The Ever Given Even Farmers wouldn’t give us credit to buy a cutlery set because we owed no one anything back then and friends gave us shelter housing us and our Aiwa That had come from London with us through the newly opened Suez all the way from Shepherds Bush with Bohemian Rhapsody on vinyl We saw King Tut in situ and a small boy in Somalia, living in a Sony TV carton A man with a gun patrolled The Sphinx In Cairo, but there were very few tourists In Auckland, my sister met our ship which if you knew her was a bold and beautiful moment for us all, but more in retrospect as many things in life are We were home with 50 cents between us relying on friends with kids and a spare bedroom, determined never to succumb to suburbia, certain we knew better When the ‘Ever Given’ blocked the Suez recently, we marvelled at just how narrow the canal really is and how tall the ship was laden with who knows what, people speculated, perhaps needles for our vaccine roll-out, or fabric for front-line workers… people worried because a shipment of sex toys was stranded not all happy endings can be bought and paid for and we knew that Like Freddy we’d tried to break free Only to find a quiet beauty in domesticity And now that we are officially elderly we are grateful to the ‘Ever Given reminding us we once sailed the Suez homeward, filled with towering ambition only to turn sideways and if not exactly stuck, definitely frequently adrift
It was the 1960’s. Mother’s cream and green electric washing machine replete with pump, agitator, and safety wringer took pride of place in the wash-house beside the old copper. The mastermind behind this locally produced electric washing machine was an Estonian migrant Karl Pallo. The washing machine bore his name. Mother marvelled at the agitator that would replace her hands to rub and rinse and rid the clothes of grime. Before the Pallo arrived in our lives, she boiled the bed sheets in the copper. A small fire would be lit beneath to warm the water. A stick from the woodshed, bleached and boiled over the years, would stir, the way this new modern machine would now do automatically. If there was no time for a fire, or to boil, Mother would hand wash. She would hold a bar of bright yellow Sunlight soap and press the fabric of Father’s work shirts or trousers, firmly against the glass washboard, rubbing, scrubbing. Sometimes this was done before clothes were placed to boil in the copper. Her biceps were legendary. Not just from scrubbing clothes, but hand beating butter and sugar for the light sponges she made and cooked in the Coal Range. Hauling the coal bucket from the shed, chopping the kindling. She had no need of a gym membership and no time for Yoga.
The copper was legendary for more than just the washing. It was used to cook the Christmas ham in the early years of my childhood. Family lore has it, that one year, Father’s stepfather came to stay, and he tipped the boot polish (which was kept on top of the copper), into the copper when the ham was cooking. It seems the polish formed a film on top of the water, and the ham that year was the best ham ever. I cannot confirm or deny this as I do not remember the ham, but it obviously did us all no harm, as there were no aftereffects.
Now the machine had arrived, the cream and green Pallo. Mother was wondering what she would do on a Monday. But there was still the chore of lifting the clothes from the agitated waters, and hauling the bed sheets, heavy with soap and water, into one of the twin stone tubs to rinse. Then there was the wringer. This was attached to the washing machine and meant two rollers would press the water from the washing. You had to be careful. Stories abounded of young girls with long hair who had become entangled in the wringer rollers. No one I knew, knew anyone to whom this had happened, but we heard about it. Whole arms could be dragged through the rollers, bones crushed, perhaps even necks wrung. And there was still the mammoth task of carrying the heavy bed sheets, still reasonably dense with water, despite the wringer, and throwing them across the rotary clothesline under the plum tree.
Mother would stop for a ciggie, draw in deeply, inhale, and then blow the smoke back out energised by the nicotine, ready for the next stage. The sheets would hang double over the line and the line would rotate if there was a decent breeze. Usually, the scorching summer sun was enough. But in winter, a breeze was needed to spin the Rotary clothesline and dry the washing.
