Yesterday my wife finally got around to sorting her bag out. At least two coins in there are no longer in circulation.
It was just a typically random conversation, walking into Manchester from where we’d parked the car.
“So, after the Dutch student leaves we’ve then got a Korean one?” asked my wife.
“Isn’t their leader a bit of a bugger?”
“That’s North Korea. This girl is from South Korea.”
She thought on it a little. “Do you know any Korean words?”
“How about Japanese?”
I’m not sure how she thought that would be of help, but answered “I know they greet each other with ‘Konnichiwa’.”
She looked at me in amazement. “How can you possibly know that?!”
I like her to think that I’m multi-lingual, so instead of explaining that I used to watch Shogun back in 1980, I tried to give an enigmatic shrug: “I pick things up.”
After traipsing around the shops for an hour or so we called into Chiquito for something to eat. We’d timed it right-early enough to avoid it being packed out, but not too late to miss a convivial, Christmas buzz about the place.
I nodded sagely. “Arriba arriba, andale andale.”
She dropped her fork. “And what does that mean?!”
“See how quick I am, watch me go!”
(I’ve just discovered it actually means something like ‘get up get up, let’s go let’s go’. Close enough.)
I didn’t mention Speedy Gonzales, just a casual “I just picked it up.”
After basking in her admiration for a while, I nipped to the toilet to secretly Google translate something romantic, a painting on the stairs caught my eye.
This could be the Tardis, the nerd in me thought. Maybe a little battered from the explosive power of Capaldi’s (soon to be) witnessed regeneration.
Then, next to it: This could be the Tardis, given some TLC from the (soon to be) new Who incumbent Jodie Whittaker. Is that sexist of me? Thinking that the first female Doctor in the show’s history might start off with a bit of a spring clean?
I’ve tried not to go on too much about the impending Christmas special, knowing how trying I can be on my wife’s saintly patience, although with just four days left my excitement was building. I’d been trying my best not to ruin her Christmas though.
Remembering the mission that had brought me to this stairwell, I did a sneaky Google translate and returned to the table. I took Jen’s hands in mine, gazed into her eyes and whispered softly:
“El nuevo Doctor, ella viene!”
“I know,” she smiled, lovingly. “You picked it up.”
It is now fourteen years since that day. R.I.P X
My Dad died ten years ago today. Although we mark it, the day itself is not significant.
There were days when he was here, then there are days when he is not. There is just a before and after.
Time appears cyclical to me, when I view the seasons, married to the differing stages of our lives, but we chart things in a linear fashion. That day ten years ago perhaps became a bridge, where plans/hopes/dreams pass by memories/regrets/hindsight , each moving in opposite directions.
What is known of us, that which survives us, becomes less and less as memories fade along with the number of storytellers.
The personalities and stories behind the details, enshrined in the remembrance of others.
I was going to publish some photographs here, reducing a full life to a handful of images, but instead I have decided the best way to honour him and the…
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For two weeks it has clung to the inside of a stainless steel thermos flask. It has been filled with water and left to soak, it has had boiling hot water poured onto it from a kettle three times. Today we conceded defeat and threw out the flask. It is official-my wife’s homemade carrot and coriander soup is officially the strongest substance known to man.
September already. How soon the seasons pass.
Harvest time, fruits of the earth. Our spirits warm with the russet colours outside. I took the dog for a run over the fields this morning. Wind-frenzied trees could not dislodge raucous crows, shy jays, and their more cocksure magpie cousins. Though these are the early days, there is definitely a sense of being on the cusp of autumn.
Soon we will see the squirrels working overtime among the toadstools and wild flowers, the martins, swallows and other migrants gathering to make the long journey back to African shores.
Much to my wife’s distress, daddy long legs seem to be everywhere. One got in as I went out with the dog (again) last night, as my better half was busy preparing a meal for the next day. I said “Don’t harm it, I will catch it when I get back in”.
On my return she said, apologetically, “I’m sorry I had to kill it-it was ferocious”.
Lions. Tigers. Sharks. Daddy long legs. Ferocious.
I’ve always been an outdoor person. I’ve always been moved by nature, the landscape, and the elements. Maybe that is what gave me a poetic voice, and an early sense of spirituality. I guess I am just one small step away from being a pagan. The appeal of Celtic and Native American spirituality. Perhaps this is where they can find common ground with Christianity-the idea of the goodness of creation, shot through with spirit. The whole of nature ablaze and alive and sacred.
My favourite place is Orkney. The sky there is vast and all encompassing, the sea wild and hungry and raging on all sides. There is something different there about the light, changing as it does above the ancient ancestors, long entombed in chambered darkness. When I haven’t visited for a while, I begin to get my Orkney Itch.
Some of my earliest memories involve my reaction to the elements and the outdoors. I can recall being very young, in a park in Heywood. My grandfather pushing me in a swing, and around 100 metres away there was a huge tree, swaying from side to creaking side in a gale. I loved it.Today I still love to get outside on windy days. As a postman I once did my round in 100 mph winds. It was fantastic.
Another memory is of my Dad walking me to school as a four year old Reception pupil. Dressed in a fur-lined parka coat and a leather satchel over my shoulder, I was fascinated by the dew that clung to every blade of morning grass as we cut across the fields. The sheen of diamonds and the cut of the fresh air.
