The Music Along The Stretch

Maybe I should change my route.

In a recent post I mentioned the Heywood Stretch, a road along which I often take my dog for a walk. Sticking to the same route at least affords you the chance to observe any changes. Seasonally, I mean, rather than roadworks.

The other week I could see up ahead of me the turbines on the moors (the turbines that found their way into the first draft of a poem that I’ve posted). The moors were white, layered with days-old snow that never made it down to these lower reaches, apart from an ever so slight dusting of the fields that must have been spindrift on the wind.

Maybe I should widen my taste.

I’m sure that there’s lots of great new music out there just waiting for me to discover it. But when I want to pass a certain amount of time I always seem to return to the era I love the best, which basically runs from the mid-sixties to mid-seventies.

I was doing just this on another trip there when winter made the most of my complacency, ambushing me in a sudden brief snowstorm that had me blinking furiously to navigate a path through the fury that had engulfed me. It was only brief but it was freezing, and I couldn’t help but smile at the irony as Ray Davies was telling me to

Put on your slippers and sit by the fire

When I got back I followed his instructions mostly to the letter.

I warmed myself with a coffee as I sat listening to this box set that I’ve just managed to pick up on eBay for a fifth of the price it normally goes for.

Listening to the vocal harmonies of the group through headphones, you can really appreciate John Phillips’ gift for arrangement. And what voices Cass and Denny, in particular, had.

The very next day the dog and I worked the Stretch again. This time there was no snow and no biting wind, but still it seemed that winter was hanging on for dear life, defying spring’s rightful claim to the throne.

Later that night, deja vu: I’d had another delivery.

This time, I’d managed to get myself a book signed by a Door. Which I suppose is easier than a Door signed by a book.

“Look at this,” I said to my wife Jen. “This is by the drummer from The Doors.” I took her finger and placed it lightly on the signature. “Just think, this was touched by a hand that has rested on the shoulder of Jim Morrison while they shared a beer.

She was distinctly unimpressed, whereas I was falling backwards through eras and decades.

And then I returned to the present.

Tonight, it felt so much better walking the dog. Everything was lighter. It felt like spring had had its coronation, it felt like new beginnings. And maybe there was the psychological aspect too, for we’d just heard the details about how our locked down country is set to open up again.

Good weather and freedom is in sight.

And for this walk I’d changed gear (a little). moving up to the 80’s to listen to The Police. As my journey neared its end, one of Sting’s solo songs came on, Desert Rose. Algerian singer Cheb Mami is on that, giving it a distinctive world music feel. And I’m not sure why but it just seemed appropriate for the moment, as the day settled down with the sun bidding me goodbye whilst also whispering that it won’t be for long.

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.

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.