Breezeblock & Plasterboard

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Breezeblock & Plasterboard

I live in the suburbs
In a box made of ticky-tacky –
It’s small and it’s samey,
And won no award.
It’s not to conform,
And it’s not to be strange or wacky,
I live here because here
Is all I can afford.

I grew up around here,
Then I went to the university
And I came out with a large debt
And I found my first job.
And it paid not a lot,
Except for in uncertainty,
So I tried for a mortgage
For a key on a fob.

There’s a Barratt, there’s a Redrow
There’s a Wimpey, there’s a Jubilee.
Where’s the woodland, where’s the meadow ?
Oh, please don’t ask me.

But all they would give me
Was a box made of ticky-tacky,
But it’s dry and it’s plumbed-in,
If no pleasure-dome.
I raised up my children
And worked as a gopher-lacky,
Trying to get by
And make it a home.

So spare me your distaste
How I went to the university –
And spare me your prejudice
Of me and my peers.
I don’t have your millions
Or a co-operative nursery,
Yet I struggled and I made it
Despite all your sneers.

Blame the council, blame the builder,
Blame the bubble, blame the rising-sea.
If it all seems out of kilter,
Then please don’t blame me.

This is a response to the song Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds.

Hairy Limes

Hairy Limes

Street trees, lining suburban streets
From Wandsworth to Walthamstow.
Planes, of course, and sycamores,
Wherever the middle class grow.
Full of rustles, full of tweets,
From Hackney to Acton Town,
To shade the cars and the corner stores
Till the council trim them down.

Street trees, lining suburban streets
From Kidbrooke to Cricklewood
With tear-off strips and missing cats
In a vertical neighbourhood.
Full of squirrels and parakeets
From Hampton to Harringay
Then shed their leaves on the garden flats
Till the council sweep them away.

Roadside Rodent

Roadside Rodent

Ship rat, far from sea,
Beached upon the pavement.
You do not twitch, you do not flee,
So why do you sit still for me ?
You’re not too fat, you’re not too thin,
You’re not held in enslavement –
And yet you crouch beside the bin,
And gently tremble in your skin.

Brown rat, are you asleep ?
You chose an awkward bed, friend.
Have you nowhere else to creep
Than on the tarmac in a heap ?
Fox or cat will find you prone,
And that will surely be your end.
Perhaps you’re dying, all alone,
Just waiting for your final groan.

The Thick in the Air

Neville Road, West Ham by Malc McDonald is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

The Thick in the Air

In Spring, I can sniff-out the sap as it rises,
And comes overshooting the branches and twigs
Of the cherries and lindens and suburban figs –
A streets full of pollen – my nose recognises
That Spring has returned to the gardens again,
In the asphalted forests of wychelm and plane.
My hay-fevered neighbours are rather less happy,
But I scent the chestnuts, the sweet and the horse,
And the avenues of the acacias, of course !
Municipal headiness leaves me quite sappy –
The syrups of sycamores, weepings of willows,
That’s wafted by birdsong in sugary billows.

All Aboard !

A Corgi model of a Bournemouth Wright Gemini bus. The model is discontiunued and RATP are no longer the franchisee, but at least the current buses are still yellow.

All Aboard ! 

Trudy Trusses loves the buses
Which she rides to town –
Urban-trekkers, double-deckers,
Ones that bend around.
Some are old and brightly bold,
And red or green in colour –
Some are new and grey right through,
And others even duller.

Trudy Trusses makes such fusses
Over diff’rent routes –
The stops and times, the sprints and climbs,
The stats and attributes.
She watches who is in the queue,
And who is getting off –
The chef, the nun, the doctor’s son,
The teacher and the toff.

Trudy Trusses swiftly susses
Someone has to drive –
The 12, the 3, the 7B,
The weekdays 55.
When she grows big, she wants that gig !,
She wants to sit in front –
To swoosh the doors of 24s
And make their engines grunt !

Trudy Trusses sees the plusses
In a job that moves.
There’s folks to meet on ev’ry street,
From pensioners to youths.
You need a ride ?  Then come inside !
There’s plenty room up top.
Then home again through wind and rain,
Just ring the bell to stop.

This poem isn’t necessarily set in Bournemouth, but I thought they deserved praise for one of the few places outside of London which still insist on the colour of their fleet.

Mistress Blacklock

detail from Saint Peter in front of his eponymous basilica in the Vatican, sculpted by Adamo Tadolini

Mistress Blacklock

Throughout the gothic city-states,
Secure with many doors and gates,
The greatest craftsmen in the land
Were those who crafted locks –
Protecting life and property
Behind the password of a key –
And yet, with just a twist of hand
It frees our hearths and stocks.

Thus, whereupon the plague is rife,
The locals dread their very life,
And conjured up a chatelaine
To rattle in the night –
A mistress dark and grimly tall
With sturdy boots and sweeping shawl,
And ring-bound keys upon a chain
To lock the dead up tight.

Never in a hurry, she,
Yet striding on determinedly –
She visits those who’s fever runs
As fast as runs their sands.
No lock can bar her solemn deeds,
For she has just the key she needs
To reach all lovers, reach all sons –
Where’er the fever lands.

The doors unlock, and slowly swing
Upon the rogue and saint and king,
And in she stalks with silent ease,
And stoppable by none.
She takes the ring about her waist
And cycles, never in a haste,
Through all her heavy iron keys
To find the very one.

And that she lifts and points toward
Her victim, all the rest ignored
And presses to his chest her shaft
That bloodless passes through.
The fingers of her left discern
The bow upon the shank, and turn
As smoothly as the masters’ craft
Their workings, firm and true.

Her right she offers to he held
By him, that fear may be dispelled –
They say her bony, steady hands
Are warmer than you’d think.
And so his latches spring apart
To free his soul and stop his heart –
Her key withdraws from out his glands
With just the faintest clink.

And with that, speaking not a word,
And with no other neighbour stirred,
The plague has been about its chores
With not a jam or jolt.
As through the busy, ailing towns
She goes about her nightly rounds,
Of dousing lights and shutting doors
And drawing home the bolts.

An Estate of Builder-Birds

House Martin Nests by Mike Prince

An Estate of Builder-Birds

Late on in the Spring,
We’ll see the house-martins come again –
In stylish black-and-white,
And darting back-and-forth about the lane.
They’re patching up their daub-and-wattle nests,
The ones they left behind –
The Winter muck is jettisoned,
The inside cleaned and freshly lined.
Are these the very birds we saw last year,
The self-same mums and dads ?
Or are these now the chicks they hatched at home,
Inheriting their pads ?
Though ev’ry year, I swear,
They build another house beneath the eaves,
And often touching in a terrace,
Neighbours watching out for thieves –
And those would be the sparrows,
Feckless squatters in these high-rise flats –
A better prospect than the hedges,
Safe from cuckoos, frost, and cats.
Hoping to be laid-and-raised
By hanging-out in hanging-domes,
Before the grockles fly in for the season
To their second homes.

Who is the Martin whose house these swallowets build ? The OED postulates that it is a contraction of Martinet, but that that in turn is a diminutive of Martin. Or it may be from a Latin term for a kingfisher. Or a bit of both – never underestimate the power of conflation.

Look to your Lesser Linen

Red Kite, photographed by Tim Flach for a 2019 Royal Mail collection

Look to your Lesser Linen

Red kites are as red
As golden eagles are golden,
And seen against the sky, they’re just as black.
But there’s no mistaking that forking tail
And fingered wings on which they sail,
As slowly they embolden,
Advertising how they’re back.

Just when Milton Keynes was thriving,
So they were released upon
Our unsuspecting hills and country towns –
From Chiltern ghosts to national fame,
So barely flapping, barely tame,
From Leighton Buzzard to Ducklington,
From Salisbury Plain to the Sussex Downs.

They breached the M25, of course,
And rode the tarmac thermals on,
Lazily and low above the brownfields and the parks –
Ev’ry year they’re getting closer
To the busker, judge, and grocer,
Hamstead Heath and Kensington,
Beneath their ever-wider arcs.

These eagles of the suburbs
Are circling over school-run traffic,
Just above the High Street rooftops, watching us all day.
The City has its peregrines,
But those are rare and tiny things,
But these commuters are so graphic,
Newly neighbours here to stay.

Picking up the roadkill,
Perching on the weathervane,
Weaving litter into nests, and drinking from the overflows,
Stealing produce from the barrows,
Scattering the cockney sparrows –
Maybe London once again
Shall be a town of kites and crows.

Groves & Thickets

Rain in an Oak Forest by Ivan Shishkin

Groves & Thickets

Suburban woods are managed affairs,
They’re planted, pruned and pinked by blades –
Such golden Autumns, verdant Junes,
And endless Sunday afternoons.
They’re so unlike the home of hares,
These avenues and picnic glades –
With squirrels a-dozen, and walkies-dogs,
And no dead-heads or fallen logs.

Suburban woods are manages affairs,
Of spotless clearings, sculpted shade –
Each sparkled Winter, bluebelled Spring,
And countless nightingales to sing.
They’re so unlike the nettled lairs,
These natures tamed and human-made –
So banish the gnats and moles and crows
To bark-brown field where anarchy grows.

Pocket Forecourts

Garden Design Hull by David Beasley

Pocket Forecourts

Sometimes terrace housing opens-out onto the street outside,
But sometimes there’s a handkerchief of garden as a buffer zone.
It always serves as shorthand, a barometer of homestead pride
Where neighbours draw-up judgements by how much it’s overgrown –
Some are full of crazy-paving, some are full of wilted heads,
Some are full of pots and planters, scraps of lawn, or gnomes in white,
Some contain abandoned sofas, others dandelion beds,
And some attempt to grow a forest, blocking ev’ry shred of light.