A NICE PAIR. (Mouseketeers).
PRINTS & TEES…. http://society6.com/DaveBell
I recently won the chance to review a new festival in the Oxfordshire countryside. Here’s a link to my piece:
I’m working on much less ‘clean’ review that tells the real story of my time at Wilderness. Speaking of, back to work…
I’ve been really distracted recently as I’ve been busy moving from Manchester to London, so have not posted for quite a while. However, I have been writing. I have a date/review column on the site of my good friends at Brain Wash, a film-making collective in London:
There’s plenty of good stuff on there, mainly by my good friend Joe Copplestone:
We recently both wrote reviews on the same evening, his about the Brain Wash event (which I missed), mine about the after party:
Anyway, now I’ve settled in, I’m going to get back on writing some stories.
And its these times when I can barely concentrate and I’m not sure what’s true that I think its all incredible. I find value in small things and I find narrative in nothing. As the sun rises and I try to evaluate things, I can only think about music and girls. These are the things that matter right? I can’t imagine my life would have much meaning without either. I mean, what would I listen to?
I’m in trouble immediately. Her eyes are too big for me to ignore. Her skin is flawless and her lips are painted darkest red. She’s the classic raven-haired femme fatale. Why, then, am I falling into something that’s clearly going to be a problem? Desire will always be my weakness. This girl is going to destroy me and a part of me cannot wait. Willful destruction.
And it was coming up to our stop when my friend noticed the girl in distress behind us. She screamed ‘help’ with her eyes; her seat-buddy was becoming over amorous. We all stood to get off the bus at the same stop. Some quick tactical whispers between my friend and I hatched a plan. I turned on the pair as we stepped from the bus, playing like I knew the girl. I spoke in vague vagaries; flitting from being a friend, to course-mate, to house-mate. The guy was confused but I spoke quickly and it didn’t seem that English was his first language. The girl played along playfully, clearly relieved.
My tactic to shake the guy off was to suggest the girl come with us to get some food. My purpose was two-fold, as I had a real desire for some fried chicken. I formulated a flawless plan: Save the girl. Get chicken. Eat chicken. Pass out. Perfect end to what had been a drab evening. So we four headed to the nearest chicken shop. I talked constantly at the girl. The guy seemed intimidated rather than angry, which was lucky as he was pretty big and I am pretty small.
I procured a chicken burger and a portion of hot wings. I was the only one to buy anything but I didn’t feel ashamed, as I was hungry as fuck. The man behind the counter knew me from previous wing binges so offered me a free drink. I switched my attention back to the girl and offered her the choice of beverage, something I’d only ever usually try if I was double-drunk in a bar somewhere, as she was incredibly pretty, even in the harsh light of a 3am takeaway. As she dithered, her unwanted admirer began to consider his options. As the girl received a can of Sprite, the guy made awkward excuses and shuffled out of the takeaway.
And so we were three. Stood in the square of light on the pavement outside the chicken shop, my friend took over the amateur heroics. He asked where she lives, suggesting we could walk her home. She named a road and pointed vaguely in its’ direction. It just so happens that this road has a bad reputation when it comes to the fate of young girls walking home alone. My friend puffed out his chest and declared that my place was in that direction, so volunteering my services. I held tightly onto the white paper bag in my hand and said goodnight to my pal.
The girl and I walked slowly; I could feel the heat leaving my late-night snacks. We covered a range of topics in conversation. She was a well-spoken girl and even once turned the conversation to how people often comment that she sounds ‘posh’. She may have talked about family and other shit but I could only really concentrate on the lack of traffic on the street. Her place was coming up and mine was too far to walk. My phone was dead so I needed for there to be a passing black cab at just the right moment.
She signaled we had arrived at her house and I was waiting for her to say thanks and good night when she came out with the unexpected:
“Shit, I’ve forgotten my keys, I don’t know how we’re going to get in.”
It was her casual use of ‘we’ that shocked me. She was inviting me in. She was right to presume that I wouldn’t decline. I suggested she call a housemate and she did and no one picked up so we sat on the steps outside the front door and talked. My bag of chicken sat next to me, losing its remaining warmth to the cold night air.
When the door was finally opened we entered and went up to her room. I put my bag by the door and sat on the bed. She sat at her desk and turned on her computer. We talked and I grew confused as she browsed the internet. I noticed she was on the Daily Mail website and I feared the worst. She then revealed it was because it has a detailed gossip section in a neat little sidebar. I equally didn’t like she didn’t understand my objection to the Mail and that she was a gossip-hound. There’s nothing I find less attractive in a girl than an active interest in the world of ‘celebrity’. Maybe perhaps terrible teeth.
