This little break had been organised for months. A couple of days in Manchester with a couple of mates to see a concert and then hit a few bars and clubs.
We flew over to Manchester fairly early and got checked into our hotel – a bog standard English city hotel; but one in a pretty decent location. Not long after we were in our first pub, a Weatherspoons. Glen studied the menu and enthused like a child looking through a Christmas toy catalogue. He’s coo and caw over the prices – ‘it’s so cheap’ and proclaim that we may as well stay here for the entire weekend as there was no point in going anywhere else.
This didn’t really fit in with Paul or I’s plans, and after a cooked breakfast we moved on to have a look around before eventually heading off to the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.
This was a large museum spread over multiple buildings. But I found it stale and lifeless and it really didn’t grab our attention. In fact the only thing and really piqued our interest was a series of wooden puzzles. Well that and the simulator. Glen spotted it, a hydraulic flight simulator. The kind that you just sit in and let it rock you about as a film plays on a screen in front of you. As soon as he saw it he wanted a go but wouldn’t go on it on his own. After another 15 minutes of hearing how great it would be, we gave up and paid for our 5 minute ride. It was exactly as I thought it would be and if I was a kid I reckon I’d have enjoyed it immensely.
We left not long after that stopping in at another pub on the way and grabbing some lunch. As we ordered the barmaid asked how we were in a polite way, and Glen excitedly told her all about the simulator and what mega amazing fun it was. She looked at us with what I’m going to assume was pity mixed with scorn. We were clearly not the coolest dudes in the room.
We pub-hopped our way back to the hotel to shower and change for tonight. The concert that we saw was Tori Amos at the Manchester Apollo. I’ve a couple of her albums and generally like what I hear, but would be hard pressed to name more than five songs by name. Mind you I think her covers of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘I don’t like Mondays’ are excellent. Paul professed to total ignorance of any of her music and Glen… Well Glen is the hardcore fan. He had known about the concert months earlier and had practically begged us to come. In fairness he didn’t need to beg that hard as he’d come to the Imogen Heap concert the year before. Paul was happy to come, but provided he could pick the concert for the next one.
We arrived at the Apollo shortly before doors opened. As we stood in the queue the heavens opened with a massive downpour. Like some of the others in the queue we ran for shelter, and spotted a bar not far away. We stayed there until we could see that we’d be able to get straight inside the venue.
Our seats were about halfway down the theatre. But as this was such a large venue this felt like miles away. The rows were very cramped as well, and it wasn’t long before we began to feel uncomfortable. As the theatre filled up the heat just grew more and more oppressive.
Paul and I sat through the opening act praying for it to end so that we could get out to the bar and some fresh air.
We came back to find Glen expounding the virtues of Tori Amos to the person he was sat next to. Judging by the blank look on her face, I’m guessing that he’d been doing this from the second we headed to the bar.
Tori herself came on stage, and boy does she have some presence. Much taller than you’d expect and sat astride a stool between two pianos she commands your attention. She hammered into the songs barely a breath between them. The music sounded beautiful, but I will be honest and say that I that I couldn’t understand a single word that she was singing. Sounded good, but not a clue what it was about.
About 45 minutes in Paul whispered to me that he felt like he was dying in the heat and was going to get a drink and air. I said that I’d join him and we slipped out of the theatre at the next break.
Stepping out was like coming out of a steam room and diving into a swimming pool. I could not believe how hot it had been in there. We went up to the bar and had a drink, and then bought a couple more to take back in the theatre. We walked back in and stood at the back whilst waiting for a break. Again it was so hot after a couple of minutes that we agreed to head back to the bar and sit out the rest of the show there.
We thought Glen may be a little pissed at us for missing the rest of the concert, so we bought him one of the glossy programmes to make up for it.
Once the concert let out, got a taxi back to the city centre. We pub hopped for a while ending up sat on some big leather sofas and chatting to a couple from Newcastle who had also been at the concert.
Paul and I had somehow ended up on a vodka mission and they were heading down our throats at a scary rate. Glen on the other hand seemed intent on irritating everyone around us by alternating between saying how he’d decorate the bar if he was in charge or playing Tori Amos songs on his Blackberry. He couldn’t seem to grasp that the pub may not be all that interested.
We ended up heading to a club called the Mint Lounge. Paul and I thought it was excellent. A really chilled out vibe, and split nicely between a place where you could just chat, or head onto the dancefloor. We were there until the very small hours of the morning, drinking and dancing before leaving around 5am. We staggered back to the hotel via an open kebab shop with Glen telling us that the place we’d just left was a load of crap and that “I’ve closed down better placed then that when I was bar manager”. I remarked that perhaps that’s why he was no longer a bar manger, but it went over his head.
