Wednesday, 12 April 2017


No, not a personal wartime memoir - just how old do you think I am? - but a poem, written in 1994, which tries to make a point about the way the mind can play tricks and smooth out the wrinkles of past experience, making even the most awful times seem wonderful. Quite simply, we only remember the good times, leading to aching nostalgia for such mind-bogglingly dreadful events as a World War. In those days it's  'a fact' that there was no crime, no violence and no bad weather. It's 'a fact' that if you fell over and broke your neck your Mum would kiss it better instantly and make everything  wonderful again. Also, as the poem tells us, locking the door when you left the house was completely unnecessary. This is the one that almost everyone over a certain age acknowledges as 'a fact'. It's nonsense. If it were true, why did houses have locks and keys? But the past is a different country, of course and we're all safe there, because nothing bad can happen. It's just human nature.
A couple of notes : When I performed this poem at the Hazel Pear in Acton Bridge (on an occasion when the Salt Town Poets, for some inexplicable reason, were Top Of The Bill at the folk club there) and got to the line about ITMA:.'...they'd laugh a lot, pretending it was funny...' someone in the audience shouted out 'It was!'. He's right. ITMA could be screamingly funny, but the point is that, perhaps, a small child might find it incomprehensible.
In the killer line about Hitler the rhyming of 'littler' and 'Hitler' was taken, it turns out, from Lydia The Tattoed Lady by Groucho Marks. Quite unconsciously, I assure you. But it still gets a laugh.
Finally, at the end of another performance of this poem, a  serious and concerned looking young lady came up to me to query the last line.
'You don't really think there should be another war, do you?' she asked me, anxiously.
To which the only answer can be, 'don't be so bloody daft.'
The capacity of people to get hold of the wrong end of the stick never ceases to amaze me.
Oh, and 'kecks' in case you don't know, are short trousers or, in some areas, underwear. DGR


by Dave Roberts

When we were young in nineteen forty-four
We never used to have to lock the door.
The trains all ran on time and there wasn't any crime;
We were decent, honest, upright, kind and poor.

The incidence of violence was small,
There were never any muggings, I recall;
And the murder rate was littler; if it hadn't been for Hitler
No one would have ever died at all.

Back then the days were always bright and sunny
Even though we didn't have a lot of money;
And Dad would like to sit Ma by the fire, and turn on 'ITMA'
And they'd laugh a lot, pretending it was funny.

When we were kids we never used to swear
Or wear daft clothes, or spit, or dye our hair
And, instead of taking drugs, we would stay home, making rugs
And we wouldn't say a word - we didn't dare.

Well, you never spoke unless first spoken to
And, if you went to some posh grown-up do,
Just one word out of place and a grown-up smacked your face
And chucked you through the door. And quite right, too.

The Air Raid Warden gave us many a fright;
He'd kill you if you dared to show a light.
If you had a torch in bed he would shoot you through the head
For signalling to German planes at night.

Our teacher used to teach us things by force.
He was ten feet tall, with muscles like a horse
And he used to use a cane to stimulate your brain;
Well, discipline was stricter then, of course.

If you did things wrong a policeman kicked your head
And took you home and made you go to bed,
And stood on guard all day, and if you tried to get away,
He'd hang you by the neck 'til you were dead.

We had cold baths a dozen times a week.
If you looked at girls they branded you a freak;
And they made you wear short kecks, and if you ever mentioned sex
You'd find yourself hauled up before the beak.

In the golden days of nineteen forty-four
We never used to have to lock the door.
But now, it's all gone wrong and I think, before too long,
We really ought to have another war.

© Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions 2011

Originally published on THE ODD EXCEPTION 8th September 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment