The strangeness of the suburbs. A few reviews for Langwell Sorrow

Langwell Sorrow Stephen Hargadon

Last year (how briskly the years fall away, yet each day takes an age) I was privileged to be published in the tenth anniversary issue of the excellent Black Static. I was in the company of three other writers who published their very first stories in that magazine: Carole Johnstone, Tim Lees, and Ray Cluley. (I still remember, and still cherish, the excitement of that first acceptance.)

My story, Langwell Sorrow, is set in Manchester. There are pubs, there are big screens. There are voices. There are football teams. There are memories and hopes. There are streets to which you should never return. I do not quite know how the story began, or why it needed to be written. These things happen. The words happen.

I’m pleased to say it gathered a few decent reviews. Here they are.

For me, the real jewel in the crown in issue #60 is Langwell Sorrow by Stephen Hargadon. Quite simply, this is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. It centres around a mans encounter with a patron at a pub that leads him on the trail of a local football team that few have heard of. The team is/was called Langwell Sorrow. Why is there no history online of Langwell Sorrow? Where is the ground they played at? Why have only a few heard of them? Why are they spoken about in hushed voices? These are all questions that need answering as our narrator seeks to piece together the truth of their existence, and perhaps his own. This is a beautifully melancholic story. I simply adored it. Many of the places mentioned are close to where I grew up and I believe this is one of the reasons I became so drawn into this story. Hargadon perfectly captures the feel of being a football supporter with his wonderful writing along with honing in on the camaraderie that exists between followers of the sport. The narrator is full of hope and sorrow at the same time, a wonderfully realistic character. The ending to the story is simply perfect. I enjoyed it so much I read the story again, twice! it is just brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, nothing else to say. The Grim Reader

The best tale this issue is novelette “Langwell Sorrow” by Stephen Hargadon about a depressed single office worker who becomes obsessed with discovering an otherworldly amateur football (soccer) team that he learns about in a pub. It’s an engaging story full of insights … Michael J, Goodreads

“ … giving way to wrinkles and creases, the eyes ever more frightened, more alert, too sensitive for the world, and then becoming dim …” I have long lived with the truly remarkable Stephen Hargadon canon of stories in Black Static, and this one I tell you is that canon’s latest apotheosis, beyond which I cannot conceive of a greater apotheosis. Except I expect there may be one. I put nothing past this author, least of all a goal. Here, we have pub talk as a sort of religion, pubs as scatologically and eschatologically worse than even one’s memory of them, one’s living in them … and better, too. Football, too, as soccer puppets of the darkening soul. I imagined stigmatised bodies hanging from those chanting outstretched soccer-scarves to the Sorrow. I cannot do justice to this text packed with wise saws, homilies, unique locals, the strangeness of suburbs of a city that are ordinary to the people living there but an alien land to you, like life and death themselves. The good-hearted winks at sometime bad bonhomie, a rough cut mix of rarefied Quentin S Crisp and something overwhelmingly and completely off-the-bar but true … And the narrator himself is a real character and a half. Full of anxieties as well as hidden hopes. DF Lewis 

… the local color and characters make [this story] a rewarding experi­ence. The nameless narrator finds old Gary Gorse at a local pub and listens to him grouse about his football team. Despite his discon­tent, he exists for the Langwell Sorrow (“Named after a church. Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows on the Lower Langwell Road”) and remains true to the green-and-maroon. The narrator is fascinated and goes off to find Langwell, the church, and the team. Paula Guran, Locus Reviews

“Langwell Sorrow” by Stephen Hargadon. The narrator meets a man in a pub who tells him about an obscure football team from an unknown town. He tracks down the village, which is not listed on any map. His journey leads to an unexpected discovery. The point of the story seems to be the narrator’s search for a way to escape his lonely existence. Victoria Silverwolf, Tangent Online

Our narrator drinks a lot in a pub and doesn’t have much more in his life. One night, a man he sees all the time started talking about all the football clubs he hated, which seemed to be all of them. What club did he support? Langwell Sorrow. Team colors were maroon and green. Our narrator is intrigued but can’t find out much more from the man, only that it was associated with a church called Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. He starts to look around and finally found where they play. Nicely chilling ending. Sam Tomaino, SFRevu

Black Static 60 can be bought from TTA Press here. (If dark fiction is your thing, it’s well worth getting yourself a subscription.) For Kindle, it is available here.

black static 60 Langwell Sorrow

Cover by Ben Baldwin

Travelling Backwards

Thoughts from a train

I’m travelling backwards through the English countryside. Trees and bridges flicker by, while the fields in the distance seem to move at a slower pace, sliding out of view, turning unhurriedly beneath the enormous sky. It is as though the land is not solid at all, but molten and shifting, full of currents and channels that only become evident from the window of a speeding train. The world approaches, then flies away.

‘Look at the trees,’ says a young girl.

‘Yes,’ says the woman I assume is her mother.

‘You didn’t see, you weren’t looking.’

‘I was, I was, sweetheart.’

‘You weren’t.’

I am in coach A, the quiet coach, where electronic gadgetry and impulsive gobs must be kept under control. The rage of rappers must not leak from headphones. Please kill your alien warriors quietly. Curiously, I am facing the rest of the passengers. I am on a table at the end of the carriage, facing backwards, while almost everyone else is facing forwards. I feel like a cox. Perhaps I should bark instructions. ‘Read your book. Concentrate.’ ‘Don’t rustle that bag.’ Or perhaps I am an invigilator at an exam. Shush. No talking. The young girl is still mesmerised by the twirling trees, and shouts about them with such joy that no one dares remind her mummy that we are in the quiet zone.

From Manchester to London, the train rattles on. Yes, it rattles. Occasionally. Sometimes it even lurches. But it is a mostly pleasant way to travel, provided you have a seat. Sleepers and texters. Nose-pickers and fidgeters. The mother is chatting to her friend (or perhaps it is her sister). This is the quiet coach but there are no business men staring with psychopathic intensity at laptops. I am sat next to a reader. The bookmark on the table bears the logo of Daunt Books. The reader has a high forehead and heavy-lidded eyes. He reminds me of a friend. I am intrigued to know what he is reading. His paperback looks smart and literary, a cool grey-green cover, but I cannot see the title or the author’s name. I say I am intrigued but I’m not intrigued at all. Neither, it seems, is he. He spends more time checking his phone than he does reading his elegant book. Ah, it’s called The Iceberg. I’ve not heard of it. Have you? Is it good? Shame on me. I can smell the toilet – a warm confection of chemicals and faecal matter – soft dumps and blue poisons.

The laptops are out now, but everyone is behaving themselves. It is a bright day. The clouds look freshly laundered. They look cleaner and brighter than the ones I left behind in the city. These clouds remind me of the clouds in those brilliant old paintings of saints and scholars you see in the National Gallery.

Ted Baker. Fred Perry. There’s Ralph Lauren. We pass an expanse of meadows and marshes. The tall grasses undulate and ripple, waving me away. Shrubs and brackish water. Lanky wildflowers firing off rockets of pink and yellow. I’m travelling backwards from Manchester, my home, to London, where I was born and raised. Except I never really thought of myself as a Londoner, especially not with Irish parents. None of us at school really thought of Ilford as part of throbbing London. The city was Soho and Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park. All we had was C&A and the Kenneth More Theatre. London was where the news happened, a thrilling otherness – a place of sex, music, drugs, murder and history. We were caught in the blandlands between Essex and east London. (And London for me started at Manor Park and didn’t really get going until about Forest Gate). But maybe it was just me. Even at home I felt that I was on the edge of things, although I doubt I could have told you what those things were.

Everyone is quiet, even the observant child. She has long tired of trees. She is sleeping on her mother’s lap. There are no accents to assess and gauge. Eyes sometimes connect – but it feels like an intrusion, an accidental touch of hands. My orange juice is nearly finished. I shall not brave the toilet.

I have nothing to read, which is unusual for me. I was going to bring The Beginning of the End by Ian Parkinson but I changed my mind at the last minute. It disrupted the feng shui of my pockets.

Warehouses with smashed windows and grubby brickwork. Cooling towers – monuments from another world. We are nearly there. It won’t be long. Jackets and holdalls are rescued from the rack. I check my pockets. I pack away my notepad and pen. London. This is my home city but I do not live here. My home is in Manchester but that is not my city. It feels good not to belong, not to be implicated. And yet the purpose of my trip is all about belonging, or wanting to belong, for I am attending a football match. The mother of the observant child is struggling with various bags and cases. I lift one on to the platform. “You’re welcome”, I say, and head for the exit, full of anticipation, with a creased shirt and a spring in my step.