Sorts of Freedom
Last ditch revision – in the printer’s this morning – slum clearance ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Mum found an old photograph
Stuck to the Daily Sketches
Covering the floorboards
When she rolled up the kitchen oilcloth
The morning we moved out.
Posed at the Dove Row street party,
Celebrating the Coronation
Dad in his, Sunday best suit,
Specially redeemed from ‘uncle’,
Holding my little hand,
I’m waving a Union Jack
And standing tall.
Next to me, Ma, with baby Cissie in her arms.
Cissie died of diphtheria not long after.
Last minute ructions at the door.
Mum insisted her framed jigsaw
Of Trooping the Colour
Was to be the last thing out
Dad moaned that royalty were
“Inbred bastard parasites, not worth the money!”
Mum never stood for mockery of Majesty,
And clipped Dad’s ear for blasphemy.
Mother turned to lock the door.
Dad wiped away a tear and whispered,
“Don’t waste your energy, Ma.
There’s nothing left to nick no more.”
Mum sighed, “S’pose you’re right,”
And went inside, one final time,
To breathe the theft-proof mist of memories.
With a birdcage in one hand and the Queen in the other,
She rode, Boudicca proud, atop our horse drawn brewers’ dray
Crunching over the shimmering shards of crystal glass
That wall-to-wall carpeted Dove Row, Hackney, London, E 2
Dad ruined the moment by breaking wind,
And blaming the horse
Waving crude fingers at the neighbours
Whose turn to leave was yet to come.
And shouting, “See yous later, alligators.”
A gang of yahoos swarmed behind
Lobbing cobbles through panes that once displayed
Dusty aspidistras and crisp lace curtains.
Leaving bared for public disdain
The naked shame of
Yorkie stoves in need of blacking
Puppy dog wallpaper – tobacco stained,
Rusting tin baths on backyard walls
And thumb marked chunks of cheddar cheese,
A little something for rats out scavenging,
Left behind in sculleries.
Our brand new top floor council flat
Was clean, bright and airy.
On a clear day we could see the river…nearly.
The playground where the ‘Dog and Duck’ once stood
And Mum thumped out tunes on the ‘old Joanna’
And dad sang, “You are my heart’s delight,”
In velvet lounge bar Tauber tenor
Is home to vagrants, vandals, drug dealers.
It was dangerous out, so they stayed in,
Drinking off-sales Mackeson.
Sitting on the sofa holding hands,
“Never alone with a Strand,”
Watching Take Your Pick, Jukebox Jury,
And Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green.
Singing the jingles – the best things on telly;
“The Esso sign means happy motoring” –
“Murray Mints. Murray Mints. Too good to hurry Mints”
“You’ll wonder where the yellow went…”
Mum never got over dad dying –
Choking on a Christmas jaffa.
She blamed herself,
“It was me arthritis. I couldn’t do that Heinze’s Manoeuvre.”
“Mum, you’re free at last. Do whatever you bloody like.
What about a nice weekend down Margate?”
Mum’s mind mist lifted – a moment of clarity
She muttered, ” Do what I like? Margate? Free?
All I want is Dove Row back.
Me own front door.
Family round for Sunday dinner
And a canary bird what sings.”
“Bye mum, gissa kiss.”
I left her watching Rediffusion,
Humming “Beanz Meanz Heinz.”
Breaking through the child-proof top
Of her repeat prescription Mogadon.
And from high on the magnolia wall
The Queen looked down