Category Archives: memories

#atozchallenge Hair


It’s only my hair, I said
it’s not as if I have a life-threatening disease.
– although I was embarassed to think that
I may attract pitying looks in the street
from people who assumed
I was receiving intrusive cancer treatment.

being consumed by far more pressing terrors
I didn’t even notice it until my daughter,
who was lovingly brushing my hair,
paused, and I heard the intake of breath,
sensed something less than a chill,
but more than nothing.
she put the brush on the floor.
mum, she said,
and again, there was that still, tense, pause,
reflecting a concern, a question in her head,
a preparation for words spoken with care.
but she could think of no other way,
so she said it plainly
mum, your hair is falling out.
well, I replied, it does, doesn’t it?
hair, falls out, all the time.
she’d given me a massage,
and I was too relaxed to manage full sentences.

she scumbled her fingers through my scalp
pushing the strands this way and that,
tangling them. examining, scrutinising the damage.
No, mum, she said, it’s more than that.
you have bald patches.
Have I? oh,well, can’t be helped, I murmered
through a sleepy smile.
It crossed my mind that I had lately detected
a lot more hairs than usual
clinging to the plug-hole of the bath,
and now I knew the reason.
I caught the uncertain don’t-alarm-mum tone in her voice,
the effort at a business-as-usual mood
while she told me that they weren’t that bad.
but, try as she might,
Laura was unable to hide her dismay.
As for me, even when she guided my hand
to the smooth gaps where my hair should have been,
I didn’t really care.

over time, those rude, naked circles increased in size.
Laura bought me some vitamin pills to strengthen my hair
but my mind was filled with other matters
and I rarely remembered to take them.
I got a hairdresser to chop off
my thinned out, fading golden locks,
and arrange my shorter hair
in an effert to hide my born-again-virgin skin;
but still my friends and aquaintances
looked at my silly disfigurement in horror,
and gushed words of sympathy.
as if I was about to die, as if this was my sickness,
and not just a symptom of what ailed me.

I wanted to tell them that my daughter
had returned to the boyfriend with whom
she had first enjoyed her poison
that I could see she was slipping dangerously,
that I had recently resuscitated my son,
bringing him no closer to giving up the drugs
and it looked as if they would kill him,
that his writing had become illegible,
his short-term memory was shot,
he had kidnapped my home and my life,
and stolen most of my valuables and
every penny I had, leaving me cold, hungry and in debt,
and that every day I woke up disappointed
to discover I was still living.

I wanted to say to my friends and associates
why should a little alopecia matter to me?

but instead I said, it’s only my hair
it’s not as if I have a life-threatening disease.

Note: My hair started falling out almost three years ago. Since then, it has grown back, perhaps thicker than before.

©Jane Paterson Basil

#atozchallenge Diary


I scan the pages,
all blank but for a date
boldly heading every page,
there is no hint of that unwritten history.
I bauked at recording each crisis as it happened,
as if by keeping it from these virgin sheets I could conceal it,
make it less real, and therefore easier to forget,
to slip back into previous days of possibility;
but time has revealed that every detail
is indelibly burnt inside my head,
like those happier times;
all, all of them gone.
If I had written the facts
every day, as they happened,
I could have boxed up my diary,
locked it up, hidden it far away,
but it would only have been a photocopy.
I have the original, unwritten manuscript.
I carry it always inside my brain,
the ink still drying on a label
bearing the legend
“times past.”
Dust may gather;
I will not wipe it away,
and, though now and again,
unwelcome memories may drip through
I will be stern, and turn them away.
They will not get a grip on me.
I will not bare my scars
as if they they still
pustulate and fester.
I will stand tall,
move with the moment,
and prepare for my next tomorrow,
whatever it may bring.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Passing by


It was 1973. I was eighteen years old, and playing at being a hippy, though I worked for a living and didn’t take drugs, making me a bit of an oddball; an outsider in that clan, as well as every other clan I had brushed against away from the confines of my home.

Travelling was achieved by standing at the side of the road with my thumb extended. I liked to pretend I was a free spirit; ready to take off at a moment’s notice, because the sun was shining in a particular way, inviting me to explore new fronteers, but the reality was that I had to fit it into weekends and holidays, and even when I was in a position to go away I rarely felt like leaving my sewing machine, my fabrics and embroidery threads, my pencils, paper, paint, or my mother, for whom I had a fixation. These attachments kept me tied to my home, even preventing me from going into further education in Bristol, only about 100miles (160 kilometers) from where I lived.

However, I did take the odd trip into the unknown, and the following poem was scribbled down quickly, as I sat in the passenger seat of a lorry, somewhere on the motorway. I found it amongst a box of old photographs this afternoon, and it instantly brought back to me the emotions of that day, so long ago. Back then, it was easy to hitch a ride, and I met all sorts of interesting people. The day was hot and clear, and the sun had a look of youthfulness about it. I was returning home from a moderately disappointing stay with my boyfriend in Cambridge. He found my attitude to cannabis irritating, and I found his stoned, ill-thought out prattle irritating. We weren’t well-suited.

 I had been given a series of lifts, each one only taking me a short distance. All of the drivers felt like chatting, and when I alighted from each vehicle, I felt as if I was saying goodbye to a friend. I was a misfit with low self-esteem, and so lonely that I felt endlessly grateful to these people, but deep down, I knew they had no particular reason to want to know me better. I vacillated between euphoria and sorrow.

It appeared to me at that moment that all we ever do as human beings is cross each other’s paths, smiling and making empty promises as we recede into the distance.

My ideas have changed with the passing of the years.

Passing By

can we be normal, you and I?
sitting, talking, passing by
Look at the earth, look at the sky
time to live, hard to die
nudging, giggling, passing by
have to laugh, want to cry
have to, want to, need to try
laughing, shouting, passing by
time for truth, have to lie
sometimes low, always high
waving, speaking, passing by
people mutter, whisper, pry
my, oh my, oh my, oh my
seeing, being, passing by
passing, passing, passing by.

©Jane Paterson Basil

To Ian

you mislay a friend
for a time, or forever,
but the memories stay.

Those were the days of possibility.
Youthful opportunity whispered it’s promise,
while I whirled by, blinded, unlistening
with weak pretence at innocence.

I couldn’t feel the deepest cuts,
the days before the dye was cast.
Recent wounds suppurated prettily,
giving me a flavour of mystery and depth.
grazed flesh,
revealing pink disease —
pathetically thinking I had nothing
more interesting to offer sweet humanity,
and you treated me as if I was real,
never questioning whether I
had earned your respect.

I have always regretted
being such a careless friend —
sweeping away your feelings
as if they were unseen.

You never complained
or called me names —
you just

but today
you found me.
I smiled at the surprise —
your kind face a little aged
but otherwise the same.

No longer half a lifetime away,
so, connected by a facebook page
we will re-aquaint across the ether,
and maybe we will meet again,
and I will be your friend.

Dedicated to my dear friend ,
Ian Lee

©Jane Paterson Basil

My blurred facsimile


the evening sunlight strikes weakly,
giving permission for my dusky shadow
long and lean,
from my ponderously treading feet
and paint a blurred facsimile on the grey concrete,
but, upon yellow-eyed examination, it occurs to me
that in days gone by, when my step was nimble,
my grin elastic, and my skin unwrinkled,
that just like me, my shadow had
a sharper edge to it

©Jane Paterson Basil

Thirty Years


So much forgotten laughter
and so many remembered tears.
So much clawing, grasping hope,
and so many losses and crashing fears.
So much mutual hurt and pain,
as with hatred you thrust the knife in your side,
and twist it again and again.
While every wound you inflict on yourself
strikes me like icy rain.

So much forgotten laughter,
captured in print when you were a child,
in those distant, sunshine summers
when the woodlands beckoned, so free and so wild.
Your heart was like a flower,
and your hands reached out, by nature beguiled;
and nature rewarded you handsomely,
leaving you innocent, undefiled,
but the clock ticked on, and left us
with so much to be reconciled

So much forgotten laughter
and so many remembered tears,
while the heedless tick of the clock
adds up the stolen years,
dropping each second into the past,
dispensing with time so quick and so fast,
while the future threatens to pass you by,
too lost to live and too gripped to die,
and every day I hope for a clue;
a vestige of someone who used to be you.
And the clock ticks on, like a clockwork train,
while I pray that my prayers are not in vain,
and someday my flower will bloom again.

Dedicated to my troubled daughter, Laura, who is thirty years old today.

©Jane Paterson Basil

A cerebral ramble

Hedgerow flowers alongside the B3283
Image credit Rod Allday

Far beyond the small-town clatter,
the pavement patter, the chattering children,
the scolding oldies and gossiping grannies,
beyond the motor’s commotion and the turn of the wheels,
beyond drunk nightclub clammer and sham evening glamour,
buildings dwindle and tarmac narrows,
twisting to fit between flower frilled hedges,
hemming the edges of lost summer meadows.

