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Bittersweet

171011CannChurch
St Rumbold’s, Shaftesbury. Picture: http://www.dorset-churches.org.uk

With her silver curls catching the breeze
and dementia starting to clog her mind
Mum enters the graveyard
at St Rumbold’s where, 50 years ago, she wed.

Ivy crawls over crumbling masonry
obscuring names, some she knew.
On her knees, she tugs at weeds
to reveal decayed letters

spelling the name of a friend
destined to be forever young.
Billy was in my class.
Died of polio
.”

Handkerchief in hand
she wipes away
green moss
from the little boy’s name.

I stand aloof not wanting to encroach
on this tender ritual
that’s suddenly charged
with meaning.

Mum pockets the stained hanky.
I help her up
her left leg weakened
by the disease that took her pal.

Polio to contend with as well as Hitler’s bombs.
This thought lurches me to my own childhood
when Mum using her spittle as polish
rubs my grubby face with a Kleenex

and tames my unruly hair with Brylcreem
as Airfix planes dangle in a bedroom dogfight
before the rickety minibus takes
me to St Rumbold’s for Sunday School

where, huddled in the belfry, we hear how
Christ cured a lame man on the Sabbath.
Later, at big school, I queue patiently
for the sugar cube that came too late for Billy.

 

 

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Broken Eggs

150327ShaftesburyWEB1
Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset.

I was avroze when I left my bed to aggy.
The hens, peckin’ at their dewbit, were joppety-joppety
and I woz leery as they kept me from my furmenty.
Eggs slipped through my avroze fingers ’cos I woz  too hasty.

What a blather, but ’twoz too late to blether.
I woz flummocked and did bibber next to the mixen.
I felt a noggerhead, nay a nirrup,
and yearned for any maggoty excuse.

I told Granfer and Grammer a haggler, leading a hag-rod marten,
daddered the hens, making  them crousty and the eggs cracked.
’ Twer a caddle as the haggler fled over the knap ’cross the cowlease.

But Grammer spied the yoke and shell on my fingers.
She did ballyrag me, called me a footling
and Granfer tanned my hide ’cos I lied.

Richard Foster
May 2017

Dorset Dialect Glossary

Avroze: frozen
Aggy: to gather eggs
dewbit: the first meal of the morning
joppety-joppety: nervous trepidation
leery: hungry
furmenty: sweet spiced porridge from hulled wheat
blather: an uproar
blether: to bleat
flummocked: frightened
mixen: dung heap
noggerhead: blockhead
nirrup: donkey
maggoty: fanciful
Granfer: Granfather
Grammer: Grandma
caddle: muddle
daddered: bewildered
crousty: ill-humoured
footling: beneath contempt
caddle: muddle
 haggler: itinerant dealer
knap: knoll, rising ground
cowlease: an unmown field
ballyrag: to scold
hag-rod: bewitched
marten:  a barren heifer

Lonnie misses Elvis

170629Skiffle

Sans guitar, feeling naked before 12 million viewers,
I play stilted TV comedy with Perry Como
and Ronald Reagan who asks “What is a Lonnie Donegan?”

They call me the Irish Hillbilly.
Scottish Cockney is more precise
but that would have muddied the waters.

A benefit concert for the Girl Scouts,
then a residency at the Copacabana of Brooklyn
with its Vegas vibe and sinister Mob connection.

They allow me to play guitar on a ten-week tour
with Chuck Berry. Skiffle and rockabilly meet
in Motown when I hook up with a Memphis trio.

We go back to Tennessee for the fishing
and enjoy midnight barbecues strumming
lazy guitars lubricated by Southern Comfort.

Fireflies dance with glowing embers
as we eat crappies smoked on
charcoal seasoned with salty skiffle.

The trio take me to see their mate Elvis
but he’s out, so the kings of rock ’n’ roll
and skiffle never meet; ain’t that a shame.

I beat it back to Blighty.
after sparring with Knucklehead,
a dummy on a kids’ TV show.

