The Day Room

She doesn’t look up,
swaddled in pink toweling.
Dinner in the Day Room, haddock on a tray,
the old queen who lost her soldiers slumps an empty table.
Above her head the TV plays silent memories,
survival of the fittest in exotic locations.
A lioness stalks prey while another dies.
She doesn’t look up when I speak.
Lips rotate, chewing, tasting the sins of the world
cut up in pieces.  Her hand trembles as she adds salt.
My absent presence, invisible bones on the edge of her plate.
She starts on the sponge pudding with custard.
She doesn’t look up when I leave.

She doesn’t look up when I leave.
She starts on the sponge pudding with custard,
my absent presence, invisible bones on the edge of her plate.
Cut up in pieces, her hand trembles as she adds salt.
Lips rotate, chewing, tasting the sins of the world.
She doesn’t look up when I speak.
A lioness stalks prey while another dies,
survival of the fittest in exotic locations.
Above her head the TV plays silent memories.
The old queen who lost her soldiers slumps an empty table,
dinner in the Day Room, haddock on a tray.
Swaddled in pink toweling,
she doesn’t look up.


Original Photographic image created by the author

The Day Room is an example of a specular poem – the second stanza mirrors the first.  Please see  a-poem-for-remembrance-day  for another example.

Remain Strong

Frida Kahlo is my third choice for The Purple Hermit Hall of Fame, my regular feature on disability and resilience.  I first discovered her paintings when I was a mature student at Art School.  I was drawn to the surrealist images, folk art style and vibrant colours.  It was rare to see such powerful images of pain and disability.  Frida’s work was autobiographical.  She was fearless in her honesty, exposing vulnerabilities, her emotional and physical suffering. But at the same time there was a joyousness in her painting.  Frida Kahlo was a passionate woman.  She loved people and animals, she loved the world.

The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo

When I learned more about her life-story I was struck by the many similarities with my own and she became one of my artistic and personal influences.  Frida was born in Mexico in 1907, just three years before the start of the revolution.  Her father was a German immigrant who ran a photography business and her mother was Mexican.   Frida contracted polio at the age of six.  She missed time at school and was bullied by other children.  She was set apart from siblings by her illness which left her with a wasted limb, one leg shorter than the other.  Her father began to take a special interest in her and taught her photography, philosophy and literature.

At the age of eighteen Frida was involved in a horrific street-car accident which left her with severe, permanent injuries and a life-long legacy of health problems and chronic pain.  Surgical interventions by doctors were disasterously unsuccessful.  She had to abandon her education and her ambition to become a doctor.  She spent months in recovery and in isolation, confined to a bed where she began to paint using a specially made easel with a mirror.  Her work explored identity and included many self-portraits.

Self-portrait with the portrait of Doctor Farill by Frida Kahlo

In 1927 Frida joined the Mexican Communist Party where she met her future husband, the famous muralist Diego Rivera.  Throughout her life she was politically active campaigning for peace, equality and the promotion of Mexico.  She chose to dress in traditional Mexican clothes as a gesture of  support for her native culture and a rejection of U.S. ideological dominance.  However, later in her career she travelled and work in the U.S. where her art was enthusiastically received.

Diego and Frida had a turbulent relationship punctuated by extra marital affairs on both sides.  At one point they divorced and later remarried.  Frida was a sexually liberated woman having affairs with both men and women.  One of her lovers was the revolutionary Leon Trotsky.  She defied many social expectations of how women, let alone a disabled woman, were supposed to behave.  Even today, disability and sex is a taboo subject.  But Frida let nothing stand in the way of her passion and being true to herself. She used her experiences as a disabled woman in a positive way, channelling her pain into amazing art.  Towards the end of her life her health problems became more debilitating and she suffered greatly both physically and mentally.

Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird by Frida Kahlo

Kahlo pre-empted Tracey Emin’s controversial unmade bed installation by about fifty years.  In 1953 doctors had advised her not to attend the opening of her first solo exhibition saying she needed bed rest.  So Frida arranged for her four poster bed to be taken to the gallery and she arrived there by ambulance on a stretcher.  She stayed in bed while the party unravelled around her.

Since her death in 1954, possibly by suicide, she has been adopted as an icon by various political and feminist groups.  It’s strange that her disability is often minimised in biographies even though it was plainly part of her identity as evidenced by her own paintings.  Her art grew directly out of her experience of disability.  But perhaps it’s too much of a challenge for many people to reconcile negative stereotypes regarding disabled women and the vivid truth of Frida Kahlo’s life as a beautiful, charismatic and talented artist.

