Journey to the Land of the Midnight Sun

Chapter One –

You may be surprised to discover that I am a Talker. Not perhaps in the day-to-day sense (I’m often completely alone for days on end, without seeing a single soul) but rather that, when out and about in the world, I talk to people – especially people I’ve never met before. Especially people on shop counters, people in queues, people on park benches, people on train station platforms. I have the best conversations that way, even though it is almost certainly never my intention to do so, or even something that I’d like to admit to. It’s just How It Is.

My journey to Sweden this time started with a bus ride. I hadn’t been on a bus for over ten years, so this provided reasonable challenge for me. I’d cleverly researched ahead enough to find out whereabouts in my plain little village the buses stopped. Not so cleverly, I’d failed to find out which side of the road – the bus I would need to take – would stop on.  In an picturesque vision of a Yorkshire village, this wouldn’t matter, as the bus would amble gently up a country lane and I’d have at least fifteen minutes to witness its carefree approach and calmly maneuver myself to the correct side of the road. However, this isn’t a picturesque vision of a Yorkshire village but, rather, a realistic manifestation of an actual one and so – I had literally seconds to leap across, Frogger-style, into a river of constantly flowing traffic. I’d asked (shouting across the river) the driver of an earlier bus about the correct side to be on but it seems that, despite the decade passed and the various societal improvements in the service industry that can pass in ten years, that it is still the Way of Bus Drivers to not be seen to particularly enjoy being asked anything even slightly out of the ordinary and – most definitely – not being asked something from the Wrong Side of the Road. My worry, however, soon lifted as I discovered that buses now have an App (those ten years did amount to something at least) and so downloaded it. With perfect comic timing, as soon as the download finished and the App installed, and as my finger hovered excitingly over ‘Track Your Bus Live’ ready to press (but still just not yet pressed), the bus then immediately arrived.

I’d not traveled towards York from my new home before and I was very much looking forward to seeing the countryside on the route, and it was a pitch-perfect blue sky day to do so and the lands looked lush and green beyond the norms of recent years.  However, there was one other person on the bus, so we began to talk immediately instead. I was initially somewhat resentful, but not for long as the man was charming. Dressed in a spotless gold-sheen green suit that seemed to be both far too large for him and yet still fitted – giving him the appearance of aging (and very British) David Byrne, my companion was a 89 year old man who was returning from a night out at a local caravan park, which he did regularly despite being neither on holiday nor owning a caravan. He told me (with an unnecessary sense of apology, I thought) that he had never been abroad, but that he and his wife had always enjoyed holidays in Britain. He had the most stunningly alive eyes. The kind of eyes that only particularly lived old people have – bright, alert and blazingly alive. Younger and middle-aged people almost never have such eyes. It’s as if he’d achieved the end-stage of an human’s true potential, a Pokemon-style end-game evolution, only without the constant (or maybe, not?) battles. He had played the trumpet, the accordion and the piano and his son was sixty-four. His wife had died nine years earlier.

I stayed at a guest house in York which had been recommended as ‘quiet’. Thankfully, an hour or two after midnight, the owner and her children finally went to bed and I finally enjoy the ‘quiet’. I’d spent the evening eating amazing Italian food (TiramasuuuuuuUU!) and was lucky enough to chance upon a great Open Mic night, where I made some new musical friends and finally got to see the wonderfully enigmatic Faried Osman play live. I pretended to be new to playing live, which was a bit cheeky (sad?) but fun.

The journey to Manchester Airport was uneventful. However, the train stopped completely a few minutes away from the final destination. I hadn’t noticed, for some reason, that everyone had got off the train. I only noticed when an unusually unfriendly guard told me (I say, ‘unusually’ as I’ve found that guards on the railways these days seem to be trainee comics and enjoy their various tedious info-announcements far too much – although, often deservedly so) that (when I told him that I hadn’t heard the announcement) ‘everyone else had’. Which, to be fair, they had, as absolutely no-one else remained on the train.

Stumbling slightly rattled off the train, onto the platform, into the waiting crowds of a hundred or so people, I did what most people would do and grumbled something nonspecific at the nearest person I came to a halt near. This isn’t entirely true, as Allan was actually a few people down from my point of landing, but somehow looked more ‘drawn properly’ as I often say about people who seem basically somehow more ‘real’. Don’t ask. Anyway, I was ‘drawn’ towards him. (hur hur) as this man did indeed look more ‘coloured in’, despite wearing simple but stylish dark clothes.  He didn’t even look particularly friendly, and it was a really a gamble as to whether he’d sympathise appropriately with my grumbling or simply ignore me. It was a good gamble.

He didn’t sympathise particularly, but he did talk to me. He asked if I was a guitar player (this bit isn’t particularly serendipitous or soothsayingly – as I carried a guitar with me) and told me he was a ‘Pro’ too. I think he said ‘too’, out of politeness.   I told him I definitely wasn’t a professional but he didn’t seem to mind. We spent the next thirty minutes or so together in a whirl of my being clearly Airport Awkward and him being Airport Experienced.  Whilst he helped me through the various obstacles (not bumping constantly into stuff/people, pressing buttons on lifts (one lift in particular visited the same floor four times in a row, which was brilliant, but only we laughed)) we talked – he asked about my trip and my playing, and slowly – but very clearly – I began to realise that I’d not just bumped into any old guitar player. We talked about various influences. I mention ‘Richard Thompson’. “Yes, I know Richard well”, he said, matter of fact and with no obvious emotions. What’s strange, I thought, is that I can tell he does. I tell him about my early experiences of watching Isaac Guillory play, and the huge influence he had on my guitar playing, and he tells me that ‘Isaac played on two of albums’. Still, my bullshit-detector registers ‘zero’. Odd, I think, but – also – not odd. Somehow, whilst maneuvering Terminal One, we manage to fit in conversations about instruments, songwriting, fathers, love, disappointment, marriages in what cannot have been much more than thirty minutes, though, maybe, it was. We even get split up, at one point, as my ineptitude takes me to the wrong ‘bit’ for checking in guitars. Remarkably, as I clear security, Allan had the decency to wait, it seems, and calls me over – if only to make a point of saying ‘nice to meet you, good luck and get in touch’. The man is Allan Taylor, he is 72, and has written hundreds of songs, some of which have been recorded hundreds of times, has travelled the world playing his music very successfully for over 50 years. He does indeed know Richard well and Isaac did indeed play on two of his albums.

I get on-board my flight, and further consider the very real possibility that Carl Jung wasn’t just messing about, and that events, the people you met, and the things you learn from them, really might just not be coincidence after all.