Years later, when Mother had died, and Father was living alone and doing his own washing, every Monday, we would visit with our children. He was a man of singular routine. His day consisted of a walk to the rubbity-dub which opened at eleven o’clock on the dot. Our two sons would walk with him through the school path, under the bluegum tree, past the Holy Trinity Church, down the road, past what was the old cinema, and he would buy them chewing gum and let them play at the playground, just close to the pub. We would pick up the children as soon as the pub opened. He would eat a half roast every day at the pub and return home for a nap and then back to the pub at 3.00 pm for another round. This was primarily for the company by now. A table of old war veterans who sat and talked. Father was the listener. He would sip his flat tap beer from the jug and nod and occasionally comment, and then head home. If we were staying on holiday, he would arrive home to a cooked meal and if he were alone, he would open a tin of creamed corn, unheated to eat.
Mondays, Father would continue with Mother’s washing routine. He would grab a handful of soap powder. A generous handful, never measured, and toss it into the agitating water. Then he would call out to see if we had any washing we wanted done. Hubby in those days, when our boys were young, had expensive linen shirts and learned to hide his good laundry and toss his boxer shirts for his father-in-law to wash. We would discreetly hand wash anything that might not withstand Father’s washing routine. The soapy water would swish and swash as Father’s sheets swirled. Our lads would stand, mesmerised by the movement of the agitator which by now (after over 30 years), was held in place by a lump of 4 x 2. Father had been a builder and he knew what to do with a piece of 4 x 2. Then the sheets would go through the wringer, and this was even more fascinating to our young lads who would stand on the other side of the wringer, ready to receive the yards of sheeting being fed through. By this stage, the wringers had bowed, and the sheets were almost as wet after going through the wringer as they had been before. There would be just the once rinse and not two like Mother always did. Thus, the sheets would hang, stiff as boards, soap encrusted, whiter than white, mostly soap powder, drying in the scorching summer sun.
It was with a sense of sadness that we sold the house with the washing machine still in the wash-house and the copper still in situ, when Father passed away. I marvel now at my own built-in laundry (under the staircase), with front loading washing machine and dryer, automatic settings, and barely a bicep required. I go to body tone classes to earn my biceps and stretch my fascia. Mother had no need of such classes. Her body was always moving. She beat eggs by hand, chopped firewood, hauled coal, washed, waxed, and polished the linoleum, and rewarded herself on a Saturday with a 2/6d cake of fruit and nut chocolate, one leg under her bum, perched on a chair, eating chocolate, and doing the cryptic crossword. Better than Yoga really.
Her smile, more infectious than Covid
I am vaccinated against life’s travails
via an iphone app that includes emojis
But a granddaughter almost three
who is bi-lingual, is a tonic beyond
either Pfizer or AstraZeneca, or any
other laboratory cultivation
We need no language although she
now speaks three, English, Korean
and smatterings of Te Reo
Her second name Aroha means love
but is transformed when spoken
at her local childcare, to Arawa, which
in Te Reo translation means canoe
and alludes to migration and I
wish her a canoe to visit me
but will settle for Kakao, the
Korean version of Viber or whatever
App you are using to transmit
your love around the world
I am 50, with tight hamstrings on the mat at the soccer club squeezing my pelvic floor practising, breathing in and out The outward breath is a rush like the end of sex or perhaps the beginning, who knows, but it is a collective womb-like sigh I’m older than most of the other women, their tight bright bums and their talk of babies, or troubles with the teachers My troublesome two are adults and I’m fascinated, eavesdropping to know just how obsessed these tight bright bums are with mothering I hear of sex as a tradeable commodity a reward, a bribe, a something to feed in dribs and drabs like a treat to eat, if you promise to be a good boy I realise I had it all wrong perhaps the fact I thought sex was recreational essential, mutual and uncomplicated something two people enjoyed I’m relieved I’m not a tight bright bum in fluro who trades sex for income or sex for a South Pacific bure that I can earn my own holidays thanks I hunker down on the mat, continue breathing, glad my pelvic floor is responding, pleased it’s not been wasted as a bargaining chip.
My first novel ‘About turns’ started life as a draft called Colonel Bogey. When it came time for publishing this book, Random House (2005) asked around their office if any of their staff knew what Colonel Bogey was… it seemed this old marching tune was unknown. I’m very grateful, as the new title which I decided on, is the best and a lovely play on words. But anyway, I’ve written a poem instead, called ‘Colonel Bogey’… a marching poem. I kind of like that my writing goes not highbrow but with the less literary to review our Kiwi lives.
Through the creaking turnstile
Like sheep for the dipping, guts
aflutter, hats askew, excitedly
busbies, chinstraps, multi-coloured
feathers, barely eaten breakfasts
onto the long-forgotten mudflat
home to the rugby, the cricket
and sometimes marching girls
claimed the paddock, named
after the battle of Trafalgar, for
after all, this was Nelson in the
sixties and all things Colonial
Legs dressed in Coppertone, DHA
on dead skin cells, the smell of
every tournament, the orange of it
Kilted men with bags and chanters
juggling drones, cradling tartan
bags for music lovingly underarm
the skirl, the dying whine, the
underlying groan of it, a singular
drum, the thrum and thrill of it
Oh, how we loved the pipers
Their hairy be-skirted masculine legs
The seduction of their sporrans
But the kneel-down salute or pivot
wheels needed a brass band drumkit
precision in each beat to match our feet
The Pipers stirred our hearts, lifted
our spirits, but a Piper out of breath
could spell death to the display march
it began with the fall-in, serious stuff
with callipers measuring every inch
along the matching backs of boot heels
Marker, the Leader would call, and
as if summoned by God, she would
march precisely, the perfect steps
Landing squarely on that white disc
for to miss the disc was to upend
our chances of making the medals
By the end of the day, leg tan stained
the seats of the grandstand, hats sat
askew, spectators started to dwindle
All we wanted was the music to fill the
park, our hearts returned to the pipers
to the kilted drum major, his mace of silver
The maze march, our triumph, banners
aloft, tubas and drones, multiple drums
and who knows, perhaps Colonel Bogey
The girls who went to private schools
and learned to do a pirouette at bar
would secretly look and envy us from afar
But only now they dare to admit this.
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
(Four Quartets, Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot).
I am standing somewhere in Leicester Square. It is either midnight or close to. I am inside a red phone booth. Maybe it reeks of urine, but I do not remember. In my hand is a black receiver with a mouthpiece into which I am speaking. My head is nestled into an earpiece straining to catch the words coming from 12,000 miles away. I can hear my own words echoing back at me over the voice of my mother, and then my father. Just before the three minutes is up, an operator interrupts our stilted conversation to let me know that if I wish to continue, I need to insert more coins. Three minutes is all I can afford and all it affords me, is a series of frantic hellos and goodbyes echoing into the night. It is 1972, phone calls are expensive.
Christmas that same year, I am in Edinburgh living in a neoclassical (now historic A listed) building in Leith, on the edge of respectability. My flat is dark, bitterly cold and has a bold red street facing front door. A telegram arrives to wish me Merry Christmas Stop and a Happy New Year Stop. Each word costs my parents a small fortune, the two stops included. We are not on Viber, we cannot see each other and my blue aerogrammes take a week or two to cross the dateline homewards. My Dad drinks at the local pub after work every night. He is good friends with the local postman. Sometimes, if an aerogramme has arrived before delivery the next day, the postman will take my letter and deliver it in person to my Dad at the pub.
I grew up in a modest post-war Jerry-built wooden bungalow. Ostensibly we were working-class but New Zealand was more egalitarian back then. In our street including my Dad, a carpenter, were the butcher, a baker, a painter, a chemist, a doctor, three schoolteachers, and eventually, years after I left, a Prime Minister. Most women back then were not in paid work, well not in our street. We had no telephone. If we wanted to call my grandmother we needed to walk to the top of our street, up a small hill, to a phone booth. I was born in a cottage hospital at the top of that hill. My father and I received the news of my grandmother’s death in that phone booth. My mother was with my dying grandmother. Dad and I walked up the hill to the phone booth to call for news. I recall I screamed. A man passing by in his car, heard me scream, stopped and came to rescue me – seeing me in a phone booth with my Dad, and not knowing quite what was going on. This same man, when he learned our sad news, that my grandmother had just died, drove us up to my grandmothers.
When I lived at home, I woke each morning to the sound of the BBC News, as my father washed himself in the bathroom and sang. We had a tin bath but no shower. His ablutions were a ritual of running water and a lot of sloshing. Big Ben would chime before the news over shortwave radio and the news reader had a gravitas that brooked no doubt. No one speaking in such a well-bred, carefully modulated timbre could possibly be telling other than the truth. The Cuban Crisis, Kennedy’s assassination, and his funeral, all came to us from the blue Bakelite radio above the small green fridge. The fridge I might add, was a modern wonder that had replaced but not entirely, the safe above the kitchen sink near the coal range.
My eldest brother left school to join the Merchant Navy and was travelling as a teenager to the Pacific Islands specifically Nauru for phosphate and up to Hong Kong and Japan. He returned from a trip with a portable tape recorder as a gift for me. It had a small microphone for recording and tiny reel to reel tapes. My best friend and I would visit the local shops and record our conversations with the fruiterer or the local bookshop. I would secrete the tape recorder, uncomfortably under my cardigan. I would disguise the microphone which hung around my neck with a daphne cutting from my mother’s garden. We felt like spies and thought ourselves entirely clandestine. I cannot recall any of the recordings, but I smile now to think that we thought we fooled anyone.
Many families back in the 60’s owned stylish stereograms, which appeared to be as much about furniture as about music. Some cabinets that housed the turntable also converted into a drinks cabinet. Our very first musical turntable was a wind-up gramophone and from memory, we had two records. One was Mario Lanza which may well have been quite hi-brow and the other played the Irish song The Stone Outside Dan Murphy’s Door. The gramophone was in a case that sat on the floor in the front room when it was played and then it was put away in the big cupboard in Mum and Dad’s bedroom. Unless you wound the handle sufficiently, the record would slow right down and that is my memory of the final refrain of the song which repeats the title, in a slow motion sound as the gramophone wound down. Many years later, an older sibling purchased a full-size ACME reel to reel tape recorder. We taped from the radio and had everything from Herman’s Hermits, the Beatles, Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Simon and Garfunkel, Sandie Shaw, Helen Shapiro, Diana Ross and Cilla Black. When I look back, we were lucky with so many outstanding female singers to listen to back then. Our influences were very much persuaded by the English pop charts early on, rather more than the American.
Then in the early 70’s, travelling by myself, I took my music with me on a small cassette player, listening to Carole King, Cat Stevens, Donovan, Neil Young and Blood Sweat and Tears, mostly American music. Later, in the mid 70’s, travelling with my now husband, we would make recordings of ourselves talking to our families on small cassettes and post these small cassette tapes home. The cassette would then be recorded over by the recipient, my husband’s brother, or my Dad, as by then my mother had died. I still recall our laughter, as we sat in a Norsk hytter surrounded by metres of snow, as my future brother-in-law back in New Zealand with a young family, regaled us with the woes of the newly instigated daylight saving. The entire one-way conversation was meticulous detail of the complications of old time and new time, the impact it was having. It made no sense to us that someone could be so disturbed by a one-hour difference in their lives. We’d just hitch-hiked to Lapland to observe the Midnight Sun. It wasn’t until we had our own family in the late 70’s and very early 80’s, that that one-hour difference when putting a toddler to bed, finally registered with us.
All my photos taken when travelling by myself in the early 70’s, including a solo Greyhound Bus trip around the USA, living in London, Newcastle, Manchester, Edinburgh and Norway, were recorded on slides. When I returned for the first time from overseas, a friend of my dear maiden aunt’s, invited me to her house along with her local friends and neighbours to show my slides. I recall how amateur my slides were, so dark and different from the instantly captured high resolution photos that an iPhone can capture. We were all in her front room, the lights out, a slide projector was whirring as photos of me in a purple midi coat standing by Cleopatras Needle on the Thames finally came into focus upon a white bed-sheet on the wall. The audience were all appreciative and I was the feted returning traveller. London, our Colonial homeland, and I had been there, although both my mother and father were born in New Zealand. Watching Helen Mirren before she was famous, at Stratford on Avon in a Royal Shakespeare production which from memory was performed outdoors by the river. But memory fails me on which particular play.
