Froth ( poem shortlisted Hillingdon comp)


, , ,


I’m sitting in an Uxbridge café
drinking a latte, revelling
in the fact that I’ve filled
my loyalty card.
Next time I’ll receive
a free coffee. It matters.
I lost my job.
Lattes are my lifeline.
Each sip a shot in the arm.

I take out my note book,
perhaps I’ll have an idea
for a poem. There’s always that.
But today they’re testing the fire alarm.
A high-pitched scream
tears through my head.
‘How much longer?’ I ask the barista.
She’s puzzled. ‘There’s no alarm.’

I gaze at the bottom of my cup
and realise that what I’m hearing
is the sound of train wheels braking
though the white-frothed
tidemark of my life.

Shirley Anne Cook


Nature Walk ( Poem)

Nature Walk



Back to school.

The smell of new pencils

and black rubber-soled plimsolls.

Mrs Matts pins a poster on the wall.

‘What to look for in Autumn.’

A short talk, then we’re off to the woods.

Lee doesn’t want to wear his coat.

Mrs Matts says he must.

‘There’s a nip in the air now.’


We march across the field,

two by two.

The air smells of bonfires and wasped fruit.

Lee and I play football with

a rotting crab apple.


In the woods the sunlight filters through

the trees and bathes

everything in a copper sheen.

Acorns pop beneath my feet

and fallen leaves crackle like cornflakes.

Mrs Matts holds an acorn aloft.

‘Giant oak trees grow

from tiny seeds like this,’ she says.

Thirty pairs of eyes look up.

I gasp, I can’t see the top.

I bend down and put acorns in my pocket.


Billy Jones lets out a cry-

he has found a conker tree.

Everyone scrambles on the ground

prizing open the thorny pouches,

while squirrels chatter angrily

above our heads.

We walk back to school

then write about Autumn

in new exercise books.


At playtime Billy Jones brags

that his conker is a ‘tenner’.

I finger the acorns in my pocket

and dream of giant bean stalks.

copyright Shirley Anne Cook ( This poem won first prize Writing Magazine)











Viva Espana!


, ,

Back from a fab holiday in Spain ( Fuengirola) plenty of sun and sangria!
Our hotel was just three minutes from the beach so we did a lot of sun bathing there and our room had a fabulous view.

We booked two excursions, one to Cordoba and the other to Ronda.
La Mezquita in Cordoba ( built 784 AD) is an amazing building, it’s a mosque with a Gothic cathedral in its centre. It has over 800 archways.
Cordoba was a Roman settlement and later ( 711) was captured by a Moorish army. Christians, Jews and Muslims worshipped alongside one another. Cordoba became the capital of Islamic Spain. Cordoba is situated at the highest navigable point of the Rio Gualdalquivir River.
Hearing the name of the river always reminds me of the Lorca poem that I had to learn for Spanish A-level and begins, ‘El Rio Guadlaquivir va entre olivos and naranjos.’
When the Christians conquered the city in 1236 they were so awed by the Mezquita’s Moorish beauty that they left it standing and built their cathedral in the centre creating a church-mosque.
We also visited the Alcazar, a Moorish fortress. I hadn’t realised that Boabdil ( last Moorish King) was held prisoner here. My book for children, ‘The Moor’s Last Sigh,’ is about him.

Seneca was born in Cordoba.

The gardens next to the Alcazar are stunning and have many water features.
Like many places we visited there were orange trees everywhere. The trees are mainly ornamental and the fruit would be too bitter to eat. Our guide told us that people use the juice to clean metal instruments.



Our guide took us around the maze-like streets of the old town and Jewish quarter. The white-washed houses were bursting with colour as May is the month the patios are at their best for the patio festival.

We also saw the famous Roman bridge.

Ronda is a town located in a stunning mountain landscape. There is an impressive bridge straddling the 100 metre gorge that bisects the town. We also visited the bull-ring and later had a spot of wine tasting in a Bodega with tapas!



There was a Spanish theme night in the restaurant and each guest received a glass of sherry poured out in the traditional Spanish way. ( see photo) Such skill!

Fuengirola has a car boot every Saturday morning and it was fun going round looking for things and haggling in Spanish.

The week went too quickly but we have many happy memories.

(Lots of restaurants along the coast serve freshly caught sardines, grilled in front of your eyes and often cooked on an old fishing boat berthed in the sand and located in front of the restaurant, like this one.  The air was filled with the delicious smell)

I am descended from King Henry 2nd.


, , , , , , ,



(How King Henry the second is my 24 x great grandfather and Prince Charles is my 17th cousin!)

Part One

When I first started searching my Parsons family tree over thirty years ago now, I could not find great grandad Newton Parson’s father.  I spent ages searching the heavy tomes in St Catherine’s house in London. ( How much easier it is now to access records with the internet!)

