It was the end of January 1976 and it had been a cold winter.
My girlfriend had dumped me. She ripped the still beating heart from my chest, waved it before my horrified eyes and drop-kicked it over the fence. Then, she pulled out my stomach and all my intestines before spitting into the hollowness of my empty body.
Actually...not. It was quite an amicable break up. We had both agreed that is was all over, things hadn't been right for a while. Being the older woman she brushed my hair, gave me an apple, wiped the lipstick from my cheek and sent me home to mummy.
Still, it felt like the first scenario. We'd been together for a bit and I didn't think I'd ever find a girl who could make spanish omlette the way she could.
That was on Saturday night and on Monday night I still felt bad. Didn't fancy sitting in and so I ambled over to my local pub. Just the four of us in there. Me, the barman, some old bloke in a flat cap reading the newspaper and the fly buzzing 'round his head.
I couldn't take this. Pretty soon I'd be playing country and western and listening to the song about Jolene and her three legged dog that pulled her from in front of the runaway Mack truck losing it's own life in the process. I thought that nipping into Liverpool would be a better idea than that. Anything would be better than that.
Liverpool was a lot better. Flashing lights, loud music, noisy people, all keeping me too busy to think. After quite a few pints I had to make a run for the train home, last one at 11.20pm. Liverpool Lime Street station is pretty big and I ran along the platforms looking for the Widnes train. The signs had those little flipping over letters for destinations and I saw one at about the right place flip over to 'Wi'. I didn't waste any time, the train was about to pull out. Threw some money at the bloke in the ticket box and jumped on just as it was pulling out, felt quite like James Bond in 'From Russia With Love' leaping onto the Orient Express.
It was starting to snow by now and between the condensation on the inside and the dirt on the outside it was hard to see out of the windows. After about half an hour (which was what it usually took to get home I saw a railway sign starting with 'Wi' so I jumped off quick and the train pulled away.
Tracks to the right of me, tracks to the left of me. I was on a long narrow platform featuring only a sort of biggish three sided bus shelter, one solitary street lamp and some steps a few hundred yards away leading to a road bridge overhead. This didn't look like Widnes, I looked for the platform sign.
Wigan North West.
I stared at it for a bit while my mind tried to come to terms with what I was seeing. Now, Widnes is due east from Liverpool and, as you might expect, Wigan is about the same distance but sort of......north west. I brushed some of the freezing snow from the timetable and had a look. Yes, that was indeed the last train of the night.
All around me the few houses I could see had their lights out. I huddled in a corner of the shelter sitting on the wooden bench, hunched over my feet and pulled my collar up.
I lit a cigarette to warm my hands. Snow drifted softly down and settled onto my shoes. Above me the street light made a fizzing sound, snapped..... and the light went out.
I'll leave Tuesday out of this tale. Mostly because I can't remember it.
Wednesday morning found me in my mate Paul's home town about twenty miles from Wigan. That was a bit of a puzzle as it was about six in the morning and I had no idea how I got there, as far as I know there are no trains or buses to his home town from Wigan.
Anyway, I found myself standing outside Pauls front door, half a bottle of scotch in one pocket, half a bottle of gin in the other pocket and a fairly full bottle of what looked like vodka and lime in my hand. I took a swig, yes, it was vodka. I debated what to do. Ring the bell, use the knocker or knock with my knuckles? What I needed to do was wake Paul up without waking his wife up.
While I was standing there thinking Paul opened the door to pick up his two pints of gold top and a carton of yogourt. To give him his due he didn't even blink to find me standing there two feet in front of him.
"I'm all alone." I wailed. No doubt with one solitary tear running down my youthful cheek.
"Indeed you are." he said, glancing over my shoulder.
I sat in the kitchen while Paul went off to wash and shave and examined the contents of my pockets. Apart from the booze I had half a packet of ciggys, two empty packets of the same, a couple of books of matches (in those days I felt that book matches were cool, now I think my brass zippo is cool). I seemed to have more money than when I left home on Monday and assumed I must have raided a bank somewhere. Paul came back downstairs.
