It’s remarkable to me with my four surnames
That, for seventy years, my parents were wed.
They got interviewed by Justin Webb
For the Today programme. Mum said,
‘It’s a matter of give and take.’ And then,
‘Jack gave and I took,’ she quipped.
It’s true, he was the worshipper
From their teens, and she the worshipped.
He, intellectual, short, dark, angel-faced,
She, timid but sociable, pretty, short, dark,
She was a homemaker, he a schoolteacher,
Wanting us daughters to make our mark.
For the record, my sister is short, dark-haired
And quite noticeably beautiful;
I am short, fair and inclined towards religion,
Yet, in some ways, possibly less dutiful.
There was also the baby whose premature birth
Occurred two years before I was born
He died, so remains a great mystery,
But some fabric of my parents’ life was torn.
They married early in World War Two.
In the army, he had many close shaves;
She, in the East End, took to the shelters
Those crowded, subterranean caves.
Their parents, born in Europe
Had migrated to this Sceptr’d Isle
And here they flourished,
Working with machine and textile
Poor in Whitechapel,
But thriving in the postwar boom
Families in suburban semis,
No longer sleeping in one room.
My grandparents were tiny
But my mother’s brothers were quite tall
And male pattern baldness
Appeared in them all.
I always think my son is five foot eight
But he says no, five seven or maybe six.
His boys could grow up tall
As their mum brings tall genes to the mix.
When one of my daughters studied theatre
They got her to play Hermia, in the Dream,
Where matters of height and size
Are a part of the play’s theme.
The thing is, she’s taller than her sisters,
Tall enough to have joined the police
When they still had a height requirement,
If such had been her caprice.
To this day, I’m put in mind of my father
When I see certain short, good-looking men,
Usually on a screen: actors or journalists
Who appear every now and then.
My Zodiac and Chinese star signs
Are associated with the element ‘earth,’
Virgo and Earth Ox,
If such categories have any worth.
Obviously, as my feet touch the ground,
I am nearer to the earth than the sky,
But I’d prefer ‘air’ for my element,
To fix the gaze aloft on something high.