Friday, June 29, 2018

So Long

My reirement poem - rather long with echoes of Pam Ayers. It went down well at both readings - my afternoon tea on Wednesday afternoon and the more formal recognition of my retirement ealrier this mornng.

So long, farewell, I’m leaving now
It’s time for me to go
The cracks that come from wear and tear
Will soon begin to show

I fell into this RE life
(Or was I “burning bushed”?)
I think I blame my mother who
Stood behind and pushed

My first job was in London
An East End city school
To show cooperation
It really wasn’t cool

The classroom was a prefab
Beside an outside loo
They danced upon my doorstep
Those toilet needing few

Those were the days of bandas
With their distinctive smell
And purple words on paper
That served us all quite well

The job, not made to measure
It rubbed me raw to tears
To match my years of training
I promised then, four years

OK I never left the job
And decades down the line
I built my teacher muscle up
And think I got on fine

I taught abroad for just a while
Beneath a Cyprus sun
The mornings full of lessons
And then the beach for fun

My class was full of strapping lads
Moustached and six foot three
Saudi army conscripts
They didn’t want to be

I ate kebabs, drank Ouzo
A little Greek I learned
With sun and sand and factor eight
A golden brown I turned

I tell you, endless sunshine soon
Begins to lose appeal
Sweaty skin and chaffing thighs
Hot days were not ideal

I dreamed of clouds and rainfall
I packed and said goodbye
I moved back home with parents
And taught at Newbold High

My body clock was ticking but
There was no man in view
Teaching failed to scratch the itch
I needed something new

I joined a gospel outreach team
With saving souls my aim
My Bible packed and heading north
To Inverness I came

I preached, I prayed, I knocked on doors
I spoke to young and old
I walked the talk, the gospel shared
God’s message brave and bold

Too soon my time was over and
I had to find a job
I waitressed at the Calley then
I joined the Millburn mob

Yet again, a prefab, parked
Beside a grassy field
Heaters hot and smoking and
Windows poorly sealed

I battled wasps and rabbits
Graffiti everywhere
And yelled at Gary Stuart
“Stop swinging on your chair!”

The roof was flat, accessible
A big cross daubed one day
With words “Al-Qaeda bomb right here!”
What more was there to say?

A passing plane had spotted
The words all black and bold
They phoned the press on landing
A million papers sold

The day my hut was torn down
I didn’t shed a tear
I’d watched the swing of cranes each day
Saw something new appear

A clean and sparkling new school
All bristling with tech
Computers smart and polished
And of the highest spec

I mass produced my powerpoints
Embedded Youtube clips
I sang and danced through lessons
Took endless virtual trips

But - This body starts to crumble
The hearing’s first to go
My aids are made of plastic
Well hidden, they don’t show

So many indicators show
My best-before’s expired
No longer fresh, I’m overripe
It’s time that I retired

I’m bothered by the chewing gum
That lurks just out of sight
That hangs beneath the tables
And flies around at night!

I cannot learn this alphabet
Of DIPs, the SIPs, the SALs
HGIOYS and Es and Os?
I can’t say we are pals

These chromebooks are a mystery
With google apps and docs
My “classroom” doors won’t open
Despite my many knocks

And see those William Wallaces
Lined up against the wall?
I hear their stirring Braveheart speech
And long for freedom’s call

It’s time to leave the building
Before I’m dragged away
It’s time to let a younger lass
Have her own RE way

I’ll miss the scratch of pencils
Across a workbook page
The sound of neurons firing
As boys and girls engage

I’ll miss those awkward questions
Creation or Big Bang?
Why do good men suffer and
Why don’t bad men hang?

