written and posted by members of Lancashire Dead Good Poets' Society

Monday, 12 April 2021

Judgement Day

Northern Man: at last a blog theme about which I have some in-depth knowledge. And am willing to share it. Chew it over at length with two individual close analyses and my own photos.

But first an overall view of the subjects. To begin, a quote taken from my book when I write it ….
‘It is a well-known fact that a Northern woman desiring matrimony to a good sort must look for a Southern man.’

You can’t say fairer than that.

Where is North exactly? Well it’s where the bad weather comes from. Where the men are harder, less easy going.

As everywhere is either North or South of somewhere else, apart perhaps from the poles, and as geography isn’t my specialist subject, for the purpose of this blog North or The North as the inhabitants like to call it, will be the North of England. Lancashire, Cumbria, Yorkshire and Newcastle which lies in an uncharted grey area between Yorkshire and Scotland.

Northern men in abundance are confined to these English areas. Visitors and tourists will find them everywhere, no need for binoculars. The keen spotter will notice their peculiar characteristics. The traditional clothing, cloth cap, braces made of string, wellington boots no matter what the weather. Clutching a sack in which a pair of ferrets can clearly be seen moving. A dog, either whippet or collie next to him. He won’t look happy. It will be raining on him even if the ground around is dry. As he passes sheep will raise their heads as if strangely attracted; it is the smell.

So, what literary heart-throb is the Northern woman able to turn to for consolation?

Isn't that scowl pure Ted Hughes?
Heathcliff and Mr Rochester. Dear God! Every Northern man rolled into two. One uncouth and feral, spending his time on moors. The other a superior two-timer.

Heathcliff: brusque and surly, a conversational nightmare. Clears off for years thinking the woman will still be waiting. False wooer, wife abuser, constantly thinking of another woman, fitful temper, dark lord, badly furnished home. Tyrant.

Rochester: advertising in the paper for young women, dressing up as a Romany female, dishonest about his marital status, devious, inclined to bad-temper, petulant, throwing a wobbly in church – holy premises – making the vicar and Jane run across land, and up to the attic. Then wrestling with his wife in front of the guests.

Is it any wonder that Jane runs off and Kathy marries another?

I do realise that I may have given up any chance of entering into the Holy Estate with a Northern man but that is a sacrifice an investigative writer has to make.

Mr Rochester and Jane
The Northern Man
A flat cap if sunny a sou’wester when wet,
long woolly scarf knotted under his chin.
Holding a whippet on the end of a lead.
Covered in pigeon fluff from standing in loft.
Pushing a bike. Moaning about Southerners
and wimmen who he swears he’ll never understand.
Funny ideas about who does the housework,
cooks the meals, lights the fires, chops the wood.
Sheep shedding and dipping, avoiding favourites,
he knows each ewe by name. Clutching his money.
A penchant for rhubarb and black pudding.
Trousers held up by string. Constantly scowling.
Priding himself on his blunt tongue. Striding
across God’s own county, wherever that is.

Woe betide them, of course, if they marry a Blackpool woman!

Thanks for reading, Jeanie B.

Saturday, 10 April 2021


Today is an anniversary of sorts. On this Saturday eight years ago, I first set eyes on my house on the strand. I was looking to buy a property in Blackpool within reasonable striking distance of the football ground. 

Although driving up from Hertfordshire (and back - a 450 mile round trip) on Saturdays and Tuesdays to watch the mighty Seasiders play was a feature of life while I was working (though admittedly we occasionally stayed over in a hotel or B&B on Saturday nights), when I took early retirement and a redundancy package at the start of 2013 it opened up the possibility of a more flexible and leisurely lifestyle. 

Acquiring a base in the jewel of the north turned into my first retirement project (and why I didn't write about this in last week's blog about retirement, I don't know!), so I started looking at properties in South Shore, if not on Bloomfield Road itself then nearby, on match days prior to kick-off.

I saw a few horrors before happening upon the house I live in now. I liked its general appearance, its orientation (east-west) and the ambience of the neighbourhood. It is just off Bloomfield Road, is within easy walking distance of both the football ground and the promenade and was within budget, so as spring rolled into summer in 2013 I put in an offer that was accepted.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with tension and the answer is not what you may think. The house purchase proved uncomplicated, proceeded remarkably smoothly; and I'm going to side-step the issues in my personal life at that time which meant I ended up living here alone, separated and then divorced (though Rosie the cat didn't pee on my ex-wife's shoes for nor reason).

The house needed quite a bit doing to it, not just cosmetic changes, and over the years I've ripped out fitted wardrobes (don't like them) from the master bedroom, removed the carpets (don't like them) from every room, sanded down floorboards or replaced rotten floors with new wooden ones, and banished curtains (don't like them) in favour of blinds. Three bedrooms, two living rooms, a kitchen and a conservatory have been thus overhauled, repapered, painted, generally decked out to my satisfaction. I've done all the works myself except for replacing the wooden floors in the downstairs rooms. 

