Daffodils

Daffodils

For ten long days the daffodils endured,
bringing to vase and breakfast-table
stored up sunshine and the silky
softness of their golden gift.

Their scent grew stronger as they
gathered strength from the sugar
we placed in their water, but now
they have withered and their day’s done.

Dry and shriveled they stand,
paper-thin and brown, crisp to the touch.

They hang their heads:
oncoming death weighs them down.

“¡Qué será, será!”

“¡Qué será, será!”

In one room in my head
my mother’s mother
sits with me on her knee
at the kitchen table
playing patience.

Elsewhere, I stand on a stool
beside my father’s mother
helping her to mix the cake
she will later bake
in the coal-fired oven
of the black, cast iron stove.

My mother’s father
sits before the television.
He leans back in the chair,
raises his foot so he can’t see
the adverts on the screen,
and puts his fingers in his ears.

My father’s father lies in bed,
downstairs, in the middle room.
His dog lies beside him,
licking his hand.
We all wait for the death
that has haunted him
since he was gassed
in World War One.

Clare sits at the computer,
following the figures
that track the pandemic.
I sit here watching her,
humming softly to myself:
“¡Qué será, será!”


Summer is Ice-Cream

I can’t put a real ice-cream up here,
it might melt and spoil the computers,
yours and mine,
so here’s a cardboard one instead!

… after my grandfather died I slept with my grandmother in her large double bed when I was there on my own … but when all the cousins were there we shared a double bed and three or four of us slept at the top and three or four of us slept at the bottom and we were so small and short in those days that our feet never touched in the middle and the bed was like an earth worm … an octopus earth worm with several heads and no feet … or all the feet in the middle … like a centipede … and sometimes my parents would have to snuggle in with us too … though we scarcely woke up when they arrived or departed … and with tears we would go tired to bed … and the grown-ups would promise that it was only for an hour or two … for a little rest … and we were so far north that the summer sun was in the sky until late at night … but sleep we did and they never woke us up … and we didn’t wake up until the dawn chorus of birdsong … bird after bird chirping and singing in the hedge with its bluebells and primroses … the hedge that divided one bungalow field from the other …

… and we were in the first bungalow field, which was the best one, obviously, because we lived in it … and there was another bungalow field behind us and we could look through the gaps in the hedge and occasionally there were gaps we could crawl through … but they were well guarded because there was an all out war between the two fields and we didn’t like the boys in that second field and they didn’t like us … and we fought our skirmishes through the hedge and at the gaps in the hedge and the people in the field behind us would rent out their bungalows to boys with strange accents who would be instant enemies the moment they opened their mouths or heard us talk and vice versa, the other way round … and it was the silent arrow or spear shot or thrown through the hedge … and the long trailing root set out to trip the unwary, and once we tied a rope across the field, a trip wire to trip those foreign warriors, and we meant to take the rope down before it got dark, but we forgot and we missed the enemy but we caught my father and all the uncles walking back home in the dark from the local pub … and didn’t they trip and all fall down in a great big squealing piglet pile … and the aunties thought it very funny because once they were down, they couldn’t get up again … and the aunties said it had nothing to do with the rope … that they were all falling down anyway, falling down all the way home from the pub they were, and stumbling … but we had hoisted our allies with our own petard and next day we were brought to justice and the justice was severe … and what, they said, if we had caught one of the farmer’s cows … and if it had broken a leg … then who would be responsible then, to the farmer, for payment, and we all hung our heads in shame for those days everyone was big on responsibility and being responsible was a big thing … and even the dog, our scout and protector, our war horse and chariot, for we were Ancient Britons that summer, sat there silent and serious and hung his head in shame at the hot bitter words and he wasn’t even wagging his tail … and the adult jury, twelve sober uncles, tried men and true, all pronounced us guilty and sentenced us to a day without cricket, a day with no jam on the bread, a day in which we must eat up all the greens, a day with no puddings, a day with no sweets, no treats, no ice cream …

… but summer was ice-cream! Who wants ice cream in winter when the hands are cold and the ice wind blows straight down from the Arctic? But in summer, to rob a child of ice-cream is to commit a capital crime against childhood … and the ice cream was miles away, and to run to get it and to bring it back before it melted was a rare adventure that had to be carefully planned … go to the end of the field, run through two sets of lanes, stop at the first ice cream shop and if there was no ice cream there because it had all been eaten by that awful foreign army, run another mile to the next shop … and if you were lucky there would be some ice cream there … and no we didn’t want cones … cones were for the babies … the tiny children who couldn’t control their ice creams … we wanted wafers, like the big boys we were, although we were all still in short trousers … and there were three penny wafers and six penny wafers, and even chocolate bars with thin chocolate on the outside and the ice cream inside … and there were lollipops and other marvels … like Cadbury’s ’99’ … but that day all this was forbidden … forbidden because we had set a trip wire for the enemy and caught, by accident, our very own men … oh the injustice, the burning injustice of it all …

Conkers

Autumn mists in Island View
and maybe, just maybe,
there’s a conker tree out there,
somewhere.

