There is Always a Time to Die


‘I can call spirits from the vasty deep.’

‘For you and I are past our dancing days.’


This is my poppy of remembrance, created from my old watch and a bit of lace, all sewed onto a brooch pin given to me by my friend, Lesley. The idea for this brooch has been hovering in my mind all week, thinking of time and famous writings/writers, and of what is left behind.

Dear Linda, if I could call you back hale and hearty I would. And now dancing in front of me is the age old question, why her, why not me? We were of an age…why one and not another? How are we divided up and served our share of life? Riches and privilege of birth do not matter for each has a completely different life and level of happiness, contentment and satisfaction.

We are all terminal but Linda was the only one I knew who had a measurement in weeks or months – two doctors poles apart in their opinions…nobody could give her anything more definite than that, and she seemed to feel strong, apart from the pain, so all the signals were mixed. That visit was two months ago. When Angela and I left she looked pale and tired but happy to be part of pretty good crack between us and her two cousins. The laughter spilled all over our table in the massively packed, busy restaurant on the first floor of the brand new billion pound hospital wing.

Almost three weeks ago I visited her in the hospice and we talked of adventures in living; she didn’t want to complain of having short shrift because she’d travelled and lived but she assumed she’d get back out there to go for lovely meals in restaurants with family and friends before the final whistle blew. But when I saw her the following week she was drifting, mostly unconscious but knew I was there. My last two Wednesdays were busy with family visiting me and me travelling to visit them, and now I play it back, while I was tossing and turning in a spare room in Newcastle she was dying in her hospice bed – though I’m sure it would have felt like drifting to her. The staff there were very visible and alert to the least sign from both visitors and patients.

My daughter said the dreaded words to me last week, that from now on this was all I could expect, to lose friends…and in a way I would rather take the pain of that than give them any pain from losing me – but then I do want to wander on and on and reach 100 odds. An old woman of 109 was recently reported as saying that the only way to stay alive that long was to keep away from men – so as long as that doesn’t include sons and grandsons I will most likely have a good chance.


Reply to Ed Miliband’s recruitment email to me

No, you’ve got it all wrong, Mr Miliband – it should be you joining me, us. I don’t want to be part of your little club and listen to your empty words or lectures and platitudes; we are not simple. Most of us may lead simple lives where we strive to exist on what we can earn, and for some, what they’re given, but we don’t need to be a party to the ego of the smallest majority in this united kingdom. All we want is to see sense and sensibility performed in the duties you have all assumed.

My main problem with politicians is that we, as your employers, cannot afford to pay your expenses… my boss can’t afford to pay me mine. So we, the masses, without the luxury of expenses and bonuses, live as best we can and still get to work and eventually pay our bills. In my mind, the job of looking after the country should be more of a vocation than an earner. Change that status and you might get some respect – you will have earned it.

Irene Cunningham


I’m not a tiny green dot on Scotland’s
fresh face; I’m over a million people
who are neither deaf nor dumb, and we will
make a great cacophony in this house
if there isn’t a better service here.
Hear us roar. We walked and marked our crosses.
You can’t measure us by geography
because our land is also walked by trees
and we people salt the land in clusters
hundreds of miles from that parliament who
consumes our souls in ignorance but it’s
not a case of ‘They know not what they do’.
Their wee politician brains are fully
stuffed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.


So, here is my poem for the referendum:


We are poor bosses; poverty stricken
and weak at managing our minions,
those creeping vines with politic voices
who take and take and talk a foxtrot dance
around our floors, demanding expenses
for cushy cushions and homeless housing.
We are not in the Fortune 500
or the 25 and yet we keep them
above our needs. So lets chop its head off,
and let it fend for its own luxuries.
We are laying down the swords, preparing
for the dance of the century.


(for my daughter)

Cosmetic junkie, social drinker, and
breakfast don’t live here; there’s no lover, pipe
n slippers or ritual sex to grind
my bones; no Sunday lunch, afternoon naps,
praying, confessions, and no eating of
hosts. My life wears different hats, salts its own
ideas into food…lunch and dinner took
a walk some time ago. I’m not obsessed
with plumbing or counting fat content, carbs
or calories so don’t be worrying
about me. I’m lost in happy hours, and
skinny people die too. But, I might
invite a vampire in for a drink, though
forever could be a tad traumatic.


My most shameful moment (or the only one I’ll admit to) happened sometime in 1974, I think. I was working in a golf club as a barmaid-come-waitress-come-slave but I quite liked it and the boss was an attractive older man with streaks of white hair at his temples. Jo Fitch (who must be dead by now so I will use her name) and I were waiting ’til the last car left the parking lot so we could lock up – sometimes these golfers would stick their heads round the kitchen door and sweet-talk us into making them toasted cheese. It was black dark but must’ve been warm because the window was pulled right down from the top. Nobody asked for anything. We sat at the table finishing our coffee, our bags and jackets beside us. Something came in the window.

