This is not what I expected…
How many times have we avoided places like this? How many years have we wasted trying to find something better only to have our night in a dive like this?
Actually dive is quite a romantic sounding word these days, conjuring images of ramshackle pubs along the quayside deep in the heart of old London, it does not suite at all this modern, sterile hall.
Hall I think is a far more appropriate moniker and one that I can bestow upon this place with what might seem uncanny vitriol, but it is so reminiscent of the scout hut round the back of the C of E church I used to reluctantly attend with the family I used to, reluctantly, have.
I assume this is more akin to a Catholic Church hall, not that I would have any way of knowing for sure. The only significant difference that I am aware of between modern Catholics and old-school C of E’rs is the level of booze they imbibe; this set definitely suite the Catholic stereotype, for me.
The only real difference between this place and my old hut is that instead of having four blank walls, one short one set with a doorway in its centre, like the scouts’, this hall has two that are slightly different running parallel to each other. One has a bar and the doorway to the toilets built into it and the other is all glass, and garish chromed metal, outlining the main entranceway. Over the doorway, a sickly sign in comic sans and butchers-overalls-blue-and-white says: Bar Mungo. Under this sign, my best friend and I sit, smoking joints on cold metal chairs.
‘Are you sure this is the right place to put this night on?’ I ask Micha; who turns from his discussion with Len to assail me with his sycophantic smile and ‘Do-I-Give-a-Fuck?’ Polish attitude.
‘This is perfect maaaate, this is our night,’ the skinny Pole croons in Pigeon-Cockney, ‘Look at these fella’s; they’re not gonna know what’s him ‘em maaate!’
I bite my tongue, resisting the urge to point out that most of these people won’t know what has hit them but they’ll sure as fuck know who they’re going to hit in retaliation…
‘I dunno man, this is the sort of place we’d normally avoid…’
‘Exactly man; these guys live in some closed-off world,’ (he sniggers, derisively, and my heckles are up; is this Xenophobic Rage or Good Samaritan Instinct, me, subconsciously, desiring to help the less-fortunate no matter how diametrical they may seem?) ‘We’re going to blow their brains; they won’t know what’s going on, haha!’
I agree. I do not share his humour. I have a bad feeling, gradually growing worse as the time draws near…
I have been sitting outside this bar in Arrowbridge, a town that could be any of several that once blessed by the proud distinction of being part of ‘The Garden of England’ but now condemned being a ‘Greater London Borough’; the title is for reserved areas defined by high living cost, shit transport links (by comparison to Central London anyway) and anti-social behaviour…oh yeah, and we get a retrograde town chair more ridiculous than the most pontifical of pantomime mayors.
I have been waiting for Micha, Len’s latest business acquaintance and infatuation, to start this so called ‘Eggy Energy’ event for about half an hour now and part of me wants to think he’s lost his bottle and none of this is going to go off at all…
But, no; Micha is Polish and if there’s one thing I have learned about Polish people, after seven years of my best friend working as a building contractor SLASH events promoter, it’s that they don’t, generally, find English people very threatening.
And, honestly, however fucking hard you think you are, if you’re English I don’t blame them; I’m English and I’m a goddamned pussy-hole but even I don’t get fucked around that often. If you’ve never done it, have yourself a little conversation with a Latvian or Romanian or Pole and you’ll probably be shocked at the level of violence they deem ‘casual’.
Actually, I’m just guessing about the Romanians….
But, Fuck, one of the ‘geekiest’ looking guys I ever knew was Latvian, and one time he just nonchalantly described how a typical night out for him and his friends would be to go out- bat in right hand knife in left- and find a gang of Russians to fight.
‘You hold bat in your right hand to hit with, you hold knife in your left hand because everyone is scared of knife, then you hit, hit, hit!’
This guy was one of the top-ten seeded players for ‘Counter-Strike Online’. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry, neither do I really but, basically, in between knife-and-bat fights with gangs of disaffected Russian teens this guy was one of the top-ten neeks in the world.
How many British gamers can say that?
So, yeah, I don’t blame Micha for not being scared; fuck knows what that mad cunt’s seen in his life. Still, it doesn’t stop him being a skinny little bohemian who will definitely be not any fucking use if this crowd decides to turn, which I am sure they will when they realise the level of piss-taking that this diminutive Slav has planned…
As I sit and ponder, over a pint of Peroni and a pre-rolled spliff, it becomes apparent that this is, as I feared, definitely going ahead.