I’ll miss you, David Allan
The best  department head
Through all the myriad changes
Boldly you have lead

I’ll miss you, sweet Fiona
Your optimistic cheer
My job was so much brighter
Just knowing you were near

So many friends I’ve made here
So blessed to work with you
Pop in for tea or coffee
If you are passing through

I’m off into the sunset
With bus pass held in hand
To have more great adventures
And journeys I have planned

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Memory isn’t a lane
Bordered by houses once remembered
And a lilac bush that leans at an odd angle

Memory is a smell
A cinnamon finger biscuit
Cellophane peeled away
I see us then crouched over
A reel to reel tape recorder.
Granny sulks in Holland
Thunder brows lowered at
A son’s choice of wife
We record messages
Lines learned by heart
To say we love her
Dutch Speculaas on a plate beside us

Memory isn’t a lane
With dirty brown puddles and
A noisy bridge where the motorway passes over

Memory is a taste
Of porridge
It’s my turn for the top of the milk
The moat around my porridge is
Filled thick and white
A dusting of brown sugar
My sister sits opposite me
Her spoon diving down
Stealing my cream

Memory isn’t a lane with
Trees hugging close and
Staircase branches inviting me to climb

Memory is the touch
Of a rusty nail that pierces my foot
Cobwebs stretch over doorways
Of scrapped cars
Spiders swing and bounce with
Long legs and round button bodies
A forbidden playground
My father’s slap hurts more than the nail

Memory isn’t a lane
Hot and sweet with fat blackberries
And the hum of an electric cable overhead

 Memory is a sound
A wild whipped wind
Slapping rain against the window
Rhythm and blues
On a Saturday afternoon
And oiled and glistening wrestlers
Slammed against ropes with
Grunts and snarls and
A baying crowd
On a black and white TV set

Memory isn’t a lane
Between ordered gravestones and
Old flowers crisp and faded

Memory is what you see
A photo of my father
And the wish he wasn’t gone
Nothing more than
Ashes and an urn

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Things That Need to be Said

I often think that if I was to run a creative writing group I wouldn’t do it like him. It would be all about the writing, with a dash of reading thrown in and as little talking as I could get away with. Focussed! That would be my watchword.

Thursdays at the Spectrum Centre isn’t run my way. The writing gets done – the dash of writing in the few minutes left at the end of the class. The writing sometimes gets set as homework. It’s all about reading and talking, reading the homework and talking about it.

There are some things that need to be said. There are some things that get buried inside of people because there doesn’t seem to be a place to say them. The writing that is read, the homework, gives people the opportunity to say the things they need to say. The grammar, or the metaphors, or the structure of the poem or prose doesn’t always come under the critical eye.  It’s the subject matter that opens up the conversations.

It might be the damage that a storm has done, a walk beside a river or the uneasy relationship between a mother and daughter – but the conversations begin and people open up and say what they feel they cannot say anywhere else.  

I have not been going long enough or consistently enough to feel I know people well. I don’t know anyone’s life history. There are hints of things.

The tutor, him, had been challenged to write a poem about the welfare system, specifically universal credit. I don’t always understand other people’s poems. He started with the universe and black holes and dark matter. Then the poem switched to a man at the jobcentre who was declared fit to work and on the brink of losing his entitlement to benefits. He wasn’t fit but we all know about the unreliability of the tests and how many of the test results are overturned on appeal. There was a sense of bewilderment and an undertone of anger.

The poem resonated. One woman shared her own experiences of doing the test and how small it made her feel. The questions asked seemed to be at times irrelevant and at other times almost insulting. She felt she was not allowed to not answer. She also thought that how she said things, her tone, was being noted down just as much as what she said. They were the pretty people behind the desk and were allowed to ask all the questions they wanted and she wasn’t. It was demeaning.

Another lady shared how some of her benefits had been taken away – the ones relating to a child with disabilities. The money that paid for the clubs and activities that built up his confidence was no longer there.

I understand the need to take a look at the welfare system and make reforms – but sometimes the cuts are made in the wrong places.

And then, of course, there are the ones who hide their riches in off shore bank accounts and search for loopholes so they can evade paying their taxes. They call the poor shirkers while they themselves shirk their responsibility pay their fair shares. They are the pretty people, the gifted people, the wealthy people who nobody chases after. They ae the friends of the powerful who are immune from being sacked.

Where one person shared an experience, another gave advice and encouragement. The group behaved like a family giving their support.

When we got to the dash of writing and I was asked for an emotion as a random word it didn’t take long to pick one – anger. I was angry that people were being treated with so little respect.

Blue, silk, and giant hogweed joined the list of random words and we wrote for ten minutes.

