“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
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