My Role As Millie’s Chief Tormentor

Two conversations, within five minutes, with my eleven-year-old daughter Millie:


When seeing Amanda Holden on television.

Millie: “My friend Sienna has met Amanda Holden.”

Me: “So have I.”

Millie: “Really? You’ve met her?”

“Me: “Yes.”

Millie: “Once?”

Me: “More than once.”

Millie: “Really?”

Me: “Yes, I’ve met Sienna lots of times.”


Followed by:


Feeling the gap caused by a recently lost tooth:

Millie: “You know like I’ve lost a tooth? This girl in America was on YouTube and she put a tooth under her pillow and got a hundred pounds off the Tooth Fairy.”

Me: “No she didn’t.”

“Millie: “Err yes she did!!”

Me: “I bet you she didn’t.”

Millie: “Okay-shake on it then.”

Me: “Alright. If that girl in America got a hundred pounds I’ll give you fifty quid. If she didn’t you have got to do every job I give you for a week.”

Millie: “Deal!”

We shook hands on the wager.

Me: “In America they don’t have pounds they have dollars.”


Yes goodnight Millie! Sleep well!

A Child’s Moribund Pledge On Mother’s Day

The memory notifications on Facebook regularly throws up some forgotten gems. Yesterday I saw this, written in a Mother’s Day card by my then seven-year old daughter:

Mummy you are the prettiest, loveliest Mummy who is forty-three. I’m sorry I said I wouldn’t do your shopping when you wouldn’t let me go on Facebook. If you died in September I wouldn’t celebrate this day but I’d say prayers at your graveside.

Halloween:Three Personal, Family Ghost Storiese

All families have their stories, and these are three of ours. Happy Halloween.

City Jackdaw

Two components of Halloween/Samhain celebrations, from both a pagan and a non-pagan perspective, are ancestors, and ghosts. So I thought I would combine the two in this post with three stories from my own family, two of them passed down, one of them recounted to me personally.

For any serious paranormal investigators out there, you can file them under the headings of Death Bed Visitation, Ghost Sighting, and Near Death Experience respectively. I am not claiming them to be true, supernatural experiences beyond all rational explanation, but neither am I dismissing them as anecdotal events that are grounded in purely biological and physical laws as we know them. I’m just passing them onto you as I received them. Make up your own mind on the cause. And the effect.

Death Bed Visitation

My Gran had a sister named Margaret who, being eleven years old, was three years younger than my…

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Bedtime Snippet

My four year old son James shouted for me to come upstairs. “I don’t want to sleep on my own. I hate being on my own.”

“You’re used to sleeping on your own. It’s natural to sleep on your own. It’s normal.”

“Well I hate it.”

“Your sister sleeps on her own. Your Nanna sleeps on her own. Every student that lives with us sleeps on their own. Your friend Alfie sleeps on his own. And Lewis. And Theo. All of them sleep on their own.”

“You don’t. You sleep with Mummy.”

“And when you’re older, you will have a girlfriend. She will be lovely, and you will get married and sleep with her.”

“No I won’t! I am not going to have any girlfriend.”

“Then you can sleep on your own!”

(I know, I know. I’m on dangerous ground.)

Birthday Snippet

I’ve just seen what my eight year old daughter has written in my Mum’s birthday card:

“To my gracious Nanna Bog-Off,

I love you, even with oldness and wrinkles.”

*My Dad used to shout “Bog off!” down the phone to my eldest two children, and so to differentiate between both sets of grandparents, my Mum and Dad became forever known as Nanna and Granddad Bog-Off.

First World War Centenary Series #3: The Last Post

Things are starting to feel a bit heavy on Jackdaw. I was going to do a post today about when I went to Greece to visit the grave of my great-grandfather, buried in Thessaloniki. But I think I will save that for another time. This short post here will be the last of my First World War themed posts. Then we move on.

Trying to get a grasp on the numbers, the magnitude, in relation to the war is impossible. When we talk about the deaths, about the millions of deaths, they become just that. Numbers. Faceless, anonymous, horrifying, numbers. So I resorted to address the legacy of the conflict through my own family connections. These more personal links help to bring home the devastating effects of that conflict. Both of my grandmothers grew up without having their fathers in their lives because of that war. Every Remembrance Sunday I never forget that.

On the evening of the 4th of August, 1914, as the clock ticked ever closer to the deadline time of 11.00pm, the whole country waited to hear if Germany had responded to Britain’s ultimatum. In two different homes in Manchester, each just a short walk from each other, both Timothy O’Sullivan and Albert Cartwright would also have been waiting with their respective wives and young families. Or perhaps they had both gone to gather outside Manchester Town Hall to hear the news, before returning home to talk war around the hearth. What would those houses have been filled with? Feelings of anxiety, uncertainty? Perhaps a growing excitement? Maybe even an idea that war could somehow still be averted? Or were both families reconciled to the fact that everything had irrevocably changed?

Neither family could have known that, within four years Timothy would be dead, within five Albert. Forty nine years down the line from that night, these two families would become connected when Timothy’s grandson (my Dad) would marry Albert’s granddaughter (my mum). At the wedding, both the mother of the groom and the mother of the bride would have that sense of loss in common.

This is my blood-story that brings home the tragedy of the period to me. It is only through stories like this that we can fully appreciate how children, families, were cheated. As a father myself, who was lucky enough to grow up with my father in my life, that is how it would feel to me. Cheated. How different things could have been if only these people had been born in a different period of history. But this is now part of my family history. Part of my story too.

Along with the family perspective, another way we can get to understand the impact of the war is through the local connection. There are the names on local memorials, stories in local archives and on the lips of the people that we meet. For months now our local newspaper has been printing stories that include things that I can relate to. The names of streets that the soldiers came from, the same streets that I have grown up on. The name of schools and churches that those young men attended, institutions that are still part of my community.

