Chapter Sixty Two: Heart Of The City

We left Carr Saunders at nine o’clock this morning, Fliss and Jenny up ahead, Flora and me trailing behind, a little sleepy in the summer breeze as we headed down Tottenham Court Road to Goodge Street tube station.  Fliss had her guitar case slung over her back, and her blonde hair trailed over it in soft waves, moving in the breeze.  She was wearing her blue and white checked dress, and looked very young and fresh.

  They were just shutting the station when we arrived.  Not many people were around, it seemed, and there were temporary signs propped up in the station itself: ‘No Service From This Station.’  Jenny sighed in slight irritation as we paused by the gates, unsure as to what to do.  “Well,” she said, slowly, “we’re only travelling to Tottenham Court Road on the Northern Line, let’s walk it, we can pick up a train there instead.”

  Tottenham Court Road was busy with the morning’s commuters, sharply dressed, but harassed.  As we walked past a mural painted on the wall of a café opposite Heals, I heard a woman grumble that a power failure the morning after the Olympic decision was “typical.”  Somehow, we ended up at Warren Street instead of Tottenham Court Road, having read the map wrong and walked in the wrong direction, it was there that we discovered that the whole network was out, due to a power surge, and that we’d have to get a bus if we wanted to get to Bethnal Green.  We hesitated outside the station as the crowds surged past us, pushing us back to the edge of the pavement.  We were travelling to Bethnal Green in order to lay down some recordings of Fliss’ songs, as Jenny knows someone there who has a home studio that we could borrow, so our journey was important, but not as crucial as that of those who were struggling to get to work.  I shiver to think of it now, but in the busy disruption this morning, my thoughts were simple and uncomplicated, so it was with this common sense that I said, “We don’t really know where we’re going, let’s walk down to Tottenham Court Road and see if the Central line’s likely to be back on soon, if we get a bus, we’ll get lost.”

  The others exchanged glances, then nodded in agreement, and we set off back the way we’d just come.  The wide pavements of Tottenham Court Road were still heaving with people as we walked, but everyone seemed to be walking briskly, with a sort of pent up aggression, the strain showed a little on their faces as they contemplated hours docked from pay, and as shoes unsuited to distance walking began to pinch and rub.  There was no new news when we reached Tottenham Court Road, and not knowing how long the network was likely to be down, we headed for Oxford Circus, in search of a souvenir shop that Fliss wanted to find that sold ‘Mind The Gap’ mugs and London tube map shirts.  She was intent on finding a pair of London tube map boxer shorts for Kylie to wear on stage.  It seems strange now to recall how quickly our minds switched from travel to shopping, how calm we were, how everything felt like a big, exciting, bright and vivid summer adventure, but it would be a lie to say I sensed a wrongness in the air at that point, because I didn’t.

  We stopped for a travel update at Oxford Circus and, as we waited, patiently and placidly, in the queue of commuters a dazed looking man in a suit, carrying a briefcase was overheard to say that he’d been on a train earlier where there’d been some kind of explosion, different lines and destinations were bandied around as people tried to find out how to reach previously simple destinations.  A man in a London Underground uniform listened to a voice on a receiver, interrupting another’s bus stop directions as the news came through that all the buses across London had just been withdrawn.  A surge of apprehension, dread, and sheer nervous adrenalin began to work its way through my body as I began to suspect that something bigger than a simple electrical fault had happened.

  As we walked back along Oxford Circus towards Tottenham Court Road, police cars and ambulances roared past us, sirens at full, jarring, blare, and when I looked up, I could see helicopters in the sky.  The commuters and tourists on Tottenham Court Road seemed dazed and weary then, still moving with purpose past the shops, along the crowded pavement.  Further along the road, I saw an unusually motionless crowd, so big that it was blocking the wide pavement and spilling out into the road.  As we drew closer, I heard Jem’s ‘They’ blaring out of some open shop doorway, and as we reached the crowd, we became a part of their uneasy stillness and silence.  They were gathered around a shop window, in which there was a television showing Sky News.  Unusually, the volume had been turned up, meaning that we could hear as well as see the headlines: ‘EXPLOSIONS IN CENTRAL LONDON’ against the footage of ambulances and stretchers outside underground stations.  And as we stood in the silent crowd, with sirens screaming past us, people walking round us, confirmation came through of an explosion on a bus.

