James Graham • In Northumberland

NB: everything in red is a LINK

It was our privilege to have poet James Graham stay with us here for a week and show him some of our favourite haunts. James and I met on Writewords where he has been Poetry Host for 15 years. That means he oversees the forum and comments on the poems everybody puts up and his comments are always detailed and helpful. Over the years he has contributed an immense amount of time and effort into nurturing the talents of everyone with whom he comes into contact on that site and we all owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. During the course of the time I joined in 2007, we have had some banter and become friends. Last year we met for the first time in Knaresborough. I love how sometimes virtual friends become actual friends.

So…Over the next few blogs I will show the highlights of this visit leading up to James’ 80th Birthday on May 13th. On the first day we just went for a walk in Carlisle Park Morpeth to see Emily Davison’s statue and have a swift half in The Joiners but we all forgot our cameras!

Never mind… there was pulled balsamic slow cooked gammon waiting at home and apple tart.


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Wallington can provide a mobility scooter if you ask in advance. The staff couldn’t be more helpful and even the East Wood is accessible provided you follow the signs that avoid steps. You can get right down to the bottom of the walled garden and so I was able to allow James to meet ‘My Aspen at Wallington’ below (which is the title of one of the poems in my book).

James loves trees (of which more anon). His second collection is called Becoming a Tree.

Lunch at the cafe there is very good. James pronounced his pork pie with cheese to be the best he’d ever eaten. That’s a good enough recommendation for me — I really must try one of those in the future.

In the afternoon we spent an hour in the house. There is a lift but we didn’t have time to see it the entire house so we just took in the wonderful Northumberland panels in the main hall and the flower paintings which are my favourite part of that beautiful space.

Evenings at our house usually consist of nothing more than a good meal and conversation. On this occasion the fare was my Lamb Keema Methi, vegetable bhaji and home made rotis followed by a spiced yellow rice pudding.

APRIL • The Cruelest Month

April has indeed been cruel to The Linnet’s Wings. We lost Peter Gilkes. Marie has been in through the mill this month for sure. The title of our Spring Issue was never more appropriate and we salute their work together.

The Linnet’s Wings: Take All My Loves

I have the Easter Sunday slot with Easter Sunday at Writing in a Woman’s Voice. A memory of those spring straw hats with elasticated chin strap, and the deeper marks of Easter on a child’s mind.

Don’t forget to listen to the April poems in Gyroscope Review this month. I am up on the final day and there’s some fascinating poetry there. I love the voices — the accents. You can catch up HERE

March • No Spring in my step

Something took the spring out of my step, recently. GOUT. Oh the pain! If you have never suffered it, I hope you never do. There is a genetic element to it (isn’t there always) but yes too much meat (which is purine rich), too much rich food (sugary stuff, salty stuff). Purines are also in yeast and yeast products such as bread and beer, and eggs and dairy also have purines, so it builds up easily if you’re not careful. I wasn’t careful! Two weeks on I can get my shoes on at last!

So, despite the glorious early spring weather, I haven’t been out for my usual walks for a fortnight now and that really gets to me! Anyway — I’ve been off the meat and onto cherry and turmeric with black pepper and just about any cure I could access. Cherries are very good for gout — but I genuinely can’t taste cherries!

See Forever Berries.

Dark chocolate is also quite good apparently. Maybe if I ate dark chocolate covered cherries? It’s a thought!

So I offer you one I wrote earlier with photo from Nellie’s Moss Lake, Cragside Northumberland — complete with cute monster:

The Nellie’s Moss Monster

Nellie’s Moss monster sleeps the winter long
Her reedy mane defies the dark and frost.
The warmth of first spring sun and bright bird song,
and sap that rises through the bark, the lust
of frogs and toads that stir the lakes
at the full moon of March is all it takes.
She wakes up to the sound of honking geese
visitors’ feet, cars crossing the bridge.
Cameras click and she has all she needs,
for it’s on admiration that she feeds.

Nellie’s Moss Monster

I too feel as if I’ve been hibernating all Winter and a bit of admiration wouldn’t go amiss some days — but there you go. We are all monsters at heart.

I wrote a haiku a day all through February. I don’t know what to do with those yet. Some of them need honing. They will come to light eventually. I have also been devilishly clever with these double acrostic Up & Down poems. They took a bit of writing!!! I hope you enjoy them.

LEVEL CARBON in Bewildering Stories this week.

I may go for a walk tomorrow — if I can get my shoe on. See you soon.


Last week in February • A Reading and story for Andalusia Day

Why Andalusia Day? Because it’s this Thursday and it’s St David’s Eve.

Linnet’s Wings Editor Marie Fitzpatrick is based in Andalusia. And 12 years ago this very week I was there. I didn’t know Marie then. I was at a pretty low ebb, having just resigned from teaching in Autumn ’06. I felt very trapped having gone through a horrible year of being bullied out and able trust no one and at last I told them to shove it — but it’s a hard thing to put a career (and livelihood) behind you. My husband said we’d manage financially — but what would I do? I’d always been a teacher. I really wanted to move on but I was finding everything difficult! I was sad and hurt and had no purpose left in life. I was depressed! My husband, who knew what I’d been through, decided a change of scene was just the thing — and it was!

All packed and staring out of the window on the eve of the trip, I saw a little jasmine flower.

At the end of February jasmine flowers are dying, dropping to the ground. This one was trying to drop, trying to let go, but she was a bit stuck — like me — toying with change but not quite getting anywhere — not quite prepared to let go. Reticent. Afraid. And so, out of empathy, I wrote Catching the Wind (LISTEN using the link below)

While we were away, we watched a Lunar Eclipse over the bay at Benalmadena and we visited Tangiers on Andalusia Day (28th Feb). I was so stunned by the place, I wrote A TRIP TO TANGIER and when I got back and I posted it in Writewords and I posted my poem Catching the Wind.

And that was the beginning. I’d let go! I was away wherever the wind might take me. It took me to The Shine Journal who published Catching the Wind, to Bewildering Stories who took A Trip to Tangier, to Every Day Poets and to The Linnet’s Wings who published Three Pounds of Cells.

It’s a ill wind…as the saying goes.

Our Spring Linnet is due out in March. It’s looking great with some Irish poems for St Paddy and a nice shift in landscape between Winter and Spring. I’ll be back in March with another reading and some more reminiscences and maybe a bit more new work.

Happy Andalusia Day, Happy ST David’s Day and don’t forget Pancake Day!

Valentine’s Day • Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is the last new moon before Spring — did you know that? I didn’t. So since I am writing a haiku a day this February, here is one to celebrate The Year of the Pig. And there’a a porky story for you at the end too 🙂

travelers head home
this last new moon of winter
a feast of trotters

I don’t need flowers for Valentines. The best flowers are not picked or cut but enjoyed and left to thrive. And in The Conservatory at Wallington Hall there are beautiful blooms all year round! Even on a dull February day, it shines with colour and form. And of course there are snowdrops too — be it teensy little ones and 9ft tall basket ones. Already some crocuses and daffodils are pushing through. It might be cold but it’s bright. Take a walk somewhere you love, with someone you love.

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This is why I love February.
And we are now in the Year of the Pig — so I give you a story and wish you L O V E and a great Year of the Pig!

The Old Pig

Nobody truly recalls what the village pub was called before it became The Old Pig. Some say it was the Wheat Sheaf, some The Bargeman’s Rest and others The Horse and Dog which in itself shows the diversity of the Suffolk countryside.

A tiny piglet wandered in one night and the locals put it in a log basket by the fire and fed it buns in milk, and cider and although enquiries were made, none of the pig farmers around reckoned to have lost a piglet and since none kept Old Spots, his origins really were a mystery. Obvious he was an old spot with his lovely long, white ears and snout and he had just one great, perfect, black spot on his hind quarters, yet strangely nobody called him Spot or gave him a name of any kind. He was just The Pig. And what a handsome pig he was!

He was easily pub trained and the locals dribbled beer or cider into his dish, left part of their ploughman’s lunch or whatever fare was going, in his plate, and gradually started saying they were going ‘down The Pig’. He got to know the regulars and greeted them when they arrived. There was nothing he liked more than a tummy rub and chat and he got plenty of both. A lot of folk took their troubles to him and he listened attentively as they stroked his ears and they always felt better for it.
‘That ol’ pig could near as damn talk’ locals said.
The vicar observed that it was probably a good thing he couldn’t! But he reckoned the pig was doing half his job for him.

Visitors were much amused when greeted with a friendly grunt and a nuzzle though if he took a dislike to some stranger they were very likely to be shown the door. Of the three pubs in the village, The Pig soon began to be most popular.
When the pig got sick the vet treated him for free. Couldn’t have the pig being ill! And it wasn’t as if anybody owned him!

Every winter local knitters made him a colourful Christmas jumper which he’d wear to the service on Christmas Eve. In spring every farm within a radius of five miles had an Old Spot or ten. In Summer he took first prize at the county show and in Autumn he got the run of the orchards because he was so very fond of windfalls and everybody was fond of him.

A decade on, an artist was commissioned to paint him and the portrait was hung above the bar. There was a huge party. No pig ever had a better life. And it is fair to say too, that no pig ever had a longer life either. He lived just over 24 years, as near as anyone could judge it, and never uttered the secrets he’d been privy to. But weighing in at over 600 lbs, there was only one appropriate send-off – a hog roast! The entire village came, cider was drunk, baps were sliced. They toasted the old pig even as they ate him and never a tastier pig was known and the vicar assured them his squeak had gone straight to Heaven. A new sign was hung over the door and from that time on the pub was officially called ‘The Old Pig’ though it’s other name had long been forsaken. Some say it was The Keys, others The Bittern’s Boom – I dare say it doesn’t really matter.

By Oonah

Welcome February • I Love you

A recipe for February

Take the last dull dregs of January,
sprinkle with frost and a lengthening day.
Heat with the gentle flame of Candlemas.
Leaven with bulbs that grow amongst the grass.
Add rice and crackers for Chinese New Year,
rose petals for the one that you hold dear.
Sparkle with champagne, add a chocolate kiss.
St Valentine will surely do the rest.
Place in a bowl the citrus of the Med.
Look out for the first daffodil’s bright head,
the purple crocus, yellow aconite
and add them to your mix of hope and light.
Savour it’s brevity. Take it as a cure.
In Twenty eight days Febru’ry will mature.

It’s a long climb out of Winter still but I love February for it’s brevity and it’s hope, it’s little celebrations of light, love and life and we’re still eating Turkish Delight here — nothing wrong with that. It’s dusted with icing sugar and the ground is dusted with snow. There are a few wee February treats to be had. Happy Candlemas/Groundhog Day, Happy Chinese New Year (of the Pig this time so maybe sweet n sour pork), Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Andalusia Day (28th)

Thirty Years ago 1989, I broke my wrist badly. I had just started a new job in January and now was off work until May (not impressive). A kind stranger helped me on that day. He took me to hospital, took my car keys to my husband and gave my husband a lift to the car and I don’t know his name. I needed surgery and constant pain killers and lots of physio, and my right wrist is not very mobile to this day.
In June of that year a close friend, Betty Caddy, died during what should have been a routine procedure.
In September my father-in-law died.
In November we moved house. We didn’t stay long in that house — 18 months later we moved 400 miles. 1989 was the precursor to big changes.

Things are settled now. I like settled! Looking back it seems like someone else’s life. I am happier now than I have ever been — thankful for all the little things these days, warm bed, good food, love, friendships. I know I don’t always seem happy but that’s just me…and thankfully people who know me just put up with that and my gallows humour. I love where I am and what I do at The Linnet’s Wings. And if I forget to tell you I appreciate your love and support, I do! Thank you.

Speaking of which, I have chosen two lovely groups of poems for the Linnet’s Wing’s next issue which Marie is now working on. There’s a set of Irish themed poems for St Patrick’s Day and poems about landscapes, places that are somehow ‘other’ in the mind, in the imagination, in the real world (but perhaps only in that instant) in the past or maybe just in the part of you that hurts. We all know these landscapes but sometimes only a poem can take us there.

I am still looking for Moon Poems and Marie is still looking for Moon photos and art. Submission time is however running…

Maybe this tree is an ant highway or a squirrel sky tether — who knows? Trees are wonderful worlds — even the skeletal trees of February.

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A Winter Walk at Bolam

I was very honoured when my piece Song of Everything was given a Moon Award by Beate Siddrigdaughter this January, not least because Woods are my favourite places to walk. They give shelter from Summer heat and provide soft pathways in Winter’s mossy coat. I spring they are alive with flowers and ferns and shoots, in Autumn die most gracefully and show us how it’s done. It feels to me as if nowhere else is on surrounded by such ancient lives, not on a beach or in a garden. There is depth and height to woods, and time’s dark secrets in the oldest and newest lives and always an untamed side. Woods are like walking the fairy tale. Where will this path lead and who is whispering? They are familiar and strange. They creak and communicate in branch and root, underground. And even when trees die the engender new life. They are purposed into the ground, into the air, they feed and nurture other growing things.

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I love woods
every tree and every fern,
every gully, every turn,
each and every shadowed bark,
ripples of light, stripes of dark,
mosses, lichens, branch and root,
leaves above and underfoot,
bird-song flitting though the air
scents of firs are everywhere
and most of all it does me good
to spend a few hours in a wood
watching trees do what trees do best
live quiet lives — and so to rest.

Maybe January hasn’t been such a bad old stick, after all.

I have such a lot of work in Writing in a Woman’s Voice now that I have made a PAGE LINK for it so just go to that page and follow the link and it’ll take you to all my work in that magazine.

