Looking To Spring

There’s snow on the ground and fog in the air.

Only a little snow, merely a dusting. Only a little fog, let’s call it mist.

I recently hoped aloud that 2023 would be better than 2022. Well, in the last couple of weeks I’ve been to the funeral of an ex-work colleague, lost a lad my wife and I have known since the 80’s, and spent the whole night in hospital at the bedside of my wife’s uncle before he passed away yesterday, his brother and nephew with him while I grabbed a couple of hours sleep.

We are not even out of January yet.

If you look carefully, among all of the chaos, I’m still there, recording.

But City Jackdaw can’t only be a list of unfortunate and tragic events. We’d all need therapy.

We all need balance.

As the year goes on there’s other stuff going on. There’s plans to make. Projects to complete, projects to begin. Children to lead through this patchwork of emotions we call life.

Winter only lasts so long. There’s new light coming.

Hobbit in the Habitat? Not Quite.

I have a few projects at the moment that have been put on hold due to a local oral history project that I volunteered for. This has taken precedence because, sadly, some of the people that I was due to speak with died before I got the opportunity, and I have also been to the funerals of two people whose stories I have managed to preserve.

So the clock is ticking. Talk about a deadline. Literally.

In pursuit of finishing this endeavour, I was due to catch a train to interview a Bishop who lived on my estate in the 1970’s.

“Who are you going to see this time?” my daughter, Millie, asked.

“I’m going to see a Bishop. And guess what my first question is?”

“What?”

Is it true that you can only move diagonally?”

Long pause. “I don’t get it.”

Things didn’t fare any better with my older daughter, Courtney. She asked me “Where is it you are getting a train to?”

“Chapel-en-le-Frith.”

One of those pauses again. Must be a family thing. “What does that even mean?!’

“It’s a place,” I explained, deciding to slip back into English. Historically it was the upperland area between Saxon land and Viking land, and I love that kind of stuff.

But I didn’t go there (metaphorically speaking). I had a train to catch.

Peak as in ‘Peak District’

At Manchester Piccadilly, I made the fatal mistake of looking at books in WH Smith, something that is always liable to distract me. It was only when I saw some bottles of Buxton Spring Water on a shelf that I suddenly remembered why I was there.

“BUXTON!”

That was the destination my train was heading for, with my stop coming two stations before. It was, dare I say it, divine intervention of my dawdling. And off I dashed.

In short: I made my train, on disembarking was met on the platform by the Bishop (“Jack?” “Andy?”) and was charmed over lunch by both him and his wife. Not realising on my arrival just how close to the station that they lived, I declined the offer of a lift back to the station, insisting that I’d like to walk. I am an ex-postie after all.

And who doesn’t love Autumn in Derbyshire?

However, quaint though the local train station was, what I didn’t realise was that trains to Manchester ran only once every hour, and I had forty minutes to wait.

Just as the rain came in with a dampening down of mood.

I’m sittin’ in the railway station . . .

There was a shelter on the opposite side of the tracks, (the Manchester side), so I could sit down and take in the setting. There was nobody else around. Windswept and empty, it was obvious that the locals were all au fait with the timetable.

The type of rain that Peter Kaye made famous.

At first glance, looking to the opposite platform, I thought that this said ‘Home of Frodo’.

Ferodo is a brakes company.

A friend later told me that when she was there she’d thought that the sign said ‘Home of Freddo’.

Hobbits/Chocolate . Maybe chocolate hobnobs?

In the autumn chill I was pretty sure that at least some of the locals were snug and warm.

Snug as a, well, you know.

I couldn’t help but contrast my surroundings with this welcoming depiction of the town. I think a bit of artistic licence had been used, especially with the climate. I could just feel that heat. Almost.

Looks lovely, doesn’t it?

The time soon passed, (with still not a living soul arriving to keep me company), and my train rolled in to puncture this almost picture-portrait of times past. But not before the clouds broke and I was given one more contrast before my departure.

Chapel-en-le-Frith by sunshine.

Numbers

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number –

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you –

Ye are many – they are few

The Mask of Anarchy, Percy Bysshe Shelley

The old get old

And the young get stronger

May take a week

And it may take longer

They got the guns

But we got the numbers

Five To One, James Douglas Morrison

Disclaimer: I’m not advocating anything. It was just that reading the words of one young poet reminded me of the lines of another.

Sleep Is Overrated Anyway.

I can go asleep like *that*

(Visualise me clicking my fingers.)