  STOP

  Don’t try to think.

  Don’t process, don’t analyse.

  Just stand still and wait.

  Wait.

  Wait.

I could feel the sense of nervousness, of tiredness, climbing as I watched the images and personal testimonies as they rolled across the screen.  At last, my mind cleared a little, and I was able to view the footage rather more subjectively, not just as someone in central London, failing to match the terror on screen with the surreal calm around me, but as a Manchester girl, as someone with loved ones who wouldn’t have the advantage of what, I suppose, was the reaction at street level.  My first thought was of Fergus, hearing something in passing at work, and not knowing if I was safe.  My second, rapid, thought was of my mother turning on the television and seeing the same footage that I was seeing; Ambulances and stretchers, the mangled remains of a London bus, strangely calm survivors, with blood on their clothes and faces, relating things that they should never be asked to relate, debris and dazed faces…  I knew that Fliss was next to me, even though I hadn’t looked to check, and I found myself speaking in an odd, tight voice that didn’t feel as though it belonged to me, “I need to borrow your mobile.”

  She handed it to me in silence and, barely taking her eyes off the screen, gave me wordless instructions as to how to use it.  Fergus’ mobile was switched to ansaphone, so I left a brief message, telling him we were all fine and not to worry, I’d phone him later.  Thomas answered when I phoned home, and I exhaled in relief as I heard his voice, “Maggie? To what do I owe the pleasure?” his voice was jocular and slightly amused.

  My hands had been shaking ever since I had taken Fliss’ mobile from her, I realised, but there was no time to worry about that now “Is my mum around?” I asked; a slight tremor in my voice as I tried to stay calm.

  “She’s still in bed, but she’s awake, if you want me to fetch her…” he trailed off as though ready to put the receiver down and go into the bedroom to fetch her.

  “No,” I said, quickly, “I need to tell you, then you can tell her… There’s been some explosions in London, but I’m O.K, we’re all O.K.  It looks worse on T.V, I think, so, try to stop her from watching the news today, if you can.”

  “I’ll do my best,” he promised, and I sensed that the tone had changed now: he knew it was serious.  There was an awkward pause, “Are you sure you’re O.K?”

  A siren wailed in my ear, bringing me back to the immediate situation as I replied, “Yes, I’m fine… I have to go.” The amount of police cars, police vans, ambulances and helicopters had increased as I wrapped up the call and handed the phone back to Fliss.  A man pushing a woman in a wheelchair was trying to fight his way through the crowd, and as we stepped aside, reluctantly, to let them through, I knew that we had heard and seen everything on the screen that could be useful to us at that point: It was time to go back to the hall.  Helicopters, police vans, and ambulances accompanied us as we headed back down Tottenham Court Road, parting from us as we turned off down Goodge Street and they continued in the direction of Warren Street.  I didn’t realise until much, much later just where they were heading, or how many people they would take away.

  We hadn’t long arrived back at Carr Saunders when a fax arrived at Reception, advising everyone to stay exactly where they were for the moment.  With little else to do, we joined the crowd of guests in the T.V lounge and watched the latest news.  Unlike the crowd on Tottenham Court Road, the lounge was noisy with conversation, making what little news there was hard to understand.  It sounded like six tube bombs and a bus bomb, but no one seemed that sure, and after a while, we retreated to our rooms.  Across the corridor, I could hear Fliss playing chords on her guitar as Flora slept and I read Dodie Smith’s ‘The Town In Bloom.’  Hours passed in still, uneasy, silence.

In the afternoon, I heard what sounded like air gun shots, and it was only later tonight, when watching the T.V once more, that I realised that what I’d been hearing was controlled explosions being carried out.

    In the early evening, Flora woke up and stretched.  She got to her feet, and began, restlessly, to pace the room, “I can’t stand this,” she snapped, “I need to know what’s happening!”

  Without moving from the bed, or putting down my book, I reminded her of the advice we’d been given to stay put. 

  “I don’t care,” she snapped, “I need to go out!”

  I put my book down with a sigh, “To get drunk?” I asked.  She glared at me.  “Well, today’s a perfect day to drown your sorrows I suppose,” I murmured, almost to myself.

  She glared at me for a few minutes in barely contained fury, then her bottom lip began to tremble, her eyes began to blink, and she collapsed onto her bed in floods of tears.  I felt like joining in, but I was too tired to cry, and I felt as though enough tears had been cried already.  There were four bombs and, so far, thirty-seven people are dead, hundreds more are injured.

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Chapter Sixty One: How Bands Fall Apart (in London)

We arrived in London yesterday, and as we meandered through the warm city streets on the coach, I marked off each district we passed through on our way to Victoria Coach Station.  It was sunny outside, and slightly humid on the coach; the city monuments seemed very large and white, very shiny, and slightly intimidating to me.  I watched from the window of the National Express as we passed a forty something punk with an orange mohican sitting on the pavement in Golders Green Bus Station; his face was tanned and lined, and he was wearing dishevelled denim.  I remember wondering if he’d ever posed for a ‘Greetings From London’ postcard in his youth; it seemed likely.

  I found myself feeling strangely queasy as I surveyed the wealth of the West End from the coach window, particularly as we crawled past Selfridges and I saw immaculately dressed women staggering along the pavement, trailing huge, bulging, boutique bags bearing the name of the store.  Everything had the appearance of being so affluent as to be obscene, but I suspect that this response has, at least in part, been generated by Live 8 and G8, which both took place over the weekend: Fliss and I have been watching programmes about poverty all week.

  Carr Saunders Hall, where we’re staying, is on the same street as Saatchi & Saatchi but, despite being in the West End, is reassuringly modest.  Jenny told me a few weeks back that she was booking us into student accommodation for this trip, mainly, she said, because she didn’t want Flora to have access to a hotel bar. I happened to notice as we checked in that there’s a bar directly opposite, so Jenny’s plans to keep Flora off the booze seem doomed to failure.

  There was an element of expectation in the air as we set out for the RMC International offices this morning, “Isn’t the Olympic bid decision announced today?” mused Jenny as we walked along Tottenham Court Road to Goodge Street tube station in the early morning sunshine.

  I shrugged, “Who cares?”

  Fliss and I recalled watching the opening ceremony to the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games on the little T.V above the bar upstairs at Retro Bar whilst waiting for X-Offender to start downstairs.  We could see the planes performing their display on T.V, and would probably have been able to see and hear them live, had we got up from the snug, sofa like seating and stepped outside, but we couldn’t be bothered.

  This story, and related stories, lasted us until we had to change at the Embankment, then we shut up as we negotiated the crowds of commuters on our way to the Circle line.

  Katy had already arrived by the time we were shown into the startlingly white meeting room up on the fourth floor of the RMC offices.  She was talking to Angel Smith as we entered, and her crisp, black, cropped sleeved shirt and black jeans clashed with our altogether more ragged and random ensembles.  Jenny and Fliss had made an effort, but Flora and I had opted for comfort over style.  I saw a sneer flicker across Angel’s face as she looked at us, ‘Yokels’ it seemed to say, or ‘Paupers’.  It had felt safe to jeer at her back in Manchester, because we had been on our own turf, but now we were on her turf, and the tables were turned.  Also present at the meeting was some Australian guy from RMC, called Nathan, who may have been an accountant for all I know, as it was obvious from the start that music wasn’t his strong suit, and Andrew Ryans, from our publishing company, Say, who was interested in negotiating a new contract.

  “But the old contract’s fine,” said Jenny, puzzled, “we went over it six months ago…”

  Katy cleared her throat, and I saw her exchange a look with him.

  Aha, so that’s it… I thought, and as Andrew began to outline what could only be Katy’s proposals, I knew.

  On the way out, Flora had a screaming row with Jenny, “HOW COULD YOU LET THAT BITCH HAVE 75% OF OUR PUBLISHING?”

  “BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW!”

  “SOME FUCKING MANAGER!” jeered Flora as she stormed off.

