An Unexpected Mancunian

She’s not my kind of music, but then she was never meant to be, but after what happened nearly a year ago, and how she has responded to that, Ariana Grande has become one of us: a Mancunian. Read this and understand why. Respect.


Notes from a Fire Alarm

Well, this is fun.

Just over an hour ago (as I write this), I was starting a call when the fire alarm went. The customer reacted to the alarm first, and I apologised that I’d have to terminate the call, could she call again? It being another fine day, and carrying neither coat nor pullover, it took me about four seconds to scoop my glasses case and waterbottle into my bag and vacate the building.

Down four flights of stairs and round the back where our floor congregates. It’s sunny, warm, and I keep my clip-on shades clipped on.

We’ve had two Fire Engines turn up. At least one Police vehicle. Three Incident Response units from the Ambulance Service. This isn’t your ordinary False Alarm. Though all of them have left by now, we’re still outside.

We can’t smoke (not that I do), we can’t use mobile phones (in case we’re mistaken for terrorists about to remotely activate a bomb – seriously), we can’t even go to our nearest Wetherspoons for a pee without a Fire Marshall escorting us, which I would like to do, but I haven’t needed someone to take me to the loo since I was in hospital having my appendix out in 1977: I can hold it a bit yet.

There are a lot of disgruntled people wandering around whose shifts ended at 6.00pm (this is presently 6.50pm) but who are not allowed to leave even if, like me, they have all their gear with them. Roll-calls must still be taken, so that there is a certainty that nobody has been trapped anywhere. Those whose shifts end at 7.00pm are starting to get a bit nervous. I am here to 9.00pm, so on the purely selfish level, I’m in no rush.

The problem, we’re now having explained to us, is a Building Fault, a lift that is continually tripping the Fire Alarm, for which an Engineer is required. This could be another hour yet, and it’s starting to get a bit cool.

On the other hand, there’s a summoning forward of everyone who has been off-shift since 6.00pm and who has all their gear with them. Common sense is about to happen.

This cheers me up. I mean, I am staring at a couple more hours here yet, with the sun going down, my clip-ons unclipped and a bit of a wind about and I don’t want to be staying after 9.00pm.

Of course, when I say I grabbed everything, I meant my everything. There’s a whiteboard, a wrist support, a lidded coffee cup and a £200 pair of headphones out on my desk that could do with being stashed in my locker at some point.

And my bum’s getting numb from the marble balusatrade I’ve been sat on for the past 75 minutes.

Could anyone who’s shift ends at 9.00pm kindly step through this handy time-warp and go home?

Another attack of common sense occurs when it’s announced that those who have finished are to be allowed back in to the building to collect their gear and go, but unfortunately the first of them don’t even get through the ground floor security barriers before the Alarm goes off again, which means Out, the return of the Fire Engine, and this time a Fire Chief, ‘cos this is a Repeat…

Eventually, after two hours, the Powers That Be agree to close the Building. There are no lifts and no Fire Alarms. We are allowed in to retrieve/put gear away, and go. To my dismay, I find I have been in Outbound Status on the customer’s account for 2 hours 2 minutes and 53 seconds – so much for my productivity – and when I close the account I am immediately pushed an Inbound Call, which I have to hang up on.

Those who were stuck outside will get their delay back as Time Worked. The rest, like me, get an early dart. The chippy’s still open when I get the bus so Wednesday Night Fish’n’Chips becomes Tuesday night Fish’n’Chips this week.

And we’ll have fun fun fun till Daddy takes the T-Bird away…

And then there were eight…

Eleven men on a golden afternoon in the memories of anyone who was there to see. The Golden Boy who captained the team, the youngest man, and now the graceful left-back who didn’t allow a mistake anyone could have made to faze him.

It’s astonishing, indeed magical, that over fifty years later, eight of England’s only World Cup winning team remain with us. Ray Wilson made it nine until yesterday.

The glory will surround him forever.

I was a Charity Collector

Each year, my employers choose a local Charity to support, and this year it’s Stockport MIND, supporting Mental Health. This is obviously a cause close to my heart (and head) and when a request came up for volunteers to do a collection at Stockport Railway Station, I was one of the earliest to volunteer.

There were two sessions, one from 7.00 – 10.00am, which was long before my shift, the other from 4.00 – 7.00pm, for which I was selected. It turned out to be timely on an appropriately personal level: after last week, I am currently completed frazzled both mentally and physically and a spell away from the phones was very useful.

In fact, it was better than expected. Our stint was to end at 7.00pm, with two hours of my shift left, but the manager in charge had signed me out until 9.00pm, so I could go straight home.

