Snail gel and Pro-trousers


IMG_0358Something really odd is happening in the world – not just Donald Trump – but other little signs and portents signalling that The End Is Nigh. Look at the chap with his warning of impending Doom at the top of the page. “ Most people will die next year” What does he mean “ most people” ? It’s so annoying. He grabs your attention with the promise of a final curtain, then goes all woolly when it comes to statistics. How many is most ? 52% ? I’ve got an almost 1 in 2 chance there. Or does he mean 98.7 % In which case I won’t borrow any long novels from the library.

And then there are the strange products for sale. This morning, in the herbal food shop, I saw an advert for snail gel. Yes. You got it – snail gel. I thought it might be stuff you smear on your patio to keep snails away. Not so. I looked gain and it said “ snail gel will get rid of those stubborn wrinkles.” You put it on your face ? And then I thought of the snails….snatched from walls and damp bits of the garden, flung into a giant macerator until they were reduced to a kind of gritty paste. I asked the woman behind the counter and she said no, they didn’t grind up the snails, they just used the gel they exuded. Oh, that’s ok I thought. And then I thought – no it isn’t. How are you going to harvest this “gel “( or should I say “mucus” or maybe “slime”) Are the snails somehow milked ? It all seemed very disgusting. I was going to ask the woman, but she was dealing with someone who wanted to know if they had any concentrated thorn milk.

And outside, just across the road, I looked in the window of the outdoor shop. A red and white banner said “ 20% off Pro Walking Trousers.” What other kind of trousers are there ? I wondered ,and then I thought of Sitting Down Trousers with extra cushioning for the buttocks and a built-in tv remote or maybe PickPocketing Trousers – baggy and voluminous, and with pockets huge enough to hide a Steinway Grand. And what, exactly, are “ Pro” trousers ? Are there Pro Walking Competitions ? Do they have a built-in exoskeleton hidden under the tight denim, which will allow you to walk ten times as far as your competitors ?

And these are only two examples. Be warned. The earth is moving beneath our feet. I think I’ll put my Sitting Down Trousers on and get rid of those stubborn wrinkles with a pot of Snail gel.

Man and Dog



The dog plays football every day
with me, along the passageway.
We pass the ball from dog to man
and then from man to dog again.
I’m bored as hell. It pleases him
for dogs are slow and somewhat dim.


The man plays football every day
with me, along the passageway.
He tries so hard, it’s rather sweet
for one who’s blessed with two left feet.
It keeps him happy; I don’t mind.
I’ve grown quite fond of human kind.

Man and Dog

We both hate football.

How much happier we would be
watching cricket on tv.

The next Rembrandt

Screen shot 2016-04-18 at 14.20.16

A Dutch company recently created a new painting by Rembrandt. The fact that he has been dead for hundreds of years was not a problem. They scanned his paintings ,selecting details  from each picture they looked at. The final database was huge. Then they created a multi layered picture that had depth and texture as well as light and shade – and it looks faultless- you can see the video here:

I was fascinated by the whole process. This man never lived….but he looks real, alive. Is this a work of art ? Or a workout for Big Data ? This is the poem which came out of it all.

The Next Rembrandt

A tradesman shopkeeper perhaps,
stylish in his Sunday best –
the ruff starched crisp and white,
A countenance so every-day,
so commonplace, and yet a palimpsest
of all the people he has ever been
from boy to man.

Truth lies in that face.

He is a phantasm, a chimaera,
a million data points distilled,
a clever magic trick.

Or maybe there’s a ghost in the machine,
a bug which emulates the human soul,
An Instant Message flashed up on the screen,
A spark of hope which makes the broken whole.

Moments from a parallel universe

Isac ! Your lunch is ready.
Stop moping in that orchard !
Go and wash your hands !
Unheard unseen
the apple falls.

It’s a message, Will,
from the Queen.
She likes the play
but could you make Hamlet
a bit more cheerful……
and alive at the end..

I shall call her Luisa.
If it had been a boy, my husband
would have called him Adolf.
Honey, I got to stay late at the Oval Office tonight –
can’t make the theatre.
Okay Abe

The Schrodinger poems


Schrodinger’s Cat

Well, here we are then
or possibly not.
It’s a bit cramped in here
what with the radio active sample
and the bottle of poisoned gas
and me.

I come and go as I please
I visit my friend McAvity
or pass time with my cousin Smiler
who lives in Cheshire.
I’m in and out all the time.

Notice he chose me for the experiment
and not Schrodinger’s Dog.
That would have put
Particle Physics back
a hundred years.

