Heaven in Ordinarie www.fosten.com
Heaven in Ordinariewww.fosten.com

News

3 October 2016

It's been a busy time since the last entry. Here is a piece which captures a few minutes during the Summer. 'Cafe by the Ardeche'.

 

9 April 2016

Spring has arrived, vigorously ... my new hip is settling in well... and off we go again though never quite as before - se 'The last onion'.

13 January 2016

Having passed 60 at Christmas I'm thinking that it is time to stop worriting on with questions of purpose and mortality, and simply get on with living. 'Re-Calibration' is my attempt to do just that.

 

20 July 2015

Pastoral church newsletters are not usually considered ground breaking literature, but having sweated over this one I thought  it might be of interest to a wider readership than the Norwich Area churches for whom it is intended.

July 2  2015

A day of hot, crackling sun which reminds me of other days like this from a long time ago. The border pinks from our childhood garden which are now blooming here in Pakefield reinforces that good memory. See 'Pink Buttonholes'.

June 15  2015

After weeks of waiting and willing the peony buds to open out into blooms today seems to be the day!

Also a hand out which accompanied two Praying with clay workshops held last Sarurday at the  URC Eastern Synod day out in Cambridge. No expertise was offered by me or required by the particpants but, rather like the peony, creativity bloomed anyway.

April 27 2015

A new week and a new poem relating how events of some 30 years ago came to an unexpected resolution - see 'Miss G's Revenge'. This is followed by a collection of pieces produced for last year's May Day event at the Seagull Theatre.

April 21 2015

Spring is well under way, the sun shines and a quiet few hours have enabled the website to go live. You will see that it is far from complete but some recent material is now available and other archive stuff will appear soon.

March 24 2015

After many months offline the fosten.com website 'Heaven in Ordinarie' is gradually returning. The new site will grow as and when I acquire some 'how to do it' knowledge and find a few moments in which to post material

 

 

Contact

If you have always wanted to ask me something, now is the time to go for it!
ian@fosten.com

This collection of mostly autobiographical poems covers a period from the late 1950’s until the mid 1970’s. Whilst they are necessarily personal my intention is that they are also representative of an unwittingly privileged generation who grew up after the restrictions of post war Britain but before the cynical individualism of the last thirty years.

By focussing on a part of suburbia which in general has long been the object of ridicule for being aesthetically uniform and culturally anonymous, this collection attempts to celebrate the rich variety encountered in a Petts Wood childhood as well as providing an answer to the question, “Who are we?”

 

The collection started life as part of a writing workshop exercise during the International Year of the Family in the early 1990’s with the poem ‘The time that was’.  That poem provides the motive behind the project as it has grown; simply, “... to re-present as gift to those now aged, the memory and so the presence of the time that was”.

 

Here now is that gift.

 

Ian Fosten

October 2003

 

 

Remembered beneath the Oak Tree

I’m lying on my back

on twiggy grass,

in places worn quite bare

by football feet.

And through the branches

of the tree

I watch the sky,

a holdall for the leaves;

a boundary for the squirrels,

birds and breeze;

a frame enclosing earth

and tree and house

an home and me.

 

And in this moment

I have entered on the freehold of

Eternity

 

until a voice calls,

“Dinner time!”

and summoned from this place

I step,

the moment safely kept,

into the life which is

to come.

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Ambition

Unsaid, I really much preferred

socks like some other children wore,

the proper turn-down boy’s socks with,

perhaps, a coloured banding, or

 

a garter with a flash. Suppose,

mine were the best from M & S,

but realise, when ambition calls

age can’t deny a sense of dress.

 

Unsatisfactorily they wandered

from the knee to loiter over calves,

then concertina, victims of

inept elastication, to my shoes.

 

Then, came a day of paradox resolving,

a playground tumble, scabs knocked free,

the bleeding rendered quite unwearable

those skinny greylings: “Now, let me see ...”

 

Tender, caring hands knees wiping,

rifling through a box to find

at length a suitable alternative,

turned-down, and with a purple band.

 

Approvingly, she said; “Brave you!” -

too kindly blind to see no hurt, but joy

in realised ambition, savoured, sweet

in triumph  for the five year boy.

 

 

The Book

The purpose of the book

was lost soon after it

was used.

