I have loved poetry from an early age — partly, I think, because it was one of my mother's passions. I clearly remember many of the poems of which she was fond: Robert Browning's Home Thoughts, from Abroad, Thomas Hood's I Remember, I Remember, Rudyard Kipling's If, Rupert Brooke's The Soldier and The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, all of John Betjeman. Her taste was nostalgic and traditional, typical of a generation which grew up during the war and the post-war years of austerity, and which looked back romantically at the perceived stability of the past: a colonial England where everyone knew their place, an idyllic, semi-mythical England of cricket matches, country churchyards and village greens. She lived first in London, then in Doncaster — both big railway centres (her father was a draughtsman for the LNER — indeed, he helped design the coaches for the famous locomotive, The Flying Scotsman). An only child, her heart lay, not in the smoky town or city, but in rural Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire, where her cousins lived. As a young woman, she joined the Searchlight Regiment; then, after the war, worked in a bank, cared for her mother who had breast cancer, and met and married my father, becoming a partner in his milling business. But I digress.
Where was I? Ah, yes — books, books . . . Somehow the memories of books become entwined with all sorts of other memories: memories of childhood, of school, of holidays, of adolescence. As I've related before on this blog, my mother used to keep diaries and commonplace books, and folders full of poems, aphorisms and other quotations she'd written out in a neat hand. Her character was quite serene and philosophical — and she had a quiet sense of humour too. Recently I found this, which she'd copied from The Dalesman magazine (my family was steeped in religion, agriculture and country living):
A farmer knocked at the pearly gate,
His face was scarred and old.
He stood before the man of fate
For admission to the fold.
'What have you done' St Peter asked
'To gain admission here?'
'I've been a farmer, sir', he said
'For many and many a year.'
The pearly gate swung open wide
As St Peter touched the bell.
'Come in' he said, 'and choose your harp,
You've had your taste of hell!'
I also came across this wry piece by Spike Milligan:
The Dog Lovers
So they bought you
And kept you in a
Very good home
A deep freeze
A very good home.
No one to take you
For that lovely long run —
A very good home.
They fed you Pal and Chum
But not that lovely long run
Until, mad with energy and boredom,
You escaped — and ran and ran and ran
Under a car.
Today they will cry for you —
Tomorrow they will buy another dog.