VII – The Trouble With Ezra

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This is the last poem in the ‘Consultations with my Mother’ series.

It’s been a blast writing these and remembering the time Mum and I met Grayson Perry at the National Poetry Competition 2014….

 

VII – The Trouble With Ezra

 

Mum and I are in London

 

But I don’t like Afternoon Tea

 

My brother and I are treating her. We’re off to The Wolseley.

 

Since when don’t you like Afternoon Tea?

I don’t fancy all the cakes

You must be the only mother in the whole of the UK who’d turn this down

Well, I think I might fancy something savoury

 

Luckily my brother has been here before.

He knows (from extensive personal research)

That they have an all-day menu

 

You’re in luck Mum

We settle down, in our finery

 

Ooh look. Omelette Arnold Bennett

 

I roll my eyes at my brother.

He then decides against Afternoon Tea as well

Not you too?

 

Like mother, like son.

 

Well I’m going to have Afternoon Tea

 

Mum and I are going on to the Poetry Society’s Do afterwards

For the announcement of The National Poetry Competition,

I’ve been commended.

 

With champagne

Yes. I’ll have one of those too

 

You don’t won’t to get too drunk Mum,

Especially when you are going to meet your idol.

 

He’s not my idol!

 

Grayson Perry is going to be there.

He’s one of the three judges for the Ted Hughes Award.

Mum can barely contain herself.

 

I wonder what he’ll be wearing?

Something fabulous I suspect.

Yes. But who will he be? Grayson or Claire?

Well I guess we’ll just have to wait and see

 

I’ll be watching her like a hawk

 

I bet he’ll go as Claire.

She looks wistfully up at the deco ceiling trying to imagine

 

My brother finds this all very amusing, but he would.

The last poetry thing I was invited to he came with me

And proceeded to tell everyone there that he didn’t ‘get poetry.’

 

Cheers Mum. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

When we’ve finished my brother walks us to The Savile Club.

Waves us off with a smirk as Mum bustles inside.

 

Hey. Wait for me.

 

We are on time, to the minute. I feel overdressed;

The fluoro jacket was a mistake and I hate wearing dresses.

 

Come on Eleanor

We go inside and Mum asks the way.

 

We are ushered along to the cloakroom.

What’s the rush Mum? Slow down.

 

I’m suddenly very nervous. All my childhood social anxiety

Comes flooding back as Mum proceeds with confidence

Down the plush carpeted corridors and spiral staircases

To hand her coat to the waiting attendant

 

There aren’t many people here yet.

 

I smile at a woman who I think might be a poet.

She doesn’t smile back.

 

I need the loo Mum.

Yes, me too.

 

I take refuge in a cubicle for a moment and think to myself

‘What am I doing here?’

I sit and contemplate my predicament.

 

Eleanor. Have you fallen in?

No. Coming.

After few deep breaths and a talk to myself

I emerge and put some lipstick on.

 

Stop fiddling with your hair.

I give my best withering look at Mum in the mirror.

 

You look fine. Let’s go.

I follow her out and up to The Ballroom.

 

This is nice Eleanor

We round the corner towards the sweeping staircase,

And are hit with mirrors, gilt and cherubs

 

It’s all very opulent.

Perhaps I’m not overdressed after all.

 

I spot someone I know and wave.

There are bags for us with poetry related goodies

And introductions to be made.

 

Hello, this is my Mum.

 

Mum is all smiles and graciousness.

We make small talk and are introduced to

Judith Palmer, director of The Poetry Society.

 

I love this venue, the painted ceilings

I look upwards and miss the entrance of a woman

Who Judith moves immediately towards to welcome.

 

Shall we go up Mum?

 

There is a photographer looming on the stairs

 

We turn and Judith is there, with the woman, who I can’t place.

I know she is important from the way people are behaving.

 

We are introduced. I shake her hand,

She shakes my Mum’s hand.

 

Who was that?

 

She glides up the stairs and is photographed with minimal fuss.

 

Alice Oswald.

Who?

A poet.

 

Oh. I thought she looked like a poet.

