This button is from one of my Dad’s, Geoffrey Hawkes, beloved tweed jackets. The button immediately brings him to mind. And thinking of him led me to remember the story of The Cot, a poem which I have in his handwriting, framed on my wall.
As newly- weds my parents lived in a caravan in Spring Lane near Bassingbourne, which was set in a field of goats with an orchard to one side. The field, goats and caravan were owned by two maiden sisters.
My father Geoffrey was a young teacher at the Village College in Bassingbourne and my mother Joan before she was expecting me worked at the nearby American base at Wimpole Park, cycling to work every day until 4 months pregnant.
Next to the caravan was a small lean-to shed which Ma used as a washhouse, where she would not only do the washing, but was taught how to make jam and bottle fruit from the orchard, by the sisters.
Pa used part of this washhouse as a makeshift workshop, where, before I was born he handmade a cot for me, using pine planks bought from the local undertaker Mr Clarke.
As Pa was working on the cot the young goat kids would run in and out of the washhouse partly from curiosity and partly to get out of the rain.
A few months after my birth, Pa wrote a poem about the making of the cot. I knew nothing about the poem until quite recently a year or so before his death he silently, without a word, handed it to me.
Now somewhat creased from its years of storage in the family bureau, The Cot is the most cherished thing I own from my father.
We knew it even then, both of us
The wild clear way of the hair escaping
The unrecognisable waking from sleep;
There was proof even in the damson
Loosing her white bloom on the wash house roof
And I, working in my white shirt
In the long spring evenings, in the whitish
Or greenish room, depending on the light,
With the two willows and the kids running
In and out of the rain, was conscious of my love
And the longing in my arms bid the plane
Strip the clean shavings from the pine
(There were shakes where the sun had crept
Into Mr Clarke’s coffin yard)
Until caught in the round fore-arm sweat
When rung and rung were rounded true
Bored, glued and pinned, the lamp shook,
And under the apple bough sung
The first shy call of an owlet in the dark.