The father of the bride rose, straightened his tie and clinked the side of his glass with a silver plated fish knife.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” Ahem. “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! It is my great pleasure to welcome you here today for my daughter's marriage to Christopher Peacock.” He turned and smiled at the happy couple, who duly smiled back. “And unaccustomed as I am to public speaking.” A polite laugh ripped around the room. “I feel it is beholden on me to pass on a few words of wisdom.”
“When my good lady wife.” Another turn, another smile. “Told me she was expecting our first child, I was happy beyond belief. Indeed, I even shed a few tears. It is undoubtedly one of the huge transformations in life, to become a parent. In many ways it is the ultimate definition. One begins a baby, named by another, and, in adulthood, god willing, progresses to having a baby of one's own. Interestingly, as soon as that child can speak, one is renamed, 'Da, Dadda, Daddy, Dad”. The identity I had imagined, as a self defined individual, never happened. I went from son to husband to father. It is the final incarnation that will remain with me, that I treasure, that has taught me so much about myself and others.”
“While she was pregnant, my wife asked me whether I would prefer a boy or girl. I did not hesitate in my answer. A girl of course. I grew up in a male household, with brothers. It was not unusual for bedrooms to stink of testosterone fuelled sweat, mingled with eau de filthy untidiness. My teenage girlfriends did not appear to live in such rat holes. Their clothes had none of the damp mustiness of my brothers' garments. And they did not play football in the sitting room, causing ornamental breakages. Nor did they fight for fun, unexpectedly imposing dead legs and dents in plasterboard walls during periods of high jinx.”
“A girl, I wanted a girl, a princess, a jewel in my crown, because, or so I thought, a man's home is his castle and I was to be king.”
“The desired regal beauty duly arrived, looking more like a skinned rabbit, but she soon fleshed out. I watched her grow, say her first words, take her first steps. I, as Daddy, was always there, listening to her read, recounting her days at school and later, much later, attempting to help her navigate the ways of life. And what a life eh?”
“There was David. Do you remember David?” He turned to see the shocked look on his daughter's face. A hush fell over the audience. “A complete runt – feel free to elaborate with your own rhyming slang. I found it very hard to believe she wanted to get involved with that character. There were tears, lots of them, tantrums, telephone calls in the early hours of the morning, the occasional violent incident. She changed. My little girl. In the space of a few weeks she went from a confident, outgoing, capable individual to a snivelling wreck who perpetually failed to learn from her mistakes and made them over and over again.”
“Perhaps she was learning. Although I did ask her to bear in mind Einstein's 'A man who repeatedly undertakes the same experiment expecting different results is an idiot' – I am paraphrasing here. But it was her life, and one is entitled to conduct one's life in whatever manner one sees fit, providing, and here's the crux, providing that it does not negatively affect the life of another.”
“I see some of you are shifting uncomfortably in your seats. Of course, at this juncture, it would be easier for you to assume that I am a bad father, this would definitely be more convenient. My expectations were too severe, impossible to achieve. If my judgements had been more flexible, accommodating, understanding of my daughter's position – both in terms of maturity and as an individual herself – then some of the damage could have been mitigated. Arguably, as a father I should have found it possible to forgive her indiscretions, after all, surely it was all part of the 'growing up' experience. I should have been her guide, perhaps even her mentor …”
He paused and took a swig from his champagne. There was no intervening chatter. The bride and groom held hands under the table.
“Have any of you ever owned ferrets, not as pets, rather as hunting companions? I have, as a child, six of the vicious, little bastards. They were kept in a cage and it was my job to look after them. You have to wear gloves, and still the blighters can bite through. Children are like ferrets. Anyway, I digress.”
And another swig.
“I remember the Bassett Hound as well. What a lovely fellow. Could go for miles that dog. Steady you see. It's the tortoise and hare thing I expect. A hare, well, he can sprint short distances, but a Bassett, although not fast, has stamina. Which one are you Christopher?” he said, directly addressing the groom, “a hare or a Bassett?” The groom did not reply. “No matter. Bertie, the Bassett, terribly inbred, shame really. When he got old his legs went. Poor chap ended up dragging his cock, sorry, lower appendages, across the ground. I couldn't bear it. I used to carry him on his walks, plop him down to do his business, carry him back home.”