Bloody hell! Alice Oswald.

 

Let’s get a drink Mum.

 

I force a smile for the camera as we ascend the stairs,

Dogged with regret for not having looked up

The poets shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award.

 

This is very swish

 

I head straight for the wine table and pick up two glasses of white.

 

Here you go. Cheers.

We clink glasses and I take a large gulp,

Mum is already scanning the room for people to talk to.

 

We shuffle off to the side and soon find a friendly woman

Who owns a poetry press.

 

What’s the order of things then?

I’m not sure.

Oh look, canapés.

Are you hungry again? I say reaching for a smoked salmon tartlet

 

Well I’m not going to turn down these!

The canapés are delicious and the wine flows

A little too easily as the room begins to fill

With the great and the good.

 

Have you seen Grayson?

Nope. Not yet.

I confide in the woman, tell her that Mum is here

Primarily to meet Grayson Perry.

 

No I’m not. I’m here to cheer on my daughter.

Ha. OK!

And meet Grayson

 

Our little circle grows in number as we meet

A variety of people from the poetry world.

 

I spot famous faces in the crowd,

Some whom I can place, others not.

 

I feel a little bit more relaxed.

It’s actually quite fun and Mum is on good form.

 

I should say hello

Mum has spotted Carol Ann Duffy

 

Well, I’m not sure that she…

 

Judith Palmer takes to the microphone not a moment too soon,

As I hand over another glass of wine to Mum and grab a passing canapé.

 

Later maybe…

 

The announcement of the National Poetry Competition passes in a blur.

Readings, presentations and photos follow.

 

Well that was nice to meet everyone.

 

I feel more in the mood for celebrating, less anxious.

 

Did you get a photo Mum?

Mum is staring at something.

 

I turn and realise she’s seen Grayson Perry,

Resplendent in a multi-coloured haute couture dress,

Platforms, blonde wig and fabulous make-up.

 

Look! He came as Claire.

A moment of panic hits me as I see Mum gearing up to pounce.

 

Hang on Mum, I need to get a photo of you.

 

Carol Ann Duffy steps up to the microphone.

 

Damn.

 

The Ted Hughes award is announced, much to Mum’s annoyance,

Grayson stands at the front with the other judges.

 

Andrew Motion receives his prize

I clap enthusiastically.

 

I am now feeling pretty relaxed and continue to drink

The delicious white wine that is perpetually poured in to my glass.

 

What a great evening

The group of women that Mum and I have befriended

Are really fun. We are all getting steadily more inebriated…

 

Where’s Mum?

 

I look around the room.

One of the women points to the far corner.

Mum has reached Grayson Perry

And is introducing herself…

 

Shit!

I walk-run across the room

Coming to an oh-so-casual stop

as Mum turns and says

 

Here she is. My daughter Eleanor

I shake Grayson Perry’s hand

Hello. Lovely to meet you

We’ve had a great evening, haven’t we Eleanor?

Yes. Yes we have.

 

I’m very proud of her.

She was commended in the National Poetry Competition,

Her pen name is Eliot North.

I smile. Grayson smiles. I pull out my phone.

 

Can I get a photo of you and my Mum?

Grayson chats away to Mum

 

As I try to make my phone camera focus properly

Whilst balancing a wine glass in my other hand.

 

Say cheese. Oh damn, it’s blurred. Hang on.

Mum and Grayson continue to chat.

 

Smile again. That’s it.

Mum says a final few words and we cross back over

To the women on the other side of the room.

 

Well that went better than I’d expected

Of course Eleanor. What did you expect?

I raise an eyebrow and show her the photos.

They are a bit blurred.

 

What a lovely man.

Yes he was really lovely.

Now I can relax.

 

We continue to talk to the women and the other winners,

Mum and I circulating and all of us taking advantage of the wine

That continues to flow as the cherubs, on their clouds, look down on us beatifically.

 

After a while I notice Mum is talking and laughing with two men.

I’m certain one of them is chatting her up

So I decide to go over and check him out.

 

Hello Mum.

Oh there you are. This is the poet Michael Horovitz.