A project, I suppose,

on distant times when

dinosaurs

roamed free and cave men

followed on, and mammoths

fed them,

tigers, armed with

sabre teeth might eat them;

awful thought.

 

Buried, bottom corner

in my desk it lay, almost

forgotten,

as writing with ‘Miss Scribbley’,

heavy leather footballs,

dubbined,

winter walking home  displayed

two muddy knees for

trophies,

and sums and games and stories

helped our knowledge and ability

to grow.

 

But all the while,

as ‘Esmerelda’s Cat’

(the play),

and splinter-bottom assembly floor,

’Let’s make an opera’  trip

transported

summerwards those eager lives,

a stain, a foreign body

lurked,

not quite off screen

and threatened I should be

found out.

 

Tomorrow holidays began

and how I yearned that day

was here;

but first, the terrible admission

how, inexplicably, I’d kept

all year

the book. “No matter”,

Mr Lomas said, “just slip

next door”.

Within a minute it was done, the stain

was gone and life once more

begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pink Buttonholes

In memory the Anniversary Day

would be hot sun that

crackled, somehow.

While yet the grass remained

dew-wet,

a scissored choice was made;

a snip, a twist of silver foil,

a pinning-on parade;

the deed was done.

 

For weeks we had rehearsed

the songs;

“I’ll walk with God; He’ll hold

my hand”;

“We are the Peacemakers!”, youthful

voices sang - though

how the roof might actually be raised,

I couldn’t see.

 

Now, if I try or work up a pretence

I might recall the scent

of border pinks;

more certainly the taste of

simple, eager expectation

lingers yet;

an ancient song to younger ears,

if heard at all by those who have

so much - much less.

 

Pink buttonholes, you see, enfold

so many riches -

gathering, anticipation and mutuality,

for three;

and memories of a crowded church

where God was celebrated

in community.

 

 

Biggin Hill 1 - The Air Show

Young boys toured hungrily

each stand,

admired each combat-jacketed crew

who manned

the Bloodhound, Saracen, or  fought just with

bare hands.

 

‘English Electric’ seemed tame for Hawker Huntered Kentish skies

till presently

the air was speared by after-burning Lightnings flown

in tandem, vertically,

to crackle the collision of Free West and Russian Threat

so powerfully.

 

The recollected school cap, gabardine, and Brownie Box

tinge sadness now,

as wiser, worldly-weary, greyer head

remembers how

that awesome spectacle of polished flight (now scrapped)

could steal the show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biggin Hill 2 - Gate Guardians

One Sunday  in our Morris car

we drove, not far,

until we found a sight

that brought delight into

a young boy’s mind.

 

Beside the entrance gate they stood,

no fence, but lettered plate

in stone set to declare

the men who flew from there

in days gone by.

 

In those days a boy could clamber

on the wings and come to wonder

at the joy-stick and worn seat

and instruments and firing sight which

gave a reason for it’s flight.

 

Now, sometimes over Norfolk skies,

a ’plane appears which boy-grown-man will hear

with growling engine unmistakably,

sleek fuselage and wings elliptically,

honouring the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Soapbox Rally

All  morning we had worked,

enveloped in an atmosphere of promise,

constructed out of hope and summer dew,

and sun no longer warm but hot.

 

Selecting, sawing, assembling,

testing, and re-thinking,

dinner-time came so soon, too soon

for engineers intent upon development.

 

Likewise, the deadline for the race.

Our entry made it to the start,

dependent for it’s strength on nothing more secure

than string and some old blanket.

 

Unsurprising, then, we failed to reach

the bottom of the slope, but sat

as two contemplatives on sun-hot, Scout Hut driveway,

wreathed about by pram wheels, blanket, plank and string.

 

At ten years old, you see,

there was so much we simply didn’t know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Footbridge

In less time than it takes

to look up from your magazine

you pass beneath this bridge of

brick and iron painted grey.

Like just so many others,

you might think;

how wrong,

for know, this latticed girder work

has witnessed much.

 

On this high route to nursery school

a tank engine passed busily beneath

our feet. By here, returning home

with care, was brought  for Alan,

who was ill, some jelly in a jar.

Within a year the  tank engine

was deisel-shunted to its

scrap yard grave, and I

had started on a thirteen year career

from boy to man.

 

Before the iron spikes were set,

(discouragement for trespassers)

boys braver than I ever dared to be

might scale the parapet and

dance alarmingly upon the track,

flirting with the terminal third rail.

 

An older, odder boy was noticed once

upon the centre of the bridge

that he might satisfy a strange desire

and pee upon a passing train.

Where is he now? Grey-headed,

grandfather, a murderer, a judge:

what unfulfilled ambitions linger yet?

 

Each evening on our journey home from school

two lovers had preceded us,

who met and held and planned,

enfolded in a comfortable curve of brick,

aloof, oblivious of the furtive glance and

snigger of the passing boys.

 

I never knew who painted ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’

but Adrian explained what each word meant,

and almost got it right - as we

grew up, aware and older day by day,

to school and back across the bridge,

accompanied or not by passing trains

and gained, unconsciously, a key to our identity:

‘the children of the railway people’

was our birthright and our name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bromley Town FC

The bus from Station Square

had brought us there,

or near enough to walk

through fields and talk of football

till money at the gate bought entrance

to the match.

 

The painful slap of ball on skin

impressed upon me then

that this was harder, tougher than

the games we played at school when

unskilled feebleness, not strength,

belied the match.

 

Before the half-time doughnut,

china mug of tea was bought,

Dave, our friend, had been well caught

by sharp-eyed, sharp-eared stewards

who had thought (quite rightly)

“Wanker!”, had been called.

 

Eviction threatened, then withheld,

Corinthian Casuals were subdued,

doughnut, tea and Mars Bar eaten,

opponents from the North were beaten

and the bus ride was discuss-ride

from the match.

 

 

 

 

 

The school field

Let me show you the field.

The way marks of this tour are memory

and words; the field is gone, concealed

beneath a neo-Georgian camouflage;

imagination is dust-sheeted by

some games up on a screen.

But if you have the time we'll wander

at a leisured pace, remember

what took place and what was seen.

As wild-west settlers trailed

their wagons and their dreams

and gave the land it's name,

a river here, a mountain there,

so on this plain each year

fresh pioneers spread outwards

from the winter playground

to blend imagination with the turf

and make of boundary fences

thresholds of more distant worlds. 

According to the season several

formal schemes enclosed the green

for rounders, cricket, football teams,

but only when desire was given to

exploring did the field yield up it's gift.

 

See here - a plunger from a pen,

a bobbin of fine copper wire,

were all the weapons in the armoury

of this 10 years Man from U. N. C. L. E.

who detonated charges,

had discreet communications with H.Q.

and held at bay the evil hordes.

And here, you see this dip beside the gate?

This is the very place where Desert Rats

holed-up, fixed up the Bren and

saw off Jerry Panzers crossing unaware from

Griffiths' room towards the railway line. 

On such a day at such a time

there were no real battles to disarm

our peace,

nor burned out wreckage,

scattered death, to undercut

the safety of our play:

just boys at play:

just boys at play.

 

 

 

 

This line defines where we might gather

for the race which showed the worst and best,

the Sports Day winners and the also-rans. 

One day my strength would come,

not yet, and so regret I could not make

the flat and wear a purple vest,

instead find thin contentment in

the lowly obstacle or, lower still,

the sack.

 

This goal mouth is the place where Griffiths yelled,

"Don't bite your nails, just get stuck in!"

I did and scored a goal;

not quite a Roy of the Rovers strike from thirty yards,

more a scrambled lunge before the posts

and almost missed.

In those pre-adolescent days,

much more than boot and ball revealed

how hard it is to make the link

between intent and skill.

 

And so, at last, a site of pleasure, undefined,

combined with deep confusion

in a fortune teller's tent.  The Summer Fete

announced, unnoticed, the demise of these

so simple, innocent, short-trousered days

where none could own or name

the stirrings deep,

which time discloses as the foothills

of both love and pain,

our adult loss and gain.

 

Perhaps it is as well that

David, Roger, Phil and me heard but

a hundredth part of all there was to say

when Laura scrutinised each palm

and spoke (in gypsy intonation)

how our future lay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Paper Boy

‘Get up, get up,

you lazy beggar!’

Fierce it sounded,

kindly meant.

