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Bridge Over The Aire Book 5



The mooring posts marked on the South Leeds map

Of 1908 still line the Aire’s side, huge, red

With rust, they stand by the Council’s Transpennine

Trail opposite the bricked and boarded up Hunslet

Mills with trees growing from its top storey, roofless,

Open to the enormous skies of our childhood.
The Aire Suspension Bridge, always my bridge, Has gone from wartime camouflage grey to Council green with a traffic island in between The lanes where lorries roar and silent anglers Stitched along the shore shelter under the Giant red, green and yellow umbrellas of Monet.
In the Aire’s clear waters salmon dart and Giant trout are basking in the sun; There is abundant clay for potters’ wheels With haptic stone for sculptors’ hands And the surrounding water is lapis lazuli and ochre.
The steps to the moorings have been carved Out of indigenous rock and the bridge itself, Arch by arch, was made of Hunslet iron and brought On drays two hundred yards from the foundry where They forged it and it was laid, cantilever by cantilever By local men hammering home the bolts From the Hunslet Nail Works.
They fashioned a toll-gate and a keeper came And sat in a booth with his pipe and a ledger To take down comings and goings in the curious Copper-plate of the Hunslet Board School and Beneath the bridge sailed dhows and catamarans And coal barges with captains who smoked short Stubby pipes in shirt-sleeves and Van Gogh was There to capture them on canvas after canvas.
Vermeer had exactly the touch and his palette Was right for the chiaroscuro of the back-to-backs; He got the particular yellow of the donkey-stoned Steps and the waxed scarlet rinds of the Edam our Mothers bought up at the Maypole.
There was a heat haze over Accommodation Road And in it we saw the oases of Kandinsky And listened to camels’ bells And tasted the dates of the abundant palms.
2 There was a boat deep-delved Sitting in the water There was the sun of spring On the bridge’s span Carissima, Carissima Hair falling Over your shoulder Over the worn collar Of your mauve blazer.
Only through poetry Does the beauty last Broken on the surface Of the water.
Aire moving to the sea Sun on water glistening Turquoise ripples Flecked with gold Petrol rainbows in the pools The bridge’s arc a double Rainbow where I stood with you At the top of the steps To the river The steps are crumbling Worn with waiting Your words awakened 3 Lavender Walk Took me by surprise I have been there ever since By the look in your eyes.
I write between the lines Of the Great Northern Goodsyard My staves are the buffers My stops the buffer ends.
4 Ben’s cycle shop at Crossgreen had the odd few Christmas toys A clockwork Triang train in a grand cardboard box, on the cover A boy in a red pullover glowing over ‘The Coronation Scot’ Full-steaming ahead through glens and loch-laden mountain Scenes and a sign ‘To Edinburgh Fifty Miles’.
Waking, a few weeks later, to find the box bulging my Christmas Pillowcase, I wound the green engine incessantly and put it On the track but it always came off at the first bend.
I coupled up the chocolate-coloured carriages, sending it Across the carpet till it hit the fender, crashing over With its wheels spinning in the air, going nowhere.
5 In Mr Murray’s papershop were boxes of string on shelves, Penny ice lollies ;you sucked until the colour went, leaving You with ice castles on sticks.
Every week I bought two Threepenny Sexton Blake mysteries, sixty-four action packed Pages, full of rascally Lascars and pig-tailed Chinese devils.
There were twopenny packets of stamps for my Royal Mail Album Stately portraits of Sun Yat Sen, Gold Coast clippers, salt Gatherers on a palm-fringed shore - ‘Turks and Caicos Islands’.
6 Len the cobbler kept tacks beneath his tongue, a trick He was taught at Cobblers’ College; he said he could spit Them straight into the leather but only without an audience Whose eyes stopped the magic from working.
7 Up Easy Road was Rocket’s Greengrocers - Stanley Rocket Had a green van he took me and Colin in, delivering.
In Kirkgate Market Car Park the attendant shouted, “On your way, sky-rocket, you’re too mean to pay!” Stanley laughed and parked anyway but he told us To hush when we drove to the house of a Big Doctor At the Infirmary.
A snooty housekeeper took the box Of fruit and veg in, sniffing all the way to the Tradesmens’ entrance.
Back at the shop on brass rails were clumps of bananas, Tins of under-the-counter Grade ‘A’ salmon and their Aunt Mary had her chiropodist’s surgery over the shop; When I got a verucca at the baths she scraped it away Week after week till it bled into nothing.
Up Easy Road was the Maypole with its tiled tapestry of Village Green, flower-decked maypole and dancing children Like little Shirley Temples with bows in their hair and Bows tied to their shepherds’ crooks.
There were biscuits In boxes with glass tops and Mrs Hyde, the manageress, Used to give me custard creams to persuade my mother To be a Registered Customer but she wouldn’t move from Boring Rockets with their cheap bruised fruit.
9 When her mam called Margaret in ‘To run an errand’ It was only me she took with her over the suspension Bridge down Hunslet to the corner shop ‘For a packet of Dr.
White’s, Margaret whispered in my ear, touching the Lobe with her tongue and her eyes shone.
10 The best part of Saturday was the afternoon matin?e At ‘The Princess’ - penny ice lollies, Big Jim slapping Heads - “Shurrup!” His beer-belly, bear-body growled At the silence.
Every seat was filled and next to me Margaret was intent On “The Little Rascals”.
So I put my arm around her and She pretended not to notice.
The walk home together Was long and delirious, pushing Margaret on the swings In East End Park higher and higher, the chain links Rattling, blood drumming in her ears, her hair falling over her forehead, the colour rising in her cheeks.
The avenues through the trees were Versailles and Windsor Great Park, the earth mound by the main gate The ramparts of Troy.
11 How she could encompass me in her own fragility! At ten she looked after her two year old sister And already delinquent younger brother, their Mother working shifts, making sandwiches in Redmond’s Pork Butchers’ basement.
Alone at dusk on East End Park a strange mister Showed himself to her but she only laughed.
Once, while we were playing on the Hollows, She asked me what V.
was but I was too embarrassed, The harder I tried to explain, the more she laughed.
When we saw a drunk staggering Chaplinesque from Lamp-post to lamp-post I started to laugh but simply she said, “Poor man!“ shaming me to silence.
Perhaps her pity was for her absent drunken father, Every year serving six weeks in Armley for maintenance.
Once, on a hot summer afternoon, Margaret and I were Sitting in the binyard telling stories when he came Unexpected and awkward with chocolate.
“What do you want?” Asked Margaret’s mam, facing him and he mumbled and shuffled Away, ashamed.
12 A thousand visits to the supermarket A thousand acts of sexual intimacy Spread over forty years.
Your essence was quite other A smile of absolute connection Repeated a thousand times.
Your daily visits to the outside lavatory While I stood talking outside, an intimacy I have sought With no other.
My greatest fear is that you might Have changed beyond recognition.
Submerged in trivia and the Minutiae of the quotidian.
At ten my adoration of you was total, At fifty-four it is somewhat greater: I place you among the angels and madonnas Of the quattrocento, Raphael and Masaccio And Petrarch’s sonnets to Laura.
13 Summoning the ghosts of the dead I do not dream of Caesar But of you Uncle Arthur In your greasy overalls, Home from Hudswell Clarks In Hunslet, copper-smith Who helped to build Tank engines for Ceylon, Double-headers for the Veldt.
14 From fourteen to fifty-four You never had a day off sick, Your trips to Blackpool Every Banky week were always Blessed with non-stop sun And Bamforths’ postcards Showed you shared the beach With half of Leeds 15 One day you came home early, Sat fidgeting before the fire, Smoking one Capstan Full Strength After another; Auntie Nellie Was working at the Maypole So you told me, at twelve, 16 Your troubles, “They just went Bust once gaffer died, his lad Just couldn’t thoil it, so we got Our cards and that was that”.
17 For months he moped, they told him Copper-smiths were no more use, “It’s plastics now” and he was Far too old to learn another trade And then the Maypole folded too When supermarkets came and Nellie Stayed with you at home until She dropped behind the door And no-one knew for hours.
