Cankey And The Dead

I went for a walk with three of my children through the old cemetery. I have posted photographs of this place before, along with the neighbouring Jubilee Park.
This time I was showing them something that is well known, infamously known, to most of the locals in my hometown of Middleton: Cankey Ginnel.

The old cemetery stands above the town center, perhaps to remind us all of our ultimate destination whether life causes us to escape the town boundaries or not. From here we could see the shame of the 192 year old Providence United Reformed Church, allowed to fall into ruin despite being in proximity to the so called Golden Cluster of historic buildings. Not to mention Takeaway Run.


From here we came to the top of a passageway known as Cankey’s Ginnel. Cankey is said to have been a body snatcher who used to live at the bottom of this passage, in a cottage across the road.


It is said that Canky would be sat in front of his cottage, puffing on a pipe, watching as a burial was taking place up above him. Then at night, by cover of darkness, he would go up to the cemetery and dig up the body.

This is the passage viewed from the position of Cankey’s said home, looking up towards the cemetery.


Then he would carry the newly exhumed body down this ginnel. Behind his cottage lay the River Irk that runs through Middleton. He would transport the body by water to Manchester, where he would sell the cadaver to medical students and anatomists willing to pay for such corpses.

This story is well known in the town, indeed Cankey is often mentioned in the local newspaper, although I’m not too sure how much actual evidence there is for this notorious figure. I’ve never seen any contemporary news article reporting on Cankey and his nefarious deeds. And, as with all great legends, there is not usually much in the way of quotes and source references. But why let that get in the way of a good story?

It is recorded though that Middleton’s famous son Samuel Bamford, 19th century radical poet and reformer, kept the body of his beloved wife Mima at home for a month before burying her in an attempt to thwart such body snatchers.

In places other than Middleton, family members are recorded sitting by gravesides for a number of days, effectively on ‘watch’ against the stealing of their loved ones.

The ginnel has always attracted local children, especially in the hours of darkness, wanting to retrace Cankey’s steps up into the old, overgrown cemetery and experience that sought after thrill of fear.

Perhaps a few older people too.

For the time being, my children take their chances by daylight.


Happy Meal

This afternoon, for the first time ever, I saw Ronald McDonald in our local McDonald’s restaurant.

Kids were traumatised. He seemed totally oblivious to the wide circle that was forming as he moved among the queues. “Freaky!” was just one of the comments I heard muttered.


Is he really a suitable figure to promote Happy Meals? Why don’t they go the whole hog and use Pennywise to bring the families in? Balloon, little boy?


At long last I would be able to have a coffee in there in peace.

Whenever I think of clowns it is either Stephen King’s creation or John Wayne Gacy who springs to mind. 

Think it’s time for the kids to give Subway a go.

A Glimpse Through The Dark Glass

A few of my recent posts have been a little time-oriented.

I came across a quote a while ago in a book, and now I can’t find who it was that made it, or exactly what it was, verbatim. But it was something along the lines of how we cannot appreciate the present because we are too caught up thinking about the past, and planning for the future.

Or was it re-living the past and fearing the future?

If only we could learn to live in the eternal now, letting nothing pass us by. Opening our senses to the full, letting life flood us as it is happening. If we could but appreciate and experience all the good things that are occurring, and attempt to deal with the bad, so that they can be dealt with and filed away. Not hinder us, tearing us this way and that. Splitting us asunder from the present.

I know I speak like a naive idealist. But it would be good.

Of course another meaning for the word present is gift. I like that. An ongoing moment of opportunity that is given to us with grace.

All of us live in context, shaped by the time and place and circumstances that we find ourselves in. No matter where we may travel to, whatever strange and exotic shores we may find ourselves on, we take this shaping with us. All played out on our inner landscape. We are all made up of past experiences and current stimuli. I think what we need is a certain amount of acceptance.

Every view we hold, every opinion we develop, all have their point of origin. Our self-source, if you like. Even the genius is not an anachronism-that blinding flash of insight still has a source. A fertile ground from which it suddenly sprouted.

But what about the future, that distant, unknown destroyer of dreams? If you could somehow pierce its sanity-saving cloak, would you want to?  Or would knowing of future events absolve us of both action and responsibility? Those of you who are Doctor Who fans will know that the Doctor often speaks of fixed points in time. Would those fixed points be malleable, be subject to change? I’ve no idea! But I do know that the Doctor always has his hands full trying to save an imperilled universe, and is usually up to his eyes in paradoxes.