When travelling in your mind, you can arrive in an instant
at whatever hidden haven you longingly crave,
but nine miles South-East of where I lie dreaming
is a paradise which waits for me.

In this endless moment of ideal perfection
selected and plucked from those timeless hills,
each simple daisy is placed precisely,
and the oak never loses the tiniest twig.
No breeze disturbs the soothing tranquility,
unless I should choose it, in which event
it arrives as a whisper from over the hillside,
building a little as it comes nearer,
riffling my hair away from my face
and stroking my skin with its soothing embrace

When travelling in your mind, you can arrive in an instant
at whatever hidden haven you longingly crave,
but nine miles South East of where I lie dreaming
is the place I ever long to see.

I gaze at that stolen moment in nature
pulled from my guileless history with care
and so often returned to, ever recycled
with each tree, whether fledgling or towering above me
unchanged, dispite all my absent years,
each butterfly bright, each bee busy buzzing
and each hedgerow bloom at the peak of perfection,
to forever remain as a perfect reminder
of where I began, and who I have been.

When travelling in your mind, you can arrive in an instant
at whatever hidden haven you longingly crave,
but nine miles South-East of where I lie dreaming
is always the perfect place for me.

Thanks go to Esther for the single word, ‘Nature’, which inspired this poem. I wonder why Esther’s prompts always bring out the eccentric in me…

©Jane Paterson Basil



He startled me that first time. I hadn’t seen him standing by the gate at the bottom of the garden. His unexpected voice, deep and throaty, was spoken in lions’ language: a forthright enquiry with a touch of command.

Surprised, I turned to find him standing proudly by the gate at the bottom of the garden,
head raised, eyes which gazed arrogantly into mine, captivating me.

Mike said he was feral and that if we approached him, he would slash us with his fangs, tear us with his claws, but my children and I were fascinated, and every time we heard his growling call we went outside.

We kept our distance, and he never came to us, but one day when Laura and Paul were prowling the woods they saw him basking by a tree, and Paul walked up to him, scooped him up in his arms, carried him home and diposited him on the sofa, where he curled up happily.

From then on he was part of the family, and whenever he came home from one of his jaunts he would announce his presence by beginning to meow as soon as he crossed the stream that led to the trees, and not ceasing until he reached the back door. We watched him, enthralled by his powerful phisique, his stately walk, his shimmering ginger mane, and felt honoured by his regal presence.

One day he brought home a wild stray tabby with three timid kittens, but they were afraid to enter the house, so, because they were his guests, we fed them from a plate left at a suitable distance.

Every day he brought them to us, and every day we gave them food. Soon, there were only two kittens, and we wondered what had befallen the third. A few days later, there was only one kitten with her hungry mother.

They sometimes showed up uninvited, and Ginger, who had been so keen and kindly at the start, sulked when they arrived. One day he didn’t come home, but it had happened before, so we tried not to worry, but the day became a week, and stretched still further. We had heard that he was still in the vicinity, and were relieved that he was still alive. We concluded that he had tired of the female feline company, and found himself a fresh place to stay.

Now the tabby came alone, having lost her final baby somewhere along the way. I heard unpeasant rumours of cats being poisoned. Soon after that the mother cat failed to appear, and the following day I found her rigored body in the garden.  She must have used up the last of her strength to reach the place where she knew she was safe, but it was too late.

She fitted easily into a shoebox. I dug a hole and buried her close to where I had first seen Ginger. We felt pity for that skinny, itinerant stray, who had lost all of her kittens one by one, before being killed herself, but we all hoped that her absence would bring Ginger back, being convinced that he loved us.

We were to be disappointed. We never came home again. We spoke of intimate moments we had shared with him, of his many affectionate and unique traits. We kept thinking that some day soon we would hear his throaty greeting, as he came towards us from the stream, and although he never entered the garden again, we never gave up until the day we heard the sad news of his demise on a nearby road.

Twenty winters have passed since, yet still we speak longingly of him, re-telling the memories, yearning for another to fill his space, but convinced that none ever will.

Dedicated to Judy, who inspired this post.

