*Shameless Plug* Malcolm Saville’s ‘Seven White Gates’


02 - Seven White Gates

Those of you who combine reading this blog with an interest in Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Club book series may be interested to know that, by popular demand, the inestimable GirlsGoneBy publishers are re-printing Seven White Gates, the second book of the series. All the superb GirlsGoneBy editions are long out of print now, and not all of them can be found on eBay. Even though I’ve got the set, I’m delighted to see at least one more coming back into print.

Those who are interested can order the book via this link. The book is currently at the printers and is anticipated to be delivered for distribution of orders on or about September 7. And the reason this is a Shameless Plug will be apparent to anyone who clicks on the link, as the book contains a New Introduction, written specially for this re-publication, by your humble blogger himself .

You can buy the book with a clear conscience, I don’t get a penny for it, and for reasons that I set out in my Introduction, this is a very strong book with an important theme for its original audience. The selfish element is that I have my eye on the posibility of writing New Introductions for other books in the series, but that depends on demand for more reprints, so naturally a swell of orders for Seven White Gates would be encouraging (mention that you want to see Not Scarlet But Gold re-appear, you’ll be doing me a favour).

But most of all, enjoy the book.

We gotta get out of this place



The relaxation of lockdown conditions opens up a number of possibilities for the stir-crazy, including the ability to get on a train and go somewhere for no more reason than to come back again. I have been having a play on British Rail’s Journey Planner, looking at prices and timetables and things that are clearly affordable.
Days out to places like Stafford or Lancaster. I could do York for just over £30 or London for £94… well, maybe not that. Then there’s the obvious destinations: Windermere for £16.20 on two singles, Penrith on the same basis for only £18.60 if I set off from Piccadilly at 06.26am (and £25.40 if I wait till 8.00am).
To put it plainly, I have options. In the past fourteen months I have only once gone further than Manchester City Centre. Anywhere that is not Manchester City Centre, or more confiningly Stockport, suddenly takes on a massive appeal. Just to be somewhere else, see something else. Especially if it happens to be a Lake, and mountains.
Naturally, the major question is, should !? I haven’t gone through the past year in complete safety without being sensible from day zero. Before I take off to look at the grass on the other side of the fence, I should wait and see the impact of the new conditions. Knowing the lot out there, stupidity is going to play an important part in the reaction to even limited relaxation of the rules. I’m expecting infections to go up again.
And given that I have my second COVID-19 vaccination booked for Saturday coming, it’s going to be the 24th before I could even consider going anywhere. Time enough…

The Exile Begins (Again)


Almost a year ago, March 17, 2020 to be specific, I told my then Operations Manager that I had Type 2 Late Onset Diabetes and was told to go immediately, go home and self-isolate for fourteen days. Which I did. When I got back, I was one of the first to be issued with a laptop to enable me to work at home. I declined. I had already learned enough to know that I couldn’t possibly work from home. My pokey little flat doesn’t give me room to create a workspace separate from the ‘homespace’, and leaving aside the security concerns associated with dealing with company data and customers’ personal information, my job involves taking calls from customers whose services are not working. Indeed, as a senior Agent shortly to ‘celebrate’ ten years service, I frequently take repat calls, customers whose faults have not been fixed at first insatance (or second instance, third, fourth…). As you can imagine, not all those customers are philosophic, reasonable or capable of recognising that you are on their side and not just willing but eager to help. Two or three of that kind of customer a day, and you need time and space in which to decompress, and a physical severence between work and home .

Anyway, I couldn’t cope with the distractions available within easy reach. I can function in the ofice and, what’s more, concentrate. At home, I would be crawling the walls in less than half an hour.

It’s gone ok since then. I miss the friends I haven’t seen in nearly a year, I miss the buzz and energy of people about. I am the only one of my team who works in the office, but I haven’t felt as if I’m part of a team for a very long line.

Not of this is meant as a litany of complaints, though it sounds lilke it. It’s a factual account. This is work. Only it’s not right now, nor for the rest of this month.

