Jean Marguerite was born September 1st 1933.   She was born to Charlie and Gladys.   They lived in south London.   Much of the south of London was built with sandstone bricks which over the years have become dirty; but the streets were clean.   Streets were wide because there were few cars.   Inside was darker, net-curtained and half-silhouetted; outside was wide, airy and yellow-bricked.   Her mother was very house-proud when she was young and kept the house spotlessly clean: a polished table and a sparkling cut-glass vase.   Jeanie liked to play on her tricycle but she would get grubby from time to time.   She had no brothers or sisters and wished all her life that she could have.   Her father would sometimes call her ‘Swank and Crackers’ because she would stomp around like a grown-up and mimic grown-up talk: half-stated and rhetorical.



                                Dear Mum

                                been feeling the need for a walk
                                and talk down to Woolwich and
                                around, through the history and
                                possibility of a Saturday morning,
                                arm in arm again, for many decades

                                now, but now there are only seconds
                                between all the thoughts and dramas
                                since you died (even, while you were
                                alive) where so much time has passed;
                                and Woolwich fades into building site

                                and cranes; all I could do then was listen
                                through letter, my life was too ‘detailed’
                                and 40 miles away, I said I could be there
                                in paper … now you are no miles away
                                and lost to all effect like cotton walls

                                we always had so much to talk about,
                                so many miles to cover – new routes
                                and ruins; new words and pasts – all
                                throughout the seventies, that the
                                eighties and nineties yawned us apart

                                in all our observation and resolve
                                until your illness made us embarrassed;
                                I had thought to shoulder my part of it
                                but the decades were against us and I
                                grew into the father I never had

                                I had paused to hear your resolve to fight
                                ‘the Fighter was back!’ brave-facing things
                                down to their shame and dissipation, again
                                and again, through all the crush and
                                nullity, giving your sons their childhood,

                                giving Nan her family, the silent duty
                                offered matter over fact, ‘just one of
                                those things’, until you were fighting
                                for retirement, fighting to allow for
                                all of people in all of their array

                                fighting to walk around London, to
                                read and study each new stretch of reborn
                                morning; I include you in my thoughts
                                these days in the quiet moments between
                                successive acts of my plays and rites and

                                whether the religion is suspect or not
                                the prayers are from your son’s heart
                                we have lost all the time of a world
                                but there are still so many miles to cover
                                still now, much love, mark





                Dear Mum,

                it was good to read from you
                in this new write of relationship
                although the tiredness in your word
                was obvious when it came:

                so you might expect a remission
                for weeks or years or not, which
                certainly sharpens a life, and with no
                dependents to consider anymore

                preparing ready for the time
                more-clear-now to come, the better
                to put your life into its order,
                is it God calling you now?

                I know you have your congregation
                around you (even if it is too much at times)
                how families ebb and go in peoples’ lives
                only sometimes built around the tree

                we four were close for a while forming the
                parts of each others’ lives; it took a long time to
                emerge, even after university, even after
                Nan died, even as my own family grew,

                I was still with us in Genesta Road; and yet
                there you are, all through the chemo, I see
                you adjust your life talking of ‘excess
                baggage’ – I was happy to take possession

                of the photographs: of you working at the
                office seeing those goods in and out, those
                huge ships like family, with their chapter
                and verse, those endless invoices in triplicate

                smell of typewriter ribbon, the bad air-conditioning
                the silly young office workers testing up their futures
                your giggly exchanges with them, all part of that endless work
                up and down the River through endless years like a grate

                take care, much love,




Dear Mum,

                I sit down to write –
too much draining into reserve too much exhaustion of voice controlling 30 pupils in a class; this job of constant give and demand leaves me slumped and inert, little use to anyone …

                … your illness, the hospital
                the cancer in your blood
                the ongoing-term shock

                watching you audit your life
                watching you simplify a life
                already simple, coming back
                to terms with it again and again

                now you are back in hospital
                because of a cold –
this is not something to be sorted with a little rest and a Lemsip –
                it won’t ‘be over’ at all will it but rather
                fought through better and worse
                (all the struggles of the last year
                 not in vain but in reality)

(in the 70s we saved up for the smallest things; things went wrong – we even got burgled! – (I saw you, you kept our worry to yourself) but then you ‘tut’d up a ‘this won’t do’: a good laugh all together in our house at what we had left –
                Ryokan’s moon* –








                Dear Mum,

                                good to talk with you over Christmas
                                              honest and open
                                              I love that even when we don’t meet
                                              we can say we haven’t met to each other
                                                              when needed; we had

                                              a good holiday
                                              set everything up and
                                              let it all happen
                                              by itself
                                some of it was boring
                                some of it was tinsel-ly
                                Joe* called it ‘Winterval’
                I call it the gift to see like a child; recent dreams

