Mongrel Nation

My annual St.George’s Day post. Ancestors. Parade Day in Manchester. Celtic Saints. African Ancestry. Genetics. Connections. A couple of flags.

Happy St.George’s Day to you in England and the great diaspora.

City Jackdaw

St. George’s Day again. I tried to reblog my original post that I did on this day, two years ago, but think that I can only reblog a post once? Anyway, the highlighted, following title should take you to it. It is about St.George, St.Aidan, Ancestry, History, DNA, and what it means now for me to be English, or rather, British, or rather, African. Go figure. Mongrel Nation.

View original post

The Fox In The Night

This was from the eve of the last new year: the cusp of transition; ghosts of the past; and my old faithful friend who, if only I knew it back then, would be with us only for six months more.

City Jackdaw

On the night of New Year’s Eve, before the celebrations began in earnest, I took the dog for a walk. The mind often wanders when outdoors, and I began to reflect on how, being on the cusp of 2015, I would, in the coming year, be turning forty four. With my attention turned inward, I started to think of all of the ways we, as a family, celebrated Christmas and New Year when I was a child. And, for the first time ever, I felt a sudden, brief, twinge of sadness. Sadness that I am moving still further away from my beginnings, and sadness that some of the loved ones who contributed to those happy memories have been left behind, some far behind.

It was only a fleeting emotion, for I am seldom morose and normally quite sanguine and accepting of the order of things. On life’s journey we all…

View original post 190 more words

Throwback Thursday: Tracing My Blog’s Birth Parent

City Jackdaw was a weekly penny magazine that ran in my home city of Manchester from 1875 until 1880. I came across a reference to it at a time when I was searching for a name for my blog. I am a sucker for history and connections, so it seemed quite apt.

I also liked the idea that it was something that some of my Mancunian ancestors may well have read.


I found the following description of it:

‘The subject matter was broad and current. Poetry, articles, sections on the theatre and “Claws of the Week” were regular features.’

That seemed quite relevant. When I started my blog, I incorporated into it a series of posts that occasionally feature on Fridays, called ‘Claws For The Weekend’.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for connections.

It was also described as ‘a humorous and satirical journal.’

I try.

One day I may get myself a copy of the 19th Century City Jackdaw, or check one out in the archives of Manchester Central Library. I think that would be kinda cool.

Like tracing a birth parent.

The Christmas Tag

Although I am grateful for the nominations and awards other fine bloggers bestow upon me, I don’t normally carry through the questions part. But it is Christmas, after all. So thank you to Nad over at Hugs x Heart. Technically challenged as I am, until one of you show me how to highlight the word ‘here’ to link to other blogs, I will have to give you the full link:

So, here goes.

1.What is your favourite Christmas film?

Around this time we go through the rigmarole of trying to find my wife’s favourite film. She says it is a particular version of A Christmas Carol, or a ‘Scrooge’ one. Old, black and white, set in Victorian times (that narrows it down!) but we never find it. We go through the whole TV guide. Our entire Facebook community mobilises to identify it, but we never do. Personally, I don’t think it exists. But we do this Every.Single.Year. As for me, It’s A Wonderful Life is great, but I like The Muppet Christmas Carol. I think our own cockney actor Michael Caine is great in it. But Miss Piggy is intimidating.


2.Have you ever had a white Christmas?

Of course. One year I managed to talk my uncle (sadly no longer with us) into coming to our house for Christmas dinner. He suffered from Motor Neurone Disease, and rarely left the house. As luck would have it, a blizzard set in while he was here. When it was time to take him home, I went to push him out of the door in his wheelchair, and his foot got tangled in the wire of the Christmas tree. “Timberrrrrr!!!!!” I then had to push him up a hill in the snowstorm, wheels spinning, eyes scrunched against the wind and snow, while he froze in silence. What I didn’t realise was that his cap was down over his eyes and he couldn’t see a thing the whole way. I asked him the following year if he wanted to come to our house again? “No.”

3.Where do you usually spend your holiday?

At home. Always.

4.What is your favourite Christmas song?

The Pogues and Kirsty McColl’s Fairytale Of New York is brilliant, but I’ve always been a fan of Lennon’s music, and liked this song long before I knew that it was by him.

5.Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?

Absolutely not. The Christmas Demon is both watchful and vengeful.

6.Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?

I could re-name them for you, if that helps? Okay:no. But everyone knows the red-nosed dude. I reckon the others resent him.

7.What holiday traditions are you looking forward to the most?

