come up with that day. As Helen explains:

“In 2016 I wrote some poems about chickens. I hit the road and read my poems to local groups, but something, or someone, was missing to bring a spark into my performance – and that was how a hen glove puppet came into my life – you could call it puppet love. I had no idea that my lively alter ego would become more popular than me, delighting all ages with her lively mix of bright-eyed innocence and femme fatale. She even has her own little book of poems called the Nigella Monologues- it’s all about me.

In 2020 lockdown came and Nigella and I left our home to live with my 99-year-old Aunty Phyllis. It was all very sudden; our packing was mostly food parcels, a laptop and a couple of books. Hidden away, we wanted to help others. Facebook seemed awash with anger and sadness, so Nigella and I decided to do a funny daily photo on the theme of keeping Sane & Safe. People liked it, so we ended up doing 103 posts. We made scenery using toilet rolls and old paint in the garage. Aunty Phyllis home schooled Nigella about the war and dug out bits of fabric. People added their own puns and quips and chatted to each other. The last week Nigella had her own art exhibition, then left us for the stars in her A Pollo 103 Spaceship. Out of the dark a star was born. Who knows what next?”

Nigella 2

Home School and the pecking order. Today maths: some things are more equal than others.

The posts brought me joy and gave me a cheerful start to the day. Some posts included references to very British phenomena: those Marigold gloves, Monty Don, a well-known TV gardener, Orwell’s Animal Farm. The wit was a bonus. The posts showed me how curiosity and creativity are a fundamental part of our survival kit. Let’s finish with a celebration!

NIgella 3

Celebrate May Day with a social distancing activity. Don’t get yourself in a tangle.

Vlieland – Birthday island

 

Vlieland island

 

Earlier this week I celebrated my birthday. Up to 10 visitors are now allowed onto the camp site for parties and birthdays. However, I decided to celebrate over a 10-day period: some days the weather has been autumnal – cold, wet and windy. Inside the caravan I wouldn’t have been able to guarantee the 1m social distance. Besides, after months of social isolation, lockdown, shielding, I was desperate for proper contact and conversation with family and close friends. It was a marvellous extended week!

I vividly remember another birthday. With a close friend I had an overnight stay on Vlieland, one of the Frisian Islands in the Wadden Sea. We travelled by ferry from Harlingen (a peaceful 90-minute journey), stayed overnight in Hotel De Wadden that once was the island’s marine college, rented bikes, ate fish and chips, bought cranberries which grow there. We were blessed with the weather: sunny and a breeze.

 

A major storm in 1296 separated Vlieland from the mainland. It’s hard to imagine how important the island once was: in the 17th century hundreds of trading and whaling ships would have been afloat nearby. The tides and winds have shifted and changed the shape of the island. Now, it is only about 12 kms long and 2 kms wide at best and, mostly dependent on tourism. Visitors are not allowed to bring a car across – bring your own bike or rent one!

Vlieland ferry

 

Vlieland

Empty days
cycling on white paths
crushed shells
bless the lighthouse
on this island

Full nights
dreams of fishes
frogs, berries, seals
the white ferry
resting

Birthday
blessed July
sky, salt breeze
You look younger
on this island

The Nettlebed

Matthew Paul June 2020 (002)

 

I feel that I have known this month’s poet for many years. But, I don’t think we have ever met. Like me, Matthew Paul has been a participant on The Poetry Business Writing School. We both had work published in an excellent haiku journal. I very much enjoy his blog posts and am pleased that I can introduce you to his work: grounded in actual place and rich in vivid detail.

Matthew was born in New Malden, Surrey, in 1966, has worked for 30 years as an education officer for local authorities in south-west London, and lives in Thames Ditton. Matthew’s first collection, The Evening Entertainment, was published by Eyewear Publishing in 2017.

He is also the author of two collections of haiku – The Regulars (2006) and The Lammas Lands (2015) – and co-writer/editor (with John Barlow) of Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (2008), all published by Snapshot Press. He co-edited Presence haiku journal, and has contributed to the Guardian’s ‘Country Diary’ column.

 
THE TOXTON TORCHERS

Still their identities are secret. Let’s call them Gary and Glyn,
names which are popular then, at the Sixties’ fag-end.
This nit-locked pair of toe-rags, seeking alms box and plate,
enter St Joe’s via its sacristy, find nothing of value
and burn down the sanctuary like proper East End heavies.

They’re not discerning: any place of worship will do-
in the next few weeks, Our Lady Star of the Sea, St Anne’s,
the Kingdom Hall and the new St Margaret’s all go up in flames.
It’s when they smash collection boxes in All Souls that it ends:
old Reverend Carew and his nimble curate get straight on the blower
to the Law, who tip up in Black Marias at Z-Cars speed.

Gary blames it all on gormless Glyn. Brought before the Bench,
their eyes light up like matches as they detail every deed:
how in the new church they hadn’t the heart to torch the tapestries
as so much effort had been put into them, most by Gary’s nan.

 
THE KITCHEN GARDEN

On Capability Brown’s last visit
to this well-temperèd chalkland estate,
he plumped for action instead of advice:
training espaliers of local pears,

which would otherwise have become extinct,
against ev’ry venerable wall of brick—
‘for market opportunities’, he said,
and focused eyes on an artichoke head

whose outer bracts formed interlaced patterns
around the heart’s delirious embrace,
aubergine-veined chroma of grey–jade green.
He claimed it resembled ‘a scarecrow’s brain’.

Unaccountably, he bricked up the arch,
to dead-end our last remaining path;
so now unscalable walls enclose us,
in God’s own country’s Hortus conclusus.
(Both from The Evening Entertainment)

 

TEE (002)

 

THE NETTLEBED

One September afternoon in August, a water vole
beavers through reeds. I feel the slap
of rain on my father’s umbrella. Mercy
and I compare families: I can’t compete
with her memory of travelling,
as one of five kids, with her moody
half-sister in the boot of their dad’s Datsun Bluebird,
without a torch. The teasel-lined tributary disappears,
reappears. Moorhen chicks stumble off lily pads,
to spatter at pace upstream, their parents
flicking tail feathers and squeaking alarm.

We reach beyond toddler-high nettles and burdock—
seedheads packed like the yellowest sunflowers—
to pluck the last few blackberries, sugaring
from ruby to plum. Mercy says the wide outdoors
keeps her well; that nothing else,
neither booze nor love in any of its myriad forms,
quite does the job. We sit on a log to wait and watch.

The moorhens tiptoe over stepping stones fording
back-water channels, to vanish like mumbled
anecdotes. I shake the rain from the brolly
into the river. Day’s end brightens
as an afterthought muttered out loud; becomes
a crumbling hurrah of loneliness. Dusk
spotlights parakeets sidling, like circus budgies,
along the railing of a tower-block balcony.
We realise, then, our arms are stung to fuck.

(Previously published, in a different form, in Fire.)

 

PLOUGH POND

Tiptoeing through them to the Co-op
would be impossible, this ragtag army

of marsh frogs. They block the alley
from our cul-de-sac’s cul, pairing up

to belly down within the water’s grease:
tansy eyes, camouflage-trousered legs

and lime-striped backs, clamped
in the fumble of joyful amplexus.

(Published in Poetry Salzburg Review 34, summer 2019)