On Saturday mornings, when I’m content with the week’s work done, I like to walk around the neighbourhood more or less pointlessly. Sometimes the walk involves a sit and a read in a café then some food shopping, sometimes LPs. Today it was books. Restocking my shelf of coming soon novels from both the local library and the local Oxfam. While I was in Oxfam I also found this old map of Birkenhead and sat down for a good look at it and the stories it contains.
One of my most treasured possessions and one of the very few things I’ve kept hold of in a life with few kept books and very little else in the way of belongings, is ‘The Stranger in Liverpool.’ My 1820 edition of a guide to Liverpool which takes the shape of escorting an unfamiliar visitor on a walk ‘around the parish bounds’ of the relatively small place we were then.
Yesterday I was ‘The Stranger in Skelmersdale.’ One day, 200 years after my precious book, of being taken on a walk round a nearby town that I hardly know at all.
I remember the moment I was introduced to Skelmersdale.
It’s a summer evening in 1965 and we’ve come out for a drive after our tea in the brand new family car, a dark blue Ford Cortina, ELV 397C. We’ve travelled out from North Liverpool into the Lancashire countryside. All winding lanes and old churches, where the most modern thing in the landscape is us in our car, until we arrive at what I remember as the crest of a hill where we are looking down into the huge bowl of a building site landscape:
“What’s that Dad?”
“It’s a new town they’re building down there. It’s going to be called Skelmersdale.”
After that my memories are few. Of riding through the brand new place most days on a Ribble bus, on my way to Wigan Tech, as the 1970s begin. A few years later some friends lose their home in Melling as the M58 is finally, and more than a bit late, built through there to Skelmersdale. Then in more recent years some contacts and one visit through my work with the School for Social Entrepreneurs. So, not much and definitely not enough to claim to know the place.
Which is how come I turn up here, late November in 2017, as The Stranger in Skelmersdale. Continue reading
I am walking along Smithdown Road in Liverpool, not long before I’ll be turning left up my own street, when I see them all. Five figures in an undulating line across the pavement, walking towards me. Apart from the Mum figure nearest the road they look like they’re walking in age formation, the youngest holding her hand, then in steadily increasing ages towards the eldest, no more than ten years old I’d say, walking next to the wall, nearest to the shops.
From a distance they all seem to be talking at once. But as we pass, the Mum contracting the line of them slightly to let me through on the outside, the notes of their conversation separate into this moment of the purest love and happiness: Continue reading
A ‘Letter from Sarah’ here with a slight difference. She’s put all the structure together, taken and selected all the photographs and will be the main writer. But I went on the day out in North Wales too, so we’re going to sit and write together. My occasional contributions in italics.
So… with one thing and another it’s been a while since me and Ronnie have had a day out together. Me being up in Knoydart, off in my kayak, and of course, Ronnie not being well from early August, have all meant that we’ve simply not had the time or wellness until now to pack our day bags and go off exploring.
I’ve suggested that we come to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct today, out of sheer curiosity. (For those of you not fluent in Welsh, a helpful sign tells us, ‘Pontcysyllte’ is prounounced Pont-ker-sulth-tay.)
We arrive at Trevor Basin, not far from Llangollen.
It’s the day the clocks have gone back so we’re a bit disoriented. And after an early start from home we eat much of our packed lunch as soon as we arrive. Though our watches are telling us it’s only 11am our bodies know full well it’s lunchtime.
We arrive here without a plan (for once), but knowing it’s a World Heritage Site expect good signage and obvious things laid out. Continue reading
I don’t know about you but Autumn’s always been a time of change and moving on for me. New schools and colleges started, leaving the day job, moving houses and, once upon a time, a new baby (Hello Clare). Then there’s writing this, this ‘what I do’ sort of thing for this website. Nothing as life changing and earth moving as any of those others. Or maybe it is? All new starts containing within them a sense of possible perfection, the pristine emptiness and possibilities of a new page, waiting to see what might get written on it?
The page, this time, is not going to be entirely blank. I’m not leaving behind all of the things I do. But in sitting down to write I’ve decided I won’t simply edit what’s already there. Because it’s Autumn and so time for a new start. Here goes.
After which promising start, written on a Friday in a nearby café (Hello Naked Lunch) over a cup of tea, I meandered around for a day or so. Coming up with not very much. It can be how writing goes sometimes. Though I’d decided on the ‘new start and almost blank page’ approach I needed to find some words to help my reader understand my general, and expressed right here, wish to work on a variety of things. I played around with a few words and phrases, thinking these might sum up the sections or paragraphs I could then go on and write about: stories, adventures, curiosity, being opinionated, helping out. But at three o’clock, going on two (it’s the day we turn the clocks back) on Saturday afternoon I was still stuck. Repeatedly erasing the paragraphs you can’t see where these new ones now sit.
Then I remembered I’ve already got a theme in my real life, never mind these literary devices like ‘the nearly blank page.’ A theme that’s sat behind or even in front of everything I’ve written since some time in August this year. Continue reading
Earlier this afternoon I carried a bag of Sarah’s books down the road to our nearest charity shop. She’d sorted them out as being ready to go while doing some clearing yesterday afternoon. They were a mixture of horticulture, kayaking and even one about how to make books. I’d bought her that one as well as a couple of the others, but they’d come to the end of their time with her and are now gone.
When I’ve done with writing this post and need a photograph to illustrate it I’ll sort out a small pile of my own books and, once photographed, they’ll be ready to follow Sarah’s down to the same charity shop.
We’ve always done this, not keeping things we don’t need. These days we’re much better than we used to be at not acquiring things in the first place. But even so, things accumulate on shelves, in corners and even in plain sight, attempting to become part of the household landscape, until they’re noticed, identified as beyond their usefulness, and cleared.
We enjoy it and we like living in a home without much stuff, so there’s room for us. Clearing, be it books, furniture, music, gadgets, clothes or old interests, always fills us with the energy and ideas to do whatever’s next. And it always has. At times when we’ve felt our lives becoming becalmed and stale a good bit of clearing has usually helped us to move on and then look back and wonder ‘what was all that stuff for?’
Which fits perfectly with the ‘year to live’ thoughts I’ve been having these past few weeks. Continue reading