For me, my poems serve as a diary. When I look at them I can remember where I was when I got the idea for each one, and what it was that acted as the initial inspiration. The opening poem in my book, Heading North, is called Midnight, July.
The title indicates the when, but not the where and why.
The words for this one came when I was sat in the back garden with a coffee. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I was looking up at the stars and wondering whether we could be alone or was there life somewhere out there?
We writhe with a rage to know the unknowable, blind to great masses that dance in dark orbits. And a soft, summer wind on a night beneath stars is no balm.
While I was sat there, neck craned in the quiet of the…
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A few posts back, I shared some photographs of a journey I made between two Northern cities, Leeds and Manchester, when the country was on the brink of lockdown. I had to make the return journey last week (essential travel allowed) and, with the UK now a month into lockdown, I took these photographs to share with you all to document these unprecedented days. I probably, hopefully, will never have the chance to see my city like this again.
This first one shows the seating arrangements in my local bus station, to enforce the social distancing. Only the opposite end seats were available, first come first served (though there weren’t many takers). An unenthusiastic game of musical chairs.
Again, on the bus-alternate rows of seating available. The driver taking my fare said it was the most he’d taken all morning.
Manchester, message delivered.
Looking towards the usually notorious Piccadilly Gardens.
I saw neither tram nor cycle, just the odd jogger taking their allotted moment of exercise.
When a passing bus departed, the city fell into a strangely hushed tone.
St.Anne’s Square, scene of much mourning and festooned with flowers following the Arena bombing.
Many shop doors and windows wore similar sentiments from their owners. Some just a stark notice that no goods or money were left on the premises, in lieu of any opportunist thieves moving into the city.
Not a drinker in sight.
Moving now towards the train station.
The statue of Gandhi outside the Cathedral. The only figure caught in motion.
Ever since the lockdown the weather has been glorious. The place would have been swarming with shoppers and drinkers and more.
Looking towards the Football Museum, symbolic of the sport that has now been suspended.
I could take a photo in the middle of the road, with little fear of trams or vehicles.
Looking towards Angel Square from the rear.
Victoria Station. Could it be that I was the only commuter?
More social distancing, now musical urinals.
There was only me and this railway worker.
Only for essential travel
The train I caught had originated in Liverpool, passed through Manchester and was bound for Edinburgh. I alighted in Leeds, the station there similar to the one in Manchester.
Leeds. Snippets of conversations that took place with the few people that I encountered I intend to print elsewhere.
Millennium Square. Manchester and Leeds-two northern cities laid low by an invisible foe.
This winter is going to be competitive.
It was a simple cafe, one of those we call, in all innocence, a ‘greasy spoon’. You know the sort, all-day breakfasts, exercise thwarting ‘gut busters.’
In fact, when I was a postman, I used to deliver to one such cafe that was actually named Gut Busters. “They’ve got your name wrong again,” I said one morning, waving the letter before depositing it on their counter.
“Who are we now?” the proprietor asked.
“Ghostbusters! You could complain, but who you gonna call?”
Anyway, this was a similar cafe to that one, but located in the heart of Manchester rather than one of its northern suburbs. Being early morning, there were only three customers in the place, myself and two other guys who were sat at a table against the far wall. I don’t think they were homeless, but they looked like they’d seen better days. A bit dishevelled, maybe coming off a five day bender.
I was drinking coffee as they tucked into a fry-up each, and first became aware of them when one called to the waitress who was cleaning the counter.
“Hey love, who sings this song, d’ya know?”
She cocked an ear to the song coming from the radio. “Erm, . . . oh, I do know this one . . . who is it now?”
I couldn’t place the singer, but knew the song: A Night To Remember.
“Is it Diana Ross?” the man asked.
“Is it bleedin’ hell,” his mate replied for her. “It’s a man.”
“You can’t tell the difference with some of those funky singers. Is it Luther Vandross?” he persisted.
“Get ready,” the waitress sang along as she searched her memory, “tonight!”
Outside the window, in the dirty grey light, my fellow Mancunians were falling into their daily routines. I bet most of them could navigate their route blindfolded, scattering the pigeons and beggars as they go.
The waitress brought my plate over, now humming along to a new and easily identifiable song. Abba, that Swedish superpower of airplay.
As I picked up my knife and fork I caught the eye of the man who’d asked the question. “That song, it was Shalamar.”
“Shalamar!” they both exclaimed.
“And friends!” the one that had posed the question, added.
“Yes,” his accomplice agreed, “Shalamar and friends.”
“You’ll sleep tonight now,” I said. But then felt the need for confession. I held up my phone. “I cheated.”
“You didn’t know it either!” they grinned.
Brought briefly together by a thirty-odd year-old song, we then retreated back to our respective worlds, those two sketching vague plans for the day and I catching last night’s match report.
I was draining the last of my coffee by the time they’d finished and paid their bill. I nodded to them as they made their way to the door, and the guy leading the way shook his head reflectively. “That damn Shalamar,” he said, before joining the parade on the Manchester streets.
While a friend of mine was in New York tonight, I was taking my son to his football training.
He might have got the skyscrapers
but we got the sky