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> > > Richard Longstaff: Beyond Watford

My brother builds a bicycle

photo of the top part of an old-fashioned bicycle with curved handlebars

We were so poor that in the winter we would wait until my father ate a extra strong mint and then we would sit around his breath to keep warm. Okay, things weren't that bad but money was tight. Things had to last; shoes, clothing. You got a new toy on your birthday or at Christmas and very little in between.

If you wanted a bicycle, well you wanted the earth. It wasn't a case of nip off to Halfords and spend a hundred quid. Then a few months later when the thing was knacked replace it. Bikes became a status symbol on our council estate. If you had a bike it meant your parents had money. Our parents had little.

My brother decided he would build a bicycle. Not one for picking up a book or writing a few lines he was gifted in other ways. I remember him fixing the neighbours car aged only twelve. He has a real mechanical skill.

So for a pound he bought two old bike frames and began to put together all the things he would need to build his dream. It took weeks to get the puncture kit, inner tubes, brakes. Each week he would save up his pocket money and then buy parts. He would ask friends for spare pieces he couldn't afford.

In the cool air of May he would sit on the back garden and work on the bicycle. I would watch. A few hours here and there over weeks and he had his bike. A crudely painted red frame; paint my father got from the stores at the coal mine where he worked. My brother built every single part of it.

I shall never forget his face as he rode it for the first time. It worked and his pride knew no limit. Then he told me to jump on the back and off we went around the estate, grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats. It was fantastic.

In our throw-away world we have forgotten what it’s like to make things for ourselves. My brother did because of poverty, but it gave him skills he still has today.
From somewhere up North, love, peace and poetry to all. Richard.

My brother builds a bicycle

The old frame, upside down on handle bars
And worn leather seat,
With care wire wool removes small crusts
And scabs of rust.
Hands force fingers to each and every curve
Making the dull shine,
Circles of silver, marks made by nuts on the
Forks show
It’s age. With home made crude cross
Tattoo he seeks the puncture,
Bucket bubbling, inner tube dried he takes
The chalk and glue.
Patch applied, hang it on the back door and
Begin to study the chain,
Rear wheel, universal spanner and the red
Cheeks of force as
He gives it a spin. Face distorted by the
Flicks of spokes,
Cog teeth take the links, pedal spun in
Reverse.
Now the jolt and pause, click and the
Smooth speed,
Slight smile, nod of head before the task
Of fitting brakes
And black rubber blocks. Oil squirt from
Long nozzle,
Drip, drop, small bolt lined up with the
Focus of one eye.
Turning over to take his seat, smears on
White grips,
Around the lawn, upper body pushing to
Produce speed, my brother built a bicycle.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 14 May 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 9 June 2014

Witnessing dementia

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I would dread Saturday mornings as a child. It was our morning, my sister and I, to visit our grandparents, Fred and Mary. They lived in a small social housing bungalow not far from us and we had the pleasure of taking them shopping and making sure they were safe and well.

Both had health issues. In fact with the wonderful rose-tinted thing we call 'hindsight' they both had dementia. Slowly the safety and comfort of the world they had known was slipping away.

We called one Saturday, a bright warm morning. My sister, seven years older than me knew instantly there was a problem. We could hear their voices as we opened the garden gate, shouting and yelling. She opened the door and made her way through the small kitchen to find the pair of them fighting, full blown attacking each other. 

She told me to go into the garden whilst she tried to sort the situation out. I watched through the rear window as this old couple had to be pulled apart. It was shocking at the time and even more so now, thinking back. He, Fred had attacked her with a broom handle and she had hit him in the face. Furniture and the breakfast table lay upturned. In the end my sister had to call my mother to come and calm the situation. It was beyond the young mind of my sister.

With so much in the media at the moment about caring for the old; talk of millions suffering dementia in the coming years, I thought back to how we as a family had to cope. It was a difficult time and one that left a deep impression on me.

Within a year my grandfather would be dead. He died at home sat upright on the end of his bed. For hours, grandmother didn't even know he had gone. It was a tipping point and within months she herself was taken into a hospital for the elderly. She went missing in the local countryside and the police and tracking dogs found her half naked in a local stream. She was to remain in the hospital for over ten years before passing away.

