Trying Not To Shout About The Sprouts

City Jackdaw followers may have seen my recent post about how, even in the midst of a national pandemic, the sprouts that we’d had for tea turned out to be the most disappointing thing, so far, of 2020.

Well today was the day of redemption. Or, to put it more accurately, today should have been the day of redemption.

For what day is it today?

Sunday.

And what do we eat on Sunday?

Why, Sunday lunch, of course.

It just so happened that this afternoon my wife’s mother was being discharged after a couple of days in hospital, and Jen was going with her father to pick her up.

“Keep an eye on those pans,” was her departing instruction to me, “when they start to boil turn them down.”

I think you know where this is going, don’t you? But there were mitigating circumstances.

Nine days ago Peter Sutcliffe, the man better known as The Yorkshire Ripper, died, having caught Covid-19 whilst still incarcerated for his crimes and refusing treatment. People of a certain age and geography will remember how his reign of terror paralysed the North of England as he struck in Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Halifax, Huddersfield, Keighley and Silsden, before being finally caught in Sheffield.

And, coincidentally, as the news of his death broke (and was mostly celebrated), this book was already on its way to me:

And I was reading it while I was also on pan duty.

When they start to boil, turn them down

Well I remembered that much, and after putting my book down a couple of times to venture into the kitchen, found that both pans (one containing sprouts and the other mixed veg), were indeed starting to boil and so did as instructed.

Because the kitchen windows were steaming up, I opened the back door to let the air in, and then, to keep the cold draught out, closed the joining door behind me when I returned to the lounge.

It also kept out the smell of burning. Though Jen detected it as soon as she came home. Fancy that.

“What’s burning?”

“How do you mean?”

“Did you turn the pans down?”

“Yes,” I replied, thinking myself on safe ground.

We both went into the kitchen. Then it became a question of semantics.

“There’s no water in them!”

“They look okay.”

“They’re burnt.”

I peered in at the sprouts, picking up a fork to stir them around a little. “They’re not. Not all of them. Just the ones touching the bottom.”

“I gave you one job to do.”

“You told me to turn them down when they were boiling, which I did do.”

“And keep an eye on them.”

“You said to keep an eye on them before turning them down. I thought you’d be back sooner.”

“I thought you’d top them up with water when you checked them.”

She hadn’t mentioned anything about checking them after I’d turned them down, though I guess that sounded reasonable.

“You did check them again?”

I decided it best not to go down the verbatim route.

“Well . . . “

“Well what?”

“Every time I got to the end of a chapter the Ripper struck again.”

She looked like she was going to strike again, too.

“I should have known. You were reading . . . ”

Anyway, I didn’t think they were too bad. The sprouts were smaller than the ones of my last post, and so were softer, just how I like them. They just tasted a little . . . smoked.

Could barbecued sprouts be a thing? I’m not sure, but I think when Jen asks me what I want for Christmas this year I’d better say “Pans.”

Now the pots are all stacked up by the sink, and to get back into her good books I should make a start on them. But, speaking of books, you see, the Ripper is about to get caught . . .

A Glimpse Into Tuesday

I think I need more sleep. I put ketchup in the bowl today instead of washing up liquid.

As we’d say around here, it’s been chucking it down all day. Which translates as ‘it’s been pouring with rain’.

And so, I spent the afternoon inside, watching the first of this two-part documentary:

It passed the time while confined to the house, and I love most of the artists that are covered in it.

Music illustrates our individuality. It’s as though you don’t pick the kind of music that you like, the music picks you. You can have the same background as me, we can share the same context and life experiences, but what turns you on can turn me off, and vice versa. Certain styles speaks to each of us differently. We react to that which moves us the most.

August is coming to a close. Summer is coming to a close. With the night closing in, I’ve started this new book.

Some time back I read and enjoyed Johnson’s short novella, Train Dreams, and thought I’d give his collection of short stories a try.

I have heard of a woman who claimed that she once fell in love with a man because he recommended this book to her. Again – individuality. He searched his memory of every book that he’d read before, and somehow struck the jackpot. Found the one for the one.

The pressure, though, of getting it right. I wouldn’t fancy my chances.

Anyway, that’s enough for now, I’m only one story in. The rain is still tapping on my window.

