The Park Keeper. Haibun by Paul Beech

Our fifth week in lockdown, a sunny afternoon. I was sitting out at the back, enjoying the birdsong and blossom, when his face stole into my mind, timidly at first, then more insistently. My Grandad Billy, who died half-a-century ago and more. And wasn’t there a hint of reproach in those grey eyes?

Returning indoors, I flipped through my photograph album. And there he was in a mid-30s black-and-white snap, Billy, with wife Hilda, on Morecambe Pier. They’re wearing their Sunday best and smiling in a way they never would again after their dear little Hazel was lost to diphtheria a year or two on.

wireless silent
a full twelve months…
her favourite doll

Billy was a coal miner turned park keeper. His domain, the park across the road. And most assiduous he was in looking after its shrubberies, garden, bowling green, football pitch and children’s playground. A special pleasure was playing bowls on his own green.

He also served simultaneously as Secretary to the Labour Club, Treasurer to the Workers’ Union and Secretary to the Horticultural Society. A popular guy, was Billy. Except with Hilda, a teetotaller, should he ever return from the Club a bit tiddly. Argh no, she wasn’t standing for that! But those smoky meat pies he brought back, how the family wolfed them down…

With the coming of war, Billy was assigned to work in an office, co-ordinating the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign in his small northern town. And through those grim years of conflict, he gave of his best, emerging finally a hero of the Home Front.

His beloved park had lost its ornate iron gates and railings, cut down to help the war effort. But what joy it was to be back full-time, the sunken garden a blaze of colour, the green begging leisurely games of bowls.

It was now that a dreadful accident occurred. Billy was driving a tractor on a sloping site when it overturned and crushed his chest. He was never to fully recover.

bad news
in a good hand…
a letter long preserved

Visiting Grandad Billy as a kid, I’d find him drawn, wheezy and not for idle chatter. He’d happily sit at his fireside though, whilst I perused his collection of cigarette cards, with their colourful pictures of ships, footballers, railway engines and so on. He’d even let me take one home if I liked.

He was still the Park Keeper too, and come Guy Fawkes Night would turn up at our house with a wagon-load of tree-loppings for our bonfire.

Decades on from his passing, I was given Grandad Billy’s personal crown green bowls in a case. I no longer have physical possession but know where to look. In a cobwebby attic of memories from my old life.

I’ll make the journey someday… maybe. For now, Welsh poppies gloriously in bloom, swallows on the wing, it’ll do to simply sit awhile in the sun.

unlocking the past…
covid cogitation
with a good malt


  1. It captures your Billy beautifully and is most evocative.

    1. Thank, Bruce. I greatly enjoyed writing ‘The Park Keeper’, travelling back to those times-gone-by and reconnecting with Billy.

      Keep safe and well down under,


  2. This is a moving portrait Paul and isn’t it interesting the way people can come to mind unexpectedly? You have told your grandfather’s story (or at least part of it) and I think people come to mind, especially if they are no longer with us in person, but they are in spirit, to communicate their stories. Your Grandad will be pleased you’ve told his story!

    1. Thanks Morelle. Yes, the way Billy came to mind like that, during lockdown, felt like a visitation of sorts. It was indeed as if his spirit was urging me, and depending upon me as his eldest grandson, to tell something of his story before it was lost for good in the mists of time. I can only hope I did well enough.

      Enjoy your walks and take care,

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