You think they’re all back there waiting for you; you think there’s a past you can walk into; as though you were a Bit Player who went for a break – Mousy Webb at the King’s Head in Bingley, his trumpet held high over his beer belly, sweating and blowing, while Brian Preston, behind him, bangs the drums and winks – not at you, not at anyone, it is a nervous tick – Brian, who takes his holidays in Youth Hostels, where he and his wife have to sleep in separate dorms – “It is a holiday, after all” he says, laughing his snorting laugh. And you, who think Sex is Everything, cannot imagine how that would be. “Anyway, how are you?” he says, changing the subject because, as always, it embarrasses him to talk about himself.
Norman, Keeper of Brownsea Castle, big and hearty, striding the lawns that run down to the sea, laughing at the new intake of ‘grockles’ – a local term he loves – arriving in their coats, which they will never need, and which will hang in their closets until they leave again for the Frozen North – Liverpool, Edinburgh – whichever John Lewis store they came from.
Bert Maggs, wheezing Welshman with diseased lungs, tending whippets on his smallholding in Essex, where my brown-eyed daughter was born – 51 years ago now, but seems like yesterday as I lay on that bed, pulling on a rope the Essex midwife tied to the iron frame, advising me not to take gas and air, telling me it would make me sick. And the small creature, when she arrived after three days straining, undersized due to there being No Money, and my having once lived for a week on a box of broccoli a neighbour left on the doorstep, and a few eggs from the chickens that scraped around Bert Maggs’ door.
A long way . . . come a long way since then . . . but I can see them all standing there, like milestones on a winding road, that could be revisited . . . if we had the means . . . if we had the time. . .
See some recent poems