The fiction I remember

Writing By Craig Ballinger

Sacré

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Photograph by Joseph Kelly Jones

 

We’re accelerating. Something bigger awaits. Sites. Holy stories. Sacré-Cœur Basilica proving a white-domed distraction. Pascal’s grinning face; the model’s frontage. Lost in the tiny details. A lightness to my attention. Wild digressions.

‘He deserved it.’ Blotter paper with tweezers.

‘Just for wearing those hot pants.’

Squares on our tongues like communion wafers.

‘He shouldn’t have touched you. There’s no excuse.’

Continue to gaze and shuffle. Hitting a girl. All that commotion over observations of musical tastes.

‘He was being a dick; it was universally accepted.’

Fear the boys and girls! See us, our bulging eyes and persuasions. Faces twisted. No introductions – could be tedious bull.

We need to get away from these Americans. Twists, bumps and turns.

I’m not even hungry. The streets of laughter descend. Oh, Montmartre, packed with tourists taking pictures of postcards. We snake through the crowd following the most recognisable head or hood or hat. Gift shops, cafes, narrow streets, the mass of people.

It’s all down hill from here.

Playtime, times without thinking. My feet feel quenched. Play with each other in the wilderness of a city centre. A balancing act – piss stop – on a kerb’s edge. Subtly outlandish.

‘How long would it take to get there?’

Shop windows are winter afternoon television screens dragged eagerly into our minds. A toy shop presents colours and magic. Giggling steps. Parisian default action; sprawl into everything. The worth-seeing. We’re tumbling, standing. Gathering Inventory. White light. Fridge flavours. High pressure grins through the glass.

‘Beer.’

‘Orangina.’

‘Chupa Chups.’

‘Lollipops?’

Still we walk. Some have failed.

‘I love cola.’

‘I think cream.’

It seems we’ve chosen a direction. Everyone has showboating skills. I catch confused, small glances over shoulders. Furrowed brows. Are we going the right way?

Swarming tourists. They laugh in winter coats like gifts that they’ve already forgotten. We’re living life with a round of applause for everything. Flourishes. Public threat. Entertainment is inside, stay inside. Outside will only add colour to your problems. There are people around. What must they think of our excitement?

I watch as entertainment is found in mosaics and fountains. Confused gardens. I see it’s gone too far. Passers-by like characters in a film. Daring myself to touch them. I like to think my head still tells the fantastic difference between the touch and the don’t touch.

Rapturous entertainment in nothing. My head is a musical tree. Smile and concentrate. Pointing is plentiful. Emerge? Someone else will figure it out. I sit on things. Discussions ensue.

‘We’re going the wrong way.’ He was needed. Some deliberation – it turns out that that slice of flan entered the car park.

Wrecked minds know to follow Pascal. A vague conversation about nothing. Directions. Time is passing. Incessant giggling soundtracks the darkness. I long for more lights like a missing person. String lights on trees mark the Champs Elysees; we’re a magnet for sparkly things.

The Parisian treadmill keeps running. Lasting worlds. Hunger ushered in the New Year. An evening of varied adventure. We celebarated strong. Shared desire with the crowd at Notre Dame.

‘Bonne Année! Bonne Année!’

Do these people want some playtime? The media runs daily:

PLAYTIME’S OVER FOR PARTY YOUTHS.

Magic, what I expected. The search is on, always a tourist, for playtime. Oh, some people. Worship at your local facilities! CCTV smiles at us. Low ceilings and shiny cars. Chuckleheads talking loose.

‘The stone animals are asserting their power.’

‘He’s next to be calling for help with that bull.’

‘The guy on the railings.’

Pascal steps gently.

‘Places could end up smouldering remains at any time.’

Pascal And The Fresh Fruit: the sex channel you need. An Underground Digression 3: Nothing Sexual. In the true sense of the word, the streets keep coming. Buildings stand and glisten. I feel no awe. I simply mean ‘good’. Many an elderly wizard wishes the beautiful English language were possible to reclaim.

The excellent and the brilliant and the good. The group is walking towards another church. We’re going in. Leaving our cans. Out of respect. Heads bowed with devotion. Tourists whispering in the warmth. Unknown tongues. Candles burning for lost loves.

A security man tells us: ‘no photographs’. Such mixed feelings all round. The front few rows are filled. I really don’t think that now is time to consider religion in any depth. The organ starts.

I look to my bewildered friends; they’ve lost money, time and belief to creating something real. Shit. The group having stumbled into something that is very specific. Don’t panic. I see a girl in robes carrying a candle. It’s hard to imagine that kind of commitment.

Appear back on the street. I feel refreshed or altered. I have to leave. The day is still half-bright. ‘Emergency evacuation’ is clearly written. I scan around the church. My eyes and head adjust gradually. Abject awkwardness gives way to lightness.

It’s easy to forget there’s a world. And laughter. We all stand and stare at the exit. I focus on different things. We have no destination. I can feel the group being pulled by people inside.

Pascal has drifted off to retrieve the stash. A brief discussion reveals everything is fleeting. The magic seen at the Eiffel Tower. Those of us kids. Nothing sexual. When familiar with our surroundings, it pours out – a colourful dust like a galaxy of stars.

A clearing on the easel of an infant. Where we can see the most sweet regression. Never go too far. The group moves – always a pain when mealtimes come around. Pascal returns with the joint and I’m urged to suckle. Tongues play – re-lit.

Jovially we pass mashed, the world found a ‘fuck it’ switch. Encouragement in bottles. The street opens to cars and lights. I take my last toke. My eyes are dragged upwards a generation. The – inhale – lost generation. I exhale our own dark sky.

I don’t want to leave. Our path is across light and place. Horizon, the only place we can think to go. The tower still stands. Swimming into the traffic doesn’t seem a good idea. I’m knee deep. It’s decided before I can think of consequence. Metal, light, speed.

Stories require faith. We are truly fucked. We find no answers, only more possibilities. We dancers. In some centre stage street.

Rejected.

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It’s a hard task to get an article rejected when you’re writing for free about beer but I did it, because who truly wants to write about fucking beer all the time? 

‘I don’t like it.’ The sun was setting as we sat down to our first drink on a pristine path of Lewis Cubitt square. We’d been drinking for days, miserably and ineffectively. News that we were a man down had pulled our hearts low in our chests. We were losing moisture fast and could only think to replace it with booze. Crisis meetings were called, the gang were assembled and we raised glasses limply and robotically. Through the fog of sadness we felt about for something to hold onto. We had to take constant head counts to know where everyone was, to make sure everyone was ok. Our team had lost but we were convinced it was the last time.

In times of loss and regret and anger, the frivolities of every day are shown up in their pointlessness. I could only see some fucking prick or another wasting their time or energy. Some liar or thief or scaremonger trying their best to make life worse for others whilst enhancing their own fortune. Rejecting thoughts of destruction and abstract revenge I tuned into what needed to be done. There was a story to be found. I’d been holding onto my friend Ryan for days so it was decided he’d be coming along for the ride. We’d take our grief out for an airing.

