Often I think of the beautiful town

      That is seated by the sea;

Often in thought go up and down

The pleasant streets of that dear old town,

      And my youth comes back to me.

          And a verse of the Lapland song

          Is haunting my memory still:

          ‘A boy’s will is the wind’s will,

And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.’

                              Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ‘My Lost Youth’

 Mum had two principal poetry books – ‘Mount Helicon’ and ‘Lyrical Forms in English’. Both of these have ‘Flora Body Form VA’ pencilled on their flyleaves. Between them they contained all one could wish for in English poetry. There were few greater delights for me in my early years than listening to Mum reciting poetry and, alter, to learn those very poems myself and proudly recite them to Dad and Mum. As I grew older it became slightly less delightful as it was a requirement during school holidays to spend at least half an hour learning poetry before going out to play.

One of my regrets is that I didn’t keep up my poetry reading in later years. A little bit of occasional repetition would have firmly implanted them in my mind as they were in Mum’s.

To digress into older years for a moment, it was a real delight for me to discover my first english teacher at The Holt, Miss Evans, was equally enthusiastic about ‘old’ poetry and my next English teacher, Peter Hikins, introduced me to modern poetry, including the book ‘Here Today’, and even invited his friends – the Liverpool poets like Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten – into school to read to us (McGough and Henri were part of the group ‘Scaffold’ and so had two claims to fame). Charles Causley also came along to give us the brilliant poem ‘Timothy Winters’ which ended up as one of Mum’s favourites after I had recited it from memory a few times.

In addition to the poems in Mum’s books the weekly periodical ‘Look and Learn’ had a poem every issue. I was later to discover that Jo used to learn this poem every weekend and recite it at the dinner table on Sunday for a reward of sixpence.

Another source of poems were the volumes of ‘Highroads of Literature’. These took me across the worlds of art and literature as its matching volumes tackled history and geography. GB still has some of these on his bookshelves.

Sadly, the last poetry source I can recall disappeared at some stage. This was a Bibby’s Annual.   Bibby, Joseph (1851-1940) was an animal feed and soap manufacturer whose factory was just down Bowring Park Road from us. Joseph Bibby often said that, if the accident of birth had not made him a miller, he would certainly have gone into journalism; as the opportunity arose, he spent more and more time on writing and editorship. From 1896 he produced Bibby’s Quarterly which was intended mainly for farmers, it contained material of agricultural interest (including photographs of livestock reared on Bibby’s feeds), as well as general articles. By 1905 when it stopped it had become an almost exclusively literary and artistic magazine, with excellent colour reproductions of celebrated paintings and from 1906 to 1922 he produced Bibby’s Annual with the same literary and artistic ideas. Nana had a Pears Annual but that too disappeared at some stage. From 1891 to 1925 Pears soap manufacturers issued a large format Christmas Annual, similar to Biiby’s Annual, each year. I cannot remember if that poems in it but if so I never used it as a source for my poetry learning.

Our Bibby’s Annual lived under Mum and Dad’s bed along with a pair of indiaqn clubs (more for self defence than callisthenics, I believe), a policeman’s truncheon that had been Dad’s father’s or Uncle Frank’s and a Victorian / Edwardian massage machine. This latter was wound up to generate an electrically driven massage devices on which could be fitted leather pads or a long metal stick whose purpose I could never guess but which may well have been an early form of vibrator (according to Rachel Maines who lost her teaching post at Clarkson University, in northern New York, in 1986 when she published her first article on the history of vibrators in a Bakken Museum newsletter).

The mind is a strange thing when it can wander from Longfellow to vibrators….

 

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