About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Ted's Sympathetic Bad Leg

Limpathy from Ted.  Though this morning he blew it by pinching my place on the Settee of Suffering.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Empathetic Dog

Dru came round my house last Thursday lunchtime to do one or two jobs, followed by Tina the electrician who wired in the smoke alarms so that the 11 year old extension on my house could finally be signed off.  The easiest thing to do was to send my border collie, Ted - a rather over-enthusiastic DIY-er - to my parents' house for the afternoon to keep him out of the way my Dad company. (Got to be circumspect; Ted might be reading this.) 

So Ted had no way of knowing that at about half four I stepped off the doorstep onto thin air (instead of my ankle joint) and broke my leg.  Except that at some point during the afternoon, he started to limp.

This is not an isolated incident where Ted is concerned. I took him to the vet some months ago because he was hobbling so badly.  I'd convinced myself he had dysplasia, so she gave him a once-over, moving each joint firmly but very gently.  'He's fine,' she said after a couple of minutes. 'He could just be imitating you because your arthritis is bad. That'll be £50, please.'

I don't know how to transfer videos from Facebook to here or do any fancy downloading stuff, but here's a link to a video Dru posted this morning of Ted at his empathetic (hammiest) best. (You might have to right click on it to open it in a new tab.)

And here's the poor beautiful best of dogs resting his imaginary gammy paw on a cushion.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Broken Leg Blues Part II: Cider With Whoosie

Nil by mouth – three of the most dispiriting words in the English Language.  ‘And no sucking the sponge either!’ scolded the nurse as she handed me a little cup of pink liquid so that I could moisten my lips, simultaneously moving the water jug out of my (very limited) reach.  

The hours slipped by like coarse-grained sandpaper.  I’d had the presence of mind to stuff the nearest book to hand – ‘Cider With Rosie’ – into my bag as I left home the day before, but given that I felt as if I’d downed half the contents of the title, I did some desultory Facebooking instead, wondering idly what this month’s mobile bill was going to be like and how my other ankle was going to like being hopped on when it was bruised and swollen in its own right.

(Yep, part of that bruise is a tattoo.)

Then I was prepped ready to go to theatre, not because anyone had any idea when my operation was scheduled but because ‘they have a habit of just turning up’.  Rather more excitingly, ‘my’ anaesthetist materialised to go through some paperwork with me.  ‘I’m your anaesthetist,’ he said.  This, apparently, was A Sign.  

And lo, blue-overalls appeared with a trolley and off we went to theatre.  ‘Anything you want to ask me?’ asked a different anaesthetist to the one who’d been up to the ward.  ‘I’ve got arthritis and they told me not to bring my special pillows down because I might never see them again,’ I babbled, ‘and I’m really scared of coming round on my back with my head turned to one side.  I can't move my head unless I use my hands and it feels like I’m paralysed and it’s really scary.’  ‘Ah, torticollis cervical spondylosis’ he said, reassuringly. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t let your head fall off.’  And I knew I’d be fine because he knew exactly what I was talking about even if I didn’t have a clue. The operation would probably be OK too. 

And it was. A bit of desultory moaning about the parking situation at the hospital between surgeon and anaesthetist (I live in the Residents’ Controlled Parking Zone) and the next thing I knew someone was calling my name and my head was miraculously still attached to my neck and facing forward with no apparent support.  

Then I was back on the ward and my partner and son turned up and we did the Guardian Quick Crossword and I ate the food they brought me and puked up in a bed pan.

Frosty the Snowman comes out in sympathy

And I did a lot of thinking about how I’d barely jaunted and barely written a word the last few weeks, what with Christmas and having to get the house ready to sell, and how I had been on such a roll last weekend that I’d contemplated swinging a sickie from work so as not to lose momentum, and how I’d decided I couldn’t possibly bunk off because I’m rubbish at lying and the universe would punish me, and how it had punished me anyway just for thinking about pretending to be ill by ensuring that I would be off for the next six weeks but completely incapable of doing all the things I need to do to get the house on the market.  And how I’d have to delegate more rather than do, and how I would probably end up writing some poems after all.  