I was shocked to get home from work on Thursday and find a letter from the Council, telling me the NHS has added me to the Critical Patients List and I am required to Shield until 31 March. Shocked because I have managed well so far. I have not contracted COVID nor have I infected anyone that I know of. I was sent home from work for a fortnight in October because somebody on my floor had tested Positive for COVID and they were closing the floor for two weeks as a precaution, and to undertake a deep clean. Since the Monday before Xmas, I have been off ill once, for two hours, with a headache.

But I have not survived this far by kicking against the medical precautions that have been urged on us. Work agrees: I will be put on Shielding Status (that means at least one holiday I’ll get back because I’m not on Duty to take it). I have to obey instructions, if I choose to work it’s entirely at my own risk. Despite feeling a fraud, I have sorted things out at work, let them take a copy of my Shielding letter for evidence, and was back home even before my shift should have started today.

Being on my own with no Support group, I cannot perfectly Shield. I was only going to four places as it was: work, food shopping, the chemists, the launderette, and the furthest of those, the chemist, is only two miles away at most. For the rest of the month, that’s down to three.

The Exile observes his solitary, and rather pokey, kingdom and is thankful for the sheer volume of books, comics, CDs and DVDs that are his sole companions. Maybe I’ll even clean the place properly as well…

Blog Stat


I started this blog without meaning to.

Once upon a time, nearly ten years ago, a bunch of us broke away from the Guardian‘s general comment thread, ‘What Do you want to Take About’, or Waddaya for short. We’d turned it into something of a social thread, especially on Friday nights. The Guardian didn’t like that and we saw the way the wind was blowing with som unsympathetic moderation, so we made the decision to jump before we were banned. To move to our own forum – which exists to this day with some of the original members – we each had to sign up to WordPress and we automatically received an amount of free blogspace.

I named mine Martin Crookall – Author for Sale because I had no intention of using it as any kind of blog other than the desultory, indeed only promotion of the books I had written, and would go on to write, self-published via the then handy and convenient Lulu.com.

From the very start I was an administrator on our forum. I had the Monday slot, opening the daily thread. Needless to say, before too long, after we’d all worked out how to import photos, I put up one of the Lake District, my favourite ever shot, of Scafell Pike and Ill Crag rising above Upper Eskdale, with a short paragraph explaing where and what this was. It became my theme: every Monday a Lakeland scene and a short, but slowly growing longer, essay in explanation.

Unfortunately, things don’t last forever. Details are unimportant. Something happened in contravention of the only serious rule we had, aimed at me. I canvassed my fellow admins but found I did not have the majority opinion with me. I resigned as an admin, and took a break that shortly afterwards became a breach.

I still had more photos and essays I wanted to publish but I no longer had a venue. but I had a blog…

That’s how it all started. I’m writing this short piece to celebrate a stat I never envisaged because I never intended to write a blog. I used to celebrate anniversaries but, being idiosyncratic, I would number these in ‘Nelson’s: 111, 222, 333 etc. After 999 that became impossible to maintain and I stopped checking my Stats in that aspect. This little reminiscence is to celebrate that this is now the 3,000th post on my unintentional blog and to say thank you to those who read, not just the pleasurable number of regulars, and especially those who have become friends without me meeting you (excepting Charlotte, who I have met and who is as delightful as she looks) but everyone who has looked in here however occasionally, to the extent that in December 2020 I recorded the highest number of visitors in a single month, ever. And who, if they keep going as they are doing now, might just beat that this month.

Thanks people, guys, gals and everyone in between. Have I got another 3,000 in me? Only one way to find out.

Saturday


The date was August 15, 2020.

Some readers here will already know the significance of that date to me. It is the first date I look for each year, when the new holiday entitlement is made available. August 15 is the date I go to Dukinfield Crematorium to commemorate the death of my father, from cancer, when I was 14.

There was no need for holidays this year as the 15th fell on a Saturday, when I do not work. But that lent an extra emotion to the day. Not only was this the big Anniversary, fifty years since that day, but it had been a Saturday too in 1970. And in the days leading up to the Anniversary, the weather had done an almost perfect job of replicating the sun and rain of those terrible days to Saturday.

I was already in a heightened state of tension, because of the pandemic. I’ve worried, for months now, about whether in August I would be free to observe this Anniversary in perhaps its most important year. Would I be able to leave the flat? Would I be able to catch the bus? Would the Crem be opened or would I have to stand by the gate and project the words I would find to say from there? Many times I have confessed my worries, telling people that if it was the forty-ninth, or the fifty-first, it wouldn’t matter so much. But it was the fiftieth, a half-century. And it mattered immensely.

Perhaps it was that which set me up for the days that preceded Saturday. I was conscious of more than just the day itself, but the memories of the days that led up to it, that horrible last week when, on top of everything else, Dad – who was at home – contracted pneumonia as well.

I am not going to list the things that happened. These are private. But they were more vivid in my head than at any time I could remember. The first part of the week is lost, but from Wednesday onwards, things fell back into my mind with terrible force.

Thursday was horrible. I was completely unprepared for the flood of flashbacks that overtook me once I settled in to work. It was immediately obvious that if the more pointed memories of Friday were to affect me as badly – for Friday was the last day I saw my Dad alive – I would be completely incapable of working.

Getting the day off was difficult. I now work for a team with a very small pool of advisers and special arrangements have to be made for leave. I was turned down but had my leave forced through by my line manager. As for Thursday, my mind dealt with the issue by simply shutting itself off. As calls came through and I needed to respond to these, it opened enough for the technical knowledge and experience. Otherwise, it was as if my mind was now shielded by a lead bunker, impervious to x-ray or other radiation.

By that means I got to 9.00pm and the bus home. It is not yet the middle of August but already sundown has ridden back so far that I walked down my street in the dark. I logged in to the internet, to e-mails and comments on my blog, but I chose not to reply, to go off-grid for a few days, until this time was over.

Friday was like Thursday, in that the lead shield was still operating. I remained mindless all day, lowering the barrier only once, deliberately, to relive that moment of my last few words with Dad, the undeliverable promise to come and see him in the Hospital when he was only being taken back in to die in the most comfort they could provide for him. Then back to deliberately obliterating all the rest of that day.

And Saturday. I was awake early enough to open my consciousness to the moment that I was always told was the last, and then, freshly-shaved even though this was the weekend, off on the bus, a 203, then a 330, followed by the long, slow walk up the hill under a blazing sun equal to that of fifty years ago.

Not until the final bend in the winding road that leads to the Crematorium gates could I see that these were open, though the room in which the Book of Remembrance is kept is now only open for inspection on weekdays. I know what it says, but reading it anew is still a part of this ritual.

An elderly couple were leaving as I walked towards Plot C. The hills loomed up around us, looking strangely higher than I had ever seen them before. It seemed as if I was the only person in the entire Crematorium. My ritual is to talk about the last year, about where I am and who I am, all the things he never knew about me, but I was incapable of that. The sense of loss and hurt that is inescapable on this day was overwhelming and I could barely speak at all. In part it was an intensity I conjured for myself in focussing upon the fifty years, the gulf that was unimaginable to the boy I was, and which is still in some measure impossible to understand for the man I am. All the things that have happened in fifty years, the accumulation of life. And still…

That day, in 1970, I was due to go to a football match at Droylsden with a mate. I didn’t want to go, but my mother insisted, identifying correctly that Dad would have wanted me to do normal things, and to enjoy myself, and more than that, that I needed to take my mind off things for an afternoon. There’s a certain, personal, irony that such a thing would, for the first time ever, be impossible, given the recent news about Droylsden suspending all football, probably never to return.

So it was back down the hill, and buses home, via Tesco’s and some food shopping, to the lead shield and the radio silence for the rest of the day. Sunday became the day of going back to normal. Though I think of my Dad, and his absence, often, these concentration of these feelings will not arise again until August 15, 2021, and I can hope to be free of the flashbacks and the stream of memories of those final days. And I can go back to talking to people in an ordinary fashion, both here and in real life. Apologies for my silence.

