Sunday 2nd May, Warrington, Cheshire, England.
This morning, through his hangover, Tim said he'd be glad to see me gone. I laughed and told him he wasn't the only person to have said that on this trip! Of course I didn't have a gun at his head, forcing him to sit up drinking XXXX and Sicilian red wine till three in the morning every night. That was all his doing, and his neighbour Kath, who'd joined us each night. Just because I was happy to sit up with them, didn't mean it was my fault! Normally, I like to involve myself in my host's life as much as possible, and if they get up early so do I. But after a row of late nights, I left the early morning egg collection to Tim, myself rising at a far more civilized hour of eight or nine o'clock, just in time to join him for a cooked breakfast. Yesterday morning, I cooked pancakes. Making pancakes for my host had been something of a tradition of mine as I travelled America, but going by the chewy texture of the pancakes I made that morning, a tradition that should be left in the past with whaling and Chinese footbinding.
I'd planned to move further north on Saturday, but Tim said that he and Mark, the chicken man on the estate, were driving across to Shrewsbury in Shropshire Saturday night, and if I wanted to join them for a night out in Shrewsbury, they could drive me further north towards Warrington on Sunday, possibly stopping off in Windsford so I could complete my latest challenge. That's how I found myself standing against the wall in a huge Shrewsbury nightclub, almost the oldest person in the establishment, second at least to an old boy who must've been in his sixties, but was flirting with girls forty years his junior. Good luck to him, I guess. I remember a short stage of my life between the ages of seventeen and eighteen, when I actually enjoyed nightclubs. After that, I gradually came to find them more and more boring and frustrating. Now it seems I've entered another stage, where I find them uncontrolably hilarious. Looking around at the crowds of overgroomed young people who take themselves so seriously, pretending to hold conversations above the impossibly loud music, small groups of men dancing together in an attempt to break into groups of women on the dance floor. Shrewsbury was my nightclub experience for 2004. Maybe I'll try again next year. Who knows?
We stayed at Tim's mate Chris' place that night. Chris had also worked in my hometown in Australia, and knew some of my old schoolmates! Sunday morning, Tim had a flying lesson lined up in north Wales. It was a sunny morning, and we all thought what a great day it'd be for his lesson, but when we arrived at the airfield, we discovered that the haze was too thick for training flights. Visibility was only a few kilometres, and they prefer to have ten kilometres visibility in order to train beginners. Tim was disappointed, but he can use his voucher another time.
Wales provided us with the expected array of unpronouncable town names, mostly beginning with consonant clusters like 'LLGF' or 'LLWY'. One that impressed me enough to stop for a photograph was the town of Pant.
Windsford itself wasn't difficult to find, but I'd forgotten some of the details of the challenge, so there was a little bit of running around and getting lost before we ended up at the correct venue, the Meadowbank Social Club. We stayed and had a chat with Steve, the manager, but the three of us were starving and the club didn't serve lunch, so we had to go. An hour later, we were all contentedly patting our stomachs after a huge lunch at a nearby pub.
Mark and Tim dropped me at an on ramp to the M6 motorway. It was almost five o'clock. There were about twenty miles between me and Warrington. My old mate Mike had said he'd be at Porter's Ale House in Warrington from five o'clock onwards. The town being some distance off the motorway, I figured it'd take two lifts at least; one to the exit and another to Warrington. I hated the thought of Mike sitting in the pub waiting for me, while I stood by the motorway in the cold, just twenty minutes away. It'd been eight years since I'd seen him, and even that visit had been very brief. At one minute to five, a small panel van pulled over next to me.
"Where you heading?" the driver asked, when I opened the door.
"Warrington" I said, "but if you can get me any closer, that'll be cool."
"You're a lucky bastard" he laughed.
"Yes I am!" I agreed, and he dropped me off in the centre of Warrington, one block away from Porter's Ale House.
Even though I had landed just a couple of hundred yards from Porter's, it was half an hour before I found my way to the pub. The first couple of guys I asked directions from sent me on a wild goose chase in the opposite direction. Fortunately, I sensed from one guy's inability to conceal his smirk that they were having a laugh at me, so after walking just one block, I asked another passerby. He sent me off at ninety degrees to the way I was heading. Unfortunately, he was also wrong, although I'm sure he meant to be helpful. Eventually, I found Porter's and right inside the door, bumped into a face that I hadn't seen in eight years.
It was destined to be another late night, Mike and I both excited to relive old memories, and his wife Kerry intrigued to hear another person's perspective on the institution that was Banana Bungalow Hollywood in the summer of 1992. Mike and Kerry don't go out real often, but when they do, Porter's is their 'regular'. This meant that through the night, I got to meet most of the punters in the crowded bar. By the end of the night, walking from our table to the toilet involved stopping three or four times when one random tattooed biker or another would slap me on the shoulder with a hearty "Hey Stevie! How's it going?" accompanied by the inevitable series of 'thumbs up' type bikers handshakes as he would introduce me to his friends. "Any friend of Mike's is a friend of ours". I certainly felt more comfortable amongst the mix of bikers and hippies in Porter's than I did amongst the preened, gel'd twenty-somethings at Liquid nightclub in Shrewsbury the night before.