I’m pleased to announce to you guys that today is publication day for my third poetry collection, ‘Fifty’.
It appears that I’ve clashed with a new release by my fellow Mancunian, Noel Gallagher! Next time I’ll have a word with him so we can come to some arrangement. After all, it worked for the Beatles and the Stones!
Following on from previous collections ‘Heading North’ and ‘In Brigantia’, this one comprises fifty poems to mark my fiftieth year, copies of which can be obtained following the links below:
My new poetry collection is out in two days. As I’ve previously mentioned, I have given itthe title ‘Fifty’ as it was conceived as fifty poems to mark my fiftieth year. But there’s another life connection on the front cover.
I’ve included a footnote inside the book explaining that those flats, caught on a typical Mancunian evening, were my home for the first eighteen months of my life.
Thinking about it now, though, it must have been a bit shorter than that. We moved out when my Mum was pregnant with my brother, who is eighteen months younger than me (which could be where I got that figure from). So if we moved when she was pregnant, maybe around that significant three-month mark, then I must have lived there until I was around twelve months old.
Would that be right? I’ve confused myself. Let’s call it a year and move on.
Queensbury Court in Miles Platting. We lived up on the ninth floor. Of course my memory of it is non-existent, but I have it on good account that I hated it. When my parents would wheel me into the lift, strapped in my buggy, I’d reach my arms out wide, trying to grip the doors on either side to prevent my entry, screaming my young head off.
Out on the veranda, through a tantalising two inch gap at the bottom of the balcony, I could see other children playing freely outside on the grass below while I was cooped up inside this torturous tower.
From a handful of black and white photographs taken inside the flat, I can today work out which side of the block that we lived, for through the window can be seen the Bradford gas tower in the distance, situated close to where Manchester City’s Etihad stadium now stands. For so long I had had no idea that I once lived within sight of my club.
I recently (re)discovered this fact when I went to check the place of my origins out.
During the time of the Covid lockdowns, at the point where we were allowed to go outside or travel in the car with people from your own ‘bubble’, we took my Mum to see this landmark of our shared history. She was deep into her illness then, suffering from Alzheimer’s, and I was curious if the sight of our former home would register with her,
You guys know me by now, how I’m big on connections, retracing steps and recreating moments. Here was my earliest beginnings, one of those places that feeds into who I am today. I wondered if it was a two-way thing. Maybe some of me is absorbed in those walls, that if the conditions were right my wailing protestations could once again be released into the confines of that small two bedroomed flat.
I guess nobody wants that.
My wife took some photographs of my Mum and I stood outside the entrance but, having lost so much weight, she doesn’t look well on them and so I won’t share them.
But I will inflict this on you: me looking rough post-Covid, dressed inappropriately for a cold breeze (or maybe it was the tower block’s looming shadow) while chasing ghosts.
To my satisfaction Mum recognised where she was, pointing out the place where the parade of shops used to be and in the general direction of where the pub stood where she would go for a drink with my Dad. She couldn’t remember the pub’s name (The Hat and Feathers) and she couldn’t remember Dad. But it was something.
She could also recall the ground floor flat where the caretaker lived. “Do you rememberhim?” she asked me a couple of times while pointing to the right of the entrance doors.. “He lived just there.”
“I was just eighteen months old,” I replied, the one without Alzheimer’s and the one getting it wrong.
She was tiring and getting cold so we decided to cut things short. As we pulled away Mum continued to look in the direction of Queensbury Court through the car window. I wondered how she was seeing it. Did it appear to her as it was back then? Somehow preserved from the point where we all ended up on Langley, via Darnhill and Back O’th Moss. Four miles away. Fifty years away. A lifetime ago.
I’m very pleased to announce that my third poetry collection is soon to be published by Alien Buddha Press. Conceived as fifty poems to mark my fiftieth birthday, I decided to go all out Adele and call it Fifty.
It is out on the 2nd of June. Here’s to a good Summer! 🌞
I’ve been saying for awhile now that AI (Artificial Intelligence) is going to explode in music, and we have now started seeing the first fruits of it.
I’ve heard attempts to ‘reunite’ Oasis by getting an artificial Liam to sing the vocal on some of Noel’s solo tracks. For that was what all the classic Oasis anthems were, weren’t they? Liam belting out the tunes that his brother had created. Bring those two ingredients together, the thinking goes, and there you have it: an Oasis for today.
There’s also been some efforts to put The Beatles back together by having an artificial John sing on some Paul solo songs and vice versa.
We have already seen the two reunited on stage in Paul’s live shows, where he utilises the technology provided by Peter Jackson to perform their old duet I’ve Got A Feeling.
Of course, as an old Beatle fan I was touched by this, but I’m not sure about everything else. Yes, I’ve always rued the fact that they split up and have even made playlists of songs by each of the Fab Four to try and imagine how subsequent Beatles albums over the years might have appeared. That doesn’t allow, though, for the ‘missing songs’ that would have been created by the magic of them working together and inspiring each other again.
Some of the AI ones that I’ve listened to sound better than others, but we have to remember that this technology is still in its infancy. God knows where it’s going to leave copyright laws.
I’ve also heard about AI being ‘fed’ every existing Beatles song, studio tracks, singles, live performances and outtakes for it to come up with ‘new’ Beatles songs and albums.
I don’t like the sound of that. I’ve read a quote that making music is a universal human trait that goes back to at least 35,000 years ago.
This is art with no heart. It is precisely why I don’t like manufactured groups put together on talent show programmes. The best groups all grew organically, honing their sound and style and working their arses off for years to get their break.
Within this revolution there are also music videos that you can watch that are made wholly of images created by AI while the music is being played.
