Playing with Fire

Photo of Winter Hill fire 28 June 2018 by David Coggins

Light a fire,

the feeling of power

for that fleeting moment,

as the flames fly high,

till the wind changes,

in your face,

and you’re trapped

in Hell’s embrace.

I feel blessed to live in a town in Lancashire, England, that has four public parks, an impressive number for the size of the town, especially given that we also live in the shadow of the moors, visible from the town centre. To celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, Darwen Moor, which was privately owned, was opened up to the public, after a long struggle for access. Currently the moors to the south and west of Darwen Moor are on fire, covering quite a large area just north of Bolton, including Winter Hill and Scout Rd. Today yet another fire has started nearby at Healey Nab near Chorley. Since last week an even bigger fire has been raging across an enormous area of Saddleworth Moor, just across the Pennines in Yorkshire. In previous years Darwen Moor itself has been ablaze in hot summers. The peat smoulders just below the surface and can spread rapidly. It can appear as if spontaneous fires are erupting as the smouldering fire surfaces and catches the dry grasses and heather. In Yorkshire, people have been evacuated and that may happen soon in Lancashire too, if the fires continue to spread. I am hoping the current fires are soon under control. The military have been called in to both the Lancashire and Yorkshire moors fires. Given that yesterday my daughter and I witnessed a fire in a town centre shop, which required four fire engines to put it out, and last week a noxious plume of smoke was visible from my house, smelling of plastic, the source being a recycling plant on fire across town, it’s starting to feel like the whole of the North is on fire.

Although this is not entirely unfamiliar, since in dry summers the moors do easily catch fire (all it takes is a bit of broken glass in the sun, or a carelessly dropped cigarette butt), the scale of it is unusual and alarming. A man has been arrested on suspicion of starting the moor fire, and yesterday’s shop fire is also believed to have been started deliberately. United Utilities emailed me only yesterday to ask us to be careful with water consumption as supplies are getting low and we are heading for a hosepipe ban. I am trying to comprehend the mentality of someone who would deliberately start a fire, requiring massive consumption of scarce drinking water to extinguish it, putting lives at risk, devastating the habitat and wildlife, and costing the tax payer an enormous amount of money, stretching services already suffering from austerity cuts. Lancashire Fire Service tweeted a call out to the public for vehicles suitable for the terrain (although it’s important to note that it’s unsafe for the general public to approach the site). Fortunately they had a great response. At times, firefighters had to withdraw from the area because it was too dangerous, and drones and helicopters have been used to continue fighting it. The fire service have requested the public should not fly drones over the area as it can interfere with their own drones and helicopters. I can only conclude that arsonists are either maliciously power mad, or utterly oblivious of the consequences of their actions, or both. Such obliviousness and disregard is a symptom of total disconnect from nature, along with a sense of entitlement, and perhaps immortality as well.

Comfortable modern life can lead us to believe that water is an endless resource, and growing up without the daily need for fire-lighting reduces the opportunity for an intimate, detailed understanding of how fire behaves, and how truly dangerous it is. There is also the unsatisfied curiosity and urge to ‘play with fire’. Those who have lived a wilder life, more connected to nature, develop a real respect for fire as a powerful entity. Being able to light a fire gives a feeling of power for a fleeting moment, but then it brings awe as we realise how carefully we have to handle it in order to survive, and gratitude when we see how it literally keeps us alive in winter. Like water, fire is a double-edged sword. It can give life, and take it away. Let’s not play with fire. If you can’t shake off your fascination with fire, train to become a firefighter. Putting fires out takes a lot more skill and courage than lighting them. That’s far more impressive.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018


To all you writers and poets out there.

This is a tribute to all those writers and poets who have inspired me, not just as a writer, but throughout my life as well. Words are immensely powerful. They can change lives, or sometimes even save lives.

To all you writers and poets out there.

Thank you for your words of courage, 
words of truth,
words of encouragement
and nourishment.
Thank you for your solidarity,
for lifting us up.

Thank you for breaking ground,
cutting the edge,
standing on that soapbox 
with daring and drive,
having the nerve to shout out
what many feel in their hearts 
but could not find the words.

Thank you for striving,
for years of graft,
surviving on coffee and solitude,
for making us laugh,
cry, hope and dream.
Thank you for creating new worlds,
from which may spread
the seeds of potential,

to open in this world
and change it
for good.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

Celebrating the single life: it’s not just a limbo state.

