As the nights draw in…

Here in the northern hemisphere, autumn is wiping its muddy feet on the mat, stippling trees in the beautiful hues of their decay. Night is claiming the hours of dawn and dusk abandoned by our hot, bright star. And winter is waiting out there, lurking on the horizon.

Which means …

… it’s almost time for curling up with a hot drink (or a glass of wine) and a good book. Escaping into fictional world. Forgetting about the leaky roof and broken boiler (sigh) and other tediously practical daily concerns.

It’s a time of year when I’m drawn to stories that speak to my inner child. ‘The Box of Delights’ by John Masefield, the Moomins hibernating – and, of course, ‘The Snow Queen.’

I’m also drawn to write my own little stories – of mystery, magic and hope in the world.

If you’ve been with me for some time, you may remember ‘Three Winters’ Tales of Darkness and Light.’ Well, the lovely picture which adorns this post is taken from – tantara – a hand-crafted, 36-page booklet containing not just those three tales but six beautiful little illustrations in black and white.

I don’t really like the ‘tantara’ bit of selling my wares, so I’m delighted that, thanks to Siân Bailey – a children’s illustrator partial to fairy tales and mythology – I can proclaim this booklet beautiful!

Siân has worked for many of the major publishing companies, such as Random House and Puffin, and I was delighted when she agreed to interpret my words. Even more so when she chose to do it with little scraper-board illustrations. My father was something of a scraper board artist, once upon a time.

I also had the pleasure of working on it with Ken Burnley at the Museum of Printing in Birkenhead, across the Mersey from Liverpool.  Ken hand-trimmed all the pages, hand-typeset and printed the cover, hand-applied the detail of one of Sian’s illustrations to the front – and then surpassed himself by sewing the thing together.

Ken turned a mere pamphlet into something for which there isn’t a good enough word (or if there is I can’t find it).  Watch the little video and you’ll see a craftsman but hear a writer (which he is) at work.


The text was perfectly printed on just the right paper by Rufford Printing Company in Lancashire.

Me? Well, I wrote the tales, which have gone down well with test readers, but if you just want something good to look at – perhaps to give as a present – you won’t be disappointed.

It’s a limited edition of 250, I am numbering them individually –  no cheating! 

The tales are for sale through my revamped online shop, click here to find out more:

 Cosi & Veyn (go to ‘Short Reads’)

If you are outside the UK please ask me for a postage price if you want more than one copy and I can send you a link for tailor-made payment. Otherwise, you may pay online by credit or debit card.

And, on another note:

I hope you have all stayed safe and well through this trying year. I suspect many of you, like me, have been reassessing what’s important in your life.  For me, that means writing. Poetry, mostly. Though the Covid crisis has wreaked havoc with my muse.

Like many people, it’s also been a time for reconnecting with old friends, virtually. And how important they were when my husband was in hospital for five days last month, (not Covid-19). Then I experienced first-hand how awful it is to have to leave a very sick person at the door and not be able to see them again until they are safe to leave.

We must all do our best to keep this trickster C-19 at bay. It doesn’t only affect those who suffer it, the tentacles reach everywhere, into the fabric of our society.

As we ride our second wave, here in Britain, I wish you, wherever you are, peace, comfort and health.

Posted in Fiction, probably | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Strange voices, strange times

I’ve always been shy, happier backstage than performing. But recently I’ve been lured into reading poetry. Invisibly!

I recently had a new (short) poem published in the first of a two-volume anthology on the theme of Deep Time from Black Bough Poetry. (Three more of mine are forthcoming in volume two).

The Deep Time theme was inspired by Underland, a book by Robert Macfarlane, writer, Cambridge Professor of English Literature and climate activist. This is what he had to say about the anthology:

It is a common trope in underworld stories from across cultures and centuries that a small entrance-point opens into complex hidden space. ‘Underland’ acted merely as that entrance-point for this ‘Black Bough’ volume; the writers and artists gathered here have carried out their own fathomings and explorations, and the result is a collection of work that feels both contemporary and mythic, urgent and ancient. Strange voices for strange times sing out here.

