Saturday, 24 December 2016

Woman, universal

For Lesley

I knew you
long before I met you.

In the stories of the women
that came before
and will long come after us.

In the blue of Boadica
fierce in the truth of battle
and in the warrior queen
alone on the African plain.

In the might of Cleopatra
holding love in her own hands
and in the power of the doula
giving faith in our bodies, to overcome.

In Artemis and Athena
echoes through the firmament
as unseen threads join star to star
woven through my life, a skein of hope.

I knew you long before I met you.
Woman, universal.

Friday, 23 December 2016


She wrote it out.
Sat on the beach and sifted for words
Through the stones.
Testing the weight of each,
Feeling the smoothness of pebbles like letters
A thousand metaphors in a grain of sand
And looking for similes, bright and rare as sea glass.

Seeking cadence in the rhythm of the sea and thinking
How the crash of the waves feels as triumphant as love
Till the drag of undertow leaves you cold and standing
Exposed but knowing 
that the crash will come again 

In an avian life that grabbed her by the neck
And dashed her on the rocks
Over and over again, until it was better to crack
And let the words pour out
In rivulets down the cliff face
To sink in the rock pools
Or hide amongst the stones 
Where the feathers are empty quills.
She'll choose the ones she wants to use.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Thoughts on a day off from service, Barton-On-Sea

And so we came
Down from the city of Southampton.
Twenty of us, or more
Pouring along the crevices of the rock
With the languor of treacle
and sticky in the heat.

We glimpsed the huts first
like building blocks from the playroom
washing-line bleached
and pegged to the cliffs.

We felt shock of sand through nylon
As we watched the ships of our fathers and brothers
move reluctant through the narrow water
Clinging to the shore like babes
And pushing slowly out along the narrow passage
between the legs of the isle and the mainland
born at last into the open sea.

We saw stones starched and white as sugar
Dissolving into tea-warm waves
As seagulls shrieked their dinner call
like the children shouting for tea.

And through it all the sea stretched out
Flat to the horizon
Beneath the smoothing iron
of the copper-plate sun.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Critical remembrance

When I was at school, I had a German pen friend.  Monica lived on the edge of the Black Forest and I visited her twice; I had a bit of an agenda for the second visit as I was accompanying the school football team and one player in particular, but whatever my motivations, my German was pretty impressive after a month in her company.  She lived in a three storey house with three generations of her family and what struck me on both visits was her grandmother, who always dressed in entirely in black.  When I asked why, it was explained to me that it was because she would never forget the war and the losses suffered by her family.  By the time of my first visit she had dressed in black for 45 years.

Fast-forward twenty years or so and I am thinking again about how we remember the past.  It's taken me a while to go back to Germany, but I finally managed to get to Berlin for a long weekend.  It happened to co-incide with Remembrance Sunday and the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. In the same week of the US elections, the opportunity for an exploration of the rise of fascism couldn't have been more timely.

Site of Nazi HQ, Berlin
I visited two museums - firstly the 'Topography of Terror' which despite its slightly sensational name is possibly the most forensic and detailed exhibition I have ever seen.  Built on the Hotel Prinz Albrecht site of the Nazi SS headquarters, it is a catalogue of the rise of fascism, but also a call to action; one of the aims of the foundation is to 'actively confront history and its aftermath.'  The word 'topography' is interesting in itself; the geography of the site is laid out, although little physical evidence remains apart from a few cellar walls.  It suggests a detailed mapping and examination of a landscape at a point in time, a similar notion to the 'cartography' concepts of Rosi Braidotti*, who suggests that we have to map out our history (personal, political, social and cultural) in order to fully understand and learn from it.  The detail of the documentation, records, photographs and artefacts allows visitors to see every perspective and peer into every dark nook and cranny of Nazi history.  The story is laid bare as if presented to a court; there is no sentimentality, blame,sugar-coating or biased interpretation. What you make of it is up to you, but the facts are undeniable and all the more powerful for that.

