Saturday, 28 February 2009

Weekend froth

OK, it's the weekend...and all that talk of making curtains into outfits has made me want to show you a couple of clips from one of the best kids films of recent years (we first saw it back here). For anyone who missed it our heroine is a cartoon fairy-tale princess sent to 'real life' New York City...with, as you might imagine, hilarious results. Here's the first clip:

and here's another (this one has a curtain frock...for those of you interested in such things):

It really doesn't get any cheerier than that...does it?

Friday, 27 February 2009

And about turn!

So there I was...earlier on today...trying to keep myself cheerful in the face of various family concerns, a renewed disappointment in the human race, the hopelessness of existence...oh you know the kind of thing...and I was thinking 'time to write a cheering up poem' and then I remembered this song from 1979 and I smiled (hurray!):

See how great songs are! I liked this one as a kid but I think I appreciate it more now. Some days it is really, really hard to stay anything remotely like cheerful any of the time (not that a person has to be cheerful all the time or anything...but I think that at least now and again it is a good idea...).

Then after finding the Ian Dury I remembered that I have written 'cheering up poems' before (and have needed them too...). Here's an old one...till I come up with something else. I may well get this one out on Sunday night. It's a reworking of something else but I'm sure you'll be able to work it out. Now I'm off to go and make a dress out of a duvet cover or something...

Second to nun

Clothes out of curtains and warbling nuns
Big dreamy moons and sleepy old suns
Seeing a lighthouse from high on a swing
These are a few of my favourite things

Chocolate fingers and friendly bus drivers
Finally calmer rave era survivors
Hearing the radio starting to sing
These are a few of my favourite things

Big umbrellas and good working plumbing
A real surprise you didn't see coming
Lemon and tonic and ice cubes and gin
These are a few of my favourite things

When the bills come
When life's no fun
When I'm feeling done
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don't feel so glum

RF 2005


Thursday, 26 February 2009

Being awkward

You know I'm never awkward and/or contrary on purpose don't you? But after the last post I had an overwhelming urge to post some Radiohead. I didn't really listen to them when they were first popular (I was too lost in the world of the rave...I didn't listen to anything that slow for years!) but in recent years I have listened to some here and there and my significant other is quite keen. They have more than a whiff of Pink Floyd don't they and I've listened to that very English rock band too...on and off...over the years. As much as anything else Radiohead do have some quite lovely songs (and you know me and songs). Here's one ('High and Dry' from their 1995 album 'The Bends' ):

I always laugh because the first line 'Two jumps in a week...' makes me think of the film 'Rita, Sue and Bob too' (very Northern English and vulgar...funny and horrible...). Also watching this clip reminds me how exciting music videos were when they first came out...people still make them (I suppose) but they don't seem to have much impact any more (how much detail can a fan see watching everything via a tiny mobile phone screen for a start?). In contrast I remember being in a London nightclub/disco in about 1983 and the whole club stopping to watch the video to Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'. I can't say it was my favourite song or anything but the video was a big event (I was about the stage where I would go anywhere and listen to anything). This Radiohead video is quite engaging in its way...but it's fairly forgettable too.

This clip also reminds me of how I used to listen to my much older sisters' records (45s!) when I was little. One of them had got married to the sounds of Cliff Richard's 'Congratulations' and the record was still hanging about the house (mixed in with their Beatles records, I think). I remember the b side was called 'High'n'dry'' and I played that side over and over (I was about 5). I thought there was no way that would be on YouTube but what do you know...yes, way!

It seems to be a bit out of synch...but it is from 1968. And what is Cilla wearing? Pantomime clothes?

Have you lost all respect for me now? Remember the Jukebox of Cringe posts at Xmas? You thought Mariah Carey was as low as I could go...and you were wrong! In my defence it's been a bit of a twisted week...what with thinking about public performance on Sunday (see post below) and a trip here and there and reading more of Don Paterson's aphorisms. I enjoyed Paterson's 'The Book of Shadows' so much recently that I picked up 'The Blind Eye' again (that's the second book of aphorisms from 2007 – I bought them in reverse order). There are so many good ones in 'The Blind Eye' that I could, once again, quote it all day...but here's just one to chew on for now:

“Only the mad are safe from doubt. I am always bewildered by those who regard a revised opinion as a sign of weakness; it strikes me as a fine guarantee of the commentator's sanity.”

So you see...sometimes I like Radiohead and sometimes I don't! Here's another one of theirs to finish on – one of my very favourites (from 1997's 'OK Computer'). I love his voice, Thom Yorke, and that pained look he gets on his face so often. I wonder if he ever sings Cliff Richard songs or Lloyd Webber showtunes or Disney theme tunes in the shower. You never know. He's probably awkward and contrary too.

Monday, 23 February 2009


This Sunday 1st March I will be appearing as part of the Out of the Woods night at the Woodlands Hotel, Barnhill, Dundee (show starts 8pm). It's a music night primarily but the stupendous Pauline Hynd who runs the event has asked me to be the guest compere so there I will be...introducing the performers and reading a poem here and there and even singing a song or two with my musical friend Verona.

The guests on Sunday are Scottish singer/songwriters Lorna Brooks, Gill Stewart East and the Dundee Rep Women Singers as well as Pauline herself (who was so great back at Edinburgh's Forest Café in November last year). Every year around this time (what with International Women's Day and all) Pauline puts on an all women bill. It's a lot of fun.

I have been on the stage there twice before – once to sing with Verona at a new songwriters showcase and once, about this time last year, to do a full half hour set of songs and poems. It's a big venue (much bigger than your average poetry night would fill!) and you're up on a proper stage and everything. So far it has been a great place for me/us to do... whatever our thing is so let's hope that tradition continues. I've been sorting through poems to try there this time and I may well read this one that had an airing at Forest in November too:

Although this time I might not read a really long, fast poem beforehand and then forget to take a drink (if you listen closely to the clip you can hear me gulping as my mouth dries out completely!). The other day I got a message from somebody (whose opinion I respect – he's done a lot of writing himself one way or another) saying that they thought 'Not tonight, Radiohead' was the best poem in my book and that really I should have used its title for the book's title too. I don't know about best it is for people who prefer to read with eyes rather than ears:

Not tonight, Radiohead

Please, my love, perhaps not Radiohead tonight
Right on the pulse of our lives it may be
But it's dark, so dark, and I need to feel light

I work all day to keep up the fight
To smile in the face of that creep misery
So please, my love, perhaps not Radiohead tonight

Now I know that light can be taken for trite
(Or something much worse which also rhymes tight)
But sight can play tricks and you might never see
How in darkest of dark, you can so need light

And we may love truth with all our might
But at times less pain can set us free
So please, my love, perhaps not Radiohead tonight

Instead joyous sounds, so hot they ignite
Disco or banjo or sweet harmony
When it gets this dark, it's not wrong to need light

I don't want a fake promise, it'll be alright
I'm not stupid, you know, just a little weary
So please, my love, perhaps not Radiohead tonight
In the dark, cruel dark, give me light, warm light

RF 2007

I know some of you just don't like villanelles much but I do (Wendy Cope has some great ones) but what I most like about this poem is how true it is. This is absolutely how I feel quite a bit of the time (it happened just last week in fact). It's like I get so precariously close to an edge that just a gloomy sound can push me to a point that....I don't want to get to. I start worrying about inherited mental illness and hormone imbalances and all my coping strategies start wobbling. It's very draining and tedious and I would quite like it if it didn't happen at all. But it does.

I think one reason I have not highlighted this poem too much is that I know it is one that could be easily misinterpreted (it's happened already). Some people take it that I don't like Radiohead and that's really not the case...I quite like their sound and some of their songs and the last thing I want on my gravestone is 'that woman who didn't like Radiohead, you know the one'. That would be silly...but silly things do happen.

Speaking of songs, Verona and I have been practising a couple of ours for Sunday (probably 'School gates, no mates', maybe 'The Wandering Song', Verona might sing a solo too). We haven't performed songs to an audience for a few months (for a reason I can't really go into here) but it does mean it is just like starting all over again in some ways. Will we remember the words? Will Verona's hands shake so much she can't play the guitar? Will we just explode with manic energy (we are both a bit manic at times...)? At least this week we are on early so we can sing and then relax (the talking and poems doesn't worry me so's just talking – how hard can that be!). Anyone who can make it to Dundee this Sunday...we'll see you there! I'll be the one trying not to talk too fast...

p.s. On a completely unrelated note I did a little translation of a poem (Spanish to English) for Swiss and it is up on Roxana's blog just now alongside Swiss' more creative version of the same poem. It was a bit of a quick job (mine) and...well...I could make loads of excuses about how long it is since I used any Spanish but what's the point...go and have a look if you're interested in such things. I don't read much poetry in translation...though I did take Don Paterson's 'The Eyes' out of the library the other day (which is Paterson taking poems by Spanish poet Antonio Machado and sort of translating, sort of creating something new). Maybe I'll write something about 'The Eyes' some time soon. Maybe not...


Friday, 20 February 2009

Home thoughts 3 – England, but what of England?

In the first home thoughts post I talked about England a little. I was born there, I went to school there and I have lived in its north, south and middle at some point or other. Maybe I will live there again one day...maybe I won't... but like a lot of people I have a very love/hate and on/off relationship with my home country (no wonder home countries are referred to as mother or fatherlands!). In some ways I do love it (memories, music, comedy, writers, places, people...) but I wrote in that first post that there was a lot about it that I don't miss since we moved north to Scotland in 2002. I didn't give details about what I don't miss because sometimes I'm not even sure what the things are that I don't miss! (And by the way I know Scotland has its down sides too...everywhere does...but Scotland is still foreign enough to me for these things not to bother me...well, not to bother me all the time...).

Here are a some of the less-than-great-things about England that I remember:

1. Our white neighbours in Yorkshire saying to me when I got back from hospital with baby Small Girl for the first time “was the ward full of it was”. I know you get racists in other places but...there are lots of people in England who just make me ashamed to be human, never mind English. Ashamed probably isn't the right word...they make me depressed. I find people's harshness to and lack of care about other people just unbearable sometimes really.

2. The whole issue of national pride - in England it is a very confused area just now. Some people have too much, some people are just ashamed, some people are miserable, some people are too busy fighting off the recession and/or knife-wielding assailants to think about it. As I mentioned before I read Billy Bragg's valiant effort to take English pride back from the right wingers ('The Progressive Patriot')...but I'm not sure he really came to any conclusions. He saw hope in the fact that the English flag now has more to do with football than fascists (maybe)...but he didn't sound wholly convinced. The book is very good on his love of music (interesting sections on Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan, pop pickers) and when it comes to the business of national anthems he's pretty good too:

“It's been years since our Welsh and Scottish neighbours stopped singing the British national anthem, 'God save the Queen', at sporting events. It didn't take an Act of Parliament, or the United Kingdom to crumble or the monarchy to collapse, to make the change. When the Welsh sing 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' they are sending out a message, and even if the language is unfamiliar, the meaning is clear: 'Hello, we're from Wales and we're very proud of it.' England's continued attachment to the British anthem smacks of a lack of self-confidence, a worry that, without it, we might somehow be a lesser people. The message sent out every time we sing 'God save the Queen' is one of ambiguity: 'Hello, we're English, but we're not really sure what that means.'”

Bragg has recorded what is often referred to as England's unofficial national anthem (Blake's 'Jerusalem') and I could give you the YouTube clip but...I had to sing it once in a school play and I can't face listening to the song ever since! I also considered the Sex Pistols 'God save the queen' know where it is if you want to go and find it. It's not really my thing and all the Pistols stuff I could see on the YouTube was too ropey for words. I know, I know...that was the point...still not something I want to have on here particularly (though I did really enjoy John Lydon's book 'Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs', published in that a while back).

3. Some people really do seem to actively want more shopping malls and airport runways and motorways in England but it's a small country and there's only so much space left to build on. I'm sure there are still quiet places (that Weaver of Grass farm looks lovely!) but it just felt like it was getting a bit crazy towards the end of our last residence there.

4. Having grown up in the north of England I always found a particular kind of annoying English southerner unbearable. Comedian Harry Enfield does a good one:

Except of course the dim ones can be fairly's the clever ones you have to watch out for.

And here's a poem about England and one of my favourite English poets - Philip Larkin.

Larkin is home

Are you England in a nutshell
You behind the thick glasses?
All those grey cloud reflections
Shielding ships lost at sea

With the muttering and the glooming
And the hating all the upset
All the turning up the stereo
And the griping over tea

And yet somehow you wrote it
Possibly the best love line
Ever to be dragged
From this language so free

But it's raining and it's pouring
Maybe England is just drowning
Maybe Larkin's dry in heaven
Maybe toads fly swimmingly

RF 2009


Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Home thoughts - 2

No long post - just a quick poem break. Here's one I wrote about moving house...a few years ago. I'm not saying this is the final word on moving house or anything - it's just how I felt one day a while ago. Other days I feel much more know how I am (or you should do by now)...bloody awkward...

Changing the scenery

Every move will be the last one
Always beginning all over again
This time better, this time perfect
Saying that since I don't know when

Every time the process falters
Different place with different pain
Everything is changed and better
Everything is just the same

RF 2005

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Home thoughts

Well, I said I might write some more about home in the last post (what is home, where is it, what does it mean..?). So here are a few bits and pieces on the subject. I think this may well turn into a series...