2019 • Epiphany to Candle-mass

I confess, I didn’t ‘celebrate the coming of 2019. I watched an old Jack Lemmon/ Shirley Maclaine film, The Appartment, drank too much red wine, and went to bed on the stroke of midnight before I could turn into a great big pumpkin! I had my reasons — sad reasons I will not go into here, reasonable reasons to do with the general lack of hope I see all around me and a general dislike of New Year which has come about, I know not how or when, over time. Time can be a great healer but it calcifies too. And I had just written:
At the Year’s Turning (31 Dec 2018)

Sour on the stomach.
Bitter on the tongue.
This year took a dark
turn, as if the Sun

would never come back,
it’s retrograde somehow undone
by a simple lack
of political will – a wanton

lassitude, a slack
uncaring attitude, a foregone
conclusion. Another crack
at the poor from one

who doesn’t have to check
the price of the champagne
I suspect
he’ll open in celebration.

I look back.
No choice but to go on
into the unknown black
chasm of the brave new Brexit dawn.

We have yet to eat the pork I bought for Christmas… It’s still in the freezer. Epiphany will therefore be a special meal and I think I will enjoy it all the more for that. We have always celebrated Epiphany in any case. I might well make it my alternate Christmas and the more meaningful feast. I dislike January. (I might have mentioned this before.) It would be good to bypass all the razzmatazz and look forward to a civilised feast — and we are retired, We can do what we want!!!  The evenings are already drawing out — noticeably! That is cause for celebration. And when things get back to normal maybe our walks will too. I hate this week of Sundays feeling! And I look forward to lesser celebrations — things like Burns Night and especially to February with Candle-mass and Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day, to snowdrops and the promise of Spring.

Now I am reading the poetry of Welsh poet, Vernon Watkins (a Christmas present from my husband). Immensely enjoyable and worthy of your attention. I have poems to pick for The Linnet’s Wings Spring Issue and that’s always a pleasure. I am delighted with how our Canzonet turned out. You will be too!


No exact resolutions not to court failure, but I am going to try to concentrate on the light, poetry and positive things in my life and cut out some of the negative influences and people that are frankly depressing me! So do me a favour, if you really don’t give a fig about me or my poetry, or don’t even like me — Unfriend me and save us both the bother!

Let’s just see how it goes for the next 5 weeks. And let’s hope this year doesn’t live up to my grim expectations.

Christmas 2018 • Robins and Ravens, Ghosts and Gifts

First of all The Linnet’s Wings Canzonet is now available to read HERE and I do hope you will enjoy all the brilliant Christmassy stuff inside. Just click the link and read FREE online. Of course it will also be available as a gorgeous paperback.

I am in The Narrow Road too with what has to be one of my favourite stories, Closer to the Truth. https://www.scribd.com/document/396002803/Narrow-Road-Vol-6-Dec-18 (Downloadable)

And on Christmas Day I am privileged to have a story in Writing in a Woman’s Voice which Beattie Siddrigdaughter asked for specially 🙂 Do go along and read it.

I am not sure whether it’s 2018 in this country or 1820! The Tory government is dismantling everything we think of as our modern welfare society and creating a Brexit crisis in confidence and people are dying on our streets — and still they expect people to go all-out in spending for Christmas. I haven’t! I know lots of people haven’t and yet by this action we drive the high street farther into dust.

And yes charity/giving is part of the real meaning of Christmas but charity is also a tyranny of the wealthy over the poor when it becomes something that is relied on totally and can be withdrawn at a whim or used as a threat and make no mistake — this is our government’s game! Fear is their chief tool!

At Christmas we remember people and Christmasses past. Those little rainbow coloured cocktail cigarettes with gold and silver tips fascinated me as a child. My sister used to buy them. But we all know how bad smoking is! And now they blame the people who smoked… a habit which brought in so much revenue in the past… for their illnesses. Never does blame lie with the governments of the past or the advertising agencies or the companies that made all that money! They pile sugar into food and blame parents for child obesity and tooth decay. Little changes.

But as I write this we return to the light. It is the Solstice. I am glad for that. I suffer from midwinter depression S.A.D. and I really think this year all the “News” has compounded that. So I have decided I will remember good people this Christmas and the intangible gifts of love and warmth and laughter they gave me, and pass a bit of that on. You can’t wrap it up. You can’t taste it. It has no calories and it lasts forever!

Ghosts of Christmas

In the present, I listen in vain for the magic
of Santa’s sleigh swishing it’s way through the snow.
The past seems long gone and the present so tragic.
This wasn’t my Christmas dream of long ago.

Here in the future the laughter rings falser
than I ever heard it when I was a girl.
I remember the smell of hot lights and cold glitter,
and pastel cocktail cigarette-smoke swirls.

Yet there in the past are the gifts you all gave me.
Prayers and carols replay in my brain;
all part of the person that all of you made me
in shades that revisit again and again.

Oonah V Joslin

H a p p y  C h r i s t m a s