Thursday, July 26, 2012

1990: The dance capital of England

I was in Manchester yesterday. That's interesting, I hear you yawn. I know what you're saying, but being as southern as they come going up north is still a huge treat for me.

Over the past 15 years I've been to Manchester about a million times, but as mentioned in a previous blog entry, my first visit to Manchester wasn't until I was 25.

The main reason for deciding to go was to do the now defunct Granada Studios Tour. But we were also going to see a few friends of Mrs P who lived up there. A couple who lived in Didsbury and a single clubber who lived in the middle of the city. This was exciting.

At this time Manchester was the throbbing music hub of Britain, with the Happy Mondays and the rest of the Madchester scene dominating the airwaves. It was November, we borrowed my brother's car, Thatcher resigned while I was paying for petrol on the M6, we stopped at most of the services along the way and took our time as the north slowly unfolded before us. I still get excited when you see that sign that says 'The North' on the motorway. Back then I felt like an explorer. I had no idea what lay ahead but I knew it was going to interesting.

Not that I thought it was all going to be Coronation Streets, but with a grandma from the back streets of Wigan who'd lived down south at this point for more than 50 years, my image of these northern towns made the Road To Wigan Pier look like Hollywood Wives. The stories she told. I imagined beggars in rags. I was surprised.

The Granada tour, though okay, was by no means the highlight of my trip.  I still own the Connections mug I bought and I have pictures of us in the faux House of Commons and under giant furnture and of course on the fake other Corrie set they'd built for the tour. At least I'm pretty sure it was a fake. I've been to the real thing many times and I don't think it's the same one. Anyhoo, I think the site is now a science museum. I miss seeing the big Granada sign on top of the Granada building these days though.

The big surprise was Manchester itself. Our friends had a great place in Didsbury, our single clubber friend had an amazing central loft. The pubs and bars were buzzing and groovy, the shops were ace and everyone was super friendly. It was different to London, very different, with its own identity and culture. It wasn't trying to be London. It was doing its own thing. To my amazement I had found a proper big city. Wow! I wanted to move there at once.

It's changed a lot of course, and now is even better and I'd still quite happily live there. We never made it, but I wouldn't be averse. It sounds silly to have thought this way and I now know the cities and town of the north very well and one need not remember one's passport. 

This song has a chilly, autumnal feel about it, and whenever I'm in Manchester it pops into my head. Of it's time certainly, but to me is sums up that whole slightly edgy, nightime Madchester feel of the city when I first knew it.

We'll never see its like again.

Monday, July 23, 2012

1979: Try some, buy some

I've never been a big risk-taker. I've taken risks like, with my career, walking along the edge of a high-rise roof while drunk, and going for tea instead of coffee, and they've paid off. But I think I know when and when not to do so.

So when I came clean to Dad that the friend with whom I was having a joint 14th birthday party with (his was the day before mine in June) had hidden two Party Seven-size cans of Hoffmeister in our garage, I knew it was the right decision, even if it meant that this would be the first nail in the coffin our friendship.

Not only had I not really had a drink before, but also my friends hadn't either. And if it all got a bit rowdy and ended up with piles of lager sick behind the greenhouse or someone having to have their stomach pumped in the dead of night then my life wouldn't be worth living. When they discovered I smoked cigarrettes at 17 mum was convinced - in her words - that it was 'pot' withdrawal symptons. I did the right thing.

But it didn't go down well with my friend, especially when Dad confronted him and made him take the cans back to VG. I can't remember how he'd laid his hands on them, but I think he'd got an older boy to buy them. He kept going on an on about how brilliant it was going to be, but I just felt a sense of dread.

The party was a barbecue at my house with all the boys from our class but with a couple of extras, and everyone who wanted to sleeping out in tents in the back garden. We'd planned this for months, and got very excited about it. Perhaps over-excited. Always one for appearing to be rather racier than he really was, he thought he's struck gold with this idea.

We'd been friends since he arrived a few weeks late into the first term of the first year. A novelty, he'd come from Hull via Liverpool, and had an accent so strong I could barely make out a word he said. But unlike me he was super-friendly, confident and a laugh. We hit it off immediately and for the next three years became firm friends, bonding first over our love and music. We sat next to each other all the lessons we could, spent all our free time at each other's houses and thought we'd always be mates.

But as time goes by people change. One day I rang him and I heard him tell his mum to tell me that he wasn't in. She made him speak to me, but he fobbed me off that he was busy making a rabbit hutch. He didn't have a rabbit. He never got a rabbit. Our bromance was coming to an end. Besides, in pursuit of a more exciting life that would eventually be his academic undoing, he was falling in fast with the school's bad crowd, and all this only a few months after we'd stumbled across them in the woods and they'd chased us into the river! But that's another story...

When the summer holidays of '79 came I didn't see much of him, and when the new term started we we'd kind of moved on. One day his mum called in tears to ask my mum if I'd have a skinhead haircut like her son had. I knew nothing about it. His mother clearly thought we were still pals. But now we were moving in different circles.

I look back on our friendship fondly but nothing last forever and I had other friends. He's now boiled down to musical memories like most other parts of my life, and it's always a pleasure to give them a spin. The party was a hoot by the way. This song figured large (It remains my favourite TOTP clip of all time - I love the way she keeps catching his eye). We didn't need alcohol. Not that any of us really knew what it was. Now, if I don't have a drink at a party I may as well not go.

But as I say, no regrets. I can only imagine the carnage of the beer at the 14-year-olds' birthday party, having been a part of that sort of carnage when I did actually start drinking later on. It was a risk I wasn't willing to take.

In 1986 I bumped into his mother at our local post office. I was back for the holidays briefly and I couldn't resist making myself known. She wanted to know all about what I was doing then asked me where it all went wrong for her son.

I do hope he's having the rip-roaring life he craved. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

1988: Share the view

Flatmates; who'd have 'em? Well I've had plenty, as no doubt have you, and I'd say nine times out of 10 we fell out and never saw each other again.

You start out as friends, but you don't know what someone's really like until you live with them and when you find that out it's a wonder you've stayed out of jail. Yes, I've eyed up the knife drawer on occasion but never been moved to commit murder, tempting as it appeared at the time. What better way to rid yourself of those annoying little habits that make your life a living hell after all?

That said, did it ever occur to me that living with me might have been a nightmare?

My best mate's girlfriend had bought a lovely first-floor one-bedroom flat almost opposite the Imperial War Museum and though she had someone moving in in September, if I paid her £50 a week it was mine until then. I could have the bedroom, and because she was about to start as a hostess on cross-Channel ferries she'd be away a lot but would sleep on the sofa bed whenever she was. The proviso: no one was to sleep on sofa bed but her.

Perfect timing. I had to move out of my flat in Shepherd's Bush, the one on which I'd paid no rent to same best mate's sister who was living in America for the past six months. She'd come home briefly and though she didn't make a huge issue out of it seeing as she was living rent free with her boyfriend in California, she asked me for the money in its entirety nonetheless.

She had every right to of course, but we were friends and she'd never asked me for the money and I thought I'd got away with it. I lied and said I'd get it, but I knew there was no way I could lay my hands on that sort of cash. I hoped I could stall her and she'd go back to the States and forget all about it. So she phoned my dad.

Therefore, I needed somewhere else to live. This Kennington flat was ideal. Really near the place I was working, nice room, nice flat, great flatmate, etc. So I made myself at home. I knew come September she'd let me stay on, it wouldn't be a problem.

But after the first time she found a couple of my friends sleeping in her sofabed on her return in the dead of night one day, she reiterated that this was to be a temporary arrangement. After the second time I had my marching orders well and truly hanging over me. And when I came home one day to find her unexpectedly in doing all the washing-up I'd left for a week or so in high summer, she told me she couldn't live with me anymore and when September rolled around I was out and this fictional, exotic-sounding Antonella was in, as had always been the case.

By the end of July she'd packed in the ferries and got a job at oh-so-Eighties trendy boutique Joseph, and had swapped her uniform for short, tight black skirts and asymmetric shoulder-padded zip-up tops in shades of plop brown. Not that she wasn't a fashionista already. This was the girl who spent her first term's grant on a Chanel handbag.

But we did laugh a lot. As horrific as this sounds, we'd earnestly sing this terrible song to each other like they did in the video and lose it before the third line of the second chorus. We did a lot of laughing. But then we did a lot of smoking.

