Month: October 2019

Poetry, by Chance

Some years ago a chance conversation between two editors standing by the coffee machine at the publisher Pavilion resulted in these books.

It is probably safe to admit now that, at the time, I hadn’t read much poetry since school. I’d bought poetry collections and anthologies. I’d even left them in conspicuous places in the fond hope that I’d get into the habit of regularly reading poetry. And, for a time, I would. But then, gradually, the book would move down the pile until, a few weeks or even months later, I would rediscover it and start again.

Being asked to compile an anthology seemed like a dream come true. I was (and still am) very fond of London, I was curious to discover the city in verse and I wanted to read more poetry. Now working on my eighth collection, I am so glad I said ‘yes’ when I was asked. Actually pretty well all the occasions I’ve said ‘yes’ and taken a slightly blind leap into the dark have been good decisions. It’s mostly the ‘no’s’ that one regrets.

Friends, A Poem for Every Day of the Year has just been published and I’m at the stage where I regard it as a favoured child. There is a joke amongst my friends that I can walk into a bookshop and spot my books at fifty paces. This one is, I think, particularly pretty. I can say that as I had no hand in the design other than to say ‘Oh yes, that’s beautiful, thank you.’ The brief was that the poems had to be about friendship, rather than love, which was far harder than I had expected. Most poets are obsessed with love (or the lack of it); a seemingly innocent verse would end up with the poet looking at his muse lying naked in bed or the charming subject of the poem would suddenly open the buttons of her blouse to reveal……well, you can imagine. Fairly soon I realised that the people we love should, ideally, also be friends, which widened the scope. It was a delightful anthology to compile. I deliberately chose poems that were uplifting and spent my days reading about life-long friendships, faithfulness and fun. I hope the collection will do the same for readers.

This may be my new favoured child but I am still fond of its sibling, Nature, A Poem for Every Day of the Year. Particularly since they look so charming together.


Making Week 13: A Hive of Creative Activity

This week Lily, my god-daughter, came to make papier mâché. As we only had an afternoon, I realised that the drying times were going to need to be speeded up. I discovered that wallpaper paste dries beautifully in a low oven (Gas ¼) cutting the time from several hours to about thirty minutes. Research revealed that it isn’t possibly to dry acrylic paint the same way as it bakes rather than dries. A slow speed on a hairdryer works here, drying the paint in minutes.

As we also had to fit lunch, chatting and afternoon tea into the time, her box only got its first layer of paper but it has joined the ranks of my half-made pieces to be finished at a later date. I sewed (and ate scones) while she pasted and the sewing room / studio felt like a gentle hive of creative activity – apart from Matilda who spent the entire afternoon asleep in the only comfortable chair.


Each Month in my Garden: September by the Seaside

September is one of my favourite months. Partly because it is ‘autumn’ but nearly always behaves as if it is still summer; it feels like stolen time, a sort of permanently sunny bank holiday. At the end of the month I went to Devon and, driving there, I was surprised how autumnal the countryside looked. It may still have been summer in London but the fields and woodlands of Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset all had a distinctly golden tinge. It was lovely but in a slightly wistful way. As I was driving, in the interests of safety, there are no photos.

My friend lives by the seaside and this too had tipped from the buckets and spades of summer to deserted expanses of sand. But it was still warm enough to paddle.

This has nothing to do with gardens but it was one of the best puddings I’ve had for a long time. It was called something like ‘Every Child’s Worst Nightmare’ and tasted every bit as good as it looked. Thank you Relish in Ilfracombe



Making Week 12: Looking as Good on the Back as the Front

As a child I loved playing shops with Mum’s sewing basket. As this was a ‘basket’ which actually consisted of a basket, an old wooden chest and two huge wicker hampers full of fabric, a cabinet of cotton reels and an extensive button box, there was plenty of scope for stock. I would set everything out on the table and then solemnly ‘sell’ her whatever she needed. Transactions were carried out with buttons as currency so, while it may have been the deciding factor in my spending much of my life working in shops (a fabric shop as well as all the book shops), it didn’t make me rich.

When I moved on from playing shops, Mum taught me to sew. She made most of my clothes and, more importantly for me, clothes for Dodie and Betsy, two rabbits who were called after my god mother and her twin, and accompanied me everywhere. I passed them on to my god daughter and recently got them back as she had (long since) outgrown playing with rabbits. Here they are modelling summer and winter dresses, everyday coats and party coats. Dodie, the favoured rabbit also had a ‘Little Grey Rabbit’ dress, and a velvet party frock but she also had to undergo an operation to have her tummy fur replaced when I wore it out with too much affection. Betsy had a simple summer frock. Aged four, it is easy to see the importance of child and rabbits wearing matching dresses.

Mum sewed beautifully and was adamant that the back of any project should always look as neat as the front. I couldn’t see the point of this; after all, the back was nearly always hidden. It was only when I started quilting that I realised the importance of her lessons. I have finally finished quilting the patchworks I made during the summer – yes, I have been eating off a half-made tablecloth and sleeping somewhat precariously under a quilt held together with pins rather than stitches. While the backs are not quite as neat as the fronts, they aren’t bad. And now I can leap in and out of bed without the risk of impaling myself on a pin.