Fear and Loving in Heaton Park Part 10 Raw - The Art of Brisk Walking

It’s time to go and our intrepid author is finally leaving. An early night however is not his only concern. It is imperative that he arrives back before his bibulous companion JC. If not then all his anxiety and sobriety will have been for naught. The race is on and the stakes could not be higher, but who will prevail Niki or James?

The day before John, my landlord for the night, and friends had sauntered when leaving the concert. The night was young, all was good, no need to hurry. By the time they arrived at the Metrolink the queue was gargantuan, spilling out of the station, engulfing the street and passers-by: Stalingrad after the surrender. Hundreds and hundreds of refugees desperately vied for transportation. Rather than waste an hour or two in this maul they’d decided to sit out the initial rush in the nearest pub. After a few sharpeners were quaffed they left, and, as anticipated the crowd had dispersed, but only because there were no more trams. It took them over four hours to get home, bedraggled and exhausted. This would not happen to me.

The sooner I was tucked up in bed – well lying in my sleeping bag on a slowly deflating airbed – the better. But far more importantly I had to arrive before my long-lost companion JC.

Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts to contact him, I had no idea where he was. Would he have dared leave before the last chords of ‘I am the Resurrection’? Risked excommunication? Was he already heading north? Was it even worth trying to beat him?

Enough! Now was not the time for doubts. They would only slow me down. I had to stay focused. I had to win.

Speed was of the essence, yet I decided against running. There are some places where such action is de rigueur: such as cross a beach in slow motion to an evocative soundtrack. In Manchester it’s not advisable. The boys in blue would think you were fleeing a heinous crime and arrest you; residents assume you’d stolen something valuable and take it off you. Which is a shame as it’s the only 'venue' I could beat Usain Bolt in. Only because as a middle class white male I would be less likely to be shot by the police, but a win is a win, ask pentathlete Boris ‘the Cheat’ Onishchenko. Instead I opted for a brisk pace.

All I had to do was take the tram to Piccadilly Gardens and then catch the 43 bus. Surely this was within my meagre abilities. If not then I had alternatives.

Earlier I’d been informed by a barfly that should I get lost simply follow a Diddyman. Not wishing to be fooled I’d pointed out they lived in Knotty Ash not Didsbury, but that, he said, was disinformation to protect their privacy. So far I hadn’t spotted any, despite their distinctive appearance and oversized hats, but he’d mentioned they were nocturnal.

If that failed then I intended to follow my mother’s advice, albeit updated to suit modern times. Asking a policeman may have worked for the Famous Five, but in 21st century Britain another strategy was required. I intended to steal his hat and get arrested, a concrete cot in the cells being preferable to five hours wandering around Manchester. I’d be more likely to get beaten up, but at least I’d have a blanket.

I was conflicted over my old man’s guidance. I’d discounted the first part, as it relied on finding a van to follow. Although I would be heeding his counsel to not dilly or dally, dally or dilly, so hopefully I wouldn’t lose my way.

Technology was an option. Usually I’d ring my parents, demand they pick me up, but rather selfishly they’d been incommunicado since their deaths. It would have to John. He wouldn’t have given me his phone number if he didn’t want me to use it. Admittedly he’d refused to pick JC and I up after the gig, but he had dropped us off. Surely if I was in real trouble he’d come to my aid.

This, however, would mean admitting defeat, which was unacceptable. Death before dishonour is my motto and I don’t even own a kukri – which is a shame as an eighteen-inch knife would have proved rather useful.

Worst-case scenario, I’d walk. It’d be hard, but I’d survive. Coping with losing would be more traumatic. The future would be bleak. A few years of ignominy ended by the inevitable dry dive off the Boro transporter bridge.

With back ups like this the best option was a fast gait. Eye on the prize, I continued with renewed vigour. Prepared to instantly step in front of any bus heading to Didsbury. If he stopped I could board. If not I’d get free billet in the hospital, or a slab in a morgue, either way I wouldn’t have to worry about transport or accommodation.

Extreme measures proved unnecessary. I arrived at the tram station with the vanguard. I wasn’t the first but I could see the platform.

Immediately my thoughts turned to JC. Where was my competitor? Was he already here? Was he ahead of me? Catching the first tram would give him an unassailable lead. I scoured the horde, but he was nowhere to be seen. Stage one was complete. Everything was hunky dory. My anxiety subsided. My breathing returned to normal and my brain’s anxious interference was replaced with soothing cerebral elevator music. I waited patiently to be whisked away.

Suddenly a polyphonic shriek rent my reverie. My phone was ringing. Who could it be? The good Samaritans I’d cruelly abandoned at the gig? Surely I hadn’t given them my number? They couldn’t have located me so fast? Maybe it was someone generously offering to help claim back my PPI payments?

Frantically I pulled it out of my pocket and checked the caller ID. JC. At last I could ascertain who had the upper hand.

Faux nonchalance ineffectively hiding my dread anticipation, I answered. ‘Everyone’s gone… I’m by the mixing tower… My battery’s nearly dead… Where are you? How are we getting to Rigsby’s?’ Relief washed over me, it was time to gloat but before I had a chance to reply his mobile died. The race was as good as won.

Next month: The kindness of strangers

With thanks to Dominic Salmon and Dangerous Dave Nicholson