Monthly Archives: April 2016

No two moments



No two moments are the same.

The vision framed by my window is just a tiny portion of the world.
I can’t even see what is behind this building
or those things to each side.
My sight stretches to the brow of a hill less than three miles away.
By day it this horizon is marked by cars driving along the highway
while at night it is marked out by a broken chain of overhead lights
beneath which the headlamps chase each other in both directions.

No two moments are the same.

even as my tired braincells waver and expire
beneath skin wrinkling with age
babies are screaming at the first shock of air on their skin,
their fresh cells reproducing as they feed,
and out there, for further than the eye can see,
invisible things are happening,
in the air, on the earth and beneath it.
Things too tiny to comprehend,
involving creatures of amoebic proportions,
and larger events which are easy to see.
Always since the beginning of time, this has been so.

No two moments are the same.

It could not be otherwise.
We let it pass without thought or comment,
but sometimes we wee something and we recognose its beauty.
It may be a rare sight, or something not out of the ordinary
which strikes us, just this once, for some unknowable reason.
This evenong I had one of those moments. I was sleepy
and thinking of taking an early night for a change.
I keep my curtains open all night,
so I can see the sky as it changes

No two moments are the same.

There have been some beautiful sunsets lately
and tonight was no exception.
It was full of orange and blue.
I have painted my bedroom in these shades
to remind me of the evening sky.
I watched until the amber disappeared,
and then carried on with my writing.
After a while I looked up again, and it was as if the sky
was draped in rippled satin fabric of purest silk
in the shade of the bluest eyes,
and lightly illuminated from behind.

No two moments are the same.

I must have seen similar sights over the years.
Perhaps it wasn’t particularly dramatic, but at that moment
its loveliness caught at my throat.
I could so easily have missed it,
and never had the chance again.
Although I may see many skies of similar beauty,
I am glad I looked up when I did,
because no two moment are the same.

©Jane Paterson Basil


#AtoZ Challenge Zonked


I could have gone for zest or zeal,
but it’s not the way I feel.
When I zipped through the dictionary
Zinnia appealed to me,
but I’m feeling too sleepy
though their blooms are sweet.
While Zirbanit and Zakuski
don’t mean a thing to me,
a poem about Zamite
would have been a treat
if I could work up the energy
to learn about Geology,
but now I want to snuggle up
with the weight off my feet.
So today’s word is zonked
and any minute now
I will fall asleep.


©Jane Paterson Basil

Reaching out


This is the beginning of my fifth week at the women’s gym. I try to attend six times out of seven but it doesn’t always happen. Because my life is irregular I go at different times every day; my schedule depends largely on what others expect of me.

There’s an unhappy woman. She has long blonde hair, often stretched into a ponytail. Her arms are inked and she exudes a suffering which feels familiar. I sense her effort to do well,

to be well,

as she courageously fights what she sees as a shameful relationship with failure, and a lack of faith in success.

I feel drawn to her.

I always hope she will be there when I am, but she usually isn’t.

At first I felt intimidated by her presence because I naturally shy away from those who interest me.

One day a couple of weeks ago as I was walking along a quiet alley, our paths crossed. She glanced at me, then quickly looked away. I wasn’t offended. I regularly ask myself why anybody would want to know me, suspecting that if they took the trouble they would only be disappointed.

Reclusiveness is a habit that is hard to break.

Today she was at the gym and something I said made her laugh. The humour put us in the same place and in that moment



shifted, just a little, and I knew we could be friends.

I felt her hunger, her ache, although, for what, was not yet clear. I only knew that I must hold on, I had to strengthen the connection.

After the session I was in the changing room talking to another member about children, chocolate cake, and how successfully exercise stimulates the endorphines. Just as she was leaving the woman with the tattoos walked in, catching the tail end of our conversation, and joining in with a comment or two.

I had an inspiration.

The way the conversation was going made it easy to tell her that exercising had negated my need for medication. As I named the drugs I had been prescribed I could feel her heartrate increase. She opened up and told me about her difficulties..

She blurted out her diagnosis in a rush, as if it was the only way she could find the courage to tell me. Just three words:

I’m Bi-Polar.

I saw how she regretted the telling. I saw her spirit shrink from me, her body recede, then, fearfully, she added

You probably don’t want to know me now.

I felt like holding her, rocking her in my arms

as if she was a child,

as if the cure was that simple,

but you don’t do that to a stranger when you’re standing half-naked in a changing room.

Instead I tried to reassure her, but she wasn’t convinced. She said that because of her condition, her friends had all deserted her. She said

Now you know about me I don’t suppose you’ll speak to me again.

