POEMS ABOUT MY CHILDHOOD
I was born in 1950 and grew up in Middlesex in a working class nuclear family that included me, my parents and my younger brother. We lived in my parents’ home town and my mother’s two sisters and their families lived nearby as did her parents. My father’s mother also lived nearby – she was my Nan. These poems reflect some of my memories of growing up.
These poems are inspired by the poems of Michael Rosen.
When they were courting
My Mum sat on my Dad’s knee in his mother’s front room
My Nan came in
‘I’m sure you’d be much more comfortable on the chair Kathleen dear’.
My mother never forgot that.
SUNDAY LUNCH WITH MY NAN
Before we go:
You can’t wear your bell-bottomed trousers to your nan’s
They remind her of sailors – the scum of the earth
You can’t wear that mini-skirt
If you bend over everyone will know what you had for breakfast
I don’t care if it is a Biba dress.
It looks like a maternity smock – she’ll think you’re in the family way.
Just wear a nice dress
ON THE WAY TO SUNDAY LUNCH WITH MY NAN
Every six weeks we went to my dad’s mum for Sunday lunch
It would start in the car
I won’t be able to eat the cabbage
Anyway there’s no point in eating cabbage that’s been boiled for two hours – there’s no vitamins left.
Why can’t your mother heat the plates – I can’t stand cold food
If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s cold lamb –
why does she carve it an hour before we eat it?
I mean, what’s the point – a roast dinner should be hot
Not cold meat with lukewarm gravy
Why do we always have lamb?
‘Don’t make a fuss says’ my dad, ‘she does her best’
That’s not the point
I like to enjoy my Sunday dinner
DURING SUNDAY LUNCH AT MY NAN’S
At my Nan’s for Sunday lunch Mum picks at her dinner
‘Don’t you like your dinner Kathleen,’ says my Nan
‘I prefer my dinner hot’ says my mum
‘It’s lovely’ says dad
‘Yes, lovely’ I say
My brother looks from mum to dad and says nothing.
AFTER SUNDAY LUNCH WITH MY NAN
My brother and I have to sit in the front room
Dad falls asleep in the chair
Nan reads the Sunday papers
Mum reads Woman’s Own
We have to be ‘seen and not heard’
We’re not allowed out to play ‘cos it’s Sunday
MY NAN’S LEGACY
My nan was from Devon
She made Devonshire puddings
Not Yorkshire’s, but Devonshire’s
Devonshire’s are my Nan’s most enduring legacy
I learnt to make Devonshire’s from my nan
All my children can make Devonshire’s
Whenever we have a roast the cry goes up
Are we having Devonshire’s?
Devonshire’s say the uninitiated, don’t you mean Yorkshire’s?
No Devonshire’s, they’re made with suet, they are crunchy on the outside,
Soft on the inside, my mum’s Nan made them, she was from Devon.
I have never met anyone who doesn’t love Devonshire’s – thanks Nan.
If you didn’t like the tea someone made you
You would walk to the sink and throw it away
‘I wish you wouldn’t do that.’ said my father
‘I’m sorry, but I’m not drinking stewed tea
I’d rather make it myself’
And you did.
FOOD AND FRIENDS
My mother judged my friends by what they ate
At Adele’s house we made
Vesta prawn curry and
Butterscotch Instant Whip
‘What did you have for tea?’ my mother would ask.
‘Lamb chop, peas and potatoes’
‘Mmm, lovely,’ she’d reply.
FOOD AND FRIENDS 2
I don’t want you going to Sheryl Stein’s house
She’s my friend
I like her
I’m not having you eating beans on toast every time.
We don’t eat from tins in this house
She can come here and have a proper tea if you like
But you’re not going there.
Sheryl Stein’s parents got divorced
They were the only family we knew that got divorced
‘I’m not surprised,’ said my mother
‘She dyed her hair red.’
My mother shopped every day
‘Your father likes fresh food on his plate’
Up to Kingshill Avenue
Come home, cook a proper lunch
And a pudding
Lemon sponge with lemon sauce
Raspberries with junket
Bread and butter pudding
Jam sponge with custard
Lunch in our house went like this:
Monday – Cold meat and pickles, mash
Tuesday – Shepherd’s pie
Wednesday – Liver and bacon casserole
Thursday – Stuffed hearts
Friday – Fish and chips (home made)
Saturday – Chops, mash and gravy
Sunday – Roast
For tea in winter we had:
Egg on toast
Cod’s roe on toast
Cheese on toast
Sausage or bacon rolls
In summer we had:
Tomato and salad cream sandwiches
All home made.
