Poem: Denmark Villas, Hove

Hove, in west Sussex, feels to me like an incubator of the future. It’s not just that its population is youthful but that so many of the young seem successful. I imagine them to be getting and spending in ways probably not known ten or twenty years ago. This is an springtime upbeat piece, about 1,000 words in all, and takes around ten minutes to read aloud.

Denmark Villas, Hove
by RDN
March, 2022

The white cliffs of Denmark Villas
dazzling in
this brisk March morning,
make each gleaming property
“Love It!”
Surely only their owners
in desperate straits
or soaringly ambitious
cry, “List it….”

Oh Phil and Kirsty!
Bless you for
taking us inside
the homes of people
on this enticing trail!

These shining house fronts
make their bold eastward stare
and at their feet
spread a free-hand
littered benison
beyond their curtiledge
even to the creases in the
from which I pause to stare.
Here, in common ground,
on the street side of the low wall,
creviced in the merest gap,
a clump of primrose
makes claim
and I think of Tony Evans,
thirty years dead now,
but living in my mind’s eye
in his photographs of ordinary
wild flowers
which speak
unglamourised and glorious.

A few houses on and celandine
make a determined
villa outpost,
letting the sun
unglue them open,
in response to warmth.
Or is it light
that fires
the circadian abandonment
that gives us their
yellow faces
as fleshy
as the primrose is
paperish and pale?

And so I stand,
and ogle the front gardens
of these proud
Used to winning wherever
they compete,
the villa-owners
measure up the opportunities
unfurled bellow
their front doors:
the possibility of gravel,
palm and frond,
or geometry jostling with
random flourishes of
desert or farm-field flowers.
They consider
and calibrate
quite calmly
what their neighbours
and competitors have done
with theirs.

These front patches,
polite, determined,
are confidently
worthy of scrutiny
by Tony Evans
or the charmed appraisal
of Monty Don.

I remember knowing people
in large houses –
cousins of these semi-detached villas –
but in Barnsbury, Primrose Hill
Hampstead and Camden,
when the Beatles and the Stones,
and Ken Tynan
and St Mugg of Robertsbridge,
and Terence Conran and Barry Bucknell
of Habitat and Black & Decker,
battled for the nation’s soul.

The longing for a villa,
back then,
was learnt
from Osbert Lancaster
and Edward Ardizzone
or inherited from
the racier sort of
granny who made the legacy
which shrank the mortgage
which put the new feet under
the tables within.

Can I mark the changes
between then and now?
Or between Ancient & Modern?
Hove thrived on faith
a century and a half ago,
when Jews and Anglo-Catholics
burned with a new ardour
in a material age.
Trade and the professions were
swelling wallets
back then
and respectability –
which is trust by a stuffier name –
was widely prized.
In benediction the
LB&SC Railway
which wits
recast as the
London-Brighton & South Coast Religion
spread tracks and tracts
and instant Gothic
with some Burne-Jones,
and a few synagogues,
everywhere seaward of
the South Downs.

Oh, Pugin, Brunel and Paxton!
We live with the
ghosts of your aspirations!
How solid your works!

I like this time
right now,
the time of my kids,
and have hope for the coming time
of their kids, and their nephews and nieces.

My coevals, dazed by modernity,
thinking ourselves
uniquely lucky and kicking
against our guilt,
didn’t do so badly after all.

We threw away respectability
made it litter in our streets,
and thought ourselves the
heirs of Bloomsbury.
But weddings just got
more business-like
and blousier,
so now brides do not blush
to demand
pre-nup mini-riots
in Tallin
and honeymoons
in Mauritius.
And there we were,
thinking all that
was for the dinosaurs.

Oh Greta!
for your
jetting generation!

Disney still has the attention
of the daughters and grand-daughters
of Greer and Spare Rib:
Princess Pink
frosted frocks
adorn –
and optical fibre confections
top out –
the precious offspring of
in whose hands the country
and civilisation
will probably
turn out fine.

It’s not a precision
but surely it’s
a decent bet
granted how wrong
Jeremiads generally
prove to be?

Through the villa windows
I see bare sitting rooms
with large canvases –
so hep and blank,
as though something pictorial
would be just another
or a hangover
of a romance.

Maybe their owners
are resting from
a tsunami of
of toddler-worship,
and gurning trollopes
doing shots.
Perhaps they seek
some inner desert bandwidth,
and respite from
TED certainties.

At night,
through declaratory
uncurtained windows,
I see the glow
of twin screens,
a pair per person,
looming above laptops
often his and hers,
or theirs and theirs,
anyway conjugally
and even uxoriously
side by side.

This may be the new
Tin Pan Alley
for a duo
sampling a riff
from urban LA;
or movie-makers
bending a narrative to their will
as post-production
exiled from Soho;
or a synergistic couple
managing a
wannabe Unicorn
in crypto currency.

Oh, Boris, Keir and Nigel,
thank you
for your service!
Let’s hope
the necessary few
amongst the young
whether they,
in their turn,
can become
useful to
the polity!

I should worry,
shrugging, smiling, or just relaxed:
everything is in their hands now.
These scions of Albion –
or Albania or Somalia,
of India or Pakistan –
they have the world
in their hands
and may make a better fist
of it
than easily supposed.

The obese, the dim,
the half-baked,
the go-getters,
the left-behind,
the big-hitters,
the smart ones;
the leathery homeless
and bloodshot losers,
I see them all on Hove streets,
making shift as best they may
and according to
their lights,
and who can blame the
for being glad
to get back home,
proud of their front gardens?

Not I.
It is spring,
and so much is better
than it used to be
as it always is,
taken in the round,
and looking forward
or back
without regret.


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Publication date

22 April 2022


Mind & body; RDN's poems