I felt like a superstar tonight. I felt like Michael motherfucking Jackson tonight. I was showered, I was groomed, and I felt fucking gooood. I felt like eighties MJ; the Thriller-to-Bad period where he still looked human, and he was rocking the leather-jacket and wet-look-hair combo on every magazine cover. I, too, was rocking the leather-jacket and wet-look-hair combo, but I’d gone one step further and waxed my tash. Trimmed it down and formed it into little upturned spikes at the edges.
I glanced perpetually sideways as I strutted down John William Street, trying to catch sight of my reflection in shop windows. I didn’t look bad for a lanky twat with wonky teeth, and the whole image was topped nicely by a pair of aviators which hung loosely from my pale, pitted face.
Some people might say that sunglasses on a night out are a stupid idea, and those people can go and fuck themselves. I grew up on a diet of 80s cop shows and Tom Cruise movies, which means that I’m an expert in coolness by default. Aviators make you look badass, it’s just a fact. You could be exposed in your local paper as an insurance salesman leading a double life as a man-baby fetishist, with photos of you sat in a giant cot wearing a giant nappy and a giant bonnet, but you’d still look fucking cool as long as you had aviators on.
I popped a strip of Wrigley’s Doublemint into my mouth, and threw a smooth right onto Brook Street.
Looking good Mr Fury.
The Kestral was buzzing tonight; I could feel the energy as soon as I started to push open the huge, heavy, black-painted door. The noise and the excitement flowed out and around me like a multicoloured thundercloud. I could taste excitement in the atmosphere. Excitement and poppers.
I swaggered to the bar, squeezing past tables and chairs, dodging past excited bodies laughing and hugging and putting the world to rights to a soundtrack of clinking glasses and cheesy euro-pop.
“Gavin? Oh god it’s lovely to see you duck! I’d have topped up me tan if I knew you were coming!”
“Alright Colin”, I said with a wide smile, shooting him a clicky-wink. “Pint of strong lager, and two shots of the establishment’s finest vodka my good man. Chop chop!” I said playfully, as I pulled up a barstool and plonked myself down opposite him.
“Yes sir!” he said, puffing his chest out as he threw me a straight-faced military salute, before skipping off to get the drinks like an excited kid at his birthday party.
I dropped my wallet onto the bar and looked around the room. The Kestrel’s decor was anything but traditional for a British pub; the tables and chairs were all mis-matched with different styles, all painted in wildly different colours, and the exposed brick walls were adorned with colourful art from the local university, and posters advertising quiz nights and gigs. It was the absolute opposite of the sort of warm, dimly-lit snug you might find in other parts of Yorkshire, and it’s bustle and bright lights seemed to instill a real vibe of LIFE IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW within its clientele. There were no Toby Jugs, brass bedpans, or sleeping sheepdog in this Huddersfield drinking hole. I liked it, but it wasn’t the cleanest of bars. It’s best that one carries out a quick recce before resting one’s arms on a table, unless one wants one’s forearm sleeves covered in sticky shite.
“Here you are sir!” said Colin, plonking my drinks in front of me. “Are you really having two shots and a beer? You’ll be slurring by nine o’clock, duck!”
I leaned across the bar, and whispered into Colin’s ear, “One’s for you. Drink up.” I passed him a vodka, and with a quick sideways glance to ensure his manager wasn’t watching, he killed it in one.
There weren’t many people I felt close to, but Colin was one of the few. He’d worked behind the bar of The Kestrel since before I knew it even existed, a good three or four years I reckon, and everyone loved him. He was slim, a little bit taller than me, and wore fake tan that wasn’t fooling anyone. In fact, the contrast of his orange tan against his whitened teeth gave him something of an otherworldly look, like a life-sized male Barbie doll that had been cheaply replicated in a factory in China using garish colours. He was always impeccably turned out in clean shoes and a bright coloured shirt. His taste in shirts was loud, you might say, but that was at odds with the way he spoke; he was a listener, a shoulder to lean on, and he delivered his well-thought-out advice and opinions with a gentle Geordie accent, seemingly untainted by his time spent living in Huddersfield.
