Annie and I arrived at my mum’s house in the same state we did in September of 2021: poorly, dishevelled and underslept. My mum likes Annie; she finds her funny and interesting and refreshing. I think Annie was a bit nervous to meet my mum again – as they stood chatting in the kitchen I noticed she was babbling a little, talking faster and louder than she had been with me on the bus. It makes me smile when Annie is nervous, worrying about being liked. Ironically enough it’s what made me like her so much in the first place.
There are two Annies, you see. There’s the one she likes to project – the one she’d probably prefer to be all the time, given the chance: the hyper-confident andro virtuoso, the queer vampire DJ with the frat-boy vernacular, the bratty Yank touring Europe’s night circuit in a whirlwind of smut. And then there’s the one she keeps under wraps: the Annie who worries if she’ll make it, if she’s enough, the goofy kid who trips over her own shoelaces and clatters to the pavement to scrape her palms with a disgusted cry of “Again?” I love the first Annie, of course, but the second is my favourite. It’s the disharmony that makes her so interesting.
We didn’t do a lot over two evenings at my mum’s, and that was deliberate. I had a few lessons to teach and Annie had music stuff to work on, so after arriving late on Saturday, we spent the Sunday eating well and getting healthy ahead of the next leg of our trip. We ate beans on toast, we watched early episodes of the Simpsons, we watched Little Miss Sunshine and both shed a reluctant tear. Steve Carell’s character in that movie made my jaw drop. I felt strangely comforted.
Part of me was set on edge every time Annie and my mum chatted. I trust the pair of them, of course, and I keep no secrets from either – but there are still things my mum wouldn’t want to know, even if I offered to tell her. With my eyes clicking back and forth between the pair of them like an anxious metronome, in my head I played out scenarios where Annie embarked accidentally upon a story in which I did something obscene and ridiculous, . Don’t besmirch meeee pleaaaase.
I was also slightly worried that Annie might jokingly slag off England. I slag England off all the time, of course, as does my mum and every other English person in existence; we enjoy it very much. It’s a national sport, as treasured as commenting blandly on the weather. I always slag off England to Annie, it makes her laugh. I had to warn her, however, that she ought never to repeat what I say. English people will chuckle and nod while their countrymen slate the more dismal aspects of their homeland, but they’ll take a very different attitude if the joke comes from an American. Even me: if I’m in a hostel and I hear a non-English person criticise these shores I immediately grow two inches, back straight, nose up, eyebrow raised in cold and quizzical fashion: how dare you insult my beloved shithole? It’s like when a fat person calls themselves fat: it’s a faux pas to agree.
Just like 2021, it was funny to see Annie in my family home. I think it’s partly because she’s American, and although Brits are very familiar with US culture because of television, it’s still quite rare to meet one in real life, certainly outside of London. It’s also funny to see Annie in my mum’s home because she’s, well – she’s part of a different world. My mum never visited me when I lived in Berlin, I think mostly because she was left bewildered by these diaries – fair enough, really – and so Annie visiting is as close as I’ve got to seeing those two very different worlds collide.
I showed Annie my bedroom and my possessions, handing her various trinkets and travel artefacts like a 5-year-old displaying his toys for a new friend.
“Here’s a little wooden skull I got from Mexico, and here’s a shell from Colombia, and here’s a rock I got from the top of a volcano in Guatemala where I thought I might die.”
I showed her the pile of books I’ve been working through, and my weights – which she referred to as ‘little’, which of course obliterated my masculine ego immediately – and I showed her the sketches I’d done several months earlier, in Avignon with Seth. It was strange to see her there, sitting in the room where I’d spent most of a very quiet year, alone, trying to figure it all out, trying to reinvent myself—strange to have a friend. Her presence reminded me of something I’d forgotten: that there were things about myself in the past that were good, even amongst everything I’d loathed and fought to change. Somewhere in the back of my mind I felt a shift, small and distant but definitely there – like a new period in my life might soon be starting, and my year of hibernation and self-flagellation would be done. It was September, but I felt like I’d spotted the first green leaf of spring.
On the Monday we left my mum’s with hugs, and we went to spend a night at my dad’s flat in Harrogate. My dad had just got back from Montenegro, where he’d taken himself for his birthday. I gave him his present – a camping stove and a ton of gas – and we drank a lot of beers and we talked about travelling and dating and girls, and I think my dad enjoyed Annie’s lack of bashfulness on these subjects. My dad did visit Berlin, along with my grandad, for a debauched weekend back in 2017, and so this was his third time meeting my friend. He finds her funny and refreshing too. We ate pizza, and to close the night we went to my dad’s local pub, where he’s friends with all the staff, for some ill-advised shots of whisky. Annie slept in the spare room and I slept on the sofa, weaving in and out of an uncomfortable sleep until the sun rose.
My dad left for work (bleary eyed, presumably) while we were asleep , and in the morning Annie packed her things: she had a train to catch, and we were going our separate ways for the time being. I’d have loved to stay with her for the whole shebang, but I was worried about money and didn’t want to take too much time away from teaching. We agreed to split: Annie would head to London for a few nights to visit some DJ pals, and I would go back to my mum’s and continue teaching until Friday. With my week’s lessons completed, I would take the bus to Bristol, there to be reunited with not only Annie but Vic, my wonderful chum from Berlin and Melbourne, whose name you will find strewn throughout these diaries like confetti.
Annie would play another show in Bristol, and then it’d be off to Lisbon and Paris, and naturally, lots of questionable choices.