Henry’s Gift

3 Feb

In the summer of 1998 I found myself travelling to Sylvia Plath’s cottage in Todmordern on a Trans Pennine pacer train.

As I got on the train to sit down I realised that the carriage was packed, and I sat in the only remaining seat across the isle from a young family. A girl and boy no older than perhaps 7 and 5 respectively and their mother. The children seemed upset, and scared and the girl looked at me imploringly – their mother had fallen over across the seats and appeared to be unconscious, surrounded by miniature bottles of vodka.

The rest of the occupants of the carriage ignored us.

I put my rucksack on the free seat and spoke to the little girl, as gently as I could

“Don’t worry I’m going to get some help for you and your mum”

Conscious of the fact that I was looking a little feral, sporting a week’s worth of beard and a battered fedora hat. I wandered up the now moving train until I found a member of staff serving refreshments from the trolley.

“Excuse me?” I said “but can you help me – there is a bit of a situation in our compartment”

The very petite tea lady said “Of course!” Parked her trolley and followed me.

The diminutive Valkyrie took charge of the situation, and with no fuss, rapidly tidied up all the miniature bottles of booze whilst all the time making eye contact with the children and reassuring them in a lighthearted way. She also gently cleaned the mother up and brought her awake and into some semblance of decorum.

The passengers studiously ignored us.

The Tea Lady then arranged for the family to be met by her colleagues and receive further assistance at the next station.

Before I disembarked at Todmordern I asked the guard for her name and the address of her work. He was a bit suspicious – smelling a possible complaint in the wind – I reassured him I only wished to compliment his colleague on her professionalism.

When I got off the train I wrote a post card to the Manager of Miss Clare Rimmer – Tea Lady at Trans Pennine Rail.


Clare Littlewood (nee Rimmer) now runs her own business called Tea with Percie in Sheffield where she rescues jaded palates on Abbeydale Road daily with her quick hands, her wit and her baking. Her teas are of the finest quality and served in a proper pot – no tea bags!

In Todmordern I met a Rastafarian poet called Henry who told me: “You need to slow down man and step out of your groove”.

I met other helpful students of poetry and a tutor – Douglas Dunn.

Douglas Dunn explained that sonnets have a rigid structure with a rhythm based upon the iambic pentameter. The same meter of Shakespeare. This cadence is the rhythm of 16th century English Speech. The vernacular of peasants and the spine of the King James Bible. It is the beat of the human heart.

The sonnet is how he expressed his grief after losing his wife (an artist) to eye cancer ‘Elegies‘ – perhaps one of the finest works of 20th century poetry.

This was is my attempt at a sonnet.

Henry’s Gift

A friend of mine, he gave me his stairs,

His stepping stones, the river to his very God.

And just for breakfast bilberries I ran

To climb his steps, and find the morning sun.

A friend of mine, she gave her hands,

Her lightning wit, her beating heart –

Her blueprint, the hotline to her very soul

And the orthodoxy of ‘us’ in the finest cup of tea.

And so it is to me I give a smile

at Henry’s waterfall. I run a mile

to find a single berry and a seed,

a pool in which to bathe beside the trees –

where light and life are passing all the while,

illuminating dreams of Love for one and all.

HL 08/98

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: