Friday, May 06, 2016

'I can remember when all this was sex shops....'

'Did you know they've demolished your old primary school?'

I did know. My old classmate was busy organising a reunion and thought she'd prepare me for the shock if I were to come back for the event. I felt sad that I wouldn't be able to glance at the school as I passed it on my way home. My old landmarks steadily disappear. Manchester refuses to maintain the landscape I scampered around in a range of outfits from short trousers, through dishevelled school uniform, to secondhand clothes from Afflecks Palace.  

An old friend recently joined me in lamenting these changes and, in particular, the gentrification of the seedy Tibb Street area. It is now all fancy artisan cheese makers and aparthotels.

'I can remember when all this was sex shops,' she said with a nostalgic glint in her eye.   

On one scamper through Moss Side, I watched as a friend was knocked down by a car. Reports said that Johnny was 'run over', but he wasn't. He was 'knocked down'

It was a Hillman Hunter, the car. We had just come through a Moss Side alley beside a shop once owned by Anthony Burgess’s family. Johnny and I were eager to cross the road and get back to ‘The Big Alec’ for a game of pool and some stolen crisps.

The ‘Big Alec’ was a large Victorian pub, officially called The Alexandra, but aggrandised to distinguish it from two other smaller local pubs bearing the same name. Johnny's father was the landlord and the family lived in a spacious flat on the first floor. The first floor also housed a disused ballroom - in which we played football and fired air pistols (not usually at the same time).

So, Johnny didn’t 'viddy' the Hillman Hunter. The car hit his right leg and broke it in three places. He then rolled along the car wing like something out of 'The Professionals'. Unlike anything seen in ‘The Professionals' he let out a high-pitched squeal and neglected to shout ‘Cover Me!’

I remember that a classmate had quizzed me about Johnny's accident – hoping for gory detail. She’d never really spoken to me before. She lived in a cul-de-sac in Chorlton-cum-Hardy (postcode M21) and thought that we lived much more exciting lives on the other side of the tracks (postcode M14).

‘Oh, you know, there was a load of fuss and I had to get Johnny's mum and she was really really crying and we all went in the ambulance and it had its lights flashing and its siren on and Johnny was screaming and asking if he was going to die and we went about 90 miles an hour and we shot through all the red lights.’ 

I was reporting in a flat tone, like it was just one of those everyday happenings in the ‘hood’.

‘When we got to the hospital they just burst in through the doors and people jumped out of the way until they got Johnny in to the 'Total Emergency Ward' and I went home in a police car.....again.'

Her eyes were wide and she was hungry for more detail, so I thought it only right to feed her some.

‘And the driver must have been really really dodgy…’

‘Why?’ she leaned forward and I caught the scent of shampoo from her hair..

‘Well, he got out of his big sports car and just, like, RAN! 
Quite an old guy, at least thirty. But he couldn’t half move….
and, yeah, I’m sure he threw something while he was running....
Think it might have been a gun….’

At this point, I got up and walked away with my best approximation of an inner city swagger.

Johnny came back to school on crutches with the biggest plaster-cast any of us had ever seen. I rehearsed him on my enhanced version of the story and we were the talk of the yard - for about a week. 

Everybody signed his cast - even some of the teachers.  Some of our teachers were nuns. I don't think any of the nuns signed the cast. That was a shame. That would have created a photo opportunity worthy of a quirky 'Get Well Soon' card.

I think Johnny got a taste for the attention. I remember he suffered at least two more broken limbs while at school - one of which was an arm broken in the still spinning drum of a spin drier. I still don't quite understand how he achieved that, but the girls didn't ask too many questions - they just queued up to sign his cast.  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sheila Regina

It is usually a spontaneous thing.  We tend to meet The Tuckers around the ‘reduced to clear’ section in Tesco and then head back to our house - or their house. We pool the kids in the garden and have a glass of wine. 

I play guitar with the Tuckers’ eldest – he’s 12. I recently taught him the Elvis version of ‘That’s Alright Mama’ – something he’d never heard. It felt like we were rebooting Rock and Roll.

