This isn’t exactly a short poem, nor is it exactly how it happened as it is eighteen months compressed into a single day that occurred almost fifty years ago. It’s more about mood than accuracy, I’ve taken liberties, so much so that my big sister Sandy isn’t in it, sorry Suds, but fifth doesn’t rhyme with north and forth does. I should also probably mention that I’m no longer horrified by the idea of my step sisters, or my step Mum, they’re all rather lovely, he says begrudgingly, even though Anna is so tiny it’s a bit spooky. I was not quite ten at the time and confused and just a tad cross, I wasn’t really considering anyone else’s feelings. God only knows what they were thinking suddenly having a girly, weirdo, nutcase for a brother. We are all very much older now and memories are slippery but when I think back I find that the days we spent at Malthouse Farm were the happiest of my childhood and burn the brightest. We didn’t know each other at first but once we did we never had to pretend to be family again.



‘So the girls are now your sisters.’
What? Dad? I back away horrified.
His new wife thinks I’m being shy.
‘I would like you to call me Mother.’
What? Mother? Why?
I already have one.
My father’s name is mud,
he blooming well lied,
just dropped a bomb.
I look up at my brother,
the more difficult son.
Watch him bridle,
as Dad gives his angry dark hair
a very generous ruffle.
Where did these people come from?
We look around and shuffle,
betrayal rubs blisters.
A surname,
is not blood.
I slowly sidle,
at the first opportunity flee
but my shiny new sisters follow me.

‘Lets play a game.’
They say.
‘Doctors and nurses,
you can be doctor if you like.’
On yer bike,
no wait,
do I get to operate?
We go upstairs to what should be my room
(You and your brother will have to share)
under my breath I’m muttering curses,
it just isn’t bloody fair.
I wish they’d go away.
On the ward,
my gloom,
is underscored.
I’m demoted,
out voted,
to unable bodied,
pinched and prodded.
Terminally bored,
I should be dead
but being fatally flawed
I make a miraculous recovery instead.

They catch me in the garden.
‘Mummy says you must play with us.’
They chant.
(I beg your pardon?)
I climb the big fir tree,
lure them into range,
drop pine cones on their heads.
Dad appears looking grave,
makes a right proper fuss,
shouts up at me.
I’m not doing any harm,
I’m only nine years old,
have no say in who he marries.
Dad never used to shout.
My confidence in shreds,
I do as I am told.
‘She bit me’ I lie,
secretly biting my arm,
so there can be no doubt.
But Dad’s not buying,
tells me I’m not trying.
I want to cry,
oh well.
I give the girls shoulder carries,
they have a funny smell.
Girls are really strange,
but I’m to blame.

I wish I was my brother.
Five years older,
five years bigger,
five years bolder.
The favoured other,
the prodigal gun
with the hair trigger.
We would race just for fun
from the top of high field,
heading north,
to the end of long valley.
He on his new Raleigh,
me on his old Raleigh,
bald tyres, torn seat,
scratches on the frame.
He would never yield,
wouldn’t let me win,
six nil the final tally.
My whole life in second place,
now I’m to be forth!?
But I’ll never give in.
In race number five
he skidded the last turn
on a cockerel’s tail of dust.
I didn’t and you must.
‘Will you never learn!’
With a terrified squeal,
I stuck out both my feet,
shot up a dry mud ramp,
hit a flint wall with a crash.
Hard Black White Flash!
I’m lucky to be alive,
earned a girly front wheel
and a girly nickname.
‘OI! DORIS! Should’a seen your face!’
We would do things just for a lark,
now nothing will ever be the same.
My brother’s bike has a front lamp,
so he can run away in the dark.

