To be known as ‘The Spectre’ one might think that Jim had a ghostly or haunting presence, that he was somehow ‘not-of-this-world-but-a-little-of-the-next’. Not at all, he was a warm and gentle soul from Barnet in north London who came to Manchester Poly to do Business Studies. He arrived at St Clements Road in the Biddy Baxter intake of 1984. Although he moved fairly promptly to nearby Whalley Range, he kept in touch with his Chorlton roots. He would turn up in The Feathers for a bit of banter and liked to kickaround with the softlads on a Sunday. He even inspired the Mad Dog to invest some of his ill-begotten Goblin gains in a saxaphone. Indeed he flitted in and out of the scene for quite a few years after I left Manchester, memorably hosting a historic Longsight weekend in the mid-nineties. This was famous for two things – the foundation of the Tackley dynasty and the ‘Raining Stones’ breakfast in a cafe in Longsight Market. But it was when we moved to Fallowfield that we saw most of him – he was in a big Victorian house on the other side of Alexandra Park and a regular drop-in visitor. One such occasion was the night of the 1987 General Election when my abiding memory is not of the shock-horror prospect of another four years of Margaret Thatcher but Jim with his bottle of Thunderbird, last man standing at sunrise. I thought I could drink anything in those days and quite possibly it was the sight of the smug early-declaring David Amess ‘Today Basildon, Tomorrow the World’ but that stuff left me cold. It was these ‘unannounced’ visits that caused Jim to acquire his name. ‘On spec’ was a common parlence of the time, meaning to turn up somewhere without prior notification. Hence ‘The Spectre’. Such a trait has always been a very good thing in my book but almost unthinkable in these over-organised social-media mobile-phone obsessed times. I salute you, Jim – there needs to be more Spectres in this world and hopefully the next.
I heard Big Ron Atkinson on the radio the other day and came over all nostalgic. He was a big part of my Manchester years, in fact his tenure there, 81-86, almost mirrored my own. The flash, cigar-chomping, perma-tanned, white-suited, jewellery-loving Mr Bo Jangles, personified that era. And you know, he wasn’t a half bad manager. His swashbuckling team won two FA Cups, regularly turned-over Liverpool and had some momentous European nights. His only crime was failing to knock The Mickeys off their perch – but he had a bit of fun trying to do so and definitely got up their noses more than once. So much so, that a typically witty scouse banner was draped behind the goal during a televised game – ‘Atkinson’s got Aids’. He was unlucky that it wasn’t just the usual mob from Anfield providing strenuous opposition. This period also saw the flowering of Howard Kendall’s Everton Toffees. They famously beat him 5-0 in 1984, a match I was going to attend, but fortunately ducked out of at the last minute. I was shifting home-brew round to Albany Road for a party. He got his revenge at Wembley a year later when Norman Whiteside scuppered the Toffee Treble. Big Ron swaggered into town in the summer of 1981, just a few months before me. Not long after, he dug into his old West Bromwich Albion treasure chest and signed the highly desirable Bryan Robson. I was on The Stretford End when the permed superstar signed on the pitch before a match with Wolves. Remi Moses, originally from Moss Side, followed shortly afterwards. Robbo was great. Dave Waldron who was on my Foundation Course came from West Brom and lived near Robson’s old home there. The two of us bunked off class to go and watch United training at their ground on the edge of Salford known as ‘The Cliff’. We wandered across the car-park and spotted the new United hero about to jump into his motor. ‘Hiya, Bryan’ announced Dave. ‘How’s it going? Have you sold the house in Pear Tree Road yet?’ This was only a few years before footballers started living in castles, but what are the chances of such an exchange today? It would have been easier to escape from Colditz than get near a freshly-showered professional footballer of the modern era about to turn the keys of his Bentley Continental. We chatted for a good few minutes about moving house, coming to live in a new city etc, then off he went, on the road to legendary Captain Fantastic, Red Leader status. As for Big Ron, bless him, he created a lot of excitement and a pile of very good memories. I wonder who on earth succeeded him?
