Belonging and Certainty


Belonging watercolour and inks by Michelle Thomasson
Belonging - watercolour and inks Michelle Thomasson

The above picture was painted earlier this year using a black and white photo as a reference, taken when I was a toddler, barely two years old and in the garden as often as I could be. I was there with friends - blackbirds, a robin and some insects, plus an imaginary fox and squirrel. It takes me back a number of decades, hence I painted it with a vintage Ladybird book style, back to a time when climate change and biodiversity loss were hardly known or generally understood. A time which offered more certainty, much more than our children have to look forward to or to dream with now.


I grew up in the north east of England, next to the River Tyne and its industrial shipyards, definitely not a beauty spot. Happily, I have seen many welcome changes to the area, the noise of heavy, dirty machinery has gone and the visible pollution in the air has disappeared but the negative consequences of our industrial revolution have not. Here's my poem about hopeful Certainty in childhood (even in a poor area of the north) which I've had in a folder for a while, the picture above belongs with it.


Certainty

Certainty in harsh boundaries, rusted greens, smoky rain,

washed over silhouettes of towering cranes.

Shipyards, pungent smells,

anchored onto the riverbanks by dust coated men.

Metal pounding marking time, as if it would go on and on and on forever.


Certainty in memories.


Certainty in grandma’s sayings and harsh weather,

sea-frets with damp light.

Couldn’t see too far back then,

no internet, social media or phone,

unless ye could borrow the neighbours when they were home.


Certainty with the first winter frost,

sinews of ice smooth across the panes,

magical greys,

caad, finger-tip chill, touching filigree veins.

Blasts and gales, proper Geordie conditions.

“It’s a belter of a winter like” then a fearless spring,

all four seasons crisp and definite,

wonderfully the birds did sing.


Certainty on the telly,

weathermen wore ties, part of the established security.

Like the latest bulletin and that one big voice:

“Chronicle!” Bellowed by the gadgie on the corner,

aye, him with the big belly.


Daily headlines - Grandad had a cautious word,

so I knew things weren’t alright with the world.

Grandad cobbled shoes, his hard-grafted works of art.

Customers less able or well-heeled, always left treading easier in themselves,

he took no notice of life’s pecking order, I learnt to do the same.


Encouraged to look beyond the cold assurance of a hard-pressed life,

I found a secret escape, as a toddler to the garden,

then exotic longwave, Mediterranean and tropical scenes

those perfect blue skies,

with salsa-backed stories that might one day be mine.


Certainty in dreams,

especially Jesmond Dene,

explored where the burn sparkled.


Boots plodged, soaked socks,

segged shoes all clarty, the magnificent trees didn’t mind

and I knew they were watching.

Friends said: “ganin doon the Dene again, that’s geet posh like!”

Well, even the public netty smelt clean.


Dreams of rescuing donkeys from the Hoppings, on the Leazes,

where the bottle-green grass punched fresh air,

it smelt sunnier than a bunch of wildflowers.

No hint of welded stench up there,

no slate-fog, even when it was chucking it down.


No giants blocking out the light,

no massive irons across the road,

no sulphur bile forcing our lungs to fight.


Industrial invincibility, did they really believe in seeing further?

All the while a spewed-out heat crept through the decades,

insidiously ravaging all our certainties.


Abruptly, my memories let me go, no refuge,

just a cacophony of voices orchestrating the news

and all our seasons are really confused.

And where is certainty now in these tremulous skies,

our children, their dreams, do they know where to fly?


Let's make hope for them and see certainty smile.


Michelle Thomasson


Geordie words used in the poem:

Aye = yes

Belter = really good

Burn = stream

Caad = cold

Chucking it down = raining heavily

Clarty = muddy or dirty

Doon = down

Fret = sea fog

Gadgie = an old man (aad gadgie) or an official of some kind, word of Romany gypsy origin

Ganin = to go

Geet = very

Hoppings = A fair, from the Anglo-Saxon word 'Hoppen'.

Leazes = Pasture land belonging to a town

Netty = toilet

Plodged = wade about in water

Segged = segments of metal hammered into the soles and heels of shoes to make them last longer

Ye = you