Review: The Time Traveller’s Picnic by Fiona Sinclair

Reviewed ByEmma Lee

Fiona Sinclair's poems feel as if you've sat down in a crowded, friendly cafe and can't help but listen in on the conversation at the next table. They are chatty and welcoming, but not frivolous.

The Time Traveller’s Picnic Fiona Sinclair

Dempsey & Windle 

ISBN: 978-1-907435-83-6, 112pp, unpriced

Fiona Sinclair’s poems feel as if you’ve sat down in a crowded, friendly cafe and can’t help but listen in on the conversation at the next table. They are chatty and welcoming, but not frivolous. The poems cover a childhood with parental neglect, a number of false starts, romance and marriage after serious, chronic illness mostly with a life-affirming attitude. “A History in Clothes” starts with the narrator aged ten and continues at milestone ages until,

“At 52 love-blind to keloid clues that map my body’s bulimic past,
his that would look good liberates me to buy strappy tops, strapless dresses.
Catching me with un-ironed hair, he loves my curls running riot,
so, I sling straighteners in the bin. At 53 proposed trip to Crete prompts first ever
beachwear, scarlet one piece with woman of a certain age tummy control.

Encountering for the first time all-inclusive holidays meant I spent
two weeks falling for third deadly sin, flying home to fully join the middle-aged sisterhood;
Weight Watchers, fat clothes, thin clothes. At 55, I work out, fast and sauna
like a jockey desperate to make the weight until one June morning,
a zip slides up on the nipped in waist of my bright red wedding dress.”

The “bright red wedding dress” echoes back to the “scarlet one piece” of the Cretan holiday. The quick, sprung rhythm gives the sense of someone in a hurry to tell their story before the next adventure. Trips to Italy feature too. The title poem contrasts the narrator delighting in Rome’s historic sites while new partner marvels at the football stadium. There’s a stop for a picnic, savouring the surroundings and food. On another trip there’s a search for an engagement ring in “Sparkler”,

“Espresso-high on your proposal,
no thoughts of a ring until on the Ponte Vecchio
amidst the blaze of bling,
his disappointment at the Medici price tags.
Time was I could have let you loose with my credit card.
I had sworn off real jewellery anyway,
after watching mother milk men for sapphires, diamonds …”

It results in a temporary ring and then a second search for something more glamorous, “two diamond body guards flanking a superstar stone,” signifying, “me and the ring both off the shelf now.” The giddy excitement is tempered with a reminder of the journey taken, “All in the Mind” is a memory of an appointment with a psychiatrist,

“he urges a leap of faith across my disbelief to his diagnosis.
Later I keep to myself internet research that somatic
was only recently divorced from its shady coupling with psycho.
Nevertheless, explanation to friends
about a leaky mind contaminating its body
still met with a change of subject;
far easier to wear the fashionable label of bi-polar.”

I’m not convinced “bi-polar” has ever been fashionable unless it’s a reference to celebrities such as Catherine Zeta Jones or Mariah Carey discussing their diagnoses in interviews. The narrator’s diagnosis is never revealed, merely hinted at, which seems to underline the stigma still attached to mental illnesses. The “leaky mind contaminating its body” is a good description of how trauma can be the trigger for physical illnesses and how mental and physical illnesses are inter-linked. The poem has some interesting ideas but doesn’t explore them in depth.

“The Time-Travellers’ Picnic” is a cheerful, upbeat journey through recovery from a traumatic childhood and chronic illness to a love of clothes, romantic love and marriage. Their conversational tone and rhythms hold readers’ attention, however, it doesn’t vary much making this a book to dip into rather than read in one sitting. There does seem to be a reluctance to explore their serious topics in depth on occasion as focus is shifted back to the celebratory drive of taking back control of a life.

Emma Lee