The Close

entry picture

Grey bin days

Ash spilling

Sparking

From beneath

Buckled

Loose-fitting metal lids

Carried back- breakingly

To the monstrous wagon

Limping it’s way

Around the close

Like a club-footed relic
 

 

Behind the chipped

Leaded glass of number thirteen

A terrible gargoylian face

Pressed up close

Stares out

Mrs Ashall has seen a football fly over her neat hedges

Her unfortunate marigold’s yet again

Feeling the full force of the enthusiastically misguided article

Her side gate clinks open

To reveal this vengeful Northern warrior

Strands of grey hair falling from her neat bun

Writhing medusa-like around the savage, stony visage

Young children flee like ants from boiling water

The ball is never seen again

 

 

Bill and Eedie Harding

Make their way slowly

Methodically

Towards the end of the close

Bills hand-fashioned walking stick

Supporting his wiry rickety  donkey- jacketed frame

Cock-eyed flat cap completing the look

Eedie, long turquoise mack on

Eyeshadow to match

Roughly fastens the aquamarine scarf into a knot under her chin

Putting her arm through Bill’s

 

 

Her crimson, flaking lips

Tutting against the weather

As their daily walk begins

Carried on religiously by Bill

Even after Eedie’s death

“ She was an alcoholic! You could smell it on her when she went in’t Co-op for her meat”

the neighbours said

“And do you know when they carried her body out she was still lathered in make-up?!

Mascara all round her eyes!”
 

 

George from two doors away

A hopeless drunk

Staggers in the light rain to the tree

On the small patch of grass opposite our house

Trampling dog flowers

That we’d pick on greener days

Curtains twitch open rapidly

Eyes watching in disbelief

As he plays darts against the big oak tree

Taking his top off

Raising hairy,sinewy arms to his house-bound viewers

Grinning a toothless smile

Looking less like the sporting champion he thinks he is

And more like a damp, giddy Simian

Playing to the crowd

The close

His zoo
 

 

I once asked Mrs Butler, our neighbour, also known as Kathleen,

for a loaf of bread when I was about seven

Or eight

“Here Jon, take this money and get us a loaf will you?

Kathleen knows which sort I have”

Said me Mum

I thought she meant Mrs Butler

Next door

I was quizzed when I tried to hand over the change for the bread
 

 

“Is your Mum alright Jon love? Here take this money back to her. I had a spare loaf in anyroad

Tell her I asked about her will  you?”

Me Mum never let me forget the shame of asking our neighbour for bread

“ I meant Kathleen from ‘t Co-op! She shouted. Take this bloody loaf back you daft

apath! I bet she thinks we can’t afford bread from ‘t’ shop !...(and to me Dad), “Joe you know

what our John did?

Only asked Kathleen Butler next door for bread!”

I was never allowed to forget this episode for years to come.

The Co-op lady now, unmistakably also entrenched in my mind as Kathleen
 

 

Comforted by the sacred heart of Jesus on the chimney breast wall,

Mrs Butler

Stayed indoors mostly,  

When her husband, aged forty, died

Suddenly in Morecambe bay on holiday.

The last supper, the stations of the cross

On the side walls

Surrounding her in her time of need
 

 

If she managed to walk to the local shop,

It was to return in tears,

One time breaking down when the Co-op Butcher

Harry, playfully made fun of her only wanting a one ounce slice of corned beef

“ Are ‘t’ havin a party Kathleen? Are tha sure tha wants so much?”

She retorted, like a woman possessed “ A party? Am I having a party?

I’m not having a bloody party Harry!! Me Husband’s dead!! That’s why I only want a one ounce

slice of corned bloody beef!”

Collapsing on the way back

At the bottom end of the close,

Grief had completely taken hold of her

 

 

Her wicker shopping bag

Spilling the meagre slice of corned beef

The fruit

The bread

The glass bottle of sterilised milk

Smashing against the cracked grey pavement

Mingling with her tears

Like the hopes

The dreams

She’d had of growing old

Her loving incredibly mild-mannered Husband

Close by her side
 

 

The Lee’s

At number three

Were forever the close’s black sheep

Tommy Lee

Old before his years

And unable to work

Because of a disability

Raising two daughters with Annie, his Wife

“What happened to Tommy Dad?”

“Why does he walk like that?”

I foolishly asked

Me Dad

 

 

Thinking anyone who didn’t work

Was a scrounger

Made up a fantastical tale of deception on Mr Lee’s part

Telling me that Tommy duped everyone into thinking his body had been mangled by a tractor

When he’d supposedly worked on a farm

The horrific incident maiming him for life

Quite reasonably I thought

This left  him unable to work for a living

Me Dad called it “lazy-itis!”

And discouraged me from associating with either Brenda or Elizabeth, the two underprivileged daughters
 

 

The immaculate privets of Number fifteen

Taller

More regal than the rest of the streets hedges

Defended exotic flora and fauna

The smartly painted iron gate

Three doors to our left

Hiding the lives of Mr and Mrs Brookes

Existing in respectable

Orderly fashion

Their only daughter Francesca

Playing alone

In the garden

Hosting elaborate tea parties

With imaginary friends

Away from the rest of the streets urchins

 

 

We must have seemed like the bash street kids in comparison

Lovely

Mild mannered people

The Brookes’

Although me Dad, predictably

Didnt take to them

“Well!” He’d say

“Their hedges will be nice,all ‘t’ money they’ve geet”

Me Mum

Adding her two pennorth

“ I know..well he does work for the trains!”

