Rochdale Blues

Have mask, will travel. Border crossings, on a damp and languid day.

Heading once more back to Manchester by train, having started a new book, Water Shall Refuse Them, along the way. The author, this being her debut novel, has been getting comparisons to Shirley Jackson and, although I’m only fifty or so pages into it, the protagonist does have a bit of Merricat about her.

Rochdale, the penultimate stop on my journey, in the dark, wet afternoon never looked so bleak.

The next few weeks are looking bleak, too. With rising figures, Rochdale is on the brink of following Leicester into a possible new lockdown. Though I don’t live in the town, my own town comes under the borough of Rochdale, and another lockdown is the last thing that any of us want.

After leaving the train, I caught a bus outside of this Rochdale Road pub, The Marble Arch, established in the Ripper year: 1888.

A renowned pub that brews its own beer, it has been some years since I’ve been in there. Possibly over twenty.

Maybe I should have called in for a pint, today, while I still can.

On Poetry:Inspiration

City Jackdaw

For me, my poems serve as a diary. When I look at them I can remember where I was when I got the idea for each one, and what it was that acted as the initial inspiration. The opening poem in my book, Heading North, is called Midnight, July.

The title indicates the when, but not the where and why.

The words for this one came when I was sat in the back garden with a coffee. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I was looking up at the stars and wondering whether we could be alone or was there life somewhere out there?

We writhe 

with a rage to know 

the unknowable,


blind to great masses

that dance in dark orbits. 

And a soft, summer wind 

on a night beneath stars 

is no balm.

While I was sat there, neck craned in the quiet of the…

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Two Cities Laid Low

A few posts back, I shared some photographs of a journey I made between two Northern cities, Leeds and Manchester, when the country was on the brink of lockdown. I had to make the return journey last week (essential travel allowed) and, with the UK now a month into lockdown, I took these photographs to share with you all to document these unprecedented days. I probably, hopefully, will never have the chance to see my city like this again.

This first one shows the seating arrangements in my local bus station, to enforce the social distancing. Only the opposite end seats were available, first come first served (though there weren’t many takers).  An unenthusiastic game of musical chairs.

Again, on the bus-alternate rows of seating available. The driver taking my fare said it was the most he’d taken all morning.

Manchester, message delivered.

Looking towards the usually notorious Piccadilly Gardens.

Market Street.

I saw neither tram nor cycle, just the odd jogger taking their allotted moment of exercise.

When a passing bus departed, the city fell into a strangely hushed tone.

St.Anne’s Square, scene of much mourning and festooned with flowers following the Arena bombing.

Deserted thoroughfares.

Many shop doors and windows wore similar sentiments from their owners. Some just a stark notice that no goods or money were left on the premises, in lieu of any opportunist thieves moving into the city.

Not a drinker in sight.

Moving now towards the train station.

The statue of Gandhi outside the Cathedral. The only figure caught in motion.

Ever since the lockdown the weather has been glorious. The place would have been swarming with shoppers and drinkers and more.

Looking towards the Football Museum, symbolic of the sport that has now been suspended.

I could take a photo in the middle of the road, with little fear of trams or vehicles.

Looking towards Angel Square from the rear.

Victoria Station. Could it be that I was the only commuter?

More social distancing, now musical urinals.

Sinks too.

There was only me and this railway worker.

Only for essential travel

The train I caught had originated in Liverpool, passed through Manchester and was bound for Edinburgh. I alighted in Leeds, the station there similar to the one in Manchester.

Leeds. Snippets of conversations that took place with the few people that I encountered I intend to print elsewhere.

Millennium Square. Manchester and Leeds-two northern cities laid low by an invisible foe.

Pulling Up The Drawbridge

Yesterday, with the UK on the brink of lockdown, I made my final journey before hunkering down at home with the family for God knows how long.

My journey involved passing through two major northern cities, and both of them were like ghost towns.

This is Millennium Square, in Leeds. Normally teeming with life, there wasn’t a single soul to be seen. Up on that large screen, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer was giving advice about the Coronavirus, but there was nobody there to heed his warning except me.

A sign of the times: no matter the faith; the denomination, all services are cancelled. Faith can still be held, of course, faith and hope, but behind our closed and secluding doors.

There is normally the bustle; the mad scramble; dashing figures frantically digging out railcards and phones before merging into a bottle neck to pass through these ticket machines to access the platforms. This time, however, it was more in the way of an amble, a gentle stroll, a handful of people passing through these vacant gateways.

