In the Land of Grey and Pink *

Your cluttered room where our nights were spent, the teenage 
years, squandered some would say, and carnage 
if it’s accuracy you need to paint a scene. 
Ashtrays, fag ends, books, albums, and Strongbow cider, 
de riguer for one season, a radio, called transistor 
once, the paraphernalia of who we were is what I mean. 

What was it that bound us together with hoops 
of steel, our little misfit group 
of grammar school boys and secondary mods? 
Class, I theorised vaguely, and, oddly, given our class, Art, 
and the pretensions that came with it no doubt, 
but Art, a love which brooked no divisions, thank God. 

Two on guitars, one on drums, one uplifting flute, 
lifted, nicked, liberated, he said, and yours truly, a musical mute, 
preferring the glories of the written word --- 
Shakespeare, Keats, Dickens et al, that well trodden patriarchal canon, 
plus the Russians, the French, all in translation 
of course, of course. Dear Lord, 

what did they make of us, the sons and daughters 
of toil --- our parents and those ill-defined betters 
with their mortgaged lives and foreign climes, 
who sat amorphously behind us in the plusher seats. 
In most part we beat a slow and loving retreat 
from them all, their lives, their clothes, striking haphazard claims 

for independence, free to be me, 
as Deep Purple put it, shallowly. Not a mile away the sea, 
too deep to give a toss either way when it staged 
its winter storms, taking everything we could throw at it 
and giving us back sea coal and summer evening of icy fret, 
the sea’s breath, which clung in ionised droplets to every ledge. 

Always the sea, always the immutable sea 
around every corner, a presence we registered subliminally, 
its monumental sway and gravid tides 
seeping into our consciousness 
like water into the coal seams a thousand feet below us, 
the eminence grise that got inside our heads. 

But think of those November streets, frame the shot. 
It has rained for hours, a miserabilist’s dream, sheets 
of the stuff until the gutters attain a fluency 
that threatens to overwhelm. It is dark 
by four, half day closing through custom or simply lack. 
That smoke will not rise much above the chimneys. 

Now move in for the close-up shots --- this is black and white, 
remember, scion of those other kitchen sink delights --- 
how coal dust got under their skin and into their lungs, 
how that hawked up muscle of phlegm 
might, with the right lighting effects, achieve a gleam 
just shy of mother of pearl. The turn finishes her song 

at The Club one Sunday night, non-diegetic soundtrack 
to our journey back to you eclectic 
room, all under the fluence of drink and hoodwinked by the sodium 
street lamps, forgetting how dark it got 
in between, the glide and grace of shit underfoot, 
which brought in equal measure laughter and opprobrium. 

But keep the film stock (fillum) rolling at The Empress, The Picture House 
and the BBC who wanted to educate the likes of us, 
albeit imperiously, with Germinal, Iron in the Soul
and the French New Wave ---- at least 
some chance of nudity, some overflow of New Wave breast 
coming courtesy of Godard, Truffaut, Rohmer, Claude Chabrol. 

Having made such a stuttering start to life, 
the street lamps like to bridge the gap with a leap of faith 
at dusk, though we have our own vampiric gloom 
to contend with, the curtains drawn against the summer 
evening, all extraneous noise reduce to rumour. 
We’ve gathered in your room 

and something’s playing on the Dansette, 
though the softness of the evening still seems to infiltrate; 
a bird is singing somewhere, its voice sounds like tutelage 
of sorts, or an invitation, difficult to say. 
Smoke from a cigarette ---- that music might be Curved Air --- 
rises in gentle arabesques to the ceiling. A pit village 

is geared up for Friday night but there we are 
and remain forever, oddly crepuscular, 
pseudy, no doubt ----not as clever as you think 
you are,
a familial refrain --- John Player 
Special in hand, my first drag. For God’s sake not Solid Air. 
That’s better, and all is well In the Land of Grey and Pink


* In the Land of Grey and Pink is a prog-rock album 
released by Caravan in April 1971 on Deram Records. 
The pit village referred to is Horden, which is still 
to be found on the northeast coast.In memory of                                                                                                  George Warin, who was there.




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Stephen Atkinson

Wed 7th Oct 2020 19:33

Yes, know what you mean Tony. I'm often found wandering down the dene with my mad wife 😉

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Tony Hill

Wed 7th Oct 2020 18:24

Sorry about the delay in replying, Stephen. Only rarely frequent the pub — too much like a restaurant for my taste. Usually to be found wandering aimlessly down the dene with my mad rescue dog, Sil. Tony

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Stephen Atkinson

Wed 7th Oct 2020 07:04

Ah, moved to the posh end. Mince & dumplings & a couple of pints in the Castle Eden Inn, can't beat it. 🍻👍

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Tony Hill

Wed 7th Oct 2020 03:01

Thank you for the kind words, Stephen. I now live in Castle Eden so I haven’t moved that far away. Tony

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Stephen Atkinson

Tue 6th Oct 2020 22:59

Great piece 👏. And Horden is still, Indeed, to be found on the northeast coast, but you'd probably only end up there if you got lost. 😉

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Tony Hill

Tue 6th Oct 2020 19:13

Hi Greg, glad the poem brought back memories. Wanted to capture a time and place. We were into prog-rock - Hatfield and the North, Gong,Gentle Giant and many others. Tony

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Greg Freeman

Tue 6th Oct 2020 18:57

Remember that album, played almost to death at our local church youth club at the time. I played it again recently, in the early days of lockdown. Brought back memories, as did this poem.

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