When Your Child is ill But it’s You That’s Got The Fever

In 2012 my daughter was off school ill, fourteen days before her fifth birthday.  What follows are just two of the many conversations that pushed me right over the edge:


Millie: “Do you like my necklace? Derek bought it me.”
“No, Eric bought it you.”
“Eric? And he took me to The Wiggles.”
“No Derek took you to The Wiggles.”
“And bought me this necklace?”
“No. Eric. There is Eric. And there is Derek.”
“Where did Eric take me?”
“The cinema.”
“Eric took me to the cinema. Did Derek come? With the necklace?”

Andy picks up his phone, calls school. ” I think I will chance her in.”


Millie:”Is it my birthday in the morning?”
There is night and there is morning. Is it my birthday after that?”
“The night and then the morning after that?”
“Is it my birthday after that?”
“After the night?”
After the morning?
“Is it my birthday?”

Andy picks up his phone, calls the adoption agency.

Hand Me Down Stories

When I went to Primary School, there used to be a name whispered in the corridors and classrooms that all of the kids knew: Annabella.

Annabella was the name of the ghost of a girl who was said to haunt the girls’ toilets. If I recall the story correctly, it was a girl who was supposed to have hung herself in there. This may be a recurring theme, as when I went to Secondary School there was a story of a boy who had hung himself from the bell tower.

What dark imaginations the young have. The thrill in being scared.

But that latter school story was more vague, the boy-ghost being anonymous. In my junior school the ghost had a name.

My wife went to the same primary school as I. She says that out of the few cubicles in the toilets, there was one whose door was always closed. All of the girls knew not to use it, because if you went in there Annabella would ‘get you.’ 

This was the story when we were pupils there, in the seventies to early eighties. The story came flooding back when, around the time of the Millenium, a niece of ours who went to that school mentioned, almost in passing, that the toilets in her school was haunted by a ghost named Annabella. The story lived on. The name lived on.

Well I thought it was great! Even more so, when, sometime later, I discovered an online conversation between people who were former pupils of the school back in the sixties, who were also talking of Annabella. For thirty years that story had been passed on to each new, fearful, generation starting at that school. I started thinking that maybe the story went back as far as the school did, back to the fifties. After this post was shared on Facebook (I’m adding this section to the original post)  I learned from a former teacher that yes, indeed, the legend of Annabella was known when she started working there-back in the fifties. The passing on to each new wave of school pupils only came to an end when the school became victim to time and planning and was demolished.

I wonder about the person who first started the story. (Of course, assuming it is just a story.) Did they have any idea of the legacy that they had created? That the story they had given life to had continued to live right into the following decades, outliving its creator’s time there? Perhaps, also, outliving its creator’s time here? 

And why Annabella? It’s an unusual name. I’ve never, ever, met an Annabella. Where did they get that name from?

The name was made popular by a poem by that dark writer Edgar Alan Poe, Annabel Lee, in the 19th Century, taking this more familiar form in the 20th.  It tells of the death of a beautiful young woman, who the narrator/poet still loves, beyond death, and who sleeps by her tomb near the sea, dreaming of her.

Was it an unusually erudite young child that made up this story to scare his or her peers? Surely it wasn’t a teacher? Although I do like that thought.

Whoever it was, the story caught the imagination of those fertile young minds and grew legs. It outlasted the inventive mind that toiled there. That unknown person moved on, leaving Annabella behind. When I was there I tried to introduce the story of The Black Hand for the boys toilets. It never caught on.

I like the idea of stories being passed on. Taking on a life of their own in the constant retelling and shaping.

You may remember the post I did last year about the book East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon. 


This is a collection of Scandinavian fairy tales. I shared these stories with my children, who thoroughly enjoyed them. Not long after, I read a piece by a Native American, telling of the many tales, both myth and history, that were passed on orally among his people. It got me to thinking about the old stories in our culture. How many of these are passed on today? How many are known? Or, would it be fairer to say, how many are being lost? I have begun to collect together some of the stories I invariably find in the things that I read. Some of the folklore that is connected to the various places that I visit in this group of islands that I live in. Some of the legends and stories that were told from each generation to the next centuries ago, later collected together in books such as The Mabinogion, and The Tain.

Tales and ideas, also, that were brought from various other places, Celtic, Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and were added to the melting pot to find expression in our own cultural flavour.

I have been selecting stories that I think that my children would enjoy. Stories of heroes and magic, animals and, yes, ghosts. But adapting and writing them in a way that makes them more attractive and entertaining to their modern minds. Explaining things that long ago, in their conception, the people of the time knew and didn’t need explaining. For example how Faery folk were not sweet little winged Tinkerbell types. Or how dogs from the Otherworld were white with red ears.

I think that these stories gain something over time,something quite powerful, in the retelling, the re-sharing. Thinking of all the people who have listened to them, people unknown to us, living in different times, yet enjoying them all the same. Being touched, and then passing them on. Breathing new life into them.

Stories that began orally-their creators, and then the authors who first wrote them down, now lost to us.

As happened with Annabella.

It is with this sense that I regard my family history. Yes, we can all uncover, (only so far) names and dates. When a person was born. What they worked as. Who they married. When they died. The bare facts.

But it is the personal stuff, the human stuff, that gets lost. The meat that is stripped from the bones. I write down the things that I know, the things that I have learnt from my parents, and their parents, however scant it may be. Otherwise it becomes lost. The tragedies, the struggles, the love stories. They all pass forever into shadow, leaving us with but a list of dates.

My children may not be that interested. For why should it be of importance to me, but say, not to my brother? Or to my cousins? But then someone else may come along further down the line-a grandchild. Or a great grandchild, someone who gets it. Someone who is moved and inspired by the things that this little known ancestor, some distant guy named Andy, who used to write a blog named City Jackdaw, has written down, and decides to add to them the things that have happened since those last words were recorded. For they may understand that people without roots become disconnected, drift, become disenfranchised if you like. They may see how important it is to understand beginnings and connections.

They may become filled with a zeal to hand these stories down.

And then we come full circle. Many years from now, someone, somewhere, may be sat in some strange, new world, learning of a ghost by the name of Annabella.

Boonless In Southport

At the weekend my wife, father-in-law, two youngest children and I spent the day in Southport. It had been many years since I had last been there-thirty seven to be exact. I can be sure of this as my previous visit had been with my first school, and I had only spent just over a year there before leaving due to moving home.

The first thing I can remember about that trip, way back in 1976, is that the sea seemed miles away from our little flock herded onto that stretch of beach.

My second recollection was an accident that occurred in the toilets of the car park where we disembarked from the coach. A girl from my class got her fingers trapped in the toilet door, and I remember a male teacher carrying her out in his arms. I no longer recall the teacher’s name, or what he looked like. He remains forever a faceless comforter.

Later, weary and bedraggled, as we were about to begin the journey home, the girl was sat on a coach that was immediately adjacent to the one that I was on, her seat parallel with mine. She was red-eyed, and had what seemed to be a huge bandage wrapped around her index finger which she held up, supported by her other hand.

I have no class photographs from my time at that first school, but I can remember the girl’s name, and  amazingly, thirty-seven years after the fact, I can still see her face in my mind’s eye. She is one of four fellow classmates whose faces I can still conjure from memory alone, although there is now a blurring of features that were once well-defined. Like old snapshots beginning to fade and curl with time.

That day was the first time I can remember attempting to make somebody feel better with humour-I offered an apple that was in my lunch box to her through the two different coach windows that separated us, then pretended to devour it in great, over exaggerated bites. Red eyed and bandaged, I can still see her smiling.

That method of lifting spirits, particularly with children, has remained with me. Humour I mean, not the ‘old apple trick.’

Anyway, on my latest trip to Southport there was nothing to trigger any further recollections. It could have been any other seaside town.

We went on the funfair, with the not unreasonable expectation of a leisurely, pleasant day. But my nearly three year old son immediately became focused on his one obsession-obtaining his regular fix of balloons. He spotted the sign on a shop front, quite a way away, and, mistaking  the painted balls for balloons, he was off, racing towards it as fast as his little legs would take him. That set the tone for the rest of our time on the site. No amount of distractions by Granddad, cajoling by Mum, shouting by Sister or pleading from I would deter him from his goal.

“Boons!” he cried, “boons!” over and over for the next hour and a half or so. Turning up his nose at every kids ride or chocolate on offer.

And of course we couldn’t find any balloons anywhere. You could forgive us for thinking our luck was in when we finally spotted a stall with the following title scrawled above it in bright lettering:

‘Balls and Balloons’

A great sigh of relief exhaled by three generations drowned out the cacophony of loud music and screaming kids of the funfair. But when we got to it-in James’ wake, there was not a ball or balloon in sight. Just one of the those punch ball things that you are supposed to hit as hard as you can to set the bells ringing and lights flashing.

James’ hand was already balling into a fist.

Back in the car, strapped in and still pleading for a boon, we drove for a few minutes to another spot. As I bent to unstrap him from his car seat, I said to him “Let’s get you out, are you going to be good now?”

Very calm, very low, but with a perceivable hint of menace, he said just one word: “boon.”

Boon, singular.

There was no compromise, no acknowledgement of our predicament. Just a you-know-what-I-want, and a you-know-what-you-have-to-do. A measuring with the eyes, a shifting of power between us.

New part of town, same old story. No balloons. The same old tat being sold in every shop and stall we passed, but no balloons. This was unfathomable to James. In the end we coerced him with ice cream, paraded him up and down in a hall of distorting mirrors that alternatively stretched out or compressed his sulking frame, and then finally distracted him with a trip on a motorised boat for twenty minutes. We all climbed aboard, with two young kids in tow, yet it was my forty one year old wife who asked nervously “We wont sink will we?” I think if we had stepped out of the boat the water would have come up to our knees.

Balloons, sinking ships, there’s always a drama.

James climbed in the front next to his Granddad and the little tadpole soon grew his sea legs as he turned the wheel, exclaiming “Mummy, I driving!” while unsettlingly trying to play Death Race 2000 with the gulls in the water.

2013-06-16 14.49.53

This photograph was taken after the gulls had wisely scarpered.

Once out of the boat, his mood had lightened considerably, and we decided to head to the beach.

On the way I took this photograph in one of the shops:

2013-06-16 13.04.59

When we got there, neither of the children would go into the sea. In fact they both point-blank refused. I cannot for the life of me understand why.

Content with the beach, my daughter Millie discovered a huge ‘X’ drawn on the sand, and made the connection to ‘x marks the spot.’

“It’s a treasure map!! She began to dig furiously with her spade, until her enthusiasm began to wilt. James stood observing  this with all of the potential of a future construction site supervisor, when he suddenly straightened up, squinting past his sister into the distance. I turned to see what had caught his eye.

A kite could be seen further down the beach, fluttering high, all rectangular and green in the blue sky.

James momentarily caught his breath, then gasped, barely audible:


Our Anniversary Waltz

Today is my wedding anniversary, and if I know what is good for me I cannot let it pass without giving it a mention.

Jen and I have been married eight years today. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

We met when I was six, when my family moved house to a new town and I started afresh in the infants school that she was in. I have memories of her during this period,and of our juvenile interactions, which lasted until, aged 11, we were separated as we went to different secondary schools. Three years later we were reunited when we both left our respective secondary schools and moved on to the same high school, and from that moment on us two former primary school friends became inseparable best mates. Long after we left school and took our first faltering steps upon the road to adulthood we remained close.

As life took us both this way and that we stayed in touch, supporting each other through difficult times, congratulating each other in good times. I went to her engagement party. She came to mine. People would often comment on our closeness, and over the years we must have used that old clichè ‘just good friends’ a thousand times. When that thorny topic would arise, be it in the media or in our social circles, about whether members of the opposite sex can ever be just purely platonic friends (think Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in that film, minus the restaurant scene) we would say that we were living proof.

Now we are married with two children. Hmm……

We finally gave into what everyone else could see as the inevitable, and today we have been married for eight years. I guess it was all about the timing. We play the long game. If you want to break it down:

Friends: 36 years

Best Friends : 28 years

Relationship: 9 years

Married: 8 years

But it can never be just about numbers.

When it came to the day of our wedding, as well as the  readings that we had chosen, I felt it right to include my own words,to make it more personal. As a result, a few days before the wedding I wrote this poem which was read out by an old school friend of ours.

We Who Were Friends

We who were friends
and now lovers.
We who were separate
and now stand as one.
Remember the tears.
Remember the smiles.
That we shared in our youth
and our song.

We who entrusted
our secrets.
In rapt abandon, right
from the start.
An instinctive embrace
in the pale morning light.
Two souls
one animate heart.

We who were bonded
in childhood.
Together through each stage
of life.
A boy and his pal.
A lad and his mate.
And now, a man
and his wife.