Ampersand

December 30th, 2014

We are now half way through the twelve days of Christmas.

Many of you will know the song, some of you will know the popular theory that each gift has a religious meaning and that it’s actually a Catholic catechism.

Some of you might also be aware that this year, following a series of related events, I refound my faith (when God became one of my true loves I guess) so all of this comes together in my annual review of the year.

Granted, it won’t be as funny or detailed as Charlie Brooker’s or Jimmy Carr’s programme but hopefully it will all make sense.

The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

untitled

Some strange things dominated the news this year: political apathy, debate and threats of UKIP, internet misuse and abuse, celebrity arrests, crazy weather, infectious diseases, missing planes, people either taking photos of or throwing icy water over themselves (or both)… the world has generally been a bit weirder than usual. Penguins and poppies ruled the media, everyone went Brazil nuts for the world cup (and its stickers) and we either consciously uncoupled or got married more elaborately than ever before.

It’s been a funny twelve months for me personally too, generally positive but with some low points along the way. I am sure most people’s 2014 will have been the same: not the best year, not the worst. after two years in which I got married and then became a father, it was always going to be a little less momentous.

The real highlights have been seeing Betsy develop and then owning a home for the first time.

Not everyone is so lucky though, we must remember, and whether it’s world crises or family bereavements, some people will have had their worst year and I can only hope the next one is better than the last.

You have to believe it will be so.

The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

Talking of last, it’s also been a funny old year for Everton. Some amazing ups and some desperate disappointments: I’m still a faithful disciple but some of the sparkle has gone away, for a while anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I only got to four games this year, a new low since I started going the match twenty five years ago. Blame the baby. I did, though, get to watch a lot of games in the pub or on TV at home and was generally entertained. But I fear for the future of going the game when prices continue to rise, the game seems in disarray, and ordinary fans like me have people attempt to steal their ticket on the way into the ground as happened at the Lille game recently.

Life gets in the way, I know. This season alone I have missed at least parts of matches due to friends visiting, christenings, kids’ birthday parties, Christmas shopping, watching Frozen, all the things a doting dad does instead of having a season ticket… Football did though stay high on the agenda when I saw Messi v Ronaldo at Old Trafford.

IMG_2565

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.

My own ten lords were the green bottles I threw into Morecambe Bay in August. A personal project which meant so much: I have only heard of one being found so far, so can only hope that the other nine are still finding their way ‘home’ to China.

Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit-Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

Believe you me, I have had to show these traits in abundance in a difficult year in the day job. Thankfully, with Gove gone it’s possible things will improve though the nine different subjects I have taught over the year have still needed lots of a couple of the nine fruits.

Education in this country seems at a cross roads, I can only hope the right choices are made, for Betsy’s sake.

The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

Now I didn’t know that beatitudes were blessings, but it all makes sense. We left eight Fire Station Close in the summer after five glorious years in the flat but whilst the majority stand still, some things change and we needed a family home with space and an upstairs and a garden and some security so with a heavy heart we got a mortgage and became homeowners which was very exciting, rather stressful, and so far incredibly rewarding especially when unblocking a toilet, and we feel very blessed with our new home.

Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit – Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

I’ve fed a lot of swans this year. And ducks. And geese. And pigeons (more of which later) and it’s a lovely experience each time. No bread for us, seeds and pellets, though not today when the pond was frozen over and the quack quacks must have been getting ready for their new year party, and all that was left were…

IMG_2736

The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

Regular readers, personal friends and family will know that nowadays my creations are less album covers and Orange Futures prize winning Polaroids and more edible, therefore food has remained a plus point this year, taking even more of an important role as B started on solids. I became more proud of my veg concoctions, the pasta and sauce, even toast and Laughing Cow brings pride if it’s eaten all up.

How things have changed from those Facebook pics and Masterchef interviews!