The girls insist I play
the dressing up game.
(Do it and be nice)
To my utter dismay
and palpable shock,
they tie ribbons in my hair,
put me in a blue party frock,
reintroduce me to Dad,
not once but twice,
as yet another sister.
Oh, the burning shame.
He laughs at my distress.
Does he even care?
‘It’s not that bad,
eventually they’ll get used to you,
by the way, nice dress.’
Eventually? I am at a loss.
(I can’t wait that long mister!)
There seems no way out,
when makeup is suggested,
I do little more than pout.
They cast shadows on my eyes,
paint my lips with glitter gloss,
they put me in my place
and cut me down to size.
I am utterly bested.
There is nothing more to  say,
all this pretty boy can do
is quietly pray for the crack of doom.

During deportment an unexpected chance.
With a soft deliberate tread
I sneak gingerly away
without a backward glance,
but with a book on my head.
I lock myself in the bathroom.
How did it ever come to this?
Why do my prayers go unheeded?
I wash my colourful face,
dig for clothes in the dirty box,
tee shirt, jeans and odd socks,
watch the party frock drown
in a toilet accomplice.
In a moment of crazed glee,
for proof if proof were needed,
I do a stand up wee,
because girls wee sitting down.
But nothing will spare my blushes,
as after a couple of desperate flushes,
my partner in crime chokes,
water breeches the brim,
floods all over the floor.
I peer into its throat,
where bright,
frilly fronds float,
in the palest yellow sea.
(Oh well done, good job)
Why is this happening to me!
In panic I take sudden flight,
collide with a small angry mob,
who scream blue party frock murder
and want to tear me limb from limb.

I seek refuge in the outhouse,
Mavis comes along for the ride.
We are being hunted by the law
but this is a safe place to hide
so as yet they haven’t caught us.
Mavis hums nods and smokes
to later learned Miles Davis,
her name is painted on her shell
just in case she forgets it.
I hate girls but I love Mavis.
She says it’s ever so slightly hell
being a middle aged tortoise.
It sometimes gets her down
but only when she lets it.
My overlooked ribbons are admired,
as above I watch a mouse
run along a timber girder,
brought here from Rex farm,
smuggled in the pig bread,
just like my new family.
I’m suddenly inspired,
decide to build a trap,
be one of the boys,
I’ve had enough of this crap,
make my Dad proud of me,
The Doris is dead.

To catch problematic mice,
without doing them any harm,
requires a jar of elbow grease,
nails, hooks and eyes,
a long piece of string,
and a small box hanging
from an overhead beam.
You’ll need a little wooden wedge,
some cutting with a saw,
some unrestrained banging,
and the most important thing,
nerves as cool as ice.
This time I will not fail.
Carefully following my plans,
I hammer the last rusty nail
into the bench-top under-edge,
swinging up with both hands
and a concentration crease,
glimpsing a shape at the door,
attracted by my wanton noise.
The hammer head fills my sight,
flattening my sudden frown
into White Black Flash surprise,
knocking me out into a dream.

I am standing in a pool of light,
wearing the sodden party frock.
Surrounded by the dots of drips,
the drips seem to spell a word.
I hear it’s sound upon my lips,
it is a sound I’ve never heard.
It is a sound I won’t forget,
the word I hear is oubliette.
In my right hand I feel a sting,
through my fingers runs a string.
I stand where the shell will drop,
DORIS painted on the top.

I come round on my Father’s bed,
draped with his dressing gown,
a boiled egg balanced on my head.
Dad bends down quite concerned,
‘Lie still you’ve had a nasty knock.’
I think I’m going to get a hug
but he pulls away and I see why,
the sisters are standing by his side.
One looks snide,
the other smug.
He holds their hands without a thought,
it’s clear I’ll never make him choose,
if there’s one thing from this I have learned,
it’s that it’s better to quit before you loose,
tomorrow there might be jam.
So applying something Mavis taught,
(to live long you must live slow)
I beam my best smile at the girls
and unworthy swine that I am
they still treat me to these pearls.
You could die
if you fall asleep,
and did you know
the collective noun
for tortoises is a creep?’


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