ABBA And The Friday Feels

You guys have heard me say it before: I’m a creature of nostalgia. That’s nothing new. (Literally.)

I’ve often thought, without having a death wish, that, of the gang I used to hang with in my youth, I hope I’m not one of the last to go as I don’t think my heart could take the sentimental overload.

I was born in ‘71, which means that in three months time I’ll be fifty. I’m sharing that half a century milestone this year with some of my favourite albums: The Doors’ La Woman, Lennon’s Imagine, and the Stones’ Sticky Fingers, among others. Music that I’ve connected with and taken with me across the decades.

Last night I watched the reveal about the quite astonishing return, after all this time, of ABBA, unveiling not only a whole new album (Voyage) and two songs from it, but also a concert that is being planned in London with the aid of technology.

ABBAtars, no less.

I saw this photograph of the four Swedes dressed up in the outfits that they wore to help create these new altar egos. They look like something out of the 80’s science fiction movie Tron.

The finished result, based on their look in 1979.

Experiencing the two new songs from this first album in forty years transported me right back in time to the first family home that we all shared back then. I’d only be about five years old, my brother eighteen months younger. My folks had a cassette player on the wall unit by the door, with an early ABBA compilation album primed to play. My Mum introduced us: “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for . . . ‘THE MURRAY BROTHERS!’” We’d both be playing drums on an upturned bin and a biscuit tin respectively, while we sang along.

That was, of course, the seventies, the hazy, intangible seventies, where my affected memory always reconstructs those times in the brightest and gaudiest of colours.

My Dad is no longer with us, and my Mum no longer remembers ABBA (Alzheimer’s), but those happy days (and that group in particular) is something I’ve brought along with me to this very day. And that connection has been reinforced by listening to this new material.

Both songs (maybe more so because of the lens that I experience them through) are rich in sentiment. The first one, I Still Have Faith In You, is a ballad sung by Frida, about the special relationship shared by all four group members. I thought that this one was just okay, maybe a grower, the emotion of it coming more from the accompanying video that shows the four of them in their prime, until replaced by the ABBAtars that appear towards the end.

But it was the Agnetha-led second song, Don’t Shut Me Down, that cranked up the feels a notch. I wasn’t expecting the emotional punch that took me right back to my crude beginnings.

It sounds like classic ABBA, recognisable ABBA, and when Frida joins in it demonstrates that, no matter their age, when those two singers combine those two voices, magic is created.

It’s a magic sorely needed in our world, a magic capable of time travel.

And like all true nostalgists, I see hidden meaning and significance in everything. Making it relatable and personal, I excitedly informed my wife:

“Jen – ABBA have got back together for my 50th!

Happy Birthday to me.

Eleven Heavens

My son is eleven years old tomorrow and last night we took him and three of his friends (along with his tag-along sister) for something to eat.

I was surprised when we came back outside to stumble into a proper, bonafide Summer evening. A nice reminder that the season hasn’t conceded to Autumn just yet.

I have to say that it didn’t feel particularly summery when we went inside. The summer lovin’ happened so fast.

The Generational Shift

I’d been in Leeds for three nights. Catching a train, I was leaving behind a patchwork of blue sky and white cloud. The people I was destined to meet were warning me about the typical Manchester weather that lay in wait for me.

Sitting there, seeing the world rapidly passing by my window, it was hard to fathom. After all, Leeds isn’t that far away from Manchester, is it? They’re both northern cities.

It was a concern too, for the people I was to meet were fellow Prestwich Heys fans at a home game for us, and a lot of rain normally meant that the game would be off due to a waterlogged pitch.

I was meeting my wife and children there, too, for our football games are a family affair. I sent a text to Jen, enquiring about the state of weather, and her discouraging reply prompted my own: I’m in light trainers, bring my boots with you.

They’re walking boots, I should add, not football boots. God forbid that I was intending to play!

We hit the rain just before Stalybridge, and the skies got darker and the deluge heavier the closer I got to Manchester, a familiar, dispiriting dark pall hanging over the place I call home.

We arrived and I donned a waterproof jacket before alighting the train. Immediately on leaving Piccadilly Station I stepped into a large puddle, almost strategically placed to snag the unwary. I’d been in Manchester thirty seconds and my foot was soaked. It truly felt like home.

We have one large golfing umbrella which Jen was going to bring with her, and now back on home turf I planned to get another so all four of us would be covered. That’s if the game went ahead.

The game will go ahead, was the welcome comment added to our supporters’ messenger group. With the new drainage the pitch is holding up well.

With time on my side I took brief shelter in a Starbucks close to Piccadilly, sitting with my latte at a bar situated against the large front window of the shop, perfect to watch this wet world go briefly by.

