Peter dropped me off at Derby coach station. We’d looked up times earlier but hadn’t bothered to book in advance. We were too busy talking and listening to music. It was Saturday, late afternoon and the coach was fully booked. I thought about hitching up to Leeds, but wasn’t really up for it. I bottled it again realising I wasn’t 22 anymore. My romantic Kerouac inspired trip was just all puff and no substance: more On the Buses than On the Road, The Railway Children rather than The Road Less Travelled.
So I dropped the hitching plan and did a short hike instead. I walked to the train station through a pleasant park blighted by the roar of traffic and snog-happy Goths. Didn’t they realise they were meant to be miserable and downcast? But were they actually being subversive by not conforming to their stereotype? I found the station and bought the cheapest ticket to save money – a local train to Sheffield then another local to Leeds. It was slower than the express train, but far more interesting. Small rusting, post-industrial towns passed by my window, punctuating the beautiful countryside: blots on the landscape or burst bubbles of enterprise depending on your point of view.
I was heading to Leeds as I studied there from 1988 to 1991, and two of my friends from those days, Ollie and Sarra, still lived nearby. As we pulled into the station it was obvious how much the city had changed over the last 20 years. Sadly, The Tetley Brewery no longer made beer. But there were gleaming new flats by the canal in The Calls, which used to be the red light district.
When I first went up there, the first thing that struck me was the row upon row of redbrick back-to-back terraced housing. You don’t get that in the Home Counties. It felt foreign, slightly intimidating, but exciting. It was new, not like home, which was cosy and nice. This was what I wanted at the time: a new experience in a new place, my own Wild West, or in this case, West Yorkshire.
So it was good to be back, and great to hook up with Ollie and Sarra. I found their house. No one answered the front door. So I let myself in through the side gate guided by the sound of chatter and laughter coming from the back garden. I announced myself and was rewarded with a lovely hug from Sarra, and an even better man hug from Ollie. Ollie always was a cheerful bastard. We used to share a flat together in Kilburn. And he was always far too happy in the morning for my liking: singing a jolly show tune from The Sound of Music or South Pacific as I retched from drinking, stress or both in my sad single room.
I was introduced to their friends and offered a sausage. Titters were suppressed around the table. I was missing out on something. I’ve never enjoyed being the only sober person in drunken company. But this was fine. It was summertime in God’s Own County, Yorkshire: the land of booming voices, proper chips, and the best pint of bitter in the whole wide world.
I soon found out the source of the hilarity. It turned out that one errant nipple had been doing the rounds all evening. It was huge and swollen. It was disgusting and horrific – awe inspiring even. Every time the magnificent malignant specimen went on show it was accompanied by gasps of horror followed by seagull squawks of laughter. Then, ten minutes later, pleas for, ‘One more time… just once… go on’. The owner, Marvin, gladly obliged and the more alcohol we consumed the more hilarious it became. And, it seemed, more swollen – probably the constant chafing as Marvin’s shirt was raised and lowered on demand for us, the baying mob.
Poor lad, he had to go into hospital the following week to get it lanced before it exploded like Mount Vesuvius swamping Pompeii, destroying everything in its path. So of course it would’ve been wise for us to run away, or cower indoors with the kids, but we stayed outside, drinking, talking, and laughing – demanding repeated viewings. It kept us amused. Marvin enjoyed his time in the spotlight, and I hoped he fared well on the operating slab under the surgeon’s knife.
Cape Wrath, 12/25