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G at h e r i n g Grief Writing and photo graphs By T i m D i g g l es 1995 - 2013


All writing and images copyright Š Tim Diggles 2013 Photographs are by Tim Diggles or from his family collection The watercolour painting of Telegraph Hill, Llysfaen is by R.E. Diggles, 1961 Macbeth at the Writers Group and The Tale of the children I never had are published in The Centrifugal Eye If you wish to use any of the poems or photographs for any reason please contact me on timdiggles@gmail.com to make arrangements and get permission, there would be no charge for non-profit making publications. My blog - http://timdiggles.wordpress.com/


Index 1.

A Box of Old Photographs

2. For the Best 3. Singles Night AT Asda 4. Six Trees 5. Telegraph Hill 6. A Tale of the children I never had 7. Then Nothing To Do 8. Macbeth at the Writers Group 9. The Final Firing


A Box of old photos On the beach on holiday Great Yarmouth 1957 Blond curly hair wearing a coat like royalty Not smiling I never did on photographs Standing next to my adoptive father Who is five years younger than I am now We are looking at a letter or a picture He sitting forward in a deck chair Trilby hat tweed jacket white shirt stiff collar tie An Edwardian not a teddy boy

The swinging Sixties in our back garden I’m pretending to play my brothers guitar I liked The Beach Boys he The Beatles Half my head is cut off so snapped by my mother On the back she wrote Easter 1966 Green blue check shirt yellow tie my first jeans Sleeveless pullover I realise my clothes have hardly changed Still can’t play guitar but then I never tried


Family posing in the kitchen 1972 Framed towards the left giving blue motifed Wallpaper equal place in the family group Smiling mother stern brother tidily longhaired Both wear mustard Father hovers at the back white shirt tie jacket I have messy art student long hair my eyes closed From the flash on the self-timed Zenith A year later I had moved away

Photobooth Cardiff Central Station 1976 Final year student sideburns short hair Green polo shirt (wishing it were black) Dark tweed jacket endeavouring to look like A new-wave film director self absorbed in love With impossible women who didn’t want to know Nidge is waiting outside with his parrot For his strip of photos to develop After which we will get drunk in The Greyhound


For the Best It had been forty five years since I had seen my mother An event removed from my memory Taken by my Grandmother into the hands of strangers I must have cried myself to sleep at Elizabeth House Confused by the change of routine of smells of people And when I met the first person who looked like me she said I didn’t want to do it but I was so young I thought you may be in Cornwall not the North They told me it was for the best I arrived at Social Services on a hot summer day A dog eared beige file with my two names sat on a desk The lady was very nice and asked why I had decided After more than forty years to pursue my past Because a friend was waiting to hear from her son Because when you begin you cannot stop Because no one I know looks like me Because I had lived a lie not a vicious lie A loving lie which I knew was for the best The lady said I may find it upsetting to read About myself in a cold formal manner The Christian Moral Welfare Committee stated The mother is a decent sort of girl her mother awkward A doctor advised I should not be adopted at birth As my Grandfather had a breakdown during intense Bombing on the beaches of Dunkirk After which he regularly lived in an institution It was for the best to wait and monitor my progress


A court ordered my father to pay ten shillings a week Thirty months later forms said I could not inherit I was not to be informed of the whereabouts My mother should have no knowledge My name could legally be changed Another committee agreed that because Of the financial situation and strain on my Grandmother And the forthcoming marriage of my mother now sixteen That it was for the best A loving devoted Christian professional family offering Opportunities a council estate in Guildford Could never afford were to take me home During my life the situation was never discussed A distant memory of the visit by a welfare worker The remembrance of shiny disinfected mopped floors Whisperings at family gatherings he doesn’t look like you My friend told me my mother may be waiting to hear It had not been for the best to keep it locked inside On a hot summer day I left with a thick wad of paperwork Stopped the car as soon as the office was out of sight Read about legal procedures parked next to a lavender bush Twelve months of reports from a fifties care home Visits from prospective parents Doctors and vicars recommendations Reports from a welfare worker opinions final dates A court order so that all Would be legal and for the best


