Tag Archives: About me

A Little Ocular Jocularity

23 Oct

Image from PictureSpider

I’ve had a busy few weeks, giving poetry readings and attending poetry events of one sort or another.  A lot of saliva flies around at poetry readings; have you noticed?  Sibilance by its very nature demands a level of spit not seen anywhere outside of a snake hissing contest.

The result of all that liberated discharge, however, is that at some point I contracted a cold.  I felt rough – really rough; rougher than a cold should make one feel; but I am of a delicate nature, of course, as I might have mentioned once or several hundred times.  I was useless for the first three days and then the mucus began its exodus and then it eased and then I started with a sore throat and then the sneezies came.

It was at that point, lying in bed feeling very sorry for myself, that I remembered that I had once read that you can’t sneeze with your eyes open, or your eyeballs will fall out.

Now this is one of those things that I believed I didn’t believe, so when I felt a sneeze coming on, I decided to try to keep my eyes open.  The things we invalids have to do to keep ourselves amused.

When it came to it, however, I chickened out. Apparently, I do believe that if I sneeze with my eyes open, my eyeballs will fall out. I was assailed with a terrible image of a huge sneeze and…plop…plop…stinging eyeballs caused by carpet fibres (apparently you can feel carpet fibres even though your retinas are literally detached.  In my world, anyway).   I could hear myself screaming at the Hub, My eyes!  My eyes!  Don’t stand on my eyes!  

There was I at three a.m., 52 years old and afraid to sneeze in case my baby blues fell out. (My baby blues are actually hazel, but ‘baby hazels’ doesn’t have the same ring to it).  I think may have overdosed on the cough medicine.

Tell me you’ve got a similarly ludicrous fear; please.  Eye don’t want to be alone.

A Grand Day Out

6 Oct
Everything you need for village living

Everything you need for village living

The conversation went like this:

Friend Pam: Look at these fabulous desserts at the restaurant where we took Mum and Dad for their anniversary.

Tilly Bud: Drool…

Friend Pam: I’ll take you there one day; you have to eat these puddings; they’re fabulous.

Will she, bud?: Droo…l

Friend Pam: Hang on a minute…your birthday’s coming up…I’ll take you for a meal on your birthday!

There is a God: Thank yo…r….oo…l…

And so it came to pass last Wednesday that I found myself heading out of Manchester and into Burnley.  To misquote Field of Dreams (and, in fact, tell an outright lie for comic effect), the only thing we have in common is that Pam came from Burnley; and I had once heard of it.

Pam suffers from a chronic condition: she cannot plan an event without it being a huge success and, as we were heading in that direction, she reasoned, why not go up the famous Pendle Hill (never heard of it) and be tourists in the famous Witch Trial/Trail area (never heard of it).  We could see the famous Eye of God (never heard of it) in the famous centuries-old church (never heard of it) where her husband had proposed to her (I’ve heard of him); call in at the Elizabethan Towneley Hall (never heard of it); eat lunch there (definitely heard of that!); call in to see her parents for some northern hospitality (we’re all famous for that up here); and finish off at the famous pudding restaurant (which sells other food but, seriously, who cares?).

The woman is a genius.

DSCF3292We had a fabulous day.  Pendle Hill was gorgeous; the witch business was fascinating and a little sad (hanging innocent women gets me like that; I dunno why).  The church was…open.  It was hard to believe we were in 21st Century Britain when we could walk into an open, unmanned church and be trusted not to damage/steal anything.  Amazing.  Of course, it probably helped that it was situated halfway up a mountain in the middle of witch country.

DSCF3264I forgot to take my camera but Pam obliged by taking photos with hers, including my request for a pic of the inside of the public toilet – it had a high cistern with a chain!  I was back in my childhood (complete with cold seat) particularly as, technically, it was an outside loo.  Pam and I have a friendly rivalry going to see which of us is most common and I think I win because I was born in a Liverpool slum and come from Irish peasant stock (hence the Liverpool slum): an outside toilet with a lock was a step up for me.

My favourite spot: The Long Gallery. Can you see me way back there?