The second museum was the DDR; an interactive examination of life in Germany's first socialist state.  The DDR for me was the white shirts of the East German football team I saw on TV as a child, the numerous defections and disappearances of sports-people, and of course the fall of the Berlin Wall which is etched on my memory in one of those 'I can remember where I was then' moments. The museum includes a to-scale mock-up of an East German high rise flat, complete with 60s wallpaper, original clothing and a drinks cabinet (they consumed a horrendous amount of alcohol per head, unsurprising really).  The similarities between the two museums and extremist ideologies were striking. Fascism and communism are at either ends of the political scale but come around to mirror each other in many ways; love of the military; corruption at the top; propaganda; enforced patriotism. In both states control was very quickly taken of the education curriculum (always an early warning sign).   If these things sound familiar in present times, we would do well to keep Lawrence Britt's 'Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism' close at hand.

It is said that 'art is on the side of the oppressed', and in a wonderful counterpoint to the stark reality of history in Berlin's museums, creative, affirmative expressions of art are found everywhere. Through the glorious graffiti in the East of the city, the wall-turned open air art gallery by the banks of the spree; the stelae of the Jewish memorial and the empty bookshelves of the book-burning memorial at Bebelplatz.   Art allows us to seek out an alternative world, where 'imagination is a power of cognition and a medium for alternative meaning-making and expression'.**

Detail from the Berlin Wall, East Side Gallery

The last few weeks have been personally tough in many different ways and on many different levels. This trip left me feeling humbled and more privileged than ever to work with teachers who are doing their best to work for a world of social justice, where people still believe in art and creativity, where they see their role being more about developing critical thinkers than consumers of information.  It's a difficult path to tread and becoming harder; but a good place to start this work is always with ourselves. As Foucoult wrote, "The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and our everyday behaviour, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us."**  We need to work on our own 'cartographies', examining critically our own informed beliefs, values and subjectivities, in whichever way works best for us; only after doing this can we help others to do the same.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Peter Eisenman

*Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. Polity Press.
**Clover, D. and Stalker, J. (2007). The Arts and Social Justice. Leicester: NIACE.
*** Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1972). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Technological Intimacy

I've always liked Bjork, in the way that I love all women who push boundaries and refuse to conform. Somehow she has managed to stay absolutely herself, while simultaneously taking on different personas and reinventing herself over the years. From the early Sugarcubes days, to the egg-laying swan, through psychedelic, experimental music and to the imagining of new musical possibilities through technology.  As a post humanist I am interested in the links between art and tech, experimental practice, and new relationships between artists and the environment.  As a result #BjorkDigital, now showing at Somerset House, was a must-see for me.

This exhibition was an opportunity to engage with Bjork's latest work through the medium of virtual reality (VR). It takes tracks from her latest album, Vulnicura and immerses you in them; passing through the rooms in small groups, you are able to experience four different songs engaging with them on increasingly interactive levels.

The first piece is Black Lake, written about the singer's recent split from her partner, artist Matthew Barney.  It is shown on two large screens, which wrap the images of the Icelandic landscape around you, sound emerging from fifty speakers in the floor and walls.

As heartbreak songs go, this is perhaps the most personal and painful exploration I've ever witnessed. Moving through caves, volcanoes and moss-fields to a process of rebirth, Bjork emits an agony that is visceral, and reflected in the punishing landscape around her.  The physicality of heartbreak, although felt, is rarely explored or demonstrated in this way; this was a raw primal scream of anguish.  The glimpses of joy at the end, against the backdrop of green mountains and endless skies left a sense of hope and possibility.  It isn't always possible to go to a cave in Iceland when your heart breaks, but this made me kind of wish it was.

Next was Stonemilker, and this was our first opportunity to try the VR headsets, while perched
together on swivel stools.  The comedy potential of 25 people spinning silently alongside each other in a room gave me a slight sense of the ridiculous, but this was soon blown away by the intimacy of the experience.  Bjork appears next to you on a stunning Icelandic beach; you can follow her and explore the scene through a range of angles, spinning 360-degrees.  You get the sense that she is singing both for you and to you; it's a track that implores you to share emotion and be present.  I was glad to be able to blame the goggles for my watery eyes at the end, although I'm sure I wasn't the only one moved by it.

The final two tracks were even more immersive and intimate. Mouth Mantra, filmed inside Bjork's mouth, gives a whole new perspective on the human body; uncomfortable and graphic at times, but oddly compelling.  The psychedelic nature of this one (combined with a slight entanglement with the curtains) meant that this was the one occasion where I did feel a bit queasy.   In Notget, Bjork appears as a giant moth priestess; you are able to move around for this, attached by your headset and headphones to the ceiling.  As the music unfolds, the image moves around you, so that by the end you find yourself enclosed within her body. It was interesting to find that the friends I was with fully embraced this idea and dived in, while I could feel myself backing away, completely overwhelmed by the proximity and physicality of it.

This exhibition surprised me in many ways.  I'd anticipated being impressed by the technology but not moved by it. Yet the intimacy of the methods and potential for self definition and exploration, along with Bjork's capacity for vulnerability, stood out in a world that makes us hide ourselves and our emotions.   It is often said that we are mediated by technology, to the extent that we are not human any more.  Post human thinking, however, encourages us to '...unfold the self onto the world, while enfolding the world within...starting from environmental or eco-others and including technological apparatus.' (Braidotti, 2013).  #BjorkDigital has convinced me that embracing tech as an extension of the self, as a way to redefine our world and relationships, may actually enable us to be more human than ever before.

#BjorkDigital finishes today

Braidotti, R. (2013). The Posthuman. Polity Press.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Water boatmen

They say
that DNA
imprints on water
So when we swim
a million particles 
stream out behind,
like double-helix
microscopic sea horses
And we can never truly say
That we are not the water,
Or that the water is not us.

Yet we wander the world
Like water boatmen.
Skimming glassy surfaces
Testing the tension
Of the violin-bow meniscus
Where desire to live and feel
Can be heard as a low thrum between us
If we listen hard enough.

We want to walk on water
Skate over the warm reflections
Traverse the smooth shores
And ride the waves, when they come

Yet imprint we must
On life as in water
Seek possibilities knowing
We'll leave some part of ourselves behind
Or that we'll crack, and let the water in
Break the tension, break the spell
Change and merge
The plunge will come.
But if not now, then when?

Friday, 19 August 2016


I try you on for size
And am surprised to find
I like you.

You're not my usual style
Cut from unfamiliar cloth
A wool-nylon mix of nature and artifice
With warning signs of delicacy
To be handled with care

A fit so close
I catch my breath.
Discomfort and excitement
sensed equally
So that I pause to put you back

But you bring out the colour of my eyes!
And make me dance before the mirror
Take me places I'd never dare go
Before you cloaked me in potential
Enrobed and held me close

I know
One day
I'll pick you up and wonder
If I've stretched you too far
Outgrown you
Or perhaps I'll see you looking better
On someone else

But then I'll just grab you and go retro
Tilt you at a jaunty angle
Turn you back to front and inside out
And like the coast on a cloudy day
Where the sky and sea colours merge
I'll dance the streets
And we'll be so close
That no-one will see where I stop
and you begin.

Monday, 11 July 2016

In blue

I'm walking down a busy high street, in an unfamiliar city, dodging people and glancing into shop windows, when suddenly I realise in horror that I am completely stark naked.

At this point I usually wake up, but this time it wasn't a dream. The busy road was Alfred Gelder street and the city was Hull - and not only was I naked as the day I was born, I was in the company of 3000 other nude people.

When I signed up to take part in Spencer Tunick's 'Sea of Hull' installation my main motive was being part of a work of art.  I seemed to have blocked out the naked part until 4am on Saturday morning when I found myself staring at half-naked people around me and wondering what the hell I was doing holding a pot of blue body paint.  My shade of blue (B1) seemed several shades lighter than everyone else's.  It was the consistency of sun cream, so I pretended for a while that I was on a beach somewhere, and hoped I wouldn't have to ask a complete stranger to do my back.*

I have no problem with naked bodies and am actually rather fond of mine, but wouldn't describe myself as a naturist.  This experience was entirely new and I felt anxious, unable to decide whether it was better to be naked on your own amongst strangers, or if it would have been better with friends. The atmosphere was as anticipated; completely friendly, welcoming, and intimate, in a sex-less sense.  But what threw me the most was the utter vulnerability; that came not just from removing your clothes, but from leaving all your possessions in a park, having no sense of time, where you are, or where you are going to be sent next.

