On a rainy Bank Holiday Sunday it’s good to be reminded of old poems and successes. Poems that are accepted for publication disappear into the folder ‘Published’ and into books and magazines that sit together on a shelf. Out of sight, out of mind…
For many years through the 90’s I kept this green A4 certificate with the impressive signatures in a clip frame at the bottom of the staircase. It was a daily reminder that I could write through what was a dark period in my life.
I watched the old men in the park today playing bowls, much the same as yesterday. Smiles all around and gentle teasing by the winners.
I wondered whether at their age you would have needed stick or hearing aid. If your hair would turn to yellow-white or grey.
You never tried your hands at bowls, did you? An old man’s game you called it. Surely, much more fun than kicking up the daisies?
It’s a huge pleasure introducing this month’s guest poet Carl Tomlinson. Carl and I met on a w/end poetry workshop some years ago. He was born in Lancashire – where his father’s family had farmed for 150 years. He now lives in Oxfordshire and is a coach and part-time finance director. His poems have been published in magazines, anthologies and online.
From his debut Changing Places I have chosen one poem that has a personal meaning to me: I was living in Southampton in 1976 and my late husband supported our local team. The other four poems are a moving tribute to Carl’s personal land and heritage. The cover picture was taken by him.
FA Cup Final. 1 May 1976. Southampton 1 – 0 Manchester United
Bobby Stokes made me a Red one Spring day at Wembley. He broke my heart in a moment scuffing that shot past Stepney.
Although I wasn’t football mad you still had to pick a side and a playground full of Saints fans said Man United were mine.
Four years after moving South my accent was still abused. Flattened vowels lurked in my mouth and echoed round the school.
All that week I learned their names eager to share the glory, but sometimes, as the pundits say, the Cup’s a fairy story.
Nil-nil at eighty-three minutes, the telly rings with cheers. Stokes shoots. He scores. Saints win it. This was what I’d feared.
Bobby Stokes made me blush deep red at hymn-time in assembly, For all the saints, the teacher said. Every face was turned on me.
I’d just got my A-levels out of the way and was spending a week with my Aunt in the house her grandfather’d built in the garden behind the farm, in a place that had seemed like forever, aged eight. She said “Derek Fitton wants a hand with his hay.” As kids we had loved helping Grandad, chasing the baler round Tandle Hill’s haunch riding the trailer back to the barn echoing Tarzan calls under the bridge. We lived with the itching and the seeds in our hair because that was the way we were made. It was ten years since the pain of the sale and I wanted to feel like a farmer again. Derek was glad of my help that day. It was fun enough, in a blokeish way. He gave me a fiver. Later, I drank it away. The twine cut my fingers, my back complained the welts sprang up on my arms again. You wouldn’t know, I guess you’ve never baled but it’s a different kind of ache when it’s not your hay.
Coming to grief
We were most of the way to Middleton when I discovered that grief doesn’t always dress in death. One of my parents said that Three Gates Farm – where six generations had tilled the last of Lancashire’s silty soil – was being sold that week.
In the winter of sixty-three my Grandad made the front page phoning for a snowplough because the lane was six foot deep. Now we were in ‘th’Observer’ again in the back of the classifieds along with all the other lots due ‘Under the Marshall hammer.’
Reading the paper emptied my eyes. I realised whatever childish plans I’d made for those fifty acres of gentle land nudged between mill towns and millstone grit were to be knocked down (for twenty-six grand in the end) in Ye Olde Boar’s Head by an auctioneer I never met.
And by my father’s teenage need to leave that land and make his life his own. And by my uncle’s trying to stay where I was sure we all belonged. And by Grandad’s explaining that even the hencotes would go. So the scheme to keep one to use as a den, that went south as well.
The parlour’s long since seen a cow, there’s nothing like a farm there now but the breath of beasts on a winter day and the sweetness of cowshit and hay surprise that grief back into me.
Accounts and correspondence, attached with failing staples, complete the detail of a sale of Live and Dead Farming Stock.
Dead just means inanimate, not deceased.
Then, in the Particulars, I find the line that honours my line, and all they left here ‘The land will be seen to be in a high state of fertility.’
“Oh bugger!”, the words thud. I’ve just put the fork through a spud.
I’m showing our son and daughter something I learnt from my father which my Grandad had taught him before.
“You start a bit off, away from the green, keep the fork away from the tubers, you want to lift ‘em, not pierce ‘em, and they’ll not store if you fork ‘em, they’ll be no good if you fork ‘em’.”
Again the fork sinks, again the soil shifts and this time a big‘un gets stuck on a tine. “Oh bugger!” I thud before I’m stood up and quick as an echo the lad pipes up with “That’s what our Grandad said when he put his fork through a spud.”