Saturday 16 January 2010
This morning the alarm clock sounds with me thinking it is only 3AM. This is a thump of a rude awakening, why on earth would anybody set their alarm for the weekend?
With the time in actuality 6AM I hop out of bed with still a fair bit of stuff to do before heading off up to Manchester. The first thing I have to do is wrap Justin’s presents but the gesture does not feel like Christmas day.
As I pull out my tickets for the train journey from Euston to Manchester I experience something of a fright when they appear to stipulate that they are “valid only with reservations”, whatever they are. This serves to add unnecessary stress to proceedings.
By the time I am driving to the station the day is still dark outside. Really, what am I doing up at this time on a weekend?
I get to the station just before 7AM, grabbing a good parking spot within the car park only to have my heart sink at the reality that there is a rail replacement bus service running on a fucking Saturday. I thought we were over this. The replacement service is running between Colchester and Witham, which is approximately a third of my journey to London. A sudden hump arrives onto my travelling pleasure and a large degree of fear with it.
In theory provided we move swiftly it is just about possible to still get to Euston for 9AM, provided National Express pull their fucking finger out and do their best to run the remainder of their service efficiently. Am I fucking kidding? Am I deluded? This is National Express we are talking about after all, the people that fuck me every day of my working life on my commute and now seem happy to impeach on my weekend existence also.
Already acting defeated I board the stinking bus that will cough and splutter its way to Witham. As I check that this is the correct bus to be catching I don’t even bother to show them my train ticket, why should I, it is a fucking TRAIN ticket. In a way I almost hope the guy requests to see my TRAIN ticket to that I am able to reiterate that I am actually catching a fucking bus and that his company is responsible for a shit fucking service. Suddenly I appear to have turned into Steve Martin in Planes, Trains And Automobiles.
The bus was supposed to have left at 7.12AM but that time comes and goes with no movement of the gas-guzzler motherfucker. Eventually we get moving after a little tease of a short take off.
Now caught up in the midst of travel fear I take a look at the TFL website to acknowledge the inevitable mess the tubes will be in when I eventually get to London, whenever that will be. Not only does National Express hate me, so does the London Underground it would seem.
I soundtrack the journey with all the Dirty Three tracks that I have on my iPhone. These are played in the hope that they will pacify my and calm my journey. This plan does not necessarily work.
We get to Marks Tey at 7.30AM at which time we really need to be in Witham already. Please move. Instead of getting back on the A12 however the driver decides to indulge in some more chit chat with his mate while the sum total of one customer/passenger boards the bus.
By this time my internal dialogue is a terrifying thing. It is literally a WWE match of negative thoughts fighting positive thoughts. Externally I figure if manners prevail then I will too.
It is just after 7.50AM by the time I am on a fucking train to London. I should actually be at Stratford by this point but instead as the rain drizzles down I am barely out of Witham, on a train that now appears to be stopping at all the houses on the way. To say at this point I have the fear is a true understatement. National Express sure is rubbish.
The train gets to Chelmsford at 8AM when really I should be stepping out at Liverpool Street and boarding a tube at this time. Sadness accrues as the automated Information Jimmy reports that the next stop will now be Ingatestone. This really is a train stopping at all the houses. God hates me. Nothing good ever came out of Ingatestone.
We arrive at Ingatestone at 8.07AM and sit there for an excruciatingly long pause while nobody boards the train. Please move, please move. It genuinely terrifies me just how at the mercy of these trains I am already this morning. The stop at Ingatestone turns out to be the longest minute ever.
Next we get to Shenfield at 8.12AM by which time vomit is forming in the pit of my stomach, this is the bile of my fear. Please be a quick one.
Around Harold Wood/Gidea Park the train slows down which is the travel equivalent today of going “boo!” at me.
By this point now my internal mantra of “please please please” is raging inside my head as the train tears through the edges of Essex and into/onto London proper. I figure if the train gets to Stratford by 8.30AM thing should just about be all right. Should be. Just about. A slump at Ilford however puts this target in doubt and at risk.