 

‘Get up, get up,

Old Smith’ ll  phone you!’

Such words were not

an empty threat.

 

‘Get up, get up,

this tea will help you’;

nectar fit to raise the dead

and show beyond all doubt,

 

love is indeed a splendoured thing,

no less declaimed

by tea, gruff voice,

before ‘Old Smith’ could ring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bike ride to St. Nicholas’ Chislehurst

No recollection can suffice to say

why on that morning, (winter, autumn? -

memory fades) I had set out to see

the hitherto unvisited St. Nicholas,

and found Michel, a Catholic Frenchman,

who inquired of me, intriguingly;

“If I knew only how to look at life.....”

 

No matter that I didn’t know the words,

I recognised the tune, a resonance that sounded

deep where only truth resides. So paid my 10/6

and noted, casually, the Walsingham connection,

who would have navigated all political intrigue if he had,

“Known how best to listen to our God......”.

 

And so it was, before the Sturmey Archer three speed

was outgrown in favour of derailieur five,

the writings of a Catholic priest in France,

had shown God present in a fiver, schoolroom, at the match

and set a pattern  for my future days in which;

“All life would become prayer”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon  a thread

A wonder of that lunchtime train

unnoticed by the passengers, save

two young boys returning from some games

and hockey trials.

 

A marvel that this slenderest of threads

might stretch and vibrate over points and

pendulate in time with its supportive swaying head

but never break.

 

He must have been so tired to sleep;

scarcely could the two boys keep

their laughter checked, enough to wet or weep,

at such a sight.

 

And then,

as if a reflex had been tuned

when our home station came to view

the dribble to his lips withdrew:

his bleary eye

 

saw only his young son and friend,

a cheerful pair they seemed to him,

“Did you enjoy the game?” he asked:

“Oh yes” we said, “we did!”

 

In time

Never has this journey been completed in this time:

why ever did I wait, sleep late, delay

the posting of my papers on the round?

How can I face the wrath incipient in late

arrival; how can I explain - it was my fault

and not the train?

 

The alley passes in a blur; the road slopes down;

recklessly a path is woven through the cars

on Critall-windowed Tudor Way.

The final leg as breath comes hot and hard;

the clumsy bag held like a stolen pig;

on face and under shirt the sweat in rivulets conjoins:

 

the station steps; the train already there;

a whistle blows; the final flight of stairs;

electric strain and shudder yields

to movement gaining pace; a choice is made;

a handle turns; a door swings wide;

a boy and bag, pursued by angry shouts,

fall awkwardly inside; a clang, decisive, shuts;

a seat is free amidst the ones who’d left  in time.

 

By Bickley sweat has ceased to flow;

by Bromley South achievement dawns

and breaks to daylight, Shortlands passed;

at Beckenham Junction (journey’s end)

climactic affirmation glories in this day:

for sure

the schoolboy blazer masks the truth:

I am one in the swarm that clings

and rides the transcontinental lines;

I am the free-spirit hobo, jumping

freight trains through the West;

I am the lone-ranger of the rails.

daredevil, escapee;

 

I am alive!

 

 

 

 

The Shed

Close the door

and breathe the air;

damp and dust and grass,

a mystical concoction.

Look around, look

and handle all the pots

and sacks and tools.

No, “Don’t touch; careful;

when you’re older”:

licence to explore

and feel, surprisingly,

security in solitude.

 

Here,

for the first time,

within this world of

Qualcast, Raleigh bikes,

and Creosote,

 

I am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the Lamp Post

Unbidden comes this place of grief

and for a while all former plans are

laid aside that duty, decency and love

might be fulfilled. Yet in their midst

we find this time delightfully reveals

a store of memories, unexplored for years ...

 

The lamp post, like another in a book,

stood sentinel to our childhood shared;

became a common focus, owned by none

and all; the safe, illuminated centre of our lives.

 

In orbit round this solar fix, Foxy

pushed my pedal car - I steered for

every piece of dog’s mess we could find...

... another time this lamp would guard

a racetrack, football pitch, varieties of ‘hee’ -

“The stink pipe will be home!”  Convergence

and dispersal as the seasons and the years

slipped by.

 

Other places too would draw us:

Igloo building at the North’s in sixty-two stroke

sixty-three, when baby David travelled in his pram

strapped to our sledge.

 

Elsewhen, if need or  crisis struck there would

be other dining rooms in which to have our tea -

different icing on the buns, White Heather Club with

Andy Stewart on TV.

 

The Fox’s garden, daring and mechanical; a rope

left hanging from a tree - I learned to climb.

The clubhouse-shed where Seven in Disguise

convened. I cannot now remember any plans or

camouflage: I do remember how the wind-up

gramophone beguiled us with such classics as

Light Cavalry, The Song of India, Please

let me sleep, and the Airman’s windy charms.

Revolving steadily at seventy-eight they forged

of needles, shellac, clock-work drive,

a chain, unbroken, to our parents’ and their parents’

generations - maybe more.

 

 

The hall and telephone from which, unsupervised,

we called the Twits and Birds in funny voices,

laughing till we peed.

 

 

Or further out, beyond the wallflower,daisy,

antirrhinum fringes of our close, to Cubs and Scouts

and Friday evening chips; Remembrance Day

when we paraded, fathers marched

and mothers, well, remembered, I suppose...

Church, Crusaders, football, Church and tennis at

the Willett Rec. and Church again.

 

At Christmas time each diamond leaded window hung

coloured lights and dark and mystery and promise

round the lamp post core. A perfect backdrop

for the carols that we sang to help the distant homeless,

hungry poor - so serious and right - till Michael

added to our In the bleak. a realistic, lamb like ‘baa!’

and we dissolved in pant wet giggling once more.

More carolling on Christmas Day - though cheesily

this time - that Linda’s Billy J. might be impressed;

whether or not he was, she subsequently took a

safer, better route and sky-blue-frog-eye-Sprited,

Tony wed. Be all that as it may, the special Christmas

tastes of Smiths crisps, Coca cola and Sun Pat cashews

linger yet.

 

 

 

Beyond all other times by far, on New year’s Eve

the lamp post reigned supreme. As adults partied

safely near, we younger ones had licence to explore

until the year the Bulmers  was drunk low and two were sick -

a sign, were any needed, that our childhood days were past -

though not before the radio’s midnight bells had summoned us

into the street to hear the piper’s sad, evocative lament,

and young and old held hands and sang an affirmation

of the lives we shared, as in the midnight moment’s poise,

the old slid into new.

 

 

For even as we’d played our world embarked upon

inevitable change.  First went the lamp post;

then the baker, coal man, rag and bone man

with his horse and indecipherable cry;

and, with the years, so many other

fixed points have moved on to sales

of antique curios or the mystery of eternity ...

Willie, Millie; Joyce and Cyril; Charles, Joan, Mary, and now Tom ...

 

 

Austin, Hillman, Morris, Ford Corsair for white vans

have made way; yet still, like us, their children

play and fight and laugh and argue:

“Who should call for the lost ball?”

 

 

Happily, then, the space we leave

by generation and degree,

speaks not of vacuum but continuity;

and memories of a lamp post and a time that was

illuminate not merely who we were,

but seamlessly combine with all

the graft and grief and

splendour of the time between

to make of us the people

that we are.

 

 

 

 

The railway man

The man

last minutely negotiates a busy homescape

of taps running, kettle boiling,

toast burning, three boys of different size

shoes polishing, dog barking, eating, playing,

a universe of life and need and movement

echoed in the other semis  round our close.

 

For him

the last domestic verse of morning litany;

“Are you respectable and are you flies done up?”

A jump, a step, occasionally a stumble on

the low wall of the alleyway; mixed

clamouring of farewell voices, departure tolled-out

by the wrought iron tracery of the door,

 

then peace.

The peace of solitude enriched, enabled and

empowered by work and family and friends

but now supported by autumnal scents of

warm fence creosote, thin wisps of midge,

garden bird song, hustling squirrel gymnasts in the trees,

a wary eye for dog’s mess hidden by the first of fallen leaves.

 

Tonight

the scene will be reversed at gentler pace;

the structured camaraderie of the train give way

to leisured climbing up the hill, this evening’s

Evening Standard safely tucked; sometimes the

company of friends, the scent of apples sired

by William Willett’s trees: then home, then home, then home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In green and red

Twice daily through a winter and a spring

we shared a train. I wore an awkward pinstripe

and blue mac from Marks, a leather briefcase

and a brolly, furled.

