When We Were Young
This is an attempt at a poem about being eight in 1962,
the last summer before moving onto pastures new.
Childhood roads were many like the traces of surface cracks
branching out on dilapidated: condemned; terrace cottage walls,
one of these was my home, a two up, two down with kitchen
added on, then there was an outside loo next to a bunker full
of coal for our living room fire.
From the time I was born, those murmurs of age were a statement
of hardship, Dad working all hours day and night to have what he
called...a better life. Even in the dark when dreams would unfold,
ravenous mice would work just as industriously; devouring flowers
and houseplant leaves that weren't even allowed to become faded
hear them nibbling through curtains like craving best slivered,sliced
cheese dangling almost in shreds at our windowsill; plus anything
else that took their fancy. It was insane how each morning mum
opening door from stairs, they'd scuttle off drowsy after night's
feeding frenzy, back to nesting day away,
while in the kitchen scrubbing dad's shirt collars and cuffs,
busy mangling ready for pegging, thinking about what to cook
that day, mum could never workout where they'd bed down, she'd
nod her head in disgust with a “tut, tut,” swearing another cat she'd
get, which eventually with great persuasion, convinced dad that
would be a good reason.
Then there was that day helping mum prepare and toss salad;
what a treat, a happy marriage of many colours displayed in a bowl,
that wallowed in dressing...but wait! Something was missing; a touch
of red. Went to the pantry to get some tomatoes,when out of the blue
touched something hard, not squishy squashy and juicy,
the shelf being just out of reach meant I had to stand on tiptoe;
grasping the object held in my palm; shock horror a big black
cockroach I had in my hand, but having no idea what it was at
the time, I immediately threw it on the floor, whereupon the bug
scuttled off at great speed, leaving me to shiver and shudder in my
hour of need.
On sunny days I'd be banished out to play with an appetite for
adventure, only extrovert youth would engage with strong
steady limbs, vitality too assisting surviving, not concealed like
timorous deer of an unknown forest, we weren't afraid to brush
with danger, or sit openly on a summer's evening under a fair moon
and wreath of stars, tinny transistors engaging with ears, Tornados
entertained with Telstar, whilst Shadows and their twanging
guitars serenaded us with Apache.
There were no rugged paths leading down to bracing oceans,
or fragrance of freshly cut grass, just washing lines in smelly
back yards; leading onto lanes where galloping like wild horses
kicking up dust, young girls screaming while boys gave chase;
onto streets where men staggered out of pubs, we young
dodging traffic,those pavements fit to play and have fun,
rolling marbles until they landed in gutters, then the game
would be over and done.
Or fastening on metal roller skates mastering art of speeding
up and down, much to horror of those tittle-tattle; eagle eyed
parents pushing prams, rocking babies with busybody gazes,
if they saw us skating on the road – which of course we often did.
When many times tumbling with grazed dirty knees,constant
appeal of funeral home wall, stood as tall as apple trees; daring
us kids brave enough to climb, grabbing fruit suspended,
temptation too strong, we never did get a telling off by mums
with homemade pinafore aprons, curlers and hairnets were
they had more important goals, like gossiping about this and that
and who knows what, leaning on open swinging gates where hinges
squeaked but nobody cared or complained.
Down the Crescent Mrs whoever had five young sprats that never
wore shoes or socks, sitting outside number 28 with dirty faces
playing with toy cars, Oh! How I remember those crying babies.
Opposite lived my best friend, I'd rap on her door, hear her mum or
dad's footsteps walking down narrow hall.“Can Julie come out to play?”
“Come on in,” her mum would say, a short lady with a heart of gold,
usually found in her small galley kitchen baking cakes, or bread making,
then the aroma of mouth watering dinners cooking.
Down hallway she would lead, passing front room never used,
to the back where dad would sit with pipe and newspaper, tv on;
watching for football results or some wrestling, cause this was
a Saturday afternoons entertaining.
Julie would shout at the top of her voice,
“mum...tell her come up,”
“Go on,” her mum would say.
Julie slept in the attic, it was quite an endeavour climbing
that ladder, I never liked heights, but like scaling that
apple tree wall never let it defeat me, as my feet stepped on
each rung trying not to fall, finally at the top it was a girly room,
bed covered in flowery eiderdown, a proper ladies boudoir with
fancy dressing table,
mirror wearing all her jewels, necklaces and bracelets hanging
like the piece of furniture had some place to go, there were fancy
Avon perfumes, pretty peach soap on a rope, but being a tomboy
for me it didn't appeal.
Julie's mum starched everything in sight, including the
cotton bed linen which would try to dance on line, though was
stiff as a board, but easier to iron and smelt so fresh and clean.
Her dad was a roofer, had his own business, so was not at any time
out of work, never happier than when up high looking down,
spying with homing pigeons that flew around; there were no
shelter of trees cradling nests, so I don't recall any
Seems like only yesterday when Woolworths was still
alive and kicking, around back of delivery road; we'd gather
up pallets and crates in a circle, imagine they were wagons.
Using only fingers for guns or invisible bows and arrows
that never did any harm.
Then there were pirate ships where we'd sail away on salty air,
searching for imagined buried hidden treasure in crates
of packing straw.
But then one morning dad reads letter, the time had come for us
to leave, “they're pulling our cottage down...we're losing
this home.” Well that was a shock, the end of this junction in my
life, here was I thinking it would last forever; now it was time
to take flight, another road to discover.