Still, we have our moments – and a big one came in April at l’enclume, a heavenly lunch I can still recite. Similar moments came at lesser known or acclaimed establishments throughout the year at Albion (now Albina), Salt House Bacaro, Salt Dog Slim’s, Maray and other small local establishments as we embraced parenthood. With Manchester House to come early in 2015, all is not yet lost, and creation remains, the year ending on a high with a winter salad of triumphant proportions.

IMG_2738

The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

Also, it means the five different prices I have so far been charged at local Greggs stores for a double espresso when out & about.

Now this seems trivial but it astonishes me that such inconsistencies can exist for such a simple product, albeit one much more popular (and cheaper) on the continent but honestly, this past couple of months I’ve been charged 30p, 60p, £1.35, £1.65, £2.30 for the same product and it’s almost embarrassing… Especially when, on one occasion, I actually got a 60p double espresso and found £60 on the floor at the same time.

I didn’t hand it in, as payback karma for my Everton tracksuit top I lost on a bus in 1990 which nobody handed in.

The four collie (calling) birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

IMG_2587

Reacquainting myself with the bible as I have this year, this one is self explanatory, though special mentions go to my favourite band the Courteeners, a four piece who went from strength to strength this year with an incredible gig at the ECHO arena. Honorable mentions music wise also go to London Grammar, the National, Grandmaster Flash and the cast of West Side Story, all of which shows how out of touch I am but similarly reflect nicely my current situation.

Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

Our faith, hope and love was placed on various CBeebies presenters and characters whom we got to know well over the year. The holy trinity used to mean to me, Kendall Harvey and Ball; now it’s Mr Tumble, Baby Jake and In the Night Garden based on our bedtime routine. The likes of 64 Zoo Lane, Mister Maker and Big Barn Farm were close to this list and had their moments but for some reason these guys came out tops this year.

* Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments

My two main people of the year who kept me going and I love both more every day. Old and new to a nice extent, I thank them for every day and just as I familiarized myself with the old and new testaments this year, so I tried even harder to devote myself to being as good a husband and father as I could.

Hopefully it worked.

The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

Or in my case, dead pigeons on the road.

My new lines of enquiry are two fold. Firstly, shopping lists – a great comment on society when you read what other people need at the shops – and I’m making a collection of them ongoing.

But the big thing is the pigeon, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into just yet.

IMG_2677

Basically, the ‘flying rats’ have overtaken my thoughts towards the end of this year, and I’ve started to document every dead pigeon I see. I’d appreciate you sharing any sightings to this site / email address too, all will be revealed in good time but for now, know that an extinct feathered friend has triggered a new chapter in this Christmas carol.

Until then… For Auld Lang Syne, happy new year to you all.

Real Love

November 9th, 2014

breakfast-at-tiffanys

When I first went to New York, I went to have Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

I was in love with Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, and had been touched by the book and film, particularly was in love with the notion that there could be a place in the world where everything was alright, when the mean reds would disappear just by being there, and so bought a bagel and a coffee from a street vendor and found my way to 5th and West 57th and broke that fast in front of the elaborate window displays.

The world did feel better after that.

Years later, I went down on one knee atop the Empire State and we actually made it into Tiffany’s to look for engagement rings and the old adage that the man should spend three times his salary was blown out of the water by the prices in the ornate old jeweller’s. We went instead to the diamond district and Eddie did us proud whilst Reginald Dollar serenaded us with Beatles songs.
All of these lovely memories and more, came back to me this week, when the latest John Lewis advert was aired.

John Lewis and Waitrose are similarly places where, I think, everything will be ok.

We venture up to Waitrose in Formby once a month, get the magazines, get our free drinks in the café, B gets lots of attention off the elderly Formby set and the likes of David Fairclough or John Parrott and I waste lots of money on luxury items, but any time you go into there or John Lewis you are made to feel special and valued.

John Lewis as a brand has re-invented itself over recent years, here in Liverpool it was always George Henry Lee’s until a move dock wards and now has even more of an aura of being somewhere special. It’s not just the L1 version, mind, we had a nice trip to the Reading store recently and the consistency across the chain is highly impressive especially in terms of customer service.

