Thursday, 3 June 2021

Blogs fight back!


Arbroath, last weekend.

So, all the world's a podcast right now ... but blogs are still with us and here are a couple of newish ones that I can recommend to you (both of these are written by people I know pretty well).

A friend of mine and her colleague are setting off this weekend on a cycling trip from Land's End to John o' Groats. Follow their progress on a blog here. Donate to their fundraiser if you can here too.

Our daughter has been writing a blog for much of the lockdown era. She has a collection of theatre programmes and her blog concentrates on the musicals she's seen (with quite a bit of life added into the mix). Read her blog Heather Loves Musicals here. On Instagram you can even hear her sing a little bit of one of the songs mentioned in her most recent post.

I was quite caught up in the world of blogs a few years back. I started my first one at the end of February 2007 (this one - first posts here) and continued with it (pretty regularly) till 2011. I wrote about all sorts and did very little editing (I'd probably cringe if I read some of it now!). Lots of the other bloggers I interacted with regularly in the early days still have blogs going and you can see them in the list on the lower right hand side of the web version of this blog (you might not see the links on a phone/tablet version, I have no idea why). I also had a blog for the poetry events I organised 2008-2010 (here). Then in 2011 we had our family 6-month trip to North America and of course that had a blog too (this one). I still read that epic quite a lot (especially in recent months) and I'm glad I kept to the discipline of writing it for the whole trip. I do keep handwritten diaries too but they are pretty simple affairs (more to help the memory than anything) and the travel blog has a lot of detail (plus all the photos of course) and it can really make me smile (sometimes even laugh at my own jokes...). And on our return was I going to start up another blog..? Why, yes (the one you're looking at now...) oh and why not - another cup of coffee for the road - here's another one I put up for a long poem I wrote at the end of 2011.

There are lots of reasons why I continue with blogging (even if it is irregular these days - I'm on the computer a lot for other work now and the eyes get tired). I like the speed of it, the freedom, the ability to post about absolutely anything. I suppose they are a bit like sketchbooks and/or scrapbooks in that sense and you either like that kind of thing or you don't (and I do). I do put poems up on my blogs (sometimes when they're very new). I know this can affect how other places (magazines etc.) will publish your work but I have totally abandoned the 'sending poems to magazines' business. I did it quite a bit for years, had some success (a few such triumphs mentioned on my website if you're interested), and quite a few rejections, but it takes up such a lot of time and it wasn't for me in the end (it's a lot of admin and admin has never been my favourite activity). 

Anyway, I've no particular poems to share with you today. Just thought I hadn't posted for a wee while so wanted to keep things moving on here. And if you haven't seen it on social media already here's a pic of the new Michael Marra mural in Lochee in Dundee (by artist Michael Corr). I've written about Marra on most of my blogs somewhere along the way, written poems about him, written about seeing him at live gigs, written about books about him. He died in 2012 but my goodness his music and his presence certainly live on, especially here in his home toon.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

More fun, more love

This weekend sees the online exhibition for Fun A Day Dundee 2021. Of course it’s online, everything’s still online, but the only upside to this is you can see it from wherever you are in the world (programme of activities above). From this Friday evening at their site (Scottish time) you can see work (and links to more work) from all the participants who took part in January of this year and as usual there is a huge range of work (arts, crafts, carts, rafts…). Any time from Friday please head over and explore – but maybe on a screen bigger than a phone (unless your phone is gigantic) as there will be a lot of work to see.

I took part in the project this January and was asked to write a reflective piece about my contribution (‘31 Postcodes’) for the exhibition blog this weekend (and as you can see on the programme that piece will be live on their site from this Sunday afternoon - it's up now so here is the link). There’s plenty to read in that piece so I won’t repeat it all here. Instead let me just remind you that all the poems and posts from January are still on this blog (or Instagram) to look at/listen to (starting on 1st January 2021). Also I have put together a YouTube playlist to accompany the project called 31 Postcodes. It has a track for every home/place I’ve lived – not always the favourite piece of music that I listened to there but the one that most comes to mind when I think of that particular place and time. For some of the places it was pretty tough to pick (because I lived there for a very short or very long time or because I listened to so much different music there) so I didn’t soul search about it too much and just plumped for something that seemed right. It’s seems almost criminal to have a list without Stevie Wonder or Nina Simone and so many, many others but it’s only 31 entries so I did what I could. Here's some background to each choice.

For postcode/poem 1 (1967-73) - The Beatles Penny Lane

In this house I often played with a pile of old 45s that my half-sisters had left behind when they moved away. There were a few Beatles records in there and this was certainly one of my favourites. There was also some Cliff Richard…

For postcode/poem 2 (1973-4) - Mud Tiger Feet

I have strong memories of a ‘twist’ competition at my 7th birthday party to this record. I think I tried so hard to win I gave myself several stitches. Please howl with laughter at the TOTP video on the playlist…

For postcode/poem 3 (1974-6/7) - Rock Follies Sugar Mountain

I watched this TV series with my Mum. I was probably far too young but I really enjoyed it and she loved it (Julie Covington was a big fave of hers so we only ever listened to her Evita, no Elaine Paige in our house – sorry EP).

For postcode/poem 4 (1977-8) - Earth, Wind & Fire September

I had the vinyl album of The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire Vol 1 and I loved it.

For postcode/poem 5 (1978-83) - Chic Le Freak

A school disco favourite. You'll have to read the posts to understand why the dates overlap at times...

For postcode/poem 6 (1979-83) - Neil Young Old Man

As a teenager I found this song fascinating and listened to it over and over (and the rest of Harvest, an album that was at that point about 10 years old). I don’t remember borrowing this from a sibling nor do I remember choosing it for myself so it’s as if it just magically appeared in my room. I also listened regularly to local radio, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Spandau Ballet’s True, and far too much Black Sabbath and ACDC (in the smoking room) but somehow it’s Neil who’s made the list for this address. 

For postcode/poem 7 (1983-4) - Shalamar A Night To Remember

I saw this band ‘live’ at the Capital Radio ‘Best Disco in Town’ on the Strand (though it was more PA than full band I think…). At the time it seemed very sophisticated – I was new in London, remember and I bet they wouldn’t have come to Middlesbrough in 1983! Looking at the Youtube video I realise why I bought a pair of black and white stripey trousers around this time…

For postcode/poem 8 (1984-5) - David Bowie Oh! You Pretty Things

I’m sure many of us have Bowie tracks that come in and out of our lives. There are lots that I like but I had quite a Bowie phase in late teens and I loved this track back then (that and Wild is the Wind). 

For postcode/poem 9 (1985) - Madonna Into the Groove

Around this time I saw Desperately Seeking Susan in Madrid (dubbed into Spanish as it was mainstream and not an artfilm). I was 18. I loved it and somehow particularly because it was in Spanish (the name Susan sounds totally different for a start).

For postcode/poem 10 (1985) - Joaquin Sabina y Viceversa Incompatibilidad de Caracteres

Lots of Spanish and Latin American music was played in this house but I thought I should pick a Spanish one for Madrid so here is one from that era. To be honest the song I most associate with this house is Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing as my Basque flatmate had a cousin conscripted in the army who used to visit us when on leave and play that track over and over (very loud). That is a song I would happily never hear again.

For postcode/poem 11 (1986) - Silvio Rodriguez Vamos a Andar

This Cuban singer/songwriter was much beloved by almost everyone I knew in Madrid. I even saw him live there but the memory is a bit vague… I think it was some sort of arena and not really the environment for his very gentle voice.

For postcode/poem 12 (1986-7) - Billy Bragg A New England

Not such a gentle voice this time. One of my best uni friends had stacks of homemade cassettes in her room in the first year (Cocteau Twins, Everything But the Girl, Elvis Costello, lots of bands I’d never heard of like The Woodentops and The Three Johns – I’ve still never listened to either of those) and she also introduced me to Billy Bragg (the sound, not the man). We saw him live at the Cambridge Corn Exchange (where we also saw, I think, Hugh Masekela and Ben Elton, but not on the same bill). Another uni friend played me the Tom Waits album Heart of Saturday Night for the first time and that is still a firm favourite in whichever house I’m in (and definitely my favourite of his albums).

For postcode/poem 13 (1987-8) - George Michael Faith

As mentioned in the blog post for this one, this was one of the sounds of my 21st birthday in our student house. 

For postcode/poem 14 (1988) - Mel & Kim Showing Out

Stock Aitken Waterman were evil but their music was almost inescapable around this time. I did have a weakness for Mel & Kim and I did watch quite a bit of Hitman and Her (it was terrible but remember, kids, we had less choice at 3am in those days).

For postcode/poem 15 (1988-9) - Diana Ross & The Supremes Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

I’ve often hidden in the 1960s or '70s and my last year at college (1988-89) was one such year (it felt nicer there, I didn’t have to think about the future). The video on the playlist is just Diana because all the Supremes ones I could see weren’t live.

For postcode/poem 16 (1989) - The Stone Roses Fools Gold

My brother had a party in this house of my Mum’s when she was away once and some friends and I (foolishly) took LSD and listened/danced to the first Stone Roses album on repeat literally all night long. My brother’s friends found us very confusing (they were more drinkers). Why were we so thin? Why did we only want to listen to one album? What were we laughing at?

For postcode/poem 17 (1989-90) - Omar There’s Nothing Like This

Although I was mainly raving around this time I liked to listen to the Leeds pirate radio station WYBC and it had a soul show that I loved on Saturday afternoons (i.e. my weekend breakfast show, nice and soothing and calming after a night of acid house). The DJ was called Soulmaster Hazzy and he played this track a lot in 1989 – sometimes 3 times in a row (you can do that on pirate radio).

For postcode/poem 18 (1990) - Happy Mondays Step On

Again I was listening/dancing to a lot of dance/house music at this point but that is a little blurred timewise (which tracks were out when, what was part of the mix…). I do remember dancing to this though when friend and I used to go to cheap student nights mid-week (we weren’t students, just dedicated followers of sound and syrup). We didn’t know a lot of student music but we knew this one.

For postcode/poem 19 (1990-91) - Diana Brown and Barry K Sharpe The Masterplan

Again there was much house/rave music in the air but friends and I listened to this track a lot (home and away) and I also remember hearing/seeing Sharpe at a sound system at Notting Hill Carnival at around this time (well, I think it was him - it could have been anyone, it was very busy). 

For postcode/poem 20 (1991) - Gil Scott-Heron Three Miles Down

I listened to a lot of GSH driving once I had a car with a decent sound system in it (it was a cassette player). I had the live double cassette Tales of Gil Scott-Heron by Gil Scott-Heron and his Amnesia Express and I would really recommend it. It really gives the feeling of his live shows (I saw him at the Leeds Irish Centre, the internet suggests this was 1992 and that sounds about right). 

For postcode/poem 21 (1991) - Fresh Four Wishing on a Star

Slow dancing at the end of a very long all-night house party… I think that’s what this was about.

For postcode/poem 22 (1991-2) - Sabrina Johnston Peace (Brothers in Rhythm Mix)

This one is mentioned in the poem – I didn’t love it especially but my flatmate played it very loud and very often. She was new to rave/house music - this was her first love, in that sense.

For postcode/poem 23 (1992-3) - K & M Funk and Drive 

You’ll not find this on Spotify. It’s a funky house record that was rereleased under the name Elevatorman (also not on Spotify). The boyf of the time played it a lot.

For postcode/poem 24 (1993-5) - Tricky Hell is Round the Corner

DJ Daisy and I both loved the Maxinquaye album by Tricky. Full of great tracks.

For postcode/poem 25 (1995-6) - Underworld Rez/Cowgirl

I could pick a millions tracks for this one but I went with one that we danced to rather than played ourselves (as DJs). Happy memories of bouncing around a dancefloor somewhere in London at 4am when we’d finished our own set.

For postcode/poem 26 (1996-98) - Joan Osborne Crazy Baby

A suitable come-down track for so many reasons. From the great album Relish.

For postcode/poem 27 (1998-2002) - World Party She’s the One

When I was pregnant I was pretty sure we were expecting a girl (all my sisters had had girls) and I often found myself singing this song (I listened to quite a bit of Radio 2 around this point – I didn’t like a lot of it but 6 Music was still playing far too much punk for my taste in 2000 so it was a compromise). Obviously the better known version of this track is by Robbie Williams but I am medically allergic to anything to do with Take That so I can’t recommend you listen to that. This is the original and it’s very similar, Robbie didn’t do anything different with it.

For postcode/poem 28 (2002-4) - The White Stripes Black Math

When our lives were full of pre-school sounds The White Stripes made a nice alternative to Part of Your World and Bibbidy Bobbidy Boo every now and then. We all used to bounce around the house to this track (including daughter and any other kids present).

For postcode/poem 29 (2004) - Buena Vista Social Club Candela

This period was a couple of months in a small house with my Mum so we kept our noisier music at bay and chose music she couldn’t complain about (she once asked if the washing machine was on – it was Radiohead… it was years later I realised she was probably being funny on purpose).

For postcode/poem 30 (2004-18) - Ana Laan Happiness is a Long Discipline

We were 14 years at this address and a lot of music under the bridge. I picked this one because it’s a good approach to life and the singer/songwriter is an old friend who should be better known in the UK (she lives in Spain). She is brilliant, sings in Spanish, English and other languages. This song is from her 2007 album Chocolate and Roses.

