Under a batblack a moonless sky I cycled into Rusholme. The neon was bright and it was busy with rain and taxis and I rode one-handed with that book pouched in my anorak. It was grim. The spray from my wheels muddied my trainers while all thru Fallowfield my lungs were like burning asthmatically.

I stood floundering. In the gutter I spat.

Streetlights cast orange over the puddled slabs as I pressed the buttons of a NATWEST cashpoint that took an age to eject two £20 notes and a mini-statement. When I spat again I felt pukey. I craned up the street.

Near the SPAR, the supermarket, pitched by the doorway was a hooded Popeye . . . The five yard orbit around him tasted of paint stripper. Or it did now with him hugging a two litre WHITE STRIKE as he sat in fleece and combats and his grizzled beard shed a couple of pastry flakes when he began his grafting mantra.

Spare a change our kid so I can get some chips, he said but his milky pinned pupils began calculating me and it seemed long seconds before he went: Fuck me, stranger . . .

So I said something and he put the bottle's nozzle into his beard and when I stopped talking he was still knocking it back and from some flattened cardboard used as a cushion he lowered his pinpricks to the Adam Smith or that EURION constellation of the notes in my fingers. Then he stopped and burped. He was breathless. He said cool, yeah and ignoring my hand for a drainpipe he hoisted wobbling, grabbing his metal crutch that had a bandage wrapped round the grip and he said: You got a spare change our kid.

No, said an expensive hairdo in five-a-side gear.

As we went to the phonebox Popeye kind of veered close, saying: Give us the cash then will yah son, please.

I could smell like turps. I produced two fifty pieces to which he said thanks and I gave him the dollar. Then I watched. He slotted the coins, tapped the numbers and his index finger had a small cut. It looked septic blue.

Yeah it’s me, he said. Can you tell Redbreast? I want six. Where’s she want us? Hello?

Angrily he hammered down the earpiece, which dangled on the flex as he shouldered the door and cursed the crap weather. We walked north then up Wilmslow. We didn’t speak until the SHELL station where in the forecourt a souped-up kind of DeLorean parked up and Popeye was gaping over the like burnished metal and a wolfish man climbed out and Popeye asked: Am I hallucinating or is that Carlos Tévez?

Dunno, I said. Heard he’s in Argentina.

Soon after, we stopped outside a house that had bow-windows. Sat on the front wall Popeye insisted it was him, it was Tévez, but then began croaking about the quality of Redbreast’s product while I lounged on a wheelie-bin. And we waited, waited. A hill of cloud changed into a yawning skull with this like Gonzo out the Muppets nose. On and off it rained. We waited till finally a distant drum rumbled into raga or it may’ve been dancehall and a panicky Popeye dropped his crutch. It was a BMW Coupé. Its hubcaps glinted as it slowed, as it growled off with him inside, the stereo bassline blending into a purr of traffic, drunken voices echoing over the rooftops.

A tabby I saw skulk under a campervan. A woman in stilettos clopped up the path. I stood, tested my tyres for punctures. I sat. Then I was fidgeting with the book in my anorak when a voice from a row of twenty-odd garage units said: Hey yah dink, Peppy.

My pupils adjusting to the darkness saw the crutch glinting. The shape of a hood showed him a squat next to the camper’s rear wheel. He was panting. Stretching his mouth open he picked from his tongue a tiny cling-filmed bag that in my palm was warm with a cidery drool coating. But then, when I unzipped and I put the bag in that little hip pocket in my jeans, the book suddenly fell slap on the concrete.

Popeye asked: What’s this you got?

He picked it up. He settled into an N-shape against the wall and breathing thru his teeth, turning the first few pages, he read and I cloud gawked. One had a quavering curl to its body and I watched as two or three minutes passed. I don’t know. But the cloud had twisted into like a hand of four claws when he clapped the pages shut.

Time and Athens, he said. I used to like poetry . . . are you walking?