Mum introduces me to the older gentleman,

The younger Mum tells me is his agent.

 

My head is starting to spin

 

Nice to meet you

 

I shake hands and try and work out what they are talking about.

The younger man, my Mum’s age, is definitely flirting with her.

Showing off even.

 

Ha Ha. Yes, that’s what I thought.

Mum is in her element.

 

Their conversation is about poets and poetry.

I catch some of the words and smile

At the man blatantly chatting up my mother.

 

‘Well with Ezra Pound, being right here in this room…’

The younger man says.

 

I look around, swaying slightly. Ezra?

 

Really. He’s here? I blurt out

 

Michael Horovitz and his agent look at me.

Mum raises an eyebrow.

 

Where? I look around.

 

Mum shakes her head and begins to extricate me.

It was very nice to meet you.

I think we might need to think about going home Eleanor.

 

What, but that guy really likes you.

Shh. He’ll hear you.

 

Ha. Is George Ezra really here?

 

I scan the room for the singer

 

Who’s George Ezra?

Oh Mum, don’t you know anything.

 

I think you might have had enough Eleanor.

Yes, I do feel a bit drunk.

 

We say our goodbyes,

We’re one of the last groups standing.

 

Well that was fun.

Yes, it was. I had a really good time.

 

We find our coats and chat to the Poetry Society Team

As they head to the pub, which Mum declines on my behalf.

 

What were those two guys talking about Mum?

She laughs and links arms with me,

We weave our way to Bond Street station.

 

I’ll tell you in the morning.

 

He fancied you, that agent guy.

Yes. Yes I suspect he probably did.

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A. Measles (after Grayson)

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Consultations With My Mother

The series (I think) is drawing to a close now… but then again it’s quite addictive writing these poems and reflecting on the conversations Mum and I have.

VI in the series ‘A. Measles’ (after Grayson) introduces Grayson Perry as a recurring motif. It leads into my final poem in this series ‘The Trouble with Ezra’ – a comedy of errors that occurred when Mum and I were invited to the Poetry Society’s do in London for the announcement of the winner of the National Poetry Competition and the Ted Hughes award in 2014. The most exciting thing about this evening and one of the main reasons my Mum just had to be my ‘plus one’ was that Grayson Perry was judging the Ted Hughes Award with Kei Miller and Julia Copus… and she got to meet her idol!

 

VI – A. Measles

after Grayson

 

It’s early. My phone buzzes.

Morning Eleanor!

(Mum sounds unfeasibly excited)

Hi Mum. What’s up?

I’ve found an inflatable Alan Measles. On eBay

Oh right … I didn’t know he made inflatable ones

(The fact that I understand immediately what she’s on about is one of the many miracles of genetic inheritance)

£50 Buy Now + postage… It’s bright pink and stands up

Mum’s obsession with Grayson Perry has reached new heights

How big is it?

(I imagine a life-size inflatable pink bear glaring out of mum’s sitting room window)

I’m not sure, you can’t tell from the picture

 Well where would you put it?

 Maybe next to the framed silk handkerchief, or Alan Measles bags, or the wall mounted plates…

You mean your Grayson Shrine?

(Mum does obsessional collecting. She has Grayson tea towels, mugs, silk scarves, tote bags, the lot… dotted all over her house)

It’s not a shrine. I appreciate his work

Whatever you say Mum

When we were young it was Victorian glass tea-light holders (the rare ones had gold in them and shone like garnets) then fine bone china cup-saucer-plate hybrids of increasingly outlandish designs, then bold studio pottery and fabrics by Tibor Reich…. and now anything by Grayson Perry (that she can afford)

Well how much are they going for?

£50 is a good price. They’re from a gallery exhibition in Holland.

Limited edition?

I think so. Shall I put in a bid?

