In Past Times

“This piece is written in the Betjeman style and is of the genre of his times. It takes the form of a narrative and the story-teller would be a man in the very twilight of his hours on earth, looking back over what for him, was a key and memorable event. The writer identifies with parties once held in a very grand house which was set above the village of his upbringing. The final stanza is deliberately thought-provoking”

In Past Times 

By Chris Green

And all were gathered, hale and hearty
For the occasion of our sons 10th birthday party
Grand it was to be, for my wife had decreed,
Accordingly, we were tasked to prepare the great ‘feed’
With all haste and fervour, expectations to exceed
Fever pitched yet gleeful, we carried out the deed
Of sweeping and cleaning, painting and preening
Arranging, decorating, garish, un-seeming
All undertaken to sate a boy’s day-dreaming.

 

Yes, grand it had to be, for my wife had so decreed,
No stone to be unturned for the eldest of her breed!
And all was to be held in the sumptuous Great Hall.
Six decades on, still I see it all.
All the young wolf cubs and school chums, football team too;
Uproarious laughter, such a hullabaloo,
So many games and activities, like chimps in the zoo,
Climbing & hiding, riding and running through
Every room, every corridor, cubby nook and cranny-
The only one not laughing was our children’s nanny!

 

And so it arrived, that momentous of days,
Preparations completed in all manner of ways.
Last minute details checked and re-checked,
Family and helpers looking rather hen pecked
“Make sure that cake’s properly decorated…”
Shouts my wife, as she fussed and orated
Instructions ticked off, orders primly narrated
Yours truly in the wrong and oft-times berated
“Hands off those mince pies or you’ll go to your shed!”
Eldest son was shining; completely elated.

 

Three O’ clock sharp and the doors open wide,
Weary mother ushering, glowing with pride;
Tumultuous the boys all crowd inside
And gasp with delight at the treasures they find:
Cakes, sweets and sandwiches of every kind,
Dandelion and burdock, cold fizzy pop,
Boys busy feet scurry clippity clop
On highly polished wooden floor boards (that no longer shine)
Seeking out all those delights of the culinary kind.

 

Brightly coloured parcels all tied up with fancy strings;
Lights, sparklers and crackers and all manner of things,
And Oh, the laughter, how they laughed at their play!
I remember one little chap, had something of a mishap
And was distraught at the sight of his broken favourite toy
But tears of anguish were quickly extinguished
As a parent’s skilful deft fingers restored his joy
Then at last the lights are dulled, all that boyish noise is lulled
With due flourish and fan-fare, not a moment too late,
Hoorah for the arrival of James’s Birthday cake!

 

Lovingly hand-made in the shape of a train
Of the type the Great Western Railway gained fame.
Up went the boy’s cheers, the noise rose again
And with a hip-hip hooray and the birthday refrain
I stride forward and, without further ado, take
James’s hand and guide him, ten candles to light
Tears well in my eyes, his shine with delight
Then with a huff and a puff and a ‘one-two-three’
The ten lit candles are extinguished with glee
Cake then sliced up, of course there was none remaining for me!

 

Then at 6PM, the old clock chimed the party’s end
Countless excited but tired little boys home to send.
Clutching party bags in the one hand, coat & cap in the other,
Out into the night into arms of waiting mother,
“Thank you for having him” “Ah he was no bother”
“See you tomorrow James, we had so much fun!”
James’s doe-like eyes elevated to mine and glum
Said”…seems it was over directly it had begun”
“But thanks Mum, Thank you Dad it really was the best of fun”

 

On then with pyjamas and off to bed
And after another of my stories, he lays down his head,
Off to the land of endless happy dreams
Where hills are great mountains, yet vast oceans mere streams.
At last with the other two similarly despatched
No doubt their own future plans to be hatched
Then mother and father in the lounge are united
Their young son’s birthday wish, fully requited.
The next day of course brought ever more cleaning
Performed, perhaps less enthusiastically, if you follow my meaning.

 

Sixty summer or more onwards and in the dusk of my days
My memories, now misty support me in some ways
I think of how things were in happier times
Yet ever wistful as the old clock chimes:
Grand and Great-Grandchildren have held me in thrall
Countless weddings, births & christenings, I’ve been to them all
But of all the events I remember most clearly and dearly…was
When all were gathered, hale and hearty
For the occasion of our sons 10th birthday party
And grand it was indeed…for my late wife had so decreed.

 

Christopher J Green 2011