Even in a strange bed, I have no problem. But if something wakes me once I’ve been asleep I find it difficult to get back off again. Which doesn’t work well with my wife liking to sleep with the window open, especially at this time of year. In the early hours of the morning someone was talking outside of our house before getting into a taxi. And that, my friends, was that.

Awake at 2.45am and immediately knowing that I was going to struggle, I got up at gone three, that wonderful blue hour where reality shifts into something else.

And that something else set the tone for the rest of the day.

When I first went downstairs my dog Bryn did his best to keep me company.

But he soon gave up the struggle.

Looking for positives, being up early gave me the opportunity to listen to the new Kula Shaker double-album that had dropped at midnight while I was still spending my brief sojourn in the underworld.

Still happily existing outside of the mainstream, there is a song on it called The Gingerbread Man.

And if you thought that was surreal enough, things turned even more so when I called into the local McDonald’s for a coffee.

Approaching the touchscreen order point, I was greeted with:

Start order to get deliciousness

Start order to get deliciousness. It sounded like one of those sentences that’s been passed several times through Google Translate but still doesn’t quite hit the mark.

I ordered my coffee (deliciousness), picked my coffee (deliciousness) and sat down. It was only after finishing my coffee (I’ll spare you) and walking towards the exit that I spotted the old man. He was sat at table, head down, scribbling away on a notepad. Around his neck he wore a cardboard sign which read:

Old man for sale. Make me an offer.

I know a woman who works in the restaurant who just happened to be stood by the door and so I enquired about him.

Oh him. He comes in most mornings, writing in his notebooks.”

Of course, as a writer, I was curious. Curious about his subject. Curious about that sign that hung ignominiously around his neck. Or maybe it was hanging there as an invitation to approach and start a conversation.

But in the end I decided not to interrupt him. He seemed in full flow, and when you’re hot you’re hot.

And perhaps I’d baulked because I feared that I’d caught a glimpse of myself, still the writer, slipped into eccentricity, two decades in the future.

Or maybe even just five years, depending on how much sleep I get.

On The Death Of A Friend

The news came right out of the blue. It says a lot about the world we live in when, on hearing about the death of a middle-aged male, your immediate thoughts turn to mental health and did he take his own life? Even when there was no reason to suspect so.

It seems that those initial fears were well-founded, though. Well-founded regardless of our last spontaneous meeting the week before, unable as I was to see beyond the handshake greeting and the same old laughs. If only our vision could see beyond those superficial things.

It’s a cliché, but the next day, when opening the curtains, the world outside was going on as normal. It was just that he’d fallen away. Fallen from those familiar streets that we’d shared since our childhood of the Seventies. I walked them today, carrying him around with me. Along with his daughter’s words that struck like a dagger on social media:

Dad, I’ll miss you forever. I know we will meet up again someday, just not here

Here. The place of our roots, this housing estate where he was a well-know, popular figure, where we got taller and the world got larger. It’s a poorer place for his absence.

As well as our beginnings I think of our shared interests. He was a huge Lennon/Beatles/Oasis/City fan. Music loomed large in our conversations. He was in a band and I used to listen to his music while he used to read my writing. He once asked me to provide lyrics for something he’d done around a riff he’d come up with. To the best of my knowledge he never got to record it, and the lyrics found a home in my second poetry collection.

On the evening I found out I had a beer in the back garden while listening to his stuff on Soundcloud, along with a couple of demos he’d sent me. They provided the soundtrack while I read through our convos on text and WhatsApp. There was me, informing him of a new John Lennon exhibition in Liverpool. There was he, exhorting me to go to those early Beatle stomping grounds he’d visited in Hamburg.

I live next door to my Mum – my childhood home. I looked to the wall at the rear of the ginnel that we shared. When my son was younger I used to use my friend’s name as a warning for him when he was trying to climb onto it. “There’s a guy called *** *** and in 1982, when he was a kid, he fell off that wall and split his head open!” He’d had a crew cut back then and you could see the blood on his scalp. He still bore the scar in adulthood.

Right up until that middle-age cut off point.

The air began to turn chilly. There’s only seven tracks on his Soundcloud page, the vast majority of his creativity remains uncaptured. I put them on repeat. It’s easier to picture him playing that bass than to think of that room and speculate about his final thoughts.

Wherever he now was, I raised a glass to him.

just not here

I drained my beer as the sun went down on this old town of ours. It will outlive us all.