There are many scientists and physicists that talk about such things in a way that is beyond me, that makes my confounded eyes glaze over. You could always seek out their books if you are actually that intrigued.

This here is just a rambling set of questions provoked by my quest to locate a quote that I’ve temporarily lost. Everything is temporary!

And I think the main question is: if you could see into the future to discover what life holds in store for you, would you want to do it? With all the ramifications involved?

Well, would you?


Oh Norma Jean, if you only knew.



Unsmiling Summer Life Snippet

Last Saturday my daughter Millie  and I ventured into Manchester for the afternoon. Sometimes my home city leaves me feeling young, sometimes feeling old. Often, weary.

While we were there, my wife sent me a text asking me to pick her up a pair of slippers. Slippers-the must have for middle aged people everywhere.

We went into Next, where I foolishly expected an uneventful stroll around a spacious store. Air conditioning, light music playing in the background. Perhaps a few leafy plants.

It was bedlam. Like the Boxing Day battles you see on the news. People were competing everywhere, nudging each other out of the way, sweaty and red faced, paper and labels strewn all over the floor, with no seats or benches left unoccupied for my daughter to dramatically collapse onto.

Explaining why I was there, I asked a young beleaguered assistant for directions towards the latest thing in fluffiness. I also asked her whether it was always this chaotic in there. I usually associated this kind of feeding frenzy with Primark, and so stubbornly avoided all requests from my wife to set foot in there.

I think I had been blindsided.

She nodded sagely. “Always. Not just Saturdays either.” She pointed towards the long, snaking queue. “If you want to abandon things, take a photograph to show your wife what it’s like.”

Get thee behind me Satan.

I got the best slippers a tenner could find (I got the only ones left in her size)  and joined the snaking, sweaty queue. I was immediately aware of a woman in my peripheral vision, approaching with something sparkly, two sullen, slovenly kids in tow. An unsmiling boy and a pouting girl. They took their place behind me.

I heard one of the kids speak, not whining or complaining, just monotonously asking when they were going somewhere else. Probably anywhere else.

I empathised.

Mum answered, very sharply:

“Be quiet. I spent the whole of yesterday buying you clothes for our holiday, and now I’m getting myself clothes. It’s my turn now.”

The boy let out a huge sigh, “I only said.” 

Very loudly, in a head turning way, she exclaimed “God, do I need this holiday!”

I got the feeling that her dream holiday might not live up to her expectations.

With fluffy footwear bagged, we then headed for the bus station. As we left the Arndale shopping center we passed a couple with two boys. The man was bent down so he could look one of the lads square in the eyes.

“So you just went ahead and did it, did you? You did it off your own back?” Then, threateningly, “We will return to this when we get home.”

I guided Millie past while her head remained glued in their direction. “What did he do, Dad?” 

Who knows. Maybe something murderous.

There was no doubt whatsoever that tempers were fraying at the edges, people seemed a little touchy and impatient. The kids had only finished for the school holidays the day before-there was still six and a half weeks to go. Maybe it was the hot day beating everybody down, along with the thunderstorm that disrupted  everybody’s sleep the night before.

We got on a bus and went upstairs, opening a window to let a little warm air into the stuffy deck. Other passengers joined us, and to my utter chagrin coming to sit in front of us were the couple with the two lads, adults sitting on one seat and their sons sitting on the other on the opposite side of the aisle. From the back the children looked slumped, and Mum was sat at an angle so she could peer out of the window and not have to face her loving clan. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. As the bus pulled out of the station, one of the lads decided flattery was the highest form of creeping.

“Mum…’re beautiful.”

Mum continued to look out of the window, answering with a very disinterested “Am I?”

In a conflict of confrontation-when-home-avoidance-desperation and sibling rivalry, his brother joined in. “Mum, you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“Is that right?” No change in tone. She was obviously accustomed to this strategy.

But then, surprisingly, Dad joined in. “People might say it, but we all KNOW it.”

He then started serenading her with a paraphrased Christina Aguilera song. “Because you’re beautiful, no matter what they say. Words won’t bring you down. Because you’re beautiful….”

She showed signs of thawing as the air on the moving bus became a little less oppressive. My daughter collapsed into a fit of giggles which I tried to stifle, as we left behind the anchor of our satellite towns.

Manchester always leaves me feeling either young or feeling old.

But never uninspired.


A bit of colour and a daughter’s smile. Never uninspired.

Generations #2

A year ago today a great aunt of mine died. I posted this the week after her funeral. I cannot believe how fast it has gone. I know it is purely a subjective thing, but it really does seem that as you get older time seems to speed up some.

City Jackdaw

Last week I attended the funeral of my great aunt. She was a lovely woman who squeezed every last bit of fun out of life. For a woman in her eighties she was very switched on-she had an iPad, an iPhone 5, and was even on my Facebook friends list.

She was the last of my grandparents’ generation, on both sides. With her passing, it feels like we have lost so much more than just a beloved member of the family. We have lost the last connection to the causes of which we are the effects. A link to the parts that make up our sum.

Now we move onto the next generational  level. That is the natural order of things. That is how we go on.

When she received the news that she had cancer, she decided against having combative treatment, citing her age and her health. She told…

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Orkney Odyssey 3: Time Tells

There is a romanticism and a melancholy to the islands.

An echo of times past. A hint of meaning that lies just beyond the wind. Meaning whose origin is adorned by labels: Norse, Pictish, Neolithic. A procession of markers that will outlive us all.

I wonder if living here day after day, year after year, causes you to be blasé about it all? Do the markers become invisible, blending in with the rest of the storm-shaped landscape?

I remember seeing a documentary a few years back about people living in the Scottish Highlands. Among all that natural beauty and dramatic vistas, the young ones were bored to death. They said that visitors would tell them how lucky they were to be living there. They would reply that there was never anything to do. They would amuse themselves by sending travelling tourists in the opposite direction of the landmarks that they would pull over and ask directions for.

On my first trip to Orkney, an enthusiastic Historic Scotland warden told me that they had a saying there: scrape away a bit of soil and the land bleeds archaeology. I think that this is a generally held view.

On my second visit, in the winter months, I intended one morning to walk part of the coast, dressing accordingly. However, en route to the starting point, I recieved news that the mother of one of my best friends had just died. I felt so far away, so remote. I decided to change my plans and head for Kirkwall Cathedral to light a candle for the woman who I had known for twenty five years. On doing so, I got talking to a guy who worked at the visitor center next door, and he offered to put a documentary film on for me in a side room all about St.Magnus and the founding of the Cathedral. Of course I was still dressed for the coastal walk, and had to begin to shed my layers in that small, heated room.

He looked on with amusement as first my waterproof coat came off, followed by a fleece jacket, then a zip-up top. Then a jumper. A t-shirt. And a thermal vest.

“You’re not as big as ya look are ya?” he exclaimed with a twinkle in his eye.

I gestured to my legs:

“Beneath these waterproof trousers, I’ve got on jeans and longjohns. My legs are really like pipe cleaners.”

With a shake of his head he gave me a look that said ‘you southerners’ which being a native of North West England I have never considered myself before. But in relation to these islands, I suppose I am.

After watching the film I told him of the historic sites that I had visited up to then. In a similar line to that taken by the Historic Scotland warden, he said that the whole mainland, and the surrounding islands, were “infested with archaeology.”  He told of farmers that he knew of who had accidentally uncovered some kind of stone remains on their land, and then hurriedly covered them back up before anybody else spotted them, not wanting the inconvenience of conservationists and archaeologists (or tourists such as I) interrupting their work and calander year.

Later, on the bus journey back to Stromness, I looked over in the direction of the Maeshowe tomb, the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, and more. I thought of the secrets being revealed at the current dig at the Ness of Brodgar which is blowing all pre-conceived ideas out of the water. Of my visit the day before to Skara Brae, the Neolithic settlement that nobody knew was there until a great storm in 1850 stripped back the layers of sand covering it and exposed it to a sky it had not seen for 4,000 years.

All these tunnels and tombs, standing stones and runes.

How much more is there, hidden out there beneath those flat fields? My eye strayed unbidden to every mound and hint of uneven ground.

A landscape infested. A land that bleeds.

Eventually the earth will give up more of her secrets.

In the end time tells.