Maude enjoys a singalong and always makes the same request:

‘Play ‘How Long Will I love you?’ Pleeeease!!!’

The ‘Ultimate Guitar Tabs’ app on my phone has come in very handy lately. I can’t remember chords or lyrics any more – my brain is full of shopping lists and clouded by apprehension of impending children’s parties.

‘Of course my darling – anything for you.’

As I played the Waterboys song I realised how similar the chord progression is to ‘When will I see you again?’ by ‘The Three Degrees’, so I slipped seamlessly into that song.

Maude suggested I ‘pack it in’ and return to her favourite and her only request. I did as I was told, but playing The Three Degrees reminded me, obviously, of Prince Charles.

When Prince Charles was an eligible bachelor in the 70’s they forced him into the company of leading figures from popular culture – mainly to make him appear fashionable and less out of touch than he inevitably was and remains to this day. He memorably met and became a fan of the black all-girl group The Three Degrees. He was apparently quite taken by the lead singer – Sheila Ferguson. Some reports have used the word ‘besotted’. He even invited the group to perform at his 30th birthday party.

What a missed opportunity.

Had he gone with his instincts, we would now have a mixed race heir to the throne and the monarchy could worry less about its inability to connect to the majority of modern humanity. 

Queen Sheila would have looked tremendous at state occasions and she would probably have brightened them all with a song and some sequins. The other 2 degrees could have become Ladies in Waiting and/or Overseas Ambassadors for Disco.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

'Hatful of Gladwin'

'Is that a cravat?' asked Archie.

'No, it's a scarf.'

I was showing Archie pictures of our family trip to the bleak tundra that is Edinburgh Zoo in late March.

'I am, of course, wearing a cravat under the scarf.'

Archie smiled and admirably feigned interest in the rest of the pictures.

We were catching up with Archie and Leap after a long estrangement. We were in a bar in town. It was one of the bars with fruity beers and an Italian name designed to justify its high prices and to distinguish it from the unashamedly Geordie bars: The Market Lane, The Beehive and (surprisingly still trading under the name) The Blackie Boy.

Archie and I have always enjoyed talking about music - ever since we lived in neighbouring bedsits. We were on the ground floor and one of Archie's sash windows didn't lock. If I was locked out I would climb through the window and probably borrow a cassette on my way through.

I could see that maintaining an enthusiasm for pictures of my children pointing at two bedraggled zebras who couldn't believe their bad luck at ending up on a Scottish hillside was becoming a strain for my old friend, so I moved the chat on.

‘I'd love to know what you think of my ideas for niche compilation albums. Original takes on songs we all know....'

‘I'm all ears...’

‘Do you remember Joe Gladwin?’

‘Of course.'

‘Well, though I say it myself, I do a really good impression of Joe Gladwin – nearly as good as my Max Wall. I also know enough chords now on the ukulele to put my uncanny Gladwin to music. It’s a concept album of ‘Joe’ singing Smiths songs: ‘Hatful of Gladwin’. The backing obviously wouldn’t be as elaborate as the originals – more strummy uke than jangly guitar.’

'I'm liking it.'

The twinkle had returned to Archie's eye. As he considered the Gladwin concept, he stroked his beard. I watched as fragments of crisp left the beard and danced in the mood lighting before they dived into his beer.

''I'm thinking of tracks that showcase Joe's trademark rolling of the 'R':

'Reel Around the Fountain'
'Girl Afraid'
'Miserable Lie'
'William, it was really nothing'

Arch struggled to hear my Gladwin rendition of 'Reel Around the Fountain' above the noise of the bar, but nodded and looked positive.

'Amazing! I love it. What are the other albums? You said 'concept albums'.'

‘Well, the other compilation album I was toying with is called ‘Now That’s What I call Fetish...........1'.
That one's not as well thought through, but I do have an opening track'

Archie's interest was now well and truly piqued. He leaned in to hear the title and his face glowed with approval as I whispered:

‘The First Time ever I soiled your face.’