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.

After Speaking With A Parisian

Surviving Revolutions and World Wars, Notre Dame’s spire has long been a familiar sight to generations of Parisians, puncturing the capital’s skyline for over 800 years.

Back in the 1500s, the culture that we had built in the West embraced multigenerational projects quite easily. Notre Dame. Massive cathedrals were not built over the course of a few years, they were built over a few generations. People who started building them knew they wouldn’t be finished until their grandson was born.

-Jamais Cascio

Maybe it’s hubris, but we expect our creative monuments, our works of art, to last forever. Fixed points in man’s timeline.

Last night I spoke with a Frenchman, a Parisian, who was in mourning, speaking of a devastating cultural loss. I began to think of iconic buildings whose loss would affect we British people similarly. And then, as a Mancunian, a particular building in my own city, regularly seen and taken for granted.

I struggled to make a connecting comparison.

Then, the morning after that conversation, I woke to a photograph and the idea that, within all of those images of destruction and despairing I had lost touch with: there’s always hope.

Words On A Bridge

Words On A Bridge

I remember reading about a Parisian bridge,
the Pont des Arts,
sagging beneath the weight
of padlocked pledges,
her barnacled palisades 
dipping to drink from the Seine.

This bridge here, a lesser cousin,
sun lighting on her slender nape,
is festooned with words,
the variable lines of scribes
in marker and pen.
Amidst the patchwork
of diatribe and devotion,
my eye is drawn to a post-it note,
stuck dead centre:

poetry is when 
the language of the soul
escapes into 
the common tongue

I thought it pretentious.

I moved on to read the other lines,
but my eyes kept returning 
to that fading, yellow slip,
a stanza of disparity
surrounded by stiff banalities
and wilting vulgarities.

poetry is when
the language of the soul
escapes into
the common tongue

Just who was the bard of this bridge,
paying a toll in words
of thrift?

I fished out a pen, then,
suddenly aware of an approaching woman,
plunged it back
into the sanctuary of my pocket.
But, nailing me with a half-cocked smile,
she uttered a single word
as she passed me by:

I imagined her then the poetess, 
both collaborator and muse,
planting a seed and moving on,
the hem of her trench coat 
flapping around her legs
in the river wind.

©Andrew James Murray


A Saturday Retrospective


Of course, the darkness from Friday night crossed the English Channel and tempered everything. And then, Saturday morning, there was a chink of light in the gloom.

During a routine optician’s appointment a few months ago, a problem with my eight-year-old daughter’s retina was flagged, and an urgent hospital referral was made. We had that appointment, the issue was confirmed, and an urgent MRI scan appointment was made. Disguising all debilitating concern with a casual jocularity, I went in with Millie. While I wore protective ear muffs and was armed with a buzzer to halt proceedings should she become distressed, she lay in the machine clutching her favourite teddy. The machine swallowed up her tiny frame.

And so, on Saturday morning, a letter arrived from the hospital. Afraid to open it, my wife handed it to me. With some trepidation, I tore open the envelope, scanned the minimal lines, then passed it to my wife, saying “Here you go, with pleasure.”  The results of the scan was normal. Though we still have to discover what is causing our daughter’s problems, we now knew, after two months of worry, that it was not the unthinkable.

Thank God.

The weight that lifted from us was indescribable.

Whether it is the senseless murder of strangers, or the health fears of a loved one, sometimes it seems that the world is beyond our control, and we are nothing but impotent bystanders.

That may not be the case, perhaps it all comes down to attitude, perspective and inclination. But, as you get older, your idealism tends to become diluted.



Recently Abigail had been knocking on our windows. She was the first of our American-style manner of named storms. Now, as she threw us a final, casual glance over her shoulder as she departed, we had been warned of heavy, prolonged rain and possible floods.

Outside the deluge had started. Listless, with coffee, I began writing a few lines that became the embryo of a new poem, Rainy Day Blues.

Rainy Day Blues, whilst listening to blues. Specifically Tommy Johnson’s Canned Heat Blues. The rain’s persistent rhythm accompanying his high falsetto.


It was the time for the barely anticipated Christmas lights switch-on in our town centre. There was to be face-painting, music groups, and all manner of stalls and attractions which had not taken into account the truculent wake of a dame named Abigail.

A wall of rain swept the concreted area clear of people. A compere tried to extol a festive spirit over loud speakers, but there were temptations everywhere.


We sought refuge inside the shopping centre, immediately bumping into a jovial Father Christmas flanked by two female elves, one of them around six feet tall.

“You’re a bit tall for an elf, aren’t you?”

“I’m from Head Office.”

I thought it a great comeback.

After drying out in Costa Coffee for a while, we ventured tentatively back outside as the time for the illuminations’ debut drew near. Miraculously, the rain had stopped, and a drunken man was heartily joining in with Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, but lost all enthusiasm when a, ahem, ‘star’ of the local pantomime, clambered on stage to sing a couple of songs from Frozen. It passed the time for the kids, though. She acknowledged their spattering of applause with a plug for Peter Pan which we could see at the Middleton Arena.

Next she treated us to a rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine, and promised us that she would wave to us when we went to see her in Peter Pan at the Middleton Arena

She introduced us to some local political figures and even, believe it or not, managed to slip in the box office number for booking tickets for Peter Pan at

“We know-the Middleton Arena!!”

The time for the Christmas lights arrived. The compere tried to crank up the tension with a countdown.

“10, 9, 8, 7..”

I was going to go for a piss with Peter Pan at the Middleton Arenabut my kids hung onto me tightly.

“… 6, 5, 4, 3…”

The crowd joined in with fervour.

“… 2, 1, MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERBODY!!!!”  his greeting reverberating over the crowd.

Now, I know that the borough council, like all others throughout the country, has been hit by severe cash-saving cutbacks, but still: they were pretty pathetic. The compere continued, because at least he had been paid. Or threatened by that elf from Head Office.


Warning: You may need to view this image with a filter so as not to damage your eyes.

“These are your Middleton Christmas lights!” he exclaimed. He actually gave a desultory laugh, too. Or maybe he just couldn’t hold back his embarrassment.

Then he said something about fireworks, and I saw the look of horror on the face of James, my five-year-old son. If he’d have known there was to be fireworks, he wouldn’t have come. He jumped into his mother’s arms as the sky fragmented.

At least, to the townsfolk, the fireworks were okay and made their rain-sodden wait worthwhile. More entertaining to me was the later spectacle of a giant Olaf trying to lift his over-sized feet as he climbed the staircase in McDonald’s, clutching desperately onto the arm of the food chain’s teetering Carer Of The Month.




After a busy day, the rain beating once more against the window, I fell back into form and curled up with a book: a biography of Wyatt Earp. My son James, firework trauma now behind him, was fascinated with the image of the imposing lawman on the cover, being cowboy-mad having recently watched the film Tombstone.

“Dad, one day, can I have your books?”

“Yes, when I die you can have them all.”

“Aw thanks! I can’t wait.”