Just A Boy From Bristol by Michael J. Kelly: Reviewed by Kev Milsom

‘On September 3rd, 1939, a war started that would not only change the course of history, it would also deny millions of children across the world an opportunity for a normal childhood. I know, because I was one of them.’

A personal autobiography remains one of my favourite genres of writing, because it allows the reader into a seemingly private world of memories, both positive and negative – heartwarming and sad. One potential danger with this genre is that the writing becomes too personal, or that the wealth of memories become so scattered that it sends the reader bouncing around like a pinball, as we try endlessly to make sense of what is being relayed. Therefore, the emphasis is strongly upon the writing to be easily understandable and exciting enough to carry us the length of the reading journey.

In Michael J. Kelly’s memoirs of his early life, Just A Boy From Bristol, thankfully we have a master storyteller, who produces top quality prose with effortless ease.

Michael’s story begins in 1939. War has just been declared and his father is away fighting in the Royal Navy, leaving his mother to bring up Michael and his baby sister, Mary. The book follows the plight of the Kelly family as they move around Bristol, dodging air raids and looking to settle down, to wait for the war to end and for Michael’s father to return to the house.

Each chapter of the book takes us into new challenges for the young family in such dangerous times and, as readers, we are carried along with Michael’s skilful writing and allowed to explore everyday life around 1940, in a Britain rapidly becoming devastated by rationing and bombing.

We get to see the good side of life during wartime; the kindness of strangers, counterbalanced with the social judgement of some towards others. Michael’s growing passion for sport and the games of football that led him into new friendships. The simple thrills of being able to go to the cinema. We read of the devastating impact on schoolchildren and schools, especially when the names of some children would be forever missing from the register. We get to see the impact that the American G.I. soldiers had upon Bristol and how they brought dangerous excitement into a grey, fearful world.

‘Good morning, Ma’am. We’d like to give your young brother a packet of gum. I hope you don’t mind!’ He tossed me a packet of chewing gum and Mum nervously started to explain that I wasn’t her brother. She had only just started speaking when they both started laughing and then they moved a little way up the road. They stood smoking, talking and laughing for several minutes. I was struggling with the packaging on the gum and one of the other G.I.s jumped down from his jeep to help me. His name was Buddy…what a lovely name. We were hurrying up Perry Road now. Mum was wearing that look on her face; the Hedy Lamaar look. It was the look that usually spelled trouble. ‘He thought I was your sister. Do I really look that young? I didn’t reply. I just knew there was indeed trouble ahead.’

Michael’s writing style is superb – simplistic and no-nonsense, he merely states it as it was. Indeed, a major effect of the book is that it is written entirely through the eyes of an innocent child; a young boy who dotes on his mother and wants only the best for her.

Personally, I was fascinated by this book, as it covers a lot of ground that I knew from my own childhood in Bristol, including some of the very same people that I grew up with. However, this is a book for everyone with a passion for social history and a curiosity about life in 1940’s Britain.

I hear a follow up book is on the way from the 82 years young, Michael Kelly. It will be a genuine pleasure to read it, as it was to glide through the pages of this astonishing book.

‘Britain in 1945 had no supermarkets, no motorways, no tea bags, sliced bread, microwaves, dishwashers, CDs, flavoured crisps, mobile phones, duvets, contraceptive pills, trainers or ‘Starbucks’. But we did have shops, pubs, fish & chips on every corner, cinemas in every high street, trams and steam trains. We had Woodbines, Craven A, Senior Service, smoke and smog. There were no launderettes, automatic washing machines, but we had wash day, every Monday, put through a mangle and hung out to dry. No central heating or hot water, but we did have a hearth, coal fire, chilblains and impetigo. Abortion, homosexuality and suicide were all illegal. We treated our ailments with Vicks Vapour Rub, Andrews Liver Salts and Germolene. We were happy. We were winning the war. Mr Hitler was on the run and our fathers were about to return home.’

Buy your copy of Michael’s book here

National Poetry Day Special: Bleak Row, The Nightwatchmen, Photographs, Me and Mrs Fisher by Laura Potts

Laura Potts is twenty-two years old and lives in West Yorkshire. Twice-recipient of the Foyle Young Poets Award and Lieder Poet at The University of Leeds, her work has appeared in Agenda, Prole and Poetry Salzburg Review. Having worked at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea, Laura was last year listed in The Oxford Brookes International Poetry Prize and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She also became one of The Poetry Business’ New Poets and a BBC New Voice for 2017. Laura’s first BBC radio drama aired at Christmas, and she received a commendation from The Poetry Society in 2018.

Bleak Row

After the first, my star still north and rising,
they patched his purse of blood-burst skin,
my sleeping bud and starless. I remember him:
in all that dusk and darkness, my bygone boy
would never begin with spring-eternal grin
and years. In infant rain I brought him here.

