Friday, 30 March 2012

Early Memories - Guernsey VII
The Tuck Box

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Early Memories - Guernsey VII - The Tuck Box

We each had a tuck box,
they mostly looked the same;
some were red, others blue,
with studs along the sides
and the all-important lock
to keep the contents safe.

Henry’s box was the finest
he’d made it for himself.
The dove tails were immaculate,
the brass hinge and locks inset
and gleaming French polish
bought out the oak’s tight grain.

My box was just a normal one
but I’d customised it in style
and covered it in carpet cuts
saved from my parents’ house
It looked pretty different;
like a block of soft brown fur

Each of us kept our treasures
confined in our tuck box.
They contained all we had;
our toys, sweets, comics,
pictures of heroes and
letters from Mum and Dad.

To us each box was sacred,
they were our only private space,
a place no one else would enter
where our secrets could be held safe
Save from the house masters;
who’d rummage and pry within.

My tuck box was covered in carpet
and my treasure were kept therein
but it wasn’t the only box I had.
Like Henry I’d made others
as strong as his oak box
but these were in my mind
and they were tightly locked.

John Carré Buchanan
30 March 2012

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Early Memories - Guernsey VI
A Lighter Side

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One teacher we had was a tiny man, dwarfed by the tallest first years, he seemed to have one of those characters that are associated with small people. He was a bully, who liked to shout and would often start a lesson by giving the whole class detention.

This man was clearly not cut out to be a teacher and I seem to remember that he did not last a full year at the school.

The poem below describes students bullying a teacher which seemed funny at the time, but looking back at it was not so laudable. That said the point I am trying to make in the poem is that sometimes when you fully expect the whole world to come crashing down on you, as by rights the two lads and those who were laughing at the teachers misery should have done, the unexpected can happen. I guess that morning the deputy head was thinking the teacher would benefit from some of his own medicine, and he did the bare minimum to stop what was happening.

I have always wondered what happened in the staff room when he was next in there?

Early Memories - Guernsey VI - A Lighter Side

The teacher was but four foot six
the juniors towered over him,
he’d scream and shout all day long,
and the boys just ignored him.

He was a vicious little man.
His pupils grew to hate him.
The other teachers tried their best
but they obviously found him grating.

One day as I walked along behind him,
two boys picked him up!
They walked along; his little body
dangling between them.

Then around the corner came Vernon,
he was the deputy head.
Strict and fair and very scary;
I thought they’d soon be dead.

He yelled; “Put that teacher down!”
and the two lads dropped him smartly.
Strangely Vernon carried on,
He did not stop to scold them.

Once they’d passed, I saw his face
light up in silent laughter;
and in that instant, I understood
how human was this master.

John Carré Buchanan
24 March 2012

Friday, 23 March 2012

Early Memories Guernsey V

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When I was in the fourth form we had a common room which was split into two levels with a large under-floor space between them. The common room was decorated with hanging tie-died sheets and carpet tiles from the carpet shop sample catalogues. The common room was pretty much our own space and we were, for the most part, left alone, to do what we wanted in it.

Someone, I can’t remember who (honest), had the bright idea of making our own alcohol and we set trying to make cider. In those days there was no internet and we were boys so we didn’t do books! This left us at a slight disadvantage as we had only learned the very basics of making alcohol in biology.

The following poem is my memory of a couple of terms spent making cider. I hope you enjoy it.

Early Memories Guernsey V

In biology we’d made alcohol
which sparked the great idea;
to make our own cider
to drink at end of year.

We scrumped and crushed the apples
and collected all the juice,
which we stored in a glass flagon;
purloined for just this use.

One lad acquired some yeast
on a trip to the brewery.
A great big yellow lump of it
which made it bubble with fury.

The sugar came real easy
as tea was served at break
and pockets full of sugar
were delivered with a shake.

So juice, yeast and sugar
were mixed in a bubbling flagon
kept warm under the floorboards
by leaving an electric bulb on.

It made a murky, frothy potion
which needed to be strained,
so we made a filter with a loo roll
through which the mix was drained.

The result was pink in colour?
The loo roll without a doubt!
The first few sips drew gasps
as we choked and spat it out.

Five minutes later, our precious brew
was tipped into the gutter;
and the evil smelling pink concoction
down the drain did splutter.

The next few weeks a funny smell
pervaded the whole area.
The masters tried to find the source,
While we - kept silent - of course.

John Carré Buchanan
23 March 2012

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Early Memories Guernsey IV

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I was 11 when I moved down to what we called the ‘Upper School’, the boarding school was much bigger with 65 boarders instead of 16. During the first few years we lived in ‘New Block’ which makes the corner of Upland Road and the Grange. In those days there was one large dormitory upstairs and another downstairs and each slept 22 boys with 18 inches between each bed.

The prefects or duty house master were responsible for lights out and would usually insist on silence before flipping the light switch and going back to whatever they were doing before their duties interrupted them.

It was then that the youngest boy known as the ‘KV’ (Abbreviated ‘Cave’ = Latin for ‘Beware’) would let us know that they had gone and the fun would start. This poem records one of the activities which used to happen from time to time.