For postcode/poem 31 (2018-now) - Michael Marra All will be well

Marra gets a mention in the Dundee poem, as of course he should. This isn’t the song of his I know best or listen to most but it seemed a good note to end on, especially now. Marra was good at writing about all of life – the good, the bad and the ugly – and giving it a touch of something like magic as he went. He is in my Premier League of singer/songwriters (which is an extensive and brilliant team but I’m not going to start listing all those on the team who didn’t make it onto this particular list of 31 tracks or we will be here all weekend and then you won’t have time to go and check out all the Fun A Day exhibition!). 

Thanks for reading and by the way the 'more love' in the post title is a reference to a song by Tim O'Brien. I first heard it at Montrose Folk Club (performed by the band Real Time, sung by the lovely Judy Dinning, sadly no longer with us). The Chicks (formerly the Dixie Chicks) cover it too.

Saturday, 13 March 2021

Oh mother!


Another day

Hey, Mum, I still see you – 

in an urn, in a cupboard,

in the corner of a room.

It’s not ideal but there it is – 

you always were patient.

Other options were too tricky,

or busy, or expensive.

You’d say treats are for the living,

memories and motherhood,

a mixed bag.

Simple but not simplistic,

you are so widely dispersed.

In the garden, in the kitchen,

you go where we go

every day.

RF 2021

Here it aloud here.

Times are emotional, am I right? But you know, they always are, it’s just that sometimes we’re more aware of it. After the frenzy of blog activity in January this year I've had a month or so away (recovering...) but here are a few marvellous things that have made me feel even more emotional than usual this week:

1. A poetry round table as part of the StAnza festival. 

Everything is online this year of course (which suits me better to be honest... I struggle to sit in quiet audiences in real life). The poet reading her work was Tishani Doshi and her most famous poem (Girls Are Coming out of the Woods) certainly brought a tear to my eye (and hers) yesterday for all too familiar reasons. I think it was actually her tears that prompted mine during the reading. She is very good on how to both hate and love the world around us. 

2. The book no one is talking about this by Patricia Lockwood

I saw it mentioned on one of author David Nicholls’ Twitter book launch days and bought a copy (and not from Amazon...). It is not an easy book to get into (especially if you are aged, like me, over 50 and possibly guilty of using all the wrong emojis) but I persisted and it is so worth it - such lovely writing! Poets are all very well but I do often feel that many of the most poetic writers are people who work in other areas (see also this week Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald and too much music to mention). On some days I feel like I only really like about 5 poems in the whole history of literature (bah humbug). On a related note, daughter and I also listened to Nicholls himself talking about adapting novels for the screen this week (you can catch up with that for free here). 

3. The radio shows on BBC 6 Music in the 6 Music Artist in Residence series 

And in particular the ones curated recently by Arlo Parks. These are a joy, joy, joy but the first of her six programmes only has one day left on the player so dont hang about. I am also really enjoying a weekly programme on BBC Radio Scotland (the Roddy Hart Show on Tuesday evenings at 10pm). In this weeks show his album of note was Arab Straps As Days Get Dark and I particularly enjoyed the spoken part of Tears on Tour (“what would you call the opposite of a comedian?” etc.). Well, a poet maybe...

Anyway, more when it comes.

About the photo - my Mum, Margaret Fox (formerly Parr, née Bryant), died in 2010 aged 86. Today I took her out into the garden for a photo shoot.

Sunday, 31 January 2021

31 Postcodes - Poem 31


Bird’s eye

Who knew this river city space 

would be our long-term lockdown home,

with all these hours to sit and stare

whilst still aware that others don’t 

have time to wipe a sweaty brow, 

or tears that won’t stop falling.

We hunker down, adapt our skills,

and look for news that doesn’t come,

as pigeons swoop their grey through town,

so odd with all the people gone;

they miss the pies and chips and things,

the seagulls just keep calling. 

We climb the Law to see our strength,

the ceiling’s high, the jackdaws too,

the view has questions, hear it sing, 

like ‘what would Michael Marra do?’

We stumble on towards the wise,

the fort is burning, falling.

RF 2021

We moved from our Montrose home in 2018. In some ways we hadn’t meant to stay there such a long time (14 years – a long time for me to be in one place) but our daughter was in school and doing well and we didn’t have a better idea so we stayed put. She was due to finish school in summer 2018 so a few months before that we finally put suburbia up for sale. It took a little while but eventually someone wanted it and we moved into a city again (Dundee, in September 2018). We knew this city pretty well (Mark had been working here since 2002) and we had always fancied having a go at living here. As cities go it is really striking – the river, the hills, the coast – and it’s a good size (not too huge, not too small). So far, even with all the lockdown business, we really love it. As Leeds was when I moved there in 1989, Dundee is at one of those points in its history when people are trying to make it a more stimulating, attractive, interesting place to live. Of course, opinions will differ on how that should be done, how much should be spent and on what exactly, but this isn’t the place for that discussion (and we’re new here…). I do know that Dundee is one of those places that many people feel passionate about – it has a special history, a special outlook, a dryness to the humour (all of these things encapsulated, I think, in the work and talent of one of its most significant musical sons, Michael Marra). I saw him perform a few times in Montrose and once in Dundee in 2009. He was brilliant and, like many others in his class (Nina Simone, Gil Scott-Heron...), what you might call painfully wise. 

In Dundee we’re back in a flat again (for the first time in a while) and it’s even a ground floor one (part of of the building in the google photo above). I’m sure I once swore I’d never do this again (feet above your head and all that) but somehow it’s OK. We’re up on the hill, we have some views and I’m old enough (and, miraculously, mostly chilled enough) to be not too bothered by others’ noise (in fact I even sometimes like hearing the noise of others’ children and generations above us and next door). And do I ever, upon hearing all the little footsteps and other chaos, just put in my headphones or pick up a book or a coffee and smile to myself? Why yes, I believe I do.  

We didn’t intend to move house on exactly the same day in 2018 that the new V & A museum opened in Dundee but we did. Luckily we didn’t get caught up in the traffic jams that accompanied the grand opening/concerts etc. and neither did our furniture. At the end of a long day’s moving we fell into bed but then suddenly heard a lot (and I mean A LOT) of banging. At first I thought ‘man, that neighbour at the back really knows how to bang their garage door shut, over and over’ but eventually we realised that it had to be more than that. We got up and went to the front of the house … just in time to see the very last lights of the huge, the-like-of-which-has-never-been-seen-before firework display and lightshow that had been put on to celebrate the opening of the V & A. We heard it was fantastic.

And then we had a year and a half of doing everything we could to enjoy the benefits of city life before the Covid days began. It’s a strange time to be in a city just now – so much of what makes cities tick can’t even be wound up. I walk through the city centre and seeing almost everything closed is such a strange sensation (like a really long Xmas Day – and I’m not the biggest fan of Xmas). For someone who’s spent so much of her adult life worrying about crowds and crowded spaces it’s a gift in some ways (to not have them) but it’s one I really didn’t want. Usually if I have to get a train anywhere, for example, I spend far too much time worrying beforehand about whether the train will be packed or not and what I will do if it is. At the moment I watch the almost empty trains sail by the city and long to be in one (an empty train is my idea of heaven!). I love travelling – I just (still) really struggle to do it in crowds or packed spaces so all this empty transport is like the biggest tease. I also wonder if, post-pandemic (whenever that is), I will be so desperate for change that I will move on from some of that old crap in my head and not be so weird about crowds (it’s pretty tiring and tiresome…) but it’s only a fleeting thought. Again, I’m old enough and chilled enough to not worry about it too much. Most of us have something that bugs us about ourselves. It could be worse.

More than ever, none of us know what will happen next. This is not a time for making plans so whether we will stay at this postcode for anything more than a few years is hard, or even impossible, to say. We like it here. We may stay, we may not. I don’t find moving generally upsetting or difficult (as I know some do). I find it exciting to be honest – there are so many places in the world to explore (and that doesn’t just mean obviously ‘exotic’ locations – the village next door can be exciting too, just because it’s different, and people have had to acknowledge this more because of lockdowns, I think). I also know that my feelings (about homes and moving) are a privilege because they come from a place of safety and being loved and cared for. A lot of this project for me has been trying to take a look back at my particular journey so far (the ordinary and the extraordinary – most of us experience both somewhere along the way) and a lot of it has reminded me how much of mine has been enjoyable (even if I didn’t necessarily realise that at the time). I’ve also read enough accounts, listened and watched enough documentaries about refugees and what seem like some people’s impossible journeys to know that difficult times means different things to different people. Some images from TV of the past few years live long in my mind – people stuck in terrible conditions in Calais, people risking their lives at sea, and one picture that’s stayed with me from something I watched years ago is that of a group of young men, mostly from Afghanistan, just sitting in a railway hut in Serbia. They had been there a long time and they were cold, abandoned and forgotten and with nothing to do but just sit there. They were waiting for countries to let them in, waiting for borders and minds to open instead of close (and some of them were still there in 2020 according to this article). And, even if many of us haven’t experienced anything like this so far, we could all be in that position one day and we should do what we can to support those, here and elsewhere, who don’t have the security of any kind of healthy home (never mind holidays). It’s hard to do much without a safe home: it’s essential, fundamental, basic.

