Archive for July, 2014

Edwardian Weekend at Ayscoughfee Hall*

Great poetry workshop with Peter Sansom of The Poetry Business at Ayscoughfee Hall’s Edwardian weekend!

I got an email from The Poetry Business – usually events are in Sheffield but this time Peter Sansom was holding a workshop in Spalding, so this wasn’t to be missed.  “Dressing up isn’t compulsory, but may help visitors to feel the spirit of the times as they are taken back 100 years to Spalding just before the outbreak of war.”

So, ever obedient,  I dug out my steampunk New Year’s Eve 2012 outfit and set off  on Saturday. I found my car park but I had swapped to a black handbag to fit my theme – no purse! And 5p in the car. Well, it was all free so I just had to find free car parking and mince off through Spalding in my funereal clouds of black and my little lace up boots.



Peter Sansom ran a great workshop; we looked at the frozen  moment, in Frank O’Hara’s The Day Lady Died and Edward Thomas’s Adlestrop. We wrote our own poetry of the captured instant.  Mine was that sudden memory of how my mother was. She is 90 now but


This is my mother.
She is as beautiful as a fashion plate.
Her lipstick is always fresh
and her face is sad
but if I question her
she says it’s just like that.


Now she is in our kitchen.
My baby was born dead
and she has come to help.
She cannot help.
She makes me lemon curd sandwiches.
You always liked those she says.


The cakes are beautiful.
They are all she can remember.
Lovely cakes, like trees,
like castles, like handbags.
Her life has been eaten up.

I liked the archaic fashion plate – she is very much held in that past of Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Jackie Kennedy. It is funny it is all to do with mouths. She now watches the food programme all the time on tv and loves the wedding cakes programme.

For the war, we had to find some phrases to write on squares for the patchwork memorial by Maria Maidment, so I had

Many recruits were too unfit to die.

I think there were poppies.

They must have watched
birds and clouds and wished  that
they weren’t there.

I was really pleased that Peter actually knew who I was and remembered some of the places my poetry had been published – many years ago!

As I was penniless  I was treated to tea and a sandwich – very nice – by the poetry group and even had a go on the coconut shy!

* Step back in time to 1914 with Spalding’s Edwardian garden party

Dig out your largest hat and longest flowery dress to join the Edwardian Garden Party at Ayscoughfee Hall in Spalding this weekend.

For men, linen suits worn with a boater will do nicely to step back in time to 1914.

Dressing up isn’t compulsory, but may help visitors to feel the spirit of the times as they are taken back 100 years to Spalding just before the outbreak of war.

Museum officer Julia Knight, South Holland District Council arts and culture development officer Rachel Rowett and Julia Gant of historical re-enactment group 4 and 20 Blackbirds have chosen to take a light-hearted look at life in pre-war Spalding for this first centenary commemoration planned under the Spalding Reflects banner.

Julia Knight said: “We decided to look at what life was like in Spalding around the time of the outbreak of war, not concentrating on the military side so much as the general life in Spalding in 1914 and the real lives of the people affected by it.”

Two days of fun are planned, with Punch and Judy shows, traditional garden games and contests and a costume competition each day.

There will be people playing historic music, fortune tellers, a recruiting sergeant and a Suffragette.

Saturday’s events will finish with a performance by a historical harpist from 4pm to 5pm and music hall from 5pm to 6.30pm.

However, there will be slightly more serious things going on too.

A Book of Remembrance will be begun, with visitors recording family stories from the era. It will be available until the end of the year – and then become part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Julia Knight is hoping that some of the people who come forward with family stories might be descendants of the Belgian refugees billeted in Ayscoughfee and elsewhere in Spalding who put their stonemasonry and woodwork skills to good use in the town.

Research by Spalding Grammar School into old boys involved in the war will be exhibited at the museum until the end of the year.

The home front will also be recorded in a display of objects of the time from the museum’s collections and from Spalding Gentlemen’s Society.

Poet Peter Sansom will be leading workshops in the hall (1pm Saturday, 10.30am Sunday) encouraging people to create their own poetry as a response to the objects .

Artist Maria Maidment will be helping people to create a piece of art for a patchwork memorial wall she is making that will become a permanent part of the collection.

• The Heritage Lottery-funded event is free (donations for the War Memorial Fund) and runs from 10.30am to 6.30pm (Saturday) and 10.30am to 4pm (Sunday).


This marks the end, I hope, of the worst case of writer’s block imaginable. It coincided with lots of family and work problems, and the longer it went on for the worse it became.

I did not stop writing, because I  was commissioned to write and illustrate gardening books. My husband and I have had a plant nursery since 1977, and the books came out of this. Those were happy times, including  lots of travel to exotic places to photograph plants and gardens together.

Then our lovely daughter, Imogen, suggested that I take an MA in Creative Writing.  And  I wondered why, when I  was a writer with every fibre of me,  I wasn’t writing. So I took her advice. And, during the inspirational year of my MA at the University of Lincoln, with great tutors and great fellow students, I somehow gave myself permission to write again.

bandaging hurt_edited-1


 Dieffenbachia or Dumb Cane

A bold foliage plant, though biting any part prevents speech –

I ate something I shouldn’t and gagged
on it.  Turned my language to a
stutter and my tongue lay still.
Then my head was bound and blind,
bandaging some hurt so tightly
that it died and tied me in.

So the years have been my clinic.
Somewhere to shut the world up
in a hushed place, where  nurses’ feet
shush on the vinyl. A womb, as quiet as
velour, and me in its dark plush,
paralysed. Until something pushed me

out to this space where my sounds
are new and awkward in my mouth.
And yet my story’s begging to be told.
My tongue – untied – begins to shape it
syllable by syllable. How I’d have
died, had words not called me back.

This poem was published in a recent issue of The Rialto.

It has a complex history. My daughter was complaining about the general darkness of my poems, and fellow students on my MA in Creative Writing also had similar opinions.

So… I set out to write a happy poem. I was full of doubt, as my poetry is a  surly, mangy beast, snarling in its cave. I looked on the web for prompts,  quotations, anything that might act as a trigger.  And then I found this Emily Dickinson quotation. Along with Emily I tried for a bit of joy and ended up back in that cave!

This poem interests me because it tells a story, engages with other writers, and has an inevitable ending.

My daughter’s reaction? “Gah, it is still miserable.”

Bring me the sunset in a cup

You say I write the poetry of misery and I say, I’m scared
that happiness writes white (according to me and Montherlant).
So how to start? I look for inspiration on the web, hateful
writers’ prompts I don’t think I can use. And then this line of
Dickinson’s, ‘Bring me the sunset in a cup.” Well, that will do.

It sounds like the closing of a summer’s day, with something
of a honeyed taste to it. Languid. Shot through with gold
and blue and sharpest crimson. And oh, an edge has probed
this poem, inserted itself like a fine knife. Of course I meant
to say a dazzle of cerise. Or something even softer, maybe

candyfloss. (Cloying, sweet and sticking in my teeth). It seems
I’m not a natural at joy. I look at Emily. She starts off on a high.
The morning leaps and robins are in ecstasy then she goes on
to rainbows. But there’s a falling off, a bit like mine. She asks
‘Who…shut the windows down so close/My spirit cannot see?’