Monday, 21 December 2009

This week: Fat cow, Manky poet and Pethead

I've had an extra ordinary 8 days. Last Sunday I was the understudy fat cow in my Quaker Meeting's production of 'Joseph'. My daughter played Jacob and one of the fat cows and as self declared understudy I got to try on the outfit and it fitted me to a tee!

On the Monday morning I rang up Annie for my usual 6 weekly supervision phone call only to discover she had died a few days previously. I had known for 18 months she was going to die but it was still a shock. On Wednesday evening at my daughter's school carol service they handed out candles and suddenly I was weeping for Annie as I had wanted to light a candle for her and here it was.

Friday I was a Manky poet again for the third time. Because of the snow there were only about 20 people present but that meant those of us performing got to read 2 poems each. I was surprised to be asked to perform first. I was less nervous than previously. I read the first poet in my cycle of poems about my dad's Second World War experiences and my poem about meeting Pam again after 30 years. Both poems below. Then I got a surprise when a man in the second row told me that he was my old friend Mark who I had last seen about 26 years ago! More time travel as I did not recognise him by appearance only by voice

Then last night the Pets were in town so Keith and I braved the snow and it was so worth it. A very similar set to the one I saw in Liverpool but this was ace as ever indeed Keith no Pethead prior to the concert described the show as 'fantastic' that says it all. I was a little disappointed, as at Liverpool, in the somewhat lack of sartorial elegance among the audience - I would have expected More of Petheads. Indeed 3 men were wearing Father Christmas hats - how naff can you get?

Best to all fo you this XCmas and New year




The German plane dived
Over your ship
And the deadly sound of its guns began
"It's you or me mate"
And you followed your training
And fired back
A lifetime of Christianity
of pacifism
Vanished from your soul

The grieving began later.

On meeting Pam again after 30 years

I was ill
Sitting at a table
In the Art Gallery
Awaiting a friendly bowl of soup
"Is it Bill?" a voice said
And I looked up
And saw
a grey haired woman
With a somewhat familiar face
"It's Pam" you said
"Of course, I replied
Time travelling
back and forth
Over 30 years
From the blond haired young woman
Of spirit
- who I loved
To this defeated short grey haired mature woman
Were you time travelling too?
But at least you had the advantage on me
Of seeing me at a distance before coming over
I told you of the recent deaths
Of Mole and Woody
You had not heard
You'd been mad on a psychiatric ward
You told me you were here with your OT
And not to let on I knew you
Oh my God paranoia on your part
Or playing safe self care
You left me
With a whiff of our shared and separate histories
of sadness, of time passing
Of my survival and flourishing
Of your survival by your fingertips

Isn't life strange?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Boss and Q again

The Boss visits Q his spiritual director once again.
- Hi Q
- Hello Boss, how are you?
- I’m OK really but…
Q waits as patient as ever
- But well there is this colleague of mine, I knew she was ill, but she seems well enough and she’s just died and – the Boss was silent with tears trickling down his face
Q nods
- She was only 54… (sob) and I…I rang her up like I do and she was already dead and buried. No-one had told me… I don’t know what to do.
- No?
- No, I guess I want to write something about her and what she meant to me. She mattered, she truly mattered. (The Boss is openly weeping now) She made a real difference to me and my team… probably to loads of others as well. It needs to be marked, it needs to be celebrated - her life… I need to understand.
- Understand?
- Yes why we live and why we die and why people like Annie die young… And please I don’t want any religious platitudes!
- Oh
- Yes don’t tell me she has gone to a better place, that her suffering is over otherwise I’ll hit you so God help me.
- Boss, Boss you know me better than that?
There was a silence in which the Boss reflected.
- You’re hurting, (the Boss nods) you’re trying to make sense of these mysteries and in times of suffering it is hard to trust-
- Trust what?
- Indeed, but you do know different?
- I do?
- You do
The Boss heaves a deep sigh
- Sometimes life is a bugger, sometimes life or God pushes me a bit far (Q nods his agreement) but you know however far I am not totally destroyed or at least not so far, sometimes rather broken but not yet destroyed… So maybe I should be thankful for small mercies… But Annie was a good soul and I will miss her. (Another deep sigh) You know I felt his curious desire to visit a sacred place and light a candle in thanks for her. I think this Christmas I will be remembering quite a few souls who have moved on. Maybe there is a bundle of candles to light or maybe one big one but I need to do it.
Q nods in reply and a deep silence begins which seems to gather the Boss and Q up in a benevolent and peaceful grasp. The panic and sorrow in the Boss gradually leaves him for the moment and he feels ready to face the world once more