Her mac was green and framed

a robin’s breast of jumper red

(witness to promise and vitality

amidst the winter snow)

though this was matched and more

by lips that smiled and spoke in

life-full animation, setting her as

centre piece within a knot of friends.

Still more than all of that - her eyes.

What colour, I cannot recall

though easily I picture even now

their gay  intensity: pearls of

such a price to set them far beyond

the pocket of my hope.

 

At Elmstead Woods, soon after eight,

each day I watched, discreet,

and wished, against all probability,

that she might sit beside and

in imagination (an unnamed gulf apart

from what was real) we’d talk with

natural easiness; my questing mind

would meet the brightness of her eyes,

a visual resonance of deep responding

unto deep would ebb and flow,

and by the time the train made London Bridge

all adolescent posturing and games

would be behind and soul deep love

alone accompany us across the Thames.

 

But it could never be:

 

in truth and contrast to her ease my

thin and fuzzy sideburns could not hide

a final crop of spots; the blush and

stammer of embarrassment forbade the

possibility of cool -  inevitably since

the flowering of such seed lay

tortuous years ahead.

The unmapped, undiscovered parts in white

declared I didn’t know, I couldn’t say,

the dismal truth was plain:

I simply couldn’t make a move.

 

When summer came my daily journeying

ceased. Instead I caught a northbound train

as far as it would go and heard

among the munroes and the sheep

the loneliness of landscape and of soul.

 

I cannot know her path, I who never even

dared to ask her name, but, though

I found my voice by years too late,

I bless the memory and her lifetime’s travelling

just the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The door keeper

Maybe once or twice the thought

had struck that were this swinging

wood and metal door brought

to a close while yet my hand remained

within the ever closing gap, or caught

unwittingly between the hinges, then,

which would win the contest fought

between embarrassment and pain?

 

For me the choice was never tried.

 

Though one day on my Father’s train

a woman clambered on, by seconds just

in time, and eased herself, by gripping

on the frame, into her seat. Before enough

composure or a second breath were gained

the door was slammed to meet the timetable’s

demand. Her stifled cry provoked her neighbour

to release the catch, allow her to pull free

 

and hanky-bind her bleeding fingertips.

 

Perhaps on other trains in other lands

her fellow passengers would take her in

the orbit of their care: but here reserve binds

tight the possibility of moving out beyond

the scope of private self. And so her wounds,

though furtively acknowledged - within a while

she’ll be all right - stayed in her hands,

and to familiar rhythms of the track and train

 

was joined the blind-eyed, age old cry of Cain.

 

The present past

The minister

the school headteacher

barrister and scientist

opened the daily papers

and despaired:

the young,

the young

what will become?

What shall be done?

 

In some celestial film store

lies a spool recording images of boys

who travelled to and from their school

by train.

It features;

hasty homework,

furtive cigarettes;

girlie mags

and games of carriage hee.

A close-up shows how best

to singe a luggage rack,

dismantle picture frames,

attempt to light small shavings

of magnesium - just to see

what happens ...

 

The minister

the school headteacher

barrister and scientist

glanced sheepishly about

lest some had seen;

none had.

 

So, quietly, four papers closed,

four wiser, greying, thinning haired,

less-swift-to-judge professionals

set out

to run the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A labour of love

I always see it as ‘her’ garden -

though he has always mowed and

raked and gathered up the Autumn leaves -

but her’s has been the mind behind

it all; not so much a grand design

as place and opportunities evolving

over time.

 

The grass is not her patch. For years

it had been worn to goal mouth mud;

its dusty wadis filled with field guns

by the Desert Rats one-seventy-second scale;

its corners stressed by back brake cycle slides,

or else a camping ground for patterned

wigwams of our childhood games

and a back pack prototype when boyhood

towards manhood ceded ground.

 

No, hers has always been the greenhouse and the

border stocked by plan, chance acquisition

and with gift, and is intrinsically personal.

 

I stumbled on this once when I went out to meet her

in the dew and dressing gown and early cigarette.

Vague interest melded into wonder

as each shrub and cutting, tree and

springtime clump disclosed associations with

some place or person, often some while gone,

yet evidently much alive and thriving yet.

 

In that I learned that shape, arrangement, colour

may serve merely as supporting acts to something

deep and simple and sublime ...

 

I’ve visited the Natural History’s dinosaurs,

the Norwich polar bear on Castle Mound,

the Sunderland and Lanc on

Duxford’s windswept ‘drome,

but never had I seen till then

such seamless integration of the

past and present,

comfortably at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Journey times

Departure:

snooze time

chill time

catch-me-a-breath time

watch the people

read their papers

see what book

she’s reading

now time

 

Stopped at a signal:

game time

who can miss

each wandering

glance time

sigh time

look at watch time

wondering at the train’s

erratic drum time

read graffiti

wonder how

they climbed

up there time

wonder

why

 

 

lurch time:

sigh once more

of

deep relief time

check bag

diary

letter

date and time

time

what will

they ask time

do I fit their frame

or will they say

no thanks this

time like

last time

and every time

before

 

arrival:

slowing down

beating faster time

who will be first to

the door time

finger hovering over

the button time

no more

waiting time

now comes the

crunch time

maybe

just

maybe

this will be

my time

 

 

 

 

 

Life Scents

For some the sweetened smokiness

which rises from a thurible

declares the holiness of God in life.

For others, more prosaic scents,

occurring unpretentiously,

affirm the wholesomeness of life in God.

This life, as many others’  too,

derives it’s punctuation not from years,

but embrocation, dubbin from a tin,

liniment and linseed oil,

electric sparking from the rail,

and musty ledger leaves;

 

from baby powder, Old Spice Christmas gift,

perfume at a dinner dance,

allotment earth dug after rain,

and disinfectant, antiseptic, medically clean.

For all these have about them some

eternal freshness to evoke a scene.

 

So it is that recollected pitches, bath times, banking halls,

quite naturally disclose God’s purpose for us all,

reveal true fellowship as not defined

by altar, transept, pew or aisle,

but lies with people, places and events

where life was rich, intense and deep.

 

And age need not become (as many fear) the last

of some declining journeys from ‘where once’ to ‘here’,

but may instead  accumulate  the treasured and the best,

and draw it’s meaning and contentment

from that other holy book within your mind,

the album filled with memories of the scented times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The kitchen step

In photo’s more than

memory I sit;

a place of comfort,

though of brick,

and table too for crackers,

cheese and milk;

close by and yet removed

from all the method, graft,

and thoroughness behind -

 

at times the aromatic warmth

of baking, pastry, cakes;

else when revolving paddles,

wringer, Fairy Snow

but always

order, peace and

comfortingly clean.

 

In later years I found

her maddening - why she

couldn’t see (so plain to me)

the length of hair and value

of an epic cycle ride:

The step grew cold

 

till now as once again,

within my mind,

I lean against the door,

secure,

at home in some-man’s land

between her kitchen

and the world.

 

Over the points

As lifestyle, chin held high,

or T shirt logo sets

the rhythmic regularity

of clicketty-clack,

the world revolves

unchallenged.

Until the distance conjures up

a mesh of  tangled steel,

 

and over which

accustomed rhythm breaks,

provokes a heartbeat faltering,

a moment of suspense,

a  lurching pause

as wheel and track divide -

then re-convene.

 

Dis-rhythmic clattering fades

and we resume our journey,

changed,

(the angled sun has dipped)

but always moving on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pet’s Wood

How fine this given place of

oak and birch and chestnut

(sweet and horse) and

climbing, conkers,

secret rhododendron

camps and fires.

 

Now, changed I find

this space for wandering

feet and mind, as

peace gives way to

vigilance lest I should step

unwittingly

in something left behind,

or worse, be greeted

by somebody’s four-legg’d

personality extension,

huge and hairy,

followed by;

Khan’s  very friendly;

loves the kids!”

(especially for breakfast,

I’m inclined to think,

and so do they)

then lopes away

to mine the pathways,

scare the young,

as beauty, peace and healing,

latent still,

are misappropriated by

the ones who cannot see that

they are ill.

 

 

 

 

 

The Champion

This was a game

I didn’t want to win;

I didn’t want a score to call:

“You are no longer young as

I might wish”;

and yet, game after game,

we played and took

the risk.