Care homes and caring have changed over the years. We have a much greater knowledge about dementia and it’s causes. What hasn't changed is the condition. Families still face the horror of seeing a loved one taken from them in front of their eyes there is little or nothing they can do.
From somewhere up North, love, peace and poetry to all.
Richard

Poppy Hill

They’re fighting again up on the
Heights of Poppy Hill,
Table thumped, tea spilt and
Jam jar rolling.
I’m told to take solace amongst
The raspberry canes,
Still I hear the pitch and fall of
Irate voices.

He pulls the broom handle through
Her grey crown,
Now the slaps, tomorrow the deep
Purple bruises.
In between, arms holding broken
Minds at bay,
A scratch on her face and a phone
Call to our mother.

Confined to armchairs they each
Spit and vent,
Blame, cruel outcome of their
Final years.
Scolded heads hanging more in
Confusion than shame,
Subject changed, he talks of killing
Pigs, she of killing him.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 8 May 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 8 May 2014

Three Day Week

I could have fallen of my chair. There is the chairman of British gas trying to explain why his company need to keep making such profits and warning that if they are capped it could lead to black outs and a loss of supplies. I would have laughed but it so reminded me of a period from my childhood that my mind focused in on the past and I turned the TV off.

The year was 1973 and the country was in a state of melt down, well that's what the adults were saying. The three day week, no power and candles. I was a small child at the time and thought it was great fun. I remember sat with a jigsaw and candle light, my brother sat with me and the crackle and hiss from our coal fire.

Coal was king in our house. My father was a miner like most of the other men in the village. We had to be grateful that we were warm, gas had no future he would say. He would sit and shout at the TV, the prime Minister, Edward Heath was the target of his venting spleen. We, the rest of the family would laugh behind his back.

They often say that the nineteen seventies were the grey decade. It felt that way to me. Winters seemed to be year long. Northern Ireland was constantly on the news along with picket lines and civil unrest. Of course it was like any other time, good and bad, wars and peace.

This poem is the second in a short cycle I have written about my childhood, the first being Mad Dogs. Each time I dip into that time I expect one thing and find another. What you plan to write always comes out completely different.  It is strange to look back, to re discover little nuggets from the past and turn them into poetry. It is also very rewarding, nearly as rewarding as the profits made by energy companies. From somewhere up North, love, peace and poetry to all. Richard.

Three Day Week

Refusing to take the rubbish was the straw that
Broke the headmasters back,
Wearing his grey suit and five o clock shadow
He swore.
We all told our parents, he used the “S” word
We said,
Still my mother pleaded provocation and admired
Him from a ever closing distance.

Two died in Belfast honey trap, thick and sweet
As the news cut off,
No nationwide, candles out and a short speech from
Edward Heath roundly booed by me father.
Praise a higher being that we have coal, gas will not
Last, it has no future,
Reports of rats in London prove it’s a dirty city and
Nothing more.

Call in the troops, berets pulled into odd shapes and
A green goddess to save the day,
Fat delegates in smoke filled rooms play the workers
Hand to great effect.
Grainy picket lines of woolly hats and bright flames
With calls of “Go on lads”, dregs of tea,
In the coming years we shall all live out our bitter
Winters of discontent.

The Summer brought news  six pounds a week
Council rent,
Ten bob went on a colour TV and the question up
For debate was “Where will it all end?”.
Long hair and platforms hold people back in life
They said, nothing to be proud of,
The sick man of Europe had coughed, spluttered
And the lights had gone out.

© Richard Longstaff

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 30 April 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 30 April 2014

The hidden face of war

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I touched on the subject of war in a previous blog, 'Words of war' with the poem Volley of shots. It was just after writing this piece that Salerno’s Child came into my head. I don’t like writing about the same theme time and again but wanted to share this with you because it is a moving story.

My father had served in the second world war and was part of the allied invasion of Italy in the September of 1943. The Salerno Landings as they are now known in the history books. In 1983 he took the family back to Italy. We had been several times before but this time he wanted to return to Salerno in the south and to look around the town and all the places he had fought in. I have to say that at the age of 16 I found it all boring at first.

