During the autumn and winter of 1987/88 I was living in Calgary, in western Canada. I was 23 years old and hopelessly in love with a girl who didn’t love me. In the subzero temperatures of a Canadian winter, this little drama between me and her was set against the much bigger backdrop of the forthcoming XV Winter Olympic Games.
Where the Streets Have No Name, the opening track of the U2 album, ‘The Joshua Tree’. Released in March 1987, ‘The Joshua Tree’ was U2’s fifth studio album and it brought them international stardom. This album was the soundtrack to that winter in Canada.
Me and her had first met the year before, in London, where she was studying. Her college course ended in the summer of ’87 and she went back to her native Canada. Two months later I asked her if I could come over for a visit. She said yes and I hopped on the next plane heading across the Atlantic; but things didn’t work out between us and after 4 weeks I moved out of her place and into my own apartment. This is the second track from ‘The Joshua Tree’…
Since arriving in Calgary I’d been working illegally, without a permit, and it had been a constant battle to keep one step ahead of the immigration people. After Christmas I lost my job and from then on I suffered acute poverty. I struggled to pay bills; I struggled to put food on the table; and all the while there was heartache and the hustle and bustle and excitement of the approaching Olympic Games. It really was the best of times and the worst of times, hammered home by my final encounter with her on Christmas Eve. We met amidst the tinsel of a downtown bar, where she had the last word on our relationship. This is the third track from ‘The Joshua Tree’ and it was top of the charts when I arrived in Canada…
During January and February, temperatures in Calgary regularly drop to forty below freezing, and I hadn’t brought any arctic apparel with me (it was so cold that the snot in your nose would freeze). To avoid freezing to death I wore many layers of clothing. I resembled the Michelin Man as I pounded the icy sidewalks looking for work…
By mid-February my luck had run out and my money had run out. It was time to skulk back to London, leaving behind me a score of unpaid bills, like losing betting slips after a big race. The London flight left in the evening. After paying for the ticket I was as good as broke, yet I had put aside fifty dollars and decided to spend my last day in Canada getting gloriously drunk.
Every bar I visited became yet another farewell to Calgary. I eventually found myself at a hotel bar near the airport, where I got tangled-up with an Aussie businessman who had a wild mane of hair. He offered me a job. I pondered over this offer and bought the Aussie another drink. After paying the barman for the drink I had twelve dollars and fifty cents left. That was it. I had nothing else. My bank accounts were empty. I had nothing valuable I could sell. That twelve dollars and fifty cents really was everything I had left in the world.
With a resigned sigh I asked my old pal the barman for another refill. The sands had run their course. I now had seven dollars and fifty cents and I knew there was no going back. No last chances from mad Aussie businessmen. This was goodbye Calgary, for about the eighth time that day.
The bitter sweet irony of it all cracked me up. In fact, I couldn’t control my laughter. Most of the bar crowd were in town for the Games. They were in a holiday mood and dollar bills were thrown across the bar with carefree abandon. I got rather caught up in it all and almost missed my flight to London. I only made it because the plane was delayed due to technical reasons. I don’t remember the take-off. I staggered on to the plane, did my seat belt up and fell into a deep sleep. I awoke many hours later to find the plane over the Welsh mountains. I was home. The next day, nursing a hangover, I watched the opening ceremony of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics on my television set in London.
This is the closing track on ‘The Joshua Tree’…
A more detailed account of the time I spent in Calgary can be found in my book, The Yukon Queen.
I take it you mean losing betting slips that you hadn’t won on after a big race?!
Hi Sarah. I think you’re right.
And I hope you don’t think this post is too angsty. It’s just that I feature a lot of music on this blog, and I thought that I’d personalise this one a bit. When I first arrived in Canada all those years ago, ‘With or Without You’ was top of the charts. All of the tracks from The Josua Tree bring it all back to me like it was yesterday. The power of music, ay.
I’ll keep the swimming pool going for when you get here next month (even though I have to clean the bloody thing every day!).
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