For a short time during my OE, I was staying in Nazareth Pa, USA having fallen in love with an American Coastguard sailor who had dodged the Vietnam Draft by signing up for seven years on the Icebreakers. We met at the Downtown Club in Wellington in the late 60’s and I ended up staying for some weeks with his family who were bemused by this girl from Downunder. I recall Polaroid photographs were the technology of that time, an instant image rolling out from the camera in technicolour. I kept a couple from that era, but they have faded. Then, more recently, my daughter-in-law purchased a brand-new super-duper Polaroid camera which had a brief moment in our lives, but not for very long. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, the list continues and images of sunsets and sunrises so ubiquitous as to be rendered schmaltzy. Everyone is a photographer, and everyone can communicate almost instantly with almost anyone in the world. We are blinded by sunsets, sunrises, and airbrushed joy.
When I returned from my travels in the mid to late 1970’s, I was employed for a while with the Time Life Magazine Sales Office in Auckland. These were heady days when triple page spreads for Rothmans or some Liquor brand, kept the magazine viable. The Sales Team at Time simply wined and dined the advertising agencies at such places as Antoine’s, Le Brie or Clichy’s ensuring ongoing advertising placements. It was a time of lavish expense accounts and too, the emergence in Auckland of trendy fine dining. Time Magazine had prestige and clout back then. Possibly a time of general naivety without the Twitter trail of fact checking. I recall an issue of Time Magazine dedicated to South East Asia when Muldoon and some sheep were on the front cover. Advertising was easy to sell with a front-page story about New Zealand. Journalists and a famous photographer, Rick Smolan, fresh from his filming of Robyn Davidson trekking across Australia on a camel, came to New Zealand for about three days. Nowadays, Robyn Davidson would be more likely instagramming her own journey on a camel. I recall Rick Smolan travelling light with a camera slung across his shoulder and the straps of the camera festooned with baggage tags. Baggage tags back then were an overt status symbol. Those of us who travelled, left the tags on our suitcases, proof of our international adventures. The photographer and a couple of Time Life journalists travelled to Taupo. They stayed at Huka Lodge and wrote romantically about Zane Grey and fishing in Lake Taupo. I saw the expense account. For the price paid, I envisaged scuba divers in the lake putting trout onto the fishing lines of the journalists… but worse than that, the statistics in the primary piece about New Zealand, specifically about child mortality were somehow grossly over misrepresented. There were other factual errors and my faith in the 4th Estate began to wane.
I recall the heady afternoon, when one of the Time Life Sales Team brought in a fax machine. It was I think 1977 and the fax didn’t really take off for everyday use commercially until the 80’s. We may well have been the very first commercial companies in New Zealand to receive a fax. A small group of us waited in the boardroom with the Sales Team, our eyes glued to a compact machine on the coffee table. A fax came through from the Time Life Sydney office. Prior to that, the communications had been by telex. Back in the sixties, when I joined the Post Office as a shorthand typist, we would use up to six carbon sheets when typing a single memorandum, so that it could be circulated around the branch office. I was also responsible on shifts, for a small switchboard answering incoming phone calls and plugging the phones in manually to the extensions required.
About ten or fifteen years ago, we rented a holiday house in the Marlborough Sounds. The house had its own private beach reached by boat from Picton. We were somewhat surprised to read the instructions left by the owner of the house regarding phone calls. The house was on a party line and we were told not to answer the phone unless it was (for example, as I no longer recall exactly), long short long. Throughout the long weekend, the phone rang and rang incessantly. It was the same number (not ours) over, and over again. Finally, in frustration, my friend answered the phone. The caller was from London and furious that we had answered the phone, thus incurring her the cost of the call. She did, however, stop phoning, thank goodness, as it seemed obvious to all of us that whomever she was calling was not at home that weekend.
I contrast all of this with my solo adventures around the USA in 1972, doing a Greyhound bus trip from Vancouver Canada down the West Coast and up the East Coast including forays to Las Vegas (in those days, merely a strip and a few pokie machines). I even naively and yet safely, hitch-hiked on several occasions. Thankfully, my mother and father back in New Zealand, knew nothing of my adventures, apart from postcards that probably arrived, long after any perilous adventures. Too, there were broken hearts that I healed by myself, without recourse to instant contact with close friends and family back in New Zealand. My adventures were frequently about romance and idealised love, and I am glad in retrospect to have had these challenges to myself, made mistakes that only I know of, and poured my heart out into a diary, from which several pages have been torn and destroyed. The short few weeks when I was certain I was pregnant after unprotected sex. My mother back in New Zealand didn’t need to know and I had no one to tell. When I bled, it was a great relief. I’m glad I wasn’t in daily contact with my mother during these times. Too, when I ended up at the clinic for sexually transmitted diseases after my first sexual experience. This was a solo adventure, the penicillin worked and to be honest I was mortally ashamed. I imagine nowdays, that it might even be Twitter worthy news. That same first experience spawned a successful poem, fifty years later.
I’m on Twitter nowadays and mostly for the political links that I find. I’m fascinated by the banal, trivial and outright nasty comments that people I admire are prepared to post. Most recently Neil Gaman and his partner Amanda Palmer, stranded here in New Zealand during lockdown, enacted the early stages of a relationship breakdown, live on Twitter. My thoughts were for the innocent child in the middle of this so very personal muddle. Oh, I judged them, I did, but I could see that most people responded with empathy and compassion. And as happens on Twitter, many took sides, alas. It all seemed odd to be washing their laundry in public as my mother might have said.
I compare the use of Twitter and contrast this with the gravitas of the BBC News on shortwave radio. At least now I can verify facts, double check with several sources and make informed decisions. So I’m not wishing to go back to a time of censorship. A time when I idolised JFK and Jackie Kennedy and knew nothing really of American Politics. A time when I loved the Royal Family and went eight miles on the suburban bus to the picture theatre to watch the film of Princes Margaret’s wedding. Innocence indeed, and we also stood at the local Picture Theatre for God Save the Queen. A few dissidents in the more expensive seats at the back, often protested by sitting down, but we kids in the cheap front three rows knew nothing of politics. We were in thrall to the Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s and Paramount Pictures. Enchanted by the raising of the rich velvet scallop shaped curtain as it rose from the stage to expose the white screen. Billy Vaughan’s Sail Along Silvery Moon can still transport me to the magic of the Saturday Matinee, a sense of wonder. Yet nowadays I’m more likely to watch foreign films and arthouse movies than blockbuster Hollywood releases.
I started work as a sixteen-year-old at the Post Office, working on an Imperial 66 manual typewriter pounding the keys with up to five or six carbon copies. And today I write this essay from my brain to the screen on a Surface Pro that is so light, I carry it like a clutch bag. My travel in the 70’s was not documented on Instagram or Facebook. I have barely any photographic record of this adventure and instead I must retrieve these memories from my own internal memory bank without Facebook to prompt me, or photos from my phone. I can switch screens to check Facebook, check my phone for updates from Radio New Zealand about Covid-19 cases, use Google to verify the spelling of Rick Smolan the famous photographer I met briefly in 1977 and return with ease to place my thoughts on a screen that allows me to justify, spellcheck, delete and importantly to ‘save’, ready for emailing my entry to the Landfall Essay Competition. No doubt Instagram will remind me of the looming deadline.
