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The Early 1950s: “Seen but not Heard”

1 Leave a comment on verse 1 0 Steam trains whistling through the night,
Wagons buffering up in the marshalling yards,
The milk man with his early morning horse and cart,
‘Papers and comics land with a thwack in the hall;
Eggs, bacon, tea and toast drift up the stairs,
But the lino’s cold beneath your feet,
Frost-art etched on your bedroom window panes,
A queue for the loo.
Downstairs, reading by the fireside,
Dan Dare and Dennis the Menace,
Then encyclopaedias when mum appeared;
Your brother dreamed of joining the Navy,
Your dad talked of war only after the pub,
Your grand-dad’s silent memories of the trenches,
Only mentioned when granny sat with you at night,
And said the sparks in the sooty chimney
Were the souls of dead soldiers,
And grand-dad would sing,
“Old soldiers never die, they only fade away”;
Gran would say “No cheese, it’ll only give you nightmares.”
Outside, you climbed trees, played marbles,
Collected conkers, planned a street bonfire night,
Played football and cricket in the road,
Went to Saturday Morning Flicks,
Stood up for the National Anthem,
Watched your dad make a telly in the shed,
Read the headlines about the H Bomb,
And Stanley Matthews, Mount Everest and losing at Wembley
(For the first time: Hungary, 6-3).
Now you walk past the bombed out buildings and pill boxes,
Then watch your dad turn the bomb shelter
Into a grape- vined green-house.
While your mum knitted fair isle pullovers,
As Uncle Rex took pictures with his Kodak box camera,
Until it was time for Sunday tea:
Bread and butter with the jelly and tinned fruit.
Some days you went on a coach trip,
“A Mystery Tour”, or on the train to the sea-side,
Or dreamed of the Wild West or winning the War,
Or scoring the winning goal in the Cup Final;
Some days you rode your bike out into the country,
Careless through the carless streets,
Avoiding the factories at closing time,
When the roads were flooded with workers on bikes too,
Riding like the wind with a fag in the corner of their mouths.
Hardly anyone down our street had a car,
But the Yanks did and you went to the air base on Saturdays,
Chewed on Hershey Bars with Bugs Bunny,
While your sister got her uniform ready,
Blazers and bowlers and berets and caps,
While you swapped dad’s cigarette cards on the corner,
Footballers and test match cricketers,
With their Brylcreamed hair and gleaming smiles.
The only social media was talking in the street,
Or over the garden fence, or in the kitchen,
Because the back door was always open,
Unless there was a smog, when everything was tight shut,
And you lost your way in the choking gloom.
Everyone seemed to smoke, even your doctor,
The wonderful Doctor Liechenstein,
Who gave you chocolate bars when rationing ended,
And who had escaped the horrors of the Holocaust.
But like so many things back then,
You only found it out later on,
Because back then, for good or for ill,
Children were commanded to be
“Seen but not heard.”

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Source: http://footballpoets.org/poems/the-early-1950s-seen-but-not-heard/