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.

My word. What a journey. by Sue Bevan

My word. What a journey.
When I was fifteen, many years ago, I fell pregnant in a tight community in the Welsh Valleys. It wasn’t the done thing. My mother must have been devastated, though we never spoke of it. Instead she marched me off to the doctor’s to confirm her suspicions.
‘Yes, Mrs Jenkins. She’s definitely pregnant. About five months, I reckon. Have you thought about what you’ll do about it?’
I wasn’t ever part of the conversation. And then she sent me hundreds of miles from home to see out my pregnancy in secret. As I say, it wasn’t the done thing back then. When I gave birth alone in a bare hospital room, pretty much abandoned by the nursing staff, my daughter’s adoption had already already been arranged. Without my say. Without my agreement. I wasn’t asked, of course. I was fifteen and did what I was told. Growing up in a family in which my mother frequently ‘sent my father to Coventry’, who was I to argue. Who was I to speak out.
We all process out trauma in our own individual way, of course. But for me it’s been through my writing, my solo show on the subject having travelled the world now – South Africa to San Francisco, Sweden and Prague to New York – and with many a tear shed on the way. Not just by me, I might add.

But today I find myself discussing with a venue manager the possibility of bringing the show to his theatre space. I share my story with him. He asks about my daughter. Did we ever meet. Did I return to school. How did I cope. I answer everything as best I can. Just as I do after my show each night, when audiences want the real story fleshed out. He listens. He agrees to the show being booked. He offers to buy me a tea.
Moments later a man approaches, tentative. He’s overheard some of the conversation but didn’t get it all. He asks me what the show is about. I begin to explain.
‘When I was fifteen I had a child who was taken for adoption…’ And I continue. But he seems agitated. I ask if he’s okay.
‘I was taken from my mother and adopted,’ he tells me, his eyes full. ‘There were three of us, and we were all taken away when I was about six months. They separated us, so I never knew about the others when I was growing up. Then when I was thirty I suddenly discovered I had two sisters. It was terrible. I never knew.’
He went on to tell me of his mother’s emotional and physical abuse from the man he assumes to be his father. And then he tells me of his own emotional, psychological and sexual abuse at the hands of his adopters. It’s a lot to take in. I don’t let him know how it makes me feel, and at least I have the comfort of knowing my daughter was raised by good, loving parents.
He tells me his mother had died back when he was in his teens. He’s still looking for his father. Or rather, he’d like to. He doesn’t know where to start.
‘Have you spoken with anyone about all this?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘You.’
‘I mean, somebody professional. Some support. There are people out there who can help you. There is help.’
Even as I say this I reflect on the fact that I was in therapy for years, and still I’m only part recovered. Maybe that’s how it is. Always. For some.
‘Have you?’ I ask again.
‘Where do I find somebody?’
I look into his eyes.
‘If I help find somebody…do you think you’d like to talk to them?’
I’m aware I don’t want to push. This is his path. His choice. His life.
‘That’s really kind of you. Will you really do that? For me?’
‘Of course I will.’
‘Please. Yes. Yes, please.’
I weep afterwards. After I’ve left him. While I sit, cold, in the car, shivering. After he’s brought over a mince pie for me to have with the tea I’ve ordered. After we’ve shaken hands, and I’ve held his in both of mine for a moment, and then for another.
I’ve never been keen on mince pies. I don’t normally eat them. I don’t really like them. But I ate this one, as he sat there taking bite after bite from his, chewing it over and over, eyes fixed on the plate, one knee shaking with nerves. And I have to say, that bundle of sweet fruit wrapped in short pastry and sprinkled in fine sugar…that pie tasted sweeter than any I’ve ever had.
That night I wrote him a poem he’ll probably never see. But I wrote it anyway.

I watch as you catch a falling star and put it in your pocket.
You’ll keep it, you say, for every day.
Rain or shine.
Weightless, it settles between the seams, carries you,
Warming your thin skin, melting the ice.
And you lighten.

