Category Archives: community

A New Dawn Fades into 2023


As 2022 slips into 2023 a new dawn fades, bringing with it that sense of expectation to make one’s life better than it was the previous year. Fresh start and all that malarkey.

It actually had the opposite effect and got me feeling quite nostalgic and, if truth be known, a little melancholy. I was playing a few old tunes on Youtube when a memory washed over me.

It was about when I was selling books in Italy in the 1980s and I ended up jamming Joy Division with a band.

Below is a little anecdote about it if you’re interested.

As 2022 slips into 2023 a New Dawn Fades.

1985. It was a freezing cold February afternoon in the Italian port of Livorno. I was about 21 years old. My overcoat collar pulled up against a flurry of snow, my winkle pickers squelching slush from the holes in the ends of them. I was wandering the docks trying to hawk books door-to-door. I hated the job but I didn’t have enough money for a flight home. I could see an enormous Italian naval frigate in the distance behind a chain link security fence. I headed towards it to get a closer look.

As I was walking past warehouses with my head down, shoulders hunched, I heard the faint hum of a band jamming. I looked up and saw an orange glow from a first floor broken window. I pushed at a paint-peeled door and walked up a flight of rickety wooden stairs, the music getting louder. At the top, the room opened up and, at the far side, a three-piece band was practising. They were playing Disorder, by Joy Division – one of my favourite bands. I watched them for a while from the shadows. Snow melting from my black hair, dripping onto the floorboards.

When they’d finished, the guitarist & vocalist spotted me and said something in Italian which I didn’t understand. (I’d been in the country a short while and had only learnt my sales pitch phonetically.) He spoke again and, this time, offered up his guitar in his palms for me to play. I shook my head then tentatively pointed at the bass. The bassist un-slung his guitar and gestured for me to join them. 

I swallowed hard. I wasn’t a very good guitar player. My fingers trembled as I took the bass from him and slid the strap over my shoulder. The three of them looked at me expectantly. The vocalist nodded encouragingly.

I began playing the bass riff of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division. It was one of the few songs I knew how to play and was confident about. It was also one of my favourites. After a few bars, the guitarist and drummer joined in. They knew what they were doing.

It felt exhilarating. We must have played that song for about 10 minutes straight. When we eventually stopped, I handed the bass gratefully back to its owner. He bowed his head in thanks.

The four of us just stood there looking at each other, smiling. Not talking. We had no need for language. Music had said what we could not.

Eventually, I left without saying a word and stepped out into the snowy night.

I sometimes think back to that experience and wonder what happened to those three guys. Did they make it in music? What are they doing now? Are they still alive? Still friends? Do they ever meet up and say – 

Hey, remember that guy who crashed our practice down by the docks? 

That was really surreal. 

Couldn’t speak a word of Italian.

Yeah, didn’t we play Disorder or something?

Nah, it was New Dawn Fades.

Oh, yeah, I remember.

Wonder what he’s up to now?

Probably dead.

Yeah, probably. He was heading towards the naval base.

.

(The story of my subsequent detention by Italian naval security guards is for another time.)

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Extreme Doodling


Extreme Doodling is not doodling whilst snowboarding down the lava doused slopes of an erupting volcano. It’s a tad more sedate than that. It’s doodling with purpose.

Like my previous post about abstract doodling, this exercise is mindful and relaxing.

Simply take your pen or pencil and take it for a stroll around the page.

Don’t think about it. Just spiral around, looping up and down, over and under, without lifting your pen off the page.

Next, (this is the ‘purpose’ part), fill in the shapes that you have created. As you can see above, I have used similarly spaced lines at varying angles, but you could fill each shape with a different design or pattern, as below.

Something like this would lend itself to being filled in with colour – felt tips, pencil crayon, watercolour…

You could even add more geometric elements to it.

There’s no right or wrong.

Nor is there any pressure on it having to be any ‘good’. By ‘good’ we usually mean in the eyes of others. Or, worse still – by yourself!

This is for you.

For you to spend some time relaxing whilst doing art.

It is the process not the result.

I could go on – I’ve got millions of the little blighters. But you get the idea.

I usually do them when I’m out and about and having to wait for something or someone (hence them always being black and white). So it’s a great way to pass time and not get frustrated about having to hang about.

Anyhoo, thank you so very much for taking the time to read/look at my blog. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, if you celebrate it, and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Best wishes,

David.

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Windows into the (unconscious) mind.


Here’s a little abstract doodling exercise that anyone can do.

Simply divide a page of your sketchbook up into four with masking tape. (Don’t use cello tape as it will tear the paper when you remove it.)

Next, take a pencil and randomly scribble around the four boxes. Then, do the same with a felt tip pen.

For the colour, I used a combination of oil and chalk pastels. (Mainly oil.) But you could use watercolour paint, acrylic, markers – whatever you feel like using. Just don’t try to think about it too much. Let your subconscious do the work.

