You Need Hands

You Need Hands

There was a beguiling plethora of late night drinking-holes in 1983 Manchester, catering for sixty thousand students, goths, heavy rockers, bikers and punks. My favourite of them all was Placemate Seven. Just the name iteslf was so promising. It was the home of future Radio One DJ, ‘Ooh’ Gary Davies and with the gelled mullet at its zenith, a popular haunt of the likes of Gene Denham. One fine spring evening I entered in the company of two more experienced pros, Mad Dog and Monsieur Le Shark. One in tight groovy daffodil-coloured pants, the other in Morrison-style leather trousers – though the effect was more supermarket than Riders of the Storm. The magic of Placemates was its individual compartments, seven different rooms, some played Level 42, others reggae, disco or new romantic. You could flit effortlessly from one to the other. Nurses, checkout girls, employees straight from the Goblin pie production line, all looked happy. They came from faraway places with funny names; Davyhulme, Urmston, Beswick, Crumpsall, Sale and Wythenshawe. All dancing their sorrows away on a Saturday night. Le Shark bobbed and smooched his way across the dancefloor and I met Andrea from Ardwick. Our half-date was brutally cut short on the way to the local chippy when she uttered the immortal words ‘Sorry, your hands are too small’. This rejection, though painful at the time failed to dampen my ardour. Le Shark escorted Heather from Harpurhey home and I was left to rue the gargantuan near-miss with young Andrea. Truth be told, despite having as much bluster and chat as Montgomery Clift, my conversion rate with the ladies was on a par with Garry Birtles at Man Utd. My only two ever serious girlfriends were from Uttoxeter and Hereford Covent Schools for Girls respectively. Yes, I could use an Alan Sillitoe line – ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’, quote John Updike, Brendan Behan or even sing John Lennon’s Working Class Hero – but the truth was my hands were as soft as a baby’s bum. So whilst Gustav took his iced cakes and working girls upstairs and Le Shark paraded Heather around the faintly sinister 25 Albany Road house whilst Mad Dog sat downstairs watching Mean Streets for the 85th time, I stared blankly at the poem on my bedroom wall by Rudyard Kipling – ‘If’. Step forward then, the sage of Longsight, former Man City youth player and horse racing aficionado, ‘Big Al’ Robinson. ‘Shake my hand, Socrates’ he said. ‘Remember, a friend will always look you in the eye, an enemy at your shoes’. Boy, his hands were coarse. He cleaned trains for a living, though I later learned that just like Magnier and J P McManus at the Coolmore stud, he made more from professional gambling. ‘Don’t brag or be too flash, son and get a manual job’. So I started collecting empty beer pots in Saturdays nightclub and when Janice wasn’t looking would help myself to extra helpings of delicious but gritty mince chilli con carne. I even offered to do the washing up after the traditional Sunday fry-up. Within weeks of my girlfriend Libby having won a Gillette scholarship to study and work in Boston, Massachusetts, I nonchalently asked Claire from Whalley Range who worked in Woolworths for a date. Remembering Big Al’s sound advice I took her to a play at the Library Theatre, Decadence by Steve Berkoff. We then went for a pint in a local pub. Libby was a changed woman on her return from the States and we drifted apart. Claire and I enjoyed a wonderful relationship. The fact that I moved out of the house of horror and back into digs where female company in the bedrooms was forbidden only improved the whole thing. Like most working class girls, Claire lived at home with Mum and Dad, so furtive high-risk clinches and derring-do was woven into the fabric of our life. It really did not do us any harm at all. More than twenty years later whilst living in Wembley, I swear I saw Andrea from Ardwick again. She was lined up outside Wembley Arena with a Gary Barlow lookalike. I could not see his hands but like everyone else that night, she looked really happy and at one with the world.

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