The people of Greenman had brought a festival to town. Welsh cider and beer was being celebrated in the ever shinier surrounds of King’s Cross and we’d been handed media access. The access consisted of a meagre amount of free beer – the maximum a writer like me can expect. We started with a drink at home – whatever was in the fridge to wash down an afternoon zoot. Sunshine was on our side so we took the short walk from Hackney to King’s Cross with thanks that summer hadn’t quite sloped off without saying goodbye.

We smoked and drank as we walked, finding our own fog to wrap ourselves in, to stare out from with squinted eyes upon a world with simply too much content. Our moods adjusted to the brightness of the day but it was almost too late for our minds. Ryan’s thoughts were skittish and abstract – sentences turned at the point they seemed to be going the right way, some stopped unfinished, ragged. We had each other smiling by the time we got on the home straight of the canal. A slender burner had smoothed the edges and encouraged our thirst.

*

 

We surveyed the scene brightly but the sun was hiding behind a new highrise. They’ve convinced the rich to live in housing that’s shittier than what the state used to build and for that I suppose some bastards somewhere should be applauded.

‘Libby’s coming.’ A fine turn. ‘And Phil’s on his way too.’ The gang were required at all times – family fun days thin out as you age. You’re too busy scratching about in the dirt for cash. Your friends are lost and crumbling, feeling the slow creep of confusion and sadness – exiting their 20’s in search of a salary to patch up the holes in their dreams.

We gathered and drank, telling our stories with smiles and sighs. I was always at a fuddled simmer, endlessly pissed off by the number of things in my hands – glasses, tokens, programmes, life options, weighty opinions, loose gripes and other unflung shit. Service was slow and confused and I barely wanted what I was asking for. This wasn’t a place for the usual behaviour – searching out treats and rarities like a cratedigger was out, this was a celebration of a nation’s beer that required judging of breweries core assets. We didn’t have the resources or patience to do a proper job – we essentially had 10 tokens to taste beer by the third of a pint. With queues making progress stodgy and a family to fuel on our plastic currency we had to play the percentages and turn to scamming.

I watched the girl behind the bar as she tried to remember the numbers of the beers requested. The guy ordering repeated them whilst she took note on an order pad. I stood by the keg taps and evaluated my options. I’d found the strongest beer and checked if it was good. I was happy to take on the Zoiglator Bock but I just needed more of it. The girl moved to the taps and found what she was looking for.

‘I’m going to make my order very easy for you. The easiest you’ll do all night.’ She smiled and started jabbering. A guy to my left had spotted my ruse and shuffled his feet. He and I both knew I was being served next and also that he was actually next in the queue. I didn’t particularly care. At length the girl returned.

‘I want these two right here. They’re the closest to me and the closest to you.’ The system worked on numbers, so staff were walking the huge bar searching around for kegs and casks blindly, additionally confused as beers appeared in the programme that hadn’t appeared on site.

‘Great.’ She started to pour. I immediately turned my head to my phone, checking my email, replying to neglected texts and anything else that would keep me noticeably distracted as the girl poured two pints. When the beer arrived, I took the two tokens from the striped paper bag I had in my pocket.

‘Oh. A token only gets you a third.’ The guy to my left was shuffling again. His wait was getting longer as my ruse played out.

‘Oh. I didn’t realise. I just got given these tokens with my media pass.’

‘Let him have it.’ A friendly suit to my right chimed in, seeing there was going to be a delaying impasse. I’d gotten unlucky with the girl – she was an unashamed jobsworth but I can’t blame her, it’s just the type of person this country churns out. Her loyalty to her employer is due to systemic abuse and I forgive her. ‘You’ll waste more than that before the night is over.’ The guy on my right was doing me favours. The guy to my left was still sore about my queue jump, but seemed more admiring than angry. I had to say something.

‘In my experience of beer festivals,’ Me being a professional, of course, ‘the festival pays upfront for the beer and it just really needs to be got rid of.’ Facts and nonsense. The endless awful PR tricks we’re exposed to every day seep in – misinformation is everywhere.

‘This will be six tokens.’ She wasn’t having it, but had absolutely no idea what to do with the beer. I was starting to feel bad for all involved. Time was passing and beer wasn’t being served.

‘I’ve only got four left. And no cash at all.’ This was all true. I couldn’t afford a beer even if I wanted one; I’ve achieved the ascetic ideal.

‘Give me the four.’ I shrug and smile and thank all involved. I’m fucking scum.

*

We saw out our time watching a panel discuss women in beer. It was all ably steered by Doreen Barber of 5 Points Brewing. I was pleased to see a friend talking about the world she loved. We passed around a bottle of shite brandy and tuned in to the discussion. The room was light on numbers. A tight circle of chairs were filled at the foot of the stage. We took the next row, but didn’t pull forward. Next to us a man in a suit messily chomped through some ‘street food’. By the entrance a woman in a top hat and shiny trousers made noise at a man who looked like a wiry crack addict. Even here there were festival dickheads in their uniforms.

As we sloped away from the festival I looked at the main tent in the darkness. Inside the bar still had its confused buzz. Outside there was a littering of suits – the majority demographic, those who don’t mind laying a fiver on a pint. The gathering of breweries was impressive and the talks and workshops showed scope but this wasn’t for me, not now. We decided on a family dinner, the boys covering my costs with the shrug that these things should always have. We sat and ate and talked and delighted in each other’s company. The best thing we can do is this, but it’s a thing we put in our calendars like a dental appointment, that we rue when something ‘better’ comes along.

Form gangs everyone, formidable creative forces. Line up each of your friends, count them and make sure they don’t want for anything. The world outside doesn’t like your friends – it wants their money, it wants their job, it wants their seat on the train. Your job is to make life better for these people, to find ways to maximise the time spent together conspiring against those who conspire against you. You give your ideas, years and energy to the highest bidder – your best often helps the worst. Our team lost, and that’s something that drink won’t fix.

Barroom Philosophy

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The bolts were off. I pushed through the squeaky swing doors of The Tavern as the first customer of the day. The furniture was in its neatest configuration, chairs squared with tables and tall stools spread evenly along the bar. Smoke from last night’s lock-in lingered, wrestling stale beer and aggressive cleaning products. I walked across the floorboards as the doors closed behind me, cut off from high street – an unruly river of dangerous traffic and people. Citizens giving themselves away, shouting or mumbling their grievances – easy to empathise with, impossible to understand. We’re all a few steps away from being shoeless in the street, the creeping tide of discolouration on our teeth shows it.

Ceiling fans swirled silently as I took a seat on the most secure bar stool. This is a fine place to pass time, rather than surging about with a can of special brew. Another door creaked, this time on the useful side of the bar. A man stepped out and looked over at me. His eyes were giving nothing away other than that he thought I was early. His face was round and his beard manicured. His hair was slicked back but his style was plain. No clues.

‘What can I getcha?’ A local.

‘The blackest thing you have.’ He liked my answer, I could see it in how he seethed. He pulled a pint of stout into a thick, handled pint glass. I paid the man and that was the end of our relationship for a while. I waded into the beer and a book. Why I Write, a remix of essays by George Orwell. The world became black and white, Orwell’s voice slipping into my mind, as broadcasting live from 1944. Bombs were falling as he stated the case for socialism. Looking back over nearly a century of capitalist progress, Orwell’s cries have gone ignored.