Once we were painted and moving the experience became even more surreal.  The combination of thousands of blue people and 4 o'clock in the morning made me feel like I was in some kind of dystopian dream-scape.  Tunick took us through the first installation in Queen's gardens and at this point we were first exposed (sorry) to his rather bossy instructions: 'If you see a hole, fill it!' he boomed over the tannoy, much to our mirth.

The next three took place in various city centre streets.  At different points we were standing, bending and most painfully, lying down to make waves in the middle of the road.  The last was on the new Scale Lane footbridge, an iconic piece of art in its own right.  It could only bear the weight of 800 people but I was fortunate enough to make the cut; sadly this proved to be literally true, as the bridge is paved with gravel which shredded already sore feet.

By 7.15 am it was all over, and we made our way back to Queens Gardens, I was glad by then to get dressed, not because of the nudity, but because Hull at 5am is really bloody freezing.

I've had time to reflect on the experience since then and am no art critic, but found the following things particularly surprising:

 - being nude feels liberating and transgressive, yet during the time when you are naked you are required to be completely obedient.  To orchestrate a piece like this requires vision and planning to a degree that I didn't fully appreciate until part of it, and Tunick clearly does this brilliantly.  But at a point where you are literally stripped down to your essential humanity, you are also being posed and organised; you have no control over your body for several hours.  It wasn't unpleasant necessarily, but it did make me feel a sense of empathy; there are people after all who experience this through misuse of power everyday.**

- we are social beings.  I know this but am fiercely independent, so forget sometimes that we completely rely on being part of communities and need connections and a sense of belonging.  During the coldest point of the night people started to huddle together to keep warm; strangers helped each other with the paint.  I could never have covered some of my back; I couldn't physically reach.  We have to have faith in others to get to where we need to be.

- rising sea levels mean that much of Hull could be underwater by the end of this century.  As we lay on the pavements, making waves with our bodies I thought about this and Tunick's vision of the sea taking over the urban landscape.  This piece of art is playful but also has meaning; Tunick's recent works have been more political, and this too felt like an important reminder of the impact of climate change.

All in all, it was an unforgettable experience and one that touched me on a number of levels.  The paint has finally gone, but the memories will stick around for a long time to come.

The Sea of Hull will be displayed in the newly refurbished Hull Ferens Gallery early in 2017.  Many thanks to my travelling companion Steve Goodfellow who kept me fortified with rum and good humour :)  For more photos from the event click here 

*Luckily a kind lady offered.  Also thanks to the man who told me I'd missed my eyebrows and ears :)
**I was thinking in particular of the horrific stories of police violence against people of colour here.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Closing the circle

The older I get, the more spontaneous I become.  This is odd because I have more responsibilities than ever, but recently I seem to be spending more time doing things off the cuff and generally having adventures.  This week I booked a trip to Denmark and then decided to go to Margate. Neither place had crossed my mind before Monday, but by (very) early Saturday morning I found myself heading to Kent, so-called Garden of England and home to the Turner Contemporary.

Margate seems an unlikely place for a national gallery, until you make the connection between the town and J.M.W Turner (he spent many years there, and the town is the subject of a number of his paintings).   It looms over the far end of the bay, just behind a jellied eel stall which was probably there in Turner's days too.

Platforma Arts exhibition 'Welcome' was the main reason for my impromptu visit.  Since my visit to Utrecht last year I have (literally) looked at art in a whole new way.  I've always been able to appreciate it, but never felt particularly moved or stirred.  It was only when we looked as art being a thing 'that does', rather than something 'that is', that I made the connection.  Art doesn't have to be a passive thing, a piece of history - instead it can be something that brings people together, that builds empathy, makes social change happen.   This is in fact the vision of the Turner Contemporary, 'Art Inspiring Change.' The whole place spoke of action and connection.

