Captain’s Log 18/03/17 17:04
I’m in another taxi in Ponteland. Me and the driver have got lost on the way to Jeff, Lindsay and Max’s house.
“I think it’s back the way we came,” I say. He pulls into a drive on Runnymede Road, getting ready to turn round. I realise we’ve just pulled into the right drive.
“Oh no wait, it’s this one.” We both laugh awkwardly.
I press the buzzer and the wooden gates open. I step into the massive courtyard for the second time, feeling a hell of a lot less nervous. Jeff opens the door and greets me with his usual jolly enthusiasm. I shake his and Max’s hand. Little Frank sniffs me. Frank is a dog, for those just tuning in, it’s him I’ve written a poem about. I’ve already spoke to Lindsay by text, she’s in Barcelona, but she told me she’s really looking forward to hearing it when she gets back.
We walk into the kitchen and Jeff offers me a cup of tea.
“So what have you been up to since we last spoke?” he asks.
“I ended up coming back to knock on more doors.”
“I know, I’ve been reading your blog. It’s great.” Jeff stands with his arms folded, like he has something to get off his chest, I’m worried that I’ve written something I shouldn’t have. “About what the taxi driver said,” he says, in a disappointed kind of voice.
I know the driver he’s talking about, the one who said everyone here was ‘stuck up their own arse’. I was worried about writing this. On the one hand, I felt like it was important to say, because Jeff and his family proved it wasn’t true. On the other hand, I did think about them reading it at the time. No one wants to hear the nasty things people say behind their back, do they? I explain this.
“Well, I don’t know if it’s jealously or what, Rowan,” he says. “But the people round here are honestly some the nicest I’ve ever met. And they’ve worked hard to get here. All of them. Well, not all of them, but most of them.”
“What I’ve found from doing this is that people seem to get tarred with the same brush in every area,” I add. “We like to say certain people live here and certain people live there. But every person behind every door is different.”
“Exactly, there’s good and bad everywhere you go.”
For the first time, I spot the various drawings and paintings on the wall of Frank. It looks like I’m not the first person to be asked to try and immortalise him in the arts. Tea in hand, me, Jeff and Max sit down at the square glass dining table. Little Frank starts sniffing my bag excitedly, like he really wants to see his poem.
“Are you going to show him your poem, Dad?” Max asks.
“Oh yes, well I’ve written you a poem too,” Jeff says bashfully.
“Amazing. How should we do this then?” I ask. “Should we have a competition? And you can be the judge, Max?” We all agree Jeff should go first, he reads it out:
The door bell rings, the intercom sings
“Hi, it’s the door to door poet amongst other things,
Can I read you a poem, which is one of my own!
And I shall do this in your warm cosy home.”
In came the poet and made himself known,
“I’m the door to door poet and my name is Rowan!”
With a shake of the hands, come in and take a seat
“Would you like a cuppa and take the weight off ya feet!”
There he stood, all hair, big coat and big boots,
And proceeded to tell us of his poetic roots,
Friendly of face was the young bard,
His story sold to us, not even trying hard.
“Have you a subject of which I can write?”
Rowan said with a hint of contrite,
“Of course, we have, his name is Frank
The English Bull Terrier, small and furry, built like a tank.”
The poet said “Really? A poem about a dog?”
We replied “that’s right, maybe more of a blog
Off the poet went, frantically taking notes
An ode to a dog who wears fleece coats.
The questions they came, lots, and very fast
I’m enjoying this subject and I’m having a blast
The English Bull Terrier making himself at home
Was to be the subject of my door to door poem.
30 mins past and alas he was gone
The door to door poet, more knocking to be done
That drab afternoon with a knock at the door
Ended with Rowan, the only door to door poet
Leaving us wanting even more.
Me and Max give him a round of applause.
“That’s the first poem I’ve ever written,” he says. “So I suppose you could say you’ve inspired me. It was after you were here, there was something on the telly and I said ‘I’m not watching that’ and I went to the study and wrote this.” The idea that me knocking on their door has led to someone writing a poem for the first time in their life feels pretty incredible, even if it did have something to do with poor quality programming. In terms of trying to get more people into poetry, it’s the best reward you could get.
Next, I do mine. It’s based on a poem by Christina Rossetti called ‘I Am A King’,* which starts “I am a King, | Or an Emperor rather, | I wear crown-imperial | And prince’s-feather”. It’s about how nature controls all of our lives, no matter who we are, so I ran with that and what Lindsay said when I first came, about Frank being the boss of the house. I start to read it in my best Ian Mckellen voice:
I Am A King
I am a King
Or an English Bull Terrier,
I wear a blue fleece
In my fine country manor.
More regal than Beagle,
More classy than Corgi,
Much greater than Dane,
Now bow down before me.
I’ve got three pet humans,
I lie on my chaise longue,
They tickle my belly.
Warms me in bed,
I don’t eat my roast duck
Unless I’m hand fed.
More saintly than Bernard,
More acres than ‘foundland,
I whip all the Whippets
And isn’t life so grand?
To call on my servants
I nibble their bum,
I’d rather be driven
Than go for a run;
My subjects in silence
Wait in the back seat,
While I stand by the wheel
And stare into the street.
“Well, it’s not what I was expecting,” Jeff says. But he’s smiling, and he reads back through the paper copy and mentions his favourite lines. “‘More regal than beagle.’ Yes. Well, that will be getting put onto nice paper and framed,” he says. “We’ll hang it just over there.”
“So, who won then, Max?” I ask.
“Well, for the voice alone is has to be you.”
Jeff has got some Victoria sponge in especially for the occasion. He gets us all a slice. It’s really tasty, there’s fresh cream in there and everything.
“This is the first time anyone has ever given me cake,” I say, meaning as a Door-to-Door Poet, not in my actual life, which would be a bit sad.
“Well that’s great that we can be the first,” Jeff says.
We end up chatting about what Jeff and Lindsay do for a living.
“Lindsay works in customer relations, she has her own business and employs people all over the world. And I was in property. I sold a lot of properties to get here.”
“Is that why Lindsay is in Barcelona, for work?”
“No, she’s took the staff away on a holiday.”
“Wow, that’s nice of her.”
“She’s honestly the most generous person I know,” he says. “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
It’s been an hour and I need to go, I’ve arranged to meet Caroline the gardener with her poem about a bonsai tree at 6.
“If you want a lift it’s no bother,” Jeff says. Part of me wants to say no, just out of politeness. But, on the other hand, it’s a 20 minute walk to North Road and it was a 25 minute wait for a taxi to get here. I’m worried about getting there in time.
“If you don’t mind?”
I grab my stuff and the 3 of us head outside, leaving Little Frank in the kitchen with his poem. We get in a very shiney silver Land Rover with very shiney leather seats. I know nothing about cars, but this feels like it’s probably as good as it gets. This is re-enforced by Jeff saying:
“This is pretty good, isn’t it? We can take you there in style at least. It’s Lindsay’s car, mine’s the banger over there.” He points to a BMW in the drive.
We take a slow trip around Darras Hall while Jeff and Max point out some of the houses. Mind-bogglingly huge ornate buildings, literally the size of Buckingham Palace. We pass 2 mansions right next to each other, built on one enormous piece of land. After a few minutes, we head over to North Road.
“I think this is it,” says Jeff, as we pull up outside a row of now strangely normal-looking semi-detached terraces.
“It’s been great to see you both,” I say. “And thanks so much for my poem.”
“Thanks so much for mine! We’ll email you a picture when it’s been framed. Why don’t you come back and visit in the summer? We get the sun in the garden till 8 on a good day. We’ll sit out there and have a barbecue.”
“That sounds great, I’d love to.” I get out the car, waving as they drive off.
I’m now stood in the rain and it’s getting dark. I think I’m outside Caroline’s house. The problem is, I haven’t actually been here before. I met her at a place she gardens for on Runnymede Road, but I promised I would drop off the poem here. There’s a white car with ‘Embracing Care’ written on it and 2 men sat inside. As they get out, I notice they’re dressed in nurse’s uniforms. They walk over to where I think Caroline lives, then go inside.
This raises a lot of questions. I’m not sure if Caroline needs a regular nurse, so this could be some kind of emergency, in which case I shouldn’t knock. Then again, it’s not an ambulance, and the nurses didn’t seem to be in any kind of hurry. She also hasn’t text me. Does this mean that it’s probably fine? Or is it a sign of the increasing exhaustion of NHS staff? Is this even her house? I decide to give the door a knock and hope for the best. Caroline answers.
“It’s not really a good time, the nurses have just come to see my Mam.” I don’t know what I was expecting to happen here.
“Should I text you and we can sort out a different day?” I ask.
“Yeah OK.” She closes the door.
I walk down the street in the rain, wondering how to even get home from here. Outside a pub called The Blackbird, I ring for a taxi back to the nearest metro station. It’s going to be 15 minutes, so I decide to head inside for a quick pint. But I stop myself before I go in. Looking through the window, I see it’s packed with people, people who look incredibly well-to-do; men in dazzling white designer shirts and tweed jackets, women in expensive floral cocktail dresses. I get that feeling again, the feeling I got before I came to Ponteland, the worry that people are going to look down on me. But I think about my first day in Darras Hall, about Jeff and his family. Haven’t I decided there’s not a certain kind of anyone?
I go in and get a pint. I walk round the whole bar, it’s almost too full to stand and there’s only one seat spare at the table of a middle-aged couple.
“Can I sit here?” I say to the woman.
“Of course,” she smiles. I sit down.
*I Am A King
I am a King,
Or an Emperor rather,
I wear crown-imperial
Golden-rod is the sceptre
I wield and wag,
And a broad purple flag-flower
Waves for my flag.
Elder the pithy
With old-man and sage,
These are my councillors
Green in old age;
Lord-and-ladies in silence
Stand round me and wait,
While gay ragged-robin
Makes bows at my gate.
Christina Georgina Rossetti