©Jane Paterson Basil

The devil’s dance




You’re young and you’re lovely
with a brick in your head,
smashing your brain with all that he said.
You’ve been moulded by tricks from that blood-stained day
when puberty hit you and took you away,
stealing the cartwheeling freedom of dawn,
leaving you feeling like Satan’s spawn.
You want to turn back but you can’t find the track
and the future is burning and turning black,
while all of the time he is casting his net,
hinting at filth to make you forget
the caress of the trees and the childish ease
of chasing the early summer breeze.
He is your father but he pushes the bar;
you must concede ’til he pushes too far
and you have to refuse to allow the invasion,
so you turn from his ugly attempts at pursuasion
to coldly seduce you, and from that day
you pretend that it didn’t happen that way,
but you become more wary and don’t let him near,
while you hide your confusing horror and fear
for the father you loved and gazed at with pride,
who you always believed was on your side.
You’ve learnt the worst, he was biding his time
until you blossomed, to attempt his crime,
and you try not to hear when he calls you those names;
you try to pretend life is still the same,
but he whispers his dirty predictions to you
and you hear them so often you think they are true,
threading your life like a string of beads,
polishing each one before he feeds
it on to the lost umbilical cord,
shining that shit with each cheating word
as he weaves his filth into your heart,
telling you woman is simply a tart
and you will reign as the tart supreme,
with ripe juicy peaches and lashings of cream.
Still you look back but your childhood is dead
and your father’s the brick inside your head,
and even long after the day that he dies
he’ll constantly haunt you in living disguise
so that every man that you ever trust
will burn your love and turn it to dust,
and your life will be tainted by all that he said
until passion is spent and your feminine red
ceases to flow, and you get your chance
to escape the drag of the devil’s dance.

©Jane Paterson Basil


rude words

I was on a home decorating kick that summer. It was a weekday, and Paul and I had just walked home from school together. I liked this time of day, when there were just the two of us. Paul’s sister was at Secondary school, eight miles away, and returned home long after Paul. He took off his coat and we went into the living room. It had taken me almost a fortnight to strip the skirting board back to the wood, peel the horrible woodchip paper off the walls, fill the dips and cracks, and re-plaster in places. I’d re-pointed the stone fireplace, and washed it with a subtly shaded matt varnish, to tone down the brash colour of the stones. I’d custom-made shelves to fit into the recess under the window, and a unit to house the TV, video and such. I’d sewn new curtains and hand-beaded the hems. I was looking forward to finishing the job.

Paul glanced at the walls with a thoughtful expression.

“So, you’re going to paint it tomorrow?” he said.

“Yup. I’ll start as soon as I come back from taking you to school,” I replied.

“You should sign your name across the wall, then it will always be there, like a hidden secret,” he said.

He fumbled through his bag, pulled out a felt pen, and handed it to me. I smiled, and wrote my name across the bare plaster.

“Nice idea. Thanks for that,” I said.

He gave me a wicked look. “Can I write something?” he asked.

“Go for it.”

With that he wrote ‘BUM’ in large letters, beside the fireplace.

I took the pen and wrote ‘LADY BITS.”

He wrote ‘WANG.’

Not to be outdone, I wrote ‘BOOBIES.’

He wrote ‘BUTT CHEEKS.’

I wrote ‘WEE WEE.’

By this time we were laughing so much our writing was coming out wobbly.

When his dad and his sister turned up we were running out of words, and still giggling shamelessly. Mike sobered us up. He was furious.

“What are you doing? You can’t write words like that all over the walls! Get rid of it, NOW,” he raged.

“But I’m going to paint over it tomorrow,” I replied, reasonably.

“But people may see it!”

“What does it matter if they do? We’re just having fun, and the words aren’t actually obscene. And anyway, no-one’s coming to see us this evening, are they? ” I asked.

“No, but, but” he blustered, “someone may look through our window!”

I looked out of the window, at the quiet country road beyond our front garden. Nobody would be able to see the writing on the wall from outside, and he knew it.

Mike walked out of the room. I took the pen from Paul’s hand, and wrote “NIPPLES” beneath the window in tiny letters.

Three days later I finished the painting, and fixed the shelves to the wall beneath the window. I put the new TV unit in the corner of the room and hung the curtains. The colour scheme was a triumph, with swathes of deep red and navy blue, a background of natural wood and cinnamon, and spots of soft gold in the beadwork and the cushions to add highlights.

Every so often when Paul and I were alone in the room, Paul would point at the wall, and as if he was reading the word through the paint, he’d say “boobies,” and smile, making me chuckle. My chuckle would start him laughing, and in no time at all we we’d both be grasping our sides, guffawing like fools.

©Jane Paterson Basil