Step back: VI – Stepped back.

The train neared Manchester. My anticipation and excitement grew. The journey for Panda and I had been long and near exhausting. My eyes tingled and I knew tears were struggling to stay inside their ducts. The view through the window blurred and I wiped away the waterfall.

Panda detected my mood and nestled up into my legs. That or he needed a pee. The train announcement for Manchester Victoria Station came and the train rattled across junctions before halting in a platform berth. The doors hissed and slid open. In my head, I imagined fanfares and horns, drums and fireworks, as streamers fell from the domed rooftop. In reality I could smell pigeon shit and shuffled onto the platform awkwardly. It’s good to be back.

Me Mam, to use local dialect, had suggested a brew nearby and would meet me at the station. Sadly my delayed and cancelled trains alternative arrived earlier than expected, thus making Mum late for my early arrival. Not to worry, Panda and I strolled passed Victoria’s Station Approach, and the salon opposite. That salon used to be a British Railway Social Club, I recall and I remembered eating a beef and onion over bottom sandwich there as a kid. Funny how memories fire off into your mind.

Even on the concourse of Manchester Victoria Station, I could vividly recollect book barrows selling books and Mum buying a selection of nature titles. Or eating broken biscuits, sat on a bench, waiting for Dad to finish work at a painting job on the station. Today, though was all about seeing Mum and giving a hug after far too bloody long. Panda and I wandered around Manchester Cathedral Gardens by the National Football Museum. Eventually, after a phone call, I spotted Mum.

Panda, being Panda, decided he’d get the first hug in. He’d claimed and adopted Mum before my first hug to Mum after nearly 3 years. It felt good. I always felt my family don’t hug enough so that was most welcome and missed. Panda introduced himself through additional links, jumps and excitement. Panda was home too.

Mum, and I sat in the green gardens, sat and talked. Panda made himself a nuisance in his charming doggy ways. We discussed everything and anything. A rush of years of no face to face talking all pouring out. Mum looked older, but thankfully healthy. The passage of time definitely was noticeable after 3 years apart. Not that I hadn’t aged. These years of Covid-19 have seemingly aged us all. Eventually we moved to Manchester’s Java Bar Espresso coffee shop, in Victoria Station (4 Cigar Alley).

Sat outside the coffee shop that opened in 1996, Mum and I had tea and cappuccino whilst nattering away. Panda listened and looked around at his new settings. We caught up and arranged to have dinner/tea at Mum’s after a few days. I didn’t feel jetlagged but I did feel overwhelmed by the cultural changes. I’d gone from dynamic zero Covid-19 controls in China to near normality in Manchester.

That evening, I would meet Rachel (Bridget Jones) from university and go see Arcade Fire with about 21,000 people in the AO Arena (or Nynex Arena in local dialect). I suddenly felt weird without a mask on. I also felt that I wouldn’t be wearing a face mask too often. I had confidence that Covid-19 and I could coexist without the virus killing me. Mum explained when and where masks are essential for her, and I completely agreed. Enclosed poorly ventilated areas would definitely see me wearing a face mask.

So, having caught up with Mum, we hugged goodbye and I jumped into a taxi. Next stop, Dad’s house and my temporary digs until employment. It was good to be back. The cool Mancunian air welcomes you.

Meat Loaf.

I wanna go on the red, (I wanna) I wanna go on the green

Incomparable. Without a parallel. The monster is loose. Rest in peace. The late Michael Lee Aday (born Marvin Lee Aday; September 27, 1947 – January 20, 2022) best known as Meat Loaf has exited stage left and right equally. He’s left behind a mark that stretches far beyond a stack of albums and songs.

Peel out. Another profile not needed as piece of writing. Tributes will be everywhere. Sad news indeed. My condolences to Meat Loaf’s family and friends. The words and passion of Meat Loaf have got me through hard times. I’ll play a few songs and toast the big man. I hope he never ever, ever, ever, ever stops rocking…

And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell