International Writers Magazine: Life's Journey
things in life remain with you for always no matter how far you've
come. One of the things that remain constant in my life was my
friend, Stuart. My best friend.
Stuart is the reason
why I, Danny May, am stood at an ungodly hour on a train station platform
waiting for the Manchester bound train on what surely has to be the
coldest day in London ever.
You see? For friends you will do anything.
Finally the train opens and I board. Taking my seat I place the gift
bag safely to one side and peer out the window as the train chugs along
out onto its journey. Back to my home, Manchester, the city I spent
my formative years in before leaving to become a journalist for a music
magazine, the city where Stuart still lives.
We had first met at the tender age of four at infants school and
have remained close ever since, no mean feat considering we are both
now in our mid 30s. Not as close as we would often like I guess, but
then thats life, and ours certainly took to its path. And now
as the train moves along I recall the many steps we both took to get
to where we are today. Our destination.
For Stuart, his destination is fatherhood.
Thats right, Stuart has just become a dad and I am pleased for
him, though also a little scared as this means that we are grown up.
I mean, dads for me are cough sweet sucking, leather driving gloves
wearing men who would pick Stuart and I up from the school disco where
we would wear our finest Morrissey quiffs to entice the girls, which
of course, never worked. We never ever thought we would end up like
that, yet now, Stuart no longer wears the quiff -nor do I, can you believe
my hair is actually thinning?!-Instead, and far more seriously he will
no doubt wear the driving gloves, now he is a dad.
A traitor in the mist.
We were pretty much inseparable throughout school, the terrible twins
as our teachers would often term us. We would walk to school and walk
home from it as kids, play football on the cobbled streets by the arches
and, in our late teens play in a band, hanging around Manchester in
the hope that we would be spotted by Factory Records, home of our Madchester
idols. Perhaps unsurprisingly we did not get the call, we were frankly,
awful. But like most young kids we dreamt about escaping the grimy grey
landscape and achieving sunkissed fame and fortune. At least those thoughts
would keep us comfortable against the cold swishing beaded curtain of
rain that seemed to fall upon us daily. They certainly didnt dampen
And then, our wish for escape of sorts was granted as university came,
and like The Smiths and The Happy Mondays before us, Stuart
and I split and went our separate ways. I went to Birmingham and him
to Salford, down the road. Well I told you it was only an escape of
sorts. I berated him for his lack of nerve at not getting out there
and experiencing life away from the cosy family, but Stuart said he
couldnt leave his dad, and I, never on the ball, failed to understand
what he was saying and moved on out. There was a new life waiting for
me at last and whats more, it was populated by girls! And they
filled the friendship gap in my life with ease.
Dads. I look out of the window at the quickly passing hedges and motorways
as the train moves forward and I delve back to remember Stuarts
dad. Mr Aaronovitch, a kindly old man with, yup youve guessed
it, driving gloves and cough sweets. It was he who was the reason why
Stuart didnt stray from Manchester. He was a Polish immigrant
from the war and spoke with a marvellous accent. It was hard for Stuart
at school sometimes where he was deemed an outcast by thick headed,
skin headed kids for his funny sounding name and dads odd voice.
It was up to me as his best mate to look after him as best I could when
the bullies got too much and jeered stupid remarks like go home.
I remember how his family, just him, his mum and dad were so close knit
and loving to each other, and I remember how shocked I was when I heard
that Mr Aaronovitch had died, seeing the obituary in the local paper
that my mum had sent up to me in the post with a note to ring Stuart.
I must have read the small print in front of me several times, making
out the word cancer and finally understanding why he remained
so near to his home.
Later that day Stuart rang me, and I braced myself for the tears to
come from him, yet they did not flow. He never said a word about it.
He presumed I had not heard and was too numb to tell me himself. Instead
he rattled out the old jokes and told me the gossip, who was dating
who and all that. I was, pathetically, too embarrassed to tackle the
subject, the words Stu I know could not form on my lips.
I guess it was just too grown up to talk about.
The train jolts into a station and I recall when Stuart finally spoke
of his dads death. It was a month or so later, when I returned
to attend someones engagement party thrown in their house that
we met up and he faced up to the truth and told me, over a bottle of
wine in the quiet corner of the kitchen. The table strewn with cards,
bottles and overfilling ashtrays, we held hands across them as he fought
back the tears and we once again swore to always be around for each
other. It reminded me of those years before at school, when he finally
confessed to me in the canteen over our packed lunches that he was being
picked on by the school racists.
The following day I was there for him, as we made our own little pilgrimage
to his dads grave and sat and talked for hours. There were many
more engagement parties and the like to come and I was glad of them
as it meant we could both meet up and behave like the old times, taking
the night and reclaiming our youth back, having fun before we returned
back to the normality our new life was becoming.
After leaving Uni with an English degree I stayed on in Birmingham with
the first of many attempted serious relationships and had launched myself
back onto the music scene, this time writing fanzines and reviews of
band gigs. I would hear from Stuart back home from time to time were
life was not as easy for a graduate, for despite gaining a good degree
in I.T. he had found himself on the dole queue, living on benefits and
looking after his bereaved mum.
Looking back I feel terrible now as those years were great for me, racing
up and down the country almost every night of the week, living the closest
thing to the rock and roll lifestyle that we always imagined, whilst
Stuart was still where I left him, on our old street and finding life
grinding. On the rare occasions I could make it back to town, with a
succession of new girlfriends in tow, much to the eternal despair of
my own parents, I would only see him for as little time as possible,
finding his circumstances too dull and depressing for me Im ashamed
to say. Like melting icecaps we began to drift apart once more.
Life I believe comes in ascents and descents, and shortly after I was
in the latter. I had moved to London to be nearer to the music business
with a girl I firmly thought of as the one only to be proved
wrong yet again when I caught her having an affair with some yuppie
type. I felt sick, lonely and angry. The big city did nothing but get
me down, I felt like an outcast at the best of times and having my girl
walk out on me proved the final straw and I missed my family and friends,
I missed Stuart. One SOS phone call home to my parents brought me the
news that Stuart was in the ascent, doing well for himself, he had finally
got a job in computers and was with a nice, new girlfriend called Sophie.
Whats more, they were even thinking of getting engaged. After
I hung up, I looked out of the window of my rented hovel at the rainy
red light flashing soulless city below, and found tears forming in my
eyes in a strange mix of joy for him and despair for me.
Parents are wonderful. One word from my mum to Stuart saying I sounded
a bit down and he was on the phone to me practically ordering me to
come back home for a little while. I did and it was a train journey
very similar to this that reunited me with him. I stayed for a couple
of months and it felt good to be back home, seeing Stuart and meeting
Sophie, a really lovely girl. It was also great to see Stuart improved,
with a good job and a lovely girlfriend who clearly adored him he was
happy again and in turn this made me happy. Suddenly we were both in
the ascent and never more so than when I got a call from a top music
magazine in London saying they liked my work and wanted to offer me
a staff post, I was ecstatic and ready to face London again, but not
before Stuart and I had a big farewell drink in the local pubs.
This was all a couple of years ago now and as I look out of the carriage
window I see I am almost there, the past catching up with the present.
Shortly after I moved back to London to live out my dream of rubbing
shoulders with my pop idols, Stuart got engaged to Sophie and his own
dream settled into place, a comfortable life with a good job and a good
The journey into adulthood continued for the increasingly adult Stuart
with the news soon after that he was to be a Dad. I was very pleased
for him as I think he is old and responsible enough to be a great father.
Something I am not as yet, as my own mum and dad bemoan yet they are
pleased that I am in my own way making steps into proper adulthood.
I have a girlfriend again, and I smile to myself as I remember her waving
me off at the station earlier today. She is a nice girl called Imogen,
and although it is early days I do not think she is the one
know she is.
My other forward push into the world of grown ups has come thanks to
Stuart and Sophie, I am too be a godfather to their newborn baby girl,
Laura. I smile and look down at the bag as the train is about to pull
in, and make sure the teddy bear that is housed inside is tucked safely
And now as I step off the train I see my old friend Stuart stood at
the gates with Sophie, both looking tired but happy, with Laura cradled
in her arms. It is the first time I see her and they lift her higher
up and point at me, calling Uncle Danny as I move towards
them. Laura looks beautiful as they hold her, their prized possession,
their future. I shake hands with Stuart and smile broadly, glad that
I have had this journey with him.
© Mark Cunliffe May 2006
Mark Culiffe - a love story in four parts
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