What were the odds that that primary school kid would go on to compose music for films made by his classmate, Sergio Leone?
Here the sun has set on 2019, darkness has fallen on the previous decade.
I don’t have any diaries on hand to consult, and have not the time now to go through all of my City Jackdaw posts and FB status’, but, from the top of my head:
On starting and finishing the decade-
my wife and I were foster carers and now we host students; we lost our dog Rydal but gained our dog Bryn; we lost some good friends but gained some new friends; our son James was born and my mum was diagnosed with Alzheimers; ups and downs; highs and lows; but on the whole a good ten years.
I’m not sure why we chop our lives up into segments and chapters, but we do.
Wishing you all a great new decade. Pace yourselves.
See you all in 2020.
While a friend of mine was in New York tonight, I was taking my son to his football training.
He might have got the skyscrapers
but we got the sky
In 2013 I was searching the Internet after googling ‘Canky Middleton’. Canky was the name of a legendary figure connected to my hometown of Middleton, allegedly a bodysnatcher of the 19th Century. I was trying to discover if there were any kernels of truth in the story, or if it was rather just a notorious urban legend.
My search led me to a post written by Pam, the author of a blog called Mushy Cloud, who lives in a town not too far from my own. We had a conversation on there about the infamous Canky. Afterwards, I began to explore WordPress, and so was sown the seeds of writing my own blog. This was how City Jackdaw came into being. I followed her blog, she reciprocated by following mine.
Fast forward four years to last Thursday afternoon.
I was attending the funeral of a dear family friend. The length of time that the woman who had passed had been connected to my family can best be illustrated by the fact that, not only did she knit clothes for my children when they were born, she also knitted clothes for me when I was born. Her family and mine had been tied together for decades.
Anyway, at the service, the vicar who was taking the funeral service called upon a ‘Pam’ to lead the people gathered in prayer. I watched her walking to the front of the church, thinking: I’m sure that’s the Pam who hosts Mushy Cloud.
I knew from some of her posts that she was exploring her vocation within the Church Of England, and this was the town in which she lived. When the service was over and the mourners were filing out, I approached her as she sat at the back of the church. No doubt she thought that I was one of the many people saying goodbye as they walked past to the church doors.
“Are you the Pam of Mushy Cloud?”
She looked up at me. “I am. Who are you?”
“I’m Andy, of City Jackdaw.”
She started in surprise, then immediately thrust out her hand to shake mine, both of us declaring how good it was to meet after all of our WordPress-fielded conversations.
She said “It’s like two worlds are coming together.”
She wrote in her most recent post that it was a lovely moment in the coming together of her online life and her ‘real’ life. I think we could also look at it as the world of Mushy Cloud and the world of City Jackdaw that came together, two separate planets connected in friendship and confederacy through the nebulous and all encompassing universe of WordPress.
Trust you, my wife said on reading this, to turn it into something all sci-fi!
But all of our individual blogs are like individual worlds, existing in the blogosphere, each with its own inhabitants and laws, welcoming travellers from near and afar.
Thursday was a nice reminder that we do all exist in the real world, and sometimes indeed our paths do cross.
Keep an eye out for me as you go about your business. I’m the one in the green coat, probably with kids in tow.
Here is Pam’s post, where she mentions our unexpected meeting, go and set down on Mushy World:
*As I’ve commented on Pam’s post, a further twist that underlines the connections theme is that it turns out that my wife and Pam have met in the past in a professional capacity. City Jackdaw was the ghost that moved unsensed between them.
Sometimes I feel a longing for the coast. Or perhaps somewhere more rural, away from the built up concrete confines of my city. This occasionally intensifies into a desire to move to such a place permanently. These are idealistic episodes and don’t normally last too long, for roots are important to me.
But even when traveling through less scenic routes I get curious about other places. It is easy to get superficial, inadequate views of the towns that we pass through, and in our ideals wonder if they could hold an appeal.
