Jagged gravestone silhouettes
of distant ancestors
Robed in ocean silver
Until night fall
Trampled bruyere paths
Lead me to the tiny house with stone piled wall, amber lit windows, a man and his baby

#PersonalEssay #Memoir, Blog

Fish Paddle

I was never much of an eater but it wasn’t that I didn’t like food.

I liked garlic prawns, fish fingers, crab sticks, and noodles with plastic cheese. I liked ice cream sandwiches, bread with jam and cream, and cold milk with Ovaltine.

I didn’t not like food, I just didn’t like eating my mother’s food. She mostly made food that my father liked – rich saucy dishes with yellow rice, deep fried chicken schnitzel, meatballs, coleslaw and spinach quiche. She of course made other things and she mustn’t have been a bad cook because other people ate her food.

My father had a little analogue clock timer which we only ever saw at meal times. If there was anything left on my plate, he’d go and get the timer and set it to five minutes. I dreaded the moment when the timer would sound and I would be sent to my parents room to be smacked with “the paddle”. Paddles came and went, sometimes broken in use or I would find them, re-hide or destroy them. The last one they had was a flat piece of wood carved in the shape of a fish. It had a bible scripture burnt into the face of it, a smug psalm or a comforting proverb for the punisher.

I would dart around the lounge room to delay the suffering and although my father was faster and stronger, this was the closest I came to getting away from them, before I would eventually quit them completely. I remember my mother screaming at my father, worried that someone would get hurt or that he’d do something he would regret. But he wouldn’t punish me then and there, he’d wait until we were in the room, me knelt at the bed, head down on deep red quilt with the fish paddle slapping and stinging and slapping and stinging.



Office tongues — London, 2010

I work in an office where everyone speaks a different language. Some talk in riddles, codes and complicated phrases like “the interstitials correspond to the recent jellyroll and TPN files located on the Isolon”. There are those who speak, it would seem, to no-one in particular. They stand about in lengthy conversation but their glance never meets. There’s the girl who says little, speaking only in the language of hysterical laugher. And the Colombian, always on her phone, whispering sweet Spanish to her lover. The tongue with the most practice belongs to a wide-mouthed blonde who speaks like a London cabbie. “I’m not the sharpest cookie in the jar” she assures us, followed by a firm lashing of opinions on every possible subject. Her voice is a constant, buzzing feed of bum implants and other banal information. For some reason I want to be her friend and to feature in her bulletin. I want her to slap my hand and call me buddy, we all do.

—London, September 2010


Bayswater poems, Poems & stories, Soundscape

Bayswater (visits from the past)

Visits from the past in the present 

In my dream, my grandparents house has been renovated by new owners.

Visits from the past in the present 

A modern, west coast palace.

Visits from the past in the present 

The backyard pool has become an entire ocean. I visit inside, the walls are cool and somber.

Visits from the past in the present 

The new owners barely look up, they seem to expect these visits from the past.

Visits from the past in the present
Ponder the future
Children, friends, family
In each of them I find myself 

Letters, Soundscape

28th March 1998

Fitt’s village
St. James

28th March, 1998

My Sweet and Precious Abigail,

Birthday greetings to you and also greetings to the rest of my dear family. I trust you are all very well and was happy to hear you all had a pleasant and peaceful Easter. Before I go further, I must tell you I had great joy in my heart for your report, how you pulled out nearly “all the stops” to give your teachers and parents very pleasant surprises. Yes, I enjoyed that. I said “nearly” because I am sure you have a great deal more reserve to pull out more stops for more surprises. Granny is not too surprised, just gratified. Although I stayed with you for only two periods of your life, I think I read your character and ability fairly clearly. Your abilities will unfold in time like a beautiful flower. That blessing has been given to you by God; may He continue to walk with you and dear Jonathan, and help you to avoid the evil stumbling blocks of this world.

Today in Barbados is called Heroes Day, a new celebration and another holiday from work. They have recalled and celebrated the lives of nine men and one woman who they said have played important roles in developing Barbados. Will try to send some newspaper cuttings. On Friday this week there is the May Day holiday, I watched some of the celebration activities on television.

