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Poetry

Poems by Richard, Part 5

The final batch…for now

1963

The snow lasted that year
Deep into Spring.
The playground toilets
Froze, school became
Optional for those
Who could stay at home
Or had the guts to bunk off.

Those of us with working
Mums sat in classrooms
In our coats and gloves
Barely able to write
While a giant circular
Radiator seemed to heat
Only itself
And the unfamiliar teacher
Broke his chalk on the
Blackboard like a piece of ice.

Everybody struggled.
The milk left in the hatch
Froze solid, the cat
Hardly ventured out
We went to bed early
To avoid using too much
Coal. The snow grew
Grey pockmarked with dirt
Scabbed brown
On the roads
Like old frozen wounds.

We might have fallen
Out of love with winter
But for the journeys
With toboggans through parks
Grown wild with ice and drifts
And the tracks of dogs
And hares and strange
White birds
And sledging down hills
On sheets of brown cardboard
As dusk crept
Out of the woods
And alleyways
And the orange street lamps
Turned the iced-up pavements
A smattered gold…

 

Class Traitor

 I was a Costa man
A Tesco man
An old Mondeo man
Bristling
With tribal truculence
Among the white tattooed
Barristas
Old guys shouting
For their buttered toast
Old girls with lizard skin
And with wiry perms
Tough as nails
As they knock back
Espressos
And menace
All comers
With their beady gaze.

Now. Goddammit,
I’m a Waitrose man
With my white Waitrose
Mug of frothy cappuccino
And nice bourgeois girls
Taking your order
In their grey Waitrose aprons
Crisp white shirts
And grey caps. Here
The old dudes wear
Wedding rings and glasses
And tasteful winter
Jackets, conversation
Is conducted with genteel
Decorum, the ladies wear
Silk scarves and pearls
And bring toasted tea cakes
For their hubs.

I want to stand up
On my table, shake my fist
And shout “This is not real!”
But all I do is suck down
The froth from the bottom
Of my mug, write angry poems
And shuffle off to fire up
The Merc for the short drive
Home.

 

Final Colours

What colour ends?
As you lie curled foetally
Like the shadow
Of a babe in the womb

Does your dream world
Change to a sheer arctic
Blue like a cloudless
Polar night illumined
By shoals of stars?

Or, as you start
To breathe in stumbling
Semi quavers interspersed
With breathless stops
Does the inner view
Turn red as your blood
Streams around the whorls
Of your brain one last

Time? Or is there just
A shrinking point
Of pure white light
Like a laser beam pointed

From further and further
Away? You see I’d rather like
To know what signifies
The end.

Poetry

Poems by Richard, Part 4

It gives me great pleasure to read and publish these poems – I wish I had Richard’s talent…

 

M5 Swans

I saw them again
The swans grazing
In little groups
Of twos and threes
In fields alongside
The unbroken rush
Of lorries and cars
And coaches and caravans
Careering westwards
With an unsated urgency.

The swans graceful
Sinuous unhurried
Oblivious apparently
Of what might otherwise
Seem a headlong endless
Flight from an apocalypse
Of cinematic proportions
Or maybe just unfazed.

You think what made
Them choose such
An unpeaceful spot?
Or does it soothe them
Being near such constant
Noise of things rushing
But never stopping
Which keeps at bay
The anxieties
Of silence?

Maybe
That’s why we like
To live in cities
Riding their insomnia
Buoyed up by the great
White wings which bear
Us high above
Our unsettled minds.

 

My Late Uncle

That’s you or very nearly –
The heavy coat
Crumpled cord trousers
Heavy shoes probably
From Church’s,
A scarf and cap
And half leather gloves,
A stooping walk,
Stopping to examine attentively
The blackboard advertising
The cafe’s comestibles
Before walking on
At a metronomic pace
Along the platform.

It’s as if I’ve caught you
On one of those
Complicated railway trips
With two or three changes
And at each stop
The topography researched
Checked on a map
With a compass to hand
For good measure
To calibrate
The correct direction
Of travel.

When we get to Swindon
Your doppelganger’s gone.
Of course it wasn’t quite you,
This man had a more developed
Beard and maybe lacked
Your taste in Latin liturgy,
But in other ways
He caught you to a ‘t’
And no doubt you looked on
Half approvingly.

 

 

Poetry

Poems by Richard, Part 3

Another batch of verse from Mr H.

Snowdrops

White dots
On pale green shoots
Winter’s first
Punctuation.

Hard to imagine
A flower furled
So unobtrusively.

Hard to remember
Such tiny heralds
Of our January deaths.

Now as they multiply
Under the hedgerows
And old stone walls

Their white flowers
Drift luxuriantly
Like the down
Of kidnapped birds.

 

No More (on moving …)

The pheasants won’t perch
On the ledge, cock
Their heads and look suggestively
In to ask for food.

The old badger won’t snuffle
And snort and crunch away
At the apples I left on the grass
Below the bedroom window.

The moths won’t flap around
The bathroom light
And spread their wings
Upon the mirror each night.

The sparrow hawks won’t scream
From the beech woods
On top of the hill behind us
Before shooting into the air.

The wasps and bees
Won’t hum like one vast hive
In the ivy on the old stone walls
Searching out the flowers.

The wind will still blow,
The clouds will still sail over
The rain will still fall
The snow will still glow.

After we are gone
away
Somewhere else.

 

Vast

It’s only a brief
Hump in the landscape
Seen from the train

But it looks
Like the huge undulations
Of a Canadian prairie,

Vast fields, houses,
Telegraph poles, cyclists
Miniaturised, isolated
Within the atonal
Harmonies of space.

Maybe that is what
Comes after life, not
Breathing but breathed.

Not erased but lost
In endless alphabets.

Poetry

Poems by Richard, Part 2

Further poetry from the ‘pen’ of Just Write’s much-missed bard…

TV Memories

I try to think back
To when Christmas
Was not framed
By TV memories

Childhood, certainly.
Even the Queen’s speech
Which we listened to
In deferential silence,

We heard from the radio.
But in the ’60s
There were already
Things we had to watch,

Comedies, classic
Films (remember the joy
Of Some like it Hot),
The Yellow Submarine,

And on New Year’s Eve
We briefly let the Jocks
Into our living rooms
With the White Heather Club.

Then into the ’70s
And ’80s, the Christmas shows
Of Eric and Ernie,
The Two Ronnies.

We all laughed.
We all relished.
We all took away
The same memories.

Briefly, before the Tower
Of Babel tore us all
Apart, we were at one,
At ease with our minstrels

Like the ancient Greeks
Listening enrapt to Homer
Unravelling the old tales
Around the winter fires.

 

Nineteen hundred and fifty-nine

1959
Coldharbour estate
London SE9
I’ve no idea whether
We are richer or poorer
Of good family or lousy
Well educated or thick
Upwardly or downwardly
Mobile.
Life simply is.
People simply are.

This year I ate stolen pink wafers
With Robert Smith
In his outdoor loo,
Had visits from Granddad H
With brown bags of winkles
From Woolwich market
And more rarely
From Grandpa S
With flowers and exotic toys
But I assumed they occupied
The same universe.

At school we drew
The Bayeux tapestry
Around the classroom walls
And Mrs Carpenter slapped
My left leg hard
For lying (allegedly)
About breaking Malcolm Pott’s
Stupid boat. We had summer
Day trips to Botany Bay
In a hired car which only
Broke down once, and had
To stand outside a pub
As the drunks tottered out
And a raucous row of singing
And shouting erupted
Every time the pub door swung open
And went quiet when it closed.

My brother went to boarding
School, I bought him
A tube of love hearts
When Mum told me he’d
Passed the exam, but ate them
Before I could give them to him.
They weren’t my favourite
Sweet but I thought he’d like
The motto on each one.

At Christmas the hamster
Escaped and nipped my toes
As I lay sleeping. I dreamed
I was being eaten by a lion.
He hid in the bathroom for weeks
Taking food when we were out
Until one day Siamese Peter caught him
And bit his head off after pretending
To let him go. We forgave
Peter, it was the hamster’s fault
For escaping. Otherwise he might
Still have been alive in 1960…

Poetry

Poems by Richard, Part 1

Richard wrote this first poem after making a return visit to Chesham. He was in a coffee shop at the time, of course…

Being Back

The familiar shops
Drinkers outside
The brewing hobby shop
The familiar cafes
Feeling exactly
How a slow Sunday afternoon
Should feel.

