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Saturday July 5th 2014, Manchester to Holmfirth
It’s 11am and I’m jolted awake by the hangover fairy. My bedroom floor is elegantly scattered with clothes, copper and an untouched portion of takeaway chips. I pick up my phone – which neglected to play my 9am alarm – and, now all a-jitter, note I have 75 minutes to tart up my pale sloth-like remains and drag my bones to Piccadilly Station.
All I crave is a day of hobbling from dimly lit room to dimly lit room; a barely-living hangover cocktail of Lady Grey, chocolate and tramadol but must ready myself.
I shower away the pub-stench of last night, staple my eyes back to where they once rested and studiously place Elnett upon Elnett to zhoosh up the quiff. Looking like James Dean (post-car crash) and sounding like Bonnie Tyler playing a camp Darth Vader, I resign myself to a day of teeth-clenched smiles and doing shots of Gaviscon.
On the bus. Everyone looks as glum as I do … which is reassuring.
Someone notices I’ve made an effort with my hair and shouts, ‘Y’ alright, Elvis?’ I waste my last breath on a disappointed sigh and continue scribbling out Jess’ birthday card. I’m gushing compliments to excuse lack of presents this year and only stop short of claiming she’s the most fabulous thing to ever exit a womb.
Someone’s boarded the bus wearing pink Crocs. I need to lie down.
I meet Jess, and her friends Dan and Katie, at Piccadilly Station on time. Dan’s wearing his hair pompadour style, wearing a fetching t-shirt of Jesus with the advice ‘kill your idols’ scrawled across it. Katie is all green and grins and Jess is effortlessly Jess: an admirable shift without end, she’s draped in dark colours with machine-gun fire wit at the ready. She skips through the itineray for her 27th birthday do and it’s now I realise I left her card on the 81. I don’t mention it.
We’re to be on the next train to Huddersfield, collected by her friend Charlotte and dumped at her mum’s house in Holmfirth where we won’t be able to move for finger food and Prosecco. Then on Sunday it’s the Annual Rubber Duck Race which, this year, is somewhat overshadowed by the Tour de France passing through. I’m knee-deep in ignorance of any sporting event that doesn’t heavily feature the rubber duck.
Jess: Well, how many did you offend with withering putdowns last night, Caleb?
Me: Let’s see what text messages come through later and I’ll answer then.
There’s a group of space-hopper-shaped men on the platform squeezed into Hawaiian shirts. They’re jabbering on about the Tour de France and get onto Lance Armstrong.
Space Hopper 1: I mean, I know he were on drugs but you’ve still gotta admire the man.
Space Hopper 2: Can’t fucking stand him.
Space Hopper 3: … and he only had one bollock.
Space Hopper 1: Exactly !
We board the train. It’s all exposed armpits and knockoff Lynx covering B.O. that could bring down a Boeing 747. Katie, who’s lugging a booze factory about in a Co-op bag, hands us each a pear-flavoured cider and I exhale a barrel of relief.
The Yorkshire scenery comes into sight, a Salvation Army brass band wafts through the mind, and I understand the boastful nature of a Yorkshireman. These moors, slopes and sodden sheep are our own Australian Outback, where the ghosts of poets and Brontë Sisters hide from train view. We all peer through the window, at one moment or another, and are equally as taken with the landscape. The English … we’re constantly surprised by beauty on our own welcome mat.
Huddersfield has the third highest number of listed buildings in the country and the fact ricochets off every brick and cobble as we leave the station. Outside the station is bustling with marquees, food stalls, picnic benches, rosy faced drunks and lycra-clad sports fans – fans of the Tour de Force rather than the Duck Race, I assume. Even the statue of Harold Wilson is grinning in the imported hot weather, so suited to us helpless smokers.
Charlotte greets us with more carrier-bag booze and ushers us all into her car. Jess takes the front seat to provide directions. As she fumbles with choice of reggae CD, Charlotte issues her travel advisory: ‘You direct me, Jess … and please pay attention to the roads because I’m not.’ At this point we pass through a red light. Dan, Katie and I double-check we’re buckled up and fall into a heap of silent prayer.
We arrive in Holmfirth, known in Yorkshire as ‘Little Hollywood’, primarily because it’s where Last of the Summer Wine was filmed for 300 years. The outside heat is wailing for our presence, Mark and Simon join and the Unholy Trinity of Queens is established for a contractual buffet of finger food, booze and nasal northern cheer. There’s a quiche tin containing a few spliffs being passed around, for those interested. Jess’ eyes widen like some histrionic Warner Bros. cartoon character as her mum approaches the picnic – ‘Shit! My mum doesn’t know I smoke cigarettes. Quick! Pass me that spliff.’ Nicotine laughter rocks the rafters and Jess surpasses Nora Batty in Holmfirth’s comedy chart.
Sunday July 6th 2014, Holmfirth
I resurface into life at 10am and am greeted by expressions rich with hangovers. Faces teleported directly from Death Row. I feel fine but don’t wish to brag with a series of cartwheels, so I scuttle into a corner and load up Grindr – the trigger-happy tool of a wounded tribe. In the most butt-clenchingly vibrant cities Grindr is, at best, like playing Supermarket Sweep around Poundland, so I’m curious what a postage-stamp-sized town will offer. The chessboard squares throw up the usual Stepford Gays, embryos in espadrilles and blurry landscape shots. There are lots of profiles with ‘visitor’ as headline and I even spy an ex-lover who still resembles an early-draft of a living being. I briefly chat with someone from Huddersfield who sends me a post-shower photo of himself.
Him: What do you think, mate?
Me: Just how do you get your towels so white?
Blocked without so much as a polite ‘LOL’.
Jess, Dan, Katie, Mark, Simon and I get ready to head to the Sands Recreation Grounds in Holmfirth. Charlotte isn’t joining, as she has to be back in Leeds. Before leaving she spits out some fantastic Tour de France facts. The most memorable will remain, ‘Each cyclist doing the race will sweat out the equivalent of 150, 000 toilets being flushed …’ Or was it 15, 000…?
Sands Recreation Grounds, and its surroundings, are unmarked by the brutal buildings that usually litter life. Even today with the children’s fare, the pop-up Indian delicatessens and the cinema-sized screen the delightfulness of it remains. The most beautiful people are out today and the grass is most definitely greenest just where we are. You can’t move for picnic hampers, protruding light-switch-shaped nipples and balls a-swinging under tracksuit bottoms.
Simon: We’ll have to go up on the hill soon to see the cyclists pass by. It’s 2.30 and they’re supposed to be passing through at 2.45.
Jess and I agree it’s not much of a race if you know when the competitors are whizzing by but we stagger onto a viewing platform for a vada at the lycra. People are yelling out pleasantries in French and, caught up in a rare moment of enthusiasm, I join in with the first sprinkling of French that pops to mind… ‘Je m’appelle Caleb’.
The cyclists pass. I’ve had vaccinations that pickpocketed more time from an afternoon and I can only hope the Duck Race makes up for the crushing disappointment of loosing our spot on the lawns.
It’s now I receive a text message with a request that I get back to Manchesterford as soon as I can.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia.