If Walls Could Talk, Concrete Confess

The post that was Freshly Pressed two years ago, gaining me close to a thousand new followers: family, connections, generations and ghosts.

City Jackdaw

If walls could talk.

If concrete could confess.

If soul could seep through cement.

If only one of those monochrome apparitions could reach out and take me by the hand, leading me into a world of smoke and ale and revelation.

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The woman stood by the door on the right of the picture is my great grandmother. The two little girls are my grandfather’s older sisters. The guy on the far left, in the bowler hat, is my great grandfather. The other two younger men could be family, I don’t know. Will probably never know. Posing with a football and a trophy of an unknown triumph, they remain silent, anonymous ghosts. Enigmas of imagination.

The building itself, its very brick and mortar, contains more than can be revealed in a two dimensional image. It contains that which is valued in meaning.

Ancestors of mine dwelt in that place between 1901…

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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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In The Halls Of The Heart

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“How can the dead be truly dead when they are still walking in my heart?”

– Clock Without Hands, Carson McCullers

(The quote is from the book that I’m reading at the moment.)

(The photograph is of my maternal grandparents on their wedding day. I never met my Grandfather, but have always wondered about him. When they were courting, the usual Catholic v Church of England tension was going on within the families, and my Grandfather said he would never marry while his (disapproving) mother was still alive. After she died, they married, but my Gran wore a grey dress instead of a white one out of respect for her recently deceased mother-in-law. I think this quite a dignified and humble gesture on her part.)

Mongrel Nation

St. George’s Day again. I tried to reblog my original post that I did on this day, two years ago, but think that I can only reblog a post once? Anyway, the highlighted, following title should take you to it. It is about St.George, St.Aidan, Ancestry, History, DNA, and what it means now for me to be English, or rather, British, or rather, African. Go figure. Mongrel Nation.

If Walls Could Talk, Concrete Confess

If walls could talk.

If concrete could confess.

If soul could seep through cement.

If only one of those monochrome apparitions could reach out and take me by the hand, leading me into a world of smoke and ale and revelation.

image

The woman stood by the door on the right of the picture is my great grandmother. The two little girls are my grandfather’s older sisters. The guy on the far left, in the bowler hat, is my great grandfather. The other two younger men could be family, I don’t know. Will probably never know. Posing with a football and a trophy of an unknown triumph, they remain silent, anonymous ghosts. Enigmas of imagination.

The building itself, its very brick and mortar, contains more than can be revealed in a two dimensional image. It contains that which is valued in meaning.

Ancestors of mine dwelt in that place between 1901 and 1939. A descendent of theirs also ran the pub for a short period in the 1950’s. What emotions those rooms must have absorbed. Laughter and tears resonating in time. My great, great grandmother died in there, as did her son in law, my great grandfather.

Behind those upstairs windows, in one of those unseen rooms, my grandfather was born. At the other end of life’s spectrum, two of his siblings died in there.

Happy times, sad times. The building stands in the photograph as a mausoleum of memory.

I would love to be able to go into that pub today, buy a drink and take a seat in the corner. Shift my sight and listen to echoes. Watch the ghost of an old man skip through those doors as a little boy. Perhaps whistling the tune of a song that one day, many years in the future, he would sing to another little boy.

Hand me downs of blood and mannerism and story.

Alas the pub no longer stands-it fell victim to the slum clearances that transformed whole neighbourhoods and scattered communities. I’ve been to the site where it originally stood. Ironically there was another pub there, empty and boarded up. Perhaps its own ghosts were walled up inside, caught in the shadows. Memories in a new mausoleum, waiting for people of their line to come searching and shift their sight.

 

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.

First World War Centenary Series #2: Grave Search

A week last Sunday my wife, three of my children and I went to Phillips Park Cemetery, in Manchester, to search for the resting place of some of my ancestors. Armed with a grave reference number, we went to view the place that my Great Grandfather Albert Cartwright, wife Ada, baby daughter Edith, eleven old daughter Margaret, and Ada’s brother George Campbell all rest.

I was also verifying my Mum’s memory that there was no headstone there, for reasons of my own. She recalls that when her Mum, my Gran Lillian, used to visit her husband’s grave, she would save some of the flowers that she brought with her for his grave, and place them on the  ground where her mother Ada was buried.  She didn’t recall any mention of the other family members. An on-line search told me that Ada shared her resting place with her other kin named above.

This is Albert Cartwright with Ada. He was in the 11th btn Lancashire Fusiliers. He died at home the day before New Year’s Eve in 1919, as a result of being gassed when fighting at the front. His war records were destroyed in the bombing of the Second World War, but I do have his death certificate. His cause of death is given as Lobar Pneumonia and cardiac failure. Those who suffered the effects of gas, with the damage done to the lungs and throat, were often susceptible to ailments like pneumonia and bronchial problems.

Ada died in 1927.

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Phillips Park Cemetery is a lovely, well kept cemetery near to Manchester City’s Etihad stadium. It houses, among others, the remains of men who participated in he battle at Rorke’s Drift, made famous by the film Zulu, and also the one that became known as the Charge Of The Light Brigade.

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First thing we saw was the war memorial.

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My children-three faces among the names.

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They loved running in the neat, open spaces. My Doctor Who-mad three and a half year old son marched among the graves as a Cyberman. Maybe a Phillips Park first. But he did seem wary around the many weeping angels. These evil denizens of time and space were in a bad way, many of them missing limbs or threatening with amputated stumps.

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This created poppy site was a nice touch-although at that time there were only a few of the flowers blooming.

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The blood flower.

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Eventually we located the site of the family grave, and Mum was right, there was no headstone. They lie buried in a plot between the light coloured headstone and the tree.

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Beneath that earth lie two generations of my ancestors. I couldn’t help but think of the ones who have stood here when that earth lay open, mourning for their loved one being gently lowered and covered from view. People of my blood, my line.

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When I was a teenager I lost a photograph of Albert, which had been taken at the front. Situated among the mud was one of those early, prototype tanks. Albert and a handful of other men were sat in front and on top of this tank. It was a great photograph, memorable and emotive. I have lamented its loss ever since.

With all the recent publicity about the First World War centenary, showing the many, too many, graves that lie throughout the world, and also the memory of the grave that I visited in Thessaloniki, in Greece, belonging to my other Great-Grandfather, I began to think. Albert  died as a result of his injuries in battle. Surely he would qualify for a war grave, as stipulated by the  War Graves Commission?

I shall look into it, try and get him a headstone as recompense for losing that photograph. Sacrifices such as Albert’s should not go unrecognised. Unmarked. Many times I had passed that spot of bare ground when cutting through the cemetery to go to the Manchester City games, and never knew that he, and the rest of the family, were buried there.

Whether I end up acquiring a headstone or not, I am glad that I located the site. It is not too far from the memorial that I attend every Remembrance Sunday that hosts my other Great-Grandfather’s name. I will be bringing an extra cross to stick into the ground there.

On the way out we sought out my Grandparents grave. My Gran, with my Grandfather, lies a five minute walk away from where she used to lay lowers upon that bare, anonymous ground.

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