Marilyn Longstaff

Wonders of Darlington (a sort-of memoir by Marilyn Longstaff)

I’ve lived here three times. 

My family first came in 1964 from Essex. My parents were the Salvation Army Officers at the marvellous Victorian citadel. This was where I encountered the first wonder of Darlington at the Youth Club in 1968 – he (local lad born and bred) was playing table tennis with my friend Peter. I’ve written (and had published in my book ‘Raiment’) a poem about this.

Vest

If anything 
started it for me, 
it was that string vest, or the ghost
of its diamond pattern
through semi-transparent nylon shirt 
in a shade which wasn’t mustard, it was paler,
but it was that sort of colour.

You must remember,
this was in the days before sex 
on the telly. Mini skirts were just coming in, 
but apart from a few tentative Levis and Wranglers
and the odd parka, the boys I knew still wore 
grey flannel trousers and sports jackets 
(with leather elbow patches). 

I’m talking
of course, about where I lived 
in a northern backwater, not Southend 
or Brighton, with their invading mods 
in smart suits, slim ties and fashionable 
short-on-top, long-at-the-sides haircuts,
out for a day at the seaside on scooters.

Nothing much,
the hint of that vest 
pulled taut against his shirt 
next to his skin – as he played 
table tennis at Darlington 
Salvation Army youth club.
But it was a beginning.

Reader, I married him and that’s when I came back to Darlington in 1971 for a year while he finished art college and I worked at Farmway.

So, here I am on my third time of living here. We came back in 1990 with our two young children and the artist embarked on a long stint as daily cartoonist for The Northern Echo (another wonder of Darlington). After 30 years in the same house, I guess I call it home (a hard concept for me given my nomadic childhood). I’ve always appreciated the convenience of this place: its location – close proximity to dales and coast; wonderful railway; a fine local hospital; a good town. But lockdown has led to many walks around its streets and parks and I have really appreciated the wonders of spring, summer and autumn in parks and gardens.

And here, from the same book, another little wonder – where would we be without The Art Shop (and Sadie’s of course)?

The Language of Bras

My neat breasts had their own elastic.
For years, I didn’t wear a bra. 
And when I did,
it was fine cotton (Swedish), 
that Nordic mix
of modesty and sex.

As kids on holiday we’d laughed 
on the end of Bournemouth pier
at Mike Yarwood’s Show 
The Rawhide Bra – 
“round ‘em up, roll ‘em in”. 
Not funny now.

In Sadie’s changing room, 
like a hospital cubicle, 
I’m trying to act dignified 
as she eyes me up like a surgeon, 
diagnoses a completely different size 
from “the one you’ve been wearing, dear”,
hoists me high, 
as would an old-fashioned corsetier, 
in synthetic lace and lycra 
under-wired cups. 

A bra that: 
takes no prisoners; 
snags at the touch of roughened fingers; 
transforms your profile into a matron’s platform; 
says (as you wilt at your reflection 
in the Art Shop window),
“Face it girl, your son is right, 
who’d want to look at your chest, 
anyway?”