And here I am now at the odd stopping point that is the end of this project. It’s the last day in January 2021 and this is the end of my Fun A Day Dundee project for this year. I know this one hasn’t exactly been anyone’s idea of ‘fun’ (I did ‘fun’ last year) but it has been a great exercise for me in terms of writing and doing something a bit creative. Mostly my work these days is aiding others’ creativity and it’s been good to see if I still have anything to offer up from my own well, as it were. I appreciate all the lovely responses on here and on evil Facebook, evil Instagram and the merry madness that is Twitter (I really only put these posts on the latter because poet and former blog friend poet JoAnne McKay isn’t on any other platform and her comments are total quality). Creativity is such a simple thing, in itself, and this felt good to do. I’ve learned I still have a memory (bit of a shocker), and that I still have friends and love (likewise) and a roof over my head (even if that roof is a couple of floors up with another family in between). Most of all, I’m still alive, still breathing, and still looking around me now and then and wondering ‘what the hell is that?’ and sometimes ‘can I eat it?’ It’s OK. It’s more than OK.
Here’s a pic of me in 1970 (aged 3) outside my first home (left) and then just yesterday outside our current home. As you can see I am now, and have always been, a fashion icon:

If you’ve enjoyed following me on this project please feel free to pass the blog link on to friends and family or anyone else you think might like it. They might want to start at number one (it’s back here, 1967, just outside Darlington in Co. Durham, England). Thanks for reading everyone and here’s to Fun A Day Dundee 2022!

This poem is part of the annual Fun A Day Dundee project where participants try to do something creative every day for the month of January. You don't have to be in Dundee to take part and there are other Fun A Day projects around the world. People post as much of their work online as they want to (largely on Instagram but it can be elsewhere too). In January 2020 I wrote a 31-word poem and posted a drawing to illustrate a word of it every day for a month (more info here). This year I am posting a whole poem a day (one poem for each of the 31 addresses I have lived at, covering the period 1967-2021). Videos of the poems show the places remembered in the poems but were taken from recent Google Street View. The videos are on my Instagram, maybe elsewhere too. Use the hashtag #fadd2021 on social media to see other people's online contributions.

Saturday, 30 January 2021

31 Postcodes - Poem 30


A long stay

In 1970 this house was IT,

then it got stuck and left behind;

it’s a bit light on bathrooms.

We fill it up with generations, 

change a few of the tired features,

turn up the volume on the walls.

I walk the little one to nursery,

and then to school and what comes next.

We make our stories long and funny.

The singing here is sound as folk,

all squeezed around that hefty table

for cakes and parties, ups and downs.

Fourteen years is a long time – 

life and death and friends to see it – 

too much for one poem.

RF 2021

In September 2004 we moved into a house in Hillside, on the edge of Montrose (I was 37). This would be the longest I ever lived in one building because Mark, Heather and I stayed here till 2018 (14 whole years*). Looking for this home we had another family member to consider (my Mum, she was 80 and moved up from England to be with us) so we needed somewhere that could work for two households in one. Some of things we had to keep in mind were – my Mum absolutely did not want any kind of ‘granny flat’, also she really wanted a garden, Mark wanted a train connection for work and I wanted to be able to walk Heather to school. In the end it was Mum who found the house that met all these criteria – it wasn’t much to look at in the listings, and indeed no-one else was interested in it, but she was totally right as, after a few tweaks, it had everything we wanted and it worked out just fine (she had some experience of moving house if you see the early poem/posts in this series). Plus it was just a few minutes (in the car) from miles of lovely beaches (St Cyrus, Kinnaber, Montrose) – after living most of my life so far from the sea we were now spoilt for choice.

The house was in a village-suburb hybrid (with a psychiatric hospital at the top of the street – I always found that more reassuring than anything else – it’s closed now). Built in about 1970, the house was a bit old-fashioned (not old enough to be interesting, not new enough to be fancy or luxurious) but it had space (inside and out) and that was what we needed this time, especially as we all got used to the new living arrangement. We three were used to our way of doing things and Mum was very used to hers (after years of living alone) but we did make it work. Mum was great – she did loads in the garden, played and watched TV with Heather, got on well with Mark. As with many mother/daughter relationships there were times when the close quarters was too much of a good thing for me (and her) and we wound each other up (she could be a bit of a snob, I could be a bit of a slob, she could do disappointed really well...) but luckily, because of the space, we could just remove ourselves to a different room or go out to the garden and it would blow over soon enough. I learned pretty quickly that she was happier if I cooked meals she liked (who isn’t?) so we all ate like Grandmas for a few years (or that particular Grandma anyway – meat, puddings, chocolate, more puddings).