Monday, 14 December 2009

Poem for Annie Murray

I have a phone conversation every 6 weeks or so with an extra ordinary women called Annie Murray. She acts as my organisational supervisor and she has helped me for several years to stay in touch with my own agenda within the mad institution that I work in.

In April 2008 Annie knew she had incurable cancer and told me so. I wrote the following poem for her which I have never put into print nor performed so far:

Poem for Annie

You rang me up
To tell me
About your illness

My heart sank
Angry bile rose in my throat

“God no!”
“It’s not fair!”
“Only the good die young”
Cliches ricochet through my brain

I wanted to cry

So I said
“Do the things that make you feel good”

How feeble!

I wanted to say
“You know you are loved”
And “All things must pass”
And “Creation is friendly”

Annie's response was typical:

hi william

i'm really touched. your poem did what i needed to happen. i've had a sob stuck in my throat all morning and only now that its out i know that i needed to cry.

you are very kind. and you are right about doing things that feel good.
'prioritising' up to now has been a word that meant lists and in-trays.

right now my priority is to draw pictures and eat cake.

thank you for your poem and for your good wishes.

i am putting my faith in the power of prayer, the kindness of others and the right kind of drugs.


She died a few days ago aged 54. I am a better person for knowing her and my work has been that bit better these past years.

Understudy fat cow

So my wife Sheila, daughter Grace and I were all in the production of 'Joseph yesterday at our local Quaker Meeting. Weeks of brief rehearsals and lots of scenery and costume making. Sheila and I were in the choir and Grace was both Jacob and a fat cow.

Grace always gets to wear these great outfits she was once on stage at the Lowry in a bear outfit(!) and try as I could I couldn't fit into it. Anyway I suggsted that she had 2 many parts to play or failing that that I should be her understudy fat cow. And of course this meant I had to try on the fat cow outfit. It fitted me perfect - photo to follow - pandemonium resulted!

It was great poeorforming in a choir again even if it felt a bit under rehearsed and I more less hit the right notes if not always in the right order! :) so searching for a new choir will become a New Year's resolution....


Bill on bike

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

It started with an email

[creative writing]

It started with an email:

Dear Martyn Gregson,

I am Claudia MacDonald a relative of your ex wife Samantha. I will be visiting Manchester next week and I would like to meet with you.



This set off all manner of thoughts and feelings within Martyn ‘What a strange email. Who is Claudia and what is she and why one earth does she want to meet with me? I don’t remember meeting anyone called Claudia, or even hearing of her. But it’s been a long time since I was with Sam so who knows and I have thankfully forgotten so much....Well it might be interesting to meet with this Claudia.’

The reply:

Dear Claudia,

What an intriguing email. I hope there is nothing wrong with Sam? I don’t remember a relative of hers called Claudia but I am happy to meet with you for coffee on next Tuesday afternoon.



‘A result!’

Dear Martyn,

Many thanks for agreeing to meet with me. Sam is well. You and I have never met. How about Starbucks or Costa?

Best regards,


Martyn was typically 5 minutes early for his meeting with Claudia dressed as agreed in yellow cords. ‘I’ll be unmistakable’ as he put it in an email feeling slightly like he was going on a blind date and wondering yet again what on earth this meeting was going to be about and who on earth this Claudia was.

Claudia was untypically 10 minutes early for the meeting. This was going to be it. This was going to be her chance to find out. They shook hands. She nearly lost it, she didn’t know beforehand what she was going to feel but a huge sadness was now threatening to engulf her. Martyn pointed to a couple of nearby armchairs arranged around a low table. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, and he led the way.

- So. (There was a question to answer)
- So… I needed to meet you…
- Yes. (Again an implied question)
- Yes, look there’s no easy way to put this (This was said in a rush as if otherwise the words would never come out) but… but I think.., no, I know… or I think I know…ah. You’re my dad. Erhm hm my biological dad at least.
- Errr (a groan). Oh Fuck (an expletive) but how? (They both laughed and suddenly it felt OK.)
- I mean.
- Yes, I was born March 22nd 1985.
- That means
- That means I was conceived around the end of June 1984….
- Oh Fuck… that’s all but impossible…..But we were kind of still together until the end of June… but I don’t remember… Oh God this is a rather strange conversation with a strange young woman… I mean not that you are strange.
- I know, I know.
- OK just suppose it is possible… (Then Martyn looked at Claudia for what seemed like the first time. Here was a young attractive woman who just could be his daughter. He searched her face for signs, yes she was clearly Sam’s daughter those same deep blue grey eyes that he had found so enticing. But there was something else a quality that had an echo to it, a quality that he could not quiet pin down, no it wasn’t his mum but it just could be the proud way his granny – his mum’s mum – had held her head?)
- Then what?
- Yes… then what?
- More coffee? (He needed to do something, even if only to order a couple of coffees in a very distracted manner. He desperately needed time to think)
- Please. (She was relived that he was not going to runaway from her that the encounter was going to last longer, going to continue.)
He returned with two more cups of coffee.
- Tell me more.
- More about?
- Oh… everything

So there it started the unlikely meeting between apparently biological father and grownup daughter. Of course it begged many questions. Not least whether Martyn actually was Claudia’s biological father and also if he was why had Samantha not let on to him or Claudia previously. There was a lot to sort out. Meanwhile two rather fragile people were cautiously negotiating a relationship.

- Just about your life
- Right, mum, I mean Sam moved back to the farm just before I was born… I grew up there with granny and gramps. They raised me cos mum went back to work… after I was born…
- Hmm
- Then… well I went to Oakwood Primary, Lawnstone Grammar, Newcastle Uni to do Art and Design then got a job with a publisher…
- Hmm, married?
- No… got a boyfriend, we kinda live together but nothing too serious.
- Uh hmm (Martyn felt relieved as if he didn’t want Claudia to be married but didn’t know why he was feeling that way.)
There was a pause, a silence in which coffee was sipped and then:
- I know stuff about you
- Yeah
- Yeah about you and mum being married but not much about you since though I have Googled you
- Don’t believe everything you read on Google!
- No I don’t but I wanted to know something about you… something beyond you and mum being married and splitting up.
- Sure

There was another pause this one felt more tense more awkward
- What next?
- Yes what next?
- Well… what did you want?... I mean why did you want to meet with me?
- I wanted to see you, meet with you, make you real to me (Martyn nodded)… Now I dunno… I dunno what this means… I am pretty sure I want to meet with you again.
- OK
- You mean that? (‘Oh god I was going to cry’)
- (‘Oh God she’s going to cry’) (He nodded, not trusting himself to speak either).

There were more emails:

Dear Martyn,

Many many thanks. I didn’t know how it was going to be but you were brill. I am looking forward to seeing you again.

Very best,


Dear Claudia,

Thanks for your email. I much enjoyed meeting you. See you soon.

PS I was right the Pets were number one when you were born!

There were more thoughts.

For Martyn: ‘Can I possibly be her father? I don’t remember having any sex with Sam during our last month together. I am sure of that cos we had stopped sleeping together…But there was one might I went out and got totally plastered – it was Steve’s leaving do and I had little memory the following morning. But…But if I am Claudia’s father then Sam has got a lot to answer for’.