About Me

Sunday, 16 September 2018


Politics - or should I say social media's take on politics - simultaneously engages and annoys me. I have flurries  where I find myself arguing  about transgender issues and  anti-Semitism.  In terms of transgender, I have been surprised by what seems like a reactionary return to biological basics amongst feminists and some on the left. On the anti-Semitic issue, I hate what the Israeli Government are doing: shooting at unarmed Palestinian civilians, putting  people in cages at borders FGS. Yet, still I see the starved faces of people looking through the mesh fences in concentration camps that haunted me as a child back in the 1960s, when I sat and watched All our Yesterdays with my grandma.  How can a persecuted people  not desire and cling to a homeland?  The notion that Jews are at the heart of wicked conspiracies in banking, peddled by some less than subtle souls on the left  is anti-Semitic. It's becoming clearer that some on the left  would like to see an end to Israel and I really can't support that. Sadly, there seems to be little will for a two state solution internationally at a time when it is most needed.  Trump is uber supportive of Israel, which doesn't help.

And as for Brexit...I can't even go there.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Initiation into the magical art of train travel

T for Tuesday is asking for posts with some link to a drink..on the journey below, my Great Aunt Eliza and I drank coffee from a flask. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the coffee and see her pour it from the silver neck of the flask into beige cups. It all felt rather grown up. I learned the art of travelling by train from this aunt. It's been forty four years since she passed away but her influence on me has been indelible.

Manchester Piccadilly was the biggest and most magnificent railway station I had seen. Its fabulous Victorian iron-girdered ceiling - still blackened from the smoke of steam locomotives - and its long platforms transported me to the same place as the opening pages of a new book: it promised good things to come. Stepping on the long train, holding on to my small suitcase with one hand and my aunt with the other, I knew this was a special journey.

Taking small sips of strong coffee, I gazed through the windows as the train moved through the endless green countryside dotted with churches, cottages and farms, through the suburbs of little boxes and small factories and onwards into the city. On that journey, I saw something I have never seen since: as we entered the suburbs of London, hanging from every balcony of every tenement, were rows and rows of washing. When I repeated the journey a year later, a significant change had occured. There was far less washing. As the 60's gave way to the 70's it seemed to me that the population's washing habits underwent a revolution. Washing lines didn't disappear entirely but the sheer volume of wet shirts, skirts and knickers decorating the edges of the West Coast Line was severely reduce. And on the many journeys from the North to London I have made since then, never again have I seen so much washing decorating the line.

We reached Euston and, in order to reach our destination in Surrey, Aunt Eliza marched us  down the short escalator into the tube station. We purchased our ticket at the wooden window and took a much longer ride down to the platforms.

I stood on the platform full of wonder and half afraid. When the train clattered into the station, I was scared the force of it might drag me on to the live rail, which Aunt Eliza had sternly explained would kill me should I fall upon it.

Inside the train, I was transfixed by the map of the Northern Line on the opposite wall above the heads of the passengers. We passed beneath Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square and Charing Cross and then moved out to Elephant and Castle, Kennington, Oval, Stockwell and North Clapham. At some point we came up from the tunnels and into daylight as I checked each station off against the thick brownish-black line opposite: Balham, Tooting Bec, Tooting Broadway, Colliers Wood, South Wimbledon and finally Morden.

After such a wonderful ride through unknown places, Morden was a dreadful anti-climax; to a child who'd grown up in the heartland of the industrial North, South London surburbia seemed incredibly dull. All it had to recommend it was the eerie white light of the street lamps, which illuminated the long avenue where another Aunt, Aunt Rachel, who we had travelled all these miles to visit, lived.

The journey stands out in my mind perhaps because this was where I first discovered the incantational power of place names and first experienced the strange and almost obsessional pull the capital city had on my imagination. It also made me aware of the magical art of train travel and its superiority to any other form of transport.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Farewell icons of my youthful days

In the world of the arts, some artists matter to us more than others, we recognise their talents. We love and appreciate their work. They enlighten us; they disturb us. Three significant artists passed away last week.

First, Hugh Masekela. His jazz was a sound track for the struggle against apartide. That vile system finally toppled in the early 90s when Mandela walked to freedom. His work can challenge but it's rhythmic and sinuous. I listened to some of his music on YouTube and was astonished by its power and complexity but soon found his more commercial 80s hit that I boogied to back then: Don't go Lose it Baby. Obituaries gave the impression of a restless, driven man but one who had reconciled himself to death. Three score years and ten plus a bit more. What more can we ask for?

Next, Ursula Le Guinn, whose marvellous, generously wise stories made me look at the world through different eyes and changed how I thought about it. A long life, well lived: her work a wonderful distillation of ideas and humanity.

Lastly, Mark E Smith. The kind of alcohol fuelled and drugged out geezer and genius you only find in the North of England. Worn out at 60. Leaving a legacy of strange twisted brilliance on vinyl and MP3. A formidable post punk force who spoke to many of my contemporaries. A little too much for me, if I'm honest, though at 21 I danced away to his spitting, snarling, hypnotic vocals and his band's  insistent, swirling, grinding din. One of about six people; everyone else had run off to the bar. Over the years he built a loyal following. One of my colleagues had followed him since he was 15 and had bought every Fall album - and there were many. On Twitter, writer Susan Hill expressed her confusion at not knowing who he was. Was he  pop star? I replied, explaining he was as far from ABBA as South Dakota is from the sea.

Time for bed. I think I will hunt out my collection of Ursula Le Guin's short stories and allow myself to reflect on how the best fantasy is a mirror to reality. I think she was an anthropologist. Her imagined societies are rich and unusual but always believable and never clichéd. I wonder what she would have made of Mark E Smith?

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Slipping through to the next year

For many years I stood on the cusp of the Old Year and The New and believed I was slipping through the time zone to a better place. I no longer believe this. For years, I fought this knowledge in a bid to avoid cynicism but it has nothing to do with cynicism: it's just the putting aside of misplaced romanticism.

Things may get worse, better, duller, madder.    The world will still be full of lunatic politicians - Mr Trump stand up. Isis style terrorists, bigots, poverty, greed, bollocks, bog standardness,  mediocrity - you name it-it ain't going away. Somewhere a production team are working on next year's 'I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.'

That doesn't mean I don't believe in the good, or God, or real possibility.  It isn't a case of either or. The glass isn't half full or half empty. It is just a glass with liquid. Wine, water, gin, cold tea, the elixir of life. At least I have a tap, a tea bag, a few bottles, central heating and a fire, even if I don't posses the secrets of the universe. (What would I do with that anyway?)

When I cross the line in the time zone into 2018  and watch the fireworks explode over the Lancashire plane, all I really face is a mixture of the familiar and the unknown. It's more than enough.

 Happy New Year.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A walk from the Ribble Estuary to the Sea

There is  something slightly bleak about estuaries but, looking east, the Ribble Estuary is rather beautiful, and, on a clear day such as this, I can make out the hills that overlook my own small town: Winter Hill and Rivington Pike with their distinctive shapes in the distance. Out on the mud, redshanks skitter up and down like a chorus of impatient dancers before a curtain call.

Reaching the outer edge of Fairhaven Lake, the sun breaks through bringing sudden warmth which cuts through the sharp cool breeze. I stop and sit on a bench and soak it up for some minutes before walking on past the beacon and cutting down to the rough silt and stone path that leads between the sand dunes and the marshy grass to the more seaside oriented St Annes. Unfortunately, enjoying the sunshine and a cup of tea, I forget to keep my eye on the train times.  The next journey involves three changes. Better to catch a later one but  what to do with myself meantime?

On my way to the station, I spot a board directing people's attention to No 10, where fine beers, ciders and wines are to be had. Number 10 turns out to be a micro brewery bar in a disused shop premises, where a large glass of Shiraz can be purchased for less a fiver.

On the train, bouyed and made mellow by the wine, I listen to Stornoway on my phone app. Cobwebs blown into touch.

Stornoway - Get Low

Related post. Arnside 2007

Sunday, 12 March 2017

My Northern City

A northern lass, my nearest city is Manchester. A city I love dearly. Powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution and commercial hub for the now defunct Lancashire Cotton and Textile Industry, these days Victorian grandeur sits side-by-side with modernity.

Catching the train from Horwich Parkway, it takes around thirty minutes to reach Manchester Piccadilly, the city's biggest railway station, whose electronic boards and crackly announcements signal national as well as local trains. Yet, as I arrive, on a dull, overcast Saturday, the station seems quiet and suspended, like a lone traveller sitting on a bench between trains. 

 I take the tram to the Northern Quarter, passing from one side of the city centre to the other courtesy of one of Europe's best tram networks. As a nation, we abandoned trams in the late 40s and 50s believing  them to be an old-fashioned method of transport. Prompting light hearted entertainers Flanders and Swann to develop this daft little ditty:

  Last of the trams

In the 1980's Manchester, always a forward thinking city, reintroduced the tram making it easy, along with the free metro shuttle buses, to get around. I am lulled by their gentle swaying motion and soft choo-choo whistle, alerting pedestrians to be aware trams are passing through the city's streets.

 Stepping off at Shude Hill, I make my way to the somewhat trendy Northern Quarter, where hipsters mingle with Stag and Hen parties at weekends and where the façade of the old fish market has been conserved as a wall around blocks of recently built apartments.

(Old fish market)

Walking through the narrow streets and back alleys ...

(RSPCA Charity Shop)
...I soon arrive at my destination...-

Manchester Craft Centre
(Wonderful craft centre)

...and my favourite jewellers

RA Designer Jewellery

where I purchase two pairs of earrings and then amble back across the city toward King Street, with its imposing architecture.

Sadly, as I make my way across the city, I notice far more homeless people than I have noticed for many, many years, since the 1980's in fact and wonder how much this has to do, as in the 1980s, with having a well established Conservative government.

I make way my way to Waterstones on Deansgate, where I get carried away and buy five books before settling down in the cafe for a piece of flap jack and a large Americano
(Although I have posted on a Sunday, I will forward this for T is for Tuesday via Bluebeard and Elizabeth, as I work on Tuesday making it difficult to post a longer entry on that particular day.)
  T is for Tuesday (even on a Saturday afternoon :) )

Finally, I head for Manchester Victoria Station, which has recently undergone further modernisation (I am old enough to remember when they changed the access to the platforms in the late-mid 1980s; I preferred it when there were tunnels rather than overhead steps but they must have had their reasons.) The new upgrade is very much in keeping and effective, giving a smarter feel to the station and a more space for the busy tram stop. As part of the refurbishment, the tiled wall map of the old  Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway has been restored, as have the old shop fronts.

I read one of my books on the train as the not so dull, dull day turns to evening as I travel homewards.

Related posts:

Second visit to London

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A virtual journey to the Dove at Hammersmith

Invited to share a drink with The Altered Book Lover. I  decide we should go down to the Thames at Hammersmith. Cutting through the quieter terraces that lead from busy King Street to the river, we take a detour up river along the Mall as far as Chiswick Eyot and back again. The early spring air is sharp but the sun is shining and we are warm enough so long as we walk briskly 

Just before we reach the narrow passage way, which houses our destination, we spot a sign outside the annex of a large Victorian villa and spend half an hour admiring the designs of C19th fabrics at the William Morris Society.

Then, cosy inside the annex of the tiny hostelry, we look out over the pier and watch the muddy river forever flowing to the sea and wonder at all the history it has silently witnessed.