On about the third day of our visit he wanted to look at a small commonwealth war cemetery. It was mid morning and Italy was lush green in the warmth of May.

Upon arriving at the cemetery gates my father spotted a couple. An older woman and at her side, holding her hand a young man. He stopped dead in his tracks: “We’ll wait here, on the road. Let them go first, let them have the place to their selves”. I couldn't understand. “Why do they need the place, why should we wait?” I asked.

He smiled. “They have a good reason, see the wooden cross in her hand? That's for someone in the earth, in there. I reckon from her age it could be a husband and the young fellow with her could be the son”. He lit a cigarette and leaned on the wall. “That son is the hidden face of war. The dead of the battlefields get a stone, the poor sods left behind get nothing”.

Later, after the couple had gone we walked the rows of stones. Ages from 19 to 43, Australian's and New Zealanders, British and Indian. It was powerful and must have rested deep in my mind until I wrote the blog 'Words of war'.

My father was right, there is a hidden cost to any conflict and we rarely get to see it. I hope by sharing this with you the true cost of war will be a little clearer. Who ever the couple was I dedicate this to them. From somewhere up North, Love peace and poetry to all, Richard.

Salerno’s Child

South of the Salerno Road stands
one hundred and two white teeth of war;
spine straight, neat rows
with cherry blossom for company;
defying the landscape.
Her son’s hands firm up; lift the latch
to seek the father he had never seen,
May gentle upon their backs, slow
soft steps on the lush
green turf.
 
Grip tightens at row six
and the sight of the shadow cast by his stone,
killed in September forty three
and still the ghosts of grief
plague her waking day.
Will his name and number stab home
the loss so keenly felt as a child?
Tears for tears sake as the winds come
in from distant hills; swirling
red earth.
 
Push the cross and message deep,
bow your head,
promise made and kept, this your child,
your living flesh.
Silent souls left, beyond the walls
a world never known;
laid to rest the book you wrote
and the mind of the walking word
you made.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 16 April 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 April 2014

Mad Dogs and Englishmen...

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I love to have family over for a meal. It’s nice to catch up and fill an evening with idle chatter. Last week my brother joined us for a few hours. After all the usual talk of work and the rest of the family we got around to the subject of our childhood.

At the time an episode of Top of the Pops was on TV from the year 1976. David, my brother began to chuckle. “Do you remember that year, the hot summer and old Joe the scrap man?”. At first I have to admit I was lost. It was only when he began to relate the story of how we had come up with a money-making scheme that things clicked into place in my mind.

We had decided that in order to make some money during the school holidays we would sneak into the scrap yard close to our home, steal lead, melt it down and sell it back to it’s owner, Old Joe the scrap man. We both fell about laughing as the story unfolded. An awful pair of criminals we were at the tender ages of twelve and nine.

Later that evening after David had gone I began to think back. I could picture old Joe in my mind and his two dogs that the whole of our village feared. I clearly remembered my father telling me how Joe and his late brother had “hoodwinked the war office, lied and never served during the second world war”. It was a tale that everyone in the village knew of - and many shunned Joe because of it. 

He was a direct man. He could and often did come across as nasty and mean. His language was course and foul to anyone and everyone. You took your life into your own hands if his dogs ever came near you and he would always threaten any child he caught in his yard with them. I remember my heart pounding as we stood in the yard that day, selling him his own lead. The two dirty pound notes he handed over, oil on them.

In the poem I wanted to show the reader, Joe. He was a character that played a large role in my life back in the heat of '76. He left a lasting impression on my brother and I in many ways, especially when he worked out where the lead was coming from. We had taken over twenty pounds from him throughout that summer. I shall never forget running for my life when he tried to lock us in the yard after we had taken him ingots of lead we had sold him the week before that he had marked. The dogs on our heels and a shower of language I could never repeat here. Yes Joe made a big impression.

He behaved the way he did because of the way people from the village treated him. They never let his lack of war service drop. No wonder he was an isolated figure that had time for no-one. Sometimes I think we hold grudges for far too long.  

