Bristol: Poison and Punch Ups and Jacob Marley’s Ghost

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Plenty has happened in a relatively short space of time – relative, that is, specifically to the age of me, Dan, rather than the Byzantine Empire or the moon or a housefly, because these things would throw that qualifier way out of whack. Come to think of it, I wish I’d not used it. But then if I only said ‘in a short space of time’, you might have thought I meant twelve minutes, or a nanosecond, and that would be ridiculous. So here, let me try again: a lot has happened in the last two weeks (Earth weeks, naturally).

Come now friend, sit naked upon my lap, and let me spin my yarn all over you until you are cocooned in an enormous furry onesie.

Where to begin, where to begin?

Ah, illness! I received food poisoning from some out of date morsel of shit on Monday’s eve. I do not know whether it was the red lentil soup that I first opened five days prior and left in the fridge to fester, or the lukewarm McDonalds I scoffed the previous evening after 6 hours crammed into a sweaty Megabus like corned beef in a tin.

It couldn’t have been the single slice of toast I ate in the morning, nor the five custard creams I ate in the agonising lull between breakfast and lunchtime. It might have been the sushi box I bought from the Co-op. I don’t believe it was the single horrible cigarette I smoked out of a silly inability to say no when offered one, nor the pint of Coca Cola I quaffed at the pub because I didn’t want to drink beer after the 500 litres of it I engulfed over the weekend. Hmm. Captain’s log: what the hell am I doing with my life.

Whatever the culprit was, I shat the life out of me Monday through Wednesday. We are talking ‘how have I not yet shrivelled up like an old satsuma, how is there this much of anything in my body’. I passed Monday’s eve curled up on the bathroom floor, shivering and sweating; bewilderingly hot yet, at the same time, teeth-chatteringly frigid. It’s quite mad, isn’t it, how fast you can go from ‘feeling fine!’ to ‘fucking kill me’. Only moments earlier my girlfriend and I were canoodling in bed, and I’d felt warm and fuzzy and happy. Fast forward eight seconds and I’m vomiting so aggressively into a white toilet bowl that I’m actually screaming – screaming – as my stomach forcefully ejects its awful contents up my neck and out of my hollering mouth, my eyes bulging and yellow, my head swelling like an overfilled balloon about to burst, vision blurred with tears, and all the while I’m desperately tensing my arse hole so I don’t explode from both ends involuntarily. Eight seconds, people, can change your whole world.

I passed the night that way, and when I crawled back to bed at 4.30 in the morning, void of every last glob of matter I ever ate, I did not think it would be prudent to attempt to initiate coitus once more. I fell asleep shortly after and woke myself with a loud fart at 8.30, fortunately by which time Jeanne had left for work.

In retrospect that might not have been the best place to begin this diary entry. Alas, my delete key is knackered.

*****

Rewind. I took the Megabus to Leeds last Wednesday (a journey which, naturally, included a three hour delay, a missing driver, a bus crash, a smashed windshield, a road blockage, and a police-issue tow truck) and spent four or five blurry days with friends working on an exciting business idea and drinking beer. We bluffed our way into a co-working office for a day of free coffee and creativity, we went to a mods and rockers night called Brighton Beach, we played board games, visited old haunts, and we invented a stupid new dance called The No-Taste which we unveiled onstage at Brighton Beach to resounding hatred from the masses. Nice.

The night out we had in Leeds wasn’t great, to be honest. I’m not a fan of the city’s nightlife. In fact, why am I being diplomatic? Fuck it, I don’t care – I hate it. Leeds’s nightlife is hot sewage. You can try and make excuses like ‘that’s just what alcohol does to people’, but here: no it isn’t. I lived in Berlin where it’s legal to drink on the street all hours and everybody is off their heads 24/7, and that whole time, going out to bars three or four times a week for a year and half, I saw not one – not *one* fight. In Leeds last Saturday I saw around eight in the space of maybe three hours. Why?

I don’t feel safe walking around Leeds on a Saturday night. Nobody does, unless they’re A) a boxer or B) off their tits. And of course in Leeds on a Saturday night everybody is off their tits, and everybody – gender be damned – is a wannabe boxer. Bouncers carry screaming girls kicking their high-heel strapped legs out into the cold night air and deposit them on the pavement, where they hiss and spit like basilisks. Thick-necked young men in immaculate white shirts and designer loafers shove one another back and forth while their girlfriends shriek in the background. Eyeballs swivel, boring into your head, daring you to look their way – two seconds of eye contact in the McDonalds queue is long enough to earn rottweiler howl and a fist to the teeth.*

*I’m testament to that. That literally happened to me, except it was a polite question, not eye contact, and a headbutt, not a punch.

