Category: Writings & music (Page 1 of 4)

A walk through Time

Weaving is interwoven into the very landscape of this narrow sunless valley.

Not so long ago here in the mills limbs were wrenched from bodies,

Young bodies bent, misshapen, gnarled,

Old before their time.

Those who sought escape were confined – horribly.

Indoor sanitation in the town was non existent.

Death came early.

No wonder Hell Hole Rocks look down on such a scene.

Even the Town Hall has its skeletons, not locked in the cupboard where they should be

But happily displayed in the window for all to see.

Today the wicked lady

Casts her multiple eyes about her

A wrecked Mercedes sulks beneath the weaving shed

Now adorned with vibrant colours.

The once deafening clatter of  its looms  now silent

Allowing birds to build perfectly formed nests atop abandoned trees.

A jelly fish high in another tree captures the wicked lady’s attention.

She wonders if she needs a self testing kit to test her sanity

So she stops for sustenance at the bakery.

There’s as much chance of seeing blue sky today as there is of seeing pie in the sky.

‘I’m not a cactus expert but I know a prick when I see one’

Whispers the Santa hatted bottle

But she hurries onwards,

While a bemused Cheshire cat looks on with a twinkle in his eye

Wondering what on earth the elephants are doing.

The Old Church Bench

By Heather J Morris

(with apologies to Henry Austin Dobson and his poem ‘The Old Sedan-Chair)

It stands in the old churchyard under the trees

It’s seen better days than this, so I believe.

It once was the pride, where the people would meet

The old Copley church was once proud of this seat.

It’s battered and tattered: its seat and its back

Are remnants of all it once stood for in fact.

It witnessed the weddings, the baptisms too

The death and demise of some folks just like you

But little by little its function subsides

The church now abandoned it rides with the tide.

Now only dog walkers and hikers like me

Stop here for a moment, take time just to see.

The 11:42 to York

I woke up to rain. There was nothing gentle about it. It was violent, each droplet drilling its way into the sodden earth with the force of an unseen battering ram. But moments before I left to walk, Andante of course, to the railway station the opening movement of the suite had worn itself out and as the conductor raised his baton for the openings of the gentle pastorale the clouds dispersed leaving  the sun it all its finery. The river, however, was still in an angry mood, a seething blanket of rich brown water with a rumble of bass tremolos punctuated by violin glissandi as twigs and branches raced underneath the bridge. The big puddle on the edge of Holme field, always present after a heavy rain, was basking, yes, radiating in its full glory. A family in wellies were wading through, enjoying their puddle-stomping, but a couple, ill-clad for such Calderdale surprises, had decided to take off their shoes and go for the bare footed approach. I opted to edge around the water in the deep mud preferring muddy boots to soggy socks for my day out with Van Gogh.

The station café was a hive of activity as busy bees consumed their chosen nectar at tables, and lovers passed their Saturday mornings whispering sweet nothings to their honeys. Did steamed up windows blur the outlines of passing trains or did the ghost of an engine in full steam just chug down the track?

On board the train was packed. Empty beer bottles and cans outnumbered the coffee cups and water bottles even at this early hour. Across the aisle from me 2 gold hobgoblins were doing battle with a can of Stella Artois, a can of  Carling and  2 bottles of water while  2 phones looked on in amusement and the  glasses case acted as referee. Beside them 4 gentlemen of a certain age were dressed in their Saturday best: brown leather shoes, fitted jeans, button down shirts and jackets – leather or linen. They talked in a language foreign to me – words like ‘interconnectivity’ ‘accumulated depreciation’ ‘differentiated target marketing’ fell like aleatoric fragments in an atonal score. I shared my table with three orange-faced women wearing shoes I’d barely be able to stand still in, let alone wobble, and certainly not move in straight line in the cobbled streets of Calderdale. Heavy smears of dark eyeliner and black eye brows drawn onto smooth brows peeked out from above  pink leather jackets adorned with shiny jewelry which looked capable of being strong enough to tether a bull, while the length and sharpness of their matching fingernails would have allowed them to tear the bull apart with their bare hands.  In the corridor between the coaches it was standing room only but the residents there seemed to be have a jolly old time judging from the sforzando outbursts of guffaws that seemed to increase in tempo in sych with the speed of the train. Half a dozen young ladies were struggling to inch their way along the aisle on their way to the toilet. To say they were scantily clad would be exaggerating the extent of their wardrobe. Judging by the looks they were receiving from the sitting passengers I was not the only one to think that these girls must have left home in a hurry – in their underwear. Two of them were trying to cover up as much exposed flesh as they could by wrapping jackets round their posteriors but that was tricky since that meant they couldn’t hide their chests with their arms at the same time. Something had to give! Meanwhile we’d sped through Halifax, taken a quick look at Bradford station before backing out, and had exchanged passengers at Leeds, so now it was standing room only in the aisles too. A large man stood by me. He had a large fully laden backpack, a laptop case over one shoulder and an enormous carrier bag in one hand. As the train progressed, so did his trousers. Down and down. By the time he got off  – the train, that is – his trouser belt was below his buttocks and his underwear was following the downward trend exposing the white belly as  . . .

