Keith has asked me to write some lifeless prose to go with his deathless photography of the Christmas Lunch Get-together. At the actual beginning of the day I was parked outside one of Liverpool's gay nightspots. Curtailing my professional loitering I sped homeward to get a few hours of kip. Thought I'd look in an A-Z for the location. Found a recent edition (for me) only nine years old and eventually discovered Clarence Street masquerading as a tiny number 15 in a corner of Albert Square (not Peter Square as Keith had said.) Taxi drivers are quite pedantic about exact addresses. I had already discounted one Clarence Street up Great Clowes Street from the plethora of Clarence Streets available thinking even Keith couldn't be that far out.
And so to bed, having checked the train times for services from Lime Street station to the two relevant Manchester stations. Reaching Lime Street would involve a journey into the city and, horror of horrors, it was too early to use my bus pass It would also mean a return journey from the city centre much later in the day when my sobriety might be compromised..
In bed I had an idea. Just up the road from me in the benighted suburb of Kirkdale is a little known railway edifice, Kirkdale Station. It has been down on its luck since 1921 when the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway was subsumed into the London and North Western Railway (aka "The Premier Line") but had clung on to a little of its former importance in that the determined traveller could reach Manchester after a lengthy and much interrupted journey through what was once South Lancashire on the remnant of the L and Y main line to Cottonopolis.
A scamper downstairs in my Pyjamas and a quick shufti at the Merseyrail (once dubbed Miseryrail in the Liverpool Echo but now unbelievably better) timetable elicited that the service still existed and with only one change in Kirkby (once famed as Newtown in Z Cars) and after innumerable stops I should arrive in Manchester Victoria such that a brisk stroll down Corporation and Cross Streets would bring me in good time to the very portal of Piccolino's where we were to meet.
I had about three hours sleep and was up before it was light. Wally thought I'd got dressed in the dark anyway. I shaved, breakfasted and packed a bag with diversions for the train: a book, two CDs of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, my film camera, my younger stepson having borrowed my digital camera and not returned it, and the day's Guardian. The ticket cost £14, about what ten litres of petrol and three hours of parking in the city centre would cost and gave the added advantage that I could DRINK and if slightly unsteady on my return the station was within easy staggering distance from my house.
I booked my ticket and almost went to wait on the wrong platform through force of habit. There are only two stations to Kirkby and soon I was shivering on a slightly icy platform discussing a broken window in the minimal waiting shelter with a lady of advanced years who had various Draconian remedies to suggest for disaffected youth, delivered in a quite cultured tone sprinkled with expletives.
The Manchester train arrived and we took our seats. Many years ago I had made this journey on an old-fashioned diesel multiple unit train and sat behind the driver with a clear view out of the front windows. Rabbits frolicked on the tracks, The countryside was picturesque and the time seemed to have been rewound about twenty years into the fifties. It was like an Watership Down. On this more modern train no view was allowed forward. The driver was secured in his cab like the pilot of Air Force One. I got on with my Sudoku and crossword. Lancashire folk began to board at every station. I had forgotten what a chatty, friendly, funny tribe I used to be part of and joined in with the general good feeling in the train. Louis and Ella remained undisturbed until our,by now very crowded, train arrived at Platform 12 (sadly now demoted to platform4) at Victoria Station The conversion of the lower numbered platforms into a Tram shed gave the station an unfinished air but the giant word "GENTLEMEN" above the toilet was a well remembered friend.
The short dash along Corporation Street degenerated into an open mouthed amble. Between the IRA and city planners most of my favourite quirky, decrepit and decidedly odd buildings had been swept away in the names of "the troubles" and "Progress". The result is stunning now but will it be so in forty years?
Arrival at Piccolino's produced another surprise. I was an hour early. The staff were willing to let me wait but I opted for a wander around central Manchester to revisit the city where I spent the happiest days of my life. (Don't tell the Scousers.) On my return to Albert Square I was just about to poke my nose into Der Deutsche Christmas Market but Ann Allen and Norma Hilton prevented me, probably realising what a mistake it would be for an incorrigible "Bah Humbugger."
I was soon surrounded by Nigel, Keith,Wally and Mike Russell who was sporting the sort of sporty flat cap Tories get photographed in during fact finding missions to The North. We were shown our table and seated ourselves according to our needs. Nigel placed himself at the door end of the table so when Gill Gill arrived she would see him first. Apart from the renewal of his crush, I think he was expecting her to be bringing a butchered and dressed pig carcase in her handbag.
Norma found herself a place by a space where she could stand when her hip played up. That put her at my end of the table, by definition "below the salt". Sanch Sager was unusually slow off the mark finding a seat and found himself next to me. He was not himself. On the train coming to the lunch someone had offered him their seat! God help the rest of us, he is among the fittest. Keith was consulting his list having not realised the Italians do not work that way . The service was pleasantly chaotic but everyone seemed to get what they ordered but not exactly when they felt they should have. We made small talk about how many pills we were taking and how our appetites had changed and ordered some wine. Sanch took care of this for us two and the resulting wine was excellent, so much nicer than the stuff I inadvertantly stole off Mike and Norma when I filled our glasses from their bottle.