  I saw Jenny sigh.  There were bags under her eyes, and her expression was one of surprise, as though she had just been slapped.

  It hadn’t just been that our share of the royalties had dropped, though that was bad enough; it was the knowledge that Katy had our label and our publisher firmly under her thumb that really stung.  As Fliss said to Jenny on the tube as we travelled back to the West End, “It’s bad enough that she’s had the press under her thumb for the past eighteen months.”

  Jenny laughed, bitterly, “No one has the press under their thumb, believe me…”

  An air of gloom had settled over us, one that contrasted sharply with a London that had just won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics.  Well, at least someone was happy.

  Earlier tonight, I helped Jenny to arrange pre packed salads onto plastic plates in the communal kitchen as Fliss played her guitar alone in a room some way down the corridor.  When we had finished, I made Jenny creep along the corridor towards her and Fliss’ room.  Our floor is mainly home to a group of American economics students, who Jenny immediately sized up and dubbed the “Young Americans.”  We passed a number of them as we tiptoed along the corridor, and they watched our stealthy movements with broadly hostile eyes.  Fliss was playing clear, simple chords slowly and starkly and, as we drew closer, we could hear her pure, girlish voice soar as she sang:

My sins lie like tears on your skin

I want to touch you

But you’re too far away

I have heard Fliss play this song a lot lately, and it’s become one of my favourites.  Jenny stood still as she listened, an intent expression on her face.  Halfway through, Fliss stopped, there was a brief pause, then she began to play again, a different tune this time, with an almost eerie, repetitive series of chords that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, she played it several times before she began to sing and, when she did, it was self conscious and stilted, as though she was trying it out, seeing if it worked.  I drew Jenny back to the kitchen, saying quietly once we were out of earshot, “Can we really let a song like that go?”

  Jenny shook her head sadly, “No,” she sighed, “and if we can’t get Katy to leave, or to start using Fliss’ songs again, I’m afraid I may have to talk Fliss into pursuing a solo career, I can’t afford to let her languish in this Cinderella situation any longer.”

    It was about an hour ago when I was woken up by Flora banging on the door; she was swearing thoroughly, if not entirely distinctly, “Bloody bollocking swipe cards,” she mumbled as she staggered into the room behind me.  I could smell the alcohol as she collapsed onto her bed, the white key card that had proved so tricky to operate slid from her unresisting fingers to the floor as she closed her eyes.  With a shake of the head, I walked back over to the door and locked it once more.  “Is this what you wanted, Flora?” I spat, bitterly, as I walked back over to my own bed, “is this what all the years of band practice and gigs were leading up to? Was it worth all the hard graft?”  A snore emerged from her prone form and in a fit of temper I hit her with my pillow before getting back into bed and trying to get to sleep.

Chapter Sixty: Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?

Nat and I could hear Fliss, Kylie, and Meelan performing three part harmonies to The Waitresses ‘Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?’ as we got ready to go out. The three of them were in Fliss’ room, preparing for an evenings entertainment at The Gates (Mad Girls In The Attic were playing) and The Thompson Arms (Shake-O-Rama!) whilst Nat and I were in my room, preparing for our own night out. They emerged as I rooted under the sofa in the living room for my boots, and I was struck by their air of exuberance. Dressed in jeans, her hair pinned up for the evening, and wearing a blue silk shirt, Fliss looked pretty and happy. Meelan was in her usual skate jeans and t-shirt, and Kylie was wearing blue denim three quarter length trousers with Fliss’ old blue velour halter top. As Fliss returned to her room for her handbag, I watched in concern as Kylie produced a pack of cigarettes from her handbag, lit one, and inhaled. I hadn’t known that she smoked.

  The three of them had left by the time Nat and I were ready. We were going to see The Renaissance Girls, Iona Black’s band, and I was excited as we waited in the living room for my mum to pick us up. The first Renaissance Girls album had come out in 2001, and had been a self-titled masterpiece of jagged, dark, alternative rock. It had been reasonably well received, critically speaking, and had sold quite well, so good things had been expected of the band. We had waited with a great deal of excited expectation for the second album, and waited, and waited, and waited… But things had happened in the intervening four years, both personally and musically for the band, not to mention for Nat and me, and in the thick of all that history, The Renaissance Girls had been forgotten; until now. The second album had finally arrived, and we were more than ready for it.

