Soft Cell – “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”

“I have a feeling,” I said to Mandeep, as we paused speculatively at the top of the glittering staircase, “that we are going to be tremendously successful in life.” Mandeep momentarily stopped glancing left and right and glared up at me. “You’re off your rocker, boy!” he boomed. He pointed ‘forward’ with both hands, “Now let’s go party.” We began our purposeful descent.

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Soft Cell – Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

We had just arrived at Fridays, a nightclub of sorts, in South Manchester. I don’t think I need to tell you much about Fridays; the fact that it was called Fridays probably furnishes you with sufficient information; however, for the record it was a kind of cocktail bar cum restaurant cum dancefloor type place frequented by Paul Calf-alike Mancunians, students and local gangsters. Typically we went to Fridays on Mondays, not because we were driven by irony, but because it gave free entry to anyone with a student card (even an expired one like mine) and served cheap drink. The latter was probably the root cause of my atypically positive outlook; I wasn’t much of a drinker in those days, and a mere sniff of the barmaid’s apron would catapult me into an altered state of energetic self confidence and euphoria: in fact, the precise opposite of what it does to me now.

Doubtless it was this, then, that some 20 minutes later caused me to leap enthusiastically onto the dancefloor to the opening chords of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Some months previously I had been introduced to the non-shit Rolling Stones by dint of somebody rolling me a cigarette and then playing me all of Through the Past, Darkly. To say I was astonished would be an understatement. Before that moment I had deemed all music recorded before 1976 (with the honourable exceptions of the Who, the Kinks and the Velvet Underground) to be at best irrelevant, and the Rolling Stones in particular to be hairy, adult and pointless. Through the Past, Darkly changed all that. I am embarrassed to admit I suffered a brief Keith Richards fixation, like many a callow youth before me and since. I am even more embarrassed to admit that during this period I purchased a skull ring. It was particularly poor quality one; the type that is open at the back so it can be adjusted to suit finger girth. To (half) finish the look I imagined to be Keith’s, I wore a white granddad shirt and a 60s tonic jacket. Unfortunately I couldn’t afford to sort out the lower half of my attire, so I still wore regulation goth skintight black jeans and ludicrous jester/Blackadder II pointy poof boots, which as time wore on curled progressively upward at the toes. I imagine I looked as implausible as a centaur, but with none of that creature’s dignity, virility or fighting prowess.

On the dancefloor I flailed around over-confidently. Jumpin’ Jack Flash came to an end and the DJ immediately made matters worse by spinning Paradise City. I may have pogoed at this point; I don’t THINK I played air guitar: I hope I didn’t. Anyway, it was at some point during the song I noticed that a girl who had been dancing near me was still dancing near me. I looked at her. She looked back. I curbed my enthusiastic dancing a fraction. I looked at her again. She looked back again. We smiled. We danced some more. She moved a bit closer. We smiled again. I leaned forward. “Hello,” I said. It was a great opening line. “Hi,” she replied. She smiled again. Clearly she liked smiling. We padded around a bit more. I leaned in again with a commanding follow-up, “Wot’s your name?” She smiled at me again. “Kate,” she replied. Suddenly dancing and conversation became impractical as the song had reached that point near the end where it goes really really fast and Axl sings in a really screechy falsetto. And so it was necessary for me to hold Kate’s arms and she mine while I leaned into her long, scented hair and whispered my devastating, killer third line, “Shall we get a drink?” The next record started. Bizarre Love Triangle. It is impossible to dance to New Order. We quit the floor.

The ambiguity in my question about who would actually purchase the drink was not intentional, but was an issue, for I had no money to purchase even a, drink. However, such was my youthful optimism in those days I was confident that the situation would somehow resolve itself in the 45 seconds it would take us to navigate to the bar.

