enshroud shell-pocked helmets
legions of blossom
enshroud shell-pocked helmets
legions of blossom
Last week we went to Cordoba in Spain. The Alcazar ( de los Reyes Cristianos) is one of my favourite places. It has been the residence of Roman governors, Moorish calliphs and Spanish kings – Ferdinand and Isabella lived there for over eight years. It has a castle, beautiful gardens and an old Moorish bathhouse. It was built on the banks of the Guadalquivir river. The beautiful Alcazar gardens were added by Ferdinand and Isabella and given a Moorish design with gurgling fountains and aromatic plants. We walked in 30c heat last week, the soft murmuring of the waters helped to make us feel cooler.
I lost my dear friend Carmina on Saturday. She had been fighting melanoma cancer which started on her foot some ten years ago. She was only 66 years of age when she died. We had been friends for 50 years.
Carmina Broadfield, Crawley, Sussex. C.1969
I first met Carmina on a school exchange. I was learning Spanish, ( O-level), she English.
I remember making the journey to her family villa in Castelldefels near Barcelona. It was by train, across France, and I had to sleep on the train, sharing the compartment with people I did not know. It was all very strange. I was only 15.
Anyway, her family made me very welcome. She had four brothers, all very good looking!
The villa was near the sea and we used to go to the beach a lot. Her dad owned a small boat.
In the evenings we went to discos or the cinema. Once when we went to the cinema we took baguettes filled with Spanish omelette ( tortilla de patatas). I wasn’t keen on the idea of cold omelette sandwiches but they were delicious.
I met a few Spanish boys at the discos and got told off by Carmina’s father for dancing too closely to one. Those were Franco days and you were not allowed to even kiss in the street.
Carmina came to stay in my home next, in Crawley, and I showed her the sights of London and Brighton, which she loved.
I have naturally curly hair and hated it. No hair straighteners back then. Carmina showed me a way to straighten it using what’s called an ‘ensaimada’. An ensaimada was a Spanish type of cake made of twisted pastry.
So, you wet the hair and coil the hair tightly round and round your head and clip it down tightly. I don’t think it did a lot for the hair’s condition, but it worked and I often dried my hair in that way, with a big hair roller on top, as in this photo which my sister took.
Carmina and I kept in touch after the school exchange and wrote to each other often. Carmina would send me my favourite turron at Christmas time.
I went out to Barcelona a few times over the years to see her and she visited the UK , once with her parents, but not lately, due to her illness.
We had so much fun when together. She was always laughing and full of life, with a twinkle in her eyes. I will miss her very much.
Ode to John Wayne
I’m not interested in Brad Pitt,
Clooney, Depp, Gere or Cruise
for you were a man with true grit.
They couldn’t walk in your shoes!
I fell in love with your gait,
it set you apart from the rest,
and the way you sorted the bad guys
with the fastest gun in the west.
Your rugged looks never faded,
in the saddle you rode so tall,
with ideals that never jaded,
you were always a box office draw.
Your films are still shown on TV,
death can’t take away your fame.
You have your place in history.
John, your star will never wane.
I am writing a history of Broadfield House. My dad was caretaker and gardener on Broadfield estate and we lived in a cottage not far from the house. We had the whole estate as our garden, this included the beautiful gardens, lake and woods. Behind our cottage were fields and we could walk miles without seeing a soul. Sadly, all that has now gone, replaced by the houses of Crawley, a new town began in 1947.
The house was built in about 1820 and various families lived there.
In early 1948 my Dad and Mum were actually living at Broadfield House, which had been a country club and hotel. It had just closed, as it was going to be the offices for the new town architects and they were looking after the house until the office workers arrived.
Late one night there was a knock on the door, when my dad opened it there were two men standing there. One was John Haigh and the other man, he later found out, was Haigh’s friend Doctor Henderson. Haigh was taking Henderson to his work shop in old Crawley, on the pretext of showing him one of his latest inventions.
“I’ve booked a table for dinner” Haigh told Dad.
“No, you can’t have done, we are no longer open,” my dad answered.
“Well, then may I use your phone?” Haigh asked.
“Yes, of course,” Dad replied.
My dad heard Haigh book a room at ‘The George Hotel’ in Crawley town centre.
Haigh gave my dad two shillings for the phone call and then he and Henderson went on their way.
My dad told us how he was later interviewed by the police when they were investigating the Haigh murders, as he was the last one to see Henderson alive. Henderson was probably murdered in Haigh’s work shop that very night! Shortly afterwards Haigh also murdered Henderson’s wife. He murdered nine people in all and disposed of their bodies in vats of acid.
That’s just one of the stories in my book, there are plenty more!
Sir Walter Raleigh was an English writer, poet, soldier, explorer and politician. He was beheaded in 1618. His head was embalmed and his widow Elizabeth carried it around with her in a velvet bag until she died. This poem is based on this story.
My love, you are with me always.
This leather bag is like a second womb
and bulges with your head.
It weighs the same as our son at birth,
but you are stillborn.
There are black-cowled whispers.
‘Widow Raleigh is insane,’ they say.
‘Why not a lock of his hair?’
I am undeterred, your embalmed head
will accompany me everywhere.
I like to slip my fingers inside
your crackled cocoon and explore
the geographies of your exquisite face.
My finger tips linger on the curve of rictus lips.
It’s as though your laugh has just left.
At night I take you out and bathe
you in sweet-scented herbs,
wreathe you in your finest ruff,
each laced purl pressed to perfection.
Then when it’s time to sleep
your head rests on the pillow next to mine.
Your torso may reek of rottenness
but worms will not steal our goodnight kiss.
copyright Shirley Anne Cook 2019
Do you ever get stuck for ideas? Look no further. Here we have some excellent suggestions!
Authors offer some tips on how to beat writer’s block.
‘Write ten words every day. Any words at all will do, but if they’re in some way connected with the piece you’d like to be working on that’s even better.’
Quite often when people pick up a pen or tap away at a keyboard they discover they’re not quite as blocked as they’d thought.
Write something you’re not supposed to be writing. Works on the same principle that when you need to do a chore, you’d rather do ALL other chores than that.
Shirley Anne Cook
Attend a writing school for a week, like Swanwick at The Hayes Derbyshire. I always come away with so many ideas for stories or poems It doesn’t have to cost money if you enter one of their writing competitions and win a week there like I did!
Don’t try to write sequentially. Skip to the next scene that excites you; you can fill in the gaps later. Write some back story for one of your characters. If you know more about them they may move the story on for you.
Pauline Suett Barbieri
Whenever I feel the dreaded block, I turn to people watching (and eavesdropping, if I can do it discreetly). My favourite places are the bench by the Moon Pond in Studley Royal, which is part of the Fountains Abbey estate and just down the road from us, or the upstairs lounge of Starbucks in Harrogate. I’ll explain why.
Depending on the season, the footfall past my bench can be quite regular or spasmodic, but visitors from all over the country and indeed the world appear. Some are absorbed in their own affairs and just ignore me or give a brief nod to my existence. Others sit down to chat and tell me all kinds of stories about their reasons for being there, their travels and their lives in general. As soon as they’ve moved on, out comes the notebook and… Well, you can imagine the rest. On a quiet day, there’s nowhere better than the Moon Pond for contemplation. I can gaze at the water or just close my eyes and listen to the birds. Knotty problems of plot and character, even verse on occasion, untangle themselves in those surroundings, and I never return home without fresh inspiration.
Starbucks, of course, is quite different. The tables by the window look out onto one of Harrogate’s busiest shopping streets and I weave stories in my head about passers by who attract my attention. I note their physical appearance, clothing, what they’re carrying, whether they appear to be in a good mood or bad, their interactions with other people and so on.
If there’d been room at the inn
nativity scenes would look quite thin.
It would’ve been a much quieter affair,
the Magis’ camels wouldn’t have been there.
No lowing cows or a donkey’s ‘eeyore’,
no fleecy lambs bleating by the door.
And other guests might not like the sight
of halo-ed angels harping on all night.
Jesus would have had a softer bed
on which to lay his ‘sweet’ little head.
No word ‘manger’ in Christmas verse.
School plays might be easier to rehearse
because no-one need wear animal gear –
the same costumes brought out every year.
But it matters not whether stable or inn,
for Jesus was sent to cleanse man’s sin.
So wherever He was born that night,
the Star would lead to his eternal light.
Watching the whirling dervish
Dazzling white swathes of cloth
swirl before my eyes, gathering
speed like an express train.
Faster and faster he dances
in fierce frenzied spin
his body is the sun,
his breath the wind.
He defies gravity and floats free
from earthly ties.
I watch entranced,
wishing I could share
I have many happy memories of Christmas as a child.
Preparations for it started in November, when my mum made the Christmas puddings. There were no freezers back then and not many supermarkets so most Christmas food was home-baked.
We always stirred the Christmas pudding mixture and made a wish.
Next Mum made the Christmas cake. This was stored in a tin and now and then Mum used to take it out and pour a little bit of sherry on it to keep it moist until Christmas Day.
We never had much drink in the house, apart from at Christmas time when Dad bought a bottle of sherry, Babychams, Dubonnet and eggnog. There was Tizer and ginger pop for us.
My sisters and I sometimes made gifts for people, usually items we had seen Valerie Singleton making on Blue Peter. One year I gave my father a pen holder – a tin covered in sticky baked plastic. And there were bath crystals for Mum made from soda crystals and cochineal colouring!
We always had a real Christmas tree from our woods, and we used the same decorations every year.
I remember coloured candles on metal clips (we didn’t light them!) and the same fairy was placed on the top. I loved the sweet scent of the pine needles that filled the air over the Christmas period.
Pieces of cotton wool were scattered over the tree to resemble snow. The tree stood in a pot covered in crepe paper bought from Woolworths.
Room decorations, such as paper lanterns, were also re-used, but there was always a new packet of paper chains to make (strips of coloured paper which you glued and threaded) These were strewn across the room.
Christmas cards were hung over strands of wool pinned across and down the side of doorways.
We always had balloons, which were hung in corners of rooms.
Wrapping paper from the previous year was re-used. Sometimes the labels were still intact and I found it exciting to try and remember what had been inside!
Christmas party circa 1960
We used to go to the annual Christmas party held by the Crawley Development Corporation. That’s me second from left, age about six. On my left is my ‘big’ sister Jean and next to her my brother David.
We wrote lists for Father Christmas and usually posted them up the chimney as we had open fires (we had no central heating until I was about twelve years of age)
On Christmas Eve we placed a white cotton pillow case and one of Gran’s old thick stockings at the end of our beds
It took me ages to get to sleep as I was so excited. I woke early to the rustling sound of the presents pressing on my feet.
For Christmas we received one large item worth about £2/£3 and a few smaller items such as an annual, a pen, crayons, a game, a tin of toffees or a sweet variety pack.
There was always an apple and orange in the stocking
One of my most favourite presents that I received as a child was my Tressy doll. I still have her and clothes, some of which were knitted by my dear Granny Cook.
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