  “Remember when we went to see that band when we were sixteen?” said Nat, “and they did a cover of a Firefly song?”

  I nodded, “They were called The Midnight Girls” Nat often liked to test me on memories of our collective youth.

  “Do you remember which song it was?”

  “Of course,” I said, “it was ‘Silver Bells’, one of Iona’s songs.”

  Nat nodded, “I miss all that, all those late night gigs and sleepovers.”

  “And school in the morning.”

  “No,” she said, resolutely, “I don’t miss that.”

  I smiled as I leant back against the sofa and closed my eyes.

  Mum arrived a few minutes later, looking considerably more vital and healthy than she had at our last meeting. I’d spoken to her on the phone a few days ago, and she had calmly assured me that both her fainting spells and morning sickness had now ceased. There had been an awkward moment when she mentioned, very reluctantly, that Thomas had asked her to marry him again, and that she had said no. But I had sensed that it hadn’t been the whole story; she had sounded far less sure than she had a month ago. When she arrived she was wearing her old faded black jeans and her Doc Martens, and her jacket was unbuttoned, revealing a slight bump against the fabric of her t-shirt. It wasn’t a big bump, it was just, well, noticeable. Nat walked over to her and hugged her hello, and I hesitantly followed suit a minute or two later.

  There was a sizeable queue outside the Students Union, and the touts were out in force, merrily, and mercilessly, working Oxford Road. When we did get inside, we had to sign in as temporary SU members, always a hectic and crowded affair, before heading for the bar and getting our drinks.

  It was on our way upstairs to the bar, and the gig, that we crossed paths with Lalita Cain, who was accompanied by a pretty young girl of about Fliss’ age. “This is Aurora, my god-daughter,” she explained, after we had exchanged awkward greetings. I noticed that she wouldn’t look at Nat, and that Nat was quietly edging away from our group as she pretended to be equally fascinated by the posters for upcoming gigs and her Academy listings guide. “We were just heading backstage.” We let them go, and it was only as we arrived at the bar that mum turned to Nat, and said, “That was Aurora Gough, wasn’t it?”

  Nat nodded, “Lalita did mention her a few times, when we were still on speaking terms that is. She and Aurora are very close.”

  None of us spoke any more about it, for we knew the story. Iona Black had married Taylor Gough, her producer, in 1987, two years after she had had his daughter, Aurora. Following their divorce in 1993, he had gained custody of Aurora and, following his death in 1996, she had been raised by his parents. Iona rarely spoke to the press, so her feelings on the situation weren’t really known, and she wasn’t the kind of woman people wrote books about, so we were unlikely to ever know. “Unless she writes her autobiography one day” said mum as she carefully massaged the bump.

  Nat shook her head, “I don’t think she’s the type to do that.”

  Mum nodded, “You’re probably right; how refreshing in this day and age.”

  “Aurora’s a nice name,” said Nat, cheerily, “Have you and Thomas decided on names yet?”

  Mum shook her head, “No, at the moment we’re just using ‘the bump’.”

  “You could go for something really distinctive like Thessaly or Tiara…”

  “Peaches or Pixie,” I added, sarcastically.

  “Suri or Jaydynn.”

  Mum shuddered.

  “Holly, because she was conceived at Christmas,” added Nat, “and if it’s a boy, he can be Nicholas.”

  “I think not.” said Mum, decisively.

  Seeing The Renaissance Girls live was very different to seeing The Beauty Queens live, I soon discovered. Because it was so long since they had last played together, and because they didn’t really have anything to prove, The Beauty Queens gig had been quite friendly and relaxed. The Renaissance Girls, by comparison, were a lot more theatrical, dark, and intense. There was a lot of epilepsy inducing lasers and lightning flashes just before the start of the set and, when it all cleared and the basic stage lighting had been restored, the spotlight lit up a small, black clad figure, looking to her left, away from the crowd, her long black hair across her face, a guitar slung across her hips: Iona Black. Her voice was a little shaky at first, but it got stronger as the songs progressed, and soon she was soaring above the jagged metallic tinged dark rock, her voice clear and strong, slightly metallic in quality, matching and enhancing the music as she sang of fear, despair, pain and isolation. Her face was white in the stark lighting, her dark eyes brooding and slightly distracted. She moved awkwardly and self consciously in her loose black long sleeved shirt and black jeans, but her performance felt sincere, albeit quieter, less flamboyant than one would expect.

