1950S

JANICE AND THE CAFE.

Janice and I
had taken a bus
to London Bridge
(pennies supplied

 

by my old man)
I showed her
the hospital of St Guys
and on until

 

we were over the Bridge
and we stood looking over
into the Thames
looks murky

 

she said
it is
I replied
are there fish

 

in there?
don't know
wouldn't want
to eat them

 

if there are
I said
she pulled a face
then straightened

 

her red beret
with her thin fingers
so that it sat just
at a slight tilt

 

her fair hair
flowing out
that look all right?
she asked

 

sure
it looks fine
I said
she wore a pink

 

flowered dress
and a white cardigan
and had a black
little girl's handbag

 

(her gran
had bought it
for her birthday
some months before)

 

where shall
we go now?
she asked
there's a café

 

my old man
takes me to sometimes
I said
we can go there

 

they do glasses
of cool lemonade
or cream soda
she smiled

 

and so I took her there
and we took seats
by the window
(the place was crowded

 

with adults)
and a waitress
brought us
two glasses

 

of cream soda
with straws
your father
brings you here?

 

she said
yes sometimes
when he takes me
to the West End

 

we go to other cafés
or restaurants
and go to
the fun machine arcade

 

and that's fun
putting coins
into these machines
some times

 

we go to the cinema
or just walk
about the sights
I said

 

Gran says evil people
live up the West End
that certain parts
are akin to Hell

 

Janice said
I don't about that
I said
we just go

 

to the safe parts
I guess
we sipped our sodas
she looking around her

 

at the adults
drinking and eating
and smoking
and laughter hit out

 

now and then
some guy pinched
a waitress's backside
and she slapped

 

his hand and laughed
Janice blushed
and looked away
another guy

 

with a black moustache
looked over at us
giving Janice the eye
smiling

 

an ear to ear grin
we finished
our sodas
and left the café

 

glad to be out
of there
happy
to be on our way.

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PICNIC TRIP

Helen brought
Battered Betty
along with her
as we met

 

by Burton's the Tailors
she coming up
out of the subway
in that greeny grey dress

 

with the faded flowers
where we going?
she asked
hugging Betty

 

close to her
I noticed the doll
had one eye closed
what happened

 

to Betty's eye?
it got poked out
by little brother
and it only goes in

 

this way now
so she can't see out
Helen said sadly
I nodded my head

 

OK I thought
we could go
to Bedlam Park
as it's a nice day

 

and I’ve brought
some buns
and 1d drinks
so we can have

 

a sort of picnic
I showed her
the carrier bag
in my left hand

 

she looked in
and smiled
that'll be good
she said

 

so we walked
along St George’s Road together
I had my toy 6 shooter
in the holster

 

around my waist
(just in case
we had a run in
with any bad cowboys)

 

I would have brought something
Helen said
had I known
could have brought

 

some potato crisps
or sandwiches
but I like buns
and those 1d drinks

 

we crossed
by our school
and on into the Park
on by the War Museum

 

and found a place
on the grass
and sat down
she laying Betty

 

by her side
we shared the buns
and had a drink each
the morning sun

 

coming through
the trees above
white clouds passing
sharing our food

 

and drinks
and our 9 year old love.

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TRAIN SPOTTING WITH LYDIA.

I knocked
on Lydia's front door
and waited
the morning sun

 

was coming
into the Square
Lydia's old man
opened the door

 

and stared at me
with bloodshot eyes
what do you want?
he said

 

is Lydia
coming out?
I asked
who wants to know?

