Category Archives: Family

In lieu of another

It’s hard to sew being so very slow.
There’s a precision required
that is rarely used in these particular days.
Did my grandmother say the same?
Probably not, for she would have practiced the skill
and not as an art form, but a practical necessity.
The saving of socks and the counting of buttonholes.
Yet in this unraveled sleeve where the cuff
has loosened itself a good three inches round
there are many stitches needed
through and back and over again
to bridge the widening gap.

It is not men alone who no longer sew
or know much of its doing.
It is one of the older active verbs
which has been replaced
by the conglomerate of buying instead.
And it’s true that I caused Mister Claus
to bring me an exact brother
to this simple hooded sweatshirt (blue)
color may vary due to unique drying process
but still, I’m not prepared or ready
to throw away this first version I fell in love with.
Loyalty and sentiment extend beyond dogs and girls.

Problems remain however with the slowness of my inefficiency.
These sutures are clumsy, leaving a ragged scar,
but in the end closure is complete and my sense of simple Zen
by these selfless moments is, if not made anew, at least repaired.


Toast Soldiers

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
Albert Einstein

We had soldiers too, I’m sure most children in Britain did and do. Same marshaled strips, little platoons of German doughboys ready to bravely go head first (in my mind they always went head first) into the albumen-surrounded yellow furnace of certain death, from which they emerged, miraculously, horribly scalded, disfigured, but still hanging on by a thread, before, in a savage yet utterly moral dénouement, their young English adversary in his pajamas (for it was me) chomped down on them like a shark on a herring, and time and time again the breakfast war was won and the world made safe before school.

However, it is obvious to me that some who write of this type of food come from a far more well-to-do family than ours, which was poor but honest (largely). Our soldiers were only ever bread and butter, never toast, for Mother didn’t believe in accustoming us to habits that took any extra work on her part or added expense to the family purse. Her honorific of choice was (and still is) the Mistress of Reduction. As an example, upon hearing that her only son was going to have his first child she said, in friendly but serious tones, “Don’t start off by warming his milk. He’ll know no different and like it well enough cold.” As surely I had learned to like it also, no doubt.

It’s a sensible idea, even a clever idea, but one could hardly consider it a nurturing idea. I think much of her persistent parsimony can be traced back to the years of rationing after the second world war when there was much want, even more need, and damn little in the pantry. And that was true for people who had pantries, which Mother’s family did not, although they were inordinately proud to be one of the few families on their little terraced street of slums that had their own outside toilet, rather than having to share a midden with four other houses, as most there did.

The scarcity principle is a hard to shake, leaving many with a lifelong fear of lack, even years later when their circumstances have much improved. On top of that is the fierce pride that many poor people have, especially the British, as regards being seen to be poor. This was the elbow grease that saw all the front steps rubbed in a bright red polish and woe betide a housewife who did any less, for she would bear the brunt of gossip and reproval.

Unlike the other people who lived on our street, and who wore the same sorts of clothes, bought the same sort of food and might have also had a household appliance or two bought on the never never or hire-purchase from the local Co-op, we were not poor, this was according to Mother. We just suffered through brief periods of impecunity which lasted most of the time. Fine. Bread and butter soldiers, but “take it easy on the butter young-un, that’s pat’s got to last ’til Friday,” (payday, of course).

While I couldn’t in all conscience buy a machine to cut a slice of bread into more slices (unless you consider a knife a machine, which some do), I have lately begun eating soldiers again for breakfast. I think this is in preparation for encouraging my son to do the same. He isn’t a good eater. Not fussy perhaps, but just not very interested. Ritual is all with some kids, and Finn seems to be in that camp and thus we have waffles on Sunday mornings, because waffles and maple syrup are great (I repeatedly announce), and thus they are what we have on Sunday morning, and there is no room for discussion because marketing has taken all of the air out of the room, leaving not an inch of space for pondering whether waffles are indeed (or not) what might be wanted.

