March 2008


When he went off to France

By Bill Allerton

The mornings were the best, my pet,
They fell like playing cards
Of different suits, but all the same
In shape and size, and we didn’t notice
How they stole away
The march of time 
Yet tied us to our roots
He liked to walk to work you see,
He didn’t care if it was rain or shine
As long as enough snap
Was tucked in his bag
And he couldn’t feel the pavement
Through his boots,
His little world was fine.
But when he was in France,
Eh? Sorry pet, no nothing much.
I was up each day for half-past four
You know, and rattled out
The Yorkshire range
And took the ashes to the bin 
And fed him up to quart-past five,
Then shoved him out the door.
I lit the copper with a match,
On Mondays, And there was always
Just that half a chance
Your eyebrows might go, in the flash
But you’d drag out the dolly                 
And lean on the posher,
And dream,
Of when he were in France.
You know, when he went off to France,
We were all nowt but lasses
And some of us barely half-grown,
And I’ve just thought of the night
He came home with a mangle,
It was all green enamel
And brown paper and string
And the first thing I’d ever had
New, of my own.
It lived on the cellar head
Six days at a time, and was covered
By fold upon fold
Of old sheets and curtains,
And for a few months
I would polish the rails
And admire the wheels
And the erotic wood handle
That I liked to hold.
I tell you,we were no more
Than soft, bits of girls,
And I can still feel the skirts
As we swished to the door 
To pick up the letters
And find out if we  
Were still war-bride, or widow,
But, looking back, none of it hurts.
So, what were we to do, and with
A young womans fancies and wants,
But I remember the way
That he dozed in that chair
With a fag in his fingers
‘Til it burned right down
And he’d jump and he’d snort
With no depth in his eyes,
And that tumbling shock of white hair.
We took great pride in our menfolk, 
But all of us scared
By the love that we held for each one,
And we prayed they’d return
Before their faces were blurred
Or we’d wake in the night
And know in cold fear,
That we no longer shared the same sun.
We all had the same look of loss, in our eyes,
The winters were lonely,
The nights cold, and dark,
When the King emptied our arms
Then gave them his own,
But we’d have loved them to death
And not sent them out, where the
Cannon shells stutter and bark.
We were just, slips of things,
And you know, he didn’t miss a day
Out of forty-three years,
As I remember him now,
He’d say,`Ta-ra lass’,
Like he said in his youth
When that khaki-clad train
Pulled away through a flood of our tears.
And we wanted them back, because
We were only just kids
And we’d been asked to carry the weight
Of the world, and we’d never had time
To see how it should go
And if we got it wrong,
Then our children would see,
And instead of their love, we’d have hate.
He was too old for the next one, thank God,
And the kids far too young
When deserted new brides lost their shame
And favoured the butcher
And the coal merchants lad
And were scolded by mothers
Who should have bitten their tongues,
‘Cause I knew them
When they were the same.
When he went to France, you see,
We became, more single,
Than most single girls,
For we’d nothing to lose,
Having lost it before,
And the men that were left
Knew we wouldn’t tell tales
So we didn’t need flounces and curls.
And I remember so well
How it felt in the night,
To see the face of your love
Through the tears,
And the ghost of his body,
Pounding tight in your own,
And in your heart build a bridge,
That would span
The next sixty-one years.
He’d always been kind, you know,
But the war took his spark,
So his soul was unable to dance,
But the time blended slowly
While the roof held the rain
As the days became one,
But I’ll always remember
The time
When he went off to France.

Talkin’ to Noah 
By Bill Allerton

Tryin’ hard not to open me Butterkist,
I peeked out through t’ slit of me dad’s poachers pocket,

and listened…….

“ Evenin’ Charlie.”
“ Aye, Ted.”
“ Rain again. ”
“ Aye. ”
“ An’ all last week.”
“ Aye. ”
“ And t’ next, I suppose.”
 
From under the coat my dad’s voice rumbled
like thunder in his stomach
it were like listening to God….. talking to Noah.

Charlie’d touch the brim of his green felt hat.
Flick the gold bits on his shoulders.
Stand up on t’ step like t’ soldiers on Poppy Day
putting flowers out for t’pigeons in Barkers Pool.

Then he’d look at me mam’s legs.
He were on’y short.
So were me mam
But she wore these tall heels
that did funny things to her legs
 
It made Charlie smile
every time he looked at ‘em
 
“ Good picture, Charlie? ” me dad says
“ Never see ‘em all ‘t way through, Ted”
“ Never? ”
“ Aye…never.  On’y t’middle bits.”

“ What if tha not workin’ Charlie?”
“ Does tha go to work on thi day off,  Ted? ”

I couldn’t reckon that.
If I were big enough to go to work
I’d want to be there all t’ time
And me Butterkist were stuck together.
So I bashed it on me dad’s knee

“ Good…. crowd. ” he said,
Charlie smiled.
“ Aye!….. But thi wain’t all gerr in.”
 
He walked up and down t’edge of t’queue.
Tapping ankles with his foot.
Trimmin’ us away from t’cause’y edge.
Then came back.

I were hiding.
Me dad knew t’ Commissionaire.
I didn’t know how to handle that.

We moved forward, and
I could ‘ear him counting
under ‘is breath.
Then ‘is arm ‘d swing down
 
An’ suddenly everybody’s sayin’
“ Hey! I wor wi ‘er!”
“ Aye..he’s wi me.”
“ I’m not goin’ in wi’out ‘er.”

An’ he’d part ‘em like Moses at the red sea.
An’ carry on countin’

Then  he’d let ‘em go.
Chunterin’ an’ shufflin’.
Not darin’ to look back.
An’ he’d be countin’
An’ me stood on t’ tops
of me dad’s best shoes
Tryin’ to save some Butterkist
For inside.

An’ ‘is arm ‘d swing down again.
Behind us.
An’ he’d wink at me
Because me dad knew t’ Commissionaire
 
An’ me mam ‘ad nice legs.