top of page
Alan Price



This sole image in my hands.

Octagonal glass frame

with a clipped down photograph.

Subdued sepia except for the felicity

of a yellow button or broach,

hand-painted on the collar

of her studio dress.


Grandmother’s well enough.

Diseases unborn, yet waiting.

Pensive for evidence

of hope and humour.

Her eyes, nose and ears,

first premonitions of myself.


Occupation mother and wife:

the code of the century.

Died of TB.

Her boilermaker husband left

for another port.

Three infant daughters and son

fast donated to an orphanage.


No film or recording.

How did she kiss, laugh or sing?

Scottish. Reticent. Stoic. 

Loved choirs and musical hall jokes.

My mother unable to unknot

the mystery of who she was.






My aunt giggled on seeing a buzzing fly,

a kettle boil or a plate fall off a table.

Anything could pull the trigger

for Jessie to be sent into nervous laughter.


She only slowed down on listening

to my mother tell her fortune.

Her eyes would stop darting wild,

blur down on tea leaves in a china cup.


I imagined she was fidgety at night,

laughed when her husband undressed

and told her to shut up.

Pressing his beer lips against hers

in semi-darkness

she must have pushed him away,

wiped her mouth,

with the back of her hand,

wanting the performance to end.


I once saw Father

make a pass at my aunt.

A proposal followed by groping.

Her weighing up and refusing.

What Jessie desired was acceptance,

a condition she never laughed at.





A beret suited Dorothy.

It made her head look brightly lit

and stacked full of big mischief

to dignify a small, frail woman,

tender and trusting, who shivered,

late spring, from abandonment.

Her man, for twenty two years,

buggered off down south

with a factory girl.

And a son was conscripted

by the army to Suez.

The only canal she knew

was the one from Liverpool to Leeds.


Mother and Dorothy were pally

at the pictures, doing the shops,

swearing about a late bus,

laughing at the rain, having tea

and forgetting, inside the house,

to remove headscarf and beret.


In hospital she was dear Dot,

a whispering skeleton,

overlaid by skin,

shaking visitors’ hands.

No more shared lipsticks and secrets.

No being flighty together in the street.

Good companions unable

to understand the end.


Mother tried lighting a fire with a newspaper.

A headline, about the government’s betrayal,

turned brown. Mother let it burn as she grieved.





The dog waddled in,

after its waddling owner,

sniffing chocolate buttons on a cushion.

She kept the dog bloated for complicity

and comfort: an ally to resist

a skinny husband who beat her

with a brush.


She and her dog competed in smelling

so I couldn’t tell them both apart.

My nose was constantly bewildered.

Auntie smiled and touched my cheek:

her face and her smell becoming as one.


She fed us potted crab-paste bread rolls,

salad, cake and black and white TV.

Even though the bread was stale

and the tea too strong we came together

on summer nights only marred

by a coal fire blazing.  


Edith would mail us bulky letters.

Mother and I struggled to decipher

words that looped and rode the rapids

of an inky page and, when rescued,

be mistranslated by our laughter.

Only when she bussed it down to our place

did we dare to question what she meant.

Auntie never blushed or brought the dog




Miss X


On Sundays visitors would come

but this was a shocking first timer.

“Remember me.” she said to Mother,

“I’m Angela’s friend. We met and chatted

at the hairdresser’s. You said pop round.

So here I am.”


Mother poured tea, buttered bread and thought,

“Who is this slut? Wearing heavy makeup;

crossing her legs like that;

shuffling her bottom on the sofa

and smiling at everything.”


“Spinster.”muttered father

behind his News of the World.

He asked me to leave the room.

“Let the boy stay. He’s no trouble.”

protested the strange woman.

Her dress a floral exposure

‘indecent’ for that summer day.

All coiffure hair and showy necklace.

Earrings that glinted astray.


She spoke nonsense, sighed and left.

My beautiful disrupter.

My lonely intruder.

Whose house did she visit next?

Alan Price © 2024

bottom of page