Faith, my poem in volume 1, is itself inspired by the first book in The Stone Book Quartet by Alan Garner. This short book felt as if it had been written for me. It’s a story of trust and confidence. Of desire and fulfilment, not always working out as expected. It is also a tale of rock and fossils. But most of all, it’s a tale of deep time.

Without further ado, here it is. All 40 sesconds of it.  I’ve put links below so you can support poetry by buying a copy, if you are able  – and feel so inclined:

Black Bough Poetry is the brainchild of a very supportive and inspiring editor,  Matthew MC Smith, as are these books.  Arresting images from Rebecca Wainwright illustrate the volume. All the poems that have been recorded for SoundCloud are listed here, as is the enigmatic theme music composed specially for the anthology by Stuart Rawlinson.


Here’s the link to Black Bough Poetry  via which you can buy Deep Time Volume 1

And here’s Underland by Robert Macfarlane

Thank you for reading – and for listening, if you have.  I really do appreciate it.

Wishing you all safety, well-being and the inner strength to cope with the uncertainty of these passing-strange times.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Reaching for the light

How are you? Contagion is not confined to the physical, is it? I hope you are coping with the anxiety, the frustration, the uncertainty.

We are living through difficult times. The way we are used to doing things has been dismantled and the pieces tossed in a jumbled heap, like a game of pick up sticks. Where will they land? What will we extract?

Who knows? Not I, certainly.

But there are also wonderful old pleasures to rediscover – sitting up till the small hours reading a children’s book in my case!

To come to the point –  I’m popping back here for two reasons.


I have a poem published in a journal called ‘Broken Spine’ the first issue of a new print poetry/photography/art journal and was asked to do a video reading. Before you sigh, anticipating a sombre reading in a moody setting, I opted to do a video composed of still pictures of our local beach, with a voice-over. I hope you will find it cheering, especially if you cannot get out to walk in the world outside.


I wrote a post about an unusual tree I came across on my ramblings, which is almost a parable for the time of Coronavirus. I posted it on my other site maidinbritain which shows off images to better advantage. It’s short – by my standards, if you have some leisure time to read it, the link’s here: Reaching for the Light.

Keep well, keep safe, keep your distance – and keep hoping.

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Nature notes, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Fancy a ramble?

I know. No more blogging I said. Well, this is the exception that proves the rule. And it’s a long one. So, make a pot of tea or coffee, cut a slice of cake – whatever you fancy – and take a break.*

*(Jill Dennison, I see you, don’t think you can hide behind that coffee cup.)

Taking time out

It’s struck me, wading daily through the mire of Twitter – a self-imposed punishment for being alive in 2019 – how many people are living in mental darkness. Existing at various stages along the spectrum of gloom and doom, from a wee bit concerned about the state of the world to outright despair.

I see and feel their anger, misery, frustration. Their cynicism, disbelief, disappointment.

When it all gets too much, if it’s not bucketing down with unreasonable rain, I try to go for a walk. A ramble, mental and physical. But if you can’t – or won’t – step out and feel the breeze, listen to the birds and smell the flowers, come with me. You’re taking a little trip.

As usual – well, as used to be usual – I may digress a bit. But feel free to stop reading right here and scroll through the pictures. There may be a few…

July 4th

A big day. But not the kind of big you’re thinking. The prof is off to Zambia. For seven weeks. To a spot where we’ve spent time together in the past . A spot remote from our urban world and almost completely devoid of communication media.

Yes, a big, quiet, crevice is about to crack open in my world.

We practice the satellite phone, prof out on the road, frowning. Me in the kitchen, waiting. Finally he gets it to work. Hooray. Emergencies covered. And off he goes. Laden, optimistic, anxious – and excited.

I’ve booked a week’s self-catering in Yorkshire at one of my favourite places. I was there around this time last year. A perfect place to forest-bathe, revel in nature, write.

Bent’s MIll seen from the rear with one of the two beautiful millponds in the foreground

The weather’s not bad. The place is the same wonderful place. I’m the same optimistic me (no, really).  What could possibly go wrong?

