School Days

School Days

Sixty years ago, in 1962, somewhere around today’s date, I left my public school – private school – boys’ boarding school and entered the real world as a free man. I was lost. They educated me to be part of a world that no longer existed, the world of walls, and boundaries, of lists and rules, of school reports and chains of authority, older boys > house monitors > prefects > head boy of house > head boy of school > masters > house masters > head master. That great chain of authority was to rule me for the rest of my life.

Lists

This is my clothing list. Six times a year I packed all items into my school trunk, 3 times to go to school and 3 times to go home. Six times a year I unpacked all items from my trunk, 3 times when I arrived at school and 3 times when I arrived home.

Reports

I still have my school reports signed by by teachers, initials only, and my father, full signature. He had to sign so that the teachers could ascertain that yes, he had read my school report and that no, I had not hidden it from him. The report is a disaster story. I look back on some of the comments and wonder what worlds, what different realities, were we living in? One verbal remark, made in class: “Why are you in the sixth form?” “I am going to university, sir.” “The only way you’ll go to university is on a train.”

I sent that gentleman my train ticket, but he didn’t choose to remember the comment, made to a fifteen year old boy.

Scars

I still carry them. So many of us do. Less than most, possibly, for us ne’er do wells and miscreants.

In the beginning was the word, and the word, maybe, may endure. I guess, maybe, one day we’ll find out.

The Auld Enemy

The Auld Enemy

Divide and Conquer

They divided us into houses, Spartans and Trojans,
and encouraged us to compete with each other,
single combat, and then team against team,
house against house, eternal, internal civil war.

We divided ourselves into Cavaliers and Roundheads,
Monarchists and Parliamentarians, Protestants and Catholics,
and we continued those uncivil wars that marred the monarchy,
brought down the crown, and executed the Lord’s anointed.

We fought bitterly, tribe against tribe, religion against religion,
circumcised against uncircumcised, dorm against dorm,
class against class, territorial warfare. We defended our bounds,
bonding against all outsiders to guard each chosen ground.

With it came the denigration of the other. Not our class.
Scholarship boy. Wrong end of town. Wrong accent.
We don’t talk like that here. Speak the Queen’s English, you…
and here … we inserted the appropriate word of vilification.

Our wars never ended. We carried them from prep school
to junior school, to senior school, sometimes changing
sides as we changed schools or houses, always clinging
grimly to our best friends, protectors, and those we knew best.

After school, all those prejudices continued to hold us down,
haunted us through university, red-brick or inspired spires,
Trinity Oxford, Trinity Cambridge, or Trinity Dublin,
each gilded with the white sniff of snobbery that gelded us.

Alas, we carried them, piled in our intellectual rucksacks,
through university, into grad school, out into the wide world,
infinitely small minds based on prejudice and pride, continuing
our tribal warfare, unable to understand anything at all,
other than us or them, shoulder to shoulder, divide and conquer.

Comment: My thanks to Brian Henry for publishing this on Quick Brown Fox.

Click here to listen to Roger’s reading on Anchor.
The Auld Enemy: Divide and Conquer

Fake News

 Fake News

Sometimes at night I hear deer walking across the lawn outside my bedroom window. Intruders in the garden, they rattle the feeders then walk darkly into the woods. Sometimes a coyote howls at the fingernail moon and my heart pumps sudden blood, rapid, through my veins.

            Below me, in the hall, the grandfather clock ticks the night away. I stitch myself up in my dreams, count the black sheep in the family, and iron old ghosts upon the ironing board until they are as flat as the white shirts we wore in boarding school on Sundays.

            If I close my eyes, they rise up before me, those Sunday shirts, flapping their arms, and mouthing their apologies for the sorry life they made me lead. No, I didn’t need to spend those days praying on my knees before the stations of the cross. Nor did I need to ask forgiveness for all the transgressions pulled from me, like teeth, in the Friday confessional.

            Marooned in a catholic cul-de-sac, I walked round and around in rigid circles. An academic puppet, I was trapped in the squared circle of an endless syllogism. Who locked me into this labyrinth of shifting rooms where sticky cobwebs bound windows, doors, and lips? Why did the razor blade whisper a love song to the scars crisscrossing my treacherous wrist? Who sealed my lips and swore me to secrecy?

            A tramp with a three-legged dog, I slept beneath a pier at midnight and woke to the sound of the waves rolling up the summer beach. Once, I stole a deckchair, placed it at the edge of the sea, and told the tide to cease its climbing. The moon winked a knowing eye and the waves continued to rise. Toes and ankles grew wet with wonderment and I shivered at the thought of that rising tide that would sweep me away to what unknown end?

            Last night I wrapped myself in a coward’s coat of many-colored dreams. My senses deceived me and I fell asleep in a sticky web spider-spun by that self-same moon that hid among the clouds and showed her face from time to time. My fragile fingers failed to unravel all those knots and lashings and I was a child again walking the balance beam that led from knowledge to doubt.

            A thin line divides the shark from the whale and who knows what swims beneath the keel when the night is dark and the coracle slides sightless across the sea? I gather the loose ends of my life, weave them into a subtle thread, and make myself a life-line that will bind my bones and lash my soul to my body’s fragile craft.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Fake News

           

Lists

Lists

We all have them somewhere,
we few, we few, we privileged few,
sent away to boarding school
before we even knew what was
tucked away in old school trunks,
or locked away, cobweb-covered,
in the dark recesses of parental minds.

This is my ‘back-to-school’ list.
It contains everything a young boy
needs, or can think of, when leaving home:
shoes, shoe polish, many brushes for shoes,
hair, clothes, teeth… everything: name tags,
shirts, socks, underpants, trousers,
jerseys, ties (of a quiet color),
sheets, pillow cases, hankies,
sports shirts (house and school),
pen, pencils, ink, blotting paper.

So many memories spring out
from this list, so many skeletons
shake their fists, or wag a finger, or wave,
hello, farewell, from that old trunk.

Look: the safety razor to shave
that first hint of hair on a juvenile face.
Bible and prayer book, too,
though I never used them.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor
Lists

Revisionism

Revisionism

Chalk on a blackboard.
Black, red, blue, green markers
on a white board.

Here comes the eraser.
The board is wiped clean,
or almost clean, figures,
letters, blurred, just about
ready for the next class.
This happens again and again.

What remains?
Notes in a student’s book?
Memories of a lesson
in tedious boredom,
the teacher droning on and on.

“Knowledge:
that which passes from my notes
to your notes,
without going through anyone’s head.”

Yesterday’s lessons:
dry dust of a doctoral thesis.

Revisionism:
“What color is the blackboard?”
“Last year, it was green, but
this year, the blackboard is white.”

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Revisionism

Reflections

Reflections

What do we really see
when we look in the mirror?
Do we see our real selves
or do we see the sad distortions
of our diminishment?

The Fairground on the Recreation Field
in Swansea used to have a hall of mirrors.
You handed over your three-penny bit,
not the silver one your granny gave you
so you would have good luck always,
then you walk up the wooden stair,
and there you are, staring at yourself.

Fatter, thinner, shorter, taller,
a half-and-half version,
thinner at the top
and so much fatter at the bottom,
like those old Christmas figures
you could flick, but never roll over.
Giggle city: and hysterics ruled.

Or did they?
So sad to think that, back then,
I saw myself as I am now:
forehead larger, fatter one end,
thinner at the other
with shriveled shanks,
wasted muscles.

And the Fairground brain scan?
Well, it didn’t exist. Thank God.
What is there now within my skull?
Just a crackle of old, dead leaves,
a rat-filled attic of dried memories,
a sand-bag of half-forgotten thoughts.

I remember sitting there,
at the Slip on Swansea Sands,
with the summer ending,
thinking about going back to school,
watching the tide creep slowly in,
wondering what life was all about.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Reflections

OMG-3

OMG-3

55-54 BCE. Julius Caesar visits Britain, but he doesn’t come as a sight-seeing tourist. When asked later about his trip across the channel, he replied with three little words that have echoed through the halls of history: veni, vidi, vici / I came, I saw, I conquered.

