THE OPTIMISM OF ENGINEERS


For John Huddart

 

Whichever way you approach the town of Fflint,

on the coast road east or west, down Halkyn

Mountain, from the Dee Estuary, you see

the towers first – Richard, Bolingbroke and Castle

Heights, three 1960s, multi-storey

social housing blocks – not the castle.

 

Richard Plantagenet, Richard of Bordeaux,

King of England, surrendered to his cousin

and childhood friend, Henry of Bolingbroke,

in the inner bailey of the castle,

nearly seven hundred years ago.

Richard’s great grandfather had it built –

by engineers, carpenters, charcoal burners,

diggers, dykers, masons, smiths, woodmen

from the counties of Chester, Lancaster,

Leicester, Lincoln, Salop, Stafford, Warwick –

based on a French model. Logistically –

being merely a day’s ride from Chester

and having the estuary lap its walls –

it was well placed to punish the Welsh.

 

In the ‘70s, as well as the Heights,

Courtaulds dominated the town, its mills

employing ten thousand. Now there is

MacDonalds, Sainsbury’s, a Polski Sklep.

The castle ruins have been preserved, of course,

made accessible, and its setting landscaped.

Across the wide river are the white houses

of Parkgate, where the packets to Ireland

would moor offshore in the roads.

Canalising the Dee to keep Chester

a port for sea-going fly boats and cutters

silted that side of the estuary,

transformed Liverpool and the Mersey.

 

A purpose-made barge passes, Afon

Dyfrdwy, taking an A380 wing

from Airbus at Broughton to the port

at Mostyn, some twenty miles, for shipment,

by purpose-made ferries, to Bordeaux.

As if on cue, a Beluga, an Airbus

Super Transporter, its nose like the fish’s

head, banks south east for Airbus at Toulouse.

 

The castle was closed for a time because of

vandalism and under age drinking.

Two teenage youths, wielding a six-pack each

of Sainsbury’s St Cervois lager,  pass

beneath the curtain wall. Laughing,

they offer the cans to two elderly

anglers returning from the river,

who decline, embarrassed, and move on.  It is

one o’clock on a weekday. The two lads,

both opening a can and showering

each other, run towards the shore, cursing.

 

 

 

  1. #1 by (theinkywriter) - March 23rd, 2013 at 13:21

    I particularly enjoy the line ‘you see the towers first…’ and how you juxtapose the mundane and impoverishedness (probably not a word!) of today with the richness of the engineers, carpenters, charcoal burners and so on and then ending with the teenage lads drinking and cursing. It captures something that is so familiar and so sad.

  2. #2 by John Huddart - March 28th, 2013 at 00:38

    Thanks for the kind dedication. The poem is almost designed to be perfect – the 3 pairs of friends from and of different ages. I guess we may be the old codgers returning from a fishing trip, but it would be nice to be the lager boys, swearing our way to the foreshore.

    Whichever, I can’t decide on how much irony to read into the optimism of the title – and I think that here is a great strength, for everywhere is both genuine celebration of vision and forward lookingness [!] and the way time silts up endeavour with failure and unintended consequences.

    Escaping historical judgement is the Airbus project, which is all adventure and science – and as yet suggests no unforeseen failures. Enter our two old men and youthful dopplegangers to frame the whole story. I bet they were there fishing and drinking as Plantagent fought Bolingbroke, and the dredgers plumbed the Dee.

    A very clear multi-dimensional vision – in geography, time and [aero]space. And it takes me back.

(will not be published)

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