Old But Not Past It

I was whisking up eggs, sugar and cottage cheese last night to make Syrniki (a type of Ukrainian cheesy pancake) and suddenly realised the rotary whisk I was using must be nearly as old as myself. It is still going strong (unlike myself 🤣) I remember growing up in the sixties and watching my mother whip up sponge cakes using that same whisk as I waited eagerly to lick out the bowl. Ooh yummy! When I married at the age of eighteen my mother gave me that whisk along with a load of other domestic paraphernalia, a sort of perfect housewife starter kit. Obviously didn’t work as I divorced seven years later!

What vintage objects have you got in your kitchen that you still use regularly? Rotary whisks are no longer in fashion as most people have electric blenders and food mixers now. I’ve always been averse to gadgets. You spend more time cleaning them than the time you save. I like the tactile quality of a wooden spoon and the physicality of cooking. My other vintage kitchen item is a cook book from 1980 which arrived with my new oven. It contains recipes for 80s favourites such as Chicken Maryland, Cheese Soufflé and Creme Brûlée. I still refer to it often. So…what antiquities do you have lurking at the back of your kitchen cupboards?

Mobility Issues

Poor Queen of Coins has ageing bones.
She enjoys many thrones, crimson velvet
and gold with roses, shamrock, thistles,
acanthus, oak leaves but none have wheels.

It doesn’t do to be seen as weak and mortal,
pushed around like those who cannot stand
for the Queen, endure hunger, isolation, cold
but still have strength to fight a bitter war.

The luxurious bathroom facilities at Ward 3A, Raigmore Hospital, Inverness. Note the lack of grab rails, lack of wash basin, lack of wheelchair turning space and low height of loo seat. I reckon this is a throne the Queen would politely decline.

Life

I am always astounded by the strength of life force in nature if unhindered by human activity, the pollution of drugs and chemicals. A few weeks ago I cut a couple of branches from my Woolly Willow tree (yes, it’s really called that or Salix Lanata if you want to be formal). They were covered in gorgeous catkins and made a stunning statement in a vase in my hallway. When I decided to throw them out I was surprised to see they had grown roots so now they are destined for a new life in the garden next to their mother tree. Happy trees! I have many different willow trees; scarlet, golden, black, purple, Swiss, a ground cover variety, one that has spectacular black catkins in the spring. It is a wild, windy and wet location and yet they thrive. Branches may break off in a storm but they go on undaunted. If only we humans could do the same.

Tips from Felix the Feline Philosopher

Love is a bee dressed as a butterfly
Love warms the cockles but leaves you hungry

Patience wins the mouse but loses the bird
A starling in the belly is worth three in a tree

A clean litter tray makes a real home
Happiness is a long hot piss

Adopt a human if you need a hobby
Humans lie when they smile

God drives a white van
The Devil wears a white coat

Hell is the cupboard under the stairs
Trust your whiskers

Never give up unless it’s raining
Eat your rodent while it’s hot

Life is hedgehog
Sleep with one eye open

Love your neighbour but protect your parsnips
Beware the cat in a hat, he is a narcissist

If you meet puss in boots – run away!
Revolution is like catching snowflakes

Jesus was a dog person
Dick Whittington was not Jesus

Reincarnation is for pussies
The moon shines on the hunter

Never climb the willow in a blizzard
Death is tiger lily

Image created by the author

Renewal

Easter is my favourite festival. As a natural born pagan I love the nature symbolism and message of renewal and rebirth. Those of us lucky enough to be not living in a war zone are able to celebrate with flowers and chocolate. In the UK the weather has been kind and we see signs of new growth and green shoots in the gardens. The Russian Orthodox Easter is not till next weekend. I have many lovely memories of Easter rituals growing up in a Ukrainian family. Easter is a big event in the Orthodox Calendar. Special food is prepared in a basket including hand painted boiled eggs, cold meats and a sweet bread called Paska and then taken to the church to be blessed by the priest in a midnight ceremony. It is later eaten for breakfast on Easter Sunday. This year I am having a peaceful and joyful time although separated from loved ones and have enjoyed painting eggs for the first time in years! Also having fun with my new rainbow lantern, (really cool!) eating cake decorated with bluebells and bumble bees and delicious chocolates in the shape of butterflies.

HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE!

War in Ukraine

For the last few nights I have jolted awake every hour or so in panic and anxiety about the situation in Ukraine. My parents were Ukrainian refugees during the second World War and I grew up in England. Throughout my childhood I heard horror stories from my family about what they endured when they fled their home at short notice during the Nazi invasion not knowing where they would end up and carrying only the few belongings they could gather. Today I wept upon seeing footage of Ukrainian families having to run for their lives just like my own family did seventy years ago. I still have cousins living in Ukraine and God knows what is happening to them. I feel powerless to help. My mother’s home city of Dnipro was bombed today by Russia. I am glad she is no longer with us and spared the knowledge of this atrocity. She died three years ago. As a gesture of support and solidarity for the Ukrainians who are now homeless and terrified I am posting my poem ‘Heartland’. It is based on my mother’s story and is one of the poems in my recent book, The Rush of Lava Flowers available on Amazon.

Heartland                                                        

I

The train is leaving but I am here
in a yellow room with curtains of sky.
The door is chained from the inside,
the lock and the mirror are broken.

The train is leaving and you’re not here.
The prints of army boots have scarred
the wood I once polished on my hands
and knees with melting candle wax.

The train is leaving, I can hear it’s wail.
On the sunlit balcony above treetops 
where the birds have fallen silent,
a young boy hangs from a rope.

The train is leaving to I know not where
but my cat is hungry, my roses wilt,
poor Mishka waits on the window sill
and they will not fit in my suitcase.

II

Will I find you arched across wild waters?
Will I see you in the sparks of burning pines?
Will you shimmer like an island in an ocean of wheat?
Will I smell you in the northerly like the promise 
of snow or grass that is limpid green?
Will I meet you in the white lines in the middle of the road?
Will I catch you like a ghost in a speaking mirror?
Will I taste you in buttermilk pancakes 
or tea sweetened with cherry jam?
Will I feel you in the blue fur of a cat?
Will I discover you folded inside yourself 
like a secret at the back of my wardrobe?
Will I fear you in my dreams of showers without water 
or scroll you on my screen as a drone 
follows the River Dnieper Mama once swam?
Will I hear you in the trains as they scream through the night?

My mother and I during a day out in Scarborough 1986

Connect!

The Scaraben Writer’s Group is looking for new members who want to share work and ideas in a mutually supportive atmosphere. We are a small, friendly group who meet online via Zoom on the first Wednesday of every month at 7pm, GMT. The 80 minute sessions are split into two with a ten minute comfort break halfway. Everyone is welcome. Please get in touch via my contact page for more details. And in case you’re wondering….Scaraben is the name for a long range of hills in Northern Scotland and I can see them from my kitchen window!

Photo by the author

Waking Up

I woke up crimson
autumn to gypsy 
clouds a home 
not my own.

Bonfires warm the cockles
said my neighbour as flames 
split the dark.

I stirred wrathful
winter to trees
stripped of branches
only trunks remained.

I tried my best
said the Gardener spitting
dust and wielding a chain saw.

I roused one dizzy
spring to my lover
floating dead
in the fishpond.

Where were you this morning?
the police officer asked
but the carp refused to comment.

I woke one summer 
night to blue flaring
beyond Ben’s farm
stressed over deadlines.

What the fuck’s going on?
asked the cat
tucking into her fish supper.

This poem is an example of my new work in progress, a poetry collection called Conversations With My Cat. More details here later.

Photo by the author

Testament


God is the fizz/pop of a failing light bulb.
God is Wagner’s Götterdämmerung.
God is a warning sign on a sharp bend.
God is a shoe salesman in a designer shop
or an invisible splinter in the sole of your foot.
God is the knot in your umbilical cord.
God is one segment of a chocolate orange
or an ice cube in a shaken not stirred.
God is a teaspoon of honey in your hot toddy.
God is butter melting on toasted crumpet
or an onion on the chopping board.
God is a sandwich cut into tiny squares.
God is the steady drip of a leaking tap
or a pair of curtains that gape in the middle.
God is an old phone in the back of a drawer
or a set of cookie cutters in fancy shapes.
God is a dandelion clock on a windy day,
the scent of wet earth in a forest.
God is a daub of yellow paint on blank canvas.
God is a game of truth or dare.
God is a broken windscreen in the fast lane
or a hit and run on a dark street.
God is the black rain of Chernobyl,
a lone wolf in the Carpathian Mountains.
God is a white feather on your path,
the gardener who prunes hard every winter.