I am jolted awake by the sound of the driver’s disembodied voice over the public address.
“Customers….advised that we are….Morden station….terminates here.” His voice reeks of the indifference of the bored and thwarted, suggesting to me that he once had big plans for his future, and that sitting eight hours a day staring down a tunnel as it hurtled relentlessly towards him was not part of them.
I shake my head vigorously and attempt to blink away the fog. It doesn’t have the desired effect, the precise opposite in fact, as that familiar stabbing pain in my frontal lobe prompts a half-hearted but fruitless attempt to dredge up some vestigial memory of last night.
Nothing. Try later.
Back in the here and now, I curse loudly, “Cunting Morden again,” and deliver myself a mild rebuke, flashing on the castigating glare I would receive from Georgia were I to utter such a profanity in her presence. Not for the first time I have passed unconscious through my stop, Stockwell, and must cross over to the other platform to head north again.
The need to get home and spend the rest of the day, and in all probability the next, horizontal in my bedroom with the curtains closed, is tempered by a craving for something, anything, that will bring even temporary relief from my discomfort.
“Coffee. Coffee will help. Coffee and Advil,” I lie to myself.
The train clatters and screeches to a halt, the brakes giving off that familiar almost-but-not-quite coffee smell that causes my gorge to rise uncontrollably. I just make it up the stairs and into the Photo-Me booth in the ticket hall before my protesting gut attempts to expel whatever it is that is offending it this time. Of course, there’s nothing to bring up. It’s a dry heave with just a hint of bile stinging the back of my throat. The retching, punctuated by uncontrollable bouts of coughing, continues for several minutes. I hear a group of teenage girls giggling as they walk past, and stare at myself in the mirror. I’m horrified. It occurs to me that I might just be reduced to what they think I am. I shake my head again, hard. It hurts.
Having got the retching more or less under control, and with what feels like a large deposit of coarse building sand on the underside of my eyelids, I emerge, blinking, into the watery South London sunlight. For a minute or two I scan the street for a taxi. There are two chances of finding a taxi at the arse end of the Northern Line at ten-o-clock on a Sunday morning, none and zero. Cursing, I resign myself to waiting for a bus. Fortunately, minutes later I’m huddled into a ball of nausea and self pity on the top deck of the 201 to Tulse Hill.
As the bus shudders its way through the Sunday traffic, I return to scouring my mind’s eye for some small event that might spark a dim recollection of last night’s events. When at last it comes to me, it arrives at first in a blur of chaotic images. Slowly it rearranges itself into some sort of order….
It was around eight. I’d met my brother and his friend, Nick, in the Rosemary Branch, a fairly decent pub across the road from Supersonic’s place in Shoreditch. Now Supersonic was a one off, a full time, top of the range section eight who moonlighted as a struggling singer-songwriter when he wasn’t doing ketamine, trashing bars, sleeping in cemeteries or getting arrested. I’d got him a publishing deal about six months earlier but London’s showbiz community were mystifyingly reluctant to offer him the record deal that his undoubted talent warranted.Tonight was Supersonic’s birthday bash. It was to be held in his loft.
Of course, to most of us the word loft conjures up glossy images of ultra modern, high windowed, open plan living spaces with polished oak floors, bare brickwork, designer kitchens with Gaggia espresso machines, Philippe Starck bathrooms and half naked hardbodies draped elegantly over hand crafted chesterfields. Supersonic’s gaff had the bare brickwork but that was where the similarity ended. The place he called home was a former storage area above an old metal works on the banks of the Regent’s Canal. It was now a sweatshop owned by Supersonic’s landlord, a rather dubious first generation Bangladeshi immigrant. It was accessible only by climbing a steel staircase and clattering along a rusty walkway to his permanently padlocked door. I’d told my companions earlier in the evening about the time I arrived there for a band rehearsal one freezing January evening to find Supersonic and the band breaking up the few sticks of furniture he had in the place to fuel a roaring blaze in the fireplace. So that was Supersonic. And this was his night.