Colin was in love with me. Not a young, naive, lustful love – you understand – but a genuine heartfelt desire to be with me. He had never been one to play the field, instead sitting on the sidelines waiting for the right man to come along, a man that he could commit to and grow old with. Around two years ago he drunkenly confessed that I was the one he’d been waiting for, and in the spirit of openness and honesty between two good friends, I’d explained that the time wasn’t right for me. Colin had understood and accepted my position, and in-turn re-positioned himself as a close friend and confidante. Although rarely spoken about since, we both knew that nothing had really changed in the way Colin felt; it was clear in the way he looked at me, and I knew in no uncertain terms that if I ever asked him to, Colin would walk to the ends of the earth for me.
“Fooosh!” uttered Colin through a curled-up face, as he passed the empty shot glass back to me. “So what’s the celebration duck? Or did you just feel like getting spangled tonight?”
“No celebration as such”, I replied. “Just felt like a bit of a blow-out, like. I’m up for a bit of a mad one if you fancy it Col? What time d’you knock-off?”
“I’m on ’till close …but!” Colin smiled and pointed skywards matter-of-factly, “The boss owes me a few favours. I’ve had to put the silly sausage to bed upstairs on more than one occasion this last week – poor lass seems to be excessively tired and emotional these days, if you see what I mean duck.”
He winked and used a shaky hand to perform the universally understood mime action for ‘drinking problem’. What a lush.
“Careful Col”, I said. “It looks like you’re offering me a crafty blowie, you fuckin’ perv.”
“You should be so lucky duck. Lemme have a word with Kelly and see what time I can knock off. Wednesdays are usually pretty quiet so she might not need me late. Back in a mo”.
Colin flounced off in a whirlwind of orange excitement, and I sat sipping on my lager.
I hadn’t been completely straight with Colin. Tonight there was a call for celebration, but not one that I wanted to share. Earlier that day I’d received a call from the police station to let me know that they weren’t pursuing the case against me. They had no evidence that my merry dance with Alison Walker had been anything but an accident, and so I didn’t have to attend the station this Friday. There were still details to be worked out, but the insurers were sorting that shit. I was in the clear apart from a minor drugs offence. Get the fuck in.
Here’s to you Grogan, you sweaty fuck. Better luck next time.
“Right duck, good news and bad…”, Colin was back already. “Kelly is hanging, she needs me here till close. At least it’s all money eh?” Colin shrugged.
“And the good news?”
Colin took his wallet out of his back pocket, one of those black nylon velcro ones, with ‘Fat Willy’s Surf Shack’ emblazoned across the front in rainbow vinyl. He dropped it on the bar and slid it towards me, a twinkle in his eye.
“Open it”, he winked.
I tore open the velcro, and laid the wallet flat on the bar. A single key hung from a small plastic clip, and a shiny silver condom wrapper peeked out from a small pocket.
“Oops, shit!” said Colin, snatching away the condom. “Ignore that. Open that pocket there” he said, tapping his finger on a small bulging coin pocket, “shhh!”
I opened the pocket and pulled out a small plastic bag containing an off-white powder, the same colour as the nicotine-soaked walls in Frank’s front room. White with a tint of yellow. The colour reminded me of before I could drive, when I used to get the bus everywhere and I’d find myself sat staring at the back of some old man’s head, his thinning hair hanging limp from his wrinkled, liver-spotted crown, greasy and grey with streaky yellowing patches. It was usually accompanied by the smell of piss. Was it the hair that smelt of piss? Is that what gave it it’s sickly yellow hue? Why would you put piss in your hair?
“Col you fuckin’ dog,” I whispered, starting to get the picture. “What’s this?”
“Gavin, I want you to do exactly as I say. I want you to finish your drink, then take this key and let yourself into my flat. Get some sleep, because I need you fresh for tomorrow”.
“Okay. What’s happening tomorrow?”
“You’re taking me to Blackpool for the day, duck. We can get up early and get one of the first trains. You, me, and a nice big bag of MDMA. You in?”
