It was the first time
I had met Yehudit's mother.

It was after school
and Yehudit took me
back home with her
to introduce me
(her younger sister
had mentioned me).

Get out of your uniform
is what she said to Yehudit
before even
acknowledging me.

Yehudit went off
looking back at me smiling.

So you are Benedict
she said
met your mother
at the village shop
best come in.

I entered the cottage
and she showed me
into the sitting room
a fire was burning.

Sit in a chair
she said.

I sat in
the nearest chair.

So you and Yehudit
are friends?
she said.

Yes we're in
the same class
in school
I said.

And what
do you say
to each other?
she asked.

Usual things
I replied.

Usual things?
What are they?
she said.

About our lives
and what we like
and don't like.

She sat down opposite
I want nothing
untoward happening
between you two
she said
lowering her voice.

I had no idea
what untoward meant
so said
of course not.

She eyed me sternly
I shall be watching
she added
and stood up
she will not be long.

She walked out
of the room.

I sat there
watching the flames
lick at the logs of wood
wondering what
untoward meant
and if we would.

A BO Y AND GIRL AND HER MOTHER IN 1962

That's a Desert Wheatear
Jane said
watching the bird
fly overhead.

We lay on our backs
in the field
watching the blue sky.

Not seen one
for ages
she added.

I breathed in
her apple
and fresh air scent.

How do you
remember all these birds?
I said
turning to gaze at her.

I studied Daddy's books
on birds since
I could first read
she said.

We gazed at each other
her eyes were dark
and sparkled
in the sunshine.

I only knew sparrows
and pigeons in London
I said.

Poor you Benny
not being able to see
what I see every day
and more
she said.

I sensed
my heart pounding
I felt at that
moment so alive
I could burst.

She looked back
at the sky.

I glanced
at her features
her dark hair
the fine jawline
the pinkish lips.

I wished to kiss
as I had
a few days before
but I turned
and gazed at the sky.

Clouds drifted by
white and evolving
into shapes
one by one.

Her hand lay by mine
she touched my hand
with a finger gently.

I touched her finger
surrounded it
with my hand
and held it loosely.

There it goes again
she said
pointing with a finger
of her other hand.

I watched it fly over
the tall grass and away.

I held her finger
and sensed
the warmness
filling me.

I wanted to lay
there with her
forever or
for all eternity.

BOY AND GIRL IN ACOUNTRY FIELD IN 1961

And it ended there
he had said
but had it
ended then?

How was you
to know it had?

How do you know
he's not having it off
with another?

All thoughts of this
engage your mind
as he sleeps
beside you
his back turned
naked in the heat of night.

His odour
a compound
of sweat
and aftershave
and god knows
what else or who elses
perfume is wrapped
up in him
as he sleeps soundly.

Dreaming of her
whosoever she is
the silly cow.

But is it ended
as he said?

Or is there
some other tart?

Some bit on the side
as they say
him giving her some
but not to you.

You he lets lie
and mutters things
but says he's tired
and overworked
and sleeps
mild snores.

All ended
he said
my big mistake.

You want to
hit his head
or stab him red
until he's dead.

But half of you
wants him alive
shagging you
to heaven in bed.

A WOMAN AND HER PARTNER.

And I told 'er
your old man
don't go round 'er place
for nothink
he must be up ta
somethink
the woman said.

Benny’s mother
did not reply
but nodded
as in agreement.

His mother
never dropped her H's
and her vowels
were rounded
giving the impression
of upmarket
or posh sounding.

Stands ta reason
I told 'er
can't trust men
as far as you can
throw 'em.

Benny stood
behind his mother
gazing at the cakes
on display
in the glass case
shelf after shelf of them.

His mouth watered
at the ones at the bottom
with shredded
coconut on top.

He wondered
if he could persuade
his mother to buy
him a coconut cake  
only 4d
for Christ’s-sake.

But he never asked
he understood
that things
were tight
and it was only right
she spend her
money wisely.

But still
his mouth watered.

But will she listen?
the woman continued
not on your belly
goes all off with me
only doing it
for your sake
I says to 'er.

His mother nodded
looked at the woman kindly
but with a sense
of stiffness or aloofness
Benny thought.

