Winter Harbingers?

Though it may be August, and the sky (fleetingly) blue, these local starlings have already donned their winter plumage and started gathering together. Maybe a sign of a cold, hard winter? I don’t know, but as a winter lover I can live in hope.
Looking up at them, the words of Dire Straits came to mind:

And the birds up on the wires and the telegraph poles

They can always fly away from this rain and this cold

You can hear them singing out their telegraph code

All the way down the Telegraph Road


They can always fly away from this rain and this cold. Or they can stay, if they want, in their winter plumage, hustling me for chips on frosty grey days.

Claws For The Weekend: How To Brighten Up A Rainy Manchester Street

I love this video, taken on Market Street in the city centre, for the music, the crowd’s spontaneous reaction and then the band joining in at the end. And the guy still talking on his phone during it all. All in front of the Ann Summers’ shop. Would have been great if they’d all conga’d right in there, coming back out wearing all sorts of things! Especially on the trombone 🙂 

Have a great weekend everybody. See you on the flip side.

Dunkirk: A Perspective Of Film and Family

Yesterday I went to see the film Dunkirk. It tells the story from the perspective of all those involved in the 1940 evacuation: the army; the navy; the airforce and the civilian people who answered the call to rescue the remnants of the British army in a flotilla of small fishing vessels.

In regard to the airforce, there was a lot of ill feeling at the time among the British soldiers that the airforce had let them down. “Where were you at Dunkirk?” would be an accusatory question levelled at the airmen, for it seemed that the sky belonged solely to the German airforce that bombed both the men and rescuing ships seemingly uncontested.

However, I watched a programme only last week called Dunkirk: The New Evidence where it was revealed that the rescue of the stranded soldiers took place because of the action of the Spitfire pilots who were engaging the enemy miles inland, winning an aerial battle that was taking place far away from the sight of those desperate men.

The film is low on dialogue but high on tension, one particular exchange, between two men looking for the sea to return, being:

“The tide’s turning now.”

“How can you tell?”

“The bodies come back.”

I watched the film with recent conversations in mind that I’d had with people whose family members were present at that historical moment, personal stories recounted to me:

the woman whose grandfather said that every time he got on a boat he ended up back in the water;

the man whose uncle was badly wounded and later died of his injuries;

the man whose grandfather stood with other men for hours with the sea up to their chest, holding aloft their rifles in the air, until in despair they threw them into the water.

But more emotional for me, though, were my own family connections:

My Great Uncle George who was captured at Dunkirk. He was in the rearguard, fighting to buy time for the men on the beach.

My Great Uncle George Worthington. This was taken in the 1920’s, as he was a reservist in the Manchester Regiment before the war.

George is the smaller man on the left, pictured here in one of the Stalag German camps where he was held for five years.

Then there was my grandfather Fred. In the scene where the screaming Stukas are bombing the defenceless soldiers who are arraigned across the beach like sitting ducks, I thought to myself My God, my Granddad went through this? 

One of the loveliest men you could ever wish to meet, you would never know what he had experienced. All that I do know is that he was one of the last off the beach at Dunkirk (he’d been salvaging equipment) and was one of the first on the beach on D-Day.

My grandfather Fred Murray, of the Royal Engineers.

It was only in 2015, during the 75th anniversary of Dunkirk, that I came to an hitherto unknown realisation: while my grandfather was stranded on those beaches of Dunkirk, his first child-my father was being born at home in Manchester. I recalled my father saying that, with his own father being away at war, they didn’t know what he wanted his firstborn called, and so they named him Fred after his father.

But I never knew it was Dunkirk where he was.

There he was, not knowing if he would survive, if he would get back to England, if he would ever get to see his child that was being born right then across the channel.

It is time, some considerable time, that have enabled me to piece these things together.

On reaching England he returned north by train to Manchester. Whilst having a pint in the family pub in Collyhurst, a local cobbler took his boots away to repair for free as they were split, feet showing, from the long, marched retreat in France

My grandfather with the cigarette in his mouth. This was in France, 1940, pre-Dunkirk. Sent back to my grandmother, written on the back was ‘Drunk again!’ Probably coloured her thinking when I remember the following exchange, when she was talking about how hard the women had it back then: ” . . . while you was off, galavanting around the world.” “Oh yes-I was having a bloody lovely time!”

These memories serve to remind me that the German army-of which we see little of in the film, was likewise made up of similar ordinary people, separated from family and loved ones, their allegiance and involvement instigated by the happenstance of the time and place of their birth.

Here’s a short trailer for the film, there are longer ones to be found on YouTube.

When Two Worlds Meet, Two Bloggers Greet

In 2013 I was searching the Internet after googling ‘Canky Middleton’. Canky was the name of a legendary figure connected to my hometown of Middleton, allegedly a bodysnatcher of the 19th Century. I was trying to discover if there were any kernels of truth in the story, or if it was rather just a notorious urban legend.

My search led me to a post written by Pam, the author of a blog called Mushy Cloud, who lives in a town not too far from my own. We had a conversation on there about the infamous Canky. Afterwards, I began to explore WordPress, and so was sown the seeds of writing my own blog. This was how City Jackdaw came into being. I followed her blog, she reciprocated by following mine.

Fast forward four years to last Thursday afternoon.

I was attending the funeral of a dear family friend. The length of time that the woman who had passed had been connected to my family can best be illustrated by the fact that, not only did she knit clothes for my children when they were born, she also knitted clothes for me when I was born. Her family and mine had been tied together for decades. 

Anyway, at the service, the vicar who was taking the funeral service called upon a ‘Pam’ to lead the people gathered in prayer. I watched her walking to the front of the church, thinking: I’m sure that’s the Pam who hosts Mushy Cloud.

I knew from some of her posts that she was exploring her vocation within the Church Of England, and this was the town in which she lived. When the service was over and the mourners were filing out, I approached her as she sat at the back of the church. No doubt she thought that I was one of the many people saying goodbye as they walked past to the church doors.

“Are you the Pam of Mushy Cloud?”

She looked up at me. “I am. Who are you?”

“I’m Andy, of City Jackdaw.”

She started in surprise, then immediately thrust out her hand to shake mine, both of us declaring how good it was to meet after all of our WordPress-fielded conversations.

She said “It’s like two worlds are coming together.” 

She wrote in her most recent post that it was a lovely moment in the coming together of her online life and her ‘real’ life. I think we could also look at it as the world of Mushy Cloud and the world of City Jackdaw that came together, two separate planets connected in friendship and confederacy through the nebulous and all encompassing universe of WordPress.

Trust you, my wife said on reading this, to turn it into something all sci-fi! 

But all of our individual blogs are like individual worlds, existing in the blogosphere, each with its own inhabitants and laws, welcoming travellers from near and afar.

Thursday was a nice reminder that we do all exist in the real world, and sometimes indeed our paths do cross.

Keep an eye out for me as you go about your business. I’m the one in the green coat, probably with kids in tow.
Here is Pam’s post, where she mentions our unexpected meeting, go and set down on Mushy World:

https://sterlingsop.wordpress.com/2017/07/20/catching-up-4/

*As I’ve commented on Pam’s post, a further twist that underlines the connections theme is that it turns out that my wife and Pam have met in the past in a professional capacity. City Jackdaw was the ghost that moved unsensed between them.