 

“Don’t wear him out”, my Mother said:

not for the first nor last time,

wasted breath;

 

not for the first

nor last, shrewd play

returned consistently

my waywardness;

 

till at the end,

(no bead of sweat upon his brow)

not him but I,

the son of forty years,

hot showered,

exhausted,

laid down on my bed;

content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thread - a poem for two voices

The engineers work desperately

in mounting seas

to rectify persistent faults

which threaten to impede

safe passage.

 

Likewise, amid the heat and steam,

the Blue Rinse bakes,

intense and dedicated  to produce

scones, buns and cakes and apple pies

for the morning.

 

The Filipino crew, so far from home,

and fearful now,

prepare for what awaits them

with ship’s power and steering gone

as daylight comes.

 

Burnt midnight oil still lingers

as she wakes,

commands her shipmate, Greyhead,

to stand-to, move back the furniture downstairs,

make space for sale.

 

The wretchedness of sickness laced with fear

is tempered by

the sighting of what seems a tiny craft,

yet safe and strong beyond its size;

sustaining hope.

 

 

With curlers barely shed and stored,

that other crew assembles

and with teamwork borne of much experience

pours, serves, banters and collects the cash;

successful? ... yes!

 

 

And can the rescued Filipino crew

conceive of a continuous thread which runs

from bright suburban semi through to ship-down wild Atlantic gale?

Though by this thread their lives suspend,

storm soaked yet safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The time that was

When I was young

my world appeared a simpler place

than now.

George Dixon was the pianist

whose music gave discreet accompaniment

to boys and girls come out to play

and fork-ploughed farmer’s fields

on shepherd’s pie;

when mother baked and ironed

and listened.

This was a time when questions could be asked

and answers given,

when freedom was the natural, easy friend

of place and order;

when love without self-conciousness

occurred as readily as heat bumps

on pale freckled summer skin.

Was age the subvert of this world -

the tidal wash of adolesce

dissolving careful castles built of sand?

Or did the family’s growing wealth promote

transition from the stony level hard times

to the prosperous slopes upon the mountain of excess?

This world of middle wealth and middle age

is set amidst a language of exchange

to tunes too harsh and broken for George Dixon’s fluid touch.

Though I wonder if the goods and pace which seep into

the void once filled by place and love

can ever satisfy or compensate for what is lost?

 

 

 

Perhaps, perhaps it is the child-grown-man,

yet child at heart,

who must recover for the sake of those now aged,

and re-present as gift

the memory and so the presence of

the time that was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes on the poems

 

Beneath the oak tree ... an early garden memory

The great ambition... took place in my first year at Crofton Infant School

The book ... at the end of my first year at the Junior School

Pink Buttonholes ... the anniversary weekend at the Congregational Church (now United Reformed) was held in July

The airshow ... tremendously exciting for boys brought up on Lion and Victor comics

Gate guardians ... Spitfire and Hurricane at Biggin Hill

Soapbox rally ... twenty five years later I got it right!

The footbridge ... between Beaumont Road and Towncourt Lane

Bromley Town FC ... my father played for them in the 1940’s. My brother Martin and I watched them in the 1960’s

The school field ... beside the railway at Crofton and has long since been built upon

The paper boy ... worked for Southways

Bike ride ... In italics are quotes from Michel Quoist: Prayers of life

Upon a thread ... just a couple of eleven years olds and parental saliva

In time ... to Beckenham and Penge Grammar School (now Langley Park)

The shed ... it is no exaggeration to see this as a’ life defining moment’

Around the lamp post ... written on the death of Tom North, a neighbour

The railway man ... based on my father but representing the thousands of, mostly, men who worked in London

In green and red ... for a while I also worked in the City

The door keeper ... the price of suburban reserve

The present past ... honest recollection breeds present day wisdom

A labour of love ... my mother introduced me to her garden memories

Journey times ... noticed on the train up to Town

Life scents ... for my father’s 70th birthday

The kitchen step ... taking a long view

Over the points ... uses the rhythm of the train

Pet’s Wood ... why do they have to do it?

The champion ... we squeezed a table tennis table into our garage - I’ve never beaten him

The thread ... in honour of those invaluable RNLI coffee mornings

The time that was ... where it all began ... taking bearings from the past

 
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© Ian Fosten