“Could someone refill this glass?”
“Yes, when you have children you do look back at your own childhood, a kind of compare and contrast exercise. One doesn't want to make the same mistakes as one's parents, unless one's a complete idiot.”
“As a boy I worked, not down the mines or anything, just a paper round, a little bit of gardening at an old folks' home. Nice to have your own money in your pocket isn't it? Eh? Sofia, nice to have your own money in your pocket? And if you haven't got any of that, well, Dad's wallet's always within easy reach. You don't even have to ask him, do you dear? He won't notice the occasional tenner, twenty. Silly old bugger probably won't mind anyway. Anything for his little princess. You were pushing it a bit though, that time you took my credit card. I mean who pays a hundred and twenty pounds for a pair of shoes? You must have thought I was really quite senile, too stupid to read my bills.”
“Then there was the time the police brought you home, the first time. Shoplifting. Was it shoplifting darling? Yes, it was shoplifting. They let you off with a slap on the wrists and a long, cold stare directed at your mother. There have been lots of those, stares directed at your mother I mean. I expect it's an alpha female thing. The young needing to assert themselves. Why on earth you couldn't have been more polite though is beyond me.”
“The second time, with the police, what was that all about? I never could get the full story out of you, something about a party, a motorcycle and a boy called Paul. Has she told you about Paul Chris? Thought not.”
“The third time, apparently a misunderstanding between yourself, Sofia, and another girl in a night club that spilled into the street and warranted three columns in the local paper. You laughed it off, as did my colleagues at work. It was odd, I had imagined being proud of my daughter, instead I felt ashamed and bitterly embarrassed.”
His wife tugged at his jacket sleeve, but he shook her off and took another slurp from his champagne.
“However, we're all allowed our minor indiscretions. Eh? Who here can honestly say they've never made complete fools of themselves?” Silence. “Thought so.”
“Back to the point in hand, because there is a point. When she was about thirteen Sofia changed, as I'm sure all young girls do. Gone were the white woolly tights and plaited hair, replaced by black fishnets and thick eye liner. 'Goth,' she announced proudly. 'Gosh,' I said in shocked awe. She looked like drug addled prostitute but with better skin.”
“With her new identity came a new 'charm'. Pitched battles ensued. My home, my castle, where I was meant to be king, became a squatters' camp, like those you see on the outskirts of third world cities. And her bedroom! Dirty knickers, used sanitary towels – I know, disgusting – plates and bowls containing mouldering food … I think what I found most unpalatable, however, was her propensity for urinating in drinking glasses that she then hid under her bed. For the life of me, I couldn't understand this particular character trait. I did ask, but my questions were met with mute indifference. If I pushed the query she sulked. Have you experienced her sulks yet Chris? They're quite legendary.”
“How about her bone idle laziness? God knows where she gets that from. It's as if she went through a re-birthing at the age of thirteen only to emerge with a sofa firmly attached to her backside. I'm surprised she doesn't get bed sores, the amount of time she spends lying on the damn thing. Heaven forbid she should try and remain vertical for more than three hours a day, unless she's shopping. Has she taken you shopping? I bet she has. I can guess who paid.”
He unknotted his tie and pulled it through his collar.
“As a man I wanted to be a king and this required that my daughter was to be a princess, gracious, pure, delicate in all the right places. But I'm just a man. We're all just men. Even the kings are just men. So, how do we square this reality with the dream? We walk them down an aisle, dressed as princesses. They hang off our arms. We give them away to other men, who are also not, and never will be, kings. Of course, there are the medieval phrases, about knights in shining armour and prince charmings, but these are fairytales. The people in them don't exist. I doubt they ever did. Just look at King Arthur, his wife ran off with his best friend.”
A few guests fidgeted and cast their eyes down to the floor.
“In conclusion, Chris, forget the fairytale romance. As much as I love Sofia, she's a pain in the neck, seemingly allergic to housework and small acts of consideration. If you're lucky, there's a chance you can both learn to live with each others' personality flaws. In order to do this, try and remember what you saw in her in the first place. I have the memory of a giggling baby, a child who hung on my ever word, a young woman who always found her father's shoulders broad enough to carry the weight of her worries as well as his own.”
“And don't take things personally. Couples are not mirrors, set up to reflect the successes and anguishes of their other halves. Rather, they are a team of two, bound to sometimes get things wrong and fluff their lines. It's human nature. Nothing is perfect. Learn to accept that.”
“Sofia, I loved you before I even knew you. It's been an interesting journey, on occasion resembling one of those catastrophes where the car breaks down three miles from a phone box, in the middle of the night, while a force ten gale is blowing. I never stopped loving you, and I never will. Despite your dirty underwear, your foul mouth and your less than friendly attitude, we muddled along. I still feel I gave more than I took, and that you took more than you gave, but perhaps this is parental responsibility. You may do well to remember that.”
“To the rest of you, distinguished guests, please be upstanding and raise your glasses to Sofia and Chris Peacock, husband and wife. I wish you every happiness.”
I went to the butchers, to get bacon and ask about liver. He said lamb's was best, less pungent. I need it, the liver, because I'm anaemic. It's a long and not very interesting story about my gut and vitamin B12, the conclusion of which is that I now have pernicious anaemia and am quite ill.
Yeah, I've been feeling sorry for myself, mainly due to exhaustion. It's terrible to not be able to stay awake for more than four hours a day. All those things you want to do, need to do, don't get done. And I'm scared. The condition wasn't diagnosed for over a year, despite the doctor having the preliminary blood test results right under his nose. “We thought you'd come back,” they said.
“Well, I'm here now.”
“I didn't know I had to.”
“But didn't you feel unwell?”
“Yes, nothing I could put my finger on, just knackered all the time.”
“You should've come back.”
You could've phoned me up, you stupid shit, and said I had no vitamin B12 and, therefore, couldn't 'do' iron. I mean, fuck me, how many women walk around feeling utterly shagged the whole time? I just thought I wasn't getting enough sleep or something.
I was toddling back towards my house, bacon in one hand, swinging the other arm, thinking of nothing in particular, when a red sportster zoomed past me. This is twenty mph zone, the streets are thin, parked cars make visibility for crossing quite dangerous. An old lady in front of me, dragging a blue, tartan trolley, scuttled away from the edge of the pavement. She was walking quite slowly. “Why do they have to drive so bloody fast,” she spluttered as I was overtaking her.
“No idea, they're probably in a hurry to get somewhere,” I replied.
“They shouldn't, there's children and cats.”
We do have a lot of cats in the street and they're always getting knocked over. Me and the old lady chatted for a while, about viable speed restriction alternatives, maybe trees, alternating the parking from one side of the road to another, sleeping policemen.
“I went up the hospital on Friday, two buses.”
“Yes, the routes are oddly arranged.”
“They told me I had breast cancer.”
I stopped and turned to look at her. Light blue scarf tied around her head, delicate pattern, edged with navy. Biscuit coloured raincoat, belted at the waist. Full face of make-up, lipstick not too garish, skin that curious old lady tan reminiscent of grandmother's tights. “I am sorry,” I said
“I hope they give me that cut out option, I don't want chemo.”
I had no idea how to respond. I kept looking into her face, blue grey eyes, plucked brows completed with a drawn in brown line, small whiskers on her chin. I nodded. Before I could stop my free hand it reached out and touched her arm. She went slack.
“You're the first person I've told,” air rushed from between her lips.
I squeezed her arm a bit.
“Can't face telling them.”
Oh god, don't cry now morrigan, don't cry now.
“They're going to be so upset,” she said.
“Yes, because they love you.”
Then she patted my hand, the one on her arm, with her old hand, very slowly, and she nodded, looked right into my eyes and said “You never know what you're rushing towards”.
I smiled. She smiled back. We went our separate ways, strangers in a strange land.
i love steve, but i've got to admit he is a weirdo. on a scale of one to ten he sits, fairly comfortably, at nine. when i first met him, about eight years ago, he was living in an old ambulance. alright, maybe that's kinda normal. the fact he had a surf board in there, a full size snooker table and a turfed floor – he said the insects in the grass tidied up all his detritus – now i think that's weird. i won't mention vince the rat.
i haven't seen him for a while, because he moved to portugal last year to live in a cave on magic mountain. i was surprised when he turned up on saturday, and a bit freaked. the last few texts he sent me indicated he was depressed. he's an incredibly prolific artist, "tortures the canvas" as little kev once observed. when steve's up he's up man, for days on end, weeks on end. when he's down he speaks gibberish, mumbles and i can't follow his conversations, it's like some part of his brain's become disconnected.
he poked his head 'round the door. i haven't exactly been a little ray of sunshine myself recently. sometimes i can't cope with other peoples' neuroses/psychoses as well as my own.