Indeed, my good friend has fallen in love with the company too: he has started dating a JL merchandiser, and we discussed how the brand has become a monster over recent years, mainly due to
their Christmas campaigns.

Somewhere, someone is presumably locked in a room planning an advertising campaign for next Christmas. Already, they will be strategically designing a couple of minutes of TV that can bring the nation to a standstill, hog social media for days and raise millions of pounds for old JL.

It’s strange really that every year their advert should be such an event, given that it’s only three years ago that I can remember their entering my advent mindset. Perhaps it was the Smiths soundtrack, anything that uses La Moz as its vocal will gain attention, but nationally, the little boy with the box presumably got parents everywhere thinking about the true meaning of Christmas and giving.

A friend who was expecting at the time, explained how it got to her big time… Charlie Brooker changed its message forever when he suggested that the box actually contained a severed head, and if you watch it with that in mind it does lose its sentimentality a little.

The next year came the snowmen and Lisa even bought me the CD of “>Gabrielle Aplin singing what another friend calls ‘the greatest Christmas song ever’ (to reference the hooded claw) and again, childhood innocence akin to The (actual) Snowman which I guess is what John Lewis want to tap into amongst us thirtysomethings.

Last year, a year ago tonight infact, we were introduced to an animal who had never seen Christmas (nor indeed a Christmas advert) the bear and the hare were introduced to the world in the style of Watership Down / Brother Bear and a plethora of parodies were released online however the idea of giving remained central: that the department store somehow bridged troubles and solved problems and this is where the consumerism debate arrives, in that we probably shouldn’t embrace the commercialism of Christmas quite so much, we should turn our backs…

But that’s impossible when you become a father.

Because this year’s ad had me in floods of tears and I wasn’t alone, Jonathan Ross and Clint Boon were among many who tweeted their emotional response to watching Monty and Mabel.

What got me the most, though, was the similarities to B with her bear Cashew; the love of watching Pingu (nook nooook!) walks in the park, their constant hugs, the tears if they’re not around, the imaginative play, the feeding of fishfingers, even before the advert, we were looking for a partner / replacement for Christmas too… so much so I went to John Lewis yesterday.

The mission accomplished, then – get gullible parents to spend money, those cynics sneer – but I came away with a lovely baby grow and carrier bag and the knowledge that the authentic replicas cost £95 to show that it is a money making scheme after all, and I wasn’t quite ready to go that far just yet.

It’s a beautiful couple of minutes, and has very little to do with Christmas.

It’s all about childhood, friends, giving. Of love.

Yes…. It’s all about love, as Lennon sings.

Real love.

OKTOBERFEST

October 31st, 2014

Last weekend was the date on which all the action in the Back to the Future movies took place.

As if by magic, we all turned our clocks back, and it also signalled the end of a rather difficult few weeks, for now at least, and brought faces from the past together at a very happy occasion and felt something of a seminal moment, coming as it did exactly one year before the supposed time of the hover boards and Nikes, the pizza rehydration and flying cars, of Back to the Future 2, perhaps my favourite film of all time.

HOVER

It could still happen…

In the mean time, though, let’s step into the DeLorean and go back a couple of months, to where Dr Emmett Brown left off last time…

So for those of you who had never read my rubbish before, I threw ten bottles into the sea. That’s the short version, the longer one involved several hours of research and painstaking recreations of the cockle pickers’ portraits.

Which I then threw into the sea.

I was hoping for replies from around the world, the bottles travelling far and wide, so that the story would spread and the faces might appear to people in far off places.

I dreamed that some of them might even make their way home.

What I got instead is that, so far, only one of the bottles has been recovered.

By an illustrator.

From Bradford, who was holidaying in Morecambe Bay that week and found one of the bottles just up the coast.

