Are you still there?

I am living in my childhood holidays – except I’m not. When I was a child, England was our destination of choice for most summer vacations (because of the lovely weather of course). We would rent a little holiday home in a village somewhere and go for walks through the woods, climb over stiles, jump in brooks, go for cream teas, browse second hand bookshops and visit stately homes.

Now I live here – paying a mortgage, finding work, bringing up kids – I sometimes struggle to see how this is the same country I knew from those summers in my youth. This is the topic of this week’s poem.

Our front garden - recreating an English country walk

Our front garden – recreating an English country walk

Are you still there, England?

I remember stone cottages
on windy roads hemmed with hedges,
dogs barking in the yard at dawn
a village shop, red phone box outside.
We ran without fear, without thought,
down the road, flip flops flying,
summer clothes, always grubby,
cricket in the garden and afternoon tea.

There was a stillness that settled.
You were but the scene, painted
as backdrop for childhood adventures,
no one moving or laughing but us.
Shopkeepers waved paper hands,
painted smiles from the hikers,
they knew their role and their place,
any words tightly scripted to brighten our day.

Twenty years on I have jumped in the picture:
the cars set in motion, the volume turned up.
Outside the shop is a shattered red phone box,
the winding lanes hide speeding cars round blind bends.
The chatter is ceaseless, voices cry for attention,
each one the centre of their own universe.
I can’t hear the birds now, the rush of the river,
no one wants to play games or run after geese.

Oh England,
Is it you or my youth that has fled
in the whirl and confusion of life games
insurance and taxes, politics, violence
and final demands?

Then I step out of the front door
the dewy lawn, tall purple flowers,
a child by the hand and one on my arm
and I see them gaze in joyful wonder
at bees and planes and diggers and cats.
Bills are just paper, traffic a game,
Their eyes reflect your beauty,
I look at their faces and find you again.

(c) Judith Kingston 2013

I am linking up, like every Thursday, to Prose for Thought on Victoria Welton’s blog. Click through to read some excellent poetry from fellow bloggers!

Prose for Thought

23 responses

    • Oh wow, that is so true! I was very good at holiday-ing in my head as a child, but as an adult it hadn’t even occurred to me to do that. And a good thought about the Netherlands. They probably will have glorious memories of Opa & Oma’s house and being on the beach in the wind etc.

  1. This is great – it is amazing how we romanticise places we visited in our childhood…and sometimes it is hard to know who has changed to the point of being unrecognizable – the place we remember or us.x

    • Exactly. I do think I saw a very different England as a child – we were usually in small, quaint villages and now I live in the city. But there is certainly some romanticising going on too.

  2. Oh, I just love this! I completely empathise with that feeling of loss. Sometimes our lives can feel so far removed from the simplicity and beauty of childhood. But it’s still there. I love that this poem evolves to acknowledge that. It’s hard to switch off from the hustle and bustle and tune into those little moments, but our children make it possible xx

    • It is something i just love about having kids: everything is new and exciting to them, and through their eyes you can experience it all again. Rediscover the wonder.

  3. Wales was just the same in my childhood and I was growing up there and not on holiday. I think when we see through a child’s eyes we redicover the wonder of the world around us and forget for a short while the responsibilities we struggle with as adults, children can be uncomplicated in their acceptance of the beauty and excitement of the present moment.

  4. This is such a brilliant poem, and a wonderful observation of how we can stop seeing what’s around us, and then re-discover it through the eyes of our children. I love the ‘life games’. Your holidays sound amazing, and I’m sure you will give your children similar experiences! x

    • I hope so! Probably very different ones, as I have kind of rebelled against rainy holidays and opted for sunny ones instead! But I am sure they will love thinking back to floating in pools and digging their little toes into sandy beaches.

    • Sadly it is rare to find one in tact in the city. 😦 It was my little metaphor for how the British don’t appreciate their heritage.

  5. I have these find memories of England gone-by too. I grew up in a remote village like the one you describe. I do sometimes wonder however, if it’s us who have changed? I certainly never remember rain in the Summer holidays!

  6. What a stunning piece of poetry. I’m sitting here crying. Simply beautiful. It is so well observed. Makes me want to be a child again. Thank you so much for linking this to Prose for Thought xx

    • I’m still holding out hope that those villages are out there somewhere – although I guess the actual inhabitants also have mortgages and other bills to pay.

  7. Judith, your intrinsic writing and intrinsic self; a part of the very England you describe; past and present. Brilliant writing again fellow Brit! xxx

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