SIX POEMS by Nick Maynard

I Am A Shadow

I watch
I see but I do not look
I know but I do not understand
There is a flash of insight and then it’s gone.
I am ether.
I am either or…
From the moment of conception
this protection is ambiguous
All sights and sounds, and movement is filtered
scrubbed within an inch of its life of every nuance
No secret ever escapes the vault
No tell tale glances
No discrete whispers and hidden grins…
I’ll leave no clues for you
I am a shadow
A dark cloud
I cannot survive in the sun
or swim free into the sea
for if I do, I fear I’ll give myself away.
People will see me glisten
and they will see me…
They will look and they will not understand
They will not have any flash of insight
They will despise me.
In my eyes they will see reflected back
All the hate they bate me with.
Ambiguity will be gone
All sight and sound, and movement will be analysed,
criticised and brutalised.
I will not be able to escape their glares
Their stares…
I’ll be able to go now here without their judgment…
I watch
I see but I do not look
I know but I do not understand
There is a flash of insight and then it’s gone.
I remain ether.


We Are All Made Of Stars

A fellow passenger travelling through the dark backside of night
I notice a kindred spirit in him.
A hug from a stranger
Stranger hugs than looks.
We have stars made for us
and Lou sings…
But it’s over before it begins.
A dark spirit travels through the night
and the fellow passenger notices him.
I look at my reflection in the window
and see a devil on my shoulder,
scrying glass clear…
a tear falls…
some one calls from the other side…
and the daemon wakes…
a pinch of salt will blind him…
a spell will bind him.
A fellow passenger travelling through the other side of the looking glass.
He sits at my shoulder
and Lou sings…
The stars are made for us
and they all fall as we fall…
We are all made of stars.


The Last Thought

That last thought –
That letting go –
The anticipation of what will follow…
as the train pulls away –
that Brief Encounter
that Casablanca…
that grit in the eye
that stiff upper-lip –
hiding everything..
No Celia Johnston –
Just you and I, on a platform
saying, ‘good-bye’ –
Public –
Not private –
Open –
Not closed…
In –
Not out…
as the train pulls away,
and I wish I could say,
‘I love you…’
‘I’ll miss you…’
but I’m too much of a Coward
and not Wilde enough.



Standing in the way of something –
Obscured by my own sight,
I cannot see the horizon anymore.
Scales have formed in front of my eyes.
I’ve become cold blooded –
waiting for the sun to rise in the East.
I gaze out towards a setting West –
dreaming of slows boats,
and floating junk upon the water…
of the spires of light,
and heavenly nights of sticky dreams,
and sweaty, sweet meets –
and fleeting treats –
and nothing but that matters –
but that which the sun has burnt upon my retinas –
White hot and ice tea dreams,
of nothing but blind forgiveness.



Dancing in corn flowers –
baking in the sun
running through the endless fields –
when you and I were one.

Those memories of endless fun
of summers without time
of swimming in the ice cold stream
with nothing between yours and mine.

To have the chance to go back there
and know what I know now.
What would I do so differently,
to change the here and now?


Take Me Away

‘take me away’ –
the train seems to say –
‘take me away
from all this…’
No ticket I fear,
could move me from here
from the rumbling sound of all this.
My pain seems to wake,
in the screeching of breaks,
and the mumbling sound of it all…
An engine gilds into view
I’m reminded of you –
When we met and we parted
from here.
It’s the beginning and end,
my lover – my friend –
and the trains trundle by just the same…

Ode to My Cancer Journey by Jackie Smith

Ode to my Cancer Journey by Jackie Smith

Part 1. The fear and the funny

This year started off with words no one wants to hear
Grim faces in the consultant room filled me full of fear
The doctor relays the news that l have cancer
That’s not what l expected is my tear chocked answer

Leaflets and appointments in hand
Detailing what treatments have been planned
Drive home with a mindful of trepidation
New year had just passed and having to tell family, friends, colleagues, filled me with frustration

