October 22nd, 2008

St Chad's, Rochdale

Twenty two years ago, when my past was all burned up and my future entirely uncertain, I sat down, feeling really anxious,  in a corner of the churchyard of St. Chad's Rochdale and looked at the church and thought about the dead people lying all around- and got up a little while later knowing that in the long term everything would be fine. I don't know what happened exactly, but it was one of the most significant moments of my life.


Rochdale's only five miles up the road but we hardly ever go there. Maybe that'll change. We had a walk round yesterday afternoon and bought boots for Ailz, lace-up shoes for me, a pair of slippers for the mother-in-law and various other bits and pieces- all for under £50.

It's a valley-bottom town, built along the banks of the now invisible river Roch.  I wouldn't call it good-looking- it's not a tourist destination- but it has its points. The Victorian town hall, with tower by Waterhouse, is the prettiest in the North West. The big blocky tower blocks- which dominate the town centre- are known, with inappropriate romance, as "the Seven Sisters".

It's an old town. The church went up in the 11th century. Lord Byron- I don't know if he ever bothered to visit- took his title from here; he was Lord Byron of Rochdale in the County of Lancashire. In the 19th century the town gave birth to the Co-operative movement- and in the 20th century, Gracie Fields- the singer and film star- who forfeited some of her pre-war popularity by snuggling up to Mussolini- was a Rochdale lass.

Nineteen Thirty Six

And here- vaguely related to the foregoing posts- is a poem I wrote about twenty years ago.

                                    NINETEEN THIRTY-SIX


                                    The picture hangs in our hallway.  It's a print

                                    Not signed or anything grand, by Rowland Hilder,

                                    Which shows a country road, like Hobbema's

                                    At Middleharnis, which the connoisseur

                                    Is walking down.  In prospect there are elms,

                                    A couple of big hay ricks and a man,

                                    Steering a horse-drawn plough.  Finally hills.

                                    He painted it in nineteen thirty-six.


                                    It's honest work.  It just gets on with the job

                                    Of putting a view across.  It might have served

                                    That year in Russia if he'd gone and stuck

                                    A tractor in there, for the modern movement

                                    Doesn’t impinge at all.  It could be any

                                    Year in the past two hundred.  As it is

                                    The year means something.  Nineteen thirty-six

                                    Was the year that Kipling, Chesterton, Housman died.


                                    It's running thin, that pastoral tradition.

                                    It's like the river Roche, the living water

                                    Canalised as it flows through Rochdale centre,

                                    Buried deep in a fosse.  Almost unseen,

                                    The shallow flood goes past the library                         

                                    And seven tower blocks, an anomaly,

                                    Not carrying freight or turning wheels and yet

                                    Unstoppable.  And nice to know it's there.