A May Anniversary

May and Tom celebrated their Diamond Wedding in May 2003.  They had not may enhancedapplied for a telegram from the Queen.  Tom, a local government officer who had left his Northumberland mining family far behind, would perhaps have appreciated a royal recognition of this 60 year marriage achievement, but May would not have appreciated it at all.   She carried all her life a burning love for the father who had died in her teens and who had been a socialist in the 1920’s and 1930’s when it mattered.  While Tom had the final say in all things practical, May ruled when it came to people and what was politics but people writ large?

They had a lunchtime party in the small hotel in the centre of the old village and then went back home for tea and cake.  It was a repeat of the Golden Wedding celebration, but everything had faded somewhat since that vibrant occasion.  Quite a few of the friends and relations from before were no longer there, while May and Tom were like an old photograph, losing colour and already fixed somehow as a snapshot of themselves.  A lifetime of being the perfect gentleman carried Tom through his duties as Mein Host and his loud asides of “Who are all these people?” only made his daughters more proud of his performance.  May was already very ill and stayed in her seat instead of mixing, but she had dressed up beautifully in lilac with her usual pride and smiled on her guests’ delight in meeting each other again with her carefully honed awareness of other people’s pleasures.  It was a lovely day and if Tom was somewhat bewildered and May struggled to maintain her gaiety, everyone else thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  May and Tom had always given a good party.

In a matter of months May was dead, her strong will finally allowing her heart to stop and someone else to look after the world.  Tom succumbed more and more to dementia, but never behaved less than politely.   He stoically endured for 5 more years until he too decided enough was enough.  In that time he never mentioned May and no-one knew what was going on in his head.  He had never displayed sentimentality.

tom uniform enh Going through the house afterwards, his daughters came across a small bundle of flimsy airmail paper closely written in the 1940’s with permanent ink.  From the North African desert, to South Africa for the hospital ship home to Newcastle, on to jobs in London and Huntingdon and Sutton Coldfield, through to retirement first in Hathersage and then in Dronfield, Tom had always carried with him the letters May had sent him in the war years to anchor her boy safely to herself, his true home.


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A Story for Christmas

Christmas presents – such a lot of effort and in the end nothing but trouble!  Lizzie got me a theatre trip to London, train fare and hotel and tickets for a show, what a lovely idea.  She was that mad when I said I couldn’t go.
“You’ve done Christmas, Mum,” she pointed out. “You’ve done all the work.  Can’t you have some time off?”
“I can’t leave your Granddad, love, you know I can’t.”
“Dad can look after him,” she said.  “It’s only one night.  He can give Granddad a bowl of soup, can’t he?”  It sounded reasonable enough.
“Oh Lizzie, sweetheart,” I said, “Your Dad can’t –“  Can’t what?  How could I explain?  Can’t get Dad into his pyjamas and out of them again when there is no resistance in the limbs, dressing babies is simple compared to that.  Can’t tell him to wipe his bum or do it for him if you’re just not getting through.  Can’t persuade him back to bed at three in the morning when his teeth are chattering because the heating went off hours ago but he thinks it’s the middle of the day.  Can’t find the right reassuring answer to questions like where am I, who are you? Though it’s not the detail, not really.  What Jack can’t face up to is the big picture.  He and Dad used to have such a laugh together, used to enjoy the football and the quiz down at the pub.  Now Dad doesn’t know Jack’s name.  “He just can’t,” I said firmly.
“I wanted you to come with me.  I wanted some time for us, for me and you together.  I can’t go on me own.  But I should have known.”  Oh what a tear jerker.  She thinks she’s doing it for my own good.  She’s always been manipulative, our Lizzie.
“Yes, you should,” I said tartly, then tried to soften it a bit.  “One day, darling.  I’d love to go.  I’d love to go with you.  But not now.”
For a moment though, I was that upset, thinking how I’d spent my life taking care of Jack’s feelings and knowing he couldn’t spare a night to think of mine.  Did he never wonder what it was like for me, it was my Dad for goodness sake who’d gone somewhere deep and dark.  When it started I used to think his head was like a honeycomb, how if you were lucky you hit a connection and everything was OK, but more and more often you fell into the holes in between.  Now his head seems like an overgrown forest and he’s inside like a scared child, feeling monsters might lurk in every corner and thinking if he sits very still and doesn’t say a word, then they won’t get him.
But on that very day, in the dead zone between Christmas and New Year, when in another universe I might have been in London, all dressed up in some glitzy theatre waiting for the drum roll – that was the night I saw our Brian’s Jamie playing with a balloon.  He’s a quiet little lad, good as gold, you don’t notice him half the time and I suppose we’d kind of forgotten he was there, sat playing under the tree while Dad sat same as always in his chair in front of the telly.  People can be quite snotty about old folk parked in front of the telly but what they don’t realise is, it’s an anchor.  It keeps them still and safe and attached to the world.  They don’t follow it, they don’t know what’s going on half the time, but it’s colour and noise and it is familiar.  Most important of all, it’s someone talking who isn’t demanding an answer.  Real people come up close and put on a funny voice and ask questions more difficult than what’s the meaning of life, questions like how are you today?  The telly makes no demands at all.  It is everybody’s alibi and that includes the person with dementia.  People should remember that.
Anyway I’d been in the kitchen making a cup of tea while Jack was hiding in the back room listening to some match on the radio.  Janice, Brian’s wife, had taken Rebecca off upstairs to change her nappy and Lizzie was picking a fight with Brian in the hall about who had had the most to drink and who could go to the off licence to get more gin.  Brian mostly goes along with his sister’s ideas, years of experience, anything for a quiet life, but every so often he makes a stand.  I was coming through the living room doorway when Jamie patted his balloon to Dad.  I was just about to interfere like I always did, to distract Jamie from disappointment, to protect Dad from expectation, when at the last minute Dad’s arm shot out and he batted it back.  Back and forth that balloon went and I stood frozen, wanting this moment to last for ever, praying the others would stay where they were.
It was dark outside, but the lights were sparkling on the tree and the fire was crackling in the grate behind the fireguard and I could smell the pine needles  and the mince pies warm from the oven.  It could have been another Christmas, any Christmas from before, from long ago. Then all at once Brian and Lizzie were laughing and agreeing to walk to the off licence together and Janice was carrying the baby down the stairs singing Jingle Bells off key and Jack came through to ask where was the tea.  The balloon lay still on the floor, but Jamie sent his Great Granddad a secret smile and my Dad nodded and patted the balloon with his toe before withdrawing back inside himself.
That moment was my Christmas present.  It’s the one I’ll try to remember.

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Our Song

Just out on Amazon under my maiden name Heather Douglas is my book of short stories

Our Song, Stories in the keys of love and death


These dark stories of unexpected death explore the different viewpoints of family, witness, victim, policeman or murderer. They are sometimes disturbing, sometimes humorous, always gripping and take place in variety of locations and situations.  Just as the popular songs of the titles are recognisable, so too are the emotions of love, loss and jealousy revealed here, but the steps to revenge, murder and remorse taken in these chilling tales are smaller than we might realise.


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Over Stones

Over Stones

Ian Smith of the English Folk Music Club Costa Blanca put my poem set out below to music and here is the song:


The morning mist retreated leaving green hills bright with dew.
The sunlight dried the water drops, the grass thinned out anew.
Brown stains spread                                                                              grass-stone
Blood shone red
In splatters over stones.
Here lay the dead
Shot with lead
And carrion bared their bones.

The land retains our history enclosed in its rich earth;
Our crops feed off the wealth of dead and give us our rebirth.
New blooms spread
Petals shine red
In patterns over stones.
Rich flower bed
With love’s care fed
For our past sins atones.

The ground is hallowed where we walk in every country village.
Its history holds the sins of war, of death and rape and pillage.
Yet we forget
We’re sinning yet
We fight wars overseas.
New death is met
New grievance set
And we harvest bitter tears.

The land retains our history enclosed in its rich earth
Our crops feed off the wealth of dead and give us our rebirth

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For National Poetry Day there is a new post on Verse:
A Little Night Music, (or someone told me tonic water is good for an insect bite)

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After the parched, faded days of summer, autumn seems rich leaveswith ripe colour.  After the tired summer sounds, stretched and thinned to carry far distant through the empty air, autumn sounds are round and full.  Clouds bring the sky closer and longer nights draw down the day.
foliage     I would say that I love the warm mellow sun on autumn’s red and gold, that I love the sharp crunch of fallen leaves underfoot.  I would say that I love the berries, the nuts, the overripe fruits.  Harvest home is one festival that all humans can engage with as they come together to support each other through the long winter months.   Even in the west where we have good transport and many supermarkets, storing up for winter still lingers in our genetic makeup – although we may call it getting ready for Christmas.
But what I love most is the drawing in – of time, of light, but most of all of people.  The community comes home after its holidays and day trips, after its excursions into the outside world. Instead of playing outside in the long bright evenings, children take refuge from the dark, under the eye of their parents.  With the curtains closed and the lights on, we come together for the familiar autumn TV season of sport and drama, of song and dance.  Our world has grown smaller, it is one we know well and for a while we feel safe within our walls.

with thanks to Pixabay for the images


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Cartagena has a natural, strategic harbour and an ancient pre-Roman history.   It cartagena-harbour-2lies about 100 km west of the popular tourist spot of Alicante and very close to La Manga, a holiday destination on the Mar Menor lagoon known for its golf club and professional footballer guests.

Cartagena attracts many visitors for its Romans and Carthaginians Festival, which started in 1990 and takes place every September. It cartegena-roman-theatre-3commemorates the Second Punic War when the Romans took over Cartagena in while its leader Hannibal was off attacking Rome and  its re-enactments last several days, ending with a tremendous firework display.

It is only recently however that Cartagena’s magnificent Roman theatre has been fully excavated and given access through a lovely museum.  The first time I visited Cartagena about ten years ago, the theatre site was cartagena-theatre-stagebehind high wooden fencing, with only the odd hammering noise attracting any attention.  Now it can be seen in all its splendour, a huge structure just a short stroll from the harbour and surrounded by normal, modern, day to day city life.  You have to wonder what the neighbours next door think of it as they hang their washing out on their balconies looking down on the vast 2000 year old stage.

The beautiful harbour is still a major naval base but in recent years has also cartegena-cruise-shipbecome a stop off point for many Mediterranean cruise ships, bringing a welcome economic boost to the city.  A variety of museums showcase its history, but just walking round you can see a wide range of architecture and some beautiful art deco facades from its trade and mining prosperity in the nineteenth century, not to mention  bullet hole scars in its walls from the more recent Civil War.

Cartagena is well worth a visit and if you are hungry, there are many restaurants cartagena-buildingjust off the main drag with really tasty examples of the three course Spanish menu del dia for about 10 euros!


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