Today was a rain-sodden, autumnal day, greeting me first thing this morning as I poked my head out of the attic window of my bedroom. It reinforced my opinion that Christmas decorations should not be up before December, or at least before all of the leaves are off the trees.
Then I walked into The Printworks in Manchester. In the shadows of this covered thoroughfare I was greeted by this Ice blue vista:
Bet you can guess which one the kids preferred? The wife too.
They went off spending money, I went off counting leaves.
Roll on Winter. The Chocolate Feast is always the last to go.
Keep cool, have a great weekend.
See you on the flip side.
I have said it more than once: what a small world this is. Aside from all redundant technology, sometimes the particulars of conversation highlight this.
I was speaking recently with a friend, a priest of this parish, and mentioned the northern poet Adam Johnson, who died in 1993 in his late twenties. It turns out that this friend knew him back in the eighties, and as ever I marvelled at the coincidence of connections. The conversation led me to seek out the poet’s work, and I share with you now one of his poems that is a favourite of mine, winter lover that I am.
The nascent winter turns Each root into a nail, And in the West there burns A sun morbid and pale. Now, from the city bars We drift, into a cool Gymnasium of stars - The drunkard and the fool: Into the night we go, Finding our separate ways - The darkness fraught with snow, The leaves falling like days. - Adam Johnson
Things have been quiet, poetry wise. My book has now been realised, and I’ve been working on a final draft of a short story for a forthcoming anthology.
The first snow of winter came in last night, so I wrapped myself up warm and went for a walk to experience it. Along the way, the beginning of a new poem began to form in my mind. The land is slumbering, but creativity awakens.
In the hush of winter,
white lichen clings to trees,
life slumbers long
into the early hours
of black glass.
It is a beginning.
On this day in 1900: a real-life mystery. Any theories?
It is well known, I think, that people like to read ghost stories around the Christmas season, but how about a real-life December mystery?
The Flannan Isles are located thirty kilometres west of the Outer Hebrides, in the Atlantic Ocean. Celtic monks lived on those desolate islands in isolation, until they were abandoned for a thousand years. There are the remains of a chapel there, said to have been built by the Irish monk St.Flannan. In 1895 a lighthouse was built there, to warn off ships, passing in those treacherous waters.
In 1900, a three man crew of James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, and Donald MacArthur arrived for a two week posting, just in time for the hostile winter to set in.
I am not sure who is who in this photograph, but at least one of those three men is present in it, maybe the other two are, also.
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I’ve been sat outside tonight reading ghost stories by the criminally forgotten 19th Century writer Sheridan Le Fanu, drinking coffee and watching both the night and the fog descend: a gradual, conspiratorial settling upon my conceding town.
Setting is everything.
The muffling atmosphere has put me in mind to watch Jack The Ripper with Michael Caine.
It may only be the first day of November, but winter evenings start here.
Today is the Autumn Equinox. From now on, the days become shorter, the nights grow longer.
But I don’t lament: Winter is my favourite season, and Autumn heralds the beginning of my favourite half of the year. I stock up on my books as we turn inwards, batten down the hatches, light the fire. Begin to revel in the dark and the storms.
This year, please, let there be snow.
I am a well known, self-affirmed winter lover. Frosty mornings, gloomy afternoons, and sleet-scourged nights do it for me. Bleak rather than bright is my inspirational kick.
But even I, in my hoary thrall, can appreciate the sights and sounds of the other seasons. I mean, how beautiful is the scene below of our local church, taken last week in all its decorative setting?
The church is just a minute’s walk from my house. Given the right breeze, and the right appreciative eye, some of that blossom could be adding much needed mottled colour to my front garden.
Yes, I acknowledge the spirit-lifting effect that all of this brightness and colour brings, while also decrying the usual urban downsides: the wasps that thwart the kids’ picnics; the drone of the quad bikes; the outdoor parties that stagger on into the early hours. I know, I know, I’m getting old. Ageing along with these seasons, fading with the rhythm that seeps through our concrete sprawl and adds lines to my dry, cracking skin.
As a single entity, Manchester strips herself of her cloak and turns her face to the sun.
And as one of her children, I understand that each season has its own merits and champions. Each, like this very summer, lays claim to our affections with a Johnny-come-lately charm. But, as always, playing hard to get, (even the faithful lover), at the very moment I am feeling the heat on my skin, I turn my face to the north, looking for the first signs of those grey, laden clouds.
But if we have, for the third year running, a largely snow-free winter, then perhaps my fidelity will be severely tested. Until then: come, northern chill, come. Come and caress my soul. Throw me a stanza or two.