18 The hospital they took her to Had wooden prefab wards; I visited One Sunday afternoon, she held on To my hands and kept on crying, “Barry, tell your dad he’s educated, He’ll know how to get me out”.
19 She cried until she died And Uncle Arthur lasted Two years more; they knocked The houses down and so he moved But never bothered to unpack, Dying in hospital during A routine check.
20 Eggshell and Wedgwood Blue were just two Of the range on the colour cards Dulux Tailored to our taste in the fifties, Brentford nylons, Formica table tops and Fablon shelf-covering in original oak or Spruce under neon tubes and Dayglo shades.
21 Wartime brown and green went out, along with The Yorkist Range, the wire-mesh food safe In the cellar, the scrubbed board bath lid And marbled glass bowl over the light bulb With its hidden hoard of dead flies and Rusting three-tier chain.
22 We moved to the new estate, Airey semis With their pebble-dash prefabricated slats, Built-in kitchen units and made-to-measure gardens.
Every Saturday I went back to the streets, Dinner at Auntie Nellie’s, Yorkies, mash and gravy, Then the matin?e at the Princess with Margaret, The queen of my ten-year old heart.
23 Everybody was on the move, half the neighbours To the new estates or death, newcomers with Rough tongues from over the bridge slum clearance.
A drive-in Readymix cement works bruised the Hollows, Ellerby Lane School closed, St Hilda’s bulldozed.
The trams stopped for good after the Coronation Special In purple and gold toured the city’s tracks and The red-white and blue on the cake at the street party Crumbled to dust and the river-bank rats fed on it Like Miss Haversham’s wedding feast all over again.
24 The cobbled hill past the Mansions led nowhere, The buses ran empty, then the route closed.
I returned again and again in friends’ cars, Now alone, on foot, again and again.
25 Come Whitsuntide the tally-men grew fat: The poorest kids turned out in new blue Worsted suits and matching caps, socks in Scarlet plaid and mirror-shiny shoes so When that special Sunday came they never Missed a door to knock and say, “Something for mi Whitsies, Mister, please” And mostly people gave a tanner or a Threepenny bit and felt all good inside.
26 The Fowlers had six boys and Jim was once My mate but I didn’t like his manners much, He’d gozzle on the wall and wee behind wagons.
When Julie saw his cock he laughed and winked, “So what?” he said, aged ten, and hefted it, “Where’s your’s?” 27 His father liked a drink and every night His mam and him went off down Hunslet Road And left their six the key and came back Singing late.
Their dad once went off on his Own but never came back: his hidden ulcer Haemorrhaged and he spewed back seven pints Of Tetley’s best, some blood and enough guts To leave him dead.
28 Jim’s sorrow came in waves, for days he’d sit And say, “‘E only went to a birthday party and ‘Ad one single drink” and other times he’d sit And stare in silence.
He was always loyal and Once when someone from away passed our street End and called me for my grammar school cap Jim turned and said, “I go there, too, want to Make something of it?” the menace of his five Brothers heavy in the air 29 The Council gave his mam a bigger house Up in the Fewstons but they couldn’t pay The bigger rent or fares and came back quick Enough to chump for Bonfire Night, trailing down Knowsthorpe for broken branches, past the water Works, where Kevin Keogh climbed the fence: When the foreman saw his torn outsize overcoat He slapped his head until it rang, “Keep out You fucking Irish twat!” That was before I’d Learned to answer back so when Ma Moorhouse Clumped out in her calipers to tell us off I asked, “By what law should we leave?” 30 And when she bellowed back, “Our Pete’ll do you When ‘e’s ‘ome!” Jim, not to be outdone, laughed And yelled, “‘E’s eighteen stone and couldn’t Bash a bean, the gozzle-bag.
” 31 When Margaret Gardiner came I left Jim and He went with the older lads while I sat on Margaret’s mam’s wall and made up stories.
Marlene joined up when we played ‘Doctors, And Nurses’ and I was always the doctor and Margaret the nurse and Marlene the patient But Margaret would never change with Marlene Who egged us on but I hung back when Marlene Went off with the older lads and Margaret For Whitsies wore her new mauve blazer and I loved her deep, violet eyes and her mam Had such a knowing look all summer long.

Poem by Barry Tebb
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