"alright steve?" i asked tentatively.
"maybe, maybe not," he replied.
i stopped what i was doing. "i'm fucked up right now," i mean i always find honesty's the best policy, "so if you're gonna start talking wild shit …"
"nah, you're alright, mind if i make myself a cuppa?"
"go right ahead," and he did.
we chatted for a while. he told me about his cave renovations. apparently he found a big dent in the floor, called an 'anoque'. it's where people flayed and prepared animal skins. he seemed surprised by this discovery, although he did say that he lives on anoque street, so go figure. he told me about his new girlfriend. when i asked her name he said "Sooty".
"is she orange and furry?"
"no, she's Sooty, as in Sooty and Sweep, that's her hand up him."
"right," i said nodding.
"Sue's a sanctimonious cow."
i didn't have any answer to that.
steve's dad's dying. i watched him tell me, the way he shrugged his shoulders in mild resignation. bowel cancer seven years ago. the op nearly killed him back then. "i bought him a great book for christmas though."
i braced myself, steve's humour can be somewhat dry, bizarre, downright offensive.
"an autobiography. funny thing is i know the guy."
"i met him when i was out in france, got lost in this little village …"
"what were you doing in france?"
"i was on my way to holland."
"but i thought you were living in portugal."
"how can anyone live in one place?"
i nod a lot when i'm around steve. he says things that are so obvious but almost entirely forgotten.
"he got me to paint the view from his window."
"did he pay you?"
"yeah, yeah. reminded me of my uncle colin."
"the one in canada."
i have no idea about steve's uncle colin.
"anyway, i read his autobiography and it turns out he was the curator of the national gallery for ten years."
"your uncle colin?"
steve looked at me incredulously. "i think i'd have known if my uncle colin was the curator of the national gallery."
"yeah probably," i laughed, then noticed steve was using his own hand as an ashtray.
"anyway, i haven't been able to contact him since i found that out."
"your uncle colin?"
"shut the fuck up about my uncle colin. this dude in france."
"oh right, yeah." steve was rolling the lit end of the spliff 'round the chicken leg part of his thumb, knocking the ash off.
"doesn't that hurt?"
"doesn't it burn your hand?"
"morrigan you're not listening to what i'm trying to tell you."
"ok, sorry, i was just watching you."
"i can't contact him cos now i know he's someone big."
"but you're not exactly small yourself, and he liked your work enough to pay you for it. are you going to pass that spliff over?"
"i don't want to exploit our relationship," he leaned forward, emptying the contents of his ashtray hand onto his kneecap and rubbing it into his jeans.
"well you didn't fuck him, you painted him a picture. maybe you're scared at a sniff of success. i mean a contact like that could get you places."
"i don't want to go places."
"sure you do, how can anyone live in just one place?" now it was steve's turn to laugh.
"i've written an autobiography," i said a bit shyly.
"can i read it?"
i reached behind the chair and retrieved a large manilla envelope.
"fuck you have," he said, pulling nearly a ream of paper out of its padded coffin.
he started to read. i thought he might say something. i sat for a while, waiting, until it became obvious he wasn't going to speak. i went downstairs and made the dinner. he came and ate when it was ready.
at the meal table i learnt all about the spear of destiny, not the band ('i am a liberator, i liberate'), the spear of myth and legend, the one that was driven into christ's side as he hung on the cross.
"i'm going out tonight, you wanna come?" i asked, watching as steve shovelled a heavily vinegarised salad into his mouth. "down the scowly club, the flesh are playing."
"alright," he said, "but i haven't got any money".
some friends, you don't need to see them much. you're kind of connected, so when you meet again after an absence you just pick up right where you left off. it's like that with steve.
"have you seen that sculpture of the little mermaid in holland?" i asked steve. he was hunched over his pint, every bone visible through his thin white t-shirt. he looked at me oddly, it's not a very good sculpture, and i expect he has a fair few people trying to impress him with their 'knowledge' of art.
"i know the one you mean," he said guardedly.
"and have you seen la belle haulimiere?"
"no, what's that?"
"another sculpture, translates as 'the helmet maker's wife.'"
"who did it?"
"can't remember, maybe it was rodin."
"why do you ask?"
"have you read 'stranger in a strange land'?"
"is this twenty fucking questions or something?"
"ok, sorry," i said, rubbing the top of my forehead with straighty fingers like i always do when i'm trying to make thoughts come out, "there's a comparison of the two sculptures in stranger in a strange land. the little mermaid, well, she's beautiful right?"
"right," he replied, raising one eyebrow.
"and la belle haulimiere is ugly, because she's old."
"except she's not. heinlein makes this point …"
"hold on," steve said, looking me straight in the eye, "has someone told you you're ugly?"
"… makes this point about how not only can you see the young woman in the old woman, but, if you look at the little mermaid, you can see the old woman in the young woman."
"that's it, there's no more to say … oh, yes there is, and the reason that la belle haulimiere is so accomplished is because you wouldn't know that thing about the little mermaid *unless* you'd seen la belle haulimiere."
"someone cut her tits off."
"the little mermaid, someone cut her tits off."
"but do you see what i'm saying steve."
"not really. have you finished saying it though."
"do you want another drink?"
"i thought you said you hadn't got any money."
"oh yeah, and can i borrow a tenner?"
it was one of those nights when there are meant to be three bands on. i think we must have missed the first band, that or they were entirely forgettable. the second band was something of a curiosity, about ten people, crammed on a tiny stage, all in various states of raggedness. they played this strangely infectious umpah umpah music, eastern european perhaps, like 'fiddler on the roof' on acid.
steve and i wandered around the club, bumping into people, becoming increasingly inebriated. i remember kissing olly, who'd shaved his head and whited out his face. he was wearing a pair of very long, black rubber gloves that made me squeal 'don't touch me, don't touch me'. at one point i was sitting on some stairs with him, outside the piss putrid men's toilets, my arm around his shoulder. he was crying into my neck. "i know it hurts darlin'," i cooed, "but that's why you're good, because it costs you so much, because you're so invested".
they came on late, olly and the flesh, by which time the whole audience were wasted. olly's agony of fear had given way to a self destructive mania.
"it's crap," steve yelled.
i thought that was a bit harsh.
"the book you wrote, it's shit."
i stared at him.
olly was screaming out 'it's alright i'm feeling the pain, feeling the shame, feeling it again'.
i decided to dance.
i was angry, not at steve, if he'd thought it any was good he'd have said so, he doesn't do that point scoring shit, instead i was really annoyed with myself. how can i still making these sort of stupid mistakes with my writing?
olly cranked it up.
i was the only person on the dance floor.
steve tottered over. i punched him on the shoulder, he hit me back.
'i'm guilty, guilty, guilty, oh my god,' olly was kneeling on the ground, alternately singing and puking. and then that beautiful energy thing happened, people, with their elbows, fists and feet, arrived. i was wedged, forced upright, stamping, snorting. there was a little guy in front of me. i ripped his t-shirt off. he said "you 'ave reept ma teeshart off".
i said "are you french?"
"no, i am from belgium," he replied, and suddenly, that was the funniest thing i'd ever heard.
"he's from belgium," i shouted hysterically, "philippe's from belgium".
"my name is not philippe."
"it is now." i took my t-shirt off and gave it to him. he sniffed it and laughed.
"what is your name?" he asked.
he pointed at steve, "and you?"
"philippe," steve duly replied.
"you are all philippe?"
before anyone else could answer an almighty crash, in the shape of big philippe (otherwise known as big kev) brought us all to our knees. it's been a good few years since anyone's bar jumped onto my head and i was taken quite by surprise. unfortunately, for big philippe, surprise and pain cause almost instinctive reactions. i didn't mean to swing such a hefty right hook at him, especially as he was already less than steady on his feet. Whoompf. He staggered backwards, slid on olly's sick and collapsed onto the stage.
wrecking is like brawling to a musical accompaniment. you sort of spring up and down a little while moving on the horizontal plane by clearing the space immediately around you with flailing arms and inaccurate hand contact. it can be dangerous. it is kind of violent. but it's lots and lots of fun. there's all different sorts of dancing, from waltzing right through to wrecking, just like there are all different sorts of crying. wrecking, for me, it's screaming, it's my body abandoning any sense of decency and propriety. i have to do it from time to time. sure, on occasion, i sniff into a hanky (actually, if i'm honest, usually my sleeve). every once in a while i'll have a full on wail. what i return to, over and over again however, is a desire to scream, to empty my body of every toxic and suffocating pain.
i suppose this is why i found steve dragging me off the dance floor and trying to hide my head in his skinny arms. he was wearing this beige t-shirt that smelled of oil paints and sweat. it might have been white once.