 

I do
why?
wondered if she'd like
to see the trains

 

I said
why would she
want to see trains?
he said gruffly

 

she likes trains
I said
he looked beyond me
at the block of flats behind  

 

who said
she likes trains?
she did
I said

 

I work
with fecking trains
all day
she's never said

 

about trains before
he said
looking at me again
his eyes trying

 

to focus
we often
go see trains
I said

 

we went  to Waterloo
train station
the other week
he closed his eyes

 

rubbed
his hairy chin
and breathed out
a beery flavour

 

LYDIA
he bellowed suddenly
I stepped off
the front door step

 

and stood
gaping at him
LYDIA
he called again

 

he opened his eyes
and stared at me
I detected life
behind the mask

 

Lydia came
to the door
and peeped under
her old man's arm

 

this kid wants to know
if you want go see
fecking trains
he said gently

 

his voice silky
do you?
she nodded her head
yes

 

can I?
she asked
he looked at me
as if I’d just

 

stolen his wallet
trains?
he said
steam trains

 

I said
yes steam trains
she said
we like watching them

 

he raised his eyebrows
and looked down at her
under his arm
resting on the door jamb

 

ok ok
if you want go see trains
go see trains
he said

 

and wandered off
inside
leaving Lydia and me
looking at each other

 

Waterloo again?
I asked
what about Victoria station?
she said

 

ok sure
I replied
and she turned
around

 

to go get
her shoes inside.

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INGRID AND BREAKFAST.

Ingrid usually wore
the faded grey
flowery dress
that had seen

 

better days
I saw her crossing
Rockingham Street
I was getting

 

bread rolls
and she was standing
by the wall
of the flats

 

red eyes
hair unbrushed
where are you going?
she asked

 

getting rolls
for breakfast
I said
how comes

 

you're out here
so early?
I asked
my dad

 

pushed me out
said I was getting
on his nerves
she said

 

have you had breakfast?
I asked
no not yet
she said

 

I looked up
Meadow Row
the early morning sun
was breaking

 

through clouds
you can come back
to my mum's place
I said

 

have rolls and butter
she looked at me
can I ?
she said

 

of course
I replied
taking in her red eyes
and untidy hair

 

and a fading bruise
under her left eye
real butter?
she said

 

yes and maybe
cheese if you want
I said
she looked at me

 

her eyes
feeding on me
what now?
she said

 

yes
come to the bakers
with me and we
can go back

 

to my mum's place
together
I said
so we went across

 

to the baker's shop
and I bought
crusty bread rolls
my mother had said

 

and we walked back
through the Square
and up the stairs
to the flat

 

are you sure
your mum
won't mind?
she said

 

as I opened
the front door
no she won't mind
the more the merrier

 

I said
and so we went
into the kitchen
and I told my mother

 

and she said fine
and cut open the rolls
and buttered them
and put in

 

some cheese
and Ingrid and I
went into
the front room

 

and we ate them
in an early morning
silence
and as she ate

 

I gave a secret sigh
seeing the fading bruise
beneath
her left eye.

 

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HELEN AND BUTT-ENDS.

Teatime done with
I went with Helen
across the bomb site
off Meadow Row

 

and crossed
the New Kent Road
to the ABC cinema
and along side

 

the dark alleys
dim lights
damp stink
she just behind me

 

clutching her doll
Battered Betty
by one arm
was that a rat?

 

she half said
and screamed
could be
I said

 

you see
them at night
down here
she clutched my arm

 

with her free hand
Battered Betty
swaying behind her
what we looking for?

 

she asked
cigarette ends
I said
why?

 

What do you
want them for?
she asked
make up a smoke

 

with Rizla fag papers
I said
you smoke
old tobacco?

 

she said
put it
in your mouth?
If I get

 

enough tobacco
sure
I said
looking around

 

the ground
yuk
she said
sometimes

 

I find dropped coins
I found a cuff link once
silver it was
but one

 

ain't much good
unless you're
a one armed man
I said

 

does your mum know
you smoke?
God no
I said

 

she has enough
to worry about
without me
adding to it

 

she frowned
clutched my arm tighter
well you shouldn't smoke
she said

 

you're only 9 like me
and I would never smoke
and our children
when we have them

 

won't smoke either
she said
she looked
at Battered Betty steely

 

I pushed her words
and images
out of my mind
for the moment

 

I saw a semi-smoked
Senior Service
on the ground
by the wall

 

and stooped
to pick it up
it's got lipstick on it
Helen said distastefully

 

it's has a woman's
spittle inside
I looked at her
disapproving gaze

 

and threw it away
yes you're right
I said
men's spittle's best

 

she frowned darkly
ok
I said
not really

 

I just jest
another time maybe
I thought
taking her deeper

 

into the dark
and rats
and damp stink
of drains

 

remembering it all
it sinking
into my
9 year brain.

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WAITING FOR FAY.

Baruch could hear
Fay's father
bawling her out
along the balcony

 

his  Catholic platitudes
filling the air
he watched
from a safe distance

 

as Fay's fair hair
was caught
by sunlight
her father's

 

dark expression
like black clouds
on a summer's day
Pater Nosters

 

rose and fell
then he went indoor
and left her
standing there

 

the echo of his voice
staining the air
Baruch waved to her
and she descended

 

the stairs
to the balcony below
and along
where Baruch stood

 

what was that all about?
he asked
the nuns
reported me

 

meeting you
after school
the other day
she said

 

your daughter
is meeting the Jew
they'd said
he said

 

Fay looked back
behind her
as she touched
Baruch's arm

 

you're not to meet
the Jew boy
he was shouting
said he'd give me

 

a good hiding
if I saw you again
she said
looking up

 

at the balcony above
Baruch looked
at her fair hair
let loose

 

unfettered by bow
or ribbon
over her
blue dress

 

guess we mustn't
be seen then
he said softly
by Burton's window

 

in half hour
she said
and fled
along the balcony

 

and up the stairs
to her father's flat
Baruch watched
her go

 

the sway
of her dress
the hair in flow
then gone

 

from sight
just going out
he said
to his mother

 

at her ironing
in the front room
ok
she said

 

be careful
and so he
went down the stairs
and across the Square

 

down the slope
and along Rockingham Street
under the railway bridge
and along by

 

the back
of the cinema
and on to
the New Kent Road

 

down the subway
along the echoing passage
thinking of Fay
and her father

 

and his ways
he whistled
as he walked
his sound echoing

 

along the walls
a Hebrew tune
he'd heard
whistling loud

 

like a noisy bird
then up the steps
to the place to meet
by Burton's window

 

on the corner
of St George Road
traffic
racing by

 

waiting for Fay
her beauty
to greet
his Jewish eye.

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WAITING FOR LYDIA.

Lydia's mother
opened the door
of the flat
after I had knocked

 

and gave me
a stern stare
is Lydia coming out?
I asked

 

she looked hard
at me
where?
to the herbalist

 

get some sarsaparilla
I said
sarsaparilla?
she said

 

yes it's good for you
they say
makes blood
I said

 

she looked
at my scuffed shoes
and blue jeans
and the gun and holster

 

hanging
from the snake head
elastic belt
around my waist

 

I suppose she can
her mother said
LYDIA
she bellowed

 

windows rattled
a dog
across the Square
barked

 

the milkman's horse
lifted its head
from the nosebag
Lydia came to the door

 

and poked her head
out from under
her mother's arm
Benedict here

 

wants to take you
to get a sarsaparilla
Lydia looked at you
her eyes narrowing

 

then widening
ok
she said
can I go?

 

she asked
course if I say so
as long
as you are wrapped warmer

 

than you are now
her mother said
Lydia rushed back inside
and her mother

 

took a long drag
of a cigarette
her yellowing fingers
in a V shape

 

what's your father
do for a living?
she asked
the smoke carrying

 

her words to me
he's a metal worker
I said
he makes things

 

from metal
she stared at me
a few loose hairs
had escaped

 

the flowery scarf
about her head
I think
he frequents whores

 

she said
I see
I said
unsure

 

what she was saying
she inhaled
on the cigarette again
her eyes

 

gazing beyond me
keep Lydia out
a fair while
she said

 

pushing out smoke
I want to rest
my eyes a while
ok

 

I said
she went indoors
and I waited for Lydia
sniffing in the smoke

 

hanging about
the doorstep
the dog barked again
the horse ate

 

from the nosebag
the milkman whistled
a few notes
from some tune

 

I sniffed the smoke again
hoping Lydia
would be out
wrapped warm soon.

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INGRID'S EAR.

Ingrid's right ear
was still numb
where her father
hit her head

 

as she climbed the stairs
to Benedict's flat
and knocked at his door
he's in the Park

 

I think Ingrid
or try the bomb site
on Meadow Row
his mother said

 

so she climbed down
the stairs
her eyes
filled with tears

 

her hearing like
she was under water
swimming
she crossed the Square

 

and over Bath Terrace
into the Park
passed by
the flowers beds

 

the trees
the wire fence
coming into view
her eyes scanned

 

through the wire
to see if he was on
the swings
but he wasn't

 

she entered the playground
and searched
but he wasn't there
her heart sank

 

low ebb feeling
she walked back
through the Park
along the path

 

and crossed
Bath Terrace
and back through
the Square

 

passed kids
playing skip rope
or football
some playing a tag game

 

running
here and there
she walked down
the slope

 

and over
Rockingham Street
passed the fish mongers
up the narrow pavement

 

passed the houses
her eyes watery
looking up the Row
hoping he'll be there

 

passed the public house
where her father went
and got drunk
and round

 

into the narrow
side road
where the bomb site
spread before her eyes

 

the coal wharf
on her right
horses and wagons
still there

 

she scanned the site
walked to the edge
her heart thumping
her eyes  searching

 

and there he was
over by the wall
of a bombed out house
2 walls gone

 

roof blown off
him standing there
picking up stones
she called his name

 

he turned and waved
she hurried towards him
over bricks
and stones

 

and chickweed
to where he stood  
2 small stones
in his hand

 

been looking for you
she said
her voice
on the edge

 

of breaking
what's the matter?
he said
but guessed

 

saw her watery eyes
her tone of voice
my ear hurts
she blurted out

 

and held her right ear
with her hand
your old man?
he said

 

she nodded
and cried
and Benedict
hugged her

 

his 9 year old arms
about
her thin shoulders
they stood

 

in the recess
of the bombed out house
sunlight pushing
through the tile less roof

 

unsure
what to say or do
he kissed her hand
and ear

 

a catapult wedged
in the back pocket
of his jeans
the small stones

 

held tight
in his left hand
he kissed the ear again
hoping

 

it would help
to heal the pain.

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NOT A GIRL THING.

Janice said
she wanted to show me
how well she skipped
with her new skip rope

 

I watched
as her small hands
held the wooden ends
and her arms

 

circled like windmills
and her feet
lifted from the ground
in an odd dance

 

the rope going over
and under
over and under
have a go

 

she said
no it's OK
I said
let me show you

 

how good I can draw
my new gun
from my holster
I said

 

tapping
the toy gun
at my side
a brown hat

 

(an uncle's trilby)
plonked
on my head

she watched me

 

her red beret
on her head
the lemon dress

I liked her in

 

the black plimsolls
touching toes
I took out the gun
and spun it

 

around my finger
like I’d seen
in the Jeff Chandler films
my old man

 

took me to see
my other hand
spaced at my side
I put the gun back

 

in the holster
and on the count of
1-2-3
I drew the gun

 

in the blink
of her lovely blue eyes
as 1-2-3
bad cowboys

 

(invisible to her)
fell and died
can I have a go?
she asked

 

sure you can
I said
so undid the belt
and holster and gun

 

and handed them
to her
to put on
which she did

 

in clumsy fashion
all fingers and thumbs
once she was ready
(at her own

 

female pace)
she said
count me in
so I said ok

 

and counted 1-2-3
and she went
for the gun
and sent it

 

spinning
through the air
catching sun light
on the silvery parts

 

as it fell
to the ground
with a clattering
spark flying

 

cap banging
sound.

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