Archive for May, 2014

SIX DEGREES: THE MAY BLITZ, LIVERPOOL 1941

For Lesley Johnson

 

Obviously they were after the docklands –

Liverpool, Wallasey, Birkenhead –

with a week long of raids but many bombs,

as usual, missed their targets entirely,

shrapnelling then burning streets – commercial

and residential – either side of the river,

upstream and down. The photos of acres

of devastation in Liverpool’s

downtown city centre prefigured Dresden.

 

There is a watercolour in the Walker

by Peter Shepheard – ‘Liverpool from Oxton,

4 a.m., 4th May 1941’ –

which depicts, from the leafy Victorian

suburb across the river, the worst raid

of the week. You focus instantly on

six clouds of smoke, billowing in a strong

south easterly, lit lobster pink by the miles

of fires below and silhouetting

a dozen barrage balloons. The glare

shines on the slate roofs of Birkenhead.

Also, in silhouette, are the ‘Three Graces’,

untouched, across the river at the Pier Head,

buildings that were the city’s symbols of wealth,

power – Port of Liverpool, Cunard, Liver.

Dawn is beginning to lighten the sky

to the east, which is free of smoke and flames.

 

We receive a postcard of the picture

from a friend. She tells us she is fully

recovered from her operation

and is ready for lunch – and reminds us that,

when she was two in Shorefields, New Ferry

(a small town on the southern Mersey shore),

that night hot shrapnel pierced the roof of her home,

landing on her pillow, setting it alight.

Her father saved her. And I suddenly

remember, like an epiphany,

that that weekend, my father, en route

to Nigeria, was in Liverpool

staying at The Adelphi and joined the line

of buckets to try to douse the fire

at Lewis’s department store opposite.

They failed, of course. All that remained were

the walls. The rooftop menagerie,

of songbirds, small monkeys and the odd lizard,

had fallen, with the broken, blackened glass,

in amongst the rubble.

 

 

 

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SWIFTS

This morning apple blossom, scattered by

the softest of winds, showered me like

confetti and, by chance, I looked up

into a deep, deep cobalt sky and there

they were – one, two then a third and fourth –

arriving perennially at this time

here each May. Monogamous, returning

to the same nests until they die, each

generation nesting in the empty nests –

each generation now, as it returns yearly

from the tropics, finding more and more nests

gone as buildings are renovated

and new ones built sealed as airless boxes.

Aerobatic harbingers of summer

then autumn, once flocking our suburban sky,

are becoming presagers of dearth.

 

 

 

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A FLY (AND INFINITY)

Whilst I am at my morning exercises,

the limited dumbbell, the selected

Pilates, observing, through the French window,

the shimmering, ornamental grasses –

that obscure the water feature – and the odd

finch and dunnock feasting on the birch

and the lawn, a large, black, raucous fly

hits one of the panes, once, twice, thrice then stops,

becomes silent. We are all learners, most of the time.

It – in a long life I have never learned

how to sex a fly – walks with care, slowly,

methodically, systematically

across the pane, looking for an end to

such transparent nonsense.

 

 

 

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THE LANE

The motorway cuts through it. It was always

a proper Cheshire country lane with

ditches and hedgerows of may and oak

but it remained an unpaved track subject

to the weathers. Travellers or Roma –

though ‘Gypsies’ or ‘Irish Tinkers’ we called them

then – with grass for their hirsute ponies,

their caravans obscured by the hedges

and their shy kids safe from the odd car,

would camp there. We would try to explore,

to find where it led, hoping for some mansion

occupied by GIs with their comics

and gum. But, each time we tried, one of the men,

the same one always – wiry, dark haired, sharp eyed –

would send us packing with a raised fist

and a curse. One summer, near dusk, we crept

as close as we dared. The man was seated,

on a stool, playing a guitar. Somewhere,

out of sight, a woman was singing.

 

We got a telling off, home after dark,

and my spinster aunt sang, unbidden,

‘I’m away wi’ the raggle taggle gypsy-o!’

 

I drive by what remains of the lane often

and always, out of the corner of my eye,

look – as if there were something to see

other than grass and weeds.

 

 

 

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THE PLAYMAKER…

For Mike Francis

 

…realising the hopes, dreams, nightmares, visions,

of other artists;

 

transporting us from a silent, empty black box to

Kwazulu, Hastings, the Marches, Belfast, the Balkans,

and endless rooms and streets in Ellesmere Port;

 

transporting us to a roundhouse, a pigeon loft, a ferry,

a seashore, a desert, a hill fort, a lonely farm, a cave;

 

truly gifted – with more than a touch of genius;

 

rigorously creative – solving problems with

always elegant, quality solutions;

 

mastering a repertoire of skills –

carpentry, metal-work, information technology;

 

mastering a range of technologies –

wood, metal, plastic, sound, light;

 

understanding, appreciating, exploiting

the grace and strength of materials;

 

a modest, unassuming, self-deprecating perfectionist.

 

 

 

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