"We should get breakfast in town." he whispered "No need to wake up the missus." We both rolled our eyes upwards to the ceiling. Rumour had it that Patricia could kill a man at thirty paces with one lash of her tongue.
Off to nearby Bolton. We found a greasy cafe open at that time of the morning and had a decent breakfast. Bacon, sausages, fried eggs, mushrooms, fried tomatos, fried beans and lots of toast. Big mugs of tea. After a ciggy and coughing up a lung each we both felt better.
We mooched about the town, wandered through the museum. I bought some replica Greek and Roman coins, none of them would fit into slot machines. All the mummies looked dead and that was a bit depressing. Lunchtime and we were in the pub. They were playing 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.
"We ought to go out tonight." suggested Paul "Have a few drinks. Get your mind off things." It seemed like a good idea. We shot off to his place, cleaned up, had a bite to eat and drove back to Bolton.
Back in another pub. Paul reckoned that I ought to find a comely wench for the night, sort of take my mind off things. It seemed like a good idea, there were a couple sitting not too far away. You know how it is when you really want that job? That's when you never get it. If you don't care then you always get the job. With these two girls we hit it off straight away. Not wanting to spend all evening buying them drinks though Paul said that we had some things to take care of and that we'd meet them later in The Prince Of Wales at about ten o'clock. They were alright with that.
Paul reckoned that just in case they didn't turn up we ought to find two more as back up. Throughout the evening we flitted like bumble bees from honeysuckle to huneysuckle in golden sunlight. Finally we'd cut four pairs of fillies from their herds and felt we had a job well done. We had one last pint on our own and went off to The Prince Of Wales to check our catch.
"Hang on." says Paul "Suppose none of them have turned up? If we walk in at this time of night with no women we'll look a right pair of muppets. Everyone will know we've struck out and they'll be laughing 'till Easter." You can always depend on Paul to know how to act in any social situation. We dragged a couple of bins over and climbed on top to look in through the windows.
I was on the left so I leaned over and looked to the right, there were two of our girls. "S'alright" I muttered "They're here.". Paul had looked to the left and whispered much the same to me. When we looked more closely there were three sets of girls in there waiting for us.
"We can't go in now." said Paul "They'll rip us to pieces." I hadn't considered that. I'd rather fancied swimming in the lake that night (so to speak) but since Paul was married I'd sort of assumed he'd probably just kind of paddle in the shallows. Young and fit as I was I didn't think that even I could handle six harpies at once. We sat on the bins to have a smoke.
Nothing for it, we'd just have to throw them all back in the pond. We wandered off down the road like characters from Philip Marlow book, slowly singing.
'Mamaaaa, life had just begun,
And now I've gone and thrown it all away.'
After a bit, and when we'd stopped singing Bohemian Rhapsody we could hear some music in the distance, it drew us like the smell of fish and chips on a cold winters night. Up a dark side road there was one doorway with a lit sign over it. Good oh, a night club. It was just one doorway between what looked like a couple of houses and had one bloke with the darkest skin I'd ever seen standing in front of it.
He had the most amazing hair I'd ever seen too, all in a big ball around his head like some great big dandelion clock although the effect was a bit spoiled as it was all flat on one side where he'd been leaning on the wall. For one measly pound he'd allow us to enter his club and spend our money.
We each slipped him a quid, opened the door and fell down the stairs that started just where the door opened. Luckily there were only about a dozen steps before the stairs took a right angled turn so we soon fetched up against the wall with a couple of thumps. There was a dusky maiden at a little window who wanted ten shillings to look after our coats. We wanted to keep them but she insisted. In the end we gave her ten bob and kept our coats. Perhaps there'd be a raffle later and we'd leave with more coats than we'd started with.
