Islands In This Cold, Cold Sea

Mornings following mornings following mornings, sitting with a coffee and nowhere to go.

But I can still travel. Without going out of my door as Harrison sang.

During this lockdown we are all becoming islands, but still part of a vast archipelago, casting our messages in technological bottles that lap against each other’s shores.

Tides and tidings, what do they bring today?

The RNLI had launched a vessel from their Aberystwyth base, just twenty minutes ago. I follow many of the stations around our coastline on Twitter, marvelling at the courage of the volunteers who regularly head out into the kind of conditions that would make me blanch.

As well as the personal Twitter sites of the bases around the shorelines that I’m familiar with, it’s the RNLI: Out On A Shout that gives the regular updates. The listings though are sparse, just postings of times and places, critically cryptic (or should that be cryptically critical?), prompting a visit to the named stations in the hunt for further details.

‘Cold cleavings of the sea’ now comes to mind, something from George Mackay Brown’s The Masked Fisherman which I was reading last night. Everything leads to something else, an ever moving current.

Closer to home I learn of the death of a local church minister that I was acquainted with. I didn’t know him well, but he was a popular figure around here as the many technological bottles testify to. The last time I’d seen him he appeared quite gaunt, the way time affects those who have not a lot of meat on their bones to begin with.

There seems to be a lot of people leaving us at the moment. People once present now cut adrift, disappearing beneath the surface of vision.

I decide on a refill, taking a glance out of the kitchen window. It is yet another cold start, the sun is trying its best, though.

Winter Days, Winter Nights

After two days of heavy rain there were flood warnings throughout the country. I’m fortunate that I don’t live near to any river unlike those unfortunate people whose homes always seem to be at risk at this time of year.

I was sat with a coffee, watching the rain outside the window.

It reminded me of the time I was on the island of Rousay. I’d had some time to kill before the ferry arrived to take me back to what is known as mainland Orkney and so sought out a cafe overlooking the jetty,. I was sat with a coffee then, too, again watching the rain that had behind it the force of an ocean wind. The last of my coffee drained, I’d then ordered a hot-buttered bannock. Very Scottish, I know. When in Rome and all that.

Panoramic though it was, that view didn’t include an ornamental giraffe like mine did now. A giraffe which, if you look very carefully, you’d see is missing an ear thanks to Bryn, our Welsh Springer Spaniel.

Scottish, Welsh, for the interests of inclusivity I think my next drink should be some nice English tea.

*

Who’d have thought it? After forty-eight hours of heavy rain winter blew in during the night and we were moved to make the most of it. Heaving on boots and heavy coats, we went out into a blast of cold air, even though it was 10.40pm on a school night. School night- that’s a laugh. They are now known as stay at home and do school work nights.

Millie walked ahead, giving an unsuspecting Bryn his first experience of snow.

With Millie’s arms aching we changed over and she managed to catch a second’s worth of our expedition.

The night wore on, the snow continued, and as we decided to head back we spotted a bus crawling up the road towards us. On the rare occasions that we get a considerable amount of snow around here the bus services are often cancelled as we live on a hill, but this one made an admirable job of it, its lights carving through the gloom as it succeeded on its way past us to its frozen destination.

We got in, dried the dog, dried ourselves, closing the blinds on that cold January night. The next morning I drew back the blinds in great anticipation on what would be waiting for me, ready to go again. Wrapped in layers and past experiences for reference.

R.I.P Colin Bell, The Reluctant Hero

I’m a little behind the times, and for that I apologise, but on the 5th of January Colin Bell, widely regarded as the greatest player to ever pull on the sky blue shirt for my team, Manchester City, passed away.

I’d meant to do a post about the time my wife and I met him, in memorable circumstances, a few years ago, but I got caught up in ‘stuff’ and haven’t written it yet. I will post that at a later date.

In the meanwhile, I’ve posted below a short tribute by 007 himself, Timothy Dalton, an avowed City and Colin Bell fan. It refers to the player’s beginnings and how this shy, most unassuming of men gained legendary status without really acknowledging that. There could be no more apt title for his autobiography: Reluctant Hero.

The tribute also shows him running through the streets of Manchester in a vain attempt to come back from the injury that prematurely called time on his career.

Please give it a watch.

Bang The Drum, Let Summer Come

I took this photograph a few days ago of a local fishing pond, frozen over.

There’s not much colour in it, is there?

January has always been bleak, even without the added burden of a national lockdown.

The lines of a poem in my first collection, Heading North, come to mind:

There’s not much colour in that either, is there?

But that was the particular tone of that poem, it is called Laments of the Urban Dead after all.

But we can still hold hope, if not joy.

I know I keep banging the same drum, but before we know it spring will be sprung, to be followed by the first fruits of summer. You know how it works.

Seasons don’t follow lockdown rules, nature doesn’t adhere to restrictions.

So hang in there, Jackdaw friends, wherever you are and whatever circumstances you find yourselves in, there are brighter days to come.

Post-Festive, Lockdown Blues

BOXING DAY

I know you don’t need me to tell you.

These are desperate times. But this is especially so if you’re a fan of non-league football and your team didn’t have a game on Boxing Day, for Boxing Day is traditionally football day. And without tradition-we’re lost. In these uncertain times we need the odd touchstone.

My team, Prestwich Heys, didn’t have a match because the team the fixture list had given us was the only one in the league that had decided that they wouldn’t play at the government reduced, Covid-caused capacity.

I had to find an alternative for my son and I.

A quick scan of the fixture lists showed me that Daisy Hill were at home and that was doable, just a twenty minute train ride and a quick walk. Plans remade.

Except, just as we were about to leave, we received the news that overnight Bolton had experienced some snow and the game was off.

So, after checking other possible games, (the fruitless results of which I’ll share later in this post), we decided to go a bit further out to Darwen, in Blackburn, jumping a lift with a friend.

Needing a game, needing fresh air, we set off, reassured in the knowledge that even if snow had ventured this far, Darwen had a plastic pitch and when cleared the match would be on.

Once we reached the hills, we saw the wicked snow that-this-way-came. It was nothing more than a novelty and pleasing to the eye, providing photo opportunities to document our dedicated search for football.

At the end of our journey, the ground awaiting, we rolled into the club car park only to be told that they had reached their reduced capacity limit and so we couldn’t get in.

Deep sigh. Wasted day. Journey back.

I wouldn’t be taking any photos this time.

Boxing Day equals football day. Remember that?

Though I wouldn’t now be watching a match in person I thought that at least when I got in I’d be able to see Man City on TV as at that level the games were always on.

As we were dropped off I received the latest news which was the final nail in the coffin of every match I’d held flickering hopes for:

Prestwich was cancelled because of Covid restrictions ;

Daisy Hill was cancelled because of snow;

Heywood St James was cancelled because of a waterlogged pitch;

Maine Road was cancelled because of Covid restrictions;

Went to Darwen but couldn’t get in;

And now Man City was cancelled because of positive Covid cases among the squad;

What an unbelievable set of circumstances they were, all coming together to thwart me. In resignation, I decided to look at the day’s football league results on my LiveScore app and got this:

From all of this I’ve come to the conclusion that the universe is telling me NO MORE BLOODY FOOTBALL!

NEW YEAR’S EVE

Restrictions building, a sense of the world closing in, we went for a coffee at one of the last places we were allowed to sit in (a motorway service station) as the sun slipped away for the final time from this most challenging of years.

Custom was scarce, enthusiasm more so, and after just the one drink we went home, staying in as the country, maybe even the world, stayed in for the build up to the midnight countdown. The clock struck twelve, the family hugged and then we went outside to see the fireworks.

Almost on cue it began to snow. I don’t think I’ve ever known it to snow on New Year’s Eve before, certainly not beginning at midnight. (I know I know, technically this is New Year’s Day.) It momentarily lifted the spirits, the children shouting in delight.

Snow on New Year’s Eve seemed a suitable way to draw a line under this difficult year. It was as if the earth had taken pity on us for all we’d recently endured and given us just a little sprinkling of magic to remind us that nothing lasts forever.

New Year’s Day

No hangover, no self-induced fragility, but this day seemed more subdued than ever. Perhaps it’s that play-off, that tormenting dichotomy, the knowledge that 2021 has been ushered in with an end in sight to our 2020 struggles, but to get there we are going to have to endure the more difficult days to come.

I write this as we have entered another national lockdown, one that reportedly could last until the end of March. We are like prisoners doing time, scratching off our days served on our cell walls until the day of release comes. And it is coming, be certain of that. We just have to keep our eyes fixed on that distant, longed-for prize.

Who will meet us at the gate?