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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 4, December 2014

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Patricia Prime
Auckland, New Zealand


High Street

covered with snuff
the parish priest's
threadbare suit

When dad was demobbed he bought a tailoring and dry-cleaning shop and employed mum to do the alterations. In those days only the wealthy had their suits made, but several men brought shirts in to have the collars and cuffs turned on them and, as fashion was changing, women brought skirts and coats to have shortened. On Saturday mornings and school holidays I earned pocket money working behind the counter or delivering dry-cleaning to customers.

One of our regular customers was the parish priest, Canon Clifton, who had baptised me and my brothers and sisters, given us communion and heard our confessions and, later, officiated at my wedding and baptised two of my children. He lived to be ninety, but I always thought of him as an old man, his wispy white hair covered with a berretta, cigarette ash sprinkled on his cassock.

My father made a new suit for him every year: herringbone, pin-striped or tweed.

Another familiar figure was David Hodges, an irascible Welshman: my former teacher, who also taught English at my primary school. His way of dealing with errant children was to grab the boys and haul them out of their desks by their ear and give them "six of the best" with the cane. Girls he treated more leniently by calling them to the front and placing them on a chair next to his.

Often I was asked to take his dry-cleaning to his home, which was in the next street to mine. He'd ask me to come into his sitting-room while he found his purse. His room was full of books and he'd invite me to choose one to borrow. It was from him that I learned not only about the English poets but the Greek and Roman poets. He often quoted passages of poetry: "Fear lends wings to his feet" (Virgil, Aeneid) and "Believe me, you who come after me" (Horace, Odes). He knew the 70 verses of Macaulay's Horatius by heart and often quoted the following verse as defiant children rushed past him in the corridor while he was on duty:

But meanwhile axe and lever have manfully been plied;
And now the bridge hangs tottering above the boiling tide.
"Come back, come back, Horatius!" loud cried the Fathers all.
"Back Lartius! Back, Herminius! Back ere the ruin fall."

in his hand      the Greek textbook's      dog-eared pages

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