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Broken Leg Blues Part I: Extreme Doorstepping

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a house is always put on the market in far better condition than the one in which the inhabitants have been living.  Thus the last few weeks have seen little jaunting, barely any writing, and much cleaning/gardening/decorating/minor building works/wiring in of smoke alarms, etc (not all of it by me). 

Back in the day, I moved house five times in four years, each time with a new baby or pregnancy, and again, after a hiatus of six years, when my children were aged 8, 6, 5 and 2.  So I reckoned this time, nearly 18 years later, it would be a doddle. 

I reckoned without Ted, my border collie, who has proved keen to help me paint and now has green Go Faster stripes.

I reckoned without falling off the doorstep and breaking my leg.  In two places.

 As luck would have it, Cathy Over The Road’s friend Maggie was visiting when my ankle gave out and I crashed to the ground, so I had two nurses to escort me to hospital, and two young and rather fetching policemen (who were on the spot to stop motorists driving through the timed no entry sign on our road) to manhandle me into Cathy’s car. (I expect they’re used to that sort of thing in their line of work.)

As luck would have it also, our brand new super hospital is a quarter of a mile down the road and A&E wasn’t too busy at half four in the afternoon. 

I’ve always had weak ankle joints and tend to sprain my right one every couple of years or so, so going to Radiology with an ankle like a balloon is a fairly regular occurrence for me.  However, I could tell by the look on the nurse’s face, post (agonisingly painful) X-ray, that this time was different.  ‘The doctors have yet to look at it,’ she said, ever so slightly reprovingly, ‘but I can tell you you’ve broken your tib and fib so badly you’re going to have to have an operation.’  But I have paintwork to touch up with Dulux Eggshell Barley Twist if it’s still available, I wanted to cry.  I need to plant up troughs and pots to put around my pond so prospective viewers don’t stand on the wonky paving slabs and fall in.  But I could tell neither she nor the universe would be persuaded.

‘There’s a rumour swirling around outside that you got yourself in here with no pain relief,’ remarked one of the doctors in the plastering room, while the other one winced at my X-ray. 

‘I think I must have a high pain threshold?’ I said doubtfully as they handed me the gas and air.

‘Yes, you must,’ he said. ‘Now push against me as hard as you like but don’t stop breathing the gas.’

‘Where’s my baby?!’ I wailed a minute or so later. ‘I always get a baby when it hurts this much.’

‘You’ve got a beautiful plaster cast instead,’ said the second doctor. ‘Neatest one I’ve ever done, actually. And they'll be cutting it open tomorrow to operate!’

 But it wasn’t the same. To make matters worse, I didn’t even have a decent story to tell.  Falling off a doorstep in Filton is hardly the same as falling off a yacht in Greece which is how my friend Claire sustained a similar injury.  ‘Yeah, you’re going to have to work on that,’ everyone advised me.

There was some delay and much pushing of my trolley around the hospital before a bed was located.  Having witnessed its construction for that last eight years, it was interesting to have so comprehensive a tour of its interior. Eventually I found a berth and fell into a thankful sleep, only to be awakened with good news - more morphine – and bad news – I had to transfer to another ward. I finally docked in at Level 3 Gate 7b Bed 38 – whatever happened to Cotswold and Mendip wards? – which made me feel as if I’d checked into the departure lounge for an unknown destination with no guarantee of coming back. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

The Coming Of The King Part I: Kennet & Avon

I love aqueducts.  I learnt about them with astonishment at primary school - a bridge for water?! - and I've never lost that incredulity.  I remember drawing a picture which showed both the water running over the aqueduct and the river flowing beneath, and our teacher telling us that one day we would think we knew how to spell it because aqua is Latin for water, but actually, aqueduct is not spelt how you might expect.  Being an eight year old smartypants, I had already spelt it wrong and had to bracket it with a cross at the end and rewrite the whole word.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that when Dru announced that she was poised to move NB Eve from her current mooring at Bath to Bradford-on-Avon, I begged to come along for the ride, since it involves crossing the River Avon via both Dundas and Avoncliff aqueducts en route.  

So Dru said I could help as crew which was very kind as both she and I know that I am rubbish at doing anything remotely useful on the canal, but the fact that there are no locks and only a couple of swing bridges between the departure point and destination meant that I didn't have to do a lot more than just stand around holding a bit of rope and looking picturesque, so it wasn't really too much of a problem. 

