Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Sonnet.

I'm on a walking and boozing holiday in the Cotswolds with six mum friends. The cottage we've rented is fantastic, the weather is stunning, and there's lots of booze, some of it kindly left for us by the owners. I stick my head in the fridge and stare at the selection. 

"I'm renegotiating my relationship with alcohol," I tell my friends. "So I won't be drinking any of this. I've given up for a while."

"Since when?" says one of my friends.

"Since last week," I say. "Since I woke up with a hangover and a bad back on Friday and read an article about how bad drinking is for the over 40s."

"You're not including this weekend, though, surely?" says my friend.

But I am. I'm trying not to drink for a month, until Christmas. 

"If I wait for an opportune moment it'll never happen," I say. "And I don't want to cave in after only a week."

This is all true, and I feel pretty good on it, but mostly I just feel pleased, with myself.

So, as another of my friends lights the fire in the 'drawing room' and the rest tuck into the lake of alcohol, I sit on one of the plush sofas and sip fizzy water and try to read a collection of sonnets. It's part of my homework for the MA.

It's hard to read poems just to yourself so I start reading them out loud to my friends, as we all pull our knees up towards us, and the fire crackles cosily in the grate. Here's a racy one they rather liked, by Jo Shapcott...


When I kiss you in all the folding places
of your body, you make that noise like a dog
dreaming, dreaming of the long runs he makes
in answer to some jolt to his hormones,
running across landfills, running, running
by tips and shorelines from the scent of too much,
but still going with head up and snout
in the air because he loves it all
and has to get away. I have to kiss deeper
and more slowly - your neck, your inner arm,
the neat creases under your toes, the shadow
behind your knee, the white angles of your groin -
until you fall quiet because only then
can I get the damned words to come into my mouth.

Before dinner we allocate bedrooms using pieces of paper with names we have invented for the rooms written on them, placed in a hat and pulled out at random. There are seven bedrooms. One we call fish because it has cool fish wallpaper; one we call cold because it's a bit colder than the rest; one we call green because it doesn't have pretty wallpaper but is painted green, and is tiny, and has two single beds, and so on... I don't mind sleeping in any of them except for the tiny green one with the single beds.

I get the tiny green one with the single beds; and it is small, so small that I bang into the wall at the bottom of the bed when I get up in the night to go to the loo.

After dinner, which is very boozy, we retire to bed but I can't sleep. I put the light on in the green room and read about sonnets for a while. I read about the Italian sonnet (or Petrarchan) and about 'the turn' in the sonnet, and about 'the golden section', which is all to do with maths, apparently, and that Italian geezer called Fibonacci. "The golden section is a mathematical ratio of (very) approximately 8:5, or expressed as a decimal, 1.618... It can be defined as follows: if a straight line is divided at the point where the ratio of the smaller part to the larger part is the same as that of the larger to the whole, then that point occurs at the golden section." (Don Paterson.)

This makes my brain hurt, so instead of reading about sonnets I put the book down and try to write one, at 2am, sitting in a single bed, in a tiny green room, where the walls appear to move closer each time I look up at them from my laptop, like in a cell.


It's harder than you might think
to keep refusing boozy drink,
while those around you knock it back
and chide and tempt and give you flack.

But I decide I must steer clear
of wine and fizz and pints of beer,
opting instead to polish my halo
for having the strength to actually say 'no'. 

As night wears on and glasses drain, I sit
at the table feeling strange - and oddly clear headed - 
watching my girlfriends getting totally shredded,

Thinking: it's not a holiday for me but for my liver,
I'm stone cold sober and a winner:
the only one standing after dinner. 

Love E x


P.S. Mine's rather more Pam Ayres than Jo Shapcott.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017


I'm at Brixton Academy on Thursday night to see Blondie’s Pollinator tour, standing about ten feet away from the stage with a perfect view of a central slice of it between the heads and shoulders of the crowd before me. I was worried I might be a bit old for concert going now, but looking around I see there was nothing to worry about, lots of people here are older than I am, and lots are gay men, and lots are older gay men.

Deborah Harry appears on stage wearing a bee hat, sporting a cloak that when she turns her back to the audience we can see reads: ‘Stop Fucking The Planet.’ It's part of the band's campaign to raise funds and awareness for BEE Connected, to help stop declining bee numbers. She starts singing One Way or Another and the crowd goes wild. She looks amazing; she's 72. 

An attractive young couple - she dark, he blonde - suddenly appear in the space in front of me; they turn apologetically. "Sorry!" she says. 

"Can you still see?" He says. 

"It’s fine," I say. "Just don't snog. If you snog I won't be able to see."

They laugh.

