It is a while since I first picked this short collection up to read. I had meant to jot my thoughts down on TPQ but as so often happens, the foot of something stuck out and I tripped into something else, long since forgotten.
A single bus journey was all that was needed to imbibe its contents, its brevity of 12 short poems making that achievable with no great effort. The poems reflecting on a Laganvillage childhood written by Beano Niblock and illustrated by Geordie Morrow come together to make … And On The 7th Day, a brief but ultimately satisfying read.
The old quip that more people write poetry than read it should be made redundant here. The reader is beckoned to the collection with an opener that is dark: a scene from a wake, inscribed in white font on a black background. Niblock made no concession to sentiment in An Uncomfortable Wake, capturing the bogus protocol on display while lashing the duplicity on show courtesy of the polite but counterfeit conversations. He conveys a scene that could as easily have lent itself to any wake in parts of Belfast, Glasgow, Liverpool, Dublin.
The second poem is what gives the collection its title. The seventh day is of course Sunday, a day which then at any rate was so significant in Protestant culture. Not so much these days when the biblical bigots can no longer have park swings and other social amenities put off limits in pursuit of a demand that others should observe what they want observed. The loyalists that I met in jail preferred to observe things like porn or good movies, to Sundays: much like ourselves.
The author daubs colour across the "barren streets devoid of passing cars" that characterised a Sunday with his description of "the smell of rashers sizzling in the pan." The stomachs at any rate had needs other than biblical. Nevertheless, it is the barren that emerges triumphant over the aroma of bacon in a poem that captures the austere Sunday routine of working class Belfast Protestant kids who were expected by their parents to observe the Lord's Day. Ironic when the Lord observed none of us and I guess we knew it. Many Catholic kids took to asking their less fortunate friends for the colour of the priest's robes, just in case their parents asked. Mitching mass was as popular as mitching school.
Doctor Denny's Parlour, or the first day of school conveys little that is joyous. Trepidation stalks this collection, the grainy grey photo that accompanies Gaudeamus Igitur (Let Us Therefore Rejoice) leaves no clue as to what there is to rejoice about. The transition from King Arthur's Den to Tartan Gangs and more violent activities, from which the dead stayed dead, never again to rise from the exchange between Cowboys and Indians to eat an East Belfast supper, is left to the imagination. In all probability, it was not much different from our own experience. Many of us who made it past the shrill tonation of the park ranger’s whistle would become more used to the last post or whatever dirge was uttered for the dead.
There is also a tale of two schools. Orangefield where the author attended was tension free – the biggest challenge was to hop the bus for the short journey home. St Augustines, on the other hand posed fear. Would the future poet encounter the mob on the hunt for enemies to batter? On a bus, one day coming home from St Patrick’s, a pupil at Orangefield boarded and sat on the top deck in front of all of us. He seemed petrified. While we didn’t touch him, we did allow him to sense that this was our bus and next time he might not be so lucky. He later saw me at a Glentoran match where we were vastly outnumbered by he and his friends. He said nothing. Reciprocation maybe for not being harmed on the bus. I will never know but we went unmolested.
Replete with language outside the daily vocabulary of most working class people, The Fear Of St. Augustine(s) carries the authenticity of life for working class boys in that strangely halcyon era before they graduated to manhood and journeys which some did not safely complete.
Beano Niblock, in his final poem, recaptures the era when inhaling coke meant something entirely different from what it has come to mean in modern parlance. As kids in the Lower Ormeau Road's Bagot Street, we were fascinated by The Watchie's Hut that was often a feature at the corner of the junction with Essex Street. The coke that burned in the open brazier to keep the hut's sole occupant warm throughout the dark evenings and their winter chill gave off an aroma all of its own: pleasantly bitter, with a tang that the household coal never emitted. Decades later, I would still be able to identify the smell in a blind test.
Beano Niblock. … And On The 7th Day And Other Poems.
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