His truths were made to seem like far-fetched fictions, sci-fi, rather than the accurate portrayals of the way things get done. Despite putting capitalism under the microscope, exposing the systems of control and victims of poverty, Orwell isn’t taken seriously politically. He’s pop culture reference point, rather than a visionary like Marx.

I broke the book’s spine over the bar, words-first into the dark wood. I ran my fingers along the black scars on the surface; decades of incident sealed in varnish. Polished, like history. The cracks are visible, but everyone’s got their story straight.

‘Fucking brilliant.’ The barman was back, craning his neck to see the book. He was louder than necessary.

‘You like it?’

‘Like it? I’m not just a lefty, it’s much worse than that. I’m a full-on, Pinko, agitprop, Dynamo Kiev supporting Commie bastard.’

This is how I like my barmen. I put an end to my beer my ally saw my situation quickly remedied.

“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

 

*

Someone walked into the bar. I heard the squeak of the door and the column of noise from the road. People streamed past the windows. All kinds of faces looking for something. Panhandlers posing for change. Bulging eyes surging towards a score. All kinds of traders and land pirates and housewives. It’s best to hole up in the heat of the day and stay well hydrated. Our next thirsty friend pulled up and brought a bit of the street with him. A grubby character but the pub is no judge. If you’ve got cash for a beer you’re welcome, our house is yours, only don’t put your feet on the furniture and always spit in the bucket.

‘Would you like some medicinal alcohol?’

‘Half the mild please.’ He poked a dirty fingernail around in a palm full of currency. My eyes watched the change being counted onto the bar. The barman stood waiting but turned his head away. He needed a holiday.

‘I’ve not been around here for maybe fifteen years.’ The hobo was starting a conversation with me but staring around the room. It’s almost certainly the case that the pub in particular is nothing like he remembers. ‘It’s all changed a bit.’ I shifted on my stool and sipped my beer. There was a sadness in this man that I didn’t particularly need to explore.

‘Used to live ‘round here?’

‘Yeah, yeah…’ He nodded his head and stared off. His lank greasy hair moved slowly. Maybe he didn’t want a conversation, of maybe he’s just warming up. He knew where I’d be if he wanted me. I’d have given him the full story if he needed it.

This is a nation addicted to consumption; a soma drip of self-satisfaction. But this isn’t Huxley’s dystopia, it’s Orwell’s. The popular comparison of the two doesn’t fit. Huxley was a pacifist for a start. Whilst Huxley leaned towards fantasy, Orwell was stating veiled brutal truths. He had a plan. The commodification of Orwell dilutes what can be learned. If he’s painted as fantasist we won’t act on his ideas. His fictional work will be viewed as masterpieces with coincidental similarities to reality.

The barman cut across my view with a half for the drifter. He placed the beer down, and tuned into my thoughts.

‘And don’t give me that old story about Communism as a failed ideology, they all fail; because every time you build something, those self serving, hate-filled bastards hijack it from you; they did it to Communism and they’re doing it to Capitalism, that’s what they do. They have taken the economy and turned it into a casino… a casino owned by the criminally insane and used by psychopaths to make money, who then use it as a way to express hatred and contempt for the people they gouged the cash out of in the first place. They appropriate your dream, prey on your fears and your hopes, then turn it into a totalitarian nightmare. Parasites killing the host. And you should be afraid. They prefer violence, they get off on it.’

Maybe we have to start fighting. Orwell was always up for it. It’s how change arrives when diplomacy fails. But diplomacy isn’t an option that’s on the table, because we’re not invited to the table because our opinions are cheap. Get the fuck off our land, you scum. We shout the same thing back and forth, each meaning different things. The people are put in their place and told to set about finding ways to ruin their hands by doing mad, repetitive shit. Cleaning and catering. Sratching about in the dirt of industry for treasure. The Orwellian proletariat lives, we’re just ignoring it in the name of progress. There are margins in the prole lifestyle though and some of them are wide enough that you can be drinking in them whilst the sun is still high in the sky. Strange freedoms are found here.

I faded back in on the barman’s manifesto.

‘…I’ll have those fascist shit-bags breaking rocks in a Norfolk gulag quicker than you can say “glorious five year plan” comrade.’

‘Yeah, bash the rich! If you endorse inequality you’re part of the problem. Can I get another pint and some nuts?’

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

*

Time rushed by and the doors creaked and creaked. The fans continued to turn. More hours passed whilst the shades of the floor lamps went unstraightened. Nothing solved, nothing changed. The stasis of a London barroom. A bunker in the stampede. It’s dangerous in there too, when endless plotting leads to great thirst and you find yourself sloping towards the taps. Stirring bursts of cackling from the back corner. Debris of consumed products littering the bar. An empty glass, again. There’d been a change of guard, someone else with a beard was pouring beers. I looked across the taps to see my old comrade moving around drinkers. He was placing his hat on his head, but he hadn’t tied the belt on his mac. I caught his eye and the replacement barkeep saw our union. We three met on the corner of the bar I was calling home by that point.

‘Beer?’

‘I’ll stay for one more.’

‘Yeah, whynot? I’ll join ya.’ The cockney barman mounts his stool, ‘Anyway, it’s a fucking farce. You can’t trust those hand-wringing liberals either. Or “small-c Conservatives”, they can’t help you and they don’t understand that you can’t see the bottom from the top, and attempt to experience “our” lives the way they are lived have a fatal flaw, “they” always have a way out, an end to the misery. A scab of mythology has grown over their minds eye as the result of a self inflicted wound. They think you can reason with the unreasonable, use pacifism against violence and that politics is something to be discussed in the abstract at a dinner party in North London.’

‘I’ve been thinking that we’re living in an Orwellian nightmare, but it’s not as crushing as all that. It’s the freedom that’s the problem. The freedom to buy. We actually live in a Barleyian nightmare, the world brought to us in satire by Chris Morris. A society in which vanity and idocy are cool, yeah? Fashion ate subculture and now everyone’s buying identity, pre-packaged in a bid to safely declare their individuality.’

‘They’ve got the option: give a shit and suffer or carry on regardless and get that nice house and curly haired kids on offer in a leafy bit south of the fucking river.’

‘Even feminism has become a consumer product!’ We both drank. We needed a pause to gather our thoughts and connect the strands. Are the ruling scum the problem or the idiots who barely notice the problems? Politics is beyond satire but so are the people. Workers would rather work hard and remain poor than engage with politics and the young and creative are happy to use their time and skills just to sell things for corporations – so long as they get some cash and seem cool.

‘The problem is, there were no good old days.’

‘Everyone’s addicted to faux-nostalgia!’

‘We’ve always been ruled by the rich, the powerful, the lizards.’

‘If everyone keeps thinking we’re in the shit, we can’t get out of it and we should just enjoy the best bits there’ll never be any progression.’

‘Unless we burn the scum.’

‘Unless everyone realises that we’re in good position, stops hiding behind haircuts and starts deciding if they want to contribute to the solution or the problem…’ My glass was empty.

