2 December 2010

Juvenilia

The Pudding brothers: Paul, Yorkshire, Simon and Robin in 1967

Following the summer of love, in the autumn of 1967, "Baby Now That I've Found You" by The Foundations topped the singles charts, soon to be overtaken first by Long John Baldry's "Let The Heartaches Begin" and then The Beatles with "Hello Goodbye". Meanwhile, in East Yorkshire, a thirteen year old boy was reading Robert Falcon Scott's Diary of his fateful and blundering attempt to lead the very first expedition to the South Pole in 1912. Not only was he narrowly beaten by Norwegian competitors led by Roald Amunsden but his ill-conceived organisation led to the tragic deaths of all in the lead party.

Soon after my fourteenth birthday I created a poem inspired by that diary. To be honest, it was a task set by my bearded student English teacher - Mr Spratley. I rediscovered it while rooting around in our attic yesterday afternoon. Here's the first page:-

In honour of that fiercely independent yet sensitive lad of long ago, the boy from whom I grew, I give you the poem in its entirety. Frankly, I'm quite pleased that all those years ago I could produce a poem of this quality though I cringe at my juvenile patriotic chauvinism...
___________________________________________

And Now, The South!

Five Englishmen, five men of honour,
Wrestled with the elements.
Wilson, Scott, Oates, Evans, Bowers,
Five Englishmen, five men of ours.

And the land was white
And the sky was grey
As they struggled up that icy way
And they pulled that sledge though thick and thin,
Those honourable Englishmen.

With half a hundred miles to go
They spied dogs' footprints in the snow.
Alas! The men from the fijord land
Had beaten Scott's weathered little band.

So to The Pole they trudged along,
To lose that prize they'd done no wrong.
And a canvas cairn appeared in sight
Amid the never-ending white.

Despondent, back the Britons walked
And still of "Merry England" talked.
Old Titus' foot was pretty bad,
To watch him dying was so sad.

The food was scanty, cold and rare
Their stomachs moaned for they were bare.
The oil had long since petered out
No help for Soldier's crippling gout.

The end seemed not so long away,
Came closer every freezing day
And so to keep the rations well,
Old Titus marched into the hell,
And to his death the hero ran
That honourable Englishman.

With miles to fight for the next depot
Scott's men lay ill and full of woe.
In such a little tent they sat
Such a little tent, such a little band
In such a huge unthanking land
The pride and joy of the lion's face
Had lost the South Pole's gruelling race
But from mankind they won acclaim
Acclaim for the honourable English name.

And at the South they died in peace
With blistered, sore, untended feet,
They died as heroes always should
They died without a drop of blood.
For the weather claimed those English lives
From their Tilbury friends
And their Tilbury wives:
Wilson, Scott, Oates, Evans, Bowers,
Five Englishmen, five men of ours.
________________________________________

I remember handing my exercise book in, believing that this poem would attract the teacher's praise and perhaps an elusive A grade. Instead, Mr Spratley had simply written "See me" in the margin. I stayed behind and basically he accused me of cheating. It wasn't my poem. Where had I got if from?

I was angry and upset. I told my father and he telephoned our fearsome headmaster to complain. A couple of days later, the snivelling Mr Spratley amended his comment, grudgingly writing "Quite good" with a B grade. He'd been ticked off. I have sometimes wondered what Mr Spratley's first name might have been. Ebenezer, Silas, Reginald? If perchance you are reading this Reginald Spratley, you'll be pleased to know that forty three years after the event, you are now officially famous!
Scott and the "Terra Nova". He sent this postcard before departing New Zealand in 1911.

12 comments:

  1. Like Shakey's young blonde boy in Sonnet 18- maybe that's what Spratley wanted all along... 'So long lives this and this gives life to thee.'

    I had a biscuit tin passed down through grandparents with the images of Scott's party and I remember gazing at it for hours being transfixed by the faces, names and their tragic tale of bravery.

    I was obsessed by the ranks, service history and jobs within the party as this wonderful piece of late imperial tat informed me.

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  2. Five thoughts of ours:

    1. There's not a thing wrong with your juvenile patriotic chauvinism. It's what makes 14-year-old boys 14-year-old boys.

    2. Hip, hip, hoorah for such a stirring poem at such a tender age! It reminds me, in ways I can't explain, of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner.

    3. Now that we have an example of your handwriting, we can send it off to the experts to have your personality explained.

    4. I was 26 in 1967.

    5. Thank you for posting your poem.

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  3. My education is somewhat limited. I get Ebenezer Scrooge and Silas Marner, but who is Reginald?

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  4. Sorry for the continuing comment, but as the 100th anniversary of the subject of your 1967 poem will soon be here, I think you should try to get wider distribution. Submit it to the newspapers or some society of explorers or something.

    It could at least illustrate how teenaged boys have changed in the past 40 years, or how they haven't. Someone might even be inspired to become either an explorer or a poet.

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  5. B.BOOTHY You may have had such a secret relationship with your English teacher but not me - no way Jose!
    By the way, I have now found the degree certificate you will be pleased to know. That's why I was up in the attic in the first place. Trouble is it wasn't there it was in the underhouse/cellar area of our rambling mansion.
    BOB PLAGUE Three comments! I am duly honoured sir. Thanks for your supportive response. Who was Reginald? Reginald Bosanquet, a smarmy uppercrust TV newsreader but I just wanted to posit an unpleasant, unappealing kind of Christian name... Reginald Spratley. Doubtful that anybody with such a name could inspire or illuminate young minds.

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  6. I wonder what some of those testy old teachers would do if they had to teach today? I had a 3rd grade teacher once who gave me a C in art (my best subject) because she didn't believe in giving a student straight As. It didn't make me work harder, she simply won my disrespect. Kids are so sensitive to injustice. Obviously you were sensitive, a lot of boys that age would have been out causing havoc instead of reading and writing poetry (maybe you did both). Their idealism is one of the things I really love about teenagers.

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  7. PeterW7:38 am

    I went to school in York, Yorkshire and the very same thing happened to me with a piece of poetry. It really sinks your heart.

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  8. Lovely poem. Still can't believe that there were men who were willing to die just to explore. Bully for them!

    Don't you just despise teachers like that? Had one who swore I made a hem in Home Ec on a machine, not by hand. Another failed a book report of mine because he felt the subject unsuitable for reading...in high school! It was Cell 2455 Death Row, an autobiography of Carroll Chessman. Some teachers should never be allowed around children!

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  9. Officially despised is what I say about Mr Spratley ( did you make that name up?) - lovely poem. However - at the risk of being on the receiving end of a crack across the knuckles - I hope no-one from that crowd at Plusnet reads the last line of the written verse.....

    I'm staggered by all that snow and it's only end November. Great photos.
    Ms Soup

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  10. JAN Yes I did do both.
    PETER W Thanks for dropping by. I'm pleased it wasn't just me. Perhaps different boys were uplifted by Mr Spratley's responses and remember him fondly but I doubt it.
    MOUNTAIN TIMELESS It is funny that you and I both remember educational injustices so many years later. It's one of the things that inspired me to go into teaching but perhaps I also created some dark memories in a few of my students' minds.
    ALPHABET SOUP Well spotted! I also saw that - a colloquialism that reflected my rural East Riding upbringing. In contrast, PlusNet is run by an adult company who are condescendingly and deliberately using the same colloquial error to engender bigger profits

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  11. good post,bravo

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  12. I have to say, you shouldn't be so harsh on Mr. Spratley! Unless he knew how precocious you were, he seems to have been within bounds questioning the authorship of that poem. Very well done for a 14-year old boy!

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.