A friend took this photograph of the last leaf clinging to a tree near his place of work.
He wrote of Autumn, still hanging desperately on at this late hour, before finally conceding to the inevitable winter.
The symbolism is obvious, but to me it reminded me of another liminal point. My Mum, suffering from Alzheimer’s, is nearing the end. She is still hanging on despite a possible chest infection. A stab in the dark Hail Mary, she is receiving antibiotics to counter any such infection, with the hope of an improvement over the next 48 hours (I’m writing this on the Saturday).
If that doesn’t materialise then end of life care will begin.
To be honest, I kind of hope it isn’t a chest infection. What is the point of coming back from the brink for further struggle? A struggle she won’t even be aware that she’s in. A struggle she cannot win.
The irony is that for a while now my wife and I have been administering medication and calorie-providing drinks to prolong what she didn’t want prolonging. To keep her where she didn’t want to be. (Such is the nature of her illness that, even though she is still here, I speak of her wishes in the past tense.)
But it’s not for us to decide the hour. A ‘time for all seasons’ and all that. At least not until we react to her failing heart and begin the end of life care.
Maybe the leaf in the photograph can also stand for one final moment of clarity, glimpsed among the fog of confusion, where those clouded eyes show recognition, and the lips twitch in that old grounded humour.
But I fear that is wishful thinking. The leaf is hanging on but, despite those blue skies, there’s a cold breeze blowing now. The natural order cannot be defeated. One season is giving way to the next.
I’d only been walking the dog for a few minutes when I saw, beneath the spring-blossoming tree by the grass verge, a man walking towards us. It was, as my wife affectionately refers to him, the Happy Drunk.
Living alone and often under the influence (but no harm to anyone), sometimes you’d hear him singing aloud on his way home in the evening. Other times he’d be ruminating to himself, completely unaware of your presence. This was early morning though, and he took us in as our individual journeys brought us together.
“That’s a beautiful dog. Is it a spaniel?” he asked.
“Yeah, he’s a Welsh Springer Spaniel.”
“A Welsh Springer? I didn’t know that, I just know a spaniel when I see one. There are different ones, aren’t there?”
“Yes, the English ones are more popular but I think these are better looking dogs. The English Springers are a little bigger, with flat heads instead of these domed ones, and Welshies are always this red and white colour whereas the English ones can be different.”
“Ah, I’ll never remember that,” he replied dismissively. “I just love spaniels. What’s his name?”
I was going to mention that we’d wanted a Welsh name for a Welsh dog and so I’d (half-jokingly) proposed Tom (Jones) and (Katherine) Jenkins, but decided to play it safe and keep it simple. “He’s called Bryn.”
Mishearing, he ruffled the dogs head delightedly. “Fire and brimstone, eh? Fire and brimstone.”
Then we went our separate ways, Bryn throwing a brief, curious glance over his shoulder, the Happy Drunk’s musings turning Biblical.
Well, we almost never made it. Not to fifty, I mean, for you just can’t pause time, but to the tour itself.
I’d booked my fourteen-year-old daughter, Millie, and myself onto the Cavern Club’s Magical Mystery Tour, as part of my rearranged plans (rearranged because of Covid, surprise surprise), to mark my fiftieth birthday. A Beatles tour for us both in Liverpool followed by a few nights in Edinburgh on my lonesome.
I’m notoriously hopeless at finding my way around (not a good asset for a one-time postman) and I thought I’d given us enough time to allow for the odd wrong turning. The tour was set to start at 1.00pm, with no option to roll over onto a later tour, and so it was a now-or-never situation we’d stumbled into.
After a train journey from Manchester and then walking for a while in the general direction, we had ten minutes to find the office where we were to pick up our tickets. I’d already stopped for two sets of directions from locals, and a puffing Millie was asking me to slow down as I kept glancing at the time. I knew we were near, being close to the docks, but it didn’t help that my Google Maps was insisting that we were currently in the middle of the Mersey! Yellow Submarine, anyone? Talk about your magical mystery tours
Technology was proving no help at all and I was just beginning to accept the fact that we weren’t going to make it when we turned the next, oblique corner and a wave of relief set in.
Our chariot was awaiting in all its gaudy colour.
We boarded the coach bang on 1.00pm, playing it casual while Millie wiped her brow. Only a little familiar with Beatles music (yes, I feel have been failing as a father), she was worried that she might be asked questions along the way that would expose her. I told her that she might just be asked what her favourite song was.
“What will you say?” I asked.
With no sense of irony: “Help!”
