It meant a lot to me, that little hotel room halfway between Bristol and the airport. Nothing particularly interesting happened: we just dropped our shit, showered in turn, and lay in our beds vaping and watching Peep Show until we fell asleep past midnight. But it was important to me because it felt like an adventure – and not like the adventures I’d known recently. Over the years, I’d come to associate adventure with being alone, and by extension with the fear that comes when you’re on your lonesome, far from loved ones, and you find yourself huffing up a dirty great mountain or darting through some alien humid cityscape and you realise that if you fuck up, there’s not a soul within ten thousand miles who gives a rat’s knob about you. I got such a kick from that crappy little four-hour bungalow nap because, for the first time in years, that adventurous feeling was there without all the bad stuff. I’d begun to believe they were welded together.
I’d forgotten how good it feels to travel with someone. You don’t just vanish into the blue, everything shrinking behind you, rocketing solo into the maw of the unknown. Everything isn’t abandoned. You take a chunk of your reality with you: it’s across the aisle from you on the plane, popping CBD gummies and pulling a sleep mask down over its eyes.
“Imagine if the plane goes down with both us on it,” said Annie. “It’d be kind of a perfect end to our friendship, honestly.”
“What a loss to the world of music and literature,” I said.
“At least I wouldn’t have to write your eulogy,” said Annie.
Annie often visualises my demise. I’ve gotten used to it; I take it as a mark of affection. When I left Berlin for India she wrote me a very lovely letter, at the bottom of which she wrote ‘AND DON’T FUCKING DIE’ in all caps.
“I think I’d do you a sick eulogy,” I said. “Annie Kissiah was the only human I ever knew who could trip up while standing perfectly still.”
Annie gave me one in return which I refuse to print here.
We landed in Lisbon around 11am, and we emerged through customs into the blinding white sunshine of Portugal in late summer. You can see the sea from the airport. Instantly we were both sweating, idiots clad in black, and we shed layers as we fled underground to take the metro into the city. The seats on the underground trains are made from cork; Portugal exports 65% of the world’s supply of it. Seth told me that a year ago. He also told me that Lisbon has so many white and blue tiles because they help reflect the heat of the sun.
“Seth visited Lisbon’s National Tile Museum when he was here,” I told Annie. “Supposed to be pretty cool.”
“Oh,” said Annie. “Dope. I mean yeah, we could visit that one day. Would be good to do some cultural stuff.”
I frowned. “Oh, no. I don’t actually want to go. I said that expecting you to laugh and tell me to fuck off. Unless… you do want to go? I mean, I’d be down.”
“Oh, haha. I mean, maybe? We can see what happens.”
It’s funny with Annie; we sometimes get so wrapped up in layers of trying to be considerate to one another that neither of us has a clue what the other actually wants. I think both of us were also a little shy of being completely honest and just saying: I want to get really, really drunk in a sunny town square and point out beautiful women to one another.
We walked to the AirBnB, rather than taking a bus, and stopped off for beers in several bars en route to break up the journey. I spoke what little Portuguese I remembered (Bom dia, tudo bem, você fala inglês por favor?) in an effort to be polite with the waiters, and to my surprise they were genuinely baffled and thrilled that I’d made even that miniscule effort. The staff in every bar we went in consisted entirely of young expat Brazilians, so maybe this was the reason for their warmth. Everybody was all smiles: we felt very welcome.
“Ugh, Brazilians,” said Annie, dropping her forehead onto the metal table with a clang. “How are they all so hot?”
Drifting along the streets of Lisbon together, I felt we’d hit our stride at last, as though the previous week had been a warm up. I’d been a bit all over the place in Manchester and Leeds; a little unsettled, I think, because after such a weird year, it’d taken me several days to remember exactly who I was with Annie – and who we used to be together. If your friends are the notes that resonate with your own to make chords, and the music you make together is your friendship, then time spent apart is like… your instrument gets a little out of tune. It takes a while to tighten the strings, find the right key.
With my old school friend Sam, for example, I’m a far more blokey and boisterous version of myself – more Northern, more slapstick, more masculine, daft. We rarely discuss our feelings, though we often sit for hours and inspire one another with bold talk about the future – we put the world to rights and agree on almost everything. With Seth I’m a little more neurotic, more cynical (partially because it makes him laugh), but I’m also more outdoorsy, somehow – more curious and practical and excited to listen to all of his weird facts. And then there’s Annie. With Annie I can be extraordinarily goofy, I can be a pretentious lit-nerd, I can be coarse, crass, euphoric or morose, I can be almost completely vulnerable: she’s one of the few people who’ve seen me cry from both sadness and happiness.
