A year ago today we lost our family dog, how fast it has gone. When I posted this last year it seems I inadvertently upset people: mothers on the school run was asking me not to post anything else about him, I got a message from a girl on holiday in Spain: ‘I’m in tears, my mum’s in tears, the waitress serving us has two Labradors and she’s in tears!’ It wasn’t my intention then or now, I’m just remembering our old friend.
Dog lovers: why do we do it? I mean really, why do we fucking put ourselves through it?
We know, when we let them into our homes and incorporate them into our family dynamics, exactly what their lifespan is. We know that they don’t live as long as we do, and that there is going to be an emotional payback for all of the years of unconditional love and non-judgemental companionship that they offer us. But it is only when you reach that devastating moment of reckoning when you ask the question: is it all worth it?
I’m a Doctor Who fan. How many times have I heard it said, courtesy of the script writers, that the Doctor doesn’t stay with his companions because the hurt of watching them age and die, while he goes on, is too much. Having watched the programme since the 80’s, you think I’d have…
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When you go to the match to be the calm voice of reason for the folks back home.
Throat lozanges, anyone?
The sun sets on Solstice day, the hills of Rochdale bound and staked.
The view is trussed and set ablaze
Before being snuffed out in shadow.
Photo Derek Bates
The kids sat me down ready, then came in like two kings bearing gifts.
Millie placed this before me.
“I’ve made you a football scene. There’s the goals, and the fans are saying ‘Happy Father’s Day’.”
“Wow, that’s cool!” I enthused.
One figure was removed:
“That’s mine!” exclaimed James.
“I’m using it for one of the crowd.”
“It’s a stormtrooper!” he protested.
Next she produced a bag of goodies, fishing out items like a magician’s handkerchief.
First up was an open packet of chewing gum-with just one stick in. Then a packet of Love Hearts sweets, with the advice: “They may be a bit out of date, though. I’ve been eating them off and on for a few months.”
Then a beautiful, colourful, hard bound book. “I know you like birds, so I got you this. When you open the pages, it plays the different bird songs.”
It was pretty cool. That’s why I bought it her a couple of years ago.
Next up was James. He plonked a cardboard crown upon my head. “You’re the king for the day.”
He’d brought it home from school two weeks before. Then he handed me his football.
“Is this for me?” I asked.
“So I can play with it now?”
“And you won’t play with it anymore?”
He thought it over. “You can have it just for today.”
My wife asked me if I was brewing up.
“Me? You should brew for me. It’s Father’s Day.”
“You’re not my father!”
Later my daughter Courtney called, and produced a bar of Fruit and Nut chocolate for me. I put it on the side for later. “I will have that after my tea.”
Later on, Millie and James were loitering in the kitchen, circling around like hungry sharks.
“Dad, are you gonna open that chocolate?”
I saw this photograph on a local Facebook page. The photographer Carlo Fontanarosa gave me permission to share it.
It is taken from the old cemetery in my home town of Middleton, and the church is that of St.Leonard’s. Standing on the highest part of the town, it dominates the view both spiritually and geographically.
Part of the building dates back to Norman times, and it is built on the site of a wooden Saxon church. There is even speculation that there was a pagan religious site before this.
All those layers, but its greatest historic significance is that it is where I got married!
I love this shot, it has everything: history; place; wilderness; memories. And to cap it all, it is taken at dusk, my favourite part of the day.
It’s a tough job being Marilyn’s photographer, but someone’s got to do it.
Hang on – who took this?
We were in the car and everything was subdued: it was late afternoon and the kids were both asleep in the back, exhausted from their play on the beach, my wife sandwiched between them both. Gathering clouds were threatening to bring some welcome rain.
My friend, Derek, was driving, weaving along the country lanes, passing the time trying to identify the various victims of roadkill splayed along our route.
Then my eyes lit up at a sudden sign: Ancient Burial Site.
Derek started following the directions in a tacit understanding: some of you older Jackdaw followers may recall that the Neolithic is my thing. (Not because you hail from the Neolithic yourselves, of course, but because I posted about it a few times in my early blogging days.) It is the period when we began to become us, ceasing to wander and instead put down roots. Transforming the landscape and, though so much is unknown, leaving just enough tantalising clues to feed the imagination.
The structures of this period have always drawn me, wherever I find myself, and so we arrived at the site that is known as Pentre Ifan.
“Do you want to come and see it? We could take it in turns?” I asked the Mrs who still had the heads and the spread limbs of the children across her.
“No, I’ll stay here in the car.”
“It’s stood for five thousand years, and you don’t want to take a two minute walk to see it?!”
“You see it for me.”
Derek interjected: “I’ll take some photos for you and the kids to see.”
“And I’ll give you the feel of the place,” I added.
And so we abandoned them in that country lane, passed through a wooden gate, and came upon they type of ancient structure that is known as a dolmen.
Though the landscape may be different to what it was back then, the fact that there wasn’t another soul or building in sight, added to an absence of sound, (aside from a crow calling), added to the sense of timelessness about the place.
The caw of a crow is not sweet birdsong, but is dark and ominous and deathly, (carrion crow after all), but that may just be the perspective and penchant of the poet.
There was an information board that gave a diagram of how it would have looked back then. It was built around 3,500 BC. Who would have been buried here? Who (and there would have been several) was important enough to warrant such a memorial?
Whenever I look across the fields and ruins that dot the British landscape, I often wonder about the great stories that have become lost to us. Stories that tell of the exploits of people from all periods of our history, undertaken before records began. Legendary figures; famous battles; Gods; Celtic warriors – the Arthurs of the time.
But this monument was built long before the Celtic era.
Approaching it it looked an obvious health and safety risk, but the stones had been secured. And besides, these things had obviously been made to last.
The top stone was shaped like a flint knife. That seemed more appropriate than a hovering spacecraft, which also crossed my mind.
Derek left me to spend a few minutes there, alone, to soak up the atmosphere. I’m like that-a human sponge of the vibe of a place. And then I left, the crow still calling its lyrical lament.
The ancestors: unknown and unfathomable, littering this island of mine with some extraordinary wonders.
I have since read that local lore says that fairies are sometimes sighted there, described as ‘little children in clothes like soldiers’ clothes and with red caps.’ I wished I had known that then, I would have regaled the kids with such tales. That’s the kind of thing to engage them.
But I didn’t know, and when I got back to the car they slept on, that damn Justin Bierber playing on the radio.
Give me the crow any day.