I’m a conversational vampire.
I absorb snippets of conversations from total strangers that later find a home in the mouths of fictional characters or the middle of a City Jackdaw post.
It’s not intentional. It’s not as if I’m a professional eavesdropper or anything. It’s just that I seem to pick things up when out and about that stay with me. The people out there are just great.
‘This train is the Northern service to Leeds.’ That was the announcement that kicked off the latest episode.
Then, despite the next statement stating that the next stop would be New Pudsey, one half of the young couple sat facing each other at the table opposite mine, on the other side of the aisle, jumped into life.
“Shit we’re in Leeds! Is this Leeds?” she asked in alarm. Betraying zero trust in her male companion, she turned wildly to catch my eye.
I shook my head. “This is Bradford.”
“Well, where are they goin’?” she asked the lad, now dismissing me as I’d served my purpose. She was referring to a group of girls that had just left the train and were walking across the platform outside of her window.
“On holiday?” he replied, sounding bored.
“On holiday? Dressed like that? They look like they’re goin’ to a festival!”
It was obvious that that was where these two were going. The Leeds and Reading festival was about to start, and she was sporting the festival look. Doc Martins with stockings, topped with a garish, tie-dyed shirt and silver-sequinned wings stuck to her forehead. Her boyfriend (I presumed) had similar artwork studded above his eyebrows.
“Who would actually holiday in Bradford anyway?” she continued. “No – they’re dressed for a festival.”
If that was the case then those girls had exited at the wrong station, despite this carriage being crowded with other young . . . what? Was there a term for these kids?
I googled what do you call a person who attends a festival?
Answer: one who attends a festival.
I tried to get on with my book but now I couldn’t help feeding. Like I said, I’m a conversational vampire.
“I’ve read they’re gonna have stalls set up where you can have your Covid jab while you’re there,” she went on. “Are you gonna have it?”
He shrugged, still looking disinterested. I began to suspect he was hungover.
“I don’t know either. I mean, I get it if you’re old and that. If you’re a certain age, say over forty, it’s a risk. But we’re young. Nearly everyone at the festival’s young so what’s the point? And you know that it can make your kids disabled? And it alters your DNA. Apparently.”
Old – over forty? And that last bit, like a disclaimer: Apparently.
I realised I was shaking my head and tried to immerse myself in my book once again, re-reading the same lines in an attempt to drown out this endless soliloquy. I slowly began to build up a wall of resistance and finished my chapter by the time we rolled into Leeds station.
I left the train and that young couple somewhere behind me to join other commuters on a busy escalator. We rose up to a walkway which took us high over the railway lines to then get another escalator which took us down to the ticket gates.
Those should-have-been unremarkable seconds were enough to feed again. It was a male voice, immediately behind me.
“Social media has given people too many mental issues, man. There’s men dressing up as women, women dressing up as men, aliens dressing up as children. Everyone’s lost their identity. They don’t know who they are.”
Well, of course I was curious. Who would be pursuing that line of reasoning, most of which I could go along with? Except . . . aliens?
Turning around would be too obvious, so instead, after reaching the end of the escalator, I took a few steps and then hung to the side on the pretence that I was getting my e-ticket up on my phone. I had a quick glance as they passed. These weren’t two young naive festival goers, they were a couple of professional looking men around my age.
Totally not what I was expecting. It just goes to show that you can never predict the type of thing that goes on in a person’s head.
As often happens when in a transitory place, I wondered where these two were heading, and more beguilingly where their conversation would lead too. But I had to let them go, I had my own destination to reach. And anyway, by now I was fully sated.
With ABBA’s return, I though it an ideal time to post this poem that was included in my first collection, Heading North, published by Nordland Publishing.
I’d written it whilst sat up one late Autumn night, listening to an early Agnetha Fältskog song, composed in her native tongue when she was just sixteen. A downpour occurring just beyond the limits of that darkened room contributed to the general mood: she was singing of a doomed love affair; I was thinking of other times.
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.
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.
“Autumn is my season, dear. It is, after all the season of the soul”
Virginia Woolf ~ Letter to Violet Dickinson ~ 1907
(Virginia Woolf working; photo taken by Lady Ottoline Morrell in 1926. (National Portrait Gallery))
While we were sat around talking heatwaves, Autumn came tiptoeing in.
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.
Well it had to happen sometime, didn’t it? I mean I must have been on Facebook, what? Ten years maybe?
I woke up this morning to discover I’d been slung into Facebook jail for twenty-four hours without parole, unable to post or comment or like anything.
Why? I was informed that it was for a comment in reply to a friend’s joke post making a request.
I can’t even remember which friend it was now, nor exactly what his/her post was, but it was done with humour and went something like: ‘Has anyone got any (something)? Asking for a friend’.
So I’d commented ‘Has anyone got any crack cocaine? Asking for my Nanna’.
It seemed that the Facebook Police really thought that I was trying to procure some crack cocaine for my Nanna. I was given the right to appeal and so I did – under their criteria that Facebook didn’t understand the context of my comment. There was no place that I could add that, not only was I joking, my Nanna had been dead for 31 years. And no, it wasn’t by overdose.
I failed my appeal in five minutes flat. I wish that our justice system was that fast.
They also cited a previous comment of mine from back in January. It was in a Jack the Ripper group. I’m in some groups you wouldn’t believe. My wife Jen says “You know, on paper, you sound a right boring bastard.” 😂
Anyway, this was a Ripper group, and a researcher was trying to access records that had been denied him on the grounds of the Official Secrets Act. So all I’d commented was: ‘They’d let you have them but then they’d have to kill you and hide the body. That’s how Jack the Ripper started out’.
It now appeared that the Facebook Police believed that I was 1, trying to score some crack cocaine and 2, inciting a murder.
Not only do they not have a sense of humour, I don’t think I’ll ever be free again.
I wonder now why some of my earlier posts haven’t been flagged. Like the Jenisms my wife comes out with. I posted one once when she had a heavy cold, and wanted me to get some menthol crystals to help with her breathing, but instead asked “Will you go over to the chemist and get me some crystal meths.” Up here on Langley there very well could be chemists that sell that kind of thing.
But anyway, for future reference, I’ve now learnt that the Facebook Police allow crystal meths but not crack cocaine. Life’s a learning curve.
Free the Manchester One.
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.