My new mother had lost a baby could not have another I was the answer to their prayers Difficulties with tantrums tempers The need for constant reassurance and insecurity Two months later I received a package of letters from Barnardos In unopened envelopes red rubber stamped FILE Posted by my mother to my mother care of an office in Ilford Snaps attached to loving glowing letters of how well I was doing Thanking her for my presence which was for the best I took my friend for the silences she was able to fill She took a few photographs of us together Tea cake and biscuits roses in the garden Planned questions about my father never asked I was only just fifteen when I had you Said the person who looked like me and as she did Turned her ankle stumbling like I often do I didn’t want to let you go but my mother kept saying It was for the best and when you went I left home too When I met someone who looked like me On a warm summers day in Northamptonshire I handed over the package of letters red stamped FILE I never knew I was told to forget and get on with life She looked then unopened she put the envelopes away We were bombed out in Leytonstone no home for years Five of us all under nine it was hard for Mum The afternoon with the photograph album three uncles an aunt A half sister two half brothers who resembled me So it was all for the best


Singles Night At Asda President Monica Lewinsky stepped off Airforce One And was met by Queen Diana Who had won Celebrity Clone defeating Sir Winston Churchill and Dylan Thomas in the final The band of The Coldstream Guards played Out Demons Out I awoke from this nightmare Slumped in my chair slobber on the cushion The Greek FA Cup Final glowed on TV Then I remembered Tonight was Singles Night at Asda The green jacketed Greeter greeted me Handing me a red carnation to place in my trolley He said with a wink The ladies are gathered in the chocolate aisle I peered over the check outs but none were there The Greeter took up his microphone Good evening ladies and gentlemen I hope you are making some excellent choices I see there are some hot ladies choosing our range of Value Added Curries So gentleman go and add a bit of spice to your lives A man who barely came above his trolley Wore a gleaming white shirt opened to show off His deep tan and luxuriously hairy chest In his trolley were a bottle of Malibu Extra Long Durex Loot and a can of brake fluid


I decided that my trolley should also reflect my personality At the magazine stand I looked at Record Collector too nerdy Homes and Gardens too presumptuous Wired too inexplicable Writer’s Monthly too sad I chose What Holiday As I stood by the fresh vegetables Deciding whether to buy asparagus Three teenage girls giggled Looked at me my choices my carnation No hope mate they said in chorus I chose cherries celery apricots beetroot and organic parsnips A can of Whiskas and a catnip mouse Because women usually like cats Flash kitchen cleaner to exhibit how domesticated I am Firelighters to show how exciting I am In the drinks aisle I stood beside a tall lady Who wore a very short red dress two sizes too small I studied the back of a bottle of Chateau Neuf de Pape She looked at my choice picked up a large bottle of vodka And high heeled away The Greeter’s voice boomed from the tannoy For all you lovers we have a special offer in our café tomorrow Two breakfasts for the price of one So I hope you get lucky tonight He began singing Lady in Red but forgot the words


Walking past the checkouts I saw Malibu man and red dress woman together He had a voucher for the brake fluid She had chosen a two for one offer on Vaseline They discarded their carnations with the Greeter who winked at me I chose a box of Belgian chocolates in the shape of shells Special recipe rice salad A Fray Bentos Chicken Pie I turned the corner and there it was beside the frozen peas The trolley of my dreams Roasted aubergines in olive oil Pizza with extra olives anchovies and chillies Naturally smoked haddock 70% Dark Chocolate a bottle of Drambuie A copy of Four Four Two Oh such bliss who could know my innermost dreams Hello Kevin I thought Kitty was dead a familiar voice said My ex wife was perusing my selections We agreed to swap trollies As I had bought everything she liked There’s another night at Tesco next week she said Are you going I asked Not if you are she said As the aisles emptied and carnations wilted the Greeter sang Wise men say only fools rush in‌ Singles Night at Asda


Six Trees Six black oaks in a circle A circle around a cover of briar A cover of briar sand brown in winter Winter’s safe haven beneath spiders webs of branches Branches energetic with rooks cawing to a silent world A silent world that emerges cold green as the sun warms Sun warms the rooks depart to feed in fields Fields I know so well in which I am lost I am lost in a place so familiar I cannot see the patterns Patterns of grey stone walls flowers smells memories Memories that offer a way out and captivity Look Look over there no not there over there a horseman A horseman on the ridge galloping so swiftly So swiftly he cannot maybe does not want to hear my cry Hear my cry I plead to no one to nothing Nothing I say is heard lost to the wind unheard Unheard as even I am not listening I am not listening to what the others say others say Others say this is a magic place but I see no magic No magic in nature only unyielding relentless growth Growth which envelops the path The fear of happiness Happiness the starting point you know Know from the inspection of your levels Your levels of the unlevelled oil black ink black emptiness Emptiness in which all thoughts intentions creativity melt Melt like snow ice lard ice cream ghosts sugar in tea Tea yes let’s have a cup of tea that always helps Always helps to block out the reality of your knowledge Your knowledge that you don’t want this but it is inevitable It is inevitable that a black block will put your life on hold On hold unheld unholding working through another cycle


Telegraph Hill On the horizon of the deep blue green white specked Irish Sea A line of ships wait for an afternoon tide to enter The Mersey To the south Snowdonia’s foothills cyfriniaeth mountains Form a backdrop to a quilt of fields lain over limestone Fresh breeze carries smells of sea Magnifying intense morning light My father points to a distant peak Telling us the square root of its height I leap into a hole Machine gunning ten German soldiers My brother sets off to climb down the disused quarry Finds a small fossil and pockets it


Following him on an easier route I scramble down to a sheltered road We stroll along a yellow red lichened high stone walled lane Past the impossible football pitch toward the paper shop At our caravan my mother folds back the beds As she does every morning on holiday Listens to Good Morning Wales and prepares breakfast Salty Welsh butter crusty local bread and Gold Crown tea Parking my car at The Semaphore Inn beside its new restaurant Opposite the once high pitched noisy school I amble up the hillside Picking my way around yellow flowered gorse Stopping to catch my breath amongst white and red clover A stiff breeze rattles spiked grass Behind me the sea is studded with white tops No ships await the tide as a yacht skims across the Bay At the summit Snowdonia rests in a grey blue haze Sheltering behind a stone wall in warm sun Eyes closed I see faces and places intruded by birdsong A gust whips a page from my grasp I peel it from a bush of white broom Unscrew the lid of a black plastic jar Freeing ashes onto the breeze I read Dylan Thomas to a hovering hawk and a curled cat Ashes floating gentle into that bright light settling On fossils on sheep tracks on long forgotten footsteps Waiting for a family to come home from the hill and share breakfast


A Tale Of The Children I Never Had They arrived late Busy at work at college at home Cursory greeting a drink then sleep Morning blew bright white clouds Over grey green waves Gulls fought with rooks for beach leftovers Before the tide spirited them away As usual I was up early they hated that A morning person amongst sleepy heads Tea porridge toast marmalade as usual An hour painting in the studio Mary scouring the beach for shells David in pyjamas drinking coffee smoking on the veranda Mike sleeping in churned up bed just like his great aunt One thirty Jane arrives Late of course blaming traffic Mary David Mike went to greet her She brought a rice salad Knowing I didn’t like her cooking We didn’t speak there was no need Jane stood by a window watching her children I laid out lunch in the kitchen Jane offered help I ignored Mary cut freshly baked oatbread for the gathering


I was on trial in the dock at the table end Jane began the interrogation during seabass in a chilli and dill sauce When are you sorting this place out? I need the cash Oliver and I are moving It’s only fair Mum has rights they all agreed I sliced ham spiced with paprika and cloves served with horseradish and beetroot I’ll sort it soon it is my home after all Too far out you don’t even paint the sea Do you even notice it after all these years I did each day You can’t swim no I can’t swim I never wanted to nor ride a bike I served out baked root vegetables with fresh tarragon You never played with us whilst they cracked open ryebread rolls Dipping them into walnut oil you stood back and watched You never got involved got dirty laughed shared Mum did always did You couldn’t even paint with us Only moaned when we used your brushes I spooned out a trifle made from my great aunt’s recipe Never let us into your studio your world Lunch was making a large hole in my wine collection Even though I always bought bottles they wouldn’t like Get up to date Dad buy some lighter wine rose zinfandel they moaned But they still drank up the ones I had You didn’t really want us did you You should have stayed on your own


That’s not fair I said as nuts cracked cheese chopped Incapable of love you were told you liked that But I love you all pouring them Chinese tea into delicate tiny bowls Do you a chorus of offspring chanted So why leave mum when she needed you It had to end it was getting too easy Selfish no thought for how we’d feel they retorted en masse Have I ever let you down You all seem to want so much I always help Just money Dad that’s just money You want more then give more I thought as One by one they folded away from the table to sit walk laze I cleared the remnants glasses plates cutlery cups Jane wanted to help wash up By dusk they had departed And I gave thanks that they were fortunate To have never existed in the real world (published in The Centrifugal Eye 2011)


Then nothing to do For the first time in weeks We relaxed and slept A definite improvement they said I was pleased fed up with all the visiting It got in the way of what I’m not too sure At six am the phone rang As I ran downstairs I knew What will we do without him my mother cried The phone call to my brother in Baltimore Was botched an old number confused But the operator sorted it Then nothing to do He’s feeding the pigs I’ll get him to ring The undertaker’s wife informed us Visitors keen to make tea and offer the shoulder My mother didn’t want to cry on Sitting standing pacing Time struggled by You can come and pick up his belongings A plain white plastic bag pyjamas glasses wallet razor Manuscript book pen handkerchief collar stud wedding ring Someone let him sleep they shouldn’t have I never saw the body my mother didn’t want to Never said I love you nor did he we never hugged ever Then nothing to do


Twenty five years later I received a phone call Whilst choosing bread in Tesco You need to come there’s been a turn for the worse On Sunday she seemed much better Even the ants had been cleared from the room But as I left she said I think it’s time I went One hundred hot mile drive across country As soon as I arrived I had to give consent Whether or not to resuscitate I sat beside a person who had no idea I was there Read the parable of the Good Samaritan it felt apt In the hospital car park I locked my car keys in the boot Then nothing to do I slept expecting the phone call In the morning the chaplain was praying by the bed It was time to sit wait time at a standstill We were left alone as breathing gradually descended I talked about holidays at the caravan I talked about my father my brother my life her life Breathing ceased face hollowed I sat still silent for twenty minutes Opened the door called the nurse A doctor came and I was ushered To a room apart from the living and the dead A difficult phone call to my brother Then nothing to do Then nothing more I could do


Macbeth at the Writers Group Thank you for sharing that with us William I hope you don’t mind if I call you Bill We’re an informal friendly group open to all and here to offer you help I must say I found your play interesting I’m sure the others did you have a how can I say it very different style to the rest of us That’s not saying it’s wrong of course just different Maybe rewriting it as flash fiction would make it more powerful We had a dramatist as a member a while ago Some of you may remember Ken Ken wrote amusing monologues a local Amateur Dramatic Society performed some But they didn’t go down well and we were told by the library If Ken still attended we’d lose the room Marcia chirruped in have you had anything published Bill I have Maybe as a fellow writer I could offer you some tips I think your play is a bit gloomy people like happy things don’t you think I had my first well my only poem published by an American publisher The World’s Anthology of Poetry I’m sure you know it I bought the Special Leather Bound Edition it’s a pity they spelt my name wrong No I haven’t read the other poems there are so many mine’s on page 497 I read it to Benji every day he purrs every time he hears it It’s called The Baby Lambs in Spring happy things Bill that’s what people want Frank butted in booming from his corner seat Well I think you missed a great opportunity Bill Those witches that sort of thing witches wizards sells


