The Lane Between Two Roads
A favourite later poem, being an honest descriptive writing from the experience of actually being there and remembering the different impressions awoken, including from local news items at the time. Pic.: is of Cox’s Walk
Walking Cox’s Walk, Dulwich, in 2009, enduring haunt from childhood, largely untouched since the last steam locomotive thundered through in 1954. Sadly, as for all who grew up in suburban London during the post-war years, with radical changes since diluting that identity, difficult now to reconstruct without being critical. In spite of awakening a glowing nostalgic mood while there, when change is too rapid and radical, it’s not a healthy process. Staying put and adapting to, being part of, ongoing change, taking different ages and the passage of absent time out of the equation. would presumably have a blurring, anodyne effect on this transition. Best to never go back?
choked back nostalgic tears
in October mist
turning into mugging tunnel of Cox’s Walk,
well-known to local rock ‘n rollers,
route 66 lovers,
lately of Zimmerman fame,
where, on rainy days, mud denies access
by Zimmer frame!
Mullard-valve man, a half-dement Sikh,
saunters on in front;
I shun his company now,
since proclaiming he’d
“lost his tits to a soup diet and diurnal power burning”
Not a healthy philosophy for a nonagenarian!
Back in the 50s,
my brother’s room was filled with his EL34 “milk-bottles,”
condensors, resistors, transistors, potentiometers.
An inveterate trader!
His latest shop, in a travel shop,
in a bulk-selling grocers, in the Saturday market,
sells slimming cures, fat tellies,
Morse signalling lamps,
and foolscap filing cabinets.
Unlike him, shortcutting only,
a man not enamoured of Nature and history,
I loiter to admire giant copper beeches,
allowing him to shuffle further ahead
in psychedelic trainers from Millets.
Aeroplane drone and police sirens
orchestrate wind changes
reeking of mouldered leaves and railway creosote,
as he flagrantly ignores too,
flagellating oaks leaning inwards,
old Colonial headmasters twitching their canes;
sadly now weak geriatrics,
ivy-hung, in broken ranks.
In my childhood they were robust, straight and proud,
smiling on war-born schoolchildren.
Looking today more like Somme veterans,
gnarled, mossy, with withered limbs,
to guard this old wooden railway bridge
spanning now nothing but undergrowth.
Between those central spars,
Pissarro once sat and painted,
festooned since with black initials carved
in pink ballooned hearts;
scribed by romantic visionaries
long since widely dispersed,
not the humbly tragic “accept their lot and live with it”
static proletariat local Brits of yesteryear;
persistent, uneducated owners of “Dunrovin”
council houses with fixed window shutters
in Spanish blue,
backyards stacked with beer crates, full ashtrays,
streetwise, fat, and diabetic, wearing maroon,
with loose tea-stained bridges,
shamelessly detaching while laughing between
the women too, matching blue balding heads,
like pierced old spoofs with blue, tired
broken, genetically overwhelmed
by decimating aftermath of two world wars,
they were bound to be outnumbered and
these dregs and stationary relics
of an Empire,
my beloved people.
Sun sinters into explosion of shattered leaves,
as Mullard-valve man
buffets past the new kissing gate
granting access to ancient woods.
The old “private” locked door remains,
desecrated, isolated, jammed shut in its frame;
now awash with milky graffiti patina,
paired at point of penetration!
Decent young lovers once climbed fences here
to avenge horrors of war,
lying entwined in coal steam,
beyond the woods in grass hollows,
regenerated doodlebug craters
by the now expanded
Spinning momentarily in,
suddenly tensely confronted
by indignant jogging Bollywood star
with bike-riding bodyguard dramatically braking;
eyes saying not to be mixed with;
imminent rape adjourned by work-seeking woman
unravelling seven choking dogs from leads
platted in a knot;
and resident institution cast-out
on his haunches, looking pitifully young.
Each day, repeatedly sectioning his brain
with boning knife,
crying with eyes screwed tightly shut,
rocking angrily, dazed by pharmaceuticals,
trapping himself again
in apple-half consumption dilemma.
Once a world-travelling rep. for Olivetti typewriters,
until struck down by ECT;
his two homes,
here and the mission hut.
Escaping back to snaking tunnel of love,
striding briskly past grey squirrels
and raucously squawking green parakeets,
I arrive at the exit gate,
where, in a flurry of Autumn leaves,
Mullard-valve man metamorphoses
into robust desert Somali in full burka,
sailing in on green passage breeze;
bouncing nearer, ever larger,
skull and crossbones
on her black spinnaker?
the lane handshakes with lower road,
on that very corner opposite,
in an old building that long preceded the
Grove Tavern alehouse (closed and boarded up now
Lord Byron went to his second school.
Did he venture up this same route,
a narrow path then, before the railway came?
I know Ruskin and the Brownings did…
probably frequent visitors
Dickens and Mendelssohn too!
Passing through on to the pavement,
Albanians look foreboding
in their clapped out Transit creeping hesitantly
to red lights;
lying low, weighted down by copper signal wire
and second charitable helpings from St Botolph’s roof;
tailed by navy blue HM Customs van,
clandestine operation only,
need backup, and viewer’s help, to arrest.
Needing rest, I turn into Albion Cricket Club,
where once a 15 year-old straight-armed opening bat,
first learned to defy onslaught of competitive life;
with eyes closed, I breathe deeply,
absorbing aroma of newly-mown grass;
desperately needing olfactory stimulation
to resuscitate an alien son
suffering once again from chronic