Soon after breakfast on my last day in London I left Rebecca and Nick at the West Hampstead terminal and went to King’s Cross/St Pancras station to buy a ticket for Manchester. Nick fussed over my well-being, “Our man is leaving Rebecca, is he going to be alright?” “He’s been doing this for a while, he’ll be fine.”
I bought a sandwich to go and had a cup of tea while I waited. The train ride was pretty uneventful, though I enjoyed watching the English countryside at a blur.
My last connection was running late, though by the early evening I was finally pulling into Manchester’s Piccadilly station. I called Phil to let him know I had arrived, but it went straight to voicemail.
I walked through the station towards the main entrance, and just as I was leaving Phil a message — in mid-sentence, in fact — I passed an older vagrant kneeling on the ground, looking concerned and confused. Suddenly, when I was only a few feet away, another vagrant rushes towards the side of the one on the floor, sweeps his leg out in stride and kicks the man on the ground squarely in the chest. Phil received a message that sounded something like this:
Hey Phil, it’s Bj. I just got into Piccadilly station and I’m walking through the station now. I’ll head … oh! uh … wha … ok, some dude just got kicked in the chest! There’s some kind of bum fight that just broke out in front of me. Listen I’ll be hanging around the main entrance, just give me a call back.
The man on the ground was clutching his arm and on lying on his side as a couple others pulled the aggressor off him. He didn’t seem like he was in critical condition, and others had stopped to help, so I made my way to look for Phil. I stood near the main entrance of the station and scanned the terminal.
My eye caught another group of people on the other side of the room from where the bum fight took place. One twenty-something was very angrily in another twenty-somethings face. And I must have been just outside earshot because I could’ve sworn they were arguing about one of the mens’ jeans. I stood alarmed and at attention, wondering what kind of place this was.
Phil called me back and asked me where I was in the station. I said I was standing next to what I thought was the main entrance. “Ehm … did you by any chance pass a couple old guys fighting?” “Yes! I’m like right near there.” “OK I know where you are, I’ll be right there.” Phil walked up to me with a grin on his face. He shrugged his shoulders slightly, raised his eyebrows and said, “Welcome to Manchester!”
I dropped my things off at Phil’s parent’s house and we headed out to the pub in Glossop, the suburb of Manchester where Phil lived with his folks. There was a fight on that night featuring Manchester’s favorite son, the boxer Ricky Hatton. The plan was to hit the bars and then head over to Danny Oakes’. If you remember, Dan was also at The Lodge in Wanaka when I first arrived and soon decided to stay. In fact, he and I were the first volunteers to help Gayle with her gardening. If I hadn’t met Dan that day nearly 1 1/2 years earlier, I wouldn’t be in Manchester at all. Of course, Dan couldn’t stay to join the adventures Phil and I embarked upon, but he was never far from thought.
We took a cab into downtown Glossop after a quick shower, shave and change of clothes. The best thing about the UK is that everyone has their “local”. The pub in town that everyone goes to, all the time. It’s where they watch soccer matches, where they bought their first beers, where the night now always begins. And in most of England the pubs are old enough that it’s likely where their grandparents and parents had the same experiences. Indeed, Phil’s parents were there too. I met Phil’s crew and it felt straight out of a Guy Ritchie movie, with thick northern accents and interesting nicknames like Gazza, Deanie and Fat Frank (The first two are real, the latter I threw in for emphasis … though I’m 90% sure one of Phil’s friends’ names begins with “Fat”).
From there we made the long trek three doors down to Harley’s, the one “club” in Glossop. Nine-point-nine out of ten nights in Glossop begins at the pub and ends at Harley’s. And those are the only two stops. One of Phil’s sisters was there, which made me realize that in less than a couple hours — by simply bar hopping — I had met almost all of Phil’s immediate family.
Suddenly, one of the bouncers was dragging Deanie out of the club in a headlock. Apparently this was not an isolated event. Phil was chasing after them, pleading with one very large and scary African to not hurt his friend. Bouncers in the UK can be rather brutal, even on harmless drunks. And their friends. The bouncer flashed a crazed expression at Phil and suddenly I was after Phil, pleading with him to stop pleading with the bouncer. So there we were, moving in a train towards the door. The bouncer had Deanie in a vice grip between enormous biceps, Phil was extending arms of peaces towards them and I was lunging after Phil yelling “Phil that guy is gonna kick YOUR ass too!”
They threw Deanie out and like the flip of a switch we were back on the dance floor, with Phil trying to convince me to go bump some girls with my ass. I’m not sure if I’ve discussed this before, but one of the leading methods of picking up a girl at a dance club in England is, wait for it, to mosey up to her and bump her butt with your own, in a semi-dancing motion. It’s an art form. Before Phil left New Zealand he and I went out for a night in Queenstown and at a bar there he actually convinced me to try it, and I gotta tell you, it works. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling it that night and my butt stayed safely within the bounds of my personal space.
After Harley’s we all hopped in cabs and made for Oakesies. Hatton lost, but Phil’s the Manchester lad who gets credit for a knockout. Deanie showed up and you could tell he had a look about him. He started laying into Phil, criticizing him for not standing up to the bouncers in the club. He nagged him incessantly about a night a couple weeks earlier when a fight had broken out at another bar and Phil hadn’t lived up to Deanie’s high expectations. Phil’s not a man driven by his temper, but even he has his limits, and that night sent him flying over them. Phil took one swing and knocked Deanie out.
We had barely gotten a couple hours of sleep when Phil had to get up to go to work. He was racked with guilt. Not only because he had punched his friend (even though his friend was acting like an ass), but because he works for his friend’s brother. And when Deanie comes downstairs for the family breakfast that morning sporting a huge black eye, well, the workplace could get awkward. Phil was helping Deanie’s brother set up a paintball business, and I had planned to check it out that day, but since I was pretty much still drunk I decided to stay in bed a little longer. I had a chat with his parents and in the early afternoon Phil was back home. We had a quiet night, grabbing some takeaway fish and chips and heading to Dan’s place to watch a movie. We needed at least one day of recovery before embarking on our trip.