A game for us to play

Sorry it’s late. A Friday phew rather than a Wednesday whoo. Oh well. Here’s Steve Harley and the Cockney Rebel with Make Me Smile

This song just instantly takes me back to those days in the Royal – a now-defunct pub in Bury – where the landlord seemed to take a rather carefree view of who he served and allowed hordes of us to congregate on a Friday and Saturday night. At first, the jukebox was probably very limited and there were a few classics that seemed to play on a loop – mostly Dan Maclean’s Miss American Pie (one I realised has never been a Much Love Monday song, or a Wednesday Whoo… but is so full of nostalgia for me that it makes me sixteen all over again)

Funny really how things come together. My friend from school was here for a brief stopover at the weekend. He and I are a pair of unlikely gossips and I have absolutely no idea why we connected as we did, but I did spend hours on the phone to him every night after school analysing the day’s events. He is currently on an epic motorbike journey from England to as far as he can get into Africa with a friend of his. I say motorbike ride and what I mean is they bought two ex-pizza-delivery motorbikes and that is a very different thing than biking down through Europe on 1400cc hogs.  A maximum speed of about 60mph makes them go slow on back roads and really enjoy the ride. They are half-camping, half-hotelling. That’s what happens when you get to our age. Camping seems like a great idea, but then all the creature comforts of beds and showers, insect-free rooms and air conditioning take over. They have camped a couple of nights along the way and I am kind of travelling by proxy, enjoying the ride they are taking even though I can’t go with them.

Anyway, my friend was describing me back in school to his road-trip partner and all he seems to remember from our school days is me hanging out in the Royal, along with all of my metal-head friends. I’m sure there was more to it than that. Not many people from my school ever went to the Royal – it seemed to collect people from far and wide. At first, and way before it became the kind of pub that would scare most parents, it was just a faded old dive off the main drag, with old guys sitting here and there at knackered old formica bar tables on knackered old tapestry bar seats.

The first time I went in was with a friend, Angela. We were on the lookout for a particular crush of mine from school. He was playing pool with a few guys who I would come to know and love very, very dearly – Henny and Danny Haworth among others. At that time, the Royal was still an odd mix of people who’d not found better places to go yet. As time went on, it became the central hangout for every underage teenager nursing their Newcastle Brown, listening to AC/DC and Deep Purple. By 1989, the jukebox had grown up from Steve Harley and the Royal started attracting people from the much more hardcore Two Tubs pub. We would spend the evening making our way from one to the other and by and large, it was relatively tame. I loved those evenings. Sometimes we would make our way down into Manchester to Jilly’s or The Banshee, two nightclubs that catered to our less usual musical tastes. Around about 1990, Jilly’s underwent a metamorphosis, taking over the upstairs venue as well, and emerged as a state-of-the-art club with three floors and no sticky carpets. I liked it there, but it was entirely too new and clean and lacking in that great Manchester 80s dirt and filth.

I did find this great article in the Manchester Evening News about all the ‘great’ venues in and around the Manchester area. Jilly’s gets a mention, but I was equally surprised to find Bury’s own Roxy nightclub on there. That place was like our nemesis, filled with clean people and cheesy music. We filed past it to walk up to Monty’s, a club in an old warehouse that was a poor man’s Jilly’s, but we loved very much indeed. I look at the Manchester Evening News list, at the Conti and the Haçienda and the Ritz – I obviously spent more time clubbing than I remember! Some were just cheesy legends even back in the 80s, but it just brought me back this fabulous wave of Manchester nostalgia that made me miss the tail-end of Manchester’s seedy, sticky past, before it got all new and shiny in the 90s.

Next week is the Easter break here in Charente and I’m very glad of it. I have a gazillion things to catch up on, not least cleaning and gardening, though I am very glad to have had the assistance of two garden elves this week who have helped bring my garden a bit under control. I also have a handsome refuge doggie, Amigo, who is taking a bit of settling. Despite being the cream of the refuge dogs, never batting an eyelid when other dogs came past him, he took an instant dislike to Heston and grumbles every time Heston moves. Heston is very well behaved, but occasionally the grumbling has escalated into shouting and fur fights – though Amigo comes off worse. He should know better. Heston is younger, bigger, stronger and it’s his home – but Amigo developed a worrisome limp on Wednesday, a broken leg kind of limp. Miraculously, it disappeared. I took him to the vet to have a health check and to book him in for his nuts off and I asked the vet to check his leg. There is the tiniest of scratches.

“I suspect his pride was very wounded. He is a man you know.” The vet said. So beside the usual mayhem, I have a needy baby who develops a sympathy limp and has turned into a grumpy old man. Honestly, it’s like I’ve taken him away from his 200 best mates and brought him to the seventh circle of Hell. It’s a shame. He is a sweet, sweet dog who knows all kinds of commands; he has obviously been a treasured pet. Poor Amigo. Worse still, he’s about to lose his crown jewels and realise that he must accept third place in the ranks.

And who is number 1?

Why Tilly of course. 12kg of blonde cute American Cocker. She rules the roost. Unfortunately, she is not big enough to slap both man-babies back into place and sort them out. Looks like I have some fun ahead!

Anyway, enjoy your Good Friday, wherever you are. The weather here is set to be cold and miserable. What fun. I have a couple of days off and I’m greeted by rain and grumbly dogs. Oh well.

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