I watch the concert - which is amazing - with the heads of this young couple flanking my view, like pillars. They know all the words to all the songs, everyone does. Each time the first few bars of a song begins and they recognise it they look at each other; each time a driving beat begins, which is often, she gets excited and starts to bop up and down, then so does he. As the concert nears its spectacular finale and the tracks become faster and louder and more recognisable (if that's possible) they jump up and down in unison. During the last track, Heart of Glass, he turns to kiss her and they kiss for ages so that all I can see is the kiss and not Deborah Harry and the huge screen behind her with three rotating glass hearts. On the final note they part and the hearts shatter into a thousand sparkling pieces.

When the concert ends they turn back towards me to begin their ascent up the slope to the doors. With the lights up I can see how young they are. "You guys are so cute!" I suddenly say, on a post-concert high and without considering, until the words are out of my mouth, that this might sound horribly patronising. Fortunately they don’t seem to mind, in fact they seem delighted. 

"Thanks!" He says, while she beams.

This emboldens me. "How old are you?" I say.

"We’re 19!" She says.

"19!" I say. "I have a son who's 19 tomorrow!"

"Wow," he says. "You don't look old enough!"

They smile and say goodbye, then disappear up the slope holding hands.

I turn to my mate as we head for the exit. "My lower back is killing me," says my mate.

My back is fine, I think. And I don't look old enough to have a 19-year-old, and I'm actually old enough to have a 21-year-old. Hooray!

"That couple were so cute!" I say. "They had the most amazing chemistry. And do you know they are only 19?"

"They'll probably have split up by the weekend," she says.

But I don't think so.

Next day I wake to find I am every inch the mother of a 19-year-old, and a 21-year old, and a 15-year-old, because I am in agony. My back's gone and I can hardly move. 

Love E x


P.S. And I know he was only being polite.

Btw - the son who is 21 has recorded an album with his band - The Melanies -  link below. He's the handsome one, middle back: lead guitar, some vocals, songwriting. Please play it. Thank you.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Whispering Gallery.

One of our friends who is the same age as my husband has just had a baby. I don't mean it emerged from his body, although with modern medical advances that possibility might not be far off, or perhaps even already here but The Man is keeping it from us because if women the world over discovered we could hand over pregnancy and birth to men we would make them stay at home, barefoot and pregnant, and sally forth into the world to have fun ourselves, and then sexual assault would all but disappear, and the newspaper industry would have to fold. But I digress.  I mean that his wife just had a baby, a girl, his fourth child and her first. 

On the day I'm due to meet the new baby I go on a recce to St Paul's Cathedral. I have to queue to get in, along with all the Spanish and Italian tourists. I have my bag searched at the door, then walk purposefully towards the nave but encounter an obstacle there - Evensong, about to begin. A woman holding copies of the order of service asks if I'd like to take part and for some reason I say yes, and take a copy, and then a pew among the congregation, and then think: strange decision.

I don't believe I've ever been to a church service that wasn't a wedding, a funeral, or a christening. I've certainly never been to one by myself. A friend once asked me to be her child's godparent but I felt I had to politely decline because I wouldn't be able to say all that stuff in church without everything crossed. And now here I am, alone in St Paul's Cathedral, on a Saturday afternoon, listening to the choir boys' song reverberate around the walls of the Whispering Gallery, and it brings tears to my eyes because it's so beautiful, and because a woman fell from here a few weeks ago and looking up at the precarious railings I can't help but think about that. What was going through her mind? Why the Whispering Gallery?

After the service, walking from the cathedral to the Strand, it's eerily quiet because the roads are closed in preparation for the Lord Mayor's fireworks display. Without traffic noise I can hear my own footsteps echo along the pavement and snatches of other people's conversations as they pass. 

At my hairdressers in Covent Garden I tell Sergio about the service in St Paul's. "You're Italian," I say. "Do you believe all that stuff?"

"Oh no," he says, twirling his scissors. "Not anymore."

I tell him about going to visit the baby and when I mention her name - Fallon - he mishears and thinks I say phallic.

"That's my religion!" he laughs, which is funny, and not true because he later tells me a long and involved story about a car accident in his twenties when he was sure his life was saved because his patron saint was looking out for him, then he shows me a picture of him in his office before I leave.

At our friends' house later I meet up with my husband and cradle our friends' baby in my arms. She's like a tiny mewing kitten. My husband pours the champagne he brought for the occasion. The three of us sip it as the baby's mother unfolds the tissue paper enclosing the tiny outfit, with matching tiny shoes, that I took great pleasure in choosing after I left the hairdressers. We all stare at the newborn baby in silent contemplation for a moment.

"So," says the baby's father. "A guy in a shop thought I was her Grandad; and I'm going to regret telling you that, aren't I."

"What's it like being a Daddy again, Grandad?" I ask.

He smiles, and says... 

Actually, I don't remember what he says, I'm too busy looking at his baby.

Love E x