The ‘Highway in the Sky’ opened by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1967 dissects an area south of the City Centre. I don’t think I ever drove on this elevated section known as ‘The Mancunian Way’ but I must’ve walked under it about a thousand times. It cut a swathe over studentland, passing from the edges of Hulme and Salford and over what used to be Gaythorne Gasworks and Barry White’s Medlock Fine Art building. I followed its course to go there to arrange Teenage Kicks astroturf matches against Dave Waldron’s gifted but wayward Fine Art XI. Buried somewhere in the middle of that was a river called the Medlock on whose crumbling and dangerous banks I exercised my newly-acquired Pentax K-1000 in 1982. The area was called Chorlton-on-Medlock, not to be confused with my own cum-Hardy stamping-ground. At this point the motorway whizzed over Oxford Road descending round the back of The Lass of Gowrie and the BBC somewhere in the vicinity of UMIST. It was Manchester’s answer to The Westway but instead of The Clash there were a bunch of particularly aggressive Irish homeless people whose hostile exchanges with the mohicans coming out of the Mandela Building were always worth watching, a car-park and some football cages. Most bizarrely, I recall an unfinished ‘road to nowhere’ sliproad which peeled dramatically off and stopped suddenly in mid-air. It summed it all up really.
Blackpool, ‘The Vegas of The North’ wasn’t on my radar for a couple of years and then it became a regular fixture, maybe three or four times a year and even a proper little family holiday for a few days in the middle of the summer. Janice first took a few of us over one Saturday night, almost a spur-of-the-moment jaunt one early summer evening. We packed it all in, a few pints, the Pleasure Beach, ice creams and a stroll on the front. It was less than an hour’s train journey from Victoria Station and on any weekend, on any train there were piles of giddy young Mancs all set for a jolly day out. They even had their own rough-as-you-like seafront pub, The Manchester Arms patrolled by the evilest looking bouncers in Lancashire. Looking back now it was all pretty awful, loads of drunken Scots, loads of drunken Mancunians, tackiness and tat on every corner. But it had trams, a tower and a certain charm and was all good clean fun typified by going to see a Big Daddy v Giant Haystacks wrestling bout, Paul Daniels Magic Show at the Winter Gardens or the Bolton Young Farmers Christmas Ball, headlined by Buster Bloodvessel and Bad Manners. The giant funfair complex known as The Pleasure Beach was the biggest draw, with rides called The Grand National and The ‘loop-the-loop’ Revolution. I think you got a block of twelve ‘white knuckle’ rides for about £4. Through his skill on ‘The Kentucky Derby’ my brother once won six digital watches there over the course of a weekend.
The rarified damp Mancunian air and numerous waterways were historically beneficial to the manufacturing of threads and garments. Hence the development of the cotton industry in the nineteenth century, whose entrepreneurial godfathers we needed to thank for the great stone warehouses on the likes of Whitworth, Portland and Moseley Street. It was in those basements we shuffled around to Grandmaster Flash and The Smiths through the nineteen eighties and in later decades on whose upper floors yuppie types landed themselves inner-city crashpad conversions. But enough of all that social history bobbins. A miracle to me at the time was how Janice not only coped with putting food on our table, but also handled the clothes-washing requirements of six young men to whom she was not blood-related. Six boys who ran around a lot, sweated a great deal and generally would have created a pile of filthy garments enough to make any Victorian cotton magnate twirl his moustache in consternation. I’m sure there were laundrettes nearby but her looking after our cleansing needs was part of the deal. And, I have no recollection of ever feeding her washing machine. We just left the clothes out, and as if by magic they were returned. She didn’t do ironing though students have little need of pressed clothes unless they are preparing themselves for Grab-a-Granny-Night at The Ritz or collecting pots. Even that went on in the gigantic Watts textile warehouse which was transformed into The Brittania Hotel in the early eighties. Naturally three nights of beer stains and emptying ash-trays meant my white shirts needed a lot of attention, so ironing became part of the evening ritual which went with the job. Janice’s efficiency at this operation was astonishing and in all my five and a half years there, I cannot recall losing a single item of clothing. Having said that, I did inherit a pair of powder-blue underpants which I wore for a couple of years longer than was possibly desirable. They belonged to ‘RGB Jones’ (he’d been to boarding school and they had a little name-tag sewn in). What the hell. They were comfortable and a nice little reminder of him. ‘Manchester, this famous great factory town. Dark and smoky from the coal vapours. Work, profit and greed seem to be the only thoughts here’. (Schopenhauer, 1830)