ON THE TOWN
There came a point in my late twenties when staying out until the small hours of the morning in some sticky floored dive lost its appeal. Who, after all, would subject themselves to that once they’d discovered the joys of imbibing a nice pint of ale in an establishment where the barman knows you by name, where you can hear yourself speak and where you can stay until closing time yet still be tucked up in bed by 11.30? Not me. Yet there I was, pushing forty and queuing outside Aladdin’s, the best and only club in town, surrounded by teenage girls who could legitimately have been my daughter. With the young guys dressed casually in trainers, jeans and t-shirts, we, in pressed shirts and shiny shoes, felt hopelessly out of place.
The fish-out-of-water sensation continued further inside. The last time I had been to a club the playlist had consisted of cheesy pop concluding with a failsafe bit of Bryan Adams just in case you hadn’t yet managed to pull, but from the second we entered it was safe to say that Bryan would not be featuring in DJ Hacksaw’s set. I couldn’t see the appeal of the supposed ‘music’ that had substituted a recognisable melody with a looped sample of what sounded like nails being dragged down a chalkboard. The screeching noise seemed however to fit perfectly with the mood of my fellow revellers who were writhing ecstatically as if possessed by the dissonant sounds.
“Hey mate, having a good time?” Barry from accounts shouted over the racket. I nodded politely, though in reality was questioning why he had chosen here of all places to spend his last night before leaving the country. I hoped for Barry’s sake that Sydney would provide a better class of women than the scrawny chavs he was currently working the Barry magic on. We'd never really been friends but given that all of the other lads had agreed to attend his leaving do I’d figured it would have been a bit lame to say no. I got the impression that most of them had come because they wanted an excuse for a night on the tiles away from the wife and kids rather than through any sense of loyalty towards the colleague we’d always referred to as Fat Barry.
Barry pulled me aside and fished from his pocket a couple of tiny white tablets. “Fancy some?”
Surprised at the offer, I shook my head. “No thanks. I don't do drugs.”
“Lighten up, these are herbal, they’ll give you a rush but they’re completely legal. Everyone else has had some already”. He gestured to the rest of the group who were attempting to ‘throw some shapes’ much to the amusement of a group of giggling girls. Given the pounding bass I couldn’t make out whether the words the women were shouting were encouragement, verbal abuse or a combination of the both.
Barry pressed two pills printed with the image of a leaf to my palm. “Come on mate, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s not like I’m offering you crack, it’s all natural.”
Aware that Barry was not going to let me rest until I’d consumed his offering, I reluctantly put the pills onto my tongue and took a big swig of lager.
“Thanks;” I said in what was intended to be a sarcastic tone, the nuances of which were lost on Barry entirely.
“No problem. You can buy my next drink though; they cost a fiver each.”
“A fiver?” I spluttered in disbelief, lager dribbling down my chin. “They’d better be worth it. I could have bought three pints and a kebab for the price of whatever I’ve just washed down my gullet.”
Barry laughed.“Its top drawer stuff. The girls take it all the time.”
“The girls?” Barry pointed in the direction of the women circling my colleagues like hyenas, no doubt attracted by their propensity to buy a cocktail for any female willing to give them the slightest attention rather than their polyester outfits, receding hairlines or the scent of desperation oozing from their pores.
“We’re lucky that Rose was prepared to sell me these. She’s got plenty of regulars who’re going to go without tonight thanks to us.”
“Very lucky indeed;” I mumbled through a mouthful of beer.
I was about to get the next round in when two women grabbed our arms and forcefully dragged us towards the centre of the room.
“Your friends told us to fetch you for a dance.”
This was it, the moment I’d been dreading all night - I was going to have combat years of fear and dance in a public place. I suddenly felt a sense of gratitude for Barry’s pharmaceutical gift; hopefully the promised rush would kick in and I’d experience a magical metamorphosis into Sussex’s equivalent to Travolta.
Awkwardness gave way to a strangely pleasurable sensation as the bass-line vibrated through my body. The screeching music no longer seemed quite as offensive to my ears and I found myself nodding in time.
“Feeling good, mate?” Barry asked. “Told you it was first-rate.”
Barry and I were working on our best robot moves when the rest of the group interrupted our gyrations.
“Some of us aren’t feeling great, we’re going to go for some fresh air;” my colleague Jim announced.
“My guts are all over the place;” another of the guys muttered through clenched teeth.
We made our way to the smoking area and I too started to feel an uncomfortable stirring in my stomach.
“What the hell have you given us?” I asked Barry angrily. “It must be the pills, why else would we all be feeling rough?”
“Not quite all;” he said with a smile. “I feel fine. Mind you, I didn’t take any.”
“What?” the rest of us shouted in unison.
“Think of it as a leaving gift,” he replied. “A little something to remember me by. Do you know what I’ll remember about you guys? I’ll remember all those times that you went for a drink after work without inviting me, all those snide comments behind my back that you thought I couldn’t hear. Don’t act like you’re surprised; I knew all along what you thought of me. Anyway, in return for all those times that you treated me like crap, I thought I’d treat you to a truly crap night out.” He paused and laughed.
“I’d say ‘crap’s a given’ after a double dose of prescription strength laxatives...”