It almost seems beyond people’s comprehension that a woman could relish the single life. ‘You just haven’t met the right person,’ or, ‘You’re not ready for it yet,’ imply that partnership is the default and correct state, and being single is a state of waiting for a partner. I find it quite astounding that people have suggested these things to me, a forty-six year old single parent, someone who has never had a moment of adult life not feeling beholden or obliged to anyone. No one finds it odd when you decide you’ve had enough children (although one woman in a shop did shout to her colleagues that I was selfish for not giving my daughter a playmate). No one tells you to get more pets because you haven’t found the right one yet. No one tells you when your children are grown that you need to start again and have some more. Because it is accepted that there are times in your life for different experiences. To feel content and whole in yourself is immensely liberating. I find it tiresome that in our culture romantic relationship is considered the only worthwhile way to live in life and that it must be maintained throughout life in order to be happy. Even the phrase ‘enjoy my freedom’ is frequently interpreted as freedom to have different sexual encounters. For me it simply means freedom to live my life and invest my energy where I wish without restriction or demands from others. It’s not sexual freedom, it’s freedom in a much broader and more fundamental sense. Most of all it’s freedom from obligation. It’s emotional and mental freedom-freedom from having to micromanage my life to fit around the constant needs and expectations of others. It’s freedom to make choices just for myself-literally physical freedom to go where I want and when. Of course it’s not necessarily possible or desirable to have complete freedom-most of us have some obligations, whether to children, elderly relatives, pets or our jobs, and that brings some satisfaction and sense of purpose and belonging. Our culture, particularly through the media, portrays a fulfilling life as requiring partnership. I’m not arguing against that as a life choice, but I am saying it isn’t always necessary at every stage in a person’s adult life. People who choose to be single are not necessarily doing so because there is something wrong or deficient. We are not necessarily missing out. On the contrary we may be feeling that there is nothing missing. I feel content and whole. I don’t feel lonely. I feel loved by family and friends. Romance is beautiful but it is also highly intensive, demanding and restrictive. No matter how good the relationship, there are expectations and compromises. It’s ok to say it is not in my plans to be in a relationship, and be happy with that choice. It takes more than the ‘right person’. It takes the right time and place, the right phase in life, and in fact it takes me to be the right person. It’s ok to be happy with solitude.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

Dynamics of a Bus Journey

Teenagers talk tough sometimes, but underneath they are still vulnerable, sensitive, feeling human beings. We can be there discreetly for moral support without threatening their growing sense of independence and capability.

Dynamics of A Bus Journey

One thing guaranteed to make me feel old:
sitting near the back seat of the bus at night,
overhearing the strutting of young male egos,
blissfully oblivious their stench of testosterone

obliviates the need for their posturing, swearing,
ostentatious display, announcing drug deals and conquests
to the backdrop of football match sqeaking from phones.
Till some middle-aged drunk guy in shiny tracksuit

starts making advances and I overhear,
“You’re creeping me out mate, stop staring at me.”
So I turn, and suddenly see, not a beefed-up young man
but a vulnerable boy, revealed in his eyes that meet mine.

He’s taller than me and playing it cool.
Though he’s handled it well, I can sense his relief
that some mother has noticed his moment of need,
as the stalker abruptly gets up and leaves…

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

Mr Mansplain Kindly Comments

Mr Mansplain Kindly Comments

I can see what you’re trying to do lovey,
but you’re not quite there with your idealistic fantasy.
I’ll take it out of context and patronise you,
misrepresent intentions with a glib interpretation.

I’ll pick apart your vision with my cynicism,
get pedantic with semantics, and demand
that you must justify and qualify your view
that human beings are human and worthy of compassion.
You have not contextualised sufficiently.
This issue is far too complex for your tiny, naive female brain.

But oh, what a great idea my dear, so sweet of you.
I simply can’t resist an edifying, empty comment,
framed pseudo-intellectually, ambiguously,
potentially sarcastic and most definitely irrelevant.

Will she get defensive? Or perhaps too dumb to comprehend.
Or better yet intimidated, silenced by my prowess.

Well done my dear. Nice try.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

Canaries In The Mine #spokenword poem

(Trigger warning: mental health problems, suicide, self-harm, drugs, sexualised childhood)

This is a poem about how the pressures of modern society contribute to mental health problems. It is usually treated as an individual problem, but when so many people of all ages, in all walks of life, are suffering from stress and looking for desperate means to cope, there is something wrong with society. It needs a collective solution. The most sensitive and vulnerable people, or those under the most pressure, are the ‘canaries in the mine’, the first indicators that we are living in a sick society.

