Do you like driving around? I do. I know it’s bad and we shouldn’t do it; not just for the hell of it anyway. I do my best by to try and tie it into a trip.

I’m staying up in Manchester, looking after my mum as she recovers from an operation.  Over in Sheffield lives my lovely Zoe. So last night I drove there, and today I drove back.

And it’s one of the best drives you can do. It’s 80 miles long and 80 minutes long. And you only use two roads; the M62 and the M1.

How do I even begin to describe how joyous this journey is?

Of course, for me, it’s a win-win situation; either coming or going. On the one hand I get to see Zoe and on the other hand… Wait! Let me tell you about my mum’s car.

I’m using it while I’m up here, and, if you’re thinking of doing any driving around, I recommend you use my mum’s car too. Or, for the best, your own mum’s. Here’s why: Free petrol!

Also, you can have fun rooting through your mum’s cassettes. Who knew my mum had Home by Terry Hall? Most likely not my mum. I doubt she’s ever listened to it.

I should have known, since my writing was all over the old TDK thing (the other side was a hideous mix of M People and Blur; what was I thinking? Did I really make this compilation? Yes! When? IDK).

So… get into your mum’s Toyota Starlet, put in Home, and head off.

Here’s the main joys:

1- It’s a sunny journey. The weather is absolutely beautiful.*

2- No matter where you are;  on the M1 or the M62, coming or going; you can always see Emley Moor transmitting station.

It’s foolish to take photos whilst driving, so here’s one of the majestic big stick thing by Tim Green.

Emly Moor (Image: Tim Green)

It’s dangerous on so many levels to take photos at 70mph. It may well be illegal. That’s why I didn’t take these photos this morning.

not taken by me today, as I drove

Nor this

These pics bring me on to joy 4:

4- The bridges. The ones above are good, but they’re not the best. There are some truly beautiful bridges along the M1. I think they were built during stage 2 of the M1’s construction, in the 1960’s; gorgeous and simple asymmetric, white concrete designs. In need of a coat of paint, yes, but in the sun they still shine. I didn’t get any pictures, but take a look at them here at The Motorway Archive.

5- The M62. A glorious road from Liverpool to Hull; this stretch taking in the highest point of any motorway in the UK at Windy Hill. And also passing Stott Hall Farm, immortalised here by John Shuttleworth:

6- The pigs. I only caught a glimpse of them. But as the M1 joins the M62, look to your left, see the free range pigs.

I’m sure there’s lots more to enjoy.

Oh yes! One of those motorway lighting up signs declaring Think bike; think biker. Now, the thing is, the truth, I don’t really like that. It’s just that it reminded me of the original Think once, think twice, think bike.

Years later I adpated the slogan for my own entertainment, coming up with think once, think twice, think nice.

Here’s what I was listening to. Terry Hall proving he’s the best James Bond we’ve never had.

*not always.

This is what Crumpsall means. So Wikipedia says. Wikipedia also informs me that Don Estelle, Jason Orange, and Myra Hindley were all born in Crumpsall. I lived in Crumpsall as a boy, moving there when I was 11 and staying until I left home to go to university. In Manchester. I moved from Manchester to Manchester.

I never missed Crumpsall.

I don’t really know where Crumpsall is. If you were to say to someone, “I’ll meet you in Crumpsall” you’d be hard pressed to pick a landmark. There’s no centre. It’s just streets and emptiness, bordered by the more lively Cheetham Hill and the comparatively swanky Prestwich.

My defining Crumpsall moment came when I was 15 years old. I was off to the shops at Cheetham Hill for my mum. I was walking along, possibly skipping (it was the kind of thing I did, still do). I was certainly whistling. Whistling the latest big hit, I Will Survive. Three lads surrounded me. One of them asked me the time. I told him. He said “let me see”. I held up my wrist and he said “that’s not the time”. Then he hit me. Hard. Hard enough to knock me out.

I spent four days in hospital. I effectively had plastic surgery. A nose job. I went around for the next few weeks with a plaster cast on my nose held in place with a big ‘X’ of sticking plaster.

Perhaps the most shocking thing was the police. They asked if they could have a word with me, alone, away from my parents. When my mum and dad had left the living room they asked me: “We know what you’ve told your mum and dad, but what did you do to provoke them?”

I was a very young 15 year old. An innocent in the world. Could whistling “I Will Survive” be seen as provocative?

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I’m back in Manchester now. Prestwich. Birthplace of 10cc, Victoria Wood, and home of local hero Mark E. Smith. Just for a short while. Looking after my mum as she gets better from an operation. She’s out of hospital now and doing well but she spent just under two weeks in North Manchester General Hospital.