Nights out are meant to be fun. Dancing in clubs so packed you can’t raise your arms isn’t fun. People shoving past and casually knocking your drinks down your shirt isn’t fun. Being kerb-stomped into a coma because you glanced at the wrong person isn’t fun. What on earth are you doing Leeds? Why are you so angry? There’s letting off steam, then there’s ripping the boiler off the wall and slinging it through the window. It’s dangerous, it’s dumb, it’s spectacularly depressing.

So yeah to summarise: get a grip, Leeds.

*****

On a lighter note, the funniest thing I saw in Leeds was on Friday night at around 7pm. I was tipsy and I’d gone to the corner-shop. There was only three of us in there: me, the shopkeeper, and a visibly-smashed middle-aged man, swaying at the till as he tried to pick out a pack of cigs to purchase.

“C’mon, mate,” he was slurring. “Just let me have ten cigs. I only want ten. Split a 20 pack in half and I’ll come back and buy the rest tomorrow, I promise.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” said the shopkeeper.

The drunk man shrugged, took 20, and squinted at the price on the till.

“It’s well bloody expensive in here, mate. Cost the earth, these ciggies do.”

“I’m sorry my friend.”

Then, with a slight grimace, the drunk man hunkered down and forced out a medium-volume fart. He began wafting it with both arms at the shopkeeper.

“Here,” he said, “have some of that you high price bastard!”

The shopkeeper, helpless, simply stood manning the till as the fart cloud bathed him.

“Oh my god, that stinks,” said the shopkeeper.

“Yeah! Stinks dun’t it! That’s what you get for being an expensive dick head,” said the drunk man.

He took his cigs and went to leave, but not before sticking his arse back inside the shop to squeeze out one last fart.

“Ahem, just these please,” I mumbled, placing my Wine Gums on the counter.

*****

Earlier this week I went to the theatre with Jeanne to see a Christmas Carol. She booked tickets for us a couple of weeks back as a surprise, the lovely bugger. I’ve not been to the theatre for a long as I can remember, and upon our arrival I was immediately besotted. The indoor spaces that humans build bewilder me sometimes. A cathedral from the outside is a marvel, of course, and beautiful, shaping the landscape. But no matter what you build, no matter how huge or complex, you cannot compete with the twinkling stars or the tumbling clouds, or the vastness of a clear blue sky. But when humanity started to build indoor spaces, we changed the rules. We shut out the sky, the stars, and we built our own tiny universes wherein we could forget – just for a little while – that anything else exists. There’s grandeur outside a cathedral, yes, but it’s only when you step inside that you feel the power of the structure rattle your bones.

The theatre is the same. One second you’re outside, sky above, weather patterns and trees, and you think you know your place in the order of things – your commute, your home, your office, your local fart-scented corner-shop. Then in one moment you step through some double doors and reality peels away. Time clicks to a stop and begins to wheel backwards, and the kid inside you who long ago shrank away, shushed and swept into the mind’s padlocked playpen, looks up from his colouring book and smiles. We took our seats on the right wing of the first tier, and while the stage remained empty the scene was awash with anticipation, tiers of velvety seats that have cradled Bristolian bottoms for over two centuries. Newcomers filing in draped coats over seats and opened packets of pick n mix, boisterous schoolkids made faces at one another from opposite wings, and as a slow trickle of smoke danced through the air, spotlights were transformed into broad shafts of gold casting halos on those in the pit. I was agog.

The show was a joy. Even before it began, a troupe of singing ghosties in Dickensian garb were making their way through all sections of the crowd playing a spooky ditty in wailing, underworld tones:

“We are the DeeEeaAAad,

We are the DeeeeAEaeaeAeaEAd

We are the DeeeAaaad

We are the Dead – Merry Christmas!

The play was a flurry of ghoulish delights, inventively-conjured spectres, and charming silliness. Bristol being Bristol, there was more than one subtle nod to the coming election, too. In the early scene where two philanthropists try to coax Scrooge into a charitable donation, for example, his famous reply of ‘Are there no prison/workhouses?’ etc included the notable addition of ‘food banks’. After all, what is Rees Mogg if not a rejected Dickensian villain, scribbled out at the last edit of Oliver Twist for fear that the character was too theatrically evil?

Though, due to our seats, there were times it was hard to see what was going on to the right of the stage (I spent a lot of time leant forward with my head on my forearms, folded against the upholstered balcony) the play was wonderful; sincere and clever and warm-hearted.

After the grand finale, the confetti and the fake snow and the holding-hands bow to thunderous applause, the lights went up. We wrapped ourselves in thick coats and filed outside. I kissed Jeanne on the cobblestones of King Street and thanked her for a lovely evening – and a lovely, lovely year together.

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