We’d been invited for nine thirty but nobody appeared to be home when we rocked up at 10.00, so we decided to squeeze in a couple more pints at the Rosemary Branch while we waited. Last orders came and went, then closing time, and we headed back over the road for another try. This time the party was in full swing. Surfin’ Bird was belting out of a Fender speaker in the corner, and a rainbow nation of musos, low lifers, rastas, goths, a couple of well known Brit Art types, a journalist I knew pretty well from Select and a sprinkling of pony tails from the majors were scattered around the room, chatting or nodding furiously to the beat.
We’d barely got through the door when a Daily Star Stunna and occasional pornstar of my acquaintance, all got up in a rented French maid’s outfit, tottered over to us on her five inch heels, planted a slightly over enthusiastic kiss on my mouth and presented an aluminium tray on which were chopped out a dozen or so lines of light brown powder.
“Fuck’s that?” queried Nick.
“Molly,” the Stunna informed him. “Try some. It’s blinding!”
“Pure MDMA,” I rejoined. “Never tried it myself.”
It should be pointed out at this stage that I’d left home that evening with Georgia having extracted a solemn promise from me to be home, reasonably lucid, no later than one AM, as we were invited to Sunday lunch with one of her colleagues from the acupuncture clinic, but temptation and I have always been uneasy bedfellows.
“Fuck it. I’m in,” I said, took the proffered Macdonalds straw and hoovered up a line. After a few moments’ hesitation, my brother and Nick followed suit. The Stunna wobbled away. “Happy rolling!” she called over her shoulder.
Cut to the three of us in a circle, grinning like startled chimps and dancing like bastards. I took a glimpse at my watch. It was 3.45 AM. The intervening hours just hadn’t happened.
My next conscious thought was mild bewilderment that I appeared to have been beamed up to a sofa on Supersonic’s self-built mezzanine-cum-bedroom. Nick was passed out on my left, my brother was nowhere to be seen and on my right, the Stunna was nibbling my ear, whispering explicit inducements and expertly undoing my fly. I glanced at my watch again. It was ten to eight.
It was only once the Stunna had my pleasingly responsive dick in her mouth that I realised we were not alone. In fact there were half a dozen others, including Supersonic and a video director I vaguely knew, arranged in a circle, passing round a home made crack pipe. Another first for me on a night/day of firsts; I took the Coke can and lighter when offered, said “fuck it” again, sparked up, and inhaled.
I’d heard all kinds of stories about crack; that in the first flush of a relationship with the drug it was the best buzz you could get, that it was dangerously, instantly addictive, that it was the destroyer of lives…. My first and only dalliance with the rock would suggest that none of the above is true. In fact, the only discernible event was the slow but relentless metamorphosis of my dick from a state of alert preparedness, to something with the size and reproductive abilities of a lettuce leaf after a week at the bottom of the fridge. A word to the wise; if you want to get laid, Molly’s your girl, but pass on the rock.
My manhood chastened and put safely away for another day after some pretty indignant and colourful language from the Stunna, I was about to take my leave of the assembled gathering when Nick stirred beside me, groaned and opened one eye.
“Time is it?”
“Fuck. Got football at nine on the Marshes.”
“You’ve had that, pal. Try standing up.”
He did so, managed to rise to the semi vertical, and subsided back onto the sofa. In seconds he was away with the fairies again.
Home at last, with the coffee percolating and the bacon sizzling in the pan – bacon sandwiches are the only true hangover cure as any seasoned carouser knows – I’m in the middle of negotiating my way through the minefield that is a pissed off Georgia, when the phone rings. It’s my brother.
“Mate, you won’t believe what happened to me.”
“Well, I remember the three of us in a circle dancing to some drum and bass tune….then, well, it’s all bit blank really after that, until I came round in some alley near Old Street, covered in anti-climb paint.”
Three weeks pass. My brother, friend Nick and I are in the Water Rats to see an unsigned band whose demo I’ve taken a bit of a shine to. Waiting for the show to start, we’re standing at the bar having a boys’ bullshit session about nothing in particular. The customary toilet circuit soundtrack of indie rock peppered with the occasional club tune is an unremarked hum in the background. The tempo changes. In an instant we are all staring at each other, stupefied. As the realization dawns that we are all sharing the same unarticulated memory, the stupefaction dissolves into uncontrollable paroxysms of laughter.
“It’s that fucking drum and bass tune!” blurts Nick.
We start dancing again. Like bastards.