Roaming In Rome, Connecting In Retrospect

What a difference a bit of sunshine makes to our locked-down spirits!

I sat a while in our town centre gardens, drinking a coffee while watching people come and go. It was almost, almost, like the world before, when nothing impinged on our intentions and freedom other than schedules and finance.

The new warmth took me back even further, to around 2006, when I was in Rome. I would get up early and after showering go for a walk along the Tiber. Along the way I’d call for a bottle of water from a small shop that I knew of, tucked away down a small backstreet, that was championed by the locals as it didn’t charge the inflated prices that the others inflicted upon we tourists.

I would loop a route back round to take in Peter and Paul in St.Peter’s Square, up there high on their pedestals, before the crowds arrived with their clicking cameras and eager eyes. As the day wore on, with the sun well on its way to reach its zenith, there were no shortage of churches that I could choose from to seek respite in their cool stone shade.

It was on one of those days, easy and long, that I was sat having a beer next to the Colosseum when my wife messaged to inform me that the girl we fostered had shaved off her eyebrows!

Talk about being hooked right back into the ‘real’ world back home.

It’s funny how different places bring different memories, small connections that lead into each other over time. Hopefully soon there will be new places offering new memories and connections to be made down the line.

Anyway, that particular memory found a home in my second poetry collection In Brigantia, born of a conversation with one girl that made a connection with the recollection of another.

Bridge Of Sighs

Remember this? The outside world?

With the news that children are to begin the return to school from the eighth of March, and that grassroots kids’ football is hoped to resume not long after this, I managed to peel my son, James, off his PlayStation to go on what I hope will be a series of regular walks to build up his fitness. Mine too.

We set off down a long road which, despite us coming from the same place, some of my friends refer to as The Mad Mile. I, however, know it as The Heywood Stretch.

At the end of this road you come to a roundabout bridge which looks down onto the M62, as shown in the photograph.

We stopped there, for a breather, the wind blowing in our faces as those below us, those fellow lockdown escapees, blew their horns and waved up at us in a semblance of some barely remembered social interaction as they disappeared from view.

“Why are they waving at us?” James asked.

“They are just being friendly,” I replied.

“Do they think we’re gonna jump?”

(Long pause.) “I hope not.”

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.

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.

Post-Festive, Lockdown Blues

BOXING DAY

I know you don’t need me to tell you.

These are desperate times. But this is especially so if you’re a fan of non-league football and your team didn’t have a game on Boxing Day, for Boxing Day is traditionally football day. And without tradition-we’re lost. In these uncertain times we need the odd touchstone.

My team, Prestwich Heys, didn’t have a match because the team the fixture list had given us was the only one in the league that had decided that they wouldn’t play at the government reduced, Covid-caused capacity.

I had to find an alternative for my son and I.

A quick scan of the fixture lists showed me that Daisy Hill were at home and that was doable, just a twenty minute train ride and a quick walk. Plans remade.

Except, just as we were about to leave, we received the news that overnight Bolton had experienced some snow and the game was off.

So, after checking other possible games, (the fruitless results of which I’ll share later in this post), we decided to go a bit further out to Darwen, in Blackburn, jumping a lift with a friend.

Needing a game, needing fresh air, we set off, reassured in the knowledge that even if snow had ventured this far, Darwen had a plastic pitch and when cleared the match would be on.

Once we reached the hills, we saw the wicked snow that-this-way-came. It was nothing more than a novelty and pleasing to the eye, providing photo opportunities to document our dedicated search for football.

At the end of our journey, the ground awaiting, we rolled into the club car park only to be told that they had reached their reduced capacity limit and so we couldn’t get in.

Deep sigh. Wasted day. Journey back.

I wouldn’t be taking any photos this time.

Boxing Day equals football day. Remember that?

Though I wouldn’t now be watching a match in person I thought that at least when I got in I’d be able to see Man City on TV as at that level the games were always on.

As we were dropped off I received the latest news which was the final nail in the coffin of every match I’d held flickering hopes for:

Prestwich was cancelled because of Covid restrictions ;

Daisy Hill was cancelled because of snow;

Heywood St James was cancelled because of a waterlogged pitch;

Maine Road was cancelled because of Covid restrictions;

Went to Darwen but couldn’t get in;

And now Man City was cancelled because of positive Covid cases among the squad;

What an unbelievable set of circumstances they were, all coming together to thwart me. In resignation, I decided to look at the day’s football league results on my LiveScore app and got this:

From all of this I’ve come to the conclusion that the universe is telling me NO MORE BLOODY FOOTBALL!

NEW YEAR’S EVE

Restrictions building, a sense of the world closing in, we went for a coffee at one of the last places we were allowed to sit in (a motorway service station) as the sun slipped away for the final time from this most challenging of years.

Custom was scarce, enthusiasm more so, and after just the one drink we went home, staying in as the country, maybe even the world, stayed in for the build up to the midnight countdown. The clock struck twelve, the family hugged and then we went outside to see the fireworks.

Almost on cue it began to snow. I don’t think I’ve ever known it to snow on New Year’s Eve before, certainly not beginning at midnight. (I know I know, technically this is New Year’s Day.) It momentarily lifted the spirits, the children shouting in delight.

Snow on New Year’s Eve seemed a suitable way to draw a line under this difficult year. It was as if the earth had taken pity on us for all we’d recently endured and given us just a little sprinkling of magic to remind us that nothing lasts forever.

New Year’s Day

No hangover, no self-induced fragility, but this day seemed more subdued than ever. Perhaps it’s that play-off, that tormenting dichotomy, the knowledge that 2021 has been ushered in with an end in sight to our 2020 struggles, but to get there we are going to have to endure the more difficult days to come.

I write this as we have entered another national lockdown, one that reportedly could last until the end of March. We are like prisoners doing time, scratching off our days served on our cell walls until the day of release comes. And it is coming, be certain of that. We just have to keep our eyes fixed on that distant, longed-for prize.

Who will meet us at the gate?