  “Now there’s a woman who has gone through a lot of shit to get where she is today,” declared Nat as mum drove us back to my flat.

  I nodded in agreement. It was, after all, at least part of the attraction in my case. I liked Iona musically, but her unwillingness to sell her story, and herself, to the press was another quality I admired. Sure, the woman had problems, but she kept her personal and professional life separate, as much as she could, and I had to admire that.

  “Do you think she always wears long sleeves on stage?” asked Nat once we were back at the flat.

  “I don’t know,” I confessed as we waited in the kitchen for the kettle to boil, “I was wondering about that.”

  “It would disguise any scarring.”

  “Yes, whereas wrist bands just draw attention to it.”

  We drank our tea in comfortable silence on the sofa in the living room. As Nat wiped her mouth and checked her mug for lipstick stains, she asked, “Does Rachel being pregnant bother you?”

  I nodded, and I could feel myself blushing in discomfort as I admitted “But I don’t know why, just that it does.”

“You’re embarrassed” she said, quietly.

  I could feel myself blushing as I shook my head, “No, I’m not, really I’m not – I just don’t like talking about it.” I felt flustered, but Nat just nodded, and somehow I found the courage to continue, “I got over her and Thomas being together last year,” I admitted, “this is something else, and I just don’t feel ready to talk about it yet… I don’t know what I feel yet, or why, I just feel uncomfortable.”

  Nat smiled, “I really hated growing up as an only child,” she admitted, “I wish one of my parents had given me a brother or sister.”

  I shook my head, “But we are grown up now – it’s too late now for it to matter that way.”

  “Maybe that’s the problem.”

  There was a long silence before I felt able to say, “I don’t know how I fit into her life anymore. It was simpler when it was just me and her…” I felt like such a whiney child, but at least it was the truth, “since other people have factored in, its complicated things, and I think I’m sad that things will become more complicated again.”

  Fliss, Kylie and Meelan weren’t due back for several hours yet, so Nat slept in my room rather than risk being disturbed on the sofa. We undressed with our backs to each other before climbing into bed. As Nat rested her head on the pillow next to mine, I asked, “How’s Violet?”

  Nat smiled, wickedly, “She’s very well, thanks.”

  “Am I allowed to ask if any new developments have occurred, post Valentines Day?”

  “You can ask, I just won’t tell. I’m taking notes from Iona Black: Don’t kiss and tell.”

  “You’ve loved her for a long time now,” I reflected, calmly and blithely, “since you were eighteen or so.”

  “Almost as long as I’ve loved you,” she murmured, sleepily.

  I blushed again.

  “Does it hurt you if I say that?” she asked, anxiously.

  “No,” my face was on fire, and I felt very, very self conscious and uncomfortable. This was Nat after all; I couldn’t lie to her if I tried “I think I’ve always known. I just never knew how to handle it.”

  She kissed my neck, and said, “You don’t have to handle it, I just wanted to let you know. We won’t talk about it again.” She turned over so that her back was to me, and I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.

  It took a long time, but after I had run through the day’s events in my head for a few hours, I at last began to feel sleepy. I was just about to nod off when I heard the front door open and close, and three pairs of feet as they clattered up the stairs. Sometime around dawn, I slept at last.

Chapter Fifty Nine: How Bands Fall Apart (in Manchester)

We’ve put off confronting Katy a number of times now; twice because she stalled us with promises to meet up, only to fail to show at the pre-arranged meeting point, and three times because neither Flora nor Katy turned up.  Fliss still refuses to have anything to do with it and, all things considered, we aren’t expecting her to change her mind anytime soon.  “I’m not taking any chances this time,” announced Jenny as we walked along Oxford Road in the late morning sunshine, “If Flora thinks she can get out of it by staying at home, she’s another thing coming.”  The heat was rising as we walked, making the air warm and slightly humid despite the glaring whiteness of the sky.