The only part of the house on the strand that is still as I first saw it in April 2013 is the hallway (upper and lower levels and the stairwell). Its turn has finally come, but here's the issue: I like the wallpaper in the hall. It's an embossed abstract design (roses) and I would rather repaint it than replace it - especially with twenty foot drops to hang. However there are a few places where it's perished due to underlying (and since remedied) damp issues. I need a replacement roll to make good before I repaint but the pattern is no longer sold. In the year or so before lockdown I looked everywhere - in wallpaper shops, online stores, in those warehouses that specialise in end-of-line remainders - nothing, and so the hall has stayed as it is for longer than I intended.

Then last month I had a brainwave. The wallpaper used in the hall is the same as that used by the previous owners to cover the ceiling in the second bedroom! I've never recycled wallpaper before but that's what I'm planning to do, to lift the paper carefully from the bedroom ceiling and redeploy it to make good areas of the hall that need repapering (and then I can put something different entirely on the bedroom ceiling). It's my spring 2021 project. It looks like the easy option. What can possibly go wrong?

And so this where tension comes in, finally. It takes two forms. The first is the mental one, the sense of anticipation or expectation involved in the planning; the nagging thought that it might all go horribly awry leaving me with a whole hall to repaper and a bedroom ceiling to boot... but I'm up for the challenge. The second is to do with the physical process itself. It could have all the drama of a hospital soap: the preparation of the donor ceiling and recipient walls, the act of getting just the right tension on the wallpaper I'm removing (note, not stripping but peeling), to ensure that it comes away cleanly, evenly, untorn and in reusable strips; the rush to transfer it to its new site; the surgical precision required to apply it seamlessly to repair and replace those damaged sections of hallway. Are you getting the feel of the operation? I could almost sell tickets.

I'll let you know how it goes. There may be an issue with fitting exact matches of pattern to the recipient patches, but for once I shan't be worried if it's not a perfect alignment. It's only the hall and stairwell after all, and who sits on the stairs long enough to study the decor in detail? Except at parties. Ah yes. Remember them?

This latest poem from the imaginarium has nothing to do with Blackpool or houses or decorating projects but a little bit to do with parties and everything to do with political tensions in slightly obtuse form. Consequently, I've gone for what I intended to be a suitably gnomic mode of expression. Again I'm not sure if this is the final version...

Zen Underground
Red polls herald the revolution of another spring,
proclaim better days. Trees blossom white tinged
with hints of blood shed in the name of freedom.

In its fragile infancy a troubled people's triumph
might prove illusory, covert undermining tactics
underway to steal the ballot box from democracy.

With bribery, fear, ratting, its dirty tools of choice,
manoeuvring in excremental ways to derail hopes
for a fairer world, this counter-revolution, hinged

on the tendency of all decent citizens to disbelieve
its leaders might betray them, readies its fatal play.
Be wary, history teaches ruthless men win the day.

Underestimate the corrupting power of power and
all that has been gained above ground shrivels up
to might-have-been dreams. Be alert to the danger,

be ready to resist the rise of so egregious a faction.
Hope doesn't come from words so much as action.
Step up and signal this message swiftly down line.

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Tension: A Nation Hooked

I am a self-confessed TV competition junkie. I love my daily dose of The Chase and binge watch programmes like Bake Off, MasterChef, The Great Pottery Throw Down and British Sewing Bee. I am sure millions of others in the UK are hooked too.

So what's the attraction? Tension. Seeing makers and quiz contestants under pressure to visualise, create and complete their offering within the time constraints is enthralling. In my favourite, potters face spot tests and spend days building wonderful pottery. I engage with them. having tried potting myself, I admire their tenacity and delight in witnessing their triumphs and disasters. I love to see improvement and enjoy the tears of a huge hunk of a judge who is often reduced to tears when a potter exceeds his expectations. 

The same with The Chase. It is thrilling to see the underdogs beat the chaser and win the prize money. Tension is a a true narcotic and as a nation we are addicted. 

When  the sewing bee resumes this week, it is not just the sewing machines that need to be under the correct tension. - the contestants and the audience do too. I love it. I did O Level Needlework although I am by no means a proficient sewer, I admire the clever participants who can take a  length of cloth and transform it into a beautiful garment. 

MasterChef is equally exciting. Turning a handful of ingredients into a visually stunning and delicious dish is no mean feat. Having it tasted and judged by the country's top chefs and restaurant critics must be daunting. I love to watch the early rounds and see whether I can predict the ultimate winner. I get very excited, even though I can't smell or taste the food myself. 

I am not big on talent shows.  X Factor, Britain's Got Talent and The Voice are of little interest, There are plenty of singer/songwriters out there. Often contestants sound like others. What is the point of that? I am sure that many of you disagree - but how I get my regular 'tension fix' is up to me. I was a competitive Ballroom dancer and spent many nervous hours waiting for adjudicators decided my fate. Had I made the final, had I won a top three place.  Very tense times but worth it if the result was a good one. 

I believe that we need a certain amount of tension to feel alive. Why else would people bunjee jump, sky dive or swim with sharks? Are we natural adrenaline junkies? Perhaps the answer lies in our mutual DNA. We were, after all, hunter gatherers. Perhaps we have an inbuilt need for risk - pursuit by a sabre- toothed tiger may still be imprinted as an inherent trait. 

Tension in poetry is an altogether different animal and one that I have yet to research and develop in my own writing. I am grateful that this week's theme has piqued my interest in the subject  and I will pursue the subject with vigour. 

No poem this week. I'll just leave you with a photo from Throw Down  No spoilers please  I still haven't watched all the episodes in 2021 series.

Thanks for reading. Adele

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Retiring Minds

Last Easter, which was a week later than this one, we were already into our first national Coronavirus lockdown. What a bizarre twelve months it has proved to be. When I was thinking about what to write about  retirement  on a beautifully sunny Easter Saturday in 2021, as we're all in various stages of readiness to creep cautiously out of our retreats again, long-haired, vaccinated and undoubtedly changed by the experience, it struck me that for people of a certain age (let's be generous and say the over 50s), this has been like a practice-run for 'old age'.

Semi-incarcerated in our homes for months, having to adapt to a more circumscribed and slower pace of life, we've developed strategies to keep bodies and minds fit. Many people signed up to online gym, pilates or yoga classes. When I couldn't go to the gym I eventually cancelled my membership and bought an exercise bike which I ride daily in the conservatory, come rain or shine. When we couldn't meet up for poetry or music events we took them online too, via Zoom or other participatory platforms. When we couldn't go to the cinema we watched way more films, drama series and documentaries on our smart TVs. We've read more (thank you Abe Books and Amazon), done more crosswords and maths puzzles, any and everything to help maintain mental and physical health - use it or lose it - to stop us sliding prematurely into senility. 

keeping mind and body fit in retirement
We may have modified the ways we think, we may have changed the ways we eat, all for the better one hopes, in an attempt to stay healthier longer - becoming more philosophical, eating more cheese, looking to postpone our mental end-date, that fateful future point when our minds start to retire.

Did you know that if you interrogate Google or Wikipedia for a list of French cheeses it will return over six hundred different varieties? That's enough to give Liz 'the Cheese' Truss* nightmares. And an online search for French philosophers generates a list with four hundred and fifty names on it. Combining such random samplings suggests to me the French may be the most philosophical nation on Earth (as well as the biggest cheese-eaters). 

Consequently, when it came to something poetic for the week-end, I thought: do you know what? They deserve a poem, or at least the Existentialists among them do. Here it is then, an imagined narrative about the sunset of retiring minds, in all its Gallic tragi-comic glory...

Strange Days At The Maison D'Etre
Jean-Paul Sartre has been a bit tart lately,
didn't like being told not to smoke his pipe
in bed. "It is not a pipe", he said.
He claims he vapes and what's the harm?
But when the alarm goes off, such chaos.
"These people make me sick", he confided
to Simone, thinking he shouldn't have to
fight the fascists more than once in his life.

And as for Miss de Beauvoir, her behaviour
has been giving the team cause for concern.
The second sex is mentioned in the lounge
she rolls her hips, unzips her skirt and starts 
to flirt like a fishwife with residents, staff, 
even visitors, this once so dutiful daughter
then beautiful siren of Free France. Only
the Outsider is never target for her charms.

Poor Albert Camus is a stranger to himself
these days, a silent man, confused spirit
in a rangy goalkeeper's body, wandering
the grounds, fielding his invisible footballs.
He doesn't know it but he's waiting for the
full-time whistle to blow. Still physically
fit, he dresses himself, polishes his boots
almost religiously, but that's about the limit.

So Jean-Paul, Simone and Albert, comrades
of a great resistance long ago, creators of
their own essential twentieth century selves 
barely exist now, wait hardly philosophical
for reprieve, a happy or a very easy death.
But on sunny afternoons, old Pere Voltaire 
can sometimes be seen digging the garden. 
Funny how he seems to linger timeless on.

*I couldn't sign off without giving you another chance to chuckle at Liz the Cheese, the uncoolest woman ever to hold high office. To watch her making a cringeworthy fool of herself with that speech to the Conservative Party Conference faithful, just click on the link>>> the appalling Liz Truss 

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Out To Grass

I flick through the retirement home pages: Twilight House, Sunset Days, Dunhopin’, Road’s End, Rest Easy, Nearly Home. It’s hard to choose. There are none I feel drawn to.

