“Here, look at those two trees there.”
“What about them?”
“You can see from their leaves they’re different species but they’re growing all intertwined with one another.”
“Oh damn. They must have been growing that way for a hundred years. It’s kind of sweet.”
“Yeah. But imagine if they wanted a bit of distance or privacy.”
“Got someone else’s twigs all up in your business the whole day.”
“‘Mate get your branch out of my face.’ ‘Sorry pal, just gimme five years to grow the other way.”
Seeing Annie in my hometown was something I’d envisioned ever since we first met, during those whirlwind few months in late 2017. While I was in Berlin I often fantasised about bringing my weird mates home with me; of taking the oddities I found wandering the cobbled streets of that mad city and flying them all home to Wetherby and taking them for fish and chips in the Whaler, and feeding bread to the ducks down by the Wharfe. A hundred times I’d pictured the sublime oddness of it: of seeing Annie or Vic or Dave or Kike or Kate or whoever else peering over the side of Wetherby Bridge and supping pints in the New Inn.
The idea seemed like madness: the blending of two genres designed to be eternally distinct. A ruddy-cheeked, flat-capped farmer ploughing his fields, dressed in latex and nipple-tassels from the neck down. A festooned village fete giving out prizes out for the best painted china, with first prize going to a plate adorned with a spread-eagled arse hole. A group of seniors taking a bus out to the Dales for an afternoon of bird-spotting, doing a bump of ket every time they see a sparrowhawk, a line of speed for each jay, and half a pinger for a bluetit.*
*I may have just invented a new extreme sport.
Annie and I arrived in Leeds on a Sunday evening, and while waiting for a cab we supped a pint in the station Wetherspoons, thereby maintaining Annie’s streak of visiting one in each city we visited. To my immense satisfaction, immediately the northern friendliness made itself apparent. A heavily made-up girl in a sequined dress came over to ask Annie for a lighter.
“Sure,” said Annie, handing one over.
“Thanks a lot, have a nice night love,” smiled the girl, lighting a smoke and wandering off.
Annie turned to me with a look of elation.
“She called me love!”
We took a taxi to Bardsey, and I pointed out the spots in Leeds I used to frequent when I was a teenager. It was dark by this point, so I couldn’t show Annie the rolling green hills of my homeland – I could only assure her they were out there. The taxi pulled up outside my mums, and we climbed out into the night air.
“What should I call your mum? Mrs Woodhead?”
“What? No you silly bollocks. Just call her by her first name.”
“I grew up in Texas dude. That’s how it is in the South. We’re very prim and proper when it comes to parents.”
“That’s very sweet, but you can call her whatever. Well, maybe not ‘bruv’.”
We met my lovely mum in the lamplit driveway, and she gave me and Annie a hug in turn. It made me very happy to witness; my mum is sunshine incarnate. We lugged all the bags inside, and Millie came over all waggy.
“You didn’t tell me you had a puppy! Ohhh hello sweet girl!”
It was immediately surreal seeing Annie in my mum’s house. In fact, it was even a tad surreal for me to be in my mum’s house after four weeks bumming around. My mum’s house is an oasis of calm and serenity; it’s easy to think clearly there. Time moves slower, and things make sense. It’s a little magical bubble where nothing can hurt you. For a straight month Annie and I had been hedonistic weirdos skanking in basements and crashing on sofas and stumbling together laughing through the night. After such a long time drinkin’ and stinkin’, we were both thrilled at the prospect of home comforts and proper beds.
With glasses of wine, we settled in the living room with my mum and my stepdad, and within eight seconds we’d all cracked on with accidentally offending one another.
“Did you see the boxing last night, Dan?” asked Andy.
“I saw highlights of it.”
“It was fantastic, this time. The Americans rigged the last one.”
And silence descended upon us – a thousand years of silence – glassy eyed silence, remote, throat-clearing silence as the fire crackled and the winds howled outside. I met my mum’s eyes: they screamed ‘SHIT’.
“Yeah man,” laughed Annie. “America sucks, honestly.”
Whew. I deflated to such a degree that Millie could probably hear my body decompressing from her bed across the room.
Not six minutes minutes later however, it was Annie’s turn to put her foot in it.
“Dan’s been eating these bizarre salads. He gets this like, weird, flavoured couscous stuff that comes in a packet, and adds water to it, and he eats it with salmon. But his salads don’t even have lettuce. He just adds beetroot, the maniac.”
An eternity of creaking silence. The hoot of an owl, and the patter of rain against the windows. Millie stirring in her dog bed. The distant ‘reeeaaaaaooowww!’ of two cats fighting in the street.
My family loves packet couscous.
After the initial mutual humiliations, we spent a happy evening talking about the time Annie and I spent in Berlin, and our experiences on her tour, and life in California, and life in Yorkshire. When it got late, Annie and I went upstairs to watch an episode of Peep Show together. Our beds had fresh sheets on them: there are no words in the English language that could express how nice it was to smell fresh sheets.
“Your family is so so nice, man. Your mum is gorgeous.”
“I must admit, I’m fond of them.”
The next day, Annie and I went on a very long walk around Bardsey. I showed her a little phone box that has been converted into a tiny library, and the Bingley Arms (the country’s oldest pub, as I told her a thousand times), and the church where my great-grandparents are, and the muddy track where we used to walk Paddy, which leads up to the duck pond. We walked past Bardsey Primary School, where I went to school as an infant – as did my mum, as did Andy, as did many of my old friends.
“I saw a photo the other day, you know,” I told Annie, as we mooched homeward. “It was of a bunch of friends of mine when they must have been five or six years old. It was a birthday party. Sam was in it, and Gabby, and many others I loved growing up. It made me sad to see it. In the photo everybody was smiling, so innocent. Nobody had been hurt. Nobody had fucked each other over yet.”
“That’s life, man. Everybody fucks over everybody. People suck.”
“Isn’t it strange how, day to day, there’s so little we need to actually do to survive. Eat, shit, sleep, done. You’ve made it through another day. But somehow, between all of that, things get messy and go wrong and it all gets so complicated. I don’t understand how.”
Walking around my home always gets me sentimental. Lot of ghosts around.
In the evening we had dinner with my mum and Andy, and Annie asked them for all the juicy details of humiliating stories from my youth. We told her all about my discovery in Wetherby by the Street Angels, out of my mind on vodka at 14. We told her of my constant embarrassment working at the Wetherby Whaler, where I was nicknamed ‘Slow Dan’ for my incompetence. And we told her about the nutter on crutches who accosted me in town and asked to borrow my phone and began shouting at passers-by while I stood beside him, blushing furiously.
“Did he ever get in any really big trouble?” asked Annie.
“No,” said my mum, “Daniel’s always been a very sweet-natured, kind, lovely, lovely boy. He would never have hurt a fly, and he always-”
“Bloody hell,” said Andy, nodding at me. “Normally you’d have to die to hear this sort of thing.”
Before bed that evening Annie and I sat in Jack’s room playing guitar together. He has two acoustics, and we struggled to play a song together before realising they were out of tune. We got out the guitar tuner, and within thirty seconds had got distracted from the guitars by competing to sing the highest note, as judged by the tuner, which displayed the pitch of whatever note we sang on the screen.
After five solid minutes of incrementally higher-pitched shrieking from the two of us, I paused.
“Oh goodness. It definitely sounds like we’re shagging.”
And we both fell about laughing.
The next day my mum dropped us off in Wetherby, by the swimming pool. From there we walked over the bridge into town, and I paused to look at Annie standing in my hometown – something we’d talked about for years but I’d never really believed would happen. Surreal.
We went for pints in the New Inn, and played a game of pool. Annie asked what IPAs they had, which is precisely zero, so instead settled for a pint of Tetleys, which she’d never tried before. I showed Annie the pictures on the wall of the town a hundred years ago, and told her stories of the many happy evenings I’d spent in the pub when I was younger, back when the gang was all together.
We ate fish and chips from the Whaler and took the bus to Harrogate to meet my dad for an evening of boozing. On the bus we met a man called Something-or-Other Herrington, who was affable enough but kept telling us how many times he’d been stabbed and shot and showed us the scars to prove it.
We met my dad in a bar. Annie and my dad had already met before – in Berlin, in 2017, when he visited me and brought along my grandad as a surprise. They got along well, and to this day my grandad still asks after Annie.
“You still mates with that American bird?”
One night of quaffing with my old man later, and we wound up back at his flat. He hit the hay early, and Annie and I stayed up watching Naked Attraction: hi-def close-ups of floppy wangs and hairy muffs.
“Dude, what the fuck kind of TV shows do you have over here?”
A valid criticism.
The next morning, it was time to part ways again. Annie took the bus to Leeds, there to get the bus to Manchester, where she’d be staying with a DJ friend called Gary for a couple of nights. In order to not get fired from my job, I decided to stay behind at my mum’s for a couple of sober days of quiet working and liver healing.
We hugged goodbye, and Annie zoomed away on the bus – out of Leeds and over the Pennines and on to Manchester, and the last show of the tour.