World Refugee Day, 20th June 2020

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Written with World Refugee Day in mind:

Tangerine dreams

I lean on the edge of my bunk and look at the tangerine sitting in a chipped bowl. It sits next to a dying pot plant, on a stained Formica table. The sad old plant, left by a previous resident, has crispy brown spikes instead of leaves. Should have given it water. The dear little orange fruit, weary and wrinkled, doesn’t look happy. There’s a dusting of green near the scab, where a stalk once connected it to tree and family.

I’ve given my tangerine a name; Roni is the last from a net of orange fruit donated by well-wishers. Can I bear to eat him now he has the name of my friend and I can talk to him?

I remind Roni about the perfect plump oranges on the fruit farms back home and the sweet and sour cherries for which our region was famous. I try to persuade him I am happy to be here in the Interim Hostel. They say I’m safe in this western city, far from home but despite the relief of survival I’ve forgotten happiness.

I salivate with the bitter-sweet thought of the fruit we once grew and packed in nets for the market-place. I taste salt in my mouth at the clinging memory of the oily fishing nets on the floor of the treacherous boat I travelled in. That fruitless journey started with a desperation and hope. Cold, scared and starving in the stinking vessel I longed to feel the juicy tang of any fruit, sweet or sour, in my grating throat.

Hope has faded to numbness since being in this bleak and temporary home; desperation grows. I’ve lost my connections; I am dusty and worn. Once Roni has gone there will be nothing.

Trembling to reach out, I peel away his mouldering jacket before pulling his inner segments apart and gagging on the first dehydrated, tasteless mouthful. The second bite is softer with a little more juice. In the third my tongue finds two small seeds. Biting the first releases a harsh taste. I spit the other kernel from my mouth and bury it in the soil of the dead pot plant, swallowing what fruit remains.

About to pour water on the plant pot I hear voices outside and go to the door where I find next week’s food box waiting on the landing. Wonder if it contains any seeds of hope?

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.