I know I’m lucky to be able to choose. What did our forebears have, the rude forefathers of the hamlet, who had to work until they died? Staying alive in old age wasn’t so easy for them. If lucky they could perhaps rely on a son, or daughter, supporting them providing a home and food. But could they ever retire? Almshouse much better than workhouse but less available and often means tested by occupation, character, gender.

My great grandfather George was a drummer in the British Army, which would probably mean he’d be unvalued now. He marched and drummed his way round many a foreign campaign. It was how he earned his bread. He was a professional in the Army but when your marching days around inhospitable foreign climes are over there isn’t, or wasn’t, a lot of call for drummers back home in England.

Upon leaving the army after twenty years, in 1879, on the grounds of poor health, a kindly army doctor did him a good turn. He described him as a ‘broken-down old soldier,’ although he was only thirty-eight. It got George an army pension. He returned to civilian life and in his forties married and fathered six daughters. Not quite so broken down as the army thought. His wife kept house, raised the children and ran a terrace shop. Smart George. She was over twenty years younger and died three years before him. Poor Alice.

On January 1st 1909 people of seventy or over were paid an old age pension by the Government as long as they were of good character. A song from that time expresses one man’s thanks to the man responsible. I don't know who sang it but it was possibly written by F W Mormon...

David Lloyd George

What Lloyd George Gives Me
Well I’d walk from here to Skipton
Ten miles of lonely lane
If I could see him face to face
And thank him for his pain

‘Cause he took me out of Work-house
And he gave me a life that’s free
Five shillings a week for cheating death
Is what Lloyd George gives me

Well he gives me light and firing
And flour to bake my bread
And tea to mash with every meal
And sup until I’m dead

And I’ve nowt to do but thank him
And make a cross with pen
Five shillings a week for nowt but that
Why he’s the best of men...

There are another nine verses which he really shouldn’t have bothered writing but now he is out of the Work-house with time on his hands he felt he might as well.

An old soldier, who had charged at Balaclava with the Light Brigade, was Trooper Job Allwood, a Leamington lad. He had enrolled in Birmingham in 1853 with the 13th Light Dragoons (later the 13th Hussars). Despite having two horses shot from under him at Balaclava he was one of the few who survived and went on to serve in the India Mutiny. Although regarded by his fellow men as a hero then, his name would no doubt now be being erased from the war memorial. Upon leaving the army his only reward was a small allowance from the Balaclava Fund which was funded by public subscription. He died in 1903, aged 68, too early to have received a pension from the state. Would he have appreciated his funeral with full military honours, the expensive bouquets?

Nearly forty years after Tennyson’s poem immortalising the bravery, following suicidal orders of the cavalry at Balaclava, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem titled, 'The Last Of the Light Brigade'.

Kipling was ashamed of the way the old (retired) soldiers were treated, The poem speaks of the harsh condition they endured once their service days were over: famine, lack of shelter, unemployment, disability, painful and lonely deaths. Job was lucky; Leamington didn’t treat him too unkindly. He had a very small house, made a living, had a wife but it was nothing compared to the gratitude they showed him in death.

Old Mares
If I was a horse they’d put me down, shoot me.
Have fun being photographed with my carcass.
No chance for me of being used for breeding.
An old mare is useless for reproduction.
My only worth to be pulped for pet food.
Not being a horse the possibilities are endless.
I can run for US President. Take up Tai Kwondo.
Learn Japanese. Gain a degree in upholstery.
Long distance, cross country running. Marathons.
Whittling, whiskey mixing, ballroom dancing in wellies
Write poetry. Go on televised quiz shows.
Give my occupation when asked, as retirement.
‘And how do you fill your time?’
‘Never been busier,’ I proudly reply. Listing my
attainments. ‘I don’t know what I did before.’
That earns me a pat on the back, unprompted applause.

Thanks for reading, Jeanie B.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Retirement - Just Go With The Flow

07:00:00 Posted by Jill Reidy Red Snapper Photography , , , , , , , , , 5 comments

Retirement.  That’s the time to wind down, take up a stress free hobby, go for gentle walks, watch daytime TV and meet friends for long lunches, right? Wrong. Certainly in my case.  

I’ve always been busy.  Babysitting came first.  In the sixties, parents, unbelievably, trusted an unknown 12 year old to look after their offspring.  I had three families on the go, one of them with four very lively children, all of whom drove me to distraction.  Once they were finally in bed I used to eat my way through the cupboards and spend hours on the phone to my best friend who was babysitting just across the road.  

At 13 I got my first ‘proper’ job, working in a mini market on a Saturday morning (10/- for four hours - that’s 12.5p per hour in today’s money) and then, in addition, at 15 I took on working in a dentists on a Sunday (I can’t remember the pay now, but I know I hated the whole thing).  One of the fathers from the babysitting job was a dentist. He was Jewish, hence the Sunday opening.  His practice was in Stamford Hill which was a fair way from where I lived in Southgate, and meant that I had to travel with him in his car.  I was a very shy teen and he was a grumpy, monosyllabic, old (to me) man, who probably had no more desire to take me with him than I had to be there, squashed up against him in his noisy Fiat 500.  Thankfully, that job came to an abrupt end when I persuaded my dad to phone Mr Cardash and tell him I was so busy revising for my GCEs that I wouldn’t be able to work for him any more.  In fact, most Sundays, I was lying in bed till lunchtime then spending about two hours on clothes, hair and make up, and meeting my best friend to talk about boys.

At about the same time I answered an advert in a shop window for somebody to look after a little boy and do some light cleaning.  I was hopeless at cleaning but I loved children, and the lady who took me on seemed pretty desperate so the job was mine.  It turned out that Myra Schneider was a writer and spent most of the time in her study whilst I looked after Benji and half heartedly wiped a cloth around the house.  Interestingly, I’m still in touch with Myra*, who is now in her 80s and continues to write, having had several books of poetry published over the past 50 years.  I’d like to think I played a small part in her success.  

To prevent this turning into a four page blog post (and, after all, it’s supposed to be about retirement - we’ll never get there) suffice to say my CV is long. In addition to the above, in no particular order: barmaid, shop worker, novelty cake maker, graphic designer, typographer, market stall holder, craft teacher, cafe worker, caterer, school dinner lady, deli assistant, factory worker (shoes; catalogues), teacher and GP admin assistant. 

And then came retirement. With hindsight, I was lucky that a new Head came to the school that I’d happily worked in for 15 years.  Without her appointment, the subsequent two year dispute and the final decent payout I would never have taken early retirement.  As it was, it coincided with the birth of my first grandchild, and the need for a childminder several days a week.  The decision was made, and at 55, I gave up half my teachers’ pension to relax and enjoy life.  Oh and look after a lively baby.  That’s one thing I’ve never regretted.  Fifteen years later, the relationship with my first grandchild is testament to the time we spent together.

Once my childminding duties had been cut down to just a few days a week (with three more grandchildren added to the mix) I felt the need to get busy again, and secured a part time job at a GP surgery.  I was taken on to cover for three months for someone who was off sick.  Six years later, I reluctantly gave in my notice, as my interest in photography became more intense.  

My life has never had a grand plan.  Things have happened to me by chance, and I’ve always been happy to go with the flow.  Retirement has been no different.  Fate brought me into contact with Claire Walmsley Griffiths and the original altBlackpool online magazine, where I could make use of two of my favourite activities: writing and photography.  I met more local creatives and seemed to be accepted into their midst, despite being at least twenty years older than most of them.  My photography took off and went from strength to strength. I began to feel that my life had gone full circle, from Art College in the early ‘70s to the Blackpool art scene 50 years later.  

Oh, and I wrote a book

Finally, in retirement, I found my ideal job. 

This week’s poem is not one of my own, but one I’ve loved for a very long time.  I think it was written for me….

Warning by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick flowers in other people’s gardens

And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickle for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Thanks for reading……..Jill

And thanks to everybody who has snapped me taking photos.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Retirement - Bring It On!

I looked forward to retiring at sixty, as many of us did, and then, a bolt from the blue took away plans and wishes and sat firmly on our state pension for another six years. I’m there now and I still haven’t received the explanatory letter ‘sent to everyone’ when the changes were made. WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) campaigns and protests seem to have been sympathetically listened to in some quarters – Jeremy Corbyn, when Labour leader, said that women were “misled”, the situation “needed to be put right” and “We owe a moral debt to these women.” It was included in the Labour party manifesto. Even if nothing changed, it was going to be looked into. The flicker of hope died with the election result.

Anyway, politics aside, my time has come and I’m trying to decide exactly when to hand in my keys and cross myself off any rotas. I’ve spent lots of time at home during the pandemic, shielding at the beginning, then having to isolate a couple of times when I eventually returned to work.  I like being at home. It’s been good getting a feel for life in retirement and spending more time with my husband who retired early a few years ago.  In normal circumstances we would enjoy the freedom of having lunch out, seeing friends and spending more time with family. These things will come back to us, hopefully before too long. I reduced my hours at work so I’m actually at home more than I’m there, yet I still can’t wait to leave.

I yearn for the freedom to just go where I want, when I want without having to plan in advance and ask permission. Deciding one day that we’re off to Scotland, or anywhere the next day, is the life for me. Spending summer afternoons reading in the garden was bliss last year and I look forward to doing it again. I knit and crochet a lot and love making baby clothes so with a current baby boom going on amongst colleagues at the moment I’ve been  a one woman cottage industry.  My writing has been on a back burner for too long. I was trying to use shielding and isolating time to write a best-selling novel or a brilliant TV series, but they’ve both been done, not by me, by the way, and I’ve been struggling to concentrate lately.  There are lots of things on my retirement list and I certainly won’t get bored. I might get fat(ter) on home-made baking, but never bored. I’ll enjoy finding out who I am, so let’s bring it on.