A Kindle Bonanza


I’ve been busy the past couple of weeks but the job is done. I have upoloaded three novels, a more-or-less trilogy, to the Amazon Kindle Store, and these are the links to find them and download them.

Firstly:

Followed by:

And lastly:

Feel free to coment.

A Manchester Expedition


Once upon a time, the idea of writing about a trip to Manchester City Centre, let alone calling it an Expedition, would have seemed ludicrous. But those were inncocent days, before the current pandemic shrank life down to doing everything necessary to prevent or minimise the spread of contagion.

Since then, I’ve only gone out to three places: work, a supermarket and the chemists. The recent re-opening of the launderette doesn’t alter that, they’re only two minuteswalk from Morrisons.

But lockdown is now easing. We’ve won, go back to normal, so what if there are still daily deaths and a second wave is next to inevitable? Now I don’t trust a word this so-called government says, and I never will, but I’m not immune, I am stir crazy, and with hands washed and facemask donned, I’m going to go out.

With typical irony I first set off in the opposite direction. I have an undelivered parcel, an external optical drive, to collect from the Sorting Office in Stockport. I tried to do that yesterday and got very wet for my pains. And the Sorting Office is currently only opening until 11.00 am, and I got there for 11.10am. I’m trying again because I’d like to put it to use this weekend, but it all depends on the connection in Stockport Bus Station.

Unlikely as it may seem, it’s timely.

There is a sicially distanced queue when I arrive but it’s less than half a dozen long and anyway, it’s not raining. They’re operating a One-Out, One-In policy and instead of waiting for your package to be produced from the back,you go round o the side door where it’s waiting for you on a trestle, so things go quickly.

Back to the main road. I want a 42 for Town and one turns up in less than fibe minutes. It’s all going swimmingly well: I get nervous.

The 42 takes me through parts of Manchester I used to be very familiar with but where I rarely go now, even in the freest of times. The route is an exercise in nostalgia and a reminder of how unfree life is without private transport.

Within a stop of getting on, I’m the only person on the bus, downstairs at least. No-one’s getting on or off and we just sail along, disturbed only by the automated voice reciting stops we pass by. Eventually, we stop in the middle of Didsbury Village to let the schedule catch up to us. A querulous bloke in a much-stretched Manchester City shirt complains about the timetables being “up the wall”: just how deeply has he been self-isolating these past three months and more.

Some memories on thi ride are more plesant than others. Some memories I don’t want to remember. We take another stop outside Christie Hospital, where they specialise in cancer.

Once we’re past Withington Village, the stops for travellers become more frequent. Joggers abound. The journey gets slower, stop-and-start, traffic lights perpetually red. We’re not quite at the University when the driver has to stop and count the passengers on board before allowing others to join us.

The nearer we get to Piccadilly Gardens, the slower the driver gets, playing for every red light. But there’s only a finite number of these and he can’t stop us from getting there eventually. No sooner do I alight than a man with an Irish accent and an air of still being drunk from the last time the pubs were open, shouts at me and anyone else within hearing that I/we can wear a hundred masks, a thousand masks, but he can still see us. Yerrsss.

I’ve three objectives in coming into Manchester today, aside from the novelty of course. The first of these crashes and burns almost immediately. I wanted to browse the Oldham Street Oxfam shop for cheap DVDs to supplement the dwindling Film 2020 collection. They’re open… but not until Monday.

Forbidden Planet is sixty seconds walk away on the other side of the street. They’re regulating entry on the same basis as the Post Office but here I’m only third and I’m soon inside.

I’m hoping/expecting to collect three comics and I come out with two, but one of them is a series I’d forgotten I was getting. The last one of the series…According to eBay after I get home, I was premature: the other two aren’t released until next week.

So let’s go see if Pizza Hut‘s open. It is indeed, but only for takeaways. There’s only a limited number of ingredients and when it comes to my two favourite Create-Your-Owns, there’s an ingredient missing from each one. I end up ordering a Sharing Hawaiian, to take home and heat up. It’s like Friday evenings twenty-five years ago, doing that.

