Any Clown Can Win

I decided to tip the barista off. “There’s some right clowns in here today.”

Passing me my coffee in a takeaway cup, she looked puzzled, and so I inclined my head towards the entrance to this Costa coffee shop.

Her face dropped. “Oh no. Clowns! That’s my biggest fear in the whole world. Then, tentatively: “Maybe they won’t come in.”

They came in.

She stood there as they began to approach, preparing herself, stealing herself, to serve with a smile.

“They’re gonna be squirting water in your face from flowers in their lapels and everything,” I helpfully said. “Then stomping out in their size fifteen feet.”

“Don’t. I won’t be able to cope.”

“You’re going to go viral. Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, the works.”

I wished her good luck and found myself a table. (Yes, I know I had a takeaway cup but it’s a peculiarity I’ve inherited from my wife.)

Later, as the barista was cleaning a table, I asked her what the score was with the three clowns and I learned that they weren’t actually clowns.

“What, so they weren’t on their way to a clown convention then?” I asked.

“No, I’m not sure what they said now, they were either out last night or they’re on their way out from here today.”

“What, around town you mean? Like that?”

“Yes,” she laughed.

I stroked my chin, taking one of them off. “‘Out with the lads tonight. Hmm . . . what shall I wear?” Then: “NOT THAT!”

You’ve got to love Manchester, haven’t you? You see it all. Hen parties, stag dos, clowns, the lot.

Before I left I showed her a photograph that I’d just saved onto my phone from Facebook. “Is this what you in the business call a drive through?”

Later that day it was my son’s football team’s end of season presentation. Along with his regular team member trophy he also won Most Improved Player Of The Season. Then it was my turn!

I contribute to the club by taking action photographs of the players along with submitting match reports, recording Man of the Match awards etc.

Imagine my surprise when I was awarded ‘Reporter of the Year.’

To be honest, I don’t think there was anyone else in the running but it was nice to be recognised. On the way out of the building, James and I compared trophies.

“Is Reporter of the Year even a thing?” he asked me.

I gave him a bit of advice. “When you get home from here, Google ‘Watergate’.”

Sleep Is Overrated Anyway.

I can go asleep like *that*

(Visualise me clicking my fingers.)

Even in a strange bed, I have no problem. But if something wakes me once I’ve been asleep I find it difficult to get back off again. Which doesn’t work well with my wife liking to sleep with the window open, especially at this time of year. In the early hours of the morning someone was talking outside of our house before getting into a taxi. And that, my friends, was that.

Awake at 2.45am and immediately knowing that I was going to struggle, I got up at gone three, that wonderful blue hour where reality shifts into something else.

And that something else set the tone for the rest of the day.

When I first went downstairs my dog Bryn did his best to keep me company.

But he soon gave up the struggle.

Looking for positives, being up early gave me the opportunity to listen to the new Kula Shaker double-album that had dropped at midnight while I was still spending my brief sojourn in the underworld.

Still happily existing outside of the mainstream, there is a song on it called The Gingerbread Man.

And if you thought that was surreal enough, things turned even more so when I called into the local McDonald’s for a coffee.

Approaching the touchscreen order point, I was greeted with:

Start order to get deliciousness

Start order to get deliciousness. It sounded like one of those sentences that’s been passed several times through Google Translate but still doesn’t quite hit the mark.

I ordered my coffee (deliciousness), picked my coffee (deliciousness) and sat down. It was only after finishing my coffee (I’ll spare you) and walking towards the exit that I spotted the old man. He was sat at table, head down, scribbling away on a notepad. Around his neck he wore a cardboard sign which read:

Old man for sale. Make me an offer.

I know a woman who works in the restaurant who just happened to be stood by the door and so I enquired about him.

Oh him. He comes in most mornings, writing in his notebooks.”

Of course, as a writer, I was curious. Curious about his subject. Curious about that sign that hung ignominiously around his neck. Or maybe it was hanging there as an invitation to approach and start a conversation.

But in the end I decided not to interrupt him. He seemed in full flow, and when you’re hot you’re hot.

And perhaps I’d baulked because I feared that I’d caught a glimpse of myself, still the writer, slipped into eccentricity, two decades in the future.

Or maybe even just five years, depending on how much sleep I get.

Of Mice and Men, Monarchs And Music

You may have seen something of the celebrations taking place around the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend. (Some people have referred to this as ‘Platty Joobs ’ but personally I think anyone heard to utter this travesty of a term should be imprisoned by Her Majesty in the Tower. Or taken straight to Tower Hill to have their head served up on a silver platty. Platter! Damn it! I meant platter!)

Naturally a lot of the focus was down south on our Nation’s Capital, but what about locally?

