12 May 08

The train to Manchester was shrinking in the distance when I arrived at the station. To avoid the sun I sat in the shelter. I was staring at the multitude of compressed bubblegum spots on the grey tarmac when two young Scousers (Liverpudlians) benched themselves next to me.
“’Scyuze me, mayte. Doo ya know what time the next train iz?”
“Ten to four,” I said.
“’Ey, mayte, where’er yer from?”
“I just got back from America.”
“Fuckin’ ’ell. Why’dya wanna do that?”
“They booted me out for raves and Ecstasy.”
“You musta done a lotta Ecstasy den. Me mayte ate three-hundred pills once, and he ended up shittin’ ’em out whole.”
“The’re gonna end up callin’ the bizzies [police] on them,” said the other Scouser, referring to the two high-schoolers sword-fencing with sections of drainpipe on the station roof. In blazers, shirts and ties, more high-schoolers invaded the platform opposite, and swore at each other or into cell phones.
An express train swooshed past, leaving a wave of swirling litter in its wake.

“Anyone just get on the train?” asked the blue-uniformed inspector.
“I did,” I said. “I need a return to Manchester.”
“Eight pounds ten, please.”
“I’ve got a tenner.”
“Do you have the ten pence?”
“I think so. Yes.”
During the forty-minute journey, I wrote a letter to Frankie.

In the café at the Cornerhouse waiting for Gemma, I sipped a Leffe Belgian Ale shandy and wrote letters to T-Bone and Slope.
“Would you like me to take your picture?” I asked the French party of four at the next table whose camera timer was misbehaving.
“Yes. Thank you.”

Blonde Gemma arrived in silver ballet pumps with bows. And in one pump, a broken toe.
“Nice shoes,” I said.
“Moda in Pelle.”
“How did you break your toe?”
“I went arse over tit in work. I felt like a right idiot. I couldn’t go to the gym last night, so I may be a lard arse next week.”
“You speak funny.”
“Everyone makes fun of me for it. Instead of mojo, I say morejore. I have double-u’s in the middle of words. Like schoowel and cowert.”
“A cowert of law.”
I laughed.
“For the blog, can we go over how you found out about me?”
“In Cosmo. Someone gave it me ’cause it had a pair of shoes in it she thought I’d like. I was just flickin’ through it ’cause I was bowerd – let’s be honest Cosmo is no Vogue is it? – and I read your article and I thought it was really sad. I logged onto your blog, then I sent you some books – like fower – and we started writing.”
“What’s your job title these days.”
“Media Research Executive for Bauer.”
“And you’re working toward a PhD in what?”
“Film theory.”
“Can I use Broken Toe as your blog name?”
“No! Call me The Girl With The Nice Hair And Nice Shoes.”
“That’s way too long. For the record, how many pairs of shoes do you own?”
“Loads. Like tonnes.”
“Over one-hundred?”
“Wow! My impression of you is you keep yourself really busy.”
“I’m nonstop doing things. I go to the gym, watch films. I like shopping – that relaxes me. I only sleep for about six to seven hours.”
“What about reading?”
“I like Jane Green, Marion Keyes, Sophie Kinsella, Adele Parks and Anna Maxted. Comedy and chick lit. I have all my geeky film books as well – film theory and criticism. Martin Scorsese, I love his films.”
“Me too. What about chick flicks?”
“Chick flicks are great because they replicate fairy tales, they require no thought you can just sit back and enjoy. They're full of hope and romance. Silly really but I think most girls love a bit of romance. Speaking of chick flicks, what’s happening with you and Posh Bird?”
“She dumped me for some guy she met at the gym.”
“I know that. But haven’t you got back together yet?”
“It’s irreconcilable. She got mad at me for posting about the gym guy.”
“Did you love her?”
“We’d only gone out for a few months.”
“How did it feel when she dumped you?”
“It hurt. One week she’s telling me she really likes me and mentioning when she wants kids and how many she wants, and next thing I call her to make sure we're still going to the pictures and she tells me she met someone at the gym. Iron Man’s going to have a good laugh at this. I promised him I’d sign up for the gym as soon as I got home. See what I get for being a slob?”
“If she didn’t want to see you then fair enough, but she should have had enough respect to come and see you about it rather than simply saying on the phone she’d met someone at the gym. I think she treated you with a total lack of respect. I bet if the shoe was on the other foot she wouldn’t like it.”
“I don’t think she disrespected me at all. It’s her prerogative to do what she feels will make her most happy. We’d only gone out for a short while and it was on again off again the whole time. She told me a boyfriend of hers was so in love with her he transferred university to be with her and she immediately dumped him and dropped out of that university.”
“Bloody hell!”
“I kind of respect that in a way though. She looks sweet, but she’s a toughie. I’ve had to outsmart some tough people in my time, but Posh Bird ran rings around me. Anyway, it’s a lesson learned. I now know the perfect time to tell a woman she’s beautiful is when she’s all sweaty at the gym. I had a run of bad luck after she dumped me. My literary agent was hospitalised and is fighting for her life, and Liverpool University rejected me because I have no credentials in literary analysis. Anyhow, it’s all better than being in prison."
"What's going on with Royo Girl?"
"She's trying to get to England in September. But isn’t it time for us to go and watch the movie you picked?” (My Brother is an Only Child. An Italian movie with subtitles.)

