It’s a rare sight these days but in the early eighties on a Friday lunchtime it was not uncommon to see five or six clusters of people, some individuals, a few in pairs, on Princess Parkway not far from The Snooty Fox, trying to jump aboard a vehicle heading south. I must have been to London about a dozen times in such a way. Down there, it was always a case of heading for Brent Cross and that grim sliproad with the big blue sign ‘M1, Luton and The North’. It was always a bit more competitive there, very little banter was exchanged with any fellow hitchers. Having negotiated The Smoke, traffic was keen to get moving on the open road so it was a tricky business to persuade them to stop. Sometimes I made a sign. The insertion of the word ‘please’ after the destination always seemed to help but sometimes it was more fun to just stick your thumb out and take pot luck. How such a shy boy who could barely communicate with his fellow art students was happy to jump in a car or a truck with a complete stranger is beyond me. How anyone ever deigned to pick me up is even more inexplicable. For a while I had long lank hair and favoured an ensemble of hooded anorak, paint-splashed denim and doc martins. I certainly wasn’t making an effort. Though having said that, I did once hitch to an interview in Wolverhampton so I presumably put a clean shirt on for that one. Certainly I had some very pleasant journies. It was probably easier to do it alone, only a certain type of person is going to pick up a couple of lads but it was surprising how easy it was. Myself and Kerry ‘Kez’ Finnon even got a ride with a female Cambridge Professor on the way to see Man Utd at Luton. On the way back we were jammed in the back of a transit fan with about a dozen Salford lads all in varying degrees of intoxication. At Dunstable the door was pulled open by a red-faced curly-haired cherub who informed us ‘Its all goin off reet royal at train station’. The Happy Mondays all piled out and rather than wait for them we wisely decided to find another ride. Sitting high in the cab of a monster truck listening to repeated playings of Motorhead’s Overkill was another good memory as was the seven hour ride with an amiable fruitcake whose car kept overheating on the way to his sister’s place in ‘Sluff’(where they make Mars Bars). Being dropped off in an out-of-the-way spot was part of the fun. The only time I’ve ever set foot in the likes of St Albans Leek or Melton Mowbray was through breaking the journey on the way to somewhere else. It was a good way of seeing a bit of the country. Come early summer, I can’t look at a field of bright yellow rapeseed without being reminded of a blazing hot day and being dumped on the wrong side of Hilton Park services and having to wade through a field of the crop to get to the motorway. It was an almost psychedelic experience. Only once can I recall failing to get a ride and that was when I suddenly decided on a whim one Friday night at about 9 o’clock to walk out of The Royal Oak in Chorlton. My intention was to be on the terraces at Highbury the following afternoon. I dashed home to pick up my ‘London Please’ sign and trotted off down Barlow Moor Road, past Southern Cemetery to Princess Parkway. I was there for two hours before stumbling back home, starving and freezing, in desparate need of chilli scrapings. One word of advice, alcohol and hitching do not mix.
Ian was not by any means your stereotypical parsimonious anti-sassenach Scot. His forefathers had Italian blood and he was born in Glasgow in the late sixties, when that old industrial powerhouse of Europe had an average male life expectancy of just 55 years. I met him by chance in 1986 at The Cornerhouse, a burgeoning arts centre, cafe and cinema. I liked him. His easy-going non-pretentious approach stood out in a niche that was moving swiftly in the opposite direction. McLager proffered a stylish minimalist business card that simply read ‘Mirror Image’. He lived in Fallowfield. It didn’t have Rusholme’s fabulous curry mile and was more of a halfway house, a bit of Moss Side’s volatile ethnic edge mixed up with some of Didsbury’s middle-class leafy dreaminess. And it was there that McLager ushered me into a spacious rambling detached house with a long narrow unkempt garden which he rented with his business partner John. The chilled atmosphere hit me immediately as we sat at their higgledy-piggledy kitchen table and McLager popped a couple of Rolling Rock beers. He never liked to talk shop. After all, we were in theory competitors, with the mutual aim of being big fish in the same small graphic design pond. Ian described his grim tenement block upbringing with five other siblings on the Govan estate, but he didn’t offer me Tatties or deep-fried Mars Bars. Instead a fresh green feta salad with pita bread arrived as I marvelled at his long dexterous chiseled hands and easy hospitality. Shortly afterwards, in his broad Glaswegian working class accent, he introduced me to John. Spotting the array of turntables, guitars and BASF techno gear I asked what music he was into. McLager volunteered the music of the future. ‘I like The Cure, Happy Mondays, Joy Division, The Ramones and ACR’ he replied. ‘That stuff is different. There’s a pub across the road. Lets get a lunch-time pint’. The Coach and Horses was a lovely black and white 17th century drinking hole with an outdoor patio. We sat in the autumnal sunshine. ‘Ambient music, Paul. Do you know much about that ?’ As it happened I knew about Kraftwerk but I’d only scratched the surface. McLager got the beers in but remained aloof. Their teamwork, commercial savvy and communication skills made an immediate impact on me and the intensity of John’s originals compositions shocked me. Later as I purchased a round whilst keeping an eye on a tasty blonde at the bar in Pepe jeans, I heard for the first time the immortal words, ‘Pal, make mine a lager top-shandy. No, you nupty! Just a drop of lemonade on the top’. Ian McLager Top had arrived. His business partner John later got involved with the Cafe del Mar scene and went on to ambient superstardom. In fact a few years later his own compositions, although low key were making the charts. Ian and I enjoyed a residential EAS jolly in Alderley Edge and I never drank a straight lager again. By 1992 John Major was in power and we had all reinvented ourselves. At the top of a steep hill behind Great Ancoats was 24 New Mount Street, a hub for young entrepreneurs lighting up the north’s bleak landscape. I was there flogging advertising space for a dodgy listings magazine and there was McLager. ‘Hello Ian, what are you into now?’ I enquired. He replied ‘The future’. Out came a huge mechanical contraption, one foot long. ‘Mobiles, Paul. The world is now virtual.’ I stared agog at the tall Glaswegian. I never saw Ian McLager Top again but I bet you he’s not living in a tenement block.
After tea if we weren’t rushing off to collect pots or get back to our studying we’d settle down in the front room to watch a bit of TV. Orders would be taken for the evening brew and we’d lounge on the brown upholstery and kick back for a feast of early eighties viewing. My strongest memories are of the shows I never really watched but were always ‘on’. American imports such as The A Team, Dallas, Fantasy Island, Quincy and Magnum PI. It was all big moustaches, tropical shirts and gravelly voices. Weekends were ‘Game for a Laugh’, the Saturday night trickery that bought Jeremy Beadle to the nation’s attention and the truly dire ‘Three, Two, One’ which I always associate with eating kebab-meat from Beech Road. ‘The Young Ones’ was popular with a few people but funnily enough it did nothing for me. The real deal was happening a few streets away in 25 Albany Road and was much more fun. I don’t recall much news coverage because we had our noses stuffed in the chilli trough at that moment, but Tony Wilson and Stuart Hall were the big local anchormen. I had a secret passion for Selina Scott and she sent me a signed photo after I wrote to her. Even in those days most telly was trash. There was hardly any football and day-time TV only really kicked-in around 1986. Current affairs was all pretty dull and uninspiring, we got most of our politics from Spitting Image. Janice held sway over the remote control, assuming such a device existed and Coronation Street was banned. St Clements Road was in fact a soap-free zone. The ‘must-see’ programme which I remember we all made an effort to watch was The Kenny Everett Show. He seemed to tick all our boxes and we usually ran out of seats which somehow added to the sense of occasion. Hard to believe in this multi-channel digital age but we all got very excited when a FOURTH channel started up in the autumn of 1982. ‘The Tube’ was a big favourite but it was on at an awkward time. ‘Countdown’ was famously the first ever programme on Channel 4, but its a huge myth that every student slobbered over Carol Vorderman and downed their pencils when it came on. I don’t recall that happening until a few years later. Then, at the height of the Thatcher boom we all went crazy for a programme called ‘Howard’s Way’. It was all money, shoulderpads and evil southern entrepreneurs storming round the Solent on their jet-skis. With his figure-hugging pastel knitwear and man-jewels, the perma-tanned lady-magnet Ken Masters was the man we supposed despised but all secretly wanted to be. That’s when we weren’t dreaming about the equally noxious ‘New Statesman’, the Honourable Alan Beresford B’stard MP.