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Stepping Stones by Connaire Kensit

Arts Richmond

Online - 15 February 2021

Stepping Stones by Connaire Kensit

Stepping Stones Speculations 

When I was six and she was nine
   my sister led the way
To take me with her to our school
   about a mile away.
The journey could be varied. 
   There were several routes we took,
But whichever way we chose
   we would have to cross the brook.
We sometimes used the road bridge,
    where the cars and vans could go,            
And there was a little footbridge,
   downstream forty yards or so―
It’s still popular with children;
   there Pooh-sticks can be played―
Between the two some stepping stones
   had long ago been laid.
Of those three routes the stepping stones
    were what I liked the best,
But how come someone put them there
   I neither knew nor guessed.       
As their function is to let you
   get across while keeping dry
There’s little point in stepping stones
   when there’s a bridge close by.
A simple explanation
    as to why the stones were there
Would be that they had been in place
   before the bridges were.
I haven’t looked through documents
to see what they record       
But people might put stepping stones
    adjacent to a ford.
At fords one wades through water,
   often cold and full of dirt
And no one wants to have it soak
   their trousers or their skirt.
It’s easy to imagine
local residents would look
For ways pedestrians might walk
dry-shod across the brook.      
It had to be a project
that their Parish funds could meet,
So not a bridge, but stepping stones,
   would save them from wet feet.
Rocks brought in from a quarry
must have come by horse-drawn cart
To fix firmly on the stream-bed—
   that was the tricky part!
In all, how many man-hours spent?
   Surely not less than ten;     
Setting the stepping-stones in place
     was work for several men.
That relieved the pedestrians; horses
    had no such luck.
Day in, day out, they’d splash their way
   through water and through muck.
The slopes are steep down to a ford
   and up the other side;
When wagons trundle heavy loads,
   brakes have to be applied,   
And then, with all momentum lost,
   the team must sweat and strain
To start the wagon from the stream
    and drag it up again.

But when the railway-line was built
    from Windsor to Nine Elms
Commuter suburbs mushroomed
in what had been rural realms.
It brought a boom in house-building
    to places in between
Like Putney, Barnes and Twickenham
    and Mortlake and North Sheen.
And a boom in building bridges
   for the now much busier roads
Where brewers’ drays and traction engines
    hauled their heavy loads.
Soon a new bridge replaced the ford;
   our stepping stones, bereft
Of all their adult clientele,
    now a mere toy, were left.      

Last week an errand took me past
   the once-familiar street
From which the stepping stones once drew
    my eager youthful feet.
Was this an opportunity
    To tread those stones once more?
Relive the thrill that I’d last
   known seventy years before?

No chance!  Of our old stepping stones
   no vestige now remained
How come?  Perhaps some over-anxious
   parent had complained:
“To children of ten years or more
   those stones might pose no threat;
If they fell in that shallow stream,
    they’d just get cold and wet.
But three-year-olds may copy them,
   and if one tumbles down
Face forward in the water,
   they could very easily drown.”
So in the local plan to have
    the neighbourhood improved
The Council put a pledge to have
    our stepping-stones removed.
They’d need a hoist and tackle,
which they’d bring up in a truck;
Someone wading in the water
    would get each stone un-stuck.
With something fixed around each stone
    and something underneath       
They’d be strangled and extracted
   —rather like pulling teeth.
In all, how many man-hours spent?
     I reckon five or ten;
Taking the stepping-stones away
    was work for several men.
This is my tale of stepping stones
, commencing from their birth.
They’re gone.  A little piece of me
   has vanished from the Earth.

          by Connaire Kensit (Convenor of the Putney Poetry Workshop)

Poems were invited on the theme of stepping stones.  Around that time I had looked for some stepping stones across Beverley Brook that I’d known as a child, but they were no longer there.

‘ABOUT TIME, the 2019 anthology of shortlisted entries from The Roger McGough Poetry Prize. Copies of this Anthology can be purchased for £5 including P&P from Arts Richmond.


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