Birthday Returns (2004)

My Most Memorable Memory Blank

What happened, at the time, is what I’ve been told.
Who remembers anything before five years old?
First, as a suckling, on a diet of milk.
Then, as a toddler, with a totter and tilt.
I’d gurgle and gargle, dribble and fart.
Wet my bed, as you do at the start.
Behind Mum’s back, mix up and make
A kitchen carpet infantile cake.

A small step for me when I started to walk.
Leaps and bounds when I started to talk.
Into my stride, the patter was slow
As I made Pu-tu-pe-tee of A cup of tea in my baby lingo.
Meantime, Sarah came out as a new entry
Gran staying behind to childmind me;
New Year’s Day ’66.
Can’t say whether I was jealous or thrilled to bits.

Anyway, I’ve since seen her baptism snaps
One double-exposed, her carefully wrapped.
Though the camera had long since come of age
Looked more like the 1860s on that album page!
It might be a con, those guests in a circle,
But that photo of me, sat on my tricycle,
I recollect like I really recall.
But two years old, I can’t be sure.

Like a lost weekend, suffering amnesia
But nothing to do with boozing or beer.
I was a dummy, being breast-fed.
A teetotaller, out of my head.
Intoxicated, a world of difference.
Not knowing better, I had my parents.
Surrounded by crayons, I drew a blank.
How I survived, they’re who to thank.

Sarah’s baptism

Clyst St. George

In 1969, I started state education
in a little village outside Exeter.
I only have a vague recollection
‘cos I’ve never been back there.

The picture I have is of a very small school.
I was very small.
So, it must’ve been minuscule.
I was five and far from tall.

Walnut Cottages, our fairy-tale house,
was next to a farm, cows grazing the green.
Legend goes dad once drowned a mouse
ruthlessly in the washing machine.

That winter, a heavy fall of snow
fell one morning in tonnes.
Down the lanes, traffic no-go,
we trudged to school in our wellingtons.

I had a cap and tie.
My shirt was white. My pullover, grey.
A satchel to carry bits’n’bobs by.
My Hare and Tortoise is a piece of pop’n’ma art today.

First school photo at Clyst St George
Hare and the Tortoise 1969/70?


Nothing immortal.
The closest I’d ever been.
Nature full-frontal.
The greenest of greens.

Country lane, couldn’t fly.
Took it home to a cage.
We hoped it wouldn’t die.
Stuck a feather on a page.

Holy Communion

It was 1971
When I took my First Holy Communion.
We were living in Torquay
And I was going to Assumption Primary.

Brought up the Catholic way
There comes the day
When you take the host.
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Mine was like the rest.
Hair in place and nicely dressed.
But what I remember most
Isn’t the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

No, not the taking of His Body for me
That special day in Torquay.
More the embarrassing pong
‘Cos I’d shat my pants, all gone wrong!

Second row, third from left

The Salvation Army Band

Every Sunday at six o’clock
They’d march by on the dot.
I’d be there at the window
Waiting for them all to show.

Down the street they’d come;
Faint at first, then a drum
‘Til trombones would drown
Seagulls in a seaside town.

Monday morning loomed
As they bashed and boomed
And as they turned the bend
I sadly saluted another weekend.



Going to Weymouth was always a joy.
But not a joy ride; I’d often get car sick.
But I do remember that road as a boy.
About 40 miles from Exeter, more still from Torquay.

Mum would try her best so I wouldn’t vomit:
The tunnel’s coming soon, and I’d feel better.
At the time it was what kept me going for the trip:
The long tunnel being the high point of the journey.

When we turned into Monmouth Avenue
Weymouth Bay was just around the corner.
Gran and Grandpa would come out; Hello! and Nice to see you!
We’d sit in the sitting room with a nice cup of tea.

John and Mollie, my fantastic grandparents!
Him in the garden, her in the kitchen. I loved ‘em to bits!
For us grandchildren I hope they knew what they meant.
More than just the odd bob they’d give us as extra pocket money.

John and Mollie, Dad, Sarah and me


Grandpa only had seven years or so
But, at that age, it seemed like centuries before he’d go.
Crisp cracked to Red Rum and staggered in second
As the era of the Aintree champion beckoned.

Slade wished us Merry Xmas and topped the charts
While I sat in the playground for classes to start.
Gary Glitter proved all that glitters ain’t gold
But his platinum records, nevertheless, sold.

Going as traffic lights to the Cub’s fancy dress
Marc Bolan, I fancy, was already T-wrecked.
Upset by Sunderland, how I cried when they won.
The Magpies couldn’t steal The Cup hands on.

The Bay City Rollers would seize English hearts
Turning uniformed girls into tartan tarts.
If any of this didn’t happen in the three years mentioned
Keep my memory behind for lack of retention.

My End-of-Term Report

*Everything in italics was in one of my school reports

John has worked well throughout the year
Although he tends to dream at times.
Often puzzled by new ideas,

His poems, occasionally, lack acceptable rhymes.

He is beginning to come out of his shell
And this is mirrored by his general improvement.
A most likeable boy, he should do well.

Enjoys a tipple, keen to experiment.

Somewhat hesitant when expressing himself orally
He isn’t, by nature, very forward.
His letters well-formed, his written work’s neat and tidy

But when getting round to e-mails, he’s easily bored.

A slight thickness in speech (i.e. a lisp),
He’s a co-operative and pleasant member of the class.
He has a natural flair for language and shows great promise

Though, after twelve years in Italy, he could roll his ‘R’s.

%d bloggers like this: