Outdoor Futile Exercises

Summer’s arrival calls us out of our dark hovels. My son and I went for a walk in the local woods, armed with the essential survival kit: 55p bottle of mineral water and a tissue.


Fancy yourself as an explorer wee one? Time to step up.


So much more colourful than the usual urban graffiti.


Where is the summer son?


Futile Exercise #1: Hanging close to the water was a swarm of midges. How do you count them when there are thousands of the things and you can only count to ten?


Futile Exercise #2: How do you locate James when he is wearing his tree life camouflage t-shirt? Can anyone spot him for me?


Futile Exercise #3: Trying to get a smile out of your son when he keeps failing in his attempt to catch damsel flies. Damn-silly flies.


James went on ahead to check out the fisherman’s progress. A line from my Dad came to mind:

“I don’t see the point in trying to outwit a creature that doesn’t have a brain to begin with.”


You are here-City Jackdaw, c/o WordPress.


We have had an unprecedented five continuous days of sunshine in the normally bleak north west of England. Somewhere down the line, we’re gonna pay.


Make the most of it people. Slap on the suncream.

The Maybe Maypole

Well it wasn’t exactly May Day, that being the first of May, but today was the May bank holiday, and the plan was to take the kids to Jubilee Park (the place that featured in my Halloween post, obviously a park for all seasons) to watch some local school children dancing around the Maypole. I could go on here about the link with the Celtic pagan festival of Beltane, the re-enactment of old folk traditions and customs concerning the Green Man and the rites of Summer etc, but I will leave that to more informative blogs. It doesn’t feel right with a mouthful of candy floss. I will just show you a few photographs of the occasion instead.

It was just a normal, leisurely, bank holiday afternoon. Sat in the park. Being approached by some bearded men with feathers in their hats and bells on their toes.


The band in the bandstand struck up. Where else would you expect to find a band, except in a bandstand? Perhaps jumping on a bandwagon?


This guy here offered his drumstick to my children, to hit the drum with as hard as they could. Neither of them would do it. I couldn’t believe it-you want to hear the racket that they make at home. Yet when given the opportunity they play the shy card.


A processional file started following The Green Man around the park. The procession went anti-clockwise, widdershins, for those of you who care about those sort of things.



Up close to the Green Man, my little boy was afraid of the ‘walking tree thing!’ and kept an out-of-reach-of-branch-arms distance.


It was a scary experience all round for him. He earlier got half way up the steps of the Edgar Wood-designed Exedra (admit it-you thought that they were just steps, didn’t you?) when the church bells started ringing out and he abruptly turned and ran straight back down.





The Green Man was demonstrating, with the help of a narrator and some young dancing children, how he had slept through the Winter months before awakening from his dormancy in the Spring, but being at the back of the crowd my children couldn’t see and were getting restless. So we decided to leave and seek out a real park that had swings and slides and things.


On the way I showed them this anchor, which is attached to the outer wall of Middleton Library, that once belonged to the Norwegian brigantine Sirene that ran aground in Blackpool in 1892. Any excuse to share a bit of history, their interest waned when they learnt that there were no pirates involved. I should have just lied for entertainment purposes.


Through one of the old, cobbled town passageways, we left behind the traces of a diluted, earlier tradition to emerge blinking into the concrete jungle of twenty first century Middleton life.


Still no sign of a Maypole. Next month we’ll search for Juniper berries.

McDonald’s Nuggets Of Wisdom. Pun Intended.

In 2007, while in Greece, I travelled north to Delphi, climbing the slopes of Mount Parnassus, to see the Sanctuary of Apollo where the Oracle, the cloth eared Sibyl, would utter forth her prophecies.

But it was closed. I did not see that coming.

Seriously-all that way and I had forgotten that everything comes to a stop in the afternoon in retreat of the heat. I did the same when in Crete a year later, when we drove to see the ruins of St.Titus’ church in Gortyn. You think I would learn, wouldn’t you? At least we could dob around the back and look at the still-standing apse over the fence in true snooping, Mancunian fashion.



These memories came to mind as I was sat in my local McDonalds this morning. I am fast coming around to the theory that this fast food place is the Middleton equivalent of Delphi, with all sorts of deep words of wisdom and scintillating anecdotes being dispensed by our very own intoxicated oracles.

You may recall my post of 9th of January, entitled Play the Game, Don’t Make Eye Contact? In it, in this very restaurant, I mentioned the girl telling her less than captivated grandmother all about her sex life. I omitted the account on the same day of the guy who was accusing all and sundry of being the lowlife scum who had stolen the newspaper that was actually hidden beneath his tray. Bingo day, eh?

When I’m in there I don’t mean to eavesdrop, really, I don’t. My intention is just to try and have a quiet coffee while sitting unobtrusively in the corner, reading my book. But it seems that in the Happy Meal Code of Conduct I have overlooked the bit that requires all conversation to be conducted above a minimum decibel level.

This morning two girls were sat in front of me, the Foghorn Lass and the Unable to Get a Word In Companion.

I tried to concentrate on what I was reading, but I kept on re-reading the same lines, the words not sinking in, as Foghorn slowly built up to exclaim through a mouthful of hash browns:

“At school I was always the smartest in my class, in all my classes, but I was never valued.”

Okay, we all need to work on our self-esteem, but then, after a few shouted, crumb spraying sentences that I had managed to tune out, came this nugget:

“He wants to marry me because I’m English. I think if I went over there I could probably stay at his house. I mean, we’ve been friends since…..when did I dye my hair purple? He had a girlfriend who lived in California and he lived in Vancouver. She finished it though because she said he wasn’t attentive enough. But he works, you know.”

Well how unreasonable was Californian Cold Heart? Just how did she expect him to be attentive when Cold Shouldered was trying to hold down a job? Never mind the small matter of the 883 miles that separated them both. Just what did kids want from their relationships these days?

I gave up on my book. Dystopian fiction is definitely not true to life.

That snippet of real life romance disrupted my train of thought all afternoon. l found myself haunted by the questions:

Would Foghorn go and stay with Cold Shouldered in Vancouver? Would they get married, what with her being English? And just when did she dye her hair purple?

Tune in next time. Because I can’t tune out.



The Sun Was Out Early On Good Behaviour

This post contains no deep insights or meaningful message. It was just that for the first time this year we had nice weather, so I decided to cut short my Jackdaw weekend sabbatical to document an afternoon with Mrs Jackdaw and my two youngest fledglings in Alkrington Woods.

The car doors were opened, the seat belts unfastened, and they were off……


House on the hill- Alkrington Hall.


The signs were good.


Enticing the swans.


“Come back!” Fickle fowl.


Under a watchful eye


Niagara on a small scale


Look at that long lamented blue hue.


“No fishing” say the fish.


Everyone needs a helping hand. A tree split down the middle gets some support.


Well this is the time to see buds on trees, but cans of Bud?


Christmas survivor. The tree that was decorated by children at Christmas, featuring in my December post ‘When Is Holy Wholly Holy?’ Some of the decorations have made it through the winter storms, and look especially good when you are lay beneath them.


Lever Bridge-scene of earlier competitive twig racing.


Play The Game, Don’t Make Eye Contact

The other day I was in my local library, showing my daughter Millie how to use the new scanning machine to check out her books. Such are libraries, twenty-first century style.

In the middle of my fatherly demonstration I heard a very deep voice coming from behind me:

“Excuse me, excuse me…sir. One moment please?”

Sir. Though I appreciated the respectful address,  it didn’t fit me well. I turned to see a man sat at one of the computer consoles, pointing towards me. “Are you English?”

When I told him that I was, he beckoned me over and asked for my help. He wanted me to check over an email that he was drafting for spelling mistakes. Actually his spelling was excellent, using words that most people rarely use. It was the grammar that was a problem. The words were all jumbled up, some of the sentences not making sense.

“I am from South Africa-can you make this sound better?”

Feeling under pressure to make sense of my own language when it was difficult to understand exactly what it was that he was trying to say, I read and re-read the lines, aware of an increasingly impatient little girl beside me. Time marched on. The guy kept turning from the screen expectantly to me. Where were the librarians when you needed them? Replaced by damn scanning machines.

I asked him twice what it was that he wanted to put, before it sunk in. In a nutshell, he wanted to send an email  to a university in America, and the gist of the message  was :

You asked me to write to you to apply for a place on your course. I applied in good faith, but did not get that place, so I am suing you. Please reply with an answer that will make me happy.

Right then. Okay.

I deleted a couple of words and jumbled some others around for him, then returned to the scanning machine with my daughter. I placed her books onto the tray, then..

“Excuse me please…..just one moment”.

About turn, shepherded Millie back over to his desk again. “Yes?”

“Can you do something with this bit please? I want their reply to please me.”

He was pointing to the line about suing the university. ” Erm..it sounds okay.. ”  Just what type of response would please him? Did he expect a change of decision about being accepted on the course, or did he want compensation? “When you say you are suing them…?”

He broke into a huge smile, “It is all a game!” Deep chuckle. “I write to them, they write to me. It is all a game we play!” The chuckle was loud and drawn out, other people began to look, and I felt Millie’s hand in mine.

I smiled, backed away, got Millie back to the machine, and checked her books through in record time. I don’t think she had a chance of understanding any of it. I would show her next time.

We brushed quickly past the guy as we headed for the door when, suddenly, behind me, I heard:

“Excuse me, just one moment please!”

Millie foolishly began to turn, but in one movement I placed one hand on her left shoulder, propelling her through the door, my right hand swiveling her head back around, face front, that fast that she could have got whiplash.

“Keep walking Millie, and never, ever make eye contact.”

“What was that man talking about?” she asked as, with my help, she descended the front steps without touching them. “And what game was he playing?”

I tried to explain, again struggling to make sense in my own language.

After our close call escape, we dove into the local McDonald’s. While drinking her milkshake, Millie flicked through one of the library books that she had loaned out. As I tried to have a coffee in peace, the conversation from the table in front started drifting my way. Basically, a girl of about nineteen was telling an elderly woman who could have been her gran all about her sex life with some lucky, nameless beau. I don’t know if the woman actually was her gran-I know I would never have dreamt of talking to my gran in that way. But she looked bored to tears, eyes drifting around the restaurant while the nubile nymph animatedly went on, not even attempting a play at discretion.

I guess it is the lot of every new generation to think it is the first to discover sex. And the role of the older one to keep its common ground of lost moments close to its thermal covered chest.

It is all a game. All a game we play.

 I don’t know when City Jackdaw turned into Dear Diary. I guess Notes On A Life’ includes our most mundane moments, as well as our ‘Finest Hour.’

Still waiting for that one. Can’t see it arriving in McDonald’s.

Halloween Retrospective:Jubilee Walk

I don’t normally post a lot of photographs (apart from the old, black and white ones that I try to breathe new life into).  But I do enjoy seeing the ones that other people share, particularly the bloggers in other countries. It gives me a limited sense of their communities. Their lifestyles.

So I thought I would reciprocate. No fancy camera or technique, just a temperamental phone.

On Halloween I went for a walk with my son, ostensibly to give my wife space as she finished cooking food for our buffet, but in reality I think we both were in need of some autumn air. Us guys can only be cooped up so long, you know?

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We went to Jubilee Park, which is a small park in the center of the town in which I live. I don’t know whether it is the exact, geographical center of the town, but it has always felt that way to me. That is how I regard it. Here is the Victorian bandstand, scene of many a trumpeted triumph.

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The building in the background is Middleton library, a building I think I have spent most of my life escaping to and in.

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This is the exedra designed by Edgar Wood. Sounds exotic doesn’t it?

Wood was an architect who now lies buried in Italian soil. There are many buildings locally designed by him that survive. Looming large above it is St.Leonard’s church-the place where my wife and I were married.

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View from the top. At the top of these steps there used to be a fountain, but nobody knows, neither layman nor official, where it now is. Always check your pockets.

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Looking towards the monument which is a memorial to the three people killed in the flood of 1927. (A future post, dear reader.)

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Lost in Autumn. Fun before the fall.

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Fairwell, faltering sun.

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I remember visiting the park with my primary school class. After the flood memorial we were shown this rock. I could not remember the significance of it-the visit was decades ago after all, and the plaque is no longer on it. Pockets again?

My line of thinking was that it was another marker connected to the flood, perhaps an indicator of how high the water rose, or how far it travelled. But I have since been persuaded that it is a rock that has been transported by glaciers in the last ice age. Sounds right..but we could do with a replacement plaque, though, to aid us ignorant people.

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We went into the Old Cemetery above the park-it was Halloween after all.

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Old highways and dieways

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Don’t let night catch you here.

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The forgotten lie underfoot.

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Celtic Circle of Life.

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A hint of heralded Winter.

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The Sam Bamford memorial, a local Radical/Reformer/Poet.

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Damn vandals! They have painted his eyes white and given him black eyelashes. I cannot say it is a generational thing though-I recall seeing this face when I was a teen and some wag had written ‘Dracula Lives’ on his forehead.

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There was an old saying about  the people of Middleton in regard to this church-wooden steeple, stubborn people.

If you were born within earshot of the Nowster bell, you could class yourself as a true Moonraker, a true Middletonian. The mythological term ‘Moonraker‘ came from a folklore tale of two local men trying to rake the reflection of the moon from a pond. Obviously two of the more brighter ones.

St.Leonard’s church is said to date to around the 1100’s, but is thought to be built on the site of an earlier, wooden, Saxon church. Perhaps if you peel back all the layers of Christian worship you would also come to pre-Christian ritual at a pagan temple, as the Christianisation of pagan sites was the custom. Before Christ and his Father God were worshipped here, I wonder who the local Gods and Goddesses were?

There is a hill nearby where it has been suggested a Roman beacon was kept.

Not only do I look at this area as the center point of the town, but also as its most ancient  anchor too.

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Looking towards the cemetery.

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Looking towards The Ring O’Bells pub, reputedly haunted by the sad cavalier.

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Opposite the library, down the hill from the church, is the oldest pub in town, the Olde Boar’s Head, an old 16th century coaching inn. Rumours have always persisted of a tunnel leading from this pub up to the church on the hill, and also from the church to the Ring O’ Bells. (There must be that many passages criss-crossing beneath our feet, we best not jump up and down too often if an orchestra should suddenly strike up in the bandstand.)

Bamford wrote about his father, in the 1800’s, taking part in the stand up fights that frequently occurred in this place. These days you can catch a pub quiz.

Continuing the Halloween theme, there are stories of hauntings associated with this pub too, as there are with any historic building worth its salt.

There are a few other notably old buildings in this immediate area, but for us twilight quickly began to descend, tummies were rumbling, and James insisted he wanted to go home for his ‘Halloween Tea‘ so we called it a day.

As we made to leave, James found a discarded mask on one of the park benches.

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Had Michael Myers nipped into the library to check his Facebook notifications online? Maybe he fancied picking up an Enid Blyton.

James had a great time scaring his poor Dad, but once Dad had a turn, well, let’s just say the peace of the park was suddenly shattered.