It was nice to hear from him, and nicer to think there are still nine somewhere else in the world just waiting to be found.

But that idea of waiting, disappointment, a slight anti-climax brought to mind a song by Green Day. Wake me up when September ends was the song playing in my head for a good while, struggling as I was with the demands of a one year old, a new house, little things going wrong seemingly every day, pressures at work, lack of sleep, world health crises and terrible defending by the Everton back line.

All seemed a little lost, as I approached my thirty fifth.

IMG_1044

“It’s my birthday, and I’ll deny all knowledge of the derby scoreline if I want to.”
Turning thirty five was going to be rubbish, I thought, so chose to go out to our favourite neighbourhood tapas place for lunch and once again, not watch the match. Arriving at the bar, imagine my incredulity when we walked in and realised that they had installed a plasma specifically for this game and, aside from a middle aged oddball supping San Miguel, for the first time perhaps in my life I was being forced to watch the match when for once, I actually didn’t really want to…

The street was eerily quiet, walking home, we were losing with a few minutes left and for some reason my twitter feed wouldn’t load so when we got in I decided to add to my misery and check how many they’d scored and how long was left.

About thirty seconds later I screamed louder than I think I ever had and my little girl stood motionless, not with tears in her eyes, I actually think this was her first moment as an Evertonian and therefore, her and Jagielka combined gave me the best birthday gift ever. She had also bought me some new lucky socks for my birthday, and as we went to a wedding that night to celebrate, I put them on. Whilst there, I bumped into an old friend I hadn’t seen for five years (I used to have a season ticket next to him) and lo and behold he was wearing the same socks.

sockies

Things started to look up, once September ended.

One minor personal highlight of the month was the fantasy of Oktoberfest, the Germanic ritual of drinking beer from large steins in big halls which hold thousands of people, came to mind. Not something I will be doing anytime soon, of course, because of the little one, the lack of finances, and the still somewhat low tolerance of alcohol after all the late nights – but I dream of one day joining these cool customers:

Usain Bolt even attended this year, and you’re always seeing Bayern players there replete with lederhosen:

ok

Anyway, the nearest I came this year was my local wine shop (which does a great line in bespoke recommendations and ordering of specialist rums) as it is apparently the only store on Merseyside to stock the Oktoberfest beers. After seeing the sign on the shop window, in a fit of pique / ennui / desperation, I splashed out on a selection, then went back the following week for the rest, enjoying not just the taste and effects of stronger alcohol content but also the beautiful labels.

beers

Another positive of this month came pretty much every tea time, when I was learning Makaton with Mr Tumble whilst she ate her fishfingers and vegetables.

Now, Justin Fletcher has grown into a hero of mine, and not just because his very existence in the world makes my daughter’s life so much better and in turn, our own, because as soon as he appears on screen.

The weekend I mentioned earlier was spent in Reading, a lovely place with a fascinating history, which is in fact the birthplace of Mr Trouser Fumble (his actual original name) and we bought there a Mr Tumble doll, which went down well…

IMG_2440

It’s funny I find these links with Justin / Tumble because one of the people who nominated him for his OBE explained their choice by saying that he ‘is a communication genius. He both entertains and educates our children and does this with intelligence and panache ‘without patronising’, which I kind of hope someone might one day say about me (although I would turn down the knighthood in honour of Morrissey) although teaching is definitely becoming more difficult as I find less and less time to create and to write this sort of thing.

Talking of art…

I’d recently been invited to join a group of artists working towards a brief on the theme of duende, loosely described as ‘irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical… The duende is an earth spirit who helps the artist see the limitations of intelligence, reminding them that “ants could eat him or that a great arsenic lobster could fall suddenly on his head” which is good because a lot of my work, as I start to think of ‘that space in between’ and pigeons in particular, is along similar lines.

October 25th, like I said, was the day featured in Back to the Future.

The dark space in between time. In which people become more aware of their own mortality, their past and their future.