One local story that stayed with me was one that I read about a few years ago. It was a story that took place not on a battlefield, not in the theatre of war, but here on the streets of my town, Middleton.

It was a written account of a local who remembers witnessing one day, up in the Cheapside area of the town, the local postman sat sobbing on a kerb by the roadside. A woman who lived nearby was sat with her arm around his shoulders, silently consoling him. This postman spent everyday delivering telegrams to fearful households, breaking the news that a loved one had been lost.

I was a postman for eleven years. I was accustomed to people waiting expectantly for the post, some not leaving home until I had arrived. For him it must have been so different. No-one wanting him to call. Every dreading household watching out to see which house in the street he was going to next. In the end it must have been too much for him-the constant, devastated reactions of people that he knew. Bringing bad tidings about people that he knew.

The family stories, the local stories. It is these that bring home to me what the consequences of the war was. The unparalleled, worldwide devastation and loss, seen here in microcosm.

Tomorrow, something lighter. I promise.

Happy Meal

This afternoon, for the first time ever, I saw Ronald McDonald in our local McDonald’s restaurant.

Kids were traumatised. He seemed totally oblivious to the wide circle that was forming as he moved among the queues. “Freaky!” was just one of the comments I heard muttered.


Is he really a suitable figure to promote Happy Meals? Why don’t they go the whole hog and use Pennywise to bring the families in? Balloon, little boy?


At long last I would be able to have a coffee in there in peace.

Whenever I think of clowns it is either Stephen King’s creation or John Wayne Gacy who springs to mind. 

Think it’s time for the kids to give Subway a go.

Unsmiling Summer Life Snippet

Last Saturday my daughter Millie  and I ventured into Manchester for the afternoon. Sometimes my home city leaves me feeling young, sometimes feeling old. Often, weary.

While we were there, my wife sent me a text asking me to pick her up a pair of slippers. Slippers-the must have for middle aged people everywhere.

We went into Next, where I foolishly expected an uneventful stroll around a spacious store. Air conditioning, light music playing in the background. Perhaps a few leafy plants.

It was bedlam. Like the Boxing Day battles you see on the news. People were competing everywhere, nudging each other out of the way, sweaty and red faced, paper and labels strewn all over the floor, with no seats or benches left unoccupied for my daughter to dramatically collapse onto.

Explaining why I was there, I asked a young beleaguered assistant for directions towards the latest thing in fluffiness. I also asked her whether it was always this chaotic in there. I usually associated this kind of feeding frenzy with Primark, and so stubbornly avoided all requests from my wife to set foot in there.

I think I had been blindsided.

She nodded sagely. “Always. Not just Saturdays either.” She pointed towards the long, snaking queue. “If you want to abandon things, take a photograph to show your wife what it’s like.”

Get thee behind me Satan.

I got the best slippers a tenner could find (I got the only ones left in her size)  and joined the snaking, sweaty queue. I was immediately aware of a woman in my peripheral vision, approaching with something sparkly, two sullen, slovenly kids in tow. An unsmiling boy and a pouting girl. They took their place behind me.

I heard one of the kids speak, not whining or complaining, just monotonously asking when they were going somewhere else. Probably anywhere else.

I empathised.

Mum answered, very sharply:

“Be quiet. I spent the whole of yesterday buying you clothes for our holiday, and now I’m getting myself clothes. It’s my turn now.”

The boy let out a huge sigh, “I only said.” 

Very loudly, in a head turning way, she exclaimed “God, do I need this holiday!”

I got the feeling that her dream holiday might not live up to her expectations.

With fluffy footwear bagged, we then headed for the bus station. As we left the Arndale shopping center we passed a couple with two boys. The man was bent down so he could look one of the lads square in the eyes.

“So you just went ahead and did it, did you? You did it off your own back?” Then, threateningly, “We will return to this when we get home.”

I guided Millie past while her head remained glued in their direction. “What did he do, Dad?” 

Who knows. Maybe something murderous.

There was no doubt whatsoever that tempers were fraying at the edges, people seemed a little touchy and impatient. The kids had only finished for the school holidays the day before-there was still six and a half weeks to go. Maybe it was the hot day beating everybody down, along with the thunderstorm that disrupted  everybody’s sleep the night before.

We got on a bus and went upstairs, opening a window to let a little warm air into the stuffy deck. Other passengers joined us, and to my utter chagrin coming to sit in front of us were the couple with the two lads, adults sitting on one seat and their sons sitting on the other on the opposite side of the aisle. From the back the children looked slumped, and Mum was sat at an angle so she could peer out of the window and not have to face her loving clan. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. As the bus pulled out of the station, one of the lads decided flattery was the highest form of creeping.

“Mum…’re beautiful.”

Mum continued to look out of the window, answering with a very disinterested “Am I?”

In a conflict of confrontation-when-home-avoidance-desperation and sibling rivalry, his brother joined in. “Mum, you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“Is that right?” No change in tone. She was obviously accustomed to this strategy.

But then, surprisingly, Dad joined in. “People might say it, but we all KNOW it.”

He then started serenading her with a paraphrased Christina Aguilera song. “Because you’re beautiful, no matter what they say. Words won’t bring you down. Because you’re beautiful….”

She showed signs of thawing as the air on the moving bus became a little less oppressive. My daughter collapsed into a fit of giggles which I tried to stifle, as we left behind the anchor of our satellite towns.

Manchester always leaves me feeling either young or feeling old.

But never uninspired.


A bit of colour and a daughter’s smile. Never uninspired.