Kate touched my arm. “I just need to speak to someone first,” she said. “I came here with a guy on a date.” I tried to look cool. “It’s OK,” she said, “I don’t think he’s that keen – he brought his mate with him.” She looked around. “Oh hi!” A couple of blokes were standing there. I instantly despised them. They wore chinos and shirts and suede brogues and matching his and hers rollneck sweaters. Both held barely supped pints of bitter. They looked like they would rather be quietly discussing stocks and shares at a boat club than be with a girl at Fridays. Kate introduced them, “This is Bore and Drone.” She gestured at me, “This is…” “Mike,” I added. I shook their limp, damp hands. “We just met,” Kate explained. Bore was clearly the dominant one. The dater.  He seemed unfazed by the situation. “We were thinking of heading off…” he said to Kate, inclining his head (possibly unconsciously) towards his boyfriend. Drone looked at his brogues. “Would you like a drink before we go?” “Yes,” said Kate, “I’ll have a double vodka and coke and Mike will have a pint of…” “lager,” I added. Bore paused momentarily, but then perhaps realising he had resolved a problem for the price of two drinks, made for the bar. “Got a spare fag?” I asked Drone. Drone didn’t smoke, but Kate produced a packet of Silk Cut. Bore came back with the drinks and passed them over. The transaction was complete. “Well, we’ll be off. Nice to meet you Mark,” he said, nodding at me. He then shook Kate’s hand. They departed. After a dignified pause I retrieved their undrunk pints.

“Christ, where did you meet him?”I said, taking a long draft of lager. “Oh he just came into the shop and asked me out while he was buying a book,” said Kate, “and I thought why not? I had nothing better to do. But it was so boring when we got here. And then I saw you and you looked so cool.” She smiled. A chink of doubt appeared in my previously impenetrable armour of alcohol-fuelled self confidence. Did she really mean that? She touched my hand. “I like your skull ring.” I looked at it stupidly. It seemed a bit naff. “Here, you can have it,” I said, putting it on her finger. She smiled again.

Suddenly Adam’s head bobbed above the top of our seats. “Mike! We’re heading off mate; we’ll see you later.” He leant in towards me and whispered. “Here’s some cash for a taxi.” Adam was like that; always thinking of others less deserving than himself. He grinned, squeezed my arm and ran off.

“Shall I see you again?” I asked Kate. “Would you like to?” she replied. “Of course,” I said, “of course I would.” We made a date. “How are you getting home?” I asked. “Oh, I’ll get a cab or something.” “Here,” I said giving her Adam’s money, “take this for a taxi.” “You don’t need to do that.” said Kate. “I want to,” I said. She smiled again.

And then we kissed.

Kate was a graduate of the proper University and was an impossibly sophisticated four years older than me. She was from the Midlands, but of Romanian descent. Her name wasn’t really Kate; it was Ecaterina. She had an even more exotic and unpronounceable surname. Her looks were striking – she was slim with long black hair, pale skin, huge eyes and a full mouth, much given to smiling. Her look was somewhere between goth and rock chick – mostly black but sometimes accented with leopard skin or studs. It wasn’t fashionable, but it suited her. She looked a bit like Hammer Studio’s idea of an attractive female vampire. She was extremely undemanding, unambitious and easygoing; I don’t think I’ve met anyone since with such an even temperament. “That’s bostin’” she would say about stuff that pleased her; then she would laugh at her own colloquialism.

Kate worked in a book shop in town. This meant she had money. I didn’t have any money, ever, except on giro day, when I would live like a king. Kate didn’t seem to mind spending her money on me. She would take me out to bars and clubs and buy me drinks and cigarettes.  I felt moderately bad about this, but not quite enough not to do so. Mostly I drank pineapple juice to keep costs down a bit; it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to abstain in those days. Kate liked a drink. I used to think she drank a lot, but she probably drank no more than I do now. Moosehead beer was her favourite. Mooses would stare at me across the table as we smoked and I nursed my pineapple juice.

Kate didn’t seem to have any girl friends, but she knew a lot of blokes, some of whom seemed to be ex-boyfriends. Often our nights out would involve going to see this bloke or that bloke playing in some dismal rock band. The blokes would be dismissively polite or indifferent to Kate. The one nice guy she knew worked in the book shop with her. He was bookish (perhaps unsurprisingly) and seemed protective towards her. When I came into the shop he would view me with an air of resigned disappointment. This made me warm to him.

After our nights out we would retire to Kate’s which was located in an insalubrious area of run-down pubs, kebab shops and betting houses. Kate rented a one room bedsit in a large house and shared a bathroom and toilet with four other single strangers. Her room had a two-ring cooker but no fridge. There was an unopened pint of milk on the table. Every time I went round the milk was progressively mouldier; the silver top more domed. We would drink black tea and lie on Kate’s bed and smoke whilst contemplating the milk bottle. “You’ll have to part with it one day,” I warned. Kate would shake her head and laugh, “Never!”

