Saturday, 26 April 2014


He offered  a fig with run-through-my-hair fingers,
Split it with a sex-in-the-afternoon mouth, 
licked seeds from  his ready-to-kiss-tongue.
I smiled  my  maybe-I-will-lips.
His I-want-you-eyes watched as 
I sucked at the juice with take-my-time-lips.
He whispered, ‘Bellissima,’ in an undress-me-voice.
The fruit disappeared, we gazed at the air.
He took a step closer on dance-with-me-feet.
I flashed him a hold-me-tight-smile,
Then  walked from the shop with  an I’ll-be-back-walk. 

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I was looking for a cafe in Garden City, a quiet, residential part of town, not so far from Tahrir Square. I was lost (as is usually the case) and people kept giving me conflicting directions (as is usually the case). I found myself turning into a badly lit road which ran past what seemed like a deserted old building surrounded by a high wall. I was alone in the street apart from a soldier in full combat uniform guarding the gate. He was standing directly in my path and staring at me in an unpleasant way. As I walked towards him, he began to click the safety catch of his gun.

I didnt know what to do and thought if I turn round, I'll have my back to him which didn't feel like a good idea, if I say hello he might shoot me but at least he'll know I'm friendly, if I say nothing he could still shoot me, if I continue walking I'll also have my back to him. To be honest, I just wanted to drop to the floor and curl into a ball. I reminded myself that I had looked down a few  barrels of  guns  in my journaistic career, and  in Kabul had heard bullets whistle past my ear as the Taliban fought their way into the city. In these situations I tend to want to piss in my pants. 

The words of my father, an ex-soldier, came to mind, 'There is nothing more dangerous than a bored, badly trained soldier.'  I continued walking, hoping Egyptian soldiers were well trained and that this guy was working out a particularly challenging Suduko in his head. I avoided eye contact. He followed me a little way up the street, clicking the safety catch as he went. 

You never know what's around the corner.

Monday, 7 April 2014


I've been invited to a dinner by my Italian friends. Seconds after the invitation, I'm thinking, 'What the hell am I going to wear?' I'm in Alexandria and have only brought casual wear with me. Somehow, jeans with holes in them, don't seem suitable. Thanks to my flatmates, the wardrobe has been sorted out - Victoria's lovely purple dress and Rasha's shoes.  But something was missing:  perfume.  I needed  to  restock and headed for San Stefano mall, to look for the perfume shop  recommended by a friend. She had rubbed some of her new perfume ( an oil called Wassel) onto my wrists the day previously. I had liked it so much I decided to buy some for myself. It was like an old pharmacy, full of beautiful glass bottles containing perfumed oils from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. The shelves were dark carved wood and the display drawers were full of sandalwood and cedar sticks. I had a sugar rush of smells. I asked for Wassel and the owner dabbed some onto my wrists, I nodded. I'll take it. Then I remembered that if you wear a citrus perfume it takes ten years off you, so out came the lemongrass and lemon oils. Beautiful. Wonder what the musk (my favourite) is like?

The nice shop assistant handed me a tiny bowl of crushed coffee beans. I said, 'I dont think I want to smell like coffee.' He said, 'Your nose is confused. The coffee wipes out the scent of other perfumes. We shall start again.' He placed the yellow musk, the white musk, the Saudi musk, the black musk on the counter, uncorked each bottle, and held the  stoppers to my nose one by one. Mmmmm. I  wanted to smell rose, so the Saqat, Medina and Egyptian rose bottles were brought out (Saqat is very much like the English rose). 

I left the shop with little glass phials of Wassel, Lemongrass, Egyptian and Saqat rose before I could succumb further. I smelt like a Pasha's harem, and suddenly remembered the last time I had tried to buy perfume in Alexandria.  I had walked into a shop in Mansheya, realising too late that I had entered a tiny kingdom of Salafi. It was stocked with Islamic paraphernalia and Qurans. Tiny bottles of perfume filled the window. Two men stared at me in their comical mid-thigh jelabayas that  hovered over inches of hairy leg, socks and laced shoes.  The Salafi are the Amish of Islam, basing their religious practice on early Islam when men hung out on camels, lived in tents and watched stars instead of TVs. The women gave birth, stitched the tents, milked the camels and hung in together. 

So, this uncovered, female infidel from the 21st century  walks into their shop and asks for some musk. 'Sorry, the perfume is only for men,' one of them said, while his sidekick gave me the usual 'I-want-to-fuck-you-while-you-rot-in-hell' look'. 

Feeling suddenly empowered by the wall of mysogyny steadily rising between us, I  stepped towards them and  said, 'In my country  men who wear perfume like this would be  considered homosexuals.'

 I wasn't sure about the political correctness of this statement, but my only concern at the time was to insult them, and this is about as low as you can get with a pair of homophobic Salafi.
In the taxi I opened up one of the phials and sniffed.  Sometimes, you just need your nose to take you on a journey away from  reality.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


A savage primrose hunched amongst
spring’s  trinkets, spies on me with bladed eye,
prods me with its creamy resurrection,

tells me how
Persephone stood root deep in mud,
loosening, until her eyes, worm chewed,
unleashed their hurdy gurdy,

a warrior’s
insurgency of cracking eggs, erupting seeds
and earth thrown spears that break cold
symmetry, deride the discipline of hoar and rime,

a tyranny of rot and wrack. Persephone’s

primrose gutters 

in worn, cracked stone, a gift from spring’s asylum.
I’ll  tear out it out, send it back,
weld ice to grief, curl in the  sleep of beasts -
a gibbet hatching. 

Photograph by Simon Wells

More of my poetry can be read on,,