Yesterday was a day of extreme travel, which started in Leeds and then continued in Manchester and Stoke on Trent before concluding in Market Drayton...
I had a very lovely walk across Manchester from Victoria station to Piccadilly which took me through the Northern Quarter which felt like a very special place, full of cool-looking cafes and funky independent shops. I have traditionally been quite down on Manchester, largely because it's either rained or snowed every time I've ever been, but also because it has a confidence which hitherto struck me as misplaced arrogance. I've been hearing really good things about the arts scene up there recently, however, and, as a result of yesterday's charming walk, I think it's time for me to get over myself and start getting into the place. I certainly saw a lot of people wandering around who looked like members of my tribe. I'm going to take one of young Josh's tours of the city to see if he can further convince me.
The journey from Manchester to Stoke was uneventful, but it gave me a chance to finish the brass fanfare I've been writing for the NYMT concert, which I have dedicated to Jeremy Walker for all the hard work he does behind the scenes for that organisation.
I had a cup of tea in the cafe in the station and was served by two of the grumpiest men I've ever encountered behind a counter! Their behaviour went beyond rude and back into the realm of charming!
Nathan picked me up from the train station and we made the shortish journey to Market Drayton where my mother-in-law, Celia was celebrating her 70th birthday at the British Legion club.
We spent the afternoon helping to set up the room, or, more specifically keeping those who were doing the work company. I had a little sleep, we changed into glad rags, and the evening unfolded majestically. It's was a really lovely event. Huge swathes of Nathan's family were there and the highlight was almost certainly the entire room standing in a circle, holding hands and singing along to the family song: Gerry and the Pacemaker's You'll Never Walk Alone.
Celia had thought about every tiny detail of the evening, even down to her placing a basket filled with perfumes, breath mints, safety pins, heel plasters and Tena lady pads in the loos for anyone who needed them! There was a caricaturist, Snoopy The DJ, a short cabaret performed by Nathan, Sam and the kids, and a huge photo frame hanging from the ceiling provided by Nathan's cousin Leanne, which came with a table full of fancy dress items to wear whilst having your picture taken. Celia had even organised a coach to pick people up from various B and Bs and hotels in the area so that people didn't need to book taxis. It was a perfect night.
Nathan's enormous family continue to amuse and bemuse me. I still can't get my head around all the names, and the specific nature of their relationship to each other. There's a lot of confusing intergenerational madness going on, with cousins and things the same age as uncles and aunts and vice versa. My family are so much more simple by comparison. I have one aunt, one uncle, two brothers and four cousins. That's it!
The evening ended with a small group of us releasing helium balloons into the night air, whilst remembering absent friends.
Actually, the evening didn't quite end there... We returned to Celia and Ron's house at the end of the night, and were just getting ready to go to bed when one of Celia's neighbours (who'd been at the party) arrived in a bit of panic. The coach which had been laid on to take people back to their hotels had been hit by a car whilst crossing over a dual carriageway. Ten of the guests were still on board and the car which had ploughed into the coach was a complete write off. Fortunately no one was seriously injured. Some of the car's passengers were trapped in the car until the emergency services arrived (35 minutes later) and a lot of those on the bus were suffering from a bit of shock. But no one was seriously injured, thankfully. Celia, of course, is devastated but I genuinely think that everyone involved in the crash will feel hugely grateful that it wasn't a lot worse, and will probably grow to love to tell the story of when they returned from a 70th party and ended up in a mega accident! It's certainly the mother of all anecdotes.