The willow flower turns light grey to green to a colour,
between light dry sand and gold.
He taught me to pick young hawthorn leaves,
as we walked our way beneath the trees to the train,
in those long ago days, he called them bread and cheese,
good to settle our empty stomachs yearn,
good too to kill a thirst and stop endless words
of a child hungry to know more of the world.
The boy wanting to know much more of life and living,
dragging words out of a silent war veteran,
tallest silent man, who’d seen too much,
and had nothing to say to the child his son.
Hawthorn leaves picked small, tender and brightest green,
baked in flour, a way of surviving the hardest years,
remnants of taking what the land could offer,
to supplement a working man’s food in Spring.
Memories handed down from father to son.
- Bara a chaws is Welsh for bread and cheese.
There are records that show that Gaelic/Celtic people added young green leaves of trees and herbs to porridge. But also in the Welsh valleys, especially where Scottish people had settled, eating and cooking Hawthorn and Birch leaves was a common practice. At times of hunger the green leaves were an important source of vitamins.
This poem is about walking with my father, a war veteran, each Saturday morning to the Library in another town — or occasionally to the train station to catch a train to Cardiff. On the way we walked along an avenue of young Birch trees and he would pick very young leaves and chew them and offer me some too. After his time in a prisoner of war camp he was left with chronic stomach and digestive problems and would say that birch leaves calmed his stomach cramps. I wonder now whether they were what he resorted to stave off starvation in the camps.
These old traditions jarred with the “modern” avoidance, indeed fear of such traditions. Coming from an Irish family with a tradition of story telling and a love of the old ways there was, nevertheless, also an insistence that education and book reading was of vital importance. Jarring! Education was seen as a vital way out of poverty, but also subjugation by the landowning classes. Hence the journeys each Saturday to the library and the routine of searching for interesting books. By ten years I’d read the entire range of books on offer in the children’s library — several times. I begged to be allowed into the Adult section. I was eventually allowed to do so when I was twelve.
Since then libraries have always been of profound importance to my education as a writer and an artist. But also in my later subsequent career as an expert in the Criminal Justice and Family Courts. Yet today I witness the destruction of the Library Services in the UK…Libraries that were seen by miners as essential to self-education and self-betterment as a way of providing for our children are being removed and nothing is said. There is a silence at this destruction such are the times we live in. Libraries that miners often donated a penny per week out of their hard earned wage such was their importance. Libraries the sacrifice of the working class in order to educate itself. Not to forget the contribution of the libraries by the Carnegie Foundation.
Now the easy access of information on social media destroys any interest in the library as an incredible resource. It also avoids questioning the way that information by the internet and social media is processed and filtered, and managed to a degree that should result in questions asked about the level of manipulation we are all being exposed to.
Information and education is being sequestered and the blue screen does not provide the answer.
A Birch tree leaf, a Hawthorn tree leaf take a look at it closely the next time you pass one…its not just a leaf. Its a history!