Saturday, September 16, 2006

Hacienda - memory number 230

By the time I’d hit sixteen, there was just too much energy in my sinews and not enough diversions in the microscopic spec of cosmic dust that was Wheaton Aston. The promise of sweaty intrigues with local girls had worn a little thin. Meanwhile, Manchester loomed mean and lascivious just fifty or so miles north.

If you closed your eyes, stood on tiptoes and held your face to the southerly winds, you could feel the sub-cultural neutrinos pinging off your face like a radioactivity reading at Chernobyl.

Manchester, the city of sonic spirits: The Fall, Joy Division and The Smiths floated up demonic songs into the ether, noises that amplified and intensified inside the experimental chamber of the Corn Exchange before drifting off into the multiverse. Love will tear us apart…sang Ian Curtis from the grave (he’d just killed himself), while Mark E. Smith snarled enigmatically about Lucifer being over Lancashire. This was music for angular souls who spoke to ghosts in their sleep and were drawn to the sound of water dripping into chemical puddles on nameless back streets.

It has always been thus. Manchester was full of hard knocks two thousand years ago: the ruins of the ancient Roman garrison of Mamucium is near the City Centre; mystic geomancer John Dee charted the hidden energies underneath the city five hundred years ago; lugubrious layers of suffering and sin pressed like peat for centuries in places like Little Ireland and Ancoates as countless thousands were driven off the land after Enclosure, becoming urban peasants and mill fodder, while their Cotton overlords busily built a dreamy Florentine-styled infrastructure in the city centre out of ten million red bricks. Manchester had too much history, too many ghosts who’d lost their way, too many Salford scallies who loved nothing more than to rip things off walls and grind noses into faces. The music darkened the shadows of the city and turned everything a bleeding monochrome, with images linking back to the L.S Lowry reprint we’d always had in our house – sinister factories, stringy dogs, memories of Peterloo, an omnipresent Northern menace and the lingering perfume of piss. Could anything be more uncanny to a sixteen year-old than a panopticon prison called Strangeways, a charcoal nightmare just north of the centre?

Afternoons spent listening to Morrissey’s eloquent tales of sorrow while motes of dust swirled in the dying sunlight in my bedroom had elevated me into the city’s orbit path; I circled round and round ever closer. Rusholme, Moss Side, Hulme, Chorlton, Ancoates, Ardwick, Levenshulme and Droylsden were the poetic place-points on my imaginary compass. All I needed was the right landing gear.

Meanwhile, my Mom had a gleaming new Peugeot 205 GTI. The year before, I’d taught myself to drive by gingerly pushing her previous car (a Metro) out of the garage late at night with my mate Jon Horton and going for nocturnal spurts, learning such incidentals as gears and brakes and steering manoeuvres at speed. Once, we went far too fast round a tight bend, spinning the car violently round with such force that one of the wheels ripped off (I found it in a ditch). I’d never replaced a wheel or used a jack before and had to flag down a passing car. The next morning, I was tired-eyed on the street washing the car and talking to Dad when the woman who’d showed us what to do passed by. “Did you fix the wheel on ok last night love?” She asked. My dad frowned. “Er, sorry, I think you have the wrong person..” “No love, it was you,” she insisted. “Near Gnosall..” She looked at my Dad, then at me, and then slowly erased the question mark in her voice. I shrugged. She walked off.

The GTI offered up new opportunities, and new radii of possibility – in other words, Manchester. Before our first trip, I got to grips with driving in fifth gear at maximum speed. I pushed her up to 115mph on the A5 nearby, nearly losing control with a slight twitch at the wheel just before Thomas Telford’s bridge. At last, I had the machine that met my needs. So, it was arranged. I picked up my girl, Lindsey, and my mate Mike from nearby villages, then we took the M6 to Manchester. It was a thick foggy winter’s night. The 30mph speed limit signs were flashing through the drifting ectoplasm. It was already around midnight and we wanted to get to where we were going. The curves were gradual and I knew the road well already, so I accelerated up to 90mph, even though I could only see about 50 metres ahead. My passengers whooped with the thrill of it (this is how so many of us died back then). I turned the Chicago House tape to full blast and Farley Jackmaster Funk replied in kind. We got onto the M62 in no time, and soon the gloomy grandeur of Manchester loomed into view – the motorway widened to six lanes either side as we whooshed into the sulphur-lit concrete canyon. And then: blue lights flashing from immediately behind the car. PC Plod had clocked me doing 80mph. He took my details. We sighed a collective Oh Bollocks. He wrote me a ticket – I had to go to my nearest police station with my details within a week. I had no licence, no insurance, and no hope of jumping through the hurdles ahead. Our party decided to carry on anyway. Convictions could wait.

A few minutes later, we arrived at our Mecca, the most sacred space in Manchester for a 16 year old in 1986: the Hacienda Nightclub, owned by the mercurial Factory Records boss Tony Wilson. It resembled one of those medieval paintings of Babel from the outside, a spiralling ziggurat of ominous possibility. It was about 1am by now. A thronging queue breathed dragons into the damp inky air, hands shoved into jeans pockets to salvage some warmth. We paid our five quid and were inside. The place was industrial: curtains made of flexible Perspex guiding you in, rubber floors, yellow and black duck tape on metal pillars everywhere. And the noise was deafening. There were already maybe a thousand people inside. The main space was a metal cavern, with stairs leading up to a DJ platform in the darkness on one side. We laughed at the thrill of being there, and being a thousand miles from boredom. A cute black girl in a bandana was dancing on a column, her eyes closed in Ecstasy, her arms flaying about. Chicago House was slowly morphing into Acid House. People popped pills in tenebrous corners, buying their good Pharma from ashen-faced hobgoblins in hooded tops. We danced till 4am then headed home in sweat soaked clothes.

The Gods of pleasure ensured me full protection after the event. A few days later at Stafford police station, I handed in various documents I’d found in my mom’s important-documents drawer. They took a photocopy and let me go. I’m still not sure exactly how I got away with it, but I think it was a bored clerk on an endless afternoon not checking things properly.

My dangerous life continued. A few weeks later, I took K, my new girlfriend, to North Wales and back, through the night, ending up in Rhyl, a dour Northern pleasure resort hauntingly abandoned by the season. Early in the morning, we got stopped charging the wrong way down a one-way street in some small town by two police cars. It was a drugs squad set-up, the officers all wearing bullet proofs. We were small fry compared to their prey, drug-runners on their way to Holyhead and the ferry to Ireland, or taking the backwoods way to Liverpool. They asked us where we were going and then told us to watch the road signs in future.

These are just two of the adventures of my dangerous youth – there were many. So many of us bored village lads took similar risks and worse. So many of us died, mangled underneath trucks, or sunk into water, or mashed into trees. Magical places like the Hacienda pulled us in irresistibly, while the dead gathered around us…


eshuneutics 8:57 pm  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shango,  5:34 am  

Fascinating, vivid word-pictures, especially:

"If you closed your eyes, stood on tiptoes and held your face to the southerly winds, you could feel the sub-cultural neutrinos pinging off your face like a radioactivity reading at Chernobyl."

Radioactivity "reading" bothers me though, I don't know why.

Morrissey's such a sad sack wannabe, I want to smack him. My wife loved (loves?) his music -- I just asked and she just said she loved him when she was 18. Apparently, she's outgrown him. :-)

My Talking Beginnings 11:47 am  

It's hard to reconcile the two images...boy racer versus culture driven far you've come!

Anonymous,  1:08 pm  

he is still a boy racer! thats why no one likes to go in his car with him apart from his beloved bibi whom i'm sure if she can drive that will be ending of him.

but j, you have such a wonderful way with language

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