Family life

School friends
When we were young, we were a team
we saw eye to eye, about everything,
had fun raucously, at school and outside,
a secret service, a nice little gang,
the most harm we did, bangers under cars,
laughing at the world, at adults, at ourselves.

But now we are grown up, with jobs, wives and children.
We have lost touch with each other.
Perhaps at school, our friendship was not truly tested.
Deep down, we might have been different -
our values, ethics, ways of working. But then,
our energies and emotions were channelled simply, into
studying, sport and subverting schoolmasters,
then home to a haven of our parents’ making.
When we visited each other’s houses, our parents were
only too glad to encourage friendship, provided it was
with the right sort – good folk of the same class.

We tried to get together, but
we had found wives who were not friends,
like chalk and cheese, they drove us apart,
friends redivided.

Yet those times are most vividly and often recalled,
today, now we are old and feel the passage of time.
Most poignantly, we see the end is nearer,
so the beginning calls to us more often.
Still, we are not the same, we have changed so much,
that was then, this is now, and so it should remain.


PoroCity 2013
In Singapore
from every pore
my sweat pours.

I take a shower
and after an hour,
I do it again.

A real nightmare
to live here.
It's not for me!

The only cooling
is from shopping
In air-conned malls.

Take me back quickly
to dear old Blighty,
where I'll survive.

Summers are gentle,
and I don't go mental
avoiding the heat.

If winter is raw
we just shut the door
and light the fire.

So thanks for the time
in this terrible clime
Get me home safe.

Emi
Tiny example of humanity,
Special in your complete fragility,
You bring to us joyous felicity
Lovely months of Emi-centricity.
As you develop your facility
To charm us all with your agility
And busy us with your mobility,
We may yet miss your first serenity!

Golden slumbers

Golden slumbers kiss your eyes,
Smiles await you when you rise.
Sleep, pretty Emi, do not cry,

And I will sing a lullaby.

Cares you know not while you sleep
And over you a watch I keep.
Sleep beneath a shining moon
And I will sing this gentle tune.

Darling Emi, golden girl,
Some words of love from Grandpa Merl.
Deep and sound may your sleep be
A gentle night's serenity.

Back home
Born in moist and cloying heat,
how does it feel to be back in our land
of sunshine and rain, of clouds and wind
slower paced, laid back, with family around?

For us it's good to have you here.
We'll see you grow up, begin to talk
your tottering move to a confident walk
your laughter resounding throughout our house.

So how does it feel, little Emi,
to be back in our cold windy hemisphere
where colds and flu are endemic and
most live in semi-detached houses

From a place so hot and steamy.
We're so glad your mum didn't emigrate for ever,
and your family's back safe in Blighty
to make you a true little Pommie.

Emi in the sandpit

Sitting sedately in the sand.
a million grains in a single hand,
slipping through your fingers,
impossible to hold,
lift your arm up high to see
a waterfall of gold.

Sam at five

Strong and steady,
Growing fast,
Ready smile
And quick to laugh.

Pushing frontiers,
Testing rules,
Happy at home
And good at school.

Mother's pride and
Father's joy,
Grandpa's happiness,
Splendid boy!

Father
I look hard at the photograph.
Yes, it’s you, it always was.
Your shoulders broad, your hair so blond,
A chin so strong it hid your soul.
The pale blue eyes, smiling, looking
For compliments then, later for young girls.
The one leg that took all the strain
Of its partner, lost in war.
Our competition, first in chess,
Then all games and finally life.
You could have basked in my success, but
Instead, your bitter, gnawing envy
Clouded all our talks,
Surfacing  every time we met
Until I asked you to come clean
And you admitted your jealousy.
But we had left it far too late.
You died estranged, with my regrets.
I look hard at the photograph.
It could be me today, and so
It must not be, it must not be.

Lift off and landing
Bristol freighter, bull-nosed
On the tarmac, sits, composed
The front door swings
Open, gaping wide,
Takes cars and people inside,
Twin engines thumping
Under the wings,
Taxis bumpily,
Lifts off from Lydd,
Strains skyward
To France.
My first flight,
Coast to coast, is
Finished in minutes.
We land at Le Touquet.

Old taxi
It sounds like a fantasy but gave us ecstasy
It was amazing when first it appeared.
An old London taxi, open luggage space
Shut by a wooden door and a makeshift chair
For my mother.
No seat belts then, nor laws to ban us,
No pretence of safety.

My father drove, always intensely,
Hand accelerator doing the job
Of his missing leg.
My mother never drove, failed test after test.

The ride harsh and bumpy, the seats always lumpy
As we jumped the holes of the post-war roads
Landing with a thump.

The throbbing engine and crashing gearbox
Took us all over then jamless roads
Of England and Wales
Camping holidays in Shakesp
earian Stratford
With his school.

Until with five kids and a better income,
We qualified for a Bedford Dormobile.

On being Merlin
The name he gave has always marked me out.
No teacher could forget my magic name.
All fine as long as I behaved myself.
But naughty – when I was – it raised a sign.
As if an arrow hung above my head
To single out the leading candidate
For cane or slipper, or just to stay behind
And write a hundred times how not to sin.
My school friends never mocked me for it,
Perhaps they feared the real magic.
But later, I never thought of changing it,
And folk often asked it it was really mine.
So, when I made my way in life,
The name became a brand, labelling me
As someone who could conjure up a way
To solve a problem, find an answer, or just
Make an audience smile, laugh or relax.
But the evil that men do lives after them.
No John Smith I, to hide behind a boring name.
It made me conscious of the trail I leave.
I’ve tried to practice treating people well.
It hasn’t always worked. I’ve done my best
To follow just this rule, to do as I’d be done by.
Has it worked?

Looking North
Suburban born, so southern were your ways,
Brief Midland spell that started off the call,
Through teacher’s Yorkshire walking holidays
That showed the green dark hill, the dry stone wall,

Before the Sussex seaside gave you more
Of sunny summers, stormy winter’s gales
That only ended when your first job took you North
To live a rain-soaked life of walking High Peak dales.

You never wondered why it draws you back
Despite the hell you get from her indoors?
Not hard to see it gives you space you lack!
No e-mails, calls or meetings give you pause.

The peat and heather, stone and wind and rain
Obliterate your deep suburban pain.

Whiskers
Why now, after forty years, did he give us our head?
Every day – or two at most – he cut us away.
In our youth, we were gentle, blonde and red,
but now we are old, and tough, and grey.

Our strength led to victory, the razor’s defeat,
and while he waited for a new one, we appeared,
at first, the smallest growth above his face’s parapet,
then taking shape, from shadow to stubble.

Then she said, “You look good like that.
It suits you, creates a guru, a wizard.”
And so we stayed, in our serried ranks,
proudly brushed and shaped at last – a beard.

But then he turned. We heard the friend say,
“Nice, but ten years older”. And his daughter’s words
burned in his ears – “A dosser!”
So one morning, we all lost our heads.


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