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Archive for February, 2008

 Old Salt

The little town of Banjo Bay
Sits proudly in the cove
Welcoming her sons home from their toil
Her harbour filled with laughter
Her streets bedecked with love
A place for growing up and growing old

The evening sun shines down
Upon a restless rolling sea
That brings the weary fisherman to port
It gently laps the peeling paint
of Lady Eveline
And sprays the silvery beard of dear Old Salt

Happily he turns the tiller
Firmly in his hand
Looking to the harbour of his heart
And there he sees sweet Eveline
Waiting on the sand
Waving of her pretty gingham scarf

He deftly slips the anchor
The longer for to spy
She who every day waves from the shore
And thinks “Who else in all the world
Is luckier than I
Truly I could wish for nothing more”
 

Long years now since little fingers
Clutched her slender hand
And little feet among the sand dunes played
One sacrificed to King and country
in a foreign land
One lost beneath the waves of Banjo Bay

For forty years and longer
Every day while out at sea
He dreamed about that pretty gingham scarf
The scarf she always waves
As she stands waiting on the quay
The gift he gave the day he won her heart

But endlessly the tides must turn
And so it is for they
Ebb and flow go on with measured pace
Even love as deep as theirs
Cannot keep time at bay
And soon the sickened reaper shows his face

The evening sun shines down
Upon a restless, rolling sea
No pretty gingham now to wave him home
It’s with a heavy heart
He leaves the Lady Eveline
To walk along the silent mile alone

An empty room, a lonely bed,
no-one to hug and kiss
no slender hand to stroke his silvery beard
no will to see tomorrow
no need to toil or fish
nobody there to share the golden years

With a sail of lost tomorrows
and a rudder forged in pain
her splintered deck awash with broken dreams
the lonely Lady Eveline
puts out to sea again
carried on a melancholy breeze

The sad, forgotten fisherman
Stands proudly on the deck
Gazing to the lights of Banjo Bay
His calloused fingers gently knot
The gingham at his neck
And with a sigh he sadly turns away

No baited hook or tangled line
No weight or snarling net
No deck to swab or anchor to be thrown
No map or compass does he bring
The final course is set
His memories will bring him safely home

The morning star shines down
Upon the lights of Banjo Bay
Yet nought is there to see for they who gaze
But the scarlet of another sunrise
Heralding the day
And a scarf of gingham floating on the waves

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 Charlie Bright

The little town of Banjo Bay
Sits proudly in the cove
Welcoming her sons home from their toil
Her harbour filled with laughter
Her streets bedecked with love
A place for growing up and growing old
Charlie Bright the butcher’s boy
Rides his trusty bike
Along the quiet streets of Banjo Bay
His basket filled with sausages,
Bacon, chops and tripe
Delivering the orders of the day
Unlike the name he carries
Charlie isn’t very bright
People always stare at him and laugh
But Charlie in his ignorance
Atop his trusty bike
If by chance should notice, just laughs back
The citizens of Banjo Bay
Are partial to their fish
For fishing is the trade they most enjoy
But sometimes they will hanker
For another kind of dish
And that’s when Charlie’s bike finds its employ
Although the bike is sturdy
It has seen far better days
Used by many butcher’s boys before
And though no-one can quite recall
Just when it had been made
It certainly was long before the war
Now Charlie had no family
A foundling he had been
A mother and a father had he none
Mr. Bright had found the baby
on the village green
and being childless claimed him as his own
Mr Bright was happy
as a living soul could be
for Charlie was the son he never had
and though the boy was happy
with his new found family
never had he called the old man Dad

The morning sun shines brightly
On the narrow, cobbled streets
As Charlie’s rusty wheels spin wildly round
He gives a smile and waves a hand
At everyone he meets
Pedalling like fury through the town
As he goes he thinks about
the old familiar dream
and wonders at the face that lingers still
the face of she who left him
on the lonely village green
and face that didn’t care and never will
Sausages for Eveline
A bacon joint for Jane
A pound of tripe for poor old Mr. Jones
Chops for Mrs Smart
Who owns the bakers on Tide Lane
Then Charlie mounts his bike and cycles home

The house seems strangely quiet
As young Charlie ventures in
Amazed to see the sight that greets his eyes
A woman with a scarlet mouth
Tears dripping from her chin
And the old man standing mutely at her side
Mumblings and words of love
But nought he understands
Each word twisting one about the other
Words tossed on a hurricane
Like grains of drifting sands
But one above all else he hears is Mother
A sorry tale she tells him now
Of treachery and scorn
A sailor who would sweep her off her feet
A young girl forced to flee in shame
From innocence newborn
When her sailor left again to join the fleet

Now dressed in silk and fancy fur
She offers him her world
A life of riches waits if he will come
If he can find forgiveness
For the weakness of a girl
The girl will give the boy a happy home
But this is not the face of she
Who lingers in a dream
Shrouded in a veil of mystery
This is she who left him crying
On the village green
And not a face that Charlie cares to see
The Mother and the man are left
As Charlie mounts his bike
His dream is crushed, his world is torn in two
Secrets better kept
Have been revealed to him this night
Now he must decide what he should do

The evening star shines down
Upon a restless, rolling sea
As Charlie to himself in anguish says
“Dreams can be a blessing
for a simple lad like me
and simple is the life that I have led”
“But dreaming is for dreamers
And I am done with that
What good are dreams within the light of day”
Then Charlie, with a happy heart
Cycles gaily back
Back towards the lights of Banjo Bay
The haloed moon beams down
Upon the narrow, cobbled streets
As Mr Bright scrubs down the wooden slab
Then, lips as soft as thistledown
Upon his stubbly cheek
Kiss, and whisper softly ”Goodnight Dad”

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I Ran Into A Stranger

 I ran into a stranger as he passed by
“Oh excuse me please” was my reply
He said, “Please excuse me too
I wasn’t really watching for you.”

We were very polite this stranger and I
We went on our way and we said good-bye
But at home a different story is told
How we treat our loved ones young and old

Later that day cooking the evening meal
My son stood beside me very still
When I turned I nearly knocked him down
“Move out of the way,” I said with a frown

He walked away his little heart broken
I didn’t realize how harshly I’d spoken
While I lay awake that night in bed
God’s still small voice came to me and said

“While dealing with a stranger common courtesy you use
But the children you love you seem to abuse
Go and look now on the kitchen floor
You’ll find some flowers there by the door

Those are the flowers he brought for you
He picked them himself red, yellow and blue
He stood very quietly not to spoil the surprise
You never saw the tears that filled his little eyes.”

By this time I was feeling very small
And then my tears began to fall
I went very quietly and knelt by his bed
“Wake up little one wake up” I said

“Are these the flowers you picked for me?”
He smiled “I found them out by the tree
I picked them because they’re pretty like you
I knew you’d like them especially the blue”

I said “Son I’m sorry for the way I acted today
I shouldn’t have yelled at you that way”
He said “Oh Mom that’s okay. I love you anyway.”

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I said “Son I love you too and I do like the flowers especially the blue”.

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I have written poetry from as far back as I can remember. Not the highbrow type that takes a lot of understanding, just simple words forming simple rhymes. Some poets feel that the rhyming word is unimportant and too often contrived but my poetry always rhymes. I enjoy the challenge of trying to get the sentiment across and the rhyme just right. Until the time that I set about writing this collection of verse my poetry had mostly been the humorous kind. Little verses written for family and friends or maybe about something funny that had happened at work. I would write a few verses and usually add my own wicked twist to the tale. Everyone seemed to enjoy them, probably because they were about people or events that they knew personally.

The poetry is this work is not humorous, quite the opposite in fact. It may require some explanation so I shall attempt to give a little background information to enable the reader to understand why I wrote it. To appreciate the content of the poetry the reader will need to know a little about me, and about my family but I shall be as brief as possible as the main thrust of this work is the poetry and not a family history.

 The head of our family was our father, Job Alfred Rock, an outstanding name for an outstanding man. How can I best describe my Dad? When I asked myself this question the first word that came to mind was ‘strong’. He was a typical father of the Fifties, working hard in a factory for a low wage whilst Mom was left to care for the home and family. That was how he wanted it. That was her place as he said many times, particularly when she asked if she could join the neighbouring wives to do a little part time work. He had charisma, a strong character and presence. It always felt good to be in his company. He wasn’t just any old Dad. Dad wasn’t the ‘touchy feely’ type and I can’t remember one single hug or loving kiss. He was someone to be worshipped from afar, like Elvis or The Beatles, we hero-worshipped him. Praise from Dad was like a blessing from the Pope. It didn’t come very often but when it did it was something wonderful, never to be forgotten. Dad showed his love by his actions, not his words. We knew that he cared for us and we loved him. He was truly a father to be proud of.

 Our Mother, Elsie Maria Rock, married Dad when she was twenty-one and immediately set about her mission in life, which was to make a home and raise a family. The word that best describes Mom, I think, is ‘homemaker’. She did everything. Decorating, gardening, sewing, she did it all and she could produce the most mouth-watering meals out of nothing. Mother was the exact opposite of Dad in that she was a very quiet inoffensive lady. If she found a pound in the street she would feel guilty for a week. There was never any spare money in our house and Mom could have won a gold medal in the ‘make do and mend’ Olympics.

