“The sulphur-yellow breast of this lovely, slender
bird at once distinguishes it from the Pied Wagtail.”
The Observer Book of Birds
Back there the world you knew was pied or grey.
Behaviour was Dominican black–white,
inflexible; God and the devil, good
or ill. Their rules, carved deep in molten stone,
were indefensible. Old atlases
were grubby pink whilst war was freezing cold.
And everywhere was grey, inside and out,
shop-soiled and Eastern European-like,
grimy, whipped with neglect. Air was clogged up,
simple enjoyment rationed, frowned upon,
like wives who couldn’t keep their steps pristine
or went out stockingless – “Flaunting themselves!”
Then everyone had eyes and mouths to feed.
You learned that lot who lived on the estate
were undesirable “So keep away!”
Their kids looked dangerous yet when you met
on neutral ground down by the Coppice Stream
they were OK. Knew where the best nests were:
“Look through.” Sunlight behind, shadows congealed.
They showed you round Red Hill, cadged rope for swings,
caught newts and sticklebacks. Oh brave new world ...
School was incomprehensible: the codes
got changed yet you were never told until,
toe prints in shifting sand, it was too late.
Nuns scourged you with sound-biles of hate, knelt you
on cold stone floors, white throbbing knee flat caps:
“Don’t you dare move!” The pied in your bird-book
was colourless and blear, like grainy old
B western film at morning cinema
on Saturdays, but then so was the grey.
Peter Branson © 2009