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.  

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