What’s Inside?

Been thinking about this for a while, not that my other half has one because he doesn’t (in fact he’s verging on scrawny thanks to obsessive cycling) but it’s always bothered me. A bit….


What do men keep in their stomachs?

You know the sort:

solid, beer-stretched above small hips

a belt constantly thumb hooked up

in hope.

It doesn’t feel like fat,

the sort that cushions a child’s hand,

it doesn’t dent or undulate.

It’s a tank,

liver and spleen and intestines unravelling

loose hanging like astronauts slow twisting in space.

Or have they grown into bulldogs

snarling, beefed-up organs

jammed in,

stuck for space,


I don’t know.


Filed under oddbods


I like Chelsea. I’ve been going there every day since Christmas, to the English Gardening School at the Chelsea Physic Garden. A diploma in garden design (it’s finished now…have I mentioned that I got the prizes for top student and for garden writing? Well. I did). It was cold when we started. January. You’d think there’d be not much in bloom but the garden was filled with scent. Sarcococca confusa and S. hookeriana, Viburnum x bodnantense, Daphne bholua quietly infusing still air.

There’s so much to write about but what struck me was that every day I’d pass the local school on my way back to the Tube and, without fail, every day some huge unnecessary beast of a car left badly parked on double yellow lines by an impossibly thin woman with a bad temper would block my way or try to end my life.  (I make sweeping generalisations about people, I know I do, but it’s based on observation….and a bit of imagination.) And on most days school children in long caterpillars would press their noses up against the glass of the Cactus House at the Physic Garden, wide eyed and full of questions.


Pull it tighter



Push it higher



Make it thinner richer

Work it

Hide it behind dark glasses

Behind long shining hair

Behind cashmere rippled with richness

Push it into big cars

No scratches

The yellow lines don’t apply

Shout at it for not doing better

For losing his place

For crying

Lock the door

Look at the cactus

Fat engorged glaucous blue

Eye level

Wide eyed

Small boy, finger out to touch

Out to touch the city from the fifteenth floor

Pink misted London

Spider crawling on his hand

Over cuff and back onto wood

Catch up come on

Pick up the leaves

Breath white plumes of dragon breath

Into that scented air


Filed under gardens, poems, poetry


I was in Manchester Art Gallery a while ago, in the small cafe at the back and a woman came in pushing a wheelchair in which was a man about her age. He had no coordination, no control and she fed him juice or water from a blue child’s cup with a lid. He was her husband. She asked me just to keep an eye on him while she went to the loo. She looked grey, exhausted, tearful and I wondered if she’d come back.


She parked him near the window

rasping at the light

circling his head

his neck straining tendons

the juddering pulse of jaw in his temples

as he spoke but didn’t speak

the shock of a fox-scream of a chid

in a gallery of

quiet, low bass murmuring.

She put on the brake and went,

a minute or so alone in the ladies.

Locking the door

she rested her head against the cold metal paper dispenser.

‘What if you just left?

What if you pulled open the glass doors and

walked in your soft soled shoes

across St Peter’s Square to the library

and on to the place where the Halle used to be and

to a train and the parallel lines of track reaching into the distance?’

No. Go. Don’t come.

Don’t come here into my head

gorgon, tempting, curling your finger.

Not today.

Her arms spanned the cubicle, bracing wall against wall.

‘They’d look after him.

You could sleep,

walk with bare feet on grass,

pick blackberries,

fly soar into clear blue.’

She washed her hands,

avoided the mirror and went back to him.

The door, soft hinged, slow-closed,

the hand dryer unfinished.


Filed under poems, poetry, writing

The Unfortunate End of Fra Fillipo Lippi


Santa Maria Assunta

In Spoleto two nuns are walking through the piazza

to the Cathedral

across terracotta tiles laid edge on

in a pattern that looks like the ribs of fish.

Their veils starch-crack in the breeze and

rosaries hang by their sides folded into brown robes

and catch the light on every other step.

They wear plain sandals and their toenails are yellowed and fungal

and they shade their eyes from the sun and stop to

look up at the gold mosaic

high up, exalting.

I sit against stone in the loggia and wait for afternoon opening;

for the locks to be drawn back,

for door to open quietly,

for the echo of footstep on tile,

for the interior cool.

I’ve come for the frescoes

for the life of the Virgin Mary

to see colour alive after centuries

and the soft humanity of faces painted into plaster.

He was buried here

in a tomb now empty,

his body stolen in darkness, bundled onto a cart,

horse stamping the tiled ground snorting white breath in chill night air

still heavy with rosemary

and driven down rutted tracks to who knows where

by the family of the girl he ruined,

his limbs pulled socket from ball,

bones splintered with hammers,

reburied somewhere in pieces

or just scattered for the foragers.

The nuns kneel and I take a photograph,

for posterity.


Filed under poems, poetry, writing

Glastonbury and a Repeat

I’ve polished off a good half of a nice bottle of plonk and I’ve got Elbow playing at Glastonbury live in my kitchen and I re-read my Latitude poem (the one that Mr Garvey read on his Radio 6 show a couple of years ago and which seems to have been my 15 minutes) and it really makes me smile…so I thought I’d re-send it into the ether….




It’s wet in here.

It’s coming in through the zip

and your knee’s in my back

and that hard bass thud won’t stop

and I can feel the start of a need for a pee

but I’m not going out in this

because I can’t get my wellies off without a pull from someone.

Don’t think about it.

She was good though wasn’t she

what’s her name again…

the one with the poems about women

about childbirth and the real purpose of breasts

(I can’t say ‘tits’ even in my head but she could)….

…remember that shelf of porn in the newsagent

labelled ‘Women’s Interest’….

and that girl with the guitar who made me dance,

the one with a voice like flying who took me away for a while

and let me swing through the trees.

God, please don’t snore.

We’re in a tent.

It’s starting,

those deep breaths that go far back into your head.

If I tip the pillow forward a bit it might stop…

Remember that man wearing his mum’s fur coat

and skinny stick legs laced into boots

do you think it’s because of Grayson Perry because it wasn’t just him

there were lots of them

neatly pre-war coiffed


and remember the sandy haired chap

who’d trimmed his yellow beard to a point

and that girl with the green sequinned nipple tassels

in the queue for the loo.

She looked cold.

I’m glad we got the extra thick self inflating mattress.



Filed under oddbods, poems, poetry, writing

A Bit of a Romantic

I’m a sucker for white linen. Can’t go a summer without a new white linen frock. There’s something utterly lovely about that first day, that high summer heat which permits its wearing. I’ve stopped caring too that it might be a bit transparent.

This linen came from the Cloth House, Berwick Street (it’s very nice quality).

I blame the Timotei advert circa 1980.










Filed under dressmaking, fashion, sewing


Finally have my brain back after months of searching for it. About time….




Creep nettle.

Finger your way through hawthorn and fern,

reach beyond aged, cracked blackened roots.

Jut your bold-chinned youth

into the soft earth

and settle.

Claw down your tendrils and twist

soil beneath roots,

coil with bones and ashes and splintered pot and coal mines

and seeping cow piss

and leakage from the stream flood

into a labyrinthine sprawl.


I lifted fibrous forked out slice

steel cut against clay earth,

and slung into fire

a shaken head of ochre root hair.

And another and again

until the soil sank to soft crumb




Filed under gardens, poems, poetry, writing

Tales of the Unexpected

It’s not quite what you expect – no eerie intro, no Joan Collins bouffant hairdo, no suspended terror…just a quite serious proposal of marriage from a large shouldered, vaguely attractive Viking propping up the bar in the French House (fine Soho institution).

It’s late. I’m half cut. But boy have I had a nice birthday. An excellent night with the Hub: the French…Bocca di Lupo…Ronnie Scott’s bar (apart from the rather nice gin and the spectacular dreads of the cloakroom chap, very forgettable)..back to the French and voila….

A marriage proposal.

He was a bit squiffed but terribly earnest…and quite unsure of himself. He has a beautiful girlfriend. Lovely cheekbones. But she has a temper, apparently. I told him to find someone who will be kind to him when he’s old and who will make him laugh. I think it struck a chord. Anyhow, he did offer marriage. I had to turn him down. He’ll get over it. 

I’m married. But I’ve never been proposed to.

I got fed up of waiting and, pissed under a grand piano in 1996 in a Worcestershire farmhouse, I popped the question. We sort of agreed and passed out.

So, it came as quite a nice 45th birthday treat, to have my first proposal. And he’s only 32. Can you even start to imagine someone being even vaguely within radar who was born when you were in Lr IV?

I love stories of love and proposals…tell me how yours happened?

Leave a comment

Filed under oddbods

The Best Cake #teamnigella


I’m in my favourite day. Christmas cake day. And thanks to Nigella, it’s a pain free totally guaranteed to work day. The only thing that can go wrong is that I’ll have one too many glugs of the brandy bottle and forget to pick up the Boy from school. Will that get me onto the front page of the Sun? Or do I have to up the anti and shove some of the powdery stuff up my nostrils for that to happen? I think if I had a dead mother, a dead sister, a dead husband and a shit of a second one I’d’ve resorted to hard drugs too. Occasionally. I’ve only got one out of the four so I’ve stopped at alcohol.

If you fancy it, it’s the Easy-Action Christmas Cake, Nigella Lawson’s ‘Feast’, p92.

And it is easy and it is lovely.





Filed under oddbods

Empty Head

mincemeat2You know what it’s like. When your head draws a blank.

I’ve been kidding myself that I’ve been much too busy to write anything. Too busy clearing leaves from an otherwise trouble free garden. Too busy shovelling horse dung into borders. Too busy tying Quality Street (only the ones they like) onto the brass hoops on the advent ‘calendar’. Too busy Spurfing (that’s Spotify surfing. Nostalgia tripping. Time wasting).

I’ve just been lazy. If I don’t read poetry than I can’t write it and I haven’t read anything for weeks. Not a single verse. Until yesterday. So thanks to Elaine Feinstein and the solidly reliable Elizabeth Bishop for kicking my backside….(And thanks, Spotify for Everything But the Girl. It’s been a long time…)


Making Mincemeat






feint smudged pencil ticks

in the margins

purposeful to the tick tail end.

Glasses slipped, apron flour bleached

and tied where that scoop of flesh met hip.

Gathering raisins, sultanas, almonds, hard crusted peel

lemons, oranges and

too old, oil-skinned Bramleys.

And suet, curded on the chopping board

severed from shining kidney clots, neat in a hand.

And sliding jars to find last year’s spice and

the half grated nutmeg

and the dark muscovado set hard in its bag.


I open her book.

And her pencil marks bring that momentary heave,

that rounded heavy gap.

That swell.

I make my ticks next to hers.






Filed under poems, poetry, writing