In my book ‘Floating in Space,’ available now as a paperback or a kindle e-book from amazon.co.uk, all the action takes place in Manchester in the north west of England in 1977. All the venues are authentic, all actual Manchester pubs or bars. here’s an excerpt about a bar called the ‘Playground’ which used to be on Oxford Road.
Saturday night was in a lot of ways the culmination of the weekend. I always preferred it to Friday nights because things were more relaxed, there was no rushing home from work, no rushing to get your tea down your neck so you can get changed, then leg it out for the bus. Saturday, you could take your time and leisurely work up to things. Sometimes I would go out shopping and buy myself something new to wear for that evening, a shirt, or perhaps even a new pair of trousers. Then later I would have a long relaxed soak in the bath, and dress unhurriedly in my room to the tune of my favourite music. In 1977 my favourite album was still Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick road’, and as I dressed I would mimic Nigel Olsson’s measured and rhythmic drumming to ‘The Ballad of Danny Bailey’, or ‘Candle in the Wind’.
There was something about Saturday nights in Manchester. Some quality of security, of expectancy, a feeling that the night and the future were going to be good. A feeling that you might just ‘get off’ with some gorgeous girl and that even if you didn’t it didn’t really matter because there was always the excitement of the people, the music, the drink, and everything else that made up the evening. And then there was always the expectancy of the next night, and the next, and on and on into the future. The past building up inside you like a great data bank, reminding you, reassuring you, like a light burning in some empty room in the corner of your mind.
The main venue that night, and on many other Saturday nights like it, was the ‘Playground’, a small disco bar on Oxford Rd in the town centre. Flickering multi- coloured spotlights rotated across the red carpeted room, which, on Fridays and Saturdays was generally packed. It had a small dance floor sunk low like a pit, where people up on the raised bar level could look down at the gyrating girls, and where also, on week day lunchtimes, a topless dancer appeared at the stroke of one o’clock to translate the soul and disco music of the time into pulsating physical motion, the eyes of jaded office workers glued to her as she did so.
My friend ‘Matty’ Edwards and I used to meet up in the Salisbury, by Oxford Rd station, have a few pints and a bit of a natter to any Regal Insurance cronies who we might find there, then make the short walk to the Playground. There was a paltry fifty pence charge to get in, the solitary bouncer was silent, but not unpleasant, and the DJ, who always began the night with ‘Loves Theme’ by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, played alternate sessions of rock, disco, and chart music. We were both mad about Jenny, the barmaid. She was lovely. She had a kind of round, open face, framed by thick blonde hair and her skin was a creamy white. She served us Worthington ‘E’ and we melted into the hubbub of people on their Saturday night out while the music of the seventies drifted through us.
Matty was tall, he had lazy, rather hayfevered eyes, and a biggish nose over thin lips. His brown hair was short and untidy and he was smart, but had a sort of ‘middle of the road’ taste in clothes.
“Jenny’s looking gorgeous tonight” he told me over his pint of Worthington’s.
We were propped up at the bar at a convenient spot where we could eye up any possible female talent, and cast a fond eye over Jenny’s appealing form.
“You’re not wrong mate” I agreed. “I wouldn’t mind getting a grip of that myself.”
I caught Jenny’s eye and ordered two more pints of Worthington ‘E’. It wasn’t a great drink but we were tuned into now for the rest of the evening, and anyway, I hadn’t as yet developed any clearly defined tastes in beer. The first pint I ever ordered myself was a pint of mild, and that was because I had nervously entered a Cheshire country pub after a long cycle ride and hesitatingly asked for a pint of ‘beer’.
“A beer?” asked the barmaid.
“Yes,” I replied, “A pint, please.”
“A pint of what?”
I realised, uncomfortably, that something more was required. I had thought that ‘a pint of beer’ would have been enough, but what the barmaid wanted to know was did I want bitter, or mild, or lager even? My first tentative forays into the world of the alcoholic drink were with my friend Mike Larini and it was always he who had done the ordering. What did he ask for, I thought? I couldn’t remember but down the bar the faint voice of an old man asking for half of mild drifted along to me, and so I went on to drink mild. Later I changed to bitter, and even now I was currently considering another change as someone had given me the cheerful news that bitter ‘rots your guts’. Perhaps it had been that eternal pessimist Matty Edwards with his inside knowledge of beer. His father was a Didsbury publican, and Matty’s drink changed from pub to pub. Sometimes it was lager, sometimes bitter, but here, in the Playground, it was that now long departed brew, Worthington ‘E’.
I passed over Matty’s pint and we both took deep draughts. Worthington’s was never a great ale but it was good enough, and the first taste of a fresh pint is always the best. I looked into the deep mahogany of the beer and thought about the things you can see through the bottom of a glass. Could I see Spain, there, in the distance? Could I really do it? Pack in my job and go to Spain in search of sun, sea, sand, and girls?
Somebody bumped into me from behind and a gruff voice said “sorry mate” and shouted up four pints of lager.
“Busy in here tonight” I said to Matty.
“Its Saturday night isn’t it? It’s always busy.”
“Yes, but it seems to be mostly lads. Was there a match on today or something?”
“Of course. City and United. Still, it was at Maine Rd so I wouldn’t have expected a load of hooligans in town.”
“Keep it down,” I said quietly. “You know what these football fans are like. Look at them the wrong way and they’ll have you.”
A girl in short black outfit caught my eye across the other side of the room and as Matty and I nattered on I would occasionally glance over and make eye contact. Matty soon noticed me and asked who I was eyeing up, and I told him and of course he had to gawp over at her despite me asking him to be discreet.
I thought about going over to chat to her but the usual fear crept up on me. What could I say? Suppose she wasn’t even interested in me? Sometimes I had found myself eyeing up someone I later found I wasn’t really interested in, it was just that the invisible thread that bound you across the room wasn’t all that easy to break. You would find yourself turning again to meet those same eyes, attracted to each other purely by the link that held you.
“Are you getting them in or what?” I said to Matty.
“Just waiting till Jenny comes this way.”
“Shout up the other barmaid. She’s over this side,” I told him, impatiently.
“You shout her up if you want. I want Jenny. Look at that; gorgeous.”
We spent a few moments discussing the merits of Jenny. Her eyes, her lips, her hair. She was lovely. Matty finally caught her attention and she filled up our pint pots. Matty bought her a drink and they exchanged some pleasantries before she moved on to the next customer. Matty came closer and quietly told me about the letter he was thinking of sending to her, telling her how he felt about her, but what did I think? Was it a good idea?
“What, a letter?” I shook my head. “No, why don’t you get her alone on a quiet night, give her some chat? Ask her out or something?”
“I don’t know. What about a card though, instead. I could send her a nice card asking for a date.”
Matty was as shy as I was in some ways, but his ideas of writing to a girl were always a mistake. If the girl did like him, and wanted to go out, then he would be actually asking her to ask him out. He would be transferring the responsibility of the whole thing on to her. No, we’re all shy to varying degrees, but things like this are a part of life that we have to face up to. We have to rise to the occasion and take on the challenge. Perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic but, getting involved with the opposite sex is a normal part of life, its just that anything new is hard at first, and all of us are conscious of our feelings, especially where sexuality is concerned.
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