At the hotel Paul had his own room, whilst Glen and I were sharing. Seeing as it was about 5:30am now I headed straight for bed. Glen however headed for his laptop and started playing Tori Amos songs. Then get really excited because someone had uploaded some video of the concert to Youtube.
Eventually I managed to fall asleep with the strains of Tori ringing out loudly around me.
I awoke too early for someone that went to bed at the time I did, only 90 minutes or so later. Glen lay sparked out and snoring in a way that was almost violent. Every few breaths he would suddenly pause until he seemed to choke. Then he’d breath and do it all again. I tried everything to block out the noise. Pillows, earphones, pillows and earphones but nothing would dampen the painful din.
I lay there with my earphones jammed in tightly, a pillow wrapped around my head and the duvet over that as well. I was so tired and dehydrated and all I wanted on this Earth was to sleep for another hour or two. Instead, I found myself tensing, and the stress rising in my body with every breath that this inhuman creature laying the next bed took. I wanted to scream at him, to grab and shake him, to quite simply punch him in the mouth. All I wanted was sleep, and this monster had prevented it earlier by playing music and videos loudly when we returned to the hotel, and was now denying it to me again. But the worst thing was the fact that he himself was asleep. This thing I wanted more than anything and he was able to have it, yet I could not. In my sleep-deprived and likely still drunk mind, it was a deliberate act. It was warfare. It was an attempt to drive me insane…. And it was working.
More awake than ever before, I continued to lie there until 9am when I gave up all pretence of getting any rest and got up and went for a shower.
This shower deserves special mention because I’ve never experienced anything more powerful. Even on the lowest power the water jetted out and pummelled the skin like a masseur with a mean streak. It didn’t so much rise the dirt and soap away as blast it into oblivion.
With my freshly tenderised muscles, I dried off and changed clothes. Whilst I was doing this I realised that the snoring had stopped. I couldn’t believe it the bastard had stopped snoring. The peace however lasted only for a few more seconds. The quiet shattered as the first cords of Tori Amos rang out from the laptop again.
I was a broken man.
For another two hours I was subjected to 20 second bursts of Tori Amos punctuated by gushings about her brilliance. As fine an artist as she may be, this was nothing but some kind of psychological torture straight out the pages of a CIA thriller. The sleep deprivation, the noises, the constant repeated music all designed to disorient and disturb the mind. I tried to make it stop. I’d ask politely and it would be ignored. I suggested he go for breakfast – “not hungry”. Well what about taking a shower – “don’t need one”. In desperation I sent a text to Paul.
“I’m coming to see you”
I told Glen I was going to see Paul, and left before he could say anything. I got to his room and told him what was going on. I told him that I had to get away from him as I was probably going to kill him if I didn’t.
Barely had I got these words out when there was a knock on the door. My heart sank, I knew exactly who it would be.
Glen came in and plonked himself on Pauls bed and started to tell us all about last nights concert; once again completely oblivious to fact that Paul and I had been there. He pulled out his phone and started to play Tori Amos songs.
Paul just got up and went for a shower. I just sat there seething. Glen started singing along.
I asked him to lay off the Tori Amos for a bit. Over the last 15 hours or so, I had heard more than any normal person would ever need to hear about her. We sat in silence for a couple of minutes, until Glen could hold back no longer.
“She was great, but she didn’t do as much as she would from the new album. Have you heard the new one yet?”
With that the music started up again.
Paul finally finished up in the bathroom and we decided to go for another wander before finding somewhere to go for lunch. Glen excitedly started talking about how cheap Weatherspoons is, but we pointed out we’d eaten there yesterday, but also that we’d prefer somewhere a little nicer.
As we left the hotel, we could hear music coming from the park a short distance away. We ambled down to check out what was happening. Protestors from the Occupy movement were setting up on the steps of the park monument. A small crowd had gathered to listen to what was being said.
One of the protestors approached us with flyers about the sale of arms to third would dictatorships. He was a pleasant enough chap and we spoke a little about the protests. Paul and I went to move on, but Glen wasn’t ready to move just yet. We knew what was coming, and retired to a nearby coffee shop, getting a couple of warm drinks and then sitting on a nearby park bench.
I told Paul that my patience had been severely drained and asked him to try and act as a buffer between us so that I had a chance to calm down a bit. He protested that he’d had to put up with him as well, but I trumped that by pointing out that Paul had got the single room and a much better night’s sleep. We continued to chat, and keep an eye on Glen. We could see the protestor visibly start to sag as Glen moved into full ‘rage against the world’ mode. Occasionally on the wind we’d hear phrases like ‘New World Order’, ‘Rothchilds’ and ‘Free man of the land’. We’d heard Glen’s arguments before, and knew exactly what the protestor was going through.