First a song. There are so many songs about home...about a home country (Scotland excels in this area), about a family home, about missing home, about a singer getting home from the road (Canadian James Keelaghan's 'Sing my heart home' is lovely). I can't find the Keelaghan song online so here's a well-known favourite on a similar theme. I suppose this one partly came to mind because I was reading and writing with at least two of you recently about this this clip is from 1967 (year I was born) I once had a boyfriend who looked spookily like this version of Art Garfunkel (minus the crazy 60s fashions, mine was an 80s boyfriend who dressed like Michael Douglas in 'Wall Street' even whilst at uni...oh, it's a long story...). Anyway here are the guys:

I don't often post any song lyrics on here...strangely perhaps...but look at these again:

“Tonight I'll sing my songs again
I'll play the game and pretend
But all my words come back to me
In shades of mediocrity
Like emptiness in harmony
I need someone to comfort me”

What writer hasn't worried about 'shades of mediocrity'? What a lovely set of lines.

Secondly a photo. Poetikat posted some photos of her writing stations at home the other day and apologised for the mess in one of them (p.s thanks for the sheep pic, Kat). I laughed because her places were so NOT messy! I am never exactly a candidate for housewife of the year but last week (what with the dog and the sickness) things were particularly slovenly round here. So behold my downstairs work station the other day (there is one upstairs too...I haven't worked up there for a while though). It is not usually quite this bad...

I did have some great views in the other direction too – complete with recovering Small Girl on sofa, days-old ironing, random musical instruments, toys - but my tidy man would much rather we did not share these with the outside world. As usual he is probably right...

And then here are some fairly random thoughts on the subject of home.

I have lived in 29 different locations (and in this I am counting any house/flat/etc. that I stayed in for longer than a couple of weeks, no holiday places, just longer residences). Once as a sort of writing/memory exercise I racked my brain to remember them all and then tried to remember as many details about each one as possible (visual details, people I knew there, things that happened etc.). It was a very interesting exercise...not all details to be repeated here though! One reader asked where I had lived so, in chronological order, I lived in:
6 places in the North East of England (up to age 16),
2 in London,
3 in Madrid (all in 1985/6),
3 in Cambridge (England),
1 in Nottinghamshire,
10 in Leeds (West Yorkshire),
1 elsewhere in West Yorkshire and then
3 in the fine county of Angus in Scotland (2002-now).

And please don't waste any time on...'I think I knew someone who knew a Rachel living there then' because, of course, I probably wasn't Rachel at the time in question (it's complicated, I know, sorry about that). Rachel was only born in Angus, as it were. Is that weird? Unquestionably...

Anyway, maybe because of the above list I tend to think of home as where particular people are (my Mum to begin with, then certain friends, and now of course Mark and that girl) rather than bricks and mortar. We do have a (family) home now and we expect to stay in it for a good while (that or we take the bloody solar panels with us...). However I have been around enough to know that life can change your direction at any point. We like it living where we are now and I am as happy as I've ever been (despite the odd tearful week here and there...I'm just the tearful type sometimes) but if, for any reason, we had to I'd to another to number 30 in the list of places. Maybe some of you are like me in this regard or maybe some of you are more like one of my best friends who gets hugely, significantly bonded to the house she is living in. She has a huge physical sense of 'home', feels very rooted where she is and moving is always a very big deal for her. How does this work? Do I just have very short roots? Is it because we moved quite a bit when I was younger?

I always find it interesting when we go away that Small Girl starts to refer to wherever we are staying as 'home' – often within hours of arriving there. From what I can gather if her Dad and I are there then it is 'home' (whether it's a hotel room or a tent or whatever) but I don't know if this is normal? Are other people's kids like this? Or is she just like me...not one for the deep geographical roots? Wherever she lays her teddy bear...and all that.

Which reminds me...a lot of people refer to a country as 'home'. I was born in England, my parents were mostly English, I lived in England for 34 years in total and yet...does England feel like home? Yes and then, most definitely, no. Did it ever? In some ways yes, in many others no, no, NO! I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the place which I think is not that unusual (all those singers who miss their homes...they still go off again as soon as they can, don't they...). All I know is there is a lot about England that I do not miss, that's for sure. I have thought a lot about poems about England but not written that many – one only-slightly flippant one called 'Got the Bridget Jones, Love Actually, Four Weddings blues' (in 'modern world' on site), one downright silly one called 'Between the lines' (in 'writing') – but maybe more are on their way and that's partly what this is all about. Maybe that's in turn partly because Scottish poets write so much about Scotland (not just single poems – whole books of them!) that this has made me think more about the whole subject of homelands. Jo Shapcott has a poem about England (taken here from Bloodaxe's 'Sixty Women Poets' pub.1993) called 'Motherland' and it contains fascinating bits like this “Even / the dictionary laughs when I look up / 'England', 'Motherland', 'Home'.” It also has this striking final verse:

“England. It hurts my lips to shape
the word. This country makes me say
too many things I can't say, home
of my rotting pride, my motherland.”

And...just because I can...I'm going to end this one on another of my favourite English songs...and speaking of the 1980s...

How can you go wrong with lyrics like that:

“I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
It's wrong to wish on space hardware
I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care”.

For a southerner (and you know the north/south divide in England rivals the England/Scotland divide quite spectacularly and always has done)...he's really very good.


Friday, 13 February 2009

Feeling like death?

Recently Sorlil quoted Anne Sexton 'A woman who writes feels too much'. Man, you're not kidding...I have been crying all week about one thing or another. Not every week works out like this...but I have to admit it's not that uncommon either. I would sometimes like to be the kind of person who doesn't take every little thing quite so much to heart, the kind of woman who can keep things together...but I'm not sure that's going to happen. I sometimes feel like a piece of litmus paper. A much used piece of litmus paper.

Anyway Sorlil also tagged me to post 'a phrase: a few lines from a poem, a song, or an overheard sentence that rings important inside you' and this is the first one that came to mind:

from 'The Death of the Hired Man' by Robert Frost

'Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.'

It's been a bit crazy here so to be honest when I read the instruction I didn't read past the word 'poem' properly (otherwise I might have picked something from a song...I probably have a lot more song lyrics in my head than lines from, you know, stuff officially categorised as poetry...). However this is the one I started with so this is the one I'm sticking to. We studied this poem in secondary school (along with a few other of Frost's) and this phrase (almost an aphorism?) has followed me around since then. I'm not sure if it's true but there's something about it that has always interested me and continues to do so. I grew up in an area that we were not really from, we moved a lot, I went to weird schools, I lived abroad, I went back 'home', I didn't feel at 'home', we moved again, I sometimes feel at home here...but not always so it is a recurring theme. Plus I think a lot about people and how they do (or do not) care for each other (and that is very much what the poem is about). I think a lot about everything that people do and don't do...none of that helps with the 'not feeling so much' business...

Other things this week - our Old Dog (a cairn terrier called Ailsa) was put down on Thursday and I didn't think I'd be so upset but I have been blubbering like an actress on an awards show (Small Girl has been ill this week too so that has probably added to my uselessness). Ailsa lived to 16 and was a funny old thing (originally my Mum's dog) but she had lived with us since my Mum moved up here in 2004 and so she was, with all her terrible habits (the dog I'm talking about...), a member of our family. I remember being at the StAnza masterclass in 2005 (led by Jane Hirshfield) and a woman read a poem about her cat dying and feeding it chicken like threading a needle. As the poem was discussed I suspect I was a little impatient (as in 'oh please..are we really talking about this...this is a bit gross...') but that poem has stayed with me too (more than I could have expected). I thought of it yesterday as Mark and Mum took Old Dog off to the vet's for the last time and I felt absolutely miserable. I thought I had kept the poem but I've looked and can't find the photocopy right now (anyone else was there or know who it was?). I may yet write a sad poem about yesterday...and then maybe even watch younger poets get impatient as I read it in a masterclass some day... What was that you were writing recently, Ken Armstrong, about changing perspectives?

Speaking of Ken, he sent me a book a while back called 'That They May Face the Rising Sun' by Irish writer John McGahern. It's been a slow, very gentle read but I finished it yesterday too (sometimes the clanking symbolism in life can be deafening!). There is a lot in that book about home and what that means and about finding a place where you can feel right. There's a good, powerful death section at the end too so it's a quiet but strong story...and very Robert Frost in its way. Highly recommended.

Then last night (to finish off a very odd day) my Mum and I watched 'Snow Cake' (recorded from a while back). More crying! And more death! It's a great little film though and whilst it has its cheesey moments (I found the Rickman back story not quite right...) it is so much better than so many other films. I would recommend that one too.

And I think that's as far as I'm going to get today because there is more cleaning and caring and no doubt crying to do. Perhaps I'll manage some more thoughts on home and what it means in a few days.


p.s. I haven't done a list of people to carry on the tag always feels weird to pick some and not others...but anyone who wants to post or comment on this - away you go!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Time for a quick inspiration?

Quickly, quickly, run to Ink, Sweat and Tears. There you can read a poem of mine that was inspired by a poet who asked for my 'friendship' on myspace. I can't remember her name and the website of the title is a made-up one...or at least it was when I wrote the poem.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Watch the birdie...