The whole shebang.

8.Is your Christmas tree real or fake?

I don’t like to think of it as fake, more like ‘representative’.

9.What is your all-time favourite holiday food/treat?

Christmas pudding. Just that one a year.

10.Be honest:do you like giving gifts or receiving gifts better?

I’m not one for either. I don’t bother about receiving gifts, I just enjoy the Christmas period. My better half is the shopper. I give her moral support. When people ring to thank us for the presents, I tell them that they are welcome, as I cover the mouthpiece and ask Jen what we got them.

11.What is the best Christmas gift you’ve ever received?

Maybe the iPad I am now writing this post on. Connections.

12.What would be your dream place to visit for the holiday season?

I don’t think I would like to spend Christmas away from home, but if I did, definitely not somewhere sunny and hot. That wouldn’t feel right. Sweden is on my visit list, so maybe there. Ja?

13.Are you a pro-present wrapper, or do you fail miserably?

I am notoriously terrible. I start to wrap, find I have not used enough paper, so cut off a little bit more. Then I spot another gap. It ends up looking like a patchwork quilt.

14.Most memorable holiday moment?

When I was a kid, my younger brother excitedly shook me awake. “Andy, come on, it’s Christmas!!!”  I’m not sure what time it was, but it was still dark. He sprinted ahead down the stairs, whereas I, the sensible one, stopped to first put the light on. There was a sudden flash, the light went back off, and the bulb fell and smashed on my head. Really. Explains a lot.

15.What made you realise the truth about Santa?

What do you mean, truth? Santa is real. There is a consumer-swallowed conspiracy to try and get us to spend more money on buying presents, but we don’t need to. HE brings them, if you leave room.

16.Do you make New Year resolutions? Do you stick to them?

Nothing specific, maybe a general sense of what I want/hope for from the coming year.

17.What makes the holidays special for you?

It’s an old cliche, but family time.

Bonus questions (you can answer if you want)!

18.What do you wish for Christmas this year?

More sprouts.

19.Favourite Christmas smell?

Not those sprouts. Maybe spiced drinks. Not spiked, spiced.

20.What is the worst/weirdest gift you ever got?

I couldn’t possibly divulge. Not in public.

21.Favourite holiday drink?

Mulled wine.

22.Have you ever spent Christmas in another country?

No, but I enjoy reading about how you lot spend yours, scattered all over the world like you are. A kaleidoscope of customs.

23.What place/landmark in your town do you love during Christmas?

The Manchester Christmas markets, unfortunately I didn’t make it to them this year.


24.Were you naughty or nice this year? You know Santa is watching!

I asked my wife-her response was just a raised,quizzical eyebrow. I asked my seven year old daughter, and she said that I’ve been nice. Although I think she is now borderline suspicious that it is I who supplies the presents, and is just hedging her bets.

Merry Christmas to you all, I look forward to reading your replies. Tag-you’re it!!


Orkney Odyssey 3: Time Tells

There is a romanticism and a melancholy to the islands.

An echo of times past. A hint of meaning that lies just beyond the wind. Meaning whose origin is adorned by labels: Norse, Pictish, Neolithic. A procession of markers that will outlive us all.

I wonder if living here day after day, year after year, causes you to be blasé about it all? Do the markers become invisible, blending in with the rest of the storm-shaped landscape?

I remember seeing a documentary a few years back about people living in the Scottish Highlands. Among all that natural beauty and dramatic vistas, the young ones were bored to death. They said that visitors would tell them how lucky they were to be living there. They would reply that there was never anything to do. They would amuse themselves by sending travelling tourists in the opposite direction of the landmarks that they would pull over and ask directions for.

On my first trip to Orkney, an enthusiastic Historic Scotland warden told me that they had a saying there: scrape away a bit of soil and the land bleeds archaeology. I think that this is a generally held view.

On my second visit, in the winter months, I intended one morning to walk part of the coast, dressing accordingly. However, en route to the starting point, I recieved news that the mother of one of my best friends had just died. I felt so far away, so remote. I decided to change my plans and head for Kirkwall Cathedral to light a candle for the woman who I had known for twenty five years. On doing so, I got talking to a guy who worked at the visitor center next door, and he offered to put a documentary film on for me in a side room all about St.Magnus and the founding of the Cathedral. Of course I was still dressed for the coastal walk, and had to begin to shed my layers in that small, heated room.

