Alternating we called it –
Saturday afternoons,
between Dennis’s bar
and the bookies next door.

He used leave us there,
take his wife shopping
while we minded the bar.

Later to the chip shop
for a fish supper,
wrapped, as was the practice then,
in old newspaper.

It was the first pub
I was ever barred from,
but later, I had
my twenty-first birthday there:
Dennis provided
the cake and the champagne.

Gone now;
Dennis an early victim
of the troubles –
an offer,
a refusal,
a bomb-threat,
a lower offer,
an acceptance.

No longer even a pub
when I drive past
each time I’m home,
makes me sad,
Although the chip shop
is still there.


30 Responses to “Alternating”

  1. You do poignancy very well. Although sometimes you leave me wanting to know more. Why you were banned, for instance? 🙂

  2. David, all true of us who live / lived in Belfast back then.
    Dennis was brave to refuse the first offer a lot of people did not.
    We were all barred from one pub and one dance hall.
    But thats how life goe’s when you were young back then, but if you did happen to get into a fight, it was a clean fight, not weapons of any short.
    Pub, bookies, chips in newspsper, been there and done it 😆

    • I did suspect when I posted this Harry that you would have been there, done that 🙂

      It was a very special place to grow up.

      That you were able to recognise it pleases me – it tells me the poem works.


  3. Hi David,

    this is beautiful, the melancholy in the memories of Dennis and the pub, you write it so well,

    I remember eating chips with ink like that, but that was in England, Eating the ink must have made you the poet 🙂 ? This was in Belfast right?

    The sad undertone, and the champagne! on your birthday. 🙂 A lovely mix. This Dennis must have trusted you guys a lot to let you run the bar!
    So sad, all that happend later. Not sure; what happend to Dennis?And that the pub is gone. Do you still go back home there often?

    Much love and a big hug 🙂


    • Thank you Ina,

      It was in Belfast.
      The contrast between the warmth of the people and the madness which was going on is quite staggering.

      I no longer go back very often, but when I do the friendliness of the people is still the same as it was then 🙂

      much love and a hug to you too

  4. Strange how we are always drawn back, but when we actually visit our old stamping grounds, the mix of emotions it evokes can be surprising and disconcerting. I think you’ve evoked that ambiguity perfectly here (and I don’t know if you intended this, but I feel as though the title has more than one meaning too, relating to that ambiguity).

    (Just a small off topic comment: I’m currently struggling with the much admired poet Don Paterson; his ‘Nil Nil’ collection…)

    • Thank you,

      Yes, the title was deliberately chosen because it reflected the the ambiguities or dichotomies which were inherent in the poem. It pleases me that you recognised that. 🙂

      I have never been tempted to buy a collection by Don Paterson 🙂


  5. midaevalmaiden Says:

    This poem is interesting because it hints at the intriguing man behind it. I can only imagine that I understand, yet knowing that I can’t. While enjoying the comraderie unfold between kindred spirits.

  6. This is a wonderful poem David, and one which gives me a glimpse into a part of your life that I am not familiar with.

    I feel as though I have known you for ever, but 14 years is not long in the bigger picture. I am sure there is so much more for you to tell us; as another comment stated, this left me wanting to read more and more. I am ready to sit cosily by a fire and let you read.

    Love you



    • Thank you Christine,

      It is not something I write about often and I am not quite sure why. But I was pleased with this one.

      Now I an off to get some logs for the fire and to fill up the bottomless teapot 🙂

      Much love

  7. I like how the chip shop is still there but the pub is no longer. While there is impermanence, some things remain the same.

  8. This is rather sobering for someone who has lived all his life in England. There’s a nice vein of nostalgia, familiar to anyone over a certain age I suppose, and then suddenly: Wham! we’re in the Troubles and it’s stark and personal. Awful events.
    Very good poem though.