My favourite spot: The Long Gallery. Can you see me way back there?

Towneley Hall was wonderful.  Walking through rooms which have been inhabited by who knows how many people over the past 500 years is one of my favourite things to do and I’m afraid my mouth got stuck in the Wow! position until it hurt Pam’s ears.  But that’s to be expected of a slumdog, of course.  I was, like, well impressed.

DSCF3297There was a slight change of plan when we saw the queue outside the restaurant door and, as we’d only had huge slices of cake for elevenses we decided – which is to say, Pam decided and I went happily along with any plan intended to feed me – to head straight for pudding paradise and eat there, calling in for a brew at Pam’s folks’ afterwards.  Which is just as well as Pam’s Mum was having her feet done and didn’t really want her guest to see that.  I don’t know why; I’ve got feet; I know how the whole thing works.

I am praying for the strength to dig in and climb out the other side

I am praying for the strength to dig in and climb out the other side

I forget the name of the place where we ate because I was too busy stuffing my gullet with a delicious carvery (which could have been called a spoonery because the meat just fell off the bone and the chef told me that sometimes he has to use a spoon to serve it) to write it down.  Pam tells me it’s called Sycamore Farm.  Check the desserts:


Now tell me it wasn’t worth turning 52 just for that.

We rolled out of there for the short journey to Pam’s parents’ house and I’m not sure that it wasn’t the best part of my day.  Her parents are lovely and her mother is adorable.  She hugged me despite never having met me before and then gave me an entertaining rundown of some of her neighbours, past and present.  They included friendly drug addicts who ran in to help during a crisis to the creepy bloke who introduced himself with the words, I’m not a paedophile and I’ve got a letter to prove it.  Pam’s Mum – or I should say, Pamela’s Mum, because that’s what she called her the whole time; no one ever calls Pam Pamela, she’s too friendly to be full-named;  but you know what mothers are like.  As I was saying, Pamela’s Mum wasn’t convinced by the not-a-molester, though she was glad to see him go when he was arrested for his cannabis farm and stealing his neighbour’s electricity to supply it.  I can’t decide which of her neighbours was my absolute favourite, but it’s a toss-up between the biker who stripped and rebuilt his motorbike many times over fifteen years, in the middle of his living room and partner and children; or the dominatrix who kept a dungeon in the basement but lived elsewhere.

DSCF3278Don’t think that any of this is my usual hyperbole; I swear I had it straight from the horse’s mouth – which was wearing its false teeth at the time, as she happily informed me.  Only the best for Pam’s friends.

I think I love her.

Thank you, Pam, for giving me a brilliant day, showing me a fantastic time, and for having a wonderful mother.

All photographs courtesy of Pam Robinson.

My Eyes! My Eyes!

7 Nov

I think I’ve kept you waiting long enough, but be warned: my new room is not for the faint of heart.  You see, I have this problem of never letting anything go to waste on account of having little disposable income.

The Hub bought a job lot of matt paint – something like 30 litres for £15, two colours: fuchsia and honeysuckle.  I decided the fuchsia was too dark and opted for the honeysuckle.

DSCN3447I needed gloss for the woodwork and I needed a fair bit because I had five pieces of furniture, none of which matched.  Aldi had paint on sale, but not much choice.  I thought I could mix white and bright yellow and make pastel yellow.  There’s a reason I’m not paid to think.

I put on my painting pyjamas, prepped the room, and mixed those suckers.  Did you know that white gloss and bright yellow gloss mixed together make bright yellow gloss?  Me neither; but they do.

The Hub was ill in bed; I was pyjama-ed up, spent up and raring to go, so I went.  I figured that if I didn’t like it, it could act as an undercoat for the time when I could afford to buy pastel yellow gloss. But you know what?  I like it.   Actually, I love it.  It’s, um, bright, but so cheerful.


If you come to stay, you’ll be using this room so you’d better learn to love it, too. But bring a sleeping mask.

I did have one little problem.  After emptying a tray of four tubs of honeysuckle, I noticed a few white patches where I’d missed spots.  I pulled a tub from the next tray in the shed and daubed over the patches.  It was only once it dried that I realised that the contents of tub no. 5 were a slightly different colour – noticeable, but only if the sunlight comes in at a certain angle.

