Who’s first on the desert island ?

UA Fanthorpe.

She didn’t like her first name, which was Ursula, and was hence always called “UA.” She taught English at Cheltenham College for 16 years and then left to be a secretary and receptionist at Bristol hospital. It was there that the patients, their anonymous suffering and  quiet lives, provoked her to write.

She writes about “ the permanently rickety, elaborate structures of living” which we all create to maintain our lives and relationships. Her style is modest ,deceptively  simple and shockingly powerful. She describes a life of out-patient appointments,visits to X-ray, family visits, and ultimately death- the last scene of all.

“…..there the actor lies

Alone, and in the long dim hours explores

Dissolving senses .”


“ Patient, she sat in a wheelchair

in an x-ray department waiting

for someone to do something to her”

Notice the ambiguity of “ patient”, the pause after “waiting” and the hopelessness of “someone” and “something.” And what about the simple language, which gives you just enough to see the picture, but leaves you, the reader, to create the emotion behind it.

But you would  be wrong to think that her work was relentlessly glum. She had a sharp sense of humour. She  inhabits other times and places, explores territory you think you’re familiar with, and gives it a twist, releasing something fresh and funny as she does so.

She describes Christ, frustrated at his dim disciples, trying to get them to understand what he means:

“I am tattooing God on their makeshift lives” he says, “ My Keystone Cops of disciples , always/ running absurdly away or lying.”

She conflates the Royal Family and the Archers:

“They’re loyal to their fans, they never stray.

Death changes the cast list, but not the play.”

And sometimes she writes something  so simple, so powerful, that creeps up on you and hits you in the solar plexus.

Have a look here.


This is one of her best. I challenge you to read it aloud without filling up

Step right this way, UA- the palm trees are over here.


3 thoughts on “Who’s first on the desert island ?

  1. Thanks, Ian

    This is the other one I can’t get through without crying. (Pa was a Battle of Britain pilot)


    Do not despair
    For Johnny-head-in-air;
    He sleeps as sound
    As Johnny underground.

    Fetch out no shroud
    For Johnny-in-the-cloud;
    And keep your tears
    For him in after years.

    Better by far
    For Johnny-the-bright-star,
    To keep your head,
    And see his children fed.

    John Pudney

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s