Captain’s Log 04/06/18 06:50
I wake up fuzzy-headed in my B&B in Monton. I drag myself out of bed, get dressed and go straight downstairs for a complimentary fry up. The dining room is all bright paisley carpets and faux-Victorian lampshades; the Bee Gees are playing on the radio (which I find abrasive at the best of times). As I look around, I realise I’m the first person awake for breakfast. This has never happened to me in my entire life.
This is the day I drop of my poems in Barton. As I sit by the window in the faint morning sun, I try to pull myself together and think about the order of the day. I’ve arranged to meet Chris at 9.30am, then Steph at 11am, then, at 2pm, I’m off to meet Alan and Andrea. A TV crew from North West Tonight are coming to film the first 2 deliveries. In the afternoon, a blogger by the name of Quiet Man Dave is going to come along too. I’m now feeling a bit nervous about all this. I mean, what the hell am I doing here? I only visited this place for the first time a few weeks ago. I barley even know where I am…
I finish breakfast and get ready. I spot Kate waiting for me in the car outside. I head out to meet her and she drives us over to Chris’ house on Arthur Street. When we arrive, we realise we’re a bit early, so we get out and go for a walk towards the canal. On the way, we spot Jen, who’s in charge of the press stuff. Soon after, 2 people walk over, who it turns out are from North West Tonight- a cameraperson called Mandy and a reporter called Olivia. We all shake hands and then go down to the water. Olivia does an interview with Kate about Est. 1761 and what the canal restoration is all about. In the process, someone who looks suspiciously like Bez cycles past, having an imaginary phone call and deliberately shouting profanities.
After this, we head over to Chris’s house. I walk up the drive and ring the bell. He answers in a vest and shorts and says hello. He looks fairly relaxed considering the situation, like a seasoned professional. He stands in the doorway as I introduce him to everyone. As I do, I spot something moving behind the window to my right. When I first met Chris, I assumed he had 2 sons. But, when I called him to see if it was OK for me to bring all these people, I found out he actually has 5. I see them all peeping from behind the blinds now, 5 sets of eyes all hovering at different heights.
Mandy asks me to knock on the door again a few times while she gets some different shots. One of these involves pretending we’ve never met before. Chris’ little son, little Chris, runs up to the door in the middle of this, looking extremely confused. Then I knock again, this time to read out the poem I’ve written. Older Chris seems to enjoy it. Olivia does an interview with him:
“What did you think when Rowan first knocked on your door?”
“I thought it was a joke. But he did his poem and then I thought ‘fair enough’. A few of my neighbours came over later to ask if he’d knocked here too. I said ‘Yeah, I let him in.’ They said ‘Chris what are you doing!?’ They thought he was Jeremy Beadle.”
“And what happened next?”
“Well, he asked me for a funny story about the canal, and I talked about my mate Lee who ice skated over it. He said he’d be back in a few weeks. To be honest, I didn’t actually think he’d be coming back.”
“Does it feel good to have your memories of the canal recorded in a poem?”
“Yeah, I mean, it’s a bit strange. It was a long time ago now. But it’s a nice thing to have. I can show it to Lee as well.”
We say our goodbyes. I shake hands with Chris and thank him for taking the time to get involved.
“No problem,” he says. “It’s something a bit different.”
10 years ago, on New Year’s Eve,
the night brought on a lethal freeze
as me and Lee walked down the path
past the canal- a sheet of glass.
Off to the local for a few,
the way so many people do.
We looked up at the moon and lingered;
blew smoke into our frostbit fingers.
When suddenly, without a warning,
Lee darted off and started crawling
through the reeds, till he emerged
on the frozen water’s surface.
Out of sorts, I shouted to him,
“What the flippin’ heck you doing?”
And he announced, as proud as punch,
“I’m going to ice skate to the pub.”
I know this shouldn’t be advised.
I know that night Lee could have died,
one crack and he’d have slipped beneath
to darkness, bottles and shopping trolleys.
But if you could have seen him glide
with ease beneath the starry sky,
his childish smile of sheer glee:
I’ve never seen a man so free.
And sometimes, when life seems no fun,
a list of errands left to run,
I think about Lee skating there
with grace into a brand new year.
Me and the crew make our way over to Steph’s street. We step around some road works and I walk up to her door. I ring the bell and she answers, grinning nervously.
“Are you nervous?” I ask, unhelpfully.
“Yes,” she says. Mandy gets her mic’d up, then I read out the poem on her doorstep. Steph laughs through parts of it, which I was hoping would happen. When I’m done, I explain that, after I met her, I rented a bike and went for a ride along the canal for research. The poem is based on this, and also some stuff she told me.
Olivia does an interview:
“The poem isn’t about the most fun bike ride, is it something you can relate to?”
“I can see it happening to me.”
“Has it been a good experience?”
“Yeah, I’ve got the poem to keep forever now.” I’m really pleased Steph wants to keep it. She tells us that her boss even let her come in later than she was meant to today, just so she could stand and listen to a strange man read a poem to her. I thank her heartily and we head off.
Upon Cycling Along the Bridgewater Canal
I went for a bike ride along the canal on the 23rd of May,
The sky the boldest shade of blue on a perfect sunny day.
The pretty barges floated past with smiling sailors on them;
A heron rested in the shade, as I made my way to Monton.
But I looked ahead on the narrow path and saw an awful form,
A massive cloud of midges like a creeping thunderstorm,
Which grew and grew until I knew there was no other option,
I was going to have to cycle through if I was going to get to Monton.
I closed my eyes and shut my mouth and flew into the fuzz.
They crawled onto my arms and legs, began to suck my blood
And by the time I’d shook them off, I saw I’d missed my chance
To spot the bigger danger that was standing on the path.
A lady on a jolly stroll, a dress bedecked with flowers
And in her hand 6 separate leads all holding 6 Chihuahuas.
I swerved aside and fell into the canal with a plunge,
But not before one of the dogs had bit me on the bum.
A drowning rat, I flopped on land and made my way back home,
My arms all raw, my bottom sore, my clothes soaked to the bone.
I realised my exercise idea had been a wrong’un,
Next time I think I’ll stay in bed instead of going to Monton.
Olivia and Mandy have got all the shots they need, so they head off. Kate takes me and Jen to a nearby community centre, where we have a cup of tea, then I leave, making my way back to Barton Road to visit Andrea and Alan.
When I get there, I see Quiet Man Dave stood outside the door. I met him a few weeks ago and he seemed like a really nice bloke. He asked me a lot of questions about poetry and structure, which I pretended to know the answer to, and he seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing. I also kind of enjoy the fact that a blogger is now coming along to write a blog post about someone who has written a poem about a story someone told them. All we need now is for someone to make a film about Dave’s visit to write a blog post about my poem about someone’s story, and reality will probably cave in on itself.
We exchange pleasantries, then I knock on the weird French doors at Alan and Andrea’s, thinking how much more inviting this all seems when you know someone is expecting you. It’s also nice to know I don’t have to do everything twice this time. Andrea answers, followed quickly by Alan. They lead us through into the dining room at the back of the house. There’s plates with paintings of horses on them hanging on the wall; there’s a chequered cloth on the table. It feels homely.
After I’ve introduced Dave, I get right down to reading the poem. There was a few stories they gave me on the day. In the end, I went for the one about the Canada Goose. Judging by Alan’s response, I think it was the right choice.
“That’s bang on that,” he says, once I’ve finished.
Andrea shows me a poem her granddaughter wrote when she was 9.
“I thought about it after you came last time,” she says. It’s called ‘Undo the padlock and enter’ and it’s spookily fitting; it’s all about what could be behind a door- it could be a blizzard, or a grizzly bear, but you’ll never really know for sure until you take a chance and open it. It ends with the line ‘just go and open the door’, which I think I might adopt as my motto.
Alan shows me a black and white picture of the canal on his iPad. In the distance is the chimney of the old mill, which is now the mobility scooter shop. We both notice the smoke coming out of the tower. Alan talks about growing up here in the early 60’s.
“It’s changed a lot since then,” he says. “You’d see the boats going past, full of coal on their way to Barton Power Station.” And it turns out, Alan’s dad used to work in the Barton Aqueduct. When his mam wasn’t very well, he took Alan to work with him during the night shift, setting up a mattress for him in the corner. “He let me have a go at swinging the bridge once,” he says with pride. “It’s a handle you turn that makes it spin.”
We chat for about an hour, till it’s time for me and Dave to be on our way. Before we go, Andrea and Alan thank me again for the poem. It’s a great ending to this first round of knocking in Salford; it’s been really interesting to learn a bit more about this couple’s life and they seem to have really enjoyed it too. They both stand in the doorway and wave goodbye, as me and Dave walk off into the sunshine.
self-elected King Of The Canal.
You sleep on the narrow path
next to the water,
hiss loudly at people walking past,
as if it’s easier for them to swim.
I find your arrogance charming.
with your neck so black,
like a regular goose
wearing a burglar mask.
You chase rabbits
and stop traffic for fun,
standing in the rush hour road
pretending to be lost.
you cause disorder
where anything is pristine.
you are the least Canadian thing
I’ve ever seen.