On MONDAY 9 APRIL 2018 Drive up the M1 to Scotch Corner in never ending rain but enjoy the journey and take your time. Have a latte at Leicester Forest East. When the woman in the Starbucks asks you for a name tell her ‘John’ and when she asks you a second time (only because she lost her place in her script) laugh with her and tell her ‘Still John’. Notice with disappointment that the coffee cup when it arrives does not have ‘Still John’ written on it since that’s what you would have written. Continue to take your time up the motorway you now know in such detail. Love that distant view of Richmond that you have always used as the marker for Darlo knowing that this is probably the last time. Be more pleased than normal that the Travelodge receptionist is so very friendly and happy and helpful. Get some food from the Marks in the mall next to your room. Decide to stay in but then when your wife tells you by phone to go dancing start to change your mind then change it back and decide to stay the whole evening in that nice little plain room with just a TV and all those awful channels and a big comfy bed but then change your mind again, have a shower, watch the passersby walk over and over again from the car park to the mall and back, do your stretches, change your mind yet again and then get the atlas out of the car to discover the location of Bolden Colliery.
Set off as it approaches sunset. See that it is misty but no longer raining. As you get near to The Enormous Metal Angel, instead of going left to Newcastle stay right on the previously unexplored A 194, which excitingly would take you to the still unseen Tyne Tunnel although tonight you must find Bolden close to Sunderland. New roads give you joy and, using that joy, quickly enter the large area of Nandos and small businesses and almost immediately find your desired venue which is not only called ‘The Shack’ but also has a large sign on its roof saying ‘The Shack’.
See that this Shack building is a futurised Working Men’s Club which is now frequented by working and non-working multi-gender people. Pay to enter the ballroom area and be greeted by friendly women and men glowing with anticipation. Be advised (by the teacher, as it turns out) that water and other drinks need to be obtained from the downstairs bar. Enter that large downstairs bar to discover an atmosphere that while related to the past also feels changed in many positive ways. Sense rows of decent men with a changed history seated in long, straight smoke-free lines most of them with a smoke-free pint taking part in a modern smoke-free quiz with a friendly and smoke-free mutual-respect.
Back in the ballroom be asked to dance by a friendly woman of probably your own age who reminds you of someone somewhere from the London magazine industry and who has noted your unfamiliarity and newness. Thank her for the kind request and off you go. Notice that being asked, as ever, leaves you capable to ask people yourself and from here don’t look back. Observe to your self that this is one of the most friendly venues ever. Towards the end of the evening ask the teacher herself to dance and soon thrill to find again one more of those angels whose musicality rules their dancing, fluid as an octopus and lost in music just like you.
Sing in the car at the top of your voice down the dark A1 through pounding rain and also through the after-midnight long-winded roadworks diversion which oddly takes you through the well known streets of Darlo and past the cemetery gates of only 3 weeks before.
On TUESDAY 10 APRIL 2018 eat breakfast watching the cars drive through the flooded road outside your window. Decide that when YOU set off you will sensibly avoid the massive pool by going inside the petrol station forecourt. Drive to the house with your cardboard boxes and tape. Gratefully note that Angela has done a great deal of boxing already but that there are many electrical items to be reunited with their remotes and their user-manuals and all of your brother’s 1970s and 80s books and records to be sent far away in cardboard. Note with alarm though, that you have deceived yourself with regard to the job of boxing the stuff in your Dad’s faithful old asbestos garage. Realise that this must be the place in which he kept his indecisiveness. Be overwhelmed by tools and tools and tools and bits of carpet and nails and nails and rusty screws and chairs and rotting sofas and tins of paint and varnish and plant food all of which might have gone long ago to recycling heaven but instead faded from his memory. Wonder ‘Did he still remember even his house in the last months?’. Decide that the fact he always asked ‘When’s the bus coming?’ means he had somewhere he wished to return. Replan to concentrate on boxing only the rest of the house in anticipation of British Heart Foundation tomorrow and to soon hire a different contractor to attack the garage at a future date. Leave some helpful notes in the house for the new owner sellotaped to the small number of useful items that the new owner asked to be left. Insist to the universe that while of course keeping the slides and photos, everything else must finally go into the past.
Go to your next Travelodge, the one you like that overlooks the EE building with it’s sturdy, futuristic, mundane transmitters sitting in what were your teenage fields. Go down the town and spend over an hour in the brilliant new Mangobean coffee bar to continue reading Kafka On the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Take a while but then realise that this is where the bus station used to be and you may be sitting exactly where you and your daft mates took all those freakin’ photobooth photos. Go dancing in Middlesbrough which is equally as friendly as Bolden and where the desk staff remember you from 2 years ago and where there is yet another.
On WEDNESDAY 11 APRIL 2018, after having worried about today for weeks, feel enormous relief that the 3 blokes from The British Heart Foundation are beyond lovely. Laugh and chat with them as they efficiently take every last stick in only 2 short sessions. Apologise unecessarily when more than one of the boxes you failed to tape at all well pours Tintin books and Gilbert O’ Sullivan records on to Salters Lane South. Notice that your bedroom quickly stops being your bedroom when all that is left is that awful green carpet that you chose in 1974. Stand for the last time in the suddenly empty room of a 1001 ejaculations and do a stupid chanting dance to celebrate all your precious now fading years. Listen to ‘Come Down To Us’ by Burial in the car and get your hair cut in town. Be pleased that the woman who cuts it is so chatty and give her some positivity when you sense she is having a difficult time over her teenage Aycliffe son. When you leave, run down the blue-cobbled alley and notice you are shaking with relief.
On THURSDAY 12 APRIL 2018 drive to Manchester to visit your Mother for once. Observe 6 police cars forming a tidal barrier to slow all us cars until the moment when a blazing-fast Beemer appears screaming down the hard shoulder and they all blast off to presumably catch it. Have an espresso at Wetherby where a young female probably 12, will point out your amusing tiny cup to her Dad who will then explain to her that it is extra strong. Only in your mind, put together a concise explanation which states that espresso means less liquid and therefore fewer pit stops for an older gentlemens special reasons, but be certain to actually say nothing out loud. Drift through medium thick M62 fog which as ever makes them all go faster. With Mam and Doreen go exploring slowly in the woods of Heaton Park which is enormous and strangely feels like Central Park relocated to north Manchester. Later during Pointless when Doreen asks “Peter Gabriel? Wasn’t he in Slade?” respectfullly explain the truth. When your Mam says she wishes to be rid of Charlie, your Grandad’s ventriloquist dummy, and would you like to take him say yes. Comb Charlie’s hair and remove the undignified kids clothes he has worn for years to reveal his tiny grey suit that you will now learn was made by your Mam for her Dad when she was a teenager. When she tells you that Percy was a very popular comic act around the Methodist churches of County Durham but a poor ventriloquist, tell her you are glad.
On FRIDAY 13 APRIL 2018 strap Charlie in the back seat of the car and drive the sunset exciting overpopulated evening down the M6 to midnight London.
Charlie heads to London