Ode to John Wayne on his birthday.


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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.





Broadfield House, Crawley, Sussex.


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brad2I 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!



Our cottage.

Raleigh’s wife – poem


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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.



Raleigh’s wife



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










Writer’s Block



Do you ever get stuck for ideas?  Look no further. Here we have some excellent suggestions!

Writer’s block.

Authors offer some tips on how to beat writer’s block.



Lou Treleaven


  • Look at everyday objects and try to see them in a new way.  I wrote my latest book after looking at a chair!
  • Write down your dreams and use them for inspiration.
  • Go back to fairy tales, myths and legends.  See if you can retell them in a a new way, such as setting them in the present or even the future.
  • Look back to the classics.  Pick a minor character and see if you can retell their story.
  • Write something out of your comfort zone, eg poetry if you write prose, SF if you write romance.
  • Write with the idea of doing something no one else has done before, no matter how outlandish!




Patsy Collins

‘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.



Steven Chapman

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!


Ana Salote

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


  1. Put a mirror on your desk and look at your reflection for about three minutes. Then turn the mirror over and try to describe yourself as somebody else might see you. Say an old school friend  and bring in the old and the new….


  1. Write a story that begins at two minutes past in the morning…..


  1. Write about a wedding where the bride realizes she is in love with the best man….give all her thoughts as she stand taking the vows with another…..


  1. Write about a childhood fear and bring it up into adulthood…..


  1. Try to remember the most difficult phone call you have ever had to make and write as if you are receiving it.


  1. Write as if you are a gambler with an obsession with the number 4…….


  1. Imagine you have coloured your hair green and it’s awful…and you have to go out on a date.


  1. Write about a work of art that you hate and why……


  1. Write about an argument you had with a friend and reverse the role.


  1. Write about a writer who has a writer’s block and has to come up with a synopsis for a novel so she decides to steal some blurb that appeals to her.












Maggie Cobbett


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.






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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.
















Christmas Past


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Christmas Past

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.






The Abbey





The Abbey


Every summer I climb the hill

to the abbey ruins.

With each passing year

the flint rubble stones

crumble a little more.


The north transept tower,

adorned in rosaries of lichen

and moss, slowly sinks

like a melting ice-berg


Families now picnic above

the sacred bones of holy men,

and children clamber over

fallen walls that once cloistered

a brotherhood of silence.












Where is the lush green grass?

Where are the blossoming trees?

Where are the fragrant hedgerows?

What have they done to our land?

It is riddled with pot holes and craters.

Everything is black, black, black.


Our homes now entomb

bones of the unknown.

The moon rabbit weeps.



We will remember them


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I have been doing research on my great uncles who fought and died in The First World War. Last year I went on a tour of the battle fields in the Somme and Ypres, an experience I will never forget.

Great Uncle William (Bill) Cook  (1886-1917)

P.W. 6119.

William was born in 1886 in Worth Sussex to William and Emily, my great grandparents. William and Emily had moved down from Suffolk to Crawley, Sussex in 1885.

They had twelve children, William was their ninth and the first to be born in Sussex.

In 1911 William, age 25, was a boarder living with a family in Milford Haven, Hampshire.  He was single and working as a gamekeeper.

In 1915 he married Ellen Meads in Ampthill Bedfordshire and they had two children Emily and William.

He enlisted in Bedford as a private in the Duke of Cambridge’s own Middlesex, second battalion. Residence at the time was given as St Albans.

I have not been able to find out a lot about his service, but it seems he was at some point also in the East Kent regiment (10149)

According to the Commonwealth War graves William was killed in action, age 30, on July 31st 1917 in the battle of Passchendaele officially known as the third battle of Ypres (31st July -10th November)

This was one of the most brutal battles of the First World war, up to 700,000 casualties among allies and German troops were killed or wounded in the heaviest rainfall in the region for thirty days. It resulted in a gain of just five miles of allied land.

His body if recovered was never identified and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres (ref panel 49 and 51).

I took this photo last year.




The Menin gate bears the names of more than 54,000 soldiers who died before the 16th August 1917.

Hundreds of thousands of servicemen marched through the main gate of Ypres on their way to the battlefields, most to their death.

It was very moving listening to the last post there last year.




Great Uncle Charles Albert Cook (1891-1916)


Charles was born in Worth in 1891.

In 1911 age 19 he was working as a gamekeeper.

He enlisted in Horsham on the 18th November 1915 when he was age 23 years and one month. On the attestation papers Charles is recorded as single, a farm labourer living at Bellevue Tilgate. His father, William, is listed as next of kin.

The medical form states: Height five feet nine inches, chest 36ins.  Weight 136pounds. Distinctive marks- patchy rash on trunk. Fit subject to dental treatment on molars.

He joined the 9th battalion of the Royal Sussex regiment and was mobilised on Feb 8th1916.

In 1916 his battalion was involved in fighting at Hooge –  Ypres Salient (14th Feb) Wulverghem – German gas attack. (30th April) Battle for Deville wood and Guillemont (August, September)

He was killed in action during the attacks on Guillemont August 18th / 19th 1916.

Guillemont held out for some time during the Somme battles and was finally taken on September 3rd.



Guillemont Cemetery


Charles was only 25 years of age when he died. His body, if recovered, was never identified and he is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial,

Guillemont Cemetery is not far from where Charles would have been fighting. There are some 2,263 burials in the cemetery, over two thirds are of unidentified soldiers. It is quite likely Charles was actually buried there. I placed a cross in his memory ( see photo)  on one of the many graves marked, ‘known only to God’

Charles received the British war and Victory Medal signed for by his father.




The Thiepval memorial commemorates more than 72,000 men of British and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20th March 1918 and have no known grave. Most died during the Somme offensive of 1916.

The memorial overlooks the Somme River in France, where there was some of the heaviest fighting. It is 45 metres in height and the largest commonwealth memorial to the missing in the world.

Great Great Uncle Alfred Lee 1896-1917 G/1781

My great uncle, Alfred Lee, was born in Staplefield, Sussex in 1896 to my great grandparents Henry Lee and Mary Harber.

In 1911 he was age 15 living with his family in Worth and had a job as a garden boy.

He enlisted in Horsham on July 24th 1915 and was in the 8th battalion of the Royal Sussex regiment. He was killed in action in the third battle of Ypres ( 31July to Nov ) on October 29th 1917.

He is buried in Minty Farm Cemetery south of Langemarck village.

Minty Farm was once used as a German blockhouse and in 1917 as a company HQ for Commonwealth forces. There are 192 First World War burials.

I placed a wooden cross with poppy on Alfred’s grave. It was a very special moment.

He was killed in action on October 29th 1917 and I was there a hundred years later on that day.









A debt by Shirley Anne Cook


So much depended

on those men: husbands,

fathers, sons, exchanging

pickaxe, plough

and pen for gun.


So much depended

on those men, red-eyed,

voiceless, from gas and cold,


sleepless nights:


not grown old.


So much depended

on those men

advancing in rapid rifle rain,

the final whistle,

a final push:

those who returned

never the same.


So much depends –

on us remembering.



By Shirley Anne Cook November 2018