'Welcome' brings together art created by, with and about refugees. The first piece is the beautiful 'New Union Flag' by Gil Mualem Doron,which was created before Brexit as part of a project to design a new UK flag (it feels especially poignant now).  The great thing about modern art is that you can interact with the artists; Doron told me it is a celebratory symbol of diversity, reflecting on the UK's colonial past, bringing together individual stories of difference and acceptance of difference.  It is made up of a variety of materials, from Scottish tartan to Indian silks, overlaid with images of refugee boats. I was left pondering the question, what might change for this country, if we adopted this new flag?

The possibility of a new way of interacting with the world continues in Hong Dam's 'The Butterfly's Dream'. Childhood dreams are written on scraps of paper and placed into a Vietnamese refugee boat; the boat is on scales, as the question is asked - how heavy are your dreams?  Will yours tip the balance?  Hong was herself a refugee, who fled Vietnam by boat in 1979 at the age of eight. Her art has been partly inspired by her desire to explain the experience to her own children, who are immersed i(as all children are) in the familiar demands for new gadgets. By connecting the dreams of different children (and adults) the universality of hopes and aspirations becomes apparent.  Once again the commonalities of humanity are revealed; it is often said that humans share hundreds of 'universals' (traits,patterns and behaviours that replicate through time and across the globe); dreaming is just one of these.  This important piece reminds us of the stories that lie behind the journeys of refugees and the capacity for hope that we all share.

Although the other main exhibition, Seeing Round Corners seemed at first unrelated, there were many connections to be found with the refugee art downstairs.  This installation aimed to explore the role of the circle in art, and moved through different eras, forms and media from 3000 BC to the present day, by artists including Barbara Hepworth, Leonardo Da Vinci, Lindsay Seers, Anish Kapoor and of course JMW Turner.  My favourite piece was Seers' 'Nowhere less now', a film that arcs through various narrative spaces, showing simultaneously on two satellite dishes. Different stories are told by speakers, although it is unclear what is fact and what is fiction; it takes you into a dream-like state where the veracity of what you see, or what you are told is immaterial.

Seers work is inspired by Giles Deleuze; a philosopher whose work was introduced to me in Utrecht and has so far been incomprehensible; however the use of two lenses and presentation of multiple truths has helped me begin to understand his writing a little.  I never thought my Margate trip would be the place where I began to let go of the linear and feel free to move more freely between posthuman ideas, but it was - and in this way I have begun to close my own circle.

'Welcome' is in Margate until 11th July, and Seeing Round Corners until 25th September.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Football grounds visited

Aston Villa
Crystal Palace
Man City
Man Utd
Notts County
Notts Forest
Sheffield Wednesday
Sheffield Utd
West Brom
West Ham

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Random musings from the Leeds canal

My Saturday afternoons are usually spent ironing, working and pretending not to, and following the football on Twitter, usually accompanied by numerous cups of tea and coffee and moaning about the weather.  So it was a real delight to break from this norm and spend today on a barge in the company of poet Matt Abbott and several other writers, as part of Leeds Waterfront Festival.  Despite working in Leeds city centre for ten years I'd never been to the docks *whispers embarrassedly*.  I actually have no idea why because a) I love the water b) I grew up by one of the busiest docks in the world c) I've been just about everywhere else in Leeds.

Matt is a founder member of the very exciting A Firm of Poets and it was fantastic to hear some of his poetry and learn about the writers and lyricists that have inspired him (Bob Dylan, Charles Baudelaire, Charles Bukowski, John Cooper Clarke, and Hunter S Thompson amongst others).  I love the fact that poetry is no longer seen to be the preserve of the academic elite, and that we are gradually reclaiming the spoken word that uses our own accents and colloqialisms (will be writing something in Hampshire dialect very soon :)

During our afternoon on the water Matt introduced a number of writing techniques and ideas, which resulted in a number of random pieces of writing which I thought I would share here.  I'm hoping to keep working on these to sharpen them up in the near future.  Watch this space...