I also chose this week to achieve a rather obscure life ambition, and visit the grave of Stu Sutcliffe.

sutcliff-306v-1375471024

Who is he? Many of you might ask.

He should have concentrated on a career in art. Maybe then everyone would know him.

If you have seen the film Backbeat you might have an idea about him, basically a hugely gifted and very cool young man who apparently named the Beetles and was taken far too soon in somewhat dubious circumstances that may or may not have involved his best mate John Lennon (whose partner Yoko said John had described him as “[My] alter ego … a spirit in his world … a guiding force”) when he had a fantastic career ahead of him as a painter as well as a guitarist.

Hardly anyone knows that he is buried in Huyton-with-Roby, quietly tucked away with his dad in the overspill St Michael’s graveyard and it took a while finding his headstone but me and Betsy had a quite powerful few minutes searching for his resting place and when we did it was a cathartic moment years in the making not unlike my visit to Edith Piaf’s grave in Pere Lachaise only without the rose or the cemetery map.

DSC05785

And this time it was with someone who hadn’t a clue what was going on, one day I hope she will.

All this talk of getting old, it’s getting me down my love.

Let’s think about the cemetery gates, and have a musical interlude

Time travel remained in the psyche throughout the past month and I bought myself a turntable so as to refind my love of vinyl. I took B out for a day of charity shopping, and we managed to pick up a few classic albums to listen to when time allows.

Many of them take me back to my childhood, and make me realise how much I took for granted back then.

Not just in turns of music.

But last weekend the clocks went back and the flux capacitor worked its magic so we go back to the future…

Even if it looks a little uncertain right now, if music be the food of love, play on.

The Poem

August 30th, 2014

The Chinese Cockling Tragedy In Morecambe Bay

Beauty surrounds and health abounds
But Death lurks in those cockling grounds
Care is needed as your` eyes feast
For beauty can become the beast

On February fifth two thousand and four
A human tragedy came to our shore.
At twenty one twenty that winter`s night
a phone call told of the cockler`s plight.
Beginning a story of greed and shame,
that allowed the sea their lives to claim
and created a link thought never could be
`tween Morecambe and China far over the sea.

Morecambe`s cocklers take no chance
of being caught by the tides advance.
The cockling grounds where they make their pay,
they leave, to pick another day.
They know the channels, they know the tides,
they know the quicksands where danger hides.
But cockles were making a princely sum
tempting all manner of men to come.

Young people from China came to our shore,
their loved ones at home exceedingly poor.
They came to provide a better life
for parent, child, husband, wife.
Gangs could see the profits to make
If Morecambe`s cockles they were to take.
Harvest the crop every day,
using these people for trifling pay.

Morecambe`s cockles in demand
brought cocklers from across our land,
thinking they alone should be
the ones to take them from the sea,
and no intent to have a share
with the Chinese already there.
At the cockling beds they ran amuck
threats were made, blows were struck

In daylight hours with sea at rest
the local cocklers did their best,
to warn them of the dangers when
the ebbing tide comes back again.
A common language was not shared,
they could not understand a word.
If masters heard, they did not say
just sent them on their fateful way.

Gangmasters with orders to fill
sent their teams when all was still.
No matter if by day or night,
no matter if it wrong or right.
The only thing they cared about
was profit, and without a doubt
no thought at all for fellow men,
whom they may never see again.

The workers went without a care
giving no thought to the dangers there.
No one told them of the speeding tide
that soon would give no place to hide.
The darkness fell, the tide came near
they thought it safe they had no fear,
their trust placed in the people who
cared only for the easy sou.

The racing tide came to the fore
a sign for them to leave the shore
they turned around with time to spare
but found the sea already there.
It came around with silent tread
whilst they had watched the tide ahead.
Marooned they were in a raging sea
on a sandbank with nowhere to flee.

Some swam safely to the shore
others there would live no more,
most to meet a wasteful end
far from family and friend.
In the whirling surf, life getting shorter
a call was heard of ‘sinking water! ‘
The wind blew strong, the sea was high
many there were soon to die.

Teams arrived from far and wide
and tried to starve that hungry tide.
The lifeboat with its local crew
searched the waters through and through,
just one surviver found for sure
a young man, name of Li Hua.
Such sacrifice made to meet the need
of gangs whose lives are filled with greed.

From Leconfield, Valley and Kinloss
came members of the Royal Air Force.
The police and coastguards were as well
searching in that Dantes hell.
The sea had won, the tide was fed,
from now they only found the dead.
These brave mens duty now would be
to take with dignity from the sea.

Fire and ambulance scanned the shore
to help those who could swim no more.
They pulled them from the ice cold sea
and saved them for their family
in China many miles away
who`d never heard of Morecambe bay.
But since that night the bay will be
forever in their memory.

Gangmasters tried to flee the scene
telling police they had never been
the ones who used those poor lost souls
and left them to the sea and shoals.
The man in charge of bringing them
to justice, let the courts condemn!
Inspector Gradwell was his name,
of Lancashire policing fame.

There now will always be a tie
with families who still ask, why?
and Morecambe`s bay of sheer delight,
though not so on that fateful night!
Whilst looking `cross our peaceful shore
we shan`t forget those Chinese poor,
forever in our minds they`ll stay
a reminder of this deadly bay.

Though in this land illegaly
that was no reason they should be
robbed of their chance to live their life
with laughing children, loving wife,
of growing old with childhood friends
and walking where the river bends.
The green of grass, the blue of sky
that we take for granted you and I.

A plaque now lies on a Morecambe wall
to make sure we remember all
the young Chinese who died one night,
victims of that deadly blight!
The greed of men without a care
who sent them out and left them there.
Their names engraved for all to see
from now until eternity.

Stand and watch at end of day
the Westward sun set on the bay,
it`s rays refracted by the clouds
gathered round like waiting shrouds
as if to join its Eastward way
creating soon another day.
Taking home those poor lost souls
away from Morecambes sea and shoals

Mazu, Chinas godess of the sea,
please to hear our fervent plea!
These souls that in your` hands you hold
guide them to their homeland fold.
Taken by the setting sun,
the star from which all life begun
To rise up in the early morn
back in the land where they were born.

Beauty surrounded and health abounded
But Death lurked in those cockling grounds.

Copyright B Hough 2004

With kind permission of George Bernard Hough

SUMMER

August 30th, 2014

I’ve been away I’ve been working… but now I’m back and I need to know that you’re still there, I need to know that you still care.

A holiday of cardboard and empty beer bottles ended, appropriately, with cardboard and empty beer bottles.

DSC05479

It started off on an epic scale: the giant spectacular came to town and like thousands of others, we went to see them. Some of the negativity and snobbery around the event was laughable, for me anyway, it was a third moment of almost sublime awe that started with a giant mechanical spider and never ceases to amaze with its beauty: however, the impact this time around was lessened somewhat by the stress of public transport with a nearly one year old.

B seemed to enjoy it despite the look on her face.

Fighting through the crowds, squeezing on a train next to a drunk who insisted I speak on the phone to his mate Jan, queuing to just get into the train station: Thankfully, we didn’t have hours to wait to get home – though on the way, we did get the call that would change our lives forever.

We got the keys the next day.

There were so many things about the house that had felt right, from the start. The previous owner was Ev, her son-in-law a Blue, kids went to our church / school, a building with the huge E on the brickwork at the end of the road, our next door neighbour being a childhood friend of the Mrs. The emotions of moving were something of a surprise: loss, change, maturity, the unknown, grown up problems of mortgage rates and electrical faults and all the other things I should have been worrying about years earlier, instead of passport photos and transfer deadlines.

I miss the dishwasher. The view of the park. Two bathrooms. I don’t miss the stomping of the witchy neighbour, communal bins. A horror film esque creepy caretaker. The drunken stumbles home.

IMG_2069

Still, saying good bye was hard, yet exciting, because what was there instead means so much more.

B turned one the day after we moved out, the day we moved in.

Her first birthday was full of coincidences given that the season started with a 2-2 draw for the Blues, a lucky victory for the Reds, a City win over Newcastle. But it was a seminal moment – our baby became a toddler, her first steps taken a few days later, a trip to Clarks for her first proper shoes, babbling conversations started, and again we were overwhelmed by people’s kindness as a big little girl reached many a milestone.

DSC05540

Twelve months has passed quite quickly, with so much adaptation people can’t really prepare for, you just have to jump in. It’s been largely enjoyable! Things are slowly starting to settle down in a variety of ways and the birthday felt like a transition point.

Unfortunately there also soon came tragedy and a death in the family. A great man, a good blue too, who left behind a brave and remarkable family. He will be watching the match from above.

Thankfully, Macmillan who helped him, and Motor Neurone Disease charities, have benefitted from the new fad of pouring ice over one’s self. I was thrice nominated but politely declined as it wasn’t really possible plus both charities had been close to my heart for several years so I’d been raising awareness and money in ways other than social media. I admire so many of the efforts I’ve seen, but just hope people see the bigger picture rather than the instant gratification.

I cavorted at the Courteeners whose album was the soundtrack to our move alongside a return to form for Steven Patrick. Prouder moments included a trip to the zoo, stroking a plethora of chicks, guinea pigs and snakes, revisiting where we got married to show B, first dips in the local swimming pool, first bits of DIY in the house doing things I never thought I would, powerful performances of West Side Story and games of snooker and adapting to our new surroundings including the kitchen, making pork scratchings and brawn whilst looking out onto the garden and beyond, the trains whizzing by every few minutes. The weather remained inconsistent: sunshine and showers, just as we had had on July 15th St Swithin’s Day, reminding me of summer projects of yore.

In terms of my art, though, my thoughts predominantly stayed with the unfortunate twenty three throughout this summer.

IMG_2182

The bottles and loom bands were stored, biding my time until it was possible to release them back into the water. Finally the chance came on the last day of the holiday and I felt so lucky to be doing it with my wife, with my daughter watching on from the warmth of the car, given that so many of the victims had left their loved ones behind.

DSC05626

We had had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch at the Midland beforehand, featuring a famous ceiling image which summarised the whole event quite well. We went to the memorial, a touching though understated tribute of twenty three rose bushes and a plaque. On the way to Red Bank, we passed Gypsy Sarah’s: five years ago that place was essential, today it had shut down, presumably she’d not seen it coming.

It was a windy day so the poem, kindly signposted to me by its author, was read out and the Tsingtao bottles, filled with the faces and a message, were released. The tide wasn’t helping – as if it knew.

DSC05640

Lisa filmed it but the poem was obscured by the gale. Fate that the elements were against us, much less than they were ten years ago.

(I was reading excerpts of a poem by a local author who got in touch after reading about my project in the newspaper. It’s by George Bernard Hough and I’ll re-post it later.)

So the bottles floundered, might not get anywhere. So I threw them further into the sea, like the end of This is England when Shaun sits, accompanied by a beautiful version of Please Please Please, and I realised I’d got what I wanted.

Not a relaxing holiday, no sunshine, but something more. Closure, a decent ending to one of the most personal projects I’ve ever undertaken; I wasn’t expecting such a cathartic release when I embarked upon it.

Perhaps the emotions of everything else that has happened, moving, celebrating, grieving, heightened what I was feeling, but as the ten green bottles ebbed away, I felt sad and then happy again, much more fortunate than the twenty three and with a sense of optimism for the next chapter, feeling ever so grateful for every single second of this stupid little life.

A holiday of cardboard and empty beer bottles ended, appropriately, with cardboard and empty beer bottles.