It is now fourteen years since that day. R.I.P X
My Dad died ten years ago today. Although we mark it, the day itself is not significant.
There were days when he was here, then there are days when he is not. There is just a before and after.
Time appears cyclical to me, when I view the seasons, married to the differing stages of our lives, but we chart things in a linear fashion. That day ten years ago perhaps became a bridge, where plans/hopes/dreams pass by memories/regrets/hindsight , each moving in opposite directions.
What is known of us, that which survives us, becomes less and less as memories fade along with the number of storytellers.
The personalities and stories behind the details, enshrined in the remembrance of others.
I was going to publish some photographs here, reducing a full life to a handful of images, but instead I have decided the best way to honour him and the…
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This post isn’t a book review, but I will share with you first what I wrote over on Goodreads when I finished Wicked Beyond Belief:
This book is from the perspective of the police force that was hunting the Yorkshire Ripper. In the time before computers, it documents the blunders that allowed Sutcliffe to keep on killing, and their desperation to end his reign as they realised he would just keep on killing. (In five years he was credited with murdering thirteen women and attacking a further seven, though it is suspected he is responsible for many more.) He was actually interviewed nine times without them realising he was their man. Officers’ health and marriages suffered as the force was totally overwhelmed by the biggest criminal manhunt in British history. For five years the north of England was terrorised by this man, when even female police officers were escorted to their cars after work as nowhere was considered safe. I can remember, as a child, the newspaper headlines every time the Ripper struck, and as a ten year old when the killer’s identity was finally revealed. This book reads like a thriller, and is the best crime book I’ve ever read. Appendixes include his confessional statement and interview transcripts.
Much to my wife’s chagrin, for some reason I like to keep her up to date with what’s happening in any book I’m reading. Even though I’m not talking about the grisly parts, I guess I may be a little taxing for her.
Yesterday morning, early yesterday morning, as she was getting ready for work, I knocked on the bathroom door, quietly as not to wake our student or the children. I’m thoughtful like that. She opened the door, half dressed, half awake, hair all tousled.
“Jen, they’ve started a covert operation.”
“They’ve started a covert operation. In a world before computers, they have secretly began recording the Reg plates of men who are entering certain areas looking for sex.”
“What are you going on about?”
“They totally underestimated the number of men who were actively looking to pay for the services of a prostitute. They were shocked.”
“You’re talking about that bloody Ripper again aren’t you?!”
“Have a guess how many?”
“In West Yorkshire alone-150,000 a month. In Manchester 4,000 a night!”
I let the numbers sink in. She let the door close quietly in my face.
I waited a few minutes. Let her floss. Knocked on the door again. She opened. Still wearing the look.
“Six times he’s been interviewed up to now. Six times! His records misplaced. A file lost for a year. Mistakes are being made.”
“I think I made a big one twelve years ago!”
She left for work. I assured her that I’d let her know how things went.
So, sat with my book in the local coffee shop, I felt sure she would need to be updated with developments. The (short) text conversation went like this:
“They’ve got him.”
“I’ll let you know how the interviews go.”
“Can hardly wait.”
“Wait until you hear what he was wearing when they caught him.”
“I’m not coming home.”
I know secretly that she can’t wait to see what book I choose next. But as tomorrow is Saturday I will let her have a lie in first. Maybe leave it until 8.
Speaking of Saturday, have a great weekend, guys. Give thanks for criminal databases.
See you on the flip side.
Recently was the fifteen-year anniversary of the September eleventh attacks. For my generation, this was our JFK moment, where everybody remembers where they were when they first heard, or saw, the terrorist atrocity taking place.
At the time I was a postman here in Manchester, and had just caught up on my sleep with a couple of hours in the afternoon. I saw it all unfold, disbelievingly, as I was getting ready to pick my daughter up from school.
On the mantelpiece was a postcard, having arrived that day, from a woman who I had known for many years. We’d first met in infant school, and became best friends in high school, that close friendship continuing long into my adult life. The postcard was from New York, and among the scribbled lines was a throwaway comment that she was intending to go up one of those towers that I’d just seen erupting into flames.
After a few frantic calls, (in the days before we both had mobiles), I discovered that her mother had heard from her: she was safe in L.A. She had been about to travel to San Francisco until all of the planes had been grounded, stranding her there.
This was the first shaking of my complacency about our long relationship.
Today we are married, with children. I’ve seen the photographs she took from the top of one of those towers just a couple of days before it collapsed, unable to fathom the sheer desperation that could force people to jump from such a height.
I wrote a poem not long after that tragic day, a long one called American Trilogy. It wasn’t about 9/11 per se, but it did feature. How could it not.
The poem didn’t make into my book. Perhaps one day I will publish it in its entirety.
Here I post the closing lines, referring to that day and the idea that my lifelong friend was over there. Somewhere.
I received word across
that your wings
were torn upon the besieged
your eyes reaping shelter
from a holocaust
A pre-emptive strike
at my complacency,
praying for an eye in the storm.
And you, snug in a motherland
of flag-waving lambs
where everyone wants to be quarterback,
everyone wants to be General,
everyone wants to lay the homecoming queen.
Icons in an American dream.
©Andrew James Murray
Father And Daughter, Summer
The swallows return, skimming the blue. Hoist up the flag, fluttering in the breeze. The summer's here, her heralds settled upon the greening, burgeoning sea. Full womanhood, now, she draws the eye, points to the orchard; her hungry womb. The sun sinks into his scoured face. The air is sweet, but tinged with myrrh. Banish the shadows, the star-filled night, (the clock still ticks the markers down). The day now reigns, resplendent robes clothes them both and stakes a claim. The poet; the painter; the waking muse, blinks it all in, and turns the page. Immortalises all, in frozen time, airbrushing out the parting waves. ©Andrew James Murray
Autumn has come roaring in with a vengeance, blasting away all notions of an Indian Summer.
Sixty miles per hour winds, pouring rain, and I could not find my waterproof coat anywhere. I had the kids all wrapped up to brave the elements this morning, but my own efforts to withstand the October onslaught were seriously hampered. I left it to the last possible moment before we left on the school run, but the jacket was nowhere to be found. As it was, I had to fall back on a fairly typical soak-me-up-and-wring-me-out coat that put up a resistance for all of five minutes.
Buffeted by the winds, as fellow pedestrians struggled with umbrellas turning inside out, my two children and I made the challenging trek into school. Along the way we had to navigate the Puddle Of Doom. This is a stretch of water that gathers in the road by a bus stop whenever it rains, and when cars plough through it it creates a splash of up to five feet high. I kid you not.
So it is all about the timing. We wait until there is a gap in the traffic and then we run along the pavement hoping to pass it before another car comes along.
Of course, the kids love it!
It looks something like this photograph here, only you cannot see the absolute joy radiating on my face as I experience this beautiful season.
I managed to get them to school in a fairly presentable state, still bemoaning the fact that I did not have my waterproof amidst growing suspicions that my wife may have sold it or threw it out, then made the journey back, involving another sprint past the Puddle Of Doom as a car appeared to speed up, the driver no doubt attempting to chalk off his first hit of the day.
I got back soaked, my jeans, boxers, jumpers, socks, everything.
Next I walked the dog, which I normally do at 7.30 but had delayed, reasoning that if both I and the house, because of the dog, is going to get wet, I may as well do it all in one go. I gave our Golden Retriever the shortest walk on record, then dried him with an old towel we use especially for him and the kitchen floor that he skates in on.
Finally I could get out of my wet clothes. My useless jacket and hat went on the bathroom radiator, above my leaking boots, and I swapped my jeans and boxers for dry ones. I dried my hair (yes my hat was also similarly useless) and made myself a hot cup of tea-one of the last remnants of English civility.
At that point, as I sat down, my wife sent me a text, asking if I could nip into town to pick some things up for her.
Ha ha ha-I laughed all the way to Divorce Court.
Last Saturday my daughter Millie and I ventured into Manchester for the afternoon. Sometimes my home city leaves me feeling young, sometimes feeling old. Often, weary.
While we were there, my wife sent me a text asking me to pick her up a pair of slippers. Slippers-the must have for middle aged people everywhere.
We went into Next, where I foolishly expected an uneventful stroll around a spacious store. Air conditioning, light music playing in the background. Perhaps a few leafy plants.
It was bedlam. Like the Boxing Day battles you see on the news. People were competing everywhere, nudging each other out of the way, sweaty and red faced, paper and labels strewn all over the floor, with no seats or benches left unoccupied for my daughter to dramatically collapse onto.
Explaining why I was there, I asked a young beleaguered assistant for directions towards the latest thing in fluffiness. I also asked her whether it was always this chaotic in there. I usually associated this kind of feeding frenzy with Primark, and so stubbornly avoided all requests from my wife to set foot in there.
I think I had been blindsided.
She nodded sagely. “Always. Not just Saturdays either.” She pointed towards the long, snaking queue. “If you want to abandon things, take a photograph to show your wife what it’s like.”
Get thee behind me Satan.
I got the best slippers a tenner could find (I got the only ones left in her size) and joined the snaking, sweaty queue. I was immediately aware of a woman in my peripheral vision, approaching with something sparkly, two sullen, slovenly kids in tow. An unsmiling boy and a pouting girl. They took their place behind me.
I heard one of the kids speak, not whining or complaining, just monotonously asking when they were going somewhere else. Probably anywhere else.
Mum answered, very sharply:
“Be quiet. I spent the whole of yesterday buying you clothes for our holiday, and now I’m getting myself clothes. It’s my turn now.”
The boy let out a huge sigh, “I only said.”
Very loudly, in a head turning way, she exclaimed “God, do I need this holiday!”
I got the feeling that her dream holiday might not live up to her expectations.
With fluffy footwear bagged, we then headed for the bus station. As we left the Arndale shopping center we passed a couple with two boys. The man was bent down so he could look one of the lads square in the eyes.
“So you just went ahead and did it, did you? You did it off your own back?” Then, threateningly, “We will return to this when we get home.”
I guided Millie past while her head remained glued in their direction. “What did he do, Dad?”
Who knows. Maybe something murderous.
There was no doubt whatsoever that tempers were fraying at the edges, people seemed a little touchy and impatient. The kids had only finished for the school holidays the day before-there was still six and a half weeks to go. Maybe it was the hot day beating everybody down, along with the thunderstorm that disrupted everybody’s sleep the night before.
We got on a bus and went upstairs, opening a window to let a little warm air into the stuffy deck. Other passengers joined us, and to my utter chagrin coming to sit in front of us were the couple with the two lads, adults sitting on one seat and their sons sitting on the other on the opposite side of the aisle. From the back the children looked slumped, and Mum was sat at an angle so she could peer out of the window and not have to face her loving clan. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. As the bus pulled out of the station, one of the lads decided flattery was the highest form of creeping.
Mum continued to look out of the window, answering with a very disinterested “Am I?”
In a conflict of confrontation-when-home-avoidance-desperation and sibling rivalry, his brother joined in. “Mum, you’re the most beautiful woman in the world.”
“Is that right?” No change in tone. She was obviously accustomed to this strategy.
But then, surprisingly, Dad joined in. “People might say it, but we all KNOW it.”
He then started serenading her with a paraphrased Christina Aguilera song. “Because you’re beautiful, no matter what they say. Words won’t bring you down. Because you’re beautiful….”
She showed signs of thawing as the air on the moving bus became a little less oppressive. My daughter collapsed into a fit of giggles which I tried to stifle, as we left behind the anchor of our satellite towns.
Manchester always leaves me feeling either young or feeling old.
But never uninspired.
A bit of colour and a daughter’s smile. Never uninspired.
Last week I attended the funeral of my great aunt. She was a lovely woman who squeezed every last bit of fun out of life. For a woman in her eighties she was very switched on-she had an iPad, an iPhone 5, and was even on my Facebook friends list.
She was the last of my grandparents’ generation, on both sides. With her passing, it feels like we have lost so much more than just a beloved member of the family. We have lost the last connection to the causes of which we are the effects. A link to the parts that make up our sum.
Now we move onto the next generational level. That is the natural order of things. That is how we go on.
When she received the news that she had cancer, she decided against having combative treatment, citing her age and her health. She told me that she didn’t want anybody’s pity, and that she had had a good life. My immediate thought was that there is not a lot of people who, having been an orphan at a very young age, and being widowed twice, would look back and say that they had had a good life.
On the day of her death, she told her grown up granddaughter that she would be happy to go tonight, that the time was right. I hope when it is my time, I can stare my own mortality square in the face with similar levels of acceptance, of reasoning, of faith.
There were no recriminations, no regrets.
Hers was a peaceful, natural end to a life filled with laughter. That makes things easier.
When we are with others, we sit in the blazing light of their presence, filled as they are with personality and vitality. And life. When their essence leaves us, we are suddenly confronted by the shadow of their absence.
If we are attentive, we can follow still the wake of their journey, track the fading trails of light as they sink over the horizon.
We can close our eyes, and feel still the warmth on our face.