Category Archives: #atozchallenge

#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


#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

#AtoZ Challenge Vitriol


It sounds like poison
in a putrid shade of purple.
“Hand me that bottle of vitriol,
I’d like to die horribly this minute,
I want to feel my tongue blister,
my eosophegus dissolve, my stomach liquify.
If it’s not too inconvenient for you, I wish to die.
You’ll find the stuff at the front of the middle shelf
in the cupboard beside the kettle
near the coffee, sugar and tea.
please, would you kindly
hand it to me.”

Or it could be
a particularly strong disinfectant
with itching fingers that reach around the bend,
eradicating every last evil, clawing germ,
and, without prejudice,
murdering the angelic ones as well,
removing the immune system,
rendering the it unable to protect itself
with its natural defenses

Perhaps it’s paint stripper,
melting the multicoloured layers away,
exposing the ancient timber,
threading its viscous way into the fibres,
perverting its natural state.

According to a dictionary definition:
Vitriol is a sulphate of any of various metals,
especially a glassy hydrate of such metals
or something felt to resemble vitriol,
especially a caustic quality;
especially virulence of feeling or speech

so there you have it.
It’s not disinfectant, but
we humans should avoid flinging it at each other,
or swallowing any that is flung our way.


©Jane Paterson Basil

#AtoZ Challenge Unicorn










when first we met he was a boy of eleven
and I was an unhappy woman selling cruelty-free products
in a secondary trading position close to his home.

I became fond of this child genius, whose acts of charity
patched up the holes where his friends should have been.
he raced around the street offering to assist the retailers –
pick up a pint of milk,
make a cup of tea.

with his well-practiced
magic tricks and brilliant invention
of impromptu verbal games, he irritated, amused
and finally fascinated everyone with brain enough
to appreciate the value of his company

often, after school, he’d visit me in my little shop
and we’d sit behind the counter talking metaphysics
or laughing as we played ‘if he/she was an animal,
what kind of animal would he/she be?’
even at that age, he was better at it than me.

I could see why his shallow contempararies were wary.
even though he didn’t know he was leaning
others could already sense which way he leant,
and they shied from his opposite quality.

I despised those children; in my protectiveness
making no allowances for the insecurities of youth

I introduced him to a girl in a similar situation
whose callously indifferent companions had deserted her,
and they soon built up a group that became a clan
of good friends who valued each other.

years passed and he came into his glorious own
his gangliness grew into the kind of gorgeous looks
that made a certain kind of man yearn
to be in his presence.

the day he said he could no longer see Unicorns
it was with a shy, but triumphant, smile

he was happier than I had ever seen him
but it took me a few moments to comprehend
that he had left his boyhood behind
and embraced his sexuality.

when only a child
he gifted me his determined sunshine
burying the sadness so deep that few could see
always giving, asking nothing in return.
no Unicorn had ever protected him.

I was glad that those mythical horses
would never again have the opportunity
to back away from his lonely call


©Jane Paterson Basil

#AtoZ Challenge Table


In less than three weeks time it will be a year since I first saw the inside of this flat. I knew straightaway that this could become my home. Within hours I had signed the contract and collected the keys. The next day I ran around the second-hand shops, choosing and paying for essential furniture. The following day my friend delivered a carpet and I fitted it, and my daughter delivered the possesssions she had been storing for me. The day after that was a Monday. All my furniture arrived, and that night I slept here for the first time.

The bedroom was uninhabitable, because of a problem with the floor, and I was waiting for the landlord to fix it. I didn’t have a bed anyway, but was happy to sleep on my sofa-bed in the living room for the time being.

My eldest daughter, Sarah, realised that I hadn’t got around to buying a cooker. I temporarily made do with a microwave, but after a couple of weeks she got so exasperated with me shrugging my shoulders and saying I’d get one eventually, that she bought one for me.

My daughter Claire was using my table while she looked for a new one for her home. Although she felt bad about it, I didn’t mind waiting for her to find the right one; she has a family to care for, while I was on my own. A few weeks of working and eating off a coffee table seemed no hardship.

Although I loved the flat I was not entirely happy. The shock of finding somewhere so suddenly, and moving in so quickly, had made me uneasy. I kept expecting to be told that there had been a mistake, and I couldn’t stay here after all.

Eventually the landlord sorted out the issue with the bedroom floor, I aquired a carpet and a rather uncomfortable, but acceptable, futon, and I started sleeping in the bedroom. My home, however, was still not complete, and I often roamed from room to room, looking out of the windows and staring at the walls, wondering why I couldn’t settle.

Claire found perfect, family-sized dining table, and on the day it arrived, she returned my table to me, with four dining chairs which she didn’t need, because she had bought six new ones. I call this piece of furniture a table, but in fact it is an old GPO desk, with two drawers underneath it. It looks like a small version of an old-fashioned kitchen table, and is big enough to sit four to six people. My brother gave it to me several years ago. His wife had bought it in a sorry state, with the intention of restoring it, but she went off the idea, so I spent several weeks sanding and polishing it until it looked beautiful. I love it more than any other piece of furniture I have ever owned.

I placed my table in the living room, by the bay window. I eat every meal at this table, I lean on it as I read, and I sit my laptop on it. As I am writing I can look out of my window and see the world going by, watch the sunset, and see the nearby trees change their clothing as the seasons progress. I have no television, and little use for my two comfortable sofas unless a guest shows up and wants to sit on one of them. If I am not out, asleep, cooking, cleaning or showering, I am sitting at this table.

If anyone asks me where I live, I tell them I have a flat at this address, but really, I live at my table. Everything else within the flat is just a background for my true home, my beautiful old table.

©Jane Paterson Basil