After school, coming home,
my mother would be there
in the kitchen or lounge

preparing our dinner
or laying the table
as they did in those days,

with coloured table mats,
glasses and water jug,
and cutlery for all.

We'd sit at the table,
having washed our hands first,
say graces before meals,

not to speak with mouths full,
to listen while others talk.
But most of all, Mother

showed us the greatest love:
unconditional love,
always there when needed

through dark nights and hard days,
to love us all, always.
A mother and love
I walked beside the cowman across grass
Sodden by the morning dew. "What do you
Want to do when you leave school?" He asked me.

"Want to be a cowman like you," I said.

He stared at me sideways on."No, my lad,
You want to get yourself a proper job."

He said no more and disappeared inside
His farm cottage tied to the farm estate.

I walked on puzzled by his blunt reply.
I was, as he knew, a London boy, fresh
From the smoke and crowded streets, not used to
The way of the countryside and manners.

In my bedroom, in a glass case, I kept
Bird's eggs, chalk fossils, and a rabbit's skull
Salvaged from the woodland floor on the Downs.

Hanging from the ceiling by bits of string
A model Spitfire moved in the wind.

And taped to the walls were pictures of tanks
Or racing cars with all the parts numbered,
And a chalk model of a Crusader
With sword and shield with red cross of St George.

From my window I could see the whole farm
Where I'd been to fetch the milk before school.

Maybe I'd not work on the farm at all.
Autobiographical poem. I loved the farm and worked there after school and at weekends for free. But we moved away and I worked as my first job in a garage in 1963.
Juliet picked primroses
as she and Benny walked
through the woods
they'd walked that way
on the way back from school.

What were you talking
with that girl about lunchtime?
Juliet asked.

Nothing much
he replied
just the usual stuff.

What kind of usual stuff?
She asked
they came through to the pond
and sat down
and she lay the flowers
on the grass beside her.

Her panty size and bra size
he said smiling.

No I mean really?
She said.

She’s a friend of my sister's
so just chatting her up.

But you're supposed
to be with me
not chatting up
another girl
Juliet said moodily.

Just small talk
my sister said
she fancied me
so I thought
I’d check it out
he said.

I don't talk to other boys
she said
looking at the ducks
swimming on the pond.

Nor do I
he said smiling
come on relax
I didn't fancy her anyway.

So you say
she said
not looking at him
so what did she
have to say for herself?

Same old stuff
girls talk about
he replied.

Such as?
Juliet asked.

About my family
and my parents
and what did I do
at weekends
he said.

And what did you say?
She said.

Just told her the bare facts
and said I went shooting
on Saturdays
and church on Sundays
he said.

Was she impressed?
Juliet asked.

Don't think she cared much
she just kept gazing at me
in a trance
he replied.

She stared at his profile
are you going
to chat her up again?

No point
it will only encourage her
he said.

Just as well
Juliet said
I couldn't be with you
if you keep talking up
other girls.

He said nothing
but took her hand
and kissed it
and she kissed
his lips
and they lay down
on the grass
and gazed up
through the trees
at the sky
and the clouds
drifting by.
A boy and girl in Sussex 1962
Where have you been?
Helen said
I came three times last week
and you weren't in.

We went to stay
at my aunt's place
in the West Country
Benny said.

They walked
down the stairs
of the flats:
was it good there?
she asked.

Yes we went scrumping
he said.

Scrumping?
What's that?
she said.

Taking apples
from the orchard
without permission
he said.

Did you get caught?
she said.

No we were ok
my cousin went with us
and she knows the place
Benny said
much happen here?

She mused
for a few moments
as they descended the stairs.

A boy got a hook
through his cheek
she said.

A hook through his cheek?
How did he manage to do that?
he said.

Don't know
must have been playing
about with a butcher's hook
she explained
as they entered the Square
and walked along.

Was it bad?
Benny said.

Blood and him crying
and a policeman came
and an ambulance
she replied.

Anything else?
he said.

Yes my little brother
broke my doll's arm off
and Dad had to fix it for me
but it's ok now
she said.

That's good
Benny said.

They went down the slope
and across Rockingham Street
and up Meadow Row.

What's on at the cinema
this afternoon?
he asked.

No idea
she replied
have to see
what's on the billboard
when we get there
this morning.

So they walked
to the Zebra Crossing
and crossed over
as the traffic stopped
and walked to the cinema
which wasn't far.
A boy and girl in London in 1955
Set it down there,
down there between trees
and out of the sun,

out of the sun
and in the shade
where shadows are,

and where it is said,
the dead from
the churchyard roam,

roam through the shade
beneath trees,
giving out shimmers

like a cool breeze.
Set it up here,
here between two trees,

near a stream trickling by,
and the ferns and brambles,
and wild flowers,

and the sound of creatures
in the bushes,
and beyond the trees,

the pond and reeds,
and ducks and fishes,
and dragonflies hovering

over the water's skin,
hovering then away
and away out of sight,

and the haunting sounds
in the night.
We set it up

and lit a fire small
and compact,
with pot and pan,

and things to cook,
and settle down to talk
and wait, wait for the sounds

of creatures of the night,
and the haunting dead
softly come

and gently tread.
Camping in the woods
We walked along the lane
towards the church.

High hedges
on either side
and the aliveness
where birds sang
or moved or flew
from us in sudden panic.

Passed the grass verges
and the ditches; walked
past primroses or cowslips;
have seen the Downs
on our left reaching high,
touching the blue of sky.

We heard the cows
in a nearby field moo,
the nearby bleat of sheep,
the caw of crows or rooks
in tall trees swaying
like ships or giants
in a storm.

We entered the churchyard
and along the stone path,
between gravestones
aged and new, the high hedges,
the distant tractor in a field.

We entered the church
and closed the door.

We sat in a pew together
side by side:
me to be near you,
and you to adore.

We drank in the silence,
the smell of incense;
the coloured glass windows;
the white painted walls.

There we didn't kiss
or embrace, but looked
at the crucifix and imagined
the Christ face to face.
Boy and girl in London in Sussex 1961
You would have seen all that,
and heard the big guns
and the constant
boom boom boom.

You would seen
the dead and wounded,
men and horses;
have seen the remains
of what was once human
buried quickly
before the rats indulged.

You would have sat
and thought and watched
the sky at night
become suddenly bright
with shell fire, or explosions
distorting the night,
making it temporary day.

You would have heard orders
down the line, seen brave men
cower or creep along the trenches
to keep from snipers or shrapnel;
have heard the whistle of shells
or the rat-a-tat-tat
of machine guns.

You would have wondered
if you would survive,
if you would be wounded
or killed, or just like some
to have totally disappeared,
blown to pieces which none
could gather; would have
thought of home
and home fires burning
and the wanting
to be home yearning.

You would have experienced
all that and yet said nothing
on returning home
at the end of the war,
uttered nothing
of what you had seen or heard,
nothing in day to day
conversations in later years
to your innocent children's ears.
A man talks to his dead grandfather
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