My poem,

When I can please myself on what I want to do each day
Without the stress and strain of doing my job in the way,
I will take time to rest, to think and to learn who I am,
Apart from a wife, a mother and a nanna called Pam.

My wardrobe’s full of Marks and Spencers matching navy blues,
Formal skirts and cardies and some uniform slim-line trews.
Tunic length NHS blouses, navy with polka dots,
Pockets stuffed with tissues and hair-ties, a tangle of knots.

Let’s get rid of such strict clothing and find a nice, new style,
Dresses, ear-rings, beads and things I haven’t worn in a while.
Skinny jeans, knee-high boots and a home-made Aran sweater,
My family and freedom will soon make me feel better.

I’ll wear long, floaty skirts and lipstick, and I’ll paint my nails,
I’ll join in with other WASPI girls on some campaign trails
And hope some good may come of it, though it’s too late for me
So many ‘50s women need to set their pensions free.

PMW 2021

Thanks for reading, stay safe, Pam x

Saturday, 27 March 2021

The Doorstep Challenge

They can be seen sleeping rough on the doorsteps of thousands of buildings across the country any night of the week, an indictment of our society. How many (apart from too many)? Gauging the size of the problem is a problem in itself. The official government statistic, suggesting the average daily number of rough sleepers in England in 2020 was 2,688, is ludicrously low. 

The homelessness charity SHELTER suggests there are over 250,000 statutorily homeless people in the country, not that many of them sleep on doorsteps, for there are friends' couches and floors, plus hostels and night shelters providing a safer night's sleep for the majority. Nevertheless, CHAIN (Combined Homelessness and Information Network) claims that 10,726 people were living on the streets of Greater London in 2019, the last time its outreach workers conducted a comprehensive street-by-street survey. And if there are over 10,000 in the capital alone, the figure for the whole of the UK will be embarrassingly and unacceptably high. 

The financial 'crash' of 2008 and a decade of Tory austerity measures are pointed to as significant contributing factors, as in a sense they are, but they are akin to the tip of a very nasty iceberg.  

Here are a few interesting statistics. The first is from the Land Registry and states that in 1990 the average UK household income was £20,000 per year and the average house price was £58,000. By 2020 average household income had nearly doubled to £37,000 per year but the average house price had leapt over fourfold to £240,000 (that's almost seven times annual income)! The second is from the Local Government Association which warns about the alarming decline in the number of council houses, the UK government's very creditable social housing initiative after WWII. There were 6.5 million in 1980 before Margaret Thatcher's invidious 'great State sell-off', the number had fallen to 4 million by 2000 and now stands at less than 2 million and the Tories' target to build more has fallen well short in every single year of the last decade. The third, from a recent survey of the rental sector, reports that the number of households living in private rented  accommodation has more than doubled in twenty years from 2 million in 2000 to 4.5 million and that by the beginning of next year nearly 6 million households - that's a quarter of the UK population - will be in private rented housing, as the percentage of people owning the  house they live in continues to fall.

That young people on good salaries are finding it almost impossible to buy a house of their own, given house price trends, ought to be obvious. That council housing is no longer the option and safety net it once was is also abundantly clear. That those surviving on a minimum wage and zero hours contracts are struggling to pay their way in the private rental sector ought to be equally obvious. No wonder that more and more people are ending up sleeping rough on doorsteps.

rough sleeping on the doorstep
That very nasty iceberg I alluded to earlier has been growing steadily more menacing since the 1960s and has to do with the shameless way that capitalism became unshackled from international regulation in the decade following WWII. I've recommended Oliver Bullough's book 'Moneyland' in previous blogs. It remains the best account I've read of how a small group of London bankers invented 'offshore' and gave rise to shell companies, opacity in the movement of funds and the obscene power of globalised finance now controlled and manipulated without check by gangsters and oligarchs who have raped their own countries and laundered multi-trillions of dollars with impunity, a lot of it in the purchase of property in the UK and other western countries. 

To quote from 'Moneyland': "Across England and Wales, more than 100,000 properties are owned offshore. It is impossible to say how many are empty, but perhaps as many as half the new-builds at the top end of the market are rarely used, according to one study. These are not houses for living in, but house-shaped bank accounts." 

The rampant, unlimited greed of laissez-faire capitalism is the iceberg, allowing a very few wealthy people to become insanely richer while the majority become poorer, not just in developing countries but in the west as well. Attempts by the USA and the EU to legislate against 'offshore' have only chipped away at the surface of the problem. It was a plan by the EU to introduce stricter controls over 'offshore' that was the principle drive behind the orchestrators of Brexit. It wasn't to do with 'making Britain great again' or taking back control to Westminster. It was a cynical ploy by High Tories in the ERG to make sure that they could avoid the tough new controls being planned in Brussels and if possible weaken existing measures even more, so that London could continue to profit from its role as clearing-house for corrupt parties the world over and so that their own considerable offshore millions would remain beyond the reach of the tax man.