Recently I was on a train heading to Manchester from Leeds. Passing through the train stations the landscape began to open out. There was space between the fixed points of these two urban sprawls. The sky, for once blue, lifted the spirits, and there were jackdaws—always jackdaws, scattered upon the fields. These birds have become something of a personal totem to me, and these familiar friends accompanied me along the way.
We rolled into Hebden Bridge. This place always looks charming, though I have yet to explore it. There was only a handful of people waiting to board the train here. They looked like walkers ( hikers, I mean, not zombies). They got on board and we moved on.
The next station on our linear amble was the market town of Todmorden. I have wondered about this place also. From my limited views it looks like a nice place to live, but as I said earlier, superficial views are inadequate to get a true feel for a place.
Then, from my window I saw this sign, set back upon a hill:
The letters stood there like a miniature version of the famous Hollywood sign. I didn’t know why it was there, but it felt refreshing to be greeted by a (literal) sign of positivity. I searched on Google and found a news reference to it. It seems that some of the town residents were erecting these signs to counter the news that hate crimes throughout the country were on the rise. What a great idea, providing a bit of balance by nailing their colours to their provincial masts.
What noble endeavours, what admirable gestures. Who wouldn’t want to settle in a town that salts its perimeters with the grains of compassion?
It is my pleasure to share with you guys a very worthy book, written by two of my Nordland Publishing stablemates Martin Baker and Fran Houston.
Their book is called High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder
Although living on different sides of the pond, their story illustrates how, in this modern age of technology, distance need not be a barrier in forging supportive, positive friendships. But it is much more than that, so I will leave Martin to introduce you to their book in his own words. Links follow below.
High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder
By Martin Baker
“We live three thousand miles apart and I would not be alive without you. Wherever I go, there you are. However I am, you accept or gently challenge. Whatever I do, you cheer me on. You are the best friend I could ever have.” (Fran Houston)
You never forget the moment your friend tells you they would not be alive without your support. More than 450 million people worldwide have mental health problems. With one in five adults experiencing mental illness in any year, and ten million adults affected by bipolar disorder in America alone, that could include you or someone you care about.
Celebrity-led campaigns such as Bring Change 2 Mind and Time to Change have raised public awareness, but there is little guidance on how to be a good friend when your friend is mentally ill. Memoirs shed light on what it is like to live with mental illness but are of limited practical relevance. Workbooks describe symptoms and treatments but tend to be generic, lack detailed examples, and are usually aimed at the person living with the illness. “Friends and families” titles are almost exclusively written for partners. Crucially, given that friends often live far from one another, there is nothing that describes how to support someone at a distance.
Fran and I are best friends living on opposite sides of the Atlantic: me in the north-east of England, Fran on the east coast of America. Fran has bipolar disorder, also chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME) and fibromyalgia. Despite living three thousand miles apart, I am Fran’s primary caregiver and life-line. Since 2011, I have supported her through mania, depression, chronic pain and debilitating fatigue, with her suicidal thinking our almost constant companion.
In High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder, we share what we’ve learned about growing a close, mutually supportive friendship between a “well one” and an “ill one.” Writing from the caring friend’s point of view, we offer original approaches and practical tips illustrated with our own genuine conversations and examples. Uniquely, we show how technology and the internet mean no one is too far away to be cared for, or to care. As Fran says in the epilogue:
Friends like Marty who are willing to be with me in the darkness are the ones who give me light. Yes there are medications. Yes there is therapy. Yes there is personal responsibility. But caring friendship is the best medicine of all. Then life begins to have purpose.
With a foreword by Rachel Kelly, best-selling author, mental health campaigner, and Ambassador for SANE and Rethink Mental Illness, our book focuses on being there. Discover how to build a relationship strong and flexible enough to handle mania, depression, and suicidal thinking. Explore what illness means. Learn strategies for wellness and how best to support your friend and take care of yourself, whether you live on the same street or oceans apart.
Published by Nordland Publishing, High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and at selected booksellers.
