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Saturday, 19 December 2009

Here Be Dragons

My childhood turf: four roads and one dark path
we called a twittern. Half its length it ran
between the big house, Glebelands, and our six-
foot fence, then turned its back on us, dog-legged
away, but kept its tight embrace on all
the mysteries the shrubs and railings hid.
In there were demons, types unspecified.
Lights blazed at night and blinds were drawn, but no
one came or went, the gate was always locked.
"Beware the dog!" it said. There was no dog,
the whole gang knew, just dragons in the grounds.
The dog-leg was the only doggie thing
in sight. And standing in its corner, tight
against our fence from where its flickering light
fell softly on the path in both directions
for a yard or two at least, among blown
leaves and litter, my own lamp, my gas light,
lit each evening by an old man with a
ladder. As punctual as sun and moon,
he'd come at dusk and I would wait - but with
this prayer: "Please God, this one night, make the lamp
man late - and very late!" (His coming was
my time for bed - at least when winter came.)

The twittern took you to another road:
Love Lane. More mystery, more need to know
of things the adults talked about in code.
Love Lane had one enormous pearl of such great
interest that all else paled beside it:
I loved the evil-smelling smoke and fumes
discharged by its satanic Gas Works - all
the more because the grown-ups hated them.
That black hulk cast its shadow far and wide - and
well within its ambit lived my friend Paul Death.
(De' ath, it should have been, to be precise -
though no one ever had been that precise.
Death, he was meant to be, and death he was.)

My house was number one. Big deal? Had that
been it, the whole of it, there would have been
few bragging rights, but there was more, much more:
the road was Queen Anne's Gardens - which, the way
I'd say it, had a touch of gravitas.
The inference was meant: "Beat that!" Few could,
of course. Now add my regal-sounding name,
my David, Alexander, King... how would
they not have been impressed? The house that thought
itself a palace looked straight down Glebe Path
towards a green, Church Road, the Town Hall and
the fire brigade (these last two out of sight).
Firemen were housed in our road and Glebe Path.
Heroes we had as neighbours! Comics too. Star
turns, for we would see them, jackets flapping,
half on, half streaming out behind, caught, twisted
and misshapen like so many broken
wings on injured birds, their owners fluttering,
in half-flight, hopping, stumbling from our sight
the moment that the bells went down, their wives in
close pursuit, arms stretched towards them, helmets in
their hands, but losing ground. We'd laugh and cheer.

The Green possessed an air raid shelter, built
of brick, above ground, famed residence
of our own Parish Belle. She had a corner
dedicated to her bits and pieces.
The grown-ups that we knew all spoke of her
as "rank". The "rank", it seemed was "higher" than
the gas works boasted. Some confusion. Some
thought her a princess or a queen. Whatever,
no one would bother her. She came and went.
Just once she had a sack of "rank" manure
as a bed. Too much! She'd have to go - she
or it. At which the penny dropped for us.


In Church Road, close to where it joined Glebe Path,
a corner shop, Sunshine and Bombs, the name
a soubriquet, of course, conferred upon it
and the lady owner, by my father
when she'd told him how she hated sunshine
and how she much preferred the German bombs!

A short way further on was where a plane
machine-gunned Paul and I as we walked home
from school. Or maybe not. A German plane
and very low - we saw the crosses on
its wings. And damaged too: thin trails of smoke,
and both the engines stuttering. And that,
perhaps, is what we heard, though at the time
we had no doubts - and dropped down flat and lay
there in the gutter 'till its sound had gone.

Much further on, a bend, another dog-leg,
knobby at the knee this one, the knobbies
being three: my school, The Parish Church - where
I would soon become an altar boy - and,
most protuberant of all, The Star, a pub
whose name alas the locals lent the school.
Beyond this point I did not venture - ever.
Had I done so, Merton Abbey might have
hove in view, as might Lord Nelson's home, where
waited patiently - or not - his Josephine.

First day at school, the teacher telling us
to wrap up - scarves, gloves, coats and hats, the lot.
Home time. What else could it have been? I went.
My mother hoovering. Dismay that I
had walked so far and crossed a busy road
alone. The head all smiles and pats on back.
Next time to wear my thinking cap. Bafflement.
And then again, by socks that needed to
be pulled. Why do the grown-ups use such codes?

More dragons roamed the graveyard round the church.
One grave, its stone lid lifted quite enough
for braver souls to put their hands inside,
was known by all to be their lair.
My father said the only dragon was
the priest. Officiating at the war
memorial, he'd walked away, left all
the people and their planned observance high
and dry at its most solemn point - and all
because he had detected in the crowd
a body of dissenters. Methodists!
A memory of adult stuff - my first.

24 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

This takes me back to the stomping ground of my childhood, a different childhood but also the same in many ways, a place that could only now exist on the printed page. I don’t get the priest’s objection to the presence of the Methodists mind. You lost me there.

steven said...

dave i was absolutely mesmerized by this rich walk along the pathways of your chuildhood remembering. i could read a book of this! truly i could! i haven't succeeded in weaving together the disparate elements of my childood memories into a narrative. there are places where the path dips into darkness and then just as suddenly emerges into a relative glory only to disappear once more. perhaps with age and time . . . . have a peaceful day. steven

Shadow said...

aren't you pure royalty. you put my mind back to some different streets with this, named birch, heatherdale and a deserted unused airfield nestled amongst the edge of a forest...

splynch said...