Anyway, we were off not long after 8am, past Solsbury Hill ...

... and through Bathampton.  

The day was bright and warmish (well, in the sun it was) but a funny thing was happening with the colours, at times very vivid...
 ... and at others all but monochrome.  

Particularly striking were the cumulus clouds of Old Man's Beard, which gleamed as if they were backlit ... 

... and a heron which creaked across the canal to land in a field. 

We had a long wait to use the bowser at Claverton Pumping Station while a couple of boaters filled up their water tank with the speed of a dripping stalactite.  Dru did clever, agile things that were potentially uncomfortable ... 

... and (in case you think this is an idyllic way of life) emptied the poo canister.  I stood around a bit.  

Then, with a full water tank and  a warning toot to any boaters coming around the corner towards us, we were off across Dundas aqueduct.
Another heron, intent.  

And back across the Avon at Avoncliff.
By now we were shrammed, so it was into the Cross Guns for some mulled cider and half each of the one remaining mince pie on the premises. 

Is it my imagination, or is this an early Valentine?

I'd taken so many photos, I'd exhausted my camera battery, but no worries, I had another in my bag which I smugly slotted into place as we reached Bradford-on-Avon.  

' I can't believe you've never seen a kingfisher,' Dru said as she moored NB Eve in a spot with a decent phone signal. 'This is kingfisher central. You'd be lucky not to see one.'

But there were none, so I took a few photos of the 14th century tithe barn instead, with its magnificent cruck roof.  

And the earliest known proof of the existence of a Spirograph set. (Not sure if they are masons' marks or there for apotropaic reasons - if the latter, they didn't work because at this point my replacement battery died. Turns out it was uncharged. Boo.)  

We walked back to the Moggy which was parked further up the canal.  Dru suddenly stopped.  'Look on the side of the bridge,' she said. 

I peered through the dusk.  I didn't have my glasses with me and all I could see was a rusty stain.

'It's a kingfisher,' she said. And lo, it was. 

Camera batteries dead - both of them. I resolved to relish the sighting in real time instead (while fishing for my phone). 

It flew up to the bridge railings in a proverbial flash of electric blue ... 

... and then onto the bow of a narrowboat moored just the other side of the bridge ... 

... before turning its brilliant back on us in a tree on the opposite bank.

  I think 2015 is going to be a good year. 

Photos of me at Claverton Pumping Station and Warleigh Weir by Dru Marland. 

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Paddington, Cinema de Lux, Cabot Circus

Here's a review of Paddington I wrote for the local rag. 

I wasn’t convinced that I needed to go and see the new CGI-live action Paddington film.  I loved Michael Bond's books as a child and have fond memories of the animated shorts by FilmFair. Surely there wasn’t much point going to see a souped up, sentimental Christmas blockbuster about a decidedly modest and rather sticky bear?

Well, yes, there is.  Apart from being funny and hugely enjoyable, the story of an illegal immigrant from darkest Peru who arrives in London and is dismayed to discover his welcome is not as warm as he had been led to expect feels very relevant.  And this predicament is not confined to Paddington.  My favourite character back in the 1960s when I first encountered the sticky bear, the kindly Mr Gruber who runs an antique shop on Portobello Road, is a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, and in the film his tragic past is hinted at in a way that is both poignant and subtle.  

Of course, there have been additions to pad the story out to feature film length, principally the introduction of Millicent Clyde, an evil and fanatical taxidermist played by Nicole Kidman as a cross between her character, Mrs Coulter, in the Golden Compass and Cruella de Vil, but there’s plenty for traditionalists also, not least the introduction of the famous blue duffle coat, which caused a frisson not dissimilar to the one that runs through a cinema audience whenever James Bond’s Aston Martin first makes an appearance. 

At a time when a general election looms and we are told by certain politicians and parties that they just ‘want our Britain back’, it is sobering to reflect that those qualities deemed essentially British by Paddington and his Aunt Lucy back in Peru – fairness, politeness and hospitality - are those that are most endangered when we turn our backs on those in need. It is the Browns’ small-minded neighbour, Mr Curry, played by Peter Capaldi, who best encapsulates this when he realises the consequences of his prejudice towards Paddington and seeks to make belated amends.  I rather think that Paddington would give the lot of them a good hard stare.