And breathe – the joy of a garden during the Covid-19 pandemic

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And breathe is a short reflection on the peace of a garden in these times of lockdown. Here is a slightly modified version of the poem published on the Poetry Wivenhoe website on their Anti-Covid-19 poems page. A different, new poem has been posted daily on this site since the end of March 2020, and mine is on day 53.

And breathe

The house breathes quietly around the reading man.

Rafters expand; they creak in the heat of the sun.

He closes his book. he opens the french windows;

the outside air is unseasonably warm.

 

He stands and listens to the birdsong,

louder than he has ever heard.

The cuckoo calls and the blackbirds trill;

they own this air and only share with butterflies and bees.

 

He looks for planes flying in the higher sky,

sees no contrails, no noughts and crosses on the bluest blue.

The quiet new world, he thinks. He returns to his book

and breathes …

 

Spine poetry

img_7249Spine poetry can be a good distraction in these times of social isolation – it’s a form of ‘found’ poetry, creating a poem from any words you find around you. Here the words were found on my bookcase, on the spines of books. Just read the titles …

Home,

housekeeping

in the springtime of the year,

the keepers of the house,

walking for fitness,

growing old disgracefully,

becoming

the English dreamers.

 

Happy Birthday

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Tomorrow is my birthday

I’ll play my music loud

Count daffodils in the garden

Find a vase for a chosen one.

Tomorrow is my birthday

           I’ll gaze at my single cut flower

       Count cards upon the mantle

        Take Mothering Sunday calls.

Tomorrow is my birthday

I’ll make a collage of my cards

Find chocolate in the cupboard

Hiding there since Christmas.

Tomorrow is my birthday

                  Won’t count chocolates going down

          Nor the tonic of rare botanicals

       Mixed icy with juniper liquor.

Tomorrow is my birthday

I’ll play my music loud

Smile, eat and drink while

People sing me Happy Birthday …

          Twice as they wash their hands.

Writer, Doctor or Both?

At such a challenging time, both nationally and internationally my March blog is an opportunity to share some simple thoughts. I now regard myself a writer but despite no longer being a practising doctor people still ask for advice and opinions on things medical. I am always cautious not to treat (other than in a serious emergency) or give prescriptive advice but common sense with a medical background doesn’t disappear just because you are retired.

The only real advice one can give to ‘well’ people at the present time is the obvious advice ie. (i)encourage people to listen to news bulletins; just enough to keep up to date and react accordingly but not so often as to fuel inevitable anxiety. (ii) wash hands properly with soap and water for 20 seconds and do so regularly. (iii) reduce socialisation, or self isolate if directed by government, medical advice or 111, and depending on personal circumstances. Do not just turn up at the GP surgery. (iv)stop greeting others by shaking hands or kissing (v) do not make unnecessary journeys on public transport, do not mix in crowded places, avoid big events and probably pubs and restaurants too (vi) be supportive and helpful to friends, family and neighbours but without putting yourself at risk, or you’re no use to anyone. Look after yourself.

I heard Mary Archer talking on the BBC this morning and it was the best advice I’ve yet heard about self isolating. She suggested a daily routine is most useful for maintaining sanity so make sure you get up, wash, dress and make the bed. Factor in one hour of exercise in a simple plan, either at home or in the garden if you are lucky enough to have one, or go for a walk in an open space ( dog or no dog!). She puts one hour of reading in to her day and then makes sure she socialises on the phone or on line. She thinks it’s a good idea to limit negative news programmes and TV discussions but allow one good daily update, generally trying to find uplifting television to watch or  great music to listen to. Another tip is to cook your own food if you can and develop an old or a new hobby. My husband has set up a small studio in the dining room to try new photographic techniques – so far with excellent results. I’m planning to pick up my guitar again but here the results might not be so good!

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As a writer it’s quite easy to self isolate because we all do that for hours on end if working on a story. We usually love reading and we can write reviews; we can do research, write and edit our work; we can share stories online with friends in the writing community and beyond. Writers, journalists, artists, makers and creators are the lucky ones in these demanding times, so spare a thought for the small businesses, the actors and performers, the workers on zero hour contracts, the poor and the homeless. I could go on but that’ll do for now. Keep safe.

January’s tale ( in February)

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I wanted to write a flash fiction about a snowdrop so here it is. Who’d have thought a snowdropper was someone who stole underwear from a washing line and that a glump was a sulky person? You can discover all sorts when you do research!

The Garden of the Grumpy Galanthus

‘Don’t be such a sulky glump.’

‘I’m not sulking but I look like a punk.’

‘You look beautiful.’

‘What with these green streaks? All I want is to be perfectly pure.’

‘Every snowdrop is pure, green streaks or not.’

‘The snowdrops who stole the woman’s underwear isn’t pure.’

‘He’s a pervert not a Galanthus like us.’

The striped snowdrop’s head hung low. A dewy tear plopped to the soil.

‘I do look like a punk, or at the very least a painted replica, like those in her pot.’

The pure white snowdrop extended a comforting leaf.

‘Head up, the Narcissi are coming early. Smile.’

