Friday August 13th 1971 59 Exeter Road, Peterborough.
5 p.m. This is the only Friday 13th of 1971, or so I am told, so I thought I may as well write a little of something. Actually, I have a few childhood memories that I want to put down “sur ce papier”, so to speak.
I have just started reading a book by a Norwegian who died last year. [Note from 2011 – Alf Prøysen, perhaps? Or, more likely, Tarjei Vesaas] . I think I’ll like it; it’s the sort of stuff I like!, to put it crudely. Playing Beethoven again. Boris Pasternak wrote Dr Zhivago, by the way (where else).
I haven’t written any poetry for quite a while now. Somehow nothing clicks. This morning I received £4.20 in cheque from Social Security, as I am out of work. I had some weird dreams last night – I’ve had a lot recently. But at least I’m feeling better now.
Rain on and off all day. Cool and cloudy and vaguely windy. I did not get the money back on the car, so I’m running it now – except that the battery keeps failing and it has to be charged up (it’s doing that now).
Maybe the generator (i.e. dynamo) is not working. Really, nothing has happened today. I slept until about 10.45 a.m., bought some milk, as there wasn’t much left, and had some shredded wheat. Went into town, met [xyz1], walked around a bit, I had a horlicks, she a coffee, in a café (Purdy’s – note from 2011, that was in Cathedral Square, Peterborough) and then we split – to use a trendy phrase. Phew, this is boring.
As our “front room” is being decorated, the tv is not working. I haven’t watched it much for a long time now and don’t miss it at all. We’re not rich enough for colour t.v. I wonder wonder if I’ll ever have one.
[Reminiscences…of Hunstanton, of the wild, relatively un-tamed area around an out of town caravan park, where we had a caravan, in the 1960s]… I remember standing in a marsh. Few bushes and trees, streams with steep banks and fast fish – too fast to catch! A lizard flashed by my feet, then it was lost in the weeds and long grass.
Outside this wet swampy field lay, to one side, a caravan park (i.e. to the North East). To the East was a tent camp site and the other two sides were nothing; just field and ditches - about 100 yards away were the stables and ponies for the beach.
Those days are past. Years ago I lived them, and loved them. And where are they now? Where are the friends we made and the girls? Where are the dusks and my walks by the still, silent streams, looking for frogs, tadpoles, fishes, swatting at gnats, carrying a tin can for my catches.
And the smell of it all! Salt from the sea, mud smells, water smells. Reeds and long grass. Dew and rain. And the rumbling of the train on the line not far away. Do I remember that big fire one afternoon and evening, miles away to the West or South West? Yes, the smoke drifting casually our way, the caravanners looking and pointing its way.
They are all gone. Lost in the lines of time. What is there now? Do I live on these memories? The memories of putting pennies and half pennies on the steel railway tracks and watching the trains rush by, waving to the occupants, climbing back up the embankment (after climbing back over the rusty wire fence) to see the flattened, sometimes also broken, coins.
In the mornings joining up with two friends to walk across the railway tracks, across another quiet still stream and into a wood, a copse. Here it was so quiet. Nothing could touch us. We found a baby bird, dead. On the ground it lay, naked, small wings curled up. Other birds sang, the strong orange-like sunlight swirled through the leaves. We laughed and played, trains roared by, their noise wrapped out and dulled by the trees.
Here I am today about 7, 8, 9, 10 years later. More or less? I am now 19 years and 10 months old. Several GCEs and A levels later I feel like a rusty tin can filled with half-dead fish myself. The train to Hunstanton has stopped going there.
So many of these small (but big in our minds) train services have stopped. The tracks have gone. The embankments overgrown and lost. The “special excursions” are now history.
[From 2011: here is a poem I wrote in March 1971 - about train rides to Hunstanton, from Peterborough]…White Summer
I was a child, I remember that well,
we took a train ride to a coast;
the early morning air brushed my legs
lifted my hair;
breakfast was bread and jam and milk, standing up,
looking at the clock in agitation and exasperation.
Too poor for taxi
so we walked along the night dark streets
to the train station and smoke,
Steam and smoke hiss
and bubbles drop on the sweating steely body;
funnel pokes high above me,
from the rails to the sky it seems to explode.
Already we move
we are inside a moving room in the growing light,
window open, clouds hang by, run by
before the sun is up and peeps
between dark woods asleep on quiet hills;
a farmer here a fisherman there
leaning on a tree by a sweeping stream
casting dreams to the storming wheels.
Talk talk we talk and laugh
and think of the day ahead
as the whistle howls
and the rails chatter like excited girls in town,
steam train, smoke train, take us to where we go,
summer, white summer, I remember your mornings
with crows in the sky
and rooks on their ways to the fields of wheat in the east,
trains and rivers and bridges,
the beaches on which we played I loved.
The hot airless sun stung my eyes and face,
the waves played with the sand in my hair.
Tea among the sand dunes,
supper on the train.
we are returning home
[Written March 14th 1971, 8 Southend Avenue, Darlington]