"hey, hey hey, what is it?" he asked. i clenched my teeth. funny that, how having your teeth tight together doesn't stop the tears coming down your face. i looked at him. he was also crying.
"nothing. i just … phew god."
"you don't get it do you?" he said.
"what do you see?"
"a bunch of people dancing."
"look more carefully."
"a bunch of blokes dancing."
"how tall are you?"
"five foot three."
"you don't have any idea do you?"
i put my arms around his back. i could feel all his ribs. "steve man, you need to eat more."
"morrigan woman, you need to stop fighting."
"ah no, i'd be like one of them then," i said, pointing to a group of women, standing on chairs, backs pressed flat against the wall."
"yeah, but at least you'd wear girlie shoes and not stamp on me in those steel toecaps."
"you want me to stamp on you wearing stilettos?" a crafty smile stole across his face. "stephen!!!"
"c'mon, best get you home."
"nah, you're alright, i can take care of myself."
This has been banging around in my head – and I don't quite know what THIS is, but I thought I might find out if I wrote it all down.
It was my birthday on Monday (thirty nine). Birthdays in our household are birthDAYS, the celebrations usually lasting near enough a whole week. I think it's probably because we try and escape that feeling of anti-climax remembered so well from childhood. It's shit. You get one day a year. Bollocks to that. Why should anticipation be followed by happiness and then a sense of indefinable defeat, cycling ever faster the older you get?
We started on Friday, with a gig:-
I didn't really enjoy it that much. There was something static about the event. I lost my temper at one point. It was as Olly started yanking down his trousers. He has this habit of pulling himself apart on stage. I wanted to dance, but there were a million people standing in front of me, cameras at the ready, waiting for him to expose himself. Fucking gaping idiots. And they're always the same people, the spectator crowd. I bet they're the arseholes who slow down as they pass a road accident, or get some voyeuristic pleasure from watching those weirdo documentaries about murderers, or something …
On Saturday we went to B and J's for dinner. He's a good cook. Now, there's a strange friendship. J works in the probation service, is quite high up, a kind of screw on civie street. I can't stand people like her, in terms of the stereotype, but she's all right. We've only had an argument about personal politics once – and man that was some row I have to say.
The 'boys' are best friends; both did doctorates in philosophy. They got progressively more drunk as the evening wore on. I don't understand them at the best of times, but when they're pissed their conversation becomes virtually impenetrable.
B's on his second doctorate and works as a clinical psychologist. Matt lectures. I think they enjoy the role reversal, B speaking and Matt listening provides a balance to their professional lives. They seemed to go on forever though, something about assassins …
Sunday I chilled out, did some stuff around the house, prattled on to the kids, rested a bit. Couldn't sleep that night though. Just before bed I was speaking to Fiona on the phone. There'd been an incident. Her son, despite having been asked a good few times, was reluctant to get off the computer. Some days previously she'd had this conversation with him, about how he shouldn't spin things out until she's reduced to nagging. Long and short of it is that she lost her temper, turned the power off to the machine and pulled him out of the chair. It's not good, she knew it wasn't good. Reason and negotiation are the way forward with kids …
My dead Mom came and interrupted my dreams. “How come you can understand her when you always refused to understand me?”
“I just see it different now Mom.”
And I cried and I cried and I cried, because maybe it wasn't so bad after all. I tried to remember something happy. There was this one time we did a jigsaw together. She made the outside, the frame, and I filled the middle in. We took it in turns. I still have the jigsaw. I put it back in the box really carefully, without breaking it up.
I was still crying when I woke up on my birthday; this hole kept letting the water through. I went and got my hair cut:-
then I bought my Mom some flowers. I have her vase, the big crystal one Dad gave her. Usually, it sits in a dusty corner. She'd have liked the carnations, the fact I got them for her. They're a nice pink colour, all delicate, soft. I wish we could have been soft with eachother, but it was always like fist meets wall. JesusGoddamnandFuck. Some things you can't get back.
