There it was again. That familiar feeling.
As I put my face on for the day, I felt the wave of nausea which has become so familiar to me over the years.
I call it my ‘anxiety belly’, and as I sat at my dressing table readying myself for the day, it washed over me again. Only this time, it was blended with happiness; because today, I was doing something I never would’ve dreamt of doing only 12 months ago.
I was meeting up with a group of people I’d (mostly) only spoken to online, for a pilgrimage to a place that has held so much joy for me over the years of being a comedy enthusiast and general TV nut.
Well, Hadfield if we want to get all ‘real world’ about things.
I won’t crap on about how much The League of Gentlemen and the tremendous actors and writers behind it have shaped my sense of humour and my life, because I’ve already waffled on about that in previous posts and I don’t live for boring the arse off people. All that needs to be said is that, being an avid fan since my teens, this weekend marked the first time I’d ever proactively endeavoured to meet up with other human beings who’ve harboured as much love and affection for it as I have in the 20 years plus since it first aired.
Although I’d been a member of the Facebook fan page – League of Psychos Inside No.9 – for a few months, it was when I first met Chelsea, Sally and Hannah at Rik Mayall’s memorial bench in Hammersmith that I first contemplated joining them for a trip to Vasey.
After opting into the event on Facebook, I’d officially committed myself to attending. Although the nerves were real, I knew that this was a golden opportunity not just to make new friends, but to prove to myself that I could conquer my phobia of large groups of ‘strangers’ to have a bloody enjoyable day out with some like-minded folks.
It was Alex who was the most concerned…
Alex: “So, have you got your tickets for this thing today?”
“No, I don’t need any. It’s a fan meet up.”
Alex: “Wait…so it’s not an official thing?”
“No, it’s been organised by fans, for fans.”
Alex: “So you could be meeting anyone?!”
“That’s the idea…”
Long story short, I managed to persuade him that no-one was out to molest me, and the most action I’d likely see was a friendly hug or 10, and a quote battle which I’d inevitably lose.
Arriving at Manchester Piccadilly (Legz Akimbo t-shirt in full view), I plodded my way to Pret (our meeting spot) with butterflies. My eyes darted about the entrance as I tried to locate someone in League attire, and the second I honed in on Sally’s ‘We didn’t burn him!’ necklace, I knew I was home.
As more locals arrived, including the delightful Chelsea who’d gone to great lengths to arrange the day for us, my nerves eased. As each of us were introduced, it became clear that we were all on very common ground, which means a lot for someone like me who commonly navigates the world with resting bitch face in an attempt to get from A to B without interacting with too many humans (given that a good 90% if not all of my job is communication based, so I have to allow myself a break outside working hours…).
The train journey from Piccadilly to Hadfield was a short one, though just long enough to be caught up on some of the fandom gossip. Arriving in Hadfield, we made our way to the war memorial; an iconic image from the opening shot of The League, and meeting place for our fellow locals to gather.
It’s a bizarre yet refreshing experience when you finally get the opportunity to put faces to names and meet people with whom to date you’ve only shared the occasional tweet. There was Allison, who’d met us at the station after travelling from Wigan to be with us, and who I’d been interacting with online for a good year before today; Derek, who in a similar fashion had exchanged some friendly Twitter action with me over time, and Luke, who I’d recently discovered was the proud owner of Papa Lazarou’s Pandemonium Page, keeping us all entertained with League related memes and general mirth.
Edwards Wine Bar, Hadfield Station adjacent, was our home for the next few hours as they manically tried to serve the 30 League obsessives who’d descended on them from what seemed to be the length and breadth of Britain. Laying a table with League wares that’d been lovingly collated by Chelsea and fellow fans, I’ll admit I was not expecting the tidal wave of sales that followed, raising funds for each of the League’s preferred causes, Derian House Children’s Hospice, The Phoenix Cinema, Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline, and No Panic.
There was also a Herr Lipp colouring competition, which the few attending children were super enthused about (thankfully they didn’t get the innuendo, or that’s what we tell ourselves, although let’s not forget kids can be clever bastards), and a raffle with handmade crafts and other donations including a Reece Shearsmith mask.
I’ll admit, it seemed somewhat fitting to have a disembodied member of the League watching over the frivolity from the bar.
Four lines of raffle tickets, two drinks, and a burger and fries later, we were out on the streets of Hadfield taking in the sights, much to the bemusement of real locals who admittedly were very friendly and hopefully glad of our enthusiasm for this picturesque little town which still holds so much fascination.
After taking in sights which included the Denton’s home, the ‘Dole Office’ which is now a block of flats, the Windermere Guesthouse, and the butchers – former haunt of Hilary Briss – the day was winding down, and so we ambled our way back to Edwards for the raffle.
Bagging myself a Pink Pomphlet, and an adorable miniature snowglobe handcrafted by Clare was the icing on the cake. Although I didn’t win the cake, but there was plenty of other cake to be had courtesy of Nicola, another new local friend.
As things drew to a close with a group photo in front of the war memorial taken by none other than a friendly local shopkeeper, I was genuinely heartened by what I’d experienced. Not only the willingness of a group of ‘strangers’ to invite me into the fold so openly, but at the way in which people so eagerly parted with their cash all in the aid of a good cause, raising over £400 for charity in the process.
In the age of Brexit, Trump, and a world that could sometimes be deemed as ‘going to shit’, what’s not to love about a group of people coming together to celebrate a show in which men dress as women, a ringmaster acquires wives by stealing their wedding rings, and a crazy pair of shopkeepers burn people on the moors?
To me, that’s something to be celebrated.
You’ll never leave.