For the rain it raineth every day

When I was a young boy in Poplar I used to look out of the window on the first floor of the maisonette where we lived when it rained. Our yard was made of large concrete cement flags, bound with bitumen but the slabs were unevenly laid in this Festival of Britain development so rainwater collected in large puddles and when rain it the puddles they made bubbles.

When that I was and a little tiny boy,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

Today we are puzzled that so much rain has fallen this December; we look for reasons why so much of the places where people live are affected by floods while other places, previously fertile, are affected with drought. In most places we watch through the window of the media and do not understand whether what we see is the beginning of the end or simply a temporary change in the order of things. And so we speculate and enact out our speculations.

 

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day

 

Happy New Year

Good News: Life in the Thames

It is good to see that the Thames is now supporting plenty of marine life, When I was a child growing up in Poplar access to the river was difficult. It was a dangerous and poisonous place.According the legend at the time those who fell into the Thames had their stomachs pumped as a matter of routine. The Thames was then a watery desert of pollution and chemicals that flowed through our great city. Continue reading

Making A Difference

For some reason, certainly for a reason I cannot explain, I thought of a time many years ago back in Susan Lawrence Primary School in Poplar. The girls had been separated from the boys for one lesson and our teacher, Herbert Enever, decided to read part of a book to the boys. He read a long passage from C S Forrester’s “A Ship of the Line”. It described how a British ship in the Napoleonic Wars brought the force of its cannons to bear upon a French Army marching on a narrow coastal rad with no means of escape.  Continue reading

Swords Made of Wood

Once upon a time which was a long time ago, just a few yards from my home in Poplar there were garages and lock ups. One day a new person hired a small lock up. He was a bright, kind man with a red beard. He used his lock up for wood working, bringing to it his tools and wood. Continue reading

The Kindness of Poplar

Once upon a time when the time was 1962 and the weather rather cold a young and rather gawky boy, the kind of boy we would describe today as “nerdy” but was then described as “studious” walked across the East India Dock Road in Poplar, past the seated statute of Sir Richard Green and dog missing an ear and into Poplar Baths, built by Poplar Borough Council in the height of the great depression in order to provide work for the unemployed.

The boy had sixpence in his pocket to pay for swimming in the large pool, which was then all of thirty three and one third of a yard long. He exchanged his sixpence for a green ticket and tuppence in change and went to the male changing rooms, where he exchanged his green ticket for a basket to hold his clothes. He went into a cubicle, changed into his swimming trunks, known locally as a “cossie” , gave the basket full of clothes and his tuppence to the attendant in exchanged for a rubber band bearing the basket number and waded through the foot pool full of disinfectant into the large room that houses the swimming pool.

The boy wanted to try out some strokes that he had learned in a library book, and hoped to practice so much that he would be good enough at swimming to win a prize at the school gala, five months away.

He swum alone for a while and then practiced some racing dives, also alone and after an hour or two went back to the changing room, gave up his rubber band for his basket and a thin cotton towel and carefully more or less dried himself (he always missed wet bits) and with his cossie tightened into a very wet ball wandered into the small cafe that Poplar Baths boasted.

A serving lady stood behind a counter, chatting to large man on the other side of the counter. It might have been a romantic meeting, but the boy did not know of such; he was merely looking to see what his tuppence would buy after his swim, for he was hungry and his parents forbade him to eat before swimming. IF he breakfasted he would have to wait two hours for the food to digest, so he skipped breakfast and swum.

He looked at the bill of fare which was displayed on the wall . Toast with margarine was a penny, toast with butter was tuppence and what he craved most, a chocolate covered biscuit called a kit kat was tuppence halfpenny. He was not interested in tea, coffee or beverages, just something to eat.

He must have stared long and hard, because the lady asked him what he wanted. He wanted the chocolate but did not have enough for it. He felt his money and asked for two slices of toast with margarine.

“Give him buttered toast” said the man who leaned on the counter. “It will build him up after his swim.

The lady put thee toast on as the boy stammered that he only had enough money to buy the margarine variety.

The toast popped up and the lady buttered it generously. The many put his hand in his pocket and paid for the toast and gave the boy a sixpence too.

“Thank you, but I cannot accept this” said the boy, who had been taught not to take money from strangers.

The man leaned kindly down.

“Son” he said, a little gruffly, “let me give you some advice. Never refuse money”.

Such was the kindness of Poplar.

 

Guy Fawkes Night

Today in England (and possibly in other parts of the country) is Guy Fawkes Night. It happens every 5th November and celebrates the discovery of a Papist plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament several hundred years ago. Effigies of the ring leader of the plot, Guy Fawkes, are burned and fireworks set off. Some may say that it is a shame that Mr Fawkes did not succeed in blowing up Parliament, but that would be too cynical a view of things. Fawkes was hankering for a return to the old ways and the old religion, and wanted a Catholic England in 1605 when he stored his gunpowder in a cellar under the House of Commons and thought that by blowing up Parliament he would achieve his wishes.  Continue reading

Fight Fight Fight

When I was at school boys often fought each other. Sometimes there was a genuine reason for the fight, but more often than not the fight was encouraged and cajoled by other boys who simply wanted the entertainment of watching a punch up. Tow protagonists were identified, surrounded and then encouraged to fight, even though one of them never wanted to fight. Boys fear loss of face and so the encouragement usually resulted in a fight. Boys started screaming for a fight before the hostilities commenced, just to make sure that they did commence. Continue reading