              Autumn in Wales … well now, let me think: autumn was conker season and the national anthem overnight turned from Land of my Fathers to Eye-tiddley-onker… and singing or saying it first — : my first conker  — allowed you to challenge anyone who had a conker and that was always fun, but not so much fun as getting your conker from the conker tree, the horse-chestnut tree, with all its conkers spread across the upper branches, much too high to reach, of course, because all the lower branches had already been picked clean, so you had to throw sticks up high up into the tree at the loftiest conkers in order to bring them down to earth, but it wasn’t much fun trying to catch them as they fell because they came in their little brown autumn jackets with prickles all over them and if you grabbed them in the air, then you got the prickles in your hand and that wasn’t a great idea … though it didn’t hurt all that bad … especially if you wore gloves … so up in the air went the sticks and down came the conkers … then there was  a mad rush to pick them up off the ground and to prise open their bright, shiny jackets … and there they lay, the inedible fruit of the horse chestnut tree, a lovely, rich brown chestnut colour, young warriors dormant  in their little beds … and that was step one …

              … and step two was to prepare them for battle … and there were ways to prepare conkers, secret family ways, passed down from generation to generation … some of us baked our conkers in the oven …  others soaked them in vinegar … or oil and vinegar … before we baked them … and still others left them out in the sun or on a window ledge to slowly dry out until they were hard and vicious and great warriors which could conquer other conkers …

Laver Bread

I didn’t have a photo of a cow,
let alone a Welsh cow from Gower,
so I included a photo of a Kingsbrae Garden
alpaca instead.

Laver Bread / Bara Lawr             

… and we would all go down to the bungalow, at Pyle Corner, in Bishopston, and we would play funny games and we would roll in the fields, but we Welsh boys watched where we rolled, because we knew the cows came in and left cow pats … and we called the cow pats laver bread, because they looked like laver bread, bara lawr, the sea weed we eat that comes from Penclawdd, where the cockles come from … and wonderful it is, though it sticks between your teeth, and my London cousins rolled down the field, faster and faster, and then they couldn’t stop and they rolled right through the laver bread and were covered from top to toe in laver bread and we laughed so much, we local boys, who knew where the cow pats were, and when to stop, we laughed so much we cried, and then we were sick and the London boys, all covered in laver bread, had to change their clothes and be washed and bathed, and they were beaten soundly and called rude names and had to go to bed early … and I hope none of them are reading this … or they will be calling me rude names and I wouldn’t want that at my age … and perhaps they have forgotten all about this … but I haven’t … and oh! … there are so many memories in the Olde Curiositie Shoppe that is also known as my mind …

Summer in Wales

Summer in Wales
aka
Cricket, lovely cricket!              

Summer in Wales is always as I remember it: glorious days of sun and sand and blue skies and warm winds … and especially the sun on the beaches with the water sparkling and little boys and little girls playing cricket on the dry wrinkled sand packed hard when the tide goes out and leaves the land stranded … and uncles and aunties bowl under arm, not over arm, so the little ones could manage to score lots and lots of runs … and I remember us, standing breathless between the wickets, or at the wicket, if there was only one set of stumps, or a picnic basket stood on its side, or three pieces of driftwood, with sea-weed for bails, and what are bails, you ask?

              Well, bails are the sea-weed that is draped over the driftwood that stands as stumps. And we guard our stumps with the cricket bat that somebody has brought and we bowl with wet tennis balls, because nobody will risk a red, leather ball on the sands, with the wet tide standing there, waiting for the ball to be hit at it, or into it, and it’s cold, but not that cold, and when uncle hits the ball, right out so sea, someone has to run after it, then dive, and then swim after it, and if it’s real runs you want, then uncle runs two or three quite quickly; then the aunties tell him to stop running so fast or he’ll have a heart  … so he slows down and trots four or five; then he walks six and seven; and when you throw the ball back, he’s walking eight or nine; and then the dog intercepts the ball, catches it in his teeth, and starts running around with it in his mouth and everyone is trying to catch the dog except my uncle who is now limping very, very slowly between the wickets, but he’s already up to eleven or twelve; and then the little ones start crying because “It’s not fair!” Loud sniff! Then uncle stops in the middle of the wicket and sits there, waiting for somebody to run him out; except everyone is tired, except the dog, who is tireless and completely energized, and now the centre of attention; and nobody is going to catch him;  and finally uncle walks to the wicket and he lifts the piece of seaweed with his bat and everybody appeals, then he’s finally “OUT!” because officially he’s hit his own wicket and that’s illegal and now the game can go on once more, with everyone happy and God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world …

And the dog has dropped the ball right at the edge of the waves and is barking furiously at the incoming waves as time and tide march up the beach and sweep us and our memories all away.