    • Thank you John,

      It was exactly that contrast I was trying to highlight in the poem.
      Belfast people are among the warmest and friendliest in the world. (I might be biased) Yet alongside that warmth co-existed something else entirely


  9. interesting commentary on what lasts …. now you’re making me hungry for fish and chips!

  10. I think you did a marvelous job of tribute to those times and to your friend Dennis. It seems so many experiences of our youth make for indelible memories and impressions. I felt a menacing message there regarding Dennis. I enjoyed this–thanks.

  11. Hi David,
    My apologies I’m so late repsonding. I have been carried away by life this week.
    I have read this several times in my in-box, but never with enough time to dwell and give the poem the proper attention it deserves.

    In a sense I feel very young reading this.
    I’ve only known of the troubles from a great distance through t.v. and books. I can’t really comprehend how much it must have imapcted the country in a real everyday sense let alone individuals but your words bring up a deep emotion of sadness that lets me know the scars it has brought to bear on people are long lasting. It has in part made you who you are. If that makes sense?

    This poem took me to a place in my own memories. How much has changed in Adelaide in my time, from areas now completely unrecognisable to places that never seem to change. Most of the places I used to hang about in my teens are all gone. Just memories now.

    I like the play of memories that seem to make the light brighter, a smile (minding the pub, champange for your 21st) to walk into memories that dim the lights.
    I get sense of moodiness, of everythign being brown for some reason, that red brick colour I supppose. I certainly feel transported in time to a certain degree.
    Your memories are very much a portrait of life in its ups and downs and leaves me quiet and grateful for the look into your “photo album” as it were.
    As others have said it leave one curious, but at the same time I feel I know you a little better. 🙂

    This is a very poignant poem to me. I think certainly one your best.

    I hope you have had a lovely weekend 🙂


    • Thank you Tikarma,

      I don’t often write about my youth so this poem, when it emerged, was something of a surprise. And I am pleased with it.

      Belfast, when I was growing up, was a city of contrasts – an exciting vibrant place certainly and then the dampener of the troubles. We learned to adjust and to carry on within the mayhem. It was a place where the abnormal became the normal and we came to accept that and to live with that. But the scars run very deep and there was not one person who was not touched by it. and you are right it has in part made me who I am.

      It is strange too to go back. Your Adelaide, my Belfast – the places of our youth changed or gone. But the memories do not go. The cave from ‘First I Dreamt the Journey’ is no longer there – that particular landscape totally changed (I have not been – my young brother told me that) but the memory and the significance never change.

      I am fascinated by your impression that the poem is a red-brick colour – gives it a whole new perspective when I read it again 🙂

      I hope your week is brightened by the Spring


  12. peta straatman Says:

    Hi, this poem stirred up sediments of memory which I feel compelled to share!

    I was working at the British Embassy in The Hague at the time of Bloody Sunday – our security was increased tenfold and we held our breath, waiting quietly, but it was the Embassy in Brussels that got firebombed.

    I also thought I remembered you telling me of your teenage Belfast years spent “tweening” – did I miss-hear?

    luv, Peta

    • Hi Peta,

      Good to hear from you again. Certainly the troubles spread their tentacles to all sorts of places.

      As for ‘tweening’ – I think you did indeed miss-hear 🙂


  13. I want to know why you were barred 😛 really enjoying reading your blog, I can’t believe I haven’t stumbled across it before! You write some very interesting pieces 🙂

  14. A bittersweet, elegaic piece, David, which makes me realise that, although the Troubles were part of the background to my youth, I never really understood any of it. And that it’s a long time since I did anything in a pub that was likely to get me barred! Thank you for sharing what’s clearly an important and intimate memory.

    • Thank you Nick,

      I rarely write poems about growing up in Belfast – so this one came as a surprise when I wrote it.

      Mostly nowadays if I am in a pub it is for a poetry event so I guess I am unlikely to be barred again 🙂


  15. guttermutt Says:

    This is what I like about memories. Circumstances may change but memories can be tucked away in a secret place where only we know they are.

    I am really enjoying your blog. 🙂

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