As the news spread the love and support I received was beyond my expectation
Flowers, cards and words that have filled me with motivation
Sympathy has not been sought and not been received
Just words that have encouraged me to get through this and not let cancer succeed

Chemo a word you don’t expect to be part of your everyday vocabulary
Six months of three weekly therapy
A cocktail of drugs to kill the bad cells
Ten days plus of feeling like hell

Hair fell out after second chemo treatment
Bald at 50+ was not in the life choice agreement
Bandanas have been my choice of head gear
At least me head shape is not as l feared

Toxic body, toxic poo
Make sure no one follows me at least 3 hours after going to the loo!
Drugs to help you through the chemo effects
Including steroids which l am hoping don’t result in muscles that are too big to flex

My last chemo treatment is due to come to an end
But the journey continues a little longer my friends
Scans will be done and results relayed
Let’s hope it’s the results for which we all have prayed

Part 2.
Scan results day
Has the chemo worked and blasted the tumour away.
Nervous smiles as my name is called
Everything crossed even my toes.

Consultants head down flicking through notes
No expression as he clears his throat
We are pleased to say the chemo has been successful
The tumour is no longer detectable

The journey continues just to ensure
Any stray cells are captured and shown the door
A bit more treatment to have to swallow
Surgery is planned and Radiotherapy to follow

New procedures maybe ahead
Some that fill me with a sense of dread
But the end of treatment is in sight
And all this will have been worth the fight

Part 3
At last the day of surgery
The next stage of this journey
Early start to the day
Up at the crack of dawn as they say

Nil by mouth so no breakfast for me
Not even a sip of tea
Stare at the toaster but not today
Hoping my food craving would go away

Castle Hill Ward 16 was my destination
Found it easily without any frustration
Booked in and all ready to start
Nursing staff guiding me through each part

Consultant, anaesthetist, gained my consent
My trust in them one hundred percent
Injected, just a small scratch
Wish l had a pound every time they say that

Tubes inserted, scanned and filled with nuclear dye
It turns your skin blue for a while
Ready and waiting watching tv
Wish l had been watching England’s semi final victory

Instructed to get dressed in stockings and gown
It was my time to go down
Walked through to the treatment room
Trying to shrug off my sense of doom

Staff checked paperwork to ensure they have the right person
Don’t want to wake up missing the wrong organ
Lie down for one more injection
Take a deep breath from this oxygen mask no time for reflection

Dreaming but voices telling me to open my eyes
Feeling battered and bruised mouth really dry
Babbling words of no sense after surgery
Back to the ward for my recovery

Eat, drink, a pee and you can go home today
Performed all three l am glad to say
Consultant informed me all had gone to plan
Filled with joy l thanked him and shook his hand

Homeward bound
Exercise plan in hand
Surgical stockings to wear for a week
It was torture in this summer heat

Recovery is going to plan
Time again to wait for results of surgery and scans
Sometimes this journey has been close to hell
But l am winning and will soon be ringing the bell.

Part 4.
The seasons have passed since my cancer battle started
The Beast from the East and no heating left me downhearted
Summer arrived with temperatures smashed
My hot flushes made summer a blast

Prescribed Tamoxifen to keep the cancer away
5 years of 1 a day
Hair growing back, its currently short and grey
Think l will probably keep it that way

Radiotherapy was the last stage of treatment
15 sessions to help ensure l never get back the demon
I counted down each day
When I didn’t have to undress and have my breasts on display

There is a bell that you ring on your last day of radiotherapy
3 rings as a gesture of the Cancer Warriors victory
The final day of treatment has arrived l can yell
Yes it’s my time to ring the bell

Doctors, nurses, volunteers, the support teams too
Have made this journey easier to get through
A chat, a laugh, a smile was never too much
Each one providing that common touch

The cancer battle takes almost a year of your life
The gift at the end has no price
It’s time to end my cancer story
And for me the cancer battle has ended in glory

Dedicated to family, friends and all the staff at Queens, Castle Hill and to all the Cancer Warriors.