One Of Those Nights; One Of Those Mornings

It was one of those nights. The view from my midnight gate: a myopic, cataract-obscuring gloom; a cold mist blurring the edges of our focus-the wall’s crowning like a diamond adorned crust, a new gift, a vision.

Within the night, within our perimeters, we need to know both our boundaries and our limitations.

It was one of those mornings. Crawling over the hill, a tepid promise for the evening’s hostilities; bait to entice us out into the town. Tidal lanes for those who consume or are themselves consumed, condemned forever to travel these seasonal tides.

On the cusp of the day, we need to embrace each new offering with both instinct and wisdom.


Hearts For Hearts

While at the football stadiums all around the country players and fans are observing a minute’s silence for tomorrow’s Remembrance Sunday,  I just learned that Heart of Midlothian (Hearts) was the first British club whose players signed up en masse for World War One.

Sixteen players enlisted, and on the first day of the Battle of the Somme three died. Of the sixteen in total, seven died in the war and seven were seriously injured.

That’s the kind of statistic that brings home just how devastating that war was.


Where In The Tree Is Vivien?

My favourite actress would have been 105 years old today.

City Jackdaw

I recently finished reading a biography about possibly my country’s greatest actress: Vivien Leigh. Triumphant and tragic, always lovely, ever fragile, her most difficult part was that of her own life.


My post on an old movies site on Facebook provoked a conversation about her being England’s greatest actress. I was asked what it was about her that made me of this opinion, and how she faired in comparison to the likes of Dame Judi Dench and Dame Helen Mirren. (The question was asked in all innocence, purely out of curiosity, as it was posed by a fan of Vivien’s who was curious as to why I hold her in such similar esteem.)

I replied that both Judi Dench and Helen Mirren are fine actresses, (Elizabeth Taylor too), but to me there seems a certain gravitas in both Leigh’s performances and in her attitude towards her craft. Most of her…

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Cemetery Of The Forgotten

This is the time of year when the act of remembering seems to take precedent, whatever your persuasion. From a pagan perspective there was Halloween/Samhain yesterday. For those of a Christian mind today is All Saints Day, followed by tomorrow’s All Souls Day. Even if you don’t wear either of these labels, Remembrance Sunday is also almost upon us.

Maybe it’s when we see see the seasonal decay of the world around us, combined with the shortened hours of daylight, that we instinctively turn inward, thinking about our own mortality and of the roots from which we have sprung.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Yesterday, my daughter and I visited an old cemetery in Harpurhey, Manchester. It’s one of those old cemeteries where it seems burials no longer take place, and to see flowers placed upon a grave is a rare thing indeed.

It’s a cemetery of the forgotten, a cemetery where the dead who reside there have nobody left in the world who can enshrine them in remembrance.

There, among the mouldering rows was a particular grave that we were seeking out. A grave that held the remains of ten people that had connections to us both. Ancestors of four generations.

I remember the first time that I stood on this spot with my father. I asked him who the John Murray was that was listed on the headstone, curious as this man was the one who shared my surname and went the furthest back in time.

“I’m not sure,” my Dad replied. “I think he was an uncle of your Granddad’s.”

Once I began my family history research I soon discovered that this man was actually my Dad’s grandfather.

How easily things become forgotten. Lost.

Not long after that day I began my search, born of curiosity and an undefinable sense of belonging. Of the ten people listed on that headstone, three of them I had known in life. Seven, (possibly eight), I now have photographs of.

Mindful of both the responsibility I have acquired and of the passing years, yesterday I brought my eleven year old daughter with me to Harpurhey. The next generation. To her I will eventually pass the baton.

I have since learnt the stories of each of my listed ancestors, of the lives, struggles and triumphs unheralded by these simple dates and names.

Their stories I have recorded, and tell to my children.  In this way I keep these people alive.

In regard to my blog, these stories are for another time. For now, I list the people here.
May they be forever remembered.
Charles Hewitt 1847-1884

Amelia Hewitt (née Wolfenden) 1847-1901

John Murray 1862-1926

Kate Amelia Murray 1903-1926

Frank Murray 1912-1928

Kate Ann Murray (née Hewitt) 1872-1939

Frank Murray 1950-1954

Millicent Murray 1899-1989

Margaret Murray 1914-1990

Fred Murray 1915-1992


From my poetry blog

Coronets For Ghosts


time creates; time destroys
witness the growth of men
from boys

a belligerent sun 
continents of clouds

a plane, a boat
and a

will get him

shaking his hair
along liminal 

harvesting mannerisms, 
throwaway lines

in a fisherman's hut
a changeling


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A disheartening of crows
gathered in winter fields.

