For the Love of Secondhand Books: A Digression

It’s a perfect example of what it is, a secondhand book. It’s got other well used books on its cover, it’s on a ‘vintage’ imprint and I bought it from a secondhand  bookshop.

It is also, by the way, a perfect book. Tom Hanks says it as well as I ever could in his review quote inside the cover:

“It’s simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher. But it’s one of the most fascinating things that you’ve ever come across.”

Read that aloud, please, in your best dry, wry and enquiring Tom Hanks voice and I think you might both get the idea and want the book. Which you can have any day soon if I give you its catalogue number: Continue reading

The Story of the The Beautiful Parks

Apply here by Saturday 4th November – That’s today!

There is magic all around us. Stories waiting to be told. In every park & street the future is waiting. Listen, while I tell you a story.

“In what would yet come to be looked back on as the early years of the 21st Century the people of Liverpool woke up to the beauty all around them. Gathering first in small groups in Autumn 2017 and telling each other stories of what they might do, in the parks and other places that had been around them for all of their lives, and many lives before but in the huddle and muggle of everyday busyness had been all but forgotten.

Here they began the re-membering and the re-doing of their place.

From early 2018 they started. Small things at first & many. The growing of things, the gatherings and re-gatherings. A litany of possibilities and a story-tellings of dreams. Dreams that got planted, stories that grew. Knowingly and quietly they began the re-growing of their Liverpool.

Listen, I’m telling you a story… Continue reading

Sarah’s Hands and Gloves

A letter from Sarah, introduced by Ronnie.

Have you ever known anyone whose fingers were gradually curling up into the palms of their hands, couldn’t be fully straightened out and were getting worse over time? If you have they might have a disease called Dupuytrens Contracture. Actor Bill Nighy does, you may have noticed from his films, and so do a good many people over the age of 50, including, until recently, Sarah Horton. Here’s the story of her hands and what’s been happening to them.

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Everyone likes a happy ending and some good news. So I’m delighted to tell you that I’ve now completed treatment – on the NHS – for my Dupuytrens Contracture, or DUPS (a benign but frustrating hand problem, which is often hereditary, as it is in my case).

This week I had my follow up appointment with my NHS Consultant Dr Syndikus and we both agreed that I have had a good result. Good news. It was not so easily achieved though.

This week I’ve been here in the Linda McCartney building, the cancer treatment building in Liverpool. I spent many hours of my life here between 2007 and 2010, and a few since, but mostly in those early years when I became a breast cancer patient.

In February this year I wrote a post on here called ‘Ten Years’. Ten years since my diagnosis of breast cancer, reflecting on the anniversary, and also because I was trying to get access to treatment for my hand condition, and was meeting some substantial barriers to that.

My GP, true to his word, followed up my request to access treatment, and spoke to Liverpool’s most respected hand surgeon, Mr Brown.

(Note – this was a surgeon I couldn’t get an appointment with as an NHS patient, as the not-a-doctor ‘decision maker’ had decided I wasn’t eligible for treatment until my condition got considerably worse, and required surgery. Whereas in early cases of DUPS radiotherapy is now considered a very effective treatment, especially beneficial for the patient as it avoids having surgery, as recurrence rates of DUPS after surgery are significant – about 40% after four years.)

Anyway my GP got in touch Mr Brown, who then advised my GP him I should be referred to Dr Syndikus at Clatterbridge Hospital on the Wirral. She’s an oncologist, and one of her tools is radiotherapy.

I was at first told that I wasn’t a priority and may have to wait to see her – but Dr Syndikus and her team worked swiftly, and by mid May I’ve seen her and most of the team at the radiotherapy department in Clatterbridge. They have very expertly made moulds of both of my hands, and by the end of June I’ve had my two sets of treatment, two series of five sessions of daily radiotherapy at Clatterbridge. All of this was arranged in a most patient-centred way, and allowed me to continue my work as a self-employed funeral celebrant.

I cannot speak highly enough of the whole process and everyone in the NHS teams who looked after me. An extra bonus by the way, and in contrast to all of my years of breast cancer treatment, is they also have a free car park at Clatterbridge for all patients. Proper and caring like.

After my treatment things happens without me noticing why. Continue reading

The Meaning of Life: Change and Decay

I know I keep talking about the meaning of life on this blog. The preciousness of all of our times here on earth, including my own as I enter my autumnal days.

Today has been more of this, particularly reflective for me as I’ve spent much of it on Sarah’s autumnal allotment, itself changing and gently decaying now, long past the summer’s end as the year’s light declines.

In through the Secret Gate.

The light this afternoon being that particularly sharp, low in the sky light, that comes on sunny days just before we turn the clocks back.

Dogwood in the autumn light.

Bonfires of the summer’s growth all around us.

All the colours sharp like they’ve been turned up to maximum on some celestial control. Continue reading

The Clearing 3: Is this the life we really want?

Previously on The Clearing, Sarah said…

“You know the Leeds Liverpool Canal? If you had a year to live would you bother finishing it?”

“No” I unhesitatingly replied.

A third episode of getting rid of the stuff of our lives that’s lost its meaning.

So here at Clearing Central in Liverpool we’ve already made a start on the latest round of clearing what we do. We’ve cleared that supposed complete canal walk for no better reason than we couldn’t be bothered finishing it. A good sound reason.

Along with the canal walk we got started with a serious clearcut of possessions in the first of this series of posts. Next we gave the people we know, or don’t really know, some profound consideration along with a bit of unfriending in the second post. Now, to round things off? Well let’s start with some more potentially wasteful and redundant activities that might want clearing from our lives like the canal walk?

How about watching the television? How much of your precious life is that swallowing? Now perhaps you imagine you only watch serious nature documentaries, highly regarded art-house films and those marvellous music genre histories on BBC4. But that’s not true is it? Not even nearly true. Continue reading

Not waving but drowning

“I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.”
So World Mental Health Day 2017 turns up and I nearly miss it altogether. Except I sit down at Twitter mid-evening and find something my friend Liam has written specially for the day about his own mental health, which is deeply felt and enlightening and well done Liam. And he thanks someone else who encouraged him to write. And I think why didn’t I write something too, maybe it would have helped someone else the way what Liam wrote is helping me?
Then I think, well it’s all of our mental health days every day, so why don’t I start writing something that I can finish in the morning? About my own lifetime of ups and deep downs. Some downs feeling as ‘not waving but drowning’ as Stevie Smith’s poem up there at the top.
So I’ll do that.
I’ll write that in the morning. Thank you for the courage to get started Liam.
Right then, here is the morning.
And if I’ve been, perhaps, ‘too far out all my life’ maybe I’ll need to write about all of my life, maybe. But I want to start with recently, because that’s the bit I remember the best.

Continue reading

In Aigburth: Liverpool’s Magdalene Laundry?

“I hated being sent to collect me mum’s washing from the Kelton laundry. With a kid’s imagination it looked like Dracula’ s castle or maybe Colditz to my young eyes. You would knock on a huge door which was duly opened by a fearsome looking nun in full habit. Peering in as she went to fetch the wash, revealed a scene I thought was what hell must look like. A horrible smell of cleaning and lots of steam. Lines of women in pinafores and covered heads slaving away. A vacant expression of hopelessness on every face. I sensed evil even at my tender age.

The evil that was the Magdalene story”.
Phil Jones, October 2017

This comment turned up in my email early one Saturday in October 2017 about a blog post I’d written nearly four years earlier in December 2013. That post had been about a general walk around Aigburth in South Liverpool that had ended with me finding somewhere I’d almost forgotten from earlier in my life.

“Let me tell you a story, a true story, from half my lifetime ago.

It’s the mid 1980s and I’m delivering my beloved baby daughter to her nursery. It’s called Kelton and is just down the hill from a convent, called Kelton House. This morning I’ve noticed someone watching me as I drive past Kelton House. Someone who doesn’t look much like a nun. I ask one of the women who work in the nursery, an Irish woman as it happens ‘What is that place up there? I thought it was a convent.’ ‘Well it is’ she says ‘But it’s also a mother and baby home. It’s where the girls come to have their babies, off the Irish boats as often as not.’

So hurtful for them. Us bringing our much wanted and much celebrated babies to the nursery each morning, while they watch us from their hidden away lives.

I wasn’t sorry, then, when the nursery had to move to another place a few months later because the nuns, who owned the land, had decided to sell it off for housing.”

Continue reading