Frank is one of our stars four articles published so far this year Aye one just last week in Dog Fighting Monthly I’ve got another soon in The Slaughter Man’s Digest Those witches and that bloke Macbeth they could have a naked orgy Then the witches could take over his body and have lesbian sex with Lady Macbeth Aye I know who’d publish that aye that sort of thing sells Walter timidly raised his hand to offer his opinion I couldn’t see any influence by the working class on this play We needed to see how the people rise up and overthrow the tyrants And you should think about the language you use William I know our brothers and sisters on the street They won’t understand a word you write They would sympathise with Brother and Sister Macbeth Oh and I’m sorry just another minor criticism you don’t reflect the community You know William in Scotland there are many minorities You appear to have written only about white Scottish characters Why not make Sister Macbeth a Muslim shop steward With a violent husband have you read Trotsky Well Bill Veronica interjected or as the Garuntians would call you Vog Well Vog what you write about reminds me of my time on Garuntia I was abducted by a Garuntian inter stella craft while I was gardening It’s unfortunate I didn’t have my writing book pencil and camera on me I do carry them everywhere now so that next time I am properly prepared But I have all my notes here about the experiments they performed on me


I’ve gone into great detail about the extensive vaginal and anal probing I can show you the marks some of the deeper ones are quite startling You know Vog I have been called a genius by my pen friend in Dartmoor He reads everything I write and is always asking for more detail When he is released in twelve years he wants to closely examine where they probed Have you ever been abducted by aliens Vog Well I think we’ve had a good discussion about your play Bill It raised some interesting issues and I hope was helpful to you Maybe when you’ve done some rewriting you’ll bring it back to us Now Gerald I think it’s your turn to read next Is it another amusing story of your time as an embalmer (published in The Centifugal Eye 2013)


The Final Firing Noeux-les-Mines, December 19th 1944 “He’s a Brit Sir… Sir he’s a fuckin Brit… not a Frog Sir!” Second Lieutenant Walker couldn’t hear through the rumble of engines from the endless column of tanks and trucks that had stopped at the sound of a gun. He ran across the ploughed up narrow field to a graveyard. “What did you say Baines?” “Look Sir he’s a Brit!” Sergeant Baines held up a tattered red leather dog tag for the Lieutenant to see. “Sure it’s not just a souvenir Baines, Great War that is. He doesn’t look like a Brit?” A mangled body lay below a blood splattered high white and grey stone wall. The remains of his clothes bloodied and scorched but clearly the blue grey clothes of local French workers. A garden brush lay beside him. A wheelbarrow smashed against the wall. “Looks like he was tidying up the leaves Sir, autumn init?” Walker looked around at the clean white gravestones collapsed like a deck of cards, some broken. “Damn Baines, damn. You know what this is don’t you?” “A graveyard Sir?” “A bloody war grave cemetery Baines… a bloody war cemetery”. “Bit small isn’t it Sir?” There were twenty nine stones, not like the massed war cemeteries they had passed the day before. Walker knelt down on his haunches and read aloud one of the unbroken stones.


“Private Harold Arthur Potter died in action 17th October 1916 age 21”. Baines read out another. “Private Albert Turner died in action 17th October 1916 age 20”. The North Staffordshire Regiment emblem, the Staffordshire Knot, was roughly carved on each stone. They turned over a couple of other stones, some were smashed beyond recognition. Walker read out some others, but to himself. “Looks like they were all killed on the same day Sergeant, all the same regiment”. “Yes Sir... They’re a bit knackered Sir, can me and the lads brew up, there’s a shed over there Sir, probably got water?” “All right, but don’t be long we’re behind schedule already. Major’s not going to like this, he said specifically to be careful of the war graves. What the hell was Thompson doing firing at that burned out tank?” “Said he saw it move Sir”. Walker looked at the rusting remains of the German tank. “Move! That thing hasn’t moved since ’40! There’s no bloody Jerry for two hundred miles!” “No Sir”. “Thompson missed anyway, bloody good job it wasn’t Jerry or we’d have all been joining these lads here”. “Bloody Thompson eh, typical” Baines laughed, “couldn’t hit a piss pot in a bog Sir!” Baines walked back towards the group of squaddies hanging around the shed door. “Sergeant!” Baines stopped and looked round at the Lieutenant.