50 word poems

Structure is important in poetry, it goes without saying - and there is something very pleasing about working with the restrictions of form, even when it involves maths.  Here are two poems which I tried (and just managed) to keep under the word count.

On creativity

Greying path of the M62
Leeds concrete
and girls carrying their shoes in the multi-storey
The green of my apple
multi colours of the docks
I wait for the creative spark
that appears with my cigarette
and the surprise of water.


Density of clouds
Heavy as her heart
and full to burst
Reflected mood in the murk of water
Twenty feet down, made closer by the skies
She waits and watches
Til the light comes again
Grey turns to blue 
and the colours dance.

We also looked at alliteration and were challenged to write a poem using only one letter (mostly).  I seem to have a thing for W and here is my attempt:

Winding waterways work their way without waiting
We walk with wonder
while worlds whirl by
in wet wilderness.

When I look at the stuff I've written lately it is fairly clear that I need to think much more about form - so the next challenge of writing a sonnet was a welcome one.  It is proving tricky though, so more of that next time hopefully.  Many thanks again to Matt for an inspiring and productive day.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Majestic #1

Chapter 1

RMS Majestic arrived in the Solent on the 10th April 1922, exactly ten years to the day since Titanic made the same cumbersome journey into the welcoming arms of Southampton water.  And as his uncle Will had also done exactly ten years before, Kit Burgess left 'The Grapes' public house at precisely ten minutes to twelve and jogged quickly down Oxford Street to the docks, cutting it fine in his desperation for one final drink before two weeks of temperance.

There was excitement in the air, and the palpable pride of a city that had made its name on the back of what was essentially an environmental fluke.  A twice-daily high tide allowed for a greater flow of shipping traffic, this single factor beating anything that Liverpool could offer.  Southampton, as a result, was a place of honour and satisfaction.  Titanic, Kit's Uncle Will and his fellow lost crew-members (a good five hundred of them) were rarely mentioned; in part due to one of many maritime superstitions, but also grounded in an irrepressible spirit of hope that now seemed to centre around this new ship, the largest in the world.

At the docks the air was a heavy mix of metal and soot, with a faint overlay of salt.  Kit strode up the gangplank, suddenly anxious to report for duty, knowing that he could miss his chance for employment even at this stage, as many often did.  His distraction was such that he missed the chance for his usual quick prayer, typically made with one foot on land and one on sea.  The Chief Steward checked his kit bag and some pleasantries were exchanged; they were old mates, serving many voyages together on Oceanic. Kit took a quick glance at his passenger list, to see if he recognised any names.  Regular voyagers were known to ask for their favourite stewards. but this time they were new to him.  Being a lover of conversation, his main hope was for distraction and intrigue; along with generosity, which went without saying.

The ship was immense, as he knew it would be, although the scale was hard to judge from the inside. The narrow passageways below deck ran fore and aft like a floating rabbit warren, and he followed the Chief Steward through the corridors, knowing that he would get his bearings soon.  His quarters were the fondly-named 'glory hole'; a dormitory which ran alongside steerage and directly above the boiler rooms.  It was hot and airless but homely enough, and of course he was amongst friends; twenty other 'Southampton boys', comrades and colleagues and the very pick of stewards, famed and selected not only for their dedication and professionalism but their jovial nature and constant good humour.  His companions Viv and Tom were also his fellow band-members; on this ship they would have their very first chance to play as 'Scamps', an eight-piece outfit which was Kit's absolute pride and joy.  Viv, the drummer, had a habit of upturning any items in his vicinity and tapping out tunes, which would make the glory hole a place of joyful music and song, or a place of utter irritation, depending on how you looked at it.  Kit smiled as he thought of the reactions of his bed-fellows when they would practice their songs late into the night.  With any luck they'd all get on and he'd have them all singing along by the time they reached New York.

There was an hour before muster, and Kit chose to spend it up on deck. He looked out over Southampton water to his home in Northam, waving from time to time at the growing crowds, locals waiting to see the ship set sail, or passengers outside the terminal, waiting to board.  This time was precious; the calm before the inevitable storm of moving luggage, attending to fractious and nervous passengers and fetching impossibly necessary items.  He lit a cigarette and leaned on the rail, feeling the ebb of the last beer working its way through his system along with the freedom of the last fortnight.

Immediately below him in the crowd was a small group; a family, he guessed.  Husband and wife with two young children, and sitting slightly apart, a taller woman (the wife's sister?), resting her feet on a trunk.  There was something about her that was out of place, and Kit felt unsettled for a moment, unable to put his finger on what made her stand out.  He felt the kind of recognition he sensed when he served a famous passenger; a familiarity that you couldn't put your finger on at first. Although he couldn't make out her face there was something in the way she dressed and held herself that spoke of individuality and a refusal to conform. But most of all the feeling instilled in him was a mix of excitement and overwhelming sense of possibility.

At that moment the muster alarm sounded; Kit turned away, and moved back inside the ship.

Monday, 7 March 2016

On writing

Words hewn from the rocks of Purbeck
Thoughts mined
Panned from the silt, or
puzzled out
Joined end to end and piece by piece
Appearing in epiphany
Making sudden and absolute sense
Like the crossword returned to
And viewed through a different lens.

Or sometimes, gouged from a deeper place
Percolating like coffee
Stronger and sharper by the hour
Dormant for months
And woken in a flurry
Settling quickly on the white of the page
Or carved from ice, lost when I melt.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Sunrise, Stanley Ferry

The earth here is ripped
torn and split
and the water pools in its wounds like blood
so flood-ravaged and washed out
that walking the paths feels like further violation.

My awkward and tentative steps around
(wishing to do no greater harm)
remind me of the gentleness of hands that moved across my own scars
old and new.

I hope for beauty
And see the flaws
Focus on defects
Down where the past has made its mark

But turn the corner and when I look up
glimpse greenfinch and wren
blackthorn in bud
bullfinch through the willow
and glint of sun on the navigation.

And I think
I still have so much to learn.

Monday, 8 February 2016


You ask me where I come from
And I tell you this.

A place but not one place
Roots that exist, but struggle to grip the sand
That lined the streets I walked on

Or, less cryptically
Barrow boys and seafarers.
Dodgers of the Blitz and the Titanic bullet
East end and West quay
City and sea.

And the island so close that the water between is an irrelevance
Jurassic cliffs and chalk horses.
Beaches in the forest
White yachts that fill my eyeline
A flight that takes me not too far out
But loops the land to return.

And the love of an almost-sister
A symbiosis of circumstance.
Labour pains and failed expectations
Hopes dashed in the unexpected chill of a spring day.
The glory of imperfection.

And most of all, the love of acceptance
Of a woman, unjudging
Who holds that child and will never let her go.

You ask me where I come from
And I tell you this.

My top ten reads of 2015

This novel tells the story of Matt, a teenage schizophrenic, living with the guilt over his part in the death of his younger brother.  It is a brilliant exploration of a descent into serious mental illness but also full of humour and hope.

8.  A Death in the Family. Karl Ove Knausgaard.

I bought this book purely on the basis of the cover and the fact that it is set in Norway.  It is the first in a series of autobiographies, which are not brilliantly written but strangely gripping nonetheless. Not a lot happens either (I'm really selling this one!) but I think the power is in Knausgaard's absolute honesty and ability to capture the essence and utter fallibility of human nature.

9. A God in Ruins. Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson is my favourite author. This book is the sequel to 'Life after Life', in which we are introduced to Ursula and Teddy, and follow their lives through wartime Britain.  Amazing set-pieces, characters who are drawn so intricately that you feel you know them, and a devastating twist that still makes me cry if I think about it.

10.  The Goldfinch. Donna Tartt.

Very, very long.  But I know it's a good book because I read it all the way through without jumping to the end.  Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History' is one of my favourite books of all time, and this is gripping in a similar way.  A dense and well-sustained plot, amazing characters and a story similar to Great Expectations, but without the irritating character names.

So what does 2016 hold for reading?  My aims are to continue reading non-work books every day, to slow myself down and focus on the journey rather than the end, and to discover as diverse a range of authors as I can. Here's a stash to start me off - but I'd love more recommendations so please tell me your favourites. With any luck I can make this pile so big it takes over my bedroom :)

Birdsong, after the flood

Reed Bunting

I walk the causeway
that bisects the hollowed bowl
so long a crater
now pitted scar turned wetland.

Before me the cast is now of thousands
Of goldeneye, gadwall, lapwing and grebe
Playing interlinked roles
And excavating damp earth for food the floods failed to wash away

The booms are bitterns.
Drills the wheeze of peewit
Beneath, the low thrum of wings
And rising above, the song of the teal in a minor key

I turn and trace the half-light
Until the antropocene dream
Fades like the sun behind the dragline
That nature reclaimed
For the roosts of owls.

We march on

Today Saints beat Manchester United one nil, and for the first time in months I followed the result avidly, checking my phone for updates and texting my parents to find out what was going on. It's been a while. I spent all of my teenage years as a football obsessive but for my friends in Yorkshire who know me now, 'football fan' isn't a part of my identity that they will probably be aware of. It's one of the things that was lost along the way, as I moved 200 miles north and carved out a new Kay - teacher, student, Southerner, friend, writer (possibly).

Nevertheless it was a massive part of my life; from the icy days stood on the Dell's packed terraces, to the tortuous six hour trips on the coach from Southampton to Sunderland. I can still recite the name of the Saints line-ups of the late 80's, I still have the shirts (apart from that dodgy white away one 'trimmed with Solent green'). When I think about the themes of belonging and community, or discuss them with my students, my football days are always at the forefront of my mind.

I had the same seat for 6 years, two rows back on the half-way line. It was so intimate that you could chat to the players; get the gossip during the warm-up, share some banter during a boring nil-nil draw, flirt with the better looking ones (that may just have been me). I shared the good and the bad with my parents - we had our rituals, as all dedicated fans do. Turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day; often at the Dell but frequently at one of the London clubs; the fixtures usually allowed for a local derby at Christmas (local for Southampton, anyway). We were superstitious too - putting an unusual run of January success down to a chocolate squirrel forgotten about in our rucksack, left over from Christmas. It stayed untouched in the bag until the end of the season.

Away trips were a particular highlight and got me more intimate with the back-streets of Liverpool, Manchester, Tottenham and Hull then perhaps I'd really have liked. I always enjoyed visiting the Yorkshire clubs, although never dreamt I would later spend most of my waking life in Barnsley. How times change.

Football is a visceral thing. It's an onslaught on all your senses. When I remember back, it isn't just the goals, it's also the smell; of lint, stale beer, pies and, (not so good) toilets and sweat. The emotions were intense, joy alongside despair, fear (particularly in the 80's at certain clubs), nervousness, pride, anger, frustration and hope. And often it was just being bloody cold (sitting with two inches of snow in my lap at Elland Road springs to mind).

I'm not sure what, for me has replaced those intense swings of emotion these days. A particular high was our trip to Cardiff (not Wembley, sadly) for the FA Cup in 2003. I couldn't see most of the pre-match warm-up for the tears running down my face at Abide With Me. I made a mix-tape of football-related tracks that we played for weeks, and went around with a Gordon Strachan face-mask on for most of the journey. The other half of my family are Arsenal fans, which gave the game an additional tension, but this was one of those times when the result really was immaterial.*

We had some dark times of course. The desperate and depressing days of the Ian  Branfoot era and his long-ball strategy that by-passed our best players and left us gazing sky-ward for large parts of the game. The on-going relegation battles that wore you down season after season, but conversely made for the most exciting games I've ever witnessed.

I loved those days and I love the Saints, so maybe when you see me next you'll ask how we did at the weekend, and I will bore you with tales of Le Tissier's best goals and how I went as a guest to his nightclub once. Or maybe I'll dig out the chocolate squirrel, make a turkey sandwich, put on my colours and go on the march again.

*ok, we lost one-nil.