Wheeeew –- had a week off from writing. Went to Berlin. Will write about that later. Got to catch up on my Annie diaries first. Much to get on with. Where was I?
It’d been a long time since I’d taken a Megabus. For a time, in my late teens and early twenties, the Megabus defined me. I seemed to ride it every week, trundling across the country at a glacial pace, surrounded by retching infants and goths and old ladies getting up to go for a poo.
My journey down to Bristol was a reminder of this world; the world of busdom that I had, for a time, managed to escape for the comparatively sunlit uplands of rail travel. Well – hello darkness, my old friend. Buckled in as we left Leeds, I folded down the tray on the back of the seat in front and the half-eaten corpse of a Boost bar tumbled into my lap, right as the girl behind began watching TikToks at max volume and somebody else got up for a wee and flooded the bus with the fermented piss stench that mushroom clouds from the toilet every time the door is opened.
It was going to be a long five hours.
I arrived in Bristol after dark, and the night was crisp and smelled of nostalgia (a considerable step up from ‘old piss’). I’d missed Bristol; there’s optimism in the seaside air. I messaged Vic to let her know I’d arrived and was on my way to hers, and then I called Annie to check in. She was playing later that night, and was crashing at the promoter’s place. She’d said I was welcome to stay the night there too, but I’d better spend as much time as possible with Vic – I don’t get to see her often.
It was a strange walk through the city, across the Bearpit and up past Primark, down past the bowling alley and the giant colourful murals, past Electricity House where I worked for a year before I lost my job in the pandemic. They still had the same display posters in the windows; I helped pick them. Weird.
I’d been a little worried about going back to Bristol. I knew it’d hurt. I passed a pub where Jeanne and I once went for a Sunday lunch; she’d worn dungarees and her hair up. I passed the science museum where we went on a Sunday afternoon and played around on the kids exhibits; the pizza place we met up at during our lunch hours; the art gallery we used to wander around. I passed the harbour where we used to sit with cans of Thatchers Haze cider, watching the boats and seagulls and clouds and talking about the future.
It did hurt; I let it hurt. It’s alright.
I arrived at Vic’s place in Bedminster and she buzzed me up to her flat, and after knocking on the door I stood there in a goofy lunging pose, ready to give her a big hug when she opened up. The door did open, but it was Vic’s boyfriend Rob, who I’d not seen for almost three years.
“Oh fuck, hey!” I said, immediately annoyed at my lack of elegance. I’d pay good money for etiquette lessons, honestly. Imagine how nice it must feel to be suave.
Vic was inside, and I hugged her too and took off my rucksack. She had a new haircut – I don’t know girls’ hair terminology, so I’ll obviously describe it wrong, but it was a sort of trendy long bob, I think – and it suited her. Other than that she looked exactly the same: the girl doesn’t age.
They’d just eaten dinner and they’d left some for me – a risotto – and I sat on the sofa and we chatted a while and I complained about the TikTok Megabus girl. We talked about our lives and plans and of course we talked about Berlin, although because Rob was there I was conscious of not talking about it too much, because there’s nothing more tedious than listening to people reminisce together about things you weren’t present for.
When it got dark Annie messaged: she was heading out with a friend to a place called The Old Prison or the Firehouse or something. We took a bus to meet them, and in the centre of town Annie came skipping around the corner all merry and hugged each of us, and then we all went into the smoky basement venue for a pre-drink bop.
Annie’s show, later that night, was at Lakota, Stokes Croft. Never been in before; I think it used to be a church. We made it past the humourless door staff and chatted in the cold night air while Annie vanished and reappeared with a bottle of gin she’d acquired from somewhere. She poured us horrible drinks, and I tried to tell everybody a cool fact I’d learned about tigers but everybody was less amazed by the fact than they were amused that I’d even considered trying to explain it.
Annie went onstage at 3am, which was a terrifyingly late time for Vic and Rob and I, we three early snoozers, but we stayed til the end. She played a violent, obscenely energetic set, and sweaty people with tattoos and harnesses were leaping all over the place at the front. At Annie’s shows I regularly see people sticking their heads inside the bass speakers, revelling druggily in the euphoria of that juicy great throb. Their poor ears.
Annie played until the end, not letting up the assault even when the miserable security team entered at 3:55 and told the speaker crew to finish up. The promoter was having none of it, and yelled in Annie’s ear to play until 4, which was the agreed cut-off. While I’ll move heaven and earth to keep everyone smiling, Annie’s never been bothered about getting into trouble with authority figures. As the security team barked at her to turn it off, I watched a familiar devil-child grin grow on her face as she held eye contact with them while queuing up another song.
She finished up with a punchy edit of Sabotage by the Beastie Boys, which of course I loved.
We met up in the street after the show, ears ringing, with Annie all glowing and sweaty and full of adrenaline. She was busy pinballing between people congratulating her and arranging the afterparty, so Vic, Rob and I said goodnight while we still had her attention. We walked home through the city, streets still buzzing with young people, and I bought a kebab and got it all over my shoes.
I woke up on Vic’s air bed the next day; it had deflated in the night, leaving me sprawled in a pile of crinkly rubber on the linoleum. None of us had gone particularly nuts the night before, so we went out at a reasonable hour for a stroll around Bristol’s harbour. It’s a cosy walk: lots of new parents with children in puffy onesies, little red noses and mittens, old people trundling along, wiggly dogs with curly hair – and all the nicotine young folks who’d headbutted themselves back and forth across the dancefloor last night were tucked up in bed, glitter all over the sheets. I used to be one of them, I suppose, back in the day. Vic too. Nowadays we’re both far more interested in being one of the thermos people.
We took a long walk around the water and snooped on the weekend’s antics: a sea shanty festival. Standing in between Vic and Rob, I watched a bandstand filled with salt-haired, ruddy-cheeked men and women as they sang centuries-old shanties that were surprisingly rousing. A couple of blokes on stage were really getting into it; clutching bottles of cider, swinging them to and fro to the lilt of the song. At the foot of the stage, oblivious to the two hundred adults watching them, a gaggle of children danced and played clumsily.
We went to College Green for pizzas – the same green where I saw Greta Thunberg, the same green where I saw Jeremy Corbyn in 2019 – and watched clouds. Annie text me as the day wore on to say she’d woken up, somewhere in Bristol, after a lengthy afterparty which I was quietly glad I’d decided to skip.
Back at Vic’s flat I picked up my rucksack and said goodbye to the lovely couple, and then hurried out to collect Annie from wherever the hell she was. I met her by the harbour, looking a little worse for wear but surprisingly chipper. Annie takes ADHD meds most days, but often on the day after a big party, she forgets. She was unmedicated when I sat down beside her at the water’s edge, and I could tell right away. A hen-do chugged past on a boat, and as I was mid-way through a story Annie threw her hands up and yelled to the women with their little plastic dong-straws. Then she spat in the canal, opened a cider and laughed at a seagull.
She’s a little bugger when she skips her meds: she listens to my conversation, sure, but only so she can entertain herself by searching out the most ribald, the most juvenile puns and double entendres she can, blurting them out the second they occur to her with a Cheshire Cat grin. She knows this makes me cross and does it anyway, and it makes her laugh even more to see me battle on as what was supposed to be a throwaway 30-second anecdote stretches into a breathless, clench-jawed odyssey until I find myself barking like Basil Fawlty:
“By god, will you just… fucking… behave?”
This just makes her laugh all over again. It’s a losing battle on my part, but of course I secretly enjoy it (don’t tell her I said that).
We went for drinks with a DJ friend of Annie’s, named Mars. I don’t recall whether that’s her DJ name or her real name, but I do remember that she’s Mexican and lives in California. She was doing a Europe tour at the same time as Annie, which I found impressive. We stayed a few hours in the chilly beer garden of a pub, and we laughed until our cheeks hurt talking about terrible dates we’d had over the years. We got drunk, and I felt worryingly delirious with the tiredness of following Annie on her tour, but also comforted and bolstered by her presence. It made for an odd dichotomy.
“It’s like you’re my anchor, but also my kite,” I told her. She enjoyed that.
Mars wanted to go to a queer rave free party thing somewhere out near Clifton Suspension Bridge, but it was very cold and late and Annie and I were due to fly to Lisbon at 7am the next day. Instead, then, we said bye to Mars at 11pm and took a bus out of town: we’d booked a hotel outside the city, closer to the airport, so it wouldn’t be such a faff getting there in the morning. £80 for one night, it cost. Retrospectively we realised that Vic would probably have had no issue with us spending one more night on her blow-up bed, but never mind.
We did a crossword puzzle on a newspaper we found, drunkenly passing it back and forth, and 30 minutes outside Bristol, the bus dropped us on a jet black road with no streetlights or signposts. The road was narrow, hemmed in by bushes, and from out of the darkness the black shapes of houses loomed. Bristol glowed on the horizon beneath a frown of clouds, and a chilly world’s-end wind whipped at us.
“If we end up sleeping in a bush, I swear to God…”
We followed the road and soon found our hotel: a sprawling bungalow with an empty reception. We prodded a code into a box and entered our room, two single beds, no frills. Being in the room with my friend felt, frankly, fucking brilliant: I’ve stayed in far too many hotel rooms alone over the past few years, taken far too many flights alone. It was a monumental comfort to have Annie there. I always stress over flights and health and travel, but I was surprised to find, as I climbed into bed, that I felt largely unbothered. We’d figure it out, together, and that was that. How much more endurable everything in life is with friends beside you.
We took showers, shared a packet of crisps, and set our alarms for 4am: four hours’ time. 😊