I climb the stone spiral stairs of the old mill, open the door into the flat and … A wave of shock hits me.

I’m lonely.

What on earth am I going to do? Why am I here? Why didn’t I stay at home?

I shut the door on the stairs. Button up my woes. Unpack. Go for a stroll with my camera.

I came determined to snap dragonflies using my new-old lens and pre-loved camera. Packed the folding chair intending to sit, patient in expectation. But. I’m too early, only damselflies are out.

Well, hey, damselflies are pretty.   And the water lilies are undeniably fabulous. Pert buds peeping through leathery leaves and blooming daily. Petals sneaking back in, curling up for the night while twilight tiptoes through the trees.

No, don’t skip this, see those little flashes of blue, they’re damselflies, moving so quickly it’s hard to catch them especially when they’re all on different timing!

Here’s a pair of damselflies … oh dear, am I a voyeuse?

Water skater and shadow, check the fly top right for scale

Water lilies and a reflection of the building. The mill is a fabulous place for reflecting, in both senses

Returning to the flat with hours to go before bedtime I realise, last year I would be going to Haworth this evening. And tomorrow and the next day and the next … celebrating Emily Bronte’s birthday. I’d also be in the company of three lovely women who welcomed this stranger into their lives.

This time I’m alone, with no commitments. And I must live with it. I’m here to write. No distractions.

But muses are fickle – and mine’s gone her own way.

Well, I’ll take a few more pictures while I… Ah. The prof’s taken my camera’s battery charger.

Retail therapy?

I ponder a drive to Ilkley and a camera shop I used last year. The prof’s not fond of Ilkley, so here’s my chance to shop and walk its famous moors. With or baht me ’at.

The shop comes up trumps (sorry for that word). Universal charger in hand I hear the siren call of fashion. Succumb to temptation. An hour later I have a new, black jumpsuit, wrapped in tissue paper, in a glamorous paper bag tied with ribbons. Leave feeling fabulous and head for t’moors.

Up there, somewhere

Hmm. Every road I turn is a ‘road closed.’

The moor does its best to put me off – and succeeds.

What now?

There are people I can call, but I promised myself no people until Monday. (A silly decision, in retrospect, the muse having snubbed me.)

I won’t trail you through the doldrums of the next two days. Let’s skip to Sunday. Turnaround day.

Making tracks

Sundays have always been a glum day for me. Childhood routines – church in the morning, roast lunch, homework, school tomorrow looming.

How to cheer the day, Yorkshire?

What about the steam train?

I’ve done that before. Twice. Sorry, what’s that? Vintage carriages?

Oh, hell, why not?

I drive to Oxenhope, jump into a carriage – seconds to spare, bearing no ticket. (It’s fine, I confessed as I hurried in – the ticket inspector joins me at the next stop.)

He’s a kindly man. Works through all the options, not allowing me to spend more than I should and soon I’m a bona fide traveller.

Steamed station master

A well-earned rest on a hot afternoon

See that casually dressed chap chatting to the engine driver?

Steam trains and their stations are friendly places. Everyone seems to have a, ‘look at us, having a lovely time,’ attitude.

The train stops again. On climbs a man in orange trousers. As we chuff-chuff off, I wonder if I missed something. Was there a troupe of Morris dancers on the platform? I go ahead and ask.

‘Are you doing something special or do you just like colourful clothes?’

‘I just like colourful clothes.’ Oops. ‘I have several pairs of different coloured corduroy trousers,’ that’s fine then, ‘though I  draw the line at pink. But I suppose my shirt is kind of pink.’

It isn’t – it’s kind of peach. And his waistcoat is green. It’s as if a leprechaun ate the cake that made Alice grow bigger.

I don’t see much of the scenery (The Railway Children was filmed here), but the men are companionable and at the end of the line we all climb out smiling.

When we start back they usher me in the direction of a very special carriage. Built by a businessman to transport him, with his chums, to and from work, it’s really something.

The businessman’s private carriage

Inside – specially made carpet and leather chairs

My companion in the luxe carriage (he was more cheerful than he looks here!)