Counting the seats at the cinema in the Cornerhouse didn’t take long.
“I’ve never seen such a small cinema. Only fifty-seven seats, eh?” I said to the usher, a little man with a miserable face.
“Yeah,” he said, “but we don’t sell the seats for two of them.”
“Which two?” Gemma whispered. “Let’s sit in them and be naughty.”
“Which ones?” I asked.
Scrunching his face, he said, “The end ones, so you don’t strain your neck.”
Strain your neck in this miniscule theater? I thought.
“I think he’s making this up,” Gemma whispered. “He’s just messing with your mind.”
“He sounds serious, but you’re probably right.”
More people arrived. Three bespectacled professor types. A lady in black with a bulging backpack. A nodding and smiling hippy wearing a baseball cap, his dilated eyes radiating over-friendly vibes. A group of women; as the largest of them sat down, she displayed a dolphin’s smile of a buttock crack hanging out of the back of her pants workman style.
The commercials played and Gemma speed-texted.
“How do you do that so fast?”
“You’ve gotta be efficient when you’re as busy as me. I can text without looking.”
Set in late-Sixties provincial Italy, the movie was about the political and emotional development of two brothers: a fascist and a Communist. I enjoyed the action and conflict.

A portly Italian with slicked-back silver hair seated us at a candlelit table at Cocotoo, a restaurant built into a railway arch. Pink satin drapes belonging in an Ottoman’s harem quarters separated the restaurant into different sections. I could almost taste the basil, garlic and oregano in the aromas drifting from the open kitchen. Magnificent chandeliers were hanging from an arced ceiling painted with skyscapes and replicas of the Sistine chapel frescoes. Gemma ordered fillets of sea bass grilled and served with lemon juice and olive oil, plus rocket leaves and shavings of parmesan cheese, cherry tomatoes and a balsamic dressing. I ordered margherita and patatine fritte, which loses all of its romantic flavour in the English translation: pizza and chunky chips. I even had the cheek to ask for brown sauce.
“I hope your guy put those frescoes up faster than Michelangelo did,” I said in a serious tone.
In an Italian accent and proud tones, the waiter said, “The guy working on it told us it’d take six months. Three years later he was still working on it.”
Apologizing for the lack of brown sauce, a waitress placed some green and black olives on the orange-copper-brown-black marble tabletop.
“Do you not eat fish?” Gemma asked. “Now there’s no rat parts in the food, can’t you try some fish?”
“I used to live off fish ’n’ chips, but I don’t even eat fish these days. It doesn’t appeal to me.”
Over dinner, prison questions flowed from Gemma.
“I don’t understand how there’s so much drugs in the prisons. How do they get it all in?”
“Mostly keystering.”
“What’s that?”
“It’s packed in balloons or condoms. The vistors insert them into their bodies, take them out during the visits and the prisoners insert them into their bodies at visitation. Women visitors have two places they can insert them, and men one. A prisoner who can store a lot inside himself is called a mule. He’ll get paid by the gangs to receive drugs through visitation. Sometimes the packages burst and the mule dies of an overdose or is hospitalised.”
“It’s such a different world.”
“Guards bring them in too.”
“It only takes one corrupt guard to flood a prison with drugs.”
“How do the prisoners arrange that with the guards?”
“Various ways. Sometimes they seduce female guards. I know of two instances at the Madison Street jail. One guard was having sex where they keep the cleaning supplies and bringing heroin and crystal meth in. A nurse there got arrested for it. Gangs organise sex and payments for male guards outside of the prison. Sometimes guards are seduced and blackmailed. If you think about it, the prison-industrial complex is a pyramid scheme, and the guards are only one tier up from the prisoners. They don’t make much money, they’re not the most qualified people in the world, so they’re easy prey for these crafty gang members. It’s so bad now, America’s prisons are basically dens for people who use drugs intravenously. For up to eighty, ninety percent of the prisoners I was housed with, each day revolved around injecting drugs or getting more drugs into the prison. If you don’t do drugs you’re considered lame and treated with great suspicion.”
“How do they pay for the drugs?”
“The dealer may be paid in store items, you may have someone put money on his books, or street-to-street.”
“What’s street-to-street?”
“Street-to-street means your friends on the street pay his friends on the street, so the money doesn’t even have to enter the prison system. You should hear some of the stories prisoners make up to their family members and friends as to why they need to pay some stranger hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Which reminds me, another way prisoners get drugs in is they put up ads at writeaprisoner.com, get women writing to them, develop relationships, sometimes even marrying them, and then sweet-talk them into keystering drugs in to visitation. Books, legal mail, and food visits are also other ways.”

