I. Ely was ours! 1969
Ely Cathedral. Oh, we knew the drill
of racing up the tower to catch rainbows.
Or leaping over ancient graves and
raised tombstones, to hear the dead men moan
at the endless tourists told to ‘keep off the grass’.
As they marvelled and clicked at all the
stained glass. But
Ely was ours! And between the term time
tears we learned to have fun in the Bishop’s Palace,
the place we lived for all those years
but never called home.
II. Chatteris baths, October, ‘75
I had my first kiss in Chatteris.
under water in the deep end
with eyes wide open,
smarting from the chlorine.
But the touch of your lips made me
silently sing, my budding body bubbling
under the humming neon lighting.
We came up gasping, checking if
the lifeguard had he seen us, why
was he smiling?
Beige, Braille gingham tiles,
slipper baths on both sides.
Changing rooms with seedy curtains.
Locker money for the snack machine.
Our tender skin was oiled with chlorine.
Driving back to boarding school
in the muted ‘sunshine’* minibus.
The flat fen land darkness, thick with ghosts
yet all I could think of was your touch,
III. The canon on the Green, Ely. May ‘79
Early evening, summer still in her teens,
we would hang out and cling on to
the canon on the green.
We would argue about God, never far
from us in the peal of church bells,
that always spooked the pigeons and doves.
Neither of us believed but enjoyed the
arguing. I Loved winding you up, knowing you would
have the last word; before we were called back in,
to our own, red bricked institution.
IV. Leaving: June 1981
I knew I wouldn’t miss the floods
or the earthiness of rotten eggs;
mixed with the sickly sweet smell
of plasma beets, bled of their sweetness;
leaving a cloying sourness, that lingered
in the autumnal air.
Strange how my heart is still there.
*Sunshine Minibus – Donated to our school by the Variety Club Charity in the 70s. We were glad of the opportunities the bus gave us but had to work hard to shrug of the stigma of being in receipt of charity.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Lee Gillett for allowing me to use this wonderful photograph that captures so much of my small world, as a child, growing up in Ely. You can discover more about Ely and its rich history at: ely.org.uk