‘One for the road?’

Beer is one of the great rays of hope. Good for the local economy and good for the imagination. It fuels a relationship with Orwell; that overwhelming feeling that sometimes you have to fight.

“Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.”

*

Cockney Barman Text from Daniel John

Photograph from Chris Chudleigh

Quotes from George Orwell

Your Work Here Is Done

Anger Management CW

Photograph by Charlie Whatley

P O S T

Now the society we once knew is over, it’s finally time to relax. Your job is gone, your boss can’t belittle you anymore. No more rigid breaks, no more timecards, no more clockwatching; you’ve got all the time in the world. This does mean that there are no more excuses. Work was once the Great Excuse, the reason you never learned to do anything. ‘I’d love to, but between work and the kids I just never get around to it.’ You’d go off to a festival in the summer, watch people being quaint on sewing machines and marvel at blacksmiths in tents: whilst making a piece of tatty jewelry you’d remark on the craft of it all, but on Monday it’d be time to go back to the office, to slip on the slave-produced shoes and talk about how it was all so amazing and cute and never learn what you were supposed to.

These pop-up faux-utopias, like spas and retreats and all of the commodified ‘experiences’, are glimpses at slower ways of life yet treated only as minor escapes from ‘real life’. Well, the shackles are off and you can write or sew all day (taking time out to hunt or forage or farm or murder). The shame is that some people just don’t get it, they don’t like their freedom. Now they’ll be in their basements hanging from their ties, lost with too much free time, mourning the death of the Economy. Going to work was the easiest thing they’d ever done, they weren’t prepared to build anything real, but they were prepared to work all of the hours thrown at them.

Bankers got used to it quick, always working, fitting in a few beers before taking the tube ride home, sleeping, slipping back into their uniform, squeezing back on the tube and getting back to whatever they do in those shining towers we worked so hard to take down. They got used to it, it was what they had to do to make a living, to make more than a living, to become rich, to elevate themselves away from the rest. Their feelings of power blinded them to the truth that they were the victim, that their feeling of superiority towards the ball-scratching artist or the wide-eyed hedonist was misplaced. But we didn’t feel sorry for them either because they were part of the problem.

People were persuaded to work as hard as possible to take that long climb to the top, stepping on the rest to get there, in the name of some faceless corporation. This was the perfect conditioning, this enforcing of the ideals of hierarchies, to keep people in line. Those who have to deny their missteps of youth, their personal preferences to bland in with the crowd, to make it seem like they were promotion material, one of the lads (forget about the women, they’re in that glass box over there). Go out with the boys, get pissed, shit in a bus shelter for banter, but don’t dare mention the time you loved to smoke weed, you dirty hippy.

General animosity and ideals of hard work forced divides where there should be none. Protesters looking out for the good of everyone, making themselves targets, were looked upon as of ‘in need of a good wash’ by the working class they sought to protect. Artists creating work to inspire thought and rebellion were cast aside with the writers and philosophers whilst the People spent their hard-earned money on mass-produced culture. The clue was in the title people, how can one make pop music from the top down unless they’ve targeted you, conditioned you to Believe that it’s good? And so the people kept going to work, blasting their car horns at protests, in condemnation rather than support. ‘I’m late for work because of these fucking hippies!’

The clues were all there, the unhappiness was simmering. People spent their money on adapting how they looked, appropriating cultures and sub-cultures to appear as something they’re not. Fashions won and you just couldn’t tell what people believed anymore. That man with arms covered in tattoos isn’t going to crush you with a bar stool, he’s going to sit on it and order some beer that he doesn’t like just to look the part. At home the world was finding catharsis in drama and visions of the apocalypse. Popular culture upped its production value and brought the world in. Workplaces all over the Western world buzzed with identical talk about the new must-watch series. It took a while to find something to give to people that was more respectable than soap operas but they did it!

That’s not to say the soaps didn’t thrive, just that the TV eventually attacked the middle classes too. The working class still saw needless drama and incestuous, stagnant culture as a sound way of life. Keep them down there, on their way out. The government had planned on this for years, they needed rid of the working class they’d created, there just wasn’t the work anymore. Technology fed industry and pegged back the poor. They were a solid consumer base, but also in the way. All land was up for sale, council estates were inner-city space savers, ‘you can’t live here anymore it was badly designed, there’ll be new homes here, but not for you, you’re off to a truly failed place. Oh, and your free healthcare, that’s got to go.’

Hard work is a good thing, a necessity now, but pushing in the right direction and working hard for yourself is entirely separate from staring at screens and processing information, or these long hours of repetitive factory labour. This kind of conditioning allowed for these soft-headed people to be taken out first. They needed to be told what to do, but the leader was against them. When it came to choosing the enemy, they chose wrong. The offices were built with gyms, to sharpen bodies and mind. If you’ve got goals you can push yourself, achieve fitness. Of course, it’s good to be fit, especially when you’re running for your life but vanity muscles give you unnecessary bulk. Those with poor turning circles are no match for a madman with a shovel. These people had necks they could barely move and minds they could barely use.

And here we are, free from our contracts but still being headhunted. It’s a shame we didn’t sort this out earlier, that the poor never really identified their abusers and that the rest didn’t see through the systems. Too many people killed themselves rather than their boss. They should’ve found the shareholders and the people who sign off on the sadness, burned them in their homes, but they blamed themselves, for not being able to handle the pressure. The dick-swinging, the manliness, the biceps bursting out of their suits. The hierarchies, the competition, the fucking supervisors. Work was the reason people did the worst things they ever did, either directly or indirectly. This led to a loss of humanity and personality, to people identifying with roles and pay brackets rather each other. Blind to the systems we were caught in we have reached this point, this cultural apocalypse where we have more time to find what will really make us happy.

Unloved Review

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Tiny Ruins/2:54/Arc Iris/Bernard+Edith

Union Chapel

08/09/2014

Photography By Charlie Whatley

We arrive at Union Chapel to realise that we’ve missed the only band we really wanted to see. Bernard + Edith have departed but there’s a girl on stage in a gold jumpsuit so things could be alright. Sometimes in life you miss out on the things you want because you’re drinking cheap beer and eating dirty onion rings at Wetherspoon’s. Still, we made it into the beautiful surrounds of Union Chapel in time to see three of the recent signings Bella Union are parading. Post-festival season it’s hard to care about any music at all but at least here the place is dry, warm and has wonderful acoustics.

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The band with the catsuit singer are Arc Iris, led by Jocie Adams, formerly of The Low Anthem. The ensemble showcases their musicianship with tight arrangements and glorious harmonies, all of which suit the venue perfectly. The crowd is lulled, lining the pews and allowing themselves creeping smiles as the show reveals itself. I understand it’s complexity and I’m sure it has grand appeal but I feel nothing. My girlfriend, however, loves it (but she does like Ben Howard).

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Arc Iris fail to move me at all, but that’s probably because I’m a grumpy cunt concerned with the tyranny of the West and twee tunes just aren’t my favourite. Between bands we wander the venue, it’s courtyard and alleyways, recalling the last Bella Union party we attended here, where MONEY and GREAT WAVES were on the bill being all majestic and full of the right kind of energy. It’s at this point we remember the real perk of this venue is that they serve tea.

