A Poor Exchange
I knew him when he was Meadway
and her Speedwell, and there were
other pretty names I remember still,
Bluebell, Mulberry, Gipsy Hill.
We called them phone numbers
but all were prefixed by an Exchange’s name.
Some, like Lords and Abbey, seemed to be
heaven sent, others like Balham, Brixton, Brent
more down-to-earth, urbane.
I recall some grand ones too,
Regent, Monarch, Seven Kings,
and even the odd artistic few –
Kipling, Wordsworth, Keats.
And there were posher ones for swells,
Sloane, Knightsbridge, Tunbridge Wells.
Often those hastily scribbled numbers
were a prize hard won as music slowed
and lights dimmed, but spinning those old
black dials for a date in the sober light
of the following day was a braver thing.
Of course it is the sexy-sounding ones
I remember most, Riverside, Field End, Mountview.
The butt of many a sexist teenage jest they
were rarely the ones that turned out best.
All are dehumanised into numbers now,
hard to retain, giving no hint of the voice
that awaits at the other end, whether
welcoming or restrained.
And all are stirringly visible still in the
tattered diaries I came across recently
under the stairs, covers worn, leaves
torn, but continuing to enthral, as they
wait wait wait for someone to call.