Early stirrings 1-7

Whilst writing my earlier autobiographical  notes in the narrative collection called Fisherboy I began to unearth long forgotten memories of my distant boyhood. I'm talking a lifetime - let's say seventy or so years ago. I remembered, amongst other things, about girls and about my sexual awakening. So I've decided, for no reason at all except that it pleases or even helps me, to compose or write another group of narrative 'poems' ... here's the first of them.

Early Stirrings

1. The Yanks Are Coming

There’s this eight year old in war-
time Lancashire when the door
to England opens wide as his eyes,
and they’re singing or humming
all about The Yanks Are Coming,
mother says they'll help us win
whilst father mutters better late …
And me? I’m bedazzled, silent,
standing outside our garden gate
at the village roadside, puzzled,
when that great convoy passes
puzzled by Yankee imprecations
in language strangely accented
whilst they throw out small tins
of proper coffee and Wrigley’s
much sought after chewing gum
for us to scramble over: but why
would they want to meet the girls
of Walton-le-Dale? I wonder,
for girls are so boring, at least,
as are my sisters three to me
and girls can’t even fight the
German Hun or Eyeties, anyone.
But still there are more interesting
things than where the fighting's been
or what goes on unseen behind
the sightscreen on the green:
like exploring the summer fields,
and fishing (if father was home)
or watching him shoot bottles
off our fence, or birds alive
with his Home Guard forty five
(he let me hold it, unloaded),
and learning from a local boy
to tell an ordinary rabbit hole
from a breeding burrow, pull
out a baby with a bramble, so
at school I tried to please but
it was not there I felt at ease,
and  classes dragged along,
and learning  right from wrong,
and how the price of wrong is pain
and ‘Bryan, don’t do that again’,
yes, my world is full of fears
as dreams turn often into tears,
'til came the time in that farmer’s
barn with its piled high bales
of straw, where up on top I hide
watch that Yankee soldier ride
a breathless, laughing girl
with all that grunting, groaning
ending in strange female crying,
and I feel unreasoned anger
'though lustful wings are whirring
and thus there is that early stirring.

 2. Jacqueline

That boychild of eleven fears
Those tearful, crying years!
‘She’s bad,’ my father says,
‘Your mother’s run away,
with the builder Walter Smith
and sisters Maureen and Tina,
leaving me Shirley and you,
so you are off to boarding
school. Lucky, lucky boy!
This school in Abingdon
is good - and very costly, son.’
What had I done? I wondered
but my secret tears and pain
couldn’t take me home again.
and dormitory nights I fill
plotting just how best to kill
that builder when I grow up;
as for that rumoured thing
called sex that’s wrecked
my loved and lovely mother’s
life and mine and Shirley’s
and Tina’s and Maureen’s …

Until sweet little Jacqueline …

Of course she knew as I know,
sixty four years later, that girls
understand those male glands
from early age, and can see in
the sideways glance of youth,
that boys will die for love of she
so easily, (or love of country
and many, many do): I loved
the pretty girl in the gymslip,
part of the convent crocodile
en route to their hockey field
filing past the garden wall
of Roysse’s greystone school.
She must have seen me up
in that fruit laden apple tree,
(Adam and Eve in imagination
oh that snake’s reticulation),
may have found my little note;
maybe not - she wasn’t there,
later, by Abingdon town hall
or anywhere for evermore,
yet still I see her bouncing curls
her lovely face all shiny clean
pretending I had not been seen
that day, giggling with her friends
as they walk on; oh Jacqueline!
- I hear them say your name -
and you are not the one to blame
for this boy’s loud heartbeat
his newfound heat,  nor was
the new-swoll breast beneath
your school’s embroidered crest.
I guess you made a fine lover
and goodwife and mother,  
by now, great grandmother?
You were worth the febrile cost
for all of my love’s labours lost.

3. The girl in the lido

At thirteen years so very shy,
worried by the where and why
of carnal lust, of male rut -
according to the scuttlebutt
you can be blind-struck by un-
Christian thoughts, misdeeds -
cold showers, hands best be
out of bed in sight, extreme
sports exercise my very clean
school cure to keep boys pure
Then oh! that summer holiday,
that girl in Newmarket lido!
who has much not to answer for
- for after all she only plays the
games most girls have played
as sunheat makes a boy a fool  
by a crowded swimming pool.
I never knew so cannot now
tell you or me her name; so
I'll say Dido, (Queen of the Lido
not that ancient Carthage!),
wore a red-ruched costume,
matching rubber cap, nutbrown 
limbs weaving, cleaving crystal
turquoise water down below
as I glance with fake unconcern
from the highest diving board
where I posed just for her sake
up to which I’d climbed to see
if she, that really pretty girl could  
really still be seeing me, so thin 
(as a rake whatever that is)
and it’s an awful long way
down and the boys behind call
hey, jump or dive, don’t stall!
So, clear of bodies down below
I try the lang’rous swallow dive
but hit the water flat, ‘smack!’;
swallow? only chemical water
and I imagine all the laughter
that hurt more than my pride as,
shut-eyed down below I swim
to reach poolside and can you,
underwater, blush within that
booming sub-aquatic hush?
then, rising up I brush this Dido
- so incorrect a way to say hello,
for with an accidental hand I
touch the female promised land.

4. Kissing cousins

I wonder if you remember me,
Jennifer; who I haven’t seen
these many years between?
Eileen was Auntie Kay’s girl
so her daughter, second cousin
to me? Life was such a whirl
those days, our family a web
tangled by divorce, by affluence,
by lack of it, by lack of sense,
by distance, by time together,
by lack of familial tlc, and
by unlovely sibling rivalry.
But I recall that sweet fourteen,
you who skipped so light between
the states of child and adulthood,
so sure, me wishing I could, too,
on holiday with Grandpa and
Grandma, St Leonards-on Sea.
You remember Bottle Alley?

That walk of coloured glass
fragments embedded in its walls
under the prom, six to ten feet
higher than the shingle beach
on to which in turns we jumped
daring higher and then higher
until, landing, I bit my tongue
and how that stung! But boys
don’t cry, folk always said and
you just said, ‘So let’s go home,
you go to bed; our Grans are
out and, if it gets any worse
poor Bryan, poor bleeding star
we can play doctor and nurse,
and you can look, not touch
and I can too, for that’s what
we know doctors, nurses do.’
Oh what a naughty, bossy
lass you really were, Jennifer!
But you did allow me a kiss -
‘kissing is all right’, you said,
‘and a cuddle in hospital bed’.

5. The music …  

I hear it yet, the music of first
real, first non-imagined love:
‘There’s a small hotel, With a
wishing well, I wish that we
were there … Together’, went
the song, our favorite during
lunch-breaks, crammed into a
record shop’s listening booth,
Heather and I, co-workers
over the (Petty Curie) road at
Boots the Chemist, Cambridge,
nineteen fifty, (my first exposure
to the world of working for that
human honey we call money).
Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson,
B side: We are in love with you,
My heart and I …’ oh yes
I remember well that first secret,
no doubt clumsy touch / caress
through coat, dress, whatever
mysterious else is under there,
musically inspired, hoping
the manager will not look in on
our listening kiosk tryst, on me
wrapped up in that old red mist:
They say that love in blind, When
passion rules, And that my heart
and I, Are just two fools …right;
Heather, you turned on my light
‘Tonight, can we meet at quarter
to seven?’Your ‘yes’, bright
beginning of my imagined heaven..
But alas National Service called,
was soon to send me far away -
South Wales - but come what may
my first long weekend leave
I hitch-hike many roadside rides
back to Cambridge to look
for you in the shop, only to hear
‘She’s going steady, see, with a
U.S.A.F. sergeant’; oh my dear
Heather, how come you jilted me!

