Winter Coughs To Announce Her Presence

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.

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And then, as he quite aptly described it: the moment the sky danced. 

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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.

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To the east of Duckingfield, in my hometown of Middleton, the temperature stubbornly refused to rise. The mist appeared hesitant beyond the trees.

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And then the school run beckoned, drawing us out of our heated home. Ignore that sun, it may as well have been a snowflake.

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“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!” 

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School’s Out

I love this old photograph, showing children in their ageless cliques. Looking at the girls’ bonnets and the sign on the side of the building I think they are fresh out of Sunday School

Fast forward a hundred years and those lads would be getting thrown out of McDonald’s.

Election Perplexion. (Not A Poem.)

We go to the polls tomorrow.

When I was a kid politics was boring. It was an unfathomably adult word that your folks hung their hats on. Different people used different pegs, and discussed their choices while you vacated the room and made the most of their distractions.

Once you become an adult you can’t help but be political, knowing more of the society, of the world, that we live in. But, bordering just on the right side of apathy, in a world of Brexits, Trumps and false promises, a certain fatigue sets in. 

Ask a member of the Conservative party a question and they talk about Labour. Ask a member of the Labour Party a question and they talk about the Conservatives. Nobody gives a straight answer any more.

The grandfather that I never met apparently used to say that you should never waste a vote. I’ve heard this same sentiment that many times, through that many mouths, that it has now become something of a cliché rather than an insight into a long gone family member.

I will vote tomorrow. I will set aside a moment in my day to enter my local polling station, following in the (metaphorical) footsteps of my grandfather. But probably, even as I’m putting an ‘X’ next to the name of one of those question-ducking candidates, I will be thinking about my next book, or the song that’s just been playing, or perhaps the glazed eyes of my children and dedicate myself to avoiding an evening of unfathomable distractions on their behalf.

It is the school holidays, you know.

A Final Manchester Post: Still The Flowers Grow

(Things have got heavy here on City Jackdaw, understandably so. This will be, I think, my final post on the Manchester bombing. At least for a while. And here are some final photographs: some inspiring, some personal, some heartbreaking. Thank you for acting as witness with me.)

There are still many armed police on the streets. I saw one heading for the Gents toilet in the Arndale shopping centre. “Do you want me to mind that while you go in?” I asked him, indicating his gun. He laughed. I’ve seen other officers reassuring children, placing their helmets onto young heads for photographs.

Meanwhile, outside, still the flowers grow.


Real bees-Manchester bees, were flying among the thousands of flowers, unthwarted by the barrage of moving tethered balloons.


There was a subdued air compared to the earlier staunch triumphalism, the knee jerk refusal to be cowed.

My two youngest children and I.

Then, somewhere beyond this transformed square, a lone piper began to play.


A woman took a photograph of her little girl, stood in front of the flowers. “I’ll show you this when you grow up.”

“I don’t want to grow up,” she replied. I can understand why.

Everywhere: an alternative message to hate.

Remembrance of the twenty two.


And messages to ourselves; to each other:


But also, heartbreakingly, survivor’s guilt:


My kids stayed a little longer, quiet and thoughtful among the reflecting figures.


This place of memorial draws the creatives: the musicians; the poets; the painters. I’ve seen them everywhere, and of course I’m one too. Bleeding our art through open wounds.


Victoria train station, through which the Arena (site of the bombing) can be accessed, has now reopened. Samaritan volunteers were present everywhere, handing out cards for anyone who may need help. Above the platform scaffolding shows where the damage is still being repaired, draped by one of the We Love Manchester signs that adorns the city.


And also this, a memorial to the dead, and a tribute to the people:


This has been laid, naming and depicting the dead as angels. The five males in white, the females in pink, the girl with the balloon the youngest victim, eight-year-old Saffie.


I left the centre still, even more so, a proud Mancunian, moved by the resolve of the Manchester people.

My Bloodied Manchester

Around the time I went to bed the bomb went off.

I was totally unaware of what had happened until around 3.00am, when my wife woke me. Friends from around the country, indeed the world, had messaged us. Then, bleary eyed, we tried to process just what had happened.

There was footage of the panic; people searching for lost children; a distressed woman rang our local radio station with a horrific account of what she had witnessed; friends of ours announced that they were safe.

The friend of my little girl was at the concert with her family. There were other people attending that we know. My daughter herself was at a concert in that same venue just a couple of weeks ago. The arena can be accessed through the train station which I have been commuting from. Not so long ago I attended the Young Voices competition as a staff member with my children’s school choir. 8,000 children were present that day. Suddenly the horror that regularly unfolds throughout the world was on our doorstep.

After the recent attack at Westminster I said to my wife that it was only a matter of time before our city was hit. Whenever you are in a crowded place of course it crosses your mind. Football matches, shopping centres, and like last night-music concerts. But we have to continue.
This threat isn’t going away any time soon. We have to all stand firm against it. Of course by ‘we’ I mean all of us, everywhere. But being rooted in a place gives you a sense of belonging. This is my city. These are my people. I am proud of my fellow Mancunians who went to the aid of the injured and dying, the taxi and bus drivers who were ferrying people from the centre for free, the hotels who were taking in children who had been separated from their parents, people offering beds for the night, and more and more and more.

Manchester is no stranger to such atrocities. There was the IRA bomb of 1996 which utterly devastated the town centre. The Manchester we know today rose from the ashes of that day. But back then everybody had been evacuated, miraculously nobody was killed. Last night it was people targeted. It was children.  When we say we will go on, when we say we will stand firm, it is more than rhetoric. More than posting a hashtag. But when the people who commit such acts are targeting events that are packed with thousands of children, just what are we to do?

That is for another day.

My prayers go out to those who lost their lives last night in my beautiful city.