What humiliations had she endured to make her believe such a thing? I felt like crying.

When she said I won’t hurt you, tears misted  my eyes.

How must it feel to be terrified of the world, and at the same time to believe it fears and dispises you?

I know she is right; there are timid people out there who would be frightened of her, there are heartless bullies who like to victimise those at a disadvantage to themselves, and there are people who can’t be bothered with the complications of mental illness, but I am not one of them.

I can feel her worthiness, and I will get that knowledge across to her. I will even find out what her name is. For me, standing in front of someone and asking their name is a big step in a scary direction.

©Jane Paterson Basil

#AtoZ Challenge #Yeast


When I think of yeast I’m reminded of the ginger beer plant my mother was given, back in the 60’s. A ginger beer plant is similar to a sourdough starter, but is more difficult to make. The original ginger beer plant dates back to  the 18th century; it is a combination of the yeast Saccharomyces florentinus and the bacterium Lactobacillus hilgardii. Unlike modern plants which use Brewers Yeast, it produces an unfermented, and therefore non-alcoholic beverage, suitable for the whole family. Although the original plants are now available via the internet, they all but died out during World War 2, so mum considered herself lucky to have aquired one.

Traditionally, before making each fresh batch of ginger beer, the plant would be split in half, and one half would be given away, while the other half was split in two. One portion would be made into ginger beer, while the other porion was left to grow – and so it continued.

At first…

At first my siblings and I were ecstatic – particularly my eldest brother Angus who has a particular passion for ginger. Suddenly there was an endless supply of that beautiful, fizzy. warming, thirst-quenching drink, and when mum began handing out the plants to friends and neighbours they were equally happy. For many of them it brought back childhood memories of those days before the war, when their mothers had similar plants.

We lived in a small rural community. For women, social life mostly consisted of going to Womens’ Institute meetings, church, (for those who weren’t married to rabid, controlling atheists such as my father) and drinking tea in each other’s kitchens. My mother’s circle was wider than those of her neighbours, so it was a while before the ginger beer plant showed its true colours.

She gave a ginger beer plant to her lovely lesbian friends, a couple who lived in another village, about five miles away.

The next plant went to Trudi, who lived about five minutes walk away.

She gave one to Mike and Molly, who ran the folk club in a nearby town, and lived about fifteen miles away.

Margaret, who lived just up the road, had one.

She handed them out to anyone who was willing to take them – artists, musicians, her friends at the Scottish Country Dance Group, shopkeepers, the people she worked with – it saddened her that the homeless man with whom she was friendly had nowhere to make ginger beer, not that it was his preferred tipple anyway.

After a while…

After a while, in north Devon, there were hotspots where Ginger beer was as plentiful as tap water.

Mum tried to give a plant to the wife of a local farmer. She didn’t want it. Trudi had aleady given her one. She offered one to a teacher at the primary school in the nearby village, but she’d got one from the headmaster’s wife.

The ginger beer supply had reached saturation point, and yet still the plant kept expanding. All the people we knew were trying to give each other ginger beer plants, but everybody already had one.

The village was trying to raise money to   build a new village hall. The Womens Institute had come up with the innovative idea of opening a transport cafe. This transport cafe was housed in the old village hall, and was open for business throughout the night once a week, and on that night, from my bedroom window half a mile away, I could see the headlights of lorries as they pulled in, and when they left.

I had a mental image of each driver walking into the hall anticipating a slap-up breakfast, only to find himself surrounded by women who clutched his sleeve, sank to their knees in front of him and tried  to thrust ginger beer plants into his hands, all the time begging and wailing “Take mine, please, kind sir, take mine.”


The day came when my mother split her ginger beer plant, but couldn’t get anyone to take it. The next time she made ginger beer she felt compelled to produce a double batch in the hope that she would manage to give some away, but nobody wanted it because they already had too much of their own. She tried to pursuade us to drink extra, but the stomach cna only contain a finite amount of fluid, and anyway, it didn’t taste the same as it used to, because she was so sick of making it that she’d become sloppy with measuring out the ingredients.

That’s when I knew the ginger beer plant was a tyrant. It wanted to be in every household in the world, to enslave the entire population, to force everyone to make rivers of ginger beer which would drown us, before flowing into the oceans all over the planet, turning everything it touched into ginger beer. It was a conspiracy. The ginger beer plant wanted to drown us in sweet nectar.


Eventually, Mum, her friends and her neighbours must have realised the truth, because one by one they destroyed the plants.


Sometimes we missed mum’s ginger beer, but we knew it was for the best.

Yeast is a useful ingredient, but it sometimes wants to be the main dish.

©Jane Paterson Basil

#AtoZ Challenge Xenodochial


as we all are,
with an un-formed intellect,
I am unable to recollect the early days
of my xenization on this complex planet.
At first, In my simplicity, I thought
that I was all, and all was me;
but after a while
I began to
to understand
my mother was herself,
close by, but beyond my borders,
as was my teddy bear, and even my vest.
the trees above me were more distant,
and the sky was far away.
gradually all
the pieces
as mere extensions of myself
took on their individual characteristics,
became recognised as foreign bodies,
and I was left feeling –
as we all do –

in a sense of isolation,
it is easy to forget that
this world we inhabit
is xenodochial.


Xenization: The fact of journeying as a stranger.
Xenodochial: Given to receiving strangers; hospitable.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Too late


He was on the bench where I usually sat,
his aging face shadowed by glasses and hat.
As he spoke I could sense that his soul was crumbling,
his opening words were cultured, but fumbling:
I kept on walking, ignoring his speech,
so he spoke up louder, my attention to reach.
“Excuse me” he faltered, “I don’t want to pry
but I see that you’re sad though I don’t know why.
If you could give a few minutes to a fool such as I,
I hope I can help and I’m eager to try”
He looked at his hands and he gave a sigh.
“I must make amends before I die.”

I paused to look back, and I left it too long
to turn away and walk right on.
He moved along to make room on the bench
and I sat myself down, though I reeled from the stench
of spirits and urine and grime and sweat,
and the smoke from the butt of his rolled cigarette.
the poor man was filthy, and though he looked clean
I was shocked by the absence of simple hygiene.
He took off his glasses and looked in my eyes
as if he could see right through my disguise;
he held my gaze as he fervently said
“I must make amends, it’s too late once I’m dead.”

“Once,” he told me, “I was strong as can be;
no-one who knew me would recognise me
to see this wreck sitting here in the park –
I was bright as a button and sweet as a lark.
I charmed all the ladies with chatter and lies –
I wanted some fun, but I didn’t want ties.
I was foolish and shallow in those early days
I broke many hearts with my selfish ways
a marriage proposal made it easy to bed them
I’d use their bodies, then refuse to wed them.
Then I met a woman who I loved on sight
as soon as I saw her I knew she was right.

She loved me back, so we named the day
and that very same night I got carried away –
from long force of habit I led her to bed
but she glared at me, and coldly she said
that she hadn’t believed the things that she’d heard;
she should have taken her friends at their word.
They told her she’d be just a notch on my bed.
It wasn’t her fault, but the things that she said
angered me and punctured my pride,
so I cruelly let her believe I had lied.
I said “I don’t want to marry you”
instead of insisting my love was true.

I lost the girl but a lesson I learnt:
don’t play around or you may get burnt.
After a while I met someone new
and I followed the rules of the right things to do.
We saved for a house and we married in Spring,
soon I reckoned I had everything;
a job and a wife and a house and a child –
but the stress of it all drove me wild.
I stormed through the house in accusing rages,
while my life disintegrated in stages.
I took days off work and I started to drink
not seeing my future was on the brink…”

The man broke down, in heartrending tears
at the thought of all of those wasted years.
His unfinished story left a clear trail
while his current condition told the same tale.
I ignored my distaste, and shuffling over,
I gingerly placed my arm round his shoulder.
We sat together until he was calm,
while I tried to ignore the ache in my arm.

Then he turned to me and this he did say,
“As soon as a trouble comes your way
look for a cure the very same day.
Don’t let your anger sprout and lay
a trap that will take your life away.
I want to save you from going astray.
There’s no time left for me to delay;
I hope to be dead by the end of the day.”

I searched my brain but no words could I find
to give him a little peace of mind,
so we sat on the bench till day turned to dark
and only the foxes were roaming the park.
His breathing was laboured, but he was asleep
I had made up my mind a vigil to keep.
I had no intention of saving his life,
I figured he’d had enough mortal strife.
As the night turned colder I felt his heart slow
and I knew there wasn’t much longer to go.
His death rattle sounded just like a snore,
and my new-found friend breathed no more.

I took his jacket and removed his shoes
then looked in his pockets to see what I could use.
It’s a shame he came too late with his tale of woe.
Perhaps it would have helped me ten years ago.
But at least his coat will cover my legs
at night beneath the bridge while I’m drinking the dregs
of the booze that I buy from the tenner that I found
when I took off his trousers and it fell on the ground.

Posted for The Sandbox Writing Challenge 37

©Jane Paterson Basil