I’m holding a small piece of black plastic with a hole at the top, like a short, fat, dysfunctional needle. Or a midget-sized witch’s magic wand.
I waft the holey end in front of a little light and – abracadabra – a metal grille groans its way up, letting me into a cage where I can stack my bike for safe-keeping.
It would’ve seemed like magic to little-girl-me, back in the days of three channel telly and a ’phone line shared with neighbours.
But it’s not magic, it’s just technology.
We’re at our local train station, setting out for an evening of who knows what. I have an inkling – I’ve looked them up online – but my partner-in-jaunts is heading for the ‘Corduroy Folk Club’ totally unprepared for the Oldham Tinkers. Well, other than being married to a Lancashire lass, that is.
A few minutes later we’re in town, the Sardinian restaurant bright and lively. It’s early, just six o’clock, but puddings are already arriving for a nearby couple. I stare at a sundae glass of mixed ice creams with a lust that I know will remain unfulfilled.
We start with a glass of Italian bubbly – delicate, but tasty.
Sardines – for him – arrive in a stinky cloud.
‘They taste better than they smell,’ says he. I would hope so.
My rocket and parmesan salad zings with lemon juice. Mmm. Never thought I’d feel smug and virtuous!
Sardinian gnocchi – with sheep’s cheese and meat – succeed his smelly sardines. Gorgeously plump parcels of aubergine and smoked cheese ravioli for me. Grilled under more cheese and tomato. You can see why the ice cream’s a no-no.
A glass each of Canonau – dark, red Sardinian wine –– and we’re gooey-eyed, reminiscing about a very happy holiday on that island, many years ago.
Almost ftb (full to bursting) we saunter over to ‘the Atkinson’, a grand, newly refurbished town-hall style building in this fine, seaside town.
As we head for our seats we’re accompanied by a trio of musicians, lurking by the stairs. Squeeze-boxes a-flexing, singing shanty style, it’s a, ‘take your seats, wait for the Tinkers, don’t expect this to be formal,’ warm-up.
Eight o’clock arrives. Three men of more than a certain age amble onto the stage.
They’re no longer ‘little tinkers’ – as my parents used to call us as mischievous children. There’s serious effort involved in bending to put pints of beer on the stage – and picking them up again. And a bit of sitting down.
Tales are well-told, jokes well-rounded after many years of sharing. Playground songs winkle out childhood memories – and soon the room’s a-hum with many voices – including ours – joining in familiar-sounding choruses.
In this year when we remember the start of ‘the war to end all wars’ – oh, would that it had been so – the Tinkers strike up an old music hall song, ‘Up to mighty London came an Irishman one day’. Funny – and poignant – you might know it better as, ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’.
I step out to buy a drink at the bar, join a queue. Chat with a man who’s travelled many miles, with his wife, to be here.
‘We’ve been singing these songs for years,’ he says. ‘Drunk, at dinner parties.’
A shame they don’t live nearer.
It’s my turn to buy.
At folk clubs, you really need a glass in your hand. We could have a soft drink, but when Southport Brewery has an ale called Dark Night, in a pint bottle, at only 3.9% alcohol …
After the encores we wend our way to the station through a glowing Victorian shopping arcade – to the sound of more singing. Tribute night at a local restaurant. Chock full of happy smiling faces with flushed cheeks – and cheery voices raised in song.
The train, by contrast, is subdued. Just a gaggle of under-dressed girls on over-high heels heading out to Liverpool as we’re heading home.
Back at our station I wave the magic wand and conjure my bike from the rack.
Hills are few and far between, round here. But our station sits atop one. We decide to stick to the pavement – it’s broad enough for bikes and people – and there’s no-one much around.
Which is just as well.
I apply the brakes to my rather too rapid descent. Try to keep a straight line, but find it hard. The night air’s cool, the stars bright, the autumnal suburban shrubbery distracting. That’s my story.
As I dismount by the garage door my fellow pedaller’s face shows obvious relief.
Ah. I know what he’s remembering. My old bike, with the dodgy handle-bars. Stopping at a pedestrian light, one night, the front wheel turned beneath me. I went crashing to the floor. And the chain came off.
My waterproof’s elasticated wrist kept the torrent of blood nicely contained. Months later a chip of bone finally made its way to the surface of my elbow.
Tonight we made it home without incident, despite the erratic ride.
I look fondly at my plum bike as I put her to bed. She wouldn’t let me down. But next time, perhaps, I’ll skip the second beer. Or take a taxi.
Whatever, we’ll be joinin th’Corduroy Folk Club again.
Oh, aye. It were a grand night out.
Here’s the Tinkers’ website: http://www.oldhamtinkers.com/
This (possibly copyright infringing but it’s on YouTube) recording is taken off a scratchy record but have a listen to the first track it’s a cheery respite from 2014: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1R-xHj4Q5_U