My elder sister Chris was born is 1945. She is a mixture of personalities. On the one hand she is a ‘soft touch’. She was always bringing home any old stray that she found, and not always the animal variety. I remember that she once brought home a grass snake that she had found in the street which eventually became our pet. Chris will still help anyone out. It doesn’t matter who they are. If someone needs help she will go out of her way to provide it. At other times she is a lot like Dad, with a great inner strength and determination. Chris always thinks that her way is the right way and that no-one can do a job as well as she can. As children we were very close. She was a proper ‘our wench’ as we say in the Black Country. Wherever Chris was, that is where I would be. She carried me around and included me in all her plans. Of course as we grew older and our lives took different paths we drifted apart. Don’t get me wrong, whenever I needed her she never let me down but our lives seemed to get in the way of our relationship. Although we only seemed to get together on ‘occasions’, Christmas and birthdays and so on,  we always kept in touch through Mother. Chris works full time and so usually visited at weekends but my job allowed me to visit during the week. Consequently there were always lots of messages passed back and forth.

I am the second child, Cath, born in 1950. Chris always says that I am a ‘tough nut’ but I don’t think I am really. It’s just the face that I like to show the World. Like my Dad I find it difficult to show my feelings and yet I have always been an extrovert, never afraid to do a ‘bit of a turn’. Mother always said that I should have gone onto the stage. Perhaps my poetry will be my stage. The rest of the world sees a gregarious happy-go-lucky  woman but the real me is content to sit in the garden with a cup of coffee in one hand and my pen in the other. I am really a bit of a loner, preferring my own company and that of my husband to anything else in the world.

Our brother Roy is the youngest, born in 1957. There is a lot of Mother in Roy. I have always found him to be a quiet gentle man but maybe his wife has a different opinion. Mom worried about us all but especially about Roy. In her later years she was always struggling up to the shops to buy him chocolate and biscuits as she constantly thought that he didn’t eat enough. Every Sunday morning she would be up early baking cakes, bread pudding and apple pies to feed him up when he came to visit. Roy, and his partner Janice, now his wife, lived at home with Mom and Dad and didn’t leave until he was well into his thirties so there was a very special bond between him and Mom and Dad. All in all we were an ordinary working class family living happily in a two bed-roomed post war prefab. Nothing special.

Dad died in 1991. He had suffered heart problems for some years and on March 29th, Roy’s birthday and Good Friday, following a happy day spent shopping in Birmingham’s Rag Market with Mom and watching horse racing on TV with Roy he went out to potter in the garden, his other passion discovered after retirement. He was pruning the roses when he had a massive heart attack and died where he fell, catching his head against a rose thorn and sending a trickle of blood down his temple. When we arrived he was lying on the settee in the living room and Mom was devastated. It took a while for Mom to get over losing Dad but in time she made a nice, quiet life for herself.

In October 1999 Mom found out that she had Cancer. The tumour was in her tongue. The surgery to remove it left her frail and vulnerable though she never asked for help she needed looking after. The three of us fell neatly into our respective roles. I did the housework and some shopping, Roy and Jan dealt with decorating, gardening and financial things, Chris did gardening and looked after Mom’s hair, she always liked it nice, and anything medical, hospital visits, prescriptions and so on. This went on for some months but it was obvious that Mom wasn’t getting any better. Sadly, she found another lump in her neck and a visit to the consultant confirmed our worst fears. The Cancer was back. Mom endured more horrific surgery but this time it was not successful. She was advised to try a course of radio therapy but she refused, accepting her fate. She was tired. She was weak. She just wanted to be left alone in her own home and accept whatever happened. She’d had enough.

September 2000 was a month of decisions. Chris and I knew that Mom wanted to die at home so we put our lives  on hold and moved in with her to help her through it. I am not going to write down what happened to Mother during those five weeks that it took her to die. Those memories are for me and my family alone. Suffice it to say that the last two days of her life were spent in hospital. Although this wasn’t what any of us wanted, events took their own course and the decision was taken out of our hands. She was such a quiet, gentle woman but she fought like a tiger to stay alive, just for one more look at our faces, as she would have said. I wasn’t there at the end. It happened to be our thirty-third wedding anniversary. Graham, my husband, picked me up from the hospital at nine and we went for a quiet drink together. We had hardly seen each other for five weeks so we thought we should try to mark the occasion.I climbed into bed at midnight and Chris rang at 12.40 to tell me it was all over. My Mom was dead.

Graham dropped me off at the hospital so that I could look at her lovely face one last time. It was the saddest sight I have ever seen and for the first time in my life I knew what a broken heart felt like. She had been such a good woman and such a caring Mom. She didn’t deserve to die like that. Those five weeks that the three of us spent together changed my life completely. I feel such a close bond now with my sister having shared such a moving experience. There were so many horrible times but also so many tender moments. Pictures that will be forever in my mind;  the way that Mother would rub her brow across my forearm as I helped her to sit up in bed;  the three of us holding hands on that hospital bed; the way that she always struggled to sit up and look tidy whenever the doctor called round to the house; her friend calling round to ask if she could do anything and Mom answering simply “pray for me”; the time that she pointed to us three children in turn and said “I love the sight of your faces”; lying by her side through those long sleepless nights listening to her breathing. When we told her we were taking her home from hospital and she refused, saying that now she knew how bad it would be, she would stay as it would be too much for us. Even at the end her first concern was us. Seeing a star through the hospital window and repeating that old childhood rhyme…..‘Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonightI wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight’…and wishing that she could die quickly.

I made a promise to myself that I would not cry at Mom’s funeral but would sing at the top of my voice. I was sad, but more than that I was proud. Proud that Elsie Maria Rock had been my mother and so proud that I had been able to pay back just a tiny part of all the love and care that she had heaped on me throughout my life. Throughout Mother’s illness I did no writing at all. There was nothing inside me.

A couple of days after the funeral Chris rang to say that she had written a poem for me but it was about two weeks later that I allowed her to read it to me over the phone. I cried so much when I heard it. That poem is the first one in the collection and the only one of Chris’s that is included. It is called ‘I Choose You’. Chris’s birthday was coming up and so I decided to repay the compliment. Everything that had happened to us had been too painful to talk about. It seemed to be our secret, and so I wrote ‘Grief Is A Secret’. The floodgates were open and after this the words seemed to fly across the page. I hope that the reader will not find this poetry morbid for that was not my intention, and neither do I profess to be a great literary genius. This work is just my way of coming to terms with what has happened.  The poems have been written with some sadness, yes, but also with love and pride. If you have known the joy of having a loving mother and if you have lost that mother then perhaps at some quiet time you will thumb through these pages and find a little comfort as you sit thoughtfully ‘Remembering Mother’.    

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We were born sisters just us two

You didn’t choose me and I didn’t choose you

I dragged you along wherever I went

I carried you till my knees were bent

Later on in our teens we grew apart

looking for boys to steal our heart

When we found them and married it changed my life

It’s a shock to the system becoming a wife

Next we were mothers, both at the same time

Every ante-natal clinic up that hill we’d climb

We had lots of babies you first then me

You had two and I had three

As young working moms we saw less of each other

The years flew by fast while we were playing mother

Then fate threw us back together again

To help our mom through all that pain

The time that we had is precious to me

Time spent together just us three

Now we are daughters all alone

No Mom to turn to or pick up the phone

So at last when our hearts are breaking in two

You choose me – and I choose you

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 three hands

No-one really knows it all

Only me and you

And that’s the way it has to stay

A secret shared by two

Too precious to be tossed around

For all the world to hear

Too beautiful to let them see

One solitary tear

But when the secret’s hard to bear

There’s comfort in your call

It’s strange that something so obscene

Feels so good to recall

I hope she was as proud of us

As we both were of her

I hope she understood

It was an honour to be there

Five weeks for a lifetime

Is not much of a trade

But I wonder if she realised

The secret that she made

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The secret of the three hands held

In caring love unspoken

The secret of that one sad bed

That left our two hearts broken

She gave her all for all of us

So lets remember Mother

By treasuring her final gift

The gift of one another

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 poppy 

poppySo many things we found inside

The home vacated when she died

Piles of papers, bills and rent

Receipts for every pound she spent

Paper clippings, creased and torn

of uncles dead and babies born

Supplements from magazines

Proclaiming God would save the Queen

A soap star in a daring dress

The wistful smile of dead princess

Little gifts that children gave

Bought with pennies proudly saved

And scrawlings of a tiny hand

That only Grannies understand

Memories she held in trust

Displayed on shelves to gather dust

Sorting, sifting, throwing out

Everything she kept about

Dismissing what she prized to be

Old lady’s eccentricity

Then hidden back inside a draw

A box we’d never seen before

That held a myriad poppies red

In memory of soldiers dead

So typical that she should keep

Those paper flowers of crimson deep

And couldn’t bear to throw aside

Each poppy she had worn with pride

Remembrance that she held in trust

Inside a draw to gather dust

Within that box at last I see

The woman who gave birth to me

A teenager with golden hair

Who tapped her heels on cobbles bare

Air raid shelters, curtains black

Good friends who just did not come back

Caught up in the winds of war

That chilled the life she led before

Scarlet poppies spelling out

A life I hadn’t known about

Of all the many things we found

In cupboards, draws and boxes brown

Those flowers revealed the secret of

The kind of person Mother was

For though I’d laugh and shake my head

At silly things she did or said

As I look now inside my grief

And see the woman underneath

I recognise my treasure lost

And weep for poppies in a box

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