Walls

Walls

             
I remember little Willy, the mad boy at the end of our lane, whose cries of “Uh! Uh! Uh!” were the closest he came to speech. His presence still haunts me, for my father and grandfather made throaty sounds ‘Uh! Uh! Uh!” to chide me whenever I did something wrong or disobeyed the dictates of their adult world, their grown up world that layered cement on top of the high brick wall, that inserted bottles in the still wet cement,  that waited for the cement to dry, and then smashed all those bottles with a hammer and locked little Willy, the boy with whom I must no longer play, into a high-walled cage whilst I watched and waited and knocked at the door and asked politely: “Please: can Willy come out and play?” But my only companion was his wild sound “UH! UH! UH!” flawed words torn with clawed hands from his throat and floated like invisible butterflies over the cruel glass jest of the wall they had built between us.

To be Welsh on Sunday

To be Welsh on Sunday
in a dry area of Wales

              To be Welsh on Sunday in a dry area of Wales is to wish, for the only time in your life,  that you were English and civilized,  and that you had a car or a bike and could drive or pedal to your heart’s desire, the county next door, wet on Sundays, where the pubs never shut  and the bar is a paradise of elbows in your ribs and the dark liquids flow, not warm, not cold, just right, and family and friends are there beside you  shoulder to shoulder, with the old ones sitting  indoors by the fire in winter or outdoors in summer,  at a picnic table under the trees or beneath an umbrella that says Seven Up and Pepsi (though nobody drinks them) and the umbrella is a sunshade on an evening like this when the sun is still high  and the children tumble on the grass playing  soccer and cricket and it’s “Watch your beer, Da!” as the gymnasts vault over the family dog till it hides beneath the table and snores and twitches until “Time,  Gentlemen, please!” and the nightmare is upon us as the old school bell, ship’s bell, rings out its brass warning and people leave the Travellers’ Rest, the Ffynnon Wen,  The Ty Coch, The Antelope, The Butcher’s, The Deri, The White Rose, The Con Club, the Plough and Harrow,  The Flora, The Woodville, The Pant Mawr, The Cow and Snuffers — God bless them all, I knew them in my prime.

Comment: When I lived in Wales, a long time ago, there were twelve counties and each one of them voted whether or not to allow open pubs and hence drinking on Sundays. The ‘dry’ areas did not permit drinking, but the wet areas did. Hence there was mass migration from dry to wet every Sunday, especially after Sunday morning chapel. I dedicate this piece to every dedicated Welsh boy who fled his dry county to quench his thirst in a wet one! NB This piece should be read out loud, fast, in a Welsh accent and also in a single breath! Mind you, I find that hard to do nowadays.

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-not

sitting in the kitchen
crouching by the coal fire
hands quite warm
back quite cold
checking the windows
peeling back the curtains
blackout curtains
frayed and old
looking at raindrops
sliding down the windows
chill greasy raindrops
grey and cold

wondering who wants me
wondering who loves me
wanting my teddy bear
longing for my pussy cat
wanting my little dog
longing for his tail wag
so much missing
my nose so cold

now I am seventy
everything has changed
changed town and country
changed clime and weather
everything is different
nothing is the same
longing for my childhood
longing for my home land
watching the ocean
that comes rolling in

ocean of waters
ocean of memories
ocean of people
now long departed

Comment: Rhythm is everything here. I have just re-read The Sing-song of Old Man Kangaroo from Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling). My mum and dad gave me copy when I was seven years old. Did they really think I could read it and understand it at that age? Whatever! The rhythms have stayed with me all my life and today I tried to reproduce them. My soul and my fingers danced as I thought of old man kangaroo and how he lost so much to gain so much. And what of the Elephant’s Child with his insatiable curiosity? I lost so much when I came here to Canada but I gained so much from this wonderful country. I tore my world apart then put it back together. How to explain it? It may not be explicable.

Hot Water Duck

Canada Geese at Mactaquac

Hot Water Duck

The worst punishment of all was to be sent to bed early.  You climbed upstairs by candlelight, if you were lucky, or groped your way upwards in the dark, if you had been really bad. You entered the cold, dark, damp of the bedroom and punishment was not to have supper, and not to have a warm hot water bottle or a warm baked brick to keep you warm in bed. I loved that hot brick, baked in the oven or by the fireside, then wrapped up in a towel. Bricks and bottles: they banished damp from the bed and kept you warm for a while, or burned if the wrapping fell off. The hot water bottles: they were made of tin not rubber, and once, I remember a cast iron duck, that my grandmother baked in the oven, then wrapped in swaddling clothes, like a little baby. But if the grown-ups said you had been naughty, or nasty, or cheeky, or just plain wicked, then you were given nothing to keep you warm, and you lay in bed and shivered until you cried yourself to sleep.

Canada Geese and Fall Foliage at Mactaquac