Finally got round to writing up my recent excursion to Leeds. Turned into a bit of an epic post, but I got locked into the trip of trying to remember all the pertinent details and well, thatâ€™s just how it came out:
A slow, dark few hours, spent in a room filled with the eerie glow of a powerpoint presentation, flickering off angry faces. I waved my hands around a lot as I was talking, but they didnâ€™t seem to press the right buttons, and I was glad when 15:00 rolled round and they made off, stealing the last of the sandwiches on the way out.
Out onto the cold streets of Leeds, awash with Christmas shoppers, and I drew furtively on a cigarette, killing a couple of hours waiting for Steedo. The Big Issue man sold me some news to read and the best plan seemed to be to head to a coffee house, order a tall beverage of some kind and rest my smart-shoed feet, which were complaining as ever, bereft of their usual favoured trainers.
Unfortunately I was headed off on the way, while picking my way through a shopping mall by a sharp suited Italian guy. Who managed to block my path sufficiently, to convince my time-killing self to stop. â€œDid I have a girlfriendâ€, he enquired. I replied in the negative. â€œBut you have a sister and a mother, eh?â€, he asserted, and who was I to argue? Grabbing up my hand, before I could protest he began frantically buffing my right little finger with a block which appeared to be wrapped in glass paper. Extremely bemused by this state of affairs, but too embarrassed to move, like a deer in the headlights, I stood there for the ten seconds it took for him to finish his work.
â€œNow look, at your fingerâ€, he quipped, exulted by the transformation revealed before him. I gazed down to see that the nail was smooth and shiny beyond belief, capable of reflecting light like a tiny mirror. Really, much more shiny than any man would want. Two weeks on and Iâ€™m looking down as I type this and itâ€™s still shiny. Still gleaming like an errant turd on my otherwise masculine hand. I quickly extricated myself from the rest of his sales patter and walked off in semi-amused disgust.
Steedo tracked me down in a small cafÃ©. The type where you can get rashers of bacon and smoke contentedly in the fog. I had already irated the locals by talking away on my hands-free kit and when he appeared, I sensed it was time to beat a hasty retreat.
He was looking pretty chipper, square of jaw as usual, and we repaired quickly to the nearest bar for a cooling ale, to survey the lie of the land. State of playâ€™s caught up with, we picked up some nutritious munch, struggled back to his flat and ate. We had agreed to have a chilled night to conserve some energy for a house party in Manchester the next day, which promised to be taxing and potentially worthy of amusement. This was partially as a result of the fact that some of the Legal crew present were liable to be competing for uninterested ladies, others were seeing ex-girlfriends with incendiary tempers and the rest would be poking around looking for joke.
Still, itâ€™s important to at least have a quick pint on a Friday, and we were already two up on that, and fixated on more. Just a quiet stroll into town, eh and get a couple of cold beverages while gearing up for the weekend? Certainly a good idea, and I found myself out on the cold streets again, strolling townwards, Steedo telling me that a legendary 6th form teacher from our area was now a successful author, with tv options on the side. Good work inspirational, bad-teacher type fellow.
The pub we strolled into was relaxingly appointed, but full of mad head characters jostling at the bar. Aiming to beat a hasty retreat having acquired my pint, I was thwarted by a youthful degenerate who stumbled into me. My pint was jostled onto the both of us and as I reeled off muttering â€œwatch yourself mateâ€, but friendly mind, to avoid trouble, he further antagonised the situation by wiping his hand on the back of my jacket. I shook my head to him, and then retired to the saloon bar to perch pint on the sideboard and chill the scene out again. Steedo and I were discussing the possibilities of reforming a few members of our group to their best effect, but there were no clear solutions visible or particularly sought. The pints were going down easy and we were recalling recent successes and failures when we concluded that the best course of action was to duck into a nearby bar for a bit more noise.
Leeds was by now teeming with parties of drunkards, primarily single sex at this stage of the evening. This sounded like a dangerous tactic for the men, given that Steedo had explained to me earlier that he had recently been turned away from some clubs for being in a â€˜groupâ€™ when turning up with just one other pal. â€œNo groups tonight mateâ€, and that was it.
The place we found was resplendent with a fine line in traditional porcelain and an even more compelling line of women. This was definitely a place to camp down and seek refreshment. Which of course we did, occasionally mistakenly recognised as being there for some chapâ€™s birthday, and eyeing the leopard print dresses of the myriad of middle-aged women out on the town that night. The pints were going down easy. Perhaps too easy in fact, cos next thing we were across the road at a neighbouring, slightly more rock nuanced establishment, some fucker was knocking into me, and I was taking it into my head as he turned around to kick him in the back of his knee. Which I did, aiming toe at the fleshy bit and allowing leg to swing for full force..
Around about that time I had the eight pint revelation that this was by no means a sensible way to behave. I was not hard or dangerous, merely a drunken fool asking to get head kicked in. But by then it was too late. Kick had struck and I needed a plan b. The only one that came in mind in the nanosecond I knew I had before the brute turned round was to act like nothing had happened. Like it wasnâ€™t me, like I didnâ€™t know about any kick and certainly wasnâ€™t the type to consider such actions myself.
Performing a swift 90 degree turn I affected a look of immediate nonchalance, lifting my half-drained pint for a sip to add to the image of innocence. Out of the corner of my eye I could see my victim wheel round, glimpse furiously at the number of semi-attractive women in his immediate vicinity, before his eyes moved blankly through the space where I was carrying out my invisibility act, then moved on, and he walked off. I was both bemused and delighted by this turn of events and fortunately, Steedo had just got back from the bar, so I told him all about it that night. Maybe that was what goaded him into trying his luck sometime later with a veritable fitty. Perhaps not.
