“So… this is it then.”
“I love you so much dude.”
“I love you too. Ride safe.”
Annie kissed my cheek as our hug broke apart, and with a sad smile she climbed into the taxi. In a moment she would be carried on into the night, to Manchester Airport, then on to California and home. I didn’t watch the car as it reversed and straightened up; I didn’t trust myself. I turned my back, upset, and lit my last idiot cigarette. I heard the wheels roll and the engine hum, and at the last second I changed my mind, turning just in time to see the taxi round the corner and disappear. And then the street was empty – no cars, just traffic lights changing from green to amber to red in the silence – and now I won’t see my best friend again for a year, or maybe more.
And as the taxi vanished I felt something leave me, rising from my shoulders and neck and head like smoke into the sky. It was 3:30 in the morning and there was nobody around to sigh to, so I went inside, and I looked at the two empty wineglasses on the dresser, and I went to bed.
That was twelve hours ago.
Five weeks before, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I was eating a wildly overpriced Cornish pasty in Paddington Station, London, gently hungover, trying to make sense of the arrivals board. Annie had set out on her flight from Berkely, California the night before, and at any minute would come bounding through the ticket gates and into my waiting bear hug. The last time I’d seen her in-person was Berlin, in August of 2019.
After pacing the station for an hour, keeping my eyes peeled for ice-blonde vampire women, I gave up and went for a Guinness in a tiny station pub. As I was finishing the last mouthful, I checked my phone and found a message waiting: yooooo im here!
I left my glass on the bar and hurried out across the station. I spotted her within seconds: even with her back turned and a black beanie pulled down over her hair, I’d know that posture anywhere. I skirted around, unseen, and popped up immediately in front of her.
“Alright,” I smiled.
“Oh my fucking god dude,” said Annie.
And we hugged for a long time.
Walking through London beneath a fluffy blue sky, we swapped stories about our summers, our families and our friends. I shouldered Annie’s backpack and she pulled along her heavy suitcase. She was just as clumsy as I remembered, her suitcase hitting uneven paving slabs and flipping over every two or three meters.
We entered Kensington Gardens and weaved through the children playing, and sat for beers in an open bar beside the lake. Over the tops of the trees you could just make out the London Eye.
“These next four weeks are going to be insane,” I said, watching the joggers go by. “I’ve been bracing myself. And my liver.”
“Five weeks,” said Annie.
“I’m here for five weeks, boys.”
“Boys? What’s ‘boys’?”
“Oh, I picked it up from my brother. He calls everybody it.”
“What’s wrong, boys?”
“I feel it might start to grate.”
“You’ll be fine, boys.”
“Ahhh. This is going to be a long four weeks.”
“Jesus Christ. We’re going to be husks.”
She clapped a hand on my shoulder.
“Yes we are, Danny Boy.”
Annie’s trip to the UK was, first and foremost, for her music. As Ani Klang, DJ and producer extraordinaire, she’d been hard at work for months arranging her second UK tour (I was in Tasmania during her last one in 2019). Last time she played shows in Bristol and Manchester, and this time she’d upped the ante: five raucous sets, five venues, three cities. Beginning in London at Venue MOT Unit 18, Annie would go on to play shows at Crofter’s Rights, Strange Brew, and Basement 45 in Bristol, before finishing strong in Manchester at Yes. And, as luck would have it, I live in London, my brother Jack lives in Bristol, and my brother Charlie lives in Manchester. The stars aligned: at every stop, there would be familiar faces and sofas to crash on.
The excitement was twofold: beyond the thrill of the impending tour we’d be embarking on, I was gleefully giddy at the prospect of introducing my cool American friend to my brothers and my parents, and showing her the town I grew up in. For years it had been an absurd fantasy – taking combat-booted, black-clad, skater-slang Annie into the New Inn in Wetherby for a couple of pints of Fosters. Now the wheels were in motion to turn it into a reality. The notion made me insanely happy.
We had many more beers that first night, working our way home and sitting outside the Bedford in Balham until the sky got all black and dotty. I’d been listening to a podcast about Lord Byron earlier in the week, and I spent a long while theorising to Annie that she is Byron and I am Percy Shelley – two best friends, one who lives in the dark, one who thrives on light. Annie liked the idea. Later on Sam and Christie walked past by pure coincidence, and I introduced everybody. It was funny to see Sam’s calm, slow energy against Annie’s frenetic Yankee storytelling, but though they’re both shy in their own ways, I sensed they liked one another. It’s always a pleasure to see people you love getting along.
Sam and Christie left us to go food shopping, and Annie and I worked our way through the first five or six of what must have become several hundred pints during the weeks that followed. We walked back to mine across the quiet of Tooting Common, pausing for tandem wees in the bushes, then stumbled merrily across my estate, singing and karate chopping each other.
We had five enormous weeks ahead of us, during which time we would see the length and breadth of England, and though neither of us could be sure of what lay in store, neither of us held any doubts that it would be fucking wild. Annie was going on tour, and I was along for the ride.