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Saturday, 3 May 2014

Uncaring youth

During and after the war coal was brought in sacks to our house on a horse-drawn wagon. I had no interest in this.

Men avalanched the coal into our cellar through a small hatch on the side of the house. My mother locked up at 11 pm and I had no key. But I was slender enough to slide through the coal hatch.

Clothing impregnated with coal dust was something I could live with.

Later, as a drinker, I spurned the coal hatch, shinned up the external fall pipe, stood on the horizontal access pipe to the loo, fiddled open the little window, and slid in head first. The tricky bit was avoiding entering the loo head first.

Had the fall pipe pulled away from the house wall I would have fallen twelve feet, broken my back on the cellar steps hand-rail, then continued to fall ten more feet down the steps. At the time I lacked imagination and now regard this as a blessing.

Later, I bought a key.


See what you think:

It's in Bolton Hall, and the clock strikes One,
And the roast beef's brown and the boil'd meat's done,
And the barbecu'd suckling pig's crisp'd to a turn,
And the pancakes are fried, and beginning  to burn;
The fat stubble-goose swims in gravy and juice,
With the mustard and apple-sauce ready for use;

Reasons why: Poetically unambitious but enhanced by impeccable ten-syllable-line scansion (read it aloud). The dishes are incorporated without need for word or phrase distortion. The poem practices simple virtues and the rhythm drives our salivary anticipation. This is a meal you could sit down to now – provided you weren’t vegetarian.

R.H.Barham, (1788 – 1845)

NOTE: Lucas, Joe Hyam's brother, has written a poem commemorating the lives of Joe and Heidi, his partner. Read it on http://pomesonpoets.blogspot.co.uk/ even if they are unknown to you.


  1. Yikes. Although this was most likely good practice for your mountain climbing escapades.

    I always enjoy a ten-syllable rhyme in English. It sings.

    Off to Lucas' poem ...

  2. Prior to the oil conversion, which was prior to the natural gas conversion, we had a huge arrangement of metal in the basement which was the coal furnace. The monster furnace played a big role in our early life on Sheppard Avenue, an all-consuming chore for my father and an endless fascination for me. How deeply troubling to one of today's hovering parents to think of their offspring careening down the slide of the filthy coal pile? Your post is going to provide entertaining thoughts while I peel and chop -- thanks for the prompt. Thanks for the easy poem -- I get this one.

  3. I don't remember the coal coming that way but I do remember the similar Willie Lee the milkman ladelling milk into our jugs with his measures, the jugs covered with muslin covers edged with little beads.

    At first I thought that picture was our house but then saw it wasn't but near enough. I too slid down the coal hole on occasions. That cellar was our recreation room with an improvised table tennis set up, and 'twas also good for roller skating on the concrete floor.

  4. I did have a key but never managed to get home as prescribed by curfew. My plan was all worked out should I ever get caught being late. I took my outer clothes off prior to unlocking the door and with clothes on my arm ready to drop them on the floor I opened and closed the door and stepped into the loo to pull the chain. Don't know if
    this trick would have worked but one time I was asked how I got in since a key had been left in the keyhole inside of the door. That's the time I had used the window. We lived 1st floor of a duplex.

  5. And, getting back to you chicken liver post, it reminded me of my grandmother's ceremony of frying
    the goose liver in a ton of butter. She shared the liver with my mother and we kids got a big slice of bread fried in the butter which had picked up some of the goose taste. Only at Christmas.

  6. RW (zS): Tis Shakespeare's heartbeat.

    Stella: There was a further phase in the domestic fuel sequence: ovoids, egg-shaped entities formed from coal dust. Ignited (and that took time) an ovoid glowed faintly, radiated virtually no heat, then turned to ash. A post-war cost-saving measure.

    Coal had a unique smell - halfway between organic and inorganic. For years I dreamed of central heating, eventually finding it in the country where all dreams come true - the USA. But there was a downside; a fortnight spent back in the UK proved I could no longer do without CH.

    The next six poetry extracts will be impossible. I promise.

    Sir Hugh: Both Gordon Terrace and Leylands Lane were so equipped. I used that pic merely as a means of illustrating exterior plumbing features. There was only a single window for the LL bog and it was quite a narrow fit.

    Ellena: Sounds like an Agatha Christie plot. VR had two ambitions concerning a duplex: (a) to have the principle explained, and (b) to live in one. Neither ambition has yet been realised.

    You develop a taste for chicken livers if you live in a predominantly Jewish area. Stoke Newington, a northern London suburb, is not only Jewish but Hasidic. Huge range of quality and price for smoked salmon, too.

  7. Oh gosh I only just got around to coming back for this one and you're off tilting at another windmill as Stella would say. Never mind, means I get to read all the previous comments. I was wondering how, in the spirit of a butterfly and a hurricane, if you had indeed fallen off the downpipe how all our lives would have been different. Jolly glad you didn't anyway. My brother one night got shut out of the main house but was able to gain access to a rather cold and insalubrious anteroom we called the lobby, where he slept in my pram. That I was wheeled around in my infancy in a vehicle of sufficient size for a young adult male to sleep in shows my age rather I suppose.

    I'm a sucker for food imagery, the richer the better. I think most people are and sometimes think it can be a quick and easy way to engage the imagination, a bit like using a lot of colour words. But what the hell, that's one hell of a feast, as long as they don't burn and spoil the pancakes, and the mustard and apple sauce totally sells it. The one that surprised me was 'barbecu'd'; I thought it might be Browning (hah, pun!) but surely that word wasn't current in English then? Only to find it's far older still, quite a surprise.

  8. Lucy: The outdoor cellar steps had mortal associations. My grannie, 96 and by now living with my mother, insisted on going out in mid-winter to clean the steps. Nobody would have noticed if she'd left them dirty. She caught pneumonia and died, cut off in her prime.

    Perhaps I had mystical fore-knowledge of this kind comment of yours, and that kept me away from a sordid end.

    Is the poem really food imagery? I saw it simply as a list, the skill being that the phrases labelling the dishes were shoe-horned in without having to be (poetically) modified. The prospect of that lot, at my age, makes me feel quite ill.