I can't manage a cohesive passage of prose tonight (too late; too tired; still in recovery from an ill-advised hour spent watching Grand Designs Revisited on Channel Four, in which Ian and Sarah from West Kensington splurge £0.75 million and half kill themselves with sleep deprivation in the act of converting their perfectly serviceable Victorian family mewshouse into a five-storey eco-friendly fibre-glass pleasure-pad complete with outdoor sitting room, rooftop wildflower meadow and luridly-illuminated basement dancefloor- that balding and slightly
disconcerting man who does the presenting on Grand Designs was so transported
with pleasure you would swear at any minute he’d have a Goddamn heart attack) but we can probably stretch to some sentences, on the strict understanding that they don’t come connected up in any way (you can maybe do the connections yourself at home, like you would an IKEA flatpack bookcase, screwdrivers and allen keys not supplied).
Tonight at work. A residents meeting, held in the corner of a suburban pub crowded with hopeful aficionados getting ready to take in Manchester City versus Real Madrid on the big screens. A half-eaten, forlorn buffet stretches across
three long tables, and a short defensive wall of high-backed wooden chairs
cordons us off from the masses, lest they attempt to help themselves to the publicly-subsidised curled-up ham sandwiches or gatecrash the discussion of urgent committee business (a lottery bid for a playpark; proposals to build an Aldi in the Arndale). My agenda item is done and I’m wanting to get home on my bike, but have been buttonholed by a tiny octogenarian in a pearl necklace, who is regaling me with reminiscences of her years as a dinner lady. I feel it is rude to
interrupt, and some time elapses before I realise the meeting has ground to a
halt while the Chair (who I think also thought it was rude to interrupt) waits
for us to stop. I make my excuses and leave.
Earlier, on the metro platform. A black kid, maybe 11 years old, maybe younger, distressed. Turns out he’s got on the wrong train and ended up in the unfamiliar far Westside and can’t find his way home. Using the map on the ticketmachine I trace him a route back to the haven of St Werbughs along the purple line, remembering the time (I was a bit older, old enough to know better really) when I got on a bus going the wrong way at Washington Precinct and ended up at a pit village at the very far southern tip of County Durham, thereby missing my paper-round and earning a black look the following morning from my employer Mr Carlton the Amiable Geordie Racist Newsagent. Eventually the metro comes and it is packed with City fans displaying their trademark gallows humour in the face of odds-on elimination from European contention. The carriage is a Boddingtons-scented sea of light blue and white, save for a sinewy six-pack of twentysomething Asian office workers who, judging by their self-confident hairstyles and general air of entitlement, would be recent alumni of Westside Grammar or I’m the Archbishop of Canterbury. ‘There’s no way I’m going to the fucking work do’, announces the most self-confident hairstyle. ‘Having too many of those shit
conversations. No fucking way’. There is some debate as to whether the rules
of engagement for the aforesaid office celebration permit for the transfer of a
non-attending employees’ free bar-tokens to his or her thirsty and deserving colleagues. The resigned consensus is that sadly that particular loophole seems to have been closed by edict of the scroogelike management classes.
Days earlier- so many days ago it wasn’t even the week, it was the weekend, and
Manchester City’s European Dream was still (albeit only mathematically, as they say on the sports pages) alive. Platt Fields Park, by the lake. An very, very old and expensively dressed European aristocrat-type lady, the last of a dying breed which used to be common or garden the length of Wilmslow Road back in the day, has spent the last hour determinedly tracing the perimeter of the vast, still, watery expanse, painful step by painful step, and assisted by not one but two NHS-issue crutches. She stops to admire Frankie’s remote control boat- but her attention is then taken by the half-folded Brompton. ‘Is that bike- for the boy?’ I explain its mine and give a short demonstration of the unfolding and folding up thing. Her eyes light up as she sets off again, crutches click-click-clicking like knitting needles. ‘Oy, oy oy, this modern world..!’ I can hear her half-saying, half-singing to herself as she disappears into the space between the bowling green and the tiny kids play area.
The day before that, by which we would mean Saturday, would we not. Another tiny kids play area, closer to home (strange how all these not-connected stories seem to involve tiny kids play areas, or tiny kids, or very very old
ladies). Lowering tiny Maisie into the swing, while her also-still-quite-small brother careers in and out of my eyeline, chased by their cousin Frankie, who in comparison looks enormous, and about as appropriate a sight in a tiny kids playground as Wayne Rooney, or Ed Milliband, or a big-handed ruddy-cheeked Irish farmhand, complete with tractor. I experience a flashback to- when- seven
years ago? yesterday?- when it would be a tiny, gurgling Frankie being lowered into the swing, and he would spend the whole afternoon there if we let him, quite happily being lulled back and forth, the enginerumbles of unseen Virgin trains and Northern trains (he knew the difference, even then) floating airborne across to us through the remaining treeleaves in the chill late-autumn air . ‘Where does the time go?’ I ask myself, possibly out loud, I’m not sure. ‘Seriously- where does it go?’.