And that world going by appeared serenely oblivious to the weather we were experiencing. Girls in short skirts and crop tops, guys in shirts and summer shorts, hailing each other and hopping between bars. I watched them as I drank.

The generational shift. Sometimes I think I’m still cool, but I’m not. I’m getting old. This world is yours. This wonderful, swarming, metropolis is yours. And you won’t realise it until you are sat here one day, like me, maybe disapproving, maybe in relief, passing the baton on yourselves.

I could wile away the time here, people watching, being all philosophical and a touch fatalistic, but I had somewhere to be. I calculated what time I’d need to leave to make the match, finished my drink and set off. The heavy rain had thankfully subsided into a light drizzle, and, as if the city wasn’t wet enough, I paused briefly to watch the fountains in the grassless Gardens.

Sports Direct. That’s where I’d get my umbrella from. It was just five minutes away so I headed in the direction of the store. Again oblivious to the current conditions, I encountered along the way a man with bleached blonde hair and high heels, further enhanced by blue cut-off denim shorts and a black net stocking top that showed off his nipple piercings, singing loudly “I know he loves me . . . “

Yep. I was back in Manchester.

I got my umbrella and I got the bus, meeting the family in time to make the match with half an hour to spare. We filed through the turnstile, the kids talking football and my wife talking catch-up.

It was great, I thought, after being away for a few days, to return to a place I love doing what I love with the people I love.

In the midst of this sentimental reverie, standing pitch side, the clouds opened up again. But my umbrella didn’t.

No wonder those bastards wouldn’t let me try it by opening it up in the shop! Bad luck my arse!

But it couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm. The match started and we cheered on our team. The pitch was perfect and so was the moment, the one working umbrella covering our children and my son’s friend. And once more I thought of the generational shift, of these young supporters, just beginning, perhaps, a lifelong association. The lifeblood and the future of this, our adopted club.

Rosemary’s Bay Bees

What a beautiful day it was today.

In fact, do you know what kind of day it was today? It was a Rosemary’s Baby and Fosters kind of day today.

So much so that I felt that I had to share with everyone on Facebook just how I’d passed the afternoon.

Why have you poured Fosters into a glass?! my daughter Courtney commented.

Because the glass wouldn’t fit into the can, I replied.

Obvious, isn’t it?

One pay-off to be made for the good weather at this time of year is that we have to share it with others. Other creatures, that is. A few days ago I noticed some bees flying around the end of the guttering at the front of our house, guttering that is close to both Courtney’s bedroom window and also her sister Millie’s bedroom window. Courtney and Millie are not the most bug-friendly girls you’re ever likely to meet.

When one of the bees turned up in our living room today I thought, while catching it to release outside, I’d take the opportunity to photograph it in an effort to identify the species. As it dropped onto the window ledge, I placed a glass over it (yes, the Fosters glass) and took a snap of it.

That’s right-the bee was doing what bees do and wouldn’t keep still, flying to the top of the glass. Eventually though, I got a close up.

From this, and from what I’d read when scientifically googling bee nests in gutters I deduced that the bees were most likely to be Tree Bumblebees. Eat your heart out Attenborough.

(Though don’t ask where the tree comes into play.)

And from what I’ve learnt I’ve decided not to take any action and leave them bee (😀) as it’s likely that they will leave the nest by the end of July anyway.

That’s only two months away. Eight weeks. Ish.

You can imagine how thrilled my daughters are by this decision.

Just wait until that sun is out again tomorrow, and the temperature rises, and how those windows should be opened to admit some fresh air.

I’m thinking now that tomorrow could be a Cool Hand Luke in the sweatbox kind of day.

A Three-Photo Recap

I thought I’d give you all a three-photo recap of the week so far. It began with me discovering the Winter-Spring dividing line. It seems that some of the snow has spilled over from one season to the other. It’s time to build that wall.

Tuesday I decided to go for a peaceful walk , just me, the dog and two Apache helicopters.

My daughter Millie has just turned fourteen and had a few friends around in the back garden for a Covid-friendly gathering. In the evening this was the aftermath, glittering tinsel like confetti from a full-sized champagne bottle party popper. In a few more birthdays I dread to think what this aftermath will look like. I don’t think there will be confetti in the bottles.

Bridge Of Sighs

Remember this? The outside world?

With the news that children are to begin the return to school from the eighth of March, and that grassroots kids’ football is hoped to resume not long after this, I managed to peel my son, James, off his PlayStation to go on what I hope will be a series of regular walks to build up his fitness. Mine too.

We set off down a long road which, despite us coming from the same place, some of my friends refer to as The Mad Mile. I, however, know it as The Heywood Stretch.

At the end of this road you come to a roundabout bridge which looks down onto the M62, as shown in the photograph.