From somewhere up North, love peace and poetry to all, Richard.   


Mad Dogs

His two Alsatians salivate and tug
Tight the ropes,
Expecting ankles and receiving
Harsh commands.
“Do you have brass or copper?”, his
Heart falls at lead,
Oil hangs in the air and the scales
Creek, two pounds on offer.

Tall tales, war effort, liar my father
Always claims,
Grubby notes for ill gotten gains and
“Mums the word” pressed lips.
Eyebrows lift and fall with every word
And mimicry from my brother,
We sell him the efforts of a sticky tarmac
Afternoon.

Overalls shuffle between the kennel and
The stacked zephyr cars,
Pride and joy no more, shattered glass, rubber
Seals hang limp.
Wheelbarrows handles, hot in the sun scorch
Palms,
“Close the gate”, greasy hand slides through
The equally greasy hair.

Smudged pin up looks on from the dead fly
Window,
No beauty would stay long in this place of
Twisted steel.
“Find brass, I pay well”, his last words follow
Us,
Thumb print pages flick in the shade of his
Car seat corner.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 5 April 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 15 September 2014

Fragments

A brief event. Why is it that these tiny fragments of memory seem to remain with us for so long and yet a major event, prolonged and drawn out soon fades?

The choice of poem for this blog is based on events that took place in my early teen years. At that time my late brother owned a small fishing trawler. Every summer and half term holiday from school would be spent fishing with him. Three and four day trips to the seas off of Ireland or sometimes further afield. It was a wonderful time and gave me a deep love for the sea.

We would return and sell the catch. Good money made, off to the pub for an orange juice for me and pints and rum chasers for the rest of our crew. From time to time new faces would be seen. A crew from France, Ireland or as in the case of the poem, Orkney would slip into port, sell their catch and turn up in the Victoria pub.

As a young man I found it all fascinating. All these strange accents and characters. I would sit and listen, watch their movements. I would look at the reactions of the locals, most friendly, some such as the baker - happy to take their money and at the same time full of nasty comments. The young barmaid, Jane Timms, eyes all over the young Dane, who’s name escapes me. How sad we learnt of his death soon after. A clear demonstration of the cruelty of the sea and the risks taken by those that earn their living from it.

All these memories, fragments, brief and small and yet printed are deep into my mind. So I ask you to think. Dig deep, think of a brief moment that for what ever reason keeps returning to your mind. Ask yourself why it carries such weight? Try if you can to read the poem by the sea. If you don’t have the ocean on your doorstep then read it in the bath. 

From somewhere up North, love, peace and poetry to all. Richard.

Port of Call, the Westray Men

They came in on an autumn tide, three
Weather worn faces from Orkney,
Westray was cracked, letters diminishing
With each journey.
Thirst quenched at the Victoria and slept
Off on Dawlish sands,
The young Dane caught the eye of Jane
Timms it was said, he rolled

Up at Spurn Point not a year later, tangled
In orange nets with finger nails missing.
But at the time no one thought beyond the
Next round,
Cullen, the priest blessed each head and the
'Swordfish' at the far quay, all was well.
So they drank and sang, a whistle to the
Door each time it opened, each

Welcome made. Cod was gold, Mackerel
No more than bait,
Cards heated knuckles until blood was
Drawn with cries of “cheat”.
They left with oilskin waves and a stern
“Good riddance” from baker Sam Russell,
The duck and dive of the wheelhouse soon
Disappeared behind the harbour break.

 © Richard Longstaff

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 1 April 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 1 April 2014

The nature of thought

It was the darkest period of my life. Without knowing it I was in the midst of a nervous breakdown. 1996 was an awful year and things just seemed to be going from bad to worse. Well that was how it felt to me.

Thankfully I had a good GP. At one appointment he looked through the endless list of medication. “You know Richard this is no good. All these pills are getting you and me nowhere. You need to do this without all this medication. The best way to heal your mind is to get out of the house and into the countryside.” I was a little amazed by his statement. I told him I didn't have transport. “Walk, the countryside is right there, a mile from your home. Walk and you see what will happen, take my word for it.”

After a couple of days I took him at his word. Off I went, no aim, purpose, just one foot in front of the other. Mile after mile. My wife would see me leave the house at nine in the morning and return at seven at night, exhausted but alive. My mind, the depression began to drift, to leave me alone. My sleep and moods changed, I ate. I would listen to the sounds of the birds. I began to study butterflies closely for the first time. Every day, every step seemed to improve my mental health. Within six months I was off of medication and within a year back at work.

Many of us know the power of the natural world. We know how to improve our well being. But how many of us look closely at the wild world that is all around us? The poem, Brimstone is the story of the first of our British butterflies to take to the wing. I have seen this gem in flight on New years day. It is that early. I wanted you, the reader, to get a sense of just how powerful the sight of such a creature can be after months of cold and wet days. How our spirits can be so lifted by such a tiny and beautiful creature.

The poem took me twenty minutes to write. A sunny morning sat by the window seemed to bring each of the words to my mind so quickly that I found it hard to believe I had written it. I was as amazed at my writing as I was at seeing the Brimstone.

So look closely on your wild travels for this beauty. See how your spirit is raised by it. Try if you can to read this poem on a bright sunny morning and hopefully it will lift you for the rest of the day. 

From somewhere up North, love, peace and poetry to all. Richard.

The Brimstone

The Brimstone is the first, drifting, bursting
Into awkward flight,
Yellow wings, confetti of Spring
Dazzling the eye that for so long has carried
The cataract of Winter.
Enthusing and encouraging us to see

Beyond the drabness, the still damp leaf
Litter of yesterdays storms.
A glimpse of what is to come, face warm
In a jar of sunshine,
Ever increasing height of dogs mercury
And purple loosestrife, shading out

The fungi and blackness of rot, building
New towers of life.
On the wings go, roll and sway beneath
The old bridge to the half fallen wall,
The tip, tap drippings of receding dew
Call the rhythm of flight.

Like the fluttering of a new born heart. The
Sleep of Winter thrown away,
Then gone, brief fall of spirit before what
The Brimstone has left is discovered.
Spring slipping across the land without a
Sound.

 © Richard Longstaff

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 25 March 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 1 April 2014

Words of war

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Everywhere you turn at the moment we have some form of world war one story. The BBC have fallen in love with this part of history, dramas, documentaries.

One thing that struck me about all this coverage was the language used at the time of the great war and how it has changed. “War wounded” was a common way of describing the poor souls returning from the western front minus arms and legs.

Today those who have returned from Afghanistan with injuries have “Long term disabilities” or “Life changing injuries”. We no longer have “War dead”. Today we have “Killed in action on overseas service”, “Died on ongoing operations”. 

The language is carefully selected to lessen the blow, to make war sound clinical, modern, detached. The fact that the war in Afghanistan has lasted twice as long as both the first and second world wars seems to have been overlooked in the media.

We can change the language of war all we like, dress it up, but the truth is war never changes. War kills and no great or grand words will change that. 

I have been asked by friends to explain how I put a poem together. Volley of Shots is the perfect poem to explain. I take a small note book with me everywhere. In this I scribble words. I build a word list. In the case of this poem, 'chaplain', 'boots', 'shots', 'spit' and 'polish', 'drum beat feet'.

I then add words, cross some out. I play with them and look in the dictionary for others. The theme is military so I build a good list of words covering the theme. This takes from a couple of hours to a week. In this case two days.

Now I get out the large note book and begin the process of writing out a first draft of the poem. This is full of mistakes, crossing outs, putting in. A second draft follows and is much the same. Sometimes three, four or five drafts follow. Volley of shots took two.

Now the whole poem is typed out on my laptop. Rewording, in and out with words. I go over it time and again before I feel happy with it. Then I read it to my wife. She likes or dislikes, no in between. A dislike means a re think and re write. A like means I go over it again before putting it with the rest of my work on a memory stick and deleting it from the laptop. Total time for Volley of Shots, three days. Anyone still wanting to be a poet please see your doctor and get medication.

From somewhere up North, Love, peace and poetry to all. Richard. 

