Here is the cover reveal for my poetry collection, Heading North. It is soon to be published by Nordland Publishing. I think it looks pretty cool, if I may say so myself. Exciting times!
(Upper deck of a bus travelling from Manchester to Bury. I was sat two seats in front of a man journeying alone, having a telephone conversation while wearing the largest headphones you ever saw. I suspect he was belatedly trying to crack the Enigma code. From his accent I decided that he wasn’t a local.)
Man: “I can’t wait to see you. I’ve just got on the bus now. It’s red hot, and I’m dying for a piss. Manchester bus station charges you to go in the toilet, what’s that all about? What . . . who is that? Tell him I’ve got sharp teeth to bite his ears off. He will look fetching without ears.”
(I don’t make a habit of eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, inspirational though they may be, but he was speaking very loud, and that statement about his teeth got my attention.)
Man: “Erm . . . I’m not sure where I am . . . we are passing a bridge . . . I have been on the bus for about ten minutes. There is some numpty on a motorbike spraying a car full of mud. Is Manchester a rough place?”
(I looked out of the window to see someone on one of those off-road scrambler motorcycles, spinning around and around on a grass patch beside the road, purposely spraying mud all over the bonnet and windscreen of a car that was stuck helplessly at a traffic light on red.)
Man: “Idiot. I shouldn’t be long. Do us a bacon butty, I’ve had nowt since I left. Do you have lots of chocolate in your house? Yeah? I’ll have a dirty Crunchie when I get there.”
(I suspected that this could be a euphemism.)
Man: “Will you come and meet me? Or are you gonna direct me over the phone? I’m not sure . . . there is a posh house . . . and some trees . . . some more houses . . .trees . . .”
(I came to the conclusion that giving descriptions to ascertain his whereabouts was not his strong point. I turned to him.)
Me: “You are just coming into Middleton bus station.”
Him: “Oh-I’m arriving now! A very kind gentleman just told me. What? Oh- that is who you have paid to kill me, is it? Remember my sharp teeth.”
(The bus pulled into the station and he got up, giving me a thankful nod despite being weighed down by those colossal headphones, as he went down the stairs. I hope, if he made his rendezvous, that he enjoyed his dirty Crunchie. If you know what I mean.)
On this day is remembered Edmund, (c841-869), King of East Anglia from around 855. He was killed after being taken prisoner in a Danish incursion, when he refused the Dane’s demands to denounce Christ. This seems enough to qualify the King for sainthood.
He is often depicted pierced with arrows like a bristled hedgehog as, according to tradition, his captors tied him to a tree and used him for target practice before beheading him.
According to one legend, his head was thrown into a forest, but was found safe (as safe as a severed head can be) when searchers were drawn to it by a wolf that was calling “Hic, Hic, Hic.” It was not an alcoholic wolf with the hiccups, rather the three hics meant “Here, here, here.” My wife could use a totemic wolf when hunting for her car keys.
I have read of another version of this tale, where the wolf protected the head, and it was the head itself that cried out “Hic, hic, hic.”
A talking, severed head, though? That’s way too far fetched. I believe it was a talking wolf.
The place that he was buried (that is body and head together) became a great abbey around which the town of Bury St.Edmunds grew. Nothing enigmatic about that literal place name, is there ? It is a town that I have never visited. I have been to one about twenty minutes away from where I live that is called Bury. Instead of being a last resting place of a King and Saint, rather its fame lies in the selling of black puddings.
Tourists queue here.
One last point: it can be noted how Edmund’s death is similar to the fate suffered by St.Sebastian, St.Denis, and St.Mary of Egypt.
I’m not sure if they had a wolf though, speaking or otherwise. That’s a job for Google.
Of course, the darkness from Friday night crossed the English Channel and tempered everything. And then, Saturday morning, there was a chink of light in the gloom.
During a routine optician’s appointment a few months ago, a problem with my eight-year-old daughter’s retina was flagged, and an urgent hospital referral was made. We had that appointment, the issue was confirmed, and an urgent MRI scan appointment was made. Disguising all debilitating concern with a casual jocularity, I went in with Millie. While I wore protective ear muffs and was armed with a buzzer to halt proceedings should she become distressed, she lay in the machine clutching her favourite teddy. The machine swallowed up her tiny frame.
