September is the cruellest month…

You made a first class fool out of me...

You made a first class fool out of me…

It’s late September and I really should be back in school. I know I keep you amused, by I feel I’m being used…all together now: “Oh Maggie, I wish I’d never seen your face!”. I have just realised I know all the words to Maggie May, but then we used to sing it en masse in the middle of the dance floor at Bradford University students’ union bar in 1973. In the song, Rod Stewart is a young man in love with an older woman. The summer has run its sweet course and he needs to get back to his studies. He needs to break free; the days of romance have lost their shine and reality has hit him like a bag of cement.

September is a sad month – unless you like misty mornings and burning leaves at the bottom of the garden. Or unless you live in Brazil, where it’s the beginning of spring. Come to think of it, how can it be spring and autumn at the same time, with some people getting out the blankets and others gearing up for bikini parties? How can the world be in two places at the same time, creating two completely different moods? How can I be in Bradford and Brazil? Well, I am, sometimes…

The street near the park where I had my first flat in Bradford

The street near the park – my first Bradford flat

It’s September 1976 and I’m in Manningham, by the park, near the famous Lister’s Mill chimney. I have fallen in love with Judith, an older woman (she’s 23!) and we are about to have a romantic holiday in the Scottish Highlands. The summer has been spent cuddling and giggling in my Victorian conversion flat. I have been pretending I know how to cook and driving without a licence, but then I am young and foolish. It feels divine.

In the Highlands we curl up inside a little orange tent, I try and cook breakfast like a man, we drink whisky in cosy pubs; then we move to a caravan and lie flat on the solid bed, listening to the rain pattering on the roof, feeling warm inside like glow worms. I stare at Loch Ness for hours, captivated by the deep silence, and we take pictures of ourselves pulling faces, revelling in the fizz and froth of youth. We are so in love that we listen to Barry Manilow cassettes and think it’s normal.

"I want to be clever like T.S. Eliot" - me and my books in 1982

“I want to be clever like T.S. Eliot” – me and my books in 1982

September is always a turning point, a time for reminiscing. T.S. Eliot wrote a riddle about time, suggesting that “time future” was “contained in time past”. I think he means to go forward we need to revisit and make sense of the past. My grandma used to long to be 21 again, but only if she could go back with her older, mature mind. I would also love to travel back “knowing what I know now”, but I would be 26. Yes, I would sail back to 1982, the year I tried to reinvent myself as a scholar. Gone were the purple loon pants, patchouli oil and unkempt hair, and in came the second-hand suits, kipper ties and cardboard briefcase. I looked like a down-at-heel insurance man but fancied myself as Rupert Brooke.

Doomed youth - English poet Rupert Brooke

Doomed youth – English poet Rupert Brooke

Being Rupert, my favourite haunts are reading rooms in the grand old libraries of Yorkshire where I sit for hours with a pile of books – John Ruskin, Jonathan Swift, Ernest Dowson – pretending I am at Oxford or Cambridge. When the library closes I drift over to the pub with a Penguin classic in my pocket, sip ale and recite passages from Ulysses. The locals call me ‘Gandalf’, the daft idiot in the corner who talks to himself. But I care not. I want to be educated, a gentleman. The life of a flat-capped, pigeon-fancying, whippet-keeping northern working man is not for me.

As the year comes to a close, a disc-jockey mate of mine invites me to join him at a Christmas disco. Why not? So I boldly waltz into the place with a grin as wide as a flat cake, acting and speaking like Bradford’s answer to Oscar Wilde. And there in front of me is my old flame Judith. She is now married with kids, but we beam at each other and both realise instantly that the thrill hasn’t gone. She is tiddly and asks me if I still have a hairy chest. I say it’s hairier and she moves closer. We end up clutching, hiding in the middle of the dance floor. Suddenly there is a loud shouting voice and her husband appears. He grabs her arm and yanks her away.

Gandalf marches away from the flat caps and whippets of Bradford...