No longer the catalyst
of a musical revolution,
I’m left with novelty songs:

Oh, my old man’s a dustman
He wears a dustman’s hat
He wears cor blimey trousers
And he lives in a council flat…

Richard Foster
July 2017
I wrote this poem after reading Billy Bragg’s social history Roots, Radicals And Rockers: How Skiffle Changed The World.

Unknown Patient

170901NashWar
The Menin Road (1919) by Paul Nash

Pulled from the shelled dugout
physically unscathed
his identity is left entangled in the wreckage.
“Who are you?” the white coats ask.
“I don’t know”.

After hospital, he’s found wandering
London’s pavements. Shrill voices
inside his head cry “coward”
as he recalls a charnel house
churned by war into a landscape
of craters, wire and rotting flesh.

Medically discharged, he spends
11 years in a Sydney asylum
where an appeal spawns a pitiful
procession of bereft families hoping
he’s theirs. Each hope cruelly dashed.

He’s finally identified as Taranaki
carpenter George Thomas McQuay
who survived Gallipoli only to be lost
on the Somme.

He left New Zealand a soldier but returned a shell
of a man destined to die in another asylum
23 years after a bitter-sweet family reunion.

During all this, his mother told him
“Thank God you are found.”

Richard Foster
August 2017

This poem was inspired by a true story from the Great War.

The Best Was Yet To Come

170731GerogeBestWEB.jpg

Water flows down the Wembley drain
sluicing extra time sweat
from my sated body.

I’ve won the European Cup at 22.
What is there left to do apart from drink,
break hearts and let down my team mates?

Alcohol dulled my twinkle toes
so fewer defenders were eluded.
I could still pull the birds though.

One night the roulette wheel went my way
showering our luxury bed with notes.
Happy as a pig in shite, I called for champagne

as Miss World did her ablutions.
Room service delivered it with a cheap shot:
“Ah George, where did it all go wrong?”

My best years went AWOL as I slid down
a drunk and disorderly spiral
punctuated by one-night stands.

Cashing in on my threadbare celebrity
I let a tabloid hack
snap a front page picture:

me on my death bed,
tackled by the Grim Reaper at 59,
scythed down before my time.

Richard Foster
July 2017

George Best quote: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

Heartless Turncoats

170618DadFathersDay2
Dad, acting co-pilot, prepares to fly from Compton Abbas Airfield near Shaftesbury. With him are Mum and my youngest daughter, Rachel (aka Rowan).

A hundred miles to Bletchley Park
as the weather whips up a storm.
My precious cargo: Dad
a frail veteran braced to perform.

Windscreen wipers squelch a beat
as I drive through the gate
only to be brought to a halt
by an SS officer conjuring up hate.

Stern faces encased in helmets
brandish machine guns and Lugers.
Why is the German Army camped
at the secret lair of code-breakers?

Body language screams “You shall not pass”.
They force a slow, wet shuffle
through puddles; tough for an old
soldier unable to move at the double.

Bedraggled, Dad collects his thoughts
shaking inside the meeting room
as his Parkinson’s disease gets
worse in the gathering gloom.

Did Dad decipher endless Morse code
beside a remote Scottish loch
only for heartless turncoats to
agitate him years later at a road block?

What a cruel joke to play
on that silver-haired conclave
of clever men who shortened the war
and defeated Hitler the knave.

Dad addresses his brothers in arms
using comedy as an antidote
to stubborn weekend Nazis.
Steady now, he strikes just the right note.

Richard Foster
June 2017

To mark Father’s Day today I wrote this poem about Dad’s close encounter with the “German Army” when he joined fellow Second World War veterans for an annual reunion at Bletchley Park, the secret lair of the code-breakers.

Sgt Pepper landmark

170601SgtPepper

Sergeant Pepper was released 50 years ago today,
adding psychedelic colours to dull and drab grey.
It’s never gone out of style,
thanks to Abbey Road studio guile.

Richard Foster
June 2017

A clerihew to mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles.