’cause everything that’s been has passed
The answer’s in the looking glass
There’s four and twenty million doors
On life’s endless corridor – Oasis, The Masterplan
Providence took us to Lancashire and Manchester this autumn. The city of Manchester used to be in the county of Lancashire until 1974 when it became part of the new county of Greater Manchester which is divided into 10 metropolitan boroughs. These are Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, and Wigan. It was an email from out of the blue that took us there. My father’s first cousin wrote to me after watching the Olympics in Rio and seeing a Shona McCallin winning a gold medal for Team GB. McCallin is my maiden name and this athlete is the daughter of another first cousin on my father’s side.
I often think of you but never do anything about it.
I hadn’t seen her since my wedding day. I responded straight away telling her I would come and visit her in Lancashire. Her name is Sally and we arrived over her birthday. I didn’t know it was but, as her phone was ringing off the hook all day, my husband and I got suspicious.
“Goodness, you are a popular lady,”
She left the speaker on by accident the next time it rang and it was confirmed. She turned 81 years of age.
My daughter and Sally got on like a house on fire. Why? Who knows what sparks connection. One part of me believes that children respond to people that really love them. Another reason could be that they share quite a similar history though generations divide them. Sally’s mother Agnes, my great aunt, met a Peruvian veterinarian in 1930s Yorkshire. Sally fittingly gave my daughter a Paddington Bear teddy and chapter book. I saw a faded black and white photograph of Agnes and my older sister is the spitting image.
“Jessica is definitely a Pearcy,” I said
Pearcy is the name of my great grandfather who was a station master in Saltburn-by-the Sea.
Agnes accompanied him literally overseas to a country she knew nothing about.She raised Sally there and only returned to her homeland four decades later when Sally married an Englishman she met in Lima. They settled in the northeast of England where he was from. Sally remembers listening to news of what was happening to Europe during World War 2 on a radio. She attended an English grammar school and took the ship to Northern Ireland to visit my grandmother and father when she was 17.
“How long did it take?”
“Did you stop anywhere?”
“Ecuador, Colombia. I loved going though the Panama Canal,”
“Did the boat pick up other passengers?”
“Oh yes, all sorts, it was the only way to get back to Britain,”
Sally’s Catholic faith is strong and she is immersed in the parish where she is now. The best part of the visit was going to Lytham St. Annes where you could practically walk to the town of Southport as the tide was out. Anchors caught in a trawlernet were displayed on the side, one of them from the time of Admiral Nelson.
Our parting was bittersweet and we vowed to return soon.We went to Manchester next. We did lots of shopping, relishing the bookshops the most and soaked up the cultural landmarks. My favourite was Manchester Cathedral. There has been a church on the site since 1066, recorded in the Domesday Book. In 1595, the famous astrologer John Dee was made Warden. The magician Prospero in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest is modelled on Dee. He is a character in the novel The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory. He was also an advisor to the virgin queen Elizabeth 1 and features in the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Snipers were stationed on top of the church during The English Civil War.
But it was the people who stole my heart. As my daughter was singing The Wheels on the Bus, a man walked past and looked back.
“I love that song too,” he said making her blush and smile
“Y’alright?” a shop aid said to a woman
“I’m just wandering, thanks,” she responded
“I do that meself sometimes,” he responded in his Mancunian accent, making many laugh.
The spirit of the people is captured in the city’s emblem the worker bee. It was adopted as a motif for Manchester during the Industrial Revolution, at a time when the city was taking a leading role in new forms of mass production. The bee denotes Mancunians’ hard work during this era and Manchester being a hive of activity in the 19th century. It was my daughter who spotted the symbol I was looking for.
“Look Mummy! A bee! We found it!”
“So you did,” I said
It brought to mind the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.
I remembered too studying William Blake at Goldsmiths Universtiy. He was horrified by the chaos of this mecanised world. He penned Jerusalem which would later turn into a treasured hymn.
And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
And The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence
The music band Oasis are from Manchester and I heard the lyrics of their songs as I walked past the red brick warehouses of the city. My favourite song is The Masterplan. Their video is inspired by the northeast England painter L.S Lowry. It was with a heavy heart when I boarded the plane to Amsterdam though I was happy to be going back to our home in Holland. I once described my third culture childhood to my husband as having someone calling my name and looking to find nobody or no place. It’s not so when I’m in The British Isles. There I feel…I’ve been here before.