We said to each other that we couldn’t just let him dominate the entire trip. We also had to remember that he was just overexcited as this was basically his holiday for the year, whilst for us it was a weekend away. But we knew we’d need to calm him down a bit as he was acting like a hyperactive toddler at Christmas. It wasn’t so much what he was doing, but the how it was being done. Like a kid that had progressed from pushing his toy cars around, to smashing them into the skirting board; he had crossed over the line from ‘fun’ to ‘irritating’.
We found a nice pub and popped in for lunch. Whilst we were waiting, we asked Glen if he could give the Tori Amos stuff a rest for the day. Whilst we were pleased he’d had a great time at the concert, it wasn’t necessary to keep playing her songs on his phone constantly, particularly where he could disturb other people like, pubs, shops, taxis, buses.
Our food came and it was very good. Glen called us ‘posh wankers’ for choosing to eat here instead of Weatherspoon’s. Kicked off a discussion about how Paul and I had got to a stage in life where we would happily pay £1.50 more for our meal if it meant sitting in a nicer atmosphere. This apparently makes us ‘elitist’ in Glens eyes. Never mind we were still eating Fish and Chips in a pretty cheap pub. We were ‘pretentious wankers’ for choosing one with big windows and lots of natural lighting rather than the very dark and dimly lit building that the Weatherspoons was based in. That the quality of the food was far better didn’t even enter his reasoning.
So pretentious and elitist are we that our planned entertainment for the evening was to see WWE RAW at the MEN Arena. It was just a shame we’d forgotten our tuxes for this high class event.
When I had booked the concert tickets, I’d also looked for something for us to do on the Saturday evening. The only other event that was on was the wrestling. I’d not watched any in years, but loved it as a kid so thought it would be a good laugh to go. After all, when would we be likely to see it again? Paul was sceptical but thought it would be something different and Glen just said it would be childish.
Either way it was cheap, it was on and we had tickets.
We took a taxi to the MEN fairly early and taking one look at the queue legged it to the nearest bar. A couple of refreshers later, the queue had disappeared and we went to the entrance.
When the doorman checked our tickets, his machine beeped and refused entry. He then told us that we needed to go the ticket booth and get replacements. We made our way there and I explained what had happened. They then handed me an envelope with the new tickets and apologised for the inconvenience.
Our original tickets were in the cheap seats, but I’d picked them to be right over the tunnel so that we would at least get a decent view when they came out. I had no idea where we would be sat with the new ones.
Once admitted we tried to find the door that would lead us to our seats, but there wasn’t any marked at all. We found a member of staff and asked for directions, who told us to follow him. He then went through the nearest door, and led us to the front of the seating section where he unlocked a gate and took us down a steep flight of stairs down to ground level. We followed him as he took us past nearly everyone, to the fifth row ringside seats.
We’d somehow been placed in some of the best seats in the house. I’ve no idea why we’d been moved, but I wasn’t about to complain.
The wrestling was surreal experience. Our seats were excellent, but the crowd was split into three distinct groups. First the hardcore fans – generally adult and wearing all the paraphernalia. They were the ones that had signs to hold up and wave. Then we had the kids. Small and excitable, they’d be jumping up and down or screaming. The last group were the parents. These were the ones that sat there looking as confused as I was, and believe me the whole thing was confusing.
Music would start and within a beat or two people would be either cheering or booing depending on who was coming out. The kids and fans would be whooping and hollering. The parents would remain seated and politely applaud. I took the attitude of ‘when in Rome’ so would wait to hear the reaction to the music and join in. I had absolutely no idea who I was cheering or booing, or indeed what they’d done to deserve it.
Occasionally a wrestler would come out that would provoke a huge reaction. To me they looked no different to any other wrestler (either huge, with bulging muscles or huge with a more athletic body), but obviously not to this crowd. I’m starting to get an idea of what my mother went through when I talked about transformers or Thundercats as a kid. I was so out of my sphere of knowledge that I was drowning. But the atmosphere was infectious, and just like everyone else we’d shout and applaud. During a break, Paul and I went to get beers. Neither of us really had a clue what was going on; but we both admitted we were enjoying it far more than we expected. We weren’t converted to full-time fans, but definitely were for the evening.
