Our friends in the north – LFW Awaydays
Thursday, 6th Dec 2012 00:09 by Awaydays
Two trips to the soggy north in quick succession took your LFW crew to Manchester, Sunderland and a variety of spots in between in the pursuit of weirdoes and gay porn.
In my first week as a university student in Sheffield – so optimistic, so full of hope, so much more hair - I was riding one of the city's trams when the man next to me started to blow into my ear. Just little puffs you understand, equally spaced about a second or so apart, but delivered from about three inches away.
In general I don't really like confrontation, or indeed interaction with other people of any sort, and I'm far more likely to do nothing about a problem for a while and see if it solves itself than make some kind of an effort to solve it myself. My bathroom light, for instance, hasn’t worked for a fortnight.
On this occasion I hoped, as the puffing continued, that the bloke was actually having some sort of heart attack and would therefore fall to the floor of the tram and become somebody else's problem – the conductor perhaps, or some doctor or other who happened to be on board - so I could get back to my paper. 'No need to do anything just yet' I thought.
But the puffing man didn't have a heart attack, and he didn't stop, and the problem with waiting for problems to sort themselves out is quite often they don't and in fact they actually manifest and grow. Had I tackled the situation when it first began I could probably have just asked the bloke what he was doing, and if he could stop, but having allowed it to continue for four minutes and 38 seconds I'd allowed myself to become very irritated and agitated to the point where the only intervention I could really make was to punch him straight in the face.
I stopped short of that, but did shout quite loudly "what the fuck are you playing at?" He responded by pushing his tongue hard into his lower lip, thrusting his face into mine and knocking me back against the window of the tram before letting out a very loud, very deep, very heartfelt belch.
So I got off at Netherthorpe Road and decided to continue the journey by foot and, later when I got tired, on the bus. The very large, very old, very tanned man at the bus stop gave me 43 seconds of grace, and then introduced himself by saying “of course, I don’t live here. I live in Alicante.” Of course.
It was at this point that several of my previously held worst fears were confirmed to me. Firstly, weirdoes are unnaturally attracted to me; they smell me from three quarters of a mile away and make it their business to seek me out, often to such an extent that they're already there waiting for me at my destination before I even arrive. Secondly, there are some strange people who live in the north. And finally, I've clearly done something simply hideous in a previous life for which I'm being punished.
Things have only got worse since.
Which brings me onto the 20.05 service from Leeds to London that the LoftforWords lot decided to catch home from the defeat at Manchester United for £14 each rather than paying the £68 that Richard Branson and his beloved rail franchise were asking for to go directly home. A convoluted route, you would think, that surely the weirdoes would never think we’d take. Wrong.
Having picked a set of tables that appeared to be populated only by two kindly old gents minding their own business it quickly transpired that our judgement had been misguided. One was a bearded homeless person with a passion for humming Waltzing Matilda on repeat, while the other was an old Millwall fan who chewed away at the lower part of his face like a hungry cannibal and spoke at length about his dislike of pubs that employ bouncers.
Like zombies in an apocalypse movie they’d smelt flesh, and soon a Sunderland fan had arrived to share (steal) our beer and ask who that famous old QPR player was with his eyes too close together (Gerry Francis, it turned out, after 25 minutes). Luckily all three got off at Wakefield – the homeless man simply to get back on the train to Leeds before repeating the journey, the Millwall fan to continue eating what remained of his own face, and the Sunderland fan to check who Martin O’Neill was because he’d never heard of him when we asked if he’d heard the rumours about his resignation.
Well, as one door closes another slams in your face. One carriage along in the buffet car the faithful fans of Leeds United and Crystal Palace, fresh from an afternoon’s entertainment at Elland Road, had decided that as they’d all had a drink and a wonderful day it was high time they had a proper sort out over the packets of large biscuits. And so they did. The bloody – isn’t it amazing how much a head bleeds when you strike it just right? – aftermath sent the peasants scampering down the train clutching their vacuum packed sandwiches and there followed a prolonged wait while the British Transport Police massed some ranks, marched onto the train, cracked a few more heads together, and hauled a dozen laboratory chimps off for a night in the cells at Wakefield nick.
Picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.
East Coast Trains responded by sending down a man with a tea trolley so those left who’d been involved, but not sufficiently for the police to lift them off, sipped tea together and reflected on some sort of victory as the train finally pulled off towards Doncaster. Then they went to the disabled toilet en masse for a line of coke and a cigarette, the remains of which they discarded in the waste paper bin so as not to cause a mess or block the toilet. And so, amid plumes of smoke and panicked announcements from the guard, the train pulled into Retford and endured another long wait for the arrival of our second emergency service of the evening.
This was all a rather sad end to a bad day. I’ve never liked Manchester - mainly due to my raw hatred of Manchester United but not solely because of that. It just seems like a city devoid of any charm whatsoever; a place where it’s impossible to get a decent pint and a decent meal in a reasonable pub that’s showing a football game without being surrounded by crowds of screaming stereotypes or people talking loudly in that accent that suggests they’re always right. On a United matchday the place fills with crowds of men in their 50s wearing green jumpers, all ruddy faced and swinging keys to abandoned Range Rovers.