Prior to Brexit and the arrival of the Covid pandemic, campaigning journalist Oliver Bullough and his friends organised what they called the London Kleptocracy Tour, a bus journey through the capital on which the guides "point out the properties owned by ex-Soviet oligarchs, the scions of Middle Eastern political dynasties, Nigerian regional governors, and all the other people who have made fortunes in countries that score low" for ethical governance and financial transparency. 

Post Covid and post Brexit, the skewing of Britain's housing market by the powerful forces of 'offshore' is only going to get worse. The gap between rich and poor is widening. The problem is endemic. One oligarch's empty luxury mansion equates to a dozen impoverished young men and women sleeping on doorsteps. People need to realise the connection and wise up to the fact that it is unacceptable - not that the current government is going to do a thing to redress the iniquity, not with the likes of Rishi Sunak (whose father-in-law is the billionaire owner of Infosys) as chancellor of the exchequer and prime-minister-in-waiting. We're all being conned, and if we want as a just society to rise to the doorstep challenge of homelessness and rough sleeping, we need to call out the issue and demand a fair political solution to a growing social problem.

Okay, rant over for now - but bookmark the information. It's time to lighten the mood. It's not often I attempt 'comic' poetry but I thought I might have a go at a bit of nonsense this week. Consequently, here freshly milked and unpasteurised from the imaginarium is my latest composition. I'm not sure if this is its finished form, but for now I deliver up this tongue-in-cheek poem as tribute to the fine milkmen of Harlech. You don't believe me?
Milkmen of Harlech, stop your dreaming, Every Cambrian cow is creaming, Can't you see those bottles gleaming? Time to man your floats...

Milkmen Of Harlech (Friday Variant!)
Geraint 'the Pint' (I know, you couldn't make it up)  
was king of a whole estate's quiet pre-dawn streets,
delivering a floatload, then back between the sheets
and dreaming of dairymaids before the world woke

just like twin brother Gwilym 'the Cream' (really!)
on the other side of town, job done and head down
as sleepy housewives climbed into dressing-gowns,
lit fires, boiled kettles, fetched bottles from the step

and rousted up the menfolk to another working day
before the kids all tumbling, grumbling and hungry
from their beds demanded to be fed, flashing angry
as siblings will when they get into each other's way.

Followed the quiet of mid-morning, broken only by 
the bristling industry of doorstep scrubbing, women
marking time before their milkman's second coming
on Friday afternoon, the weekly settling of accounts

from Thursday's wage. When 'the Pint' or 'the Cream'
rang bells, rapped knockers, coins and cheery chatter
were exchanged and the artful milkmen would flatter
with a happy swagger as was expected on this round

of door-to-door amassing of florins and half-crowns
and if a housewife was finding times tight, 'the Pint'
or 'the Cream' might wink, and give the subtlest hint  
there might be other ways to pay, though just in jest

for the Milkmen of Harlech are the Lord's very best,
will not take advantage where lesser milkmen might.
Flirting is mere harmless fun but adultery's not right, 
moreover Harlech wives were known to never yield.

'Moneyland' (sub-titled Why Thieves & Crooks Now Rule the World & How to Take it Back ) is by Oliver Bullough and is published by Profile Books - £10 well spent, in my opinion.

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Friday, 26 March 2021

Cat On The Doorstep

Well, once again I am going to feature the cat that visited me for four years. It was a surprise, for I had only recently buried my well-loved cat in the garden. Perhaps he now knew that the coast was clear, or perhaps looking for her...who knows? There he was staring, intently, through the glass. For a few days I just acknowledged him, spoke to him and stroked him. Then I wondered if perhaps he was a stray, but he looked too healthy. Of course I had cat food left, didn't I so it was natural to offer him a little. Still he remained outside. A week or so passed and each morning at 8.30 he was there ..Ah! So his owners probably go out to work!

Eventually he ventured through the door into the conservatory, he'd stay a while then go till the next morning. As the weather deteriorated he spent more and more time indoors, till just before Christmas I put his photo onto Facebook....result! His owner was found! She lived in the next street...a very busy road. 

The story though is rather uncanny.....my next door neighbour had to have her cat put to sleep..it was a Wednesday morning . She returned home and 'the cat' sat at her doorstep in the afternoon! Obviously , though, he didn't receive such a warm welcome for after a couple of days he returned to me. A few weeks passed and another widow on the corner had her cat put to sleep and lo and behold 'the cat' went to her house for a few days!! We laughed about it and said he preferred widows, without pets.