Volley of Shots

He came home dressed in oak, born on
Six solid shoulders with sinking hearts
And streaming eyes.
They spoke in hushed tones of no suffering
And a quick death, instant and him not

Knowing. Faces, some pale and those that
Really didn't know him that well half smiling
And showing sympathy with frowns.
In he went under the union flag to raised voices
And softly spoken words from

The chaplain, slow pace, drum beat feet encased
In spit and polish leather, touching ancient floor
Tiles.
Eulogy from the C.O. standing tall in the pulpit
Echoing from wall to wall and window to

Window. The bright boy that excelled at school
With a single minded determination to die
Young.
Outside the Yews bowed to the ringing volley
Of shots.

© Richard Longstaff

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 18 March 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 March 2014

The Unseen

In my previous poetry blog A Natural End To Things I asked is it better to lose someone from your life knowing they are still living, out there but no longer part of your life? Or would it be easier to except if they were dead?

The Unseen - deals with the second part of the question, the dead. A good friend of mine lost his mother at the same time as I was losing a son. Theirs was a distant relationship made closer by her long term illness and his need to care for her. 

Yet even with love and care there was a inflexibility about their love. He would only visit on certain days and she would only ring at certain times. He felt anger at her for not being there for him as a child and at the same time he felt guilty at not doing more for her. 

The poem is their story seen through his eyes. He finds that after she has died he had so much he wanted to say to her, the dammed waters of the final stanza show this. Stanza one deals with all the small ways he showed his love for her, the small paths, the intestines, complicated, weaving love that took on many forms, every day love of cups of tea and idle chatter.

Both poems answer the question in their own ways. As the poet you may feel I should have an answer to the question I set. Sorry, I don’t. Loss is something we all feel what ever form it takes. Getting over it, coming to terms and moving on is what is important.  I hope that answered the question. As always thanks to all readers and feedback welcome. From somewhere up North, love, peace and poetry to all, Richard.


The Unseen

Oh this love that knows no limits and recognises
No boundaries, following small paths that unravel
Like the intestines of a Goliath.
Leading to the briefest of spaces soon forgotten and
Yet always in the soul.
This love, nurtured from earliest recollections to now,
The present.

Oh this love that holds strong in the winds of the unseen
Tempest, crashing, roaring at the flicking edges of the
Light,
Up rooting and toppling, bowling, breaking all that is
Within reach.
This love, slow to creep into the mundane everyday
Normality of living.

Oh this love that lays like a well walked dog at the
Feet, fire caressing the soft underbelly as with
Weary yawn it sinks into the rug.
Comfort, a warm pleasure from knowing it is always
There.
This love, found in unspoken pauses and written in
Condensation of the pane.

Oh this love that lacks flexibility and thus claims no
Malleable properties of any kind, static, stagnant and
Of no use.
Ridged in the corner like the wilted wall flower so often
Left to devices alone.
This love, a dammed stream of dark slow flowing waters
Motionless at first sight.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 7 March 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 September 2014

A Natural End to Things

The Winter storms. TV radio, all media telling the awful tales of the storms. One word that seemed to be on every ones lips was , loss. The loss of property, the loss to industry and of course the awful loss of life.

It came at a moment in my life when I was losing some one. I thought long about loss and asked myself this question. Is it better to lose some one from your life knowing they are still living, out there but no longer part of your life? Or would it be easier to except if they were dead?

My loss is my son. A parting of company. Once so close we have drifted for the past two years. A few weeks ago things came to a head and how shall I put it? He went one way and I the other.

My poem A Natural End to Things looks at this process. The good days of his childhood when we would be joined at the hip, out bird watching with his siblings or playing sports on the park.

The opening stanza says it all. Slowly the poem unfolds into the story of our falling apart. The disbelief of stanza three is the failings of each other to except who we are and what we are like as humans and family. Waders sat on islands of total disbelief, isolated and lost to each other.

The strength of the relationship we once had is still there in my mind and shown in stanza four. Lets hope that we find it again one day.

 

A Natural End to Things

The sky leaden with rain seems different.
I remember Summer's and voices that were
Exuberant, hands that ran through the rich
Ripe stems of tall wheat
Gone now.

