It’s an interesting experience taking your little yellow man down from his spot, dangling him in the air, putting him down on a street corner somewhere and then exploring that corner of the world with him. I’m writing an epic poem at the moment and yesterday I was wondering about the places I’d lived in as a child and what they might look like now. When I might I be able to visit? I asked myself; then suddenly a little yellow lightbulb came on and I thought: Google! I can go right now!!! So I did.
I have written a series of poems which track a journey into the past. First we go to Leicester to the West End where I lived for decades, an area bounded by two bridges, close to where Richard III was brought after the Battle of Bosworth Field and not a stone’s throw from where he was dug up again. The poems describing this are The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge, The Ode to the Upperton Rd Bridge and Richard III.
After this, we head to London and out on the Piccadilly line, the thin blue line that extends to Heathrow but used to stop at that great metropolis that is Hounslow West.
The station was once on the surface but has now burrowed underground, and as you come up to the street you glance up briefly to see what’s showing at the cinema before realising that the cinema is now masquerading as a carpet warehouse.* Then you turn and head to where the church spire pierces the sky.
Round the back the house stands just as it always did but the garden is now a block of flats (Vicarage Garden). But before any of this, the first thing you notice is the unbearable scream of the planes (Hounslow West.)
The shops have changed but the houses remain. My yellow man and I zoomed up the road and round the corner to my junior school – still the same though the buildings have been tarted up – and on up Sutton Lane to the Great West Road, that monument to post-war industry now a mere conduit from London to Heathrow fringed by abandoned factories. Before you get to Gillette’s corner there’s an alleyway called Quaker Lane which is closed to my little yellow man and me, but which took my green-uniformed friends and me from the bus stop down to school.
*OH was last night watching an interesting video about the current state of Hollywood which made me realise that the only good films I’ve seen in the last few years have been British. I’ll get to that another day.
The poems then head south to Sussex (Rye Harbour, Dungeness and Camber) but my yellow man and I took a trip to Edmonton to look at my second home (my first was in Hillingdon but I can’t remember where.) Again it was surprisingly unchanged – though the cars wouldn’t have been there the church still stands
with the vicarage next to it, the old tiled path still amazingly in situ – and my yellow man and I zoomed together down St Peter’s road where I once walked alone from the vicarage at the top to Eldon Rd school at the bottom. It seems a long way for an unaccompanied five-year-old but those were different times; the road was quieter and my mother stood and watched until I turned in at the gates.
These are iconic memories which I have turned into poems: the scream of the planes, the church spire sweeping across the lawn like a shadow of doom, the old air-raid shelter we discovered while playing in the grass; the red-brick church and consubstantial vicarage in Edmonton. Poetry is not Google. It’s the distillation of memory and its transmutation into art.