Chapter Sixty Four: 185 Miles Away

The searing, humid heat as we travelled through London and along the motorway to home was almost unbearable.  I found myself leaning, listlessly, against the glass of the coach window again as I checked off all the districts of London we passed through once more, in reverse this time, SW something to NW11.  Fliss has her publishing deal now, secured at the eleventh hour with Salva, Alan Mitchelman’s new company.  The paperwork isn’t done yet, but it’s going to happen.

  She and I headed over to Juvenile Hell as soon as we got home.  It was the Angel and the Razorblades single launch tonight, and both Emily and Fergus were there.  He held me tightly as I walked into his arms, he didn’t say ‘How did it go?’ or ‘Are you O.K?’ He knew it had gone badly, and he knew I wasn’t O.K.  But he couldn’t know how I felt about the bombs, about the surreal experience of being caught up, in a very tiny way, in something that is bigger than you or I, something terrible and permanent, something I remain preoccupied with, despite myself.  Not in a nightmares and sleeplessness sense, but in the way I flinch whenever I hear a siren.  The way I watch, warily, whenever a police van goes by.  I feel nervous, yet not afraid.  I feel… something else.

  The evening was marred by Emily and Fliss and an argument that they had towards the end of the night.  I sensed sullenness on both sides throughout the night, but, nonetheless, was surprised to see Fliss erupt so emotionally and publicly.  I gathered that Emily was unwilling to take sides where arguments over Titanium Rose are concerned.

  In bed last night, I lay in Fergus’ arms and tried to take my mind off the band and our situation.  I had told Fergus about the meeting, but it hadn’t helped: Katy was on my mind still.  “I’m afraid she’s turning into a monster,” I confessed.

  He sighed, “Katy’s hard, she always has been… she’s decided that the bigger a bitch she becomes, the better she’ll do… it’s tough for her, very few women produce, even these days, she has to be hard to survive.”

  “Then why is she taking it out on us? Why is she making us her enemies?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Downstairs, the doorbell rang, and with a weary reluctance, I moved out of his arms, “I’ll go.”

  I yawned as I fumbled on a dressing gown, and then walked, slowly, along the corridor, across the landing, and down the stairs.  I could see the blurred outline of the figure before I opened the door: Emily.

  As I watched her spring up the stairs ahead of me, and make her way through to Fliss’ room, I couldn’t help but smile, tired though I was.  I was becoming accustomed to Emily’s visits.  I have watched her relationship with Fliss subtly change over the past few months, yet I am still unsure as to the true nature of their feelings for each other.  They seem closer, and Emily has spent the night, but I don’t know how far things have gone, and I would never ask.  I have never seen them kiss though.

  And as for me, how do I feel? I feel nothing, nothing but a kind of emptiness, sadness now that we have returned from London.  I don’t know where it comes from, or how to stop it, and I don’t know what I want anymore.  I feel afraid, for myself, for my friends, for the future… I feel afraid about things that I can’t understand, but it’s more than that, because I know… I know what is coming.

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The 2003 invasion of Iraq, from a peculiarly British and, often, Mancunian viewpoint: Unusual and powerful commentary I read/heard at the time.

It seems odd to be writing about press coverage and discussion of the invasion of Iraq, and its immediate aftermath, in 2011. But during the course of writing ‘Screaming In Public’ (mainly 2001-2006, with extra edits up to 2009) it became increasingly obvious that the story would have to reflect not only a particular musical and cultural scene, in Manchester and beyond, but also local, national, and often international events. I started writing what would become the final version of the story (earlier versions, going as far back as 1995, need not be discussed here) in August 2001, about 3 weeks before 9/11, and would say that whilst I had no desire to write a novel about 9/11 and its consequences, to an extent I didn’t really have much of a choice. I chose not to dwell on 9/11 much in itself for the simple reason that, like the majority of the world, 9/11 was something both I and my characters experienced only remotely on T.V.

When it came to writing about the period immediately before and after the invasion of Iraq, this remoteness wasn’t an option, and as such the discussions, machinations, spin, lies, politics and protests all had to be acknowledged, given that they all had much more obvious day to day impact on the everyday Stopfordian and Mancunian than 9/11 did. Whether you were pro or anti war, whether you felt it was inevitable or preventable, you simply couldn’t escape from it. And you were expected to take sides.

As a student at MMU at the time, at the height of much student anger and discussion about the war, I happened across a piece of polemical writing, which had been casually littered across the English department, presumably in the hope that people would pick it up and read it. It wasn’t signed, merely dated 10/2002, and headed ‘An Invitation’.

In 1990 a 15-year-old girl appeared on TV receiving wide media coverage to say that she had witnessed an atrocity carried out in Iraq in a children [sic] hospital in Kuwait. When it turned out to be a fake story it was ignored by the media. It was invented to change public perceptions and go to war. This was 1990’s concrete evidence. Today’s evidence must be more attractive to sell the war to the public! But, how much does it help feeding people with lies, hate and fears unnecessarily. After all, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean equipped with the latest technology and mighty power? With thse destructive technologies they bombed everything including sheep. Sheep are totally innocent animals.

