‘What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?’
I found it after my first ever ‘I love you’ which was followed by awkward silence, then an uncomfortable evening, then the argument at the train station and the decision to get on a different train, going in a different direction to her.
After visiting friends for a few days, I ended up at the bus station at 8 a.m., alone and hung-over, thinking about what went wrong. I was embarrassed, lonely and completely fucking miserable. And I had a twelve-hour bus ride ahead of me.
So I walked into a bookshop at the station and I picked up High Fidelity. My bus was due to leave soon, so there wasn’t much time for browsing – I read the synopsis on the back and must have liked the cover, although I can’t remember it now; I lost this copy a long time ago. It was a story about music and relationships, and on that morning, at twenty-one, those two things seemed like the most important things in the world.
I took my seat on the bus, sent some falsely upbeat texts to a couple of friends and then started to read:
‘My desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order:
- Alison Ashworth
- Penny Hardwick
- Jackie Allen
- Charlie Nicholson
- Sarah Kendrew.
These were the ones that really hurt. Can you see your name in that lot, Laura? I reckon you’d sneak into the top ten, but there’s no place for you in the top five; those places are reserved for the kind of humiliations and heartbreaks that you’re just not capable of delivering . . . Those days are gone and good fucking riddance to them; unhappiness really meant something back then. Now it’s just a drag, like having a cold or no money. If you really wanted to mess me up, you should have got to me earlier.’
And just like that, I was in. Rob Fleming, the guy listing his relationship breakdowns like he’s presenting Top of the Pops, became, for the next twelve hours (and on more future occasions than I care to admit), a very comforting presence. He obsessed about music (like me!), he was a flawed person and a flawed boyfriend (hi again!), he was older than me, in his mid-thirties rather than early twenties, so he had more experience but still kept messing things up (which was both reassuring and startlingly prescient for my next ten years of trying to be a grown up). He was bitter and funny and hopeless and likable despite being a bit of an arsehole at times, which really just boils down to me saying that he was relatable because he was normal.
Part of the journey included a three-hour stopover in Manchester, a place I’d never been to before, and a city with a reputation of being more vibrant than any of the other places I’d visited up to that point in my life. For three hours, Manchester was my oyster. I spent the time reading in a run-down bus station cafe.
I’d just started on the last chapter by the time the bus pulled into Sunderland station. I got off the bus, found one of those cold, uncomfortable, metal benches, sat down and finished the book before making my way to another bedroom floor of a friend. And I felt OK. Not great, but all right. Better than I had been twelve hours before. Less lonely.