It became a daily routine to find him on the doorstep. He would make himself quite at home and depart at tea time...although if I was going out I would clap my hands and he'd go to the door to be let out. However I used to go away a lot for days at a time and neighbours would tell me that he'd sit on the windowsill for the whole day. As soon as I drove towards the house he would bound out, jump on the bonnet...I would open the door and he would get in and enjoy a run to the house.

Of course his owner was not best pleased, but despite my efforts to not feed him, not let him in, he would sit on the windowsill crying, and mewing , distressing himself and me ! He also adored Donald and I have many photos of him , trying to get inside Don's body warmer!

I had to resign myself that he loved me! Nothing was going to keep him from me! As initially I didn't know his name I called him " Sweetie Pie" and he never reacted at all to his real name of Logan!

One day I came home and he was laid on the driveway. He couldn't walk at all well and dragged himself inside. I fetched his owner and he was taken to the vet. He died that night. His owner told me they suspected he had been poisoned...but he had come to me for help...he will never be forgotten...

Sweetie Pie 

On the doorstep was a a cat.
Looking in at me.
Whence he came?
Why to my house?
Why to me ?
A few days before
I'd laid my cat
To rest in the garden.

But on my doorstep was a cat!
Looking in at me.
Why come to me?
What brought him here?
Why to me?
I was still grieving.
I was bereft.

But on my doorstep was a cat!
Looking in at me.
I opened the door.
He didn't enter.
Sitting still
Watching my every move.
Waiting for what?

I had cat food in the cupboard,
I gave him some.
Fed him on the step.
He wasn't greedy.
Took his time
And went away.

Next day, on the doorstep
Waiting patiently - the cat.
Over time he entered.
Sat on my lap.
Lay in my arms.
Liked to be close.
Every day he came.

Now my doorstep is empty.
He died , you see.
But came to me, in pain-
Seeking solace.
Unable to walk.
His owner came for him.
Why did he choose me?        

Thanks for reading, Kath 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Coming In, Going Out, Kept There

Definitely 'Kept There'
Yes, women and housemaids did go down on their knees to scrub the doorstep; streets were dirtier in the old days, boots were stamped on the step to knock off dust, shoe-scrapers to remove debris, and what would your neighbour say about a dirty doorstep? Women had their pride. Steps still do need to be cleaned, especially the well photographed; does Carrie do number 10? Or Ursula the EU building when visitors are expected such as the vaccine delivery man? Skirts hitched up, a pail of hot soapy water, scrubbing brush and pumice in hand.

But two things mostly come to my mind: the image of Old Mother Riley and the dreadful words of a strict Victorian father throwing his errant daughter outside, ‘Go, and never darken this doorstep again.’

His cruel words aimed at daughters who have raised his displeasure by such things as falling in love with the wrong man; consider Elizabeth Barrett (how much, well more than my father) or the truly repugnant unmarried pregnant offspring.

A book I can recommend about disgruntled unforgiving fathers which I have had close to my person since childhood, is Maggie’s Message written by Emma Leslie published around 1920. It tells the story of little Maggie whose mother’s actions have angered Grandpapa in the past; marrying the wrong guy. Mama has died but has left Maggie with a message to deliver to her grandfather. The child finds this difficult but eventually succeeds. It is both sad and heart-warming as well as instructional as to how to mend family rifts and make your granddad feel a right swine.

Maggie's Message
For the fallen women no longer able to conceal their pregnancies stepping across doorsteps for the last time there is a poem by Thomas Hardy which may be of some comfort, it is The Ruined Maid in which Hardy tells us that being ruined does have its compensations. Fans, feathers, fine clothes and a five bedroom house.

As to Old Mother Riley, washerwoman and icon of Lancashire/Irish femininity, sitting on her doorstep, legs akimbo, usually in despair. As a child I discovered her and loved her character. Are they now on Netflix?

Old Mother Riley
A sort of early Mrs Brown and forerunner of Danny La Rue, ‘On Mother Kelly’s Doorstep.’ Created and played by Arthur Lucan , he/she was a star on stage and screen; music hall, pantomime, film and as a comic strip in Film Fun. He was a double act with his wife Kitty, who apparently in private was very disparaging of him, who played the part of his sweet daughter, Kitty. Quite why I associate her so strongly with steps I don’t know. Perhaps because she was also a charwomen and, like Carrie and Ursula, spent a great part of her time scrubbing them.

The Humorous Scrubber
a humorous scrubber
long skirts and shawl
on her knees
with rolled sleeves
skeletal frame
bony elbows and all
with a little black hat
white hair escaping
a poor Irish mother
scrubbing the step
charring for others
taking in washing
an undomesticated lady
carving doorsteps
in the kitchen
to feed daughter Kitty
always in trouble
throwing up her hands
in despair
shrill and hysterical
then drying her eyes
on her pinny
comforted by Kitty
slapstick her forte
pathos her charm
downtrodden woman
turned heroine

Thanks for reading, Jeanie B.