Another reason for attacking Iraq is to hide war crimes, that were committed in 91 and 98, by installing a puppet government to help bury appalling evidences. Dragging other nations to their knees in such a humiliating way is immoral. This letter is to avoid further wars and collective punishments. It’s in remembrance of the many who had no hand in political life. But, suffered for so long and then finished in silence in this world that is characterized by communications and fast information exchange. This is an invitation for peace. Thank you.

Feelings were running high, with a number of Stop The War coalition groups active in Manchester throughout 2002 and 2003, something reflected by City Life columnist Danny Moran’s regular forays into the world of the angry activist. In early February 2003 he wrote of an attempt to ‘flan’ New York mayor Rudi Giuliani at a book signing at Waterstones (City Life, 5-20th Feb 2003) along with a number of examples of civil disobediance, and clashes between police and anti-war protesters at rallies on Oxford Road. In March of that year he talked to an activist planning to fly out to Iraq as a human shield, and attended anti-war coalition meetings in town, concerned with planning actions for the day of the invasion, and the bombing campaign known as ‘Operation Shock And Awe’. He wrote of his great hope, on the 8th March 2003, that the protests would work, that the city would be shut down, chaos and press coverage ensue, and that ultimately the government would have to back down. But it rained instead, and protesters dwindled away.

On the day British and American troops invaded Iraq, school kids and students across Manchester walked out of schools, colleges, and universities, and joined the anti-war marches. This is often forgotten, and it also doesn’t seem to have occurred to many people in recent months that some of those schoolchildren, say for example Big Issue columnist Robert David’s then 11 year old son, who marched that day, would now be in the 18-21 kind of age group, and that a number of those young anti-war veterans may well have been engaged in more recent bouts of student activism, specifically the Gaza occupations at a number of universities in 2009, and most recently the protests against the rise in tuition fees and the abolition of the EMA. City Life also reported on the large number of students and schoolkids who walked out on March 19th 2003, the subheading to the piece being “GMP exasperated as Riot Squads face school uniforms on Albert Square Peace Demo.” As the article reported:

While police estimated 600-700 protesters on the march, hundreds more held vigils and sit-ins on school premises. Manchester’s Stop The War Coalitions only involvement was a flyer posted on their website, with recruits gathered through a flyer, email and text campaign. Planning meetings, meanwhile, maintained a stringent under-18 entry policy. (City Life, 2-9th April, 2003)

A similar example of youthful precociousness was reported in the same issue of the late listings mag, when Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox appeared in Bolton as part of the stations On The Road music roadshow event. A Q&A went badly off message when, as columnist Citizen put it, the normally “intellectually demanding posers as ‘who’s your favourite popstar?’ and ‘Do you prefer wearing thongs or knickers?’ were followed by ‘Do you think Blair was wrong to go to war without full UN resolutions?'” Cox’s response was indicative of the BBC: She was highly embarrassed and refused to answer on the grounds of maintaining impartiality.

Once ‘Operation Shock And Awe’ had begun, and the protesters had returned home embittered, angry, and in some cases with letters home from irate school teachers, media coverage went into even further overload. Private Eye, in typically cynical mode, wrote of the operation as being defined by the concept of ‘Event TV’, with media pressure for “a quick win” on the basis that war was perceived to make great T.V. (Private Eye, 4-17th April 2003) It added:

Admittedly cynics argue that the media wanted a war because ratings for news shows rise during conflicts. There was a lift in the figures at the beginning but ratings were falling sharply by the second half of the week. This suggests that theories about ‘stripping’ are correct. The audience has a shorter attention-span: one-day cricket, five-day war.

Of course, it was never going to be a 5 day war, but the coverage of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad on 9th April 2003, widely reported at the time as ‘The End’ of the war, despite appearances to the contrary, bear out this theory that there were two wars really: the media war and the real one.

Private Eye was especially good in its reporting of the reporting, capturing both the hysteria and the hyperbole that overtook many news channels and newspapers, plus the sheer tedium and unhelpfulness of much of the information for the average viewer and reader. By April, much left wing media coverage was fixed on the ‘reconstruction’ of a supposed post-war Iraq, with much cynicism as to profit making opportunities for U.S firms. By July, the target had become Guantanomo Bay and Camp Delta, formerly Camp X-Ray, which would itself inspire a group of artists in Hulme to stage a living, breathing replica of it later that year.

Chapter 34 of Screaming In Public reflects a moment in the fictional narrative where real life events quite simply swamped the story, and as such had to be inserted, and made part of the story as best they could. This does happen once more, at another, later, point in the story, and I’m aware that a similar explanation of real life events will be necessary then as well.

Some musings on travel and borders

I had to have my ingrown toenail seen to in Hazel Grove this afternoon, so it was a case of a lie in and waiting, and shivering, in the snow at the bus stop for a 192 that could be bothered going all the way to Hazel Grove (the first 192 was going to Stepping Hill, the second 192 was going to Stockport. A case of third time lucky…) I got there half an hour early because there was a surprising lack of traffic on the A6, and – enjoying the view of the snowy pennines on the horizan, above the rooftops of shops and the civic hall, I had a forage in Cancer Research and found a Jellybean CD for £2. I didn’t think it was worth £2, only it had ‘Who Found Who’ on it, which I used to own on 7″ when I was about 10, and which I knew I would get stuck in my head within the hour, so I bought it. I’m listening to it now, and it’s surprisingly good whilst being very of its time. I also spotted The Beatles ‘Strawberry Fields…’ on 7″ for £5, which to a collector would be a bargain, but to me it didn’t seem worth it as I just don’t like it enough. I did buy the Soft Cell version of ‘Tainted Love’ on 7″ for £1 thought, but it won’t play on my record player. Further investigation has led to the discovery that the 45 rpm setting seems to have re-set itself to 33 and a third rpm. If the 33 and a third setting had re-set itself to 45 then it wouldn’t matter so much, only it hasn’t. The 78 setting is fine, so it’s obviously not the belt slipping or anything like that. I can only conclude that I probably haven’t used it since I tried to transfer Laura Branigan’s ‘Self Control’ to digital via Audacity: Can only presume the record player Didn’t Like It. Laura Branigan didn’t much either, as the file is very, very quiet…

After the podiatrist, I stood at another bus stop, shivering in the snow by Bird In Hand Yard, waiting for a Bakerbus to Poynton so I could go to Brookside for Garden Centre vouchers and thermal socks. The 391 obliged after not too long, and as I travelled through Hazel Grove, I reflected on cross border bus travel. Living on the Stockport/Manchester border, and before that the Stockport/East Cheshire border means I tend to have a duel perspective on many things, and I’ve found that whilst I didn’t appreciate this when I was growing up, I appreciate it a lot more now. There’s a balance of urban and rural, town and city. Brookside is only just in Poynton but, just as there is when I get the Buxton bus to Lyme Park, there’s the immediate border contrast when you get off the bus, with the bus stops in the blue and white colour scheme of Cheshire East, signalling that you’re coming to the end of the GMPTE zone. It’s not marked at all in Heaton Chapel because both Stockport and Manchester are in the GMPTE zone, so the signs of crossing the border are different: things like the recycle bins outside houses and flats being different, and the change in council insignia.

After Brookside, I walked back from the East Cheshire border to the terminus in Hazel Grove and caught a 192 back to Heaton Chapel. This was followed by a trudge to Heaton Moor to pick up my quilt from the launderette. Last weeks laundry soundtrack was Gregory Isaacs (including the blissful ‘Nightnurse’) and Lily Allen’s ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’. I think it was Lily again today.

London, Libraries, Fanzines…. Soundtracks

Yesterday I took part in an evening of talks to celebrate the launch of the zine archive at the Stuart Hall Library in London. I wouldn’t normally post about this, but thought some of my readers might be interested, if only in case they were wondering why this weeks chapter was late.

Anyway, I got up at 5am yesterday in order to leave at 6:30 and be at the coach station in Manchester for 8am, but I clearly overestimated the traffic on the A6 at that hour because I was at Chorlton Street for 7am. I texted David, who was coming along for moral support, and to give out handouts, to see if he was on his train yet, and he texted back to say he wasn’t – his wasn’t until 8:30.

The coach came at 8am, and took us on a prolonged (but not too much) trip across the Mancunian Way and through Whalley Range (where someone had painstakingly daubed ‘Vote Labour’ on a wall in gloss paint) and Chorlton (where they hadn’t) before getting on the motorway. An hour later we were travelling through an atmosphericly fog drenched Stoke-On-Trent to the bus station, one of the highlights in what turned out to be a very stop-start journey, compared to the Colne route that is anyway.

Still, we made the North Circular on time, and whilst shuffling through Hampstead I had cause to notice Arkwright Road, home of the Sely’s and the Gaunt’s in Stella Gibbons’ 1956 novel ‘Here Be Dragons’, and the offices of the Hampstead and Highgate Gazette, mentioned in the same novel. I imagine the Hampstead of 1956 may exist in some of the remaining architecture, but not in any other sense. (Actually, I’ve just checked, and it’s Arkwood Road in the novel, but I bet that was artistic licence….)

Got to Victoria at 1:15pm – early, and took until about 2 to get to my hotel. I was glad to be staying somewhere I’d stayed a lot of times before because I only really started to wake up after I’d checked in.

I met David over at Old Street around 4ish, and we headed over to Brick Lane and Rough Trade East, suitably near to Iniva, and suitably diverting for us. We spotted a lot of what he’s started to call ‘Biffy’ people, and what Sara terms ‘Hot Chip people’, both on our way to Rough Trade and in Rough Trade. I’ve never been to Rough Trade East. I went to the old Rough Trade West in Neal’s Yard once when I was fifteen and staying with friends, but otherwise am pretty much a Rough Trade novice. After much agonising over CD’s we can’t afford, but should buy, we left with the third Raincoats album (me) and a Shirley Collins Cd (David) and trundled over to Iniva.

The Stuart Hall Library was upstairs, and turned out to be a strangely comforting venue for the evenings event. We said hello to Librarian’s Sonia Hope and Holly Callaghan, who made us feel very welcome and let us use the photocopier to xerox more copies of my handout. I’d done 15 before I left Manchester, but 35 people were expected, so I printed 20 more. Unfortunately, when it came to putting them together I ran out of  time, and was becoming increasingly tired, so didn’t get very far. We left the remaining piles of pages with Sonia and Holly, who had very kindly offered to put them together and give them out from the library info desk in the coming days and weeks.

Next I was mic’d up, and the sound and powerpoint files were checked by a very understanding and kind techie gentleman, who must have been incredibly patient, given he had three of us to do.

I was first on, which I actually feel very relieved about in retrospect because it meant I couldn’t measure myself against the other speakers – Storm in a teacup, and Hamja Ahsan from the Other Asias collective. As it was, I didn’t feel that the talk itself went down that well – I thought the crowd looked mainly bored – but David, Sonia and Holly reckoned it went down well, and the very nice man next to me said he liked it. I felt people weren’t very interested, though I did feel I delivered it fine, and that it fitted the remit I’d been given. The presentation was fine once I’d got it started. I’d been advised to just start the mp3 off then press F5 to start the presentation, but when I pressed F5 nothing happened, so there was a brief moment of panic as I got it open and playing. Having done the rehearsal for David and Sara (who has PHD deadlines so couldn’t make the actual event) in David’s bedroom in Fallowfield the other week, I had more of an idea of how long it would take people to read each page, so I think I judged it right. It helped that the soundtrack was two songs, so I knew not to let too many pages go through to the first song, as that would mean I was going too fast. David got weaving with the handouts as I put the last page up, and then it was done.

Storm In A Teacup, a London based collective set up to help promote and encourage women in the arts, were up next. They seemed nice, and they talked about their various projects, the biggest of which is Ladyfest ten. They also do a life drawing project, called Swallows and Amazons, centred around the idea of unconventional life drawing models, in unconventional poses.

Hamja from Other Asias  was next, and – as I thought he might be from his blurb – he was very academicky. I think he gets away with it though because he does it in a very irreverent, humourous way. He was good, but I think he may have overrun his time. His projects are art and zine based, and are – as the name suggests – global and radical, mostly around representations of Asia, and Asians, particularly Bangladeshi and Pakistani. He is British Bangladeshi, and runs Other Asias with a Pakistani woman in Lahore.

I think both Storm in a teacup and Other Asias were very London reference-y, and that this went down much better than my Cheshire, Stockport, Manc, Salford refs: It was a young, hip, London crowd at the end of the day, and you win some, you lose some.

The Q&A went O.K. I let the others lead, as I felt that they were of more interest to people (plus more of their friends were there) but if I had something to say, I did say it, I just thought about it very carefully before I said it.

I had some nice conversations with people afterwards, but me and David were utterly exhausted, so we wearily trundled back to Old Street and got the tube to Euston.

We went to the late night M&S at Euston for our tea, and sat slumped in the forecourt of the station (all benches were taken) whilst David wearily ate his sandwich (I took my food back to the hotel as it was too messy for the forecourt) and we waited for the pendolino to decide which platform it was going from. When he was queueing for admittance to said pendolino, I left him and trundled – increasingly weary and laden – to the underground to catch the northern line to Tottenham Court Road and change to the Central line to Lancaster Gate. It’s lucky I know all three stations well, as I was barely functioning by then – I’d been up and on the go for 17 hours by the time I got back to my hotel.

The coach home this dinnertime was the Colne coach, and it was a journey with a fairly farcical beginning (for me personally I mean) and somewhere around the second hour in Cheshire, it descended into a a Kafka esque dark farce. Apparently there was a car overturned in a ditch, but I missed it because I had my walkman on and my eyes closed. It took 6 and a half hours instead of 5 and a half (I got off at Stockport: It would have taken at least 30 minutes more to get to Manchester)but it’s not as bad as last year when I was coming back from London in October and the engine in the coach conked out, leaving us stranded by Bowden Roundabout for ages. Think it was 8 hours on that occasion.

Before travelling, I’d made myself a CD to take with me, as I felt I’d need something to keep me going on the coach on the way down. It’s a mixture of songs that I downloaded for possible use in the presentation, stuff I was listening to anyway, stuff that was more Screaming in Public soundtrack, some punk series soundtrack stuff, and what I like to think of as general courage build up songs…

Clanned – Theme From Harry’s Game

(Acquired from my mum and dad. They always have a lot of Clanned CD’s. They buy a couple and they breed, so every now and then they have a sort out and get rid of the surplus Clanned’s… My aunt and uncle had a similar problem many years ago when they moved to North Wales, only in their case it was LP’s and the songs from ‘Hair’)

Hayley Westenra – She moves through the fair

(A few years ago I was obsessed with ‘Scarborough Fayre’, at the moment it’s ‘She moves through the fair’)

Jesca Hoop – Hunting My Dress

Laura Marling – Rambling Man

Go-Betweens – Streets Of Your Town

Kenickie – Robot Song

Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Duke Spirit – Love is an unfamiliar name

Rip, Rig and Panic – Go, go, go

Bratmobile – Cherry Bomb

Delta 5 – Anticipation

Carmel – More, more, more

(Obviously…)

Neko Case and her boyfriends – Bowling Green

Pauline Murrey and the Invisible Girls – Dream Sequence (One)

(This was the second song I used to soundtrack my presentation)

Heavenly – PUNK girl

(This was the first song I used to soundtrack my presentation)

Metric – Hustle Rose

Rasputina – Brand New Key

Laura Nyro – Eli’s Comin

Florence + The Machine – Howl

Joseph Lo Duca – Tara’s Dance

People reading may wonder why I didn’t get the Pendolino to and from London with David. This is mainly because he is a student, and as such has a young persons railcard that gets him a third off rail fares, and I am not. If he finds a cheap discount ticket online and uses his student card as well, he can afford the Pendolino. Alas, I cannot.

Chapter Two: Gigging The Gates

Tonight it was our turn to play The Gates.  Titanium Rose were bottom of the bill, by which I mean that we were the first of the four bands to play, and the only one of the four bands who got dressed and made up in the toilets.  Not the nicest of places, The Gates toilets are comprised of two small, cold cubicles facing one another, in which the lock sometimes works, and sometimes – when it doesn’t – you have to shove a bag or your foot against the door.  There’s also a mirror with two hand basins either side of it.  We took turns in the cubicles, hopping about on the freezing tiled floor, getting into our stage gear whilst the audience queued up by the sinks, then once we were done, we joined the gaggle of keyed up, impatient audience girls by the mirror to do our make-up.  It was a bit of a squeeze, and we were constantly being interrupted as various doors opened and shut, letting girls in and out of cubicles or letting in blasts of Limp Bizkit (Katy calls them Limp Dickshit.)  Even so, it beat sharing the dressing room with the other bands, neither of whom were the sharing type.

  Fliss was the only one of us who seemed to be making an effort with her appearance tonight.  She wore a red sequinned mini dress, red patent D.M boots, and black stay ups.  She had also used red ribbons to fasten her bunches, and was wearing cherry red lipstick.  Flora wore a dirty denim skirt with an off the shoulder tie-dyed green and black t-shirt, and black D.M boots, and Katy wore her trademark black: black boots, black jeans, black cotton shirt, black eye shadow, black eyeliner.  I wore my usual drumming gear, i.e. jeans with a t-shirt and Doc Martens.

  My best friend, Nat, joined us at the mirror and checked her make-up, “Violet and your mum are both outside,” she remarked, casually, to me.

  “Really?” I brightened.  Mum had told me that she would try to come to our gig, but hadn’t promised anything.  It would be the first time she had seen us live.  Violet was another surprise, as we’d only met a few times.  Her band, The Girls From Mars, have been gigging around Manchester for at least two years now.  Fliss saw her at Ladyfest Glasgow and, in her usual clumsily spontaneous, yet ultimately friendly, manner, invited her to our gig tonight.  None of us had ever expected her to turn up though.

  Nat finished her examination of her reflection.  Deep blue eyes stared back at her from the mirror, framed by dark, thick lashes set against a heart shaped face, with high cheekbones.  A tiny blue star pierced her snub nose, and her light brown hair, which was streaked blonde, was hanging loose down her back.  I always think of Nat as being voluptuous, never fat.  I can imagine her as a sweater girl in the fifties, or a forces pin up in the forties, one of those halter-top and hot pant clad Marilyn’s, with film star glamour, the kind of woman who can break your heart with a glance.

  Not many people had arrived by the time I emerged from the toilets into the cool grimy gloom of The Gates, and I found Fliss chatting to Violet by the dimly lit bar as, next to them, Nat talked to my mother.  Violet complimented Fliss on her sparkly dress and, in the darkness, I saw Fliss blush as she coyly looked away. I could tell that she was pleased though.

  There is one word that you can use to sum up the Gates: Dark.  Another would be Empty, or empty for Titanium Rose.  I counted about fifteen people, most of whom were members of the other bands on the bill.  From the stage I could see all the way back to the cage at the back, and the sound person.  Between the ragged gaggle of people watching the stage and the soundperson there was nothing but black floor, black walls, and the occasional scraped and beer stained wooden table and stool. 

  The audience stood about two metres away from the stage throughout the twenty-minute set, mostly wearing the kind of expression that suggested that they were wondering if the City result had come in yet, or were trying to remember just where they had parked the car.  Although they seemed sceptical, I think that some of them had been won over by the time Flora began to play the opening chords to ‘Hathor’s Lament’.  It was a tough gig, but I think we did alright.  A few other people thought we’d done alright too, including mum.

  “That song at the end had a nice bass line,” she said as we stood by the bar later, watching people pour through the doors, ready to watch the other two bands on the bill.  “And I liked the second song…” there was a ‘but’ coming, I could tell.  My mum was a punk in the seventies: She’s very disappointed that I’m playing drums in a punk band in 2001.  She believes that it shows a lack of imagination.  “But I think you need to vary your listening habits a bit more, and Fliss needs a better microphone.”

    She was meant to be helping me to move my kit offstage, the headline band having decided upon seeing it that only their own drummers kit would do, but she had spotted an old acquaintance from her days at the Electric Circus by the bar, and they were in full flow by the time I got around to moving it.  It didn’t matter too much though: I had the car keys.

  The smallest drums and the cymbals had to be moved first, then the next smallest, right down to the big bass drum at the bottom.  I was just carrying this last piece of kit down the steps on the right hand side of the stage when I heard someone ask, “Need any help there?” I put the drum down next to the others and paused to catch my breath, “You look proper knackered.”

  “I’m fine,” I replied, “thank you.”  I turned around.

  He was tall and lanky, with blonde hair, which was wavy and tied back.  There was light stubble on his chin, which, when taken alongside his ripped jeans, t-shirt and plaid shirt, added to the overall air of scruffiness he had about him.  I turned my back on him, and once more picked up the bass drum.  He picked up one of the snares.  “No, really,” I repeated as we turned to face each other, “I can manage.”  I was taller than him and probably stronger too, but I didn’t have time to argue with him.  Instead, I turned my back on him once more and walked back past the stage.  It was pretty dark back there, and the light from the desk when I passed through the doors was of great relief.  As I began to climb the stairs, I could hear him behind me.  I paused in order to scan the posters on the staircase walls for any upcoming gigs of interest.  (Red Vinyl Fur are playing at The Gates in a couple of weeks, supporting Angelica, which should be good.)  He was catching up by then, so I moved onwards and upwards.

  My mother had parked her car in Back Piccadilly, the dark alleyway that runs alongside The Gates.  It took a few trips, but soon we had moved the whole kit, and I was ready to start loading it into the car.  “Thanks for the help,” I said as I unlocked the boot.

  “That’s alright,” he tucked a stray strand of hair behind his ear.  “Your band played well, Titanium Rose, wasn’t it?”

  “That’s right.”

  “Interesting name… where does it come from?”

  “Oh,” I smiled, “from Sigur-Rós, and that Sonic Youth song, ‘Titanium Exposé’.”

  He held out his hand, “I’m Fergus.”

  I shook it, “Maggie.”

  “I run a label,” he announced, “I wanted to talk to you, and the rest of the band, about maybe doing a record.”

  (Later)

I didn’t get time to write down everything for you when I got home because I was too tired, which is why I ended my entry so abruptly.  I wanted to lie awake in the darkness for a while and think about things, though, really I ought to have written everything down straightaway, for accuracies sake, still… I don’t feel as though I will ever have time to properly document my life, and maybe that’s just as well.  For now, I can only do my best with what little time I have.

  It was starting to rain as we loaded the drums into the car, and it was so dark in that little alley that I had to feel in order to see where I had put them.  Once we had finished, we headed back inside to discuss the possible single deal that Fergus was offering with the others.

  We worked our way through the crowd by the door to the side of the stage and onwards into the dressing room.  Here we found Fliss and Violet, in quiet conversation.

  “Where are the others?” I asked.

  “Don’t know,” replied Fliss, “Katy was getting a drink when I last saw her.”

  We closed the door behind us.

  The DJ was playing Marilyn Manson as we surveyed the by now much more crowded room for Flora and Katy.  We found them at the bar with Nat, and I quickly introduced Fergus to all of them.  Well, all of them aside from Nat: it turns out that she and Fergus already know each other.

  “Let’s talk in the dressing room,” I suggested, “whilst the other bands are out of the way,” Flora and Katy agreed.

  The Gates dressing room hadn’t improved any since I had stuck my head around the door earlier.  It’s the graffiti that puts me off; it wouldn’t be so bad if it were just the names of bands, but the walls are covered in pictures of genitalia and the kind of sexually explicit diagrams that I imagine even ‘More!’ would probably hesitate to use for ‘Position Of The Fortnight’.  The walls get re-painted periodically, but they only stay clean for a couple of nights usually.

  Fergus’ proposed deal was that he sign us up to do a single, and later (finances permitting) more singles, and an album.  In the course of any time spent recording, releasing, and promoting material released on his label, (which is called One Way Or Another) Titanium Rose and/or any of the individuals making up Titanium Rose, will be free to record, release, and promote material for other labels.  As well as other liberties, we are also allowed to arrange our own artwork and we even maintain copyright of the songs.  It sounded fine to me, and the others agreed.

  The meeting broke up soon after, and we joined the crowd outside to watch the remainder of the headline band’s set.  I wasn’t that impressed with them myself, but the crowd seemed to be really going for it, and the atmosphere was generally good.  Bodies slammed into each other as hair lashed the steamy, smoky air, and the band ground relentlessly on, but I stood away from it all.  Had we not been playing ourselves, I doubt very much that I would have paid to see this band.  It’s different somehow when you’re playing a gig with them though, you feel obliged to watch.

  Soon it was chucking out time and Fliss, Flora and Katy all left for home, leaving me with Fergus outside on the dark, damp, street.  The crowd from The Gates were streaming past us as he asked, “Can I give you a lift?”

  “No, it’s alright,” I replied, “I’m going home with my mum, she’s driving.”

  “Oh, right,” he made to leave.

  “Thank you.”

  He smiled, “Bye”

  “Bye”

  As I got into the car, mum asked, “Who was that?”

  “Oh, this bloke,” I replied vaguely, “he’s going to release our records for us.”

  She watched his retreating form for a few moments, “Not unattractive…” she murmured, rather wistfully.

  “Mum!”

  She shrugged defensively, “Just saying…”

  She told me as we drove along the still busy A6, through Stockport, to Hazel Grove, that she had enjoyed the gig.  “Your band anyway, I didn’t think much of the other two.”  She didn’t comment much beyond that, and I was too tired to pursue the subject upon arriving home, but it was enough.  It is probably very un-punk for your parents to like your band, but I don’t care.  I’m still pleased.

Chapter One: Footsteps In The Dark

 The bus was quiet tonight. The shift workers, pub regulars and club goers had all set off for home before me, so I had the bus largely to myself.  The dim orange lighting created pockets of light amidst the creaking shadows as we travelled at a maniacs pace towards Ardwick, and across the aisle from me, a gaunt, dark featured man slept, sprawled across his seat. But I was too excited to sleep, my brain was humming impatiently, even though my body was tired, and I couldn’t wait to get home and write in here about tonight.  As I gazed out of the window into the night, I noticed a small and ragged group of drunks, weaving their way along the damp grey pavement, and as we drew closer to Stockport, the streets became darker and darker as the street lighting grew paler and more inconsistent.

  A wonderful baking smell of melting golden syrup, caramelised sugar, melting butter, and toasted oats floated in through the open windows on the breezy night air as we neared the McVities factory in Heaton Chapel, and the yellow glare of the bus headlights lit up the sign, which read:

Stockport

Twinned with Beziers and Heilbronn.

 What few bus passengers there were disembarked at a variety of stops between the town centre and Davenport, so that when the driver called out, “Anyone going past Stepping Hill?” I was the only one left to call back, “Yes!”

  The night seemed blacker and stiller than any night I could remember as I got off the bus, but I could see the bus driver in the dim light, and I watched as he turned the vehicle around in the middle of the now empty A6.  As he headed back towards Manchester, I waved, and he waved back.  In the silent night, the click and clunk of my boots on the tarmac and pavement seemed deafeningly loud.

  Mum was just going to bed when I arrived home, “You’re up late,” I commented as I walked through the dark hallway and into the warm glow of the living room.

  “I could say the same about you,” she remarked as I dumped my bag down on the floor and threw myself down into the nearest armchair, “I was worried, I wish you’d buy a mobile, that way you could at least let me know when you’ll be late.”

  I shrugged, “Sorry.” I unwrapped the parcel of newspaper I’d been carrying, and offered it to her as she made to walk past me, “Want some chips?”

  She paused, and then peered, suspiciously, into the newspaper, “Where did you get them?”

  “John’s Supper Bar.”

  She relaxed, “Go on then,” she took a few, and had eaten them before she reached the doorway, “Don’t stay up too late,” I heard her say, just before I heard her feet on the stairs, taking her up to bed.

  The chips are gone now, and I’m ready to start writing.  I thought that I would write about tonight so that when I’m older and life is different I can look back on this time and, if I’m unhappy then, I’ll know that it wasn’t always so.  Maybe I’ll look back on what I’ve written tonight in ten years or so and laugh at my naiveté, but I hope not. 

  Tonight Fliss, Flora and I went out to The Gates to see The Lollies, Sarah Dougher, The Bangs, and The Gossip on the Ladyfest tour.  The weather was quite nice and sunny as we queued up outside and there were a lot of people there.  Some were sitting on the pavement feigning boredom, whilst others chatted excitedly in clusters, or slouched against the dark, grimy Gates walls.  Several of the girls were proudly sporting the pink on black Ladyfest Scotland t-shirts and were talking in fast, excited voices.  I caught the odd phrase here and there, “Unbelievable, God it was so cool…” “Last time I was here was for Katastrophy Wife and Hooker,” “Can’t believe I’ve got to go home next week…” There were a variety of looks and styles going on, including a number of girls in denim skirts, customised with glitter, wearing Hello Kitty or Sunnydale High t-shirts, and carrying pastel Hello Kitty handbags of every colour.  Their trainers were pastel too, and they wore them with multi coloured stripy knee socks, pulled right up.  Their wrists were a mass of multi coloured plastic beads.  Of strong contrast to them were those dressed in black and leopard skin, sombre and stylish, wearing black nail varnish, and lashings of black eyeliner.

  Fliss joined a collection of similarly young or younger girls in the Hello Kitty group once we were inside, and Flora and I watched as they piled their pretty pastel handbags on top of each other, and danced around them to The Lollies.  Fliss’ fair hair, which was gathered up into bunches, bobbed as she danced, and the skirt of her pale pink slip dress shimmered as it caught the light.  Everything was going fine until the pipes burst, which was when we found ourselves being dispersed from the dark, warm basement, through the doors, up the stairs, and out into the cool evening sunshine of Newton Street, where we stood blinking and disorientated for a few minutes.

  Fliss slung on her Bagpuss backpack over her white cardigan and slip dress, and bounced over to the steps opposite The Gates, where Flora and I had taken up disillusioned residence.  Her little white and pink trainer clad feet shifted in impatience as she said, “Let’s go somewhere.”

  Flora shook her head gloomily.  It was beginning to rain, and the dampness was making her long, thick, brassy hair cling to her forehead and face in damp strands, “Let’s not.”  Fliss pouted, so Flora added, gently, “We might miss something.”

  Fliss turned to me for support, her large blue eyes pleading, “Where did you want to go?” I asked.

  “Oh, around,” she replied vaguely, “I wanted to go for a walk.”

  “In this?” The rain was getting quite heavy, and those members of the audience who had coats were quickly pulling them on.

  She nodded.

  I shook my head.

  “Oh well,” she sighed dejectedly as she wrapped the too big cardigan around herself for warmth.

  After what seemed an age, it was determined that the gig was going to be moved to The Twilight Café, and that the bands could go on once the Twilight bands had finished playing at around 11:30pm.  Once this was decided, things happened pretty quickly.  People began to text their friends, who had taken shelter in various surrounding pubs, and a group of us volunteered to carry equipment across to the new venue.

  The last band were still performing when we reached the Twilight, and the long, illuminated, table strewn café was teeming with both their audience and refugees from The Gates as we fought our way through to the stage with our precious cargo.

  We set down the cymbals and drum we’d been carrying, and then made our way, slowly, back through the crowd.  Flora was already at the bar, ordering drinks.

  After the gig, we walked to Portland Street where we picked up a bus to Chorlton.  Flora closed her eyes as she sank back into her seat, and I smiled quietly to myself as I savoured the gig.  Next to me, Fliss was beaming with happiness as she rooted through her bag for her phone.

  Katy, our guitarist, was halfway to bed when the three of us arrived back at the house.  She scowled reproachfully at me as I followed the others inside.  Where height is concerned, she is almost as small as Fliss, but whereas Fliss has always exuded a kind of friendly softness, Katy has always come across as being a good deal harder.  Her bleached white-blonde hair was pulled back from her sharp, pallid face into a ponytail, and she was wearing black pyjamas.

  Fliss hung up her Bagpuss bag and disembarked to make mugs of tea whilst Flora and Katy walked through to the living room, the latter complaining of feeling tired whilst the former continued to talk excitedly of the gig.  I followed a few steps behind them.

  Always a dark room, the living room was badly lit by a series of lamps, and cluttered with magazines, a tailors dummy, T.V and video.  A Hi-Fi system stood in one corner, and numerous musical and non musical paraphernalia had been scattered hither and thither, including Fliss’ copy of ‘Angel Food’ fanzine, which had got mixed up with someone else’s CD’s, and innumerable plectrums which were lying on top of the Hi-Fi, and on the table.  We were sitting on a rather dingy moss green sofa, which was complemented by two similarly dingy moss green armchairs, a scarred pine coffee table, and a couple of grey wooden chairs that Flora and Fliss had decorated via a method of flicking loaded paint brushes in the vague direction of the chair, until boredom had set in.

  Fliss placed three mugs of tea down on the coffee table in front of the sofa and sat down in between me and Flora, “Shall I do toast?”

  “If you like,” replied Flora, wearily rubbing her eyes.  We drank our tea and, when the toast was ready, set about arranging days and times for band practice next week and the week after.  This is always difficult, as our work and study commitments rarely seem to mean that we’re all available at the same time. I have two jobs, so I regularly work from nine to five as a Catering Assistant, and then follow it with an evening of market research, which only really leaves the weekends, when everyone wants to go out instead of rehearse. Katy has a similar schedule, albeit with different jobs, whereas Fliss and Flora work even odder hours.  Once we’d finally arranged it, I decided that it was time to head for home.

  “You can sleep here if you like,” offered Flora, her brown eyes kind.  She is the eldest member of the household in Chorlton and, as such, tends to be the one to make such offers.

  “No, thanks,” I got up from the sagging sofa, and picked up my bag, “I’ve got work in the morning.”

  “You wouldn’t want to slum it on the sofa now, would you?” sneered Katy, her grey eyes cold.

  “No,” it was easier to agree with her, especially when I knew that she didn’t want me to stay, “it hurts my back.”

  “I could sleep on the sofa if you like,” offered Fliss, “you could have my bed.”

  “Don’t bother, Fliss,” muttered Katy to her friend, “she won’t stay.”

  She and I glared at each other for a few moments before I dropped my gaze.  “I have to go.”

  It seemed easier to let her win the argument, I reflected, as I stepped out into the night.  I’ve been aware of the fact that Katy doesn’t like me ever since I joined Titanium Rose, but I always thought that she would come around to the idea.  Their previous drummer was a friend of hers, but he left to go to university over a year ago now, and she really needs to get over it, because I’m not going anywhere.  I like being in the band, and hanging out with Fliss and Flora tonight was good fun.  If only Katy could see that.