Saturday, 14 July 2012


Unique, somehow evocative, and yet a new sound.
Not sleigh bells ringing but merry,
their promise already half conjectured when I wake
in this lumpy bed puzzling, taking bearings, the bumpy journey
having been wondrous strange.

Yesterday I came, the weather fine but poring,
by train and ship and train from the North West German plain,
over the one inch to the mile map of unknown Exeter
which should have been my goal
had it not been for the bright blue eye of the mapped river,
tempting, hinting, promising all the way
until the train lands me at Exter!
(Exter Sin Davids! is the cry all platform long, and Exter 'tis!)

I beach on my America, my new found land.
The cabbie knows,  of course he knows, Topsham.
'O yes, my boy, I knows Topsam, course I does.

And the 'Inn' fulfils the map's prophesy.  The Passage.
Its old board swings as it might be The Sign of the Spyglass or The Admiral Benbow
and on the river, already my sweetheart, I feast my eyes
while on the board a painted boat, a painted arm pulling upon a painted paddle,
ferries, beneath the painted raging of the skies, this bright Exe.

See me now paying off the cab, setting down my bags,,
an overdressed young arrival,
impressed and for one whole minute soul deep
in peace and wonder
on a desert cobbled apron and the bright tide rising and nothing stirring,
the inn, ancient, crooked, gabled, black and tan,
all that my inn should be.

But now a boat,  a wooden boat, tipped upside down and in the sun
and,  from her side protruding, a pair of boots
which do not answer questions put
but are caught in the stillness of that anchored summer evening,
a memory of boots and the echo of a grunt beneath the boat.

Slowly: thighs, backside, shoulders, tousled head,
the landlord of The Passage
appears before me, looks me up and down, scratches his ear.

Well now, if it's lodgings I'm after, I'm in luck!
All I need do is squeeze up a cramped staircase
to view his flat in the twin gables,  two pound a week to perch above The Passage Inn.
I make my bargain,  a bargain even then, and make my lumpy bed
and, after celebrating the golden glory
of living over a pub,  I lie in it
and lie in late  and wake to this new sound,
not sleigh bells but merry.
And from my garret window I look out on the river, bright in the morning sun
where the breeze is rattling the rigging of many a fine boat.

And to this jingle the singing river adds her welcome:
"Here friend,  here begins our love affair!  Here it begins!"
she sings.

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