And so, on Saturday morning, a letter arrived from the hospital. Afraid to open it, my wife handed it to me. With some trepidation, I tore open the envelope, scanned the minimal lines, then passed it to my wife, saying “Here you go, with pleasure.” The results of the scan was normal. Though we still have to discover what is causing our daughter’s problems, we now knew, after two months of worry, that it was not the unthinkable.
The weight that lifted from us was indescribable.
Whether it is the senseless murder of strangers, or the health fears of a loved one, sometimes it seems that the world is beyond our control, and we are nothing but impotent bystanders.
That may not be the case, perhaps it all comes down to attitude, perspective and inclination. But, as you get older, your idealism tends to become diluted.
Recently Abigail had been knocking on our windows. She was the first of our American-style manner of named storms. Now, as she threw us a final, casual glance over her shoulder as she departed, we had been warned of heavy, prolonged rain and possible floods.
Outside the deluge had started. Listless, with coffee, I began writing a few lines that became the embryo of a new poem, Rainy Day Blues.
Rainy Day Blues, whilst listening to blues. Specifically Tommy Johnson’s Canned Heat Blues. The rain’s persistent rhythm accompanying his high falsetto.
It was the time for the barely anticipated Christmas lights switch-on in our town centre. There was to be face-painting, music groups, and all manner of stalls and attractions which had not taken into account the truculent wake of a dame named Abigail.
A wall of rain swept the concreted area clear of people. A compere tried to extol a festive spirit over loud speakers, but there were temptations everywhere.
We sought refuge inside the shopping centre, immediately bumping into a jovial Father Christmas flanked by two female elves, one of them around six feet tall.
“You’re a bit tall for an elf, aren’t you?”
“I’m from Head Office.”
I thought it a great comeback.
After drying out in Costa Coffee for a while, we ventured tentatively back outside as the time for the illuminations’ debut drew near. Miraculously, the rain had stopped, and a drunken man was heartily joining in with Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, but lost all enthusiasm when a, ahem, ‘star’ of the local pantomime, clambered on stage to sing a couple of songs from Frozen. It passed the time for the kids, though. She acknowledged their spattering of applause with a plug for Peter Pan which we could see at the Middleton Arena.
Next she treated us to a rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine, and promised us that she would wave to us when we went to see her in Peter Pan at the Middleton Arena
She introduced us to some local political figures and even, believe it or not, managed to slip in the box office number for booking tickets for Peter Pan at
“We know-the Middleton Arena!!”
The time for the Christmas lights arrived. The compere tried to crank up the tension with a countdown.
“10, 9, 8, 7..”
I was going to go for a piss with Peter Pan at the Middleton Arena, but my kids hung onto me tightly.
“… 6, 5, 4, 3…”
The crowd joined in with fervour.
“… 2, 1, MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERBODY!!!!” his greeting reverberating over the crowd.
Now, I know that the borough council, like all others throughout the country, has been hit by severe cash-saving cutbacks, but still: they were pretty pathetic. The compere continued, because at least he had been paid. Or threatened by that elf from Head Office.
“These are your Middleton Christmas lights!” he exclaimed. He actually gave a desultory laugh, too. Or maybe he just couldn’t hold back his embarrassment.
Then he said something about fireworks, and I saw the look of horror on the face of James, my five-year-old son. If he’d have known there was to be fireworks, he wouldn’t have come. He jumped into his mother’s arms as the sky fragmented.
At least, to the townsfolk, the fireworks were okay and made their rain-sodden wait worthwhile. More entertaining to me was the later spectacle of a giant Olaf trying to lift his over-sized feet as he climbed the staircase in McDonald’s, clutching desperately onto the arm of the food chain’s teetering Carer Of The Month.
After a busy day, the rain beating once more against the window, I fell back into form and curled up with a book: a biography of Wyatt Earp. My son James, firework trauma now behind him, was fascinated with the image of the imposing lawman on the cover, being cowboy-mad having recently watched the film Tombstone.
“Dad, one day, can I have your books?”
“Yes, when I die you can have them all.”
“Aw thanks! I can’t wait.”