Ghost in the machine

We sit silently at the front, dumbfounded:
before us, close on 300 sons and daughters of Blakeney House:
no more stout Sir Thomas, no more learned sage,
no more Crome and Walpole, no more history’s page –

just a pleasant spot
on the North Norfolk coast, slightly susceptible
to flooding

Those young eyes gaze at us,
relics of a bygone age,
consigned to the ark
(honour of the school, apparently)
and we gaze back, aghast
at how many years have passed

Echoes of the abandoned school song fade
across the playing fields
(was it joy we used to know?),
its tune stuck firm in our muddy memories
despite our efforts to finger it out

Did we really belong here?
No caps, no sacred lawn,
no gowns, no ties, no tuck shop,
no visions of selfish fame,
no absorbing aim,
no playing the game

Yet something lingers on
as the drizzle strengthens into a downpour outside:
the same gateway, a certain
sense of direction

And where have we been,
falling through cracks,
disappearing in unlikely places, or
sticking unexpectedly hard to those things we knew?

Those ancient, eternal things
are slipping away now,
and we do the same,

leaving a faint memory in younger minds,
something one Friday,
some old guys sitting there,
a ghost in the machine


This is a poem I wrote following a visit by a group of us to the City of Norwich School, where we had started our high school careers 60 years earlier. It borrows generously from the school song, which I have to say I still regard fondly.