We stopped there, for a breather, the wind blowing in our faces as those below us, those fellow lockdown escapees, blew their horns and waved up at us in a semblance of some barely remembered social interaction as they disappeared from view.

“Why are they waving at us?” James asked.

“They are just being friendly,” I replied.

“Do they think we’re gonna jump?”

(Long pause.) “I hope not.”

Winter Days, Winter Nights

After two days of heavy rain there were flood warnings throughout the country. I’m fortunate that I don’t live near to any river unlike those unfortunate people whose homes always seem to be at risk at this time of year.

I was sat with a coffee, watching the rain outside the window.

It reminded me of the time I was on the island of Rousay. I’d had some time to kill before the ferry arrived to take me back to what is known as mainland Orkney and so sought out a cafe overlooking the jetty,. I was sat with a coffee then, too, again watching the rain that had behind it the force of an ocean wind. The last of my coffee drained, I’d then ordered a hot-buttered bannock. Very Scottish, I know. When in Rome and all that.

Panoramic though it was, that view didn’t include an ornamental giraffe like mine did now. A giraffe which, if you look very carefully, you’d see is missing an ear thanks to Bryn, our Welsh Springer Spaniel.

Scottish, Welsh, for the interests of inclusivity I think my next drink should be some nice English tea.

*

Who’d have thought it? After forty-eight hours of heavy rain winter blew in during the night and we were moved to make the most of it. Heaving on boots and heavy coats, we went out into a blast of cold air, even though it was 10.40pm on a school night. School night- that’s a laugh. They are now known as stay at home and do school work nights.

Millie walked ahead, giving an unsuspecting Bryn his first experience of snow.

With Millie’s arms aching we changed over and she managed to catch a second’s worth of our expedition.

The night wore on, the snow continued, and as we decided to head back we spotted a bus crawling up the road towards us. On the rare occasions that we get a considerable amount of snow around here the bus services are often cancelled as we live on a hill, but this one made an admirable job of it, its lights carving through the gloom as it succeeded on its way past us to its frozen destination.

We got in, dried the dog, dried ourselves, closing the blinds on that cold January night. The next morning I drew back the blinds in great anticipation on what would be waiting for me, ready to go again. Wrapped in layers and past experiences for reference.

Typical ‘Happy’ Birthday Conversation

We’d had a good morning, considering we are currently in the midst of Tier 3 Covid restrictions, having found a place where we could (legally) sit in for a few coffees. In the afternoon, Jen and I sat in the car outside my daughter’s high school, waiting for her to come out.

Jen: I think we are going to have to go shopping once we get back

Me: Aw no

Jen: We haven’t got that much in

Me: Let’s leave it ’til tomorrow

Jen: It’ll be too much messing tomorrow, we’ve got a lot on

Me: We’ll go in the morning

Jen: Today would be better

Me: Naw, it’s my birthday today

Jen: Life doesn’t stop because it’s your birthday. I worked on my birthday

Me: I don’t want to go shopping on my birthday. It could be my last ever birthday. Some day it will be my last ever birthday

Jen: Then you’ll always remember it

Me: Not if death brings only sleep

New Life; New Blog: Family And Football

With the demise, temporary or otherwise, of my son James’ team, Bury FC, I started taking him to watch a local non-league team by the name of Prestwich Heys.

A world away from the Premier League football that we could stay home and watch on the TV, it’s a real community club that values our support and attendance.

With no pretensions or VAR in sight, it’s proper football with proper fans, giving a warm welcome and an inclination to visit again – for the club quickly got under our skin to the extent that it has now become a family affair with both my wife and daughter also attending games.

We were having a great season, and then that damn Covid-19 virus arrived and everything was brought to a premature close.

In the meanwhile, a friend has started up a blog about all thing Heys to keep everyone still connected in these barren months. It isn’t on WordPress, but if you follow the link below you can enter your email address to subscribe to his posts.

So if you have an interest in non-league football; football in general; want to know what is going on in this part of Northern England, or to gain a glimpse of some of the things that I and my family get up to here in Manchester, UK, please follow the link and subscribe.

It’s a new blog and I’m sure the writer will appreciate the support of you lovely people.

His name is Rick, go say hello.

https://rickbarrett753.wixsite.com/website-2

Summer Lions

I’m sitting in the garden, once again, this time reading Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine.

It’s summer. I can smell summer; taste summer. My jackdaws are lining up along the neighbour’s rooftop, tethered by the sun.

It’s in the autumn I’ll think of my father; my grandparents, see the young ghosts of my brother and I playing cricket in the ginnel, dwarfed by walls I can comfortably peer over.

For now, it’s my children, playing with the dog as I pause to watch, mid-sentence, laughing on the threshold of a great beyond.