MY MOTHER DIDN’T WORK
My mother didn’t work
Everyday she made breakfast
Took us to school
Made the beds
In winter she also:
Lit the fire
Stoked up the boiler
Fetched in the coal and coke
Hung our clothes around the fire to warm up
Boiled water on the stove and took it upstairs for our wash
On Mondays she also
Did the washing in her twin-tub
On Tuesday she
Did the ironing before her sisters came to visit
She did the polishing and scrubbed the floors
She did the big shop
On Friday her mum came to tea.
Saturday was baking day
Sunday we went to the country after lunch for some fresh air
My mum didn’t work
MY MUM’S JOB
When my brother and I were both at secondary school
My mother got a little job.
Serving in a sweet shop.
She liked helping the children choose their penny sweets
She came home on her second day
The house was for sale
‘If you want to work you can get your own place
We’ll sell the house and buy two flats
You can be independent’
My mother only worked in the shop for a week
My dad didn’t sell the house.
THE COFFEE TABLE
Aunty Joyce had a G-plan suite
My mother saved from her housekeeping
She bought a G-plan coffee table
It was her table
She bought it from her savings
One day I came home from school
My mother was crying
My little brother had been ‘helping’ with the housework
He’d polished the G-plan coffee table with sand paper
My mother was using her telephone voice.
Is that the boarding school?
Yes, that’s right
A girl and a boy
You can take them
Me and my brother on the stairs
We’ll be good
Don’t send us to boarding school
We’ll be good
You can take them next week
I notice she has her fingers on the buttons
She’s pretending to phone
‘You’ve got your fingers on the buttons’, I say
Next time, I mean it, she says.
MY MUM’S SAYINGS
About my Dad’s Mum: She’s a cold fish
Reason for not cuddling me:
I don’t like bread and bread, I like bread and butter
When something went missing:
It’s disappeared off the face of the earth
When something bad happened to me
That’s your bad fairy
When I wanted something
Do you think money grows on tress?
When I was naughty
You’ll be the death of me
MY MUM’S NICE SISTER
When I was 10
Aunty Betty came to see me in hospital
‘I’m in the family way’ she said.
‘Oh, Aunty Betty’ I said
‘You’re having a baby’.
MY MUM’S SCARY SISTER
Aunty Joyce was scary
Her house was perfect
Aunty Joyce was perfect
When I baby-sat for Aunty Joyce
I broke a glass
I wrapped it in newspaper and hid it in my bag and took it home.
Aunty Joyce phoned my mother.
‘Joyce says there’s a glass missing
Do you know anything about it?’
‘No’, I said
‘You must know, Joyce says it was definitely there before you went to babysit.’
‘Nothing to do with me.’ I said.
We never knew if she knew
The doctors didn’t tell her
We didn’t tell her
In the last couple of weeks I dreaded her asking
What would I say?
After she went we realised she did know
She had coffee with a neighbour the day before she died
‘He’ll never have an apple pie like mine’ she said.
‘I’m not leaving the recipe.’
HOW ARE YOU?
‘How are you?’ I’d say to my grandmother
‘Don’t ask’ she’d say
And then she’d tell me
MY GRANDMOTHER 2
My grandmother’s response to any disaster was always the same:
‘Well at least you’re not in the family way’.
I think she said it to make us feel better.
My father took my brother fishing
They grew their own maggots in rotting meat in the shed
One day my brother was so angry with me
He grabbed the rotting meat and threw the maggots all over me
Now when I walk by the fishermen on the river
I can’t walk past the tins of wriggling maggots
I just can’t do it.
When my brother was six he got chicken pox
My mother had to shop everyday for fresh food
‘I’ll be back in a few minutes’ she said.
She came back.
The furniture was turned upside down
My brother was lying on the floor
A knife was sticking out of his pyjamas
He was covered in tomato sauce
‘You shouldn’t have left me’ he said.
My father used to say,
‘Well, you can doll yourself up
Make yourself look good
But when you open your mouth
You come from the gutter’
MY DAD’S SAYINGS
Life is hard and then you die.
Whoever told you life was fair.
I go to work to earn the money to buy the food to give me the strength to go to work.
Hard work never killed anyone
When I was your age…
You don’t know you’re born
My husband took the baby to change her nappy
My dad said:
Your mother was a wonderful wife.
I never even saw a dirty nappy let alone change one.
We went on holiday to Yarmouth
We in a caravan stayed on a farm
My dad and brother went mackerel fishing
I stayed on the farm with Mr. and Mrs. Saetch
Mrs Saetch made lovely apple pie with ice cream
My dad and brother caught lots of fish
My mother cooked them in the caravan
They didn’t let me have any
I had eaten apple pie and ice cream and
‘would be sick’.
I failed my 11+
When they told us that day
– the failing day
I was afraid to go home
When I got home they already knew
A letter had come
‘You’d better get to bed
Before your father comes home’
And I didn’t get a bike.