Before we knew it, a clicking had set up as hundreds of black beetles landed on the table, counters and floor. Of course I must’ve done the dance of the get-it-off-me-crazy-woman as I raced to the door into the back corridor. I don’t remember having any of them in my hair – this was forty years ago! But I know I would’ve still been doing the dance as I dragged the door closed behind me. Yes, I held onto the door, and no, I wouldn’t open it again to let Jo out too. But I don’t think she was as scared as me…she was about thirty years older, with grown-up kids. So yes, she was probably a lot more sensible than my dumb twenty. I vaguely remember her telling me it was safe to come back in just a few minutes later, that they had all gone. I peeked around the door as if I didn’t believe her but they had gone. I’d never heard of flying beetles before, or seen any since – thank the gods. And, after all these years I remember the clicking; it was like black rain.

I am tough, and can stand up to anything…I’d take a bullet for my kids and grandkids, maybe even friends, but throw insects at me and I melt out the nearest door.



The cat looked at the king-sized bed and said, ‘Thanks for thinking of me. You can have the throne. I’m worn out with the hardness of it, and the public passing and passing as if I wasn’t there. Now here is a place for important thoughts. Leave me while I wash. I feel a curl deep in the bones of me; it can be a royal pain if I ignore it.’

Catch me watching a king-sized bed. The land of Nod, a field of cream calls softly; its quiet quilting pulls me down, so I can fly, find the curl deep in my bones, sleep all day long. If I had a cat I know it would talk just like that…if I was a cat I would still have my sense of equality, which doesn’t mean I think I should be royal, but that a dustman is as likely or deserving as a cat to look at a king – bed or not. Oh but the life of a cat is sooo superior to that of any royal, and considering the lack of stress and pressure, he/she can lick and lick at body parts whether camera-toting dolts are zooming-in or not. So let the cat wear purple and fart on the throne or bed – no one’s being murdered.


Today, two of my poems are up on a poetry site called Nutshells & Nuggets  and I’ve spent quite a bit of time this afternoon subbing. Ah, the thought of work sifting its way through the airwaves makes me feel as satisfied as a traffic warden capturing a Porche out of time.

For the first time, after twenty-five years of writing, I am deep in the habit. The inspiration from Jo Bell’s prompts every week this year has brought me to choose poetry over prose – I will still work on the novels languishing on my laptop, and hopefully get to finish at least one of them, but I fear I am a poet at heart. I always knew I wasn’t the same as all my novelist friends; I don’t suffer the way they do after submitting and I think that’s because a poet submits a hundred times more than them so we tend to just get on with it and let the poems go for months at a time before we receive a yea or nae; we often have multiple packs of six in the wind.

I’ve hardly sent any work out in the last few years and now that I am prolific again I find myself trying to keep the files tidy by using up the old stuff – but the old stuff is different and some of it can’t be bothered changing. Yesterday, I made up my mind to let them lie and go with the new work that is appearing every day. I sorted a few to salt small memoirs and am now growing into a new writer. The old published work can take a back seat, I’m giving it a long holiday, maybe retiring it altogether – there’s so much coming out of most of these prompts that soon it will be redundant.

Last week’s prompt was erotica and what a wild week it was – I think we lost two members who seemed to be not-amused at our abundant enthusiasm.



I used to be on the brink of being totally horizontal, but I think I’ve skated across that plateau now and am being pulled upright – good God, I might be standing already! It wasn’t my fault but I know who to blame – Jo Bell and her Project 52. Write a poem a week she said – little did she know that we’d all be writing a poem a day, sometimes more, and her notifications box has gone mental and there she is just sailing up and down canals in her boat, leaving us completely obsessed with a new prompt every week…and we’ve got to do this for a year. She’s cured my procrastination; halted my lovely horizontal progress and addicted me to a Facebook group that produces hundreds of poems a day…and now, I’m caught up in submitting mania, and regaining that old addiction, blogging. This is the third post in barely an hour.



If man can drive a
mountain like a juggernaut,
is there vacancy
where brain function should lord it
above simple bowel movements?

(what the * does that mean? I wrote this in spring 2011 and have forgotten)

I love finding stuff that the fairies have written on my laptop, and always take the credit and dismiss it as if I don’t care…I believe, I believe – this is me clapping my hands. I believe. I know that there is a thought somewhere deep in that there piece but my head is three years older and much more decrepit – now that I’ve reached the big 6-Oh. So, now that time might be of a certain essence I suppose I should do somethin. So here I am doin somethin. I am actively producing action; throwing poems out left right and everything; they’re being accepted all over the place and making me feel aaalllright…I’m getting down on it.