Absent friends were mentioned ,Mike shocking most of us by telling us Vivienne Buckley had died and also (Phil?) Debenham who I cannot remember at all. Syd Jolley memories were aired and we menfolk envied his sexual magnetism. I've come to the conclusion that where sexual magnetism is concerned I am non ferrous or something and some of us shared stories of our failures in "The Great Game".
Denise Pennington arrived and, I think, took the empty chair Nigel had been staring at disconsolately when he wasn't darting glances at the door.At last Gill DID arrive and ended up sitting with the Hoi Polloi at my end. She is the same friendly interested and enthusiastic chatterbox and showed her kindly side by giving Nigel some "Quality Time" on her way outside to indulge one of her minor vices. We talked about Anne Millward and her various careers as nurse, trapeze artiste fairground entertainer and Del Shannon fan. In an interview during one of her more exotic careers she had mused about how Minnie Moorhouse would react to the news that one of her "GAHLS" had become such a Bohemian. I can't remember who,(that WAS good wine Sanch) but someone knew that Minnie had heard and was tickled pink.
The clearest memory I had of JaniceTaylor, was how she nearly killed me with a cricket ball she was fielding for some "flannelled fool". I thought she may have agonised over the years about how she had almost denied the world a towering intellect (ME you fool!) but when I expressed my forgiveness she said "What cricket ball?"
We all thought Eddie Hardaker had been the star of the reunion, having arrived late he held court at the bar with a fund of stories. His description of a "challenging" school he had taught in will live with me always. Sanch agreed but I can't tell you what he said. Keith would never let me. In all the years I've known Sanch he hasn't said much but most of what he says is priceless.
I can't give you a flavour of the Posh end of the table, perhaps Keith* will remedy the situation with an insert of his own wisdom. I am deeply troubled that I never seem to spend much time with Ann Allen or Janet Smith. I'm not avoiding you on purpose and have had an idea. We should have a formal swap round at such gatherings,like speed dating so everyone can spend time with everyone else.
The Piccolini made it clear that our time was up and a lovely afternoon came to an end. Strange their Poppa never played the concertina for us. A pub visit was proposed but too many of us had commitments elsewhere. I reversed my journey to LIVERPOOL and arrived home in time for Eggheads and so back to bed. Yes, at half past six. I slept till eleven and went back to work. A great day and I've already expressed my thanks to Keith. He's looking for some ideas and volunteers to mark next year for the Class of 59. I think he wants practical doers not more garrulous dreamers like me.
Hey! My name's Waldron too!
Nice bouquet if not a little
Nigel traps at the station with a smooth line or two. Sorry Gill, he's very fickle. Got to admire his style, though.
Put her down, Barrel ,for heaven's sake.
No matter how many photos I take of Sager, he always looks gormless.
In the pub afterwards. Sanch demonstrates his shadow puppetry expertise along with sound effects......to a bemused Denise and Norma
'59 Christmas Lunch, 11th December 2009, Piccolino's, Manchester
*I positioned myself exactly in the middle of the table so that I could oversee the arrangements. Unfortunately it was between the twin towers of Colin on my left and Sanch on my right.
Sanch was holding forth on one side and Colin likewise on the other. As a result I belonged to neither section and was never able to get into the discussions of either end. Any attempt at a witty rejoinder was sneeringly snubbed. It was the same at the reunion.
There's a pattern beginning to emerge here................
On reading Vinnie's 'clearest memory' he had of me, (see above) I feel the need to, ahem, field a reply.
I think it's safe to assume that most people about to be taken out by a cricket ball only see perhaps the last third of the trajectory before issuing the mortal words 'B****y h**l where did that come fr...?'
What we have here, Ladies and Gentlemen, is someone who not only saw the whole trajectory but also observed it leaving the fragrant fingers of yours truly. The options must have been several:
Dive into the Cabbage Patch and hide under a dock leaf;
Hide behind KR, who was probably already in the Cabbage Patch;
Stick out a calloused mitt and put the ball out of harm's way.
What he seems to have done is stare (possibly open-mouthed) at the missile, hoping it would clock him, in order that nearly 50 years later the first words he could say to me were 'do you remember that cricket ball?'
Colin and Norma fighting over the remaining seat.....
'Your flies are undone'
"A double gin and a vodka chaser..."
Bloody hell Nigel, wait for the toast.......
Nigel meets his match at Arm Wrestling
Where's my dinner garcon?
Hey.......that's Ralph Coates !
Give him a slap Vinnie....
Nigel thought I fancied him at school...