polish your shoes until your face shines back at you

polish your shoes until your face shines back at you

There will be no shoes for your birthday.
(Wrapping paper remains unbought.)
There will be no rustling through a cardboard box,
to pull apart petals of paper and reveal
“Princess” shoes, patent jet with daisy hole pattern.
There will be no “but you said I couldn’t” glee.

There will be no balloons, no surprises.
No sticky cake to prise off the kitchen floor.

In the park, pigeons will remain unchased.
There will be no STOMP as leaves remain unjumped on.
There will be no shoelaces that need retying,
no gimmick of a flashing light at the heel
to catch the eye as the nights draw in.

It’s late now, I’m walking the hill of Hollywood Park.
Stopping to listen for the dark echo of a shadow,
or the tap-tap of tiny feet.

Poem – The Boxing Day Penitents

The Boxing Day Penitents
(for That Bloody Woman)

They confess their crimes in mid-morning mirrors:
“Bless me, Father, for I have binged.”
“Well, three Hail Marys and five times around the park
you go, in a Lycra jumpsuit.
(Or that festive onesie, you know which one.)”

Tips of fabric antlers
bob over holly bushes.
Thick breath condenses,
twirls of steam mahogany with port,
or bronze with booze-saturated fruit.

They jog themselves virtuous
circle the park with uniform determination.
Gooseflesh a reminder of last night’s turkey,
roast, trimmings, globs of gravy.
The ghost of Christmas past.

A suet glaze on their brow.
Winter sunlight stripes the skyline white.
Amateur cartilage grates
from a lack of warm-up.
Later, they will be on their knees.

“Oh Lord,

forgive my thinspiration,
but let me trim the lipo off.
Allow me penance for a Slimming World.

Dear Lord, please tell me how I can live a Lighter Life.
How should I count Points in a homemade mince pie?
I will Slim Fast, become beautiful in my worship.


The blackbird celebrates St Stephen’s day
feasts on a worm tugged from fresh, wet soil.

Some penitents remain festive,
silver tinsel tames ponytails
that bounce against rattling vertebrae.

They disgust themselves,
whip their eyes with impossible images.
Squeeze sinful rolls of midriff flesh
between fingertips, puff out their cheeks.

There’s no sweet victory in this morning jog,
just a painful thump in the lower back,
just freezing muscles, the constant ache.

Once you’re stripped of this excess flesh
who will love the bones of you?

Rochdale – a quote from 1795


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“Rochdale and its vicinity may be considered as the centre of the genuine Lancashire dialect, a variety of the English tongue, which, though uncouth to the ear, and widely differs in words and grammar from cultivated language is yet possessed of much force and expression”

J. Aiken, 1795, A Description of the Country from thirty to forty miles around Manchester, London: John Stockdale. P.250

Story for Saturday: When the piece is over please don’t forget to applaud

Being busy, and struggling with my brain over early spring, I think I screwed up getting onto the website for Notes into Letters.  So here’s a piece that popped into my head during Benjamin Britten’s unfinished ‘Movements for a Clarinet Concerto’ (reconstructed and completed by Hallé’s Composer Emeritus Colin Matthews). Prose poem or lyrical short story, you decide.


10 - 12 West 63rd Street, New York City, June 2009

10 – 12 West 63rd Street, New York City, June 2009

When the piece is over please don’t forget to applaud

The lift is out of order again. The sound of the fan belt rises and falls. Shiver of strings and a gentle moaning. Like a clarinet singing over constant breeze. The shimmer of sunshine on broken windows. A lowing as if an orchestra tuning up.

All her life she felt as if she was tuning up. Never quite ready, never quite pitch perfect. This is not what you’re promised as a child. Shots of wind like darts around her face. It had been a sunny day but the bone chill wind is a reminder. She is not frightened anymore. Not scared that every day is made of grey, the gunshots of conversation, the never ending domestic wars. Carefully, she moves sideways, graceful on litter clumped on the steps. There’s newspaper everywhere: on the staircase, the walls, half-hearted attempts at insulation. The pages quiver in the zephyr. Old news. New news. Who cares anyway news. Above the wind she thinks she remembers his baritone voice, her soprano. The person who got custody did not receive applause.


Early evening. Months later. The sky is blueing from cyan to indigo, she watches clouds ribbon above her balcony on the 6th floor. She breathes in long phrases, and life goes on as before. Life on the other floors. Life on the streets below. Even life for the reedy plants she forgets to water. She looks down, dares the audience below to behold her. She thinks of tumbling, an aerial dancer in a deep drop. She would sustain the note of surprise. Maybe when she coughs the world will join in.


