The Infant Mistress

In a post war world with a booming birthrate
the shy young teacher taught in junior classrooms
while men home from war taught the older children.
She taught reading and writing to five year olds,
developmental art, counting with counters, rolling hoops.
She impressed the inspectors with her teaching and planning
and in time became in infant mistress.
Her new principal had recently moved into the office
for he had worked hard but had not the imagination
for promotion early in his career. At last
accumulated experience had enabled his elevation
to the office of leader of the school.

New theories and methods in the 1970’s
sent their school world into free fall.
Teachers discussed them in the staff room
after courses on holidays, at weekends,
after school. Those wanting to change the school
were routed by principal and infant mistress,
moved on  to apply ideas in other schools.
The inspectors spoke sternly about the
school’s need to change but were unable
to compel that change.

After eighteen years in his office he retired.
The new principal arrived – a woman !
She required the inspectors’ theories and methods
to be used in the classrooms. Old books and equipment
went into the dumpster n the car park, including
those the infant mistress had used for years.
Next each junior child’s work was checked one by one.

After many years of teaching five year olds
the infant mistress was moved
to a six year olds’ classroom
to teach the new programmes there.
Rudderless even with colleagues’ support
early retirement swept away.

The Infant Mistress


I tread the streets of an ancient city
far from home where the blanket of
unemployment stifles many.
For more than a day I flew here
to work until I can claim
the retirement pension.
Walking the Stratford station platform
I think this was easy thirty odd years ago,
now not so much.

My grandmother made a reverse journey
from a little Cornish market town
down in the far southwest, travelling
with parents, sisters, brothers , sailing
halfway round the world from unemployment
to seek work for her parents.
They disembarked he day before
her third birthday,
a birthday gift of a new land.

Now with her birth certificate,
her son’s birth certificate, and mine,
I leave unemployment at home
for employment in her first home land
in a reversal of history.

She moved from her market town
to a colonial port,
her family living on unskilled labouring.
I went from a small city
to a vast metropolis
living on days of casual work.
Both of us uprooted
in new townscapes
living among strangers
to keep ourselves alive.


Liverpool Street Station

Friday night 6pm
in the surging heaving mass
of Liverpool Street’s main concourse.
Milling crowds from underground lines
entangle with those from
British Rail lines on the other side.
Individuals slide through
this impasse on their own
singular trails from
one side to the other.

Returning to this megalopolis
after a long absence I am meeting
a friend at the information counter.
Passing through this concourse
to and from work for years
he is unconcerned.
My eyes and ears
are overpowered in this
densely packed humanity.

The counter stretches to
unexpected lengths before me
with no sign of him.
On our mobile phones
we find we are both
at the counter and talk
each other past sections
of its noticeboards.

At last we are at
the same place.
We turn slowly around
to find ourselves
back to back.


Liverpool Street Station

A Winter Afternoon

A distant wintry sun dimly lights
this Saturday afternoon from a pale
blue sky dotted with faint cloud drifts.
The stark bare branches of the tree
next door make a tracery against
the eggshell blue dome overhead.
Last night’s frost on the grass has
melted but not yet dried out
in the long solstice shadows.

On the concrete driveway by the old car
a heavy metal tool lands with a clank
as Father tries yet again to remove
a reluctant wheel from its axle
to replace a punctured tyre, muttering
aggressively at its dogged intransigence.
The rugby game broadcast from the
wireless beside the open dining room
window has only bad news from
his favourite team. He is not supposed
to swear when children are nearby.
His mood worsens.

We quickly move away to continue
our game at the end of the garden.

A Winter Afternoon

Climbing Trees

Brother fell out of the plum tree
from ten feet up and landed
flat on his front like a belly flop
at the swimming pool.
Sister and I said he wasn’t hurt
’cause he took so long to cry.
Mother was preparing for the family
Christmas dinner in two days’ time,
said he looked all right to her.
He recovered in time or dinner.

Sister fell out of the Pohutukawa tree
from eight feet up off the arching
branch over the driveway
right in front of Uncle Alf’s car
as he started down the drive. Father
said she should watch what she
was doing as he brought
cold beer for the shattered nerves
of Auntie Flo and Uncle Alf.
She recovered in time for dinner.

The young black cat fell out of
the peach tree from nine feet up.
He howled loudly then grabbed
at a branch with all four feet
on his way down. He wasn’t stupid.
People who fall out of trees
get into trouble. He didn’t.

I didn’t fall out of a tree. I was
scared of heights and never went up
to the high bendy branches.
People who fall out of trees
get into trouble. Still they do
get dinner at the end of the day.

Climbing Trees

Garden Stroll

Six stately black Orpingtons
ladylike, sedate,step ponderously
over the back lawn, clucking quietly
to each other as they pluck
tasty morsels from grass blades,
daisies, clover flowers and leaves.
They stroll along the hedge
finding delicacies among bright
oxalis leaves footing dark foliage.
Their bright orange egg yolks
are too rich to be eaten
for a few days after the date
pencilled on their eggs’ shells.

The young grey cat with
dainty white bib and feet
stalks these statuesque ladies
then skitters away when they
cluck sideways at her. She will
learn to hunt tiny sparrows
and mice instead.

The Orpington rooster
shimmering in the blue
and green lights of his
irridescent black garb
with his vast plumed tail
struts around his ladies
clucking at them, then
crows loudly to remind
the neighbourhood they
are his ladies. The hens
ignore him and continue
their leisurely stroll.

Garden Stroll

At The Cafe

The elderly woman
at the cafe counter
turned around to take
her coffee and walking stick
to a nearby table,
sat down slowly.
She greeted me,
happy to see me.

I remembered her
so youthful and bright
as we worked
in the same big
sociable office where
she moved easily, energetic,
eyes alert, hair luxuriant,
a vocal worker in
our vocal workplace.

She had returned to our city
to look after her
ailing elderly mother.
Now her energy was drained,
her hair short, thin, dull,
her body stooped,
swollen by drugs
that could not save her.

Soon she would pass away
survived by the elderly mother
she could no longer care for.

Patiently, calmly, she
faced her ending,
unable to fight it
gracious in defeat.

At The Cafe