Monday 26 September 2022

Vimto, Gonks, and Wayfinders. I remember them

Mean Time I opened Mean Time, Carol Ann Duffy's 1993 collection of poetry, and poured myself a glass of wine. My cheeks started to glow, my head became lighter, my shoulders dropped, and everything in the world was fine. I began to feel sentimental at the thought of happy times past. Was it the wine or the poetry?

Nostalgia suffuses Mean Time, especially the first poem in the collection, The Captain of the 1964 Top of the Form Team. It speaks directly to baby boomers, those who were at school in the 60s and 70s. The references tap on your heart with a hoppety beat; pop music, general knowledge, Vimto, Gonks, and Tuf Wayfinders shoes. What a great start to a great collection.

Nostalgia tho' can be tainted with shameful and frightening experiences. In Litany a bored child embarrasses her mum and momentarily silences the tedious conversation of her mother's friends. I laughed out loud at the last verse, to all intents and purposes the same childhood experience of a close friend:
"A boy in the playground, I said, told me
to fuck off; and a thrilled, malicious pause
salted my tongue like an imminent storm. Then
uproar. I'm sorry, Mrs Barr, Mrs Hunt, Mrs Emery,
sorry, Mrs Raine. Yes, I can summon their names.
My mother's mute shame. The taste of soap.
Thankfully I never had my mouth washed out with soap, but a know someone who did.

Stafford Afternoons's first stanza conjures up lazy, sunny weekends:
"Only there, the afternoons could suddenly pause
and when I looked up from lacing my shoe
a long road held no one, the gardens were empty,
an ice-cream van chimed and dwindled away.
What a shock then when the young girl in the poem encounters a flasher. I prefer Duffy's female treatment of the subject to the male humour of John Cooper Clarke's Gaberdine Angus (in Ten Years in and Open Necked Shirt).

Some experiences are just too bitter to succumb to nostalgia. Welltread recalls a undeserved punishment by a teacher. After all these years the adult has not forgotten:
"And all I could say was No. Welltread straightened my hand
as though he could read the future there, then hurt himself
more than he hurt me. There was no cause for complaint.
There was the burn of a cane in my palm, still smouldering.
The poems don't all recollect schooldays, although these days school kids study Valentine. This one is a metaphor for love, but "Not a red rose or a satin heart" kind of romance.

Later poems in the book evoke loneliness, sadness and regret. Room depicts an uncertain future for the lone, single renter:
"No curtains yet. A cool lightbulb
waiting for a moth. Hard silence.
The roofs of terraced houses stretch from here to how many months.
Adultery and Disgrace investigate broken relationships and the consequent feelings of remorse. Mean Time in particular laments:
"If the darkening sky could lift
more than one hour from this day
there are words I would never have said
nor have heard you say.
On finishing the last line of the last poem I poured myself another glass of wine and went straight back to the beginning.

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