Chapter Five: One Way Or Another

The bus dropped Fliss and me off on the A6, just opposite the shiny chrome, plastic, and kitsch edifice that is Grand Central.  We were early, the roads having been quieter that morning than we were generally accustomed to.  Cars zipped along the patchy tarmac, not quite believing their luck, and it was a matter of minutes before we were across the road.

  We shunned Grand Central and passed by McDonalds on our way up the hill to the train station.  The chilly morning mist and fog were clearing as we drew closer, and I could see him now, a tall, lanky man, standing just outside the ticket office, by the taxi rank.  The calf length black coat was undone and flapping slightly in the breeze, and he was wearing black jeans and boots with a plain black shirt.  His shoulder length blonde wavy hair was loose and drifting across his face in strands, and he tucked it behind his ears as he dipped his head to light a cigarette.

  “You’re early,” remarked Fergus, as we approached.

  And that was all he would say to us, until Flora and Katy arrived.

  “Why are we here?” demanded Katy as she drew level with him.  She was scowling.

  “You’ll see,” he herded us into the queue of miserable commuters, waiting in the depressing ticket office.  Before we could ask him anything else, he had purchased five tickets to Stoke.  “We,” he announced, “are going to Alton Towers.”

  Some background information is required here.  Fergus had phoned Katy a week ago, and had made it clear to her that he was still interested in doing a single with us.  He wanted to meet up, he said, informally, so that we could talk some more, and, as such… there we were at the train station.

  That isn’t much of an explanation is it? No, but being in a band is a bit like that.  Things are always happening in a random, last minute kind of way, and its best to just go with it and see if anything interesting happens.

  The train was still fairly empty when we got on, so we had most of the compartment to ourselves.  Fliss, Flora, Katy, and I bagsed one of the white perspex coated tables and Fergus sat across the aisle from us.  As the train trundled towards Stoke, we talked.

  Apparently it was Nat who told him to go and see Titanium Rose.  They work together at Twilight Studios in Victoria; he’s an engineer there.   “We hang out a lot,” he explained, “and she was very insistent that I go and see you.”  Later into the journey, he admired my tattoo; a Chinese dragon in fire colours on my shoulder blade, and pulled up his sleeves to show me his own tattoos; Lara Croft on his right arm, and an intricate looking Celtic design on his left.

  At Stoke we transferred to a very creaky, cramped and grimy double decker bus.  They really cram the thrill seekers on at Stoke station, and the noise was absolutely deafening.  Katy and Fliss were on one seat, Flora and me on another, some distance away, and we lost Fergus in the crush.  Behind us, I could hear two twenty something men discussing She Ra as the bus travelled around the hairpin bends of the narrow winding roads.

  The sun had come out by the time we arrived, and whilst it wasn’t warm, it was pleasant enough.  The pale October sunshine took the edge off the chill in the air, and by dinnertime it was even warm enough for us to be able to take our coats off.

  We were just climbing out of our log on the log flume at five o’clock when the increasingly grey sky grew even darker and it started to rain.  The log flume dipped and wobbled as we all struggled to climb out at once, and we stumbled a little on the revolving terminus.  “As if we weren’t wet enough already,” grumbled Katy as we picked up our sodden bags and ran through the exit gates to the coach park, where our bus was waiting for us.

  It had stopped raining by the time the train reached Piccadilly so we walked down to the Twilight Café and got some tea.  Then we walked back along the dark, commuter filled, shining streets and joined the queue of punters waiting outside The Gates to see Glamorous Teen.

  Our damp clothes dried quite quickly once the venue had filled up, and I could feel the moisture steaming off me as the pogoing started.  The bands music hit us hard and fast, and soon the venue was a mass of bodies, jumping up and down to the urgent backbeat of the drums.

  I think it was Fliss who suggested that we go on to a chill out club together after the gig and talk some more, so we walked over to the Freeway and down its neon blue steps to the dimly lit basement where glass topped tables complimented armchairs that were soft enough to sink into.  The others had cocktails, Fergus had a pint, and I had water.  Once his pint was finished, Katy and Flora successfully cajoled him into trying a Test Tube Baby, whilst Katy had a Cheeky Vimto and Flora had a Sunset Boulevard.  Fliss asked for a Strawberry Daiquiri, but the barman quite pointedly asked her if she had school in the morning, so she had to settle for a Cinderella instead.

  The next evening, we began recording tracks for our first E.P.  Fergus had booked us five four a.m sessions at Twilight Studios throughout the week.  Fliss and I hired a taxi to lug my drum kit to the studio, which is situated in a fairly isolated converted mill in Victoria.  We arrived at three, but had to wait until half past before we could set up.  It was eerily quiet as we made our way through the white and navy reception area to the grey, stainless steel lift with our cargo.  The studio on the third floor was modest and dark, the desk was an eight track, and there was the usual section of glass that divided the desk, engineer, producer et al from the band.  I’ve been in recording studios before; they tend to be much of a muchness.

  I had just finished setting up and adjusting my kit when the others arrived, bearing coffee and biscuits.  I leant back against the brown wall and watched Fergus as he miked up my drums.

  It felt as though we were the only people in the building, and in the whole city, awake and working that morning as we played, tuned, re-tuned, played back, and waited.  Fergus was acting as both the producer and the engineer, which can’t have been easy for him, but he didn’t lose his temper with us or boss us about; he listened to us.

 When it was time to take a break, he asked me to go with him to fetch coffees.  The kitchen was on the fourth floor, and it was tiny.  I slouched against the stainless steel sink, opposite him, and waited for the kettle to boil.  We were only inches apart, and I could sense him watching me.  I met his eyes, but he didn’t look away.  Instead he held my gaze until the kettle boiled, and only turned away in order to pour water into the cups, “Is this your first time inside a recording studio?” he asked as he loaded the cups onto a tray.

  “No,” I said as I opened the door for him.

  “Oh?” he seemed interested.

  I shrugged, “Long story.”

  “There’s a club down the road,” he remarked casually as we walked down the stairs, “I go there sometimes after work, it’s open twenty four hours… I might go for breakfast when we finish at six, if you want to come.”

  Inside I froze, but somehow I managed to keep walking, “No… thanks.”

  He didn’t say anything.

  The songs we worked on that night were ‘Be My Girl’ and ‘Boyracer’.  Katy was in a good mood, for once.  She likes the studio environment I think; at least, she seemed to be the most at ease with it.  Fliss was very nervous, and unfortunately it showed.  It took quite a while for Fergus to get a good performance of ‘Boyracer’ out of her.  “It’s the stopping and starting all the time that gets to me,” she confessed later as we were travelling home, “If we kept going, I wouldn’t get so nervous.”  I nodded sympathetically, but I wasn’t really paying attention.  He had been watching me as I played; I had felt it, felt him looking at me in that direct yet curious way of his.  Now he was driving us home.

  Later, when we were at home and about to get changed and go out to work, Fliss asked me if I liked him. 

  “How do you mean?” I asked warily as I rooted through my wardrobe in search of a clean shirt.

  “In the friendly way,” she clarified.

  I shrugged, and said without commitment, “He’s alright.”

  “It’s just…” she was perched on the edge of my bed, and I could sense her awkwardness as she continued, “there seemed to be this atmosphere, in the car…”

  “I don’t know what you mean.”

  But I did.

  I’ve felt him watching me all week, looking at me, catching my eyes with his.  He doesn’t undress me with his eyes, or leer at me, but it makes me uncomfortable.  It’s as though he’s touching me, as though he’s seeing inside me.  He reads me, beyond the surface, beyond the barriers.  He goes beyond them, and he reads me.  That makes me more afraid than I can put into words.