Standstill

Hugo Williams

A last visit to the long-abandoned ‘Gosses’ on Harold Macmillan’s Birch Grove estate, soon to be levelled as part of the Birch Grove Golf Course.

I apologise to the driver
for the branches closing in,
almost bringing us to a standstill.
He doesn’t seem to mind.
‘I’m like you,’ he tells me, as we move aside
a tree blown across the drive by the storm.

‘I had to come back home
to see my own particular corner of the UK
before I died. Our daughter wanted to stay out there
in New Zealand and get married.
Don’t ask me why.
She’s a karate champion.’

We have turned a corner in the drive, past the swing,
past the gibbet, past the tree
where we buried the screaming idol’s head
named after Elsie Byers, the agent.
Flowering creepers and bushes
crowd round the old house,

as if some great party were being given there
long ago, the party of the season.
Look, the same door! The same knocker!
The same doorhandle I held
when I came back from going round the world!
The same footscraper!

The driver seems to share my astonishment
that everything is the same yet different
when you look through a window
into your old room
and see your head lying there on the pillow,
innocent of your life, but dreaming your dreams.

‘Where is it you say old Supermac used to live?
I want to see the field
where President Kennedy landed in his helicopter.
I was cheering and waving the American flag.
Our daughter had just been born. We were on our way
to start a new life in New Zealand.’