It used to be called Crumpsall Hospital. It’s in Crumpsall.

I’d been visiting twice a day but last Tuesday Janice and Kath went to see my mum in the afternoon, giving me a little break. So I went into town, saw The Adjustment Bureau, and then got the Metro to Crumpsall for the evening visiting session. Leaving the hospital at 8.20pm I headed back to the station. The first and only time I didn’t drive.

It’s a lonely old place, between the hospital and the Metro station. Where is Crumpsall? Even when you’re in it you are nowhere and there’s no one around.

Walking along Crumpsall Lane (where we lived over 30 years ago), past Hermitage Road (where I used to go for piano lessons from Miss Musgrave until I became old enough to tell my mum and dad I didn’t like playing the piano, I didn’t want piano lessons)… thinking these things… possibly inwardly whistling I Will Survive… not considering a skip this time.

Then something –  that sense –  moments before it happens. Maybe it makes you tense up in preparation… what is it? An instinct?

The lads must have crept along. In the shadows. Following and biding their time. And then an explosion behind me. A whack on the head. A rush and a push.

I go flying to the ground and my bag races ahead of me as they try to run away with it. But no, this cannot stand. I manage to keep hold and after a silly little struggle they run off. It could have been worse I suppose. They could have got my bag if they’d really wanted.

The two lads run, turn left down Station Road. Alone again. I don’t know what to do and I don’t know where to go. There is no one around. What if they come back? There is a shop just past Station Road. The Canny Scot, an off licence. I could head there, phone a taxi…

But I’m not going to let this get to me. I’m going home. on the Metro.

I turn down Station Road. Quiet. Empty. But well lit. And there are two lads. But these two are with a girl, coming from the Metro.

I stop and wait a moment, unsure what to do. One of the lads calls to me: “You alright?” I hesitate. “Something happened?”

I keep my distance but call to them: “Two lads just attacked me.”

One of the lads says he saw them run off up Station Road. He leaves a beat before adding: “Why not go after them, fight them?”

The other lad chips in; perfect Mancy sarcasm: “aww, got mugged did ya?”

I step further away, back towards the (maybe) safety of The Canny Scot. They head off back down Crumpsall Lane, away from me.

I go to the Metro. It’s empty apart from one lad sitting there, smoking, hood up. (When something happens; for a while, until normality returns; everyone is a threat).

I stand in the middle of a brightly lit platform, alone, waiting, imagining them coming back. Imagining myself dying on CCTV.

After 8 minutes that could have been 80, the Metro arrives. It’s packed and I get on, shaking.

Two stops later I get off at Heaton Park, head into The Ostrich, and get drunk.

*************************************

The next day, a little more collected, I realise I should tell the police. Nothing can be done for me, and I’m fine, but the police should know to keep an eye out. Many people may visit the hospital, many older than me. And many may have to rely on public transport.

I call in at the police station on Cheetham Hill. I tell the… I don’t know what? Was it an officer? Or just someone employed to speak to the public? They didn’t seem very, well, policey. The first thing she says is: “Why didn’t you call 999?” It’s a good question and I don’t have a good answer. I mutter something about having been ok, and having come from seeing my mum in hospital, maybe my head not being in the right place, maybe other things mattering more.

I give her some details which she jots down on a piece of blank paper. She says she will pass it on to an officer. She tells me again, in quite some kind of a tone, that I should have called 999. I guess so. I leave, heading straight on to the hospital. Visiting time again.

***************************

And later I’m thinking; Shouldn’t some kind of statement have been taken? Shouldn’t she have asked my name? or noted my phone number? was I not reporting a crime? Should I not at least be a statistic?

********************

A crooked piece of land beside a river… sounds romantic, doesn’t it?

The Feet of God

July 11, 2010

Last weekend I was up in Manchester. That’s where my mum lives and it’s also where my sister, niece and nephew were on their annual trip ‘home’ from California. And this weekend also coincided with St. James’ Church annual parade around the parish. The Whit Walk. Something peculiar, it seems, to the North of England.

My family have been connected to this church for, well, possibly, over 75 years. My dad was the church organist until his death in 1983. My mum is still in the choir. My sister and the kids join in with everything when they are over. Me? Well, I was in the choir. Then I went to university, then moved to London, and, perhaps, the twin evils of education and swanky London living have left me a little less keen. I wouldn’t say Godless or evil, just not so sure about parading around the streets of Salford dressed like a blue nylon monk.

Zoe won’t step inside a church. It’s all for the safety of others. As soon as she’s through the door the font tends to bubble over. I told her it’d be ok. We’d just walk alongside, take a few pics, enjoy the spectacle.