It was at this point I noticed her thighs; she had her knees pulled up to her chest and was wearing a fairly short dress. I couldn’t take my eyes off her tanned legs. For the first time in a while I forgot about my chicken. Then it struck me that I’d overcome all of the usual hurdles and found myself in the bedroom of a beautiful girl without even trying. Could she be as cheap as a can of Sprite? She continued to click and browse whilst maintaining light phatic chat. I needed to make a sexual move. She was in lunging distance but I couldn’t do it. My eyes fell on the false eyelashes the girl had just removed.
“Well, I better throw you out.” She said this cheerily and added to my confusion and frustration. I did nothing but agree and pick up my snack bag. I settled on maybe microwaving the food. Certainly the wings, they’re never crunchy from that place anyway. As I followed her down the stairs I watched her arse move in her dress and started to want her again. She opened the door and invited me for a hug. As I moved in she went for a kiss (now, I’ll never be sure if she was just going to peck me on the cheek, but I saw my window and lept through it). I kissed her like it meant something. She pulled away, closed the door and led me back upstairs. I’ll never know what the false farewell was about.
Once again I dropped my food by her bedroom door. I could still smell the chicken and began to feel a little ashamed. She went about turning off lights and stuff, so I took off my jacket. Before I really knew what was going on, she was naked and in bed. She stole away my favourite bit; I love the unwrapping. I hurriedly and awkwardly undressed and slid into bed with her. We kissed immediately and I began to feel her body. Her breasts were much smaller than her dress suggested. She didn’t speak or rush or offer much encouragement. My exploration told me she was interested enough.
A streetlight shone through the bedroom window, filtered by a red curtain. This distorted her looks and darkened her blonde hair. I kissed her neck and moved to her breasts, ruing the fact I was about the fuck the prettiest girl I’m ever likely to but I couldn’t truly see her face. I asked if she had a condom; she half-heartedly looked on the windowsill but didn’t seem interested in looking any further. She suggests we go without. I trusted her because she was beautiful. And I was drunk.
So we fucked, or at least I fucked. I felt like she was presenting me with a challenge. I tried everything I knew, finding some encouragement in things I couldn’t keep up for too long due to my blood-alcohol level. Then she said something that will stay with me forever:
“Stop trying so hard.”
I had no reply for such an odd, cold statement. I tried to come and get it over with but the pressure got to me so I just lay down next to the girl. I think we kissed a little before we fell to sleep.
The room was bright when I woke. My strewn clothing covered the floor, the girl was still next to me, her back turned. I moved close to her, trying to put my body next to hers but couldn’t get quite close or comfortable enough. Maybe she was awake and consciously keeping a distance. No chance of falling back to sleep, I replayed the night in my head, confused as to how I was meant to feel. Eventually I dozed a little but was woken when the girl sprung from the bed talking about meeting someone and putting on casual clothes. She sat at her computer and I made half-hearted conversation.
She said she had somewhere to be, but it wasn’t for a few hours. I told her to come back to bed. I was surprised when she climbed back in but we both smiled and kissed. I joked that maybe morning sex was too much to ask and she agreed. We kissed harder and I saw it as an invitation, quickly peeling off the clothes she’d put on. We fucked hard and I came hard, finding her irresistible still. It wasn’t long after that she was dressed again and back at her computer. I pulled on my jeans unnoticed and spotted the white paper bag from the night before, in the bin by the bedroom door.
She walked me to the door and hugged me on the step. I asked for her number and she wrote it in my notebook, along with her name. I smiled and tried to tell her that I already knew it, which I did, but she didn’t care. I said goodbye and she said “text me”. She closed the door and was gone. The sky was blanket white, adding a brightness to the grey morning. It wasn’t raining but there was water in the air and it clung to my face as I walked. The journey home didn’t seem as far in the daylight. So I walked and stumbled and half-smiled to myself. The drink was still in me so I couldn’t settle on any real emotion. When I got home I realised I’d left my watch in the girl’s room. I sent her a text and received no reply. I remained hungry.
It’s usually a sign that its all going a certain way when every break in play contains a drink. Beers on buses; teasing tops off bottles and catching my finger and bleeding. I’ll wake up confused as to why there’s blood and swelling and pain. I feel things are going well when in bars and everything’s delicious and everyone’s alive and life is easy and we don’t think of purpose. Then the rooms always get bigger and darker and louder. There’s less time to talk and mouths must see action so the drink gets in me easier and its only going one way. There’s the distraction of the way a girl’s Converse-covered feet turn on a dancefloor or the way glazed eyes catch mine or the way tits are offered like dessert.
And it’s by this time always that I talk without thought or memory; the record function is defunct and my opinions are formed on the tip of my tongue. There are breaks and brief arresting moments when I realise I don’t really know who people are or what I’ve told them and it’s difficult to regret anything. The drinks gloss over the questions and the desire kicks and the thirst grows stronger and the music sounds so fucking great. And so we dance even though we don’t know how; we don’t know how to do anything but we’ll try.