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We gather brews and biscuits and take a pew whilst our photographer Charlie creeps around the darkness like a cat, getting the faces in the crowd and framing the show perfectly. We lose him for some time to Hannah Thurlow, of 2:54, whom he pays particular attention to, because he’s a professional. I eat a Tunnock’s Caramel and drink my tea. 2:54 bring some groove and brooding drama but it mainly provides nice background to a lovely sit-down rather than being overly stirring. Maybe it’s the venue. Or maybe it’s me.

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The moody bass gives me space to think, so I mainly write about knowing your enemies and oppressors and avoiding becoming a victim of the State. Here we are, existing in the margins created for us, pissing about within our frame of art, wondering how best to focus our energy. Oh, and Scarlet sounds pretty impressive after maturing for a couple of years. We head to the bar above the church for some booze in the eaves. Is that Little Boots at the bar? Probably. Remember when we were told she was important?

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The battle of frontwoman theatrics tapers off slightly with Tiny Ruins, as the twee is turned up a bit. We hear stories and experience songs but it’s all quite personal without being immersive. Maybe I’m beyond help, or maybe these bands are just pretty bland. I didn’t have to see Bernard + Edith to know they’re the most exciting band on the line-up, but that’s not to say all of these people aren’t great musicians. We head into the night to drink, happy with an evening spent taking in gentle, beautiful things.

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An Open Letter To King Krule

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Dearest Krule,

I recently stole your album from the internet and would like to apologise. I was working on some apocalyptic stoner fiction and needed a break from having my mind bent by Shirley and Spinoza radio. I’d been meaning to buy your album for a while but I was always broke or all the HMVs were closing. It was late, and I’d been drinking, when I decided to download 6 Feet Beneath The Moon in a legit fashion. My options were narrow, and the thought of blasting cash over to Amazon or iTunes or some other cunts was too much.

The download was quick and of fine quality, the beats getting me through an evening of writing about stoned dickheads trying to take down a paedophile kingpin. (It’s an allegory. Or a satire.) Either way, I felt bad that I’d stolen a fine piece of work. So I’m writing a letter to say well done and also to say I’ll happily drop you a tenner down the boozer or buy you a couple of beers.

I also played the album over an England game, to cut out the mundane commentary. It worked out well, mainly because I was bare lean. All the adverts looked stupid as fuck, but the humans were fun to watch. I felt tremendous optimism in all things, but mainly about your sick record.

Nice one,

Craig Ballinger.

Finding Freedom In The Cultural Apocalypse

This piece of fiction was recently shortlisted for a prize from The New Philosopher, a wonderfully accessible philosophy magazine from Australia. It made it down to the last ten, but the $1000 prize eluded me this time.

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You must absolutely, and very quickly, get used to the cold and the discomfort and the obvious endless sadness. Before the big NO came the time where apathy reigned and beyond the everyday comforts there was a sludge of living human waste. Beneath the debts and debts and lies and television lay the masterplan to feed a rich beast by making society into a tiered system of hoped-for hopelessness. Veils of idiocy kept the people placated, structured realities as entertainment.

All great empires twist their people into laughing in the mirror. The West entertained people with a parade of insanity, directed by the evil of all-costs profits. Eyes were glued on madness, on idiots tricked into performance by the offer of celebrity. Children were sold truths young, they scribbled names on their bodies and put pictures on their walls of the paraded fools. Their parents footed the bill and paid the True Price of being unable to teach better than the television.

All children are born equal. Sponges to the noise of man.

Now, in this time of deathly silence, we can be louder than bombs and billboards. The voice of Something Good must be loudest. We must prepare, as the day looms where The Man returns with desires of enslaving to rebuild. What can they promise us now, with all of our illusions shattered? The set has been struck, the death bright and timely. It was almost the case the population had to be culled and so it was. Everyone was being killed anyway, or living dead, shuffling around supermarkets looking at tens of thousands of brands all owned by a few companies.

The world got used to buying food from chemical companies that in turn got used to finding ways of making food more synthetic. Processed sugars and oils and fats gathered brutally at source then toyed with until almost unpalatable, these were the foods of the poor. Now it’s these foods that remain, uncorrupted, with laughable use-by dates. Food that is barely food lasts forever, like plastic and regret. You’ll eat these from time to time with nostalgic joy at the sheer convenience of it all.

Now we’re digging in the dirt and filling our nails with filth and hoping we can re-learn how to grow. The land is still rich and the oceans may just start to breathe again. Imagine fish! Imagine thriving sealife of all kinds! It was a shame about Japan, but it did a great deal for the whale. All animals suffer sweeping death from time to time and we should mourn them all together, as similar beasts. With the population of people cut back we should see a wonderful wild land re-emerging into view, hopefully this time to be learned from and grown with.

In all of this death has come a new age of natural selection, though we know the most savage are often strongest. We can only set out a vision and fight for the way of life our knowledge has allowed us to know is true, and achievable. Community must be a firm concept, a way of survival, a model far removed from the cancerous buzzword lips of politicians. If we don’t allow for the corporate empires to be built, then we won’t need their frontmen. We’ll need true leaders, people with ideas rather than rhetoric. We’ll find people who love people from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

Some men said that there were some men in some room pulling strings and coordinating puppets to make themselves whiter and fatter. The men were right, but the men in the room didn’t decide everything, they just set the bar, they were the example to live by. It was somehow the accepted belief that for us to live nicely, that the bottom of society is necessary. The public were sold on, or apathetic to, the truths of Africans buying rubbish to burn it for scrap metals, or for oil to be sucked from beneath the feet of the poorest people on the planet, to make people rich elsewhere whilst environments are poisoned.

The corporations did not care, they just told you they did on the packaging. Down on the farm the cages were next to the ‘free ranges’ and definitions were squeezed to bursting. The corporations ticked all the boxes, fed all of the consumers, drew smiles on the faces of animals and laid scars to bury ideals of humanity deep into the earth. The earth that has been fracked to death crumbling like an over-dunked biscuit beneath the feet of the people who simply wanted to live, because it seemed like the default thing to do.

It seemed we were willing to work all of our lives only to get a home and food and entertainment ‘til death. The illusion that this was the only way was generally built on that we weren’t allowed any of the earth for ourselves. The earth was owned, by those who said it first, and then passed on and on and on. Now we’re allowed our share and we can dedicate our lives to building a home and finding food and providing ourselves with entertainment. Would it take you 50 years to build your own house? You’ve got a lot of land to choose from and a serious impetus to learn.

Screens now are blank and we must revel in their blackness. We must love this this place where there are no fines placed on existence. This place where caged animals are an abnormality rather than the industrial norm. This place where the land is ours. This place where we are only animals, rather than some ideal higher being. This place where we can now structure our own evolutionary next step. The pace has fallen off but the knowledge remains. Consider this an ice age with the benefit of being awake; a deep, cleansing stir. If you can’t see past the difficulties of every day to see the potential purity of the future, at least take comfort in that we no longer fully rely on the things that will eventually destroy the world, what’s left of it.

