the yew tree of ilkeston

Created for the Ilkeston Festival 2008 based on the language, ideas and thoughts of the people of the area. The main character still 'rests' in Stanton Road Cemetery, Ilkeston.

a giant ‘bout seven foot five
called samuel (no longer alive)
woke up one day
from out of the clay
and decided he needed a stride

first words were ‘ey up mi duck
ah-rait? come reply wi' a look
ow were startled to bits
and left sam in fits
of laughter that dug in like hooks

he popped in museum t'see
what's app'nin' wi' town's history
wi' height on this bloke
worra bit on a joke
but he got in f' nowt (and for free!)

face t’ face wi’ a sculptured brown rat
he pondered and took off his hat
as he combed through his beard
an assistant appeared
said ‘ey up - ah'll tell you baht that

so he did then sam told his tale
ah thought that thee looked a bit pale
try a pub around here
we're not short o' beer
said assistant (you guessed - he was

and sam said he missed this old place
he remembered its charm and the grace
and pride in the town
and its fair was the crown
once a year - folk thought it was ace

is it still going? asked sam
you bet – and sam clapped his hands
year twelve fifty- two!
it’s still going true
you should hear the noise from its fans

now - you might want t' change – fella said
if you don't mind me saying - being dead
you've got quite a pong
and you wouldn't go wrong
wi' a wash and a sponge round your neck

ah'll do that - then go for a drink
if you're sayin' it's true that ah stink
observart'ry's near
and there's others round here
said assistant wi' a nod and a wink

outside - by alleyway at square
market were on - selling pairs
of socks and of pants
so he took up his chance
and walked through wi' nowt but a care

what size?! said the man at the stall
by ‘eck - we'd struggle that tall
you could sew on a bit
and maybe ‘t ‘ll fit
you’re bigger than any barn door

sam gave up on that and instead
walked round to stretch out his legs
there were fruit stalls and ‘phones
bananas and bones
and bookstalls and hens’ and ducks’ eggs

now sam were amazed what they’d got
he remembered this old market spot
and back in his day
it wor lively wi’ play
then he heard ‘bout plans it had got

we’re proud of us market – us folks
our customers (women and blokes)
and our stallholders’ smiles
they stretch out for miles
like we’ve bin told the funniest joke

there’s whisperings here going on
our stalls may be soon enough gone
will you sign our petition?
we’re in a collision
it’s like they’ve taken our favourite song

sam thought of the old market stalls
as he sat on a nearby wall
he got chatting with lads
and grannies and dads
and girls (cuddling tight to their dolls)

there was lots to be said from this lot
there were thoughts and some history (in pots!)
they rambled along
about ilkeston
he let them go on ‘til they stopped

i wish i could fly one did say
i like to walk ‘long nutbrook way
i once worked at stanton
now memories cling on
and look at my hair – how it’s grey

you know il’s’on was once a spa town?
hence bath street (goes up and goes down)
had railways and trains
now we seem to have waned
duke of rutland must be clawing the ground

i collect up the acorns like medals
i once had a toy car with pedals
i sometimes get cross
but i’ve stopped that because
it was like i was stuck on a treadle

some pipes stanton made – we exported
and during the war we supported
there was smoke that was thick
the airplanes were tricked
missed factory – so bombings were thwarted

i’m kirk hallam – from just o’er there
i’m cotmanhay and i love the fair
where there’s hot dogs and onions
(my grandma got bunions)
by the end there’s no cash to spare

more gathered around samuel’s knees
told of wishes and hopes and of dreams
one offered a chip
and a drink (just a sip)
and chattered like rattling keys

have you tasted a curry or pizza?
or thai food or a good pint of bitter?
sam considered this stuff
he replied (off the cuff)
that it’s lovely now i can greet ya

but you see from my clothes – i’ve
been dead
i got up (my head felt like lead)
i’m a giant you see
and between you and me
i got bored of staying in bed

if you measure – i’m seven foot…more
(the kids and adults cried cor)
my money’s from those
who watched my stiff pose
as i stood in the sideshows before

o i see – said the curious crowd
so they took him around and about
showed library and hall
the co-op and all
the scala - the church and their doubts

the doubts? asked our sam when he
yes – we’re troubled they said – and
we’re feared
that our old reputation
has hit degradation
as they chatted – they tugged at his

show me more – sam said – show me
it’s been ages – i wish i had called
you before this had happened
though i feel quite flattered
you told me you were all out of sorts

show me where you go swimming and
victoria baths – o i say
and what about tennis
and cricket and any
walks along old heanor way?

o – the cop shop – there’s paths round
the side
you can pedal to stabbo’ on bike
but allotments are going
no seeds more a-sowing
there’s houses buildin’ up far and wide

said the giant- i still really stink
i’m unwashed – and could do with a
we’ll take him t’ bogs
said a lad wi’ a dog
sam accepted (no needing to think)

he scrubbed up quite nicely – quite
though his pallor was drab and has-
the local beautician
made it her mission
to make him the sweetest they’d seen

the bennerley viaduct still up?
o aye said an old bloke – tut tut
it’s not looking well
it’s like an old shell
you can see it from school – full o’

so how do you travel about?
on buses –they’ll not charge you owt
you look fairly old
and if you’re quite bold
y’ can ask ‘em or give ‘em a clout

sam chortled and got on the bus
said thanks to the kids (acting tough)
the driver just laughed
at the shoppers aghast
that’s nothing to what i’ve seen mi duck

there’s swans wander out in the front
and cats sit and wait like they’re drunk
there’s kids at kirk hallam
and whatever you tell ‘em
they open the back like a trunk

now then – you look like old sam
the gentlest giant – yes i am
so sam squeezed on in
wi’ the widest of grins
and nattered with someone called pam

getting off at the park were some seats
that went round and round - worra treat!
the blue roundabout
had dizzied him out
and he waivered as he got to his feet

so there at the green granby park
he harked to the cries of dogs’ barks
and the sweet sound of birdcall
had him totally enthralled
when he noticed it was getting quite dark

he missed the days when he lived
so he wondered if owt he could leave
behind for the town
would be passed on and down
by the sculpture - he pictured a tree

the tree is a yew – that’s the one
to grow with our daughters and sons
and their children and more
then more by the score
symbolic and infinite – done!

he told his ideas to the kids
said this is the notion – let’s dig
on that piece of land
the kids said that’s grand
now what stands in that space will grow big

and bigger and bigger and tall
and regenerate and not fall
like us il’s’on folk
tough as old boots we cope
and salt of the earth – that’s our call

so old sam went back to his grave
and the tree grows as tall as the days
that grows on and on
with names etched upon
a symbol of ilkeston’s ways

written for the Ilkeston Festival
poem funded by Derbyshire County Council