Once the old girl
had gone
and the shopping bought
Benny’s dream
of cake or cakes
came to nought.

A SEVEN YEAR OLD BOY AND HIS MOTHER OUT SHOPPING IN LONDON IN 1955

It had started to rain
as I got to Hannah's flat door.

I knocked
on the black
door knocker.

Hannah's mother
answered the door
and stood there unsmiling
whar dae ye want?
she said.

Hanna said
to come over
yesterday
to play chess
I said.

Tae play chess is it
she said
as if not moving
her thin lips.

Yes she said
yesterday.

Best come in 'en
she said
moving to let me in
then closing the door
after me.

Sit in th' sittin' room.

I went and sat
in the sitting room.

Hanna's in th' lavvy
she said
and she walked off
to the kitchen.

I looked around
the room
I'd been there before
a few times.

I always felt
like a fly waiting
for the big spider
to come.

The toilet chain flushed
and the door opened.

I heard voices
then Hannah came
into the sitting room.

O you are here
she said
I was in the toilet.

Yes your mother said.

Did she bite
your head off?

No just said
to come in
and sit here
I said.

Come to my room
and we can play at chess
she said.

So I followed her
to her room
and she shut the door.

I sat on her bed
while she reached
under her bed
for the chess set
in a well worn box.

She set it on the bed
and put the pieces
where they should be.

I watched her
plump hand
moving the pieces
on the board.

Her brown hair long
but tied back
in a ponytail.

Once she'd done
she sat the other side
of the chess set.

Shall we begin?  
she said.

Sure
I said.

You go first
she said.

I moved a pawn
two movements forward.

I could hear
her mother
in the kitchen
banging tins about
and cursing.

Bet she's burnt herself
Hannah said
she always forgets
the oven glove.

She said it coolly
no sign of emotion
no sense of love.

KIDS IN LONDON AND CHESS 1960

We were lining up
for school dinner.

Fay was in
front of me.

Can you go
to the cinema
on Saturday morning?
I said.

Don't know
have to see what
Daddy says
she said
he doesn't like me
going to the cinema
he says it is sinful
stuff shown.

I frowned
and looked at her.

It's only films
I said
kid’s stuff.

I’ll ask him
she said.

After we got
out dinners
we sat
at the same table.

What is sinful
about going
to the pictures?
I asked.

Daddy says
that sometimes
the films show
a wrong side of life
and is against
our Catholic faith.

I go nearly
every week
twice some Saturdays
if my old man
takes me
I said.

Doesn't your father worry
about it being sinful?
she said.

Don't think he does
I said
least he's not said
anything about sin
only who is in it
and if it's any good
I said.

We ate our dinner
I looked
at her blue eyes
and blonde hair
drawn into a ponytail.

Ask him
if you can
I said
it is only
films for kids.

I will
she said.

But I felt
she was reluctant
and would probably wait
until her old man
was away on one
of his religious retreats
or off away on business.  

After dinner
we went into
the playground
she to play skip rope
with other girls
and I with Denis
to play cards.

Denis lost
and I had most
of his cards
which made him moody
but all is fair
in cards and war.

He walked off
and swore.

KIDS IN LONDON IN 1959

Lydia and I
were sitting on the grass
at the side
of Banks House.

We were
playing Snap.

She was wearing
an old dress
which had seen
better days
and grey socks
which were
once white.

A big row
this morning
she said.

What about?
I asked.

Well Dad
came home
late again last night
drunk and was singing
at the top of his voice
some Irish song
and Mum was not pleased.

Anyway it started again
this morning and ended
with Mum throwing
cups and saucers at him
and him ducking
trying to reason with her
but once she off on one
you can't reason with her
so I came out
Lydia said.

Sounds exciting
I said.

Well it wasn't
she said
don't your parents
ever row?

Now and then
I said.

SNAP
Lydia bellowed.

I looked
at the cards.

I wasn't looking
I said.

Well you should have been
she said.

We started again.

Will we row
like that?
she asked.

When?
I said.

If we get married
she said.

We're only 9 and 10  
I said
bit early to ask
that question.

She kept putting
her cards down quick.

But if we did?
she said.

Guess not
I said.

When in fact
it never entered
my boyhood head.

KIDS IN LONDON IN 1958
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