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

coast,

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


At The Hop

In my online meandering, I came across this great photograph of hop pickers in Kent, sometime in the early 1900’s. All those kids in the great outdoors, grass in their hair, dirty faces, dirty hands. Just like when I was a kid. Except I didn’t know I was born, as the saying goes.

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You know how much I love old photographs? I went looking for more.

I reckon the two adults on the left of this photograph are sisters. What do you think? Maybe all three? Look at the little Shirley Temple in the centre.

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When the time was right, farmers down in the South of England would advertise for people to head over and stay for six weeks, picking hops. Invariably those responding would be women and children who didn’t have other jobs to do. They would respond, swapping the polluted air of the cities for the clean, fresh air of the rural land. A working holiday, if you like. The two girls at the very front are speaking conspiratorially about the photographer. Listen hard, you may hear them.

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I like the way the girl third from the left is looking at the girl to her side, laughing eyes, secretive thoughts. I reckon the other girl has had a ticking off from her Mum here, looking down sulkily. That’s the thing: we will never know. We can make up anything we want. At the other end of the shot: nice wellies.

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I had problems making this photograph larger, but I still want to include it. The ancestors insisted: us too. I’m sure you can make it bigger on your tablets with a bit of index finger-thumb stretching magic.

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How confident (and truculent) does the lad in the centre look? I’ve seen a similar photograph of a young John Lennon with that very same expression. And how feisty does that terrier look? Put him down and you just know he’s gonna scamper right after the photographer.

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I know they are working, but most of the people in these shots look a lot happier (and healthier) than the folk we see in contemporary portraits, working in the mills and factories. Perhaps it is just the outdoor setting causing me to read this into them. Always the subjective optimist.

These fading photographs of Southern England have got me all of a sudden sensing the approaching summer.Can you smell the meadow flowers? Taste that scrumpy cider?

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If any of you are wondering why I love old photographs so much, see the highlighted post below: A Sense Of Absence.https://cityjackdaw.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/a-sense-of-absence/

 

R.I.P George Cole

Every Sunday evening, in the mid-eighties, I would be sat in front of the television, hair drying from my bath, eating sandwiches made with meat left over from that day’s Sunday lunch, and dreading school in the morning which would hold an exam that I had more than likely not revised for.

The programmes I would be watching were Minder, followed by Tales Of The Unexpected. 

In the former, George Cole played Arthur Daley, the likeable small-time con man, Dennis Waterman his  tough guy ‘minder’. He would constantly refer to his never seen wife as ‘er indoors’.

Great memories (that theme tune is running through my head right now) and a great character, played by another of my childhood figures now gone. The list of those that remain grows ever shorter. R.I.P

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Beginnings

When my Dad died in 2003, I found in his wallet a cutting from my primary school magazine. It was of a few lines that I had written way back in 1980, when I was eight years old.

I had no idea he had kept it.

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Of course I don’t remember writing it. It made me wish I had kept all my old books and jottings I made all those years ago.

In that same school I won a Halloween story-writing competition, where we had to write a story and present it in a self-designed cardboard cover jacket. I do wish I still had that one.

All I can remember about it now is that it was a werewolf story, based in an English country village setting, somewhere out in the sticks, and as usual, I had left it until the night before it was due in to write it. I rushed ahead with it until I approached the end where the werewolf would be shot and its identity revealed. I hadn’t yet decided who it was going to be, (for in effect I was making it up as I went along), and I had a great idea.

The hero of the story, an outsider who was a new resident of the village, had been given a gun and the required silver bullets, by one of the old locals. What if that very local guy was the werewolf-wanting to end his own shape-shifting torment in a suicide-by-cop scenario? That would be a great reveal.

I flicked back through the preceding pages, and damn! The man had been present when the werewolf had crashed through a cottage window in an earlier scene. I had no time to rewrite it. (I still haven’t learned that lesson.) I had to finish on the ineffectual revelation that the lycanthrope was some bloke that worked in the village pub. How lame is that?

The story, coloured-in cardboard cover and all, is long gone, along with every other juvenile tale that I used to while away the hours creating, lost to time and numerous bedroom clear outs.

After that school magazine-published dwarf description, the earliest example of any surviving creative endeavour of mine is a poem that I wrote about a vampire (werewolves and vampires-that’s the kind of kid I was), when I was fifteen years old.

I include it here for posterity. Please go easy on me, you harsh critics, for I was but a wee, pimple-faced bairn, scribbling away in my den as I listened to the Top Forty.

