Peter Branson

Red Hill

“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

On Red Hill

This hill’s a nub of legend; livestock died

mysteriously, witches conceived to meet.

In spring high larks pulsed out their breathless


through spiral galaxing to para-glide

where lapwings wheeled to scream hysterically,

seasoned their ancient right to use the land.

A drovers’ road once curled about the ridge

to source hill farms and far-from villages.

It’s now a vague footprint and dwindles out

before the hidden ford below the falls.

Beneath an overwhelming limestone face,

once popular, long overgrown, tokens

of love are sealed in vaults of living stone.

In olden times the people of the town

below the brow were sensible to moods

the weather tossed across the tall skyline.

Lore talked of violent August thunderstorms,

flash floods that kissed the eaves and

drownings too.

Once a blue moon or so, the stream that fed

mill races, water wheels, ground flour and


for china clay, recovered gravity,

re-jigged its tired theme tune. Where iced winds


through emptied starlit streets, few stirred


warm hearth and candlewick and false sunsets

behind the sombre overhanging crest

cast deepest shadow like a winding sheet,

dark reservoir that swamped all in its path.

These days, few take the time to wander here,

the place where you rehearsed life’s fingerprint,

mucked out and stabled bold forgotten dreams.

Over the years new-fangled farmers’ ways

and Stepford-like executive estates

have silenced larks, reeled in the peewits’


In this brave cyber age, all wants and whims

mere credit cards away, our lives theme-


folk stealing exercise on static bikes,

web-bound, stuck on reality TV,

the world has turned its back upon Red Hill.

Peter Branson © 2009