A poem for the nurses.

This Is You, You’re Looking at You

by Michael Rosen

This is you.
You’re looking at you.

Look closely.
Closer.

Listen to the breathing.
Is it calm?
Or is there a bit of a gasp
or a snatch in there?

What about the walk?
Watch the walk.
In control, is it?
The feet roll from heel to toe
do they?

What next?
How about the eyes?
Look closely at the eyes.
Eyes tell you a lot.
The skin round the eyes.
Is it tight?
More on one side than the other?
And is that a frown?
Is it always there
or can it smooth out?

This is you.
You’re looking at you.

Now what comes next is harder.
See if you can notice any part of you
that’s tight, taut,
a part you that you’re holding
tighter and tauter
than it should be
and you don’t know why:
a shoulder maybe
one side of your neck?
Is there any way that can be looser?

This is you
You’re looking at you.

Now this is difficult.
We’re going in.
What about sleep?
Honestly.
Do you sleep through the night?
Or do you lie awake in the middle of the night
and you don’t know why?
What do you think about?
Does the day before
come in and sit there keeping you awake?
Does tomorrow
come in and sit there keeping you awake?
Have you ever talked to someone
about what keeps you awake?
You could, you know.
Sometimes, talking about it
scares off the things that keep you awake.

This is you
You’re looking at you.

Are there things you could do
which would look after you?
Places you could go
People you could see
Shows you could watch
Things you could do.
What are they?
Shut your eyes.
Imagine you’re doing them.
Imagine you’re doing them.
Imagine you’re doing them.

Have you ever tried ways
of expressing what you feel?
Drawing?
Writing?
Movement?
What would you draw?
What would you write?
How would you move?
Imagine you’re doing them.
Imagine you’re doing them.
Imagine you’re doing them.

And you know why I’m asking you
to ask yourself all these questions
don’t you?
It’s for that old, old reason:
if you don’t look after you
you can’t look after others.

This is you.
You’re looking at you.

This poem was written by Micheal Rosen, a renowned author who nearly died of Covid in England. He was looked after, as he struggled for life, by NHS nurses and he became acutely aware of the toll the pandemic took on those nurses.

This is such a glancing, compassionate and painful poem and I think it speaks to all the nurses everywhere who kept so many people alive in such awful times that we all just want to forget.

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‘That orange, it made me so happy’: 50 poems to lift you in November.

This is a great selection of poetry, some familiar some new to lift the spirit in November. Unfortunately a few of the links take you frustratingly to pay sites, but pass swiftly on and enjoy the selections.

Humour, beauty, solace … the right poem can bring a ray of sunshine. Andrew Motion, Kayo Chingonyi, Tishani Doshi and other poets recommend the verses that lift their spirits
— Read on www.theguardian.com/books/2022/nov/26/that-orange-it-made-me-so-happy-50-poems-to-boost-your-mood

Opening a book.

Opening a book for the first time is like letting a stranger into your home.

You have no idea if you are going to like them or not. Will they be pompous, verbose, long winded, take forever to get to the point? Will they assume you have known them for years? Start anecdotes with no context or just witter on and on with no end to the context, until you want to gnaw off your own hand?

Will they embarrass you with intimate details about their bodies or family ailments? Or even worse will they tell you suddenly how appalling their childhood was and induce in you a sense of nauseated impotence about how awful the world can be?

Maybe they will make you squirm on the sofa with their unhealthy political views slid unexpectedly between an observation about travel and food.

Maybe they will simply talk nonstop about themselves and you will wonder if they actually have any friends and then will understand why they don’t and worry, that by listening to them for so long, you might now be considered their friend.

Or, will you be intrigued by them?

Lean back and let them talk, because you really want to hear more? Will you laugh at their self deprecating asides and really relish all the details, be positively disappointed when they pause for breath? Be astonished by how the time has flown by while your guest has been talking? When they are gone, will you look out of the window and see something for the first time, still hear them talking in your head and hope they will come back soon?

A good writer can make you care about the most unlikely things and open your mind. A bad writer can ruin the thing you thought you loved .

I am tempted to stretch this analogy to breaking point, but will stop.

Shutting a book is so much easier than getting rid of a dull guest. Although you may be passionately opinionated about the book that you are reading, you don’t have to worry about the book talking back. If you don’t like it, it is muted by the simple act of you putting it down and never picking it up again.