I checked all possible years without success and so I gave up on the Parsons’ line for a while and searched another more fruitful line.

But then one day I had a stroke of luck, and this is why it is so important to ask relatives about family trees before starting your tree and before it’s too late.

My great uncle Reg Parsons was still alive at the time and when my Aunt Ena told him I was looking into the Parsons tree and wondered if he could help he said to her, ‘we’re not Parsons we’re Caplins.’  She had no idea what he meant and nor did I until a few months later when I thought I’d try to look for my missing Parsons ancestor again.

I was looking at the IGI index for Parsons in Surrey and I suddenly noticed the baptism of a Peter Parsons Capon in 1814 in Charlwood to a Samuel Parsons and an Ann Capon.  Hmm I thought Capon sounds a lot like Caplin. Could this be the Parsons connection I am looking for?

On further investigation I discovered another ten children christened under the surname ‘Parsons Capon’ to a Samuel and Ann.

I then checked the original parish register for Charlwood and realised that Peter Parsons Capon was my great great grandad, Newton’s father.



Great Grandad Newton Parsons 1859-1919 and Great Gran Phillis nee Sayers 1858-1945 on right of photo.






He was born in 1826 in Charlwood.  His father Samuel Parsons had in fact married an Elizabeth Bacon Dobson in 1810 but a few years later was having children with Ann Capon, hence they were all christened under the surname ‘Parsons Capon.’

Samuel Parsons never divorced Elizabeth. I don’t know why, perhaps she refused on religious grounds. I found her on the 1841 census living in Reigate with her sister in law, Elizabeth Poppey.

Sadly Ann Capon died aged just forty years in 1833. Samuel was left to bring up the children on his own. He was quite a wealthy farmer and on the 1851 census was living at Amberley Farm, Charlwood with various servants. He never remarried but interestingly was recorded on the 41 and 51 census as still married.  It was not until 1861 that he was recorded as a widower.  I think Elizabeth must have therefore died sometime between 51 and 61.

It is through the Ann Capon line that I am connected to royalty.

Ann’s great grandmother was a Hannah Caryll born in Rusper in 1701. The Carylls were an old important land owning family in Sussex. They originally came from Ireland in the 1400’s when the surname was O’Caroll  (this could explain some of the 19% Irish DNA that I have!)  Besides Rusper, they settled in places such as Harting, Warnham and West Grinstead.

They were devout Catholics and supporters of the old religion. They often gave shelter to priests, hiding them in the priest holes in their houses. Priests often disguised themselves as servants so that they could secretly carry out the mass. One of these Caryll residencies was Warnham Place. The Carylls were the squires of Warnham for over 150 years and built up great wealth from the iron industry. The Caryll chapel was built in St Margaret’s Church  in Warnham by John Caryll in about 1480 and dedicated to his wife Margaret.

Hannah Caryll married John Capon in 1722.  Her grandfather was Philip Caryll ( 1642-1688) who married Margaret Erle.

Philip Caryll’s mother was Catherine Petrie whose mother was Katherine Somerset.

Katherine, and her sister Elizabeth, were maids of honour to Queen Elizabeth 1st.

She married William Petre, (2nd Baron Petre) in 1596 at Essex House. Her sister Elizabeth also married at the same time. The poet Edmund Spenser wrote his Prothalamion for this special occasion. You can imagine my delight on hearing the poetry connection as I am a poet myself!

More later in part two!



Happy Christmas!



I love Christmas time but it always evokes memories of past Christmases, when my father was alive.  He really loved Christmas time and did his best to give us a great time.  I think he enjoyed it so much as he came from a poor family and as he didn’t have such a good time he wanted to make sure us four children did.

He used to tell us how his parents used to wrap toys he already had and put them in his stocking to make it seem he had more presents than he did. I did not believe this story but he swore it was true and it made me sad.  He said he used to open them and say, ‘But I already have this!’  Thinking about this still brings tears to my eyes.

We had it hard too, but Mum and Dad did their best to get us what we wanted. Each year I made a list for Santa.

We were allowed one main present costing about £2. One year I had a bride doll as my main present another a Tressy doll ( which I still have) We also had a few smaller gifts in our stockings, like an annual, a game and a tin of toffees.  We were always happy with what we received.  Then there were a couple of gifts on the Christmas tree too, which we usually opened on Boxing Day.

I saved up my pocket money and bought Mum and Dad gifts, usually from Woolworths. Perhaps a box of handkerchiefs for Dad and bath cubes for Mum.  Sometimes I made their presents, getting ideas from Valerie Singleton on the Blue Peter programme. One year I gave Dad a pen holder made from an old tin and sticky backed plastic!  He stood it on his desk and seemed pleased with it.  I gave Mum pink bath salts made from soda crystals and cochineal colouring. I am not sure she used them!  I don’t think I would have done!

