Marriage Preparation


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( Image: Postdlf, Aug 2010)

Diana Fotheringay, Virginia and Mrs Connolly, the housekeeper,

sat round the kitchen table to discuss all things matrimonial.

Dru should have been present, but she was in Tenerife at

the time, given that it was the Easter break.

It was Virginia’s holiday time too, but she did not like to encounter

school children and she and Snod had reckoned that the pele tower

in the Borders constituted as good a bastion as they could find-

except perhaps Camp Bastion, and they hadn’t reckoned on Afghanistan

as being terribly relaxing.  In some ways it might have reminded them

of their day jobs, except that at times, St Birinus Middle could be regarded

as being marginally more stressful.

Mind you, Snod was not finding marriage preparations terribly relaxing

either. That was why he was doing some male bonding with Murgatroyd

and was heading off to the nearest hostelry, in the company of The Rev.

Finlay Armstrong, who had just visited to discuss banns, registers and

orders of service.  ‘The Rev’ had never conducted a triple ceremony before,

but he felt that there was a sound Trinitarian basis and so had agreed.

Nigel, Dru’s fiance, had gone to Tenerife too, which had further infuriated

his mother, since she had been let down by yet another decorator and

her apron strings were developing an elasticity which no longer

seemed to exert any tension on her son.  In short, he was now switching

his submission to a different female.  And some say that that is what

distinguishes a married man from a bachelor.

(Image by Forest and Kim Starr environmental)

Tenerife had not been his first choice.  He had suggested The Canary

Islands to Dru, who had looked at him in a funny way, before informing

him that they were one and the same.

Shall I take the binoculars? he asked, trying to cover his faux pas by a

forced interest in ornithology.

Why? asked Dru and then the penny dropped.  No, they’ve got nothing to

do with canaries.


She wasn’t the daughter of a Classics teacher for nowt.  The etymology is

to do with dogs.  Canis, as in Dog Star, par example.  And don’t ask if you

should take your retractable telescope.

Was that a double entendre?

Nigel wasn’t very good at picking these up, as his classes knew all too

well.  He smiled anyway, but not too broadly.

Oh, like The Isle of Dogs? He continued to dig his own grave.

Just don’t go there- okay! replied Dru, who sometimes wondered what she

was hitching up to ….But, no… Nigel was really sweet.  Really.

Mrs Connolly rose and poured some tea.  It’s awfie nice that yon Mr Poskett

has agreed to play the kist o’ whistles fur ye, she commented.

Oh no, replied Virginia.  We are having a bagpiper to greet us in the morning,

like an aubade.  I don’t think Mr Poskett is acquainted with the chanter.

Naw, Ah’m referring to our church organ, Mrs Fisher-Gyles.  Ah ken fine that

Ken is playing fur ye earlier oan in the day.

It’s guid that Mr Snodbury’s friend will do the musical honours at the kirk,

as old Mr MacPhee’s no’ sae reliable nooadays.  Not efter that episode at the


Cremmie?  Virginia was not completely au fait with the local patois.

Crematorium! laughed Diana.  Oh, Mrs C, tell us what happened.  It

never fails to make me laugh…

…till ye greet!  Och aye, weel, Mr Mac was playing at a service and there

was a delay, so he started improvising.  Always a dangerous activity, if ye

don’t mind me sayin’…

And? Diana was keen to force her to the point.

And…jist as he was runnin’ oot o’ tunes, he turned aroon as the corsage

had jist entered…

‘Cortege’, Mrs C!  You’re getting mixed up with wedding paraphernalia.

Aye, so Ah am.  But she looked a little put oot at having been corrected.

Go on! Diana encouraged her.

Weel, he looked ower his shooder and saw these twa wreaths on the

coffin.  He thought that the chrysanthemums spelled oot ‘Biggles.’

Wait for it, laughed Diana, whose shoulders were starting to shake.

He didn’t! expostulated Virginia.  Did he start playing The Dambusters?

He did just that. And Mrs C took a lace-edged hanky out of her sleeve and

started giggling like the teenager she had surely never been.

Aye, and it was only Big Les, the biggest crook this side o’ the Borders,

though he was well enough liked. They said he made his fortune at the

Glasgow Barrowland market.

Naw, ye can do withoot that kind o’ misunderstanding on your big day.

Mr Poskett is a professional, I understand? she queried.

Absolutely, said Virginia, who was used to supplying anxious parents with

such reassurances regarding the musical education of their precious

offspring.  He once appeared in an organathon with the great Carlo Curley.

(He had only turned the pages, if truth be told.): Editor.

Drink your tea.  Look, it’s gettin’ cold, cautioned Mrs C.

Virginia was dying to ask if there had been, or still was a Mr C, but one

somehow knew that one should not ‘go there‘, in modern parlance.

And, as for the boys, they were just explaining to The Rev, over a pint,

that Murgatroyd and Diana were actually just renewing their vows,

whereas Snod and Nigel were first-timers, or novices in the realm of


Virgins! smiled The Rev.  I’ll drink to that!  At least no one is saying they are

non-binary, or anything too complicated for my form.  We have had to add

some boxes recently on the request of The Registrar, but in our neck of the

woods, we hadn’t come across some of the categories – at least not

consciously- and so we weren’t sure how to fill in their damn forms.  So,

‘virgins’- that’s easy peasy!

Shhh! Keep your voice down, blushed Snod.

It would be just his luck if some St Birinus parent had a second, or third

home in the neighbourhood and had made this hostelry his ‘local.’  He

looked around nervously, but, thankfully, it seemed to be populated by

Tam O’Shanter and Souter Johnnie extras from a Burns documentary for

BBC 4.

Non- binary?  Now that was a new one on him.  He thought binary was

something to do with codes and Bletchley Park.  Oh well, the whole birds

and bees business had always been an enigma to him.  And now he was

about to crack the code.  Hmm…



Cat Scan


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(Image: Louvre, 2004- Guillame Blanchard)


I have news for all you cat lovers:

apparently your pets want to kill you.

And this one keeps me under surveillance

as I water my host’s garden tonight.

Two gimlet eyes spy on me from the wall

which divides this property from next door’s.

I could turn the hose on my stalker, but

today I have been at the NGV*

to view how Ai Wei Wei celebrates cats.

He has over forty in his compound,

but, curiously, only one of them

makes an attempt to open doors.  This puss

looks like she could deal in execution.

Like Bastet, she has the soul of Isis.

Maybe she is trying to work out why

I am cultivating the flowers here,

in this inner city terrace’s  yard.

Where is the missing person I’ve replaced?

As Wei Wei replenished his bike’s basket

with a new floral tribute every day,

to give the cameras something to record,

I confess that I like to perplex her.

Under the kumquat tree she remains still-

a furry camouflaged CCTV,

unmoving as a mummified votive.

Will she spring to life and sink her needles

into my neck, for not being the one

who conforms to feline expectation?

Are there easier targets to pounce on,

with unsheathed claws, scattering the petals?

Maybe she is an opener of doors

and has succeeded in her freedom bid

and, though human, I am the one who is trapped,

because I accept that we are all watched

and that someone is trying to decode

the hieroglyphic details of our lives,

so that we feel that we are never alone

and inscrutable eye slits follow us.


  • NGV National Gallery, Victoria








Totus Mundus Agit Histrionem


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Forgot about this poem which appeared in the Spring Issue of

Poetry Life magazine, 1998.  It was printed on the back cover and

the front cover had a picture of Don Paterson who had just won the

TS Eliot Prize.  So, I was in good company!

With the current Shakespeare celebrations taking place, I thought

I’d better give it another airing.

It was written in July, 1997.




(The Globe, July 1997)


No kite-picked, severed heads on London Bridge;

no barge with poop of beaten gold, or sails

of purple on the River Thames.  No screams

of baited bears at Bankside, nor whipped whores,

nor the crude cackling of Winchester geese**

by Southwark Bridge- perhaps the stink of drains.