Like the weekend, this was a blazing summer day, deep blue skies with nothing more than the occasional cotton bud of cloud. I don’t know if this is the mental fatigue talking but it’s all but destroyed my sense of time. When the sky is unchanging throughout a whole day, when there’s nothing atmospheric to distinguish between 7.00am and 7.00pm, or any point between, I found it impossible to tell that time was even passing.

We left at 3.45 to walk over to the station. There were eight of us volunteers, equipped with collecting boxes (which we are not to rattle, it having been decided that rattling a collecting box is ‘too aggressive’) and a combination of sashes and t-shirts: as the t-shirts only went up to Large, I collected a sash.

We were supposed to split up into four teams of two, and pick a platform each. One team of two consisted of three ladies off the same team, so that left one team of one: no prizes for guessing who that was.

I wound up on Platform 1 which, despite the number, does not imply is was going to be busy. For that you needed Platform 2, which our team of the two youngest, and most attractive girls selected. Platform 1 was for outbound trains, mostly local like Buxton or Alderley Edge, maybe count Chester amongst that, with the occasional train for Cleethorpes. BUt they’re trains which in the main have come from Manchester Piccadilly, so the number of people getting off is pretty limited. Those getting on were a bit more numerous, and as they were having to hang around with me for longer periods, I was more likely to get a donation out of them.

I have never done anything like this before, and had no idea what to do. I positioned myself at the top of the stairs onto/off the Platform and smiled at people a lot. I can’t remember the last time I have smiled so consistently for so long.

It was interesting to people watch. So many people were gassing on their mobile phones. At least as many avoided catching my eye conspicuously (about which I couldn’t complain, given that that’s what I would normally do in the same circumstances). Some would faintly smile in return. I kept the collecting box visible, the smile bright.

In the end, I collected donations from 18 people, a couple of them only silver change, but the majority giving a pound coin, or sometimes two. Maybe I raised £20 all told, I wouldn’t bet on it. Others were getting £5 notes, £10 notes. I was clearly the wrong person in the wrong place, but the rest of the station was sewn up, except for Platform 0 opposite, which was averaging two trains an hour.

So I was, in relative terms, a flop, but without me there would have been no contributions from Platform 1, which is how I’m trying to look at it.

The time seemed to pass reasonably well. Given my arthritic hip and knee, I could have done with the chance to sit down ion the longer waits between trains, but there were always passengers coming onto the problem, and I decided that it would create entirely the wrong impression for the collector to be sitting on a bench: suggesting this wasn’t entirely serious.

So I swayed gently, keeping my dodgy parts in gentle motion, and trying to ease the growing ache in my left shoulder which, as I was well aware from 2016’s London Museum Trip series, was down to my shoulderbag. Couldn’t do a thing about it, not even switch it round to the other shoulder, without taking off the sash etc. So I soldiered on.

Just after 6.00pm, I saw the two girls leave their post behind me on Platform 2. They didn’t return. After about ten minutes, with Platform 1 dead, I walked round to Platform 2, which was still busy. I was starting to get worried: nobody had come to tell me what was going on, and I couldn’t see either of the other two teams on Platforms 3 and 4. Had it ended early and I’d been forgotten? I wasn’t getting anywhere on Platform 2 either, even though that was the one for the long-distance services: London, Plymouth, Bournemouth.

The team of three was downstairs, taking a break. Apparently, we had an option to leave when we’d had enough. The MIND people weren’t intending to stay much longer. The cafe had shut, it was after 6.00pm, the station was dying down. I havered about it and decided I would jack it in. I hadn’t had a donation for ages, I’d run out of the free pens I was distributing (others had wristbands, or stickers for the kids – I wasn’t getting kids on Platform 1).

So I was out by about 6.25pm, catching the bus, early arrival home even with a stop in ASDA on the way. This was my first experience of Charity Collection. I’d do it again, especially for the same Charity, or Cancer or Fibromyalgia, but next time I’d like to be paired up with someone who has a better idea – any idea – of how to solicit contributions from the likes of me.

P.S. I was supposed to be watching out for this but I missed it. This is my 2,000th blog.

R.I.P. Lois Lane

The expression on her face…

She’ll always be my Lois Lane. Margot Kidder, who played the role in all four of Christopher Reeve’s Superman films (even if she only had bit parts in III and IV) has died aged 69, which means they’re both gone. Even though the films were practically forty years old, they don’t feel like films from so long ago. There’s an evergreen freshness to them – well, to I and II : Kidder was smart to cut the oversilly III and the execrable IV – that denies the passage of time.

Margot Kidder couldn’t ever possibly be 69. She can’t be dying this young. Following poor Chris Reeve, who will remain the best Superman, and that’s not my nostalgia speaking. Reeve could move from Clark Kent to Kal-El without any special effects.

And Margot Kidder: I was never impressed with Lois Lane in the comics, couldn’t understand how Superman thought her beautiful, couldn’t decide between her and Lana Lang, when everyone could see that Lane was tons more attractive (long red hair: hell, she was practically created to my specifications).

But Margot Kidder made me like Lois Lane, made me start to love her in the comics, see her as suitable to Superman’s life. Because Margot Kidder looked good, Lois looked good, and she felt right.

DC still haven’t made a film half as good as Superman I and II and I don’t know if it ever will. Chris Reeve isn’t the only reason why. Margot Kidder shares in that: I miss her already.



Crap Journalism: Hawaiian Pizza

The one good thing about crap like this – and I’m including the BTL comments – is that it reminds me to have Ham and Pineapple the next time I have a pizza.

What all these clowns forget is that you can have whatever topping you like on your pizza and none of them die, suffer a migraine or even sprain their little finger because they’re not eating it, you are. I shall eat what I choose, because your opinion on what you like is no more than a matter of polite interest to me.

An Early-Morning Expedition

Where to go to go

There’s a brightness to the sky and a coldness to the air on Manchester Victoria Platform 3 at 07.35. I’m going down to Liverpool.

The normal routine of my life has been interrupted in its carefully composed emptiness. A friend has asked for help, which may involve flying out of the country for a couple of days to lend support, which means renewing my Passport (expired 2012 and kept only for ID purposes: what chance have I got of holidaying abroad? Unfortunately, when I look where it has been kept these several years, it is not there.

Which means reporting a Lost Passport. Which means I can’t do the Fast Track, one-day, available this week and all you have to do is stooge around Liverpool for four hours, I can only do the 7 Day, maybe that’s too long for my friend process. So I have an appointment in Liverpool at 9.00am today.

You know my paranoia when it comes to train times when it’s only for entertainment, but this is serious. I’ve had to book a taxi to get to Victoria for the early train that gets me to Scouseville early for my early appointment. And I’ll be doing a 1.00 – 9.00 shift later today.

Leaving Manchester means leaving the familiar hills behind. The bottom end of Lancashire is flat and green, all open horizons and nothing to see. I have my mp3 player and a Reginald Hill. The trains wobbles more than a 203 hitting all the potholes down Hyde Road as I scribble, illegibly, the first notes for this.

They’re re-modelling Lime Street and I’m at a loss as to what is where so, after checking I have enough cash on me, it’s my second taxi of the day. Lumbering around Liverpool in the morning rush-hour is not my idea of Paradise, and every minute we spend at red lights (and every 20p that clicks onto the fare) sends my twitch rate even higher. Nevertheless, I’m there for 8.30am, and being seen immediately, ‘because it’s quiet’.

Disaster! My counter-signatory has completed all the details, signed my photo – and forgotten to sign the form! But my helpful lady calls up my last photo onscreen and calls in a colleague for a second opinion that we are indeed the same guy (even though I looked older then, despite most of my hair still being brown). I’m done and out for 8.40am.

Last time I was here, we’d barely gone 100 yards before we passed a group going the other way, on the other side of the road, looking like a party going to a wedding. In their midst was Alan Moore. Alan and I go back a bit, into my comics fandom days in the Eighties, and he’s a genuinely nice and friendly guy. I am still in awe of one moment, at a long ago UKCAC, when I got him to sign one of his landmark Swamp Thing issues. I’d given it a glowing review in Fantasy Advertiser, which sparked a riposte or three. Mentioning that to him, I was more than taken aback when he stared at me, his face lit up and he said, “Are you Martin Crookall? I’ve been wanting to meet you.”

The world was inverted. It was a moment beyond being completely wrong. The Alan Moore’s of this world don’t ‘want’ to meet amateur critics, it’s the other way round. But that was Alan Moore for you.

I thought for a moment about going over and saying hello (it would, hopefully, impress the boys) but decided not to. He was on his way somewhere, with friends, it was their private moment: not right. I’ve never seen him since. And he’s not hanging around the Passport Office today.

It took just over 20 minutes to walk back to Lime Street, relying on nothing but a sense of general direction, and I didn’t recognise a thing on the way. At 9.22am, I’m on a train back to Manchester. It sways just as badly.

I’m back in Manchester for just after 10.00am. I can either go home for a couple of hours or take a bus direct to Stockport, head for the Sorting Office and collect the latest eBay purchase that’s too big for my letterbox. So that’s what I do.

It takes me a long time to realise that getting through the ordeal of the Passport Office has allowed me to relax. I’ve been on edge since this started, hung up on the sense that I’m letting down someone who’s turned to me for assistance. That plays on my lifelong lack of self-confidence, my immediate willingness to accept the blame. But for now it’s out of my hands, I’ve done all I can, nothing went wrong.

Until the evening, that is. But that’s a different and private story.