Christmas Day was always a magical time. Uncles and aunts called in, bearing gifts. There was the aroma of the turkey cooking and Mum’s homemade sausage stuffing. Mum made everything , most people did back then. Christmas cake and puddings were made in November.  Mince pies were made on Christmas Eve. Mum was always busy in the kitchen.  The only time she really relaxed was when we all sat down, in the evening, to watch the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show on our black and white TV. Then we ate nuts, using nut crackers, and lemon and orange crystallized slices. I wasn’t too keen on those.  Mum had a Babycham and us children had ginger beer.

I hated it when Christmas was over and afterwards seeing the Christmas tree ( always a real one) standing almost needle-less outside.   The festivities seemed to go so quickly and I couldn’t wait til next Christmas!

Now I spend Christmas with my grandchildren.

I can’t help thinking though, that what with all the commercialism and materialism we have now something of the magic of this time of year that I experienced as a child is lost.

Anyway it is still a wondrous time of the year. Have a happy Christmas everyone!

Judging the BIC and Start Bee 2016 Olympiad poetry competition.


, , ,

Yesterday I went along to the BIC office to judge the 2016 Olympiad poetry competition.

BIC had partnered up with handwriting specialists Start Bee to give primary schools across the UK and Ireland the chance to win expert handwriting support for teachers and pupils with prizes worth over £9,000.

Melanie Harwood, the director of Start Bee, and I worked together to find the winning poem, which also had to have neat, legible handwriting.

Many primary schools had entered and we had a huge task sorting through the long-listed pile.  The theme was,  ‘What would a world be like without words? The poem could be no longer than eight lines.

Nearly all the poems I read had resorted to rhyme, which in most cases were quite contrived.  Hardly any children had attempted to write a poem in a different format.

There were very few free verse poems.

However, some poems took my breath away with their use of imagery, metaphor and simile and these made it into the final shortlisted pile. From that we found a winner. Results will be published on the BIC web site in a few weeks.

I really enjoyed reading all the entries. Congratulations to the winner and runners up!

( Pictured – me with Rebecca Huda of BIC)



Swanwick writing week 6th Aug-12th


What a fab time I had last week at the annual Swanwick writers’ school in Derbyshire.

This was my fourth time there. Showing off now, this was the first time I have paid to go there. I won my last three weeks there , 2008, 2009 and 2014, coming first in the poetry competitions, and also once in the children’s story writing. I also won the poetry in 2011 but that year they changed things and there was no free week but a two year’s subscription to Writing Magazine.

I didn’t win this year,obviously, but I was shortlisted. Yay!

I had a room with a lake view this time and the weather was great all week.




It was great to meet up with my writing buddies and also to forge new friendships. The dining hall was always full of loud writing chatter, which was great but didn’t help my tinnitus much!

I sat next to so many interesting people, including one Dutch lady who had travelled especially from Holland to attend. ‘How did you hear about the school?’ I asked.

I saw it on Wikipedia, she said. She likes writing Science Fiction and I enjoyed hearing all about the book she is working on.


( Making new friends)


I attended various workshops and talks, including ‘Writing Original Poetry’ with Alison Chisholm and ‘Plotting and Stratagem’ with Michael Jecks. OMG he has so many books on Amazon, and all highly rated. He says, if I remember correctly, he writes 130,000 words in 2 months. Wow!

The fancy dress disco was fun. I haven’t danced so much in ages. I dressed as Nefertiti.

Quelle surprise! Thanks, Suzy for doing my eye make up!

I also attended the ‘Researching your family tree’ course. I was surprised there was not more emphasis on all the great internet programs and resources that aid family tree research now. I remember going to record offices, did most of my research that way years ago, but now we have programs like which mean you can find so many resources with just a click of your mouse. Anyway it’s one of my aims to get my family tree book published after attending this course.

The pantomime at the end of the week was so funny and I still have the words ‘I would write 500 words ‘ ( to the tune of I would walk 500 miles) going round in my head.

The highlight of the week though, for me, was meeting the Writing Magazine team, Having corresponded with them for over ten years now it was nice to finally put faces to names.


I was pleased to see that Swanwick now have coffee machines in the bar area especially as I love my lattes!  Of course there was the occasional glass of wine but sadly that was not on tap.

On my return I found a letter telling me I am long listed in the Yeovil Literary poetry competition. So my fingers are crossed!

All being well I will be back to Swanwick next year. Of course I will try and win my place there again. I am eager to learn what the theme will be for the next competitions. So bring it on!

we three