He looked on with amusement as first my waterproof coat came off, followed by a fleece jacket, then a zip-up top. Then a jumper. A t-shirt. And a thermal vest.

“You’re not as big as ya look are ya?” he exclaimed with a twinkle in his eye.

I gestured to my legs:

“Beneath these waterproof trousers, I’ve got on jeans and longjohns. My legs are really like pipe cleaners.”

With a shake of his head he gave me a look that said ‘you southerners’ which being a native of North West England I have never considered myself before. But in relation to these islands, I suppose I am.

After watching the film I told him of the historic sites that I had visited up to then. In a similar line to that taken by the Historic Scotland warden, he said that the whole mainland, and the surrounding islands, were “infested with archaeology.”  He told of farmers that he knew of who had accidentally uncovered some kind of stone remains on their land, and then hurriedly covered them back up before anybody else spotted them, not wanting the inconvenience of conservationists and archaeologists (or tourists such as I) interrupting their work and calander year.

Later, on the bus journey back to Stromness, I looked over in the direction of the Maeshowe tomb, the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, and more. I thought of the secrets being revealed at the current dig at the Ness of Brodgar which is blowing all pre-conceived ideas out of the water. Of my visit the day before to Skara Brae, the Neolithic settlement that nobody knew was there until a great storm in 1850 stripped back the layers of sand covering it and exposed it to a sky it had not seen for 4,000 years.

All these tunnels and tombs, standing stones and runes.

How much more is there, hidden out there beneath those flat fields? My eye strayed unbidden to every mound and hint of uneven ground.

A landscape infested. A land that bleeds.

Eventually the earth will give up more of her secrets.

In the end time tells.






Angel Meadow/Hell Upon Earth

I came across this six-minute video on YouTube and wanted to share it with you people.

Just a few minutes walk from Manchester city centre, Angel Meadow in the 19th Century was anything but heavenly. Under the dark skies of the industrial north, this was one of the city’s worst slums. A London-based journalist, Angus Reach, on visiting it, described it thus:

‘The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester is called, singularly enough, ‘Angel Meadow.’ It is full of cellars and inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness, by those unhappy wretches the ‘low Irish.’

The cellars that he described were situated beneath lodging houses, crammed and overcrowded with the most unfortunate people in the direst of circumstances.

Reach visited one such cellar:

‘The place was dark, except for the glare of a small fire. You could not stand without stooping in the room which might be about twelve feet by eight. There were at least a dozen men, women and children on stools, or squatted on the stone floor, round the fire and the heat and smells were oppressive…the inmates slept huddled on the stones, or on masses of rags, shavings and straw which were littered about. There was nothing like a bedstead in the place.’

Another memorable description by Friedrich Engels in his book ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.’ :

‘Such is the Old Town of Manchester, and on re-reading my description, I am forced to admit that instead of being exaggerated, it is far from black enough to convey a true impression of the filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness, the defiance of all considerations of cleanliness, ventilation, and health which characterise the construction of this single district, containing at least twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. And such a district exists in the heart of the second city of England, the first manufacturing city of the world.

If anyone wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air–and such air!–he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither. True, this is the Old Town, and the people of Manchester emphasise the fact whenever any one mentions to them the frightful condition of this Hell upon Earth; but what does that prove? Everything which here arouses horror and indignation is of recent origin, belongs to the industrial epoch.’

I have a few personal connections to this place. My great-grandfather lived in one of the 19th century lodging houses. I have followed his journey, on the 90th anniversary of his death, from the church in which he got married all the way to the soil of Thessaloniki  that now holds his body close to her Greek heart.

Timothy O’Sullivan, an orphan who swapped the hell of the industrial slum for the hell of the first industrialised  war.

When you view this short film, look out for the Tobacco factory-that is where I worked for five years. My mum worked there fifteen years before I did. It has now become an apartment complex.

And of the two ragged schools, my Dad used to play pool downstairs in the Sharp Street one.

Also, St Michael’s flags: These are the mass graves of 40,000 paupers, many the victims of Cholera.The burial ground was unpaved for forty years until it was laid with flagstones.  When my Dad was a kid he used to play football on them. It reminded me of the historical description attributed to a local, Rochdale Road resident:

‘There was at one time a number of gravestones covering the remains of some dear lost ones, but these have been removed and a few are to be seen in some of the cottages….Very often are the bones of the dead exposed and carried away and a human skull has been kicked about for a football on the ground.’

It was many years after the time of this description, but my Dad never did mention what he used for the football.