And so we were off into Beatleland. Or rather Ringoland, to begin with, for we were first to encounter a few places within a stone’s throw of each other that are related to the Beatles drummer. There was his primary school, his first home and, within sight of this, his second home, and also a pub that was to feature on the cover of his first solo album, Sentimental Journey. This was to be the first indication of a Beatle member’s Sense of Nostalgia.
As you look at the cream painted window sills on this photograph, count down five houses. You’ll see that that particular house has no window sill because this was the house where Ringo was born and fans have chipped it away to take as souvenirs!
Next up was another birthplace, this one belonging to one George Harrison. Situated on a small cul-de-sac, he was born in this house in 1943, living there until 1950. His early years passed behind that upstairs window which was his bedroom.
You could picture him as a young lad, coming and going through that doorway, little knowing what lay in store for him.
A man named Ernie has lived next door to this house since right back in the sixties, and can remember fans gathering outside. He would often go out talking to them. One evening, long after The Beatles had split, he looked out and who should he see through his net curtains but George Harrison himself, stood in the road, looking up at his former home. (Sense of Nostalgia #2.) And so he went outside and spoke with him too, over a cigarette.
The place must have retained a place in George’s heart, for in years to come whenever he checked into a hotel he did so under the pseudonym of Mr Arnold Grove.
By this point Millie had been drawn in and was thoroughly enjoying the tour, having her photograph taken in front of these landmarks. Me? I may have had a few taken . . .
The young tour guide made things entertaining, and asked if it was anyone’s birthday as, if so, that person would hold the honour of choosing their favourite song to be played to everybody on the coach. Mine was in four days time but I kept quiet, deferring to a lad in his twenties whose birthday was on that very day. He picked A Day In The Life. I would have gone with Hey Bulldog.
I’m not sure now if I’ve got our order of stops in the correct order, but anyway I’m sure most people will recognise these iconic gates, festooned with a Christmas touch.
These gates held no significance for the young John Lennon because he was a trespasser. He’d climb over the walls to gain access to the grounds, most probably to the rear of here as that was closer to his home. He’d go in and climb trees, and when writing the song that immortalised this place he would refer to his long-held idea that he was somehow different to other people, although he didn’t know if he was a genius or insane:
No-one I think is in my tree/ I mean, it must be high or low
As a Beatles nut I thought I knew the stories behind most of the Beatles song lyrics, but I learned something new here. When John’s Aunt Mimi used to chide him for going into Strawberry Field, saying he’d get into trouble if he was caught, he’d reply that they wouldn’t hang him for it. Hence the line:
And nothing to get hung about
I missed out on a couple of photographs of places when we didn’t disembark the coach, due to my technical incompetence. One, alas, was a place of great significance, considered as the birthplace of the Beatles: St.Peter’s Church hall, in Woolton where, on the 6th of July, 1957, following a performance by Lennon’s skiffle group The Quarrymen, mutual friend Ivan Vaughan introduced John Lennon to Paul McCartney. This is where it all began.
But now, more graffiti!
We travelled along Penny Lane, and as we did so we listened to the song. We saw the barber’s shop:
We also saw the bank (and cocked up the photograph 🙈)
On the corner is a banker with a motorcar . . .
I knew that Paul had been writing about this place that he knew well, but I thought that he’d taken a little creative license as I didn’t think that there was actually a
. . . shelter in the middle of a roundabout
(Yes, I lost that photograph too!)
But it’s still there. Paul used to wait for his next bus behind that shelter, watching the pretty nurse
. . . selling poppies from a tray
He was just writing about the things that he saw on his journey along the way. Ordinary, everyday things that he would make special. I don’t think I’ll ever listen to the song in the same way again.
The graffiti bit I mentioned?
As we travelled along, our guide gave an almost casual “See thatwhite house on your left ?”
And then another:
This last stop was my favourite.
This was the home where he lost his mother. This was the home where John used to call around to write songs with his mate, sitting toe-to-toe, encouraged by Paul’s music loving father. Behind that window above the door, magic was created. One After 909; She Loves You; When I’m 64; She Was Just Seventeen. The list goes on.
Sense Of Nostalgia #3:
You may have seen that aforementioned Carpool Karaoke episode where Paul and Corden returned to Forthlin Road, but I preferred this story that we were told: One day Paul had returned with his son, James, showing him the places where he’d grown up as a child. Sat in the back of a car at the end of the street, windows blacked out to preserve the musician’s anonymity, they were disturbed by a knock on the window. Seeing it was just a young boy on his own, Paul wound down the window.
“If you give me a pound I’ll show you the house where Paul McCartney used to live.”
A laughing Paul handed all the coins that he had on him over to the bemused young entrepreneur.
From this house we can follow Paul’s journey, as explained in A Day In The Life:
He would come out of this house, out of this gate, to turn left and head down the street to the bus stop at the end.