I know these people – they’re from Grimsby and Scunthorpe and Driffield and Barrow and Chesterfield and Dronfield and Northallerton and towns like that where there’s nothing to do but try and make a bit of money so once a season you can get on the train or the specially arranged coach trip and bore the fucking tits off the people at work with stories about how you’re going to see “Ya-naigh-ted” this weekend. They’re essentially the same arseholes that flood into London for the “Autumn Internationals” (meaningless friendlies) at Twickers. They come once a year, they fill Old Trafford to the brim, they sit quietly until Ya-naigh-ted are winning, they taunt the away fans, and they go home. There’s no feeling to the place, no sort of atmosphere that suggests people go all the time and know the familiar faces, no camaraderie, no humour. It’s soulless. They come once a year, they win, they take the piss out of the victim, they go home. They’re scum. In the away end the stewards hunt in violent packs, moving in to physically eject away fans at random as if on commission for doing so. The whole Old Trafford experience is not football as I know it or ever want to experience it.
There was one standing in front of us in the queue for the tram after the game. I say queue but I’m sure the definition of that demands it should move every now and again and as Manchester responds to the presence of 80,000 people at Old Trafford by running exactly the same two-carriages-every-ten-minute tram service it does on any other day of the week it would be more accurately described as a crowd of 500 people standing still in the pouring rain for a prolonged period of time. The man in front of us said he’d gone to the game a season ticket belonging to “Simon at work” who didn’t go because he’s “more of a Man City fan these days.”And if I’d put the sole of my shoe in the guy’s back and gently nudged him under the tram when it did eventually arrive (full, so it didn’t stop) I’d be the one locked up.
My client stands by his actions at the tram stop and we look forward to trial when we shall attempt to set a precedent for a ‘The Bastards Deserved It’ defence…
Even the old faithful Lass O’Gowrie had let us down earlier in the day with a beer selection not even as wide as the one available in my fridge at home, a choice of either Tsingtao (that was off and tasted like oven cleaner) or Sol (lower strength than my piss) in bottles, and a dodgy foreign feed of the West Brom game that froze just as it kicked off.
All of which meant we were rather glad to get back to London, and in time for the Ricky Hatton fight as well, which Neil was keen to see. We were in need of a good pub so we quickly decamped to our favourite Mabel’s Tavern where the welcome was warm and the beer selection expansive. They even, reluctantly, tried the pay-per-view channel showing the fight to see if they’d subscribed to it by accident, which of course they hadn’t.
Neil, usually the sensible one of the group, then received word from an alleged friend that the fight could be seen for free on Sky channel 872. Enthused, he bowled up to the bar, ignoring mumbled warnings from Young North – who once rather dimly left Television X on the Sky box at home after the ten minute freeview so our mum got an eyeful when she got up in the morning and tried to put breakfast news on – that 872 “sounds suspiciously like a porn channel to me.”
And indeed it was a porn channel. A gay porn channel. A very tanned, very well endowed gentleman appeared on the screens all around the pub wearing a leopard print thong inviting you to call or text in which - judging by the explicit messages around the side of the screen – lots of people were happily doing.
There was a lot of anger in the pub. Some cheering, but mostly anger. Not since The Green got rid of its Sky and that little urchin who used to dive through the doors as they opened at 12.01pm and demand they put the cricket on that he wanted to watch rather than the football that the other 350 people wished to see has there been such uproar over a channel choice on TV. The shock was too much for the barmaid, who fumbled with the remote, and then dropped it, leaving the tanned man slowly gyrating on the screen.
The shame of it should have sent us home, but Mabel’s is our pub so we stayed, and sat in the corner, living with the shame of being the guys who went into a crowded London pub and made them put gay porn on the television.
Three sleeps and four wanks over some normal porn later and it was Tuesday, and time to get back on the road again to Sunderland. The rain we’d stood in at the tram stop while contemplating whether to kill Simon’s friend had continued incessantly since we left meaning that half the country was now flooded and only one train was running north of York in the morning that we had to run to get on.
“So then he says to me ‘I actually fancy QPR for a win tonight’….”
Plans for a calm, leisurely trip north, watching the world go by over a cooked breakfast served in the restaurant car were replaced by a long old slog on East Coast’s oldest set of rolling stock chosen because it could cope without the electric wires which had been turned off owing to the standing water. We ordered what was left from their breakfast range at the buffet car which turned out to be a vegetarian burrito consisting of piping hot scrambled egg at either end of a wrap with a frozen hash brown in the middle. It tasted like the Ebola virus.
Annoying as it all was, some of the sights from the train were spectacular and had to be seen to be believed. At one stage north of York there was water so deep it had its own tidal system stretching as far as the eye could see from either side of the train over what, presumably, used to be farm land. It came right up to the rails and lapped against them as we made our way gingerly north.
