Poetry: 51° 30′ N, 0° 25′ E by David Dumouriez
51° 30′ N, 0° 25′ E
Come on, let me take you through my town …
where, first, you’ll see the modest sign
(which is, depending on the way you face,
the best or grimmest vision of your life!).
The place I lived - or, rather, pedalled time -
occupies this end of town (but more anon).
To start, you’ll see the polling station.
I voted there three times, picked one of each,
and then retired. What that building is for
99% of every year, I struggle to recall.
That long road opposite is where, aged
eight or nine, I found a quid then ran to ask
a lady if she’d dropped it. Somewhat gruffly,
she replied: “That’s very honest of you. It’s not
mine, though. I think you deserve to keep it.”
So I did!
Keep going on. Spacious road. Used to
walk the dog here. Dear old Buster boy!
Pissed outside each window. Leg went up.
First pool, then trickle, then a drop.
Occasionally a turd, or a long squeeze
of diarrhoea. No pooper scoopers then!
I can still recall that bloke who lived
there on the corner by the postbox.
Looked out his kitchen window just as
Buster signed his name in shite.
We never ran so fast!
Anyway, go on. Several side roads lead
us to my ex-abode. I’ll take the direct one.
Another postbox. Focal point back then.
Not sure now. Some quite large houses
at the top. Mostly never knew the people.
Thought them snobs - they had more ground!
Then a field some called ‘the park’.
It was a field, believe me. Used to have
a goalpost on. No net, mind. Just a leaning
Pisa made of iron, later famous for its rust.
All bordered by some trees that got quite dense,
cut through by railway lines. And opposite
the field, our house, thanks to which I knew what
‘terrace’ meant. One of the first few houses in
a street which started as predominantly
mud, then grew to look not bad till heavy
rains immersed the newer homes.
Well, my father should be in, but I
can take your later if you want -
it’s about our town now, after all -
so we’ll fashion a diagonal across
the field towards the greatest asset
of the place, the station, once of
British Rail (now part of what the
force of greed dictates). From here
you’ll be in London in the hour.
The barriers are automatic now.
Used to be a bloke to pull them up.
Coming home, what larks we had round
there. Slip through or race across the
footbridge. Five hundred times or more.
Just past the station - please look down -
and there’s the creek. A curio, that one.
It’s there but rarely talked of. Just a mini
glut of mud and over it an iron girder
(another rusted brother of the goalposts).
I know a kid who used it as a tightrope.
Then quickly wished he hadn’t.
Let’s wander on. To your right, a path
that’s longer than you think, leading off
to houses thought as fancy; and then,
beyond, an alternative, more leisured
means to where we’ll finally appear.
We’ll take Church Hill instead. You’ll see
why. But you might not be impressed.
I’ll tell you that it seemed much wider,
steeper then! And you can guess it
always twinned with Winnie in our minds.
On the left side, as we rise, you’ll see the
High Street, my greatest memory of which
remains a toyshop of the old and basic kind,
run by a Polish man. And on our right,
just beyond the wall, there’s the graveyard.
Well, it is Church Hill!
As our short climb ends, just stop a sec.
There’s a grave close by. We’d see it on
the way home every night. His name was Alec.
It was a fresh stone then, when we were kids.
We’d give him a casual “Goodnight” and
ruminate sometimes with childish wisdom,
as you do, on all the wheres and whats and mights.
Alec, friend - if I can dare to call you
such - you’ve been there much longer now.
And to the church: that Norman structure,
centrepiece! Nine hundred years and standing.
I recall at nine or ten us schoolkids lining up
outside the door at harvest time. A rumour
travelled down the queue: “If you swear in church,
you die! The old man sends a thunderbolt,
some instant judgement from the sky.”
I look at Al; he looks at me. We’ll have
a taste of that! I never swore so much,
intensively. Half across the threshold
we began to curse, then extra as we
walked towards our pews. And we survived!
But, honestly, you never really knew.
Opposite the church - come on, keep up! -
you’ll see the pub. In any case, the one
I went to most. Looks like they’ve changed
the name, for reasons I don’t know.
It was … alright. We had some entertainment
there for sure. Some lurkers, shirkers.
Assorted boys and girls. I recall a glassing
in the corner. The rest of us just jollied on!
As we do now. There’s the crossing where
my old pal tried to walk straight through
a van. Happily, the van survived.
Keep going down - no, there - and on your
right you’ll see what was the snooker club.
A cinema before my time, then bingo hall,
it changed to coincide with snooker’s
Golden Age. Saw Alex Higgins there.
A short walk up, then on your left what
was (a common theme) the post office,
and opposite (what was) the Tuck Shop.
Overrated that was; never had much stock.
But placed conveniently at least for the
next attraction of our tour - my junior
school of old. Two buildings then,
divided by a narrow road (patrolled
most ably by my classmate’s mother,
Mrs Jones, Our Lady of the Lollipop:
no children maimed or lost). Now half
the school’s not there - sold off, the usual
tale - but in those days one portion was
reserved for younger kids, then in a huge
reverse, devoted to the oldest ones.
I won both times! This was where, first day,
my mother said goodbye, expecting me
to cry, but off I ran without a backward look.
Kids! Kids … the place was full of them!
I started as a mini-man of seven: curious
at this shrieking, darting horde. And soon
I saw I had to dim it down; embrace
the foolishness, adopt some parts of what
I found. Children, they were childish.
I hadn’t thought of that! And what times
we had here, on both sides of the road.
Learning, well, it never was more fun.
New revelations by the day; inside the walls
and out. The staff who gave us hours of their minds;
we kids who grew, unknowingly, each day.
Four years there. When four years seem forever!
Then move on, as we must now. Not so far
down the road. We could turn right and see
the Rec - an area of grass much larger than
you’d guess. There’s rugby there. Football,
where my team conceded twenty-four.
And cricket, where I started off my club
career. But we’ll press on. Though not
before I mention there’s another place
to play, just up and to the right. There’s
tennis, football, bowls and cricket
once again. The home ground of my
second, much more welcome club.
Amazingly, a six-hit from the ground,
exists a house once lived in by another
Pole, an author very far from home.
Our town a minor Heart of Darkness
in itself. He loathed the place and left
inside two years. It intrigued me,
nonetheless, to think that he was there,
and flattered my illusions of a greatness
I felt certain I was born to share.
But if it’s greatness that you seek,
you’ll hope it’s accessed from within,
as where we’re going now by turning left,
my high school, will rip you of ambition
and the force to live. I started in September,
hands raised, exuding hope, but by
November saw it just as five years to survive.
Excepting one or two, the teachers knew
the perfect way to take the wage without
expense of effort, facts, or time.
As excellent as primary had been five
minutes down the road, so this was bad.
We passed our former school a thousand
nights and half of those, I’m sure, we
wished that we were back. Our secondary
teachers, they were rank. The other kids,
chucked in from many other schools, were
here to take their first steps into joblessness
and crime. They were the only ones who
left there qualified. Honestly, the day
that bearded bastard signed my leaving form,
I walked towards the gates and danced.
And, for the record, I don’t dance.
(Of course, I’ll add our parents had
it worse. Their parents worse than that.
That’s progress then! Targets met!)
Departing here, we could go further on.
I had some friends who lived in streets that
led to the adjoining town, but that was
just a distant planet to our little minds!
No, I’d say you’ve viewed it all.
But honestly, you never have. There’s what
you see and what there is: the two don’t
always easily connect! I know it as it was.
I’d struggle in a quiz about it now.
I still go back - once or twice a year.
But soon, soon I know I won’t return.