“I’m in”, I said.
This is what made Colin so great. He takes a black and white picture, and injects it with colour. The guy’s a fucking legend. My only plan for tomorrow was to sit around the house hungover anyway, probably scouring the internet for wanking material. Blackpool and drugs was a great idea. The greatest idea, in fact.
“Try not to wake me when you get in” I smiled, pocketing the key as I finished my drink.
“I’ll be quiet as a mouse, duck” said Colin, “and tomorrow we can be LOUD…”
What the fuck is a mouseduck?
* * *
Loud is exactly what we were; laughing and hugging and shouting our glee as we tore southwards down the Golden Mile. The sea air filling our nostrils, the foul ear-wax taste of the powder filling our mouths, and pure love and contentment coursing through our veins at a million miles per hour.
After passing Blackpool Tower, loomed and menacing against a dark cloudy background, it began to rain; something that felt wondrous and refreshing. It was still morning, with the beach shops and seafood cabins only just starting to awaken, and here we were dancing in the puddles next to the sea, drinking in the cold air, both utterly loved up on chemicals and sand and water. We took shelter in Coral Island amusement arcade as the rain got heavier, where we made use of it’s warm toilet cubicles as somewhere we could share a kiss and a thick yellow line through a rolled twenty quid note. No sex though – this went without saying. We were friends, not lovers, and today we were kings. As the rain thinned we made a dash for the Central Pier and onto the huge Ferris wheel, stood like a giant relic rising from the sea.
The old Ferris wheel moaned and jerked slowly into action with the sound of a thousand rusty bearings screaming for fresh lubricant, and Colin pulled up his jacket collar whilst moving closer into me, resting his chest into my shoulder, our fingers becoming entwined as he held me tight. I could see his jaw had tightened from the drugs. He was manically chewing a piece of gum, and his eyes sporadically flicked upwards into the back of his head. This would probably look scary to anyone else, anyone who had no experience of drugs. The scene could be mistaken for that of a couple of young brothers spending a day together at the seaside – one mentally disabled, gurning and yelling – the other trying to calm him down with comforting whispers and hugs. I was bombed myself, but not quite at Colin’s level yet.
“Here, drink this” I said, passing Colin a bottle of water, and planting a small kiss on his temple.
“Gav” said Colin, his fast, deep breathing making him sound exasperated.” Have I ever told you about my brother? I need to tell you about my brother.”
MDMA was first developed, in one form or another, by a scientist in Germany back at the start of the nineteen hundreds. It’s intended function was as a diet pill, but the whole thing was abandoned as it’s appetite-suppressing capabilities paled against an army of nasty side effects. Its rumoured that the US Army picked it up in the nineteen fifties and ran with the drug as a truth serum, a quality which anyone who has spent time monged out in the pissy bogs at a warehouse rave will attest to. If you swallow good ecstacy, I mean proper stuff loaded with MDMA, then you will experience an unprecedented amount of hugging, sweating, gurning, and the sharing of your most sacred and intimate thoughts. Users will experience an overwhelming urge to be open and honest, and it’s in this spirit that Colin wanted to talk about his brother.
“Go on”, I said, keen for Colin to cleanse this worry from his system. I closed my eyes and just listened, feeling the cold wind against my face as we gently hit the apex of the ride.
This shit is fucking good. I feel fucking good.
“He’s a really nice lad, Gav, but he’s just got problems ya know? Like, he’s about two years younger than me, and when he hit puberty he used to secretly sit up in his room watching telly, looking for things to, ya know, wank over. Our dad always made us have an early night, so the only thing our Terry could ever find was them embarrassing bodies programs, ya know, where there’s like blokes with mad acne, or discharge coming out of their nobs”.
I laughed. I probably shouldn’t have but I have a crude mind so I had to, my eyes still tightly closed as I enjoyed the motion of the creaky old wheel. I squeezed Colin’s hand. “Carry on!” I said.