Then it’s my words in ears on dancefloors and its too loud so we smoke even though I don’t. Sometimes they fall for the rambling charm and it’s all in their eyes because they’re drunk and can’t hide anything. I become king of hyperbole and spin fictions based on loose facts. This is all in a place where the smoke mixes with perfume and sweat and it mainly smells sweet because everything’s great and it’s the time! It’s the time when everyone’s involved in similar ploys and it’s the time when narrative strands are barely kept up with because they’re temporary and forgettable and because we’ve lost the ability to fully follow anything.
It’s hard to know. It’s hard to know. Its hard to know where the success, where the happiness is. Is it in the moment? It’s probably in the moment because the fiction ends and it has consequences that are minor or sometimes they’re bigger but that’s sheer luck if its good. I just don’t think that I ever feel real when I’m feeling alive in these times when I’m good and bad to be with. It’s all unsettling because its temporary. But oh! those drunken bus rides with circular talking friends or feeling of a thigh of the glass-eyed girl who thought that talking was charming. This is living right? This is time well spent? I can’t put my finger on the thing I’m getting at, all I know is there are memories of days and nights that can be chopped and changed and nothing changes. There’s structure in the most structureless of times and this has to change.
“I told her she was beautiful a hundred times; I was always drunk or stoned or worse. She always smiled and fucked like a whore. Who’s to know how either of us really felt?”
It began early, like all of these things. All events need an ‘eve’. We started with supplies, which are essential when out in the fields. A van was required to carry our stock so we rattled to a mass-market-mega-mart. I believe discussion in transit related to the ‘pornography generation’ – the kids who’ve had the internet for too long and expect sex to be a bombardment of fetish acts. We talked of those who’d be insulted by pubic hair and those who’d be surprised by strange requests.
The shopping was a whirlwind of heart-insults. Nothing that will spoil. Ruinous foods in bright coloured packets, wet wipes and Rizla. All of the essentials plus a certain. amount of frivolity. Value and volume were key in the drink isle; we ran the percentages and came out with come good-looking figures. To the van!
Bags were packed and the journey imagined. We convened to a bar and began our plotting. Boozy times ensued. A cocktail bar and a birthday girl insulted by my flirting. A club that held memories of a cubicle kerfuffle and an instance of brewer’s droop. Hip-Hop happened and heads were bopped, standing whiter-than-white with my absent rhythm.
That eve drew to a close under the bright lights of a 24 hour supermarket. Pork pies with pickle tasted like a donner kebab to a palette hungry for fat and salt.
The morning hangover kicked like a whore but there was little time for head holding as my phone soon burst with the news of a driver on my doorstep.
The ride was acceptably smooth due to the presence of some fresh juice and savagely strong beer. ‘Good men drink good beer.’ As the beer was sunk, I said goodbye to any hope of freshness and, in turn, my daytime self. Fictions are put into play.
“If anyone asks if it’s true, the answer is ‘yes’, I am a journalist.”
On arrival I surveyed the gates. Security measures were required to be lax. I could not be searched; I would not pass their test. I had to remind myself not to forget duties for later that day as I knew that once the threshold is breached, mashedness would ensue.
We laid out a plan. Pop up tents. Get in. Get high. Peg down said tents. Mustn’t be near families, they’ll not like us.
Camp was established and excess began. Booze in buckets and smokes like weapons.
Girls. Gurls. Women. Babes. Chicks. They were all there. I could barely contain myself. Even the girls in our number were joining in, criticising our praise. As I was being distracted by the smooth lines of beauty, I was electronically notified of the imminent arrival of DM. Now, I’d already assembled a wonderful cast and was fully stimulated by my assorted campers but DM is integral, if only for his unpredictable genius.
I retrieved him from the gate and began to outline the facilities up ahead. I pretty much walked around saying exactly what I thought –everyone was cutting loose their weekday masks.
I led DM into the established crack den. A spacious, dark, powder-filled hole of a place. People clearly mean business when they don’t have a bed, but have established a table.
“It’s supposed to be coke.”
Reassuring signs all round.
Life became quickly tangential, talk fleeting around the career highlights of Craig Charles and digressing wildly into whores and horse’s shoes.
We had to haul ourselves free from the reverie of our camp. There were things going missed. We entered the arena with ear to ear faces. Friends mumbled marriage proposals as girls passed. Bars were eyed and snack-stops evaluated. We stared and wanted. Everything.
People and faces continued to be distracting as we searched for the music of our choice. Ladies fashion appeared to be popular, for everyone. The grim reaper relentlessly pursued a baby; I can only encourage him to continue to flee, as we all do.
Music and good times welcomed darker skies and fear was less than ever. DM was directing, his camera clicking furiously. I scribbled the nonsense I didn’t want to forget.
Drink and distraction were somehow overcome for a moment and I remembered a place I needed to be. To a riotous jazz tent to see a band containing a footballing friend. It turned out his band were cross-dressed cover merchants, swigging bottles at the mic. I loved them, badly applied make-up and all.
And the night swirled to an end. Damp grass and sweat in a tee-pee of light and bass. Drunken declarations. Future predictions. Rolling around the camp floor.
Morning happened with its usual predictability. A new hangover declared itself King. I pulled at a zip and pawed at a flap. Air and space! My out-poked head found the world had changed. No friends or personal debris. More problems quickly surfaced. Initial heaves were followed by mild splashes, their dry successors pulled at my core.
Eyes closed and images flashed. Memory, fiction, lights and words. Punishment behind my eyelids. No rest, no rest. Conveniently dressed I hauled myself from the tent, leaving behind snack foods and a sleeping bag, splayed and unused.
Standing and staring and turning. The laughter started before the sighting. The bastards had turned me 180 degrees from my previous land. Not one to hold grudges, I rejoined the group and settled on a biscuit breakfast.
Teeth were brushed and heads refreshed. I prepared a brace of cannons and slowly encouraged alcohol into my body. We were soon back on our horses; shadowy figures re-launching themselves. Topped up we gathered pace quickly.
The sound of wild beasts made my feet move; uncontrollable groove. Dancing falsetto and wriggling bass. A smoke of such enormity it almost gathered a crowd. I’ve still got the taste dancing on my tongue.
Snacks! Food happened in stages, flavours here and there. Doughnuts stole my heart, they were everything I ever wanted. Culinary interlude over, the night stole up on us and surged us forward. Jimi did it Masters of the Universe style-y and were delighted. The thought of sleeping alone was something I couldn’t entertain.
And so we surged, doing everything, recording little. All these worlds. DM and I made more friends than enemies and found that our improvisation was superior to procurement. We befriended some British boys who felt the same and they joined our spree.
Filthy lucre and loose words. Everyone deserves comment. The camp was alive and there were activities to prioritise.
“Someone! Get the crisps, they’re in the kitchen.”
I was busy constructing. Lost the weed. Loaned some weed. Found the weed. Always elusive. Snack. Smoke. Drink.
“Help! I can’t gather myself.”
Fade to black.
Another whore’s shoe borrowed its heel into my temple. Badness returned but my stomach was solvent. Sluggishness, however, had hit a new high. Every bone and muscle was crying out for comfort.
Breakfast was addressed properly, a bacon roll in a pop-up café. My mind flashed to a previous evening spent here, bribing a staff member with cannabis tokes in return for more chips. The spirit of trade is well.
Sunny daze. Beats were bringing some real bounce to proceedings. Enthusiasm fueled excess. The power of the sea was brought to my ears and only pushed us further. This is when I went too far. Or high, to be precise. Despite the sun, my face turned cold and numb.
“Well, you look pale.” All eyes on me. Air seemed in short supply and blackness crept in from the edges of my vision. Finger sensation was lost. Under was not a place I wanted to go. I tried deep breaths.
“You need sugar.”
I sipped a drink and nibbled mint cake. No change. Then the sweat seized me. It was time to leave.
DM and I picked our way through the people. I was a ghost flitting between souls still present. I made it to the toilets, vibrating all the way.
DM: “You’re not vibrating. It just feels like you are. Its normal.”
I fixed myself with a stare in the mini-mirror. I needed a sit down. I banished the idea of sickness and began to sweat a river. Pouring sweat I felt a little more alive. Vibrations moved to my legs. I scribbled nonsense to focus my mind, most of which now appears here (I cannot not fit in the word ‘Manky’). DM’s voice cut into my mind. I shouted a reassuring something and tried to gather myself. I was turning a corner. A few slaps further aided my bid.
Reunited, we headed to the bar. A shadow still hung over me but there was little I could do but bat it away with bottled enthusiasm. Drink; immaculate dullness and contrary exuberance. Always delay the pain.
The weekend was spiralling to a close.
We rejoined the group and decided on food; it had to be a pie, nothing else would do. We emptied our wallets into a pie hut and devoured a saviour of a savoury snack.
With my hands back to stillness I was able to think of rolling. The booze, however made sure it was a real offensive affair. Hi, hi, high. Movements and music is all I know filled a void for sometime.
We found a boy in small tee-pee made selling balloons. He was cutting fine deals but I wasn’t interested. A cheap, cheap way to high. DM was first in the queue.
I watched as he literally lost his mind for a moment. A hail of chuckles and wondrous confusion. His face twisted and his brain rebooted. It was all a little wild and intense for me but I couldn’t look away; his grip was lost, he had to wait to get it back. I was patient and amazed.
Lister bopped and clapped and poured sweat and laughed. It was a surreal time for a nostalgic mind. I watched as a hero spilled his enthusiasm into the crowd, I felt it and danced too. The horns were bursting into my head; music to entertain my soul. I watched the last human in the universe sweat and drink and move until he had to say goodnight.
I felt I was just warming up, but Monday loomed and the wind down began. Its best to fade out here whilst the sweat is still warm, before the dream turns and the cold is felt on the back of my neck.
We stood and watched the glow from the fire. The smoke was gradually filling the cloudless night sky. Danger and excitement danced in my nostrils. As bad as it sounds, I’m always glad when something happens. I was in a local bar when my phone suddenly buzzed with activity. Turns out I had a few messages gone unread. I had a piece of information, a question and an answer. The answer was to an earlier enquiry of mine to a friend, as to his evening plans, it read: “just chillin’”. Another mate was asking me if i wanted to hit his place after the bar, my answer “yeah man, let’s chill”. The information, however, was much less banal. I received a picture message: It looked like an orange and black pavlova; a dark building atop with flames. “Tesco is on fire.”
So I told the first mate to meet me at the second mate’s place (for they are mutual mates) and replied to the picture with “wow” (I was struggling to spell ‘whoa’ /‘woah’ / ’woow’, you see?). I probably came across sarcastic. Not my original intention. Anyway, we were three bar-dwellers that evening and we were fairly fueled when the car pulled up outside to take us back to the house. The Phantom was in the driving seat and The Boy was his passenger. We piled in and exchanged greetings; fists bumped as the suspension suffered. We lurched forward and gathered momentum, Old Betsy groaning at the added weight to her problems.
Conversation in the ride was fractured and furious. We all had stories to tell and enquires to make. Fire stories had spread in our three and we needed more information from the world-wise duo we were travelling with. They knew little more than us. Roads were closed, rumours were plenty and the rolling news could only roll out a paper-thin headline. Television didn’t have the story but the internet had a new line every hour. Info, info everywhere, but not a drop of knowledge.
We arrived back at home-base intact. There were some furious swerves and loose, loose cornering but we made little fuss. Us five men piled into the house without looking to the horizon. Unwatched burning. Introductions! You’ve met The Phantom, he drives with verve and lives for life, need I say more? The Boy is the fun, the energy and the addict – a crucial presence. I am the narrator and have no real place. My other bar-dwellers who jammed it back in Old Betsy to home-base are Pirate and Olli Hall. Important players are in place, their characters to be established later if necessary.
We were nearly settled in the living room when my inbox bulged once more; a local mate said: “Burnage Lane is on fire”. I recalled the earlier picture. Either things have escalated or I’m receiving tabloid texts. In a crisis, people are fast and loose with facts. Pirate stood and spread the curtains so the fire was visible from the sofa. Rooftops silhouetted by an ominous glow. With such a backdrop we could think of nothing more fitting than burning a couple of joints. The wrapping started in earnest. Papers splayed, cigs split and green ground. Everything was coming together nicely when darkness struck. To the street!
So there we were watching the glow and seeing smoke clouds forming. As far as we could see, there was little electricity flowing anywhere in the local area. In the presence of pros, this lack of power would not stop production. We lit up a couple whilst watching the glow grow higher. A few licks at the night sky sent the reminders of the violence that was happening less than a mile away. The majesty of fire often glosses over its power and destructiveness.
Back inside we had to work hard to maintain a livable state, given our new frugal existence. Candles were found and lit, leaving us with the question of entertainment. This was vital. My mind was swimming and needed fresh water. News of a fridge full of beers made spirits higher. I was thirsty as a bastard. So beers were distributed and we men sat and verbalised, not to say were overly verbose but we did express our head thoughts verbally. Talk ranged from the usual “does anyone remember…?” nostalgia trips (I laughed alone at “we don’t do duvets!” as it turns out few people remember Trevor and Simon) through the ridiculous anecdotes (“I took a shit in her back garden that year – the party was that good”) before descending into debate (“You’ve not lived until you’ve had a shank,” “I’m not talking to the porn, man”).
At some point we started to use our heads. A blackout does not take batteries down with it. A laptop was found so music could happen. Someone had power somewhere as their modem was sending out waves for us to surf on. Always use a password, you can’t trust anyone. Pirate took to the seas to find us some music whilst The Boy went about constructing something that he promised would have the shape and impact of a club. Batterings were afoot. Being that our base was the Phantom’s stage, he took to keeping us refreshed. I couldn’t help but wonder what the fools were thinking when they invented beer. As in, what were they trying to do? I put the question out and was duly informed that ‘twas the Ancient Egyptians that did it. We came to the conclusion that they were well ahead of their time and would have invented electro if it wasn’t for their technological disadvantage.