The suit is made-to-measure silk.  There’s a label somewhere, no doubt, boasting a well-known brand that the rich toss about. The shade of blue has probably been carefully chosen, talked about and debated by the image makers.  It’s the precise shade of blue selected to convey summer and sunshine and a carefree mood.

The man in the made-to-measure blue suit, the blue silk suit is in truth a giant hogweed and you can’t dress a giant hogweed to make it appealing because it isn’t. It’s ugly. It’s invasive. It wasn’t planted but just arrived and bullied its way to where it is. Soft words disguised sharp elbows.

It makes me angry that he thinks he has me fooled.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Blessed are the Merciful

Your mercy comes with every dawning sun
Redeeming every hour till day is done
Like summer showers and quiet autumn rain
Grace softens me, restores my soul again
I know Your generosity to me
That judgement I deserve I will not see
For I have made a covenant with You
Your truth transforming everything I do

Yet oft’ I hold old grudges in my hand
They stain me yet before Your throne I stand
Where is my tender heart that You command?
Lord, let your mercy always rule in me
Let grace-dipped words rise up to set men free
Then they and I at rest in You will be



Friday, June 08, 2018

God's "Only Just Begun"

Relatives are rare in my neck of the woods. It’s a long journey from where they are to where I am. The road goes on and on in a confusion of sometimes dual carriageway and sometimes not. The weather, perhaps, appears in all forms possible. The sat-nav hasn’t spoken for some two hundred miles and the radio fizzes out with bad reception.

When they do make the effort, so do we.

There was a mad half hour of tidying between leaving work and my brother-in-law arriving. Undisturbed things – the ironing pile, the clutter of books on the coffee table, the sticky trail of brown sauce from the weekend’s bacon butty breakfast in front of the television – all were wiped or polished, folded or hidden in a nearby cupboard.

They arrived in their home from home Volkswagen van.

They are a retired couple. They sold their house in down-south Northampton, in Tory-governed Englandshire, and bought a cottage in Amble on the Northumbrian coast. The house is rented out to holiday makers during the summer months and they take off in the van for long trips here and there.  They were following the North Coast 500, Scotland's answer to Route 66 - “500 miles of stunning coastal scenery in the far north of Scotland.”  Their journey was well documented with pictures of sunsets and shorelines, of mountains and moorland, of deer and dolphins. Over tea and biscuits soaking up the late afternoon sun on our patio they kept up a commentary on all the places they had seen, finishing each other’s sentences like married couples do.

We were given a tour of their Volkswagen van. It wasn’t a big van, or a big tour either. In days gone by I had thought about buying a van like that, getting it painted hippy style with flowers and rainbows and driving off into to sunset. Days gone by. These days I have a feeling that I have pushed in the tent pegs too far and I am tied to my house and garden. My itchy feet have long since stopped itching and I am settled. And yet…I kind of envied them their wanderlust lifestyle.

At the moment I am doing the maths on lump sums and annual pensions. I say “I am” in a very loose sense. I am not. Someone with better maths skills is doing the adding up, the taking away and the multiplying. It’s not long now until I put away the whiteboard pens, hand over the classroom keys and step aside to let someone else step into my RE shoes.

What comes next? There are vague plans that include a dog and long walks. Not this year, but next year maybe, there is a Masters’ Degree in Creative Writing at the UHI that calls to me. There’s another book itching to be written. There’s coffee meet-ups to organise and late lunches to do. And, as I said to my husband, I fully intend to burn the plastic off my bus pass.

I know what I am like. I have plans but usually end up doing very little. I am a homebody and love to potter.

I thought about the Volkswagen van – the spiritual version of it and the faith equivalent of the North Coast 500. I suspect that in all the very much I have seen God do, which probably isn’t all that much at all, I have barely scratched the surface.

Moses who had seen a burning bush, a staff turn into a snake, seen plagues of all varieties, a Red Sea open, a chasing Egyptian army drowned, manna appear in the morning, water pour from a rock and grumblers swallowed up by the earth – declared -

‘O Sovereign Lord, you have only begun to show your greatness and the strength of your hand to me, your servant. Is there any god in heaven or on earth who can perform such great and mighty deeds as you do?” (Deuteronomy 3:24)

That’s my future right there.  His greatness and the strength of His arm shown to me. And always it will be the “only just begun”.