  Flora and Debbie’s flat was stark and shabby, with an early seventies nostalgic feel, which I can only presume was accidental.  Debbie steered us across the orangey brown carpet to the worn lino of the kitchen, where she made us drinks, and we talked as we waited for Sleeping Beauty to emerge.  “I don’t want to be rude,” began Debbie, hesitantly, after we had been exchanging small talk for over an hour, “But Flora got drunk again last night, and I’ve noticed she only does that when she’s under pressure about the band.”

  “She’s been drunk other times too,” said Jenny, “she got drunk when we last went out, and that was purely social.”

  Debbie shuffled uncomfortably, I could tell that she wanted to disagree, but that she thought it was best not to for the moment.  “I’m only mentioning it because her hangovers cut into work time, and we’ve had a lot of commissions and deadlines lately.  I can deal with the shop side, and the business side of things, but I’m not as good as she is at the creative side of things, so I can’t take much of it off her hands.”  Jenny began to drum her fingers, impatiently, on the top of the table; I could tell that she wanted to get Flora, and get going, before Katy did a flit.  “Jenny,” said Debbie imploringly, “Listen to me… You could get another bassist, I’m sure you could, I don’t want you to sack her, but…”

  She trailed off as Jenny got to her feet, flicking her bright hair out of her eyes as she said, “I can’t wait any longer; I’m going to get her.”

  As we walked up the grimy brown and orange stair carpet, I heard Debbie’s footsteps behind me.

  In Flora’s bedroom, the paint on the walls was peeling, and boxes surrounded the bed.  Knickers and bras had been left all over the floor, and there were empty bottles teetering on the boxes.  A hi-fi, somewhere, was blaring out Marianne Faithful’s ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’ as Flora lay, spread-eagled, across the unmade bed, her hair unwashed and un-brushed, still wearing her clothes, and groaning loudly as Jenny shook her.  It was strangely reminiscent of Tracey Emin’s ‘My Bed’.  Debbie slipped past me as I stood gawping, and between the two of them, they managed to drag her into an upright position, although her eyes were screwed tight shut against the glare of the daylight.  “Why have you done this?” snapped Jenny, shaking her for emphasis.

  Flora winced as she moaned, “I thought you might leave me alone and not make me go!” the last word emerged as a disgruntled whine.  Her face was distinctly greenish, and her eyes, when she eventually opened them, were bloodshot and slightly unfocused.  “Where are my sunglasses?” she whimpered as she closed her eyes once more.  She would no doubt have flopped back down onto the bed, and gone back to sleep, but Debbie and Jenny held her fast.  Debbie found the sunglasses and propped them up against Flora’s pale, sensitive nose, then she and Jenny hauled her to my feet and dragged her over to a chair.

  “Leave me alone with her for a few minutes,” said Debbie quietly, and we did.

  Outside the bedroom door, Jenny lit a cigarette and inhaled gratefully, “I’ll be glad when this is over,” she muttered.

  The humidity had increased whilst we were inside, and the white sky was glaringly bright as we walked through Hulme, then back down Oxford Road.  Despite the humidity, Flora was shivering.  She made a strange picture in her coat and sunglasses, and her face was a terrible colour. “Fliss thinks we should give Katy the elbow,” I told them both as we walked.

  “I’m all for it,” muttered Flora.

  But Jenny shook her head, “It would mean a long court case over who gets to use the name if you do, and I can’t see Katy giving up without a fight.”

  The Northern Quarter always looks best in summer, the sun makes the streets seem less grey, and the colours seem brighter, the shops fresher, shoppers more cheerful.  The recently built glass and steel apartment block became more and more imposing as we drew nearer, and Flora shivered.

  “I told you I don’t want to talk,” snapped Katy when she, at last, opened the door to us.

  “I know,” said Jenny as she shoved past her and into the flat.

  I found myself comparing the open plan glass and steel of Katy’s apartment to the shabbily carpeted, peeling paint and cramped rooms of Flora’s flat.  Like Flora, Katy shares her flat, but it was easy to see that Katy had a palace, Flora a hovel.

