Sunday, 3 March 2013



In the garden the weeds grow unchecked

Grass spikes up between the slabs

And frolics across the borders

Exploiting the unexpected freedom.

Upstairs, dust lays heavy,

Floors remain unwashed

Beds are unmade.

In the kitchen no kettle boils

And food grows old

And mouldy.

A pair of cold boots

Stand beside the door

Waiting for your feet to warm them.

A tear snakes down my face

Filling the air with fury;

Finding your absence


Sunday, 20 March 2011

''For all crop watchers, past and present (With apologies to Robert Browning)

Oh, to be in Wiltshire
Now that summer's there
And a farmer on his tractor
Sees some morning unaware
The tender sheaths of barley
Laid in circles on the ground
And of signs of human contact
Not a single trace is found.

Oh, to be in Wiltshire
When the watch of night is done
And to gaze on fields of wonder
Turning golden in the sun
To walk along the Ridgeway
Or to stand on Windmill Hill,
To climb the mound at Silbury
And walk the lanes at will.

Oh, to be in Wiltshire
In the early morning light
To search the fields for new shapes
That happened over night.
I imagine all the pictograms
Appearing in East Field,
And I ponder on what wonders
This coming year will yield.
Oh, to be in Wiltshire
And to sit on Adam's grave
And to wish I'd never come across
The names of Doug and Dave;
But still there's whispered magic
In the Kennet's rippling sigh
And just to think of Avebury
Can still make my spirit fly.

Your boot heels hit the ground with a sound like the wind
As it whispers through the barley on a golden summer’s day;
There’s a white mist that surrounds us as it splinters with the passion
Of a sudden beam of sunlight that will carry you away.

Drifting through the days we soar, like two birds flying high,
Sighing through the nights into the light of each new dawn,
We’ve caused the course of history to alter to our will
As we move towards a destiny mapped out when we were born.

Filigree and shadow slice the sheets upon our bed
Into sharp divided segments made of memories and dreams
Until morning moves across the day and pulls you further from me
And the conversation dangles, so that nothing’s as it seems.

Shadows wash across the gloom of autumn afternoons;
And I know that you are fading, as I knew you’d be the one;
The blackness of your shadow bleaches to a silver grey
And the last I ever see of you is black boots in the sun.

Monday, 26 January 2009


When I am no longer living I shall linger in this place
Where the firelight sculpts dark shadows on the contours of your face
And the mirror on the mantlepiece will not reflect my face.

When you wish me there beside you, you will know that I am near
By the gentle breeze that soothes your brow and whispers in your ear
I will be with you constantly, there’s nothing you need fear.

I will swim with you in water cool when summer heat is high
And will sit with you beside the fire when winter winds blow by;
If you sit and listen quietly you may even hear me sigh.

I shall drift along the landing to the bedroom where you sleep;
I will wrap my love around you and give comfort when you weep;
I will keep you safe from falling for the precipice is deep.

And through the years I’ll wait … and wait, for you to be with me
When your body gives in to its fate and sets your spirit free
And at last we’ll be together; wedded for eternity.


I, with eyes
Glistening with tears
Of fear,
Listen to laughter
After the pain.
The mocking of the clock
Ticks away the seconds;
Deriding and dividing
My chances of survival.
Distantly I discern
Echoes of tomorrows
I will never know;
I cannot borrow
Against that time,
Or sell my soul short
For even one more day.


"I’ve finished the murder dinner," Daisy said.
"Huh?" David dragged his gaze away from his plate and his mind from the Jenkins account and looked blankly at his wife.
"I said," Daisy said patiently, "that I’ve finished the murder dinner."
"What? Oh, that thing you were writing. Well done dear." David returned his attention to his dinner and his mind wandered back to the Jenkins account, his thoughts stopping on the way to mentally remember and admire the legs on Caroline Jenkins.
Daisy rolled her eyes. Typical of David to dismiss anything she did so casually. She’d spent hours constructing the plot of the game and hoped to sell the whole caboodle to one of the companies that produced a Murder Dinner range. She just needed to try it out first. Stupid of her to expect support from David though; he hadn’t shown an interest in anything she’d done since she’d popped out Emma and Jason more than seventeen years ago. Come to think of it he hadn’t been that supportive then either, he’d turned up late for the twins’ delivery, grinned at them, kissed her on the cheek and told her she’d done well, and then he’d scooted off down the pub to celebrate with his mates.
"I thought we’d invite Tom and Susie," she said, determined to get David to talk to her.
"What?" David looked up again and reluctantly pushed thoughts of accounts and associated legs to one side. "Oh, to this murder thing."
"Yes. And Laurie and Pam. That’ll make six, so we’ll need another couple."
"Louise and Adam?" David suggested, pushing his now empty plate away.
"Hmm, good suggestion, David. Especially as Louise is French."
"What difference does that make?"
"It’s set in France, didn’t I tell you?" Daisy stood up and gathered the plates together.
"Have you thought about what you’re going to cook?" David asked, getting up as well.
"Onion soup to start, Boeuf Bourguignonne for the main course, and then apple tart, followed by a cheese board of french cheeses."
"Do you think that’s wise?" David asked.
"Wise? What do you mean?" Daisy asked.
"Well, with Louise being French, it might not be sensible to cook a french menu that Louise could probably prepare while standing on her head."
Daisy slammed the plates back on the table.
"David, are you saying that I can’t cook?"
"No, of course, not. I’m just saying – well," David shrugged his shoulders, "Louise grew up with these foods; she’s bound to be better at making those particular dishes than you are. It’s just a matter of experience."
"Rubbish. Just … just …" Daisy waved David out of the room. "Oh, go and boil your head."
David gave her a withering glance and left the room.
Well, she deserved that, she thought as she loaded the dish-washer. Surely she could have done better than ‘go and boil your head’. Where had that come from?
Once she’d cleared away the pots and pans from dinner Daisy sat at the kitchen table and wrote the invitations to their guests. She’d worked out earlier in the day who was to play which character; she’d known even then that David would suggest Adam and Louise as the final couple.
Daisy thought that the parts allocated to each guests were tailor made - well, they were, of course. Tom and Susie were playing the elderly servants, both past their prime but with willing hearts. A little on the plump side from lack of exercise and consequently a touch slow, both in their movements and their speech.
Laurie and Pam were cast as the young musicians; Pam was a cellist and Laurie a pianist.
Adam and Louise played a French baron and a French tart respectively. Perfect casting, Daisy thought as she let them into the house on the evening of the murder dinner. Adam, with his slight beer belly which spoke of rich food and expensive wine, and Louise with her ‘little black number’ with its scooping neckline, low-cut back and mini skirt, looked every inch the characters that they were playing – and they were wearing their normal clothes!
Daisy chuckled to herself as she ushered them into the living room where David was handing round drinks. Her husband was playing the wealthy aristocrat, and she his wife, entertaining in their French chateau. The fictitious murdered person was her father. Every character had a motive and an opportunity, she’d seen to that. It just remained to be seen if all the relevant clues could be dragged out over the course of the evening.
The motives for both her and her aristocratic husband were obvious – inheritance. The chateau was expensive to run and money was running out, whereas the "dead" man had been loaded and all his wealth would be left to his daughter.
