Climbing the Stairs

When we first arrived back in England from South Africa,
we had two small children and a plan.

My husband was going to stop work and write full time.
That was what he wanted to do.
I was going to go back to work after seven years with the children;
back to the bright corridors of academia or to the stage;
to my beloved enchanted theatre.
That was what I wanted to do.

We rented a house in the country and got to work.

Until I discovered I was pregnant.
And misery ensued.
No work for me; no writing for him.

But .. we would have come through it, I’m sure..
thought of something
some way

The real disaster struck when I lost the baby
which, when I lost it,
suddenly and terribly became a baby
one of my children

I knew it was my fault; it left me because I didn’t want it.
However illogical that thought was
– if only for millions of women throughout history it was that easy!- it stuck.
And so did I.

The moment I realised how stuck
was when I was going up the stairs
with a basket of washing
and I stopped moving.
I sat on the step and I could not get up.
Would not get up.

Until the family came home and found me.

The gap between intention and action is will.
Where there is no will,
there is no action.

Depression is not just crying in a corner;
depression is slipping a small cog in a wheel which renders you
literally un-able to do anything to help yourself;
you need to move; you know how to; but you can’t
want to.

Now, when it strikes me again, I am prepared.
I have a small emergency kit.
My box of tricks.

Get out before you can’t;
Even if it is just to push a trolley down the silicon alleys of Sainsbury’s
where the dead food stacks the shelves.

Watch a film; read a book;

Buy something online;
clothes to hang on this temporary frame of mine
which persuade me I am not yet one of those naked skeletons clanking into the dark..

Sometimes life gives you what you need, out of the blue;

Warm words on the phone; in an email; in a text..
a cheery whatsapp..
a knock on the door..

Head bent over the piano as the notes,
Pure, precise, passionate as water,
Flood the air with light.

Most of all, that hinge swinging open in the mind; a way into the woods..
girl in a white dress
under a night sky thronged with vampires;
lantern light in a stable;
lit festivity of food;
the worlds within that lure you out of your sorry self into another bewitching reality.

writing a poem will do it.

And the cog clicks back into place.

And you can climb the stairs.


Mr Rochester

Just off to see Jools – insanely – take to the stage at the National to spend two and a half hours playing the piano, the cello, the harp and the double bass – all from memory – while also MDing the band and acting as a various characters including a Victorian Schoolgirl. The composer, Benji, who wrote the beautiful score – who he is substituting for – has a beard, so I guess Jools is one step closer to verisimilitude..

update – back from glorious show at the National – Jane Eyre – wonderful night.

There was one inaccuracy in what Jools told me, though – he does indeed play the piano, the cello, the harp and the double bass – all from memory – while also MDing the band and acting as a various characters including a Victorian Schoolgirl – he forgot to mention that he also sings and plays the accordion…


This poem came to mind..

You’re such a strange man..

Mt Rochester

You’re so lonely and so proud..

Such a strange man..

Mr Rochester..

Living your life under a cloud..

Why do we love you,

Mr Rochester?

Why is each young girl a fan?

Why have you drawn us,

Mr Rochester?

Ever since your tale began?

Why do we long to soothe your pain?

Why do we all want to be Jane?

Mr Rochester?

Won’t you explain?



I’m trying – and failing – to write a new Christmas carol by the 16th – in fact, sooner, because I need to give Jools time to write the music for it by then.. which is why I keep writing other poems, doing the washing-up; rearranging the shelves, buying another t shirt online – anything other than doing the work I am being paid for. And still they keep coming. Here is another one. ( I know these aren’t lyrics , Jools, don’t panic! – hopefully he isn’t reading this!)

Update: This did indeed become the lyrics for our carol: and we have now, on the strength of it, been given a commission to write a full Christmas Oratorio for the Abbey to be performed on December 10th 2016. (There were a few changes – Darkness hangs in the dusty air became the first line. And the rat became a mouse. Probably for the best)

Darkness fills the dusty stable.

Her head curves over the sleeping baby
The cloth of her cloak gentle on his thin skin.
She gathers him closer to her as the lantern swings.

Animals stir ..
A snort of warm breath.
The stamp of a hoof.
Straw rustles.
A rat running.
Daylight struggles under the door.

The air changes.
And the world, forever.

Sapiens Revisited

If evolution had never got past a certain point
I can well imagine what my particular little tribe would be doing.

In the long hours between hunting and gathering
and fishing
and making fur into clothes,
we’d all be hanging around the cave –

I doubt we’d stop talking.

Cooking food; eating it; laughing, hugging; making love, arguing.

Drinking too much fermented berry juice.
And then drinking some more.

Some of us would be hunkered in front of the cave wall, delicately smearing plant dye onto our latest bison painting ..

Some padding a rock with moss to make a chair..

Some stretching skin over gourds and banging them endlessly with a stone while someone else twanged some gut stretched on a stick
and another one leaned against a tree and blew idly through a hollow twig..

Some climbing up the tree to watch the birds;
Some jumping off it to see how high it was.

Some  swimming in the river then running along the bank then trying to invent the wheel..

Some just sitting and wondering..

Some just sitting..

Most would be planning the next feast day celebration;
directing rehearsals;
practicing the dances,
making the masks;
learning a speech;
designing the costumes…
Working out a narrative …
composing a song –
singing it..
then singing it some more..

then making everybody listen..

While around us wonderful nature crawled and soared and buzzed and mated
and poured itself crashing down crags
and reared up above us in unfathomable green shadows
and soaked us and baked us and blew us and shivered us.

and occasionally ate us..

Mighty; Invulnerable;

safe from us.

We wouldn’t be around for long; but then,
A day is a day.

There would have been dreadful times; pain and loss and hunger and suffering and death; just like now.

Though we wouldn’t have had to bear it alone, or among strangers; to the very end there would have been communal firelight; familiar voices; the comforting weight of children on the lap.

But ..
Some of us would be poking the ants with a stick, trying to work out how to keep them from the food store; some watching the flow of the river, wondering how to divert it closer to the cave ..

Before you knew it, someone would be inventing iPhones.

That’s the trouble with humans; they can never leave well enough alone.


I love the bones of you.

Such an odd saying, I always thought.
There are so many things to love about a person;
why pick the bones?

But there is truth to it.

Bones are architecture; the scaffolding around which a body is built.
They define the shape, the purpose, the strength, the size of a person.
The nature of the disturbance of the air as they enter a room; their presence.

If you love that central  core
around which a person is built,
that determines the shape of their thoughts,
the purpose of their heart,
the strength of their longing,
the size of their soul,
There is no turning back.
No end to that loving.

After death
only the bones remain.
And the love.