Shortly before he died in 2017, Heathcote Williams recorded his reading of one of his favourite poems about the first world war, Dick Lander by Charles Causley.
BY CHARLES CAUSLEY
When we were children at the National School
We passed each day, clipped to the corner of
Old Sion Street, Dick Lander, six foot four,
Playing a game of trains with match-boxes.
He poked them with a silver-headed cane
In the seven kinds of daily weather God
Granted the Cornish. Wore a rusted suit.
It dangled off him like he was a tree.
My friend Sid Bull, six months my senior, and
A world authority on medicine,
Explained to me just what was wrong with Dick.
‘Shell-shopped,’ he said. ‘You catch it in the war.’
We never went too close to Dick in case
It spread like measles. ‘Shell-shopped, ain’t you, Dick?’
The brass-voiced Sid would bawl. Dick never spoke.
Carried on shunting as if we weren’t there.
My Auntie said before he went away
Dick was a master cricketer. Could run
As fast as light. Was the town joker. Had
Every girl after him. Was spoiled quite out
Of recognition, and at twenty-one
looked set to take the family business on
(Builders merchants, seed, wool, manure and corn).
‘He’s never done a day’s work since they sent
‘Him home after the Somme,’ my Uncle grinned.
‘If he’s mazed as a brush, my name’s Lord George.
Why worry if the money’s coming in?’
At fireworks time we throw a few at Dick.
Shout, ‘Here comes Kaiser Bill!’ Dick stares us through
As if we’re glass. We yell, ‘What did you do
In the Great War?’ And skid into the dark.
‘Choo, choo,’ says Dick. ‘Choo, choo, choo, choo, choo,
Image: detail from Self-portrait with Red Scarf by Max Beckman, 1917.