I’ve always loved poetry and attribute this to my close and extended family who surrounded me with books and the spoken word when I was growing up. Not only did they recite verses by heart but they also animated it to make it more appealing.
With a television the size of a postage stamp and only a couple of channels to tempt us, it was easy to switch it off and be drawn in by the delights of poetry and performance.
There was an over sized illustrated poetry book on the bookcase that had to be stored sideways because it was so big, I loved it and flicked through the pages lovingly even before I could read, touching the pictures and words with my fingers while I waited for a member of my family to respond to my request to read something to me.
I soon cottoned on that if I chose something they knew by heart I was in for a spectacular show, safe in the knowledge if anyone else in the family happened to be passing and heard it, they would join in too. I’m not sure if they knew they were being coerced at the time yet even so they played the game brilliantly and I guess they enjoyed it too much to care.
One of my earliest memories was of listening and laughing loudly as my Auntie and Uncle recited and acted out ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ by Edward Lear.
There was more to follow and I lapped up their repertoire and their enthusiasm to perform ‘Old Meg’ by John Keats and ‘You Are Old Father William’ by Lewis Carroll.
For my birthday I was given a book of poetry ‘When We Were Very Young’ by A.A.Milne, and I treasured it. It was small and easy to carry around and full of rhymes and beautiful line drawing illustrations.
One of my favourites was ‘Halfway Down the Stairs’ because it reminded me of my home as there was a bend in our staircase and I was able to hang my legs through the bannisters to see what was happening below.
Through my child’s eyes the world was exciting and untroubled, as the grown-ups I knew whispered their problems out of earshot and did everything, emotionally, financially and protectively to make life fun.
So when things change as we grow older – hopefully heading towards maturity – we are sometimes unprepared for the responsibilities that come with adulthood.
At least some of us are!
The September blues only seem to affect those in education, pupils and teachers alike. After a long summer break it’s hard to get back into gear and prepare oneself for the long Autumn term that leads up to Christmas. I had a couple of weeks left before returning to London for a three-month teaching practice and with loads of work to do I wanted to make the most of the time with my friends.
The summer of 1976 had been glorious but as September crept in so did the rain and it looked like the party was over.
Yet what a summer, I couldn’t afford to see Bob Marley at Hammersmith Odeon or the Rolling Stones at Knebworth but I’d hired a push bike and ridden around Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, spending the rest of the holiday at home in Consett dancing to among others: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ by James Brown’, highlighted only by witnessing a denim shirt being ripped off the back of an unsuspecting nightclub goer.
I thought it couldn’t get any better!
The final weekend saw us looking forward to a friend’s birthday party in Shotley Bridge. It was at her house and her parents had given up their garden for the day.
Unfortunately, the heavens opened so all the outdoor activities were abandoned. With no break in the weather and the look of dread on her parents’ faces as we trooped into the house, we decided to continue the party in Consett and made our way to the Masons Arms.
As usual it was brilliant as everyone piled into the tiny pub and jostled for the Juke Box. Soon it was nightclub time and we queued three deep in the rain. I noticed some of my friends missing out the cloakroom and going straight upstairs to pay their money to the nice lady on the door who always kept her coat on.
After a couple a drinks I started to get nostalgic, knowing I was going to leave my family and friends in a couple of days, yet looking forward to furthering my education and hopefully getting a good job. Just as the tears started rolling so did my crazy friend , who had smuggled an orange space hopper in under her long oxblood leather coat, and proceeded to bounce her way to the dance floor. The ‘real’ bouncers were not amused and pursued her along the bar and eventually caught up with her halfway down the stairs.
With the lights on and now crying with laughter I had yet another unforgettable stair memory as we were gently escorted outside into the night.