I was bored with painting by this time so, instead of re-doing the whole room, I placed pictures and furniture in strategic positions and voilà!  One room painted one colour.  Honest.

You’ll see a South African table cloth in this next photo, used as a picture.  That’s where the biggest number five daub is.  I think the blue breaks up the blinding luminosity rather well (and I already had it in).DSCN3443

The room cost no more than £20 to re-do, if I include the curtains (charity shop: £1.75), lamp shade (charity shop: £1.99) and cushions (car boot sale: 40p).  

What do you expect of a woman who once papered a bedroom with stickyback plastic?  Class?  You haven’t been here long, have you?

The carpet is fourteen years old and has been through two teenage boys so I need a rug until I can replace it.  Anyone got an old rug covering their compost heap?  You know I’ll give it a good home.  But it needs to be a tasteful colour, like orange.  I have my standards.


Eyes, Look Your Last…

7 Oct

Spud’s old room:

Photo by Best DSC!

I’m going to be AWOB (Absent Without Blogging) for a week or two, as I’ll be decorating my new room in proper girlie colours – honeysuckle, pastel yellow, pink accents.

See you on the other side!

That Was The Week That Was (I)

19 Aug


Such a good looking boy...

Such a good looking boy…

Hello Readers.

I don’t know if you remember me – I used to blog.  I’ve been so busy lately, however, I haven’t had a chance – well, we’ve had a couple of weeks here at Tilly Bud Towers!  A bruised scapula from chasing a rabbit; a septic appendix; and a hysterical teenager.  Not to mention exam results and poetry readings.  I’ll break it down into diary form or it will take up a third of the page just to repeat, ‘…and on Suchaday we…’  It will probably take a couple of days to regale you – you know I can never make a long story less than Lord of the Rings length.

Saturday 9 August

In the week prior to a week-last-Saturday, First World War anniversary fever hit me hard.  The Hub, Spud and I attended a candlelit walk around the park on Monday 4th, along with several hundred others, following a piper and six flag-wielding WWII veterans.  A short service followed before the Last Post was played, and all candles were extinguished at eleven p.m., to signal the moment one hundred years ago when Britain began to be at war with Germany.  It was incredibly moving.

I don’t know if my non-Brit readers know the story of Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, but it is worth repeating:

A friend came to see me on one of the evenings of the last week […]. We were standing at a window of my room in the Foreign Office. It was getting dusk, and the lamps were being lit in the space below on which we were looking. My friend recalls that I remarked on this with the words: “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.”

From Grey’s memoir, published in 1925

DSCF1354To commemorate the start of the war, my church held an open morning with the theme, The Lamps Are Going Out.  As I was one of two people organising it, I spent the whole week working with my friend Pam The Great Administrator (she’s amazing and must only be spoken of in capital letters in my hearing) to collect artefacts, set up a slide show, arrange for costumes, rehearse poems and heavily promote the event.  The last bit worked especially well because we more than quadrupled our usual Saturday morning numbers.  Actually, it was even more than that, only I don’t know the correct term for ‘five times as many people came into church than is usual’.

We expected two tables of old bits on display but we had six.  Some people brought a table’s worth alone, and stayed with their stuff to chat to visitors and explain the (fascinating) history.

Pam baked delicious Anzac biscuits.  The children decorated glass candle holders.  We had period music playing in the background.  And Spud and I gave two readings of poems written between 1914-1919.  The whole event was a huge success, not least because it reminded us of what was sacrificed, at home and abroad.  Spud remarked to me that, as he was just eighteen, if he’d been born a hundred years ago he would probably have been off to war with all of his pals.  A sobering thought.DSCN3284

Sunday 10 August


Church followed by Stockport Writers.  It was my turn to chair.  I wanted to take the August meeting so I could use the theme, The Start of the War.  I hadn’t considered, three months earlier when I put down my name, that it came back-to-back with yesterday’s event and I woke up in a cold sweat in the middle of Thursday night, realising that I had nothing prepared.  Two hours and one irritable Molly later, it was done: I pared fictional and actual events down to their bare essentials – e.g. the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand became An angry teenager with a gun – and used them as prompts.