Author photos. Tiresome things. I've been thinking about them off and on for a while and then a couple of other posts and articles mentioned them (there was Fiendish being a model, Claire Askew on photos over at One Night Stanzas) and I thought maybe it's time for this subject now after all. There are more important subjects I could be thinking meltdown, the cruelty of some human beings, why the moon makes the sea look so inviting...but away with those for now...right now it's photos, images, what we look like, how we present ourselves to the world. Mostly (she says, trying not to sound like she's auditioning for 'Grumpy Old Women') what I think is this - if there's one job where people don't really need to see what you look like it's writing, isn't it? Why do we have to have author photos at all? I know...I, blah, sales, blah, profile, blah, natural audience nosiness/curiosity...etc. etc. etc. I'm not naïve about this stuff...I'm just fatigued, frustrated, disappointed.

I've been wondering why I feel this way (and it is, of course, just a personal feeling...I won't be passing any laws or anything) and here are a few of the answers I've come up with. Some of these answers may contain more questions than actual answers. Sorry about that.

My first point would be – well, have you ever seen a good author photo? One that isn't clichéd (author surrounded by home library of interesting tomes, perchance, or author in gritty urban landscape looking confused by life's contradictions...)? Or have you seen many that are not one of the following - dull, very uncomfortable-looking or just ridiculously posed? (OK...there probably are a few exceptions...there was a lovely old black and white of Susan Sontag in the paper this weekend for a start...).

But back to fatigue! My second point is that, on a personal level, I have kind of been through all this before (when I was younger and more obviously photogenic). I did the whole what shall I wear, how will I come across, what kind of look am I aiming for when I was a DJ in the 1990s because my partner in vinyl and I got promotional photos done – four times in total. That may seem a bit excessive...but mostly the photographers were friends or friends of friends....and really it was my partner who made all the clothes/looks decisions (she had been to art school, knew something about visuals and fashion...neither of these big subjects with me). We got photos done because we had interviews in magazines, had to pick our favourite records, stuff like that and we needed photos to go with the articles. Here are a few samples of our old press shots. Most of these are from the mid 1990s when I was somewhere between 20 and 30 years of age. And, of course, it's the time I was never happy with how I looked (we were never the girl DJs known for our looks...some of the others around were real blonde glamour girls, one looked like Pamela Anderson...) but now I look at the photos and think 'bloody hell, we didn't look half bad! I wouldn't mind looking like that again now...' (Women, I ask you, never happy...but more of that later...).

'Daisy & Havoc' by Alexis Hutson. I'm on the right.

'Daisy & Havoc' by Casey Orr. Just to be different I'm on the left this time.
One of the photos from this shoot was in a book by Casey Orr called 'Portraits of Anarchists' but Daisy must have been the anarchist because I don't remember ever being one...not on purpose anyway. Still, a lot happened in the DJ years that I don't remember so who knows!

'Daisy & Havoc' by Jan Wells (I think). Flower power years, obviously. By now you can probably tell which one is me.

Anyway, having done the whole press photo thing to death already I suppose a big part of me doesn't want to get involved in all that again. I just want to do the writing, not the posing this time please (and in fact I never really felt very comfortable doing the posing last time in all honesty). That's why even though now and again I need a good up-to-date photo for a festival brochure or something I still keep using the same one that's on the side of this blog. Someone took it at the folk club a couple of years ago and I didn't know anything about it until he handed a print to me ages afterwards. I'm wearing possibly the least fashionable t-shirt you'll find anywhere on the internet but I don't care (there are women left alive who don't watch 'Sex and the bloody City', you know and look – here's visual proof!). I'm not sure how long I can keep using this photo though because if I use it for too long I will end up being one of those women whose photo is ten years old ('she's much older than that you know'). I can see how that happens isn't that 'those women' are pretending to look young – they just don't want any new photos taken!

