We lived in Queen Anne's Gardens,
a cul de sac that formed a dog leg
with Glebe Path. We could have been
the knee cap, looking, as we did, straight
down Glebe Path, across Church Road
to the small green where was a small boy's
heart's desire: the local Fire Brigade's new station -
complete with tower, from which they'd hang
their hoses down to dry.
In Queen Anne's Gardens and Glebe Path
some firemen had their homes. In these
the fire bells rang each time there was a shout.
It was a joy to see the firemen run -
in every state of dress and undress, still
dragging on their clothes - whenever
bells went down.
The best of these for entertainment value,
was Red Jock, - always followed by his wife
who would be holding out his jacket,
helmet, once or twice his axe as if his time
had come - once even offering his boots.
With her unable to keep up, they'd disappear,
as like as not, just beyond the tower.
They were the Smiths - though no one,
I discovered, quite believed that was their
true and proper name.
Once by the station when the bells went down,
we stayed to see the spectacle. The usual few
were running in from Queen Anne's Gardens
and Glebe Path, still pulling on their uniforms.
Mr Smith was there, of course, but fully dressed,
his wife detaching from him like the spent half
of a rocket. Inside the station, visible through
wide glass doors, were other men cascading down
the pole. And then, the doors flung wide,
the gleaming tender (we said engine), red
and hungry, came out snarling almost silently,
the firemen clinging hairily to either side,
still pulling on their clothes, their lives at stake,
the engine sashaying the two tight bends. But best
of all - I'd never guessed! - my Mr Smith
was driving it!
Was I impressed! And yet, I didn't envy him -
as many a small boy might have done. The one
I envied was his friend who shook the leather strap
to toll the great brass, clanging bell that swung with
such authority in front.
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