We get to Stratford at 8.32AM with my mini objective having not been met. At this point it begins to occur to me that I have already been travelling nearly an hour and a half now and I appear to have managed fuck all distance of my journey. Well done National Express. Nothing in my working week or existence matches this stress.
From here I create a new target, one that takes up the form of arrival into Liverpool Street for 8.40AM being the goal. Suddenly this seems horribly cutting it fine, the geek commuter equivalent of Jack Bauer and his ticking clock. The sad thing is that I am now on such a fine line of maybe making my train on time, failure of which will sting several times more than arriving spectacularly late. Heads should be rolling for things like this but alas the modern world does not work that way.
Things decline further as I notice that bars are now already shrinking on my iPhone. This is a very bad thing, swathed in a level of pathetic that really should be unthinkable.
With my heart now pumping I come to the realisation/conclusion that once into Liverpool Street a confident stride is what is required for London now.
To compound my agony further just outside of Liverpool Street, pretty much on the cusp of arrival, the train beaches. Suddenly these are things that my nerves cannot cope with.
Eventually arrival into Liverpool Street is two minutes past my objective/target/goal. As I storm across the station towards the tube my I find myself promptly met with a failing Travelcard that is not working at the barriers. As I approach the staff to let me through using their endless Oyster card the helpful staff member informs me that “you’ll have to get that changed” to which I respond “yes, yes” which is code today for “fucking let me through.”
From here I have to resort to the Central Line across to Tottenham Court Road and then take the Northern Line up to Euston. By now my heart is pulsing as the clock slips past the 8.50AM mark and my efforts begin to look more and more futile by the second.
Swiftly I change from Central Line to Northern Line on cue and finally it is at Warren Street where the clock ticks over 9AM meaning that I have officially failed in my desperate efforts to catch my booked train for Manchester. Suddenly as defeat kicks me in the shoulder the urgency disappears from proceedings and when I emerge from the tube at Euston the time officially is 9.02AM. Those two fucking minutes.
Officially now we have the latest in a long line of NEXD (National Express Disasters).
At this point having come so far and so close plan B kicks in as I weigh up my options and look into the alternatives. It would appear that the next train leaving for Manchester is now at 9.20AM. Now with a ticket in my possession not worth the paper it has been printed on I find myself staggering over to the Virgin ticket machines, resigning myself to now having to buy a new ticket and looking at what the price of failure is to be. To get this far and not lug myself up to Manchester would be too much a sign/gesture of defeat.
I predict the ticket will cost £60 (an extra £60). Just to rub my nose into things a little further the actual prices comes to £65.20. One day life will equate to value for money. By now the fun v expense ratio truly begins to falter. This is why I do not come up to Manchester, it is just too fucking stressful and expensive. Quite frankly the additional £65 this trip is now costing was money earmarked towards a mortgage deposit. For this cost I could have gone to Berlin.
Eventually I board the train going past ticket inspectors unsympathetic to my plight. As I finally find a seat that isn’t reserved I begin to calm down.
These Virgin trains are very different to what I am used to, inside they more resemble what I remember an aeroplane to be like. Thankfully nobody decides to sit next to me so I kick back, not bothering to read my newspapers but instead listen to podcasts while staring out of the window at England’s sacred green countryside.
By the time the train pulls out of the station more bars are already gone from my iPhone. In a panic I make a quick physical note of people’s telephone numbers in the risk/fear of having no power by the time I get up North.
The train reaches Milton Keynes at 9.50AM just as a haggling Geordie stat behind me on his mobile phone is drowning out my podcasts. Milton Keynes appears to be as crap as a normal person would imagine/expect although the drizzling rain of today isn’t really going to make any place look nice at this time.
At 10.55AM I see the Britannia Stadium. I truly feel/have mixed emotions about this. So this is Stoke-on-Trent, home to a pleasantly picturesque train station. You wouldn’t get this down south.
By 11.30AM I suddenly appear to be looking out upon Coronation Street and so many cul-de-sacs. Welcome to Hellhole North England.