This was before I was press-ganged into wearing a high visibility vest and ordered by the police to assist in crowd control and traffic diversion. There are some things you cannot say no to.

And so Zoe walked around with my nephew William, who, at the last minute, ducked out of the more formal procession. And he made a film. He possibl;y forgot to look through the viewfinder. I’m not sure. Maybe he is just avant garde.

William’s creative when it comes to this church stuff; read his take on communion from a year and a half ago when he was 6. When we watched the film back I asked him what he wanted to call it. Possibly mindful of World Cup events he went for the inspired title of The Feet of God. Here it is:

This yearly walk involves two churches; St. James’ and, from across the road, St. Thomas’.  St. James’ is Church of England, St. Thomas’ is Roman Catholic. They walk together.

Rothko in Lewisham

November 19, 2009

Years ago, when I was young and gloomy, I travelled down to London to see Mark Rothko’s murals at the Tate. There was only one Tate in those days; the London one. And travelling down to London from Manchester was a big deal; this was a pilgrimage. This day had the same power as a Crystal Day in Liverpool or a Blackpool Day at the Pleasure Beach.

These huge and oppressive paintings appealed to me in the way that Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen and the Big Dipper appealed to me. A way that I am still unable to put into words and unwilling and unwanting to try. Instead, I will put them into paintings, music and rollercoasters. That’s the best I can do.

The murals can now be found in Tate Modern. John Banville writes perfectly about them and Rothko here.

They were commissioned for the swanky Four Seasons Restaurant in New York in the late 1950’s. and here’s what Rothko said at the time;

“I accepted this assignment as a challenge, with strictly malicious intentions. I hope to paint something that will ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room. If the restaurant would refuse to put up my murals, that would be the ultimate compliment. But they won’t. People can stand anything these days.”

The restaurant didn’t refuse, but Rothko did withdraw from the commission.

Shortly after giving the paintings to the Tate instead, Rothko cut deep into his arms and died “in a wine-dark sea of his own blood”.

So I was surprised, as I sat in the Radiology Department of Lewisham Hospital, waiting for a chest X-Ray, to find myself close to a Rothko.  Not one of his restaurant ones, but, I think, a miniature of Light Red Over Black, 1957.

I like it. The big one. And I think I have the constitution to contemplate it whilst also contemplating the response of my doctor, yesterday, to my question as to whether the hospital would tell me anything or not; If it’s gross, they’ll keep you in.

Thankfully it wasn’t gross. They didn’t keep me in. Just my asthma having fun. I’m not wheezy; just not really breathing. I’m on steroids now. I was hoping to become Hulk-like, but it seems a real possible side effect* is Moon Face. I’ll settle for that. Sounds like a new Batman villain.

Walking home… ha! At what speed does a walk begin? And what comes before that? It wasn’t a dawdle;  I kept a straight line and an even pace. But noticing me move would be like watching the London Eye spin …I fancied stopping off for a quick nap at Lewisham’s snazzzziest titled bed shop.

* Oh, and insomnia. Hence the late post.

Trev-and-Simon-cafe

Look at us! In a cafe, with hair and itchy chins, our futures unknown and exciting and potentially colourful. Trev in a Big Coutry shirt. Me in tweeds. Now Trev wears the tweed and I dress like a big- oh,it doesn’t even work. it’s an awful attempt at a joke. I’d have to drop off the “ry” bit, remove an extraneous “o”. And even after all that work the punchline would remain untrue. I don’t even know what one would dress like. That drag act on Britain’s Got Talent? No, not Simon Cowell!

Don’t worry. The standard will be better tomorrow. Or maybe not. Anyways, we are meeting up after not seeing each other for fourteen and a half years so we’ll have lots to talk about. For one, I’ve had my whole body tattooed, from head to foot. The tattoos are all pictures of blotchy pinkywhite skin. it cost me a fortune and I look the same.

I must stop. I’m going mad. It’s food deprivation. I haven’t eaten for weeks. Or is it hours? One of the two. I always get them mixed up.

I’m off to the cafe, but not the one pictured above. I wonder where it is. It could be Central Cafe on Peter Street in Manchester. or in Peter Street on Manchester. Guess it depends on the point of view. Bye.

Murderer

January 30, 2009

I’ve met a murderer. At the time I didn’t know this. I was with Trev Neal and Cyndi Lauper, and looking back we were all lucky to escape with our lives. This may sound like some kind of fantasy, but it is all true.

