Vanessa Haley – Out of the Blue

I got angry again on Saturday

Out of the blue in self defence

After, I knew I had, though didn’t quite remember

It’s my shame

They blame it on the wine

Say I drink too much

Though these days I barely do

I got annoyed again then

Blame laid at the wrong feet

Because no matter how many times I tell them


They simply cannot see

How much its changed me.

I hide it way too well

Don’t talk in depth about this living hell

The rage, frustration and intrusive thoughts

Chewing me up inside

I cannot sleep, I cannot stop, there is no rest

I’m a natural born pacifist

Now filled with boiling rage


Debbie Nicholson Wood


My parents were lucky. They grew up in families who survived the ravages of Hitler.
They may have lost relatives (and some in the war before too) and their parents may have lost many of the things they’d worked for between the wars, but when things went wrong or were just a bit trying they had to quickly learn to ‘just get on with it’.

It’s probably true that communities were stronger then. You could pop next door for a cup of sugar and you could usually find a shoulder to cry on but you had to be ‘strong’ and you had to ‘look after your own’. I can’t imagine how tough it was for them, but I heard some stories. Like the time my Nan had to run for her life across a railway line with a pram and a couple of toddlers while under fire. Or the time my Grandad got blown off his bike by a bomb. (He survived with a broken arm but got back on his bike anyway.) And then there was the post war trauma that my poor mother suffered for years into adulthood because she grew up on the South Coast of England where the German invasion was expected any moment.

After the war there was little to go around. If you had a roof over your head and food in the cupboard you were doing alright. God forbid that you dared want or hope for more than that. My parents had grown up on rations, egg substitute and tinned carrots. Occasionally in my early days I dared to turn my nose up at some of the things they’d got used to: “Eugh, not tinned carrots!” “You don’t know how lucky you are my girl! When I was your age…..!”

Well I didn’t know did I?! I was growing up in the sixties. Mum and Dad had managed to get a mortgage on a brand new little house on a brand new housing estate. We had loads of hiding places on the half-built estate to muck about in from dawn till dusk. If we felt brave we would cross the road and go to the meadows and play in the stream. We had bikes and telephone boxes and ice cream vans and the Corona lorry. We had school dinners and a school nurse and a library in a van. We had a brand new school with massive playing fields to get lost in. We had a proper NHS and a local cottage hospital. I had my tonsils out there. I got ice cream every day. I didn’t know I was born.

In the 1980s I and my classmates had the chance of free further education. We weren’t going to have to leave school at 14, do an apprenticeship then go to night classes after a day’s work and do pub shifts at the weekends to pay for it all. If we passed our A Levels we were going to the brand new Polytechnic to get a degree! A degree! We could better ourselves; we could achieve even more. So, somehow without really trying, we became middle class teachers and electronic engineers. We landed decent jobs and bought our first flats.

Then in the 1990s we had our own kids. So we moved to our first house and farmed the babies out to their grandparents while we tried to hold down our ever increasing workloads. It turned out that it wasn’t possible to give my kids everything that I’d had when I were growing up. We still felt working class, but our kids had become middle class. They had stuff. They had daytime telly and Little Tykes and bouncy birthday castles. They had Pampers and Postman Pat and the Teletubbies. They had after school clubs and swimming lessons. But they couldn’t really play out in the streets with their mates from next door, or throw sticks at the dog down the road. They had to have play dates instead. Oh God, play dates! More ferrying about. In and out of their car seats stowed in the back of the executive Ford Sierra we worked so hard to pay for. My generation may have had it good but we just about burned ourselves out.

No wonder. All that pressure on high achieving grown ups who had learned as kids to ‘just get on with it’, suddenly finding that ‘just getting on with it’ doesn’t cut the mustard. We wanted more out of life. To be listened to.

And now I’m older, the kids have gone and tbh, I’m bloody tired. Everything seems worse when you’re tired. Stuff I stashed away, that I couldn’t talk about, sometimes rears right up like an angry, unbroken wild horse. I find myself at 55 years old raging with a fury that I can hardly express. The guilt and shame that I feel for daring to be angry at all are sometimes so overwhelming that I don’t know what to do with myself. Except to cry in the shower where no one hears and tell myself over and over: Be grateful for what you’ve got and remember how lucky you are. Because my girl, you’re a child of the sixties.

Waiting Room & The Platform by Robert P. Clarke

Waiting Room

This is a temporary space
Where people pass through
They sit
They read
A magazine, book or check info
Of where they are going
The times of the trains
Glancing around at the unfamiliar faces
Theirs eyes looking down
Focussing on their own little world
Waiting for the train to come

There’s been a delay
A broken down engine
Everyone looks nervous
Will they meet their connection?
The silence is broken
With the timings announced
10 minutes late
then rising by minute

Passing words are exchanged
With a stranger
About the wait
About the time
A comment about the weather
And about their concerns
Whether they will make
Their destination in time

The walls are unforgiving
And don’t seem to care
About the predicament
These people now face
The train is delayed
The announcement repeats
But it’s now that time
And the train pulls in
The strangers depart
In their own different paths
Boarding the train
To leave the waiting room
Empty once more

The Platform

There are jubilant shouts of joy
As friends and family meet once more
Been a long time coming
The tears of Joy as the train pulls in
Waiting on the platform for loved ones

After the visit
Sad farewells
Waving goodbye
Sharing hugs and kisses

The train pulls off
It’ll be another year
Stay in contact they promise
by phone and more
Miss you lots x x
Until next time…

A Nice Thing for My Mother by Rachele Salvini

A Nice Thing for My Mother

Mark’s made an unknown woman smile for the first time when he was six years old and he was picking his nose on the train. He was sitting between his grandmother and his mom, who was tightening her trembling fingers around a wet tissue.

