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Home-thoughts, from Home

Now and in England April stirs allotment plots
and folk come out to rotavate
and stand about comparing methods, sharing seedlings, hope.

This husbandry is not for want of food.
The money value of the work would come to pence per hour
and Budgen’s is ten minutes’ drive away,
where stuff is cheap, and plentiful, and ready washed. But not the same.
And pride in cultivation is a stubborn good.

I’m standing in the middle of the village.
Say, five hundred houses here. Say ten, all old, have charm.
Each dwelling sports its super-sized and differentiated wheelie bins.
Ranch-style and bungalow accrete, accrete.

The ditches by the crossing roads are full of water,
polystyrene, metal cans and plastic bags —
these last despite the prevalence of wheelie bins.
Don’t get too misty-eyed about it.
I expect that, since a place has been here,
less persistent waste has washed along these ditches
to the stream whose name is in the Domesday Book.

Most of the villagers are mechanised and godless
on this holy Sunday morning, but, surviving, just,
amongst an old or odd enthusiastic remnant,
is belief. I spot them, slipping in in ones and twos,
prompt for ten-thirty, or eleven, as announced,
to structures which compete in bleakness:
Methodists, Salvation Army, Baptists
and a sect so rare it scorns a label.
In the village hall eight Catholics are gathering.
The parish church attracts a dozen
to a nave without a tower since the gale
of eighteen-nine decapitated it.
Its milky flints are patched with orange brick.

These people’s differences were vital, mortal, once.
Sure of the bliss to come, and of themselves, men howled
in the cathedral city of this diocese
to feel their foot-soles boil and blacken;
loved ones prayed to Him to take them quickly;
executioners with kindness had explosive handy.
When the burning stopped, a congregation weekly prayed
— for centuries! — that everlasting souls in other congregations
might at last repent their error and be spared the burning.

In the remnant, faintly, some retain
the reason why such differences matter.
But they matter less to Hodge, who’s in his four-by-four
(made in Korea), on his way to town, to B and Q
for paint for the extension, than the shades
he’s just been mulling over on the colour chart.

The Co-op’s busy. Shoppers stagger under tons of newsprint.
Cooking at the Royal Oak (not open yet) is Thai.
A boy is running to the playing field,
the hero written on his shirt an African
who shoots and scores two hundred miles away.
What matters distance when your dad has Sky?

I’ve done the circuit of the village.
Now I’m looking at a railway bridge without a railway
and beyond to ploughed and saturated fields
which, when it’s drier, will, I see, be dosed
with nitrate of ammonia shipped in
from Lithuania in great white sacks.

Amid the sorrow of the broken-down embankment,
in between fly-tippings, through the dead and trampled bracken,
cherry, gorse and blackthorn struggle into flower
and — would you credit it? — a chaffinch sings
atop the lamp-post, not on the orchard bough,
in global, comfy, brutish England — now!

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author