I’m a big fan of the only reality TV show worth watching; Coronation Street. Watching the antics of those Northern folks keeps me in touch with my roots. When people ask me if I really think Coronation Street is real, I say “I believe it to be real.” You try using reason and logic in the face of belief; you’ll get nowhere.

Another hobby of mine other than watching Coronation Street is to scour YouTube for old clips of me and Trev. It passes the time, and it also fools me into thinking I’m working and it’s the 20th Century. A week ago, someone put this on You Tube. It’s the Video Grand Prix; a segment of Live and Kicking where the two of us and a couple of guests would fool around while supposedly reviewing the new pop songs of the week. I enjoyed the first minute or so and then I froze in horror. Our second guest was an actor called Gray O’Brien. He was in Casualty. But not anymore.

At some point Gray O’Brien packed in acting and decided to buy a knicker factory in Coronation Street. A knicker factory called Underworld. He even changed his name. He’s now called Tony Gordon. And he kills people. He killed Liam O’Connor. People who watch Coronation Street know this. And yet the police have done nothing. We’ve seen Maria try to unmask him, but now everyone just thinks she’s nuts. She thought he’d killed Jed Stone, but Tony brought Jed back to Coronation Street to prove that he was alive. But Tony’s sneaky, and anyone who watches too much TV will know that Jed Stone, years back, was Hopkirk in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Yes, deceased! If he could appear on TV as Hopkirk (deceased) why can’t he appear on Coronation Street as Jed Stone (deceased).

We we’re nearly murdered. Along with Cyndi Lauper. It’s a fact. Look at those black eyes in the YouTube clip. How did we get those? Tony Gordon had murder in his mind years before he became a knicker king.

I rest my case. And my brain.

tony-jordan5

Tonight we sing.

December 8, 2008

picture-of-choirI’m in a choir. Note-orious. And tonight we sing at the Magnolia on Lordship Lane. If you know it, and you want to hear us, come along.

How will you recognise us? We’ll all be wearing red and black. If I feel daring, I might put on some red socks.

When I was young I was in a choir. Back then I had to dress like this…
st-james-choir-1

dog-and-ballThis isn’t Manchester City’s most expensive player, Robinho, but I don’t want to be charged £6000 for not knowing my copyright infringement laws, so best play it safe and use a pic of a dog with a ball.

Robinho, swiftly becoming my hero because he catches the bus and watches Coronation Street, doesn’t catch the bus and doesn’t watch Coronation Street. How could the News of the World get it so wrong? Now I’ll have to worship him for his football skills alone. Which isn’t a bad deal, other than my knowledge of football skills is confined to he shoots, he scores, he occasionally nutmegs. Oh, and yes, I know, we were properly beaten by United yesterday but what a great run, the length of the field, from Joe Hart in the dying minutes to at least stop it becoming 2-0. And again, my football knowledge is limited, but Ronaldo, I know a hand ball when I see one… sorry, both hands ball.

But why no bus trips to the Trafford Centre? Robinho told The Guardian; “I used the bus when I was growing up in Brazil. I don’t want to diminish anyone who travels on the bus but I haven’t done that for a long time.” And his response to the story that he is watching Coronation Street to improve his English? “Very funny. Hahahahaha.” Shame. You can read the full interview here.

It just keeps getting better and better for Manchester City. Sort of. Ok, they could do with a few more wins, but beating Arsenal 3-0 yesterday is a good start. More of the same please against Schalke 04 and then that other team closer to home on Saturday. in the meantime, Robinho, keep on watching Coronation Street.

Yes, according to the News of the World (so it has to be true) Robson De Souza aka Robinho… will soon be aka “Ken Robinho-Low”. See what the NOTW has done there? They’ve replaced the Bar of Barlow with Robinho, to make a play on words that absolutely fails.

Still, only days after we find out that the most expensive footballer ever ever in the universe uses the bus, it’s revealed that he is learning English by watching Coronation Street. A source reveals that “the lads have been calling him Ken in training.” Why Ken? Why not someone who could actually kick a ball, like psycho Platt, or grease monkey Kevin “I used to look like Keegan” Webster? Or possibly Hayley. But Ken? Mother-in-law Blanche could nutmeg him even with her Polish hip. Maybe his team mates are having a bit of a laugh.

But top marks to the Brazilian for embracing Mancunion culture so readily. Next bus shopping trip, Robbo, stock up on the Hollands Meat and Potato Pies and Vimto. Oh, and start listening to Oasis and Brian and Michael.

Here, thanks to an old TV Times shoot from 1970 recently unearthed by the Mail Online, is what Robinho might look like if he travels any further down the Barlow Road.

ken-barlow-daily-mail