And I know that, if you ever
say goodbye / I know we both
would die / My heart and I

Thank you for the music, Pearl
and Teddy; but of course we didn’t
die, neither my heart nor I, as, with
many a love-lost tragical sigh
I thumb it back to Wales, then
learn how to pilot an airplane, and  
fall in love with that great blue sky.

6. Lost and found

Tiger Moth, lovely old biplane 
twin cockpits open, canvas frame, 
stuff of a seventeen year old’s
storybook Biggles dreams;
how thrilling it seems to climb
up front, pretending calm,
instructor behind, thumbs up,
prop swings, move forward,
bump, bounce the grass faster,
lighter, take the sky at last;
Lincolnshire countryside passing
propeller spinning, wire struts
humming, this National Service
- oh yes! but, ‘This is no game,
our old, ex-fighter ace of a
Group Captain sternly tells
his rank of hopeful young fliers;
No time for schoolboy pranks;
step forward any man who
will not wish to kill the enemy’.
And no-one moved although
in truth we hadn’t thought of that
taking our new queen’s shilling
- besides, try as hard as I can
I’m still one callow youth who
can’t yet think himself a man!

Then we are sent across the Irish
Sea; to Jurby in the Isle of Man
all we fighter pilots - aces to be
now officer cadets, there to do
lots of character initiative tests,
(hounds and hare I did the best,
myself most elusive of the hares),
but hours I spend dreaming at
the classroom desk, thinking not
of the theory of meteorology,
or navigation, or the mathematics
of flight - but of  flying to town,
my Saturdays well crowned
with sweet Kathleen, walking
her home, her goodnight kiss
that for the next six days I miss:
and then do I not need to know
nor fear the coming precipice -
or ‘aught - except I need her so.
And when I fail the final tests
the fall is tough, the way is rough
once more gas turbine engine
fitter, aircraftman second class
based outside of York, not bitter
other than about lost Kathleen
nevermore to touch, nor to be seen;
but life moves on and of some
comfort is that I like it there,
wherein the best is yet to come;. 
no use at all to fret or moan -
for York is where I find my Joan.

7. My first at last

Some enchanted evening, ’53,
De Grey Rooms, City of York;
I see her and she sees me:
thus far it’s been all talk
for my air force pals and I -
talk and several pints of beer.
I cannot dance but I can try,
I cross the floor to ask the
dark haired miss; That one,
I told my friend; The pretty
one, but he’d just laughed;
No chance, mate, don’t be daft
she’s too stuck up and you?
you’ve got the two left feet.   
But still I try and ask and hold
my breath until - oh sweet
miracle - she answers yes!

The girl is slim, well dressed
her figure of the very best,
out on the sprung-pine floor
soft her hands, her perfume
fills my all, I hold her not
too close in case she hears
my beating heart above the
music as the dancing starts,
lights low, crystal overhead
turning, my friends grinning
at me: I’m dizzy with despair.
place my feet first here then
there as the black-tied singer
sings, Oh mine papa, to me
 you were so beautiful. I’m
trying not to kick her shins.
She turns her oval face up into
mine; I see her smiling eyes,
her ruby lips. I feel her body
moving underneath the dress
If I’m to teach you, she starts
tell me your name, you’re not
from round about these parts?
Her voice is low, well toned
a lovely knife well honed to
cut so deep into my heart. I’m
Bryan, I say, So what is yours?
She says, I’m Joan; hello,
just follow me: so follow her
I did, for thirty seven years
of love and children four and
laughter; in her end, of tears.

In York it was, my early stirrings
reached natural conclusion;
a boy had found his moorings;
with his girl found joy in fusion.


This, then, is the end of my Early Stirrings. With Joan as my wife, and in time our children, life flourished and ripened to all of its glorious potential and all of its joys. But of course, all of its disappointments as well. I have no complaints. I shall not leave this place with very much of the available field left unploughed.

Bryan Islip, August 2014

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