Coming of Age in Oxford
A snapshot from my days of wonder.
February steals into March
Slinking away, taking
Of childhood hugs,
Adulthood lurks at the door,
Poised to engulf me,
I am destitute of place and property.
Nobel Prize winners, future presidents,
Will squat easing their bowels,
Underground in St Giles’
Where I curl, foetal-balled, on cubicle tiles
Beyond the reach of snow,
But not the withering cold.
Urgent workers rattle my door,
“Hurry up! What you up to in there?”
I wait for quiet and emerge
Blowing into my hands for warmth,
Rubbing sleep from crusted eyes,
Heading to find a breakfast of sorts
In the bleakness of an Oxford dawn.
The cardboard filling the hole in my sole
Is wet right through –
My socks are sodden too,
Rancid from a winter’s wearing.
My eighteenth birthday. I’m a man now.
If I’m nicked it means the truncheon and jail.
I wait for the law to patrol the farthest aisle
Kneel to lift a canvas cover
And snatching at packets blind –
Find dates for energy
And bourbons to dunk in the tepid tea
Dished up at the market stall.
With another tanner
I could buy a second cuppa.
Stay nice and warm an extra hour –
If I had another tanner.
Oxford’s historic alleyways
Stream thick with aspiring academics
Allured by dreams of glittering prizes –
They never notice me.
I spare no envy on the wealthy,
Or wonder at the stark beauty
Of winter naked trees shyly budding
Or the sedative of colleges
Swaddled in dreaming histories.
I walk head down,
Sloshing through grey grit gutter slush
Seeking a glittering prize of my own –
Two bob or half a crown.