Stephen Robertson

Slanting Lines

Ninety-six and counting

How little I really know of your life!

From the moment almost a half-century ago

when I first met your daughter

I have known fragments, snatches—

some now half-remembered, some long since forgotten—

but nothing that resembles a narrative.

Born nineteen-seventeen (dark days of the first world war)

in Sheffield, steel town.

Mother once ran a fish-and-chip shop.

A young rambler, you take part

in the mass trespass on Kinderscout.

Meet a dashing young fellow rambler.

Marry, find a home

on the very edge of Sheffield

facing the Derbyshire moors.

But the next war comes, and D is now called up.

First to Hunmanby on the north-east Yorkshire coast

for the requisite square-bashing.  And then when he ships out,

back to mother, in a two-up-two-down

full of family and lodgers.  Daughter born

at the height of the Luftwaffe’s

blitz on Sheffield.

In north Africa, D is killed.

Later, one of the lodgers—

Polish serviceman and refugee—

is worth another try.  A son.

Council house the other side of Sheffield.

Polish husband transforms into

Yorkshire male, expecting

tea on the table when he returns from work

in a Sheffield steel mill.

Daughter moves away to teach, and then

to marry me.  Son develops


After G’s death, a chance

for something new: migrate south

to London, two grandchildren,

and a world to explore.

But within a few years, both son and daughter

are dead too.  Back to Sheffield again.

How many friends have you outlived?  Eventually

the Sheffield ties become more tenuous,

legs weaken, and isolation palls.

One more great change, one more new beginning:

a different kind of home

here on the north Norfolk coast.

The wonder is that you can still laugh.