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.

The Infinite Jukebox Book


Good morning all.

Over the last five years I’ve been adding posts about a variety of songs that, in many differing ways, I find significnt, whether that be musically, soocially or personally. The series hasrun under the title of The Infinite Jukebox.

Just last week, I posted the 100th such essay and, having reached that milestone, i decided to compile all the blogs into a book, which I have now published through lulu.com.

It’s nothing you haven’t read before, but if you were interested, and didn’t fancy picking through five years worth of posts to find these gems, you can now have these all in one place, by clicking on this link and paying a mere £6.99 and postage.

There’s even a picture of the cover to incite you.

The series will go on here and when I’ve racked up another 100 entries, I shall alert you to the chance of acquiring Volume 2. But that won’t be for awhile yet so you needn’t worry about me embarrassing you like this again any time soon.

On Writing: Stopping


One of the most important things for a writer to learn is when to let go. No book is ever really finished. It can always be improved by more rewriting. What’s important to understand that after a certain point, revisions usually can only amount to fine-tuning of increasingly less significance. You have to recognise when to stop, and redirect your energy and any lessons you’ve learned to another book.

I’ve recently completed another novel. The first draft took most of last year. A second draft, incorporating corrections, clarifications, foreshadowing and generally whatever rewrites are needed to retrofit outcomes etc., took about six weeks. In accordance with my basic approach, I’ve put the book aside for a month, to clear my head about it.

I can then go back, re-read sections that appear weak or blurred, and tackle these with a fresh viewpoint.

In the meantime, I’ve been looking at what I’ll do yet. I have four incomplete novels in various stages of progress and I want to resolve all these. So I’ve selected one and I’ve been looking at what’s been written to date. It came to a halt at a point when I had no idea where to go next and I was still stumped when I got that far. I don’t plot novels out in detail, not for a very long time. The characters dictate where they go and what they do and I follow in their wake.

So I went to bed last night feeling frustrated. Until a thread presented itself. Which rapidly led to a the next stage. It’s only a brief outline, about five to seven lines scrawled in a little notebook kept by my bed, but it made me feel inordinately happy. I can get through the current chapter on the first of these, and give myself a platform to build upon after that.

It’s at times like this that writing feels like the simple thing it so isn’t.

Going to Portsmouth


My Dad was too young to serve in World War 2, unlike his older brother, who served in the Navy in the Pacific. When it was his time to do National Service, Dad entered the Navy himself, and was stationed at Portsmouth for at least some of his Service. I don’t know where he went or what he did: he fell ill and died before I was of an age to have intelligent conversations with him. All I have is an old photo of him in his uniform. Nor is there anyone left who could tell me things he had told them about these times.

For a couple of years, I’ve been considering a trip to Portsmouth, to see the Naval Dockyard, to see what Dad saw, even if filtered through the prism of seventy years, to make one more attempt to gain even a degree more insight into what he thought and felt. I usually take off to the Lakes for a day each November, as part off the week I take off for my birthday, but this time I decided it was right for a more complicated and longer-lasting expedition.

And now two legs have been put in place. Firstly, I booked two nights in Portsmouth, Tuesday and Wednesday, for a very low price. That came out of last month’s salary. Today, I have booked my train travel, Stockport to Portsmouth Harbour Tuesday lunchtime, returning to Stockport Thursday morning, paid for out of this month’s salary. I am going to Portsmouth, I am going to see the Harbour, I will be visiting Hampshire for the first time, reducing to four the number of English counties I have never yet visited or at least traversed.

All that remains is to choose, and book, the one or more tours etc. available at the Naval Dockyard. I am going to Portsmouth, I’m following in Father’s footsteps, I’m following the Dear old Dad.

And You May Find Yourself – *New Novel*


It’s taken me a great deal longer than I’d expected, given that I’d produced the final draft by February 2019, but I’ve finally published my latest novel, my ninth in total.

And You May Find Yourself is a direct sequel to Love Goes to Building on Sand, which came out in 2018. Though it features the same ‘hero’, and many of the same characters, it couldn’t be more different, in that the first book was largely based in real events, and the sequel is the opposite. It’s working title was ‘The Wildly Overdue Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy’.

And as of tonight, it’s available through Lulu.com for £9.99 and P&P, and for your comfort and convenience, you may use this link. Order it, read it, enjoy it and writeand tell me just how good it is. So what if you have to lie a bit, friends do that for friends.

And in case you’re wondering, I am about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of the third (and final) book, which you can look for in 2020 if we still have a functioning country left by then.