The boat pulls out of the harbour, orange livery varnished by rain. The traffic near the harbour increases but the fumes are muted. She has a modicum of optimism, although bitter as tonic. A pang of guilt for her parched plants. She thinks of the reeds, hopes that this water will revive them. The ferry horn is deep bronze, sound catching on the river mist. It serenades a finale as she stands with the hardening rain. She is free – whatever that means – but that voice rises and falls to remind her: remember who you are, what you are, where you came from, know your place. She bats away these thoughts, clacks high heels against the wooden floor. Liberty is freezing in the hailstorm, weeping ice that tumbles down her verdigris dress. The hail bounces off the roof in applause. She faces forward towards the faint green of Staten Island. She does not feel the smooth reverse of the rudder. The boat turns back, as if for an encore.

Stirred Workshop at #Equals, Blank Space


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Yesterday I went to a great workshop facilitated by Becca and Anna of Stirred Poetry. We used the current exhibition, Equals in ekphrastic exercises; writing inspired by art.

I was a bit taken with a Marlene Haring’s Letting my Hair Grow. Here’s an excerpt from a poem I’m now working on:
“…the hair took over, rising,
everything it touched had a taste of keratin.
Street lamps sprouted tresses
tangled like willow in a river.”

If you get a chance to go to the exhibition then do; it’s on until 28th July. Blank Space is great, it has a fantastic atmosphere. It is a shame that the council have allowed the levelling of that entire area for new build. Although I have not been acquainted with it long, I will certainly miss Blank Space when it’s gone..

Story for Saturday: An Effed Up Love Life



This is the story I told on Tuesday night for Effed Up, a new twisted spoken word and cabaret night in Manchester. I told a tale of bagpipes, bananas, and East Oxford.

Dan the Computer Man

I used to live in East Oxford. For me, it was a loved-up hippie place, the sort of area where you can pretend that it’s still the 1960s. On Friday nights we smoked home-grown pot of variable strengths in a day-glo, trompe-l’oiel decorated house. There were techno fairy tales on the walls, garish colours and raised surfaces illuminated by UV light. Then we’d get naked in the garden, sit in the hot tub, and chat shit with a bunch of strangers who became magical night-time friends.

Free love, crotchet, funky graffiti on the Cowley Road. Cool, man.

It’s everything that Chorlton-Cum-Hardy wants to be.

It was Valentines Day, 2005. I had decided to take my sorry, single arse out to the Inflatable Love Fest curated by local act Inflatable Buddha, the world’s first, finest, and only folk-punk-skiffle-cabaret band. Held at a place lovingly known as The X – closed due to a lack of adherence to PRS licensing, allegedly – it was a cheap night out. And hey, hippie nerdy boys with long hair and desperation in their eyes were sure to be there.



Being a skint intern at the time, and a vegan light-weight, I became slightly inebriated. Well, OK, a bit drunk. Nah, make that majorly pissed. I leaned against the bar with a pint of the cheapest lager and nodded along to the support acts. The support featured East Oxford staple entertainment: poetry, song, interpretive dance, and bagpipes.

Then, there he was. Heading over to me. Pint in one hand, Tesco carrier bag in the other. Floppy hair. Glasses. Perfect.

Having had a dry period – no pun intended – I could have had a pointless one night stand. Could have.

He was called Dan (already a bad sign, the Big Ex shared his name), he was a computer programmer (back away slowly) and had a fag dangling from a slightly slack mouth, in what he probably thought was a tribute to Hollywood. (I don’t smoke, so already in my head there was a Jennie B-shaped hole in the wall and the word “zoom” written in a bright yellow cartoon bubble in my wake).

You don’t know me. But know this: back then, and even now, I’m not used to being chatted up. I need a big neon sign with flashy lights over the chatting-up-ee so I actually know. Although when Dan the computer man said,
“So, will you come back with me then?”
I got the picture.

And yes, this was the first thing he said to me.

To be fair, I should have been pleased at the lack of hair grabbing and being dragged back to his East Oxford cave (replete with joss sticks, Bob Marley posters and tie-dye I’m sure).

We yelled at each other over the dulcet sound of a bagpipe in full crescendo. If you’ve never heard bagpipes in full crescendo then imagine the sound of a million cats being squeezed. It’s a little bit like that. The conversation went a little like this:

Dan Computer Man – So, will you come back with me then?
Me – Er, no?
Dan – Come back to mine
Me – Not tonight. Maybe we can swap numbers.
Dan – Swap bananas?
Me – What?

At this juncture, he pulled a banana out of the Tesco bag and gave it to me.

Me – No. Although that’s pretty funny. Your phone number?

