“Ties That Bind”

A poem by Roger Stennett (Christ’s, CUAC, 1969-72)


Charles Windsor, our future King, smiled broadly
When he caught my eye, only moments ago
When I saw him, in my night’s dreaming.
Was it my ‘Hawks Club’ tie he recognised?
Emblem of our shared Cambridge Sporting past,
Its rich maroon scored with golden stripes.

Or maybe he recalled my friendly face,
From Trinity Great Court, where he had
A set of rooms, down in the corner,
Opposite my old Grammar school friend,
Who I often visited, negotiating empty bottles
Lined up neatly outside his door,
As if waiting for the Champagne ‘milkman’

Or was it all the times we sat together
In History lectures, being told tall tales
Of his ancestors, back when Britain ruled the waves
And wasn’t simply sinking under. Not waving
But drowning indeed, as the poet once said.

And I do recall his terrible handwriting
Scrawled across the royal page
As if a spider had tipped all its arachnid toes
And paddled in some ‘Quink’
Before running in every direction,
Across virgin sheets. ‘Droit de seigneur’
Making marks on chaste white paper.
Chaste no more. Soiled and spoilt
By command of the royal hand.

Perhaps the fizzy former contents
Of all those old tall green ‘milk bottles’
Might have had a part to play?

But I digress. Where were we?
Standing outside The Social Club
On the village green cricket square
Where, in my Halcyon pre-viral days
“Cometh the hour, Cometh the man”
A wagging ‘Tail ender’, me
I propelled the ‘Thirds’ to victory
When leather luckily bounced off willow
And tripped a light fantastic to the boundary.
Hailed as a hero, we went in for yet more Tea,
To finish off curly cucumber sandwiches
Of best white cut bread, spread with love
And sharp knives, by long suffering wives.

Bugger. I’ve done it once again. Lost the plot.
Not for the first time in life. Probably not the last.
“Wales. HRH. Prince of”, as he was termed.
At end of Term and year, on ‘Tripos’ results,
Exam marks pasted on boards outside The Senate,
He came my way, and protocol demanded
I say something, original, polite and ‘vanilla’
So my gabbling independent tongue
Addressed him as ‘The Queen Mum’s Grandson’
Which fair enough, in fact, he actually is.

He took me to one side and jovially proposed
A Cuban cigar sitting in the sun somewhere
But no smoker, I declined the royal appointment
And we stood happily, unmasked, in the old clean air
Being thoroughly ‘good chaps’ and entirely ignoring
All those around us whose necks were not adorned
With Varsity silk and knotted crested reminders
Of long dead dog-eared days laid out behind us.

Then I woke up. The rattle of the bin men,
Now called ‘Council Recycling Personnel’
Dragged me from my slumbers
Sure as ‘a man from Porlock’
Snatched Sam Coleridge prematurely away
From dreaming of The Ancient Mariner,
Albatross around his nautical neck
Good as any College tie. “The Albatross Club”
A fraternity for Losers and The Damned.

Don’t you just hate it, when that happens!
In dreams, your climax is approaching
And rudely your wife, or husband,
Breaks the sweet spell to tell
Of yet another cold dead rat upon the mat,
An early morning gift from a beloved cat.
Thank goodness he’s too small to slay Albatross.

So now, I’ll never, ever know
If My old ‘Cantabrigian’ chum, and me
Got to put ‘the world to rights’
But ‘entre nous’, between me and you,
I think, sadly, it’s too late for that.

In our lockdown reverie, we dream of finding keys
That probably don’t exist, in a world so very changed
Where the next piece of ‘old school’ paraphernalia
With be a crested Varsity mask, to keep us safe,
But also to show we’re still ‘Young Gents’
As College ‘servants’ called us. To our faces, at least.

Back in those untested, untracked ‘aquatint’ days
(Stolen shades of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ there)
When we were young and fit and breathed clean air,
And tame spiders gayly paddled in inkwells,
And life lay ahead of us, not far behind,
Us, with our Seventies Buddhist ‘beginners minds’
Still full of possible dreams to come,
And not just dreamt, drunk and spent
Like Charlie’s vintage ‘empties’,
Tumbling down Trinity’s aged wooden stairs.