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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What do I love about my country? The scenery. The history. The humour. What don’t I love? The hijacking of patriotism. The urge to close doors to the world. The misplaced superiority. And horseradish sauce.


Home is not an iron fence
or a nation’s bullish confidence.
Home is not the salt we sweat
in conflict, nor the traveller met
with distrust and intransigence.

Home is not immune to time
or compromise; no sacred line
partitions it from otherness.
And home is not the hate we dress
as pride, plastic and anodyne.

Home is not a prize we’re due,
a baked philosophy to skew
to every cause we scurry round.
Home is merely borrowed ground –
whichever flag we pin it to.



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The Time Eaters

For some reason I find writing poems like this quite fun… no it’s not normal.

Warning: not for the faint hearted…

The Time Eaters

Snip! And your ear-bones are scraped of their meat
by the scurry-tap-tap of their friable feet,
as you cringe at the swivel of each cold obsidian eye.
The terrible dust of what-never-more-can
trails deep in their wake, and the shortening span
before them is crushed by a clamouring echo of “why…”

Their home is the night
of forever, and there
they will stay, half-hobbled and blind,
if you just keep them out of your treacherous mind…

Drip! And your fear forms a cauldron of bile
as they march on, their mindlessness masking their guile,
devouring the past and the present, consuming the possible.
They are the nothing, the shadows that scuttle,
their abdomens pulsing with malice and muscle,
their skeletal legs scraping paths to the pure diabolical.

Their goal is the triumph
of never, and there
we will end, neither living nor dead,
if you can’t keep them out of your treacherous head…

Slip! Your mind trips as they break through the lies
that help you to sleep. Oh those eyes! Those….


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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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From Dovecote Hill

Just on the edge of my home town of Bruton, Somerset, lies Dovecote Hill (and yes, it does have a dovecote on it!) From there, you can see the whole town, which, for most of my childhood at least, formed most of my world. So for me, it’s a place of great nostalgia… and for longing for simpler times.

From Dovecote Hill 

From Dovecote Hill, my thoughts spill down on drowsy mill-town streets
and run the maze of alleyways where once my youthful feet
traced winding paths around the huddled houses that complete
this view of all I knew and loved
from Dovecote Hill.

The fields were loving ramparts shielding us from drifting mists
of worldliness – as if this town were all that might exist,
so we grew up as slowly as the silver river twists
through all I see, from here above
on Dovecote Hill.

This frantic, anxious world conspires to see my spirit crawl
and falter, courage crippled by the hugeness of it all.
One sight could help me find once more the strength of being small –
this view of all I knew and loved
from Dovecote Hill.

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Rainbow Girl

Just a little colour to light a January evening… with a sprinkle of happy-crazy…

Rainbow Girl

Rainbow girl finds welcome in the darkness
As melancholy violet swirls with dreaming indigo
She plants a seed and feels the sadness grow.

Rainbow girl skits artlessly through friendships
As frosty blue does battle with a gently gracious green
And harmony’s a riddle of a dream.

Rainbow girl can light the greyest moments
With drifts of warming yellow that come tumbling from her eyes
For when she glows, she charms the hungry skies.

Rainbow girl ignites with boundless fury
When sparks of spitting orange clash with incandescent red
And chemistry unravels in her head.

Rainbow girl crafts beauty from her palette
While others pose in flimsy parodies of how they feel
She blazes – unforgettable and real.


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Dark December

It’s the time of year where everything is supposed to be bright and shiny… but it’s dark, we’re tired, there’s too much going on, and sometimes it just gets a bit much…

Dark December

This is the time of year,
When the ice slides in and cracks my veneer,
And the drear of the grey sodden skies leads my eyes,
To where sanctuary lies…
In the dark.

This is the time of year,
When the howling nights punch a path to my fear,
And the mere thought of company speeds my retreat,
Craving solitude sweet…
In the dark.

This is the time of year,
Which has made its name out of merciless cheer,
And the sheer expectations that blare in my mind,
Cause my thoughts to unwind…
In the dark.

This is the time of year,
When I long for the clamour to just disappear,
But the tears crowd my eyes as the chaos crowds me,
It will not let me be, not even…
in the dark.

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Juggernaut Growl

This is, perhaps, a slightly unsettling one, but as it’s World Mental Health Day today, I wanted to post something a little more challenging.

Juggernaut Growl

Adrift on this rattling sucking-dry river
I’m twisting like flotsam, my energy peaking
and troughing, my will being tested
and tested…

I’m smashing
I’m shattering
Over and over.

The eddies are frenzied with power, the current
seems drunk on futility, stripping and tearing
And on rasps the river
so careless, so cold…
As my essence is shredded and fed
to its time-silted soul.

Yet somewhere beyond the great roar of this monstrous
onslaught, I know you are talking to me,
And your voice, that smooth sanctuary,
Beckons me home with a pillow-soft promise of healing.

But you are more alien now
than the juggernaut growl
of this river, for I am
the grist to the grind of its fury, its
face-slapping, limb-snapping, life-sapping
venom, its shores as beyond me as meaning
or reason or pleasure or feeling…


© Nina Parmenter 2018

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