Saturday, and the sun was out. Manchester drew all of us to her with false promises and sales bait.
My wife, son and I threw ourselves foolishly into the throng. If there was to be any trouble this day, my son had the Arndale covered, patrolling ahead in his army get up. Cute eh? Sure. So far, so good.
As the day drew on, we decided to split up.
That’s how it all began. Just like one of those movies where a group of youths are being stalked by a homicidal maniac, and they decide to split up as you yell “Stick together for God’s sake, stick together!”
Jen took James with her to buy him some trainers, while I was given free reign to lose myself in Waterstones. An hour later I emerged with a book containing a dialogue between the Pope and a Rabbi. I was curious to see if I got a mention. If you should get yourself a copy, and the subjects are arranged alphabetically, try to remember that Jackdaw comes shortly after Devil.
Now came the tricky part- the time to meet up again. We were both in our home city, both of us with mobiles fully charged and with credit. Easy, yes?
The barrage of texts began:
Me: I’m out now. Where are you?
Jen: We are in Subway having a drink. We’ve still to get the trainers yet.
Me: Okay, tell me where you are in about fifteen minutes.
The clock ticked. The Fates chuckled.
Jen: Got trainers. Will meet you at that cafe in the Arndale.
I waited a while. The Fates now eyed my empty apple juice bottle. I moved on.
Jen: Here now. Where are you?
Me: I came out as I finished my drink. I’m in HMV, upstairs, near to where you are.
I foolishly expected her to come up to me.
Jen: I’ll go somewhere else.
Now that makes sense. Later:
Me: Where are you now?
Debenhams? Debenhams? Where the Hell was Debenhams? I had to think a minute. It’s outside-yes, definitely. Debenhams was not inside the Arndale. I made my way out onto Market Street, blinking in the bright light. Now-which way? Left or right? I was beginning to get a bit tetchy. I waited a few minutes, calming down while listening to this guy on his pan pipes.
He drew quite an appreciative audience, until a woman set up some speakers and blew him away with some rap-techno-I’m too old to understand this shit-thing. It was symbolic of my afternoon. The piper packed up.
I wandered further up Market Street, phone still in hand and ready to stab. Then I spotted it: Debenhams. Hallelujah. I wandered in: more than one floor, great. We began the dance again.
Me: I’m in Debenhams. What floor are you on?
Jen: Come back out, I’m outside TK Maxx.
I was seriously starting to get pissed off.
Me: Where’s that?!
No reply straight away. The day grew hotter. Grip on the phone got tighter.
I think I know where that is. I re-emerged onto the street. I trudged up to the corner, dodging the people who seemed set on a collision course with me. Rounded the bend to where the shop was. Sharp intake of breath: THAT’S NOT TK MAXX, THAT’S FUCKING PRIMARK! Cue very fast and hard typing:
Me: Where’s that????
Jen: Out of Debenhams, straight towards the Arndale. It’s on your right.
THIS IS MY BLEEDING HOME CITY WHERE I’VE LIVED ALL MY BLEEDING LIFE!
I moved down. Teeth clenched. Snorting through my nose. No sign.
Jen: I mean the left.
I dropped my bags all dramatically, then picked them up again. It made me feel better. I turned to the left. I saw her, gazing searchingly through the crowds, James looking like he would need reviving right there on the floor where he was slumped.
I was tempted, really tempted, for one final round:
Me: Meet me near the flats over the road from The Angel pub.
Me: Twelfth floor.