The dead man had been an entrepeneur, and when the musicians, played by Laurie and Pam, had approached him with a view to producing a classical musical featuring the music of many of the great composers, he’d been enthusiastic and promised his backing. After the musicians had used their savings to support them while they took a sabbatical in which to write the musical he had pulled out, saying that he no longer felt that the idea was viable. Revenge, then, was their motive.
The servants had been "let go" by their previous employer. He was, he had told them, moving in some younger staff. After a lifetime spent in his service on poor wages, they now had nowhere to live and no money to live on.
The French tart had, inevitably, been having an affair with the dead man. When she had suggested that she would leave her husband if marriage was on offer she had been told in no uncertain terms to ‘sling her hook’. She was, she was informed, good for an easy lay, but not someone who would look good on the arm of an influential man. Besides, it was obvious that while a title was nice to have, money was better, and it was obvious that the tart had already spent the Baron’s fortune. Revenge again, then – ‘a woman scorned’. And the Baron’s motive was simply that he had found out about his wife’s affair.
There were other little touches, of course, other motives which, if revealed, would muddy the waters.
Daisy was pleased with the way that the game moved on. The guests played their parts well and all the relevant clues and pieces of information were revealed. Everyone complimented her on the food she served up except, she noticed, David and Louise. No surprise there, then.
Eventually they reached the last round of the game. Time to make the accusations. Accusations began with the person on Daisy’s left – Tom, and went round the table, each person saying who they thought the murderer was, and why.
Daisy was the last to speak.
"Well," she said, standing up. She faced Louise. "I know," she spat, "about your affair with my husband." She looked at David "And you," she said, "I know exactly what you’ve been up to."
David and Louise exchanged glances, She could hear them thinking What’s she on about? What is it that she thinks she knows?
"And," Daisy continued, "If you noticed, I didn’t put the soup on the table for you to help yourselves as I usually would; I served it up in the kitchen and brought it in already in the bowls. Of course, if you –" she jabbed a finger at David, "had helped me, instead of leaving me to to all the work while you relaxed in here, I wouldn’t have been able to put the poison in your soup."
"Yes, Louise, poison. Slow-working, but you should be feeling the effects," Daisy looked at her watch, "any minute now."
"David!" Louise shrieked and grabbed David’s arm. "What has she done? You told me she didn’t know about us." She grabbed her stomach. "Oh, God, I feel ill." Bent over, Louise rushed from the room. David glared round the table before jumping up and running after her.
Daisy ran her fingers through her hair. "Ooops," she said, "I forgot to call them by their character’s names."
There was a stunned silence around the table.
"You mean that was part of the play?" Susan asked breathlessly.
Daisy nodded. "Of course. You don’t think – " she burst out laughing. "You didn’t really think that I’d poisoned their soup, did you?"
There was a round of nervous giggles.
"Oh, dear, I’d better go and see what’s happening to David and Louise." Daisy left the room and found Louise in David’s arms in the kitchen.
"You stupid bitch," David snarled at Daisy. "Look what you’ve done."
"Me?" Daisy said indignantly, "I don’t think that I’ve done anything wrong. It’s you – or rather her –" she pointed at Louise "who has just admitted in front of all our friends, that you and she are having an affair. It’s not my fault if she’s so stupid that she can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, and it’s not my fault if she’s dumb enough to think that I’d poison her and then admit it in front of her husband and our friends."
"Talking of Adam," David said, "Where is he?"
"I would imagine that he’s trying to play the part of the cuckolded husband, without losing any of his dignity," I replied. "And I suggest that the two of you pull yourselves together and return to the dining room as soon as possible."
I left the kitchen, pulling the door to behind me – not slamming it, you notice. In the hall I passed Adam. I let out a shriek when he pinched my bum. "You clever little minx," he whispered. "Now we’re in the clear and David and Louise look as guilty as hell."
"Told you I could," I said. "Everyone will think now that we’ve turned to each other for comfort."
He kissed me lightly on the lips and headed off to take care of his wife.


