That Damn Shalamar

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.

Claws For The Weekend: Circumstance

My wife: “I know for a fact that if I got with Prince Harry my life would change.”

Anyway, chippy tonight.

Have a great weekend everyone.

See you on the flip side.

Summer Simmers

Night has finally fallen on this longest day. For once, the summer solstice actually looked like a summer’s day. I think the heat and energy was affecting everyone.

I saw a woman shouting like a matador to passing cars. “Speed down! Speed down! You’re speeding up!” Then, almost as an aside to herself: “I’m old school. Hard school.”

Can you actually ‘speed down’? Can an old school be a hard school? These are the things keeping me awake tonight.

Like I said, it’s affecting everyone.

Another Train

one of those days,

as the light fades

and the sky becomes a charcoal smudge

and the train rolls on, to familiar territory

it’s the people you share the journey with

the quiet ones; the rowdy ones,

like that guy staring out of the window, lost in thought,

those girls giggling over a censored photo

held close to the chest like a card hand,

we will spill from the carriage and disperse,

like on the wind,

where will the gusts take them all, I wonder?

Shoplifters (Allegedly) Of The World Unite

Dialogue On A Train or Shoplifters Of The World Unite

It was as the train pulled into the station that I became aware of them. As I approached the end of the platform a male voice, nasal and northern, called out, “Hey, mate, does this train go Rochdale?”

The train was destined for Leeds, but it did indeed call at Rochdale, a few stops down the line. The lad that was asking looked like he was in his early twenties, thin, hooded and probably on something. A girl sat hunched against him, head on his shoulder, clutching a drawstring bag as she gazed blankly at me.

I nodded in reply to his question and he clicked his fingers. “Buzzin‘!”

I got onto the train, taking a seat and a book from my shoulder bag with an optimistic intention to read throughout my journey. The young couple took the seat in front of me. Or rather, she did, he remained stood in the aisle as she started to ferret around in the bag. He leant over to see the contents she spread across the table, pulling some of them towards him.

“Let’s divvy it up, babe,” he suggested.

Can I take some of those ankle socks with me?” she asked.

Here,” he said, no doubt divvying up the socks. I was wondering why they’d be sharing ankle socks. I couldn’t picture him wearing any.

Here’s me Gucci baby,” she said. “The box is well nice innit? Got me fake tan. You can put that on for me later.”

A woman carrying hand luggage approached the lad from behind. Suddenly aware of her presence he spun around. “Oh soz darlin‘” he moved out of her way, as the itemised list from his beau kept coming:

Here” she said, “you take the Ann Summers.”

Jesus.

And don’t forget your fags. What time do we leave?” she asked, looking through the window as though only just aware we were still in the station.

What’s it fuckin’ matter?” he replied. “We’ll get there. I’m gonna have a smoke. Stop drinkin‘.”

I wondered if he meant that when he got to Rochdale he was going to have a smoke and stop drinking. Or was he covertly drinking now? (Yes, by now I’d given up trying to read as this dialogue went on in front of me.)  But then he hopped through the open door onto the platform, turning his back against the breeze as he lit a cigarette. His life-changing rejection of alcohol was perhaps a spontaneous add on, past-present-future somehow morphing into one continuous muddle of conversation.

In his absence the girl went quiet, sighing deeply. I considered my book again. Would it be worth starting a chapter? I glanced up at the time on the electronic notice board on the platform just as 14.47 changed to 14.48-the time of our departure.

The lad, cutting it fine, flicked the cigarette away and jumped back on the train, the doors closing behind him. He entered the carriage just as the train began to move. “Babe-wake up! We’re goin’ to Rochdale!”

Off we moved into hell.