Born in the 1940s, I had a relatively happy childhood, free from the pressures and anxieties of many of today's children.
I daresay those years may not have appeared idyllic to my parents who, at the time of my birth, would have been experiencing the second great war of their lifetime.
During my childhood, Belfast still bore the ugly scars of the 1941 Blitz, when two hundred German bombers attacked the city, largely-undefended due to the complacency and indecision of our Government.
Over 900 lives were lost, 1,500 people were injured, many of them seriously. Fifty-thousand dwellings, more than half the houses in Belfast, were damaged. Eleven churches, two hospitals and two schools were destroyed.
Two hundred and twenty-thousand people fled to the countryside on the outskirts of the city.
By the mid 1950s, however, Belfast had begun to recover and a period of relative prosperity meant that many families now owned motor cars and seaside holidays were a feature of the yearly calendar.
I have many happy memories of growing up during that era but one in particular stands out with amazing clarity, that of a family beach picnic at Portstewart Strand on Ulster’s north-western coast.
I often attempt, either through poetry or prose, to reconstruct that happy day, but never quite succeed.
The first image
is always a tartan rug,
then, swiftly, other items follow:
Dad’s parked Austin, monochrome,
Mum’s picnic basket, acres of beach,
Atlantic breakers rolling in
and, there, behind my milk-white shape,
huge sand dunes rising.
Splayed cricket-stumps swim into view,
a ragged bat, beach-ball and thermos flask,
Father in a deckchair, rolled trouser-legs
exposing freckled calves,
my brother with a bucket, spade,
constructing sandcastles and moats,
my sister with her rouge-faced dolls,
our mother counting sandwiches
while Laddie runs and barks at kites.
This is a poem I write and write,
failing, each time,
to capture those remembered hours.
They glide like feathered ghosts,
gull-shadows on a summer beach.
Mere words, inadequate,
spill through my clutching hands again.