Bevelled mirrors and picture

Just the edge of a luggage rack!

By the time we return to Oxenhope I’m happy as Larry (that’s an expression, the real one may not be at this point, given the realities of digging in great heat in Zambia).

I disembark and – lo – what’s this? A brass band?

(There are silver instruments among the brass, does that make it an alloy band?)

The alloy band

Oh frabjous day, calloo callay I chortle in my glee. Well, I don’t, but there is glee.

I have a cup of tea, wend my way back to the flat. Tired, happy, with a renewed faith in my fellow human beings.

In memory of Eric, an active volunterr, here with my tea (Idon’t like glass mugs I must admit!)

People, places and ashes

Next day, a trip to Salt’s Mill with its Hockneys and bookshop, followed by lunch with a school friend is a treat.

And, feeling more human, I finally accept that the muse has taken umbrage and give up on seeking inspiration.

The weather beams in response. Tuesday morning I fill my water bottle and head for Ilkley. I will not be diverted. There will be an open road. Any road up, like. (That’s a Yorkshire in-joke.)

Tenacious and determined I succeed. Park beneath the Cow and Calf rocks.

The little one is the calf…

And, stepping out, pass through a time warp. I’m eight years old again and homesick, staying in an outward bound centre. We walk on the moors, find the cup and ring stones and the tarn. Magic – a lake in the moors.

Up among the hot,humid, buzzing-with-insects bracken

Grown-up (ha) me sets off, eschewing anything sensible like a map. Planning a short stroll. Half an hour or so. It’s hot. I’m wearing me ‘at.

Up top, I find no tarn. No cup and ring stones. But there’s a cairn, fabulous views and a happy encounter with a woman and her dog (on a lead).

This panoramic has caught the woman walking the dog of her ill friend in the background on the right

Smaller but bigger pic!

Two and a half hours later, melting, but happy, I’m back.

The man I noticed earlier, wearing a big smile and hugging a cardboard box, is atop the rocks and a fine veil of dust is floating out, onto the still air. I guessed it was ashes. A wonderful place and day to float free of life.

I order a tuna sandwich at the cafe. Snigger along with my women neighbours who saw three girls go up the rocks in ‘the wrong kind of shoes.’

‘They came down in style, on their bottoms. We didn’t laugh or anything.’

Giggling catches, doesn’t it?

A fond last gaze at the scenery and I’m off. Home. Where butterflies are all-aflutter.

Peacock in hiding on our bench



A Comma to punctuate this crowd!

Two painted ladies

See the shadow of its gauzy wings, so unreal

Speckled wood

Small white hanging around


New direction?

I’m not unhappy to be leaving, come Wednesday. The mill’s a lovely place to stay and no doubt I’ll be back. But, next time, in company – or with a plan.

Talking of which, a very brief summary of where I am, in case you’re interested.

My down-time in Yorkshire enabled the discovery, on Twitter (it’s not all grim) of a woman, called Nikki, proprietor of ‘Splendid Stories.’ Out of my creative turmoil she summoned three pieces of advice, each of which ended with ‘focus’.


I’ve set aside the novels with which I’ve done NOTHING for over a year. I’ve set aside the short stories. I’m taking a break. When Nikki’s back from holiday and ready to give me her professional critique I will focus on getting one thing done. Then another. Then – I’ll see.

Odd, before we met she asked me to send her my poems. I’d said nothing about poetry. Yet it feels as if I’m heading that way. And a friend from college days, who’s a poet, may be running a course in November at … the mill in Yorkshire.

It’s an odd world.

So, summer passes and I walk the beach, find a wreck, meet old friends, visit a poet … a few more images:

My local beach, Ainsdale. In the distance sun glints off a ship leaving Liverpool, hills of north Wales dimly visible in the far background

In the other direction Southport and Blackpool

The tide was the farthest out I have yet seen it and it uncovered this – our coast has several old wrecks that emerge now and then

Log, left by the tide, looking like a canoe to carry me away!

