Reasons to be Cheerful

Here’s a poem I used to read to my children. Ria loved it and always knew it by heart.

The Lamplighter

My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky,
It’s time to take the window to see Leerie going by;
For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,
With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.

Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,
And my papa’s a banker and as rich as he can be;
But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I’m to do,
O Leerie, I’ll go round at night and light the lamps with you!

For we are very lucky with a lamp before the door,
And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;
And O! Before you hurry by with ladder and with light,
O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him tonight!

Robert Louis Stevenson

Reasons to be Cheerful in lock down times

Some people do things and say things which make the silence and sadness of lock down brighten up, full of sunbeams….Here’s a few of them…

Laura: is my beautiful granddaughter. She lives in Torpoint, Cornwall with her partner Luke and their children (my great-grandchildren), Amelie and Ray. Laura asks if I’m ok every week or so – and this week sent me a poem she’s written about her aunty Ria (my daughter Ria). She has given me permission to share it with you, dear Reader.

Aunty Ria

I miss your laugh, your love of flowers, music and fresh air,

I miss hearing you call me ‘Lovely Laura’

And I miss watching Amelie belly laugh by your side.

It always felt as if you knew, I know you knew me more than I know myself sometimes.

Your presence always brought such a reassurance and comfort,

Though much of each year was not spent together – your energy and interest made up for all just one cuppa shared.

Your love for simple pleasures made life feel so light when with you.

On my first day at University, you made sure I had the most important thing of all – a fluffy rug!

Who could wake up in a good mood, if their feet did not land on something comfy from bed?

Nana says her strongest memory of you is ‘Ria arriving’ – and I could not agree more.

You’d arrive with open arms and a beaming smile every time we saw you,

And it is that warmth that makes me miss you so much.

I wish you knew that no matter how often we saw you

We have all learned so very much from you…

To make the most of every day and to find happiness, even on the worst of days.

I’m so grateful for all the time I got to share with you

And I’m so proud to have had you as my Aunty

Although our time spent together was never long enough

You have left a forever-sized imprint on me.

I find so much comfort thinking of you wandering through fields with sunshine beaming down…

You are the first to see and enjoy each morning sky up there…

and that is pretty ‘Ace!’

Fixing a Hole

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go

I’m filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go

And it really doesn’t matter if I’m
wrong I’m right
Where I belong I’m right
Where I belong

See the people standing there who
disagree and never win
And wonder why they don’t get in my door
I’m painting my room in the colourful

And when my mind is wandering
There I will go
And it really doesn’t matter if I’m
wrong I’m right
Where I belong I’m right
Where I belong

Silly people run around they worry me
And never ask me why they don’t get
past my door
I’m taking the time for a number of
That weren’t important yesterday
And I still go

I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

On His Modest Stillness

Dear Reader, this is a poem I wrote for a dear friend and colleague, Mike Donohoe, who was one of the best teachers I ever met. Mike used Art to teach English Language to asylum seekers and refugees from many different backgrounds – Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Iran, Iraq, Kosovo, Georgia, Ukraine, Angola, to name but a few. His students loved him. He died suddenly with a heart attack on the street in Manchester on or around Twelfth Night.

Between Epiphany and Candlemas I shall remember
How a still and silent Love
Kept the dark watches of the night;
How you did not die alone, but with a host of angels
And the blessings of all whose lives you touched.
It is a wise man who scatters their darkness
And your Joanas and Joes will smile and shine you
All around us.

Now, stars from all the windows are taken down
And hang in this prayer.
Heav’n’s torn sheet unwinds and changes chime
Across the frosty glory
Of this bleak midwinter.
I shall remember too, how you saw His star in the east
And moved into the Mystery of
Love on earth.

Leigh Cook

Blue Moon

I buried my face in your rose today.
My head filled with scent
As I heard you say
“Good morning”.

I moved to the gate where I stopped to gaze
At a hover-fly, quietly fanning the blaze.

Then I felt your soft touch,
Like a sigh on my shoulder,
As you leaned to my kiss
On your rose-petal cheek.

Leigh Cook

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

Dear Friend…

My friend Sue Ward and I have known each other for twenty seven years or more. We used to work together in Oldham Youth & Community Education, but there is a sense in which we never stop working together, each living with similar mindsets.

We met on Limeside, a largely white working-class estate on the edge of Oldham, where we were made at home in the tiny library, with librarians who worked so hard to give information and to open doors for local people. We were part of a local basic skills project funded by the Home Office. Sue’s main interest was in the wellbeing of local families needing childcare and she was instrumental in setting up the first creches ever run in Oldham – which we funded through the back door of petty cash. These small initiatives allowed local people to meet, talk, relax and learn together, knowing their children were safe. Some of these people moved on to become Creche Workers themselves, although paid a pittance, as so often support workers are. The use of creches widened until they were offered to support most adult education classes across Oldham. Creche workers would cross the town by bus, using their meagre wages for bus fares. There was true commitment.

