My Kids In The Shard: Perspective

How often the imagination compensates for the limited world view of the young.

Town borders; forest edges; the last stop before the motorway slip road. These are the limits of their everyday world.

But then they are elevated high, and their vision expands, the world opens up and they feel themselves diminishing.

Look there, on the horizon: it’s the future; it’s the unknown.

Go explore.


Blue February

Here in Salford, the day is glass, reflectively crisp with a brittle veneer. But, as we look towards Manchester beyond Centenary Bridge, there are hints of the summer to come. Faint embers, glowing, offering promise to burst into flame.

Distance to fly; distance to burn.


On A Wistful New Year’s Day

I sat outside in the back garden with a hot cup of tea, coat fastened, watching the milky coming of dawn. I can do this as I don’t drink these days, my New Year’s Day vigil no longer debilitated by the night before.

All of the neighbouring houses were in darkness, the windows dark, sightless eyes. There was no sign of life at all. Human life, that is.

The morning was scored by the constant rattle of a magpie, hidden from view. They nest in a huge tree beyond one of the houses, but the tree appeared bare, empty both of leaves and birds.

The call went on. Perhaps the chatter-rattle was bird-talk for come on-it’s morning!

In the spring and summer I plant flowers for the birds and bees, then switch  my allegiance to the birds in autumn and winter, putting out food at dawn and dusk. I hadn’t yet filled their tray with muesli. Maybe this was my reminder.

All of a sudden, besides the sound of the invisible magpie, I could hear the voices of young people returning home from what must have been an all-nighter, no doubt weary but still on a high.

I thought of one of the poems in my book, the aptly titled: New Year, Morning. It begins:

Half the world is hurting,

turning its face to shadow.

I was referring to people being hungover from the night before, but a reader took it as a reference to the state of the world as it exists at this time, with events in the Middle East and Paris, etc, at the forefront of her thinking.

But that fits too. I’m cool with that.

A flock of crows, a murder of crows, wheeled overhead, calling, cawing, as they followed each other around and around. The hidden magpie suddenly came into view, alighting on a television aerial, agitated, its rattle now of a higher and more urgent pitch.

The morning was lightening; the world was awakening. The year had begun.

There was opportunity and optimism. My poem ends with the line:

Everything is redeemable.’

I do believe that.


In the afternoon I went for a walk in the local woods. After the Christmas festivities I felt the need to get out, to connect, to blow away the cobwebs. I walked along the river, the path turned muddy by the week’s incessant rain. There was not a lot of people about-and no children at all. No doubt they were all indoors, absorbed still by their new toys and such.

I came across a couple of dog walkers who nodded a greeting as they passed with their eager companions. I began to think of my dog, lost the year before, and my mood became, if not morose, a little wistful.

I left the path, seeking the more hidden and wilder tracks through the naked trees. Life slumbered, the afternoon still and grey.

In the distance something caught my eye, it looked like a plastic bag, wrapped around a stump at the base of a tall tree. It reminded me of the tap in my garden after I had lagged it against the winter freeze with an ad hoc combination of tea towels, carrier bags and string.

I made my way towards it, drawn by the defined shape among the wet-mulch collage of leaves, and soon the identity of the object became clear. It was the ditched remnant of a Chinese lantern, no doubt sent up to the skies at midnight last night. It couldn’t have made it too far as most of it was still intact. There was a message scrawled on the side in black ink. As only a little of the paper material had been burned away, I was able to decipher it:

To Tim, Nanna, Baby Andrew,

always in our thoughts, never forgotten,

always by us,

step by step,

arm in arm.

Lots of love, John



I hunched low on the foilage-littered ground, saddened, reading it again. My eyes lingered upon ‘Baby Andrew.’

This is a new year; a new start. But we never fully come into it with a blank slate. We bring with us all of our experiences, our hurts and our joys. The past is ever present in the entirety of the life lessons that make us who we are.

I let go of the rim of the lantern, it gently resting again against the stump of the tree. I stood and moved on through a gathering of birch trees, spying a nuthatch, (I think the very first nuthatch I had ever seen), before it darted from view.

I don’t know why, but, before I descended a slight decline in the landscape, I turned for one last look at the husk of the lantern. From that distance it seemed that a light breeze was reinflating it where it rested, as though offering a final promise of flight.

Creative Christmas

Like every year, there has been both positive and negative aspects to 2015. That is great for balance.

Creatively, though, it has been a fantastic year.  I am proud to be a part of Nordland’s journey over the last twelve months. It has given me both the incentive and inclination to keep going.

Merry Christmas everybody. Make the most of this time.

And keep creating!


As I Walked Out One Evening

The evening in question was some weeks ago, when summer still reigned and the evenings were balmy. Through the twisted coils of a barbed wire fence, we looked on towards the local cricket ground, the grass barely stirring in the light, confidential breeze.


Within sight of hard-earned victories of edged fours and triumphant sixes, where better, when the light is fading, than a lonely cemetery? It is not often, in crepuscular twilight, that the eye is drawn to the ground, and rewarded by life in silent, still form.


The stillness was broken by the call of birds returning to roost in routine rounds: blackbirds and starlings and, yes, jackdaws, crossing the sky in large, raucous numbers. Black, canvas flags, loose and adrift.


