Friday 9 January 1864
Several years ago I lived, likewise a hapless bachelor, in a splendid flat in the hamlet of Hulme. One of my favourite things about this positioning was the ease with which I could stroll into town across a freshly-built, architecturally pleasing bridge. Something I liked less about Hulme was the sheer lack of people on the streets and it was this that helped prove my undoing one fine and crisp morning.
‘Been inside y’know,’ his ratty cohort told me.
The troll simply grinned at me (did he have a gold tooth in those days?)
‘Yeah, know what for?’ he continued, rattily, ‘Throwing someone off a bridge.’
They hunched their shoulders in mirth, wheezed out a couple of constipated laughs. I looked around. No-one within three hundred yards, just apartment blocks old and new. I took out some silver. ‘Pound’. They snatched at the note and from then on, almost without fail, were waiting for me patiently on that now curs’ed bridge. Most mornings, most dusks, I paid my toll to the troll. It was still cheaper than the omnibus I told myself – the logic of the coward.
The next time I saw the troll he was in the newspaper – an illustration but unmistakably him (lurching forward, challenging the artist to capture the good in him). He’d been jailed for beating upon an ex-girlfriend. Nice. I shuddered at the memory, by this point safe in Chorlton Village (the only place I’ve ever actually been ‘thugged’) then promptly forgot all about this grotesque figure.
Five years on, three months ago – smoking a cigarillo outside my warehouse on a dark, deserted Princess Street: ‘Mate,’ comes his still-familiar Manc-Liverbird tones, and then his well-lived-in face is in my Dorian Gray, just a few choice fumes between us (for me, cabernet and stilton; for my date, the cider and bin surprise). ‘Can you help us out?’ comes the inevitable request. I do everything I can to stop our eyes meeting – anything to avoid rekindling the old relationship, my regrettable subservience. While you might suppose me long-forgotten to him, it is clear from his demeanor that – out of prison – he has taken to the street. And once on the street, no matter how much you knock back, you live and die by the memory of its furnishings and populace. Were the troll to know me again I might as well give him the keys to my flat, making him a cuppa while politely refusing the offer of his sleeping bag equivalent. The cigarillo is out, ‘No,’ and I am gone, pretending I live somewhere else, perhaps some blissful future society.
And then I saw the troll again yesterday, in this freezing weather. He passed me outside the House of Angles where I was waiting for Growler ahead of our walk to the footerball court. The troll always carried with him a dangerous charm, a grizzled worldliness that must have made him attractive to ladies that way inclined. Now he carries a ripped bag of bulging rags, wears a filthy, colourless coat; drags a bad foot behind him painfully. I move out of his way. He talks to another unfortunate at the entrance and then double-backs towards me. I swiftly pull down the hat, navigate him, find Growler has been waiting there all along and we’re off. Punishing, that’s what the forecasters call this weather – punishing. I don’t expect to see the troll again. Some holy fool or selfless soul will take him in, or he will die in a doorway without ceremony. And to think, we started this exciting year together. New year’s day and I decided to visualize some family history. A great-great-great grandfather, newly widowed, lived on Hanging Bridge Lane with his young son, many moons ago. Town was not unexpectedly quiet – I had the narrow lane to myself, made some sketches. Skeletal trees against a white winter sky and then, emerging from Cathedral Gardens, a hunched figure, bag in hand, shuffled past my late, great Uncle’s favourite pub, the Adi Dassler. I return to my notes. By trade the distant me is variously described as ‘lodger’ and ‘traveler.’ How tough must life have been back then? I unfurl the pound in my pocket and head directly for the sales.