Mad Dogs and Englishmen... / 5 April 2014
I love to have family over for a meal. It’s nice to catch up and fill an evening with idle chatter. Last week my brother joined us for a few hours. After all the usual talk of work and the rest of the family we got around to the subject of our childhood.
At the time an episode of Top of the Pops was on TV from the year 1976. David, my brother began to chuckle. “Do you remember that year, the hot summer and old Joe the scrap man?”. At first I have to admit I was lost. It was only when he began to relate the story of how we had come up with a money-making scheme that things clicked into place in my mind.
We had decided that in order to make some money during the school holidays we would sneak into the scrap yard close to our home, steal lead, melt it down and sell it back to it’s owner, Old Joe the scrap man. We both fell about laughing as the story unfolded. An awful pair of criminals we were at the tender ages of twelve and nine.
Later that evening after David had gone I began to think back. I could picture old Joe in my mind and his two dogs that the whole of our village feared. I clearly remembered my father telling me how Joe and his late brother had “hoodwinked the war office, lied and never served during the second world war”. It was a tale that everyone in the village knew of - and many shunned Joe because of it.
He was a direct man. He could and often did come across as nasty and mean. His language was course and foul to anyone and everyone. You took your life into your own hands if his dogs ever came near you and he would always threaten any child he caught in his yard with them. I remember my heart pounding as we stood in the yard that day, selling him his own lead. The two dirty pound notes he handed over, oil on them.
In the poem I wanted to show the reader, Joe. He was a character that played a large role in my life back in the heat of '76. He left a lasting impression on my brother and I in many ways, especially when he worked out where the lead was coming from. We had taken over twenty pounds from him throughout that summer. I shall never forget running for my life when he tried to lock us in the yard after we had taken him ingots of lead we had sold him the week before that he had marked. The dogs on our heels and a shower of language I could never repeat here. Yes Joe made a big impression.
He behaved the way he did because of the way people from the village treated him. They never let his lack of war service drop. No wonder he was an isolated figure that had time for no-one. Sometimes I think we hold grudges for far too long.
From somewhere up North, love peace and poetry to all, Richard.
His two Alsatians salivate and tug
Tight the ropes,
Expecting ankles and receiving
“Do you have brass or copper?”, his
Heart falls at lead,
Oil hangs in the air and the scales
Creek, two pounds on offer.
Tall tales, war effort, liar my father
Grubby notes for ill gotten gains and
“Mums the word” pressed lips.
Eyebrows lift and fall with every word
And mimicry from my brother,
We sell him the efforts of a sticky tarmac
Overalls shuffle between the kennel and
The stacked zephyr cars,
Pride and joy no more, shattered glass, rubber
Seals hang limp.
Wheelbarrows handles, hot in the sun scorch
“Close the gate”, greasy hand slides through
The equally greasy hair.
Smudged pin up looks on from the dead fly
No beauty would stay long in this place of
“Find brass, I pay well”, his last words follow
Thumb print pages flick in the shade of his
Car seat corner.