Friary Park

Last night, I visited, the place,
Where as a child I'd play,
From five thousand miles,
And forty years away.
The landscape as a boy I'd seen,
Suburban London, of dappled grey and green.

And on the screen, as it faded into view,
I saw the house, where I used to be,
In a valley, in Valley Avenue,
Where there is no valley to see.
And there, the broken home,
Destroyed by bloody strife
As costly as the Somme,
Taking my father from my life.
The man who built us battleships for fun,
Happy with his second wife,
All too soon, was gone.

Nearby, on Friern Barnet Lane,
Was Friary Park,
Where, for all to see,
There were no friars and no friary.
But on the hill, stood Liberty,
Or other civic virtue cast in bronze,
It has been so long,
I don't remember,
And next to it a pond,
Filled with dark green water
From April to September.

That sceptred jewel,
Surrounded by a sea of solid green,
On which I fought cold watery wars
And heard the sailors scream,
And earn new scars.

With ships carved from wood,
I stood and watched,
The Vasa pitch in wind,
The sails top-heavy
The gun ports letting water in.

A modern frigate,
Made from scraps and plans,
For seven hundred hours,
Sank on its maiden voyage.
I stood, knee deep in shame,
When David G.
The one boy,
Who made me feel a fool,
Was passing.
(He had won the scholarship
To the private public school.)

The ship lay still,
Cradled in my arms,
Like a dying seal.
But all that I could feel
Was pride it was not dead,
For having built a British ship,
Even if I must re-equip,
And in future I must make a keel
Of hand-cast toxic lead.

I also must confess,
That sometimes it would chase the ducks,
Mostly not having any luck,
Since they just turned away,
But having not the edge of speed,
Perhaps one time in ten,
They would, with languid flap take flight,
To this now blushing man's delight.
Then land and swim again.

But as I looked back,
From my future self,
There on the satellite,
Where childhood's refuge
Ought to gleam,
There was no pond
Or ghostly shell,
Just a field of perfect green.

This navy's cradle had been
Reduced to a patch of grass.
How quickly they forget
That all the people wept
To see great Nelson pass.

Some idiot, fearing a bicycle might spill
Beneath the rippling waves,
Had banished water from the Friar's hill,
No more a dreamer's captain's watery grave.

(This fearsome threat was much decreased,
By water less than one foot deep.)

If I had known in time,
Oh what a fuss that I could make!
Just as the army might to mutiny be drawn,
If Eton's playing fields became a lake.
But it seems I must protest alone.

When the ministry men,
Came in league
To leave our park deflowered,
Where was garrulous Pepys
To lay them siege
In the corridors of power?

And where was Winnie,
Our First Sea Lord,
With monstrous crowds
Gathered to applaud,
To remind them all
"An island realm,
That neglects its ships,
And let's the navy down,
Is only stealing from itself -
One day, it will learn,
To starve or drown."

If I had been there,
Oh what a defence,
I might have made against
The bureaucrats' offence.

My frigate, armed with missile gun,
Usually made tame with rubber tip,
Once, safe at home,
Beweaponed with a pin,
To stave off stark defeat,
Had popped a party Zeppelin
At fifteen feet.

And I would bring the Golden Hind,
A wooden replica, no less,
The plastic Revell kit was not designed
To sail over roughened waves of slime.
The ducks and Drake at last unite
In common bond,
To demonstrate their might,
And save the pond.

The armada attacks the land
From sea and air,
Giving the gathered men
An unexpected scare.
The ducks spread wings and clack,
While Drake, in devious attack,
Circumnavigates the sea,
And fires from the back.
But determined not to yield,
These suddenly emboldened knights,
Take to the field,
With walking stick lance
And umbrella shield.

The Vasa sails again,
As does the Mary Rose,
Each getting off a single puff,
Before the wind in sudden squall,
Tips o'er their tops,
Sending them to the depths,
Ship, crew and all.

And as for Art,
The Fighting Temeraire,
In sudden sun-drenched mist,
Aglow with Turner's tasteful wisps,
Touches all who stare,
And ancient mariners summon up a cheer,
As hankies wipe away salt tears.

The park manager opens up the valves,
To let the water drain,
The little ships fight bravely on,
With horns and whistles
Crying out their pain.

With the battle nearly lost,
I try a new refrain,
And caring nothing for the cost,
Tap reason's vein.

"Sirs, I will see if words can STEM the tide.
And see if science can bring some light,
And change your mind.
These wooden ships today,
If left to grow,
Will one day evolve,
Into sensor-studded serpents
To amaze the world.
Even the BBC will make a call.
Too often, politicians praise our toys
But then, cut of the thing that stirs the hearts
Of growing boys and men,
Preferring to be rather lax,
And spend their time
Counting all the extra tax
That we bring in."

The councilors are dour and still
"And even, if I returned from the Americas,
In a galleon heavy laid with pirate gold,
Or, like Prospero, summoned by magic
From the air,
Would any of you care?
Or would your bankers say I came too late,
For they can no longer digest,
My pieces of eight?
They are so hard to facilitate,
And what is more,
Those heavy bags and rusty chests
Might mar the marble floor.
Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen,
And founder of my school,
Would shudder in her tomb with rage,
To see her England laid so low,
In this declining age."

At last the waters shrink,
And I must comfort take,
That an orderly retreat of little ships
Once shaped the country's fate.

The boats huddle at the last.
The crowd lets forth a mournful cry.
The ships let soar a final cheerful blast,
Then burst to flames, and like a Viking, die.

My teenage rage assuaged,
I make a cup of tea,
And look on the images from space again.
The pond is lost, but what of Liberty?

There she is, once Everest to climb,
Now safely guarded by a fence,
Her giddy pleasures no longer yours or mine,
It minimizes maintenance and expense.

Sense and sensibility can lead to murder of the good,
Is grass much safer than a shallow pond with ships of wood?
And can we expect our kids to care that much,
For objects or ideas they'll never touch?

At last my weeping eyes are left
With Friary Park,
On Friern Barnet Lane,
Where, for all to see,
There are no friars and no friary.

And I think of those friars,
And how the world can change,
And take away the places
However strange,
That we loved and knew
Even as we grew.

At least those friars,
Unlike my pond,
Will live on, in eternal fame,
Until some petty bureaucratic,
Moves to vanquish even that,
And tries to change the name.

© 2014 Gavin Miller. All rights reserved.