My first ever trip over sea for a competitive QPR game.
A fourteenth game came and went without a victory being attained, and sorrows were smothered with a particularly virulent curry. I’d like to tell you the evening ended there and we went back to the hotel to sleep, but in actual fact we went to Flares. It’s a weird mix in there at midnight on a working weekday – even more so than normal. Essentially it was the only place left open where you could get a cheap pint and so there were a few groups of QPR fans standing around, a few old soaks sitting quietly, and the dregs of society looking for forms of depravity.
One of the latter, a blonde woman in her 30s who you could kindly describe as ‘rough’, made a swift assessment of the wealth of the LFW group and decided to talk to Colin about how she’d rinsed the bloke at the bar of £1,500 on a shopping trip during the day and was now preparing to head back to the Premier Inn to deliver his reward. It wasn’t said in an anecdotal way, more a this-could-be-you-tomorrow sort of a tone while making it fairly obvious that she was a bit mucky in bed.
Meanwhile a small rat like boy with a mullet had decided having been refused service that I might buy him a drink in exchange for a tenner or, if I was so inclined, sex. Perhaps he’d been tipped off by the staff in Mabels, or indeed the woman behind reception at the hotel who’d taken one look at me arriving to check in with a bearded Thai bloke twice my size and asked immediately whether I’d like to change my twin for a double. Either way he went away disappointed.
Note the tactics employed here with the line of QPR fans used to protect the LFW lot from the horrors that lay beyond.
And I’d like to tell you the night ended there, but it didn’t. It ended with us prowling the Premier Inn, trying to break into its bar at two in the morning.
A thought strikes me in all of this: perhaps it's actually me and my friends who are the weird ones.
The journey home from Manchester via Leeds required a 50 minute changeover that we had planned to spend in the Wetherspoons on the station until we arrived to find it looking rather like the governor's living room on the Walking Dead with row upon row of dead heads slowly chewing their jaws up and down looking for another soulless gibbon to do some serious damage to. So we went in the smaller, grottier (yes, even worse than a Wetherspoons) bar at the other end of the station instead and marvelled at what I suppose might in their younger days have been Goths but are now, having hit middle age, saggy old women barely disguising their modesty in bits of old black lace.
While we were doing this, an adjacent table of reasonably attractive girls had spotted Young North – very much the Harry Styles-figure in the travelling party – and were daring each other to come across and talk to him. It turned out none of them had the guts, and so after 20 minutes of whispering and giggling the sad news was broken by the token fat one in their group that "we've had us fun, now we've gorra gurr or will miss us train". Suddenly, presumably with some romantic film in mind, one of them made a bolt for our table. Coat in hand so she could run away afterwards she walked up, put her hand on Young North’s shoulder and said to him "I wish I'd been a bit braver."
I'm not sure what she expected to happen really. Presumably, bare minimum, a phone number or, ideal scenario, him to declare himself immediately besotted and keen to whisk her over the road to the Loch Fyne Sea Food restaurant in his arms for an evening of stimulating conversation followed by oral sex in a posh hotel paid for on his platinum card. He’s got a footballer’s haircut, so I guess it was plausible.
What actually happened was that Young North – always a little slow on the uptake – believed a random girl had walked up to him in a rank pub on Leeds station at 8pm on a Saturday night and actually asked him "what's your fragrance?" The train of thought that went into this must have been on a staggering journey and the destination it arrived at was "Lacoste."
So there we sat, against the wall, looking across the table at Young North who'd just responded to "I wish I'd been a bit braver" with "Lacoste" and at the girl who was standing, motionless, her hand still on his shoulder, looking completely dumbfounded. She walked away silently after ten seconds that felt like half an hour and shook her head as she passed through the door of the bar being held open by her fat friend.
And then we went back to London and made our favourite pub put gay porn on the big screen.
Yes, actually, who are the weird ones in all of this?
On the pitch >>> QPR performance 7/10 >>> Referee performance 6/10 >>> Match 6/10
Off the pitch >>> QPR support 8/10 >>> Home support 4/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 6/10 >>>> Stadium 7/10 >>>> Police and stewards 1/10
In the pub >>> Pubs 3/10 >>> Atmosphere 3/10 >>> Food 6/10 >>>> Cost 6/10
On the train >>> Journey 4/10 >>> Cost 7/10
On the pitch >>> QPR performance 7/10 >>> Referee performance 9/10 >>> Match 4/10
Off the pitch >>> QPR support 9/10 >>> Home support 5/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 3/10 >>>> Stadium 8/10 >>>> Police and stewards 9/10
In the pub >>> Pubs 7/10 >>> Atmosphere 8/10 >>> Food 8/10 >>>> Cost 7/10
On the train >>> Journey 3/10 >>> Cost 7/10
Totals 74/140, 94/140
Pictures – Neil Dejyothin
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