It started with dripping oil,
Dark smudges, smeared by tyres
Pounded into the new-laid tegula
Dusty blurs, like human shadows
Following a nuclear strike
Then gargling, spitting
A mist of greasy invective
Black words, barking
From the tailpipe, exhausted
A hail of mechanical fatigue
So in it went, to an ‘engine shop’ –
Spluttering, gargling to the far side of Needwood –
Trent one-side, power station the other
Flush to the canal, banged up behind
The digger plant and an old signal box;
Bletch-covered sleepers under edge-rusted rails
Yet lo! Empowered by oil
Uplifted by wrenches and spanners
Tar-smeared power tools
Pits, winches and inch-thick chains
I transformed. The engineer. Stephenson. Brunel.
“It’s likely the stem seals”, he said
“Or maybe the inlet rings.”
“Hopefully not a re-bore”
I bluffed, a parry. Nothing more.
“Might do”, he rumbled, gruffly
But who was to know?
Emboldened, now I dared to speak
The lost tongue of my father;
And before him, his father, William
Or Frank, his step-father, engineers all.
And the language of George,
Grandad, Mum’s side –
The tinkerer, the fixer, the trucker
Whose thick palms, nimbly dexterous
Were ingrained with oil and engines.
So I animatedly spoke to my dad
Of O rings and rod nuts
Of engine shops and re-bores
Of widgets and grommets
Of gaskets and piston slap
His world, his words,
So I thought,
Benignly he listened; gently he shook his head
Amused and bemused
By my fluent influency.