We lived here for all of Heather’s school years so she did a year of nursery and her primary years at the village school and then her secondary years at the local secondary school, Montrose Academy. She loved her schools and had some amazing teachers (and librarians and other staff). She enjoyed great extracurricular events too (mainly musicals-related and you can read about that on her own blog). My Mum lived with us for six, mostly fun-filled years and died, at home, after a short illness in 2010 (she was 86). She had once again found a group of quakers to hang out with and, as friends often are, they were a strong support to her throughout her time in Angus. We fostered for a while after Mum died so there were a couple of other young residents at this house too (one small boy in summer 2013, another from 2013-4). Mark continued to work in Dundee throughout our time here (so he did that train journey up and down the beautiful coast many, many, many times). In 2008 we added a pup, Zoe, to the pack (Mum’s dog Ailsa died in 2009 at a grand age). 

There were a lot of changes over these years, many visitors from all over the world, new friends, lots of parties, many lives in one place. Although I loved the area there were aspects of living at this address that I found tricky. The suburban nature of the village (and the large salaries some residents had thanks to the oil industry) manufactured quite an atmosphere of competition (whose child is most popular, who has the biggest car, who’s been on the most holidays..?) and that stuff is such a waste of everyone’s time and energy. Even though not everyone was involved in this, as often happens it was the most vocal who were and they could be hard to ignore. Likewise, even though you know why people do it (usually there’s a fairly big sign over their head saying ‘material things make me feel better about my lack of interesting achievements’ or ‘my husband’s a dickhead but look at our range rover’), it’s hard to shrug it off every time. 

I did feel I didn’t really fit in (certainly amongst many of the other parents of young children, though I found one or two I could relate to eventually). For a start I was still suffering from some of my earlier anxieties so I didn’t drive much and took the bus (very few people from the village took the bus here, whilst I, on the other hand, was quite excited at the number of buses on offer after our Auchmithie limited service). Also we only had one child (always a rebellious step in the suburbs) and then I made friends with oddballs too (one of my closest friends here for a while didn’t wear shoes...). I did try to fit in now and then (I even went to PTA events briefly when Heather was in primary) but in this kind of competitive environment it was pretty painful so I withdrew again fairly quickly. Generally I find that kids are fine but parents… I always say to anyone who’ll listen that the hardest thing about parenthood is other parents (the crap they talk and the things they do). And thank you for coming to my TED Talk…

Anyway, one very happy place for us in Montrose during our time there was the fortnightly local folk club. I had been a devoted fan of lots of different kind of music over the years (pop, rock, soul, house…) but part of my post-rave recovery had been the gentler sounds of acoustic music so the folk club (or at least the singer/songwriter guests) were exactly what I was ready for in 2004. The Montrose club is run, not by committee as many are, but by one local man who shares his name with a Radio 2 DJ and quizmaster. The club usually takes place in one of the hotels in the centre of town and once we’d discovered it, Mark and I went to as many shows as we could during our time in this house (it helped that we had a built-in Grandma/babysitter for at least some of our years here – and she absolutely wasn’t the folk music type). 

Also I had been working more and more on poems since moving to Scotland in 2002 and the folk club gave me another important opportunity to develop this side of life in that I read poems aloud as part of the regular open mic slot at the club for a good few years. Scottish east coast folk have a reputation for, let’s say, keeping their cards close to their chest so it was daunting when I first read a poem or two to the folk club audience and they showed me their serious poker faces. I started off thinking they must hate me but almost everyone at the club, at some point or other over the years, made a friendly comment or gave me some encouraging word for a poem, or an image or a line. It really meant a lot to me and I never took it for granted. 

I did put on a couple of poetry and music events in Montrose too over the years (bringing in poets from all over Scotland and mostly local musicians). I had some plans to carry on with that but then Mum died and for that and other reasons my priorities changed and I didn’t organise another event of this kind after 2010. I put out a couple of books of my own poetry (one in 2008 and a smaller one in 2017) and did launch events for those, featuring friends and family on the bill with me for both (the second one was especially lovely in the glorious setting of the café/diner at Lunan Bay). I’m very much not part of any kind of poetry or writing scene (I’ve tried here and there, but the only time it ever felt anything other than forced or uncomfortable was some of the looser blog/online writing groups like The Poetry Bus/Monday Poem in 2009-2010). I’ve had very little outward success with poetry (and writing in general) and yet I do it still. It used to bother me (partly because I know my Mum really wanted me to succeed at something) but it’s less of an issue now. We can’t all be successful at everything all the time and, look, you’re reading this aren’t you? I’m pretty sure that one good reader, like one good parent, can be enough.

