Friday 8 January 2021
Ah, yes, a rather full five years have elapsed since the last update. Way too much to cover in this setting. So I'll just add some pieces from those years and then make it my intention to use and add to the site more often from now on.
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
If you have always wanted to ask me something, now is the time to go for it!
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.
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
until a voice calls,
and summoned from this place
the moment safely kept,
into the life which is
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 purpose of the book
was lost soon after it
A project, I suppose,
on distant times when
roamed free and cave men
followed on, and mammoths
tigers, armed with
sabre teeth might eat them;
Buried, bottom corner
in my desk it lay, almost
as writing with ‘Miss Scribbley’,
heavy leather footballs,
winter walking home displayed
two muddy knees for
and sums and games and stories
helped our knowledge and ability
But all the while,
as ‘Esmerelda’s Cat’
and splinter-bottom assembly floor,
’Let’s make an opera’ trip
summerwards those eager lives,
a stain, a foreign body
not quite off screen
and threatened I should be
Tomorrow holidays began
and how I yearned that day
but first, the terrible admission
how, inexplicably, I’d kept
the book. “No matter”,
Mr Lomas said, “just slip
Within a minute it was done, the stain
was gone and life once more
In memory the Anniversary Day
would be hot sun that
While yet the grass remained
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
“I’ll walk with God; He’ll hold
“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
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,
and memories of a crowded church
where God was celebrated
Biggin Hill 1 - The Air Show
Young boys toured hungrily
admired each combat-jacketed crew
the Bloodhound, Saracen, or fought just with
‘English Electric’ seemed tame for Hawker Huntered Kentish skies
the air was speared by after-burning Lightnings flown
in tandem, vertically,
to crackle the collision of Free West and Russian Threat
The recollected school cap, gabardine, and Brownie Box
tinge sadness now,
as wiser, worldly-weary, greyer head
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.
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;
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
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,
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,
‘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.
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!”
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:
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.
I am alive!
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.
for the first time,
within this world of
Qualcast, Raleigh bikes,
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
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
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
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.
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,
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.
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 school headteacher
barrister and scientist
opened the daily papers
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
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 school headteacher
barrister and scientist
glanced sheepishly about
lest some had seen;
So, quietly, four papers closed,
four wiser, greying, thinning haired,
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
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.
watch the people
read their papers
see what book
Stopped at a signal:
who can miss
look at watch time
wondering at the train’s
erratic drum time
up there time
sigh once more
deep relief time
date and time
they ask time
do I fit their frame
or will they say
no thanks this
and every time
beating faster time
who will be first to
the door time
finger hovering over
the button time
now comes the
this will be
For some the sweetened smokiness
which rises from a thurible
declares the holiness of God in life.
For others, more prosaic scents,
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
order, peace and
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,
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
the world revolves
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 -
Dis-rhythmic clattering fades
and we resume our journey,
(the angled sun has dipped)
but always moving on.
How fine this given place of
oak and birch and chestnut
(sweet and horse) and
camps and fires.
Now, changed I find
this space for wandering
feet and mind, as
peace gives way to
vigilance lest I should step
in something left behind,
or worse, be greeted
by somebody’s four-legg’d
huge and hairy,
“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,
are misappropriated by
the ones who cannot see that
they are ill.
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
“Don’t wear him out”, my Mother said:
not for the first nor last time,
not for the first
nor last, shrewd play
till at the end,
(no bead of sweat upon his brow)
not him but I,
the son of forty years,
laid down on my bed;
The Thread - a poem for two voices
The engineers work desperately
in mounting seas
to rectify persistent faults
which threaten to impede
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;
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
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
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