On Poetry:Inspiration

City Jackdaw

For me, my poems serve as a diary. When I look at them I can remember where I was when I got the idea for each one, and what it was that acted as the initial inspiration. The opening poem in my book, Heading North, is called Midnight, July.

The title indicates the when, but not the where and why.

The words for this one came when I was sat in the back garden with a coffee. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I was looking up at the stars and wondering whether we could be alone or was there life somewhere out there?

We writhe 

with a rage to know 

the unknowable,


blind to great masses

that dance in dark orbits. 

And a soft, summer wind 

on a night beneath stars 

is no balm.

While I was sat there, neck craned in the quiet of the…

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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.

Death Of A Babe

R.I.P to one of the Busby Babes, Harry Gregg, 87.

The Manchester United goalkeeper was hailed as a hero after rescuing survivors from the burning wreckage of the plane in Munich, 1958.

Among those who died were eight members of a young team that had been standing on the verge of greatness.

I’m a Man City fan, and from all accounts I’ve heard, both personally and through media, the disaster brought the city of Manchester together, in the days when football existed before an often toxic and tribal rivalry.

I remember my Mum saying that when the accident happened she was, aged fourteen, in bed ill with Scarlett Fever. Her twin brother was a City fan, whereas her older brother, Jim, was a United fan. This brother came in to the bedroom to make the fire up for her, and my Mum said “I’m sorry about United, Jim.”

He didn’t reply, just silently cried with his back to her as he went about his task.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster fell, in 2008, on, of all fixtures, Derby Day, with my team travelling to Old Trafford. As a City fan I was dreading the possibility of the moment being ruined by a few idiots, but felt proud as both sets of teams marked the occasion perfectly.

This year, a friend of mine was chosen, along with her son who is a teammate of my son, to travel to Munich to represent the fans at the annual memorial service. Having lost her father a year ago on Christmas Day, she commented:

The occasion itself held an extra poignancy for me, travelling in the footsteps of my father who had made this same pilgrimage twice himself. I know he’d have been so proud of his grandson, reading out the players’ names and laying a wreath down for those who died, players and non-players alike. That is why the Busby Babes and their legacy will never be forgotten. Each generation passes the torch of remembrance on to the next.

R.I.P Harry Gregg

Brave New World

First morning since we left the EU.

Still had no milk for my coffee.

My lad was worried. “Will it mean no more Champion’s League? No more World Cup? No more EUROs?!!!”

In truth I don’t know what it means (beyond my son will still get his football). We’d been a member for all of my life except the first twelve months, and beyond the scare stories and counter-patriotic statements it’s an unknown quantity.

Then, seeing and loving this old photograph, I was reassured that there was a time when we was not a member of the EU.

It is of people waiting at a railway station in Glasgow, 1895.

And I bet the train still hasn’t arrived yet. Some things will never change.

The Fields And The Feels

The other night, waiting to meet friends of ours, I took this photo of a part of my hometown that will soon be transformed. For better or worse is a matter of perspective. Greed v Need, or the wont of a bartered balance? I suppose it depends what side of the fence you are on. So to speak.

Bowlee is a part of our ever-shrinking green belt, a portion of which is destined to vanish for housing. I think the neighbouring fields that my son played football on are safe.

For now.

The affects of this change, though, away from the obvious, objective changes, are emotive.

The following night I took this next photograph. The emotions felt this time were, for once, not mine (self-avowed creature of nostalgia that I am), but for my wife. This path to my daughter’s high school, which we were walking down for Parents’ Evening, is also a trip down memory lane for her. This school, now styled as an Academy, no less, is built on the site of a previous school that she attended decades before.

A different name, a different building, but there is a part of it that feeds into a surviving portion of the school that went before it. Imperceptible to my ignorant eye, it was there that she got the feels, know what I mean?

It was like the Christians among us, a few years back, when we were escorted deep below St.Peter’s in Rome, burrowing into the Scavi, a 1st Century cemetery housing tombs that held, as well as pagan remains, some of the very first adherents of their faith. And also, reputedly, the body of their first Bishop, better known by the name of Saint Peter.

Though the school holds no bones, and goes back mere decades rather than millennia, it demonstrates, for my wife at least, history is more deeply experienced when it is personal.

On The Centenary Of His Death

I’ve mentioned this man before on City Jackdaw, usually around Remembrance Sunday, but I feel that I should mention him again as today is the centenary of his death.

He is my Great Grandfather Albert Cartwright, of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

This is him with his wife, Ada. Maybe they had the photograph taken on his enlistment in 1914 because, you know, just in case . . .

He died at home, on this day in 1919, after being gassed during the second battle of the Marne in 1918. He was just forty. He lies in an unmarked grave at Phillips Park Cemetery, not far from Manchester City’s Etihad stadium.

That battle marked the beginning of the end for Germany. He almost made it safely to the end of the war.

He almost made it to 1920.

It wasn’t the first time he’d been injured. This photo, of course in black and white, shows Albert wearing his ‘hospital blues’, uniform they were given while recovering in hospitals back in England.

His war record states that he died on New Year’s Eve, though his death certificate says it was the 30th.

Perhaps it was either side of that midnight hour, when twenty four hours later the city would be ringing in the New Year, while his newly widowed wife Ada and his children, my Grandmother Lilian among them, would be grieving their loss.

It was a loss that reverberated down the years with my Gran.

And so, even further down the line, I remember him now, and always ❤️