Naked trees 
from disused rail road tracks,

dark stains
on white linen.

In trust we are led
through this stark terrain,

senses soaked
in sparse liquor,

a hungry air tasting our flesh,

a murmuring 
of hardened, thirsting 

They rise, wheeling,
across the sky,

black flecks of mortality
in widening whites of eyes.


Jackdaw And The Magpie; My Life And Death Struggle

So, the saga of the life-and-death struggle began at 6.30 in the morning. First up, I showered and came downstairs, opening the blinds to see this in our front garden:


If you look carefully, you will be able to make out a magpie on the grass. It’s stood beside a state of the art water feature, or, as you might better know it, a plastic Tupperware container. I put it out weeks ago during our unexpected heatwave, to provide drinking water for the birds. It’s gratifying to see it being visited and used by the local wildlife. I kinda expect an OBE nomination, you know?

Around an hour later I looked out to see presumably the same magpie in definitely the same position. Later my wife came down, preparing to go to work. “See that magpie-it’s been there now for nearly two hours.”


I shrugged. It’s times like this I wish I had Chris Packham on speed dial. “Maybe it’s defending its territory, staking a claim for this much needed water source.”

“What every bird wants,” my wife replied, “an old butty box!”

She left for work, the magpie stayed for the morning. It was only when a joiner arrived, due to do some work for us, that I began to suspect something was wrong with it.

“Are you sure it’s okay?” he asked.

I tried to find out. Several times I slowly approached it, getting within a foot or so before it would hop beneath the shrubbery by the wall. From this, it was the joiner that prompted the ensuing struggle: “If it can’t fly a cat or other maggies will get it. It will be on my mind all day.”

I looked at the motionless bird. A new back gate, shed door, decking in the back and a guilty conscience, all included in the price.

I tried a few more times to test it, seeing if I could provoke it to take to the sky without me racing forward and giving it a heart attack, all to no avail. It’s tail feathers, essential for balance when flying, appeared to be damaged.

Not sure what to do, I went back inside but kept a watchful eye on it through the window. Then the first cat turned up.

I shot outside and chased my feline foe back out of the gate and resumed my vigil. Within a couple of minutes the same cat returned and I chased it back out. It was like a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

Thats it,  I thought, I can’t let it be killed on my watch. Time to call in the experts. I still didn’t have Chris Packham on speed dial, and Bill Oddie had blocked me on Facebook when I got carried away in my wasp-sting descriptions, so I rang the RSPCA. They said they would send an officer around, but in the meanwhile could I catch the bird in a box or something? I explained that whenever I got near to it it fled to a sharp-thorned bunker, so they asked me to keep watching it to make sure it didn’t disappear before they arrived.

How long was I to wait though? I couldn’t stand at the front door for four or five hours. And I just knew that, as soon as I went indoors, two cats would carry out a daring attack in a pincher movement, forcing me to shamefully profess my dereliction of duty and death of my ward to the joiner.

The RSPCA were good though, and I was next informed that an officer was on the way around. Soon I would be passing the bird onto them and be able to relax.

The magpie had been rooted to the same spot in my garden for the last ten hours, but then, of course, when the RSPCA van was twenty minutes away, the damn thing decided to go walkabout.

It crossed the lawn to the gardenpath, heading determinedly for the gate.

“Whoa! No-where you going?!”

Throwing a deaf ‘un to my desperate pleas, it went up the path, through the gate, a few yards up the street and then through next door’s gate into their garden, with me close behind, trying to stop it with ineffectual calls in my stern parent’s voice.

I had to catch it, but, with nothing to hand, I ran back inside to get the perfect wildfowl-and-small-animal-snaring contraption: our student’s pink laundry basket.

SPOILER ALERT: here is the magpie in our student’s pink laundry basket.


Clutching the basket, I ran back to my neighbour’s garden, my emerging neighbour Rob and my son James having cornered it behind a small rose bush. I went to the opposite side and on the count of three between us we flushed it out. It bounded across the garden like a Velociraptor in Jurassic Park. It got as far as our dividing garden fence and I caught it in the perfect spot, shaded from the summer sun. It could remain there now safely beneath the basket until the RSPCA officer arrived.

