The Sun Was Out Early On Good Behaviour

This post contains no deep insights or meaningful message. It was just that for the first time this year we had nice weather, so I decided to cut short my Jackdaw weekend sabbatical to document an afternoon with Mrs Jackdaw and my two youngest fledglings in Alkrington Woods.

The car doors were opened, the seat belts unfastened, and they were off……


House on the hill- Alkrington Hall.


The signs were good.


Enticing the swans.


“Come back!” Fickle fowl.


Under a watchful eye


Niagara on a small scale


Look at that long lamented blue hue.


“No fishing” say the fish.


Everyone needs a helping hand. A tree split down the middle gets some support.


Well this is the time to see buds on trees, but cans of Bud?


Christmas survivor. The tree that was decorated by children at Christmas, featuring in my December post ‘When Is Holy Wholly Holy?’ Some of the decorations have made it through the winter storms, and look especially good when you are lay beneath them.


Lever Bridge-scene of earlier competitive twig racing.


All Change Manchester

I recently visited Manchester city center, which is just a twenty five minute bus journey from where I live. This is my city-where the modern kisses cheeks with the old, and has recently been voted for the first time as Britain’s second city, after London. Who would have thought that the IRA bomb which so decimated the area in 1996 would become the boon for it to rise, develop, and flourish so spectacularly?


The Corn Exchange, a historic Grade II listed building, was one of the buildings severely damaged in the explosion. At the time it was home to an ‘alternative market’, that was a beacon for the younger, hipper, and hairier generation. A place where you could find music, vegetarian foods, new age clothes and scapegoats. People would be sat around smoking, waiting to see tarot card readers and palmists, or just hanging out. I can recall going there with a school mate, who sadly passed away some sixteen years ago now. We went into an esoteric book shop that was also decked out with didgeridoos and ouija boards, incense burning on the top shelves. My mate decided he was going to buy a stone ash tray that was rimmed by skulls in an appropriate bit of symbolism. I pointed out “Gary-you don’t smoke.” He paused, reflected for a few seconds, then answered “Oh yeah,” putting the smilers back on the shelf next to the dog’s skull with candles in its eye sockets.

In the recovery from the bomb damage, Manchester lost this alternative venue as the Corn Exchange reopened as the Triangle, now filled with designer shops. Very up market, but I think all the poorer for it. Recently it has been announced that there is going to be more change for the building as it becomes home to a collection of restaurants and retail food outlets. Further change for a survivor of both German bombing and terrorist atrocity.

The old Cathedral is closed at the moment while under floor heating is installed for the perishing Christians. Nearby, the RSPB had a telescope trained upon the more modern buildings where Peregrine Falcons are so successfully nesting and breeding. So impressive, these ferraris of the sky swoop down regularly upon the docile pigeon population.There are not many who shed tears at this, just as long as the kill is not done under their noses while they eat their Subway sandwiches.


Opposite the Corn Exchange, where the Manchester Wheel used to be, I stumbled upon the ‘Dig in the City’-Manchester’s Urban Gardening Festival. The National Trust had a stall there, a woman trying to draw interest by doing a curious little dance and blowing a duck call. Surely not a wise thing to do whilst stood beneath Peregrine Patrol?  Kids were there making bird houses and dens, mud pies and kites, planting seeds and walking bare foot in sand. Not the kind of thing you normally see in the city center. The whole area was decked out in bunting and flowers and garden furniture, where you could relax in a welcome bit of greenery in the urban concrete jungle. It was as unexpected as it was pleasing, particularly for eager children.

One thing, though, that doesn’t change when I visit Manchester, is the obligatory hours spent in Waterstones book store.Three whole floors to get lost in. Afterwards I had a coffee, idly people watching, aware of the whole mix of nationalities and languages that now contribute to the soundtrack of my home city. The truly cosmopolitan DNA of its heartbeat emphasised further by the Spanish busker nodding in gratitude as loose change was dropped into his hungry guitar case.

On the journey home, my bus was invaded by a swarm of rabid students, cramming onto the upstairs deck, some lounging on seats and some lay awkwardly in the aisle. Raucous and excitable, we were soon introduced to an intermittent cry of “Bogies! Bogies!” I switched off, looking out of the window to spot all of the areas and locations connected to my ancestors who had lived in this area over the last two hundred years. As we crawled along in the rush hour traffic, one of the girls at the front spotted a lad down below walking along the street, wearing a Beatles top. “Look at him there-Beatles! If I could open this window I would spit on him.”

Charming lady.

Then, implausibly, they all began to sing ‘Country Roads’ by John Denver. They knew all the words too, not just the chorus. I am too old now to know what is cool, but obviously Beatles are ‘out’ and John Denver is ‘in’. What a curious alternative world this is. Nearing home, Miss Airs and Graces next spotted an elderly man crossing in front of the bus. “Let’s make him uncomfortable” her friend suggested, and they both started banging on the window, but they couldn’t attract his attention.

When I was their age, was I so loud? So obnoxious? I suspect that I was. Of course it is all the front and bravado needed to fit into the herd. For my part, I guess it has been since time immemorial the lot of one generation to not ‘get’ the next.

I got off at my stop, leaving behind one final salute of “Bogies!” by possibly Britain’s next female Prime Minister.

For the first time ever, after a trip to Manchester, I had returned home without having acquired a single book. But I was armed with a list, saved on my phone, of many titles to order for my Kindle.

Everything changes.

The Heat Is On


The heat is most definitely on.

At this moment in time, my favourite Winking Weather Girl is still in a job.

(That line has just prompted me to try out that old joke on the kids: What do you call a three-legged donkey? A wonky. What do you call a three-legged donkey with one eye? A winky wonky. Sailed right over their heads, should have saved my breath).

Anyway, yesterday a bedraggled, initially enthusiastic group consisting of my wife, my four children, a family friend and myself decided to head to Dovestones reservoir for a picnic on that most glorious of days. Finding a shaded spot beneath some trees, we unpacked the food to fill complaining, hungry mouths.

As you can see from the photographs above and below, the water level of the reservoir is quite low. Despite last year’s record rainfall, I suspect soon we will be slapped with a hosepipe ban. I must see what Winking Weather Girl has to say about that. What is a guy with a rose bush supposed to do?

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After filling bellies with food and liquid-replenishing juice, the children made the precarious trip down to the water. Unlike our recent trips to Blackpool and Southport, my two youngest decided to brave the water and paddle. Perhaps because water without waves appears much safer, and perhaps buoyed more by the encouraging and reassuring presence of their two older sisters, they went in to torment the ducks.

Meanwhile, attempting to take advantage of the absence of these ravenous young wolves, the customary, ubiquitous jackdaws appeared en masse, casting hopeful pale eyes towards abandoned bread crusts. Surely they know that eating crusts makes your feathers curl? Surely they know that I will be posting reports of their conduct to the WordPress world?

Intelligent birds though they are, I think that bottle top may pose a problem.

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After a memorable time spent in our selected spot, my two eldest daughters were keen to walk a circuit of the reservoir up in the hills. But us adults were flagging, wilting in the relentless heat of the sledgehammer sun, and decided to retreat to our air conditioned cars and call it a day.

And my two youngest children?

Sleeping kids

Now that is what, in the parenting business, come rain or sunshine, we call a result.

Boonless In Southport

At the weekend my wife, father-in-law, two youngest children and I spent the day in Southport. It had been many years since I had last been there-thirty seven to be exact. I can be sure of this as my previous visit had been with my first school, and I had only spent just over a year there before leaving due to moving home.

The first thing I can remember about that trip, way back in 1976, is that the sea seemed miles away from our little flock herded onto that stretch of beach.

My second recollection was an accident that occurred in the toilets of the car park where we disembarked from the coach. A girl from my class got her fingers trapped in the toilet door, and I remember a male teacher carrying her out in his arms. I no longer recall the teacher’s name, or what he looked like. He remains forever a faceless comforter.