Well, in my town, it was advertised that a beacon, one of more than 1,500 throughout the Commonwealth, would be lit at 9.30pm in the aptly named Jubilee Park.

In theory, such an historic occasion sounded like something worth attending, but it didn’t quite pan out that way.

Although it was advertised to take place in Jubilee Park the beacon was actually on the park’s edge, just below the wall of St.Leonard’s church. This meant that the majority of people, gathered high inside the church grounds, were unable to view what had actually attracted them there like, yes, moths to a flame, in the first place. And also they were unable to hear the rehearsed speeches as the microphone, working in the two test runs, didn’t work for the real thing.

The best laid plans of mice and men and all that.

But still, the beacon was lit, let the records show, as Middleton took its place in the symbolic line of celebratory fire.

Earlier in the week (and less of an anti-climax), there was another celebration as Manchester’s own Liam Gallagher made a triumphant homecoming return to the Etihad Stadium, home of his (and my) football team Manchester City, as the warm-up gig to his upcoming Knebworth show.

A friend of mine was attending. We’d both previously seen the singer perform at the Etihad before as part of his group Oasis, as well as at the Reebok in Bolton. The first time we’d seen them live was at Maine Road (City’s previous ground) a jaw-dropping twenty-six years ago. 1996. Though we didn’t know it at the time, the group had peaked musically but there was still some good music to come and there was some great music then. My abiding memory of that might is sitting on the shoulders of another friend as the sky darkened, the moon rising over the stadium, as the band launched into Champagne Supernova.

(For any music aficionados reading this, there were two great support acts that day: Ocean Colour Scene and Manic Street Preachers.)

1996, though. Twenty-six years-how time flies!

This time around my friend had gone to the gig with his daughter-how time’s change!

Good music survives through generations, with the older influencing the younger, and there they both were connected to it, and each other, in that incredible middle ground.

By all accounts it was a fantastic gig and he took this equally fantastic photograph.

I got the moon. He got the fireworks.

We both got the memories.

On The Death Of A Friend

The news came right out of the blue. It says a lot about the world we live in when, on hearing about the death of a middle-aged male, your immediate thoughts turn to mental health and did he take his own life? Even when there was no reason to suspect so.

It seems that those initial fears were well-founded, though. Well-founded regardless of our last spontaneous meeting the week before, unable as I was to see beyond the handshake greeting and the same old laughs. If only our vision could see beyond those superficial things.

It’s a cliché, but the next day, when opening the curtains, the world outside was going on as normal. It was just that he’d fallen away. Fallen from those familiar streets that we’d shared since our childhood of the Seventies. I walked them today, carrying him around with me. Along with his daughter’s words that struck like a dagger on social media:

Dad, I’ll miss you forever. I know we will meet up again someday, just not here

Here. The place of our roots, this housing estate where he was a well-know, popular figure, where we got taller and the world got larger. It’s a poorer place for his absence.

As well as our beginnings I think of our shared interests. He was a huge Lennon/Beatles/Oasis/City fan. Music loomed large in our conversations. He was in a band and I used to listen to his music while he used to read my writing. He once asked me to provide lyrics for something he’d done around a riff he’d come up with. To the best of my knowledge he never got to record it, and the lyrics found a home in my second poetry collection.

On the evening I found out I had a beer in the back garden while listening to his stuff on Soundcloud, along with a couple of demos he’d sent me. They provided the soundtrack while I read through our convos on text and WhatsApp. There was me, informing him of a new John Lennon exhibition in Liverpool. There was he, exhorting me to go to those early Beatle stomping grounds he’d visited in Hamburg.

I live next door to my Mum – my childhood home. I looked to the wall at the rear of the ginnel that we shared. When my son was younger I used to use my friend’s name as a warning for him when he was trying to climb onto it. “There’s a guy called *** *** and in 1982, when he was a kid, he fell off that wall and split his head open!” He’d had a crew cut back then and you could see the blood on his scalp. He still bore the scar in adulthood.

Right up until that middle-age cut off point.

The air began to turn chilly. There’s only seven tracks on his Soundcloud page, the vast majority of his creativity remains uncaptured. I put them on repeat. It’s easier to picture him playing that bass than to think of that room and speculate about his final thoughts.

Wherever he now was, I raised a glass to him.

just not here

I drained my beer as the sun went down on this old town of ours. It will outlive us all.

The Cinderella Hours

I was casually, idly, scrolling through a community page on Facebook last night when a short comment tickled me. It doesn’t take much.

Daniel had, unbelievably, posted:

Disabled parking should only be valid during business hours 9 to 5 Monday to Friday.

I cannot see any reason why people with genuine disabilities would be out beyond these times.

To which Jennifer replied:

We’re disabled, Daniel, we’re not werewolves.

Perhaps Daniel thinks that the Blue Badge should be replaced by a silver one.