Union Of The Night

He heard a tapping at the window,
A scraping sound of dread.
He looked to see her waiting,
calling him from his bed.

She filled his heart with terror,
but with a longing, just the same.
He was afraid, but strangely attracted.
She called him by his name.

He was entranced by her beauty.
Her face so pale, so white.
She said:"I will make you as I,
and we shall share the night."

After she had seduced him,
yet left him oh so cold,
she soundlessly vanished,
into the night so old.

And soon he also followed,
and joined her for all time.
Two lovers who frolic together,
when the midnight bells do chime.



©AJM



December Relic

December arrives, and the age old struggle with my wife continues afresh. This is from last December 1st, meaning my beloved artifact is another year older too, making it now a thirty eight year old bone of contention.

City Jackdaw

Well hello there, December. Is that snow I can see in your pocket? Come in and rest your hoary head.

How soon the seasons come around. One minute I notice the first leaves start to turn brown, the next  the decorations are going up and people are rushing around in their customary blind panic.

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Unpacked and dusted down is the above antique. A seasonal decoration that is now thirty seven years old. A masterpiece of royal blue and gold.

The things you can do with toilet roll and tinsel.

This is the last link to my very first school, Mossfield Primary. I made this aged five, in my very first year at school. A year later I left due to my family moving home.The cracker came with me.

Every Christmas this inimitable creation took pride of place on many a tree that has long since been discarded. I think once…

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Grit And Grease

I have just finished reading East Bay Grease, by Eric Miles Williamson, a tough, gritty, coming of age story set in 1960’s and 70’s poor/working class Oakland, in America. The boy in the novel came from the same kind of neglected background as the children we looked after back in the days when my wife and I were foster carers.   image When reading it, I couldn’t help but compare it to my own beginnings, in my instance 1970’s Britain. I never considered it a poor neighbourhood where I lived for my early, formative years, but an older cousin once told me that when she was travelling to visit us with her mother, she asked which house was ours, to which my aunt replied “It’s the one with the lights on.” Her daughter thought that she was joking, until she did indeed see that most of the houses on that long street were in darkness.

This was the place I lived up until the age of around seven. My Dad had only recently come to terms with the fact that, due to ill health, he would be unable to work again, and so in a case of role reversal, more unusual in those times, my mother went out to work while he took care of us at home.

Being born right at the end of ’71, I was not quite five when the record heatwave of 1976 arrived, so my memories of that time are sketchy. I do remember though, having to wear a navy blue vest instead of a t-shirt as my shoulders were sporting large blisters from being badly sunburnt, and also prominent is the moment when these ‘bubbles’ popped. That was the year when we were actually appointed a Minister for Drought, the year when the countryside turned brown, and where I lived the tar on the road melted. Hosepipes were banned, and the government encouraged people to save water and ‘bath with a friend.’ I am sure some friendships were severely tested by that advice. That long hot, dry, summer also brought with it a ladybird invasion. I remember going on a trip to the zoo, and they were everywhere.  Thick swarms, dropping on people from the trees and covering benches that people wanted to sit on. Kids, I included, were trying to eat ice cream or candy floss that were dotted with dozens of the crawling things.

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I always seemed to be outdoors in those years. The days of being enslaved by Facebook and, dare I say it, WordPress, were a long, unimaginable way off. I would be out playing with now faceless mates who have, but for a couple of them, also become nameless, too. The specifics have been stolen from me, but not the general outline of what we did together.

Using broken glass as a magnifying glass, burning holes into pieces of wood. Running over prickle and brick strewn crofts in pursuit of passing, musical parades. Exploring and falling, making dens and tight knit gangs. The first, merchandise-driven movie arrived in the shape of Star Wars in ’77, and everyone went sci-fi crazy. A friend used to walk around stiff legged, claiming he was C3PO, and we all swapped our bubblegum card doubles whilst indulging in a little lightsaber fighting before tea. All of this was played out to a soundtrack of Abba, Brotherhood of Man, Slade, T Rex, and The Bay City Rollers. And then the following year Danny made a play for Sandy at Rydell High and the girls the country over got their own fixation.

Whether they did in my own neighbourhood I can only presume, because by that point I had moved home, leaving my pals and heatwave struggles behind. I remember much of those early years, and all of these memories are anchored in a place that seemingly was much brighter and larger than the decades which followed.

Those images are still fixed, still anchored, in that distant ideal, but now they are fading slightly in colour, and are beginning to curl a little at the edges.