As the title suggests, these are oddments left over from other work which I was minded to throw away but have decided to retain, rework and add to. All except the first few pieces, which describe growing up in Britain in the immediate post-war years, when the costs of the war were becoming apparent ― drab and comfortless years, though of course immeasurably better than those in Europe when everything had to be rebuilt from scratch ― look back from Chile, a warm-hearted country where I have permanent residence. Most are simple recollections in simple verse forms.
The past is another country, of course, where what they do differently I have tried to capture.
Other poems comment on the Chilean scene, and on the reflections that old age brings. I have added a few anecdotes, but only a few,
as they will possibly only resonate with those who know the wilder parts of the world.
A world accredited by postal codes,
by brick and pebble-dash, each built the same:
suburban crescents, cul-de-sacs and roads
that went by circumspect but rural name.
It was an England forged and given birth
by war restraints, by debts, by making do:
and one the less exalted of the earth
would learn in practice still belonged to few.
A privileged world indeed, where country folk
had kept their cottages, and titled wealth
sent sons to fathers’ public schools, and spoke
disparaging of Techs and National Health.
Until, like Ascot winners put to grass,
the years were winnowed out of wealth and class.
with soils more deeply dug in than before.
Ourselves we dress up in the pasts’ bright shapes,
in aural splendour of some history read:
we look to distant, faint and shadowy capes
where rise the paths that only brave men tread.
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Predetermined, fixed, ordained by God,
so spoke my father’s childhood friend;
it was the proudly self-improving path he trod
and stayed there broadly with him till the end.
It was a path of thought and diligence
to local office, kept abreast
of changing legislation and events
becoming attitudes his skills addressed.
He had one like him, a venal, grasping son,
and, beautiful but mercenary,
a daughter who had clearly now begun
to make her own ascent in life. I see
him rhapsodising on some holiday:
‘It’s such a hopeless state they’re in,
but all so charming in the things they say:
our Irish friends who neither toil nor spin.’
And he was thoughtful, I remember, there
reflecting on the life he’d made.
‘I’d give it up, I would, be free as air,
if life’s expenses would be thereby paid.’
‘And all those creature comforts we rely
on more as native strength goes out.
For what?’ He looked quite blank. ‘Unless to die
in ways that we were born, in sin and doubt.’
He stopped. The lights came on. He saw
his life as was, where each thin wall
had local quaintness he’d have breached before
except that life beyond was pennies small.