About the Authors
A highly successful electrical engineer until illness struck, Fran Houston has lived with bipolar disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia for over twenty years. Her first book, For the Love of Peaks: Island Portraits and Stories, was published in 2010. Fran lives in Portland, Maine. Three thousand miles away in the north-east of England, Martin Baker works in the Information Technology Services industry. He is an ASIST trained Mental Health First Aider; a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Stigma Fighters, Mind and BipolarUK; and Fran’s primary support and life-line. His Collected Poems: 1977–1984 was published in 2008.
Recently was the fifteen-year anniversary of the September eleventh attacks. For my generation, this was our JFK moment, where everybody remembers where they were when they first heard, or saw, the terrorist atrocity taking place.
At the time I was a postman here in Manchester, and had just caught up on my sleep with a couple of hours in the afternoon. I saw it all unfold, disbelievingly, as I was getting ready to pick my daughter up from school.
On the mantelpiece was a postcard, having arrived that day, from a woman who I had known for many years. We’d first met in infant school, and became best friends in high school, that close friendship continuing long into my adult life. The postcard was from New York, and among the scribbled lines was a throwaway comment that she was intending to go up one of those towers that I’d just seen erupting into flames.
After a few frantic calls, (in the days before we both had mobiles), I discovered that her mother had heard from her: she was safe in L.A. She had been about to travel to San Francisco until all of the planes had been grounded, stranding her there.
This was the first shaking of my complacency about our long relationship.
Today we are married, with children. I’ve seen the photographs she took from the top of one of those towers just a couple of days before it collapsed, unable to fathom the sheer desperation that could force people to jump from such a height.
I wrote a poem not long after that tragic day, a long one called American Trilogy. It wasn’t about 9/11 per se, but it did feature. How could it not.
The poem didn’t make into my book. Perhaps one day I will publish it in its entirety.
Here I post the closing lines, referring to that day and the idea that my lifelong friend was over there. Somewhere.
I received word across
that your wings
were torn upon the besieged
your eyes reaping shelter
from a holocaust
A pre-emptive strike
at my complacency,
praying for an eye in the storm.
And you, snug in a motherland
of flag-waving lambs
where everyone wants to be quarterback,
everyone wants to be General,
everyone wants to lay the homecoming queen.
Icons in an American dream.
©Andrew James Murray
A year ago today we lost our family dog, how fast it has gone. When I posted this last year it seems I inadvertently upset people: mothers on the school run was asking me not to post anything else about him, I got a message from a girl on holiday in Spain: ‘I’m in tears, my mum’s in tears, the waitress serving us has two Labradors and she’s in tears!’ It wasn’t my intention then or now, I’m just remembering our old friend.
Dog lovers: why do we do it? I mean really, why do we fucking put ourselves through it?
We know, when we let them into our homes and incorporate them into our family dynamics, exactly what their lifespan is. We know that they don’t live as long as we do, and that there is going to be an emotional payback for all of the years of unconditional love and non-judgemental companionship that they offer us. But it is only when you reach that devastating moment of reckoning when you ask the question: is it all worth it?
I’m a Doctor Who fan. How many times have I heard it said, courtesy of the script writers, that the Doctor doesn’t stay with his companions because the hurt of watching them age and die, while he goes on, is too much. Having watched the programme since the 80’s, you think I’d have…
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I have said it more than once: what a small world this is. Aside from all redundant technology, sometimes the particulars of conversation highlight this.
I was speaking recently with a friend, a priest of this parish, and mentioned the northern poet Adam Johnson, who died in 1993 in his late twenties. It turns out that this friend knew him back in the eighties, and as ever I marvelled at the coincidence of connections. The conversation led me to seek out the poet’s work, and I share with you now one of his poems that is a favourite of mine, winter lover that I am.
The nascent winter turns Each root into a nail, And in the West there burns A sun morbid and pale. Now, from the city bars We drift, into a cool Gymnasium of stars - The drunkard and the fool: Into the night we go, Finding our separate ways - The darkness fraught with snow, The leaves falling like days. - Adam Johnson