Washing the car with my son

He skipped to the jetwash down the road; I drove the musty Focus, opening the windows for air.

We slid anachronistic coins into the machine, and took turns wrestling with the lance. The bonnet was spattered with colour, a Pollock of bird crap and tree sap.

He sprayed me, laughed at my wet feet; I was glad of relief from the heat reflecting off the car’s black husk.

He learned: wash up, rinse down. I felt like Mr Miyagi. Next we vacuumed up sweet wrappers, stones, leaves.

‘Look,’ he said, showing me his open palm; from the footwell, a seashell.

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When I See You

I’ll hang my hair out of the tower

So you can climb up to my bower

They’ll have to pull us apart with pliers

And put out all the sparks and fires

With a cold shower.


I’ll point my compass in your direction

I’ll make you the object of my affection

I’ll tell you you’ve pulled, so get your coat

If you canvassed me you’d get my vote

In an election.


As soon as current lockdown teeters

And we can get closer than two metres

I’ll drive straight over (on the assumption

I’ve reduced my daily wine consumption

By two litres).


Here’s what I’ve learned from seven weeks’ abstention:

Life is short, no re-runs or extension.

So when I see you, I’ll hold you and adore you,

Hug you, bug you, nag you, shag you, bore you,

Until I get my pension.


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What Was Lost

I wasn’t born like this. I had it, to begin with, and I didn’t really pay attention. I cared only for things I could see, and touch; I wanted the solid, the knowable nature of things. I grew up to paint and create, in the messiest ways possible: fingers plunged in colour, hands caked in clay. I was happiest in the garden, always, on my knees in the soil. I wanted to be close to the earth, to make and grow things. I paid scant attention to the scent of magnolia on the high dancing breeze. I stayed low, let earthworms and spiders crawl on me. These were the ways I felt part of the world.

Then, I became ill. I don’t need to tell you with what, because that’s a bore, and now you will know all about it. You will know, on the other side, the things we didn’t know at the start. You will know about the loss of smell and taste. And that for some people, they never came back.

I did taste things again, eventually. I regained salt, and umami, first, sucked at a bottle of soy sauce trying to absorb all its earthiness, its richness bringing me back to life. The sugar came later, but I was no less grateful for it, cramming my mouth with parma violets, chocolate mints, wine gums.

But Taste is poor without its closest relation.

I put my nose in the grass: nothing. I breathed deeply over the heads of new babies, trying to be discreet, trying to conjure it back, the scent and the essence of life. I fried onions and garlic and brought my head so close to the pan it almost burned. I recalled a time, long before, when I’d received a parcel of second-hand clothes in the post from my mother. When I opened it, the whooshing smell of her assaulted me, a mix of washing powder and perfume and cleaning products and, somewhere in the low notes, sweat, somewhere in the high notes, icing sugar.

I sat on the kitchen floor, in the sterile flavourless air, and wept.

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Hope is an elastic band

I bend, but I don’t break. I can be stretched to the point that I am thinned out, made tense. You might even see me shudder. But I can only stay in that state for so long. I will always spring back.

Sometimes I am slack and motionless and appear to be not of much use. There are things on this earth that are bigger and more powerful. But used well, I can be more. I am the force behind a child’s catapult; I can hold your hair from your face when you’re hot, or sick; I keep things together and in order.

It is worth having me to hand.

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Ode to home

Let’s all meet up in the year 2000

we said, a good few years before the song,

outside McDonalds, it was supposed to be,

6th April, 12 noon, I think. I often wonder

if anybody showed up. I know McDonalds

is still there. So, too, are the lions,

and the elephants, I believe.

I am making it sound exotic.


Hill town, mill town, a home in.a bowl,

surrounded. Pennines on the side.

Reflections in puddles, the town hall clock

graced the credits of Coronation St. Its gunnels and accents

made me homesick, but not sick enough

to go back. C&A, BHS, gone now.

Some of the chimneys, too, brought down

brick by brick. It’s dangerous work.


Barm cakes and naan bread, not a place

to do the Atkins, to be honest.

It seems we spent childhood eating things in vinegar from paper cups:

cockles, pickles, black peas – no-one down here knows what they are.

Also pea wet and scraps, treacle toffee,

burnt baked potatoes on Bonfire Night, parkin, pasties.

All is music or food, and fireworks set off in the back streets

of terraces. Catherine wheels, rockets.

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Recipe for the perfect man


2 eyes, twinkly

1 nose, Greek

1 smile, liberally applied

1 body, slightly aged but mostly in working order

1 large cup humour, self-effacing

Generous dash of intelligence

Handful of opinions, strong

Equal parts introversion and extraversion

12oz patience, crumbled

Endless kindness



Combine physical ingredients into a pleasing shape and bake for 40-45 years. Sprinkle occasionally with salt and a pinch of hard-won wisdom.

Fold in the remaining ingredients until the mix is neither too sweet nor too sour. Taste frequently and with relish.

Prod regularly, testing stability of the patience and kindness.

Remove from heat, decorate and serve.

Consume immediately and repeatedly, until quite full.





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In the kitchen

‘You were always running away from home,’ he says. Clear as a bell, he conjures the image of seven-year-old you, your spare vests in a carrier bag, taking yourself as far as the bus stop before you were drawn home with the promise of a glass of Dandelion & Burdock and a Blue Riband.

Later, you would go further each time, and for longer.

Today you notice his difficulty walking, the drips of lukewarm coffee puddling around his trembling fingers as he hands you the cup, and you offer to clear up.

In the kitchen, a hole in the ceiling grabs your attention, an angry gaping mouth with crumbling plaster teeth. It was caused by a long-ago leak, and there will never be enough fivers in the old Birds custard tin to repair it.

You tip the remnants of the drink you didn’t want down the sink. Mellow Birds, sterilised milk, and two sugars, because he doesn’t remember that you haven’t taken sugar for over twenty years.

He has complained, again, that you have been too long gone. He lists all the others who never come.

Two blackened, shrivelled sausages wait under the grill for a sandwich that will never happen. You check that the gas is off and then tip them into the overflowing bin, trying not to look too closely. You know you will find there the scrapings of other uneaten meals, and half hidden beneath yesterday’s Daily Mirror, empty purple cans, the special brew that is both sickness and medicine.

‘What’s it like?’ he asks, when you get ready to leave, ‘The town you live now.’

It’s here, you remind him, home now is just a few streets away. He looks doubtful.

You’ll be back tomorrow, and by tomorrow, he won’t know that you were here today.

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