(And, speaking of images, who can forget the ABBA avatars that took up residency in London last year?)
And of course: every giant leap provides a giant opportunity for the scammers. We’ve all seen the emails and text messages, pretending to be from someone known to us, sometimes not known to us, claiming to be in desperate circumstances and needing financial help.
Now, in an attempt to be more convincing, there are cases of our voices being cloned by artificial intelligence and used to ring our unsuspecting loved ones, where a recognisable ‘us’ can ask for the money directly.
We are being advised to agree code words with each other in an effort to combat this.
What a world we are living in. Where is it heading?
There is no reason and no way that a human mind can keep up with an artificial intelligence machine by 2035.
How many times, over the years, have I stood here? At first on tiptoes, peering over the ledge to see what Dad was doing, Rebel (my first pet) following him around. Mum hanging washing on the line to dry in time for school on Monday. Wide-eyed at a fresh fall of snow.
Then seen from a higher vantage, waiting for the kettle to boil, thoughts drifting like they are at this very moment. I remember Dad standing here, walking stick temporarily hooked over the edge of the sink while one of the German Shepherds we had was raised up on its hind legs, stretching up to reach his chin in greeting.
I always loved that view between the houses. You wouldn’t think so by this photograph, but you get a glimpse of the hills in the distance. A little bit of wild in this tamed urban patch, dotted by streetlights in the evening.
I remember when we first moved here back in 1977. There weren’t any paving stones then. The garden was untidy and neglected, weeds growing among the rockery and grass. For a while there was rhubarb, planted by someone further down the line, near to the brick shed. The dog would piss on it before Dad gathered it up, washed it beneath the tap and then gave it to Mum’s Aunt Margaret to have with custard.
The bedroom my brother and I shared was at this side of the house. Just beyond that fence, in the neighbour’s garden, there used to be an old, rickety wooden shed, barely standing. Living beneath it were some wild cats, their wailing would keep us awake through the night, high-pitched cries that would puncture your dreams when you finally did drift off to sleep.
The shed was pulled down very early on, dispersing its occupiers to find sparse lodgings elsewhere.
Where next door’s conifer is on the right there used to be a different tree (maybe an Ash). It came down in the Great Storm of 1987. I can remember how it carved open the privets (pre-fence days) to hang over the garden in its agonised final throes before being cut up to disappear forever from view. Much like that shed.
The houses here form a square, a block as we call it, and my eyes move over them one by one, naming the families that lived in them back then. Halls, Hughes, Jaques, Oldhams, McCormacks, Quinns.
Many memories, many transformations.
The garden needs transforming again. Tidying up, jet-washing and re-grouting, the over-hanging shrubbery and conifer, invading across boundary lines, cutting back.
Perhaps more greenery and colour will be introduced, the paving exchanged for grass.
Whatever happens, I have no control over that. It’s somebody else’s decision now.
Evening shopping in Tesco. I kind of switch off, go on autopilot, just pointing the shopping trolley in whichever direction my wife, Jen, is heading for.
We were in the main aisle when my usual air of mundane despair was punctured by the sight of a man reacting to two young lads who passed him. They were about ten years old, full of swagger, owning the place like they do. He was middle-aged and a little off.
I saw him whirl and watch them go, then as they vanished from view down a joining aisle he went after them, but his delay proved fatal as he couldn’t find where they had gone. He walked up and down checking several other aisles with no apparent luck.
I can be quite discreet in my curiosity, but I made the fatal mistake of mentioning it to Jen who was caught in rabbit and headlights eye contact with him. Quick as a flash he was by our side.
“Did you see those kids? Eh? Did you? How disrespectful were they? Blowing their vape thing like that in the middle of the store.Right as they’re passing me!”
I neutrally inclined my head, but Jen encouraged him with an appeasing “They don’t care, do they?”
“Vaping in the middle of Tesco. I’m thirty-eight. If I say something to them, you know what happens then, don’t you?”
A few scenarios were playing out in my mind. Jen just advised, “You’re best just leaving them to it.It’s not worth the trouble.”
“I get sick of it though. You have lovely eyes, by the way.”
He examined mine. “You have old eyes.”
Yeah, thank you.
“I’m gonna go find ‘em,” he continued.
“Leave them to it,” Jen replied.
“ I can’t leave it. I know you could, because that’s the nice kind of person you are.” He looked at me. “And he couldn’t either, could you? I can see it in his face. In his eyes.”
That would be my old eyes.
“No, I’m off after them.” Then he gave me one final piece of advice. “You need to swap that,” he pointed to the trolley I was pushing, “for this,” he brandished his basket that had just a couple of items in it. “I’m going to twat them with it.”
I wished him good luck , which meant yes, you go and leave us now. Jen pointed out that that was the kind of conversation she had all of the time when she worked in mental health.
We spotted him once again, near the checkout, when his loud conversation drew our attention. He had indeed caught up with the two boys. Rather than “twat them” he’d bought them both an Easter egg. “But I’m not a paedophile!” he told the woman at the till.
We made a quick u-turn despite what was still on our shopping list and where it might be located, and managed to avoid him for the rest of our shop, me warning Jen that whatever happens she was not to make eye contact again with her lovely eyes.
But then, outside in the car park, we ran smack bang into him again.
“Fuck’s sake” I barely disguised beneath my breath.
He pulled the collar of his t-shirt down, baring his neck to Jen. “Here, have a sniff of this. What do you think it is?”
She dutifully did, “Hmm . . . I’m not sure. Creed?”
“RUBBER!” he shouted, then jumped into the car that he was stood beside and hot-rodded right outta there, engine revving, wheels screeching.
Next week I think we are going to give Aldi a try.