I never saw the link myself

Mr Brookes

Tall

Smartly dressed

Long brown gaberdine raincoat on

Headed off, smiling, down the close every day

Mrs Brookes waving goodbye at the door

Before labouring tirelessly in the garden
 

 

“ Mrs Jones said can I help her to clean her silverware Dad?

My Sister relished assisting Mrs Jones at number one

Especially as she was rewarded with a plateful of home cooked chips

And fried eggs for her trouble

“Mrs Jones has got black pepper in her kitchen. It’s nice on chips”

Our Christine enthusiastically extolling the virtues of the everyday accompaniment

As though it was a rare, unheard of spice

Set aside for the wealthy

 

 

“Has ‘t’ heard this May?”

“Our Christine wants bloody black pepper now hers had it at Mrs Jones!”

“Salt and vinegar’s all tha needs. Salt and vinegar!..and white pepper!

Aye and her keeps goin on about Mrs Jones’ shiny pans! Her’s geet shiny pans cos her doesn’t

cook! Her can’t cook!”

“What’s up with thi Mam’s pans anyroad?”

A nicer woman you could never meet, Mrs Jones made bonfire toffee for the street’s kids on

November the fifth, Always asked about me Mum and Dad

Kept a lovely garden and dressed as though she shopped at Marks and Sparks’
 

 

This close was where

I learned to ride my first skateboard

Crudely fashioned

By me Dad at the pit

An old piece of wood

Painted red

With roller skates screwed into its underside

It couldn’t swivel

Or turn

But it was a thing of wonder to me
 

 

It was where

Neighbours routinely drowned puppies

In the kitchen sink

When they had an unwanted litter

Without blinking an eyelid
 

 

This close was where

An injured child would be made to drink whiskey and sugar

The supposed cure for all ills

Administered sage-like by the elderly lady opposite

The Close’s resident Witch doctor

With full parental approval
 

 

It was where

We got our first telephone

The angular Trimphone

Its Futuristic look out of place with wood panelling and brass ornaments

Laughably it

Had a shared line

And was hand picked from a BT catalogue

 

 

This close was where me Mum

Tried to glue back together the china butter dish I’d bought for her

On a school outing to Derbyshire

With the day’s pocket money

Before placing it back

Craftily

In pride of place on the pantry’s stone slab

Hoping I wouldn’t see the join


 

This close was where I listened

Spellbound

To Diana Ross on the radiogram

It was where I found a pair of red wooden soled clogs that me Dad threatened to make me wear

Learned the words to A Spoonful Of Sugar

From The Sound Of Music

And it was here I sat noiselessly

On the stairs

Listening to Mum and Dad talk about buying their own house

Nearer to the town centre


 

This close was where I walked down the street with my Sister

Hand in hand

Secure in the knowledge I was with

The only person who understood me

Fascinated by the stars in the coal black sky

Yet aching inside knowing she’d soon be married

And leave

Feeling somehow that things would change

Remembering my Parents conversation about upping sticks

Wondering what would become of us all

 

Childhood memoriesfamilyfeelingsgrowing uphomeparentssecuritysister

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Comments

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Jon

Thu 8th Feb 2018 13:43

Thanks to everyone who read, commented and liked The Close. I never intended to make it so lengthy and revisited it loads of times to edit and chop it down a bit.

I almost didn't put it on because of it's length but it's done now anyway. Cheers again everyone for taking the time out to read it.

Jon

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Richard

Thu 8th Feb 2018 10:43

What I love about this poem is the unashamed length. So often we rail against being too long or overwordy in the fear of perceived self-indulgence, both from the poet and his/her peers.
No such guilt on show here, oh no!
It's brilliant it's original it's long and all the better for it.
Thanks for being brave JBD, I would love to be in the audience for this one with a big bag of crisps and a sparkling water.

Well done my m8

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Pauliegreg

Fri 26th Jan 2018 17:29

Great childhood recollections, I think most people would be able to recognise the characters in this piece.
Loved reading it, thanks for sharing.
Paul ?

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Hannah Collins

Thu 25th Jan 2018 21:00

Amazing work, all life is here, all the characters that make up a village, a community, an estate.
Recognised many of them, especially Mrs Ashall and Francesca.

Hannah

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Frances Macaulay Forde

Thu 25th Jan 2018 02:55

A tale sweetly told.

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Jackie Phillips

Wed 24th Jan 2018 14:50

Really enjoyed reading this - it almost makes me feel like I remember all these things myself. I love pictures you paint with your words in this poem.

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keith jeffries

Tue 23rd Jan 2018 21:44

Jon, you have surpassed yourself again with such a passion for the nostalgia of your youth. Its detail takes the reader back to his or her roots and helps us to re live those days; to be reminded of those long forgotten characters who were our friends and neighbours. Your attention to detail reveals an exceptional memory. Yet what comes off this page is an account of a happy and secure childhood. Thank you for this remarkable poem which enlivened my imagination and brought back those near halcyon days. Keith

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Douglas MacGowan

Tue 23rd Jan 2018 21:00

Wow, that is quite a tale and a good snapshot of a neighborhood with all its characters and details that may be overlooked by someone just passing by.

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