Miss Riggs

My Gran, Rosalie Riggs (later Rosalie Wither) worked as a nurse on hospital train from 1940 – 1942. The hospital trains transported injured soldiers who had come home from the front to hospitals all over rural Britain. The carriages were converted to hold two layers of beds on each side, with the nurses working in between. Journeys were often long with track bombings, diversions and long waits in sidings to allow armaments trains through.

In 1942, Gran was discharged from the Red Cross on health grounds. In photos from that time, we can see she had lost a considerable amount of weight. Three weeks later she signed up for the Women’s Royal Air Force. She served at a base in North Wales for most of the rest of the war.

She married in 1943. My Grandad’s father had connections with the mill trade and worked for the Ministry of Supply, and managed to source some velvet fabric for her dress. – a real rarity in wartime.

Gran on the train in 1940

Miss Riggs

She was a white-toothed woman
bound to the run of the rails and the times
yet sharp as her hospital corners.

She was a force of defiance
with a cross to smite the viscous dark
that skirted the oily sidings.

Was starch fit for resisting
the muddied blood of khaki men
made shocking pink by shrapnel?

And did her apron’s brightness
bleach darkness from their hungry cheeks
and tiredness from her sockets?

She was a white-toothed woman.
In April, nineteen forty three,
she married in snowy velvet.

 

By the way, I couldn’t tell you how white my Gran’s teeth actually were. “White-toothed” is not a direct reference to the state of her dentistry. I can tell you however that she was formidable.

A hilariously staged photo of the nurses jollying through an air raid. Gran is on the left. I rather think I can see her contempt for this whole photographic shenanigans in her eyes!

The interior of a typical hospital train

 

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The Lockdown Lament

This one needs no introduction…

The Lockdown Lament

“Oh to spend time with the family!
Freed from our offices! Freed from our schools!
Imagine the hours of harmony!”
That’s what we said, we ignorant fools.

Have you ever tried video-calling New York
to talk about trends in a businessy way
while your kids disembowel the cat with a fork
and your husband walks by with his goods on display?

Have you ever tried tempting the kids from their screens
to do papier-mâché or make lemonade
or have ‘fun with a workout’ (whatever THAT means)
while they pelt you with attitude, grunts or grenades?

Have you ever tried teaching a nine-year-old maths
and a five-year-old spelling whilst muffling a scream
as you realise you’re living with sociopaths?
‘Is this it?’ you enquire. ‘Am I living the dream?’

“Oh to spend time with the family!
Freed from our offices! Freed from our schools!
Imagine the hours of harmony!”
That’s what we said, we ignorant fools.

 

 

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If laundry be the food of love

If laundry be the food of love

Because it never ends…

If laundry be the food of love

If laundry be the food of love
then my love’s food is abundant,
crammed into its glutted mouth
with potions grim and pungent.

If laundry be the food of love
then I am served with plenty.
May ketchup pour on shirts galore
so my platter’s never empty.

 

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Napkin Rings

I wrote this for women (and men, but mostly women) everywhere who are massively overstretched by the million details of Christmas – and by their own, and others’ expectations of perfection.

I’m personally not a napkin rings sort of a girl, and my husband cooks the Christmas dinner, so the “I” in the poem is not me.

Me, I just try to get the basics of Christmas done – and that is stressful enough.

Napkin Rings

This is the season of love’s ascendency.
Zealously measured by each carolling eye,
love is wrapped, trussed, and sacrificed to the tree.
My love is napkin rings, time spent, and a sigh.

In the grim drive for the prescribed contentment,
I creak under wreaths and jaunty snowman lights.
My love is napkin rings, concealed resentment
and the surfeiting of sugared appetites.

It’s not the love of photo-story yearning;
my love is napkin rings, mistletoe and cheer,
aching arches, and the dream of adjourning
to the welcoming cloisters of the new year.

My love is napkin rings, endless and florid,
and as angels beam from ceramic altars,
I defile the turkey, and stem the torrid
outpourings of aunts. My smile never falters.

 

Geek notes: This is a syllable-counted poem. Although this poem is unmetered, the even number of syllables across each line (eleven, in this case) creates a feeling of symmetry without interrupting the poem’s conversational style. It’s also a variation of the “quatern” form, where a repeated line moves from line 4 to line 3 to line 2 to line 1 in the four successive stanzas.

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You Don’t Have My Children

Every child is different – of course every child is different. But as parents to an autistic eight year old, and a headstrong four year old who doesn’t see why he should be treated differently to his brother, we have to play by slightly different parenting rules. And we have to get used to looks that say “Oh, just show him who’s boss!” “Make him join in!” “Don’t pander to him!”

But we can be headstrong too.

You Don’t Have My Children

To those who say
“Bundle them in! They’ll soon fit –
they’re kids! They’ll adapt in a bit!”
To those who say
“Make them conform to the norm –
it’s lonely outside of the swarm!”
To those who say
“Just tell them no if they throw
in a meltdown – and never give in!”
To those who say
“Stubborn persistence delivers
the payload of good discipline!”

I say, maybe your parenting skills outplay mine
and that’s fine…
but you don’t have my children.

 

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Mummy-Gazing

About those moments when you reap the rewards of all the crap you put up with as a parent, and enjoy a good gaze at your child…

Mummy-Gazing

I watched you as the sunbeams danced
like fairies on your butter cheek,
my heart was plied, my will was weak,
the clock-hands whirled – I gazed, entranced.

I watched as scary pirate tales
turned real in teetering cushion dens
as through your home-made eyeglass lens
you spied the Jolly Roger’s sails.

I watched you as new thoughts unfurled
and grew like magic beanstalks do.
As each became a part of you,
I thrilled at your expanding world.

I watched you concentrating on
your buttons – oh, a challenge fit
for any knight who’d rise to it!
You overcame. My heart was won.

I watched your earnest little face
tell tales, all sweetly mispronounced,
then watching stopped, as in you bounced…
head-first into my glad embrace.

 

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Measure the Children

The increasingly Orwellian nature of education in this country inspired me to write this. Despite the best efforts of some wonderful teachers, it seems that the emphasis  is firmly on conformity and performance – as if our children were washing machines off a production line.

If it helps by the way, I picture “the meddlers” as being little oompah-loompah-crossed-with-Michael-Gove figures  – but please don’t have nightmares about that!

Measure the Children

The school was a cauldron of mischief and learning,
and children were children, their impish minds turning,
until, at the will of political men
came an army of meddlers with rulers and pens
squealing “measure the children, measure them!”

“Let art be abandoned! Let music be killed!”
cried the meddling ones, “There are forms to be filled!”
Then they pored over stories of magical horses
impatiently counting subordinate clauses
to measure the children, measure them.

“More!” they screamed, hurling out brain-popping sums
while the tape measures tangled small fingers and thumbs,
“Forget curiosity! Curb innovation!
We’re sending your teachers for recalibration…
Measure the children, measure them!”

We strive for a future where oneness prevails,
but there’s no place for play on the measuring scales,
and as tables and tests burn the light from their eyes,
we say “Hush, little citizens, think of the prize…”
and measure the children, measure them.

 

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Bobbing Mummy

Is anyone else more than a little bit broken from PICKING SHIT UP?!

Bobbing Mummy

If you knock something from the shelf,
No need to pick it up yourself!
Just leave it there upon the floor –
Whatever else is Mummy for?
Bobbing bobbing bobbing Mummy,
Bobbing bobbing Mummy.

What joy, a new construction set,
With bits that are the smallest yet!
Mummy’s here! It doesn’t matter!
Open box, prepare to scatter!
Bobbing bobbing bobbing Mummy,
Bobbing bobbing Mummy.

Got a wrapper in your hand?
Don’t worry! Drop it where you stand!
Perhaps your paper missed the privy?
Don’t despair! You have a skivvy!
Bobbing bobbing bobbing Mummy,
Bobbing bobbing Mummy.

Mummy has an education,
Wild ideas above her station,
Visions of equality,
I know right? That’s insanity!
She’s bobbing bobbing bobbing Mummy,
Bobbing bobbing Mummy.

 

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We Girls

“Sugar and spice and all things nice” was not written about REAL girls. I know, because – spoiler alert – I WAS a girl. Here I am look – aaah. Yeah right.

This poem’s about all the little girls who come home scratched and grass-stained, sniping snd whining, with a crown of daisies and  one pigtail undone. I trust that today’s “pink culture” has not obliterated this fine breed entirely.

We Girls

Each daisy’s a piece of the moon,
Strewn on the welcoming grass,
Waiting for fidgeting fingers to pass
And weave it in bangles and bows,
Those are not alleys, they’re dens,
We seize them, we lose them, we take them again,
And dance as our dynasties grow,
Pavements and bollards and walls,
Are obstacle courses enthralling us all,
Hop-trip with our quickstepping feet,
Sweet is the call of the slopes,
As laughing we log-roll and slip-slide and hope
To emerge with our kneecaps complete,
Meetings in hedge-huddled homes,
Stones which are amulets,
Sticks which are witchety wands,
Bonds that we form as we talk,
Chalking graffiti and hopscotch wherever we walk,
Home with the set of the sun,
Running, at one with the fun of our world…
We girls skip to a time-honoured tune –
Each daisy’s a piece of the moon.

 

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Growing Boy

In “George’s Marvellous Medicine”, eight year old George’s gruesome Grandma declares that growing is  “a nasty childish habit”.

Now as the one who has to fund the growth of an almost eight year old boy… well… let’s say she had a point.

Growing Boy

He is not even eight,
But he eats like a bear,
Pile it up on his plate –
In a blink, it’s not there!
So I hide all the snacks,
(He’d consume the whole pack),
But I cannot, I cannot keep up!

As his belly peeps out
Of his nearly-new tops,
And yet MORE ankle sprouts
From his trousers, I shop
Like a ninja on speed
For the clothes that he needs…
Yet I cannot, I cannot keep up!

And those telescope toes
Punching holes in each sock,
Mean I’ll pay through the nose
For more shoes… Should I lock
Up the fridge, nice and tight?
Feed him shrink-pills at night??
For I CANNOT, I cannot keep up!

© Nina Parmenter 2018

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