So to home. I think I’ve just missed a 203 but I can’t tell through the facemask induced steam on my glasses. The dark clouds that have hung around all day, threatening yet more later, have separated and gone white in places and the sun through the gaps is surprisingly June-like. A not young but gently attractive lady with opaque tights and a foreign accents, asks me if she’s missed the 203?  If we have, one’s very close behind. She sits diagonally in front of me after starting on the other side of the aisle: in those innocent days I mentioned earlier, I might have tried to start a conversation with her (who’s kidding who? no, I wouldn’t. Probably not). She gets off in North Reddish.

One last task: I get off one stop early and go to check if my barber’s has any indication when it may be re-opening, but there’s none, nor any number from which I might book an appointment. I’m a good six to eight weeks past the last point I would have waited to have it cut, it’s longer than any time since the Seventies, and it’s bugging me seriously.

I’m back in before 2.00pm, and I heat up the pizza and Share it with myself. I haven’t had anything from Pizza Hut since the end of February so I’m entitled, ok?

Thus ends my Expedition: still not worthy of the name, especially when I’d originally have been intending to regale you with a Buttermere Expedition in a couple of week’s time, but we make the most of what we have.

 

Facemasks


As it’s now obligatory, from today, to wear facemasks on public transport, I went out to the bus wearing a facemask for the first time since this lockdown began. Unsurprisingly, I was the only person on the bus wearing a facemask.

It was an interesting experience and not a pleasant one. The first thing I noticed was that my exhalations had nowhere to go but up, out of the top of the mask, fogging up my glasses at every breath. I, being of the short-sighted persuasion, was not best convenienced by this.

There were two secondary effects. One was to bring on my mild claustrophobia, by making me feel that my breathing was confined to a limited space. The other was to make me feel a little breathless because it was so hot inside the facemask, with my breath warming up the atmosphere around nose and mouth.

I was pretty glad to get to my floor at work and pull the mask off. Thank heaven for air-conditioning!

On Writing – What they don’t tell you about


Sometimes, you can get sick to death of the sight of your own work.

I spent much of 2019 working on a third novel featuring the characters of Love Goes to Building on Sand and And You May Find Yourself. The book was complete in Second Draft by January, but I was unhappy with some aspects of it so I put it away for a couple of months whilst I worked on something else. Over the Easter weekend, I pulled up the Working Draft again and started going over it.

That meant going through it chapter by chapter, a combination of proof-reading, some revising, correcting slips (I had gotten lost in the timescale at one poit and needed to push the start of the book back two months to accommodate and there were still remnants of the original dating to correct). The final chapter was where I had really let things get away from me, and the most extensive work was needed to finally put the book to bed.

Then there’s the process of putting the book through publication at Lulu.com. This meant extracting each chapter individually to create individual word documents. Then eliminating widow and orphan controls en masse for each chapter (which just doesn’t work on documents of greater size). Then setting up a Lulu template for an A5 book, with titles, copyright, publication details and dedications. Then, one chapter at a time, converting the font from the 11-point Arial I use on screen to the 11-point Palatino Linotype I use in print and pasting the result, one chapter at a time, into the template, checking after each chapter to ensure there are no widow-orphan white spaces, balancing each chapter heading centrally.

Which means that over the past ten days I have read, or skimmed, through every bloody chapter four or five times, until, as I said at the start, I am sick to death of what I have written and never want to look at it again!

But the next step is to upload the print copy to Lulu where, despite the fact I am using the specific template for the book-size I want to create, it will come out wrong and they will re-size my text for the PDF that will be created, meaning that I will have to skim-read through the whole damned thing as many times as necessary to ensure no orphan-widow issues  creep into the print-ready text (if I have done things exactly as I believe I have done, it should all work out correct first time, but I’ve published too many print volumes through Lulu to believe that will ever happen).

Then I can go on to the cover designer to complete the process and order a print copy for my own library, where I will not touch it for a minimum of twelve months because, as I may have mentioned this, I AM SICK TO DEATH OF WHAT I HAVE WRITTEN!

This is one of the aspects of writing a book that they don’t tell you about often enough.