A Heartbreak Beat Going All Night Long


Posted by in July's Magazine

The band walks on and strikes up a tune. Facing them, 300 forty-somethings holler with joy. The babysitter has been paid and they are all just seventeen again. Everyone is greyer and happier and life feels safe, but for an hour and a half the crowd embrace the uncertainty of that former age. When we are young anything can happen, when we are young the future is unwritten, so tonight let us be young again. It is neither pathetic nor grasping: we are not in a midlife crisis or trying to hang on to something that is dead. We are just going back, for a couple of hours we are going back.

I climb the stairs to watch these joyful scenes from a balcony above. I see arms aloft as old favourites are sung from the stage and echoed from the audience. Eyes are closed, everyone lost in their own world. Everyone thinks they are being sung to by the tall man on stage. They lusted after him then and they love him now. A single chord identifies the next song. At once, five beefy lads wearing middle-aged spreads throw their arms around one another. They collide and bounce like fizzing meteors, all loved-up on old times and weathered friendships. Back at the front, light shines from the eyes of four women. They catch one another’s glances and I can see the tears from this distance. Music, you see, matters. It both takes us backwards and makes the here and now vital. What a bloody great thing that is.

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Not mean, careful
There are nine of you at the table and the bill is on the way. You should have cleared things up before you ordered the first round of drinks: If we are splitting nine ways, I shall have the steak; if we are paying for our own, can we order before 6pm so as to qualify for the pre-theatre menu? ‘Is it okay if everyone puts in £30?’ says somebody’s wife. Inside you are a little livid, for you had two tapas and a thimble of wine. You think better of pointing this out and grudgingly pay up. Not only will it colour the rest of your evening – for months, years, you will remember this. This, my friends, is the curse of being a Yorkshireman.

Tax deductable Solzhenitsyn
Do you fill in a form or do you fill it out? I usually hide it under something and hope it will go away. Form filling, whether ‘in’ or ‘out’, can be made more enjoyable if one uses the politicians’ route of answering a different question to the one set. Thus, a tax return becomes a joy when the open option ‘Other Expenses (Please list)’ is filled with the response ‘Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’. Where a job vacancy form asks the applicant to list the ways in which her abilities and experiences match the Role Specification, she should glue on a picture of the actor Christopher Timothy. Passport forms could be improved by asking applicants what they bring to the role of being British. I for one am absolutely committed, when abroad, to shaking my head at the state of the drains, but there is no place on the form for me to reflect this. It is an oversight of epic proportions.

Him off the Post Office adverts
To the cinema, for the first time in a year. Mrs Gems gets the tickets; I get the Bru, two for £2. Good deals all round, if you’re me. We walk into Screen 7 together, holding hands. It feels funny to be holding hands again, exciting like an affair, but familiar, like your wife’s hand. Usually two of our four hands are dedicated to a child’s pushchair. Not just any child, mind – ours. We are giddy in the dark. Where to sit? Is that your thigh? Whoops, sorry mate.

The opening credits roll. We smile at one another, the light of the screen flashing like a pervert. A hush falls. The ‘Certificate 15’ shot shows, wobbling a little. I’d forgotten that cinema-picture wobble. Magical. Special. Romantic. ‘Ooooh. This is that one you wanted to see, hen,’ says the old lady behind us to her companion. We move to the front but it hurts our necks. We move again but someone has a Grab Bag on the go. We move once more and finally rest. The film begins. ‘He’s someone. I know he’s someone. Och, what’s he been in again? It’s they Post Office adverts, isn’t it?’ We have moved next to the old lady.

In the pub afterwards a barfly in overalls insists on lecturing us about joinery. ‘Sorry,’ he keeps saying, ‘sorry, I didn’t mean to butt in on your night,’ but then he keeps doing so. ‘So is this youse on a wee quiet night up town?’ It was, mate, it was.

Twitter: @d_gray_writer

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