“Radio Battalion that we’ll clean up and make sure there’s no boobies in that shed. No more fuck ups Sergeant! Make me a brew while you’re at it”. “Yes Sir! No Sir no more fuck ups” Baines chuckled to himself, murmuring ‘fuckin officers’, as he trudged towards the knot of men who had lit up and looked bored. There was an increase in the noise and hum of engines as the column began to move again, slowly winding eastwards. Fed up squaddies not asleep glanced at the mess Thompson had made. Walker crouched down beside the body and looked closely at the dog tag. Private 445088 Machin it read. He could see that the torn and blooded jacket had something in an inside pocket. He pulled out dog-eared half burnt papers and a French identity card. He was a Brit alright but with French papers, Edward Albert Machin. Walker knew that meant more paperwork, and took a deep breath and exhaled, this was all he needed. The man, which he took to be Machin, had a local address which was hard to read through the blood stains. One page was covered in fading German rubber stamps. His schoolboy French could just about understand Gardien, it meant either gardener or caretaker, he wasn’t sure. The man looked over fifty, though with half his face was missing it was hard to tell. “Sir! Come over here sir and look at this” “What is it Baines?” Walker said resignedly. Walker strode through the collapsed gravestones towards a group of about ten soldiers hanging around a stone shed built into the cemetery wall. “Looks like he lived here Sir” Baines held up a kettle and teapot Walker entered a warm dimly lit shed which was about twelve foot square, a small window was covered in hessian. There was an old army camp bed, wooden chair, small table, white sink and a tap, some basic pottery, bread, potatoes, cheese. In one corner was a black stove which was lit and giving out


considerable heat, two squaddies stood next to it warming their hands. On the wall was a faded hand written list of twenty-nine names, a tick by each one and next to each name a plot number. Baines opened a cupboard built into the wall. “Good God” “Bloody hell!” Hanging up was a uniform from the Great War. A brass Staffordshire Knot on the epaulettes, a stripe on each arm. The buttons were polished but tarnished. A rifle leaning up at the back of the cupboard, was cleaned and ready for use.

Bursley Vale Pottery, October 16th 1914 In the open square in the middle of the pot bank Mr Longshaw stood self importantly on a pile of wooden packing cases, straw bursting from the seams, his ‘Napoleon look’ the lads called it. “Well lads I’m proud of yer. I wish I were comin’ with yer but I’m too owd now and anyroad up someone has to keep this place runnin, what with all them orders from the army, don’t know what they want so much hospital equipment for, but it’ll keep things going ’til yer all get back. Yer jobs are open, yer know that, and next year I promise yer when you’re all back from France, I’ll pay for a day trip to Llandudno for you. Yer families can come half price. Aye…”. There was a muffled cheer from thirty young men. Other workers stood around and at open dirty windows. “Aye… as I were saying your jobs are kept open. I tried to go to South Africa beat those bastard Boers, but they said I were too short”. There was another cheer and a loud laugh from the lads and the watching workers.


“I know some of yer are a bit young to be joinin up, but I had a word down the barracks and assured ’em you’re all over eighteen and keen as mustard!” There was an approving cheer. “Aye lads keen as mustard! I also arranged that you’d all be together, so you can do Bursley Vale Pottery and Bursley proud, show those Prussians what for eh! You’ll be eating off Kaiser Bill’s plates in Berlin this Christmas, bring us one back and we’ll copy it for a victory souvenir eh!” The lads laughed and some threw their caps in the air. “Aye and if you happen to end up in Meissen, bring us a few of those pretty figurines eh! Anyroad, you all march off tomorrow afternoon, so just come in the morning do half a day, then finish at twelve, gives for yer time say goodbye. I’ll make sure your families get your wages. I’m that proud of you, no other potbank in Bursley’s sent so many! Thirty of yer, thirty of the best eh, you’ll show ‘em, I know yer will. So lets sing together God Save the King!” The lads and the rest of the workers stood and joined together roaring out the anthem, then cheered until they were hoarse. When they were finished the foreman, Albert Machin clambered up onto the packing cases. “I propose three cheers for Mr Longshaw” then turning to his boss, “and I’ll keep ’em safe, look after ’em for yer Mr Longshaw, I’ll bring ’em all back home” Hip Hip Hooray they all shouted and caps flew into the air falling to the ground like autumn leaves.



Gathering Grief