Tree of Hope, Remain Strong by Frida Kahlo, 1946.


Absent Without Leave


Flat on his bed in ICU, he reads pillow stories;
starched landscapes of the broken
road to Basrah carved in skin.

Beyond the window Wakefield drifts,
wet roofs and one naked
willow under billowing skies. He twists

that way, this way to see the tree
and Nil by Mouth taped to iron railings
while dust and paint shavings tally

time. The clock on the wall clings
forever to five to five.
His mouth is a desert storm.

In the morning, soft shoes slip slap on linoleum.
Nurses giggle, shuffle behind trolleys of tea,
dispensing toast and potions of sweet opium.

At night, they play cards under a green lamp.
Out of range, the falcon’s shadow
maps his name on the wall.


Original photograph by the author


Pills, Thrills and Cake

When I was nine years old the nurses put a strip of leather between my teeth to stop me screaming  from the pain of a spinal haemorrhage. That was the sixties solution to pain relief for children.

Since then I’ve tried many prescription painkillers doled out by doctors. Tramadol, Solpadol, Paracetamol, Co-proxamol, Codeine, Morphine, Gabopentin,…the list goes on.  Most of them did nothing for my pain levels but added to my health problems.  I would have more respect for doctors if they had the guts to be truthful about the side-effects of medication they prescribe.  But the majority of the medical profession exist in a state of self-glorification and denial of the reality of their patients’ experience.  Severe abdominal pain, nausea, dizziness, diarrhoea, slurring of speech, hallucinations, lack of coordination, mental confusion, tremors, blood clots, haemorrhaging, insomnia and various other delights await those who naively listen to doctors and swallow their little pills.

The only helpful painkiller I’ve ever had was Co-proxamol.  It enabled me to live an almost normal life.  There were no side-effects. I took it safely and without abusing the dose for twenty five years.  It was a miracle drug that helped thousands of pain sufferers in the UK, those with muscular skeletal problems in particular.

In June, 2016 the British Pain Society’s research revealed that chronic pain affects more than two fifths of the UK population, meaning that around 28 million adults are living with pain that lasts for three months or longer.  So it’s a scandal that the National Health Service, or more precisely the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) withdrew Co-proxamol from the market in 2005 even though it had been in common use for nearly one hundred years.  At first those who were unable to tolerate any other pain killer, like myself, were told they would be exempt from the ban.  They were placed on a Named Patient List which was supposed to ensure they would never be left without an essential drug.  In the following years all that has changed.  This list, if it ever existed in the first place, has been forgotten.  Since 2016 Co-proxamol has been taken away from everyone unless you have a doctor brave enough to risk his/her license by prescribing it.  (If something went wrong such a doctor could be sued).

The official reason for this ban is that Co-proxamol is linked to a high number of suicides.  But so are many other drugs that are still available.  And the irony is that doctors are now prescribing much more powerful and addictive alternatives such as morphine.  So rather than protecting patients with the ban they are leaving them to suffer without any pain relief or putting them at risk from dangerous drugs.  The overdose figures for Tramadol and anti-depressants have escalated since 2005.  The NHS saved over nine million pounds with the Co-proxamol ban.  It’s a cruel and heartless decision that should never happen in a civilized country.

I’ve found this post very difficult to write but I feel it’s important to publicize this issue.  The internet pain forums are full of heart-breaking stories by people who have had their lives ruined by the Co-proxamol ban.  They should not be forgotten.

My way of coping with pain levels is by concentrating on the positives in my life.  Art, poetry, Mindfulness Meditation, music, animals, spending time outside also help.  Some days are better than others.  This afternoon I felt so depressed due to writing this article I went back to bed.  The storm raging outside was also raging in my head.  I felt angry with the Establishment, the doctors, the Government, the ones who control how we live or whether we live at all.

In the film, ‘Cake’ Jennifer Aniston puts in a worthy performance as a woman dealing with chronic pain and grief.  It’s a tough film to watch.  At the turning point her attitude changes after the baking of a cake. And its true that little things really matter.  This afternoon when I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself I made blueberry pancakes.   I feel much better now!

Please sign a petition to the British Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt asking him to reverse the Co-Proxamol ban and restore hope to sufferers of chronic pain by clicking below:-

Thank you!