This winter is going to be competitive.
This winter is going to be competitive.
In the wake of the morning school run, I called into the local McDonald’s. Armed with a hot coffee, I went upstairs for extra warmth. It’s that time of year when being comfortable is a question of degree. Literally.
I had the room to myself, and, through a rectangle of light, I could see yellowing leaves outside clinging desperately to trees, only a storm’s breath away from relinquishing their grip forever.
The sky was blue but soon to concede to cloud.
Here, everything was in decay.
It wasn’t just those leaves on the trees; the music coming out of the speaker above me was already out of vogue; that very moment was passing into memory, present tense to past, and I was a machine that through wear and tear would at some point begin to break down. At a cellular level it was already underway, as I was sat there, an heir to debt and degeneration, just a storm’s breath away from relinquishing my grip.
I don’t know how rough I look, but four times the guy on that stall in our local shopping centre has asked me if I’ve made a will yet.
My son, James, on this Remembrance Sunday morning, finding one of his two Great, Great Grandfathers listed on the local war memorial in Collyhurst, Manchester.
I have to confess that I’ve neither seen the movie, nor read the book, War Horse, but, with Remembrance Sunday imminent, I was struck by this image that I came across last night.
It is a photograph of World War One soldiers paying a tribute to the 8 million horses, mules and donkeys lost in that war.
I wear an extra layer of sadness when it comes to the animals that were used in such conflicts, for the men who signed up to fight were at least aware of the circumstances and implications of their actions, where for the horses and donkeys, mules and dogs, they must have been terrified to find themselves in such hellish conditions, paying a price for their service to man.
It was a simple cafe, one of those we call, in all innocence, a ‘greasy spoon’. You know the sort, all-day breakfasts, exercise thwarting ‘gut busters.’
In fact, when I was a postman, I used to deliver to one such cafe that was actually named Gut Busters. “They’ve got your name wrong again,” I said one morning, waving the letter before depositing it on their counter.
“Who are we now?” the proprietor asked.
“Ghostbusters! You could complain, but who you gonna call?”
Anyway, this was a similar cafe to that one, but located in the heart of Manchester rather than one of its northern suburbs. Being early morning, there were only three customers in the place, myself and two other guys who were sat at a table against the far wall. I don’t think they were homeless, but they looked like they’d seen better days. A bit dishevelled, maybe coming off a five day bender.
I was drinking coffee as they tucked into a fry-up each, and first became aware of them when one called to the waitress who was cleaning the counter.
“Hey love, who sings this song, d’ya know?”
She cocked an ear to the song coming from the radio. “Erm, . . . oh, I do know this one . . . who is it now?”
I couldn’t place the singer, but knew the song: A Night To Remember.
“Is it Diana Ross?” the man asked.
“Is it bleedin’ hell,” his mate replied for her. “It’s a man.”
“You can’t tell the difference with some of those funky singers. Is it Luther Vandross?” he persisted.
“Get ready,” the waitress sang along as she searched her memory, “tonight!”
Outside the window, in the dirty grey light, my fellow Mancunians were falling into their daily routines. I bet most of them could navigate their route blindfolded, scattering the pigeons and beggars as they go.
The waitress brought my plate over, now humming along to a new and easily identifiable song. Abba, that Swedish superpower of airplay.
As I picked up my knife and fork I caught the eye of the man who’d asked the question. “That song, it was Shalamar.”
“Shalamar!” they both exclaimed.
“And friends!” the one that had posed the question, added.
“Yes,” his accomplice agreed, “Shalamar and friends.”
“You’ll sleep tonight now,” I said. But then felt the need for confession. I held up my phone. “I cheated.”
“You didn’t know it either!” they grinned.
Brought briefly together by a thirty-odd year-old song, we then retreated back to our respective worlds, those two sketching vague plans for the day and I catching last night’s match report.
I was draining the last of my coffee by the time they’d finished and paid their bill. I nodded to them as they made their way to the door, and the guy leading the way shook his head reflectively. “That damn Shalamar,” he said, before joining the parade on the Manchester streets.