There was one more more right angled turn on the stairs which by my reckoning placed us underneath the road but by then we didn't care. It was a very big, very dark room, in fact the only light came from the bar on the other side and a juke box. Still, we could see the silhouettes of lots of people and the light shining from the tops of tables and chairs. This looked OK.
We picked our way across to the bar and got our orders in. A great big black bartender with a shaved head and some sort of tattoo on the side of it. Just as the beer arrived the juke box came on.
'WAR, HOO!! GOOD GOD Y'ALL. WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR? ABSOLUTELY NOTHIN'
That was loud enough to blow our hair around our faces. We turned 'round to look at the room. Oddly enough even with the light behind us we couldn't see any faces. Just lots and lots of staring white eyes. Our heads swung from side to side like slow moving radar dishes.
"Hey man" I said to Paul "Why are we the only white people in here?"
"It might be something to do with the race riots." he replied "Didn't you see all the overturned burnt out cars on the way over here?"
This obviously needed some sort of plan and I didn't think that just dropping our pints and running was going to be good enough. Just off to the right was a table with two girls on their own. With three rather shakey but no doubt graceful bounds we were over there with looks of pleased surprise on our faces. We pretended that we knew them.
"We didn't see you over here." Paul screamed over the music "Another round?" he indicated the table. The girls nodded and we got more drinks.
The music changed to the theme from Shaft and we had a very pleasant night. Met lots of brothers and sisters. At first I thought this must be the biggest family in the world but then understood that it was just a figure of speech. Some time after 2am we reckoned it was time to leave. We still felt a bit like Jimmi Hendrix in Alabama but sort of in reverse so we clutched our somewhat curvacious shields by the waist as we left.
Outside Paul mumbled that he'd have to go and get the car. The girls were fine with that, one of them pointed across the road and said that there was a car park behind the football ground and they'd meet us there in half an hour or so. I looked and indeed behind the still smoking remains of the football grounds walls there may have been a car park. Paul and I went off in search of his car.
Arms over each others shoulders and high kicking in step we sang again.
'Mama Mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for meeee, for meeeee, for meeeeeeeeee'
We found the car without too much trouble and I asked Paul if we were really going back. I'd had enough and was pretty tired by now. All I wanted to do was sleep.
"Jeez, no." he said "They're probably building individual bonfires for us. Lets' just go home." I was all for that.
We got into the car and Paul just sat there.
"I can't feel my legs." he mumbled.
"Never mind" I replied "we're driving not walking. Let's go".
"You don't get it. My legs are on backwards, no co-ordination. I can't feel the footpedals."
We decided that Paul would do the steering and I'd lie on the floor working the pedals. It was about 3am and there was nobody around. We'd be fine. We got the car moving and changed up to second gear. That was enough of that, it was far too difficult. We'd do the whole trip in second. At the rather sedate pace of about fifteen miles per hour we set off.
Paul would call out. "Faster, faster. Slow, slow, slow. STOP. Ok. Go again." In the end the bumping of the wheels on the curb indicated that we'd arrived at his house. I squirmed around like the front end of half a worm and reached up to the door handle. Opened the door and heaved myself to my feet. Got out.
There was Patricia.
In her dressing gown.
With her arms folded.
Wearing a hair net.
"Where's Paul? she asked in the voice of somebody placing a square of black cloth on their head before pronouncing sentence.
I stepped to one side and pointed with one shaking hand at the car. "Here he is." I said brightly.
Paul seemed to have got his trousers caught on the gear stick so he emerged on hands and knees before diving forward and digging a furrow on the pavement with his nose.
I spent a wonderfully restful night in the spare room. Since Paul didn't mention it I imagine he was just as comfortable sleeping on a chair in the living room. In the morning, after another good breakfast I hopped a bus back home. I still had my booze and tried a bit of vodka and lime again. It's pretty good at 9am.
Anyway, it was Thursday and folk night at my local pub. Surely there'd be some lovely lady in a gypsy skirt and cheesecloth blouse to heal my broken heart?
And do you know what?........There was.