Whilst I have been worrying, whoever is responsible for setting up the sound at this so-called venue has successfully installed a pair of Numark CD turntables, wired them into a Behringer mixing system and hooked this up to an amplifier, which is too scratched and faded for me to be sure but I think is an ancient Cambridge Audio system, very similar, by strange coincidence, to the sort they used play music on in my old scout hut. The test scratch noises emanating from the PA alert me to the imminent danger…
‘You guys ready to get EGGY?!’ I hear Micha’s indistinct accent- untraceable unless you know him personally, in which case you’ll insist it’s obvious- announce to the assembled skinheads, Ex-Millwall Bushwackers and local cokeheads-in-general…
‘The first song!’
Micha starts off, he believes, with something subtly ‘eggy’; an accordion cover version, by North Koreans, of ‘Take on Me’ by A-ha.
Maybe I should explain…
‘Eggy’ is a term that my bohemian friends (by which I mean cynical deadbeats with too much time and facial hair) give to anything that- when judged according to the limited spectrum of criteria set by them and deemed necessary for artwork to be diagnosed as ‘acceptable’- they find valueless but which is created to contribute to the artistic canon of a certain style of music, film or literature that they claim to appreciate.
Anything that so much as dents the charts, the box-office or best-seller list is considered facile and/or contrived.
Every hipster loves a sell-out but, of course, we all have our guilty pleasures. We find ‘acceptable’ forms of cheesiness (usually the least popular proponent of a particularly unruly style), which leads me to believe we are all a bunch of hypocrites, listening to shit and forcing our shit on other people simply because they don’t want to accept any difference of opinion.
If you’re gonna shit everywhere, maybe just try to make it real shit. Don’t try to cover up it by calling it ‘entertainment’.
Fuck entertainment; I find it entertaining to wank in public conveniences but that doesn’t make it art, or even acceptable, it’s my gross fucking secret and, you know what, your artistic taste is yours. Just accept and move on.
We all like shit.
Case in point: one of the bald-headed, cauliflower-eared, England-shirt-wearing motherfuckers that has been loitering at the bar, sending perplexed looks at the night’s influx of scraggy-faced scenesters and baggy-jumpered hippies, has decided now to saunter jauntily onto the dance floor, doing some kind of weird, epilepsy-inspired skank and waving his arms loosely, rocking from side to side whilst bending his knees or occasionally spinning or moon-walking completely out of time with every element of the music that is actually playing; he looks like Ian Curtis on Rhino Ket, I’d imagine.
I can’t believe it.
Another local has taken to the floor, this time female. In another few years she may be attractive; at the moment it is only cool to have a gap between your two front teeth but if the trend diversifies, as they often do, then she will surely be the queen of the beauty-scene; she has wide gaps between all of the spokes of her yellowed grill.
Now they are all taking to the fucking floor!
I am, literally, stunned, and Len is too. We sit, mouths agape, eyes wide, looking in through the glass front of the bar, still smoking weed, still getting ever further away from ever entering the bar ourselves…
‘Fucking hell, man! They actually like this eggy shit!’
Micha has joined us again. He is clearly feeling elated and in complete control of this shit-storm.
My best friend, Len, who has been nervously twitching, scanning over his shoulders, taking negligible sips of beer and constantly fumbling with something in his pocket, forces a laugh that only I can tell is fake and gives Micha a slap on the shoulder, which he will no doubt construe as supportive but I know is merely desperation for any kind of physical contact. Len is not a happy man, but he is much better at hiding it than I am.
‘Yeah, I know man, what the fuck?’ He smiles, and again I am sadly reminded of how fucking easy it actually is to appear happy and sane; smile at the right time and ask a lot of questions and no one realises you are utterly bat-shit.
‘This is not what I was expecting!’ Micha laughs, taking a swig from my pint before returning to the interior of the bar.
I have to say something:
‘Len, do you think this is a good idea?’
‘What the fuck is wrong man? It’s just a local, these people are here every day to get drunk and listen to whatever music is playing, they don’t care about us, stop worrying.’
I force a smile but do not agree.
‘Yeah but, surely someone is going to figure out he’s taking the piss? I mean, what right has Micha got to conduct an ‘experiment’ on these people?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, what I mean is: these guys like pop music, football and booze, right?
‘And we like dance music, rugby and drugs, so what’s the difference? Just because the stuff we like is a little bit more obscure, or illegal, do we have the right to lord it over these people? We’re acting like wolves in sheep’s clothing but if any of these ‘sheep’ decide to turn on us we are going to get fucked up…and deserve it!’
‘How the fuck would we deserve it?’
‘Well, we are here solely to play awfully cheesy music at a bunch of hooligans to, in Micha’s words, ‘mess with their minds’. Well, isn’t that actually a pretty fucking good reason to beat the shit out of someone?’
‘We have to put up with it everywhere we go; it’s their fucking turn to know what it feels like!’
‘Besides, my dad’s coming down in a bit, so we’ve got nothing to worry about’.
I frown but, against my intellectual reasoning, I am instinctively reassured. Len’s dad is a big, bad man and whilst he doesn’t exactly make me feel comfortable he is, nonetheless, Len’s dad and a much more suitable companion for a night like this than Len himself who, for all his bluster, is his mother’s son, not his father’s. Len’s penchant is for self-destruction, his dad is far better at the destruction of others.
We sit outside the bar, as usual, chain-smoking and watching through the glass as more locals join the floor.
Micha churns out a set of the most embarrassing, intellectually devoid music he has been able to obtain; sea-shanties by bedroom pirate-metal aficionados; splittercore by obscure ex-East German musicians with minds addled by decades of seclusion and steroid abuse; soundtracks to children’s shows many, many years past the use-by date of the clientele of Bar Mungo.
I have no desire to go inside; I know Len feels the opposite but only because he wants to go into the toilet to sniff Ketamine. He thinks I don’t know and is biding his time, hoping I will become so drunk that he can get ketty and I won’t notice.
Both of us are too anxious to make any kind of move. Now that Micha has gotten lost in the jollity of his endeavour and two dozen university students with dreadlocks and hemp satchels have turned up to support him the two of us sit forgotten out front, still chain-smoking and watching through the glass…
‘Ay-up son; who’s calling it on then?’
Len’s face lights up for the first time as his father materialises behind us, bald-head gleaming in the lamplight and baby-blue eyes flashing with mischievousness.
‘It’s cool Dad; I got a little bit of lovely on me.’
‘Yeah, what’s it saying?’
‘Dunar yet do I, I’ve been waiting for you mate!’
‘Alrite set it here then son and I’ll have first honours then; fucking hell he’s a pussy, inne Mark?’
Len’s father beckons towards me but, as usual, I am entirely unsure how to respond; if I attack Len but his dad is being sarcastic then I look like a mug but if I’m nice to him and his dad is picking on him then that’s ten times worse and will relegate me, as usual, to spit bucket for the night.
Not wanting an evening of abuse to follow an afternoon of anxiety I just nod and, as usual, Len’s dad gives me a disappointed look as if anything would have been better. But I know it wouldn’t have been and I am content with my lot as a disappointment to everyone’s father, except my own, who is pretty much unaware I exist.
I pursue this avenue of self-deprecation internally (which is not a tautology, my outward appearance in ill-fitting clothes, hidden behind greasy locks, testament to that fact); Len’s dad disappears to the toilet with the Ketamine.
The music continues to play and we continue to smoke; fuck, that’s what I would call my next album, if I wasn’t too busy getting stoned…
The sound of glass smashing brings me back to reality.
I quickly pan the area outside of the bar but find it serene, just a few students and locals sharing cigarettes and, for all my reservations, having a good time.
Then I look inside the bar and see what I was expecting: some silly sod has taken it too far and is stumbling around in there, knocking pints off the bar and falling into people legs, causing them, where relevant, to spill their drinks over him and the floor.
Micha, I can overhear on the microphone, has started berating the individual, mocking him about having ‘overdone it’, insisting he needs to ‘go home’. I realise, with deep joy that, somehow, someone has managed to overdo it before Len or I can. We have escaped! We can enjoy tonight, this loser is going to take all the abuse until he leaves and then we’ll all spend the rest of the night, skinheads and hippies alike, talking about what a dickhead he was and, probably, how we all kicked his head in.