Muriel hadn’t been feeling herself for some time now. Her sister, Gertrude, was worried about her.
"What’s up?" she asked, when she bumped into Muriel coming down the stairs one morning.
"Oh, I don’t know," Muriel said, flouncing past – Muriel was rather good at flouncing, so she flounced at every opportunity.
Gertrude turned and followed her sister into the living room where Muriel threw herself on to the sofa.
"How long have we been haunting here?" Muriel asked.
Gertrude shrugged. "Don’t know really." She put her fingers to her lips and tapped her foot. "Let me see. You died in …. Er … 1998, wasn’t it?"
"5th of February," Muriel confirmed.
"And I was a bit earlier, a couple of years before you, I think."
"28th August, 1996, 9.30 in the evening. The doc got there five minutes too late."
"Don’t worry, dear," Gertrude said, floating over and patting Muriel on the arm, "my time was up anyway. There was nothing old Doc Sayers could have done."
Muriel was surprised. "Really? I didn’t know that."
"Yes, you did, dear. I told you when you arrived over." She sighed. "Sadly your memory hasn’t improved since then."
"Well! Really!" If it was possible to flounce while seated then Muriel achieved it.
"So I’ve been here for, ooh, 12 years." Gertrude said
"Nearly 13," Muriel corrected. "And I’ve been here over 10."
"And very lonely it was until you got here," Gertrude told her. "I’d almost given up and moved on. It was getting boring here on my own with only you to haunt. And you were so deaf you never heard the wailing, and so forgetful you didn’t notice when I moved things around. When I put that bucket on the stairs and you fell over it you thought you must have left it there yourself."
"Yes, until I got over here and you put me right," Muriel pointed out.
"Well, if I hadn’t you might still be living here and I might still be a lonely ghost."
"Hrrmph. Selfish as ever," Muriel muttered.
"Nothing. Well anyway," Muriel crossed one leg flamboyantly over the other one, "I’m bored now."
"So what do you want to do about it?" Gertrude asked, seating herself in an armchair.
"I don’t know," Muriel said. "Something dramatic."
"Oh, no, please don’t do anything silly, I’m too tired." Gertrude said.
"Yes, tired. Worn out. Kaput. Knackered. Exhausted. I don’t think I really want to be here any longer."
"But this is our house," Muriel wailed, "It’s where we’ve lived for our whole lives."
"And deaths," Gertrude added.
"And deaths," Muriel agreed. She cocked her head on one side and regarded Gertrude critically. "Come to think of it you do look a bit peaky. A bit crumbly round the edges, if you know what I mean. I can see right through you now and I never used to be able to do that.
Gertrude laid her head back. "And the fun’s gone out of haunting lately."
Muriel had to agree. "I must admit the lot that are living here don’t seem to be taking much notice of us recently. I don’t think they’ve even noticed that I’ve swapped all the china around in the cupboards.
"Well," she stood up, all the flounce gone out of her now. "I’m going to find something major to do, and make our presence felt.
"All right," Gertrude said quietly, her eyes gently closing.
Two days later Muriel woke up in the spare room and looked across to the other bed where Gertrude –
She shot upright and tumbled out of bed. "Gertrude," she called, hurrying along the landing. "Gertrude? Gertrude, where are you?"
She opened and closed all the doors leading off the landing. There was no sign of Gertrude.
She flew down the stairs – literally, no flouncing this time, and no buckets, either, and rushed through the downstairs rooms.
"Gertrude," she screamed. "Gertrude, WHERE ARE YOU?"
Eventually, exhausted, she collapsed on the stairs. "Gertrude, come back, come back," she wailed, before burying her head in her hands and sobbing – no tears, but her pain was as real as for any living person. Just as real as the pain had been when Gertrude had died on that dreadful day in 1996.
Eventually Muriel made her way back to the bedroom; it was more peaceful upstairs. All the family had been woken by the banging doors earlier and were even now sitting in the kitchen discussing why their personal ghost had suddenly reappeared and whether or not they should get in the exorcist.
"Reappeared," Muriel whined as she flounced into the bedroom. "Like we’d ever been gone!"
The family had just got used to them, that was the trouble. None of them had even noticed the cold spot as they’d run through her as she was sitting on the stairs this morning. She might just as well have not been there,
She laid down on the bed. Perhaps Gertrude was right, she thought, perhaps it was time to move on. But not without a fight. She sat up again and looked round the room. What to do, what to do ….
Later that day, when the family were all out of the house, Muriel went downstairs and entered the living room. She picked up a photograph frame from the mantelpiece and gazed at the two faces that looked back at her, Jo and Sandy, the children who lived here. Nice children, Muriel supposed, but she was too old to appreciate them. She could do without the fights, the screaming, the loud games and the even louder music. Didn’t they know she was old?
Muriel sighed as she lifted a cushion and placed the picture frame beneath it. She’d never had children of course, had never even had a boyfriend, yet alone a husband, and sometimes, when the children had been younger and Alex, their mother had shuffled tiredly along the landing to comfort a crying child in the dead of night, Muriel had been quite pleased to have been spared having another person so dependant on her. She hadn’t escaped completely, of course, her mother had needed nursing at the end and then when Gertrude had been widowed she’d moved herself back into the family home alongside of Muriel and expected Muriel, as the young sibling, to do all the hard work.
Still, it hadn’t been a bad life, Muriel thought as she rearranged various ornaments around the room, and it had been nice to carry on living in this house even after her death. She removed the shade from the standard lamp in the corner and placed it carefully on top of the vase on the table before leaving the room and heading off into the kitchen.
She had to be careful here. Once, some years ago, soon after Alex and the family had moved into the house Muriel had gone a bit overboard in the kitchen, taking all the packets from the cupboards and tipping them all over the kitchen floor.
Alex had gone mad. She’d shouted at Muriel. Not directly, of course, but she knew who was responsible. "Don’t you ever do this again," she’d screamed at someone, or something, undefined. "It will cost a fortune to replace all this, and take me hours to clean it up." Then she’d burst into tears.
Muriel had felt quite guilty then; she wasn’t a bad person, just bored. Since that day she’d never done anything that would cause her family – well, they weren’t hers really, but she thought of them in a possessive way – anyway, she’d never caused damage to anything and never done anything that would take too long to put right.
She stood in the sunlight pouring through the large picture window and lost herself in thoughts. The previous evening she’d heard the family planning a holiday and she was not looking forward to being in an empty house on her own now Gertrude had moved on. Honestly, Muriel flounced out of the room at the thought of her sister, how could Gertrude have been so absolutely selfish?
Suddenly she stood still. Why stay in the house? Why not go with them? They were holidaying on the west coast and travelling by car, so that would be no problem. Muriel couldn’t have gone if they’d been flying anywhere, she’d gone up in a plane once and had been sick the whole time.
She felt brighter now somehow, more cheerful. She had something to look forward to.
Two weeks later and the car was loaded with two adults, two children, two suitcases and several other pieces of assorted luggage and one ghost.
The weather was fine, the travelling easy, and Muriel found herself nodding off several times in her position sprawled across the luggage in the back of the estate car.
The house that the family had rented was lovely. Light and airy and just a few yards from the beach.
All went well until the last morning. They’d spent the week visiting museums (fascinating, thought Muriel, although the children didn’t seem quite so impressed), going to a theme park (again Muriel and the children differed in their opinion of this activity) and laying or playing on the beach.
Then, on the last morning Muriel decided that she ought to go for a swim. She hadn’t really felt warm enough before, but this last morning the temperatures had soared and, thinking this might be her last chance in her current life Muriel glided down to the beach early, while the bags were being packed back in the house.
Muriel didn’t come down to earth until she was well out over the water, by which time it was more a case of coming down to sea rather than earth, and this involved her making a horrific discovery as she sunk beneath the waves. She couldn’t swim! She couldn’t float or keep herself above the water.
Of course, ghosts can’t die – well, not in the way that you or I think of dying, so she was able to walk back to shore, albeit slowly. Whatever element the sea had that made it impossible for it to support a ghost body didn’t apply to ghosts walking, it was just as difficult for ghosts to walk through water as it is for those of us still living.
Out of the water Muriel flounced up the beach, annoyed at losing yet another capability her living body had been able to do. Honestly, she was beginning to think Gertrude had done the right thing by moving on. It was no fun being here any more, no fun without Gertrude to talk to and no fun because her family ignored her these days. When they came across her latest prank they just tutted and put things right again. Still, they were better than nothing, she supposed.
As she drew nearer to the house she realised that the family car had gone and she began to panic. They couldn’t have left yet, surely? They had only just started packing when she left the house.
But they had. The front door was locked and the key left under the mat as per the instructions the family had received. Muriel let herself in and looked at the clock. It was mid-day! Walking back underwater had taken longer than she’d thought – although, come to think of it, she’d wondered at the time if she had been walking in the right direction all the time. When she passed the same crab for the third time she’d wondered at his alacrity, but now she realised he had probably been sleeping and she had been walking in circles.
It was too much. Muriel slowly walked back to the beach and lay on the sand. If she’d been human she would have cried at this point, but even the effort of being miserable drained her.
There was no point in going on now. Her sister had deserted her and now she had been abandoned by her family. She wondered if they would miss her, or whether the missing would be a good thing.
She turned on her side, drew her knees up to her chest and wailed. Ghosts wailing make a hideous noise, but luckily there were no other houses for some way and nobody out walking their dogs, so her wailing went unheard.
Or nearly.
"Muriel," a voice whispered, but was drowned out by the wailing.
"Muriel!" The voice shouted on this occasion.
Muriel went quiet. "Gertrude?" she asked, afraid she was hearing things.
"It’s me. I’ve come to take you home." A shimmery figure appeared on the sand in front of Muriel. It held out a hand, and Muriel lifted hers and clasped the offered fingers. The hand was warm, like soft fabric, and it drew her up … up … and away.