As has been exhaustively documented on this increasingly self-indulgent blog, I am somewhat partial to going out. The things I like doing, however, exist within pretty narrow parameters, generally falling into one of two spheres of activity: I enjoy putting on good shoes and going to friends' houses to drink wine and eat food, and I also enjoy putting on good shoes and going to bars and restaurants to drink wine and eat food. I am also far more of a going-out-in-summer person than a going-out-in-winter person, much more likely in the colder months to simply turn the heating on and seek out a warmer pair of pyjamas than throw myself into the arctic conditions outside.
Thus last night heralded exciting times, for James were on at the MEN, and I was going. A kindly friend pointed out via the very public medium of Facebook that she and I last went to see James when we were 17, approximately one million years ago, and I can't pretend I wasn't a little trepidatious at the thought of being thrown into a seething moshpit full of rampantly thrashing young folk. Surely a quiet night in with the Strictly final would be more sensible?
Of course, I needn't have worried. Not only are all of James' fans safely into their thirties and forties, but chief ticket-procurer extraordinaire Julia had come up trumps - seats in the front row, just at the side of the stage, a far cry from my aforementioned last visit to see James, where I seem to recall one of us (not me) ended up with a broken foot. Instead, we sat serenely in our special-lady seats, and watched as the MEN - unbelievably considering the "snow chaos" claimed by the media - filled itself up to bursting point with brave Mancunians clearly not held back by a little precipitation.
So, onto the support acts. The first of these, Frazer King, were mighty entertaining on stage but even better off stage, as we had the pleasure of lead singer Nathan's company throughout the rest of the gig. He had perhaps partaken of one or two shandies over the course of the evening, to the point where his mum, sat behind us, was forced to keep hissing "Nathan! Leave those ladies alone!"
Meanwhile, the next support act was on: Pigeon Detectives, one of those bands who helpfully produce lots of quite good songs that all sound the same, so if you are familiar with a couple of them you can pretty much sing along to the whole set. And then, it was time. One might uncharitably remark that Tim Booth is looking increasingly like Ming the Merciless, but this matters not: any man who can complete a two hour set, replete with his own particular brand of crazy dad-dancing, whilst dressed in coat and beanie hat, is one to be admired.
In fact, James were brilliant in every way. Even the new songs, traditionally a chance to nip to the bar and be relieved of £4 for a pint of lager in a plastic pot, sounded good, although it was of course the old favourites which brought the crowd to life. The encore was the best I have ever seen, featuring four songs - including the mighty Laid - and a cast of thousands, as actual muggles were invited up on stage to dance along (we weren't quite quick or pushy enough); we also enjoyed Sit Down, a much safer proposition when seated comfortably on a plush seat rather than gingerly eyeing the sticky dancefloor at Manchester Academy and wondering if it would be advisable to allow your bottom to make contact with it.
Flushed and triumphant, we were brought down to earth quite quickly by the disappointing reality of the after-show party - lots of sweaty people crammed in a marquee, queueing ten deep at the world's smallest bar; surely the band wouldn't be seen dead here, so we elected to drink up and leave. That's when we noticed the man in the beanie hat standing, ooh, six inches to our left; our conversation dried up as we - two grown women old enough to know better - stood and gazed, open-mouthed, at King Booth. The fact he moved away to the other side of the giant tent soon after is probably not unrelated to this.
A perfect night was capped off with a wander around the snowy streets of Manchester as we waited for the Husband Taxi Firm to arrive, admiring the pretty lights and fighting the desire to make snow angels. A little worrying perhaps that we both remarked on the lack of cold, before getting in the car to find the temperature reading minus five; hurrah for the insulating properties of the beer jacket.
So thank you Julia, for the tickets; thank you, drunken Nathan, for entertaining us; and thank you James, for being all conquering. Oh, and Tim, I was meant to ask you to switch on the West Didsbury Christmas lights next year but was too frightened - if you fancy it, please give Didsbury Life a ring...it would get me out of a lot of trouble, thanks.