Old Boy

Our lesson is really idiotic today,
as if Mr Ray has forgotten
everything he ever knew
about the Reformation
and is making it up as he goes along.

I feel like pointing out
where he’s going astray,
but I’m frightened he’ll hold up
some of my grey hair
and accuse me of cheating.

How embarrassing
if I turned out to be wrong after all
and Mr Ray was right. Luckily,
I’m in the top class
and come top easily, without trying,
the way it should be.

I could do better
in the written answer test,
but everyone looks up to me
because I’ve been round the world
and have my own wife and motorbike.

I’m wearing my old school scarf
that I thought was lost for ever.
Brown and magenta quarters,
the smartest colours in the world.
It was round my neck all the time.


A funny thing about my old headmaster
when he caught me in bed with another boy,
he wanted to know if it got stiff when I thought about it,
or only when I played with someone else’s.
I didn’t want to get into any more trouble,
so I told him it seemed to get stiff of its own accord.


One minute left to go. What shall we do?
I know. Let’s cry. Let’s scream. Let’s tear down
the station with our bare hands.
Let’s scatter it to the four winds.

The Accident

The cricket ball lingered an eternity
in the patch of blue sky
before returning eventually to earth.

I was standing with outstretched arms
when the full force of the future
hit me in the mouth.

Last Goodbyes

On the last day of the holidays
we are dying men,
remembering our lost youth
in the rhododendron trees.
We say goodbye to the henhouse,
the potting shed, the flat roof,
the island with a drawbridge.
We have our last go on the swing
with the table underneath
for launching ourselves off into space.
We swing in a great circle,
pushing ourselves away from the tree
with our feet, till we spin
giddily back to the table again –
all afternoon, till it is time to go.
On the last day of the holidays
we stand completely still,
waiting for the taxi to come,
remembering our lost youth
in the rhododendron trees.

A Blockage

Can you write a letter
saying I don’t have to have brawn?
You can see the bristles in it
and pieces of bone.

And can you write a letter
saying when you are coming down?
If you write on Monday
I’ll get it on Tuesday

and can use the envelope
to smuggle it out of the dining room.
After supper on Tuesdays
there is a big queue for the lavatories.

Last week there was a blockage
and all the brawn was found
stuck together. When you come down
can we go and see the model village?

A Dam

My mother calls my name,
a familiar, two-note sound
that carries across the fields
and finds me here,
kneeling beside a stream,
my arms plunged up to the elbows in mud.

I make my way back to the house
and try to explain
what I’ve been doing all this time
so far away from home.
‘Making dams?’ she will ask.
‘Or making poems about making dams?’

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London Review of Books,
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Vol. 15 No. 13 · 8 July 1993

I was intrigued and a little puzzled by several phrases in Hugo Williams’s poems based on his schooldays (LRB, 24 June). In ‘Guilt’ he writes: ‘he caught me in bed with another boy.’ When I was friends with Hugo he told me that there was no homosexuality in Eton, only a lot of talk about it – a story which doesn’t quite tally with what I’ve heard from other old Etonians. Perhaps, though, the poem refers to a prep-school incident. The title is puzzling too. Surely one boy going to bed with another of much the same age is not a matter for guilt these days?

In the first poem, ‘Old Boy’, Hugo writes: ‘everyone looks up to me because I’ve been round the world and have my own wife and motorbike.’ In a poem called ‘Winning’ I noted that luggage travels –

even bags can fly –
but are they any better for the trip?
No, simply battered, with a busted zip.

To turn to his other point. Surely it’s the quality of wife and motorbike (or car) that incites the admiration of others. Hugo, as I remember it, is not the proud possessor of a Harley Davidson.

Fiona Pitt-Kethley

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The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN


Please include name, address and a telephone number

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