Looking on from the sidelines came naturally a boney slightly effete lad who wanted to be what his Dad wanted him to be. Every Xmas Meccano and Scalextric (or a cheaper version from Bosleys toy shop) When all I wanted was pen and paper or an Airfix Saturn V and some comics. Happy with my mum’s Encyclopedia of Animals and a set of colouring pencils. I built my own museum of antiquities in my bedroom. I made a glass topped case of oddments my Dad dug up with his JCB. A meteorite, a bit of roman pottery, fossils or so he told me and who was I to argue.
I spent hours kicking a ball against my neighbours shed, dubbined my boots The smell of tarmac and sweat oozing from his pores after a day labouring as he showed me how to clean my boots. How to pace myself, avoid injury. In kick arounds I wasn’t bad, no Geoff Hurst more a Martin Keone at left back. A position the better team I clawed my way into could not fill so there I was. Sunday morning in Edmond’s Park living my father’s dream. Trying to live up to the photograph of his team shot at Reading FC ground before winning the North Berks Cup ( I still have photo and medals and programme.)
My mother watched me take a few knocks and struggle as a defender. Not ‘filled out’ enough to stand up to the bigger boys. Immature and sensitive. The inner poet derailing my ambitions to play for Arsenal from an early age. I look at photos of me aged 14 and wonder I didn’t break something. But my father’s advice came good. Don’t get angry get even. They score one you go back and score one against them. Remember your second wind. I did remember so much so I wrote a poem. Mum played the long game wanted me to go to University. First in family.
The rest all drove trucks, laid tarmac or went into the police or army. One sunday my Grandad challenged a semi-professional team to a match. His family and mates from the Working Men’s Club against them as a bet. Our whole family of Butlers and Belchers turned out on a frosty morning to watch them win on the park I got substituted every game for Didcot Boys on. My Dad and Uncle Dennis and others ran rings around the so called professionals. There was a big celebration at the club that evening. Ernie had won his bet. I learnt then that there is no substitute for perseverence, talent and a bit of luck.
Now I stand on the sidelines again. Recovering from a host of bad tackles, unlucky injuries and plain bad-timing. Always a substitute.
Stepping across the line. Taking on the professionals at their own game.
Shaun Belcher is the author of one out of print slim volume that disappeared into the virtual ether before it was printed via lightning strikes/amazon so qualifies as a work of fiction. He did not edit any anthology of obscure, unacknowledged legislators nor did he win any prizes, nor should we be specific did he enter any competitions. He has held no official tenures as a creative writer at any top end nor third rate provincial university and has never reviewed other poets he dislikes for the simple reason of building a profile to get published. He has never been recommended by friends in the poetry world as he has none and has studiously avoided anything to do with poets or poetry for over two decades. He is member of no group who look after his publishing and reading interests when his work over time slides into fabulous irrelevancy or simply becomes so bad it an embarrassment. He has no agenda nor minority axe to grind and has never played on his working class beginnings for pity or favour. He regards his lifelong devotion to obscurity and keeping some semblance of sanity in a world over-run with poets like a corpse covered in flies that he should not add to other’s suffering by maintaining a steady output of academic poetry which simply done to fulfil research departmental targets. His earnings from poetry over 40 years accrues to £70 he once got paid for being given a slot at Ledbury Festival by a friend and a commission again via a friend for £500 which works out to roughly £14.25 per annum which a living wage in the poetry world these days.
He is however still a poet if being a poet is none of the above.
He is still alive at time of writing and doesn’t expect things to change radically.
It all depends on a red wheelbarrow apparently and he does not have one.
Doff your cap, Toe the line, Do a good job, Know your place, Speak when spoken to, Don’t talk back, keep mum, Be reliable Hold your knife properly, Don’t leave the table until told to, Watch your step, March in time, Defer to your betters, Salute the flag, Be punctual, Do a good job, Never argue, Be polite, Bow, Scrape, Be invisible.
If you do not do as you are told you have…
A chip on your shoulder, Are bitter, Difficult A maverick A born troublemaker An outsider A thief Or worse Political
June 1783 a balloon of hot air made of paper is launched then a test of silk and hydrogen that travels 15 miles before crashing into the minds of two peasants who attack the monster despite the authorities appeal not to be scared of these globes ‘which resemble the moon turned dark’
Next a sheep, a cockerel, a duck are swung into orbit like Laika Tethered to another hydrogen sphere to test the air at altitude They survive crashing back to earth and are examined by Pilatre de Rozier Who in October 1783 becomes the first man to leave the earth The blue and gold balloon rising in a shower of burning straw
The 7th January 1785 and Blanchard and Jefferies attempt the first sea crossing leaving Dover they head for Calais rising and falling dangerously all weighty objects jettisoned they finally threw their clothes into the sea and make landfall at Blanc-Nez where Blanchard throws letters into the wind the final weight they let go are bladders containing their own urine
13th June 1784 and Pilatre attempts a sea crossing in the opposite direction twenty-seven minutes later it is seen drifting back over land the two aeronauts observed frantically trying to keep the vessel aloft The hydrogen ignites sending the two men to their deaths Pilatre leaves behind the first matches, gas masks and a museum of science
The means to start fires, protect and survive and a mausoleum of ideas.
13th June 2021 fires burn bright in the woods near Calais at night Sea crossings are planned and wind and sea watched for calmer nights Eyes turn upwards at the leviathans in the channel the monsters in the air Some cross easily others fall to earth or drift on currents back to land The best nights are those when the moon turns dark and the fires are out
We test the limits of our survival from Paris to Mars, seek safe harbour But the straw burning under our feet both lifts us and destroys our world. Under the blue and gold backdrop of the live television pictures two men Dump what they can into the sea, pray that the fires will keep them afloat But can see the moon turned dark, the sea turned black, the world on fire.
A sheep, a cockerel, a duck Float on across the burnt forests, the flooded fields, drowning in hot air.
Sparkling green walls covered in frosted webs A thousand hedges grid-locked our estate at dawn October school-runs on foot, lawns damp with dew We’d strip privet sticks and collect them in loops
One web on top of another until a sticky shivering Vibrated in our hands, dew running down stalk to palm. We knew nothing then, spun our own stories as we traipsed Slowly toward a school playground fuzzy with chalk
Circles on walls, boards, exercise books and balls Punctured and hiding below those spun nets The exhaled breaths of football careers not yet dead We curved balls endlessly at bare walls
They came back every time,thuds ricocheting Against the garage walls our only release Drum n Bass lives before we knew the words Stamping out glam rock tunes in our heads
Now the lawns and hedges torn up turned to gravel Commuter belt rentals cars packed in like terraces Nothing breathing just dead ground that floods easily The earth covered and the dreams we had floating away
Over the hedges, nets, lawns like vapour trails Heading west to unknown futures no longer there.
A new boy in my old bedroom repeats an overhead kick On a digital platform. Dreams of escape as a ball lands in a net. Cannot hear the milk train on the loop.
Ignores far sirens and sticky hands cradling the dead.
The London – Oxford railway line bypasses my hometown of Didcot on a single track known as ‘The Loop’ to thirteen year old trainspotters…