“Why don’t I drop you off at the Piccadilly station as there’s more trains go from there,” Gemma said later on.
“I’m going to prowl the night scene for a bit first.”
“Well, Chinatown and the gay area are right over there,” she said as we hugged goodbye.
The busiest area was Canal Street. Sandwiched between a row of bars and the canal was such a crowd I could only wend my way through in slow motion. Captivated by the atmosphere, I grabbed a stool and jotted things down. Drag queens in Disneyland princess outfits and purple wigs. Rasta in a blood-red shirt, a Russian ushanka hat and dreads to the small of his back. Old man in a cowboy hat of white fleece. Playboy Bunny ears adorned with flashing coloured lights on a young woman in an Adidas tracksuit. Poker-faced Asian lady selling pink fuzzy cowboy hats. The clickety-click of high heels announcing the arrival of another horde of mini-skirted sozzled women ploughing through the crowd one sexually-aggressive stride at a time. Shaved-headed bouncers in black clustered around entrances, arms folded. Man in sandles and shorts singing and dancing on his own down a side-street. Further down the side street, a man peeing on the wall. Butch lesbian couple holding hands, hair in crewcuts. Street-kid promoters doling out flyers. Black man in gangsta garb holding hands with a white transsexual with long brown crimped Eighties hair and a hooked nose. Youngsters peddling roses and glowsticks. Fresh-faced yuppies raising pints and cell phones.

At 11:15, I arrived at the station just in time for the last train home at 11:20. I didn’t see my hometown on the timetable, but I saw Warrington, so I headed for Platform 14. A long walk to find out it was the wrong train.
I dashed to the front and couldn’t find the train listed anywhere. I asked an employee how come my train had bermuda-triangled.
“The last train you want doesn’t stop at Piccadilly, only at Oxford. You’ve missed it. It’s 11:22,” said the Indian in blue.
Hoping the train was delayed, yet half hoping it wasn’t so I could take more notes on the nightlife of Manchester, I ran for a cab, jumped in, and said, “Get me to Oxford Station as fast as you can.”
At 11:27, I arrived at Oxford Station. The timetable showed it had been delayed. I walked through three carriages to find a vacant seat.
“Do you mind if I sit next to you?” asked a brunette in a lowcut dress with an adorable spattering of freckles on her shoulders and back.
“That’s fine.”
We chatted. She said she was an ex-air hostess now working in recruitment. I told her a bit but not too much about America. Her stop came after ten minutes or so.
The skinhead sat in the opposite window seat squinted at me and then snorted a line of cocaine off a credit card. His girlfriend, tanned and in a miniskirt, did likewise, and they both joined hands and garbled a song.
I got off the train to much jungle music and flashing of coloured lights. In the lone house between the station and Farnworth Cemetary, a ravey party was in full swing. I felt the pull of the music. It almost whirled me around.
The wolves howled.
I ignored them.

There will be no blog "Month 5" as I've covered so much ground in this blog.
Email comments to writeinside@hotmail.com or post them below

Copyright © 2007-2008 Shaun P. Attwood


Anonymous said...

Is this a friendship or romance thing with you and Gemma? The Italian restaurant sounds nice.


Anonymous said...

It's more like co-wert than cowert but apart from that you got Gem's strange vow-wels down to a T


Anonymous said...

what will brainiac Gemma do when she gets her PhD?

~:*:*:Sparrow:*:*:~ said...

Great visualizations, Shaun!

Sue O. (aka Joannie, SS) said...

I loved the last line of the first paragraph. Keep up the good writing-really, you don't need a reason or a title-it's all snapshots of your life. I do agree Gemma needs a pretty blog name.

The latest addition to our extended household is a Manx cat that Beck calls "the butch lesbian"-perfect description.

Anonymous said...

I'll hopefully use my Phd (when I finally get it) to become a University Lecturer - Fingers and toes crossed. I've got a long way to go though.

Anonymous said...

'Our' Gem-bem should come with a translator - no one ever understands th'accent.

Anonymous said...

wow, shaun. that's some good descriptive writing! keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Great piece of descriptive writing there.

I only hope the wolves stayed at bay on your journey.....

Maybe it was the jungle music ?