Justin sends me a text message asking me my ETA to which I respond “ETA 11.28. Will be hungry”. Eventually I arrive a little later than that to the welcoming sight of Justin, Racton and Pauly all waiting for me at Manchester station. I should be happy and appreciative to see them but I am just grumpy. By now I already hate Manchester and I do not feel like giving it the benefit of my doubt. This is not the right attitude or spirit.
From here Pauly takes us on something of a mini tour of Manchester, through backstreets, pointing out where they film the Alfie remake before almost checking out an exhibition which just looks dodgy, requiring you be buzzed into an ominous looking building.
We head into a café where sipping caffeine and having something to eat begins to perk me up. Embarrassed about my train antics I only tell Racton how I got fucked and fleeced by the trains today and it genuinely helps to unburden.
From here we head to the Urbis, which is a cool looking building that is housing a couple of fantastic exhibitions. Apparently this place is about to pulled down in the near future.
The first exhibition is Home Grown: The Story Of UK Hip Hop dedicated to the UK rap scene from the eighties and nineties. It is an exciting and captivating collection with lashings of Tim Westwood and rare images of Hijack in addition of recollections of the first time acts such as Public Enemy came over from the pond to perform in England. This music felt like social change, it pure and real, most untouched by commercial forces contriving to turn the lifestyle into a pound. On little video screens there are clips from old BBC2 and Channel Four shows when the station genuinely seemed to be offering an alternative. Elsewhere there is case/cabinet of old recording/mixing equipment (including an Atari ST!) and big booming tape deck stereos. When I recall with Pauly how these were referred to as “wog boxes” at school he looks at me as if I were Nick Griffin. Surely I didn’t imagine that term?
As we exit this exhibition we head up a level to where another exhibition called Ghosts Of Winter Hill is being held covering the golden era of Manchester television, much of which is naturally Granada Television based. This is even more fun as it recreates many front room scenes coupled with a glorious amount of photos from the age recollecting so many fun TV moments that even made their way down South. Obviously there is a Coronation Street section that is then followed by the music corner most from the efforts of Tony Wilson. At this point Racton points out to me “that’s the big sitcom/story waiting to happen.” What? He means the podgy, old school middle aged white men that ran the television studios in the seventies with their Conservative values and kitchen sink experiences. He is definitely onto something. Better times.
We exit through the gift shop where a strange selection of books culminate in a fine book of Russian prison tattoos and everyone choosing which one they want to get. Not me of course, I’m still grumpy from train escapades.
It is at around this time Tom drops out of joining on the visit as he texts Justin reporting a heavy night but it seems Chris is still intending to turn up.
Our next stop is the Arndale Centre, one of the most famous things about Manchester. The city weirds me out, everyone appears to be a scally. Then again we are in the video game shop, which I suspect are full of regional scallies up and down the country on a Saturday afternoon. All of my friends now to have a real appetite for videogames. When did this happen? My various consoles at home tend to spend their existences gathering dust. Very regularly I have the urge to play FIFA or Pro Evolution when the football season kicks off but I can never find the time.
Eventually we wind up in a bar called the Cord Bar by which time I am experiencing battery angst and chaffing (not necessarily in that order). We snag a booth and order overpriced meat sandwiches and necessarily pints of beer. Apparently Mani or Reni or some old Madchester name DJs here from time to time. This fact fails to impress.
This stop provides a necessary catch up as we look into what Manchester has to offer for the weekend. There is talk of remaining in town until a gig this evening but I just want to touch base somewhere, dump my bag and recharge my phone.
With this in mind we soon head off, walking to Piccadilly to catch a bus to Chorlton. I don’t do buses so when it comes to buying a ticket I do so like an idiot, requesting a Dayrider ticket and promptly giving the man £1 too little because I struggle to understand him through his regional drawl. I actually explain “I’m from out of town” by way of an excuse and non-apology. Attitude Graham.
Chorlton feels a long way out from the centre of Manchester and when we finally arrive at Justin’s I am all bussed out. By now the day is heading into the evening and things are dulling over. Justin’s place is situated on a main road above what may have once been a shop. This area is old school, equally intimidating as it is charming but I guess that is Northern England all over. Inside his flat is cosy, a warm confine on a winter day.