Not long into my school life I caught chicken pox, and had to stay off school. As morning phased into afternoon, I remember being knelt on the couch, watching the heavy rain beat against the window, trickles racing each other down to the sill. Soon we moved house, and a new primary school beckoned. Being new, and initially friendless, in the inner mirror of my mind I can still see myself stood on the edge of the playground at playtime, watching a gull glide effortlessly above on a current of air, drifting over our fields of triumph. These are the fields that I now walk with my dog, the school having been demolished, the site now given to wilderness.
I stood recently on that very same spot, thirty years later. Guess what? There was a gull-drifting above me. I watched it for a while. Joining up the dots.
It was as a pupil of this school that I first walked in woodland. The teacher that took us was called Miss Ambler-Ambler the Rambler. Being in deep woods, far from any concrete path or road, in that complete stillness,had an inner effect on me. I felt it in a juvenile, inarticulated way. From that day I have walked coasts and forests and mountains and river ways. I experience it still in an almost shamanic way, without the trance bit. Pretentious though that sounds.
Of all the seasons-and I love them all, my favourite is winter, in all its transformative beauty. The iron earth and starry nights.
And my favourite half of the year begins with autumn.
And autumn begins with September.
The first inward-turning month. As the nights grow longer, and rain hammers against the doors in an attempt to seek entry, it is the perfect time for reading, writing, and pampering our interior selves.
It is the time to quietly withdraw and conserve our energy by lamplight and fireside.
Oh and did I mention-it is also the time that the kids go back to school 🙂
Four years ago; the connections are forever.
Yesterday was a special day in our home-it was the third birthday of my son James. For those of you who are familiar with my post Boonless In Southport (19th June) you will know just how much he is obsessed with balloons. Mention it being someone’s birthday, anyone’s birthday, be them seven or seventy, and his immediate response is “Boons!” So, of course, first thing in the morning he was confronted with balloons everywhere-helium filled, resting against the ceiling, tied to chairs and door handles, and breath filled, covering the floor in a carpet of colour. His presents and cards weren’t even afforded a second glance.
Cue Sinatra: For I only have eyes, for boons.
He loved being the center of attention for the day, offering long-lashed, bashful eyes in response to the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ song.
I have a diary, as I expect most of you do. Along…
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Yesterday I went to see the film Dunkirk. It tells the story from the perspective of all those involved in the 1940 evacuation: the army; the navy; the airforce and the civilian people who answered the call to rescue the remnants of the British army in a flotilla of small fishing vessels.
In regard to the airforce, there was a lot of ill feeling at the time among the British soldiers that the airforce had let them down. “Where were you at Dunkirk?” would be an accusatory question levelled at the airmen, for it seemed that the sky belonged solely to the German airforce that bombed both the men and rescuing ships seemingly uncontested.
However, I watched a programme only last week called Dunkirk: The New Evidence where it was revealed that the rescue of the stranded soldiers took place because of the action of the Spitfire pilots who were engaging the enemy miles inland, winning an aerial battle that was taking place far away from the sight of those desperate men.
The film is low on dialogue but high on tension, one particular exchange, between two men looking for the sea to return, being:
“The tide’s turning now.”
“How can you tell?”
“The bodies come back.”
I watched the film with recent conversations in mind that I’d had with people whose family members were present at that historical moment, personal stories recounted to me:
the woman whose grandfather said that every time he got on a boat he ended up back in the water;
the man whose uncle was badly wounded and later died of his injuries;
the man whose grandfather stood with other men for hours with the sea up to their chest, holding aloft their rifles in the air, until in despair they threw them into the water.
But more emotional for me, though, were my own family connections:
My Great Uncle George who was captured at Dunkirk. He was in the rearguard, fighting to buy time for the men on the beach.
Then there was my grandfather Fred. In the scene where the screaming Stukas are bombing the defenceless soldiers who are arraigned across the beach like sitting ducks, I thought to myself My God, my Granddad went through this?
One of the loveliest men you could ever wish to meet, you would never know what he had experienced. All that I do know is that he was one of the last off the beach at Dunkirk (he’d been salvaging equipment) and was one of the first on the beach on D-Day.
It was only in 2015, during the 75th anniversary of Dunkirk, that I came to an hitherto unknown realisation: while my grandfather was stranded on those beaches of Dunkirk, his first child-my father was being born at home in Manchester. I recalled my father saying that, with his own father being away at war, they didn’t know what he wanted his firstborn called, and so they named him Fred after his father.
But I never knew it was Dunkirk where he was.
There he was, not knowing if he would survive, if he would get back to England, if he would ever get to see his child that was being born right then across the channel.
It is time, some considerable time, that have enabled me to piece these things together.
On reaching England he returned north by train to Manchester. Whilst having a pint in the family pub in Collyhurst, a local cobbler took his boots away to repair for free as they were split, feet showing, from the long, marched retreat in France
These memories serve to remind me that the German army-of which we see little of in the film, was likewise made up of similar ordinary people, separated from family and loved ones, their allegiance and involvement instigated by the happenstance of the time and place of their birth.
Here’s a short trailer for the film, there are longer ones to be found on YouTube.