Suspicious of where the music was, I craned over Pirate to see a screen full of faces. He was anti-socially socialising. I raised the question of ‘what the fuck?’ and he told me that “everyone” was talking about the fire. Everyone didn’t know shit; internet voices contradicted each other so much that I wasn’t sure what was true anymore. I wasn’t really sure I did want to know the truth, in fact, I was sure I knew too much already. It would’ve been nice just to have the glow on the horizon, the smoke in the air and the best-guesses of those you can touch. Here we were in a multi-media blackout knowing precisely nothing for sure anyway. I told Pirate to jump to the beats and he complied, giving us music for our minds to dance to. The Phantom declared that Pirate was a dick, I seconded the motion and a raised hand from that man Olli Hall made it official. He’s always very hard done to is Pirate.
The club knocked us about something rotten, a batter-cone if ever my eyes did see one. It left us in a haze of quiet; our minds were bumping around in their own bubbles, all of which were about to be burst. A knock on the door shook us all from our stupours. Like a ringing phone, a knocking door just has to be answered. Panda eyes looked accusingly at each other. Being by the window, Pirate made the first move. He stuck his face to glass trying to get an angle to see visitor. He couldn’t identify them given his restricted view, so making everyone else that bit more reluctant go to the door. Rationales were given for why each of us wasn’t going; a justification given based on the positive things each had already done. The Boy talked of the cone of consequence he’d just contributed, The Phantom alluded to his role of host, Pirate waxed lyrical over his musical input and Olli Hall simply said that he wasn’t going to answer the door. This left me to face the faceless visitor.
What would the police want? Could it be our mothers? Are muggers ever this bold? Worst case scenarios hounded me as I stood to do my duty. I couldn’t excuse myself on any basis, as I’d so far contributed little. I opened the door with mild trepidation and felt like a real dickhead when I realised it only was Marco Alexander Bikes, for it was Marco who had text earlier and I had invited into the fray. I smiled and we embraced. We talked of fire and smoke. A palpable sense of relief filled the living room when we entered.
“Well, you guys have really boxed out this gaff.” This was the word from Bikes. We’d barely noticed.
Now, the presence of one such as Marco really stoked the flames. He made a few simple comments that made all the sense in world. Firstly he assessed our risk of weed drought and decided we should call a man about a bag (it was a crisis after all). Secondly, he told us we should get a guitar out for fuck’s sake, before lastly calling Pirate a bastard. We agreed with all three and were before long having a sing song of classics. We had to bridge the gaps of varying musical tastes and knowledge, so pretty much stuck with Oasis. I wondered how long it would take before we fondly look back on the 90’s. It was a decade of changes and firsts, social and technological advancement, Oasis and Blur. The clothes, however, were shite. (It occurred to me later, that this is always the case. I mean, during the nineties no one saw the return of the eighties in the noughties).
Strums soon slowed as we ran out of verses in our heads. Talk turned back to the fire and to whether there’d be more demand for bud on a night such as this (we’d been waiting a while for our guy to get back to us). We decided that in the event of a major crisis, say an extinction level event, drugs would be like money. In a pre-Apocalyptic world, where a threat is looming and death is certain, money would become simply paper. Choose your apocalypse…
“Asteroid.” No thanks, Affleck killed it. And there was no need for McClane to die.
“Virus?” That’d just turn life into a zombie romp. As fun as it looks, it’d just be a messy struggle.
“Nuclear war!” Good, but we wouldn’t know until the last minute, so we wouldn’t get the social chaos that certain death would bring.
“The sun is going to explode.” I like it.
The Sun burns brighter in the sky than anyone has ever seen. The news comes in that humans have a deadline. Our entire solar system will be wiped out. Its over. There’s no point in media coverage, reproduction or going to work. Nothing means anything. Life becomes one continuous Friday night; no one has work in the morning. Moral boundaries are pushed back, even for the ‘good’ people. There is no threat of punishment, just fear of mobs and murderers. Everyone wants to get their rocks off one last time.
“I’d bell the Baptist straight away; trade my girlfriend for his stash.” The Boy wants to go out on a high.
“I’d fill Old Betsy to the brim and go and see my girl. I’d take a cricket bat and fuck up any scruff who tried to stop me.” The Phantom slipped into gear.
“All I know is that I want to see it. And I want to try and understand it. And I’m not going to understand it sober. Also, I want to enjoy the rest of my life before it happens. I want to survive life.” Pirate got a little profound, so much so I don’t even make a pun.