Filled with a desire to paint, I prepared a floral background. Overnight, those words came to mind: veni, vidi, vici. To them I added Alpha (the first letter of the Greek alphabet) and Omega (that alphabet’s last letter), these being the Greek letters currently being attached to the various variants of Covid-19. It being Sunday and me, having years ago sung in the choir of the ancient, 12th Century Anglican Church at King’s Stanley, I thought of the words of the old hymn “Omega and Alpha He”. Then, with a stroke or two of the pen, I added them to the painting.

Last, but not least, I added co- to -vidi to get co-vid-i. The painting was almost done. OMG-3 (OMG cubed in the painting) was the final touch and there you have it. The ultimate Covid-19 painting, or is it a poem? Whatever it is, it is a warning, or rather a series of warnings. (1) It is here. (2) It is real. (3) It is killing people. (4) We are currently at Omicron. (5) There’s still a long way to go to Omega. (6) It’s not over yet, not by a long way.

So my friends: keep well, keep safe, keep out of trouble, keep believing, and keep visiting this site! There’s something new here every so often. And once in a while it’s pretty and / or unique.

November 1961

I wondered what had happened to that rugby ball!

November, 1961

November on the Berryfield: duck weather,
we call it, with the rain pouring down
and the watchers standing on WWI duckboards,
chilled their fingers, eyes blinking against the wind.

West Country clay turns rugby boots into leaden
counterweights. Hands stuck in pockets, the railway
carriage where we changed is a distant memory.
The only reality, this wet clay holding us back.

Mouldy and muddy, our rugby jerseys are all the same
and it’s hard to distinguish friend from foe.

Trench warfare, we think, as the two packs strain,
a Roman tortoise, sixteen bodies, thirty-two legs,
crabbing from side to side as they seek a perfection
that will never be found on a day like today.

Rain shrouds the goalposts and the scrum half’s kick
is a yard too far from clumsy, chilled fingers
as they scrabble in vain at this soap-bubble nightmare
we call a rugby ball. Worn-out legs churn through
mud that clutches like an octopus at feet and ankles.

Running rhythms are lost. Wet clay fingers hold us back.
Grey ghosts of ancient alumni raise up our hearts,
help us to haul our opponents’ tired bodies down.

Comment: Just rediscovered this, revised it, and now I am posting it again. The Berryfield is where I played my school rugby. If anyone remembers the Berryfield, or actually played there, by all means drop me a line. That West Country clay mud was the devil. Heavy and clinging, it grew on your boots until they became as heavy as diver’s boots and gradually weighed you down. It was worse for the opposition than for us. We, at least, were accustomed to it. It was even worse for the cross-country runners and I have never forgotten those ploughed clay fields.

Empty Head

           

Empty Head

I sat in class, head in hands, avoiding eye contact. I hoped the priest wouldn’t point me out, call on me, nominate me with a finger, but to no avail. He called my name.

“You have sixty seconds to speak about,” he paused, then produced the rabbit from the hat. “Matches. Come along, stand up, sixty seconds, starting,” he watched the second hand go round on the classroom clock, then counted down: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …” waved his hand, and shouted: “Start now!”

            Images flashed through my head: matches: cricket matches, boxing matches, rugby matches, soccer matches, chess matches, matches to light the burners on the gas stove, the oven, to light the fire in the fireplace … matches, matchsticks, Match Box toys, Dinky toys, toys for little boys, toys for big boys …

            “Fifteen seconds have gone … you have forty-five remaining.”

            “When I think about matches, I think about …”

            … the first spring day in the bungalow, our summer home. The rooms are cold and damp after the winter and nobody has been here since last year. We lay a fire in the grate, but the wood is damp, as is the old newspaper we gather from our last visit. We search for sugar to aid the blaze that we hope to start, but the sugar bowl is empty. We go to the stove. Cold, winter ashes crowd the fire bowl. We scrape them together in a desperate search for charcoal remains …  but we find nothing. We move to the oil-fired lamps and oil stoves. Matches dragged across soggy sandpaper fail to spark …

            “Come along, boy. We haven’t got all day. You’ve got thirty seconds left.”

            Silence fills the room. It is broken by the childhood sniggers and chuckles of long-forgotten classmates who never became friends My cheeks grow red. I start, stammer, and stop.

            … we leave the bungalow. Go next door to where our neighbours winter over. We knock on the door. “Can you lend us a match?” we ask, holding out our hands. Mrs. Williams beams at us. “A match,” she says. “First time in after the winter?” We nod. “I thought so. Saw you arriving. Wondered why you hadn’t come earlier. The weather’s been nice. Here: I can do much better than a match.”  She moves over to the fireplace, picks up the little coal shovel, scoops up a generous portion of her fire, heaps on another lump, then two, of fresh coal, and “Here you are,” she says. “Just put it in the fireplace and add some wood and coal. This can be your first fire. Here, you’d better have some matches too.” “Thank you, Mrs. Williams,” we say. “No problem,” she replies. “It’s good to see you back. It’s been lonely here this winter without you.”

            “Time’s up,” the priest says. “That’s sixty seconds of silence and you can hardly find a word to say on a simple subject. Are you stupid or what?

            My face turns red and I suffer the hot, burning cheeks of childhood shame.

Comment:

This is a theme to which I have returned on many occasions. Click on the link to see the original post. https://rogermoorepoet.com/2016/05/page/2/

Wet Welsh Rain

IMG_0730 (2)

Wet Welsh Rain

              Day after day, rain, drives in over Singleton Park and Swansea Bay. It claws its clouded way, shroud clad in grey cloud, up Rhyddings Park Road, through Brynmill, and up to the Uplands and Sketty, as it was then, now Sgetti. In those days, the rain got everywhere. It swirled around ankles and knees wetting everything below the hem of the raincoat. Umbrellas kept the shoulders dry. But when the wind blew, and gamp and brolly turned inside out, and people looked as though they were duelling with the wind, and threatening to poke each other’s eyes out, then a good soaking was sometimes better and safer and, in the worst of the rain and the wind, the gamps and brollies came down.  As for the puddles: they were everywhere. You walked in them, whether you wanted to or not, and your leather shoes turned into a pulp that let in water. Socks slopped around your feet, wetter than soggy blotting paper aka blotch [hands up if you remember blotch!]. Heads down, we faced the wind, draped around bus stops, waiting for buses that never came singly, but only in threes after much long suffering. Wind like a whiplash drove the rain before it and everywhere, woolen scarves turned into wet wash cloths and woolen gloves became underwater rain-sodden mittens.

Comment: As Tropical Storm Arthur gathers in the North Atlantic, we would do well to remember the good old days of summer holidays in Wales when it rained every day, bob dydd, during the whole two-week vacation. But did it really rain back then? Who remembers now? I seem to remember it was sunny every day, especially when the cricket was suspended with the words Rain Stopped Play displayed across the television screen. Ant the lunch time cricket scores: what joy to listen to them and to discover one day, as I listened on my illicit radio hidden in my school dormitory,  that play had been stopped because of “piddles on the putch, sorry, I mean puddles on the pitch” [hands up if you remember that announcement!]. I am sorry to say that particular radio announcer did not stay in his job for long. A great pity: I found him rather amusing.

We would do well, too, to recall the twelve days without electric power that followed Hurricane Arthur, back in 2014 [hands up if you remember Hurricane Arthur!]. Alas and alack: how accurate are our memories? And did all of those things really happen? As the street vendors and newspaper vendors [hands up if you remember paper boys!] used to cry out on street corners “Echo, Echo, South Wales Echo: Read all about it” or “Post, Evening Post, South Wales Evening Post, read all about it!” The South Wales Echo and the South Wales Evening Post hands up if you remember them … Oh those were the days … or were they? … click here and read all about it!