Iain Campbell

Old Cultra or (All that money could not buy)

Iain Campbell

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Lenny Harris owned the garage,

a dingy waymark upon the old road to Bangor,

a reflection in a rainbowed puddle,

a shack of wriggled tin that smelt of oil,

stale tobacco and damp earth;

a scrunch of gravel guarded

by two sentinels of the highway,

petrol and paraffin,

one for the rich and one for the poor.

The big cars never called, only turning off

between high unclipped hedges;

a zig and a zag of a road across the tracks,

with forgotten, unnamed platforms,

the waiting room, long abandoned

and sliding towards accelerated decay,

it’s filigree canopy crudely amputated;

no more the clatter of a porter’s cart

or slam of carriage door

or stationmaster’s rasping whistle for the off;

now even the slow trains rumble through,

never stopping.

Next is old Miss Fry, who lives alone,

down Browns Park, a one sided lane

of vanilla cabins and forgotten potholes;

her private world of peppermint and mothballs

hidden behind a cobwebbed trellis porch;

her smile as tight as her spinster’s handbag.

Miss Fry, who once taught me multiplication by rote

in the days before a fascination of dinosaurs

hung bright on every classroom wall.

Further on is Cecil Bates’s lorry,

a green edged flat-back

piled high with bricks, bagged cement,

four by twos reclining across the cab,

and somewhere in the middle,

a slump of rain pocked sand,

with a battered mortar barrow tipped tight

and rope lashed upon its crumbled slope.

Then it’s Johnny Heron’s field,

its deep earth drills long neglected,

its long grass creased in flaxen ripples

across a summer breeze,

the derelict glass houses, leaning, shattered,

the mountain of tumbled rusty tins, battered,

past lingering green glass bottles,

each an epitaph for his battle lost

against the weeds so long ago.

In the gathering twilight there’s old Mr Ross,

charting an erratic homeward course

after another afternoon at the Reform Club,

a tuneless whistle announcing his shuffled progress,

his flies still open from a short relief further up the road;

his house, one of thread bare carpets

flickering gas-lamp shadows, and a cold scullery;

but he always gave us a glass of lemonade

when we called by.

And there is Mrs Bradley climbing the hill,

in her belt-less, borrowed Burberry;

wearing a frown like a bulldog,

a slack black bag clenched tight below a ragged cuff,

tuppence in her widow’s purse,

the fare for her bus ride home.

And later still, Tom Courtenay, the gardener,

Johnny’s drinking pal, cycling by on rusted rims,

bald tyres flattening in a puddled splash,

his lamp flickering in cadence

with his weary pedalled dynamo;

no handle-barred moustache,

just last week’s stubble, smudged

beneath a battered brown fedora.

And at the bottom of that zig zag hill,

stands the yacht club: so bold

beside the whitewashed cottages,

its flagstaff set square

with crisscrossed ropes and spars,

its old boatyard, definitely out of bounds,

with tarps and trolleys and last season’s

empty rusting paint tins

crowding our shortcut to the jetty;

its boathouse,

a reflection in a rainbowed puddle,

and smelling of oil, stale tobacco, damp sand

and just a hint of paraffin;

and further along the shore

up long raked gravel drives

with tablecloth lawns of gingham green

stand the big redbrick houses;

where Cecil patched the fading architecture,

where Johnny once sold his garden greens,

where Mrs Bradley dusts and cleans,

and old Tom Courtenay cuts the grass

and always tips his battered hat.

Iain Campbell

Iain hated poetry at school but has since changed his mind.  His poems are inspired by his love of the landscape and the sea, often intertwined with a tale of someone he has met, or of a journey he has undertaken.  He has had poems published in a number of journals including the Blue Nib, Dreich Poetry chapbooks, the Bangor Literary Journal and the Honest Ulsterman. He was a recipient in 2020 of an ACNI SIAP grant and is currently working towards his first anthology.

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