Olli Hall took a moment of contemplation. I started thinking about skinning up with a tenner. Olli’s answer underwhelms: “I’d lock myself in a room with a stack of films to see before I die.” I’d like to think that he was hoping that these bits of art would give him an understanding of the human condition that would clear his mind and make him fearless of death but when it later transpired that he wouldn’t have Trading Places on the DVD pile I thought differently.
So a death date is established and sadness sets in, before anger strikes and chaos ensues. The biggest killer could yet be the irony that only with the promise of death will everyone truly be free and equal. The rich would be worthless. The Man is defunct; his hand can’t touch the dead. The only person to stick it to is Death himself, or God, if you’re that way inclined. Either way, the final act of rebellion is choosing a death other than the one prescribed. A world in pandemonium becomes near impossible to enjoy and there’s only one option left if you want to go out on your terms.
“Can you O.D on weed?” We reject The Boy’s idea straight off, as we all know that you’d just pass out cone in hand and wake up with a nasty burn. Worse still, a pubic fire.
“I’d drive off something really big, really fast.” You know the Phantom by now.
“Fuck this man, why are we taking about dying? About killing ourselves? I thought we were lookin’ at the upside of Apocalypse…the fun bits.” Pirate the Pragmatist.
Fair shout. So we’d need to stay well under if we’re going to enjoy the whole time.
Time is short, so efficiency is key. There’s no time for gin and mixers. ‘Brew’ is the drink of the day; a potent concoction of drink that does the job in the smallest volume. It tastes a lot like Buckfast mixed with Mr. Muscle. Everything is done in a haze. Everything is fun, consequences are forgotten. No one has a job to go to or expectations to live up to. ‘Where to?’ The band of merried men pile into a ride and scream off in search of a final hurrah. Danger lies at every turn. Girls are at a premium. Chases and car smashes. Supplies are a must, but who’s going to give them up? A dealer no longer has a reward or motivation. The atmosphere in the car has changed as the men realise that a raid could be on the cards. The question is: what keeps us in line, laws or morals?
“Are you just going to sit here telling us a story?” Pirate interjected as I was approaching my first action sequence, just when I could see it all clearly. I thought about tackling his protest when the mobile telephone of one Marco Alexander Bikes rang a shrill ring-ring. The Baptist had arrived. Crumpled notes from pockets piled untidily into the palm of Marco until there was sum enough for a quarter. In all the excitement, the thread of my tale was lost. As I mourned the death of my pre-apocalyptic cannabis fantasy, I failed to register the banknotes being waved in my direction. Once more, I was nominated. Open the door, pick up two bags.
Outisde, it was dark and menacing. No street lights and danger in the air. I walked out on to the main road and looked for signs of life. Adjacent to my position, headlights flashed from a car in a side street. Subtlety is paramount. I felt my gait go a bit Gallagher as I approached the car. In the passenger seat I turned stiffly gangsta. We touched fists and exchanged pleasantries:
“Safe yeh, how’s it goin’?” Nods and awkwardness. I asked for a ‘Q’ and made the transaction as swiftly as possible. One part of me really wanted to make conversation but another part of me had to put the other in its place. As I climbed out of the car I shot my street-cred in the face with an ever-so-camp ‘see you soon’. Did I actually try to impress and/or flirt with a drug dealer? These thoughts saw me back through the darkness and into the comfort of company.
So we saw out the night by putting the quarter to bed as the flames died down. More songs were sung and fractured conversation had. We made plans to go to Lego Land at 3am and plans to go to Southern Fried Chicken at 4. We barely left the sofas. When the electricity came back on, it came as shock to everyone. Brash light burned our pink eyes. The television burst into life and assaulted my ears. House alarms rang in the distance. Real life was back; noisy and irrelevant. I wasn’t ready.
“Can we turn the lights back off?”
I woke up with light in my eyes and a drought in my mouth. My head swirled gently as I sat up and surveyed. The Boy was splayed on a couch like he’d been dropped on it from a great height. A table of bottles and tobacco and flyers and train tickets. I looked to Olli Hall, propped in a chair, his eyes opening when he felt mine on him. He stood, fully clothed, shook his head and left the room silently. I heard the front door close behind him. I felt surprisingly fresh and decided on a walk home. I gathered up any of my possessions I could see, knowing I’d be back later for those I’d missed.
Smoke was still in the air but the sun was out and the light was soft. I felt optimistic and good. As I walked, my mind wandered over the previous night. Tales told were as clear as the memories. I scanned the horizon and peered at houses, wondering what’s happening where and why. I held stranger’s gazes for too long and missed a few steps along the way. Before long I was at the site of the fire. I expected destruction, a crowd and the media. I found a taped off, scaffold –clad building. For all the conjecture, excitement and apocalyptic foreboding I was quite disappointed to find the fire had been in an unfinished apartment block, just next to the supermarket. My disappointment was compounded when I saw that Tesco was untouched (and audaciously trading). In fact, I think it was doing better business than ever; it seemed like everyone was carrying a blue and white barcode bag; parading them boastfully, like souvenirs. That previous night, everything had seemed so important, but the next morning it turned out it was just another day.
The Deaf Institute is easily the most irresistible venue in Manchester, so despite having an invite to the Soundcontrol 1st birthday party in my pocket, I find myself sat behind the soundman waiting for Twin Shadow to take to the stage. This band came to my attention on the recommendation of a friend, so it’s fitting that I meet said friend to witness the band’s first appearance in Manchester. I was drinking in Font when I made the late decision that this gig was a ‘must-see’. A text to one of the promoters got me word that I could pay on the door so away I strode down Oxford Road, leaving myself just enough time to pick up a pint of Brooklyn and take my seat.
They open with album-opener ‘Tyrant Destroyed’ but it’s immediately obvious that they’re not here just to play the album and leave. The track is played faster, more bass-heavy than on the record. The drums are pushing everything forward and the guitars are great, showing George Lewis Jr. as the centre piece and reminding me of the reason in the difference in the sound; the album was a solo concept. As much as I love bedroom musicians, I’m much happier when they get a band together than when they play with a Mac.
The crowd gently sways and I bob in my seat, my delicious (yet expensive) pint going down wonderfully. When the aptly named ‘When We’re Dancing’ plays I notice a girl dancing in the aisle of the seating. Her languid style and beauty make her compulsive watching, despite the singer’s incredible mane. The crowd’s moving a bit more too and it’s all going well. A pause comes when Lewis Jr. decides the sound isn’t quite right so he appeals the sound tech to play something whilst he has a fiddle. There’s been lots of fiddling so far, with our man showing he certainly loves to play with his guitar; lots of picks and tricks and pedal usage, making for excellent sounds.
The break is briefer than the two minutes requested and the band kicks back in with a big-hitter in ‘Slow’. It seems the sound has been turned up to 11 and everything continues to be brilliant. I like the conscientious approach; it’s reassuring. George even takes time to comment that this is the “nicest venue we’ve ever played”. He’s right, of course, and I don’t even know their history. It seems the focus is fully on the playing, with choruses held back on; the live re-crafting of every tune is really impressive.
They run through most of the album, with ‘At My Heels’ and ‘Castles In The Snow’ sounding particularly formidable. The performance is assured and confident, every song played with energy and enthusiasm. It’s sometimes true that bands that wear influences so proudly on their sleeve can sound nothing more tribute acts but Twin Shadow make music that’s so much more than 80’s-synth homage. I leave the venue happy with my decision to miss a bit of the party to attend a gig that could easily go down as a favourite.
Four Loko Four Loko,
Where did you put my mind?
Four Loko Four Loko,
Where did you put my pride?
Four Loko Four Loko,
What did I do last night?
Four Loko Four Loko,
Why are your colours so bright?
Four Loko Four Loko,
You made me fade to black!
Four Loko Four Loko,
Why do I want you back?
(Photo by http://paulineeiferman.blogspot.com/)
And it’s nearly tomorrow. The light is here but the stillness of night has yet to recede. There’s nobody here, I’m the only one awake. The sky is bright and bold; it’s the colour of invitation. I’m invited to stare and think and suffer and smile. I’m glad I decided to walk home, it’s taken away the sudden ending that often brings sadness. The cloud-striped sky brings optimism, I feel ready to do. But also tired, almost too tired to keep walking.
The dregs of the night slide around my head, I see places far removed from this one. A bar, a basement, a beautiful girl. I’ve taken nothing with me other than a pocket full of flyers. Half price entry before eleven. Shots and cheap drinks. ‘The biggest night in town’. Maybe I’ll recycle. Maybe I’ll start to care. Tomorrow. I’m nearly there. Home, that is, not tomorrow. Tomorrow has yet to be declared.
I pull my notebook from my pocket. The last pages are all scrawl; all of the things that I thought were important today. All these things I forget as soon as they leave my pen. I search for a pen in the usual pocket and find none. They’ll be scattered around my past, fumbled in a crowded place.
These are the things that it was important that I remember:
“Bar to basement.”
“I thought it was an aged man’s length.”
“Mashed party people and dealers.”
“Frenchy from Hull has ket.”
“Went to the toilet and lost the girl.”
“Losing things in pursuit of mashedness.”
“I feel like my teeth are coming out.”
“Eyes roll around my head. Eyes off the ball.”
“Matt sucked off 9 cats…to death. They died of dehydration.”
“What is the song that the greatest % of the world would sing along to?”
“What’s your biggest memory of Choc Dips?”
None of this means anything. At least I have something to wake up to. I’m starting to feel the cold.