from my poetry blogNovember
While you are in Middleton get some black bags
It was a text from my wife who was in work. How the hell did she know I was in Middleton?
I swear she has some kind of track and trace programme that the government should look into because it just blows their billion pound effort away.
I did as I was told. I got the black bags.
That’s the secret of a good marriage.
Then I called for a coffee in McDonald’s where I could hear a man complaining to himself in the booth next to mine.
Fucking sick of this now. Where’s your mask? Stand here. Stand there. We don’t do that. Put your mask back on. Sit here. There’s no ketchup. Wait there. If you can’t taste salt on your chips it’s a Coronavirus symptom bollocks.
The last line rose in volume as it neared its end. I couldn’t help smiling in private at his public fatigue.
I think a lot of us are losing the stamina for this now, and some are really struggling.
There was an elderly man in there, crying and apologising for being a nuisance. The prospect of another lockdown had filled him with dread, for he had only one family member to speak with who would have to isolate. This was the only place he could come for some human contact, and embarrassed by his tears he made to leave.
The woman who was seating the customers tried to reassure him:
“You’re not a nuisance at all. Sit down and I’ll get you a drink. Ignore what the government says, as long as you’ve got your gloves and your mask on you’re alright. You need to keep coming in every morning to see us.”
That was true, but if this place was forced to go delivery only again that option would no longer be open to him. It’s a trade off, catching Coronavirus v your mental health. Not everyone had the fortitude and the people around them to cope with this once again.
I left the restaurant and made my way home along a path that gradually rose away from the town centre in a steep climb. At the top of the hill, where the slope evened out, was a tree well on its way to its autumn transformation. I paused a while to both take it in and get my breath back.
There were still many leaves to fall, and those that had were stirring in a cool breeze.
Although it looked familiar, we’d not seen an autumn like this one before. But they will keep coming around and there’s a reassurance in that, even as they age us.
We are still here, all of us, doing the same old things, climbing hills, gasping for breath, and little by little shedding our leaves.
He was aware of the season’s arrival, was conscious of the changes, but only in a rudimentary way.
For he didn’t know the names of the trees, nor of the birds, but he knew that those geese were preparing to leave, without him even knowing that they were geese.
They were obeying the same instinctive compulsion that they always did, long before anyone named them, and those birds didn’t even know that they were geese, either, for they just recognised each other, as they did in the times when other people, long gone, called them by different names, names now forever forgotten and lost.
But the days remain the same, the signs remain the same, it’s the language that rises and falls. It has always been our wont to label the landscape and creatures around us. Make things familiar and relatable.
He watched them go, taking to the skies, never knowing where they would alight, but trusting deeply in the way of things, and the day that they’d return.
Shelter. That’s maybe all man has ever wanted. Shelter; warmth; food.
I’m huddled beneath a bus stop in what I regard the centre of my town. It’s not the town centre, so to speak, maybe not even the exact geographical centre, but historically, and spiritually, I think it’s the centre.
And even spiritual centres have bus stops.
A heavy rain has swept in from the coast, tail-end of a hurricane, no less, and I’m here, having emerged from the warmth of the library, watching a river of litter and leaves pass by on their mission to clog the drains.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m waiting for a bus. I’m stood at a bus stop, after all. But no, I’m waiting for my wife to pick me up, this was just the nearest spot to stand out of the rain. I hope a bus doesn’t arrive, that would be awkward.
Have you ever seen children in a supermarket? Young children, I mean. If there is one walking down the aisle, say with his or her Mum, and another child turns into the aisle, they stand there checking each other out. A bit like dogs do. Without the sniffing, of course. Neither smiling nor speaking, they just stand there, sizing each other up.
I’m not sure why I’m thinking about this now, it’s not like I’ve even been to the supermarket, but anyhow, here’s my wife, pulling up, windscreen wipers going ten to the dozen.
Officially it is not winter for five weeks or so, but the seasons sometimes blur the calendrical boundaries and fixed points that we like to attribute to them.
Yesterday was the first real cold morning of the year. Crisp and clear, a light frost covered everything, a promise maybe of what is to come. And, perhaps with a sense of the shift in things, it seemed that my Facebook feed was filled with photographs by people drawn to mark this liminal time.
An old school friend by the name of Dave Wright lives up in Inverness, in Scotland. He has two things up there that I don’t have: a decent camera and the northern lights.
He took this photograph as a cold dusk fell upon the land, he himself hunkered down for the night. The tree serves as a point of focus in an otherwise horizontal sweep.
And then, as he quite aptly described it: the moment the sky danced.
Further south, across the English border (how we like to divide and designate, whether with land or time or people) another old school friend, Derek Bates, paused to take in the view from his works window. This was in Duckingfield, a town in Greater Manchester, with light struggling slowly over the bare hills, the low-lying land shrouded in mist.
To the east of Duckingfield, in my hometown of Middleton, the temperature stubbornly refused to rise. The mist appeared hesitant beyond the trees.
And then the school run beckoned, drawing us out of our heated home. Ignore that sun, it may as well have been a snowflake.
“It’s cold,” my daughter exclaimed as we hurried along the main road. “I can’t feel my legs.”
“They’re still there,” I replied. “Keep going!”
This is becoming a long term relationship. Once a week I commute between Leeds and Manchester; forwards and backwards; linear and cyclical.
As I approached the train, waiting on the platform in Manchester Victoria, the lines from Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain came to mind:
When the train, it left the station, with two lights on behind/When the train, it left the station, with two lights on behind/Well, the blue light was my blues, and the red light was my mind/All my love’s in vain
Maybe distance gives you a penchant for the blues. The separation from all that is familiar.
I had picked up a copy of The King In Yellow earlier for a couple of quid.
It was not what I was expecting, though. This is a book of two halves-the first being stories of a weird and macabre type that gradually fade away during the remaining stories which are of a romantic fiction style.
My preferences are those from the first half. I guess you have an idea by now that I’m that kind of guy. The Repairer Of Reputations, The Mask, In The Court Of The Dragon, The Yellow Sign, and my favourite The Demoiselle d’Ys. These were up there with M.R James and my favourite Le Fanu.
There was a woman in the seat opposite me. I caught her glancing at the cover of my book, much in the manner that I often do. Whenever I see someone reading I am filled with a curiosity about the book that is holding their attention.
Due to the theme connecting these tales, I thought it could be appropriate to warn her:
“Beware the King In Yellow!”
“Beware the infernal influence of books!”
But of course I didn’t. I imagine she may have sounded the alarm for an emergency stop, and Lancashire to Yorkshire is an awful long way to walk.
Later, my business in Leeds done, I caught a return train home to Manchester. Last week I returned under beautiful blue skies as captured below, but this time it was gloomy and raining, my journey moving through a deepening Autumn.
And yes, I loved it.
Back in my home city I caught a coffee and finished my book, shaking off a travel induced lethargy, before emerging into a darkened metropolis. All around familiar landmarks, monoliths against the sky, were lit up in a futile attempt to hold back the night: blues; yellows; reds.
The blue lights were my blues. The red lights were my mind. Is my love for Manchester in vain?
Something new (and late) over on my poetry blog.
Indian Summer Indian Summer, golden and implausibly charred. Only one pot holds flowers to reach for the sun, all of the others contain withered wraiths of long-spent blooms, their calendar clocks denying the possibility Of these late September days. ©AndrewJamesMurray
September already. How soon the seasons pass.
Harvest time, fruits of the earth. Our spirits warm with the russet colours outside. I took the dog for a run over the fields this morning. Wind-frenzied trees could not dislodge raucous crows, shy jays, and their more cocksure magpie cousins. Though these are the early days, there is definitely a sense of being on the cusp of autumn.
Soon we will see the squirrels working overtime among the toadstools and wild flowers, the martins, swallows and other migrants gathering to make the long journey back to African shores.
Much to my wife’s distress, daddy long legs seem to be everywhere. One got in as I went out with the dog (again) last night, as my better half was busy preparing a meal for the next day. I said “Don’t harm it, I will catch it when I get back in”.
On my return she said, apologetically, “I’m sorry I had to kill it-it was ferocious”.
Lions. Tigers. Sharks. Daddy long legs. Ferocious.
I’ve always been an outdoor person. I’ve always been moved by nature, the landscape, and the elements. Maybe that is what gave me a poetic voice, and an early sense of spirituality. I guess I am just one small step away from being a pagan. The appeal of Celtic and Native American spirituality. Perhaps this is where they can find common ground with Christianity-the idea of the goodness of creation, shot through with spirit. The whole of nature ablaze and alive and sacred.
My favourite place is Orkney. The sky there is vast and all encompassing, the sea wild and hungry and raging on all sides. There is something different there about the light, changing as it does above the ancient ancestors, long entombed in chambered darkness. When I haven’t visited for a while, I begin to get my Orkney Itch.
Some of my earliest memories involve my reaction to the elements and the outdoors. I can recall being very young, in a park in Heywood. My grandfather pushing me in a swing, and around 100 metres away there was a huge tree, swaying from side to creaking side in a gale. I loved it.Today I still love to get outside on windy days. As a postman I once did my round in 100 mph winds. It was fantastic.
Another memory is of my Dad walking me to school as a four year old Reception pupil. Dressed in a fur-lined parka coat and a leather satchel over my shoulder, I was fascinated by the dew that clung to every blade of morning grass as we cut across the fields. The sheen of diamonds and the cut of the fresh air.
Not long into my school life I caught chicken pox, and had to stay off school. As morning phased into afternoon, I remember being knelt on the couch, watching the heavy rain beat against the window, trickles racing each other down to the sill. Soon we moved house, and a new primary school beckoned. Being new, and initially friendless, in the inner mirror of my mind I can still see myself stood on the edge of the playground at playtime, watching a gull glide effortlessly above on a current of air, drifting over our fields of triumph. These are the fields that I now walk with my dog, the school having been demolished, the site now given to wilderness.
I stood recently on that very same spot, thirty years later. Guess what? There was a gull-drifting above me. I watched it for a while. Joining up the dots.
It was as a pupil of this school that I first walked in woodland. The teacher that took us was called Miss Ambler-Ambler the Rambler. Being in deep woods, far from any concrete path or road, in that complete stillness,had an inner effect on me. I felt it in a juvenile, inarticulated way. From that day I have walked coasts and forests and mountains and river ways. I experience it still in an almost shamanic way, without the trance bit. Pretentious though that sounds.
Of all the seasons-and I love them all, my favourite is winter, in all its transformative beauty. The iron earth and starry nights.
And my favourite half of the year begins with autumn.
And autumn begins with September.
The first inward-turning month. As the nights grow longer, and rain hammers against the doors in an attempt to seek entry, it is the perfect time for reading, writing, and pampering our interior selves.
It is the time to quietly withdraw and conserve our energy by lamplight and fireside.
Oh and did I mention-it is also the time that the kids go back to school 🙂