That night we went to Southern Fried – Fat Boy Slim and Armand Van Helden. I was really … I dunno. I'm not young any more. I'm not old either. I'm caught somewhere between youthful stupidity and ancient wisdom. Mostly I feel like I know nothing, maybe it's just that I'm not sure of anything.
There was the usual “What shall I wear?” panic.
“Jeans and a T-shirt,” he said, standing in front of me for all the world looking like a psycho Dr Who. Matt has the most bizarre sense of style. Recently, he's taken to wearing a pair of Converse All Stars on his feet and a tweed shooting jacket round his shoulders. Thankfully he's abandoned the 'shoot the pigs' hoody.
I ended up in my favourite jeans, that one day are going to disintegrate entirely:-
Fat Boy Slim is a strange character. He lives in Brighton and is fairly well known down here, not just for his music, but also his donations to our local football club and the free parties he throws on the beach. He doesn't seem to give a shit about making money, which is … refreshing, hence the reason the tickets were so cheap – twenty squid.
It was packed. Digital Brighton (formerly The Zap) only has a capacity of 1,000. It's a weird place, housed in the arches on the seafront, burrowed under the main road. All that tarmac on top certainly makes for pretty solid acoustics.
The first thing I noticed when I went in was Fat Boy's smiling potato head face. That guy has a lovely smile. He sort of exudes a spirit of happiness and you can't help but like the bugger. Maybe it's his shirts. I dunno. The next thing I noticed was the range of people there. Everyone was just themselves; some were dressed up to the nines, others were in jeans and trainers. I felt dead comfortable, which is quite unusual for me.
Dance floors are odd spaces, particularly when a club's full to bursting. Human bodies, in close contact, moving to a regular rhythm, resemble a seething mass. I watched them for a while, from a balcony. The flesh undulated and pulsed. I could pick out individuals, different styles, mechanical, organically loose, women with trotty feet in high heels (the dressage ponies), long haired men, hands in the air, pelvis chest, pelvis chest, pelvis chest …
We went to join them and their hot, pressed sweatiness. I love dancing, especially to bass rather than beat. You can feel it in your chest, and once the music's in your heart it's impossible not to just go with it. No-one cares what you look like. Everyone is lost in the rhythm. It drives you, from your feet right through to your face.
The atmosphere was brilliant, none of that simmering violence, no tight lipped smiles or drug fuelled mania. People were dancing everywhere and it was infectious. When he (Fat Boy) came on to do his set the cheers went up. I saw him, on stage, beaming at the crowd, his arms held out horizontally. He looked like fucking Jesus man, it was as if we were proclaiming him the new messiah and he loved it.
Well, I got lost in the music after that, carried along by the crowd. Every so often he'd drop in a bass bomb. They're incredible. They change the air around you, send a heat blast, must be something to do with the frequency . Your body's hit with a vibration over load. I fancied I felt my cells rearranging themselves, evolving in a punk soul brother kinda way …
We left at about two, tired and very thirsty. The walk home was pretty uneventful, but as I opened my front door, stepping into my mundane life, this thought overtook me … Success, achievement, status, it means nothing. Fat Boy Slim, he's good at what he does, more importantly, he enjoys himself. I'd enjoyed myself. That's all the matters. And then I remembered a line from a Chumbawamba song “Have a good time all the time, cos you don't get nothin' when you die”.
It's funny ain't it? Life's like permanently having your trousers around your ankles. You've either got to pull 'em up or take 'em off, otherwise your feet are gonna get tangled up and you'll fall flat on your face. Up down, up down, up down. Through it all though you've gotta have a good time. Don't get stuck on the shitter, worried about what's going to happen if you stand up. You can't sit there forever, with the toilet seat imprinting your arse. Don't forget what its like to have fun, how to dance, be in a writhing mass of happiness. Fake it 'til you make it if you have to. Don't just be an observer, one of those gaping idiots, or an anti-climax merchant. Grab life, as much of it as you can, before some fucker strangles the life out of you. Get hold of it with both hands, hang onto it, kiss the face off it.
That's what I learned.