There was a brief interlude that followed that I think involved more beer, a loo break, and Inflatable Buddha taking up the mic. Dan got a bit more persistent at this point:

Dan – Come back to mine. We don’t have to do anything.
Me – No. My housemate’s away and I have to look after her cats. I have responsibilities. Oo oo oo I’m going to bounce to this next song. Come dance!

Here I pogoed drunkly to Inflatable Buddha’s great hit Fat Sex. Dan danced in a crap, robotic way next to me. At this point, I knew that this relationship was gonna go nowhere. In my world, if a guy’s got no rhythm then there’s gonna be no sexy-time fun for me.

“I want to go,” he whined, “come back with me.”

“Not tonight. I have to go back and look after cats.”

“I have two cats.”

“Woo-to-the-hoo,” I thought.

“Cool.” I said.

He stopped bouncing and I put my arm around him to listen closely to what he had to say next. Honest, it wasn’t just because I was about to fall over in a drunken heap of patchwork skirt.

“You know, we can cuddle. You’re so sweet. I’ve slept with ex girlfriends in my bed before. You are cuddly.”

“Erm, look, not tonight. Besides, I don’t really know you. I’m not saying that this has to be a closed chapter*. We can swap numbers and maybe meet up again”

* Who says when drunk “this has be a closed chapter”, this is LIFE not Dawson’s Creek. I blame the IPA.

Anyway, at this point he got really quite pissy.

“Huh. Yeah. You’ve got ‘responsibilities’ and you’re with ‘friends’. Come back with me.”

“No. I don’t know you.”

“Oh OK. I guess I’ll see you around.”

“Yeah. Bye.” I said. And carried on dancing.

He instantly stopped his crap robotic dancing, lifted the Tesco bag to his chest like it needed his protection, or as if it were a shield for him to step out into the mean Oxford night and fight off drunken rich students, and stomped out of the pub.

The next day I woke up with a flaming Krakatoa in my head and a cat that had thrown up chicken liver on my feet. I wish that I could say that in the morning it had all been a dream. I wish that I could have said, and then I woke up with a phone number penned on my hand and hope pinned in my heart. But I didn’t.

I did, however, still have that banana.

Update: writing life


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Map of Rochdale from

Map of Rochdale from

It’s going to be a hectic few months for this busy bee. I’m writing a few stories for various things at the moment. I’m off to Touchstones Rochdale tomorrow to do some research for Lancashire Folk Tales. The Local Studies team have been super helpful and have a ‘Weird & Wonderful’ file that has some folk tales featuring boggarts, goblins and fairies. I’m very excited about this and grateful to the team for their support.

I’ve also been given permission by the fantastic folklorist Simon Heywood to retell the devil in the hearthplace for the book. Thanks, Simon! I highly recommend his recent book The Legend of Vortigern.

I’ll also be promoting Wild Writes! like a demon before August as well as write some more environmentally friendly poetry :-)

Hope all’s well in your worlds. There will be two Saturday stories, one tomorrow (the true tale I told at Effed Up), and a short piece that tries to understand gamekeeping the week after. Hope you enjoy them.

Wild Writes! is coming…


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Burnet moth on Marsh Thistle (beware: burnet moths contain cyanide, don't eat this lepidoptera!)

Burnet moth on Marsh Thistle. (Beware: burnet moths contain cyanide, don’t eat this lepidoptera!)

Wild Writes! are workshops especially designed for young people aged 14 – 18 years old. We’ll explore nature and writing in a fun and safe environment at beautiful Reddish Vale Country Park. I’m running these for free so I can only really take up to fifteen young people. I’ll be seeking funding if this venture is successful :-)

Check out the specially dedicated website: Wild Writes!

Notes into Letters – reflection


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It’s been a week for experimenting, from playing with the beta version of Storyjacker to reflecting on the Manchester Writing School/Royal Philharmonic experience that was the Notes into Letters project.

On Tuesday night the participants of the experience gathered for a formal evaluation of the project. The general consensus with all involved seemed to be that it is a different approach to inspiring writing. To listen to a piece – to truly listen – without scribbling, reading a book, being harangued by cats, or doing the dishes. As a self-acknowledged fidget it was indeed a difficult task! Although we all achieved the task, I’m still not sure if it was the piece or the process of this that lead to me writing two very different pieces.

As previously mentioned, one of the tasks was to listen to a piece of music once a week for four weeks. It was ‘mystery music’ and I had no knowledge of who it was by or what it represented in terms of the time of its composition. Here’s the piece I had to respond to: Gerald Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto.

What does the second movement of Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto evoke within you? What stories or poems does it tell? I’d love to know what you think.

The pieces by participants from the Manchester Writing school should be online soon.


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