Aug. 13, 2005

Sally Eats A Sundae Near the Bandstand in the Park

by Glyn Maxwell

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Poem: "SALLY EATS A SUNDAE NEAR THE BANDSTAND IN THE PARK" by Glyn Maxwell, from The Sugar Mile. © Houghton Mifflin Company. Reprinted with permission


Mummy says it's pointless going. It comes
           It comes, she says, they'll have us where they please,
City, country, Hitler's got gas bombs
           I read about it, think about it: gas.

Our road had a big practice, with a bell
           That means the gas is coming, you can't see it
You can only smell it. If you've no sense of smell
           Or you're elderly it's likely you're too late,

You're standing there but dead. Anyway the gas bell
           Was just like our school bell, I told them that,
I told them they should change that. The gas rattle,
           That's like a football rattle, Harry said,

It sounds like in the stands at West Ham.
           I really need to use a certain place.
Look at the queue. I'm an imbecile I am.
           It melted with me yakking on like this.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of the first man ever to print a book in English, William Caxton, born in Kent, England (1422). He was a wealthy merchant, living in Cologne, Germany. The printing press had been invented about 25 years earlier and Caxton had just translated a book about the history of Troy. He realized that printing was the thing for his book, and so he printed it in 1475, Historyes of Troye.

He went back to England and established the first printing press there. In 1478, he came out with an edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. For a long time, people in England called printed books Caxtons.

It's the birthday of Alfred Hitchcock, London (1899), the "Master of Suspense," who made Strangers on a Train, Rear Window, Psycho, and many other movies. He said, "I [want to] give [my audience] pleasure—the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare."

It's the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Britain, 1940, when Germany began to bomb England during World War II. France had been overrun. Germany's plan was to destroy the Royal Airforce before invading Great Britain.

The British had an advanced radar system, which helped them, but by the middle of August, they lost a quarter of their aircraft. Shortly thereafter, everything changed. On August 24, 1940, a German bomber accidentally bombed London. Britain responded by bombing Berlin. Hitler was so angry, he ordered his airforce to bomb London exclusively, turning his attention away from the Royal Airforce.

On the first night, 600 German bombers came in waves, dropping explosive and incendiary devices over East London where the factories and the docks were. The bombing of London continued over the next eight months. It was so incessant that it became almost a part of ordinary life.

An American journalist named Mary Welsh was living in London, and she wrote in her diary, "Today has brought the usual post-bomb misery, the taste of powder in the mouth, burglar alarms ringing incessantly, glass crunching under our shoes in the flat and also outside, clothes in closets and drawers heavy with dust, my eyes red and face old looking and feeling as though it was burning, and a terrible job to concentrate my thinking."

But the British people were remarkably resilient and went about life as normally as they could. By the end, more than 30,000 Londoners had been killed, more than 100,000 houses destroyed and a third of the city burned to the ground. But historians now feel that if Hitler had focused on destroying the Royal Airforce instead of bombing London, he probably would have won the battle.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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