Archive for July, 2014

JULY…

the month we found, beyond the rose of sharon,

past the mint and the sage, in the sunless

corner by broken pots and upturned

zinc buckets, the first wild strawberry…

 

when we walked up the Acropolis,

with feral dogs among the olive trees…

 

when we walked through Carnac’s standing stones

and heard the wind shake the fields of wheat…

 

when we decorated our first home,

with Chris Montez, ‘The more I see you’…

 

the month we met on a date blind like Cupid

or Justice – between the end of schooldays

and the rest of our lives…

 

 

 

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SEA AIRS

It’s good, at times, to have grown old, though not

to ‘wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled’

but to be allowed to sit upon a fold up

picnic chair beneath a beach umbrella

and read – something, as a stilted youth,

I would have paid for if I’d had the dosh.

 

Now, between paragraphs, I watch, across

a quarter of a mile of sand, the family

paddle and swim. Suddenly, behind me,

the Christian Beach Team strikes up,

calling boys and girls and dads and mums

for an Adam and Eve tug o’war –

accompanied by much loud hailer cheer

and jovial misogyny – and then

a brief sermon followed by a hymn – ‘Floods

of joy o’er my soul like the sea billows roll,

Since Jesus came into my heart!’ – and I

begin to hear the waves’ far siren song

then note the family is returning

from the water’s edge as quickly as they can

and fear the little one has cut her toe

on a razor shell or been stung by

a lion’s mane jellyfish. But, no,

they have seen a dolphin – that Christian

symbol of amity and charity –

arching and diving, tearing through the waves,

finally heading out into the bay.

Now they’ve brought the good news to Grandpa

they go back, the little one running.

 

The Beach Team begins again – ‘Hear us, O Lord…’

– but I can only hear ‘mermaids singing,

each to each’ and can only imagine

the dolphin, that paragon, that non pareil

of the air, of the sea.

 

 

 

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CASTLE PLAYGROUND, BEAUMARIS

I think of those we love the most, recall

their playing here four decades apart –

as she and I sit at a picnic table

to finish her ice cream then rehearse

our vaudeville act. ‘I say, I say, I say,’

she declares, with barely a lisp or

hesitation, ‘my dog has no nose!’

‘Your dog has no nose! How does he smell?’ I ask.

‘Terrible!’ she says, and runs to the swings.

 

She can swing herself now, pushing against

the air, holding the chains just as she should –

as her mother did – beneath this unfinished

curtain wall built from local grit stone.

Determined to be free, she must go ever

higher – because we will catch her or because

the future seems always distant and safe.

 

I stand behind her – ready to push or catch –

and see the embracing, soothing horizon

of abiding mountains and perpetual sea.

This little one, as yet focussed on each

intensive, encyclopaedic moment,

sees only her splendid new trainers, feels

only the pendulum of blood in her veins.

‘Stop now,’ she calls and, once free, runs across

the putting green to the bouncy castle.

 

 

 

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MORAL TALES

Before the fell doctor took his axe to it,

there was a line from Paddington via

Ruabon up the valley to Lake Bala

and so to Barmouth on Cardigan Bay.

What is left is Llangollen to Carrog,

a heritage line run by volunteers.

 

They have Thomas the Tank Engine days.

The smoke boxes are covered by plastic

faces – Edward, Gordon, Thomas himself.

We go en famille and our grandchild,

predictably, is enchanted but not

surprised. Her universe swarms with magic.

As we eat at a picnic table

on the platform, the Fat Controller

raises his hat to us. She stares enthralled.

 

How very Church of England these tales are,

though not without humour or pathos!

It is the old church – the Tory party at prayer,

and the old party – gentry and tenants.

The useful trains trundle to the beat of

Hymns Ancient & Modern – ‘The rich man

in his castle, The poor man at his gate’.

 

Our engine is Gordon, Britannia Class.

He pumps out gouts of steam as the gradient

rises steeply from Llangollen to Berwyn;

passes the Eisteddfod grounds and crosses

the Dee, where bathers wave from a shallow,

sandy inlet and the little one waves back;

climbs through the Berwyn Tunnel; pauses

at Glyndyfrdwy – where Owain Glyndwr

proclaimed himself Prince of Wales; and so –

past a meadow with sheep and a horse

by a river bend, through sparse woods of ash

and oak – to Carrog and a puppet show.

 

 

 

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COINCIDENCE…

the storyteller’s trapdoor: ‘And it so

happened…’ But it does sometimes. Aristotle

called them ‘accidents’ – and here’s a pile-up!

 

It is a Thursday night – and bell ringing

practice at the parish church we can see

from the long window on the half landing.

Our house was here years before the church

or the houses behind us or in our street.

The Shoulder of Mutton Field was bought

at auction and the first built was ours

more than a hundred and sixty years ago.

From the window, uninterrupted,

there would have been Cheshire countryside.

The first tenants were the Caldecotts,

one of whose sons was the illustrator

Randolph Caldecott. I attended

the same school he had done. The first grown up

poem my mother read me was Cowper’s

‘The Diverting History of John Gilpin’.

How I loved the drumming of the metre,

the slam-dunk of the rhymes and Caldecott’s

gaudy, storytelling illustrations!

 

A city infant, he was certain

the hedgerows, pasture, dew ponds of his boyhood

had inspired his art. He died, not quite forty,

in an unseasonably damp and cold

St Augustine, Florida, where, of course,

he had gone for his health. The cause of death

was the heart disease he had developed as

a child. I imagine him descend,

say on some early summer morning,

the wide, sunlit stairs, one hand carefully

on the bannister, the other gripping

a pencil and sketch book; edge through the back door

kept ajar for the air, cross, as quickly

as he is able, the swept, cobbled yard,

lift the latch of the door in the high wall

and step through into the brightness of the fields…

 

 

 

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