I remember Lancaster
Earlier this evening I was bimbling about looking for something I’d written a few years back. Clicking on long unopened files, I found this.
It was written as a commision for a bloke who was doing a mag of some kind; can’t remember what. He asked me to write something called ‘I Remember Lancaster’ in about 500 words. This seemed to be impossible; how do you sum up all those years of laughter and song, heartache and tears etc etc.
Anyhoo, I wrote something and I sent it to the bloke, but who he was, and whether or not he published it anywhere, I have no idea. Here it is, anyway.
I remember Lancaster.
The day I arrived in Lancaster, in September 1989, was a few weeks before I was due to start at the University as a mature student. I didn’t know then that the place is cursed by the Pendle witches, so that whoever arrives in Lancaster can never leave. I was looking for what used to be called ‘digs’. I had appointments to see a few places, but settled in the end for a large shared house with three nineteen year old second years. The house was next left to the Skerton Hotel. That wasn’t why I chose it; I chose it because the 19 year olds were all girls, who saw me, at the ridiculous age of 31, as essentially sexually neutral.
Living next to a pub didn’t really attract me, as I was, for one reason and another, going through a period of not drinking. But after meeting my new house mates, I needed a cooling glass of something, so I nipped into the public bar.
‘Hello’, I said to the unshaven fifty something barman. ‘Can I have an orange juice, please?’
‘An orange juice. I’d like an orange juice, please.’
‘What, like a Tango, or summat?’
‘Er…no. An orange juice please.’
‘What, you mean like a Britvic, or summat?’
‘Yes. That would be fine.’
‘I think I might have some… hang on.’
The fellow shrugged his shoulders, and disappeared beneath the bar. After some rummaging, he came up with a small dusty bottle of orange liquid. He blew away the dust from the label.
‘It’s not Britvic’, he said, with concern. ‘It’s Castle.’
‘But it is orange juice?’
He grunted, and upended the bottle into a half pint tankard.
‘I dunno what it’s like’, said the barman, staring at the soupy liquid which came about a third of the way up the glass.
It was warm, was what it was like, but at least it was orange juice. I didn’t like to ask for ice.
At the time I thought it quaint, but I quickly realised that no bar staff in Lancaster know what orange juice is. Odd, if you think about it. Everyone else in Britain knows what orange juice is. It’s a drink made from the juice of oranges. They sell it in large cartons in supermarkets; perhaps, by some strange quirk of nature, no Lancaster bar staff have ever noticed these cartons. If you ask for orange juice, the staff will ask you if you want ‘fresh, fizzy, or cordial’. If, like me, you let the witches curse take a hold, you learn to ask for ‘fresh’; which, of course, it isn’t really.
Yes, and I remember the day I left Lancaster, in July 2000. It was a perfectly clear day, so with a car full of stuff, I drove one last time on the road through Quernmore and up to the Jubilee Tower to say goodbye to the view across Morecambe Bay. My friend Stephen Grew had often told me that on very clear days, you could see The Isle of Man from up there, but I never had. Until that last day, when the island loomed on the horizon, as clear as Grange-Over-Sands. The setting sun touched the tip of Snafell, and I felt as though the witches curse was lifted. I got back into my car, and drove down through Quernmore, took the back road past the University, and joined the A6 at Galgate, heading for the motorway and the soft south. And as I passed through the village for the last time, I wondered, ‘Why is Galgate the only place in the entire world that calls faggots ‘savoury ducks?’