Kate had a mono cassette deck. Often she would play Lou Reed’s Perfect Day. ‘I’m glad I spent it with you,’ she would sing to me, and laugh. This was in the days before the song had been popularised by the BBC and was subsequently sneered at by snobs like me who thought we were superior to the hoi polloi from having learnt it in more poignant contexts.

One night we were lying on the bed as usual. I saw my skull ring on the bedside table. “Hey! You’re not wearing my ring!” I said. Kate laughed. “It’s broken; one of its arms came off.” She laughed again, “You’ll have to buy me a better one”. “I can’t believe you broke my precious ring!” I said, grabbing her wrists. We wrestled. Kate struggled and laughed. Suddenly I noticed an odd brown leather wrist strap on Kate’s arm and gestured at it. “What is this thing? It’s really ugly – take it off”. I grabbed at the press studs and pulled. The strap came away to reveal a series of scars on Kate’s arm. It was clear they were self inflicted. These were the days before cutting went overground and became a lifestyle choice. I didn’t understand. “What,” I said.  Kate slapped me in the face. She turned aside to the wall and refastened the strap.

After a while I lit a couple of fags. Time wore on. I made to leave. “You don’t have to go,” Kate said. “Nah, best get on.” I said. “OK”, she replied. I liked that about her; she never pushed things. We made plans to meet in a few days.

On the street outside it was cold. It was 3am. My house was three miles away. I hadn’t eaten in three days. I had a hole in my shoe. I plodded along a bit. I was weak and tired. I had 80p in my pocket that I was saving for cigarettes. I hailed a cab. “Can you take me 80p’s worth of the way towards Withington?” I asked. The driver sighed. “Get in”. I got in the cab. It was warm and safe. We sat in silence as the car glided through the night streets all the way to the village. “Get out then”, the driver said. I made to pay him. He sighed again. “Keep your money, lad.”

The following Thursday I was due to meet Kate in town. My housemates were off to a local pub quiz that had a cash prize. A custom of the pub was to give the winning team a gallon jug of beer to take home with them; the jug to be returned the following week. This suddenly seemed immensely more attractive to me than walking two miles into town. I went to a callbox and phoned Kate’s work. The bookish bloke answered. “Hi,” I said. “Is Kate there please?” He sighed. “I’ll just see if she’s free”. Kate came to the phone. “Hiya!” “Hi,” I replied. “I’m not feeling too well – think I’ll stay in tonight”. “Oh. OK. I could come round and look after you if you like?” “Nah, it’s alright,” I said, “I’m just going to go to bed, you’d be wasting your time”. “OK”, she said. “Well, get well soon – call me, yeah?” “Yeah,” I said. The money ran out on the phone. I replaced the receiver.

And that was the end of me and Kate.

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye does not require much explanation. Its strength lies in how the singer’s seemingly dismissive summation of a relationship is belied by both the melody and the vulnerability of the vocal. This inherent conflict is reflected in the instrumental accompaniment which manages to be both spartan and cold, and expansive and warm at the same time. Nowhere is this better epitomised than in the self-deluding line ‘We’re strangers meeting for the first time, ok? Just smile and say hello’ where the instrumental grows thin and bleak and dies out only to return in a huge emotive wash, as the singer repeats the mantra ‘goodbye, goodbye’, willing himself to let go.

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye is not an analogy for me and Kate but it is nonetheless the perfect acknowledgement of youth’s need to get on, its lack of emotional maturity and its inability to avoid collateral damage.

Some weeks later I went back to Kate’s bookshop. As I walked in, the bookish bloke was crossing the floor. He stopped in his tracks momentarily and looked at me. Kate appeared. “Hello,” she said, smiling at me. “Hi,” I replied. “Can you take a break or something?”

We went to the café in the department store next door. It was giro day and I ordered us cakes and hot chocolate. “I’m sorry,” I said. Kate smiled. “Don’t be. It’s OK”.

When the time came to part, I was awkward. “See you around, I guess”, I said. I think I meant it. Kate leaned forward and kissed me. The palm of her hand rested fleetingly on my chest. She smiled. “Goodbye,” she said.


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