I had been in five minutes and had just poured boiling water into three mugs when there was a knock at the door.  A neighbour had seen a runaway rabbit and called at my house because I was on the corner and therefore would probably know who it belonged to.  With logic like that, it’s hard to believe we can win a raffle, never mind two world wars.

Still, I’m a sucker for a scared pie filling so I went out to help, calling for my pretty assistant the Hub to come along: animals love him and if anyone could catch it, it would be him.

Turns out anyone couldn’t catch it, including the Hub – it sat in a shrubbery patch, snaffling the carrots we used to entice it and ignoring the umbrella-thrashing we gave the bushes in an attempt to frighten it out.  The last we heard, it had eloped with a runaway pig and they had set up home in Tamworth.

The poor Hub didn’t have such a lucky escape: it was raining and he slipped on some cobbles, landing flat – hard! – on his back and breaking his watch, to the amusement of those neighbours who had come out to watch us chase the rabbit but felt no need to join in.  Or to help him up.

When I got him back inside, Spud was in a spin: having had a late night, he had only just got up.  He came downstairs to find half-made tea, still warm; the car in the drive; the back door unlocked; but no parents.  He tried calling us but our phones rang inside the house…he was creeped out like only a half-asleep teen with a vivid imagination can be.  The Hub would have laughed if it hadn’t hurt so much; but he refused to go to the hospital.

The Hub wasting away because of my neglect

The Hub wasting away because of my neglect


Tune in again – date to be determined because the excitement is still ongoing.

Coming soon: A day trip to Wales








It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

27 Apr

This is what the Hub, Tory Boy and I were doing today in 1994, one of the best days of our lives: 

Not eating biscuits: queuing.

Not eating biscuits: queuing.

The first day of polling in the first Free & Fair South African election.

We were living in Alberton in the Transvaal at the time.  We got up early to be at the polling station for seven, when it opened.  We didn’t want to be stuck in queues all day long.  The government had declared a national holiday so that everyone could vote, and it seemed like everyone intended to.

We were first in the queue, but only just.  Not that it did us any good: we were still first in the queue come four o’clock in the afternoon.  There were no ballot papers at the polling station.  The election officials popped out periodically to tell us that they were on the way – in a helicopter now – would be here any minute.  None ever showed up, except on auction sites in the last few years.

In spite of this, and in spite of the news of bombs going off at the airport, the mood of the crowd was, well, joyous.  There was a lot of singing and a lot of braaing (barbecuing): those who came later and knew about the long wait brought their skottels (a portable gas barbecue) and fold-up deck chairs.  The Hub went home to make us some sandwiches and drinks, but I wish we had braaied instead.

Whole families turned out to vote.  We had four-year old Tory Boy with us.  I have another photo of him, sitting glumly on the kerb, unaware that he was participating in a truly momentous event in South African history.  He’s grateful now, of course.

We chatted to everyone around us.  There was a tearful old man who had never believed that he would ever get the chance to cast his vote.  There were Afrikaaners, resigned to the inevitable and taking it gracefully; and many who welcomed it.  I suppose those with strong opposition to the change were at home, planning protests.  People of every race, tribe, ethnicity, colour and political persuasion stood in that queue and waited with great patience for the ballot papers that never arrived.

There were no murmurings or angry voices, but there were a lot of rumours about what was happening in the rest of the country.  We were in a capsule, a moment in time when we were all in this together, all looking toward a happy and prosperous future; each believing that things would be better, fairer, and right.  We were in the mood to party, not fight.

No ballots came.

Because of our tired little boy, we wondered if we should go home and come back next day – the election was intended to be held over two days, but lasted three because of the issue of having nothing on which to cast your vote – but then we heard there was a magical polling station a few miles on which did have ballot papers, and even enough to go round.  We thought it was worth trying because we really did want to cast our vote on a day that would go down in history.  We wanted Tory Boy to be able to say that he was there. 

I don’t remember where either polling station was, except that the first was in a suburb and the other in a huge, unkempt field.  At the second, we joined a slightly smaller queue that we could see was moving, though it didn’t have the atmosphere of the first.    It took three hours but we got inside at last. 

The most bizarre moment of the day for me was when I went into the booth and there was a scruffy little stub of a pencil.  It didn’t seem fitting to cast a vote that would help change the political landscape of a nation, with a tatty bit of lead.  To this day, I’m not certain that I wasn’t expecting quills or expensive fountain pens. 

In the PWV area (Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) we had a choice of thirteen parties.  As brave as the National Party had been, I couldn’t vote for the architects of Apartheid.  I couldn’t vote for the ANC bunch of terrorists either, no matter how just their cause.  I didn’t think the KISS lot (Keep It Straight and Simple) was taking the whole thing seriously enough; and the Women’s Rights Peace Party was missing the point.  I voted for the Democratic Party.  Helen Suzman was a lone white protest voice in the wilderness of the Apartheid government for many years, so I voted for her party, which I felt had moral conviction.  As the vote was by proportional representation, I helped them to their seven seats.

I discovered a wonderful quote from Helen Suzman, via Wikipedia:

She was once accused by a minister of asking questions in parliament that embarrassed South Africa, to which she replied: “It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa; it is your answers.”

Our tiny piece of history made, we took our exhausted child home, probably collecting a takeaway on the way.  Once he had eaten I put him straight to bed.  We followed soon after.  History is important but it’s the mundane that keeps us going.

Relatives living further out told us they hadn’t bothered to vote on the first day when they saw the queues; they left it to the next day and walked straight in and out.  It seemed most people wanted to vote on the first polling day.  I guess we were not the only people conscious of history on that glorious day.

While We’re On The Subject

19 Apr

Keats House Poets Forum's photo.


At the moment, I have no words.  It made me smile, then, as one of life’s little ironies, when I received an email announcing the launch of a new poetry ezine containing one of my poems – a poem about censorship, in which most of the words have been removed.

I may not be writing much but I do know how to make a short story long, so here goes.

My poem In The Tradition of ‘The Star’ appeared in the anthology In Protest: 150 Poems for Human Rights last year.

Earlier this year, one of the anthology’s editors contacted me, asking for permission to use it in a new ezine she and another editor were starting; and inviting me to read at the magazine’s launch in London at the end of March.

I gladly gave permission but had to refuse the invitation, commenting that I wouldn’t know how to read it aloud anyway.

She replied that she quite understood: her employer (a charity fighting female genital mutilation) had held a memorial meeting for Nelson Mandela and my poem had been read out at the meeting – with difficulty.

I sent a garbled reply about poems being like children and taking on a life of their own without you, once you’ve sent them out into the world.

I didn’t hear from her again, but that’s hardly surprising.  If you’ve read this far you’ll be in the same dazed state.

Anyway, to get to the point, here is a link to the new magazine, Writing in the Blackout.

Here’s a bit of the blurb, for the political amongst you:

‘Writing in the Blackout’ is an anthology of poetry and art work that explores the theme of arts censorship and freedom of speech:http://www.ideastap.com/Partners/keatshousepoets

It features newly commissioned poetry and art work from Keats House Poets and IdeasTap members, an interview with English PEN and much more! We hope you enjoy reading our anthology, and would be delighted to hear hear your thoughts on it and do forward it to any of your networks who would be interested in reading it. This project is a snapshot of some of the complex issues connected to censorship, and we are interested in continuing investigating this theme- do let us know if you know organisations who might support a ‘Writing in the Blackout’ workshop or performance. 
We will be hosting a poetry performance and discussion of ‘Writing in the Blackout’ on June 14th, 4:30-6pm at the Keats House Festival in Hampstead. Do follow @KHPoetsor check our blog for more event details http://khpoets.wordpress.com/  
You will find me on page 39 but the whole thing is well worth a read.


Vivinfrance's Blog

mainly poetry, also quilts, pictures, life-writing and the occasional short story.


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