The Lonely Phoenix, for Crispin Janolo

From the life of Crispin Janolo

By Naomi Duffree

I had the honour of meeting Crispin, a Filipino East London resident who is recovering from a stroke that has brought on aphasia – a communication disorder that limits a person’s ability to express themselves when speaking, understand speech, and causes difficulty with both reading and writing. It is not a disease but a symptom of brain damage. Crispin has the most amazing smile, accent, and mannerisms that made him a joy to speak and listen to. His stroke did not take away his sense of humour or his courage.

I have crafted our conversation into a poem to try to convey Crispin’s everyday struggles, but also his everyday joys. I will never forget his warm smile and his ability to affirm the best things in life.

Skyward Kisses

I’ve been here before

When things were clearer

Can I tell you?

I can tell you

It won’t be easy


Trapped in a tube

train, training for 2 months

Going through the gears and motions.

1,2,3,4…                                           (clenched left fist, imaginary gear stick)

40 mph

Boring. Underground. Blackness. Loneliness.


We had the best economy in the 1980s


It was the best. The best

(a skyward kiss )

Now it is rubbish, rubbish.

Cuts. Cuts.


I worked at Harrods,

HGV, driving the lorry

Delivering to Diana.

Beautiful, tall,

The best, the best

(a skyward kiss

Prince Charles – those ears!                         a laugh)

The little princes

at Kensington Palace.


Floral scent at Buckingham Palace

So many. So sad.

Diana — Mohamed’s son

The Best!


Driving the lorry

Smart suit, no earrings

1983. £800/week. The money was the best!

1989. £50,000 mortgage

— it was cheap!


Not like today.

It is hard.


In the Philippines, cheap food:

Burger £1.50

Coke 10p

Prawns, fresh, grilled, rice and salad £1.50




Restaurants are dear.


Work work work


Philippines once a year.


Philippines holidays are the best

Britain is the best place to work.

America? Police, shooting

English police – are the best

The buses, the police, MPs.

American government is corrupt.


I was driving the bus in London

For 25 years.

“Hello, how are you today?”

Loving the people.


Work work work


Learning the knowledge

2 years – 10,800 streets.


Private cab

In London. On my bike, memorising the streets.


I use a Tom Tom now

Visiting Edinburgh and The Isle of Wight.


It was the best money.

8am til 8pm. Worked

to pay mortgage

My wife’s solicitor

I work, work, work.

My wife left with her boyfriend.




A newsagents at

Elephant and Castle

Working, working for two mortgages.

I am for the people.


Then, no money.

No people.

Business sold.


Language can be difficult

American – attorney

Filipino – attorney

English – solicitor

America – vacation

English – holiday

The best is English.

Professional people.


My children work hard

Studying in the Philippines

my son Briton, soon to be a dentist

my daughter Brittany is training to be a doctor.

They are British

The people here are the best!


My daughter and son are British

They went to private school.

I made £400/day… per day on the taxi, which cost me £1800

I would have runs to Heathrow and Gatwick.

I speak English and



England has a history

America is at war

Scotland – it is the best and cleanest!                                   (a skyward kiss )

London can be grubby.


Briton’s girlfriend is a dentist.

They want a private practice

Kensington, Notting Hill. There are 10,800 streets.

Golders Green is a Jewish area.                                  (He takes a pen and draws a star)

The bread there…

The best!                                                                  (a skyward kiss)


The Jews are rich;

Marks and Spencer? Jewish. Barclays? Jewish

Work, work, work hard

Then restaurant for a week!                            (laughing; memories surface)


I like to eat broccoli

It is the best.

One head, boiled for 3 minutes.


In the morning a yoghurt with strawberries

(a little Complan sprinkled)

Coffee. Only one a day.

For lunch, a sandwich; smoked salmon from Marks and Spencer

Then later

Broccoli, apple, grapes and bananas…


All mixed up


No drinking. No beer — too much sugar

But walking for half an hour

Pull ups every day

Doctors’ orders.

My daughter tells me, broccoli is best.


My girlfriend Rida

And I got to Scotland

6 hours by train

It is the best!                                                           (a skyward kiss)

Shopping is cheaper in the Philippines.

Trainers £5

Here £40.


Cuts. Cuts.

The economy suffers

Japan has risen infinitely                                  (a financial graph emerges on the paper)

We go up 2 points

We go down

Japan has gone high, my daughter tells me

Cuts. Cuts.


I speak on Skype every day

It used to be monthly on mobile,                   (miming a massive phone, laughing)

It was so expensive.


This afternoon I will walk my dog, Lulu.

Snuffling, barking from under the Christmas tree she emerged

A gift from my sister,

Eyes wide with surprise and kisses all round.                 (miming kissing from Lulu — a friend for life.)


2008. Holiday. Philippines.

I’m dancing.                                                            (as if there is no tomorrow)

I collapse.

Will there be a tomorrow?




My Rida is crying.


Six months lying in the hospital


Static mouthed while tears ran.


Moved to the hospital in London three months later.

Slowly gaining speech

A cardboard rectangle

Explains my restrictions                                               (holding up the card in the wallet)

I can laugh at that now.


I was lonely.


Every week I visit the stroke club

Hard at first, unable to communicate.

Can’t hear clearly…

…then… an appointment!

Waited 4 months since the letter in April.

This Thursday I have two hearing aids fitted.      (the smile reaches across the sky — they can possibly see it in the Philippines)

Soon I will hear; I long to hear clearly

People, the birds, the Philippino eagles

Flying high.


And I have new friends                                     (the smile broader…

The stroke club

Brings me friends and coffee.                                     …the laughter stronger…

I am flying high

They are the best!                                                            …and kisses)