the touselled heads of the rosebay willow herbs on the tracks bowed their demure heads, too shy to see what would be revealed next.

Just before reaching York the train pulled into the tiny station of Church Fenton. According to the 2011 census the population of this little village was 1392. It has a village shop, two pubs and an Indian restaurant in the former station building. A mass exodus from the train took place at this very spot. The orange ladies, the young ladies almost wearing clothes, the business men, the dad  who’d been entertaining his two wellie-clad, superman sweat-shirted small boys with Quavers, rice crispie treats and Vimto, and the group  Chinese students who had spent most of the journey lying prostrate, if such as thing is possible on a Northern Rail seat, covered in piles of coats, all got off in this middle-of-nowhere. I must have been gazing rather quizzically at this sudden departure of passengers  because the man across from me  offered ‘It’s the mint festival,’ by way of explanation. Immediately pictures from my former life in California came into my head:  the Pacific Grove wildflower festival and the lovely begonia festival in Capitola For some reason I was  finding great difficulty imagining these departing passengers drinking mint tea, sniffing mint soap, and carefully creating artistic displays of mint leaves, eager to be selected  Best In Show. It wasn’t until I got home that I fully appreciated what I’d missed by staying on the train. Instead of immersing myself in the ‘incomparable universe of Vincent Van Gogh thanks to the most recent virtual projection technology’ I could have attended the Leeds End of Summer dance party and got absolutely immersed in torrential downpours throughout the day while listening to Patrick Topping, Gorgon City, Enzo Siragusa, Claptone and Richy Ahmed. Who?

Captured on camera , just before he’s led off to the scaffold. Guy Fawkes pub, York, where Guy Fawkes was born.

The 12:27 to Leeds

“The next train to depart from platform one will be the 12:27 to Leeds

Calling at Mytholmroyd, Sowerby Bridge, Halifax, Bradford Interchange, New Pudsey and Leeds.”

The contralto’s opening recitative sends ‘shivers down my spine.’

This platform change has me running Prestissimo beneath the bridge passage synching my pulse to the finale of the William Tell Overture.

I slip for a moment on the wet cobbles but manage to avoid a fully fledged glissando,

Runup the stairs in whole steps and, with the leap of a tritone, like the Devil I jump aboard.

The iron Lion growls and lets out a roar as this Carnival of human Animals settles back in its seat to enjoy this Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

The Water Music to our left softly serenades with Tales from Vienna Woods

While the Ash Grove placidly sits on the hillside above soulfully singing Dido’s Lament over a ground bass provided bylowing cows.

Below me Mytholmroyd church still manages to keep its asymmetrical head above water

But with much more rain it’ll  become La Cathédrale Engloutie.

But for now in these green quilted fields Sheep May Safely Graze

Farther along the valley abandoned factories resound to the rhythm of Bolero

As ghosts perform a Danse Macabre on the skeletal remains of neglected buildings.

Through a dense mist of atonal fog Britten’s Night Mail performs an accelerando through the entire Four Seasons

Coming at last to a rest in Winter at Sowerby Bridge

Where the platform is humming to the Waltz of the Flowers as Eidelweiss pirouttes with Roses from the South

But at this time of year all respectable Bumble Bees have already taken Flight.

Continuing at a tempo moderato the train goes ‘past cotton grass and moorland boulder’ and eventually

Rows of saw-toothed weaving sheds climax in Halifax’s phallic folly

As, through the rustling leaves of Der Lindenbaum, I glimpse The Lark Ascending.

