Under clear blue skies we set sail for Manchester. (I lie. We drive.)
The hotel’s grand. Victoriana at its best. Come six o-clock we head out, past the old town hall, accessorised for fun with helter-skelter, big wheel and roundabouts.
Outpacing the stagnant traffic, following signs saying ‘mosque,’ we’re passing the old fish market when I spot the black cowboy hat. We grin at Kinky Friedman – for it is he – and, despite the fat cigar clamped between his teeth, he grins right back.
Our table seats six. Three couples, each a stranger to the other two. And they got there first. We have our backs to the gig. Harrumph.
Settled in with a glass of red wine, I let it go. Respond in kind to the friendly woman facing us – and (small harrumph) the front.
It’s seven o’clock. The veggie platter’s good – but there’s not that much of it. Well, not when you consider we have a long evening ahead. And two bottles of red wine to be drunk. By us.
The Kinkster strolls to the microphone, strums his guitar. Sings about an ‘Asshole from El Paso’.
I’m not sure the staider couple at our table get him. I suppose it could be a bit of a shock if you’re expecting – well, what were they expecting? Probably not jokes about Germans tying their shoelaces with little Nazis . . .
Maybe they don’t realise he’s Jewish.
Maybe they sussed he’s not too fond of golf.
Maybe they’ll like Roger’s poems better.
Or maybe not.
After the second interval they’re gone.
I buy a book of Roger McGough’s poems. ‘As far as I know’ comes wrapped against dust in a picture of Crosby Beach. Our beach. We chat. (What do I blather on about? Sigh.) He dedicates it to, ‘Mary, from Crosby’ which moves me. Odd. Maybe it’s the wine.
By the time the Kinkster returns we’ve got to know the other couple.
She and I were born in the same Catholic nursing home. They’re buying a house on a hill. Yes, these folks will live on the hill where I scattered mum’s ashes last Christmas. Oooh.
Kinky returns, interrupting the chain of spooky coincidences.
An initial spike of laughter sputters and dies as he sings, ‘Ride Em Jewboy’. Our request. It’s not a jolly song. Camps and smoke. Yellow stars. Dead limbs – and ringless fingers.
‘Wild ponies all your dreams,’ he sings, ‘were broken.’
Beautiful, but no comedy turn.
We talk to him after the show and I blather some more.
Give him a copy of my book for his sister. Well, why not? (She worked in Africa.) We leave with his phone numbers – to use when we’re in Texas, next month.
‘Will you answer the phone yourself,’ asks my resident Texan, not at all certain what’s going on here.
‘Sure!’ grins Kinky. We shake his hand and bid him farewell. But the evening’s not quite over.
Like wicked serpents, the evil other-couple hiss to us in our weakness.
I take it back. They’re not evil – and definitely not serpents. Still, we’re tempted – and head off into the night.
It’s a mad, noisy, frenzied fabulous world out there. We stand, in the rain, in a heaving pub’s back yard. Except it’s not raining. It’s the air conditioning. Legionella springs to mind. Oh well.
But we’re not twenty something any more. We wilt. Share hugs. Remember that scene in ‘Four Weddings’? The bride, tipsy, to more or less anyone: ‘I love you!’ That’s me. Except older.
We totter back to our Victorian splendour. Take the lift to the fourth floor. Listen for sounds of hens at the party next door but hear none. Relief.
And so, at last, I rest my brimming head on a fine cotton pillowcase.
Outside a bright, noisy night folds-up into a quiet Sunday morning.
I have felt better. In search of a café breakfast we stroll through a deserted town. And I’m thinking about dogs.
‘So,’ Kinky said to us, last night, ‘shall I put you down for two dogs?’ He supports a dog sanctuary called Utopia. It’s in the Texas Hill country. Near a place called Comfort.
I don’t think he was serious. Or was that why he gave us the phone numbers?
We round a corner and happen upon a man on his knees. It may be Sunday but he’s not praying. He’s peeing down the pavement. I try not to look but can’t help it. And now he’s struggling back into his sleeping bag.
It’s a cold shady alleyway, the place where he spent the night. A no dog night, in the chill of early spring.
The world has a habit of making you notice it, one way or another.