The weather’s not always fine… Rain at sea soon spread to me

And that rain wanted in – in to my house! Our upside down house was having its roof replaced (there is no ceiling, the inside of the roof is wood lined) and a monsoon strength downpour happened before it was finished

Persist with this little video, it’s poor quality is down to rain, traffic and me – but it’s so sweet, so olde English.

And so to that poet – Deb Alma, the author of ‘The Emergency Poet’ who is setting up a Poetry Pharmacy in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, in an old ironmonger’s shop.

The old shop being refurbished

Deborah Alma, a prescribing poet to alleviate the discomfort of our woes!


Well, sorry to keep you so long, hope your tea or coffee lasted the course.

One final thing – I’ve talked my way into being writer-in-residence for a local nature reserve. As I write, there’s nowhere online to post, but we’re working on it. I’ll pop links on here. And here are a few pictures I took there last week intending to write about August and the fairies flying…

Swan, reflecting

Fairy, resting. Catch one carefully, make a wish then let it go

Natural grace and beauty in decay

Enjoy what’s left of the summer – or winter, depending on your hemisphere.

Meanwhile, wishing you happy blogging and reading – and rambling.

And, live for the day.

One last image, read the caption:

At one of my favourite places I got chatting to a man who had cared for his father, who had dementia, for 10 years. After his death he met a woman, they became friends, but she soon began to suffer early onset Alzheimers. He brought her here. He pointed out to me this clump of trees – she saw not trees but a caterpillar. We need each other, don’t we?

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Nature notes, Thinking, or ranting, or both, Uncategorized, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Just to let you know…

… that, despite my ‘leaving‘, I do still write and if you are suffering withdrawal symptoms (imagine a wry smile with that), not only is there my other blogging site (something coming there soon) but this has just been published on Visual Verse: An Anthology of Art and Words, which publishes a visual prompt and invites submissions of between 50-500 words written within one hour.

I shall pop back with any further news, as and when there is any.

Bye for now!

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments


There are so many ways of leaving, of ending things, aren’t there?

Paul Simon sang of fifty.

Which reminds me of ‘Still Crazy After All These Years.’

Which reminds me of a sad end to a strange relationship. But that’s by the by – and I won’t be writing about it. Ever.


When I say ways of leaving, I mean more than just the means, but the tone, the demeanour, the…

Oh, hell, let’s get on with it.

I began blogging in 2012. In 2013 I wrote a post about ageing, make-up, invisibility. The way women vanish into nana-hood, whether or not they’re nanas, as they pass through the middle years.

As I was packing for a trip to see family in Texas I received an email.

That post had been ‘Freshly Pressed’ by WordPress.

In a state of slight shock and suppressed excitement I endured the contorted, 20 hour voyage to Austin.

I’ve always loved this, taken in Rippy’s feed store in Dripping Springs, Texas, not too far from Austin, so mildly relevant

On arrival I checked my emails. Responses poured in. Ten, thirty, fifty – and counting.

The tally of my followers leapt from twelve into the hundreds.

It kept on rising slowly – and still ticks up. Though, unlike one of my favourite bloggers, Heide, I can’t number my followers in tens of thousands, just one thousand and seven hundred.

But 1700’s not bad, I tell myself, for a moody nonentity with a penchant for writing what she wants, when she wants, not playing by the blogging ‘rules’.

And so I had an audience.

I was part of a community.

Then the ‘leavings’ began. And I don’t mean what you might think.

It started with Australian blogger, ‘Tess,’ on her ‘Journey Called Life.’ We developed a real friendship, had much in common.

A week after a road trip ended there were, unusually, no new posts. No reply to my contacts. I rootled around, found a Facebook page. An announcement from her husband.

She’d died, after a one-week illness.

Another ‘friend’ who lived in the Philippines – we’d wave at each other across the globe –   vanished, though she’s still, in theory, a follower. I just don’t know what happened to her.

And then, there are those, still following, who’ve found better things to occupy their time. Or don’t enjoy my new directions.

Well, we all change. Our interests change.

Politics to nature. Ranting to creating. Memoir to miscellania. We may not enjoy those changes, stop reading.