None of these traits are fabricated, of course; when I’m alone I suppose they just all sit there in harmony. But of course, you can’t show all sides of yourself to company at once or you’ll look insane: I sit in bed, leafing through a 19th century Russian novel, and I look outside and grumble at the state of the world, then I go cross-eyed and fart and burst out laughing.
After a week with Annie, my instrument was re-tuned, strings tightened. Anyone who plays music knows the satisfaction when you strike the first chord after tuning up and it rings out perfectly, all warm and ochre. It felt like that.
We dropped our bags in our AirBnb. It was sparse: two twin beds and a ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ placard bolted to the wall. We had a nap (or at least Annie did, she sleeps easily and I don’t – I just did the Millennial nap where I looked at memes for two hours) and then got ready to head out for the evening.
We headed down towards Pink Street, Lisbon’s gay area, because I’d been there in 2022 and thought Annie would enjoy it. We stopped off in a few places en route for drinks, and laughed to find that every single bartender we befriended turned out to be Brazilian rather than Portuguese. I always enjoy meeting new people with Annie – it’s always fun to see people’s brows furrow as we explain where we are from and how we met.
We talked a lot – those really good, beefy, bone-marrow chats you have after a couple of drinks where you both lean in, elbows on the table, and gesticulate with a cigarette like you’re in the Sopranos. I told Annie about my Latin American trip, about the disaster that overshadowed the whole damn thing which I never wrote about on WorldHangover because it’s too tedious to relive. We talked about mental health, about love, about dangerous things. And we talked a lot – a lot – about how ridiculously, cruelly, jaw-slackeningly attractive everyone in Lisbon is. We sat on a table on the pavement with a steady stream of folks heading past on their night-time activities, and it seemed that not twenty seconds would pass without an achingly beautiful girl-next-door in a sundress swishing by with tousled hair and freckles and an air of complete levity.
“Jesus Christ,” I sighed, catching Annie’s eye. “I’ve never felt so haggard in my life.”
Down at Pink Street we watched a long-legged drag queen zip around on roller skates, boombox toting, skidding to a halt mere millimetres before unsuspecting men walking along on their phones – always stopping ass-backwards, grinding up against them in leather hotpants. Every now and then she’d do a forward roll and her blonde wig would fly off across the road, and she’d scream and run after it with her palm clasped tightly to her shaven head.
We finished our drinks and got up to go for dinner. It was at this point, as we made our way to Time Out Market, that I put my hand in my back pocket and felt something crinkly and plastic. I stopped walking, blinking.
“Oh… shit. Annie.”
I held out my hand. In my palm was a little translucent baggy, half full.
“I have no fucking idea! How did– ooooh.”
It came back to me in a flash: two weeks earlier, All Points East festival in London. Sam had found it on the grass while queuing to collect his tickets. He hadn’t wanted it and had handed it to me. I hadn’t wanted it either and had – I thought – thrown it into the nearest bin. Only – well, apparently not.
“Mate,” I said, grabbing Annie as the full situation dawned on me. “We went through an airport today.”
We looked at each other for a long, mad moment, then broke down in delirious, relieved laughter.
“Jesus, man. This trip was almost very different. Holy shit.”
With me still reeling from this discovery, we went for dinner at the market and drank too much wine. At midnight I took Annie up to Bairro Alto, a touristy area where there’s always music and people. We drifted in and out of bars, taking shots and chatting to various Brazilians. They have people outside each bar beckoning you inside with gimmicks, and with nothing better to do, we agreed to every single one. On our last stop before home, we chatted a while to the Brazilian girl behind the bar, and when karaoke broke out and a man draped in an unravelled toilet roll climbed up on a sofa to sing Gwen Stefani, I dared Annie to get involved.
“Okay,” she said, and clambered up onto the sofa to share the mic.
Huh. I hadn’t expected her to actually do it. I sipped my drink, genuinely impressed, and watched my friend bob around with the toilet roll sofa man and share his microphone. She may not have the voice of an angel, but she makes up for it with gusto.
Doing karaoke gets you a free shot. Annie had a couple, and they hit her on the walk home: rebounding off walls, tripping over loose tiles, stumbling into bins and somehow blaming me for it.