It’s As Good A Time As Any

1.00am is time for bed.

What do I hope to accomplish, anyway? Flicking through blogs I’ve never visited before, while the tail end of winter is rattling the windows.

I’ve been on farms in Nebraska and Kansas, strained my neck at the hills of Dakota, skirted the borders of a ranch in Texas. A voyeur into the admitting lives of strangers in places I’ve only ever read about.

Closer to home, I can see the lights of those of my neighbours who have yet to succumb to sleep. Are they in those houses, I wonder, behind those windows? Or are they similarly in far-flung corners of the world, reading the thoughts of others, both alien and kin?

A Collaborative Poem For 22/05/18

For all the children who will not know Laura Bruno Lilly, Andrew James Murray ~ 5/22/2017 ~ For all the children who will not know the warmth of sunshine upon their cheeks; the cold of dug snow-forts and candy-land castles. For all the children who will not know the slurpy free love of an old…

via For all the children who will not know – collaborative poem — Laura Bruno Lilly

Introducing High Tide, Low Tide

It is my pleasure to share with you guys a very worthy book, written by two of my Nordland Publishing stablemates Martin Baker and Fran Houston.

bio-photo-martin-baker bio-photo-fran-houston

Their book is called High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder



Although living on different sides of the pond, their story illustrates how, in this modern age of technology, distance need not be a barrier in forging supportive, positive friendships. But it is much more than that, so I will leave Martin to introduce you to their book in his own words. Links follow below.

High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder

By Martin Baker

“We live three thousand miles apart and I would not be alive without you. Wherever I go, there you are. However I am, you accept or gently challenge. Whatever I do, you cheer me on. You are the best friend I could ever have.” (Fran Houston)

You never forget the moment your friend tells you they would not be alive without your support. More than 450 million people worldwide have mental health problems. With one in five adults experiencing mental illness in any year, and ten million adults affected by bipolar disorder in America alone, that could include you or someone you care about.

Celebrity-led campaigns such as Bring Change 2 Mind and Time to Change have raised public awareness, but there is little guidance on how to be a good friend when your friend is mentally ill. Memoirs shed light on what it is like to live with mental illness but are of limited practical relevance. Workbooks describe symptoms and treatments but tend to be generic, lack detailed examples, and are usually aimed at the person living with the illness. “Friends and families” titles are almost exclusively written for partners. Crucially, given that friends often live far from one another, there is nothing that describes how to support someone at a distance.

Fran and I are best friends living on opposite sides of the Atlantic: me in the north-east of England, Fran on the east coast of America. Fran has bipolar disorder, also chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME) and fibromyalgia. Despite living three thousand miles apart, I am Fran’s primary caregiver and life-line. Since 2011, I have supported her through mania, depression, chronic pain and debilitating fatigue, with her suicidal thinking our almost constant companion.

In High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, we share what we’ve learned about growing a close, mutually supportive friendship between a “well one” and an “ill one.” Writing from the caring friend’s point of view, we offer original approaches and practical tips illustrated with our own genuine conversations and examples.  Uniquely, we show how technology and the internet mean no one is too far away to be cared for, or to care. As Fran says in the epilogue:

Friends like Marty who are willing to be with me in the darkness are the ones who give me light. Yes there are medications. Yes there is therapy. Yes there is personal responsibility. But caring friendship is the best medicine of all. Then life begins to have purpose.

With a foreword by Rachel Kelly, best-selling author, mental health campaigner, and Ambassador for SANE and Rethink Mental Illness, our book focuses on being there. Discover how to build a relationship strong and flexible enough to handle mania, depression, and suicidal thinking. Explore what illness means. Learn strategies for wellness and how best to support your friend and take care of yourself, whether you live on the same street or oceans apart.


Published by Nordland Publishing, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and at selected booksellers.

About the Authors

A highly successful electrical engineer until illness struck, Fran Houston has lived with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia for over twenty years. Her first book, For the Love of Peaks: Island Portraits and Stories, was published in 2010. Fran lives in Portland, Maine. Three thousand miles away in the north-east of England, Martin Baker works in the Information Technology Services industry. He is an ASIST trained Mental Health First Aider; a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters, Mind and BipolarUK; and Fran’s primary support and life-line. His Collected Poems: 1977–1984 was published in 2008.


Sept 11th:Tragedy; Love Story; Poem

Recently was the fifteen-year anniversary of the September eleventh attacks. For my generation, this was our JFK moment, where everybody remembers where they were when they first heard, or saw, the terrorist atrocity taking place.

At the time I was a postman here in Manchester, and had just caught up on my sleep with a couple of hours in the afternoon. I saw it all unfold, disbelievingly, as I was getting ready to pick my daughter up from school.
On the mantelpiece was a postcard, having arrived that day, from a woman who I had known for many years. We’d first met in infant school, and became best friends in high school, that close friendship continuing long into my adult life. The postcard was from New York, and among the scribbled lines was a throwaway comment that she was intending to go up one of those towers that I’d just seen erupting into flames.

After a few frantic calls, (in the days before we both had mobiles), I discovered that her mother had heard from her: she was safe in L.A. She had been about to travel to San Francisco until all of the planes had been grounded, stranding her there.

This was the first shaking of my complacency about our long relationship.

Today we are married, with children. I’ve seen the photographs she took from the top of one of those towers just a couple of days before it collapsed, unable to fathom the sheer desperation that could force people to jump from such a height.

I wrote a poem not long after that tragic day, a long one called American Trilogy. It wasn’t about 9/11 per se, but it did feature. How could it not.

 The poem didn’t make into my book. Perhaps one day I will publish it in its entirety.

Here I post the closing lines, referring to that day and the idea that my lifelong friend was over there. Somewhere.
I received word across

Atlantic squalls

that your wings

were torn upon the besieged


your eyes reaping shelter

from a holocaust

of lenses.

A pre-emptive strike

at my complacency,
praying for an eye in the storm.

And you, snug in a motherland 

of flag-waving lambs

where everyone wants to be quarterback,

everyone wants to be General,

everyone wants to lay the homecoming queen.

Icons in an American dream.

©Andrew James Murray

That Phantom Robert Johnson

He is like a shadow; like a phantom. Obscured by the mists of time and legend. Death has removed from us all means of finding someone today who could contribute some colour to our drab and faded depictions.

The itinerant musician. The walking bluesman. Travelling along the Delta trails, jumping freight trains, instrument of choice strapped to his back. Playing his music then moving on. For so long, we saw not his face, apart from the features of imagination. We glimpsed only his outline. His silhouette.

An unsubstantial suggestion of the man.

There are moments when desperate afficianados would get witnesses, while they still breathed, to give ageing descriptions to composite artists to try and bring him back into the light. To give him an identity and a face beyond the anonymity of the voice alone.

Is the voice not enough? The music? To convince us of one who once was?

Can we not envisage that he was a man like us, who lived in context and not a vacuum?

All bones and little meat. We try to reanimate him with stories, both credible and fantastical.

The musicians in the crowded juke joint, taking a rest from the sweat-filled hovel. Outside, having a smoke in the balmy, southern air. Somebody comes out, interrupting their brief respite, imploring them to come back in to take the guitar off the young guy whose incompetence is driving everybody mad.

And such a racket you never heard!

It is the same youth who habitually turns up to listen to them play, to watch them play. Just sits there observing their hands.

Months go by. Another night. Once again laying down the music, the men drinking, the women gyrating, and in comes the lad. Young Robert Johnson. Only this time he is armed with his own guitar, much to the merriment and mirth of those present. But now he plays. How he plays. His new found ability is greeted with astonishment, and when he sings, Come On In My Kitchen, men and women are moved to tears, and the way is now set for tales to be spun and a legend to run and run until it outstrips fact and the life of its subject.

The Faustian pact; the aspiring musician; the crossroads; midnight.

The man in the dark suit (we all know who he is), takes the guitar, tunes it, plays a few melodies, hands it back with a pleasant damning of the soul.

This must be so. It explains everything.