Heading over Coley viaduct staccato raindrops bounce on Satie’s umbrellas keeping dry the heads of men intently involved in Le Golf

As, high above them, marching with Pomp and Circumstance, huge pylons stomp across the course con moto like Martian fighting machines.

At length a dolce phrase from a Bach Suite greets our arrival After Eight in Halifax, home to Mackintosh and Quality Street.

And several crochets climb aboard accompanied by small quavers stoically holding hands.

 They scale the half steps and jump eagerly onto the two lined staff stretching across the page

While white haired minims and legless semibreves prop up the bar.  

Subito, we plunge into the blackness of the Hall of the Mountain King,

 Where sparsely orchestrated Catacombs lurk at ever diminishing intervals

“Where’s our Lux Aeterna when we need one?” I ask the ripieno gathered around me

‘But answer came there none’

For a grand pause was written into the score and everyone was silent.

Back under the Nuages Gris  and ever onward past Jardins sous la pluie

We pause for a brief fermata at Bradford station

Where the train suddenly goes into retrograde motion for the remainder of the trip.

As we make a controlled ritardando into New Pudsey

The vast expanse of Asda’s car park is revealed as a Land of Hope and Glory

Wherein ‘the machine of a dream’ vies for space with the lyrics of Queen. 

Ponies scatter on the sodden field dreaming of a life in the sun in Copland’s Rodeo

While at the Major’s poultry farm I spy a Ballet of  Unhatched Chicks

Caused by a sharp cat wandering into the flat yard

And causing havoc in The Hut on Hen’s Legs.

Oh puss, get out” I cry to myself, sotto voce,

But my voice is lost in a cacophony of cell phones

As aleatoric pings Come Together in a final cadenza

Heralding not The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba into Leeds railway station

But a Fanfare for the Common Man.

The White Rabbit offers his pocket watch to me

As Alice looks on bemusedly.

Bobbins of spun cotton fill the coal scuttle that adorns my table

As jostles for air between cake and cappuccino.

Through  glass, spotlessly clean, a crisp winter light pours in,

But, with eyes wide open I dim this light, cloud this glass, drown the music

And I’m in a dark forbidding place, a basement, where deafening thuds,

Piercing whistles and earth-shaking stomps

Transport me to a former time.

I glimpse a young boy, ten years old, flat-capped,

With thread-bare overcoat and scuffed clogs trampling along the shit drenched cobbles

Barely awake, barely cognizant of his surroundings

Where he s dwarfed by buildings so tall

That the sun never reaches the ground

Even in those times when, just for a brief moment,

It penetrates the ubiquitous smog and grime.

A surgeon signed his papers – he’s fit for work.

But he doesn’t stay long, and next time I meet him

He’s a gunner

Taking aim at other young men from factories and farms and homes

Where anxious loved ones await them.

Ishmael returned home,

Was he devastated?

Did he scream in nightmares in the living daylight?

In a gallery above me a striking wreath takes my breath away:

The dead eyes covered with pennies

The kit-box stenciled with numbers

Beyond my comprehension.

My great uncle Ishmael worked at Dean Clough carpets which was, at the time, the largest carpet manufacturer in the world. Today it houses, art galleries and the Loom Café, decorated with Alice in Wonderland paraphernelia by Chris Mould.

Set in stone?

(West wall of Manchester Cathedral) A writing workshop with Manchester Cathedral’s poet in residence

A first view:

Black, pitted,

Scored by aeons of weather

Scared by centuries of man.

Man and horse struggled

Through the penetrating precipitation

Of a Mancunian winter to carry that once-golden stone

Masons left their marks

Gauged with chisels, struck with hammers, polished it until smooth.

Set in stone implies ‘forever’

Yet here the ravages of time, be they made by man or Nature’s serendipity

Have destroyed those chiseled lines,

Blurred those straight edges,

Roughened those smooth surfaces until

Only scattered remnants of fine tracery peak out with blinded eyes from beneath its wretched face.

And now, like an ancient mummy the once-smooth skin is black and pitted,

A volcanic crater of aging epidermis.

But wait,

A second viewing, now informed by a Father

Garbed in mockery of the knights that lie prostrate beneath our feet.

That ancient wall that spoke to me of medieval masons

Whose marks I’d traced with hesitant fingers,

Yearning to connect across the centuries,

Its marks are mutilations, wounds wrought by virtuous Victorians

Intentional disfigurements of medieval craftsmanship

By prim men in straight-laced garb

Yearning to cover the ancient disorder with modern clarity of line.