And this brings me to my next point - the whole business of looking at women (very, very complicated subject this one...I'm going to tackle it anyway though). Does anyone really care what a male writer looks like? If he's ugly but the book's good then he's interesting, right? Doesn't quite work like that with women though does it...not completely? Isn't there still a huge tendency for both men and women to judge women unfairly by their looks (plain/ugly woman = look away now)? And if you're a woman writer who is not particularly attractive to look at then isn't it likely your picture won't get used so much in the press (hear the editor's inner voice...'dull, dull, dull...'). And then, on the other hand, if you are a woman writer who IS attractive to look at you can't win either...editors may well use your photo so much that other writers/reviewers (and eventually the public) will bitch that you only get so much publicity because of your looks and that 'really you're not that talented'. How often do you hear/read this phrase (one that really bugs me) – 'she's a great writer/singer/artist and beautiful too' in what a in eye in 'let's make it a double page spread for the interview then'. Ask yourself how many times you see photos of women writers and how often those are the more conventionally attractive ones (Plath, Candia McWilliam, Plum Sykes...I haven't read books by the last two but I know I've seen their photos regularly in the press). Pretty females sell papers...that's how editors think (even if some of them don't admit this to themselves...and I'm not for a moment saying that all those editors are men). It's no wonder some women writers keep very low profiles...who wants to get caught up in all the judgement upon women's looks business that goes on in the press on a daily basis. Have you stood in a newsagent's lately and looked at the covers of all the papers and magazines? Have you seen how many STUPID TV shows there are about women and their looks ('10 Years Younger', 'How to look good naked', Trinny and...ugh..I can't even type their heinous names...). If there is a hell (and it really is a horrible opposed to just somewhere a bit warm and naughty) then the producers and presenters of those shows should have their places at the top of the guest list. STUPID, STUPID, STUPID. Has so much comment ever been made about the body shape and look of so many women (and as I say – men and women equally guilty of continuing it all)?

Maybe you'll disagree with all that last paragraph. I wish I did. I like the idea of feminism becoming redundant...I don't see that though. I just see it getting more complicated.

Perhaps because of this my last area to discuss right now is the business of women's self-image (and this is related to the last point of course). Sometimes I am surprised...shocked how many very intelligent women are unhappy with their own looks (to the point of silliness...and writers are not immune). A male writer may see a photo of themselves looking plump, feel a little regret that the photo looks less like a Greek god than they had hoped...and then just get on with their work. For too many women though it is not this simple. The sight of the plump photo will be followed by self-loathing, self-doubt, maybe even tears...and then, quite possibly, a bout of energetic eating of high calorie foodstuffs. Not all women behave this way...but far too many do. What a waste of time, isn't it? Now in my 40s I'm starting to see photos of myself that are certainly not the image I have of I start to wonder...will I enter into this ridiculous cycle of bother about photos? Is this one reason the whole subject makes me cringe? I really hope not. I have so many other things I could be doing...

And then this makes me think – maybe I should preempt this dreaded phase by going the other way and getting new photos done on purpose... really unflattering ones, with no soft focus and no sexy faces pulled and no trying to be fancied by anyone ever! Maybe I should eat a plate of doughnuts before they're taken and have as many spare tyres as I can possibly manage. Maybe I should hold my head low to see maximum double chin (not the usual...chin up for the photo shots)...I could wear old maternity clothes...I could not wash my hair for a month! Just using photos like that would be a political act in itself then wouldn't it? Like the Gossip's Beth Ditto parading her large self in lycra for all the world to could be worth doing...couldn't it? Am I woman enough to try it? Oh heck, I'm not sure...

Failing that I suppose there's always this old snap...

Havoc (in hell) by Daisy (maybe).

Let me explain - the promoter of the club we worked in in Leeds was putting on an 'alternative' fashion show in a trendy gay club in Manchester (mid '90s) and I was one of the lucky models (fashion shows are not usually part of my world – it was a once in a lifetime experience). And yes, those are tampons in my hair (clean ones, I should point out). My outfit (not pictured and most definitely NOT model's own) was a mini-dress designed to look like a sanitary towel...and no, I'm not kidding...wish I was. Luckily this is the only photo of this event that I am aware of. So do you dare me to send it off the 'Scottish Review of Books' or 'Poetry Review' (not that either are begging me for photos but you know what I mean)? Do you think it would help my career in serious poetry? (Now I am kidding, I am! I am!).

Your comments, as ever, awaited with interest...your photos too if you're that way inclined (with or without doughnuts).


Friday, 6 February 2009

The love of small things - part 5 (Friday)

So here we are...Friday already...and it's time for my last small poem for this week and the end of this little project. First off I thought I would post this one:

What the arts editor thinks when your masterpiece arrives on their desk

Oh great
Just what the world needs
Another book of sodding* poetry

*Please replace with any other suitable expletive as required

RF 2009

But then I thought maybe there'd been enough poems about poetry this week already so I decided to go with this one instead:


Years of experience
In a plastic crate from B & Q
Considering all that's in there
It's very quiet when you lift the lid

RF 2005

Maybe I'll write about diaries another time...I really have got a crate of them...but I'm out of words right now so I'll stop. Back next week.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

The love of small things - part 4 (Thursday)

This one is something I wrote for the back cover of my book just before it was published last year. I had been thinking how to get round the subject of the dreaded blurb...I'm not a fan of blurbs, generally speaking...and writing a poem seemed to be a good way out of the problem. Blurbs can be so...full of...let's avoid unnecessary expletives...nonsense, buzzwords, exaggeration and/or pseudo-academic waffle. I don't much like all the 'look someone famous loves me/knows my editor' quotes that get used either (though I understand why they are there...and I probably even fall for them sometimes fact I know I do...then I hate myself for it...).

So this was my blurb-not-blurb. It got mentioned in several reviews so I guess it did its job well and earned its own place in (or on) the book too. I have a certain fondness for it (and a person should be allowed to like their own poems at least some of the time, I feel). I like the fact that it's very honest and yet not completely so at the same time. I also like the Father Ted-ness of 'go on'....(as in 'go on, go on, go on'...and I do...).


Does a blurb ever lie?
Can it tell what's inside?
Go on, open me up
I have nothing to hide

RF 2008


Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The love of small things - part 3 (Wednesday)

Here's Wednesday's little 'un (bit sad – sorry about that...Wednesday's child is full of woe and all that). I'm just back from folk club Tuesday night so I'm posting it up now because tomorrow morning will be a rush...undoubtedly. The guest tonight was  David Olney – a whole lotta everything, lots of guitar action – and seeing as it's short poem week I read a few short ones in the open mic tonight too (not the one below, as it happens). I wrote this one a while back and it's about all the files of bits of poetry that my Dad left behind when he died. I was given them about ten years ago and had high hopes for first. Somehow a limerick just didn't seem quite right for this subject. Maybe another time...

Some words in lines

Handfuls of paper
Some written, some typed
Poems and articles
Notes and the like
Bits that fell out
Of a man full of holes
Meant nothing to no one
But proof of his woes

RF 2005


The love of small things - part 2 (Tuesday)

So... I said I'd post a short poem every day this week. Here's one I wrote earlier this week...on Monday to be precise. Because I like to be precise and concise. Sometimes.

The poem that can change everything

There it is
It's just over...

RF 2009


p.s. Over at Sunny Dunny there are some other short things you might like. If you're at work beware though - some might make you laugh very loudly.

Monday, 2 February 2009

The love of small things

I suppose one reason I like Don Paterson's 'The Book of Shadows' so much (see two posts back) is that I really like good short poems... and often the difference between an aphorism and a short poem can be...well...fairly small. I have written lots and lots of short poems (there's a whole section on my website called 'little poems') and I suppose if I wanted to I could call some of them aphorisms (it's just not one of my words though so poems they remain). Anyway I thought I'd post a few here...might even add one a day for the rest of the week. All of these four are in the book.

Short love

I loved you for 3 weeks
Or maybe longer
It may seem a short love
But it was stronger
Than you might imagine
From its length

RF (about 1998)

'Short love' has done really well for's been published a few times and it always gets a good response 'live'. It's a true story but I can't really remember who it's about. Honest...

The far wrong

Vote that way
Then kill yourself
Because you know
Inside and out
To all intents and purposes
You're already dead

RF 2006

A little bit of politics. And you know how I hate suicide being used for effect so this is a serious instruction rather than a bit of fun.


Oh, all of us are weirdos
It’s odd that, but it’s true
And the more you call me ‘weirdo’
The less hope there is for you

RF 2007

'Weirdo' was written about primary school but it has neverending applications.


You have much to answer
You fill the world with
No-one wants to go to
But has to
For FR
Of missing

RF 2005

I suppose this dates back to working in an ad agency (the PR department seemed the most pointless and, in an ad agency, that's really saying something) but again other bits of history are involved too.

So that's Monday's short ones. I also have a very little 'stone' over at A Handful of Stones today. Brief is obviously this week's theme. It has to get a look in sometimes, eh?


Sunday, 1 February 2009

A quick Boo

Got to be quick - got visitors - but must tell you how fantastic it was to see and hear Boo Hewerdine at Out of the Woods in Dundee again last night. Boo most often writes songs for others to perform (Eddi Reader, Heidi Talbot, Kris Drever and lots and lots of others) but he is also a fantastic live performer of his own material. I tried to find a decent YouTube clip to show you what I'm raving about but most of them are for one of his better-known songs ('The Patience of Angels') and that's not one of my favourites so I didn't fancy putting that up. None of our community favourites are on his MySpace just now either so the best I could find was this amazon page that lets you hear some samples from one of his many great albums. Go to 'Slow Learner' on this one...we requested it last night and he played it as his encore. My pal Verona is a HUGE fan and that's her favourite song so she was as far over the moon as a person can be on the edges of Dundee on a Saturday night. If you get a chance to go and see Boo anytime, any place, you go and don't spare the horses.