Well why not. Won’t hurt to try

(Mum loves a bargain. She is a female Lovejoy)

I think I might. Oh I love Alan Measles, I’m going to have him all over my house

Yes. Your collection is… spreading

My favourite are the Alan bags, especially the boy one with the dewdrop on the end of his penis (cue manic giggle)

Despite appearances Mum delights in all things subversive

Hmm, that dewdrop again…

(this particular detail springs up with alarming regularity in our conversations)

Well I better make a bid then, I’ve only got 36 hours to go

Let me know if you get him

I will. Oh I’m so excited! He’ll look really good on top of the dresser next to the handkerchief…

Bye Mum

Yes, yes (she mutters as I put the phone down)

She’ll be watching eBay all night.

 

 

Post Note:

Mum won the inflatable Alan Measles for £27.80 plus £10.00 postage and then sent me the following email and above photo:

 >> Alan now lives with me in Warwick 🙂 xxx

 

 

Benchmark

 

Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, UK, 11/2010

‘Blue Carpet,’ Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, UK

The image above is of a piece of Public Art called ‘Blue Carpet’ designed by Thomas Heatherwick. I’ve always noticed these unique benches outside The Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne and then I found this fab image of it on the following website taken by SteveT: http://mapio.net/o/862623/

Interestingly as I was hunting for an image to go with my next poem in the ‘Consultations with my mother series’ – Benchmark – I found the above photo through a Telegraph piece entitled ‘World’s best benches: in pictures.’ This bench in Newcastle (my home town) was number 6!! The UK has 4 benches in the top 10 in the world. Who knew!!?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/galleries/Worlds-best-benches-in-pictures/benchublue-carpet/

This is worth clicking through – I particularly liked the Zombie bench in London designed by Neon…  it needs a home apparently!

 

VI – Benchmark

 

Cheers Mum

Cheers!

 

We clink wine glasses on the bench,

Outside Mum’s house on Castle Lane

 

This is nice

 

A peacock struts and calls on the wall above our head

 

Noisy things, always screaming

 

The Kaiser Chiefs are playing Warwick Castle tonight

It’s a balmy evening

 

She spied this sunny spot next to the castle entrance

As we meandered back from M&S, with our bottle of Sauvignon

 

We like to people watch

 

There is nothing like drinking a crisp white wine on a public bench

Outside your house, when there’s a half decent concert on.

 

What do you reckon, to the music?

It’s OK, better for being free

Ha. Cheers to that!

 

A man stops near us, with a Cocker Spaniel

Neither of us are dog lovers

 

We nod to the owner, raise a glass

Nice evening for it!

 

(I often marvel at my Mum’s ability to talk

To anyone, anywhere, any time.)

 

She soon has the man’s confidence,

Knows where he lives, his situation:

 

Divorced, recovering alcoholic,

Wife got the children,

Rebuilding his life –

 

As we chat and drink our wine

I marvel at how Mum puts this

Stranger at his ease.

 

I listen to them talking and stroke the dog,

His name (the dog’s) is Wilson.

 

The man and his spaniel eventually leave,

Mum has a new friend.

 

He was nice

(I say after the man has gone)

 

Yes, lovely dog too. I don’t normally like dogs.

 

You can chat for England you know

Well, what else are you going to do on a sunny evening?

Precisely

 

We sit in companionable silence for a while, on the bench

 

It’s a gift Mum

What is?

Your ability to talk to anyone and everyone

 

She looks at me, then narrows her eyes

 

That dog is a child substitute

 

I smile and then laugh; it comes out like a bark

Yes. You’re probably right

 

I was thinking exactly the same thing

 

Fancy a top up?

 

(Sometimes, Mum and I are more similar than I like to admit)

 

Yes please

 

She hands me her glass and I trot inside

As Mum marks our bench,

Swinging her legs in time to the music.

 

 

Copyright Eliot North 2016

 

 

Mini Magnum

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Image from the website ‘Dessert Comes First’ – loads of great mini Magnum pics to chose from http://dessertcomesfirst.com/archives/13511/

Amazing what you can find on the internet!! Loved the mini / normal Magnum comparison photo here!!

This 5th poem in the ‘Consultations with my mother’ series riffs off a running joke with Mum whenever we see her and ask her if she’s enjoyed a Magnum Mini recently….

 

V – Mini Magnum

 

They’re good for you

Magnums?

No, mini Magnums

Oh. I see, well yes they are smaller

Exactly. Except…

(Mum looks guilty)

Except what?

Well, perhaps they are not so healthy when

(she takes a deep breath)

You eat ALL of them.

Mum! The whole box?

Yup

Six mini Magnums, all in one go?

Uh huh

She smiles, like the cat that got all the Magnums –

(Mini Magnums mind you, so that’s ok.)

 

Copyright Eliot North 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Numb

Foot image

Today I’ve chosen a rather lovely red chalk drawing of a foot by Leonardo da Vinci that I like because of its simplicity and how disembodied it feels. It’s called ‘Measured Study of a Foot’ which I like as well. I found it on the following website: http://arttattler.com/archiveleonardo.html

The poem continues the ‘Consultations with my mother’ series with a slightly more serious tone than ‘Corpsing’ – which was almost slapstick comic – to explore that difficult line healthcare professionals tread with their family. Doctor v daughter, my medical knowledge (or lack of) and the inability to be objective with those that you love.

This poem also hints at the burden of professional caring roles. The subject of desensitisation to human suffering that can occur in health settings is something we don’t talk about enough. It’s something I try to address in  my medical education role with medical students through embracing the arts and humanities, and having the discussion.

I worry sometimes that my family and loved ones get a particularly raw deal here, especially my mother. Is there a finite amount of care and compassion a human can give? If you give it all to your job, really stay alive to and actively connect with people and listen to and bare witness to their suffering, then almost inevitably this will take its toll in some way – unless you are alive to this possibility, reflect on it, have an outlet for it.

This is certainly one of the many reasons I write…

IV – Numb

 

My feet keep going numb

(Mum is up to visit)

Uh huh

They’re going numb right now

(We’re walking up the incline from Priors Haven to Front Street)

Would you like to stop?

 No. I’m just letting you know

Are you sure?

Yes. I might start walking funny though.

Right

Or fall over

(I stop)

OK. We should stop

No. I’m fine. This is what I was talking about

(She’s been talking about nothing else since she arrived… the day before…)

Going up hills or on the flat as well?

Both. It just comes and goes.

Hmm

But I can play tennis…

Well when’s your appointment?

Oh in a month or two. Ages.

It’s not really Mum. What did your GP say?

Nothing. Just that they’d refer me.

Well shall we keep going, or do you want to go home?

No, I’m fine.

(we carry on)

It’s just annoying Eleanor. Why is it happening?

I don’t know Mum. I’m not an expert on numb feet.

You must have some idea…

Perhaps. But I’m your daughter not your doctor

Yes. But what could it be?

(I sigh)

Lots of things. Back related, trapped or damaged nerves. Something or nothing.

It’s not nothing.

I didn’t mean… Shall we change the subject?

Well you wouldn’t like having numb feet

No. No I wouldn’t

Well then

(we continue and find a seat at the Fish Shack on King Edward’s Bay)

It’s gone now, the numbness. They’re fine again

Well that’s a relief

There’s no need to be like that

Like what?

You’re so unsympathetic

What do you want me to say?

Well you could be nicer

I am being nice!

(we finish our coffees and head up and around to Longsands)

They’re going numb again…

Mum, really. The running commentary

I’m just letting you know

(groan)

You’re horrible

I’m not. We can stop. I can get the car

I don’t want to stop

Fine, fine

(we walk… slowly, in silence)

Are you like this to your patients?

No, I’m lovely. 

Harrumph!

I use up all my niceness and compassion on them

I don’t believe you

(I raise my empty hands towards her)

I’ve got none left!

 

Copyright Eliot North 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Corpsing’

I’ve included images here of Tracey Emin’s exhibition ‘She Lay Down Deep Beneath The Sea’ at The Turner Contemporary in Margate in 2012 that I found at the following blog https://commentsonculture.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/tracey-emins-she-lay-down-deep-beneath-the-sea-at-the-turner-contemporary-in-margate/ as well as an image from The Seinfeld twitter account “I’m trapped under a funky mattress’

The third poem in the ‘Consultations With My Mother’ series… This one has been in my head for a while. Mum told me this story months ago, but in my head it has stuck. She read it and said it could be a comic strip… I agree. I’ve written it from the images that pop into my head when I think of her wrestling with that enormous mattress. I’m trying to get her to draw it out…

 

III – Corpsing

 

I was trapped… for hours

Oh! Hello Mum

Hours…

What are you talking about?