Near to the starshook brooks, to the water’s call,
to the hill worn warm by the greening flocks
and the fox which chases night from the hills.
Remember, still, how I holy held and fell
like a last-prayer priest to my knees? These
in the sleeping snow, these in the damply death-

throe glow of Madonna’s weeping eye: these
are the lives in the seeds which cry to the gaping
mouth of night. Yes. These are all mine. I
and my yesterday’s children who never came by
and stamped their sparks on the pavement bright.
Theirs was the sleep when my eye-fire died,

when horizons never would rise in their stride
and my homehope lost in the land and gone.
Through gasping fog and winter on, I do not let
the sterile beds that hold their heads begin
to bow and hunchback-bend when village boys
and friends and all the wheeling, laughing ends

of summer spring that sleeping wall. Tonight,
cruciform, I lay another quiet life I never knew at all.

The Nightwatchmen

Forever as the shepherd’s hook pulled up the dusk and ever-dark,
when far-off foxes coughed the frost and laughed that more must be,
beneath the dropping eyes of stars that fought that winter to the last
was always you and me. The storm departed from the sea; the war from we

whenever through the cold-bone blue of mist came you, chin uplifted on
the winds in wedding lanes we never knew. Until in this the airfield age,
with planes that screamed the world awake, we felt again the fist of truth:
sleeping in that infant rain stood one more crooked tooth. These the graves

that ever grew to guard the isle at night, the bones beneath them ballroom-bright
that fight the thunder and the tide, and bend and beg surrender to decline
their ebbing heads. And with the herrings overhead, remember this instead:
that somewhere as the embers fled, a minister took to his bed and only ever dreamt

the dead. Oh never will the waiting world forget the winters, blue-of-birth, that
never wake the sleepers here: ever in their slumbers at the first snow of the year.

Photographs

Their eyes I remember globes glass
in a camera, their past like an estuary light
in the dark. Sparks from the stars
are chiming here, chandeliers
from streetlamps in the park
mapping their own boulevard,
the night hours long and in love,
their life in their arms. Nightjars
on the lid of the pool, still bright:
the ghosts of a past
where there is always a light.

Away from then they are thirty years,
motherwit a candle in her eyes. Here
for the sleeper with his old wise light
the sun kicks spangles, coins bright
as the yesterday full in his smile.
The past, meanwhile,
a lukewarm light on their lips
at the edge of their sleep, something lit
by a childhood ballroom. I remember the moon,
a candlesworth of film hung on its spool,
when we sat in that park, the garden asleep,

the stars that fizzed in the deep hot dark
still holding their breath for you.

Me and Mrs Fisher

The world lit its lights
and hung pearls in our eyes
like trembling moons
under darkling stars.

The night
saw the city asleep
and aslope
as the land fell away to the left and the right,
the sight of the globes in your eyes
nightjars in pale pools of light.

I remember you
walking the walls
the moon in your stride
the dizzy tomorrows
full in your smile,

a starlight for two,
the glowing darkness
and you,
all the days of my life.

After that,
the hills candled bright.

Fifty years away
and we are still in this place,
where a distant future, beautiful,
chimes.

The Poetry Society’s Young Poets Network

Poetry Drawer: Merrie City by Laura Potts

Poetry Drawer: Love in the Time of Cold by Laura Potts

Inkphrastica: Wood on Water by Andy N (Words) Mark Sheeky (Oil Painting)

Wood on Water
(by Andy N)

Over the edge of the cliff
I can see twirling
around in the sea
like a panic-stricken monster
A piece of wood
Swaying across the waves
Desperately trying to keep itself afloat
Underneath the fading Autumn sun
Etching out tension
Next to the nearby pier
Almost like it was a shipwreck
Now frozen in a watery suspension
Like it had been pulled up
From the bottom of the ocean,
Building a makeshift bridge
Upright against the wind
Salt crusting the mood
Curling just a little too close to my heart
Changing the colour of the sky
Instead of a hazy blue
To a stark blood red orange in panic.

Mark Sheeky’s Oil Painting: A Tower of Bees Hit by Forces Beyond Their Control (available for purchase)

Inkphrastica: We Crackle in Flame by Deborah Edgeley (Words) Mark Sheeky (Watercolour)

We Crackle In Flame
(by Deborah Edgeley)

We stand on sky roots
hair tickles
wood-smoke air

Our conscious lies in wind splayed crunch
dazed earth
fallen
cinder fingers

We crackle in flame
in the same shade of glow

Barrel chested wind gusts ruffle
lost branches hidden
in the field that was

Golden Flesh Networks
mirror Orb For All
We are the same shade of glow

Falling
leaves
like
ghosts
of
swooping
swallows’
silhouettes
suspended
then
burn

Dig down to hell
Carve greed from our flesh

We crackle in flame
in the same shade of glow

Smear earth on cheek
disguising tears conjured
for
what
was

Mark Sheeky’s Watercolour: The Chimney Sweeper 2 (available for purchase)

Inkphrastica: Beneath The Tree by Nicola Hulme (Words) Mark Sheeky (Watercolour)

Beneath The Tree
(by Nicola Hulme)

Beneath the tree I climbed as a child
daisies grew, bright and wild,
a sunlit meadow where flowers bloomed.

