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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When I Am Old

After Jenny Joseph’s Warning


When I am an old woman I shall walk barefoot

and drive a tiny convertible with the top down all year round.

I shall tell people exactly what I think of them, whether they want to know or not,

and eat all the carbs and have two desserts.

I shall stay up late and sleep all afternoon,

and take up smoking, fat joints and vanilla cigars.

I shall wear a bikini and not care a fig about my tummy,

and let dust settle and dishes pile up, even when there are visitors coming,

because I have spent all day reading.


You can sing in the supermarket and say no to things

and have cats you love like babies.

Or drink champagne at lunchtime

and rant about young people’s manners.


But now we must drive a sensible car

with room for the children, and drink plenty of water

and be polite to people at the school gates.

We must do the ironing and keep the noise down.


But maybe I ought to practise a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

when suddenly I am old, and start to walk barefoot.


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Before You

Before you the house was tidier

Before you I had time to fill

Before you I looked at kissing couples with rolling eyes

And wore my cynic’s coat with pride.

Before you I was OK and not quite myself.

Before you I got enough sleep

Except on nights I thrashed under sheets with strangers

And woke up sore and unlovable.


Now your shoes are in my hall

Now your head sleeps on my pillow

Now there’s more washing up

And not enough time to do All The Things.

Now I smile at love songs

And look at myself differently.

Now my eyes wear stars,

And sleep, and housework, can wait.


In time, best case scenario,

I’ll trip over the shoes

Sulk over the dishes

Tut at snores and stains and the unmade bed,

And try to remember when

The shoes the plates the songs the head

Were new and endearing, in the time

Just after the time before you.


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‘It looks like two bears dancing,’ I say eventually.

The shrink, who doesn’t like to be called that, has held up a whole series of these things before I decide to speak. Image after image, smudged across two pages, black symmetrical formless blots – or are they?

Wait, there’s a bat, a beating heart, my mother’s vagina, I don’t know what the hell it is he wants me to see and say. I decide the bears are safe and he strokes his chin, I swear he does, and says, ‘Interesting.’

The pages continue to turn and I don’t tell him that all I can think of is a piece of paper from another life, splodged with primary colour paint on one side, folded over and SPLAT – a butterfly appeared to a squeal of delight. A butterfly with two long antennae, red wings, two green eyes. A shimmer of yellow at its edges. I don’t tell him I think of chubby fingers dipped in blue, pads pressed onto the page to make dots on the wing, drops of sky.

He keeps asking for my answers but all I can see is a lump of coal, a black hole, an endless well, an abyss.

All I want to do is ask him: where has the colour gone?

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We remember who we met

who was born

who died.

This is how we mark the years.

In the calendar are empty pages when

it seems nothing happened.

A year without a summer, no

menthol cigarettes and rose in pub gardens,

cardis wrapped round when the sun went down.

No picnics in meadows or bobbing with a buoy

in a green-blue lake. No flowers. No,

this was a year of broken glass.

Of splintered feet and hands, of

drinking alone. It was autumn all the time,

crisp and brittle. The bottle a friend in the storm.

We remember who we met

who was born

who died.


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Write yourself well?

Creativity for wellness seems to be a hot topic right now. In 2018 the APPGAHW (the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing – catchy huh?) published the results of their three-year study. Just the other day, it was reported that the Great British Creativity Test – commissioned by BBC Arts in partnership with UCL – has explored for the first time how creative activities can help us manage our mood and boost wellbeing. Everywhere we look, there seem to be newsflashes telling us what many of us feel we’ve known for ever: engaging with the arts is good for us.


The idea of creative writing as a form of therapy, of writing as catharsis, is not new to me. As a precocious, pretentious teenager, I liked to christen new notebooks with the following quote from 16thcentury French writer and philosopher Michel de Montaigne:

‘Writing does not cause misery; it is born of misery.’

(I know; I was insufferable). The stereotype of the tortured artist conjures images of laudanum-addled poets as well as depressed artists and angst-ridden musicians. There’s a commonly-held belief that any kind of creative expression, though perhaps writing in particular, is driven by some sort of need to exorcise one’s demons.


When I trained a few years ago as a psychotherapeutic counsellor, I came to recognise that creative writing, which I’d practised since childhood, and to a lesser extent journaling, were important tools for my own self-care. I became increasingly curious about ‘joining up’ my two chief areas of interest: writing and therapy, but for something more positive than exorcism and expurgation. I wondered whether I could help others use writing as a tool to protect and maintain, perhaps even improve, mental and emotional wellness.


In 2017 I started to explore how this might look in a workshop setting, and ran a few trial sessions in a local wellbeing centre. I had recently started facilitating women’s writing groups for So:write (, and as the trust within those groups was building, I noticed some of the sessions were starting to feel a little like therapy, as voices were found and stories shared.


Since 2018 I have been running Writing for Wellness programmes at Farnham Maltings, and in early 2020 I will be launching Writing for Wellbeing in Southampton Central Library under the generous umbrella of Artful Scribe with support from the Arts Council. A lot of people coming along for the first time, or contemplating joining the course, might wonder how a ‘writing for wellness’ workshop will look and feel. The Great British Creativity Test research shows there are 3 main ways we use creativity as a coping mechanism:

  1. A distraction tool – using creativity to avoid stress.
  2. A contemplation tool – using creativity to give us the mind space to reassess problems in our lives and make plans.
  3. A means of self-development to face challenges by building up self-esteem and confidence.


Funnily enough I think the workshops hit these three marks. Exercises roughly fall into three categories:

  1. Writing for joy / playfulness (distraction) – remember as a kid playing ‘Consequences’, that game where you wrote a line and folded the paper over and passed it to a friend? We do things like that.
  2. Writing linked to particular emotional ‘themes’ eg relationship difficulties; grief and loss. This might include journaling or letter writing (contemplation).
  3. Writing for its own sake. We look at different types of writing, perhaps less well-known forms of poetry or fiction, discuss them and have a go ourselves. We share words with each other; we pick random prompts from a hat and see where they take us; we write without concern for grammar or spelling or punctuation for a set period of time with no other purpose than to feel the scratch of pen on paper.

Of course sometimes a bigger ‘purpose’ is discovered and we might create a longer piece, or consider working towards performance or publication. Whether that occurs or not, these exercises deliver on self-development.


No-one is forced to read their words aloud, although they are encouraged and supported to do so if they wish. Exercises are generally short and, I hope, inclusive and accessible. Writing for wellness is about first of all giving yourself permission; and next, being heard and not judged.

The feedback from participants in these classes to date has included benefits such as: “more willing to be open and share” / “gained confidence in my own voice” / “more confident in my abilities to be creative”.


From my own perspective, I was compelled to start these groups to try to help others, but of course they help me, too. The following 3 facts are completely personal and true:

  1. Writing is one of the things, if not the thing, I most enjoy doing. (OK often the joy comes from having written, but sure, sometimes the process is fun)
  2. Writing is the thing that makes me feel most like me.

And yet:

  1. Writing is the activity I most often put off, relegate to the bottom of the priority list.


So for me, part of the value of a Writing for Wellness class is the feeling at the end that goes a bit like this: YES. I just spent 2 hours doing something that is all about self-expression, that (mostly!) brings me joy, and that makes me feel better about myself and the world. And it’s a virtuous circle because the more I write, the more I want to write, and am reminded of all the benefits it brings.


One thing on which I still agree with my old pal Montaigne: writing does not cause misery. In fact writing well, and writing for wellness, can do just the opposite.


Useful links:

Writing for Wellness


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