                                of Eglinton Hill**
                still coming to terms with Dad leaving
                                after all these years … we had all been left
                                              we all had to survive, we all had to move down
                                              from Eglinton Hill to terraced Genesta Road*** –
                                              environment of survival – with the silly talk
                                              and crazy plans of becoming through the 70s

                                healing comes in smiling on the pain we carry
                                              befriending dis-order to help the heal
                                                              with the benign mind it ensues (it is
                                not the perfect but the imperfect that
                                                                      is in need of our love said our Oscar****)

                                              you might have
                                              good years left

                                              not cured but
                                              checking the

                                              cancer with
                                              little giggle and

                                              slight hysteric
                                              and you are right:

                                              bugger the dignity
                                              bugger the unfairness and
                                              bugger the chemo

                                Zen Master Hakuin was accused
                                of fathering the child – ‘is that so!’
                                he took care of the child – just so
                                the mother confessed, the parents
                                apologised and in yielding back the
                                child – ‘is that so!’

                much love, mark


                      twelve years since Mum died
                                a short lifetime
                      in a weekend

                      I gaze back at the Mona Lisa
                                who reminds me how
                                hard to meditate
                      wanting her life to have
                                been worthwhile
                                I smile slightly



She lived near to the river: the air in the streets of South London is air which has been over the river, it doesn’t smell of the river and it is not wet, but it has been over the river and is clean.   When she later married she eventually moved into a house up one side of Shooter’s Hill which overlooked the river; she worked in a shipping office and invoiced – in and out – the cargo of ships which docked in the river; she walked along the river when she was older and living alone; she left me a book of walks along the Thames when she died.



To my Mum who breathed deep the day she got a good set of saucepans
     in her pantry in 1974.
To my Mum who walked the long tunnel at Woolwich to and from work
     every day for twenty five years.
To my Mum who smiled on Plumstead Common when the white clouds
     were on the horizon and the grey cloud seamless in all the windows.
To my Mum who ate chops and beans every evening to hold off weight
     but who always wore smart coats.
To my Mum who was never quite sure if it was OK to laugh and relax in
     the seventies as the possibility suggested,

          – yes, it was okay,

and every time she did,
there were plastic raincoats in the evening high street,
there was Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach,
there were floorboards and wooden stepladders and wallpaper,
there were empty milk bottles on the doorstep,
there was a thin of snow on the housing estate under the green grey sky,
there were bowls of crisps crackers and twiglets for the Cup Final,
there were high sash windows overlooking the Thames,
there were phone wires in front of the skies where she would never go
there were car journeys on wet roads by deep green fields,
there were yellow streetlights of new relationships of new-found friends,
there were bulbous patterns of brown and green to match the seasons.

My Mum cried when it all went wrong but went to work anyway.



She married Alan Francis George Redford.   He was straight out of the 1950’s.   He was tall, thin, slicked-back hair, heavy-rimmed glasses and he played piano.   In a band.   I thought he played late at night in smokey clubs.   He was shy and devastating and laughed a “yeah” when he was being sociable.   She was fizzy, smiley and infectious.   She wore bright blue tops.   Neither of them were what they seemed to be.   Really.



                                                                all the while
                                                                on a wall opposite
                                                                Mum’s flat almost
                                                                12 years after
                                                                her death

a teen boy with a walking impairment climbs out of the aqua Corsa by
     the newsagent PAYZONE
a young Asian black Corsa rear hub missing stops to let the thumbs up
     arm up hand thanks man cross slowly with his stick
the 53 double decker patiently weaved around the Zafira parked too
     close to the crossing island oneway nodding up and down
the maroon Vectra beeeped one ‘e’ too long top lip folded up teeth and
     swerved but stayed behind the black Carlton turning moving steadily
a grey-haired probably 77 year old woman carefully turned her silver
     Peugeot left

in a dark coat bright scarf white trainers pausing after the road was
     crossed pausing by the gate had made it to the newsagents then
     started back but
I didn’t see where she went



They bought a three-floor house in Eglinton Hill, Plumstead.   He worked in a company, wore suits, and came home with new company cars from time to time.   Cleared room, floorboards painted black, dusty, wooden step ladder held open by two short pieces of rope; holding a paper scraper and somewhere – down a street, with fewer cars and tree-lined – drove a car.   The walls eventually had red rose wallpaper, I preferred when the walls were bare with bits of wallpaper left and odd sections of dark colours – blue – the bareness and the black floorboards and the bay window opening out into the world and the Springfields playing on a portable record player again.