I breathed a sigh of relief and went back indoors. Imagine the RSPCA officer coming all this way only to find we’d lost the bird. Then I heard my neighbour’s partner Pam shouting: the RSPCA inspector was coming all this way and we’d lost the bird.

Loving soul that she is, she’d soaked some bread in water to place beneath the basket  for it to feed on and the magpie had saw its opportunity and took it. Pam should have known: in Jurassic Park raptors can even use door handles.

And so the chase began again in earnest. This time it picked some denser undergrowth at the far side of the garden. We tried a pincer movement of our own. I climbed over my next door-but-one neighbour’s fence to come at it from behind, while Pam and James waded through prickles and twigs to force it back out into the open.

“You’ve not let that bird get out have you?” Rob called from their doorstep.

“Don’t ask stupid questions!”  spat back his sweating partner. After five minutes of cut and thrust the magpie emerged, running around the garden like a bantam chicken. We ran, we pounced, we missed. The magpie went back into the undergrowth.

At this point I recieved another message: our rescuing RSPCA officer was seven minutes away!

We employed the same tactics again, and, after several desperate minutes the magpie emerged again, running across the garden with us all in pursuit. It shot past Pam and Rob’s open door (it would have been preferable for us if it it had gone inside, door handle savvy or not) and turned into their back garden, leading us still on our merry dance. A startled Rob stepped aside as I blundered into the back with the basket held high above my head like some crazy laundryman, only to see the bird squeeze through the privets into my back garden.

James slapped his forehead. I slapped the basket. Rob didn’t slap Pam. It was fast becoming the Keystone Kops.

Back through the back gate and over the front fence I went, our fugitive in sight, but as I advanced on it it discovered the only hole in the whole of our fence, the whole of our perimeter, and slipped through into yet another neighbour’s back garden.

“That’s it!” Pam declared, “it’s gone!”

I rushed to the new dividing fence, tiptoeing to peer over the five foot something high panel. Of course, this neighbour had a cat. Of course, this cat was now in their garden, thinking all its Christmases had come at once. It was poised two feet away from the magpie, both staring at each other, motionless in a deathly confrontation.

“Pam, there’s a cat!” I shouted.

“No! Has it got it?”

“It’s about to!”

Pam’s head appeared over the opposite fence just as the cat pounced. They rolled over the ground together, hissing and spitting, red in tooth and claw.

“I can’t watch!” Pam declared.

“Don’t let it eat it!” James implored.

Helpless, I raised the basket high above my head and the cat retreated, slightly. When all else fails, fall back on a fearsome pink basket. While Pam ran around to knock on the front door of this house, I tried to intimidate the predator again with the basket and a yodelled cry.  The cat came again.

At this point the house-owner and Pam emerged from the back door, the former grabbing the cat and the latter grabbing the bird.

A bird in the hand is worth two dead neighbours in the bush.


Forthwith back to my front garden, after James had a little stroke of its chest, we put the magpie slowly, CAREFULLY, back beneath the basket. We all emitted a loud sigh of relief. At that moment the van pulled up.


“I’d never have forgiven myself,” Pam said, “if that cat had killed it. I’m going inside well away from the thing!”

“Can we keep it as a pet?” James asked. “We’ve got a joiner here who can build a cage.”

What do you reckon my answer was?

James stepped forward for a closer look, stood on the rim of the basket causing it to tip up like happens with a garden rake!


Luckily the magpie must have been subdued by its encounter with the moggie (I’m thinking now I should have called this post The Maggie And The Moggie) and didn’t move as I pounced forward and dropped the basket over the bird again.

“James-keep away! Please-keep away!!!”

The officer came into the garden and expertly took the bird from us. She said it was one of this year’s brood and pointed out a wound to its chest along with the damaged tail feathers we’d noticed, probably from another skirmish with a cat.

It had been ‘kill or be killed’ while I’d been buttering my toast.

As the saga drew to a close, I requested that no sad messages of the bird’s fate be sent to us, if, after all this, you know, it didn’t make it.

And so, for the creature’s own health and for my beleaguered sanity, the magpie was taken away.

It was then, as the van turned the corner at the end of the street, that I saw the blackbird, standing next to the Tupperware box.