Wigan North Western: a show down
I was tired from an excessive weekend in Manchester and was looking a little dishevelled. With nothing but my hold-all, I was dropped off by a friend at the railway station on which I had spent many a long afternoon waiting for the inter-city train to the North. It was on the very same platform that I stood on that evening that Paul Simon wrote 'Homeward Bound'.
Wigan North Western is not an old traditional station in the old-fashioned kind of way, but, instead, it is a modern vision of the modest station that has about as much character as a plinth of cement. That said, this station is absolutely glorious in the summer. The open platforms capture the sun from all directions and the height allows a light breeze to cool you off. Although it is on the fringe of the town, you can still hear a little bit of hubbub, mainly fire engines and the screeching tyres of looney in a built-up car with a stereo turned up so high that their ears bleed. Everything seems to go slow on the platform during these heated months, in fact, it seems to go slow no matter what the time of year it is.
It was far from summer the night I had my show down. Although it was dry, the wind was whipping through the open station with a remorseless fervour. The wind was trying to fool us all. It would die down, then slice across us as we stood waiting for our trains. Time did indeed seem to stand still here, even when you watched the modern clock: the numbers seemed to fall into place much more slowly than you would expect. A woman - her name was Linda and she had a very pretty mouth - made the point that it was a deliberate ploy by the train companies to fool us into thinking that they were on time.
My train was an hour late so I decided to go to the toilet as peeing in that wind would not only splash my shoes, but would actually splash shoes on platforms three, four and five. I lumbered down the stairs with my head tucked into my coat's collar. As I descended the stairs to the ticket office and the toilets I noticed someone watching me. His eyes were narrow, his gait was stiff and his feet were turned at something close to a quarter three. His feet pulled my attention. I didn't mean to stare, but it made me wonder just how his knee joints must have been very loose. I let it go, but found myself walking to the toilet in a Charlie Chaplain-esque way.
As I was shaking off in the toilet the medium sized dynamite of a man with strange feet threw himself into the toilet. His eyes scanned the room for others, his hand pushed the door shut as he shuffled in like a penguin with short steps. I casually put myself away. Threw myself to the right side and went to wash my hands. The man with penguin feet just stood and stared at me. I was letting the warm water run through my hands when the man came along side me and started washing his hands too. It was threatening. His left foot toe was rubbing my heel. I was worried if this was a threat, or worse - a come on. I didn't play either of those game, so I went to the hand-dryer. In a low drawl he said, "You don't remember me Beamer".
Back upstairs, the platform was empty. The wind was rattling through the drinks machine and the platform signs, that hung from the small roof, were squeaking with an eerie regularity. I stood and thought about what he had said in the toilet. I couldn't place him. I couldn't even reply. I never forget feet like that and I still couldn't place him. I stood just two yards from the edge of the platform with my face into the wind, enjoying the exhilaration of the gusts. I felt a toe glide past my heel. He was too close. I had left the toilet with out saying anything to him and he was coming back to get my response. The squeaking platform signs were a soundtrack to the face off of two strangers who had apparently crossed paths before.
I looked at him a little longer and then the penny dropped. It was Mickey 'The Flipper' Thinklewaite, one of the greatest push penny players this side of the Penines. I had broken his unbeaten run of 231 games with a show of flair and determination. I hadn't seen his feet that night, but the memories started flooding back. He had been flanked that night by three to five of his favourite ladies. They toured with him where ever he pushed. They were The Flipper Fluffers and loved the glory and celebrity that came with a great of the game like Mickey. The game was hard and I managed to come back from a five slide deficit to defeat the greatest pusher the game had ever seen. My reign as king of the game was short (only seven games, I didn't train and I was hardly professional when it came to the diet and physical aspects of it), but I enjoyed it as long as it had lasted.
As I shoved the winning penny, I looked up at The Fluffers and they all stepped away from Mickey. Not only did the ladies move away from him, but as they stepped away, the celebrity status slipped away, the glamour lost its sheen and the glory was quickly dimming. That night I enjoyed the company of all the Fluffers: from the bar to the bed and beyond. It was a magic night where I discovered things about myself that I never thought were in me. As I tried to remember that night, I looked into the eyes of the man who now stood opposite me. You could see the flames of hate in his eyes. "Flipper", I said, "I can't believe that I didn't place the face. How's the push? You still got what it takes?" He seemed to seethe. Then he let out a growl which I translated as, "Beamer, you ruined me. I haven't won a game since that night. I haven't spoken to the Fluffers for years. I did see them the other year, but they turned and walked in the other direction. I can't even get my seat at the bar in 'The Stone and Goliath'. I blame you for all this."
His breath was heavy with meths and his eyes still glowed with hate and the fire of retribution. I shrugged - I had beaten him fair and square - and turned to the board to see that my train was going to be a further forty minutes late. As I turned, 'The Flipper' had whipped a tressle table out from under his coat and had thrown a penny on the shiny, laminated top. "Let's slide - I want my dignity back. I want my life back". I told him that I didn't want to play, but he insisted. Or rather he threatened. He pulled the penny under his finger, crouched like a tiger over the table and let his eyes pick the spot. As he pulled back the trigger finger and went to let loose, the wind blasted across the platform and lifted the table from the ground. It smacked into the face of Flipper with a force that Cassius Clay would have been proud of. He grabbed the outside of the table to stop it jabbing him further, but this seemed to turn the two into a human kite or glider. It looked like a plane flying backwards: the table as the wings and his feet like propellers. He seemed to lift and swoop like a swallow chasing flies over a summer meadow. He took a dive at the pair of tracks, but lifted and landed face down on platform three. The table dragged him a full fifteen yards across the platform: his knuckles leaving a trail of blood and flesh from the edge to the door of the station tea bar. Thankfully, only those downwind heard the scream. All I could hear was the sound my train coming in. He turned to look at me. I tried to think of something clever, witty or memorable, but all I could shout back was something so low that I now regret it, "Yeah, push off". Why can I never think of anything decent to say. About an hour later I had a head full of ideas, but it's always too late.
I never heard of or saw 'Flipper' again. No loss there though.