This is where he’d get the number 86 bus to Penny Lane. That place with the shelter on the roundabout.
I wonder who that person who spoke was, but we do know that one day, on one of those countless bus journeys, he saw another lad in school uniform, carrying a guitar: George Harrison.
I will leave this post here, as it’s longer than the usual posts that I write in Jackdaw, but I wanted to share some of this journey with you guys while also preserving it for myself. I’ll speak of our visit to The Cavern in my next post.
If I took one thing away from this day it was this: these were just four ordinary working class kids, writing about their average daily lives.
They each created songs and images about their day-to-day life, places of trespass where they spent their childhood; things that they saw from the upper deck of a bus. Local scenes that one day would be experienced by the rest of the world.
I think Millie took something from that, too. She wants to go again.
With my fiftieth birthday fast approaching, I’ve been marking it by taking my daughter on a Beatles tour in Liverpool and then spending a few nights alone up in Edinburgh (both of which I’ll speak about at a later date).
In the meanwhile I’ll just leave this with you, taken on my first evening in the Scottish capital. Amidst the music and lights, keep an eye out for James Bond and the Big Yin popping in too.
I absorb snippets of conversations from total strangers that later find a home in the mouths of fictional characters or the middle of a City Jackdaw post.
It’s not intentional. It’s not as if I’m a professional eavesdropper or anything. It’s just that I seem to pick things up when out and about that stay with me. The people out there are just great.
‘This train is the Northern service to Leeds.’ That was the announcement that kicked off the latest episode.
Then, despite the next statement stating that the next stop would be New Pudsey, one half of the young couple sat facing each other at the table opposite mine, on the other side of the aisle, jumped into life.
“Shit we’re in Leeds! Is this Leeds?” she asked in alarm. Betraying zero trust in her male companion, she turned wildly to catch my eye.
I shook my head. “This is Bradford.”
“Well, whereare they goin’?” she asked the lad, now dismissing me as I’d served my purpose. She was referring to a group of girls that had just left the train and were walking across the platform outside of her window.
“On holiday?” he replied, sounding bored.
“On holiday? Dressed like that? They look like they’re goin’ to a festival!”
It was obvious that that was where these two were going. The Leeds and Reading festival was about to start, and she was sporting the festival look. Doc Martins with stockings, topped with a garish, tie-dyed shirt and silver-sequinned wings stuck to her forehead. Her boyfriend (I presumed) had similar artwork studded above his eyebrows.
“Who would actually holiday in Bradford anyway?” she continued. “No – they’re dressed for a festival.”
If that was the case then those girls had exited at the wrong station, despite this carriage being crowded with other young . . . what? Was there a term for these kids?
I googled what do you call a person who attends a festival?
Answer: one who attends a festival.
I tried to get on with my book but now I couldn’t help feeding. Like I said, I’m a conversational vampire.
“I’ve read they’re gonna have stalls set up where you can have your Covid jab while you’re there,” she went on. “Are you gonna have it?”
He shrugged, still looking disinterested. I began to suspect he was hungover.
“I don’tknow either. I mean, I get it if you’re old and that. If you’re a certain age, say over forty, it’s a risk. But we’re young. Nearly everyone at the festival’s young so what’s the point? And you know that it can make your kids disabled? And it alters your DNA. Apparently.”
Old – over forty? And that last bit, like adisclaimer: Apparently.
I realised I was shaking my head and tried to immerse myself in my book once again, re-reading the same lines in an attempt to drown out this endless soliloquy. I slowly began to build up a wall of resistance and finished my chapter by the time we rolled into Leeds station.
I left the train and that young couple somewhere behind me to join other commuters on a busy escalator. We rose up to a walkway which took us high over the railway lines to then get another escalator which took us down to the ticket gates.
Those should-have-been unremarkable seconds were enough to feed again. It was a male voice, immediately behind me.
“Social media has given people too many mental issues, man. There’s men dressing up as women, women dressing up as men, aliens dressing up as children. Everyone’s lost their identity. They don’t know who they are.”
Well, of course I was curious. Who would be pursuing that line of reasoning, most of which I could go along with? Except . . . aliens?
Turning around would be too obvious, so instead, after reaching the end of the escalator, I took a few steps and then hung to the side on the pretence that I was getting my e-ticket up on my phone. I had a quick glance as they passed. These weren’t two young naive festival goers, they were a couple of professional looking men around my age.
Totally not what I was expecting. It just goes to show that you can never predict the type of thing that goes on in a person’s head.
As often happens when in a transitory place, I wondered where these two were heading, and more beguilingly where their conversation would lead too. But I had to let them go, I had my own destination to reach. And anyway, by now I was fully sated.