Gandalf marches away from the flat caps and whippets of Bradford…

So ends another chapter of my life. Judith – my Maggie May – symbolizes my old Bradford youth. I loved her when I was a simpleton. But Gandalf had other ambitions; he wanted to learn the Latin tongue and experience the exotic charms of Spain and South America. Nevertheless, love is a powerful force, and every September I think of that orange tent in the middle of a damp and misty field somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland. Only I don’t hear Rod Stewart singing, I hear Barry Manilow inviting me to join him “at the Copa, Copacabana”. You see, Gandalf had to come to Brazil and find his Lola.

We love you, Barry, only don't tell anyone!

We love you, Barry, only don’t tell anyone!

Categories: Blighty, Musings, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “September is the cruellest month…

  1. janeykate

    Ah, wouldn’t we all love to go back to our younger self, knowing what we know now! I know I would still love books, but would have learned from the mistakes I made along the way. Lovely post, but Barry Manilow, really? It must have been love! I couldn’t possibly admit to having a soft spot for some of his songs 🙂
    Jane x
    PS, I hope you found your Lola!

    • “To be 21 again and know what I know now…” It was a kind of mantra for my grandma.
      It’s a very alluring fantasy. The imagination is such a wonderful thing. I don’t think it’s sad to reminisce as long as you have plenty of things to busy yourself with in the present, and people to love, of course.
      I have always had a very soft spot for sentimental love songs, but Barry Manilow was a secret, until now…
      Lola turned out to be Ana, born in Copacabana, so Barry was giving me a sign after all!

      • janeykate

        Oh, excellent! Although I hope that your version of Lola and Tony had a happier ending!
        I’m enjoying reminiscing at the moment too. The memories that made made sad are for some reason transforming into something else entirely. Time gives an entirely different perspective doesn’t it. And although bad things happen to us all, the lessons we learn from that are invaluable.

  2. Glenn Reay.

    It was a New Years Eve Mobile Disco matey in Calverley, where you saw “ERR” again,with me, i remember it well,! What on earth did she see in that guy she married??, flashback to a few years before that at a party at Graham’s flat, where Paul Lister and i ended up, after going to the Elmer i think, usual thing when you turn up at a house party “last shove up'” all the beer had gone,and most of the birds, thats where i first heard “Heart of the Night” you put it on your kids Hi-Fi,, any road up, me and paul are stood in the doorway to the living room feeling like 2 spare parts at a party were we only know 2 people sorry 3, you, graham,and Jim, Jim was already in “Sleep mode”!! Paul and I are watching Judith dancing in the living room, thinking “not bad” when a little fat bloke come’s up to us both and says “excuse me,!” THATS MY…”Girlfriend” you are staring at!!…then..he slunked off,!!! Paul looked across to me with a quizzical look on his face and said “Lets smack im'”,

    • Thanks for putting the facts straight…I thought this one might prick up your ears.
      Yes, I remember that “party” at Selborne Villas.
      Phil was his name, bit of a weirdo, always fixing stuff. Mr Practical who knew how to rebuild a car engine and listened to nothing but Free (All Right Now and all that).
      I once made a cassette for Judith’s brother (who liked good music) and when Phil discovered that I had made it he promptly ‘demagnetised’ it so it was unlistenable. Charming, eh? It’s a good job he didn’t come down to the Elmer.
      Like you, I could reminisce about the old days till the cows come home.
      Don’t know why.
      Cheers, Matey

  3. Cimara Valim de Melo

    Hi, Martin! Life is weird sometimes. Whilst you have missed autumn in spring in my beloved South Brazil, I have experienced spring from the Land of Hope and Glory. Actually, I must say that autumn has been pretty nice here, warm and sunny – at least for the last couple of weeks. But spring is in my mind all the time and I miss the frenetic sabiás and bem-te-vis singing from the very early morning to the evening and the intense smell of flowers (mainly from the orange trees). Gonçalves Dias was definitely right when he wrote: “As aves que aqui gorjeiam não gorjeiam como lá” in the “Canção do Exílio”. But this yellow and orange world of leaves which has just started being painted by the nature is priceless and worth. Grande abraço!

    • Cimara – you are very naughty – you never said goodbye!
      Well, spring is not so springy here – I think warm and sunny autumn sounds more romantic.
      Glad to know you and family Cambridge read me sometimes.
      I must do a post about Halifax!
      Porto Alegre misses you and your poetry.

  4. What a fantastic, eclectic combination of influences and inspirations – great!

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