Ahh! If only all of life were that simple!

Books waiting to be read. Who will be the friend?

Small pleasures.

November is not my favourite month.

The hunt is on every weekend and the ominous crump of guns keeps us out of the forest.

I have bought florescent fleece scarves to mark us out in the gloomy woods and hopefully to prevent us from being shot, but their jarring colour is very unlovely.

Winston is unimpressed.

When venturing into the edge of the forest ( on none hunting days) there are still a few birds to hear. The high pitched chuffing train call of the tiny goldcrest; the crackle of the mistle thrush; the screeching note of the black woodpecker as it moves from bare winter tree to bare tree.

Beech trees are beautifully monumental denuded of their leaves. Their trunks are smooth and grey, fine limestone pale in the weak light.

On a cut log the tiniest of fungi jelly babies break the surface, nosing up into the damp November air.

The pleasures of November are small .

Last Hoorah

In high summer, my moth trap is so full of wonders that I have to admit to feeling occasionally overwhelmed by the job of identifying and recording them all.

As summer wanes, the moths that appear in the trap change in name and in number and by the end of autumn I am lucky to find a single one on the outside of the trap, or hiding on the egg boxes inside.

The season is over.

Before I put the trap in the garden shed I plugged it in one last time and wonderfully there was a new species sat on the lid waiting for me in the cold morning.

He was a mottled umber and I can confidently assign him a gendre as the females of this species are wingless and very different. He was jeweled with dew on his “ fur” and the zig zag markings were sharp and clear.

Here are a few more new species that I have identified in the garden this year (often with the invaluable help of the county moth recorder)

Obviously these are not to scale. The large wainscot is not that large! The small yellow wave was quite small and it seemed a good way to wave goodbye to the season.

I hope you have enjoyed meeting a few of my new finds!

Staying Hot

This is my chilli harvest.

The weather has finally turned cool and I have brought the last ones in to dry on top of the wood burning stove.

What I cannot share with you is their wonderful and unexpected scent of vanilla! After being toasted on the stove, the remaining sugars release a real smell of caramel and I can understand where the idea of chili chocolate must have come from. Cooked, they are pungent and spicy enough to make your eyes sting, but before cooking they are innocently sweet.

I like growing chilies because you have to start them so early on the window sill in spring. When the weather is still drear out side but my fingers are itching to start gardening again, they germinate faithfully in their trays and the sturdy little green plants grow slowly but surely until it is frost free and safe to plant them out. They need a good summer to flower and for the seed pods to ripen, but I have only had one disastrous year and generally they do very well in our warming world.

Chopped and stored in a jar, they will heat curries and many other dishes in the drear time before I can plant some seeds again!

Absolutely the last of the dahlias!

Thinking

Winston is thinking.

He is thinking about the smokey sunshine, about pictures, about the black perfection of his own paws, but mostly he is thinking about food.

There might be little bits of chicken when they prepare dinner; there might be morsels of cooked salmon if is Friday ( what ever that might be. ) There might be the right flavored packet food, not the one he has just gone off and will not eat. There might be dried snacks to run after in the sitting room in the unseasonably hot afternoon.

There might be peace on earth and every one fed and safe including the mice and the birds, but for now Winston is just stretching his paws in the sun and waiting.

Chinese Chopsticks

Chinese chopsticks jumbled on the forest path,

pale ivory of ash leaf ribs scattered amongst the wet and black leaves.

A very few oak leaves have fallen and curl upwards like fingers through the thickening carpet .

Beech leaves are salt and pepper promiscuous, light and dark across everything .

The field maple leaf is defined and decorative, like a child’s pattern stenciled along the margins of the autumn path.

Prickled sprinkles of pine leaf, where a squirrel has been eating, are sharp and incongruous against the softening multi colored cloth of autumn beneath my feet.

There is the hallucinatory quality of dreams as the eye tries to register each outline,

And my feet move on ,

And the leaves fall around me,

Each by each.

This Day

Bats slap and purr through the silly little box,

Serious Secret messages from hidden senders in the dark.

Before the dawn, the black is tactile, pressing against the face.

And then : the cool sliver of pale behind the darkness slowly pulls away the heaviness

And then:

The bats are gone.

A first blackbird scolds the day awake.