*Apart from the time when we went away travelling in North America for 6 months in 2011. That journey has its own blog  You just can’t have enough blogs.

This poem is part of the annual Fun A Day Dundee project where participants try to do something creative every day for the month of January. You don't have to be in Dundee to take part and there are other Fun A Day projects around the world. People post as much of their work online as they want to (largely on Instagram but it can be elsewhere too). This year I am posting a whole poem a day (one poem for each of the 31 addresses I have lived at, covering the period 1967-2021). Videos/photos of the poems show the places remembered in the poems but were mostly taken from recent Google Street View. The videos are on my Instagram, maybe elsewhere too. Use the hashtag #fadd2021 on social media to see other people's online contributions.

Friday, 29 January 2021

31 Postcodes - Poem 29


A wee dance

We rent two months in this Arbroath semi,

its owner moved on to care nearby,

a life left imprinted in dirt-brown carpets,

mid-century furniture, neat flowerbeds.

History hums, it’s warm to the touch.

We’re sleeping in someone else’s tent,

make do, dress up, keep up the dancing.

Grandma arrives with her house in a van.

Her dog’s unhappy, vomits too often.

The carpets really can’t take any more.

Then it’s time to move on quickly.

This house needs love, we’re promised elsewhere.

Hardly unpacked, we pack up again,

the books, the drawings, the oldest photos.


Here we’re a whisper, barely a sound.

RF 2021

This is one of the shortest stays to make it into this project. Some readers have been amazed by the number of places I’ve lived but I don’t think it’s that many really. I’ve read books about people who’ve moved a lot more (some people who were in the care system, for example). I suppose it does give a very different life experience if you move less but I only know my own experience so it just seems (kind of) normal to me.

In summer 2004 (I was 37) we had to leave beautiful Auchmithie and move, quick as a flash, to a house on the other side of Arbroath, over towards Crombie Park. It was a faded semi in a quiet cul-de-sac on the edge of town and we were the first renters after its owner had moved to a care home. We were lucky to find a place so quickly and also that the helpful firm and family member of the owner letting it were flexible and didn’t hold us to the minimum 6 month rental (we were only in this house for a couple of months). Not long after we moved in my Mum arrived from England to join us and we started the serious hunt for a more permanent home for all 4 of us humans (Mum, Mark, Heather and me) and my Mum’s elderly and decidedly grumpy cairn terrier (Ailsa). Quite a lot of Mum’s stuff had to squash into the little Arbroath house with us all (though some went into storage too, I think) so it was quite a tight fit. Mum didn’t like her room in this house (it was in a little extension on the side downstairs and was small, dark and gloomy) so she was particularly keen for us to find the new place quickly. Her face could be very expressive …

But no matter how much we tried to hurry, the process still took a little time so we had a few late summer months in this house. It included some gardening time for Mum (and others), some nursery time for Heather at one of the primary schools, ongoing dance lessons (this was peak Angelina Ballerina era…) and lots of visits to Crombie Park because it was so nearby. Arbroath had been our nearest town since we had moved to Scotland in 2002 so we knew it pretty well but it was nice to see it from a different angle. It doesn’t always have the best reputation but we’ve had great times there (it has the sea, much history, many cafés, some great playparks, the college… and it’s flat so it’s good for pushchairs and wheelchairs). Also, being a seaside town and a military one, it has quite a turnover of new arrivals (and departures).

At some point we did find a house to buy that suited our now extended family but we just couldn’t find anything near to Arbroath so this one was slightly further north – on the edge of the next town up the coast (Montrose). So tomorrow (only 2 posts left now!), that’s where we’re heading…

This poem is part of the annual Fun A Day Dundee project where participants try to do something creative every day for the month of January. You don't have to be in Dundee to take part and there are other Fun A Day projects around the world. People post as much of their work online as they want to (largely on Instagram but it can be elsewhere too). This year I am posting a whole poem a day (one poem for each of the 31 addresses I have lived at, covering the period 1967-2021). Videos/photos of the poems show the places remembered in the poems but were mostly taken from recent Google Street View. The videos are on my Instagram, maybe elsewhere too. Use the hashtag #fadd2021 on social media to see other people's online contributions.