This wall, with its pock marks and scuffs bore witness to my forefathers,

Their birth, their love, their demise.

Music shrouds their spirits for

Without them I wouldn’t exist.

“That wall needs a face lift.

Cover the blemishes, obliterate the scars,” the renovators had said.

Today that white wash has flaked away into its own oblivion

Leaving the pitted West wall to conjure its own convoluted saga.

Remembrance Day: Halifax Cenotaph and Blackshaw Head

As the Last Post sounds

A multi coloured caterpillar stands to attention

Its rainbooted feet silent and still.

Above it towers the church, clad in her coat of black grime,

 Staring with unseeing eyes  at the vast hills that encroach upon her

Threatening to overcome her once dominant position.

Rain pours from my eyes as well as the sky as Jerusalem resounds

As if in mockery of  ‘England’s  green and pleasant land.’

Out of the rain now

Into the vast echo chamber punctuated with blood-red bullet points.

A thousand people gather to sing, to listen, to cry, to pray

To remember

Not only the fallen

But the damaged, in this, the war to end all wars.

As I leave the church the sun peeks out from behind her shroud

To cast a glittering eye through  her own tears

A rainbow arches through the sky

Coming to rest directly over the black foreboding tower

As if to say ‘You have my blessing.’

In the dark of that evening

A beacon is lit high on a remote hilltop

Here, handbells ring out from a tent,

Where poppy quilts and paper gravestones bump elbows with

Hot soup tureens and tea cups,

Fussy toddlers and excited canines,

Joining the nationwide remembrance

On a  more intimate scale.  

Beacon Hill

(On performing at the Piece Hall for the Overgate Hospice candlelight vigil)

With rain streaming from my eyes I gaze up at Beacon Hill

Where a lone car’s headlights trace the tortuous road plunging into Halifax,

The vantage point had provided a favourite photo op on the way back from Southowram with Rachel

In this vast courtyard Anna had dressed  up in period costume

And I’d wondered what it would be like to play music in this cradle of textile history.

Now I’m here, wearing 4 layers to keep out the cold and rain,

Squeezed together with other musicians

Beneath a leaking canopy which performs, unscored, Halifax’s own Water Music.

Two hundred candles glow in unsteady hands as nurses, volunteers and  doctors

Relate heartfelt stories of comfort to the bereaved and grieving.

A  surly-looking man in a high viz jacket wipes a tear from his eye as he stands motionless

While a press photographer tip-toes judiciously between the congregation.

A beautiful version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow renews the tears in my own eyes

As I recall my visit to Lily at the Overgate Hospice in Elland just before she took her place ‘beyond the rainbow.’

Thinking of her reminds me of the visit that Sarah and I took to her grave

And my distance from my own children is so painful that the floodgates open once more.

The baton is raised and the tips of my fingers emerge from their thermal blankets.

As we finish our set the clatter of dismantling music stands and stacking chairs replace the serenity of the carols

While tree lights twinkle like the headlights of that car high above, reflecting on the web cobbles

And lighting my  approach to the railway station and my journey home.  

Sally (of Lily Hall)

Did you love him, Sally,

You know, the man who lived next door?

A moment of passion

A stolen hour of comfort

That changed my life forever.

You were hardly a spring chicken

Newly widowed

Three young children

And him, newly wed

With a bairn on the way.

You took him to court

Made him pay for his deed

Support this new daughter

Miss Elizabeth Ann

Did he hear her cry in the night

Through the partition walls that divide Lily Hall?

Or did his wife’s child’s whimperings

Obliterate that constant reminder?

She took her dead father’s name

And didn’t call James  her father

Until she married for a second time

Barely clinging to the hillside

Defying gravity

Lily Hall’s window eyes survey the town

Keeping a watchful eye

On the terraces below

As they seemingly slide down the hillside

You watched the mill chimneys soar

New manufactories rise from the ashes of old

The streams diverted, the sluices opened

And the millponds enclosed.

James came from a family of builders

Plasterers, carpenters, cabinet makers

The business grew

Schools, churches, banks and factories.

Now, today, you keep your watchful eyes on me

As I explore the buildings

Where you lived, that you built,

Roads that you traversed

And paths where you once walked.

(Sally Whitham was my great great great grandma)

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