Five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet

human-league

Christmas 1981
From Being Boiled to this, eh? ‘This’ is pop. ‘That’ was where industrial Sheffield met Akron Ohio at the Electric Ballroom a few years ago and it was great. But it was dark and it was edgy, loud, harsh and difficult. It was all about Pere Ubu, Cabaret Voltaire, Devo and Throbbing Gristle; and they were the more accessible ones. This was where the raincoats met The Raincoats and a few of our little gang would watch the likes of Delta 5. It was a night out where we’d have a few drinks and catch a few bands everywhere from The Marquee to The Greyhound. It was a laddish scene. The girls like soul and pop and – of course – where the girls go you will find the boys. But there has always been a gang of boys that have been interested in the leftfield side of music. They take it seriously – very seriously. However it looks like this Sheffield kid has discovered pop. Bloody good pop, mind but it’s still pop and of course there are girls there. Girls that look like they stepped out of a Roxy night in the north of England in 1976. Gorgeous northern girls, Coronation Street-type girls. Modern day Elsie Tanners beside Phil Oakey and his fringe. Football boy cut gone wrong. But it’s a tune and it’s going to be number one at Christmas and this appears to matter to some people.
It’s a pleasant ditty. It’s pop – but it’s a joy and ends the year at number one and it rocks the works Christmas do. Of course when it was all dark and edgy, loud, harsh and difficult Phil had always wanted to be a star, always thought he’d be number one. As he told the NME this week, ‘I thought Being Boiled would be number one.
‘We knew we we’re going to be a top group two years ago.’
It took two years and the addition of two gorgeous girls but they’ve now made it and you’d have to have a very cold heart to deny Phil Oakey his success. Merry Christmas Human League…
Before I go home for the festivities I need to say goodbye, Merry Chrimbo and all that to Rupinder. As I go in there’s a bloke in the shop buying some dirty magazines. Rupinder smiles at me and this embarrasses the poor bloke. Then she lays them out and taps in the prices and asks him, ‘Is that all you want?’
He shuffles out of the shop, to go home and probably hand-shuffle away. But hey, good luck to him. It has to be said that as I haven’t purchased one of the top-shelf numbers for some time I have forgot what it was like to part with the money. I mean there is/there has to be an etiquette to buying a dirty magazine. Firstly you don’t go to your local newsagent that you use every morning.
‘Good morning George your Mirror as usual?’
‘Yes Bob and I’ll have a Fat, Fit and Forty magazine as well please.’
You know what newsagents are like before you know it the word will have reached the local Women’s Institute and kids will be dragged indoors as you walk by. That said and done a mate of mine (honest) used to order Knave every month. Word had it he had three years issues in pristine condition, or as pristine condition that these can be, when he gave up his little hobby.
Secondly you don’t have it delivered. Primarily because it won’t get passed the dirty little git that delivers the papers and if by any chance it does the thing will probably be halfway in and halfway out your letter box when you arrive home. Then again looking at some of the oiks that deliver papers it will probably go to number 22 rather than 42 causing the little old lady to have palpitations on first sight of Readers’ Wives. No for me if you’re going to buy one the best thing to do is: Leave your manor. Do not enter into any of this, ‘It’s for my mate’ type of business. Simply procure the right change and leave swiftly. If you feel you have to say something then, ‘Did you know the lady from number 73’s in here this month’ should suffice. Don’t feel you have to buy something else. Buying The Guardian as well will not impress the Rupinder behind the counter. She knows exactly what you are – a dirty old man! And don’t buy one when you are drunk. Who knows what you might end up with?
I tell Rupinder this and she laughs out loud and I ask her if she ever reads them when her mum and dad are out and she tells me yes and smiles. Smiles that lovely fucking smile. That lovely, lovely fucking smile.
‘You know what Rupinder when we were kids we used to love chancing upon a dirty mag.
‘They were prized possessions.’
Back then Mayfair was our favourite. Looking at the photos and reading the dirty stories in the Quest section in the magazine. We spent many an hour around our mates’ houses holding the magazines up at all angles trying to get a better view of some of the girls’ ‘inner thoughts’. They were quite treasured items up in Orrell where I grew up. If you were lucky one of the lads’ dads would have some copies or failing that we would nick them from one of the local newsagents. Our favourite was ‘Mr Sif’s’ opposite Orrell Ressies. Why the owner, Brian Marsden, was nicknamed Mr Sif I’ll never know but he did have quite a collection of dirty magazines. And even better there was no top shelf. He simply had them on a shelf in front of the confectioneries. One of our mob perfected the art – when collecting his mum’s glossy magazines – of planting them down on top of the dirty mags and then lifting them up including one said dirty magazine.
Yes we spent many an hour trawling through them. In fact as the old joke goes, ‘It was many years before we found out women didn’t have staples through their stomachs’.
Rupinder laughs out loud and throws me twenty Consulate.
‘Here on the house, mate.’
‘Ah cheers honey.’
‘Think about me Rich.’
‘Always do, Rupinder. I always do.’
‘Hey are you going home for Christmas?’
‘Yeah sorry mate that’s why I came over to wish you all the best but all that pornography got in the way.’
‘Well give me a kiss you daft northern fool.’
And I do – and she does – and it’s lovely and its Christmas and I’ll sleep well tonight…

***
Our Alan’s home from Portsmouth, which makes mum’s Christmas. It’s good to see the lad and we make our way to The Rose and Crown for a few scoops. Through the snow and ice – that makes even this greyest of northern towns look lovely. The pub is bustling with familiar faces. But then again it’s Christmas and all our old school friends are here. Home for Christmas: Home to see their families and friends. All us bright young things – that have left this most northern of towns – with our accents changing as we fall in love and forge our careers. All dressed differently. The old soulboys in their Saturday best, the punks and heavy rock lads still looking like they should be smoking fags in the sixth form common room. All of us getting drunk on ‘large ones’ from the top shelf. Whisky at Christmas – a treat from when we were younger still warms my inners more than the roaring fire that we sit beside. Talking football and Springsteen with Pete. Like we always did, like we always will. Well until the girls arrive and the conversation changes to jobs, restaurants, films and life away from home. I caught the train home with Wendy a few days ago and I’ve heard her recent tales but she tells them to me again and I listen again. Her loves, life and how she’s fucking it all up. She isn’t, of course but you’ll never change her and you’d never want to. Her beauty hides an awful lot and even now I feel I have to look after her like I always have. Like I always will. Because when we are together it’s always me this older, wiser boy. Sharp as a knife, a font of knowledge, fashionable and fantastic – or that’s what I think – and she is always my little girl. Always vulnerable and tender. Even now as I look at her nestle her Pernod and lemonade. With her long blonde hair and her eyes of blue – as Mr Bowie sang especially for her – laughing and joking, wrapped up in her expensive Jaeger coat and scarf. She’s talking about getting married to her latest fella but while I’m around I’ll still look after her.
Last orders seem to have been put aside and we all get merrily drunk. Al, needless to say, is arguing about politics, war and military matters with anybody that is interested and/or drunk enough not to realise – only emerging from his debating when the singing begins.
All the stuff from school. Maggie May by Rod, Stairway to Heaven and of course… Bruce before we exchange hugs and kisses, offer season’s greetings all round. Wendy takes my hand and along with Al we go back to mum and dads. Al crashes up stairs while Wendy and me talk to mum as we eat cheese and crackers. Drunken talk, no idea what we’re on about while dad throws us some blankets and Wendy snuggles up on the couch underneath them. Just her face peeking out from under the covers. Her beautiful face and those eyes of blue. I turn off the light and go to bed.
Christmas in Wigan under a blanket of snow. The football is off because of the weather which means three days of arguing and drinking with Al before we both say our goodbyes and get our trains to our new homes. Me to London. Al to who knows where…

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