Remember, this exercise is about the process of doing art as a mindfulness activity, not the result.

You don’t have to divide your page into four. Do as few or as many shapes as you want.

When you feel you’ve finished, gently peel off the masking tape and – Ta-daaahhh! Behold your masterpiece. Guaranteed to give you a little dopamine hit. (The pleasure/reward chemical in your brain.)

It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s extremely relaxing and gratifying.

Your finished work may not get hung in the Tate Modern, but that was never the objective in the first place. Doing art for its own sake and the mental wellbeing it brings was.

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Wet dreams, wet dishes and Wet Leg.


Who wants to hear music recommendations from an old fogey?

London Grammar; Billie Eilish; Sia; First Aid Kit; 21 Pilots; Caravan Palace and Mother, Mother, are just a few of the artists my young daughters have introduced me to.

One of the (many) benefits of having children late in life is the cultural influences they have that rub off on you.

Wet Leg are the latest musical phenomenon to pique my parental interest.

“Hang on a minute, is she singing about a ‘wet dream’?”

“Yes, dad,” rolls eyes to sister.

“Do you even know what a…”

“Yes, dad,” in unison.

Mumbles to self while washing dishes.

Anyway, much to my daughters’ disappointment, I think Wet Leg are brilliant.

The band was set up by besties Rhian Teasdale and Hesther Chambers on the Isle of Wight. And you can tell they’re best mates by the way they interact with each other on stage. They have a wonderful chemistry together. The other band members comprise of Henry Holmes, Ellis Durand and Josh Omead Mobaraki.

Their music is contemporary and reflects the zeitgeist of growing up in a consumer-driven social media society. (Yes, I really did just type that bullshit.)

They’re sassy and their lyrics don’t take any prisoners, cleverly encapsulating female empowerment (and vulnerability). Perfect role models for young girls and women. Garbed in 19th century American frontier-pioneering frocks, they’re the antithesis of the big-record-label-marketing department.

They seem to be having a hoot, (like they can’t quite believe this is happening either). They don’t take themselves too seriously and come across as pretty humble. They sing about the usual stuff – relationships, drugs and navigating the modern world, but with their quirky indie/pop-punk/rock signature harking back to the likes of The Breeders and surrealism of Talking Heads with a bit of vocal gymnastics reminiscent of Bjork. Rhian Teasdale doesn’t just sing the lyrics, she performs them. She gets into character. They’re playful, nonchalant and emotive.

Their self-titled debut album is absolutely fanatastic. Every song is a hit single. I can’t pick a favourite so here are a few for your delectation. Their videos are pretty cool too.

I’m trying to persuade my daughters to come to a gig with me. If you’re at the one in Manchester, I’ll be down the front in my wheelchair, with a tartan blanket across my knees waving a candle in the air, whilst simultaneously asking them to turn the music down a bit.

Addendum: I made my comparison to Talking Heads before I realised they had covered this.

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Yorkshire Sculpture Park


Yorkshire Sculpture Park is brilliant, ’cause it’s in Yorkshire.

I could end this post here, after that zealous statement, but I’ll endeavour to extol a few more virtues of a jaunt to this idyllic artistic paradise.

YSP is near Wakefield in West Yorkshire, (which is where I’m from, if you hadn’t guessed).

It has gazillions of acres of parkland, gardens, lakes, woods and buildings to roam around.

You’ll see works from the likes of Damien Hirst, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Andy Goldsworthy, Sophie Ryder, Robert Indiana, Antony Gormley, Vanessa de Silva, Ai Wei Wei and tons more.

It has a lovely cafe and gift shop, but you can take a picnic if the weather’s nice.

You have to book online so have a look at their website (links above). I only paid six quid! As under 18s are free. (I went with my daughter.) Parking is included in the entrance fee.

Not only is it a veritable feast for your peepers, being in all that nature is good for your mental health too.

Anyhoo, here are a few examples of the delights I got to see. I missed quite a few too. I could’ve easily spent another couple of hours there so allow yourself plenty of time.

Plus, on top of all that, did I mention it’s in Yorkshire! What more could you want?

Lola was feeling left out. She’s a work of art in my book.
Getting ready to play Pooh sticks with the young ‘un. (I lost.)

I actually wrote a blog post about YSP in 2014 which is here if you want to compare and contrast.

για τη δέκατη μούσα μου

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The Legend of the Patron Saint of Knitting.


για τη δέκατη μούσα μου

The Legend of the Patron Saint of Knitting and the Sheep Girl.

By David Milligan-Croft.