  We didn’t see much of the palace, however, for Katy blocked our path once more.  She stood directly in front of us with her arms folded, defensively, across her chest as she scowled.  Jenny was wavering, I could tell, “All we want to do is talk about the band,” she insisted.

  “You’ve no jurisdiction over me anymore, Jenny,” growled Katy, handing her a letter.  “You’re not my manager anymore.”

  I watched as Jenny read the letter, and I saw her turn pale with rage.  There was a long, long, silence before she said, in tones of purest ice, “I still represent the interests of Maggie, Flora, and Fliss.”

  “I won’t discuss anything without my manager being present,” maintained Katy in that same icy voice.

  “Fine,” said Jenny, “let’s arrange a date.”

  Katy started to close the door on us, “I’ll get my manager to phone the label and arrange a meeting at the London offices.”  The London offices meant RCM International.

  “Fine,” snapped Jenny, her foot in the door, “if I haven’t heard anything by the end of the week, I’ll be talking to your manager to find out why.”

  “Fine,” Katy slammed the door, and Jenny removed her foot just in time.

  We put Flora in a taxi at Piccadilly, and it was as we watched the car disappear along the road that Jenny asked, dryly, “Would it hurt you a lot if Titanium Rose split up?” 

  I shook my head, “No.”

  She shook her head in seeming sadness, “I was afraid you’d say that.”  She turned to face me, and took me by the arm, “Come with me, please,” we walked back towards Oldham Street.

  The Twilight seemed tired in the glare of the afternoon sun.  At night, the dust and grime, the darkness and red velour can be charming, but in daylight it just seems old, and tired, and sad.  The young gothic barmaid served us with a histrionic sigh, and rolled her eyes in boredom as she got our drinks, all the while slouching across the floor, her black lacquered nails raking her red, teased hair as though she’d rather be somewhere else.

  Once we were ensconced at one of the dark wooden tables, sticky with years of spilt beer, Jenny produced a magazine from her bag.  It was bright, thick and glossy, and it looked very new, very different to the usual rock mag fare.  There was a picture of The Girls From Mars on the cover.  Jenny flicked through the pages until she was near the centre before passing the magazine across to me.  There was a feature on new, up and coming, girl bands, including Lolita Complex, Clinch, The Flirts, Rachel Halo And The Princesses, and three bands I hadn’t heard of: The Heimlich Manoeuvre, Kitsune, and the wonderfully named Mad Girls In The Attic.  Lolita Complex are from Chorlton, and are friends of Yan from the Razorblades, Clinch are from Bolton, and Meelan is a friend, The Flirts are based in London, though are from Bolton originally, Rachel Halo And The Princesses are from Leicester, The Heimlich Manoeuvre are from Glasgow, Kitsune are a London band, and Mad Girls In The Attic are from Leeds.

  “Should be Howarth really,” said Jenny, as she read over my shoulder, “and they should wear petticoats on stage…”

  “They sound great,” I grinned.

  Jenny pointed to each band in turn, “Have you noticed the common theme yet?”

  “Um, they’re all girls?” I ventured.

  “They all list Titanium Rose as one of their influences, Mad Girls In The Attic and Rachel Halo And The Princesses especially, and look, Meelan mentions you specifically in the piece on Clinch.”

  “That’s because we’re friends,” I said dismissively.

  “Two of them, the two I’ve already mentioned, cite you as the reason they got together,” Downstairs, we could hear the distant sounds of a band rehearsing, I recognised some of the songs, and realised that it was Angel and the Razorblades practising.  “Another band that owe a lot to Titanium Rose,” said Jenny when I pointed it out.  “What does all of this tell you?” she gazed at me meaningfully.

  I shrugged carelessly, “That the future’s in good hands,” I replied, flippantly.

  It was only as I returned home, and I heard Fliss playing her guitar, and singing her new songs, that I began to really think about what she had been saying, and I began to ask myself, would I miss Titanium Rose if we split up? Then, I thought about the other question she’d raised, I had told her that I believed the future to be in good hands, but I find myself wondering now if Fliss and I are a part of that future or not.