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.