Mark looked at the girl sitting in front of him. She had just seen him digging in the depths of his nostril. His grandmother told him off, hissing that a real gentleman must not be caught doing certain things. The girl smiled. His mother, instead, kept quiet.

It was so rare to see a smile on his mother’s face, that Mark decided he would do his best to make every other woman happy.

When his classmates would pull girls’ hair or cut their Barbies’ heads, Mark always came up to them. He cheered them up and made them laugh, pretending to fall and get hurt.
When he grew up and started dating Josie, Mark treated her as well as he could. He spent time with her everyday, even if he was busy preparing his final act. He called it a nice thing for my mother.

He wanted to see his mother smile. She was usually quiet, too busy with cooking and cleaning the house for him and his father or locking herself up in the toilet. Mark was used to her muffled wail.

Before turning seventeen, he had been too small and weak to accomplish his plan and see her smile once and for all. But now, thanks to all the baseball practice after school, his shoulders had squared. His back was as hard as a shell, his legs quick and sturdy, and the muscles of his arms ready to wield any kind of object suitable for the purpose.
The chance finally arrived on a night of September. It was torrid, too torrid for the beginning of autumn. Mark was lying on his bed, reading. He heard his father slamming the hallway door and dragging himself to the kitchen with his usual pace of drunkenness. Mark closed his book slowly. He was extremely calm. As his mother’s screams filled the kitchen for the umpteenth time, Mark bent down to grab the baseball bat from under his bed.

He walked down the stairs, but he stopped abruptly when he felt the bat slipping in his sweaty hand. He stood still, paralysed, and he heard everything, every single scream. He could not take a single step more. He heard his father slamming the door and leaving. His mother was crying, but Mark closed his eyes and climbed up the stairs to go back to bed. He knew he couldn’t make it. He had always known.

His father disappeared. Mark kept on opening the door before every single woman, helped old ladies carrying grocery bags and made everything possible to see his partners smile. But as their lips twitched and opened slightly on their teeth, he would think of his mother’s mouth, still sealed in a sombre line.

Amy Rowe

When you sign the dotted line and begin employment it is understandable to believe that your former school days of playground games are over. The workplace canteen may seem to serve school dinners but this time it is entirely your choice to buy into them. Those scuffed shoes and forgotten jumpers are now your responsibility and teacher’s lectures have been replaced by an air of expectation emitting from your boss. No playground games though. Right?

It’s Monday morning. Staff meeting. Bright eyed and caffeine fuelled, the team assemble enthusiastic about the fresh week ahead. Everything is under control, things are looking good. Colleague A starts ‘work-talk’. Colleague B responds first, eager to be involved. Colleague A feels threatened; they are wary about Colleague B’s ideas and haven’t quite forgiven them for eating the last piece of office cake last week. Discussion turns to debate and things get heated. Both have good ideas but one needs to be selected. They need an outsider’s opinion. They look at you.

Piggy in the middle. Playground days are back.

I’ve always struggled with being a people pleaser and just reading the scenario above fills me with dread. I remember once being asked my opinion on colour choices for an event flyer after two colleagues I worked closely with had alternative opinions. I can’t recall either of the choices as my mind flooded with anxiety at the thought of upsetting one by dismissing their suggestion. I loved my job and knew from experience which would be the most appropriate option but the responsibility of the outcome of the dispute made me want to run for the hills. Suddenly my job lost its appeal, not because of the work but because of the atmosphere created by differences in character.
Luckily this dispute was settled easily, but similar situations are a daily occurrence and can have a huge influence on your feelings about your job. More often that not, workplaces are a community of diverse individuals meaning character clashes are inevitable. Even if you have no direct involvement, atmospheres can quickly become suffocating and fill you with unease. Accepting this fact and learning how to manage yourself when friction occurs is essential to maintain your job-satisfaction and well being. Luckily, there are numerous resources out there to guide your responses to these difficult situations. As a starter, I’ve complied a collection of simple pointers that I hope will be as beneficial to you as they have to me.

• Acceptance: Within any team or community the key to success is drawing on the range of skills each member has. to contribute. If everybody was the same then there would be no variation in skills and abilities. Differences will inevitably throw up some tension but accepting that people are not going to agree on everything all of the time will enable you to realise that sometimes this can be the best way to gain a broader perspective when tackling a problem and beneficial ideas may surface that may not have been considered before.

• Awareness: Be constructive if you do share something that may have an impact on others. Even small details such as your tone of voice can have a huge bearing over the way your communication is received. Intentions don’t always get interpreted the way they are meant to so consider individuals and think how you would feel in their shoes.

• Accountability: Never agree with someone because you feel obliged or are afraid of upsetting them. If you don’t feel comfortable ensure that you consider why this is and what the correct thing to do in the situation would be. You are responsible for your actions, therefore when making decisions, ensure that you are accountable for them and have gained all the information needed to make an appropriately informed choice.

• Distance: In the heat of the moment it can be easy to pass a comment we might later regret. If possible, avoid getting involved in other peoples disagreements. Even when it is a close friend involved, they need to fight their own battles and learn how to manage uncomfortable situations. One more thing…don’t play messenger. They have a habit of getting shot.

• Focus: As difficult as it may be, remain focused on carrying out your role as best you can. If disputes amongst others are impacting your ability to do so then seek advice from your manager or other senior figure. They may not be aware of the disagreements taking place so informing them will allow any situation to reach a resolution much more quickly.

Most importantly, keep reminding yourself that working alongside others is a huge privilege. Not only do you gain an understanding of the wider impact of your job role within the organisation but also a sense of community in which support and skills can be shared. The diversity in knowledge and backgrounds can be hugely beneficial to the overall success of an organisation. Inevitably, differences or miscommunication will result in some friction at times. The sense of unease and anxiety, even when not directly involved, affects everyone in different ways. The key is to manage your own emotional well-being in response to these scenarios to ensure that the quality of your work is not compromised.


– Amy Rowe December 2018

Stress By Ben Gaffrey

By Ben Gaffrey

As soon as I wake up… as soon as I wake up they sweep in. Like being aware of my breathing I can’t ignore it. I squeeze the pillow over my ears and shout: “Get out of my head! Get out of my head!” There’s no one here to hear me anyway.

Black cloud, thunder storming, lighting up the corners of my mind, pouring a trailing skirt of rain over my body, melting it into a muddy stream, like too many boots have trodden on me. This homebrewed storm / there’s no off-switch for. I lunge out of bed, catching my ribs in the mirror, my skin white, underside of a mushroom white, the overgrown mound of pubic hair, hangover eyes, and I quickly cover it all up in a dressing gown, and then I search; fish through my pockets, rummage around my desk, surf through notepads, flick through the to-do list, ticking everything off and still, still it rages, flooding me.

I’m outside now, sucking at a cigarette, hugging myself in the cold. I look through the windows of University apartments. Most have shut the blinds but few are glowing and open, and I watch a man crooked over his desk, writing, and after a woman twist and snap into rubbery yoga positions. Catching both their eyes I smile, they smile back, it feels natural, and we’re connected by time: each of us distracted by our own lives but appreciating our distractions. I watch my breath hill for a moment, tracing the night, curling away with my troubles, with all these pointless burdens. Balloons. Then I return. Up the three flights of stairs, unlock the door to the flat, walk the corridor and shut myself into my box. I hack up a clump of brown, sticky stuff into the sink, and I feel light, light enough to become magnetised. I feel the pull. The burning in my head returns, it throbs, like it’s been branded from the inside. The thoughts of failures. Those people, inside the windows, working, progressing, whilst I stall, stale myself. I spin, see the wastebasket filled with crumpled papers, the airier folded with crisping clothes, the piles of unread books that I swore I’d read, and I collapse onto the bed. I burrow into the covers, into myself; a failure, and everything’s a failure here, in the place where everyone’s a success.

Then it hits me. I stare at the ceiling, at the bulking square light segmented like a chocolate bar, like a solar panel. Is this why I’m here? Validation? And the questions begin: why aren’t I good enough without it? Why do I need that sheet of paper that I’ve paid with this stress and that £10,000? Will this cut out these bad thoughts? Leave empty spaces in my mind as cleanly as a collage? Can I be cured?

“What’s my problem? I can feel myself breaking, steaming from my ears, so why won’t I do something about it. I sit in the shared kitchen now, writing this all out. The orzo’s baking, the smell of carrots and onions stewing, a chunk of chorizo rolling about my tongue. The hum of the air vent, the clicks of the oven as it adjusts its temperature, half-drunk wine, red lipstick at the rim of the glass, recipe book splattered open, specs of dried sauce freckling the page, tobacco folded tight in its pouch, keys with contraptions attached, clattering as I pocket them. Is this so hard? Just to live. To just live without the rules I set myself? To escape my prison. But again, just on this thought – prison – I feel the cage rise up around me and I can’t get out. I’m stuck. And I just add more bars whenever I add more rules. I shake them, rattle and scream, but I can’t even curl my fingers around them as more sprout to fill all the gaps, so if you were looking at me from the outside all you would see is a metal box, and maybe hear a faint muffling sound. That’s me. That’s my sound.

Still, in this cage I’m doing what I want, I’m where I want to be, I have all the time in the world to do it, whatever the thing is. Isn’t that enough? Why isn’t that enough? What am I looking for? Can I find it here? On this page? For the first time in my life I’m unsure. I’m unsure of everything. And I’m scared.