The most senior staff had their offices
at one corner of the building, stacked
one above the other. From their desks,
through one of their three sets of long windows,
they could watch the tidal river’s ebb and flow
and the decline of the salmon. If they stood
at another they could see upstream
to the medieval sandstone bridge – the river
susurrating beneath its arches –
and, beyond, the meadows prone to flooding.
Like most county halls it was an empty
rectangle. Of those with their own offices –
our names and titles plated to the doors
and all, but the most senior, with only
one set of windows – location was all.
A view outwards – even if it were only
the canyon-like yard where the prison vans
debouched – indicated rank. On balance,
we did more good than harm. Things worked:
schools were opened and closed; bridges made safe;
fires attended; streets kept orderly.
We were an embankment to stem havoc.
Though the ubiquitous tea trolley wheeled
through the corridors of power promptly
at 11.00 and 3.00 was a leveller,
my office faced inwards to white tiled walls.
The room had a piece – the last extant, old hands
claimed – of the former Chief Clerk’s carpet:
yellow, sixties, a ‘contemporary’ design
with fussy circles and curlicues
perhaps belying, on the reverse,
the Free Mason’s chessboard. I never looked.
Through my window I could see the tent of sky
criss-crossed by skeins of gulls and flights of pigeons.
I would imagine the heaving waters
from the mountains curbed by the ancient weir
above the bridge – and, on a branch wrenched
in some forgotten storm and caught on the weir,
a cormorant waiting.