Schrodinger’s Dog

You wouldn’t get me into that box.
I’ve just had a dump on your lawn.
Got any biscuits ?




Plump as plums, clustered among leaves,
they hang in a green shade.
Pick one. Peel back the husk and find
a shell there, pocked and wrinkled
like some distant world.

You’ll need a knife. Just press
your blade against the lateral line
then prise the halves apart
and there, in a nutshell
is a brain.

Packed tight into an inch wide skull
two waxy hemispheres
each ridged and swollen
into lobes and clefts
and each the image of the other.

Remove the nut and place it on your tongue.
Crisp at first bite, then soft.
It tastes of sap,
and garnered sunlight
and green thoughts.


The woman who invented the selfie

The Donald Trump Drinking Game


It’s very simple.All you need is a tv permanently tuned to American (ie Trump) Election coverage. You also need a lot of alcohol – pick your poison.

Every time The Donald uses one of the following words or phrases you must have a drink :

Hunerd percent


Believe me.

If The Donald refers to himself in the third person ” Trump  says…” you must have two drinks.

Happy electioneering !






The woman who invented the selfie

LouiseThis is Elizabeth Louise Vigee le Brun ,an acclaimed French portrait artist who lived from 1755 to 1842. Her father was a mediocre and unsuccessful painter and her mother was a hairdresser. But Louise was a natural and instinctive painter – she was earning her living from it from the age of 15. She married ( at her mother’s insistence) an art dealer who provided her with an entree to the royal court, but turned out to be a womaniser and gambler who eventually stole her money.Nevertheless Louise became a resident artist at the French court.She painted Marie-Antoinette several times – official pictures of her with her children – and more intimate personal portraits.

The French Revolution almost put an end to Louise’s career. Identified with a corrupt and heartless regime she was forced to flee France and travel round Europe, spending six years in Russia where she gained a large an enthusiastic clientele. She returned to Paris in 1802 and continued her career until just before her death in 1844 at the age of 87.

Quite a career. And quite a work rate too. She worked all day, every day and completed over 800 paintings in the course of her career. Today her work gets mixed reviews – some accuse her of being a bit too sacharine, others that she was too trivial.

My interest is in her self portraits. She painted over 40 of them over her career and I want to look at three of them.


This was painted in 1775 when Louise was twenty. Notice that it’s quite formal, and there’s no indication of the fact that she’s an artist. Her expression is slightly awkward. She’s showing off her technical skill here, rather than  revealing her personality. Notice, by the way, that she wears a black- maybe satin- throw over her shoulders. And look at the drop earrings. They make another appearance in the next portrait here:


This was painted some years after – certainly before 1782- and it is a great deal more confident. Notice that she’s using her signature black shawl and that the ear rings are back. It’s a sunnier picture – the flowers in her straw hat matching the paint dabs on her palette. She is a painter and she wants you to know it. But it’s the face that draws me in. This is the face of a woman in her late twenties – she’s calm, poised and looking straight at you. Except, of course, she isn’t. She’s looking straight at herself. A self portrait is a conversation between the painter’s brain and  appearance – and we, as spectators- are caught in the middle. There’s a tension here, a questioning.

Let’s look at the third selfie:


This last selfie was painted in 1800  when Louise was 45 – probably the last painting she completed during her Russian exile.The contrast here is between the figure and the face. She has filled out a little – her dress is more respectable, more middle aged. The earrings have gone. But the face is alert, almost humourous – ” So this is what middle age is like !” she seems to be saying. But the curiosity is still there, the need to chronicle change in her own face.

Did she invent a version of the selfie ?  In a way she did. She ( as many other artists) managed to catch one moment in time – but that took days, if not weeks of careful work . Now we can catch every  expression in seconds. Which is more truthful, though – selfie or portrait ?





He stands before the empty canvas, sees
sky fragile and faultless as a blown bubble,
a sea of crinkled cellophane,
and a long, lost summer afternoon
smelling of grass, warm stone
and pine needles.

Sunlight shifts and flickers
dappling cottage walls
as the trees nod in agreement
with the warm wind.

A path leads down past ragged outcrops
to the town, where roofs glow oven hot,
grandmothers skulk like ghosts in chilly kitchens,
and cats lie stunned in alleyways
flat as their own shadow.

I stand before the picture, watching
it fade back into the frame.
Footsteps. The gallery is closing.

Outside the air is sharp with rain
and petrol smells. I am immune.
My sky is blue and endless, and my soul
warmed by a distant sun.



Ann Shakespeare