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.
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.
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.
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.
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…