I really didn't want to have to go. I hinted I'd like to stay on, in fact, I ended up begging her, but she wasn't having it. And besides, she had decided to train as a lawyer. (This one she stuck at, and is now an international lawyer based in Geneva) and was doing a corporate let on the flat Corporate my eye. When I went back a few months later to collect my TV that I'd had to leave behind because it was too big to take floor to floor for three months, I think the Manson family was living there. I was lucky to escape with my life let alone my TV.

That was a great flat, but I blew it. I learnt a lesson there and then got payback in spades when I owned my own flat. Ah, selfish youth.

Amazingly however, we stayed friends. For a while.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

1996: Nobody callin' on the phone

It's always a shame when your friends split up. You might know something was up with their relationship or you might not, but if you like both partners it comes as a major blow. The fun times have vanished and you're witness to bitterness, recrimination, sorrow, hurt, anger and everything else that goes with it. You might be feeling a bit of that yourself.

You try not to take sides, you promise you won't, but inevitably there's only one party you ulitmately keep in touch with. Of course, it depends on the circumstances. If one party had done something appalling and unforgiveable then it's probably a no-brainer. But if it's just one of those falling out of love things then there's not a lot you can do about it.

Whenever I hear this song, I always think of my friend's wife Catherine. I knew him first, but we really liked her. They married the year before us, and about six weeks before our wedding another mutual friend was tying the knot and we all drove up together. This song was a hit at the time. We had it on about five times and it always reminds me of her.

Let's fast forward eight years and their marriage was in tatters. Her father had died and she'd not coped well. He'd been supportive but it wasn't enough for her. By 2005 she was gone. We vowed to keep in touch. We never did.

He's married again and moved out of London. I have never met his wife. She wants nothing to do with any of this old friends who knew his first wife. Consequently I see him now about once a year. I didn't just lose one friend, I've lost two.

If I look at our wedding guests now, everything's changed. Most elderly relatives are dead, parents' friends are dead, some of our friends are dead. And if not they're separated, divorced or we've lost touch. If we were to marry today the guest list would be almost 100% different to what it was 16 years ago.

When I hear this song I can't help but feel a bit regretful at not keeping up with people, and feel a pang of guilt about it. But it also makes me feel rather sad. I miss those old friends. When favourite couples split up, a chunk of your life goes too.

But at least it was fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

1979: Kinda cool and inspired

I won't need to tell you that girls were (are?) always so much more mature than boys. So when the most understated sophiscated girl in our class revealed that her current chart favourite was Rickie Lee Jones' Chuck 'E's In Love, it came as no surprise. But it changed things for me. And I loved her for it.

Being as immature as I was, girls were all grown-up and sensible, tutting at 14-year-old you from a great height and calling you 'sweet' when you wanted to be - as much as you could be at 14 - desirably bad.

This particular girl had been at primary school with me. Then I'd moved on half way through and she's moved to the States. We were near a very large IBM, and a lot of Americans lived our way, and lots of Brits went that way. On her return, as the first year of senior school started she was in a different league.

She'd seen things we'd not see for years, done things we'd not do for years and had a different outlook on life that made ours seem incredibly small town. She once lent me the controversial (I now know) Little Red School Book she'd brought back with her from the States, a tiny tome that included advice on all things from boring teachers to heroin addiction to masturbation. Needless to say I devoured it. I didn't hide it very well, either.

I got home from school one day to find my grandma beside herself and my mum demanding an explanation as to how such a thing came into my possession. She'd never believe it came from this girl, whose parents she knew, so I just told them someone lent it to me, which was true. I don't think my grandma had ever seen such filfth, though she was no stranger to Harold Robbins, The 50 Shades Of Grey of its day. Only that girl would have such a book.

Though not aloof in the least, she was a cut above. Mature, womanly, funny, practical, clever and interesting, she was everything the other girls in the class were not, though they didn't dislike her for it. In fact, she was quietly popular. I kept in touch with her for many years, and now I think she lives exotically in Thailand. She just wouldn't she?

So when I hear Chuck E's In Love with its Joni Mitchell influences and summery feel, I think of her, Diane Keatonesque, equally at home over here or over there, and me, listening to a song that wouldn't ordinarily have been on my radar and realising that there was so much more to music if you took the time to listen to it properly. I thank her for that.