An older poem this…written some twenty years ago about a time some thirty years before that…the sixties. It is written without rhyme but very definitely reason.

Park view

The King Alfred of the title refers to a park keeper in Heyhead Park, Brierfield. I hope the poem conveys ‘the halcyon days’ of the parks of my childhood when armies of park keepers kept the lawns, bowling greens and flower beds of all the parks in all the towns looking pristine…the equal of any park anywhere. Every year the floral clock at the entrance to the park would have some beautifully-worked display…which naturally we took for granted then and wistfully miss today.

Playing things

We the children often seemed like the sworn enemies of the ‘parkies’ but they were only doing their job and we were only being children – pushing grown-ups as far as we could. They would jealously guard their beds, borders and their ‘holy of holies’ – the bowling green.

Of all the ‘parkies’ Alf was the one who was closest to us…the one you actually dared talk to. Looking back, I think the odd times he joined in with a game of football with us betrayed his own child within.

Bowling Green

These photos of the park of my childhood have been ‘borrowed’ from the Brierfield Lancashire Now and Then Facebook site of which I am honoured to be a member.

KING ALFRED

A king among men was Alfred;

His sun-baked face would crack a grin

And coax the flowers from their beds

To rise in majesty.

Whilst he, a latter Bluff King Hal

Would sing and swing a murderous hoe

To hack to death the hapless weeds

And leave them rot on Tyburn’s heap.

Mindful of that potting shed smell

Of bone meal, peat and grown-up smoke;

Trying his pipe behind his back

Retching and wishing I had not.

Watching the thick, fussing fingers

Caress his fragile princesses –

Marigold, Petunia and Rose –

Future queens of the local park.

Guilty as charged, climbing a tree.

His threats and curses passed me by.

Telling my father often meant

Poetic justice from the birch.

The clip round the ear, burning red

Through pain and shame; the Indian brave

With the iron putting green flag

Who wished that pale-faced parky dead.

Stanley Matthews or Tom Finney

Came from nowhere; a serge-blue blur

To steal our ball with sway and swerve

Then beckon us to take it back.

Me, shying from his hob-nailed boot

That flashed and slashed about the ball.

I’d blanch with fear at tackling them,

Till bored he’d let us capture it.

No more the man that toiled with ease

In shiny boots and ‘National’ specs,

Union shirt and lived-in waistcoat;

Of sun-browned pate with beads of sweat.

He now recalls his halcyon days

When king amongst his verdant realm

His subjects, blest above all were

The mounted jewels upon his crown.

© gray lightfoot

Hear Gray read this poem…