I can’t even really recall how we got on to the topic, but my mother and I were talking about a house in Ospringe that my grandfather had lived in, and before I knew it she had fetched this booklet and was placing it into my hands:
“Your great Uncle Len used to write poems about what it was like to grow up and live in Faversham, and in 1989 he sent a heap to The Faversham Society and they decided to issue a whole booklet out of them. You’re probably old enough to understand them now, but you certainly weren’t back then!”
Until today, all I could have told you about my great Uncle Len was that he had a stubbly beard and smoked. I think I only ever saw him twice. Once was at a family party at the RC Church on Tanners Street, Faversham, in the late 1980’s (though my memories are fragmented on account of only being about four years old at the time), and once was in my grandfather’s hallway a few years later as he arrived just as we were leaving. Great Uncle Len died around twenty years ago and I know shockingly little about him, which is why reading through his carefully crafted words this evening felt like a huge gift.
Inside the booklet are dozens of his poems about growing up in Faversham: the Summers picking hops, watching for barges whilst stood in the mud on the Creek at Hollow Shore, and the night he and his nine siblings, including my grandfather, had to move house in the dark because they didn’t want anybody else to see how few possessions they owned.
I think what got to me the most whilst reading those poems was the remarkable sense of gaining posthumous familiarity with Uncle Len, and the realisation that a lot of what he had to say in poems written thirty years ago could still ring true today. A lot of the buildings he refers to in the poems are still there. Some have changed hands, but others haven’t. In addition, all the land still remains, only it maybe has a few (or more) extra features now, like the ’70’s residential builds that now share occupancy with the meadows opposite his first family home. The picture below, if you can make out the words, is a poem Len wrote specifically about these changes and developments:
For those unable to view the image, the bulk of the poem rues what he perceives as a loss of the town he grew up in to the town he later returned to, ending with a bittersweet account of passing a former acquaintance on the street, which unexpectedly then wed both past and present together for a moment of contentment.
And no doubt most people when they reach a certain age, or even before, will probably feel the same way that Len did when they look around ‘the place called home’. To me, this poem, like the rest in the book, has served as a sobering reminder of the eternal nature of change generally, as well as in relation to the landscape. If it’s not the land or the people around us changing, it’s us ourselves. New buildings and new people viewed with new and enlightened eyes, leaving very little room for anything to stay the same.
But perhaps my favourite thing about coming across this booklet this evening was realising the magic of creativity and how, even long after they’ve gone, we can still find out so much more about people from acquainting ourselves with the things they left behind. I feel like I’ve now had my third ever encounter with great Uncle Len, and now I know that he had a beard, smoked, and wrote damn good poems that I’ll think of, and consider, during any future visit to Faversham. I’ll never see the place in the same way again…
Song of the Day: Bad Wave – 1955
The song is a pretty cool indie-synth pop number, but the song combined with the video is something especially amazing.