Long after his death, the stories continue to be told, encouraged by some of Johnson’s cut records: Me And The Devil Blues; Crossroads; Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil), Hellhound On My Trail. His life, his musicianship, all will be forever swept up in a cloud of incredulous tales and romantic mystery.

They dovetail nicely with some of the few anecdotes we have.

The women:many women. They wake in the middle of the night to find their errant lover sitting by the window, soundlessly fingering guitar chords by moonlight. On realising that they are awake he immediately ceases.

When playing in public he shields his hands as he makes the chords, turning his back if he feels a fellow musician’s eyes upon him. There is a secrecy about his craft.

He left us a scant selection of his repertoire-recordings made in ’36 and ’37. Forty two recordings of just twenty nine songs. We still can’t see his hands.

The music is the only thing we can be sure of. His authenticism exists only in that inflected voice, that masterful playing. Even his date of birth is questioned, as we try to fix him rigidly in time and place.

Then comes the moment when surely all will be revealed. An emissary is sent into the deep South to locate him, sent by someone who has listened to those obscure recordings, and wants him to headline a concert at Carnegie Hall, no less.

Robert Johnson-it is time to emerge from the shadows and take your rightful place in front of an appreciative world.

Except, it is too late. All that is located are conflicting tales of the singer’s death shortly before. Instead of being recognised and celebrated, he is memoralised at the concert, two of his recorded songs played to the audience, still blissfully unaware of the enormity of their loss. Unaware of a death that goes by many stories, but falls under one verdict:murder.

We imagine him in another joint, playing for the people, playing to the women. He is handed whisky, laced with poison by a jealous husband, and begins to fall ill. The crowd don’t believe him, and he plays on, as they brush aside his protestations that he is too sick. He plays on, dying. Those secret chords, that haunting voice. One last time. But then he is too ill to continue, and a familiar, dark suited figure is now among the audience.

Johnson takes three days to die. Crawling on his hands and knees and barking like a dog. Even his final moments have an unsubstantiated feel about them. Still shrouded in mystery, there are three graves that lay claim to him.

The guitar has now fallen ever silent, but the stories take up speed.

His stature grows, his reputation grows, the adulation grows. Yet still we know little about him. Just tall stories spun by those thrust into the limelight, clutching at memories now decades old, embellished to please the questioner.

Then, in 1968, for the first time, evidence is found. A birth certificate, the first documentation, makes him real. He is a flesh and blood figure after all. Born of a woman and having walked this earth. He is not a construct of imagination and myth.

Again, in 1973: a death certificate. But, maddeningly, perversely, a cause of death isn’t given.

But then, in that same year, the Holy Grail of blues folklore is found. At the end of an arduous quest, two photographs are discovered, thirty five long years after his death. They aren’t widely published until the late 80’s, and when they are, our phantom finally has a face. He emerges from the cloaking veil of superstition and anonymity, bowing shyly before his adoring public.

Robert Johnson, we presume?

Robert Johnson, we presume?

We stare and stare. Looking for signs. Doubting our eyes. He isn’t a vampire, or a ghost, whose likeness cannot be captured by a lens. He is a man. He is us.

Wearing his cousin's suit, who had enlisted in the Navy. Nothing sinister or devilish here.

Wearing a pin striped suit that belonged to a nephew who had joined the military. Nothing sinister or devilish here.

There is a later find, only authenticated in 2011, of Johnson with fellow bluesman Johnny Shines. In the way of all things connected to him, some question the identification while others seize it possessively.

This is a later find, only authenticated in 2011, of Johnson and fellow bluesman Johnny Shines. In the traditional line of all things Johnson connected, some question the identification. What do you think?

What do you think?

Though now our hero has a face, much remains elusive, and will always do so. When we look back over the many years, and try to make sense of his story, ordering it in a way that satisfies, it is like trying to lay a glove on a phantom.

History only gives up so much.

For those of you who appreciate irony, consider this: the most famous of all the bluesmen is the one that we know the least about. What is the cause, and what the effect?

You may bury my body down by the highway side

So my old evil spirit, can catch a Greyhound bus and ride.