The Vagabond Book (First To Find It Wins)

I have just finished reading Blackmoor, by Edward Hogan. It is a book neatly summed up by a phrase that comes right near the end of the story: ‘…loss far exhausts blame.’

I picked the book up from a second hand bookstore in Shudehill, Manchester, for the princely sum of £2.

In the middle of the book, placed between two pages, was a cash receipt, for unknown items, from an unknown shop, dated 2010.

2010-four years ago. Was that the last time this particular book had been read before it came into my possession? Had the receipt been placed there to mark out a significant sentence? Was it the place in the novel that the reader had reached, only never to return? Or was it merely the place of a random, forgotten, settling?

On the front, inside cover, was a name written in ink, partly scrawled out. The first name was Jenny, the surname was illegible. Next to the name was written ‘£1.’ Buying the book at such a discounted price didn’t cause me to bemoan the  fact that at some time (maybe four years ago?) the book was sold for half the price that I had paid for it.

On the inside, back cover was written, in pencil, ‘Scope. Whitley Bay.’ So, at some point the book had resided on a charity shop’s crowded shelf in Whitley Bay, some 112 miles away from the Shudehill shop where it had tantalisingly caught my eye. That’s some journey. But there is nothing to indicate that Whitley Bay was its starting point. Had the book been passed along a network of eager hands, finding temporary homes along the way in various refuges such as charity shops, book stores, market stalls, and homes of the erudite?

Kindles are good, they are practical and convenient, reducing space and search time, but with them you don’t have that sense of shared ownership. The compulsive responsibility to pass things on. How many people had held this paperback in their hands before me? Sometimes, though not every time, you get clues. Cash receipts, bus tickets, scrawled names and place names.

This afternoon I added my own contribution to the book, writing ‘Manchester, 2014′ beneath the Whitley Bay legend, and handed it into the RSPCA shop in my home town.

Long may its journey continue.

Imagine one day that I’m browsing in a coffee scented shop, overlooking the sea, down south in Cornwall, or maybe finding respite from the rain up north in Inverness, and I pick up a copy of Blackmoor, maybe moved by nostalgia, or curiosity, or something else that comes into play when you are promoted to act out of instinct, and inside the back cover I find written ‘Scope. Whitley Bay,’ beneath that ‘Manchester, 2014,’ and beneath that a descending list of other place names, and dates, added in chronological and geographical order, providing a traceable route and history all leading to that very place.

How freaky, how amazing, would that be?

Odds, anyone?

Keep looking people-that itinerant book is out there somewhere.



One And One

Lost in their own kaleidoscope of context, they regard each other with a suspicious eye. Curious, and aware of difference and distance.

Checking out each other’s innovations, reluctant to concede the ground.

One receives the baton, wholly unaware, the other passes it on, with regret. And not a little envy, whispering “Good luck,” before they ride away, in their opposite directions.



One last return to that coastal town, and the rain drove in from the Irish Sea, the October wind triumphing in gusts. Sheltered within our crawling car, we witnessed the season stamp its seal through a conquering night, barely held at bay by faltering, neon light. The streets were swept clear, the waves threatened to swamp.

We bid our farewell for the year. The dark rejoiced.



When Write Is Wrong

The same thing happens every time. Whenever I find myself in Waterstones, when I’m not there to pick up anything in particular but just to lose myself amongst the shelves, I pick up a fiction book, read a few lines, and think to myself, ‘I need to start writing.’ Then, in comparing, I realise that my writing is affected, full of pretension and hyperbole.

In contrast, these lines that I read are not fleshy but stark and sparing, dragged out from the marrow and offered up for the cardinals to kiss.

See, there I go again.

St. Mary’s Snows

St. Mary’s Snows

Christ on the cross
in a swirling maelstrom.

whirling dervishes
spinning immaculate
washing line 

gathering up blind children
in night's under-wing,
talons flexed,
stripping veiling rags
from the bright

Wild revenants flee
the howling smoke-rings 
of dilating eyes,

quickly absolving me
of my mundanity
in this Roman Catholic reverie.

Suddenly, suddenly.