You will all be happy to hear that after some weeks of silence, I have at last heard from your Uncle Julius. He has been working in Germany and returned home at the weekend. He will be working there for 6 months, God willing, and he likes the place. He also mentioned that there were quite a few English people around at the bank where he works. So he was not under pressure to revise his German as work procedures were also written in English. I suppose he also gave Steve a call as he said he had quite a few other calls to make and has to return to Germany on Sunday to be ready for work on Monday. How I wish I were here to welcome him with a big hug. I am praying I will be able to get back there in the not-too-distant-future. Do you have a May Day holiday in Australia as they do in Europe?

Well, I suppose you have all heard from Daddy Steve that a car driven by tourists knocked me down on the road on All fool’s day. It gave me a bad shock and minor injuries but we all know it could have been worse, much worse. I am still attending the osteopath as he says the neck needs more treatment for the “pins and needles” I still feel in the right arm. Remember I fell on the right elbow so it is God’s mercy no bone was broken. I thank God for His wonderful protection. Do remember me in your prayers as I remember you and Jonathan, Mum and Dad in my prayers daily. May God be with you all.

Mum must have told you, dear Abi, that she sent me a copy of your analytical essay on “Playing Beatie Bow”. It was very interesting to see how you understood and interpreted the characters. I enjoyed reading the essay very much and gave it also to Aunt Nal and Paula. They too were very impressed and noted that our little Abi we saw some years ago is growing up to be a rather knowledgeable and sensible girl. Keep it up Abi dear. I am expecting you and Jonathan to be in the top stream in your class.

Never say this or that is too difficult.

If it is a maths problem. Don’t run away from it; keep going back to it, reading it, looking at past rules and examples, note carefully the clues you have been given. Make sure you have thoroughly understood foregoing rules and examples because you must build a strong foundation. As you are an avid reader, you should never be at a loss for words to describe what you want to say. In your reading, note and underline certain neat words and phrases which describe people, places, situations, so that you can quote them in your analytical essays. Tell that wonderfully created brain of yours,

“Gee up, we have many miles to cover!”

Talking of miles, I understand we shall be needing a whole cabinet to hold all of those athletic medals of yours. Well, I have to say that God has given my grand children gifts by the shower, blessings by the shower and I rejoice that I have lived to see many of those blessings at work more and more as you grow older. I pray that God will continually guide you to use your blessings fully and to the glory of his Name. My heart and prayers are with you.

I mentioned earlier that they had introduced another Bank Holiday here called Heroes Day in which they celebrated the lives of 10 Barbadians who, they say, have helped to build Barbados; politicians, union people, sportsmen etc. But I do not recall anyone thanking God for the wonderful gifts which enabled them to do well. A sad example to the younger people now growing up.

Now, I can’t remember if I told you the story of the papier mâché turkey with real legs and I do not want to repeat myself. So please let me know if I have not yet told you and I will in my next letter, please God. THere is nothing new happening here. The sea with its many moods is as you left it, also the sunshine and the sands. We sometimes grumble that we would like more rain and a less hot sun but we again give thanks to God for his matchless creation and get on with living.

Here is a potato joke :

Once a mother potato had three daughters who were well brought up. When they grew up one came in to announce “I am getting married”. The family asked, to whom? She answered, “King Edward” The family commented, that’s lovely it will raise the fortunes of the family! Later, the second daughter said, “I am going to be married”, and the family asked, to whom? SHe answered, to a Jersey Royal, and the family said, wonderful that will give the family eve more status. The third came in and announced she too was going to be married and that family asked “to whom”, and she answered, to John Motson. They all shouted “you can’t do that, he is a commontato!! (commentator!!!).

“Our blessed redeemer… Every virtue we possess, and every conquest won, and every thought of holiness are his alone.”

Kiss sweet mum and Dad and darling Jonathan and may God bless you all richly and be with you always.

Much, much love always,



Drinking Interdit

I’m at my medicin traitant about a blotch in my right eye. It’s probably not important but I’m taking holiday precautions. The phone makes a mechanical peep as I enter the bureau— I’m a few minutes late so I let her off. She hangs up, taps her keyboard with one finger, then angles her chair towards me. The phone peeps encore. This patient is more demanding than the previous. Something about an infection, we can’t be sure— she’ll need blood tests. Doctor Moreau hangs up and looks at me. “You’re very thirsty, is it normal for you to drink that much water?” I justify my response, remarking the weather and the importance of staying hydrated. “We don’t do that”, she says calmly. “What, drink water?” She shakes her head and pauses for impact. EspeciallyNot. Here.” I’m au courant that my doctor is conservative, evidenced by her disgust the day she discovered I’d been to an osteopath. Drinking water and alternative therapies seem to go together. I run through possible consequences of H20 consumption in a bureau; slipping on saliva, mouth escaping microorganisms, death by drowning… She breaks the silence with a question, “what seems to be the problem?” I’m self-conscious speaking about my health with strangers, this intensifies when doing so in French with dry mouth. Moreau scrunches her face. I repeat the phrase stumbling over the same mistakes. It feels like I’m being fact checked. I breathe slowly to cool the guilty sheen on my lip and brow, then shift to the couch for ophthalmologic inspection. It’s brief. “I can’t see anything”, she says ironically, “are you in pain?” “No, but there’s this layer…” I say, hoping she’ll find something. “Rien” she confirms, “feel free to see an ophtalmologue (if you don’t believe me)”. She nods at Chester in the pram, “bébe va bien?” I study his chubby face. “His vomit has carrot in it” I declare, reaching for my purse.











Poems & stories

Marni Nixon: An Affair to Remember

My husband once shared an elevator with George Clinton at the Hilton in Nice. He managed to say something like “how’s it going?”, to which the singer replied, “fine, how are you going?”. If there was such a thing as personal hero elevator tickets, I’d have picked the late chanteuse Marni Nixon (1930-2016). I came across her name for the first time as a mature age cinema student in Paris. I’d enrolled in the course to improve my french, and was delighted by a first semester reconnaissance with la comedie musicale. I’d never watched a musical for any reason that wasn’t sentimental. Our history professor bounced, literally, into every lesson, determined to explode our preconceptions of the genre. He wet our appetite with Busby Berkeley’s Footlight Parade and Gold Diggers of 1935, bringing our attention to the pioneering camerawork and choreography. He acquainted a mostly skeptical audience to melodrama, a charming melange of music and drama. I immediately went and bought copies of An Affair to Remember (1957), the “chick film” as Tom Hanks refers to it in Sleepless in Seattle. “This film will make you cry”, promises our professor as he pushes play and cranks the volume. Bright pink squiggly letters fill the screen with CARY GRANT and DEBORAH KERR, accompanied by jubilant horns and Vic Damone singing Harry Warren’s Love Affair. It isn’t the English version of the song which evokes tears chez moi. It’s later on in the film, when Grant and Kerr are visiting Janou (Grant’s grandmother) at her place in the south of France. The old lady is tinkling away at her piano when Kerr picks up the songbook and spontaneously sings :

Ce bel amour, qui ne peut mourir
Sera pour nous un doux souvenir,
Promesse ardente du premier baiser,
Qui nous lie, tous deux, pour l’éternité

D’un bel amour toujours grandissant
Qui défiera les épreuves du temps.
Trouvons la joie, reste dans mes bras…

This is the first time Nixon’s voice is heard in the film, pure and sweet as a bell. It doesn’t matter that Kerr is miming — her soft glances towards Grant when she sings eternité, have a fondu-like effect. Marni makes us fall in love with Deborah, and Deborah with Marni. The lyrics traverse the barrier of language, ignorance makes space for charm and imagination. The best and worst part of the scene is that we never hear le fin of the song, tragically cut short by the sound of the ship’s distant siren. On a hunt for the full version of the French ballad (perhaps Fox never recorded one), the closest I can find is this amateur recording on Youtube. The singer is technically sound but her limp posture and dazed expression leave us longing for Marni. A better solution (and perhaps the only), is to watch and re-watch this true gem, the original, until it becomes a permanent memory.