This is a wonderfully evocative narrative. I would happily read much more of this. I thought "twitten" was just a Sussex word, although you spell it "twittern", perhaps that is a regional variation.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

How determined memories are when they flash.
I enjoyed the images of this moment of memoir David.
And the ready marvel of Dragons.

Dave King said...

Jim
Yes, I guess all chidhoods are similar and very different, even though we tend to assume that they're not the same for the present crop of youngsters.
The church was what they call High Anglican. The priest considered that anyone who was not at least half-way Roman would burn in hell and he would not have such in his congregation. The incident in the poem became notorious locally.

steven
I recognise that - and the problems it sets - exactly, which was why I decided to use the geography to try to pull it together. Thanks for the feedback.

Shadow
Yes, I'm pure royalty. That all sounds absolutely fascinating.

splynch
Welcome to the blog and many thanks for stopping by to comment. You may be right about the spelling: I have never seen it written. I thought it a northern word, though. Thanks again.

Tommaso
Thanks for that Tommaso.

Harlequin said...

this was so NOT a stroll down memory lane.... what a rich and textured description.... I could feel the context; nicely done!

I especially liked : a touch gravitas.... nice :)

Madame DeFarge said...

This demands several readings, it's so densely imaged. It needs to be read out loud - I think it would sound fantastic.

Rebecca said...

Wonderful. I love the rhythm of it - it does sound great said out loud.

John Hayes said...

Beautifully done--the blank verse is accomplished, the details right, the narrative compelling. First rate!

Dave King said...

Harlequin
A very reassuring comment. Thanks.

Madame DeFarge
That is a very pleasing compliment. Thank you so much for it.

Rebecca
Very useful feedback. Thank you for it.

John
Very generous. Very grateful for it. Thanks.

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

Thoroughly enjoyed that! It is beautifully written. I've never heard of a twitte(r)n. We always had gennels.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Dave you have managed to encapsulate all the fears and all the musings on the odd ways of adults in this. I read it and at times was overcome with memories. Oh yes - those great stone vaults in the churchyard where the top stone had been pushed back a bit - what or who had escaped and where had they gone and would they come back and climb back in when it was dark.
Our lavatory was outside and down the bottonm of the garden. "I am just going down the garden" being our euphemism for going for a wee.
I would sit there in the bitter cold having to pluck up courage to come out of the door into the dark and walk (or rather run) back up the path to the back door - here be dragons indeed.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Epic! Particularly enjoyed the first piece.

enchantedoak said...

Oh, the dragons of youth! I took my own walk simultaneously with yours. The dragons that lurked in the dark beyond the chicken pen! The dragons who served in the church. The first day of school and the dragons who led it. The dim smoky bar where my mother went to get cigar boxes for my little collection. The dragons in the closets! A wonderful reminiscence with you.

Carl said...

Dave- I really enjoyed it. What a great story and had me thinking of my adventures in the woods near our home as a kid.

Carl

Fantastic Forrest said...

I could hug you for this. You write of the special things about England that I and many of my friends find so fascinating. Dragons, be they crochety priests or low flying German planes, are exotic creatures.

Some day soon (sabbatical, please get approved!) I hope to venture where you didn't, and see Lord Nelson's home. One of my genealogist cousins claims we're descended from Lord Nelson's mother (through his brother). I'd love to meet you in person, and introduce my children to the man whose posts have provided many interesting dinner conversations.

Crafty Green Poet said...

wonderful rythm and details in this,

Rachel Fenton said...

Nothing like an old dragon though, especially one with a good memory! :)

You're a great time machine...

"jackets flapping,
half on, half streaming out behind, caught, twisted
and misshapen like so many broken
wings on injured birds, their owners fluttering,
in half-flight, hopping, stumbling from our sight"...

Love the alliteration in this bit especially.

Dave King said...

Derrick
Thanks for that. Never heard of gennels, but I shall look it up.

The Weaver of Grass
I only had that outside loo experience briefly when we went to distant cousins in the country to escape the bombing, but the memories are still very vivid - as are those of the churchyard.

Totalfeckineejit
Thanks for the response. For once I wrote the first bit first!

enchantedoak
Yes, for a certain period of time they were everywhere!

Carl
Thanks Carl.

Fantastic Forrest
What a lovely idea, that would be great! I do hope you get your sabbatical approved soon - and how exciting to have that geneological connection!

Crafty Green Poet
Thanks for the kind words.

Rachel
Absolutely!

Woops, I hadn't scrolled down far enough. Nearly missed the last bit. Thanks for a very generous post.

Linda Sue said...

Dear Dave, i came here late on purpose, I knew that here I would linger , my day altered dreamily when ther is so much pressure to get things done- it is a holiday, you realize...Fabulous, delicious writing and remeberings...I will be coming back as I have "favorited" this. Love your childhood posts! Wonderfully putting me right there! God Yul! Eat a cookie!

A Cuban In London said...

And may many more adult memories come. My favourite bit was your prayer about the lamp man coming later. So sweet and innocent.

Many thanks. That was a very special poem/post.

Greetings from London.

lakeviewer said...

Wow! What a beautiful memoir piece! Loved it!

Dave King said...

Linda Sue
Good to have you "lingering". I like the thought of that! And many thanks for your kind words.

A Cuban in London
The lamp man is probably the most vivid of those particular memories, but it must also be the oldest. Thanks.

lakeviewer
Thank you. Good of you to stop by to say so.