“Terry used to wait for the bits with women, and then he’d go hell-for-leather trying to knock one out before another diseased willy popped up on the telly. He got used to speed-wanking over hairy boobs and misshapen fanny flaps, like, he couldn’t even get a boner if there wasn’t at least a bit of vaginal discharge. Gavin it was reeeeally bad.”
“What the fuck Col. That’s rate fucked up that. How’d you even know abart it? Did he tell you?”
“Aye. Well he got caught you see. He started lying to us dad, saying he was off to his mates, but he was getting the bus over to Bradford and visiting the red-light bits, asking prostitutes if they had diseases and that. He only wanted to shag the ones with, ya know, downstairs problems.”
“Aye I know. The prozzies thought he was a proper weirdo like, well you would wun’t you? One of them telt the police an’ they picked him up one night, brought him home in tears and he confessed everything”
I felt my jaw tighten as we ascended again.
“Thing is Gav, you can’t just change what you want, can you? Like, just coz it’s bad, and everyone knows about it, it doesn’t stop him wanting it, does it?”
“What abart now? As ‘e got a lass?”
“Aye, she’s alright Gav. Bit dim, and definitely on the large side, but y’know she’s pleasant enough. They’ve been together over a year now, like”
“Reckon she’s got a stinky lop-sided fanny?” I smiled and opened one eye to capture Colin’s reaction.
“Oi you sick puppy!” he laughed, poking me in my ribs “…yeah probably. Probly got three manky tits an’ all. What about you Gav? What happened to your family duck? It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it”
The cool tide of openness was washing over me, and I felt comfortable sharing my story with Colin. After all, he’d just shared something pretty fucked-up about his family. The Ferris wheel began to slow, and we made one final descent down onto the pier.
“Let’s walk towards t’Pleasure Beach, and I’ll tell you abart it”.
We ambled back up the pier, hand in hand, and headed through the amusement arcade with its cacophony of bleeps and jingles, synthesised car engines and gunshots, and occasional avalanches of small change which sounded like broken glass being rattled in a tin cup.
“I ‘ad a younger sister, called Zoe,” I explained as we re-joined the Golden Mile. “An’ a mum an’ a dad. They all died when I was abart eleven. Zoe was only abart five”.
“Oh God Gavin I’m sooooo sorry,” said Colin, his mouth hanging open despite this cursed lockjaw, which must have taken some commendable effort. “I knew that you lived wi’ your uncle, but I din’t know why”
“It’s fine,” I said. “It was over ten years ago now. We were in a car accident together, comin’ back from a family day out, we were ‘it by a drunk driver. I don’t remember owt abart it, like, just what my uncle’s told me. Go a bit fuckin’ mad if I think too much abart it really”
“Gav that’s terrible. I’m so proud of you though, you’ve been so brave”
“Thanks Col but it’s fine, I’m fine. My mum an’ dad both died instantly, an’ me an’ my sister both ended up in ‘ospital. Zoe was a little fighter, but after tons of operations ‘er little body gave up. I think she lasted abart two weeks. Look…” I pulled my left arm out of my jacket and rolled my sleeve up, exposing a small, messy tattoo that read Zoe & Bobo in scrawled black ink.
“Bobo was ‘er little cuddly giraffe,” I explained. “She had ‘im on the night of the crash, an’ held on to ‘im all the time she was in ‘ospital. We buried ’em together, next to my mum an’ dad”
I was welling up just talking about Zoe, it had been a while since I’d even spoken her name.
Get it together Gav. Sort your act out you pussy prick. Man up you big fucking wuss.
We walked on in silence, the loud crashing waves to our right, and an endless string of donut shops and amusement arcades to our left; across the tram tracks and over the road.
Colin stopped in his tracks, then turned to me and wrapped his arms around my thin frame, hugging me tightly.
“Honestly Gavin, I think you’ve done really well. you’ve had to cope with a lot of bad stuff. Do you think it’s affected you at all?”
I thought about it for a second. “Nah, I don’t think so,” I said. “Now let’s get to t’Pleasure Beach so we can ram t’fuck outta some kids on t’dodgems.”