Generation gaps

My father believed
Like his father before him
Hard work was its own reward:
Nothing worth doing came easy;
Nine counted less than the one you lost
And the clear, bright notes of your own trumpet
Were a form of noise pollution.

Of all the fears that flourished in that dusty soil
The deepest stares back from the mirror still;
But with your native music, romantic whimsy
And cheerful shrug at all tomorrows
You break the power of my ancient dread
And step into the world with easy, springing stride
Leaving behind the tattered banners
Of my own quiet rebellion.

For my daughter, who is all my greatest hopes and fondest dreams made real. I couldn’t be more proud of her. N.

Nid vide

And with that
She’s gone
Again.

The bedroom door is closed
(As usual)
But now just to contain
The silence
That lies upon the place long after
The last trace of perfume fades.

I strain
To hear her desk-chair creak
Her cell-phone buzz
A sudden burst of song
As though a window cracked in heaven.
Knowing doesn’t stop me wishing.

Not that I
Would have it any other way:
She’s in her moment
A new star in ascendency;
The leaves fall, the swifts fly south
And so the great wheel turns.

And with that
I’m back
Again.

 
 

Our daughter has returned to university today after her long weekend at home. The house suddenly seems very quiet, and we miss her terribly, but she’s in absolutely the right place, doing absolutely the right thing, which makes letting her go a lot easier. All is well. (She’s studying French, hence the title!) N.

Home run

There is
(Probably)
A perfect poem
For precisely this moment:
One that captures in a few short lines
The exact feeling
Of sitting up in bed
As night draws in
When long hours of rain have ceased
The fire has burned low
The ale-mug is empty
And a newly-returned beloved child
Sleeps softly in the next-door room.
What a poem
That would be;
And how blessed the man
Who gets to write it.

 
 

This weekend, we’ve been treated to a visit from our daughter, who’s halfway through her first term at university. The iPhone and FaceTime mean she’s much less ‘gone’ than we were when we made the same leap 30 years ago, but they’re no substitute for the real girl. How utterly wonderful she is. N.

Paterfamilias

I have a terror
Of turning into
My father.

A visceral, mortal
Lyingawakeatthreeinthemorning
Dread of plaid flannel shirts
Soft shoes, drawstring waistbands
Feeling the cold
Declaring they don’t
Write them or make them
Like that any more
Trying to hold conversations
In buttery fingers
Wondering where
All these cars came from
And why are they going so fast
Remembering when
It was all trees here
And staring at this screen
Helplessly demanding
What in God’s name
Does any of it mean.

But since I’ll never be
The one with the toolbox
And the strong, quick hands
The one with the shed
Full of jars of just what you’ve been looking for
The one who always has time
To be counsellor, confidant,
Co-conspirator, confessor
The one you have only to ask
And for whom nothing
Is too much trouble
The one who remains calm
And unfailingly finds the right words
When it’s all gone horribly wrong

I have nothing to fear
And everything.

Whatever Green

We’re painting her bedroom. The little-girl pink
That she’s had on her walls ever since she was six
Has to go, we’ve been told. But it seems they don’t mix
Shades that truly reflect how fourteen-year-olds think.

There’s an ocean of blues and a wide yawn of beige:
Peach, magnolia, lavender, calicos, creams.
Way too placid and pale for her dramas and dreams;
Far too subtle and soft for this high-contrast age.

We need tones more in tune with our turbulent teen:
Let’s have Coffee Stain skirtings, the door Dark Despair;
An Apple White ceiling, one wall Gothic Nightmare,
All the others a deep shade of Whatever Green.

Slap on Intense Emotions with Angst as a base:
A tin of Wild Hormones stirred up with a stick;
Then a bucket of Drama Queen – lay it on thick –
And to finish, a top coat of Personal Space.

But she blazes with colours that they’ll never sell:
The glow of her temper, the gleam in her eye.
She’s our gold, our red sunset, the blue in our sky.
In her rainbow’s a covenant. And all will be well.

Culture shock

 

She can’t abide my music: ‘It’s so sad,”
She groans, “embarrassing, old stuff.”
I start a disc, she stops her ears: “NO, Dad!”
A single bar of some tracks is enough
To send her running from the room. So now
I guess it will be years before we see
Things quite the same way, and I wonder how
And where we’ll differ (not just musically)
These songs sit at the heart of who I am:
I won’t forsake my country, rock or folk.
There’s nothing in the charts now worth a damn:
Those ‘talent contest’ winners – what a joke.
But give it time: I know that she’ll come round
And recognise my tastes as truly sound.

 

I wanted to end the week on a bit of a lighter note, and my beloved daughter gave me all the material I needed en route to her piano lesson this afternoon.

Pirate day

Ho-heave-ho and haul away –
No tie required – way-hey!
For half-term’s here, and pirate gear
Is the order of the day.
With a yo-ho-ho it’s off you go
All rigged for the Spanish Main –
In your old ragged shirt and sword-belt girt
Ann Bonny walks again!

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest –
These are the times that we love the best,
When you’re still young enough for this dressing-up stuff
But the day brings its own quiet warning:
For the time’s going by like the cannonballs fly
When the men-o’-war meet for slaughter
Then what shall we do for a pirate daughter
Ear-ly in the mor-ning?

May you always hold, like a pirate’s gold,
Onto all that you’ve done today;
May your flag always fly in a clear blue sky,
And fair winds blow you on your way.
May a fine, gallant crew sail along with you
To wherever the world may spin you;
With a yo-ho-ho, don’t you ever let go
Of the pirate spirit in you.

 

Our daughter’s school has just installed some new playground equipment, including a climbing-frame in the shape of a ship. To celebrate its inauguration, the children were allowed to go to school dressed as pirates; my wife conjured a costume out of charity-shop odds and ends, and the girl looked fantastic. She goes up to secondary school in September, which means there won’t be many more days like this, so I’ve marked the occasion with a sea-shanty. There’s a first time for everything!

A night at the opera

A night at the opera

I’ve ridden, driven past these gates
A hundred times and more.
But tonight, we’re turning in:
Parking in the dark and distant corner
Where mere musicians’ old jalopies
Can be discreetly hidden from
The summer season’s picnickers.

We climb up to the circle
In cathedral-goers’ reverence
Enclosed in brick and polished stairs
Five-quid tickets in our unworthy hands
Then for the first – and, we imagine, only – time
We take our lord-knows-how-much seats
In that fabled wooden Oh-my-goodness

And there she is.
One cherished face, one treasured voice
In that bright chorus of three hundred
Raised in jaunty, joyous song.
No soprano’s aria could make
These sparks go crackling down my neck:
No opera at any price

Could summon up this surge of pride.
It is for her –
It is through her –
That we are sitting here tonight,
Transported into wondrous realms
We never would have known
And would not miss for worlds.

 

On Friday night, our 10-year-old daughter sang in the world-famous opera house at Glyndebourne along with her classmates and Year 6 children from half-a-dozen other local junior schools. The concert was organised by our wonderful East Sussex Music Service (for whom no praise is too high) as part of its annual Great Big Christmas Sing programme, which runs in schools across the county. The children sang a musical based (very loosely) on the Christmas story, specially composed for them by the Music Service’s Director, no less, which they’d been rehearsing in class all term.

Normally, Glyndebourne is a byword for glamour and gracious living. During the Summer Festival, many people arrive by helicopter or chauffeured car, and opera-goers’ picnics are the stuff of legend. On Friday, though, we the Great Unwashed took over. Egalitarianism ruled: everyone in the audience paid just £5 for their ticket. We managed to bag the front row of the Circle, and I wondered how much it would cost to sit in the same seat for a Summer Season opera production. What’s certain is I wouldn’t be able to afford it – and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, either. The Girl was beside herself with excitement beforehand and walking on air afterwards – it was a truly glorious evening. (What’s more, we got to sing at Glyndebourne, too: only a couple of verses of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, but hey, that’ll do me.)