No risk from rat flea plague.  No sign of swans.

But there’s that octagon, that wooden O,

with its fantastic gates and bearded thatch.

I cannot see that flag with Hercules

bearing the world upon his able back.

But, no doubt it is there, or it will be.

No Spaniards landing on the Isle of Wight,

and another Elizabeth still reigns.

It is required that we awake our faith,

for, down below, I see the lineaments

of that first audience, now in Reeboks,

sporting bum bags: a modern cod-piece? No?

It is the heretic that burns the fire;

not she that burns in it, Hermione

instructs the crowd who hears the Irish news.

Helicopters whirr and obscure some lines,

while programme sellers interrupt: Two pounds!

where a penny once secured standing room.

Thousands will trample Jeffrey Archer’s name;

his stone his hope of immortality.

The selfsame sun that shines upon his court

shines on our cottage, but now the dampness

releases the strong smell of new hewn oak.

I think I sense Will’s ghost behind my bench

and trace his footsteps in the dried blood sand.

There’s laughter at the antics of Sir Smile:

hundreds have the disease and feel it not.

The rain falls on the just and the unjust ,

but, as ever, mostly on the groundlings,

who hide their peccadilloes under macs;

on the surface, behave impeccably,

while the elevated in the tarrass

miss the jokes and fall asleep in Act 4,

proving that all is as it was before.


*All the world’s a stage

** Prostitutes associated with the area around Winchester

Palace, near The Globe






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So now you are publishing poems without quoting me in a

narrative framing device? moaned Brassica.

Only because some of these are very old poems, I tried to

assure her.  I still value your comments.

Right, she replied.  I might take a look at your latest,

if I have time.

But it’s not my latest, as I have explained…

You can’t win with Brassie.  She never listens.

Here is a poem that I read at Ripe, Sussex, about twenty years ago.

It had won a prize in a Malcolm Lowry poetry festival.  See what

you think and ignore Brassie.  She just likes to be the centre of

attention and, if she doesn’t get her own way, it feels as if you

are living under the volcano, as it were…




The agent late, and she alone possessing keys,

I wander round the garden, to view elevation and perspective;

inspect the fabric’s pointing, paintwork, lead around the chimneys-

imagine why they’ve left; use the skills of a detective.


My son and daughter shriek from bush to shrub: to them it’s

an adventure

They clamber on a rusty climbing frame-

already they’ve assumed the tenure.

So, why, crossing the threshold, do I feel a sense of shame?


Divorce.  That’s why this house is up for sale-

the wife already chrysalised and living with another man.

The signs of family breakdown can be sensed as Braille

impressions in the rumpus of each room: an unflushed toilet pan;

no evidence of hausfrau pride;chaos and teen disorganisation-

the beds unmade; some slimy dishes slopping in the sink;

the very atmosphere fetid with stale accusation.

Sloughed socks strewn on the floor; the overflowing bin’s

unsavoury stink.


And, on the overgrown lawn, an upturned frisbee lay:

sun disc, reminiscent of a family laughing on a beach,

curving it from hand to hand, connections reinforced through play;

now shattered and forever out of reach.


For a quick sale, they would reduce their price,

but though they merely asked for thirty silver pieces,

to take possession seemed like grasping avarice;

to profit from another’s pain, insensitive by any exegesis.

(For parasites are those who feed on others’ painful scars.)


I wouldn’t let my children lay with that accursed plate,

for others, in halcyon days, circumscribed their little arcs;

the broken circles designating love and hate:

two aspects of a spectrum, whose hopeful rainbow never would conjoin.

The gilded counterfeit at their bow’s end had been a loaded coin:

whichever way they cast it, both sides ensured a loss.


We didn’t take the house, although the building, in itself, seemed sound.

For, unlike other viewers, I really gave a toss,

believing if that toy was thrown, my infrastructure would come

crashing to the ground.







A Matter of Trust


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Now I have got the hang of the sestina, I can’t stop!



Marriage was supposed to be based on trust.

When challenged, he had said it was nothing.

She hadn’t envisaged that he would cheat.

How she wished she hadn’t found that letter,

or the lipstick marks that were so suspect.

She felt that she was going up the wall.


And between them, there seemed to be a wall.

At the beginning, she had put her trust

in God, in him- little did she suspect

that she was a mere cipher; a nothing

to him.  Though compliant to the letter,

she’d never please one who would always cheat.


Was it a triviality to cheat;

a childish mis-demeanour, or a wall

of lies, crushing her heart?  And the letter,

addressed to one who had betrayed her trust:

it was an enormity; not nothing-

to have one’s self-esteem shattered; to suspect


that he did not view himself as suspect;

that he would blithely carry on, to cheat,

to tell his mistress his wife meant nothing

and, if she cried, to callously stonewall

her needs while she’d remain patient; would trust

that he would start proceedings by letter.


She came home from work.  There was the letter.

She knew it would come, but didn’t suspect

its impact.  The betrayal of her trust

overwhelmed her.  She had married a cheat:

the writing was well and truly on the wall.

So, she had pledged her troth for nothing.


Who was it said nothing would come of nothing?

Whoever had been right, to the letter.

And so now she was up against the wall.

Though she’d play fair, she could only suspect

he’d lie, mis-represent and try to cheat.

Oh, what a fool she’d been to ever trust!


But trust nothing again?  She was no cheat.

I suspect she’ll construct no wall of shame:

beyond the letter of the law lives trust.







Keeping Abreast


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Titans Take Part in Breast Cancer Awareness Month | SJJTitans.

Recently I have had three friends who have all contracted

breast cancer and they are all having individual programmes

of treatment.

About twenty years ago, I wrote this, in the persona of a

woman who had undergone surgery and who just wanted to get on

with her life, without having to encounter and put up with

everyone else’s  embarrassment and self-consciousness .



After my mastectomy, I was duly asked,

One lump or two?…and then a pregnant pause ensued.

Swollen with deep embarrassment; glibness unmasked,

the hostess halted her outpouring; the tea stewed.


Actually, I have none. – Discomfiture again.

(My voice as brittle as her porcelain cup and plate.)

Then one misguided ‘friend’ tried to conceal my pain –

She’s on a diet and has lost a lot of weight.


Yes, I’ve just been picking up a new bikini.

I’ve thought of Monte Carlo for my autumn week.


Or bust! said a girl whose breasts were like zucchini.

(My silicon implants provoke a good deal of pique).


Well, Papua New Guinea sounds like fun, I quipped.

My wit was rising like some vast protuberance.

Let’s say I kept my cards close to my chest.


Tight-lipped, my hostess said,

We usually go to France.


Bethesda Miracle


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Dumped by my friends, yet again, at the pool-

the same boring view for thirty eight years.

Occasionally some ripples stirred:

phantom movements of an angel?

But, unlike others, I couldn’t move,

so Passover was a pun on my life.


I had a lame excuse for my sad life.

I’d always lost in Life’s lottery pool.

And, when those ripples began to move,

the lucky ones, in former years,

would jump in; try to swim to the angel.

Over The Five Porches, the rock doves stirred.


The others were stir crazy.  I never stirred-

until I had the Shabbat of my life.

A man, not in the guise of an angel:

a stranger, wandered round the pool,

looking younger than the thirty eight years

I had lain there.  He told me to move.


Surely he could see my wasted limbs?  Move?!

Yet the first odd fluttering of hope stirred

my paralysed frame of thirty eight years.

Was this some seraphic Prince of Life type

manifesting himself at a sheep pool?

Why choose me?  God knows I am no angel.


Friends had stopped believing in the angel.

They had moved on; but I couldn’t move.