Buttercups trampled, earth torn asunder
a church erected in hail and thunder,
childhood dreams destroyed too soon.

My heart wept to see so clear
in chains a boy of tender years,
where now there stands a chapel room.

Rome planted bodies of guilt-ridden men
beneath the weight of sacrament,
amongst darkened sods of wrathful gloom.

Mark Sheeky’s Watercolour: The Garden of Love (available for purchase)

Inkphrastica: Her World by Andy Cash (Words) Mark Sheeky (Oil Painting)

Her World
(by Andy Cash)

She had shown him a new world
Feral, sensual and wild in beauty
Flying free, a forever butterfly, in a new Eden
Yet he was now a lost soul
A new Adam alone with femininity
It was her empire to roost
Lust left him in an abstraction of paradise
To age in shameful silence

Mark Sheek’s Oil Painting: The Paranoid Schizophrenia Of Richard Dadd (available for sale)

Inkphrastica: Siren Song by Martin Elder (Words) Mark Sheeky (Oil Painting)

Siren Song
(by Martin Elder)

She sang the siren song
Until she could sing the song no more
And the song was drowned
The words lost
The trees burned
In the fire of another’s love
Of reckless gain
And her hair falls
In layered strands
Remnants of the finesse of what once was
To strew the land
What’s left of hope has become
A tired empty tear down one side of her face
Whilst the other stares
In vacant disbelief
Trees now denuded of paradise
Stalagmite stumps of make believe
Her lips full and pursed with pregnant words
She cannot sing or speak
Because the words have gone
Not even enough for a lament
All that’s left a final scream
A dying swan
A sound which can never be heard
By those left to walk the land
Heads buried in coats of despair
Because nobody listened
No one really cared
But for her the memory is still there
The memory will always be there

Mark Sheeky’s Oil Panting: The Passion Of Anna: Part One of an Ingmar Bergman Triptych (available for purchase)

Inkphrastica: Wax by Nicola Hulme & Just So Greek by John F. Keane: Inspired by Mark Sheeky’s Oil Painting

Wax
(by Nicola Hulme)

Life melts , slips away,
pooling slowly, before cascading
over the edge into decline.
Cooling, hardening, leaving a path,
too soon traced and overlaid
by the next generation.

Once illuminating,
bursting with energy,
flaring and flickering, finding
cupped hands of protection
against the breeze,
spluttering and guttering.

The light now fades,
a naked flame chars
a crumpled wick,
sending up a plume of silvered smoke.
The candle shortening, descends
into oblivion, extinguished.

Is it an endless sleep, oceans deep?
In Karma, do we rise again?
Or, when flame is dowsed
and all is black
does death defeat us?
Darkness and nothing more?

Death welcomes us all; unbiased and inclusive,
Inevitable mortality holds no prejudice.
Some rush towards him,
giving the Grim Reaper a hand.
Others run from him
on supplement and vitamin fuelled treadmills.

The indiscriminate scythe offers strange comfort;
levelling the playing field.
You cannot take my life,
barter or buy it to lengthen your own.
My spark burns until the day I’m snuffed out.
I am grateful for every second.

Just So Greek
(by John F. Keane)

Cassandra’s fractured face seeps into hollowed rock
Quick bow-spray spatters white across spectral seas
Cool effigies dream of thespian victories
Winged artistry, brave hands and tragic sorrows;
Mimetic marble strives at dawn to recollect
Ecstatic festivals and nights of wanton dance

While colours leap from distance, filling us with spring
And pallid plastic dreamscapes with primeval song;
Uncounted species and genera of lost loves
Rise tall and stalk like phobic shadows of dismay
Through trembling phonic moments on forgotten strands
While our new Muse awakens, thumbs sand from her eyes

Takes morning ship to Corinth, eying spindrift waves
Occluding Thracian smiles and foreign faces
Unheeded on her long and voiceless voyage
Towards a distant shore of endless origins;
A few more lines weave Phidian visions taut
With drowning lovers and heroic inference.

Mark Sheeky’s Oil Painting: Wax Cataclysm Of Phoenixes And Unphoenixes (available for purchase)