As we wait for Baldwin to arrive Racton tears out his freshly purchased copy of House Of The Dead for the Wii as we experience ATP flashbacks of shouting coin-op zombies with pretend guns. The game is pretty great, hammy in the best way possible. When we get bored of this we watch Come Dine With Me and check on the football scores (Millwall 1 Southampton 1).
Eventually Chris arrives in Manchester and with Helen now arrived back from work Justin leads us to the dim sum place (Yakisoba) opposite their flat he has been promising us is amazing. With perfect timing Chris arrives just as we head into the restaurant and with this Yakisoba delivers tenfold with some of the most amazing food I will eat all year.
When we finish eating we head back to Manchester on the bus where we wind up in a very busy pub called Fringe. I really can’t deal with pubs where you can’t move and almost immediately upon entering I want to live. By now the Russian has caught up with us and as ever she is frosty with me.
As Justin recognises local faces I get stuck with the other tourists and eventually find myself sat down and in conversation with Chris where we catch up on things. I barely see Chris these days, even at Christmas, so conversation isn’t necessarily as natural as it once was. We expound our various interests away from the usual work chitchat and boy have we both moved on. As ever I talk about writing while he talks about music and drawing. The touchy subject of the Nottingham scene gets skirted around as I try to justify my own existence still being in Colchester.
I wind up chatting to some guy originally from Leicester who now runs a label in Manchester. He recognises many of the names that I namedrop from back in the day with Gringo Records doing stuff (even the guy with the stutter). It actually turns out to be a fun trip down memory lane.
From here we head to the Band On The Wall where we enter some kind of paying guestlist. Apparently this is the new place to be in Manchester and while there I thoroughly fail to clock the history and importance of the place with regards to the Manchester music scene.
Tonight we are here to see DENIS JONES who is apparently some kind of one-man technical whiz producing all kinds of spasm triggered noises while he does a staunch version of the singer songwriter thing. I sense that it is not necessarily a good thing when he turns out to be a bit David Gray gone experimental. In the end its all too grown up and serious, something I might like on record and if it wasn’t popular.
Away from the distraction of the performance once the ball gets rolling on proceedings it turns out to be a great night, not least when we reconvene upstairs as we linger and converge in cool surroundings. It is especially great to be seeing Chris as I haven’t seen him in a very long time.
Later DENIS JONES returns to do a second set, this time accompanied by a band. I sense there is some kind of Damon Gough vibe attached to proceedings but as more cold drinks are taken the necessity to have entertainment in the background proves not a necessity.
Eventually the gig comes to an end and slowly we gather elsewhere in the Band On The Wall as people gradually begin to head home. Being the core however we stand strong as both promises of food (“kebab!”) and potential lifts home get murmured, neither of which surface generally because there are too many of us to head in such directions.
In the end we wind up back at Piccadilly and on a bus wheeling its way back to Chorlton. I thought Manchester was supposed to be a badass town, quite frankly I am seeing nothing from it.
Before long we are back in Chorlton where Chris and I are stepping into a place called Charcoal Kitchen and I finally get my doner kebab. It is a dodgy doner kebab cheap in both price and performance. Maybe working in a restaurant my palette has turned into something that now cannot withstand such muck.
From here we step back into Justin’s place where we try to keep it down as Helen sleeps in the next room. Before long with beer in hand I find myself passing out on the floor as a long and at moments horrid day catches up on me.
Soon I find myself being awakened as a cab to Stockport picks us up and ferries us to Pauly’s place in Stockport. On the way Pauly expertly and drunkenly gives the driver directions that I am not so sure are necessarily appreciated. I however find it my one relief in such delicate times.
By now it is well into the early hours as we step into Pauly’s huge house of many rooms and many inhabitants. It would appear that everyone is already in bed as he initially leads us to one of the living rooms with a sofa bed that refuses to pull/open out. Instead he then directs us to a spare bedroom with a Russian flag and double bed within which Racton and I curl up without cuddling up.
Is this what it is like to be Communist?