Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Who is Michael?

Michael stepped out of the lift, pushing an empty wooden book trolley ahead of him. He'd been shelving books on the fifth floor, Arts and Humanities. It was his favourite place in the entire library, but it wasn’t the subject matter he loved so much. It was the view. The tattered fabric of his city, roughly stitched, and snagged here and there by insistent church steeples. It was a place to dream, a place where he sensed that the promise of God was balanced precariously on the tips of consecrated needles...

Thursday, 10 April 2014

In your hands

I’ve heard it said that it’s possible to tell a lot about a person by looking at their hands. When I was a boy, I was fascinated by my grandfather’s hands. They were not only huge, but the palms were calloused and stained from the wood he worked with. When he turned them over, they were tanned dark brown, veins replicating the branches of trees, nails chipped and broken like weathered shells that had dug themselves from an ancient beach.

Martin still isn't convinced that washing-up benefits his 'mitts'.

My own hands were a source of fascination for our daughter. The first contact we ever had was when she clasped her own little digits around my index finger. But even after she grew beyond losing her hand in mine, she would occasionally take hold and say quietly, perhaps reassuringly, “Daddy hands.”

Do you pay attention to people’s hands, and if so, what do you look for?

Friday, 28 March 2014

SW Snaps

SW asked me to free up some space on her camera, so I set to work. She's developing quite an archive. Here is a very small selection of some of the things (including Things 1 & 2) that have caught her eye.

Her beloved 'Monty'.
A would-be chick
A rustic riddle
Thing 2
Things and the swing

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Past, the parcel

I was watching a Terence Davies film the other night, “Of Time and the City,” a documentary collage of 50s and 60s Liverpool. Now, Liverpool is a city that I’ve driven through once, and flown over twice, but I’ve never actually touched down and spent any time exploring.

 I actually remember a time when Queens Way really was this clean.

Archive footage of any cityscape, caught, canned, and eventually served as a feast of nostalgia, has a tendency to chime with our own metropolitan memories. Buildings can prove to be recognisable and even familiar, despite the fact that they might be hundreds of miles away from our own stamping ground. After all, a slum is a slum, and few of us will have been spared those architectural statements of hope that sucked up communities and piled them high in the sky.

Many of the people in the film looked as though they had tumbled from a family album, when in fact, they were waiting to climb in via cine camera. Toothless pensioners wearing expressions that suggested they had forgotten the password to posterity. Chanting girls, stirring the air of their dreams with twirling ropes, while the boys rampaged around the great corridors of their own imaginations. And not forgetting those young couples, negotiating the divide between all that they held dear, and all that they dared hold.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Dream with great care

My late stepfather had a dream. It was an admirable dream that eventually turned into something of an obsession. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be realised until he had won the lottery. Then, with a cheque in hand, he would see everyone else alright. In short, his nearest and dearest would be relieved of any financial burdens, in the time it takes to say ‘Lotto’. Our lives would become a bed of roses.

I used to caution him, “be careful what you wish for.” But he was adamant that a sum with six zeros could only change things for the better. He didn’t buy the argument that the money may cause unhappiness. It was easy to understand why. Born in 1920 into poor conditions, he was one of thirteen children raised under the roof of a tiny cottage, set deep in the Hampshire countryside. When he and his twin brother, as growing lads, developed a love of football, there was a pair of boots to share. As a result, he always had a good left foot.

30 years ago my newspaper editor cautioned me in a similar way, regarding my writing ambitions. “Most of the writers I know,” he said, “struggle to pay the bills. Not everyone writes ‘bestsellers’.” A successful Fleet Street editor himself, he obviously thought that everyone who desired to see their work in print, was pursuing fame and fortune.

But my ambition was to write and be published, so that I might share my ideas and observations. I imagined earning a living but never courted the idea of becoming rich and famous. In fact, today, I can honestly say I feel the same way. I could probably get used to the ‘rich’ part, but we seldom get owt for nowt, do we? The endless promotional engagements, radio, or even worse, television interviews, public speaking, book signings, the pressure and conditions of contracts, the expectations of readers. And all of this, while you’re trying to pen something you’ll be proud of.

And then I read a piece by Robert McCrum. And while I don’t feel in the least bit sorry for Rupert Thomson all the time he can afford to commission “a builder to create a tiny office (4ft 9in x 9ft 11in) at home in his attic,” - at least he has an attic -  I do 'feel' for those ‘talents’ out there, who are not taking enough care when it comes to making wishes.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

An' it don't seem a day too much

We've been together now for forty years,
An' it don't seem a day too much,
There ain't a lady livin' in the land
As I'd swop for my dear old Dutch. 
- Albert Chevalier (1893)

At this tender age, neither Martin or Mags had the faintest idea
that they would meet later in life, marry, become parents to a
beautiful daughter, see their daughter married to a good man, 
be blessed with three darling granddaughters, and celebrate their
Ruby Wedding Anniversary!

Tied the knot 2nd March, 1974,
and it's as good now as it ever was .

Monday, 24 February 2014

Dying to ask

During a recent family walk, SW announced that somebody died. The somebody was unknown to her, and although she’ll never recall the face or characteristics of the deceased in question, never know how they walked or talked, she’ll remember the car they were riding in and the flowers they had for company. Why will she remember? Probably because, in the process, she learnt that the correct name for an undertaker’s car is hearse. Coffin was already familiar to her, and was used extensively in conversations when she was going through her vampire phase. Scooby Doo has a lot to answer for, believe me.

From early on, my son-in-law explained a person’s ‘passing’ sensitively. “Sometimes we have to say goodbye to people we’re fond of,” he said. But by the time my stepfather left the stage, in 2009, we were all using the word, ‘died’, and that was fine.

It’s a tricky one, dealing with the business of dying, when the questions are coming from someone so young. Explaining where babies come from is so much easier.

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to mention (to anyone who might be listening) that SW would be 17 in 10 years time. She turned quickly to me and asked, “Will you still be alive then?”

“I’ll do my best,” I said.

I should add that shortly after SW made her announcement that somebody had died, Thing 2 chirped, “I’ve never seen anybody die before!”

That seemed like an ideal time to dive into the village shop for some sweeties.