                                              true to life

                      two days before she died
                      deep in the pain that would
                                swallow her unconscious
                      she said she felt sorry
                                for Dad

                      who had left to find
                                another life
                      away from the one he had

                                she left implicit
                      that he would never find one
                                always wondering
                                always wandering

                                but she
                      had stayed with the rubble
                      the lino and the clumps of grass
                                true to her sons
                                true to her mother
                                true to her pain



On November 2nd 1967, my father left my mother.   I think he did this to start his new life.   I think he thought it was impossible to continue as he was.   About four years later my mother fell down the three steps from the kitchen on her way to join us in the lounge.   She didn’t get straight up, she just lay there awkwardly.




eleven years ago my scruffy-trousered pal who became my Mum one lifetime slipped out of this life of strange disappointment and occasional beauty:

flat shoes and bayed terraces by the common
grey skies and fresh shifts of wind over the common
sudden wide smile – incisors – by the Military Academy on the common

disinfectant footsteps through the tunnel under the Thames
cottage window looking back out along the Victorian rear extension
roof slopes at right angles and chimney pots 51 buses and steep hills

the kicked-in front door and the white shag carpet
the net curtains and the view of the River below blue skies
the last breath and the 16 year old face



Mum has gone from her body; that part of her is finished.   I cry for that because I remember all the times I had with her.   But now I am with her while she is going through the inbetween experience.   This is different because I am never sure if she is ‘there’, if she can recognise me or know what I am thinking.   I say mantras and prayers for her.   It is only since she has died that I have realised how pretty she was.   She was pretty even when she died; even though her face was sagged and her eyes were pointing apart I still saw her smile behind her face.   While she was dying I took off my glasses a little and looked at her face and it looked as though it was 16 years old and she looked remarkably like John.   She had a very pretty smile; I think I came only to notice her worried face or her annoyed face and had forgot her pretty face.   I only noticed it when she was dying.




            the bittersweet beauty
            of the apartment block window
                                              stood at any stage
            up the face of the building
                      looking up further to the top
            back from the main façade
                      stepped and higher
                                or dwarfed by yet another block
            kept in place by its
                                everything kept in place
                      by gigantitude


            when I was young an image
            of a building so many floors high
            pinnacling to a turret roof
            on the pink cover
                      on the blue cover
            of the insurance policies
            that my Mum kept

            my mother is now dead
            the policies came to nothing



I had a dream during Thursday night that I was chasing something flying through the sky, I suddenly turned ‘up’ through the sky (as if it were a ceiling) and I found myself somewhere which I understood to be heaven.   I told Mum this dream as she was dying, I think it comforted her.



I have memories of her from years back, and I have the memory of her as she was dying in hospital and the two haven’t fully met together in my mind.   In fact the memory of her while she was ill was also different from her when she was my Mum in the 70s.   In fact all memories of her are spaced and seemingly unconnected.


part of a dream (14th/15th May 1999): I am approaching a place, an institutional place, over a bridge possibly, and yes, there is Mum, walking away from the place with a friend (a Witness, although I didn’t see who).   She was short with her dark coat on and her hair cut short and awkwardly as if it was a wig.   But the prevailing feeling for me was one of realising that she was coming home and the nonplussed feeling that she is coming home because I had thought she had died.   I had the feeling that maybe I hadn’t really quite understood about Mum’s death the way I don’t understand exactly what is going on sometimes and really I’d got it all wrong.   Mum wasn’t particularly noticing of me … is the interpretation that Mum has found a rebirth, that she has ‘come home’ to Woolwich, or even to Eglinton Hill?   And the fact that she didn’t particularly remark me means that even if we did meet up again she is not going to recognise me?


part of a dream (18th/19th May 1999): I am walking with my Mum along what feels to be Shrewsbury Lane, early in the morning, part of a visit I am making with her.   We are walking along and I say something along the lines that I am glad that we have had this chance to talk a little together.   We feel close and friendly like we used to when we walked together in the 70’s.

It occurs to me that I did see her and talked with her closely and honestly the Wednesday before the Friday she died.   Earlier on we had had tens of discussions where we talked honestly and exploratively.   Those conversations were the gems in our relationship, they were clear and communicative, they were honest and compassionate.   They had some wisdom in them.   This is the strong summary of our relationship, the 39 years we spent together we lived together gently and with love and we talked closely from time to time.


dream; night of 18th-19th January 2001: I was in a city in the future, I was with a group of people – maybe my own family – who were sneaking through a backend part of the city to a forgotten doorway to the outside world.   We let in some outsiders, they were supplying arms, but we were ambushed.   We ran away down some steps, but we were actually walking away from the cinema screen where the drama was actually taking place, and anyway it wasn’t all that important because the screen was round the corner – in a sort of alley to the side of the large room – the audience was there but only those on the side of the alley could see down enough to watch the screen side-on.   We sat at our seats, we were on the left hand side of the room.   Then out of the corner of my eye I see Mum standing there, with her beige mac.   I say, ‘what are you doing here…’ happy to see her again but thinking ‘given that you are dead?’   She explains – although not in so many words, I seem to understand what she means directly from her mind – that she is appearing to me because it is near to her being reborn again; she is in a womb.   I ask where she will be reborn, she replies in ‘Bidlinton’, she thinks it is in Kent.



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