We were walking and I listened to some of his words but a gurgling in the head mainly, the snot up my nose. He gave us a fiver. He said he'd guard the bike while I went in the SAINSBURY'S that was like a warehouse for it took fifteen minutes to navigate and buy a value roll of tinfoil, four cans of his cider and a grated-cheese-salad sandwich.

Back on the street. There were cars and busses going past but the pavement was empty. I realised too it’d stopped drizzling when three or four splats hit the crown of my scarecrow hair. Near the Toast Rack he halted to open the prepacked sandwich offering us an onion-ring and once he’d had bite and a chew he stuffed the pack in his fleece and opened a can. When he'd had a swig he patted my chest gasping.

How come you’re lugging that about any-road?

Looking for you I was.

Wha - . . . how why?

Thought you drunk near Princess Road, The Baboon Tavern it could be.

I ain't been in a pub since the last World Cup.

Near City’s old ground, oh yeah and I saw this nutter naked he was with a massive hard-on like real shit -

He scowled as if to say I’m eating. But then chomped a crust and spat out wee bits, saying: There was The Six Heads where I used to drink but that got knocked down yonks ago.

I told him about the landlady, the two old blokes, the pianoman and the dog. But as I got to part about the bell and the moony he stopped my flow to scrounge from a group of students. This was at Platt Fields bus-stop. Plastered they were in 1980s fancy dress and a high-pitched girl in an Axl Rose bandana began slurring about my bike (about the chain?) so I pushed over the road and waited outside that estate agent.

Looking at monthly rent for bedsits, saying shit and damn and fuck, I was thinking about the carve of Jerry Lee's hair and why is his nickname The Killer.

Then my tongue began unfurling at a fried oniony tang of spices on a wind from the Curry Mile. Popeye hobbled over the road. He was silent. He didn’t speak until going past Sanam (said the logo on the door) with its populated window of four stiff white faces and he knocked the crutch against my calf and said: They look bored. I'm bored . . . Where’d you work now?

The same, callcentre in town.

Oh no.

Yeah . . . and it’s my birthday.

Liar, he said.

That’s why I’ve biked down here to . . .

He stopped crutching, the hole in his beard opening gormlessly. He handed me the can (insisting I have a blast) and this freed his claws that then dipped into his fleece, rootling from pocket to pocket to the jacket’s innards. Then he said: I found it. Tangled in his left hand it looked like a red hanky and he tried looping it around the end of my handlebars but it dangled from the handgrip a sec before falling to the tarmac. It was a pair of grey silk panties, the hems of which look shredded.

A ridiculous present I know, he said.

Yeah, I said picking them by a bit of fray.

But you’ve got a piece of rock-n-roll memorabilia right there. 


From when I got off with you know her out Velvet Underground?

The drummer, I said.

I’m on about Nico.

With a smirk I said: Bullshit.

In in Hulme, 1986 it was - but look, if you don’t want, flog um. You could on EBAY.


They’ve been in me coat for years like a lucky charm.

I stuffed them into a back pocket. And because we then didn't talk my ears picked up birdsong, a dog like baying for a trickle of moonmist, and Popeye’s tap-tap-tap as we reached Birley Field. He pointed out the ghost of John Nash. He said that’s the Crescent where he’d had the chanteuse, then exclaiming: Bull Ring! Free rates! Free rent! Free parties! I squinted at wasteland. A metal cross silhouetted on a citywide cloud looked chockfull of bruising black steel if not rain, while also afar in the north two aircraft lights flashed redly.

It was atop the HILTON scraper, the light, the red, winking, and I could see the council clocktower. I could see Chicago House. I could see Namedrop Plaza. 

With glassy grins we said: Good to see yah mate. Yeah good to see you mate. See yah mate. Yeah see yah then mate. See yah mate. Yeah see yah. Happy birthday, he yelled and I said thanks and watched him diminish in a shadow next to (where in 1962 or 3 Lennon played his first radio gig) a decaying Hulme Hippodrome and the crutch went tap and scraped and the noise kept with me as a bluster of wind moaned thru my spokes and a cloud ripped revealing the Constellation of the (I call it) Ultraviolent Scorpion.