Later, weary and bedraggled, as we were about to begin the journey home, the girl was sat on a coach that was immediately adjacent to the one that I was on, her seat parallel with mine. She was red-eyed, and had what seemed to be a huge bandage wrapped around her index finger which she held up, supported by her other hand.

I have no class photographs from my time at that first school, but I can remember the girl’s name, and  amazingly, thirty-seven years after the fact, I can still see her face in my mind’s eye. She is one of four fellow classmates whose faces I can still conjure from memory alone, although there is now a blurring of features that were once well-defined. Like old snapshots beginning to fade and curl with time.

That day was the first time I can remember attempting to make somebody feel better with humour-I offered an apple that was in my lunch box to her through the two different coach windows that separated us, then pretended to devour it in great, over exaggerated bites. Red eyed and bandaged, I can still see her smiling.

That method of lifting spirits, particularly with children, has remained with me. Humour I mean, not the ‘old apple trick.’

Anyway, on my latest trip to Southport there was nothing to trigger any further recollections. It could have been any other seaside town.

We went on the funfair, with the not unreasonable expectation of a leisurely, pleasant day. But my nearly three year old son immediately became focused on his one obsession-obtaining his regular fix of balloons. He spotted the sign on a shop front, quite a way away, and, mistaking  the painted balls for balloons, he was off, racing towards it as fast as his little legs would take him. That set the tone for the rest of our time on the site. No amount of distractions by Granddad, cajoling by Mum, shouting by Sister or pleading from I would deter him from his goal.

“Boons!” he cried, “boons!” over and over for the next hour and a half or so. Turning up his nose at every kids ride or chocolate on offer.

And of course we couldn’t find any balloons anywhere. You could forgive us for thinking our luck was in when we finally spotted a stall with the following title scrawled above it in bright lettering:

‘Balls and Balloons’

A great sigh of relief exhaled by three generations drowned out the cacophony of loud music and screaming kids of the funfair. But when we got to it-in James’ wake, there was not a ball or balloon in sight. Just one of the those punch ball things that you are supposed to hit as hard as you can to set the bells ringing and lights flashing.

James’ hand was already balling into a fist.

Back in the car, strapped in and still pleading for a boon, we drove for a few minutes to another spot. As I bent to unstrap him from his car seat, I said to him “Let’s get you out, are you going to be good now?”

Very calm, very low, but with a perceivable hint of menace, he said just one word: “boon.”

Boon, singular.

There was no compromise, no acknowledgement of our predicament. Just a you-know-what-I-want, and a you-know-what-you-have-to-do. A measuring with the eyes, a shifting of power between us.

New part of town, same old story. No balloons. The same old tat being sold in every shop and stall we passed, but no balloons. This was unfathomable to James. In the end we coerced him with ice cream, paraded him up and down in a hall of distorting mirrors that alternatively stretched out or compressed his sulking frame, and then finally distracted him with a trip on a motorised boat for twenty minutes. We all climbed aboard, with two young kids in tow, yet it was my forty one year old wife who asked nervously “We wont sink will we?” I think if we had stepped out of the boat the water would have come up to our knees.

Balloons, sinking ships, there’s always a drama.

James climbed in the front next to his Granddad and the little tadpole soon grew his sea legs as he turned the wheel, exclaiming “Mummy, I driving!” while unsettlingly trying to play Death Race 2000 with the gulls in the water.

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This photograph was taken after the gulls had wisely scarpered.

Once out of the boat, his mood had lightened considerably, and we decided to head to the beach.

On the way I took this photograph in one of the shops:

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When we got there, neither of the children would go into the sea. In fact they both point-blank refused. I cannot for the life of me understand why.

Content with the beach, my daughter Millie discovered a huge ‘X’ drawn on the sand, and made the connection to ‘x marks the spot.’

“It’s a treasure map!! She began to dig furiously with her spade, until her enthusiasm began to wilt. James stood observing  this with all of the potential of a future construction site supervisor, when he suddenly straightened up, squinting past his sister into the distance. I turned to see what had caught his eye.

A kite could be seen further down the beach, fluttering high, all rectangular and green in the blue sky.

James momentarily caught his breath, then gasped, barely audible: