#writephoto: A Victorian birthday party

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday photo prompt. Not seasonal or even peaceful, but it fits rather well with (you guessed) a scene I’ve reached in my latest WIP.

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The dessert was a monument of whipped cream and custards, sponge soaked in sherry and dripping with cherries and plums preserved in brandy. The confection was more or less square, with a perron, turrets and towers at its four corners, doors in chocolate, and windows in angelica sliced so fine as to be transparent. It tottered over the glasses and candelabras, glistening with sweetness, and raising gasps of admiration from the guests.

“For you, Cecilia.”

After copious eating and drinking, her husband’s complexion was several shades redder than usual and his dark humour had mellowed into complacent pride in his achievements. He pointed to the gilded sugar-iced inscription over the chocolate doors.

“Fairfax Hall. Do you recognise it?”

Holdsworth guffawed, his mouth opening wide enough to swallow turrets and towers. “I should think she would! It’s all there, a masterpiece!”

ed, masculine almost, her face and throat firmly defined, imperious. Her mouth was op

Cecilia looked at the quivering thing and her throat filled with bile. She swallowed back the nausea and smiled at her husband. “You have made me something from a fairy tale.”

Holdsworth led the applause and Jessop glowed. He called for the champagne and amid screeches of terror from the ladies, opened a bottle of demi-sec, pouring Cecilia the first coupe. She turned her face from his to the portrait above the fireplace, and raised her glass.

“To Hawisa.” The hubbub died and a faintly bemused silence fell. “My ancestor,” she pursued. “The first Fairfax of all. Fairfax was her by-name, it means fair haired.” She smiled at the company and raised the glass to her lips.

All eyes turned to the painting. The subject had none of the soft boneless nature that generally portrayed femininity. Her clothes were simple homespun, not satin and silk draped archly to cover voluptuous naked curves. Her outstretched arm was strongly muscled in a most unfeminine act of haranguing or rallying.

The women’s eyes narrowed, no doubt comparing the features of the barbaric savage to their own white and fully-fleshed limbs. The men too found nothing to ogle in the portrait, nothing worth looking at at all. Even the horses, if the shadowy background really was horses in movement, were too confused and unformed to be admired. Only the dogs, war dogs with heavy jaws and heavy collars drew the eye. One at either hand of the masculine warrior-woman, they gazed solemnly out of the painting, and in their eyes was a warning.

Elizabeth Jane turned her back on the uncouth image. “Your ancestor looks more like a working girl than a lady of the nobility.”

“I assure you she was a powerful lady of her times, owning all of these hills as far north as Skipton, Holderness on the east coast and Castle Bytham in the south. She was greatly loved and admired.”

Elizabeth Jane looked at her with incredulity. “She was a great benefactress perhaps?”

Cecilia smiled, a smile that showed her small, white teeth. “She led a rebellion of poor Saxon farmers against their Norman overlords.”

Haibun for a father’s birthday

This haibun is in response to a fortuitous prompt from the Daily Inkling. Today is my dad’s birthday. The prompt is ‘I’m the King of the World.’


Today is his birthday, not was. It will always be the day he was born. He’d be an old man now, too old to remember the stories he used to tell us, the poems he wrote, the people he’d known. I’m glad he never lost any of his force, physical or intellectual. Living so far from his roots was hard enough, to dip into the sea that lapped his home shore, to feel the same bleak wind in his face. He’s there now, if only I could see him, standing legs braced against an Atlantic gale, looking down into the bay where the seals play and the gulls scream.

Wind full of voices

pours from the distant sea

salt in the wounds.

October 27: Haibun for a mother


This day is yours, always will be, forever and ever. I never knew how you envisaged it, the place beyond the veil, or if you ever did, content with just the contemplation aspect and the praising, being religious and a singer. But I have my ideas, my hopes, that your green fields will be greener, the wind carry you, soft as a spring day, and love wash you in an endless tide.

Wind blows feather soft

over these hills, these meadows,

a bright memory

The sky was falling

Today we celebrate a birthday.



The sky was falling thick and fast,

Midnight past and Easter Day,

Snow drifted down, life on the cusp.


Dark snow dogged slow and pain-filled steps,

We trudged towards the beacon light,

The sky was falling thick and fast.


Long night rolled by in waves of pain,

Did I fear the end or hope in joy,

Midnight past and Easter Day?


Silent you came, a golden ray,

As perfect a child as has ever been,

Snow drifted down, life on the cusp.

Things that will never die


From the fizzling gaps between the lines,

the stars that fill the silver screen,

where rainbows end and birds fly why can’t I,

the voice falls clear as liquid light.

So far away he must be,

as far as static rocket ships can fly

through the ear

and into the silence of space,

and yet the interstices of life

are full of things that will never die.


Birthday: Two

Photo©Roger MacLachlann


Faster than snowflakes, the short days fly,

As the darkest time of the year draws near,

While stars glitter coldly in the endless night.


Ice cracks and splinters under the stars,

Cold glitter falling where the black sea heaves,

Faster than snowflakes the short days fly.


Huddled and silent we wait for the dawn,

That breaks like the waves on the moon-bright strand,

As the darkest time of the year draws near


This day marks a year less to hold you close

So you wrap me round with the pulse of your heart

While stars glitter coldly in the endless night.



Birthday: One

Photo©Jean-Luc Ourlin


This day, a symbol, a turning of the path,

is more, an aging, a dimming of the light.

So easy at the dark time of the year,

when nature sleeps and the stars weigh down

with such heavy, insupportable glitter,

to feel the end in the endlessness,

the slipping from warm closeness

into the cold nothingness beyond.

She gives me a card, the child, on this day,

a message of special words

that bring the sun a little closer,

the spring a little nearer.

‘We could be heroes’

and this is the day.

Microfiction: A beautiful surprise

First thoughts on this pic. I’ll have more serious ones later, I hope.


“Close your eyes and hold out your hands,” she said, grinning with delight. He held out his hands.

“Careful,” she said.

He opened his eyes. They widened with pleasure then misted over. “Oh,” he said in an uncharacteristically tiny voice. “It’s beautiful.”

“It’s what you wanted?”

He nodded, speechless.

“I wanted today to be special. It isn’t the Big One-Oh-Oh-Oh every birthday is it?”

“Do you know what it is?” he asked as he turned the big golden egg around in trembling claws.

“A Fabergé. Cost me half a hoard. But you’re worth it,” she said and kissed him on the tip of his smoky nose.

Birth day

Today is my birthday so I shall indulge in a bit of navel-gazing.


On this day,

Long ago and far away,

I was born in a town I’ve never seen,

A country never been,

Among people I’ll never know.

Mid-December day of ice and snow,

A hesitation on the way,

Not a place to stay,

No ties that bind,

No tangled interwined

Branch and root,

No tree to bear fuit.

Distant, unregretted time and place,

No memories stored that can replace,

This me, this you,

This just we two,

This river-bright, cloud-grey

Mild and blustery, gull-filled day.