Early Memories Guernsey IV

The lights went out and the dormitory fell silent,
beyond the door retreating footsteps descended the stairs.
The youngest eyes watched from the sash window
waiting for the duty prefect to leave the building.
The word “ok” was whispered.
From the other end of the dorm a sash could be heard opening.
Silently a young lad slipped clothes over his pyjamas.
Then he ducked through the first floor window.
A shadow stole along the wall to the lamp post,
It slipped silently down and disappeared.
Footfall, barely audible could be heard padding off into the night.
Using all available cover the young boy stole unseen along the road,
hiding from passing headlamps and skirting pedestrians.
His pulse pounded in his ear as he passed the old graveyard,
he hoped his racing heart couldn’t be heard.
Slipping between the bushes he passed the tower and fire station.
His objective now in view he waited behind a bush
biding his time, watching silently for familiar faces.
Then, all clear, he slipped across the road and through the door
approaching the counter, pyjamas legs showing beneath his jeans,
he uttered; “Twenty two packets of chips please!”

John Carré Buchanan
21 March 2012

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Have You Heard?

I was looking at my Facebook homepage today and saw a post that had been written by someone imagining what it must be like to be a military wife or husband when their partner is on tour. Whilst the sentiment was nice, I felt the poem had a lot to be desired, a view that, judging by the comments under it, was shared by a lot of other people.

This spurned me on to thinking about how I might address this difficult topic so I put my fingers to the keyboard and came up with the following poem;

Before you read it you should note that;
  • In verse 1 ‘Op MINIMISE’ is the name of the practice of stopping deployed personnel contacting loved ones at home immediately after a major event has occurred in theatre. This is done in order to ensure that the authorities have time to tell the next of kin what has happened to their loved ones before the Jungle drums start beating.
  • In verse 3 the word 'patch’ is the colloquial term for a military housing estate.
I would be most interested in your comments on this poem please.

Have You Heard?

When I dropped the kids at school
The talk was; “have you heard?”
They must be on Op MINIMISE
Because there’s been no word.

I had to do the shopping
the stocks were getting low.
I met Barbara in Tesco’s,
she asked; “Do you know?”

Back home the patch is quiet.
I crack on behind closed doors,
The radio in the background
As I do my household chores.

My mind is spinning painfully.
My emotions are red raw.
How I wish he was here with me,
not in some bloody war.

The phone’s shrill call disturbs me
My mind is suddenly blurred,
It’s Julie from down the road
She asks “Have you heard?”

“Jackie’s Smudge has been injured
He’s coming home today,
I’m going over to help her.”
I didn’t know what to say.

Relief floods in, for my Jack’s safe.
My heart leaps for joy;
But then its shattered; for young Smudge
is such a lovely boy.

It’s hard to be the partner
of service folk on tour.
When they’re away you’re left with
your own hell to endure.

You have to run a household
and tend to grieving kids
whilst guarding your own emotions
and missing them to bits.

John Carré Buchanan
20 March 2012

Monday, 12 March 2012

In Loco Parentis

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In my time in the Army I often saw parents who were leaving home for a while say to a child something like "look after your brother" or "look after your mother". I even remember this happening to me when my brother joined me at boarding school.

As a parent I now understand that we say this sort of thing to try and make the child feel more grown up, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to stop the child crying, or to make them feel better self-esteem. Whatever the reason, the words the adult says are different to the words the child hears. The child could be misled to believe he or she was being placed in charge which brings with it a whole load of responsibilities for which the child is not equipped. In effect the phrase is placing layers of duty on the child, and by so doing it removes elements of their childhood.

That said for many children the words may be the very last words that they hear their parent utter and the duty and responsibility become very real survival tools as they fight to find food, water and shelter for their family.

I wrote the poem with my own experience at boarding school in mind, but having written it I now look at the words and think how vital the work of organisations such as Compassion and the Tumaini Fund are. These organisations aim to help orphans who have been forced into caring for their siblings. I would encourage anyone reading this blog to look at my org's* page and follow the links to learn more about how you can help children regain some of their childhood.

If this is not for you, perhaps my poem will remind you to choose your words with care when saying goodbye to a child, remember they hear your words more literally than you may intend. If you remember that; my poem has not been wasted.

In Loco Parentis

“Look after your brother.”
The words meant well
but to the eight year old
they were a command,
and duty weighs heavy.

Many a loving parent
parts with similar words,
child placed in loco parentis
in a casual throw away phrase
and duty weighs heavy.

Eight years old
weight of the world
Father, mother,
sometimes even spouse
and duty weighs heavy.

Absent parents may never know
how their words were heard.
They meant to instil comfort
but childhood became parenthood
and duty weighs heavy.

John Carré Buchanan
12 March 2012

Friday, 9 March 2012

Early Memories Guernsey II

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This is another of my early memory series. This particular memory is of my first day at boarding school. I was seven years old and as the poem says I had only been there half an hour when the events happened. Technically the school did nothing wrong, they had Loco Parentis, meaning they were my legal guardians; it was just interesting, in fact almost amusing, to find out some forty years later that my real parents had never been told.

Early Memories Guernsey II

They’d left me half an hour before,
a boarder at new school,
I’d joined the other lads outside
the tree house was real cool.

But then I slipped and fell
and landed on a stone,
I split my young head open
right down to the bone.

A lady called Matron
patched up my bleeding head
and sent me up to the dorm
and made me stay in bed.

Now that was that for forty years
when chance I did recall
the incident to my parents
who’d been told bugger all!

The loco parentis forms
had only just been signed
so I guess the school’s point of view
was; 'why spoil their piece of mind?'

John Carré Buchanan
09 March 2012

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Another Anniversary

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Another Anniversary

“Happy Birthday.”
Happy Birthday,
another anniversary,
another testament to that day,
another reminder,
of the loss,
of the pain,
of the……
Oh not all this again.
Happy it is not.
Happy I am not.
Nor can I ever be.
I was, I was, I
am no longer.
Destroyed, torn asunder,
one moment invincible
and then.....
Happy Birthday.....

John Carré Buchanan
07 March 2012