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A long, long time ago, there was a young girl, about 14-ish, who was a shepherdess. She was a diligent girl who worked hard for her family and was thankful for the meagre things she had. If she had one tiny flaw, it was that she was slightly envious of other girls’ names. Ones who had names that meant things like ‘starlight’ or ‘princess of flowers’. Because pretty much everyone called her ‘sheep girl’. Apart from that, she was happy enough looking after her woolly friends. 

After the sheep girl had tended her flock and safely rounded them up for the night she would spend the evening with her mother knitting in front of the hearth. She loved to knit with the fleece from her flock. She made clothes for all the family and for most of the villagers too.

Then, one day, a rider came galloping through the valley hailing that he had important news. Sheep girl hurried home as fast as she could, (with the sheep scampering behind her). All the people of the village were gathered around the fountain in the square, where the rider was breathlessly proclaiming the news that a vast army was approaching from the west. That it grew in size and wealth after each town and citadel that it sacked and plundered. No one knew why it was coming, or why it was gobbling up everything in its path, and either killing or enslaving everyone, but coming it was. And it was unstoppable.

The only good news the rider brought, was that the invading army was still many miles away and there were lots of towns, villages and citadels in the way of the behemoth before it reached their paltry village.

The sheep girl wanted to help her village, but she felt powerless, so she carried on the business of tending her sheep while wracking her brain for ideas until, one day, one of her flock went missing. She searched all over the valley but could not find the stray anywhere. Next, she tried the slopes of the valley, to no avail. She climbed higher up the mountain until the ground became so rocky and spartan that she needed her staff to gain purchase on the skittery rocks. Eventually, she came across the mouth of a cave with an eerie yellow glow emanating from within. Tentatively, she walked inside, and there was her missing sheep, Mathilda. But her fleece shone with the brilliance of gold. As she approached the nonchalant sheep, she realised that its fleece was, in fact, actual gold! So fine and delicate was the thread it felt like silk.

The sheep girl knew of a legend from her childhood that a great warrior would come down from the mountain one day to save the village from calamity. Was this a sign, she thought. That the hero was indeed about to appear before her? And was this sheep a portent to his impending arrival? Then, she was struck with the idea of how she could help the village and the great would-be saviour. She would knit him a suit of golden chainmail armour so strong that it would be impenetrable to arrow, axe or sword! She sheared, spun and knitted all day and all night until the gleaming suit of chainmail was complete.

Then she waited.

And waited.

But the hero did not come.

And the billowing plumes of smoke from sacked cities on the horizon grew closer day by day.

She stared down at her village from the mouth of the cave as she absentmindedly ran her fingers through the shorn fleece of Mathilda. Then she felt the sheep’s head pull away. The sheep girl looked down at Mathilda who gently nudged her hand with her head. Then she turned and trundled back into the cave, stopping occasionally, to check whether the sheep girl was following her. Mathilda stopped before the golden mail neatly folded on the rock. When the sheep girl arrived next to her, Mathilda pushed the mail toward her with her nose. Sheep girl laughed, ‘I can’t wear it, Mathilda. It’s for the great warrior who’s coming to save us!’ But Mathilda trotted behind the sheep girl and butted her toward the suit. 

‘Well, I guess there’s no harm in trying it on, little miss bossy britches,’ she said to Mathilda. The sheep girl lifted the hauberk over her head and found that it was surprisingly light for a shirt made of precious metal. Next, she pulled the coif over her head, neck and shoulders so that only her resplendent face was visible. She held out her arms and turned around. ‘What do you think, Tilda?’ she asked. ‘It fits pretty well, even if I do say so myself.’ 

Mathilda bowed her head and stroked the ground with her hoof. 

‘Alas, I have no sword to smite my enemies,’ she joked. Then she noticed her staff leaning against the cave wall and another idea fell upon her. She took up her knitting needles and sharpened the points of them with her shears until they were sharp enough to pierce the mountain itself. Then she attached them to the head of the staff with golden thread. 

Outside, the wheels of war grew ever louder as the mighty trebuchets of the invaders drew closer. Great columns of dust rose behind the cavalry as their hooves thundered across the plain. Drummers beat a rhythm for the massed ranks of infantry to march to. Buglers trumpeted the impending triumph of their mighty army. Heraldic banners fluttered in the wind. Sheep girl’s heart began to race as she paced the cave. Slate grey storm clouds gathered overhead and the tumultuous air was charged with electricity.

The sheep girl stepped out of the cave with her bident held aloft and beheld the vast invading hoard below, stretched out as far as the eye could see. What could she, a mere shepherdess, do against such a foe? Just then, the clouds began to part and a great beam of sunlight burst through and illuminated the sheep girl in her golden chainmail. The light refracted off the individual chinks and split into a myriad of shards of light, blinding the soldiers below and burning out their retinas. Those that were not blinded either fell prostrate before the angelic warrior from the heavens or turned and fled the battlefield in fear of the gods’ divine retribution. Then, a terrifying bolt of lightning cracked from the sky connecting to the sheep girl’s bident and the landscape turned a scintillating white. And, just like that, she disappeared.

Nothing was ever found of the shepherdess, except for her charred golden chainmail and scorched bident. In the years that followed, people from all over the land went on pilgrimages to the mountain to pay their respects to their saviour. Theologians and philosophers came from far and wide to beatify her in some form or another and bickered over how best to honour her name. Even though she was the golden warrior of light and had conquered the greatest army the world had ever seen, it was her dedication to her flock and her love of knitting that she would be remembered most, as La Cher, the Patron Saint of Knitting. 

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Go tell the bees.


Apparently, when the monarch dies, the royal beekeeper has to go and tell the bees of their passing. They have to ask the bees not to fly away and to keep making honey. Because, a new monarch will be along shortly who will look after them just as well as the last one. True story.

Anyway, I thought I’d write a poem about this bewildering event. And, in doing so, may have inadvertently stumbled across the title of my next collection of poetry!

Go tell the bees.

By David Milligan-Croft.

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Go tell the bees

The queen is dead!

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Go tell the bees

That their mistress has passed.

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Go tell the bees

Not to journey to the spirit world.

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Go tell the bees

The spirits have already welcomed her there.

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Go tell the bees

The living need them here.

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Go tell the bees

Not to stop making their precious honey.

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Go tell the bees

That a new master is coming.

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Go tell the bees

His name is King Charles III.

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Go tell the bees

That he will take care of them.

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Go tell the bees

The queen is dead! Long live the king!

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* * *

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Go, royal beekeeper,

To Buckingham and Clarence.

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Tie your black ribbons

Around the white wooden hives.

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Knock gently upon their roofs

And whisper into their cells,

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That their queen is dead

And they shall not believe you.

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For, she is here, they will proclaim.

Alive and well,

.

Tending her hive,

As she has always done.

.

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Mann Up


Sally Mann is an American photographer who courted controversy with her ‘family life‘ series, due to nude depictions of her children growing up at their home in Virginia. And whether the photographs overtly sexualised children.

I haven’t included those shots here, but if you want to, you can see them by visiting Sally Mann’s website. In my opinion they are beautiful and sensitive. And many of us will recognise moments like them from our own children growing up. The controversy isn’t really about child nudity but more about consent to put them in the public domain.

Regardless of this, Mann’s work is challenging, provocative and defiant. And her compositions raise more questions than answers. Below is a selection of powerful shots I wanted to share with the class.

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The Perfect Poetry Antidote


Friday is Library Day for patients on Arden Ward at Stepping Hill Hospital.

And, if you didn’t know already, reading is very good for your mental health. (Probably not if it’s by Piers Morgan or the Tory party manifesto, mind.)

Reading quality literature and poetry, however, is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Quite serendipitously, I came across this collection of poetry by Mary Dickins entitled Happiness FM. I thought her poem, ‘How to administer a poem in an emergency’ was perfectly apt for the group. So, I thought I’d share it with you.

And here is the poem from whence the collection takes its name.

Of course, our visits to the library aren’t just about reading. They’re about social interaction and doing other mindful activities.

While I was writing this post on a rainy Sunday evening in Stockport, a haiku came to mind. So, I’m going to share that with you as well.

The pitter-patter

Of rain outside my window –

Nature’s melody.

Night, night.

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Motes of my Mother


Motes of my Mother.

By David Milligan-Croft.

As I popped open the lid of the cylinder, 

A faint cloud of ash escaped from within. 

Motes of my mother floated in the morning sun. 

Drifting off into the atmosphere to settle who knows where.

Perhaps somewhere sunny, like Tahiti, she’d like that.

Or maybe just the bookshelf.

As I spooned some of her ashes into a small ceramic jar – 

A keepsake for my daughter – 

I felt the sudden urge to sneeze.

I froze momentarily, unsure whether to deposit her remains

Back into the large urn, or continue with my task,

And risk dropping some of her in the sink.

Or, worse still, blowing her onto the window.

I twisted my face to my shoulder

In order to stifle the impending sneeze

And lessen any resulting tremors.

It was while I was looking down

Into the larger urn that I wondered just how much

Of this ash was actually my mother. If, in fact,

Any of it was. How would I know if we had someone else’s ashes?

Would the remnants of her dna still cling to these dusty particles?

And, how much of the ash is human, and how much is coffin?

Do they take the brass fittings off first? Whose job is that?

If I dig deep enough, will I find a piece of shoe, or tooth, or bone?

So many questions.

Then I thought of my mother rolling her eyes and laughing 

And saying, “Silly bugger.” Or something like that.

Then the urge to sneeze disappeared.

And I carefully continued spooning the ashes 

Into the ceramic pot and gently closed the lid.

She’ll be safer with my daughter, I thought.

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