Crewe (5/6/17)

The weekend started with the scent of flowers in St. Ann’s Square, Manchester.  People are right to say you can smell it from Deansgate – the scent, like the depth of emotion, is strong.  The floral tribute is amazing; families wept amid the respectful hush, and I couldn’t help shedding a tear as I read the messages of condolence, some in childish hand, penned by kids no older than many of the victims.

I’m saying goodbye to Media City now, with its beautiful architecture and scenic waters.  I love the place and I’ve loved being here.  Many of the media types say it’s soulless.  It’s the people who give a place its soul, and maybe if they weren’t so dull as fucking ditch-water they might light the place up a bit.

After a lovely final night I packed up The Ottermobile, disposed responsibly of my shitbag (and other refuse) and headed for Crewe.  Seems a strange choice of destination perhaps, but it’s important for the novel I’m writing, and I also wanted to see my brothers and more of my real friends.  I’d been granted permission to camp at The Sydney Arms for a couple of nights but I got a call from my old mate Ash, inviting me to a barbecue round at his.  More on this later, but anyway I ended up parking in his drive and hooking up to his electric.  He’ll dread his next bill.

Weird place, Crewe.  In some ways I owe it, because I lived there for years (most of them striving to get out) raised a family and served an apprenticeship at Crewe Works (British Rail Engineering Ltd).  In those days if you left school with fuck-all, as I did, the doors of the place opened and you found yourself a job.  First wage, £36.02p in a little envelope, ten quid to mum for housekeeping and the rest to blow at The Cheshire Cat or Roosters in Nantwich.  This was where I’d try to get a shag and invariably failed, leaving me to traipse home alone in my Japanese Kimono.  I called myself a New Romantic but others called me a prick.

Which reminds me; when I came back from St. Ann’s Square the other day I bumped into a friend, who was shocked to see me dressed in combats and a rucksack.  The conversation went something like this:

HIM “You went to town dressed like that?

ME “Yea, so?”

HIM “Bit risky mate.”

ME “Why, because I look like a terrorist?”

HIM “No, because you look like a knob.”

Not a real friend, this, one of the contortionists from ITV.  But I digress.  Crewe.  Yea, I do owe it because I made very many real friends, Ash being one of them.  We spent an enjoyable afternoon with his author wife Nikki Ashton (who gave me a signed copy of one of her works) and her mum and Ash’s mum.  The wrong side of 60 but lively and switched-on as teens and great sense of humour.  Conversation ranged from the latest soap plotlines, to the latest atrocity on London Bridge, and the latest meaning of the word “back-door”.

I haven’t been to a barbecue in years, and I welcomed the protein and carbs on offer – some of it served with plastic because Ash left a plate on the hot coals.  I also relished the many G&Ts and my hosts’ remarkable willingness to fetch the bottle often and leave it pouring a long time.  No surprise then that Ash and I were arseholed by the time we ventured into town to meet our old muckers Faz, Ralph, Sav and Gary.

It was great to catch up – hadn’t seen some of these lads in years, but I couldn’t help reflecting on how lifeless is Crewe.  Most of the shops have been dug up and plonked in a retail park some way from the centre of town (on the old site where the Crewe Kings Speedway team raced) and most of the pubs have shut.  I’m no fan of Weatherspoon’s, but this now appears to be the hub of whatever life the town limply offers.  Crewe Works used to employ about 7000 people but now barely exists – it’s almost like the place’s life-support machine has been unplugged and it’s gasping now for breath.  But still, we had a good few laughs.

Walking back to Ash’s was a long and winding road – two steps forward and sometimes three back – and I actually fell over.  To paraphrase Oscar Wilde I found myself lying in the gutter and seeing stars.  Luckily Nikki was still up and she could bathe my bloody hands.

Monday was cancelled, partly because it was pissing down, partly because my head was banging.  I noticed my hands were cut, my knees were grazed and there was a gash, inexplicably, on my forearm.  I’d planned to go into town and retrace some steps and see how it’s changed, but will leave it till tomorrow.  Nikki kindly checked on me this morning, to see if I was still breathing, and to invite me in for tea.  I accepted, and asked to stay another night.  I appreciate their kindness and promised I’d be gone tomorrow (as did The Lady in The Van).  But I will.  Next stop will be Nantwich, but I won’t be dressed in a kimono and I won’t be looking for a shag.  Well, not necessarily.

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