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DANCING ON THE CEILING
by Clancy Eccles
I used to work with Lionel Ritchie. Not the real Lionel Ritchie but a bloke from Middleton called Dave who was only Lionel Ritchie at the weekends. He did a tribute act in the clubs and was making his way to Vegas via Langley and Littleborough. Dave was the spitting image(ish) of the real Lionel as well, including a spectacular hair-sprayed / soul-glowed afro. He'd only ever say "Alright" or " How you doin" to people because if he said "Hello" all he ever got back was "Is it me your looking for?".
I didn't work with him whilst he performed this job obviously, Lionel being a solo act and all that but even if he'd have branched out and done The Commodores act, there'd have been no room for a skinny white kid from New Moston on the soul train...even if it was only headed for Levenshulme Palace.
Dave was me gaffer when I worked for the cleaning contractors at Crumpsall hospital ('North Manchester General' if you must and for them that think town has a Northern Quarter).
It was a fascinating place to work for a young lad like me and me eyes were opened widely and quickly in the time I worked there. Times have changed now but back then even the kitchen staff could blag a way into the 'Grotto' a.k.a. The pharmacy and treat it like a pick-and-mix. There were more drugs smuggled out of that hospital than there were out of Columbia.
A few of us from work went to see Dave sing once in this cabaret club up Castleton way. It was a curious place. It was a mixture of Pleasureland in Blackpool, Studio 54 and The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It might actually have been called The Hanging gardens of Babylon. It had one of them Arcade machines where you put ten bob in and try and pick a prize up with a crane. This being back in the day as they say it still had amongst its prizes packets of 20 Regal. With lighters taped on. It was a premier gaff.
I only went to see him that once. Mainly because it was shit, though to be fair to Dave I think Lionel Ritchie's shit so he was never onto a winner with me. Many of the cloth-eared people in the club thought he was top drawer but then they probably like Lionel Ritchie and as you know I think he's shit. We ripped the piss out of him the following week anyway just to be on the safe side.
I was working at the hospital one particular Sunday, April the 1st 1990 to be precise and there was one of those coded messages like "Will Mr Brown report to the back door" that large companies use to let staff know there's an emergency without alerting members of the public. Obviously being April the 1st I ignored it and carried on with me cleaning. Even when the coded message was changed to one which said "Major emergency alert...all staff to follow major emergency alert procedures" I still thought it was an April fool. I was just beginning to think that it was a bit out of order playing a joke like that in a major hospital when lights started flashing and bells ringing and the penny dropped. I caught sight of Dave running around in a panic and such was his frantic speed and work-rate he now gave the impression of Lionel Ritchie impersonating former Luton star and fellow Lionel-a-like Ricky Hill.
I reported to where my 'major emergency alert' training had told me I should, in my case A&E, to be told that a huge riot had kicked off at Strangeways jail and that we could expect large numbers of injured to start arriving any time. No-one seemed to know what I should be doing so I just hung around. One of the doctors put the telly on and we sat there watching pictures from Strangeways of it all kicking off, with fires being started and furniture being launched out. Some had already made it up on the roof, beginning the Strangeways 'Rave' that was to last another 24 days. We sat watching right up to the point where we could hear the sirens approaching and the ambulances pull-up outside.
Within seconds of the sirens being silenced the doors to A&E burst open like a scene in one of them historical epics where the castle gates are finally broken after a siege and bodies surge through, spilling out all over. Lags, screws, coppers, paramedics and whoever else was caught-up came rushing through in a fury of blood, aggression, shouting, swearing and general mayhem. There must have been 50 or so arrivals and they made A&E look like a cross between The Broadway at closing on a Saturday and a Bosch painting.
There were a couple of screws in a pretty bad way, likewise a couple of fellas who were rumoured (already) to be nonces, but for the majority it was mostly just a few breaks, cuts and bruises. Two other lads were handcuffed to two coppers each as although they needed treatment they were amongst the ringleaders of the still intensifying riot (I saw their photos in the M.E.N the following day).
The coppers and screws who weren't injured were having a tough job trying to calm down and keep apart a number of lads who were trying to get at each other. One shirtless scouse fella with a big LFC tattoo on his chest grabbed some scissors from a nurses pocket and went for another lad. It was like the wild-west for a few minutes until a coppers truncheon went into his knee-cap and he buckled like a wounded dog.
I saw the same fella about 5 minutes later, walked over to him, called him a scouse bastard and warned to keep it shut from now on. He was in 'outside' Manchester now and should behave himself. In the interest of balance and the truth I suppose I should point out that he was sedated and handcuffed to a bed by this time but y'know, I told him straight.
The first task I had to perform was to go round collecting up all the scissors from the nurses before anyone repeated the now dozing scouse meat-heads trick. The tension was so great it felt like it could go off at any minute. There were some proper 'characters' in there, ranging from psychotic looking hard-cases, to timid little lads who'd probably been sent down for havin one E too many in their pockets and a 'bloke' in eye-liner and a blouse who made the copper he was cuffed to look more uncomfy than I've ever seen anyone look before. Whilst I was doing me rounds for scissors I was threatened, swore at and had me arse pinched. By him in the blouse or his police 'partner' I can never be sure.
After a while they moved most of the injured to wards...one for the lags, one for the screws. I was told to go on the ward where they'd put a group of ten-or-so scousers and assist the medical staff with whatever. Which turned out to be not much. I sat watching more of the rioting on the telly getting a running commentary from these lads who'd been in there only a few hours before. They told some pretty nasty tales of some of the things that had gone off that morning and seemed affected by the violence they'd witnessed but they were happy now, buzzin to be out of the jail and being served cups of tea by the nurses.
After a while of nothing much happening Dave came onto the ward to see what was what and was immediately met with shouts of "Oi Lionel" from the scouse contingent (No-one shouted 'Ricky Hill' though and I was now convinced Dave actually looked more like him than he did Lionel Ritchie). I don't usually hold with all that 'lengendary scouse humour' shite but they nailed poor Dave for a good 5 minutes and I've gotta admit I had to bite me tongue to save me from giggling like a schoolgirl. He didn't hang about and left me with the words "Take it easy", to which half the ward piped up "Easy like Sunday morning". Even the guards on the door were pissing themselves at him as he walked past. They do say Soul music comes from pain.
Most of the injured in the hospital were out after a few days. For a while afterwards me and some mates used to go and watch the lads 'ravin' on Strangeways rooftop on our dinnertimes. I don't think any of em got out for a while. I've not seen him for 15 years so I don't know but I don't think Dave ever did make it to Vegas.
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