A Tiger in Your Tank

Cars have always played a positive role in my life so the inevitable news that petrol and diesel cars are to be banned in the UK from 2040 fills me with nostalgia.  Of course it’s an essential step towards decreasing air pollution and global warming but the internal combustion engine will be missed by many of us.  Technology keeps moving on with the advent of electric and self-drive vehicles (the latter being a terrifying prospect when I think how often my laptop crashes).  The traditional petrol car has been a cool cultural icon for nearly a century, a symbol of personal freedom, style and aspiration.  It has featured in many wonderful movies:- Rebel Without A Cause, The French Connection, The Italian Job, The Driver, Thelma and Louise, the list is endless.  Can you really imagine an exciting car chase in an automated electric car?  Would Thelma and Louise make their heroic stance against conformity and authority while sitting passively in a car with no steering wheel? Is this new technology a sinister portent of a future where citizens lose control over their lives?

I grew up in the sixties when petrol was cheap and motoring was a carefree, guilt-free experience.  Cars were affordable even to many working class families and it allowed them to escape industrial towns to explore the countryside and the coast.  Our first family car was a second-hand black Ford Consul.  I remember the smooth, comforting contours.  It felt safe and reassuring long before the compulsory seat belts, inflatable air bags and zero tolerance of drinking and driving that we take for granted today.  We lived with a certain amount of risk and people didn’t stress about all the horrible possibilities of what might happen.  That said, there were far fewer cars on the road and people were more respectful of each other.  No-one had ever heard of road-rage.


This photograph was taken by my maternal grandfather on my third birthday.  I am standing by our first family car, a Ford Consul. The dolls were called Nina and Nadia.


Nearly every summer weekend we would pack up provisions and our little orange tent and head for the seaside together with numerous friends. In the cooler months we would go for long drives around the countryside and have picnics in the back seat or bravely shivering in a lay-by.  We couldn’t afford garage repairs so my father maintained the car himself and took great pride in his immaculate standards.  It was typical for many working class men to repair their own cars.  Before the digital era and the concept of built-in obsolescence it was relatively easy to replace parts.  Our Ford Consul lived to a great age and was eventually sold on.  We replaced it with a two tone, blue and cream Humber Sceptre with curvaceous chrome trims and sculpted wings.  My father was devastated when the bodywork  was damaged in a minor scrape with a dry-stone wall.  He took to his bed for a week and didn’t speak or eat.  The car had to be scrapped because he couldn’t find a replacement panel.

Now I live in a remote rural area where once upon a time there was a petrol station in every village.  Like the village shops,  the petrol station was a focal point for the community, enabling human contact and the exchange of information.  Buying petrol used to be fun.  There were free gifts such as drinking glasses,  (I still have one chunky tumbler at the back of my cupboard!), coasters, sunglasses, sweets, posters.  As a little girl I remember being thrilled with a free kite.  In the UK there were Green Shield stamps, paper tokens you were given with petrol purchases that you collected and glued into a book.  The books were exchanged for gifts at a Green Shield Centre.  Petroleum companies had jolly slogans such as ‘Put a Tiger in Your Tank’  by Esso.   All that has gone.  In the eleven years since I moved to this area the few surviving petrol stations have closed.  The only remaining one is part of a large supermarket chain.  We now have to drive over fifty miles to obtain fuel and you need to plan ahead.  Life is becoming more difficult and more isolated.  There are no local jobs selling petrol, work that suited many women and students as it was part-time.

It’s sad to see the derelict petrol stations at the side of the road.  In recent years I’ve photographed the decaying buildings, old signs and rusting pumps.  Grass and weeds are reclaiming the former concrete forecourts.  I find them bleakly beautiful.  Many of the old designs had an Art Deco influence.  Will the new electric charging points of the future have the same sense of design? I fear not. The future is less concerned with aesthetics and humanity. There will be no-one to chat to about the weather when you plug your car in to an impersonal machine.

So I hope you enjoy my photographs of the bye-gone petroleum era entitled Ignition Switch.  There are more to come.

And if you are a bit of a petrol-head or have any memories to share of motoring experiences in the past I would love to hear them.  Please leave a comment.  Times must change but sometimes you can’t help wishing they would stay the same!

The Bag in the Bog

Early alarm, Tuesday, already.  Sales meeting at nine-thirty.  Me in dog house
probably.  Power shower.  Red or black, white or cream, toast or cereal?
Remember buy bread today.  Clean teeth, empty dishwasher.  Feed cat.
Defrost fish, clean shoes, forgot to floss.  More tea.  Leave note to milkman,
check e-mail.  Turn on Radio 4; spies, lies, Brexit, austerity, food banks.
Trump bombs terror, sunshine, showers, intervals, fog in parts.  Think positive.
Check bag; keys, iPhone, Mars Bar, Polos, Panadols, tampons, luminiser,
lipstick, mascara, tissues, iPad,  pen,  comb, compact mirror, sanitiser.
Stop for cash and petrol.  Text boss.  Idiot!  Check hair, OK?
Lock door.  Running late, play Taylor Swift, take short cut, Camster Cairns,
single track floating, peat bog, passing space, sleeping sheep,  speeding car.


Archaeologists believe the 3,000 year old leather pouch discovered at Camster Bog
speaks the fate of a young queen from the Plastic Period who, through folly
or misadventure, was deemed to have failed to please the Gods Apple, Mars
and Pan on whose benevolence her people depended.  She made blood sacrifice.
The pouch contained phallic objects adorned with the names of her lovers;
Elizabeth Harden, Max Fatter and Christi Door suggesting that Plastics enjoyed
multiple partners in frenzied fertility rites.  Androgyny was inevitable as male
potency and sperm count decreased.   Simple signalling and recording devices
typically used by breeding queens to attract a mate were also found at the site.
Technos hope to retrieve images which may explain why Plastics self -destructed
by releasing gender bender chemicals into the wild until the rivers ran red.


Painting by the author


No-one noticed precisely when they began to vanish
one by one, without fanfare or farewell.  Andromeda,
Cassiopeia, Hercules, King Cepheus, The Eagle, The Ram,
The Swan, The Whale, Orion and The Unicorn quietly fled.
No more wishes were left in the world but we pretended all was well.

Some blamed nuclear power, pollution, the depleting ozone layer.
Some blamed GM foods and the lack of home-grown carrots.
Some said the whole thing had been a lie, a false symbol of hope,
Christian propaganda, like the virgin birth and the three wise men.
They claimed the skies had always been an empty wasteland.

Some blamed a capitalist/militarist conspiracy, superpower
lasers and Chem Trails had dissolved every twinkle.
The Russians accused America. America accused everyone else.
As the nights hardened Daesh celebrated with mass decapitations.
Shrunken heads on poles made lanterns for the new caliphate.

At first we stopped going out, hid beyond the flicker of pixels.
But then Bot-Cops, plasma torches, quantum lights were invented.
The moon persevered in his solitary orbit.  Children sang sky shanties,
hung fake stars from silk ribbons. Sales of glitter and luminous paint
rocketed. But then we all forgot, became too busy to look up.

When the moon began to shrivel like an old man’s testicle, no-one noticed.


Invasion of the Jellyfish

This poem was inspired by Jellyfish.  They are perfect survivors.  Their translucent bodies may seem fragile but they will adapt to the most extreme conditions.  Due to global warming their numbers are increasing and huge swarms are gathering near beaches.  Environmentalists believe Jellyfish are capable of surviving even radiation and chemical pollution.


The cruellest needs of the Jellyfish Society lie
deep in green pools of contagion.  Each transparent
body, a branch, a hierarchy in the wasteland,
aesthetic as rain showering turquoise ink.
Citizens divided, pass uptown drunk with coffee,

pink sunlight sparking on the Burial Grounds of Scotland.
The physical marks grow like the tail of a crab
pinned to a donkey.  This July she is a wedge of fear
but strictly not dead.  Like most people, no heart, no brains,
no backbone, drifting in and out with the moon
trailing her dangerous
box of stings.

Memoirs of a Sea Pebble


‘Tidal’ developed from a cut-up exercise.  I find it a useful method to generate ideas and creative language.  William Burroughs pioneered the cut-up poem.  He believed they could predict the future and once said, “If you cut into the present the future leaks out”.  To make a cut-up poem take four sources of ready made text; newspapers, magazines, brochures, pages from a novel, an old poem…anything will do.  Layer the pages on top of one another and then literally cut them up into small sections using scissors. Then place all the pieces in a paper bag, shake well and take out one piece at a time.  Randomly assemble to create new poetry.  You are allowed to add more words and phrases to make your poem meaningful.  It’s a fun way to create fresh work.