Introduction

Age cannot look back to youth with any great depth of understanding any more than youth can look ahead to age, for the gap is too great; you have changed, not once or twice, but continuously and are still changing. You are always on the outside of the past looking in, never on the inside looking out. Obvious, I know, but the truth of the obvious has to be discovered by each of us for ourselves.

I was a ‘teen-ager' - though we didn't know we were then - when the war began. Eighteen in 1939 and now, in 1988, sixty-seven. How far is it to yesterday?

This is not a war diary or a book of ‘blitz' reminiscences, though, as an ‘Eastender', I had enough experience for both. Just a handful of verses that have trickled down from those days.* Strangely, the war is not mentioned at all. They are mainly nature poems - an antidote to the bombs perhaps - inspired largely by imagination and the Hackney Marshes. Both now irredeemably tamed, domesticated, restricted, altered and reduced to a fraction of their former being.

With a mixture of adolescent hope and trepidation I sent the verses off to a literary critic doyen of those days. How did they rate? If at all. I heard nothing... I assumed eventually that they must have been lost in transit in the bombing. I had made no copies. I howled inside. But our whole civilization was in danger of falling apart, people did not get much sleep; people went to work - and queued up; and fire-watched - and queued up; and saw that the ‘black-outs' were intact - and queued up; obeyed the awful domination of the sirens and ‘kept cheerful' (‘there is no depression in this house') and avoided ‘careless talk' - and queued up; and braved the oblivion of the blacked-out streets. And so many did not survive. One had to keep the loss of a few sheets of verse in perspective. I wrote just one poem more...

After the war and I was married, a parcel came addressed in my single name. Surprised, I opened it, to discover my hardboard file with the verses intact and a compliment slip from the literary critic's executor returning it to me. I was utterly incredulous; perhaps their tiny destiny was publication after all. But opportunities for non-essential printing were negligible just then and the verses were put away in a brown paper bag.

Life takes one by the scruff of the neck; work, happiness, sadness, work, illness, traumas, joy, suffering, work and all the rest of it. I never did have very much time, or was it singleness of purpose?

The brown paper bag has been lost and found; tucked away behind furniture for secrecy and safety, mislaid, re-discovered, lost again and survived four moves. It has lain in various caches, including a walk-in larder, behind the bookcase, under the bed, behind the piano and goodness knows where else, mostly forgotten and undisturbed.

Now, a wonderful daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren, another move, the recent loss of my beloved 92-year old mother and a pension-book later, I gently gather up the yellow pages with their faded typescript.

My very precious partner of the years journeyed into the fuller life twenty years ago, but where love is there is no separation, and the still luminous vision of a harvest moon hanging low over the wartime marshes is but a fragment of the memories I feel still unite us.

I have rambled on too long. From a quasi-philosophical beginning to a personal ending; brought about the fact that my erstwhile elderly neighbour, having made a last ditch effort to quarry his latent talent, finally had his classical music accepted for publication! Perhaps yesterday is not so very far away…….

 

*Although, as I say at the beginning, the War was not mentioned in the verses, ‘Impressions', ‘The Blackout' and the two short stories which follow were also written at the same period.