The river
Now a midsummer trickle
But the moor still marshy.

It’s not home but was
And when I’m old
And maybe blurred
With confusion about
Wherever I’ll be
It’s what I’ll remember
What I’ll translate
The strange streets
Into.

And continuing the coffee shop theme, but written in The Cotswolds…

Untitled

Whether it be a day
Which with hindsight
Was pivotal or a milestone
Or the first rumble
Of a remote avalanche
Is as yet unknowable.

All I know in a Costa cafe
At 11.37 am
On a damp but mild
Saturday morning
Is that the couple behind me
Are talking about an MOT,
A big white-haired man
In a short-sleeve shirt
Is doing the Quick Crossword
Slowly while his wife
In her orange blouse
And flowery cardigan
Flips idly through
The weekend magazine. Across
The aisle a middle-aged bloke
In jeans, check shirt
And classy shoes
Helps his little old mum
Wipe her hands on a
Serviette as his blonde wife
Arrives and they get up to go
Maybe to take his mum
Back to the home
Where the very old live out
Their days.

The cafe staff chat
And clink spoons
On saucers, there’s been
A rush which has now subsided
And the empty tables
Are filled with the trays
And crockery
Of the departed
And the dishwasher
Is bust. An old lady
With tightly curled white hair
In a coat with a brooch
Smiles as her fat husband
Brings her coffee, sweeps
The crumbs off his seat
On which he places
His rather large behind
And shares a joke
As she proffers
A five pound note.
Then he starts tapping
On his phone as she rummages
In her bag for a till receipt.

It’s now 11.52,
A quarter of an hour
Has passed. Who knows
What births and deaths
And great dramas
Have happened in the world
Outside? In Europe
They’ve had the heaviest snow
In thirty years, the papers
Are full of anger and woe
About the latest twist
In the BREXIT civil war.
We had a lot of snow
A year ago
But just now just here
Life carries on
Normally uneventfully
Like an untroubled stream
Over well worn
Stones.

Poetry

Three phone poems by Richard Hopgood

Not Like My Dad

When I was still at primary school
I swore I’d never get angry like my Dad
When I grew to be a man
And dreamed of chairing
Family disputes
With the calming irrefutable
Reasonableness
of the bureaucrat
I would one day become.

When I was a teenager
I swore I’d never run to fat
Like my fourteen stone Dad
But would stay
Lissom and slim,
Turning lanky
In my middle years.

When I was middle-aged
I swore I’d never
Wear stained jerseys
And sit mesmerised
In front of the TV
Watching the snooker,
Chuckling at John Virgo’s
Jokes and chucking
Handfuls of nuts
Into my insatiable gob.

So now, with the odd trace
Of food on my otherwise
Immaculate sweater,
Seething indignantly
At the idiots around me
Pacified only
By the bags of nuts
Which nestle
In my shopping bag;
Shifting my seventeen stone
On the heavy cafe chair
And scanning tonight’s
TV schedules on my phone,

I thank the Lord
I’m still my own man,
As my Dad was
In his time
And all the fat, angry
Nut eating
Sedentary
Old Dads
Before him
Down the
Long ancestral line.

Each one of us
Happily
Unique.

 

Spring

A fresh April morning
The grass grows lank and silky
The first wood anemones appear
White with a faint hint
Of darkness.
Middle aged men
Amble the supermarket aisles
In shorts and sandals,
A faint sexual energy
Percolates through the air.

We should be journeying
Across the seas
Harried by sea gulls
And the soaring spray.

We should be
Stretched out in deck chairs
Dozing to the whisper
Of the midday tide.

We should be young
Like all this unfurled new life
But we are old and unserene
And energy for us
Is insomnia
And restiveness
Like a wind
Scuffing the dry dunes.

 

In Waitrose

Amongst the local bourgeoisie
In a Waitrose cafe
Assertive voices
Women in quilted jackets
An elderly man
In smart leather shoes
And a checked shirt
Carefully browsing
The Daily Mail
Until his even smarter wife
Says it is time to go.

On the wall
A giant mural
Of teapots and plates
And flagons of lemonade
A Famous Five feast
Drawn freehand and homemade.

Contentment
Comfort
Wholesomeness
Qualities not to be sniffed at
Which is maybe
Why I want to snort derisively
At my other self.