It was during this time Sue shared with me her wish to become ordained in the Church of England. At that time, it seemed like a woman climbing Everest alone…and all power to her elbow, her icepick and her clampons, I said.

Our children got to know each other, with shared visits and activities together and Sue and Melvyn even offered us their home as a sanctuary when we were between homes and waiting to move into our new home. I had the top bunk in their son Chris’s room, with model planes around me, while their family was on holiday.

Our working lives separated after two years – Sue working in education in the Probation Service and me into projects for young people leaving care and Kosovar asylum seekers. Sue was ordained into the Reverend Sue Ward role she had studied for and eventually went into hospital chaplaincy, with all the qualities and gentleness such a role required.

We had a spell working together in an anti-racist training team in the Church of England, working out of Manchester to different locations in the north – where we learned all the time about existing inequalities relating to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, living with disability and bigotry in the church.

By now the Rev Sue Ward had shapeshifted into ‘Sooze’ and myself into ‘Leggi’ – and she was leading teams in hospitals and training volunteers to work alongside as team members.

Sooze and Melvyn moved to Rodley near Leeds to place themselves midway between their children and grandchildren. They have a quiet watery home near a canal and a conservation project to look towards from their window on the world. We share visits, meals and love – always a welcome signpost for people who need people.

Sooze and Melvyn have been an intimate support to John and I, especially in times of crisis, as when our son Dom told us that he had been sexually abused by a family friend and we were contorted with anger and helplessness. Then, later, when Dom was dying with aggressive rectal cancer in 2011, they were at our side throughout the journey of learning and pain and  grief.

More recently, when our beloved daughter Ria died suddenly, they were alongside us again with love and comfort, not only for us, but for our whole family and Ria’s children, listening and responding to what was needed in leading our daughter’s funeral.

Now Sooze and Melvyn work for the people of their local Calverley Parish church, amidst the fears and loneliness caused by Covid19 and Black Lives Matter. I thank God for them.

“But if the while I think on Thee, dear Friend,

All losses are restored and sorrows end.”

Sonnet 30, Wm. Shakespeare.

Black Lives Matter

My friend Stuart Archer lives in St. James, Barbados with his wife Sharon and their son Isaiah. He has recently made a recovery from bowel cancer and we have supported each other on our living with cancer journey.
Stuart plays American Football – about which I know nothing – except it helps to be tall and handsome, with strong shoulders. All of which makes up Stuart.
He is the kind of Community and Youth Worker young people need, especially right now – insight gained from experience of life and from working as a team always. Community and collaboration.
Here’s what he wrote to me the other day when the US was in flames and I could find no words…

“…As for the States, I can’t even go there. The amount of times I was arrested as a boy in London growing up, then released with no charge as I looked like someone who had committed a crime or on the street, ‘at the wrong time’.
Taken down to the station, questioned, put in a cell, usually til the next day, then told ‘You are free to go’.
Then as a man in London and Manchester, being pulled over, searched myself and the car, questioned – and all in the public eye. The humiliation and feeling of powerlessness was unreal. I guess I should accept that I live to tell the tale, unlike some of my brothers and sisters.
We continue to strive for acceptance and not tolerance of all forms of marginalisation underpinning discrimination.”

Here’s the poem I wrote for Stuart when I got the letter about his cancer diagnosis, saying he was ‘unwell’.

All Will Be Well

Sitting in the Christie
thinking of you
Thank you for your letter
with the news
It seems to me “unwell”
means pain
Awaiting the decisions
for treatment
And you were never one to make a fuss.
Mix your courage with humility
And you’ll be strong.
Let others love you now
It’s a very active challenge…
All about changing
the tactics
in the American Football game
against this new team.
Are you a player?
Or a linesman?
Or a coach?
Or a manager?
Or the boy in the crowd, inspired?

Leigh Cook


City of bells, of bicycles and blackbirds,
Of quiet passages and green retreats,
Of cobblestones and pilgrim brasses
Lining the path to Compostela…
Of posters speaking prayers for World Peace
To market cafes in the sunlit squares,
To museums, libraries and churches
And to statues of Tinkers and Resisters.
Your book lendings and tasty breakfasts,
Schnitzelrost and Kartoffeln stalls
Filled our hearts to overflowing,
As we watched two girls, hand in hand,
Crossing familiar spaces, with the
Music of the Spheres all around.

Eileen Walke