Robert Warburton: ‘On the Discovery of a Ladybird Book’

On the Discovery of a Ladybird Book

Ambling over misty green South Downs,
below the winding, sloping way,
a seaside town of silver puddles stands,
of winter sun and a smell of beach.
Past the pier and the municipal clock at ten to three,
across the Memorial Garden to the County’s dead,
a light blue bookshop appears.

What place is this of creaking floors and tempered dust,
of mellow light and Lyons Maid signs from 1964?
What can it reveal in its dim, serendipitous space:
a Shell Guide to Sussex, Hornby Trains,
Green Penguins or faded kings?

Past the hopeful aisles of pastel shades and studied labels,
next to the short-wave wireless and a Jubilee mug,
stands a shy band of Ladybird books.
King Alfred the Great and The Postman are the books well loved,
with homework scars and birthday wishes
etched by mums and dads that did their best.

Childhood years come back like a forgotten face,
as unwilling legs and aching back
compel me to sit on a bench and read—
an audacious purchase named British Birds and Their Nests.
I once had a copy when scratchy shorts and Corgi Toys
formed my days.

Now, far grown up, I savour the esoteric watercolours
of fields and ponds,
when time seemed an anomaly and electricity bills were only in films;
when Spring days were loaded with pre-bedtime resolve,
of nature walks and Austin drives through village lanes.

The municipal clock has moved.
I journey home through furtive streets of bay windows
and indebted cars,
past corrugated shops,
food banks and Ladbrokes,
as sunlight fades.

Robert Warburton

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