Annie sleeps like a walrus. That’s not to say she’s an inelegant sleeper — she isn’t, she sleeps in this weirdly prim manner like Dracula, on her back, face up, mouth closed. It’s just that she sleeps forever. Whenever we hang out we always go to bed at the same time, of course, but my body clock simply refuses to allow me through the morning. Annie, if undisturbed, will sleep for 16 hours. It was for this reason that, on our second day in Manchester, I spent around four hours lying awake in my bed, looking at memes on my phone, awaiting the moment my friend would rise from her crypt.
She always wakes up the same way: a stir, a groan, a giant stretch, and an ultrasonic scream that causes any passing bats to drop out of the sky.
“How’s it goin’ boys.”
Annie’s gig was the next day, a Friday, so for Thursday we’d booked a Pirate Studio outside of the city centre so she could practise. Pirate Studios are cool. You can find them in most big cities: ramshackle rehearsal venues for bands and DJs and musical people. They’re usually in weird areas, I suppose because of cheap rent, and they have a keypad on the front door which you get the code for when you book. You can rent them for a few hours at a time, and once inside you’ll find a long, dark, foisty hallway with a lot of heavy black doors labelled ‘Mixing Booth One’ ‘Rehearsal Room Two’ etc, and each room is kitted out with drums and mics or decks and big big speakers. Everything is ostensibly soundproof, but you can still hear the thwack of cymbals and crunching guitars vibrating down the hallway. Leather clad rock people stroll the halls, beer cans in hand, looking for the toilets in between songs. I like being there; makes you feel like a Beatle.
Annie and I left the hotel in the early afternoon, and we had an hour or two to kill before the studio was free. We checked Google Maps to find a bar nearby, but the only thing in the area was the Starbucks inside Victoria train station. They sold cider though – so while Annie opened her laptop and pulled on her beefy headphones and began working on her set, I sat with a small bottle and stared vacantly out at the commuters to-ing and fro-ing.
After 30 minutes or so I got bored and called Charlie to ask if he’d like to get food later on. He was too busy to join, and instead asked what our plans were. I told him about the studio. He frowned (you can hear his frown through the phone) and told us to be careful; the studio was right next to Strangeways prison, and he knew friends who’d been robbed of their laptops outside the studio. Bad people hang out there, he said, because they know the weedy music people going in and out have valuables on them. I said it was fine, I’d made it through Colombia in one piece—but I was a little bit worried.
Annie didn’t seem bothered when I told her, so I refrained from mentioning it again so as to not look a fanny. It was fine anyway: dodgy area, yes, but there was nobody around when we arrived at the knackered old building except for one man passed out in a doorway. Still, I kept my eye on him, lest he suddenly reanimate and come sprinting over like in 28 Days Later.
We put in the code for the outside door, found our designated booth inside, and tapped in the secondary code. Opening the door to the booth was, I imagine, a similar experience to the explorers who opened Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1923: we were engulfed in a great wall of stale, monstrously hot air that smelled of long-expired farts. The dimly lit room was even smaller than our hotel room: three by three metres, there was a DJ booth on a little platform, a bin, and a single stool. What was worse, it was around 40C inside. We gasped in unison at the heat.
They had AC, but it took us a good hour of pawing desperately at the remote before we managed to turn it on, with the help of a customer support person on the phone (they don’t seem to have in-person staff). Sweating, Annie finally plugged in her electronics and the thunder-punch of her kickdrums filled the room.
“Are you not… going to use headphones?” I asked, gingerly.
“What? Course not dude, I need to hear how it will sound to everyone else. That’s the whole point we came.”
Well, shit. We’d brought snacks and drinks—I’d even brought a book! I’d envisioned myself lounging on a sofa, sipping a cold one, lamplit, writing droll ponderings in my diary while Annie tinkered quietly across the way—not slumped in the shadows on a corrugated iron floor with Cerberean howls pounding me into the dirt like the peg of a tent, teeth jittering in my head, floor vibrations rattling haemorrhoids out of me, beer flying everywhere like a boozehound in a malfunctioning helicopter trying to get one last sip as the whole thing twirls ablaze towards the growing earth.
But 🙂 it happened anyway 🙂
If memory serves (it doesn’t), we passed the rest of the day in bars, then took an involuntary three-hour nap at the hotel after lying down for what was meant to be a minute’s rest. We woke up stinking, then freshened up and went for dinner at the curry place – where the manager was the girl we’d met in the punk bar the night before. She’d promised us a discount while three sheets to the wind, and we intended to hold her to her word. She was on the greeting counter when we arrived. We asked her if she had actually expected us to come. She had not.
But she gave us a discount anyway.
That night we went out on Canal Street and watched a drag queen show, and I died a little inside to see all the gay dudes with their perfect hair and glowing skin. I caught my own reflection in the mirrored bar: comparatively haggard, dusty, positively threadbare. I need to up my skincare regime, man. That is – I need to actually get one.
We went to a couple more bars after, goofing across the city, and in a quieter moment I confessed to Annie that I was having a hard time switching off and letting go. For seven months it’d been all discipline, discipline, moderation, character moulding, building, striving, heaping responsibility upon myself, deathly afraid of letting myself, my friends, my family or my students down – and I couldn’t help feeling that our bender, and the benders that would surely follow, were sort of… tossing all that into the wind.
Annie was good about it, bless her. She didn’t pressure me, said she was happy to take it easy and rest up if I needed to – but she also said that it was fine for me to let go every once in a while. And she was right – I needn’t beat myself up over every little thing. We weren’t hurting anyone; we’d both worked hard to earn a holiday, and we could let off as much steam as we needed to – which, in my case at least, was a fuckin lot.
We finished the night in some sort of club, couldn’t tell you where it was if you put a gun to my head. All I know is that it was the last place open, and they let us in and we crept onto the busy dancefloor and I was delighted to find them playing music I actually knew: that is, Courteeners, Killers, Maximo Park — all those noughties indie anthems that I love to scream-sing until I’m dizzy. For possibly the first time in our nighttime friendship, I was in my element and Annie was not. But she was smiling.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this before boys,” she said.
I just grinned, too busy singing along. They finished up with Bohemian Rhapsody — and of course everybody in the English speaking world knows the words, and so we yelped and jumped around and made fools and, eventually, stumbled on home, jolly.