DD’s 63rd Woodford Diary


Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist and observer of all things local. Illustrated by Evelyn Rowland

I used to enjoy quiz nights. At the pub possibly or as a fundraiser for a good cause. I was quite useful if there was a spelling round, but when it came to General Knowledge, I often knew that I knew the answer but somehow it refused to surface. Rather disheartening. Perhaps you’ve been there yourself. But this morning, early, when I drew the curtains and saw the heavy mist (I write these diaries several months ahead), my memory turned up trumps: I recalled Keat’s Ode to Autumn: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun.” An idea was born; would I dare to act on it? 

With the Gazette deadline approaching, I set off after breakfast, wondering how many funny looks I’d get in Sainsbury’s or Waitrose if I invited people to recall any single line of a poem they’d learnt, perhaps in childhood. Michael put down his bag and gave me his full attention. “Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. Oh, how I wish he’d go away.” Of course I could use his name, he said. “But everyone knows me as The Post.” After some thought, Mary volunteered just an opening line: “I wandered lonely as a cloud.” Later on, Millie was also ‘wandering lonely as a cloud’. I thought how nice it would have been if they could wander together. Rugby-playing Richard was giving his godmother a hand with her shopping. They both were intrigued and happy to give it a go. “I know I ought to be able to help,” she said. But Richard got there (beautifully) before her: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Pauline, aged 92, needed a preparatory drink of water before delivering her chosen lines, slowly and with real feeling: “Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!), awoke one night from a deep dream of peace.” I thought that was it but she was in full, passionate flow with a second contribution: “Ye have robbed, said he, ye have slaughtered and made an end!” I had jotted down “he said” but “No,” said Pauline, “It’s said he!” Barbara was instantly far away from the tinned baked beans and tubes of tomato puree and back in her primary school days, at Christmas, I think: “Little King so fair and sweet, see us gathered at thy feet. Be Thou Monarch of our school. It shall prosper neath thy rule.” In the next aisle, Ellie looked to the future rather than to the past: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, with a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me. And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves.”

I could almost see Darryl and Wendy putting on their thinking caps: Kipling’s poem to his son, entitled If was his favourite. “If only I could remember how it starts,” he said. (I checked it out later. I expect he did too: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…”) Wendy recalled a moving line from a poem often read at a funeral. “I have only slipped away into the next room.” A second Mary stopped and leaned on her trolley to give the topic some serious consideration. “I’d like you to include in your article the words on the Kohima Epitaph in North India: “When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today.” Almost as if to move from the sublime to the ridiculous, Anthony launched into one of Spike Milligan’s masterpieces: “Today I saw a little worm wriggling on his belly. Perhaps he’d like to come inside and see what’s on the telly.” Taxi-driver, Colin, was a Milligan fan too, but we settled on that much-parodied verse: “The boy stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled.” We mulled over what possible reasons the boy had; was he heroic or barmy? In fact, evidently, it was a true story of a boy who was obedient to his father’s orders, not knowing that his father was no longer alive. Doubly tragic really! Geraldine delivered her lines with appropriate vigour: “I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he; I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three.” I did wonder how many more shoppers would be ‘wandering lonely as a cloud’. Yet another Mary chose the same Wordsworth poem but leapt straight to the “host of golden daffodils, beside the lake, beneath the tress, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

As you can imagine, I was delighted, privileged, even, to find that so many people immersed in shopping lists, marmalade, cheese biscuits, tin foil, washing-up liquid, could switch, effortlessly in some cases, to some of the most profound and complex poetry. I certainly wasn’t expecting a small slice of EE Cummings’ poem about a couple in love: “One not half two. It’s two are halves of one.” While I was unwrapping this line, Guy came out with another offering, from Larkin, “but it’s a bit rude,” he said. “So?” I replied. “They ‘bleep’ you up, your Mum and Dad. They may not mean to but they do.” Get it? Some of my ‘respondents’ apologised, feeling like I did on quiz nights. At least three promised to catch me up if they did recall one of the many poems they knew they knew. When would Shakespeare claim his place in this day’s adventure? I asked myself. He did, when Gordon brought a spot of As You Like It to life, enjoyed by not a few others in the fresh fish queue: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts”. Time for me to exit? I think so.

(But I did remember to buy the kippers for tea.)

To contact DD with your thoughts or feedback, email dd@swvg.co.uk