Rochdale Blues

Have mask, will travel. Border crossings, on a damp and languid day.

Heading once more back to Manchester by train, having started a new book, Water Shall Refuse Them, along the way. The author, this being her debut novel, has been getting comparisons to Shirley Jackson and, although I’m only fifty or so pages into it, the protagonist does have a bit of Merricat about her.

Rochdale, the penultimate stop on my journey, in the dark, wet afternoon never looked so bleak.

The next few weeks are looking bleak, too. With rising figures, Rochdale is on the brink of following Leicester into a possible new lockdown. Though I don’t live in the town, my own town comes under the borough of Rochdale, and another lockdown is the last thing that any of us want.

After leaving the train, I caught a bus outside of this Rochdale Road pub, The Marble Arch, established in the Ripper year: 1888.

A renowned pub that brews its own beer, it has been some years since I’ve been in there. Possibly over twenty.

Maybe I should have called in for a pint, today, while I still can.

Stuck Indoors; Stuck Not In The Past

Books and music, music and books,

of all the arts these are the two that I’ve lost myself the most in since childhood. And sometimes, of course, I combine the two.

One Train Later is the autobiography of The Police guitarist Andy Summers. I read this book in the last few leisurely days.

I was already familiar with the group’s hits, staple fare of the airwaves since I was growing up, and now this lockdown had afforded me some time to work my way through their albums. Acquainting myself with their less well known tracks, I made my way through their material in chronological order, allowing me to chart their development in a way that their fans at the time would have experienced them.

It further cemented the belief that my musical taste is fixed, mostly, on this side of the millennium.

Of course, there are a few exceptions, (and I don’t think it healthy for anyone to live solely in the past), and nothing can beat stumbling upon a great busker on the streets of Manchester when loaded down with bags in the wake of your wife’s shopping trail.

But that is a luxury currently denied to us, and so in the meanwhile it’s this:

books and music, music and books,

with hopefully good weather and copious amounts of coffee.

Summer Lions

I’m sitting in the garden, once again, this time reading Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine.

It’s summer. I can smell summer; taste summer. My jackdaws are lining up along the neighbour’s rooftop, tethered by the sun.

It’s in the autumn I’ll think of my father; my grandparents, see the young ghosts of my brother and I playing cricket in the ginnel, dwarfed by walls I can comfortably peer over.

For now, it’s my children, playing with the dog as I pause to watch, mid-sentence, laughing on the threshold of a great beyond.

A Twelve Month Canter

It was a year ago today that In Brigantia got its first cover reveal.

Following on from my first collection, Heading North, I’m quite proud of it, and thank those who have already bought it.

For anyone else who’d like a copy, it’s available here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brigantia-Andrew-James-Murray/dp/1731271360/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=In+Brigantia&qid=1588098484&sr=8-1

Sunday Morning Check-In

It’s a pleasant start to Sunday, sitting in the back garden reading Raban’s Old Glory.

Continuing the Southern theme, I’ve got Bobbie Gentry playing in the background.

Not in person, of course, for as far as I know she’s still holed up somewhere over the Pond in happy seclusion.

I’m not sure what’s prompted this Southern theme. Maybe it’s the sunshine.

And, speaking of being holed up, I hope you guys are all okay in whatever part of this currently crazy world these lines find you.

Out of curiosity, where are you all? And yes, even you, Bobbie.

Echoes Of Tears On King Street

I’ve just finished reading The Last Time I Saw Paris, which is a biography of a Parisian Street, rue de la Huchete, running from the early ’20’s to the time of World War Two. Featuring a wide cast of characters, though it’s non-fiction it reads like a novel, and I can’t remember the last time I read a book where the final words moved me so.

Anyway. There was a passage in it that reminded me of something else:

There were, in those days, certain grey-blue postcards that meant someone had been wounded or missing, and some black-rimmed white ones that spelled dark death. The women at the far end of streets would, if they saw the postman’s pouch contained no black-rimmed messages, wave and sometimes cheer with an edge of fear diminishing in their voices, and up and down the street the watchers would relax. Very often no such reassurance was forthcoming, and everyone had to wait, breath caught, nerves throbbing, until someone let out a shriek, or turned wordlessly away or dropped in her tracks and the postman wiped away a tear from his eye with the back of his hand before continuing.

I was a postman for ten years, and one of my rounds was in Cheapside, one of the oldest parts of Middleton. One of the streets there was King Street. In this photo you can see King Street, viewed from behind the cottage on Idler’s Corner, Rochdale Road, climbing ahead. If that pub on the hill is The Beehive, then this was taken before 1919, when it closed. The cottages were gone by 1925.

(Incidentally, Idler’s Corner was so called because weary travellers would stop to rest against the large York stone slabs, ‘idling’ for a time. It was directly opposite King Street.

Of course, this was well before my Royal Mail days. As was the following photograph, which lists the streets running off King Street.

This next photo, though, shows King Street as I know it.

There were no longer any houses lining the road for me to deliver to, I used it just to reach the flats that await at the top of its crest, just the odd business drop along the way.

When I used to walk up there, occasionally I would recall a story, recorded some years ago by an older resident, about a postman that had long preceded me. He was tasked, unenviably, like that postman in Paris at the beginning of this post, to deliver similar telegrams during the First World War.

Each morning, as he navigated the street, women and children would watch from behind net curtains, fearfully, waiting to see who would be the latest recipient, summoned to answer that fateful knock at the door.

Filled with a combination of dread, is he coming here?

then relief, he’s going to Maisie’s

then sadness, poor, poor Maisie

The witness told how one day the postman, having broken under the strain of this daily burden, was sat on the kerbside, sobbing, a woman from one of these houses sat silently beside him, arm around his shoulders in consolation.

I can no longer recall where it was I read this, but sometimes I would remember the story as I followed in that long-gone postman’s footsteps, climbing the hill and feeling the connection of that man and the place in which we both lived, echoes of people and homes now lost to time.

Claws For The Weekend: A Northern Oddity

This was my dog, Bryn, this afternoon, discovering that strange northern phenomenon known as sunshine.

It is nice to get reacquainted, whilst standing in the middle of the seasons’ No-Man’s Land. With the sun, I mean, not the dog.

I later took the opportunity to stain the shed door, making the most of the dry before the approaching wet, with Bryn locked safely away from tin and brush and national disaster.

I’ve got an ongoing project to pick up again later, along with a new book to start in the wee small hours. Rain or shine, the evening’s planned.

Have a good weekend guys. Keep watching the skies.

See you on the flip side.

Thoughts On A January Day

Coincidence. It happens all the time.

I’m sat inside, reading a book as a weather warning comes over the radio threatening strong winds for my area in the next couple of days. The book I’m reading is by Nicolas Bouvier, and I’ve just got to the part where, during his travels in Ireland, he is asking a local about a meandering road of pointless bends:

I like that. I bet that’s why those lovers of straight routes, the Romans, wore helmets all the time.

*

I lost my Evie twenty years ago.

It was a man behind me, in the queue at the local bank, after enquiring how a newly widowed acquaintance of his was doing, during their chance encounter.

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til you lose it. No, you wouldn’t have seen me, I’ve been in hospital for a hip operation. But I’m still here, still upright. Eighty-one on New Year’s Eve. You’ve gotta fall apart sometime, haven’t you?

I was recently saddened to hear of the passing of an old colleague of mine. He’d made it to his eighties, too, though he’d succumbed to dementia. I bumped into him once, my own chance encounter, and he’d exclaimed “Bloody hell, I’ve not seen you in ages!” The next time I saw him he didn’t know me.

My Mum has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. At the moment she’s not too bad, and living next door allows me to keep an eye on her. I asked her if she could remember the name of an old dog that she had:

“Was it Andy?”

“No, I’m Andy!”

She laughed, confusing me with the one who had slouched on the sofa and pissed on the floor. Easy mistake.

Though she’s not yet at the stage that my colleague was, I can see that this person I’ve known for the whole of my life is fading. I guess time can do that anyway, regardless of that particular condition. The years diminish us. It’s like we grow, we build, we peak, then begin to slip back to our primordial beginnings.

*

There is a house near to us where the occupants are shut away. Every single window, both front and back, night and day, has the curtains closed, fastened together in the middle to create a perpetual twilight for those, unseen, living inside.

The young me, the one who had not yet reached his teens and spent his time watching Hammer movies on television, would have immediately thought: vampires. The current me, a bit longer in the tooth, came up with crack den.