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.