Canaries In The Mine

Canaries in the mine.
Kids that cut themselves.
New mums on Prozac,
Calpol poured down tiny throats.
Twelve year olds try ketamine
(already smoking weed).
Prepubescent boys
ask to drink girl’s pussy juice.
‘Mum, what does he mean?’
A teenage girl has overdosed.
Everybody’s glued to screens.
Can anybody see

canaries in the mine?
Glorifying suicide
on Instagram.
Everybody hates me.
I need to shave my legs or hide.
Mixed messages of
‘just say no’ hypocrisy.
Mass media betrays the truth:
the underlying adult world
a seething den of desperation,
pumping brains with dopamine,
while government departments,
all stained with cocaine trails,
a joke.

Canaries in the mine
Has anybody noticed?
Mental health in crisis.
Social workers having breakdowns,
and those with cancer, sick with fear
they cannot pay the rent.
Teachers taking months off sick.
‘Take personal leave and daily meds.
The problem’s in your head.
It can’t be in society.’

‘Canaries in the mine,’
you said, but far too late.
The miners are already dead.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018

It’s not my job to fill that hole you’ve got. On codependency.

It’s not my job to fill that hole you’ve got. Nor is it your child’s job. It’s yours. My daughter is a huge and important part of my life but she’s not my everything, my reason for living, although she has enriched my life beyond measure. I respect her as a person in her own right. When she leaves home, of course I’ll really miss her, but my life won’t end. A new phase will begin. Because I am centred in myself. I am anchored in myself. This is the fundamental thing. I’ve had to work hard to get to that place. To not be dependent on others for my sense of self-worth, or to fill a hole. That doesn’t mean I can’t love other people. It’s the opposite. It means I am free to love other people without attachment and neediness. So I can love them appropriately and properly. They can still be their whole selves and so can I. We don’t need to get lost in each other, except in the bedroom. Otherwise how can each of us distinguish our own feelings and opinions from the other person’s? We can’t really see each other when we are too tangled up together. When each of us is whole, we can truly appreciate each other, and we can discuss and resolve issues more easily, because we can see what is within ourselves and what is coming from the other person. When we have learned to stand on our own two feet, we have the courage to look at ourselves, because we know we are whole. There is not a gaping void we are trying to pretend isn’t there. We can look at our faults and learn from them because we have self-compassion. Standing on our own two feet doesn’t mean being completely self-sufficient. We all need other people. But it does mean not placing unrealistic expectations on other people to fix what we have to fix for ourselves, although we might ask for support while we do that. It does mean not expecting one person, such as a partner, child or parent, to fulfil all our emotional needs. A partner or child is not there to fulfil any unmet needs we might have from childhood. We have to find a way to fulfil and heal that within ourselves, otherwise we project the parent role onto a person that is not our parent. Feeling excessively dependent on others to fix our emotional problems is disempowering because, firstly, it’s not in their power to do so, and secondly, by waiting for them to do it, you are depriving yourself of the opportunity. All healing is ultimately self-healing. Others are just there to help. Sometimes we might mutually support each other and work side by side on our issues, swapping notes as we go. Standing on our own two feet also means accepting that we are not the whole answer to all their needs. When someone has codependent tendencies and a desperate need to be needed, they can unconsciously hold their partner back from fulfilment as they try to keep them needy. In its most extreme manifestation it can take the form of controlling behaviour and manipulation to keep the other person from leaving. This leads to increasing isolation of the couple. They remain trapped together, frozen in a destructive pattern, where neither person can grow or find real fulfilment. The old saying goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ I think that remains true in adulthood. The concept of the nuclear family has brought us some freedom and flexibility but having smaller families doesn’t take away that need for a bigger extended family. If we don’t have one, or they are far away, we can create our own, through nurturing friendships, and allowing our partners to do the same. When we have a range of people to rely on, it broadens our outlook. We realise that we are not dependent on one person. We are part of an interconnecting, evolving web of community. It’s not a threat if someone doesn’t desperately need you in order to fulfil their happiness. We can be together because we choose to be, and because we enjoy giving to each other, not because we can’t survive without each other. It’s not my job to fill that hole you’ve got. But I’ll make you a cuppa while you fetch your spade.

©️Janey Colbourne 2018