And yet. I still felt part of a community.

Alone as I am, much of the time, I thought of the handful of you –  out of 1700 – who comment and like, whose blogs I read when I can, as my friends. My workmates.

And there was still the original motivation, to record some personal stuff so that, one day, family members who’d forgotten or never knew what I’d done –  or, like my sister*  got the stories wrong – could read my versions of events.

*(She argued – with me – that I’d been dumped by a long-term boyfriend in Swaziland. It was the other way round. You can find the real, bizarre story in instalments here.)

Swaziland. Me, taking a break and reading Brideshead Revisited


As Christmas approached, this year, I’d begun to write my annual seasonal stories, when …


That’s how it felt.

An email from one of my (comparatively rare) male followers. Telling me not to waste my time writing for ‘Husk’. Because you lot are, he reckoned, a ‘limited’ and ‘not really interested’ community.

I fumed, but only at his insensitivity. It didn’t bother me, otherwise, and I blithely carried on writing part 2 of my seasonal tale.

That evening, I read it aloud to the prof, at his request, when he came home from work.

I was floating on a fuzzy cloud of unusually high morale at the time, only enhanced by his ecstatic (by his standards) response.

Then he said, ‘You can’t post them online, now.’


‘It’s too good, you really need to get these published properly.’

Now, if I was a child in one of those marshmallow experiments where you get rewarded for waiting, not eating your allotted sweets, I’d be the one who ate them almost straight away. (And I’d probably have cried when the other, more patient types got their bonus marshmallows.)

Not marshmallows. Flying saucers from our local newsagents. 3 pence each.

Not put them online? Wait? Be patient?

I plummeted to earth. Beyond, actually. Bit of a pit.

Had a bad night’s sleep, thinking uncomfortable thoughts.

Joining some dots.

For example: I’d been reading a draft of a novel written by a fellow blogger and follower, surprised at how good it was (forgive me if you’re reading this). Her blog posts had not led me to believe… well, let’s leave it there.

Which made me think. Had I been doing this all wrong? Expending my energies in the wrong place?

There was more. The dispiriting lack of response to certain posts, for example. But I won’t go on, it sounds too petty.

These dots began to form a picture as I applied the pencil of 3 am thinking.

I’ve been expending much of my creative energy on something that brings me some joy and a small but kind audience. That helps me reduce my buzz of thoughts to a manageable din.

But it’s also frustrating. I write what I think is a piece of great prose, a justified rant. Recount a lovely nature walk. Tell a great story.

Tens of people view it. Three people like it.

And everyone is so busy. So many demands on our time, attention, resources – of all kinds.

‘Real’ friends who don’t actually follow me tell me in Christmas cards, or by email, that they read my posts, but most of them never comment, or otherwise engage.

Yes, I’ve benefited hugely from honing my craft. From stepping out of the shadows. But it’s begun replacing other things I could – and should – be doing.

It’s become an obligation to an indefinable something.

And it’s time to let it go.


Thank you, everyone who’s bothered to comment, converse, share, or even, on occasion, send me real things in the post.

I’m leaving the archive here. The URL will be converted to in a few months’ time.

Meanwhile, I plan to do more posts on where I write about what is (or was) made and done in these wonderful islands – wonderful, despite the depressing, distressing state of our politics.

So, if you who enjoy my posts about history, printing, making, manufacturing, doing, conserving or excavating, please pop over there and follow me.  And if you see maidinbritain  following you, that’ll be me (it’s the nickname ‘Still Crazy’ man gave me) .

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart for six years of your company. For keeping me  somewhat sane.

I wish you all the best for 2019 – and always.

And plan to carry on being:

Posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

Madonna of the Penultimate Train

Not the last train, the one before. Packed, but not rowdy. Not teetering, precariously, on the border between alcoholic hilarity and boozed belligerence, like the last train of the night.

The seats are arranged in fours. Rows of two-seats-facing-two-seats running either side of narrow aisles.

A group of four young men with perma-grins, knees twitching, phones clasped in hands, tolerates an enforced interval. An interval in what? Smoking, drinking, war-gaming? I’ll leave the possibilities there, though there are others, places I don’t want to go.

And they sound quite normal. Heads-back, mouth-open laughter mingling with cries of ‘boss’ and ‘sound’ – and not too many expletives deleted. Nice lads, perhaps.

An older couple sits, side by side, programmes held aloft. Whether they’re really re-reading the (classical) concert notes or warding off the world it’s hard to say. He wears a hat. She wears a proper coat. And leather gloves.

The carriage is full. But the noise is muted, for the time of night and the time of week, Thursday going on weekend.

Across the aisle, in the parallel foursome, three male individuals sit. One lolls, head against the window, adding another greasy smear to the picture formed by other heads and fingers.

One chews on a thumb.  Twitches now and then in his seat. Stares around the carriage, as if looking for a lost friend – or enemy.

The other reads a book. Yes, a book.

The picture fades to black and white. The volume is turned right down on laughter, shuffling, coughing, sneezing – and conversation.

The fourth seat, next to the aisle, diagonally opposite me, is all there is.

A picture in full colour.

A three dimensional image, standing out against the flat backdrop of monotone shades.

A young woman. But young only in physical form.

A Mona Lisa without the supercilious smile. A Black Madonna who’s not black, not an icon, not a painting, but three dimensional  flesh and blood.

A statue brought to life, warm, living, breathing. Though you can’t see the movement.

She sits, hands on lap, looking straight ahead. But seeing – what?

There’s something about this person, her eyes, her un-self-conscious poise, her stillness – her depth – that makes me wonder.

‘Don’t stare,’ he says, the man I married. But he stares too.

‘She doesn’t see,’ I say. And it’s true.

Her eyes are so compelling. Full of mystery. As if she has known the woes of the world. Pain – and lost joy.

It’s the second week of Advent. Christmas not too far away.

I think of that young woman, two thousand years ago, or so. Giving birth to a boy-baby. In a stable. Her joy at holding a healthy child. Secure in the love of a husband – tolerant, given the circumstances.

Safe, despite the occupation of their homelands.

Or were they safe?

The strange men who came from the East, with gifts meaning – what? Did they really follow a star?

What did they think of this babe in arms, who did they think he might be?

And that King the wise men spoke with, Herod. Their warnings about his intentions.

A fearful king. So afraid of an infant pretender he had all male babies murdered.

The young mother’s joy at that birth – how long did it last?

How soon did that first Madonna know that her son, who found an independent voice so young, who said he must be about his father’s business, who learned the carpenter’s trade but gave it up and left to wander and preach – would die a brutal death?

A carpenter’s son. Nailed to the very wood that had been his family’s living. In agony.

When I think about my Madonna of the Penultimate Train, when I remember her face, I see a tear escaping, rolling down one smooth, perfect, healthily plump cheek from one of her dark, limpid eyes.

I see her blink. And her hands fold back on her lap, like a dove settling on warm grass, after brushing one tear away.

But there were no tears. She did not cry.

And as the train pulled into her station she rose, walked to the doors and was gone.

More than five years have passed – and still I can see her. Still imagine her.

And still, I wonder.

A beautiful Black Madonna from Wroclaw, Poland

I brought this post forward a few days as I have decided not to finish this little series of pen portraits and have another, non-seasonal one, waiting in the wings.

The flight of Mary and Joseph put me in mind of those fleeing persecution with little or nothing to their names. So here are contact details for some more charitable organisations, this time helping refugees – there will only be more as our climate changes and conflicts continue  – and children in need worldwide.

This came up on my Facebook feed this week and for once their intrusion was welcome. A great idea, a shop where you can buy things for refugees, in real life or online:

I know some people don’t feel the UN gives value for money but good people in the UNHCR and UNICEF do a lot of valuable work both with refugees and for children:

The flight into Egypt of Mary, Joseph & baby Jesus to escape the slaughter of innocents by King Herod. Paining on the wall of Helga Trefaldighets Kyrka (Holy Trinity Church) Uppsala, Sweden

And the slaughter.


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