The day passed the baton to night in faltering glory. The air sweet and temperate, prophets were not yet speaking of russets and absence, as the light died blissfully and unresisting. Our sleep was restful; our dreams fired.


Nailing My Colours To The Seasonal Mast

I am a well known, self-affirmed winter lover. Frosty mornings, gloomy afternoons, and sleet-scourged nights do it for me. Bleak rather than bright is my inspirational kick.

But even I, in my hoary thrall, can appreciate the sights and sounds of the other seasons. I mean, how beautiful is the scene below of our local church, taken last week in all its decorative setting?


The church is just a minute’s walk from my house. Given the right breeze, and the right appreciative eye, some of that blossom could be adding much needed mottled colour to my front garden.

Yes, I acknowledge the spirit-lifting effect that all of this brightness and colour brings, while also decrying the usual urban downsides: the wasps that thwart the kids’ picnics; the drone of the quad bikes; the outdoor parties that stagger on into the early hours. I know, I know, I’m getting old. Ageing along with these seasons, fading with the rhythm that seeps through our concrete sprawl and adds lines to my dry, cracking skin.

As a single entity, Manchester strips herself of her cloak and turns her face to the sun.


And as one of her children, I understand that each season has its own merits and champions. Each, like this very summer, lays claim to our affections with a Johnny-come-lately charm. But, as always, playing hard to get, (even the faithful lover), at the very moment I am feeling the heat on my skin, I turn my face to the north, looking for the first signs of those grey, laden clouds.

But if we have, for the third year running, a largely snow-free winter, then perhaps my fidelity will be severely tested. Until then: come, northern chill, come. Come and caress my soul. Throw me a stanza or two.

The City

(Manchester as woman)

She wakes slowly, takes a while to come around, rubbing her eyes wearily as strangers knock at her door. It is too early to let them in. (Not before she has put her face on.)

But she doesn’t mind them waiting, pacing up and down outside. After all, they have come from all over the world. They all have their particular needs.

She is still working class, at heart. A woodbine dangles from the corner of her mouth as she speaks, her stockings are laddered and torn.

But in public, these days, she’s taken to wearing fancy clothes, adopting airs and graces and chameleon-like traits. A fixed, demure smile hiding those dirty thoughts.

Every now and again, though, the mask slips, old habits and all that, and you find that she’s not averse to flipping you a nicotine-stained finger, or thrusting a broken glass into your unsuspecting face.

They continue to knock, loud and impatient. She gets ready. Ready to flirt coyly over cocktails and crêpes. Ready for the rough hands to slip beneath her frock.

She can court you or fuck you. Claim you or kill you. Wrap you up in promises, or in her own, soiled sheets.


photograph by Derek Bates


When my Dad died in 2003, I found in his wallet a cutting from my primary school magazine. It was of a few lines that I had written way back in 1980, when I was eight years old.

I had no idea he had kept it.


Of course I don’t remember writing it. It made me wish I had kept all my old books and jottings I made all those years ago.

In that same school I won a Halloween story-writing competition, where we had to write a story and present it in a self-designed cardboard cover jacket. I do wish I still had that one.

All I can remember about it now is that it was a werewolf story, based in an English country village setting, somewhere out in the sticks, and as usual, I had left it until the night before it was due in to write it. I rushed ahead with it until I approached the end where the werewolf would be shot and its identity revealed. I hadn’t yet decided who it was going to be, (for in effect I was making it up as I went along), and I had a great idea.

The hero of the story, an outsider who was a new resident of the village, had been given a gun and the required silver bullets, by one of the old locals. What if that very local guy was the werewolf-wanting to end his own shape-shifting torment in a suicide-by-cop scenario? That would be a great reveal.

I flicked back through the preceding pages, and damn! The man had been present when the werewolf had crashed through a cottage window in an earlier scene. I had no time to rewrite it. (I still haven’t learned that lesson.) I had to finish on the ineffectual revelation that the lycanthrope was some bloke that worked in the village pub. How lame is that?

The story, coloured-in cardboard cover and all, is long gone, along with every other juvenile tale that I used to while away the hours creating, lost to time and numerous bedroom clear outs.

After that school magazine-published dwarf description, the earliest example of any surviving creative endeavour of mine is a poem that I wrote about a vampire (werewolves and vampires-that’s the kind of kid I was), when I was fifteen years old.

I include it here for posterity. Please go easy on me, you harsh critics, for I was but a wee, pimple-faced bairn, scribbling away in my den as I listened to the Top Forty.

Union Of The Night

He heard a tapping at the window,
A scraping sound of dread.
He looked to see her waiting,
calling him from his bed.

She filled his heart with terror,
but with a longing, just the same.
He was afraid, but strangely attracted.
She called him by his name.

He was entranced by her beauty.
Her face so pale, so white.
She said:"I will make you as I,
and we shall share the night."

After she had seduced him,
yet left him oh so cold,
she soundlessly vanished,
into the night so old.

And soon he also followed,
and joined her for all time.
Two lovers who frolic together,
when the midnight bells do chime.


The Constant Creed

In the distance, the two churches stand tall in the cold, winter sky. Here, another faith plays out. Faith with a silent expectancy:that spring will return with her colourful flourish. There is a certitude of faith in the order of things. To this we pledge our souls.