The mattress

What mattress?

(exasperated noise)

The huge mattress, my mattress, you know on my big bed.

You tried to move it?

Yes. I’ve decided to get two single ones instead. Easier to clean.

You tried to move it on your own?

Well no one else was going to help me.

(I guffaw)

You?

(my mum is all of 5ft and ½ an inch tall)

Yes. I needed to get it downstairs.

Downstairs? Why?

To put it on the pavement. For the council to collect.

(silence from my end as I process this information)

Yes, well it wasn’t very easy. Once I got it off the bed, that took long enough, I had a right sweat on, pulling and heaving it. Then it was on its side and it kind of fell on top of me.

(I laugh, a kind of strangled noise)

I was trapped Eleanor! Pinned against the wall by a mattress.

(the strangled noise continues…)

I could have died and no one would have found me!

What did you do?

(I manage to squeak)

Well I lay there panicking and struggling for a bit…

Yes…

Then I had a rest to conserve my energy. Maybe an hour, I’m not sure.

Yes…

Well after I had thought about it for a bit I really concentrated and with one big push, managed to get out.

(the image of my diminutive mother trapped under the bigger than super king size, hand-made feather mattress in her bedroom, on the third floor of her crazy house, suddenly makes me laugh uncontrollably)

I don’t know why you’re laughing.

(she starts to giggle)

 That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard…

(I’m now wiping tears from my eyes on the other end of the phone)

Well that’s not the half of it. Then I had to get it down three flights of stairs.

Mum, stop, you’re killing me…

The bend was a struggle, and the little bannister bit.

Stop…

Then it got wedged

Hahahahahaha

(she’s on a roll now)

It took hours, all afternoon

Ah man (snort) you really are something else.

Well that’s not the best bit.

There’s more?

Yes well I got it outside after it was dark, of course. The neighbours.

What do you mean, ‘the neighbours?’

Well I didn’t want them to see.

A mattress?

Noooooo. The stains!

(she says this in a stage whisper)

Mum, seriously… you are pulling my leg, right?

No! I can’t have the neighbours knowing all my business.

Hahahahahahaha

(I’m off again)

But that wasn’t what I was going to say.

Hahahahahahaha

I had to check it in the night.

What?

I just had this feeling, in my bones as I lay in the spare bed. It’s a good job I did.

Why?

The mattress had fallen over, across the pavement and into the middle of the road. The stain visible to everyone under the streetlight.

(That does it. I’m unable to breathe or speak)

I had to push it back up against the wall.

No…. stop…

In my nightie!

(with that perfect image in my head, I’m gone)

 

Words copyright Eliot North 2016

 

Damp

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Continuing the Consultations With My Mother series: after a conversation  with mum this afternoon the following poem appeared, fully formed from our telephone chat.

PS I’ll keep you updated on the state of my Mum’s rising damp situation!

 

II – Damp

 

Let me tell you about my damp:

It’s creeping up the walls, like fingers.

This damp guy, he’s really dishy.

So nice Eleanor. So interesting

Restores my faith in the male species.

Too young for me of course

Expensive divorce, I heard all about it.

Let me tell you about this system though

For damp in the walls of old buildings.

Some clever German scientist developed it

Used it on vaulted churches in Eastern Europe.

They are going to inject all the buildings in Auschwitz

Preserve them over seven years. It’s fascinating.

You don’t need to take the plaster off,

He showed me on the Internet.

I’d never be able to go there mind. I’d cry too much.

Everyone cries. How could you not?

I’m waiting for a quote,

Likely only five hundred pounds, give or take.

Not bad at all – I think he liked me.

 

(c) Eliot North 2016