Islands In This Cold, Cold Sea

Mornings following mornings following mornings, sitting with a coffee and nowhere to go.

But I can still travel. Without going out of my door as Harrison sang.

During this lockdown we are all becoming islands, but still part of a vast archipelago, casting our messages in technological bottles that lap against each other’s shores.

Tides and tidings, what do they bring today?

The RNLI had launched a vessel from their Aberystwyth base, just twenty minutes ago. I follow many of the stations around our coastline on Twitter, marvelling at the courage of the volunteers who regularly head out into the kind of conditions that would make me blanch.

As well as the personal Twitter sites of the bases around the shorelines that I’m familiar with, it’s the RNLI: Out On A Shout that gives the regular updates. The listings though are sparse, just postings of times and places, critically cryptic (or should that be cryptically critical?), prompting a visit to the named stations in the hunt for further details.

‘Cold cleavings of the sea’ now comes to mind, something from George Mackay Brown’s The Masked Fisherman which I was reading last night. Everything leads to something else, an ever moving current.

Closer to home I learn of the death of a local church minister that I was acquainted with. I didn’t know him well, but he was a popular figure around here as the many technological bottles testify to. The last time I’d seen him he appeared quite gaunt, the way time affects those who have not a lot of meat on their bones to begin with.

There seems to be a lot of people leaving us at the moment. People once present now cut adrift, disappearing beneath the surface of vision.

I decide on a refill, taking a glance out of the kitchen window. It is yet another cold start, the sun is trying its best, though.

R.I.P Colin Bell, The Reluctant Hero

I’m a little behind the times, and for that I apologise, but on the 5th of January Colin Bell, widely regarded as the greatest player to ever pull on the sky blue shirt for my team, Manchester City, passed away.

I’d meant to do a post about the time my wife and I met him, in memorable circumstances, a few years ago, but I got caught up in ‘stuff’ and haven’t written it yet. I will post that at a later date.

In the meanwhile, I’ve posted below a short tribute by 007 himself, Timothy Dalton, an avowed City and Colin Bell fan. It refers to the player’s beginnings and how this shy, most unassuming of men gained legendary status without really acknowledging that. There could be no more apt title for his autobiography: Reluctant Hero.

The tribute also shows him running through the streets of Manchester in a vain attempt to come back from the injury that prematurely called time on his career.

Please give it a watch.

Typical ‘Happy’ Birthday Conversation

We’d had a good morning, considering we are currently in the midst of Tier 3 Covid restrictions, having found a place where we could (legally) sit in for a few coffees. In the afternoon, Jen and I sat in the car outside my daughter’s high school, waiting for her to come out.

Jen: I think we are going to have to go shopping once we get back

Me: Aw no

Jen: We haven’t got that much in

Me: Let’s leave it ’til tomorrow

Jen: It’ll be too much messing tomorrow, we’ve got a lot on

Me: We’ll go in the morning

Jen: Today would be better

Me: Naw, it’s my birthday today

Jen: Life doesn’t stop because it’s your birthday. I worked on my birthday

Me: I don’t want to go shopping on my birthday. It could be my last ever birthday. Some day it will be my last ever birthday

Jen: Then you’ll always remember it

Me: Not if death brings only sleep

R.I.P Astrid Kirchherr

I’ve just heard of the death, at 81, of Astrid Kirchherr, the woman who helped define the early Beatles look when the then unknown Liverpool group were in Hamburg in the early sixties.

She took some of their early photographs, iconic photographs in a style that were ahead of everyone else at the time.

After these she also gave the (then) Fab Five their distinctive Beatle haircuts, the fifth being the talented but doomed artist Stuart Sutcliffe who she fell in love with. Later, reduced to four, and with Best replaced by Starr, they went on to conquer the world, as she proudly and sadly looked on.

Fifty eight years apart, I’d like to think that they’ve found each other again. R.I.P

Echoes Of Tears On King Street

I’ve just finished reading The Last Time I Saw Paris, which is a biography of a Parisian Street, rue de la Huchete, running from the early ’20’s to the time of World War Two. Featuring a wide cast of characters, though it’s non-fiction it reads like a novel, and I can’t remember the last time I read a book where the final words moved me so.

Anyway. There was a passage in it that reminded me of something else:

There were, in those days, certain grey-blue postcards that meant someone had been wounded or missing, and some black-rimmed white ones that spelled dark death. The women at the far end of streets would, if they saw the postman’s pouch contained no black-rimmed messages, wave and sometimes cheer with an edge of fear diminishing in their voices, and up and down the street the watchers would relax. Very often no such reassurance was forthcoming, and everyone had to wait, breath caught, nerves throbbing, until someone let out a shriek, or turned wordlessly away or dropped in her tracks and the postman wiped away a tear from his eye with the back of his hand before continuing.

I was a postman for ten years, and one of my rounds was in Cheapside, one of the oldest parts of Middleton. One of the streets there was King Street. In this photo you can see King Street, viewed from behind the cottage on Idler’s Corner, Rochdale Road, climbing ahead. If that pub on the hill is The Beehive, then this was taken before 1919, when it closed. The cottages were gone by 1925.

(Incidentally, Idler’s Corner was so called because weary travellers would stop to rest against the large York stone slabs, ‘idling’ for a time. It was directly opposite King Street.

Of course, this was well before my Royal Mail days. As was the following photograph, which lists the streets running off King Street.

This next photo, though, shows King Street as I know it.

There were no longer any houses lining the road for me to deliver to, I used it just to reach the flats that await at the top of its crest, just the odd business drop along the way.

When I used to walk up there, occasionally I would recall a story, recorded some years ago by an older resident, about a postman that had long preceded me. He was tasked, unenviably, like that postman in Paris at the beginning of this post, to deliver similar telegrams during the First World War.

Each morning, as he navigated the street, women and children would watch from behind net curtains, fearfully, waiting to see who would be the latest recipient, summoned to answer that fateful knock at the door.

Filled with a combination of dread, is he coming here?

then relief, he’s going to Maisie’s

then sadness, poor, poor Maisie

The witness told how one day the postman, having broken under the strain of this daily burden, was sat on the kerbside, sobbing, a woman from one of these houses sat silently beside him, arm around his shoulders in consolation.

I can no longer recall where it was I read this, but sometimes I would remember the story as I followed in that long-gone postman’s footsteps, climbing the hill and feeling the connection of that man and the place in which we both lived, echoes of people and homes now lost to time.