Waiting to board my train back to Manchester. There was only me on the platform. Eventually a couple of other people arrived. For most of the journey I had the carriage to myself. No guard arrived to check my ticket. The train passed through countless deserted stations. This country is shutting down.

The only thing to keep me company was this information screen, giving further advice about the virus. There’s no escaping from this all-pervasive crisis that is gripping the globe. When we pulled into Piccadilly, I noticed a girl, who had been in the adjacent carriage, use the cuff of her sleeve, wrapped around her hand, to open the door. Unwilling to risk the germs of previous travellers.

Back in Manchester. Exchange Square, in afternoon sunshine. Who’d have thought it? There’s only so many ways I can say empty or deserted. Only so many end of the world novels I can think of. A few posts ago I’d mentioned The Stand and ‘Salem’s Lot. Now a couple I’d read quite a few years back came to mind: Earth Abides and Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang. A touch dramatic, I know, but there is that feel to things. A man in Waterstones said that he felt like Charlton Heston in The Omega Man.

Cutting through the Arndale Centre, this is the Starbucks where my daughter works at weekends. Closed up; the machines stood redundant behind those darkened windows. The chairs stacked away to discourage loiterers.

There were a few sporadic shoppers, hunting in vain for bargains and best buys. Those days are over for now, the priority must be food. Of those that I did see, I’d say a fifth were masked.

I’m not sure how these people eat or drink while wearing these masks. And I know they weren’t supposed to be sitting there.

Lip-readers would be screwed.

From here I caught the bus to my town.

We are not quite on lockdown yet, at least while I’m writing this, but it’s surely imminent (the Prime Minister is due to address the nation in thirty minutes). For all intents and purposes, though, it’s already happened. Manchester is now off-limits to me and my clan. We are pulling up the drawbridge, but thankful for the technology that keeps us all connected.

This crisis is on such a scale that all of you-all of you, are likewise affected. No matter where you are in the world, in whichever country you are currently reading this post, this virus is challenging the very foundation of your everyday lives.

Look after each other, people, and stay in touch.

Together we will all pull through.

Thoughts On A January Day

Coincidence. It happens all the time.

I’m sat inside, reading a book as a weather warning comes over the radio threatening strong winds for my area in the next couple of days. The book I’m reading is by Nicolas Bouvier, and I’ve just got to the part where, during his travels in Ireland, he is asking a local about a meandering road of pointless bends:

I like that. I bet that’s why those lovers of straight routes, the Romans, wore helmets all the time.

*

I lost my Evie twenty years ago.

It was a man behind me, in the queue at the local bank, after enquiring how a newly widowed acquaintance of his was doing, during their chance encounter.

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til you lose it. No, you wouldn’t have seen me, I’ve been in hospital for a hip operation. But I’m still here, still upright. Eighty-one on New Year’s Eve. You’ve gotta fall apart sometime, haven’t you?

I was recently saddened to hear of the passing of an old colleague of mine. He’d made it to his eighties, too, though he’d succumbed to dementia. I bumped into him once, my own chance encounter, and he’d exclaimed “Bloody hell, I’ve not seen you in ages!” The next time I saw him he didn’t know me.

My Mum has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. At the moment she’s not too bad, and living next door allows me to keep an eye on her. I asked her if she could remember the name of an old dog that she had:

“Was it Andy?”

“No, I’m Andy!”

She laughed, confusing me with the one who had slouched on the sofa and pissed on the floor. Easy mistake.

Though she’s not yet at the stage that my colleague was, I can see that this person I’ve known for the whole of my life is fading. I guess time can do that anyway, regardless of that particular condition. The years diminish us. It’s like we grow, we build, we peak, then begin to slip back to our primordial beginnings.

*

There is a house near to us where the occupants are shut away. Every single window, both front and back, night and day, has the curtains closed, fastened together in the middle to create a perpetual twilight for those, unseen, living inside.

The young me, the one who had not yet reached his teens and spent his time watching Hammer movies on television, would have immediately thought: vampires. The current me, a bit longer in the tooth, came up with crack den.

Another Train

one of those days,

as the light fades

and the sky becomes a charcoal smudge

and the train rolls on, to familiar territory

it’s the people you share the journey with

the quiet ones; the rowdy ones,

like that guy staring out of the window, lost in thought,

those girls giggling over a censored photo

held close to the chest like a card hand,

we will spill from the carriage and disperse,

like on the wind,

where will the gusts take them all, I wonder?