They say she biked in her ballgown
possibly in a brace, and her with just
one kidney and a ciggie dangling from
the corner of her marvellous mouth
The black sheep of the family, we
thought, a scandal for daring to dance
but then it turned out, her quiet older
sister had a baby out of wedlock
The lock on wed is worth scrutiny in
retrospect, possibly related to the
Death do us part people mentioned
when marrying back then
Another sibling, a younger brother
managed to impregnate a married
woman twice, before she died in
childbirth and he married another
Thank God for adoption everyone
thought back then, and the locals
conspired to contain the secrets
known as the fabric of society
We think of weaving, stitching and
the spinning of yarns, and that’s
just what they did, they hid knots
it was all more warp than weft
And we were left to unpick the
pieces, years later when grown
men arrived in the image of once
unknown fathers to surprise us
Including the girl whose family
won the Golden Kiwi and who
grew to look remarkably like
the Parish Priest who relocated
Where documentation fails, we
have our own imaginations, on-line
DNA matching and curiosity to
rewrite our family histories
Saintly mothers with secrets
that speak of wild passions to
inspire their granddaughters
(for Emma Aroha)
In lockdown she learned to wish the moon goodnight
Muddling two languages to make a new word for water
I learned to say pada and she knew it was the sea
Bashing back the Spinifex dodging spikey grasses
Chasing seagulls in circles on freshly wet sand
In lockdown she learned to wish the moon goodnight
Nana is my Kiwi name, in Korea I’m Halmoni
We talked to stars together, marvelled at the moon
I learned to say pada and she knew it was the sea
We inspected dying jellyfish followed scuttling crabs
New words emerged, that neither of us understood
In lockdown she learned to wish the moon goodnight
We ate lunches purchased from the local bakery
I discovered strawberries are also called ttalgi
I learned to say pada and she knew it was the sea
Some days we walked and talked to teddies
In the trees, on windowsills, all unexpectedly
I lifted her to wave to them her new-found friends
In lockdown she learned to wish the moon goodnight
I learned to say pada and she knew it was the sea
Almost five o’clock, the sun dropping
Late winter sun streaming through trees
Bouncing like a disco light on the choppy sea
And then there’s me, climbing the zig zag
Past my old home, its garden now neglected
And I’m tempted to open the gate, but
I don’t, I move on and up to the top road
Where, as I round the last bend, I catch
What might be birdsong so soft against
The evening, this love-song, this mother
And her baby whispering, and she is
Walking the way I remember walking
Each footstep the most grounded ever
Not fast, not slow, but sure-footed
Pushing her new-born, one week old
She tells me, her face and the baby’s face
Brighter than the dropping sun, one
Week and she is sure-footed, and slow
And the road is but a carpet of love below
Her radiant footsteps, she could be flying
And I am crying now for I remember this
And the old house below holds all
Those heartaches that those footsteps
Belied, those footsteps denied, those
I loved you my Hermes Rocket
Portable in your beautiful case
Those black keys, the clatter
Your smooth black platen
The gentle smack of carriage
My unfamiliar fingers practising
For School Cert, in the front
Room on the carpet square
No chair clakkity clakkity clack.
I left you for an Imperial 66
sturdy, upright, dark grey metal
Weighing a ton or more I’m sure
Requiring a new dexterity
Depressing heavy metal keys
Oh what a squeeze it was, each
Internal memo needing six copies
Carbon paper sandwiched in
Between, and how to keep
Each copy clean, clack, clack.
And then you, my flash Corona
With darling cream keys indented
Each finger knew its place upon
Your keyboard both chunky and light
So modern and bright by
Comparison and portable too
I think you were deluxe, but it is
So long ago, I can’t be sure
I know I loved you though
Your softer clakkity-clack.
I learned to type at school
With an apron over the keys
Each finger knew its place
And there was a certain grace
A ballet to the position of the
Fingers, so light and yet so heavy
Too. There was backspace but no
Button for delete. When Twink
Arrived we were surprised, although
Nothing can compete with accuracy
The golf ball electric, was my first
IBM Selectric, and I missed the rise
And fall, the gentle arc of metal
Arms reaching to the platen the
Falling clatter clatten sound and
Now this ceaseless whirring
No ribbons to replace, no keys
To catch each other in a momentary
Embrace, a chance to stop and breathe
With carbon running up my sleeve
It wasn’t long before the typewriter
Got a memory and all my skills of
Pound and pace were lost upon the
pretty face, of lightness and technology