30th November, Manchester Evening News Arena: Leonard Cohen in concert. A good way to spend a birthday. I thought so, and thankfully Tina and Dave thought so too, plotting in secret to organise a ticket for me, the wonderful present from Tina.

The journey to Manchester from my parents’ wasn’t ideal, motorway traffic jams and alterations to Manchester city centre had me arriving at a dubious “car park only” 15 minutes before the show was to start. Dave, having made his way from Leeds by bus, was already in his seat. But it was well worth the travel chaos and the worry that the car might be missing a few windows on our return.

Leonard Cohen has established a wonderful group of superb musicians, experts in a collection of beautiful instruments. On vocals Cohen was backed by the sublime Webb Sisters, and co-writer and collaborator, Sharon Robinson whose voice was warm and soulful. All suited and wearing trilby hats, the ensemble treated a huge crowd to all the favourites. My night was made by “The Partisan” and “Famous blue raincoat”. At 74 years of age Cohen’s voice is still tremendous, as is his energy. The performance involved two hour long sets with a short break in between, but the encore lasted around a further thirty minutes. My words can’t do it justice so until the official DVD comes out, here’s a sample of the tour footage I’ve found that’s decent quality.

Leonard Cohen 2008 Tour “Dance me to the end of love” – Helsingborg Sweden, July

Leonard Cohen 2008 Tour “The Partisan” – Prague

Leonard Cohen 2008 Tour: The Webb Sisters “If It Be Your Will” – Royal Albert Hall Nov 17 2008

The American adventure is over for the time being. I got back to Leeds today a day late. Bad storms over the Washington and New York areas on Monday meant the Air Traffic Control was knocked out of kilter so my 5:10pm departure from Jacksonville actually left around 8:30pm. Apparently this is common over New York as the rather disinterested assistant at check-in told me, offering me “good luck” in getting my connection rather than reassurances. Needless to say I missed my connection by 10 minutes and was looking at a night in a New Jersey hotel. Continental tail and NY City skylineThe process of updating my ticket, getting a new boarding pass, and receiving hotel vouchers seemed smooth enough, but the transfer to the hotel wasn’t on two counts. Firstly it was about 30 minutes drive away and the use of two small shuttle buses meant waiting over an hour before it was my turn to be squeezed on. Secondly having crammed us four to a bench seat built for three the driver proceeded to weave his way between the traffic at speeds up to 90 mph as the bus swayed from side to side, particularly disconcerting when passing through a narrow coned single lane section of roadworks at double the 40 mph limit.

However the consolation was this experience brought strangers together unified by the inconvenience and resigned to international flights the following evening. The gallows humour at the shuttle waiting area and in the bus itself kept morale high, and fellow travellers swapped tales of travel woe and life stories. To be fair although many miles south of the airport and New York city, the hotel was wonderful, my room far exceeding the levels of luxury I’m accustomed to. After a reasonable night’s sleep the new band of delayed comrades once again greeted each other and the conversations helped the morning pass by quickly until it was time to catch the last shuttle bus to the airport at 1:30pm. The irony is that I choose a two hour connection this occasion to avoid the mind-numbing five hour wait I had last time at Newark which I think is an awful airport. Of course by missing my plane not only did I again have the five hour wait at the airport but a night in a hotel as well.

However it was not all bad. I must mention in dispatches Wayne the University of Florida Careers Director who was on his way to various meetings in Ireland, Brian the plumber returning to Dublin after some while in Boston, and the unnamed “soccer enthusiast” who was on his way to Madrid to meet up with his son. Without the amusing, interesting and friendly conversation of these three fellow delayed travellers the day would have dragged by. Thank you all for your company, and to all those other travellers who passed the time of day with a few friendly words. Indeed being around a similar age Brian and I got something to eat, shared a couple of beers, and talked our way around Newark Airport such that the five hours passed very quickly. It reaffirms the belief in human decency and warmth when in mild adversity brief acquaintances are formed and one can share and learn from others’ life stories. It will be something I always remember and from an inconvenience came a positive enhancing experience.

That said I was glad to be away from Newark and its dodgy internet connections with mouse pads that go up for down and left for right and finally on my plane. Continental had made all of the arrangements go very smoothly but somehow failed to transfer my special meal request to the new flight. Departing Newark - NY viewHowever I am indebted to the Flight Attendant who went out of his way to rustle something up for me, raiding Business Class for a vegetarian meal. I have to say the spinach and ricotta cheese pasta parcels in a tomato and eggplant sauce was done to a turn, quite excellent, easily of restaurant quality and one of the best meals I’d had on my holiday in America. I suppose it should be for the price of those sorts of ticket. I have no real complaints about Continental, just the hub they choose for their connections.

Once in the grey UK I was not glad to be back. I missed the first available train by a few seconds, arriving as the doors were closing and in the typical service orientated culture of modern Britain the guard (or is it Train Services Manager these days?!) hanging out from his window said “Yer’ve missed it mate, it’s off” as I tried desperately to prod the button to encourage the doors’ parting. Finally on a train the bleak day did little to enhance the passing countryside and only helped remind me of what I’ve left behind. Where I'd like to beNot only the warm weather, sunshine and beaches, but the special person I’d shared two weeks with and who I’d like to spend a lot longer with. It doesn’t really feel right to be here. I know too how much Tina will be hurting that I have gone and she has no definite date for my return. I will try to make it as soon as possible whatever the obstacles. Not wanting to mope about the house I actually went to work this afternoon even though I told my boss I wouldn’t be in because of the delay. It didn’t make me feel much better either. I didn’t feel tired and I reckoned it best to continue to stay awake as long as I could, hopefully getting some decent sleep tonight.

My good friend and fellow Stoke fan Dave (GoatMajor on the Stoke fanzine message board) called around the house tonight. Putting everything into perspective is his recent loss of his mother to cancer. Dave’s mum was a lovely woman, the typical genial generous hostess found in North Staffordshire, always happy to welcome you into their home and lay on a good “spread” of food. She always put family above herself. Dave has been living in Sweden and I have stored some of his things for him including the suit he needed for the funeral tomorrow. To cheer ourselves up we dined on North Staffordshire Oatcakes with cheese, beans and veggie sausages while watching the Germany v Turkey Euro 2008 Semi-Final. (What a great game but those jammy Germans drive me mad, oh the injustice!) I think the silly Stokie humour, larking about and watching the football helped lightened Dave’s load and I was glad to see him too. I hope he had a safe trip back to Silverdale and things go as well as can be hoped for tomorrow. My thoughts will be with him and the family. On that sombre note I will turn in for the night because the need for sleep is finally catching up with me.