During the week, and despite the fact that he’s three already, can read words from the newspaper, and holds fairly complex conversations, I still feed him his yogurt, because it’s far quicker to do so, and the thing gets eaten rather than worn. Yes, it is irritating (especially when worse from the previous night’s drinking) to be up early making airplane noises as you mimic the incoming craft that is the yogurt spoon approaching the hangar of your child’s uncertain gob. And it can also get old pleading that said gob be opened to allow the plane to deposit its cargo that will then go “… down the little red lane!” of said boy’s throat. But it does the job.

The introduction of soldiers will, for one or two mornings a week, allow a new routine, a new tradition as it were. One that he will look back on as I look back myself. I have promised myself however that there will never be a shortage in the amount of butter made available to him, for as Wayne Dyer has noted, abundance is not something we acquire, it is something we tune into. I promise to make the signal as strong as it can be.

[I wrote this a long time ago. It was true. And I did.]

Beloved Migrant

One of the problems
with the muscle of language
as it continues to develop
is the precise manner
it may choose to express itself.

I cleaned my morning teeth
head still wooly and unclear
amass with sleep
and observed myself considering
the child who lives here
as a mostly ‘feral little chancer’.

An uncharitable assessment
for a father to dismiss a son with
but also at root an accurate one
as regards all children and most dogs.

He has not yet learned the artifice
of controlling his body in space
how to appear as one thing
while truly feeling another
the essential social lies of the adult
who wishes to be liked and loved.

He wants to please certainly
but bathes otherwise in the ignorance
of the unconditionally loved
a perfect country before the borders close.

-May 30th 2013


They say in a prison
any gulag or road gang
a spoon is a man’s most valuable item
he can scoop and cut and drink with it

and after all a watery soup
of some kind of porridge
is what you might be grateful
to be eating.

In the solitary of living alone
albeit a short sentence
while my family are elsewhere
and I am here unfiltered

I look into the kitchen sink each morning
to see four or five spoons
and nothing else to be washed
for everything I needed was done right there.

Rain and fire

After many days of sun
here comes its equal opportunity brother
the New England rain

just cold enough
even on these last days of June
to cause consideration of the wood stove

not only as an object of mechanical beauty
but also for its immediate capability
to warm flesh and memory both.

We lived here in the East
before then moving to the West
for reasons of broken hearts

and alcoholism
the requirements of a fresh start
and a change in all the weather.

And it was effective mostly
for it’s a dry heat they have there in Texas
despite the many bars.

But while we are alive again now
we are partially also gone soft.
in ways I wouldn’t alter

Perhaps these are connected states
just as Maine and Austin
will also now for always be.

The bloodstream
filtered only by coffee
is thin and clear these mornings

as I sweep the ashes out
and see the wood of our days
so thankfully rekindled.

Buttering the cat’s paws

All the grown-up women I knew when a child in London in the 1960s would unwrap half-pound packets of butter, put the butter in the butter dish, and then fold the paper packets in half lengthways and put them, with others already so collected, somewhere dedicated for the purpose in their fridge.

These were then taken out as needed to grease cake tins and bread pans when baking and provided a degree of non-stickness that is today more commonly achieved by a combination of Teflon and/or Pam (an invidious spray if it hasn’t gotten to you from America yet)

My father’s mother used these butter papers for this purpose, but she also used them to butter the cat’s paws.

I can’t say exactly how often she would do this, but we went for Sunday tea every fortnight and every second or third visit, after the washing up had been done and the little kitchen in her council house in Greenford was perfectly spick-and-span, she’d get a serious look on her serious face and ask of those who were sat in front of the telly to watch the football highlights “Have you seen our Minnie?

Her rationale was that the cat, deeply offended at having its paws forcibly greased, would then lick said paws and wash away at the rest of her fur, as cats will, and by transferring the butter to her coat, the lustrously healthy sheen that Minnie always displayed would be continued and ensured.

If you put “Butter the cat’s paws” into the search engines  it returns mention that buttering the cat’s paws when moving into a new house will ensure that said pet will not run away. This superstition is new to me.

Unfortunately my dear Nanny is long since gone and thus I cannot ask her. Minnie is also no longer with us, but in memory she always did have the most wonderful coat.