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.

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.

V-Day, Great To See Day

A fragile, frosty morning, with the Warwick Mill intangibly framed against the dawn sky.

I took this photograph yesterday; today I awoke to rain. And you know how cold rain in December can be.

The Warwick Mill is an empty shell, surviving changing times and the neglect of abandonment. But for how long? The target of children and arsonists, it is the relic of a time when my town was a cotton town, employing hundreds of local people over many years. Today, if it was closer to Manchester, it would undoubtedly house converted apartments.

Instead, it houses pigeons and rats. But for now it’s still with us, and who knows what the future holds?

*

Speaking of the future:

Having been short on good news lately, there was such a lift today in learning that this December day is not only Tuesday, it is also V-Day. I’m not sure if the ‘V’ is for victory or vaccination, but they are both going hand in hand, anyway.

A 90-year-old grandmother this morning became the first person to receive the new Covid-19 vaccine. She was all over the news, sat in hospital having her jab while, symbolising the restored festive feel, wearing her Christmas jumper.

What a multi-cultural collaboration it has been to get here. The drug is from a US pharmaceutical company, the scientist behind it a Turkish immigrant to Germany, it’s manufactured in Belgium and our UK regulator is the first to approve it.

All of that ingenuity and endeavour and cross border co-operation has delivered.

I cannot remember the name of the woman who as first in the queue without googling, but I do remember the second patient: William Shakespeare! Not only William Shakespeare, but William Shakespeare of Warwickshire!

How’s that for a Winter’s Tale?

When asked how it went, I’d have really loved it if hed have replied “It was much ado about nothing,”

But still, at this time of year, the end of a cold and sorely taxing year, while the hours of darkness are deepening, there can also be discerned a shining light, a light that is slowly growing. A light that is heralding the hopes of a nation, coming with us through a gateway into a bright new start.

One Of Those Nights; One Of Those Mornings

It was one of those nights. The view from my midnight gate: a myopic, cataract-obscuring gloom; a cold mist blurring the edges of our focus-the wall’s crowning like a diamond adorned crust, a new gift, a vision.

Within the night, within our perimeters, we need to know both our boundaries and our limitations.

It was one of those mornings. Crawling over the hill, a tepid promise for the evening’s hostilities; bait to entice us out into the town. Tidal lanes for those who consume or are themselves consumed, condemned forever to travel these seasonal tides.

On the cusp of the day, we need to embrace each new offering with both instinct and wisdom.

Crows

Crows

A disheartening of crows
gathered in winter fields.

Naked trees 
from disused rail road tracks,

dark stains
on white linen.

In trust we are led
through this stark terrain,

senses soaked
in sparse liquor,

a hungry air tasting our flesh,

a murmuring 
of hardened, thirsting 
soil.

They rise, wheeling,
across the sky,

black flecks of mortality
in widening whites of eyes.





©AndrewJamesMurray