London Undercurrents – Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire


Thames freeze

My lady is taking me to see
an elephant traverse the icy Thames.
I’m a-feared lest we fall in like them two ladies
last winter, or worse, like that poor man
drowned––frozen afore he hit the water.

I’ll lace her ladyship’s boots tight,
wind her up in the warmest fabric
pin her bonnet down with 8 pins,
double-bow the muslin strip under her chignon.

We’ll link arms like sisters, I no longer maid,
for the tip-toe walk across planks at the edge
until we reach thick sturdiness
made from dirty water.

I telled my lady it’s easier to get on
and off the ice here on the north side––she
arched her brow thankful, for she is loathe
cross to the south at all costs. So all’s well
happen she’ll keep to the middle.

They’ll send me to get salted fish
sweetmeats. Me, skipping, trying not to tumble,
frozen nose and fingers and breath like icicles,
eyes agog at the big old elephant
and the 
men that keep him from flattening the lot of us.


Joolz Sparkes



Sacked from Cook’s Confectioners
Battersea Rise, 1923

I never pilfered. I never dibbed
a wet finger in a sugar bag
for a sneaky suck. All my roses
turned out beautiful, wedding-cake perfect.

Maggie egged me on. I was dancing on the metal
topped table, showing off my donkey-kicks
when Mr Cook walked in. Got my marching orders.
Now I’m packing biscuits in Fulham,
saving my shimmies for the dance hall.





London Undercurrents is an ongoing poetry project by Joolz Sparkes and Hilaire, unearthing the voices of feisty women who have lived and worked in the capital over many centuries. Their poems have appeared in South Bank Poetry and Brittle Star. Blog:

Note: Thames freeze was first published in Brittle Star issue 36



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