I became their social burden.  The pool

a place of mutual respite.  I’d be  stirred

from sleep; they dressed me- altruism’s life-

long sentence: the same routine for years.


Why did I hang on to life for years,

when anyone could see that the angel

had decreed my miserable life

was not such as would move

any heavenly being to be stirred

to transform me, at home, or at the pool?


For years I helped others move to the pool.

Stirred by gratitude, given back my life,

I never doubted that he’d been the angel.




The Fourth Circle


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So, villanelle rhymes with hell? commented Brassie.

Yes, and very useful it is for my poetic purposes, I replied.

And ‘fourth circle?’ queried Brassie.

The destination of corrupt tele-evangelists and their like.

But there was no television in Dante’s time.

She can be really obtuse.

Just listen and learn!




He played upon their fear of going to Hell

and claimed that he could heal the blind and lame,

till, mesmerised, they fell beneath his spell.


Attracted to his giveaway gospel,

as to a mountebank, the greedy came:

he played upon their fear of going to Hell.


Glossolalia from forked tongue glibly fell;

extracted cash lent kudos to his name,

till, mesmerised, they fell beneath his spell.


His oleaginous hair, apparel

slick as the cut and thrust which was his aim:

he played upon their fear of going to Hell.


How could his victims reservations quell?

They trusted one who seemed to know his game,

till, mesmerised, they fell beneath his spell.


No one seemed to mind when he’d embezzle

the widow’s mite.  To query would bring shame.

He played upon their fear of going to Hell,

till, mesmerised, they fell beneath his spell.



Pathetic Fallacy?


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This obsession with poetic form is really grabbing you

now,  Candia, said Brassica.

No, I used to write villanelles decades ago.  It is just that I dig

them out and upload them.

So, what’s your latest?

Well, as I said, it’s just the most recent post…



Image: Edal Anton Lefterov, 2010


Throughout her life she’d been mercurial,

so her barometer (retirement gift),

a fine and fitting testimonial


was to her vagaries, from genial

to downright rude, or seriously miffed;

throughout her life, she’d been mercurial.


Her moods ranged from warm to marmoreal;

her spouse could now anticipate her drift-

a fine and fitting testimonial:


whether vane, forecaster, yet impartial

indicator of isobaric shift.

Throughout her life she’d been mercurial.


This almanac became essential

to check her profligacy, or her thrift:

a fine and fitting testimonial


to all her sins, from crass to venial,

and, when she died, he saw the pressure lift.

Throughout her life she’d been mercurial:

a fine and fitting testimonial?

A Sestina on Senescence


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Eos pursuing Tithonus: Louvre




It comes to all of us- old age-


with aches and pains and memory loss,


which intimate mortality,


reminding us of matters grave:


the inevitable changes;


the unavoidable decline.



Some invitations we now decline.


(Youth does not mix too well with age.)


Our crow’s feet presage further changes.


Perhaps our non-attendance is no loss


to those who do not wish to face their grave,


nor trace the lines of their mortality.



Nothing serious in mortality?’


And yet Macbeth resisted his decline,


declaiming while one boot was in the grave.


(At least he did not have to reach old age.)


He knew a crown was not worth all the loss.


Sic transit gloria mundi: nothing changes.



Icons who have trounced Life’s changes


may rub our noses in mortality,


though they themselves experienced loss


of face, of friends and suffered love’s decline,


they died unwithered by the blasts of age


and somehow made a portal of their grave.


So, do our footsteps all point to the grave?


Does Death’s knell merely ring the changes?


Our brain cells burn out from an early age.


Is this how we define mortality:


an inbuilt diminution, a decline?


Or, do we think there’s much to gain from loss?



Life’s penalty may seem to us a Pyrrhic loss;


we can’t resist the pull towards our grave


and feel like Struldbrugs in our steep decline.


Is entropy to blame for all these changes?


If future medics cure mortality


will we, like Tithonus, just age and age?



Why shun mortality when the changes


need not be loss of anything but age-


the grave not something that we should decline.





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