The thing about wrestling that everyone knows is that its fake. They even call it ‘Sports Entertainment’ themselves. Sometimes it really would betray its fakeness – mainly when ‘punches’ were thrown. But the thing was that these guys did take some serious hits. We were so close that we could see the red marks appearing on the skin where contact had been made. Some of the slams into the ring posts, or collisions when bouncing off the ropes had to hurt – even if the hit was being pulled. The other thing that was surprising is the speed that they go in the ring. When I remember watching it, it was quite methodically paced. It didn’t appear to be any more.
It was good entertainment and there wasn’t much more we could ask for. Particularly when taking our upgraded seats into account.
From the wrestling we moved onto a few pubs. The first of which was a very busy nicely decorated place populated by a more mature style crowd. Despite the niceness of the décor, the pub had a very low ceiling and when mixed with the crowds made me feel quite claustrophobic. I mentioned this to Paul and we agreed to move on after we had finished our drinks.
We then told Glen we were moving on as I didn’t really like the place. He then took this as a queue to start ranting about the clientele saying they were all ‘posh twats’, rich bastards’ and ‘pretentious wankers’. He then started ranting at Paul calling him a ‘class traitor’ that he was ‘working class and should act like it’. I’d finally had enough of Glen and told him to shut up, stop acting like a dickhead and stop with this whole ‘class’ crap as no-one was buying it.
The unfortunately fact is that Glen was nearly skint. He’d had since February to save for this trip, but he hadn’t saved a penny. Now he was acting like a petulant brat because we didn’t eat at the absolute cheapest place, or drink 3 for 1 prices alchopops when it was his turn to buy a round. He’d had to borrow money for the hotel, and now he was going to have to asked to borrow more to get through the night. He was embarrassed about this, but chose to blame everyone except himself for not saving. It was selfish, and it pissed me off.
We went to another couple of bars before heading to a club. We let Glen pick, and we went into the first one we saw. I’ve no idea what it was called, but it was total dive. The place was so dark that you had to grope for the table before putting a drink down. The only lights in the place were behind the bar or a ball on the dancefloor. It was a total disaster of a place, but rather than just say it was crap Glen would insist it was brilliant despite hardly moving from the entrance.
We gave it a couple of drinks before we took Glen aside and said that we were leaving. It was nearly 1am, and we’d decided to get a cab to the club we’d been in the previous night.
We jumped in a cab and it was only then that Glen admitted that where we had just left ‘was a bit shit’.
The Mint Lounge was even better than the previous night. They were having a Funkadelia night and there was a great party atmosphere as soon as we walked in the door.
Paul and I headed for the dancefloor where we danced like a pair of idiots. We signalled for Glen to join us, but he just stood in the corner not joining in with anything. Paul went over to talk to him whilst I went to the bar. I bought drinks, and a round of tequilas. Paul then bought a round of sambucas. At this point I think we broke Glen. I had more energy than I had any right to at 3am and the best part to two days drinking, with about 2 hours sleep. Paul seemed as wired as I was, whereas Glen…. We went back out to dance and this time he followed us. But instead of dancing he just walked to the big speakers at the front, and leant forward resting his head on his arms.
We danced until we were ready to drop, interspersed with trips to the bar. On one occasion we went through to the bar find that people were stood in big circle breakdancers took turns to perform and then jump out, each dancer trying to outdo the last.
The whole place was totally chilled out, everyone out to have a good time. It was easily the best time I’d had in a club for years. Well, I am starting to get on a bit!
Come kicking out time , we grabbed food from a pizza place that was still open. On the way I said to Glen that if he wanted to listen to music when we got back to please use headphones. If he didn’t want to use them, that would be fine – but the laptop would be going out the window.
I don’t know if he listened to music or not, because I pretty much passed out the second my head hit the pillow. Thankfully, I got a load more sleep that night, but still awoke to the sounds of the choking beast.
As we were flaying back home in the evening, we took it easy. Paul had a little shopping he wanted to do, and we joined him in checking out the high-street stores before sitting down for luch. I managed to escape Jessops with my wallet intact even after taking a liking to one of the very nice Billingham camera bags.
After lunch we went to see Tintin which went down well with everyone. We then had just about enough time to check-out of the hotel take a cab to the airport. It was a strange ride; the cabbie smoking the entire way. He pulled into a garage on the way, filled up the tank and then we watched through the window as he ran inside, pushed his way through the queue to the till, threw some money to the cashier before walking back, sparking up another fag on the way!
Still, he made good time – which was unsurprising as speed limits appeared to be mere suggestions and we arrived with plenty of time for the flight and the end of another trip.
Since returning home, I haven’t listened to Tori Amos once. I don’t think I can face it yet.