The fields are stubble.
Once green, now the hedgerow is barren
And a brown, singular sparrow is the only
Pin prick of life
All that remains

The reservoir reveals bare banks.
Sheets of algae suffocate any hope of a
Resurrection, waders sit in the gloom on
Islands of apostasy.
All belief has passed.

The hills are crowned with mist.
We once walked them without uttering a word,
Knowing that our bond and our love
Was communicable without speech.
Dead now.

© Richard Longstaff

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 28 February 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 September 2014

Looking at Limbo

I love a good TV documentary. A winters evening in the company of someone that knows their subject inside out. I watched a really good one on the BBC not to long ago on the subject of steam engines and the role they had once played in our society. It was remarkable to see these huge old machines, spitting and spluttering out steam. The noise, the sheer size and power.

I found myself a few days later putting together the poem, 'A Journey from Limbo Station'. It was one of those rare moments we poets have when the pen seems to have a life of it’s own and words fall on the paper without any real thought. I was amazed at the end result.

Within the stanzas I had told the story of my childhood up until the point of becoming a young adult. The “Gorge of gray green granite” - that space I always felt between my much older parents and me. Their lack of understanding of my disability, Asperger's syndrome. The station, standing in a state of disrepair, uncared for and run down. This is how I often felt in their company and that of other family members.

I had created a story that had long sat deep in my mind and had suddenly surfaced like some long lost German U-boat. The captain shouting “so the wars over then”. I had placed all the doctors and the do gooders within the lines, the medication that robbed me of thoughts and feeling and yet was supposed to make me better.

Of course the boy that never was lacked the intelligence to go far and returned to where he had began. I spent far to much of my life chasing after acceptance, the need to fit in, be 'normal'. I would fail at every turn and end up back where I had begun. Now I know who I am and if people don’t like it then send your complaints on a postcard, you won’t get a answer.

You read Limbo, pick at it and then return to it, read when mad with anger, read it when calm or in high spirits. Write down how you feel about it with each of these emotions and see what you come up with? It will be interesting to see how your views change, how you see different aspects of the poem under different conditions. After all poetry is the soul on paper. All feedback most welcome.

A Journey from Limbo Station

There between the gray green granite
Nestles the station,
Windswept, weary, sign hanging from a
Rusting, solitary chain
Windows broken, cracked, paint, chipped
And scruffy, unkempt.

“The service arriving at platform five is
The 1967 boy that never was” crackle, hiss,
Commanding newspapers to be rolled, sticks
And umbrellas tucked neatly under well pressed
Sleeves, litter to dance in the wake of the steams
Mist as the engine pulls to a halt.

The white coat clad wheel tapper walks the rail
And finds no fault,
Guard, flag and whistle slams the final door as 
The neck jerks from the kick of motion.
“Look father, the mitigation express” cries the
Child, nose pressed to the glass.

Slow chug, steel on steel, signal gantry full of
Waving therapists beckoning us on,
Gathering pace, slick speed, rocking to the whizz
Of passing night sleepers,
Rupturing vision, flying Scotsman, phantoms from
The dregs of medication.

Murmurs, buffet car open, serving cold comfort with
Iced shoulders,
Slowing, slowing, “Delay, delay”, into sidings of utter
Dismal isolation.
The emotional locomotive is on time, overtakes, hurtling
Around the bend.

Stoker, shovel swaying, feeding the beating heart
Of the inanimate machine,
Muscles glisten with sweat, faster now, journeys
End to be announced sooner rather than later.
Curls of smoke, pistons raging along the narrow
Valley of self esteem to the outskirts of home.

“The 1967 boy that never was is pulling into where he
Departed from”, laughter,
Push and shove, mad dash to the safety of all he
Knows and daily routine.
“Don’t forget your belongings sir” said as if it 
Were meant.

There between the gray green granite nestles the
Station,
Windswept, weary, sign hanging from a rusting
Solitary chain
Windows broken, cracked, paint chipped and
Scruffy, unkempt.

© Richard Longstaff

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 17 February 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 September 2014