 

 

A Christmas story

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The little Welsh dragon was one of the few of his kind left in the United Kingdom. He’d been brought from Wales to Wivenhoe, by ancient travellers, and now lived alone in a dark cave beneath the Dry Dock. From here he’d peep out, hiding from the summer sun, and watch the wayfarers and the swarthy sailors on the river.

When Autumn came and the clocks went back he allowed himself short outings at sunset. Then he could blend in with the salmon pink clouds that hovered over the water and the fields beyond.

When Winter came most of the visitors disappeared. The lonely dragon lit his fires and swallowed the flames – his throat had softened over the summer and needed to be tempered for the winter activity. This was the time when he had to do his research and undertake the annual challenge to find a different household worthy of his entertainment.

In this, his hundredth year and halfway through his life, he knew he mustn’t let himself down. He stretched his muscles and toned his shrunken summer wings after the long months of isolation, and he longed to spread goodwill to those who deserved it. He even did a little fire dance; excitement growing as he waited for the day when he would make a special appearance.

The Eve of Christmas arrived and he could hardly contain the glowing furnace within, ready as he was for this year’s fun. Midnight approached and the chosen family were all at Midnight Mass, in the beautiful church on the square. He poked his nose out of the cosy cave and gently expanded his chest and wafted his wings. Glowing with strength, and just for fun, he glided carefully between the street lamps before finding house number 64B. The doors of the shabby little house were locked and apart from a small oil lamp in the hall, all was dark. He drifted to the back of the house and found a tiny gap near the rickety back door, just big enough through which to squeeze his small flexible form.

He heard footsteps approach and as the front door opened he took a deep breath and then blew fire towards a dull little Christmas tree which he’d found standing in the corner of the downstairs room. That magical breath created miraculous lights on the tree and sparked coloured candles all about the room. The family gasped in awe at the sight their transformed Christmas tree, now aglow with twinkling stars.

The dragon’s gift of joy spread across the family like a sprinkling of Christmas dust. Mother picked up the flute she often played whenever Father was out mending the neighbours’ broken carts, and the children started to sing, much as they did when they swept the neighbours’ muddy steps. The family never asked for thanks but now were happy to have been justly rewarded for their kind deeds.

The little dragon however was tired after his evening’s work, and sad it was almost over. He tried to draw comfort from the music and the flickering candlelight, and saw that one candle, in the shape of a little female dragon, remained unlit. He lifted his chest and blew one more gentle breath of fire. The sleeping she-dragon responded with a shimmer … and a glimmer of hope for the next one hundred years settled over him.

                                      Merry Christmas Everyone.

 

 

Philippa’s reading list (2019)

I’ve been reflecting on some of the books I’ve read this year and as you can maybe tell from the small selection in the picture, I’ve made made a conscious effort to vary the subject matter, genre and style. This is part of an attempt to learn by ‘reading as a writer’ – a concept I was introduced to during an OU course on Creative Writing in 2011. img_6620

This list is not quite complete but a good representation of books I’ve enjoyed, with a few comments along the way. Hopefully you might take from it some reading ideas for yourselves:-

First write a sentence by Prof. Jo Moran – thoroughly engaging non-fiction, covering aspects of writing, grammar and punctuation; very accessible containing wonderful nuggets of wisdom. I can’t recommend this enough.

The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau – chosen by my American literature study group where we concentrate on female American authors, this is a fascinating, multi-layered novel, exploring race and gender through seven generations in the Deep South.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – not as harrowing as the title suggests; somehow kindness and hope find a place, despite the horror of the place.

I Thought I Knew You by Penny Hancock is a very readable page-turner in the genre of romance fiction. It involves the main character’s best friend and their children in a moral dilemma.

The Rumour by Lesley Kara – this crosses the genre of psychological thriller with romance fiction in a story about the damage caused by rumour and fake news, with good twists and turns.

The Way Of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry – another page-turner, this book conveys the work of doctors, obstetricians, and early anaesthetics, in a story of murder and misadventure in 1840s Edinburgh. It was great for me to read personally, as a doctor who visited Edinburgh this time last year ( see blog Oct 2018), it really brought to life the backstreets, closes and wynds we explored.

An American Marriage by Tayeri Jones is possibly my favourite book of the year. It’s a compelling and intimate study of black middle-class America and the effects of an awful miscarriage of justice.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley –  a dark and gritty winter New Years Eve house party.

The Keeper by Graham Norton –  a warmly written, enjoyable tale from Ireland.

Hampstead Fever by Carol Cooper –  a romantic romp through contemporary London life with a group of thirty-something neighbours.

Circe by Madeleine Miller – a fascinating, modern classic, based on Greek mythology with a core of witchcraft and feminism.

Elizabeth Jane Howard: A Dangerous Innocence by Artemis Cooper –  an interesting (if rather long and drawn out) insight into the life of the writer, her lovers and her social group from the 1940s until her death in 2014.

The Wedding by Dorothy West – another American Literature study group book, set in Martha’s Vineyard in the 50s, involving issues of race and class, and beautifully written.

There might be a few books I’ve forgotten (and just the odd one I didn’t finish) but that’s about it for now. Feel free to send me any recommendations for next year, thanks.

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