I passed out that night listening to the new Beatles album (a strange phrase to write) after throwing up over the balcony. A beautiful pattern as it flew down and spattered in a radius defined by the force and density of the projectile. Exquisite and bringing back memories of the time Bambatini was up for the trip and he managed to sicken me so much talking his own line of degraded filth that my pizza sat a little precariously in my stomach to stay there. Happy days.
The next day was defined by an inevitable hangover and an inevitable coffee to kill it, but first Steedo was encountering a strange Ging kid outside of the gym that is his spiritual home.
â€œMister, mister. If you are going to see a film. I can certainly recommend Jackass 2. I just watched it and I couldnâ€™t stop laughing. And Jackass 3 is out on New Year and you know whoâ€™s going to be there?â€
He had an important message to communicate, but Steedo only had so long to listen. We needed a couple of hours of sitting, to reform mind and body ready for a trip to Manchester. A short bop over the Pennines armed with a crate of beer and a couple of loose cans (Steedo generously donating one of his cans to the floor in preference to drinking it). We were off to visit his old law firm pal, who had migrated to Manchester in search of new opportunities to not work too hard and suggested a gathering of legal types (and other associated individuals) in the name of amusement.
The plot in this case was thickened by the presence of two other individuals. 1) A lady of strange reputation, fair of face and flirtatious of nature. 2) A man known to have pursued her furiously through email, and personal encounter, able to deliver such devastatingly effect lines as (to a thirty something lady): â€œLets be honest love, youâ€™re the wrong side of 30, youâ€™re past your best, you may as well just shag me.â€ Needless to say the future looked bleak for candidate 2), but the party promised the attendance of both protagonists and thus offered the chance to witness its final resolution.
As it happens things panned out a little differently. On turning up to the party, I plunged into the wine and punch and began talking websites, cityscapes and music with a few characters, notably picking up on the works of a filmmaker (who lived there), a couple of artists, and two reprobates from Manchester proper, who can only be described as a mix between Frank from Shameless and Sean Ryder. Still, while their spinal cords might have been bent out of shape, causing them to affect a constant Gallagher bop, they knew their sequencing and I learnt a fair bit. Chars chaps.
Still, that was sideshow stuff really, and while I was scoping women, talking about the beauty of sitting on your arse drawing for a living all day and trying to convince one (proof of my drunkenness as the evening wore on) that the human condition and the principle of natural selection did not preclude the concepts of human selflessness and empathy (shit, needless to say, I did not get laid that weekend), other stuff was going on.
It circled around the dude throwing the party. He was clearly in a state of animal vodka punch laden disarray from the first moment and kept staring up at the ceiling when questions from others were too much for him. Amazingly, this state of blank aplomb made him irresistible to crazies and as a result he and candidate 1) kept disappearing for increasingly embarrassing amounts of time, before returning eventually, scarf on him more dishevelled, and look on face more crazed on her. This unsurprisingly caused more and more consternation amongst candidate 2) who to his credit reserved most of his inner fury to a harsh knuckle rapped against his forehead as he leaned against the front-room window pane and a quickly drained cigarette near constantly at his side. Steedo commented that if it was him, the culprit would have found himself thrown out of the window, but fortunately it wasnâ€™t and he could keep his fists unclenched, adding to the disarray with his own brand of wisdom:
â€œWhy donâ€™t you piss on his bed?â€ he intoned to candidate 2) who mistook this course of action as the path of the righteous and promptly did so. Some other thoughtful attendee considered the situation through sculpture, scrawling out a message in toothpaste on the wall.
It was all exciting stuff and I felt my cohesion begin to slide as I mused on a culture of intense incest (literally, everyone seems to know everyone in this legal game). Candidate 2) was from a company lovingly known as the 1970s law firm, due to the fact that pinstripe suits are strongly encouraged, as is smoking at your desk and banging your secretary. It sounded a wonderful place to work, but clearly you could get tired of secretaries and the nightâ€™s events represented some kind of social implosion for a few of those involved.
Round about that time, Steedo took it into his head to acquire the affections of a plump young lady, which I took as a sure sign that a) he was off his face and b) that I should find a place to shelter from the world. Drawing myself up into a space carved out of the wall of the lounge, slightly higher up (always good to acquire the best defensive ground), I passed out, awaking desperate for a piss.
The next day, was accompanied by a feeling of extreme rinseout. The trip back across the pennines revealed a series of villages, blessed by scenes of natural beauty, but blighted by constant steep angles (the residents must have rams-legs in the extreme) and rural exclusion. It was a good time to chat things over with Steedo, himself in the process of post-night analysis, about the state of play of our respective heads.
Steedo was plummeting into chemical caused depression, while I found I was pretty jubilant. Suddenly everything I had been worried about for the last few months seemed inconsequential and it seemed like everything might just fall the right way, if I could maintain the irreverent appetite for adventure I had seized on this trip. There was much to do and many perils, pitfalls and plumbaits to sidestep, but it was all possible. Best of all, most of it was amusing.
Only the train journey back South still to go, and I made the train comfortably, took temporary solace in the fact that I was in silent coach B, only to have my illusions of hungover snoozing shattered. Babies ahead and to the right of me, letting off screeches like catherine wheels and mothers ignoring them like they were cranked down on valium. My fists clenched, a feverish sweat broke out on my unshaven face. I caught the eye of one of the babies (more of a two year old and surely the demented little bastard should have learned to speak by now) and locked in with the death stare. His little brow furrowed. Consciousness of danger dawned on his walnut brain and he quietened down enough for me to drop into an uneasy sleep.