The cat shivers down from the open window with a soft thud.

This day has begun.

Not over yet.

As is to be expected in autumn, the weather flip flops faster than Liz Truss between sunshine and storms. However, unlike a politician, the flowers make beauty in the sun and provide food for the late insects as long as they can. My rosemary is covered in flowers and bees and the white michaelmas daisies are loud with life.

However it is the cosmos that are the most eye catching of all in their colourful, striking simplicity. Looking into their flowers with my phone camera I am reminded of my A- level Biology. Male and female are represented in the same glorious bloom and pollen is both shed and received as time turns the petals from perky to limp. I apologize for the “Carry On” style allusions, but watching ancient comedy films and observing the garden are increasingly important to my sanity these days!

I also found this worrying looking female spider just outside the garden yesterday. While I normally embrace all wildlife, I have to admit that this one made me shudder utterly.

Back to life after 130 years! Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve: Channel reopens river to wildlife – BBC News

I like to share hopeful news.

This nature reserve is close to my sister in law’s village . A complicated project has opened up part of the Thames to fish to swim and spawn in for the first time in 130 years . How is that for righting a wrong after such a long time?!

Thanks to the EU for funding and local wildlife trusts for having vision and determination to make something better!

A new watercourse has been created at Chimney Meadows Nature Reserve near Bampton in Oxfordshire.
— Read on www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-63228082

Wolves and brown bears among wildlife making exciting comeback in Europe | Rewilding | The Guardian

Now that is what I call very very good news!

In the depth of lockdown, in the winter, we saw a wolf walk down our silent, deserted village street. We live near a forest so it wasn’t too many glasses of wine. It was proof.

: report on species recovery shows how effective legal protection, habitat restoration and reintroductions can be
— Read on www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/sep/27/wolves-and-brown-bears-among-wildlife-make-exciting-comeback-in-europe-aoe

In our hands.

This tiny perfect sliver of life was under the bucket. At first it was coiled like a bracelet in a golden knot, but by the time the photo was taken it was warm and lithe, sliding over my fingers. The sight of one slow worm used to be astounding in our garden ten years ago, but as the garden has grown up and the wild spots and compost heaps have been cultivated, they are increasingly common.

It is heartening to think we must have done one small thing right in our little corner to visibly increase this bit of wildlife.

By the way my hands are not usually so dirty, but they are currently stained from picking up walnuts without any gloves on!

Happy Autumn !

“The best of times ….…..”

After the heat of summer and the seemingly endless shout of sunshine, the turning of the season into autumn is a huge relief. Mornings are foggy, fires have been lit and smoke rises up to the stars, that glitter on into the dark of morning.

The cat is reluctant to venture out . He hates wet dew on his paws, but eventually the sun creeps up, the world wakes and slowly he slinks out to start the autumn day.

The great clouds of martins and swallows have thinned to just a few birds catching up on the reverse migration back to Africa. The starlings have remembered the uncollected apples in the orchard behind the house and are wheezing their anticipation of a feast. Jays have appeared and are raucous in the tall trees.

Days of rain are forecast, but today the sun has climbed into a peerlessly clear sky and the michaelmas daisies are star burst bright with bees. A hornet patrols ceaselessly looking for a bee to catch and the late gate keeper butterfly keeps far away from it. Hummingbird hawk moths feed on September nectar and the morning glory winds up and up to the end of every stick.

The news of Russian mobilization of reluctant and unreluctant men is chilling I think of the unharvested vegetables ripening in the gardens of destroyed Ukrainian homes.

On a warm September day it seems the very best of times, but Dickens could always balance his opening sentences to linger in the mind.

Death of a Queen.

Floral Tribute

Evening will come, however determined the late afternoon,

Limes and oaks in their last green flush, pearled in September mist.

I have conjured a lily to light these hours, a token of thanks,

Zones and auras of soft glare framing the brilliant globes.

A promise made and kept for life – that was your gift –

Because of which, here is a gift in return, glovewort to some,

Each shining bonnet guarded by stern lance-like leaves.

The country loaded its whole self into your slender hands,

Hands that can rest, now, relieved of a century’s weight.


Evening has come. Rain on the black lochs and dark Munros.

Lily of the Valley, a namesake almost, a favourite flower

Interlaced with your famous bouquets, the restrained

Zeal and forceful grace of its lanterns, each inflorescence

A silent bell disguising a singular voice. A blurred new day

Breaks uncrowned on remote peaks and public parks, and

Everything turns on these luminous petals and deep roots,

This lily that thrives between spire and tree, whose brightness

Holds and glows beyond the life and border of its bloom.

SIMON ARMITAGE
Poet laureate

I don’t have a photo of Lilly of the valley to illustrate this restrained poem by Simon Armitage, but I think this softer rose will do just as well .

Afternoon.

A busy day.

The garden turning autumnal. Plenty to do and the migrant birds massing over head. Eventually I stopped. The late afternoon sun still hot in the sitting room and I slowly drank a glass of pastis and listened to Radio France .

It was a Shostakovich string quartet, that irresistible mixture of fear and beauty and for once I listened with all my heart.

The final movement ended and you could hear the needle coming to the end of the record in a delicious crackle . I sat still and waited in warm relaxation for the next piece of music, but it didn’t come. I sipped to the end of my drink, listened to the door bump in the breeze, the clock tick, the commuters driving home in the sunshine.

I imagined what was happening in the radio silence; had someone decided to kiss their lover in the store cupboard instead of changing the record? Had someone fallen asleep in the warm afternoon? Had the great idea finally struck and was it being scribbled down on the back of an envelope or noted on a phone? Had someone finally left and walked quietly down the stairs and out of the building?

The music never started again. The radio eventually took matters into its own hands and shut off. When I turned it back on there was something lively playing.

I think I preferred my unexpected moment of silence.

Togo achieves ‘major feat’ of eliminating four neglected tropical diseases | Global health | The Guardian

People are a huge part of the ecosystem in which we live and good news about health is so often smoothered in all the bad news. So here is a fantastic good news story from Africa . Something to really enjoy!

WHO hails west African country as first in world to stamp out Guinea worm, lymphatic filariasis, sleeping sickness and trachoma
— Read on www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/aug/25/togo-achieves-major-feat-of-eradicating-four-neglected-tropical-diseases

The grumpy angels.

I love it when you can see the character of the faces on the wall. Most saintly or angelic decorative faces were just that, decorative and often blandly pretty. It is much more fun to spot faces that are individual and to wonder at who they really were: what arguments and passions might have motivated them. Did they like one another; were they related; were they rivals for high office or even love?

I don’t know the story behind these unlikely angels and I prefer it that way, as I can almost hear them bickering over seating in church, who has obtained preferment or what was in last night’s dinner.

They are from the beautiful church at Saint Ursanne in Switzerland. The river curls peacefully around the little ancient city and the tourists often miss these three grumpy angels high above them; so I thought I would introduce them to you today and allow you to wonder at the real men who inspired them in this lovely spot!

Staying around.

Staying put means you notice things .

This dragon fly laid her eggs on a mossy stone . I always assumed they deposited their eggs into water and if anything should know the difference between stone and water, then a dragonfly should. She choose the stone. Maybe their life cycle is more complex than I imagine. I could look it up. I could read about it in books and on line, or I could just watch and wonder. Sometimes that is all I want to do: just watch and wonder.

It rained and hailed this week. The pot of basil was shredded, but the broken leaves were preserved in a bed of hail under the stalks. They were cooked in spaghetti bolognese for dinner.

The first migrating warblers are turning up in the garden, feeding for a while on their way home to Africa.

After the rain, the heavy phone cables strung across the road,glittered with rain drops sliding along the cable like iridescent jewels on a dowager duchess’s necklace.

I swear I could hear the soil absorbing the sweet rain and the cracks healing.

Out of the Sun.

It has been so sunny here that the light is positively Mediterranean and so bright, that sometimes one longs for the night.

I haven’t been posting much, as the endlessly dry nights have meant non stop mothing and then hours identifying and recording what has appeared. This is a delight for me, but it is also time consuming, so I am sharing a few delights from the last few days by way of a blog. There have been plenty of smaller and less brightly coloured moths in the trap, but I am sparing you some of my obsession!

Convolvulous hawk moth. Look at those warning fake eyes!
Lesser elephant hawk moth
Garden tiger
Polar hawk moth ( upside down)

Oak eggar peeking over the egg box where he spent the night.
Rosy footman ( great squiggly line!)