The hapless individual crawls to the exit, horrible fuckers getting right up in his face and telling him: it’s time for you to go mate or look dude, I know the bouncer here, he’s gonna throw you out so let’s just go nicely…
No sooner is he outside than he is having his head kicked in; some tall, blonde, good-looking guy with a quiff and skinny jeans runs up out of nowhere and literally boots him in the head.
I am horrified but the next thing I know two more blokes, big, fat, mean looking East End types have followed the poor man out and they start kicking him in the arse and ribs, halting his hopeless attempt to stand and forcing him to begin to crawl on his knees and elbows, his hands up about his face.
I look at Len, attempting to show, with my face, my deep reluctance to be here anymore.
But Len has noticed the women. The women, like the maidens of war-time Britain, have fallen in love with the violence instantaneously and, it is obvious from their jeering and cat-calling, they hate the drunken man and will love anyone who rushes to their aid by demolishing his unruly countenance.
‘Gowan sexieeee, kick ‘is facking ‘ed in!’
Next thing I know we are both out of our seats, Len saying nothing and motioning in no way to me, he doesn’t have to, he is my best and only friend and I will follow him eternally against my will.
We run up and start kicking. Most of the students just watch but all the locals join in. As usual I find myself on the side I despise. I cannot help but follow the people who bless me with their occasional presence, though have no genuine love for me. Their love is for their misery and my company.
I am but filler for their can; another attempt to muffle the rattle.
So, my friend in misery and I kick the shit out of the crumpled figure, his only crime being overconsumption of the government’s chosen legal high.
I think of all the times I have gotten too stoned and I have not had my head kicked in by slightly less stoned geezers and feel instant sympathy for the broken individual.
‘Alright boys he’s had enough!’ A voice cries. I am ashamed, it is not me but the tall blonde, who instantly hooks his arm around the best-looking female in the vicinity and disappears back inside.
Slowly, each and every member of the mob returns inside to enjoy Micha’s insulting experiment.
And the man uncovers himself.
And, of course, as you have already divined, it is Len’s father, either concussed or in a pretty deep K-hole.
Len’s face is a fucking picture.
We look each another awkwardly before we realise we have to do. We turn around. We walk about three feet away and then walk back, affecting shock.
The man doesn’t stir.
‘Dad, what the fuck!’ Len kneels down besides his father and rolls him over so that he is lying on his side. He is alive and possibly conscious, his eyes staring wide open, but there is no way to say for sure…
‘Dad, Dad! Oh, WHAT THE FUCK MAN, DAD!’ Len screams and shakes his father’s immobile form, totally ignorant of the aghast expressions he is eliciting from the encircling student body of Bar Mungo, ‘How much of the fucking Ketamine did you do!?’
At this a few students turn away in disgust (‘Ketamine…murmur…Dubstep!’) and Len’s dad’s brain seems to jolt into action, just for a few seconds, the shock of what he has just heard apparently enough to Lazurus his brain into Frankenstein’s-Monsteresque functionality:
‘What….Ketamine…Len…What Ketamine?’ At least, that’s what I think he says, he has very little control of his facial muscles at this time.
We look at one another, nasty realisation dawning upon us.
Len, gingerly, reaches into his father’s back pocket to retrieve his baggy. Only, of course, it is empty. Each of us, simultaneously, remembers Len’s father’s penchant for sniffing entire grams of his son’s coke, only to withdraw from his wallet, moments later, another gram of superior coke, which he is quite adept at procuring on a regular basis.
So regular the occurrence and so beneficial the rewards that we have both, traditionally, chosen to remember this quirk selectively. It is almost always a precursor to a pleasant surprise; he emerges from the stalls with our bag empty and a reproachful look on his face, we always endeavour to feel genuine disappointment, which quickly mutates into one ecstatic triumph as he pulls out the secret bag and tosses it to us with a wink!
This time though, we really should have remembered before we let Len’s Dad go into the toilet and snort a gram of ground up Ketamine crystals, which Len personally cooked and scraped out of the frying pan before coming out today.
He has never taken Ketamine before…
The two of us look down at the pathetic, bleeding, serenely smiley man now rubbing his face nonchalantly into the concrete, in a full-blown K-hole and seeing fuck knows what and we both know what we have to do…
Len checks his father’s other pocket and withdraws the secreted, extra-potent chang, with a BIG smile on his face;
‘Sick! Half each,’ he beams.