 

 

Family Portrait

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Mildred was the youngest and prettiest of the Fallow daughters, ‘the light of the household’ her mother told me in the telegram. She also said that young Mildred had been missing for five days and that the police had nothing to go on; she seemed to think only someone with a ‘keen city eye’ could join the dots. A telegram is a tired and flat document at the best of times but this one had all of its colour washed out. Still, it held some weight that couldn’t be ignored. Mildred was the only daughter left at home, and the mother only wanted to lose her to a decent marriage.

My car pulled up to the Fallow house on a bright Sunday morning. The driver asked if he should wait and I told him to enjoy the sunshine. He turned off the engine, took off his hat and put a newspaper over his face. Maybe he’s not one for frolics in the meadow. I got out and looked over the house, a decent country estate. Audrey Fallow told me that she and her husband had held their property for ten years and that nothing had ever made their stay uncomfortable, when I arrived I could see why. The building was fairly modern but fit its surroundings nicely. There were no outhouses or sheds, nothing to make it seem like a working countryside building; the place was a small manor, sunroom and all. With any luck, these people would have just enough money to perhaps be clear with me, any richer and it’s the wrong type of client.

As I approached the house there was no sound coming from anywhere, the only movement being a gentle breeze pulling silently at the long grass. I took up the cast-iron knocker and added to the groove its use had created in the wooden door. The noise it made felt dull, and I was sure it wouldn’t be heard inside. I stood and adjusted my tie, torn between smartening up and loosening the thing. The air was creeping up to summer temperature, breaking out of spring. The flies were gathering.

After five minutes or so, and a few more heavy swings of the knocker, the door opened half way. I looked up from my pocket watch to the washed-out face of Audrey Fallow peering through the gap.

‘Michael Horlock.’ I put out my hand. ‘Mrs Fallow?’ She didn’t take it.

‘Yes, yes, come in.’ She was a ghost, glassy-eyed and half-present. Her small mouth twitched into a smile and she welcomed me in with a movement of her hand. I opened the door fully and stepped in. She didn’t offer to take my hat or coat, just offered tea and disappeared into the house before I’d given a full response.

I took off my hat and walked into the parlour just off from the main hall. The house was quiet other than the tinkling of metal on china coming from the kitchen. The lady’s nerves must have been shot by this point. I looked over the room. It was bright but dusty, filled with tightly stuffed seating and hardwood furniture. The room ran the length of the house, opening onto a small patio beyond some French doors. The chair by the doors was the only one seemingly in use. On a small table next to it I could make out a teacup and a pill bottle. I hadn’t the time to get over and check the label.

I kept snooping to a minimum and was browsing a sideboard of trinkets when Mrs. Fallow entered. She was carrying a silver tray of tea paraphernalia that was shaking like there was a freight train passing. Tea splashed and china rattled but I managed to get hold of the thing before it could spill on the rug. She thanked me lifelessly and sat down at her seat by the doors. I followed slowly and slid the tray across the small table, edging the pill bottle along. A handwritten label simply read ‘Audrey’, but I was sure it went some way towards explaining Mrs. Fallow’s glassy eyes.

We sat in silence as the sun poured in, gently heating the place. I removed my coat and jacket and sipped the tea. I think the milk was perhaps sour.

‘So your daughter has been gone for five days?’

‘It seems so much longer than that.’

‘Have you had any more from the local police force?’

‘No, nothing.’ By now a parent is usually filled with malice towards everyone, especially the police. Her words were thin, expressionless.

I looked out of the French doors to the end of the garden. There was a small building half visible beyond the trees that I hadn’t seen from the front of the house.

‘Tell me what you can, Mrs. Fallow, and how you think I can help. If the trail is cold, I can only go over what the locals have and see if I can find any holes.’ Her trembling returned and she had to abandon her teacup.

‘Are you well Mrs. Fallow? Has your doctor prescribed anything for your nerves?’

‘Edward’s a doctor.’ She glanced at the bottle, lingered, and reached out to help herself to more medication.

‘Your husband Edward? Is he at home?’

‘Yes, he’s in his workshop.’ It seemed she meant to motion out beyond the garden, but barely moved at all. Her head and eyes and hand gave a simultaneous twitch but that was all she could manage. She was slipping away.

‘He knows it all. Millie loved him.’ On my way out I noticed a solitary framed picture of a young girl on the sideboard. Her face was bright and her eyes sparkled. They were probably green, like her mother’s used to be. The dust patterns on the surface of the sideboard told me that other pictures had recently been removed.

‘Was Mildred happy here?’

‘Yes, yes, she loved the trees.’ I remained with the photograph.

‘She’s twenty years old, how did she see her future? Any young men loitering at the front gate?’

I looked back at Audrey Fallow. She stared off at nothing in particular. I think she was trying to cry but nothing was coming out. I started to wonder why I was there. The sun shone brighter but I felt a chill. Mrs Fallow reached for her tea, knocking it over with a quivering hand. I didn’t rush to pick it up and she didn’t either. I looked out into the garden. I had to find the doctor.

The garden stretched out bright green, glowing in the rising midday heat. I noticed myself sweating and realised I probably had been for a while. This place had an air of sickness. There are times when I barely want to find the truth at all. I walked towards the line of trees that halted the garden, looking out for any movement in the workshop. I breached the trees surrounding the workshop and their shadow cooled me instantly. I felt the back of my shirt collar cold and wet on my neck. It forced out the chill built up in my spine. That woman’s eyes and the tinkling of metal on china.

The wood was old, older than the house. Maybe they found the place after moving in. The door opened with no resistance, but the air inside hit me like a wall. Old meat and faint perfume. The small room housed a desk, a chair, an old chest and a mattress on the floor. Either the doctor was fond of a nap or he’d been sleeping out here. I looked over the bed. There were crumpled sheets that were formerly white and a thin, sweat tarnished pillow. The sheet over the mattress was heavily stained; yellowing patches and spots of blood. I moved the sheets with my toe, exposing a crumpled pair of ladies underwear. I didn’t feel like they belonged to the doctor, nor to Mrs. Fallow.

I moved to the chest and touched the thick leather top. It wasn’t locked but my hand rested there for a few moments before I opened the lid. The contents were quite unspectacular considering the picture building in my head. There were assorted books, both medical and fictional, assorted tat and trinkets and some old men’s clothing. I’d given up the search when I found a bundle of photographs of young women, some nude, all vacant. Some men like to keep a little something hidden from their wives, that’s something I learned quickly in my job. I passed through the pictures until a face looked back at me that I felt I knew. The eyes looked dead into mine and my jaw clenched as I looked down on her exposed breasts. I slipped the picture into my pocket and threw rest back into the chest.

On the desk some writing paper lay spread across the surface, blank. An ink well was half full but didn’t have a corresponding pen. A few pill bottles littered the desk, all only holding a small amount of something or other. The pills all looked different but the bottles were all unmarked. I suppose a doctor knows his medication by sight. The sunlight on the desk flickered. I looked out of a dirty window to see something moving outside. I moved slowly back towards the door as to not make a sound. I crept around the building, fearing ambush. As the sunlight hit may face again, it was clear I wasn’t in any danger but it was also clear I wasn’t saving anyone at this house.

I looked up to see the body of a man hanging by his neck from a tree branch. No doubt this was the good doctor. His eyes were open and he was dressed with some dignity. The scene of death was the most morbid I’ve come across. He’d been up there for a day at least. Whatever got him up there, I was sure he deserved it. I felt the picture in my pocket and grew certain I didn’t want to know.

I walked back into the house I saw the teacup was still on the floor and had been joined by the pill bottle. Mrs Fallow didn’t acknowledge me and her breathing was shallow. I checked her pulse. She was cold but not dead. I moved over to a drinks cabinet and hoisted a decanter of amber liquid to my lips. I drank and felt the heat swell up from my stomach. I picked up the phone nearby and asked the operator for the police. She obliged and soon I was talking to the local sergeant.

‘I’m Michael Horlock, a detective from London. I was called up to the Fallow household to look at the case of their missing daughter. I’m here with Mrs. Fallow but she’s catatonic. Mr. Fallow is dead, suicide from the look of it. No sign of the daughter. You need to get some people out here. There’s a lot to digest. I expect you’ll find Mildred somewhere closer than you’ve been looking.’ I let it all out and breathed steadily. There was little on the other end for a few seconds. Then some slow words crept out.

‘We have Mildred here. We found her last night, dazed, wandering. She begged us not to take her home, not yet. We were waiting for a specialist from the city. The Fallows are quite a popular family in town.’

I looked over to Mrs. Fallow. In the twenty-four hours since she sent the telegram, she must’ve filled in some blanks.

‘Bring a decent doctor.’

I took the nude picture of Millie out of my pocket and placed it on the table by the phone. I left the house knowing that the police would put the pieces together pretty swiftly when they got to that place. I didn’t want any of the details, just a cold shower and maybe another drink.

Craig Ballinger

This story originally appeared on Chase My Yellow Kite, an online photography newspaper.

Catering

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To The Secret Garden, To Cater For Youths And Rapists

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As ever, I take a train to where I’m told to go. This time I’m heading out of London, with no idea of where I am on the Earth. It’s a good start for an adventure like this. Head into the English countryside, ask no questions, turn off communications. The train is hot and half busy. I finish Bukowski’s Women and am instilled with a desire to fuck all of the beautiful problems of the world, the insatiable idiots, the unsuitable women. As a married man, summer is a perilous time. You stay up twice as long, drink constantly and go to fields with half-naked teenagers everywhere. Heat rises quick.

The ride dissolves into napping. I wake occasionally, covered in sweat, confused by the changes of location, from dream to unknown countryside. Time passes whilst visions stretch out. Soon I’m stating my credentials as a caterer and gaining a wristband that’ll smooth over the rest of the week. Two years ago I was going to festivals pretending to be a journalist, now it’s catering. I can only hope things have changed again by this time next year.

Edd, a proper chef, meets me by the Helter Skelter, just off from the giant straw fox. The façade of the festival is still being tinkered with, there’s people here and there labouriously preparing the paradise for eager minds. Edd and I embrace for too long, as usual. Tiny Wife has her concerns about my sexuality. I think all will be fine but I understand her reasoning as Edd and I are always in each other’s arms. Add in my undying love for some young directors and my hot flushes around Jamie Lee and the idea that I adore dick doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

By the time night falls we’ve met the team, surveyed the kitchen and worked over a bottle of Magic Rock’s best booze. We’ve camped in a quiet spot by a stream, for ease of evening piss, though it remains to be seen how much time we’ll spend in our plastic beds. Our first challenge is to find fun at a closed festival. We’ve made friends with a German girl who’s also a caterer and she comes along for the ride, along with a box of cider.

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*

The swerves and dips of the site are testing and real. We roam and conquer everything, resting for refuels and refreshments. The place is primed, waiting for people to spill over the landscape and find their own ways to entertain and distract and medicate themselves. A pond holds a spiked structure too inviting for our feet not to explore. A drawbridge welcomes and the tall wooden maze enthuses us further. This seems like a nice thing someone’s done. It also seems many people are going to throw themselves off the thing, in search of that tiny instinctive bit of fear that’ll flicker about them in freefall, turning to joy as they splash into what will become a broth of unwashed party people.

It’s not too long before we’re told we can’t be in this place. We’re escorted off by the designer of the thing, so we fortuitously get to pass on our admiration and explain that we’re caterers rather than cunts. The guy seems nice and we’re soon on our way to find a hay bale perch to go through our inventory and see what we can ingest for purposes of TWIST. Soon we’re at the German girl’s place of work, browsing a lovely back-kitchen that’s full of caterers getting pissed.

I get stuck in a conversation that I’m not entirely into. Some actor who does catering for the fun and vibes and money whilst also pursuing his dream. His story is like mine but he’s much older and my catering career is hopefully already sliding to an end. I wriggle free and find Edd. He’s sourced a really nice scraper for the grills in our kitchen. With this treasure, a victory tomorrow is sealed. Work time is hurtling towards us but we’ve solved a problem that would’ve only assailed us the moment we entered the gazebo kitchen we’ll be making our home for a few days.

Time really pushes on in this place and I meet a pissed rasta who seems to be coming to an end of his day. The man is good but we’re nearly out of cider and we need to get back out into the world. There’s too much catering talk in here. We’re at a festival for fuck’s sake. Also, the harsh lights are highlighting the details I’m missing. The twist is creeping in but its good and friendly. It’s not long before we leave that kitchen where people are cooking up tomorrow’s regrets and some chorizo too. Lovely aimless wandering in the pre-apocalyptic landscape concludes on a bridge, where we make a base and skin up a reward.

As water rushes below, I document everything and Edd scrawls lines of Peckham’s finest powders. Visitors come and go and bring drinks and joints and their stories. The last visitor as light breaks is young kid with boundless enthusiasm. Highly fuelled, this kid gets on board to the point of bringing over a crate of shit lager. Every time his back is turned we add to the inventory. He clearly doesn’t know what’s to come. Booze will be endangered and pockets will be torn and stomachs will only accept warm, over-carbonated lager. By the time we tire of the youth’s enthusiasm, it’s day and nearly time to cater. Slip into a plastic pocket and sleep and sweat.

‘Goodnight C-Dogg.’

‘Catering…’

*

Crawling out of a tent is an awful indignity. Bladder bursting, stomach challenged. Dicks remain filthy at affairs like this. Balls are loose, in a production overdrive, due to heat and modern shorts that contain no arse whatsoever. Ultimate cheeks. Too much genuine softness for the twisted male of today to deal with. We’ve slept mildly, maybe three hours at best. We’re late for work but damage is minimal. Soon there’ll be eggs and spicy things that’ll fill the cracks. We’re going to need all of the hot drinks we can get.

In the confines of the gazebo we cater through and forget about rest. Edd’s expertise drives the ship.

‘Have a quick wipe down and we’ll prep these peaches. Talk and work, talk and work.’

The joys of morning with strong coffee and mise en place are not to be underestimated. We set up our stations close so we’re in hugging distance when throwing chilli and seeds everywhere. The day is slow and nice and people are catered for. It doesn’t take long before refreshing beers are in play. Edges are smoothed out as the day wanders by. A lot of time is spent consulting the line-up, everyone needs to get out and into the fields. Temptation is at an all-time high, however much work is to be done. We must sell as many wraps as possible, yet I must also secure some weed, as I got too stoned before coming to remember to pick up.

The night welcomes us in, there’s people searching and surging about and we’re happy to join them. Catering’s a tough task but at the end of the day you have nice smooth steel surfaces, clean and dry, that are useful in these kind of capers. We do a quick bit of mise en place; pre-rolling and portioning. Outside our tented kitchen the world is alive and we’ve got the energy to join them, to push push push into the wilderness. Soon we’re getting stoned with Steiner student on a hillside. A lighthouse whirls around, testing my pupils and illuminating the wanderers.

‘The music stopped early tonight.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. All my mate’s are just sat around doing loads of ket.’

‘It’s no way to live.’

‘No, I mean, it’s great, but we do that at home. If I go to a festival I want to meet new people. Like you guys.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Thanks for blimming this joint with me. I’m definitely going to find you guys again and return the favour.’

People come and go from the mound. Always in search of something. We trade pinches of tobacco, papers, filters, bits of hash, lighters and booze. From all corners, out of the darkness, comes the same repeated sound. First a rushed hiss, like a firework just feeling its ignition, followed by the clink of metal on metal.

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DEATH KILLS THEM! DEATH KILLS THEM! DEATH KILLS THEM KIDS!

All of the kids here have a death wish. Disconnecting themselves on ketamine and releasing their minds on balloons. The one persistent background sound of the Garden Party is the discharging of Noz cannisters. Warzone debris is abundant. The night is soundtracked with these little explosions and the day casts light on the litter of spent shells. Day or night, the little rushes are heard, people are switching their minds off, if only for an instant. Everyone’s having a little death.

We need shelter, respite to gather some thoughts and drink some more. We find chills in the chillest spot, where the barman holds a zoot in his lips and is willing to put rum in anything.

‘I’ve got these hot drinks and these cold drinks and I can put rum in whatever.’

He’s got a dodgy Spanish student haircut and the menu boards leave a lot to be desired, but we’re into what they’re doing. Edd’s ordered rum and gingers for both us before I can decide what I need. A huge bottle of shite rum is swung out from under the counter, only to be carefully measured into our drinks. Fucking fake hippies. All in their uniforms, all unwashed, all clearly capitalists.

As we take our first sips a pair of drunk teens arrive at the bar. They’re pretty deeply attractive but they don’t understand this bar at all.

‘Do you have any Tequila?’

‘Just rum.’

‘Just rum? No Tequila?’

‘No, just rum. I’ll do you rum with any of these things.’

These girls barely understand a thing. They confer between themselves as the barman relights his joint. We decide to fuck this noise off and find a seat. We find a tiny sofa and table depicting a map of the world, right on the periphery of the tent, facing in. The action is playing out like so:

To our left a man is passed out on his side. He’s found a nice place to sleep on some cushions and he doesn’t want to leave at all. He has three friends. One is guy who’s seen this shit before and is happy to leave him there. With this man are two women who’re painfully deliberating over helping the pass-out victim.

‘We can’t leave him here.’

‘He does it all the time. He’ll find his way.’

‘Wake up! Wake up! We need to go.’

‘HMMEEEEEE.’ That’s all they’re getting. This guy isn’t going anywhere.

‘Maybe we should take his wallet.’ One of the girls is clearly panicking, in the way that only a middle class white people do. She puts her hand in her friends pocket, whilst directly looking at two young black guys chilling nearby. They seem like they’re happy to keep an eye on the guy but this woman has clearly been following the safety guidelines of the Met Police. The man wins out soon enough and the women leave their friend to sleep.

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*

So these black guys are next to the passed out guy. One wears a baseball cap and dips in and out of reality. His eyes are half closed and his head is bobbing but he’s talking to someone about something. He nods in agreement and mumbles. The second guy, skinny, East-African looks, stares out of the place smiling. These guys are tripping balls but seem in good shape. To our right there’s a few guys getting comfy and smoking big cones. Loving life. By the bar the scene is fairly awful.

A couple of weird dudes who look like they’ve just left an office stand around with a really weird dude in a pink Stetson. The Stetson has a built-in tiara and really compliments the high-vis vest the guy also chose to wear. He has a slightly sleazy tanned face with a pointed nose and white teeth. And he’s beatboxing. He’s not bad but I feel he’s on his own and peacocking like a noodle dick. The two young girls stand nearby. A classic duo of blonde and brunette. The blonde always makes you want to grab her but the brunette will always be better company.

‘She looks soft,’ Edd chuckles like a dirty uncle as I continue with, ‘I bet everything’s in great knick.’ At this point I’ve disgraced even myself and we reel our eyes in and turn our talk to each other.

As we talk about stuff and things and catering we work through our drinks and consider the times already passed. There’s information building up, stretched time filled with similar and diverse experience. I know it’ll all follow me like a dream, before seeping into my subconscious and making me mad even in rest. Hang on, the girls are coming over. It seems they’re taking a seat and talking to us. Behind them the peacock is still beatboxing and some arseholes are stood around listening.

Emily and Kate have a story for us. It’s an old tale, but it’s just happened.

‘So I was just like about to drink my drink and noticed that there was a pink pill in it.’

‘Well I noticed the pill and was like DON’T DRINK IT THERE’S A PINK PILL IN IT.’

‘You’ve heard about these pills right? People are dying.’

They bang on a bit about a girl from the media who died recently from some new drug she was stupid enough to take. Still, there’s something gone on here but these girls are drunk and their story stutters. They’re upset and we sympathise. It’s dangerous out there in this world, especially if you’re fantastically attractive.

‘How old are you girls?’

‘EIGHTEEN!’ The blonde is by my side, sat on a cushion, looking up to me and telling her tale. She really wants to be eighteen but I’m not sure she is. During their tale of teen drug issues they mention a girl in ‘Year 10’, which makes me think these girls are 16 at best. Still, we talk and the girls relax after their ordeal. Edd smirks as he spots that I’ve been recruited to help the blonde rewind a long, magnetic bracelet around her wrist. She looks at me with big glossy eyes and I stick to the task.

The tone changes after the blonde has her friend take her picture with me.

‘Better not let my wife see that.’

‘You’re married!?’ Heads wheel in unison. It’s always a surprise, mainly because I’m young, and I also don’t wear a ring. The blonde says little and the brunette stirs to life.

‘I can’t wait to get married and have kids. I want kids by the time I’m your age.’

‘Why? It’s way too young. And it’ll ruin your body. Kids and marriage are pointless. Needless. The world’s over-populated and marriage is just a way to lose money. If you don’t have kids you get to have your whole life to try to find out who you want to be, to achieve what you want.’ She got me on my favourite subject.

BURN MARRIAGE! DEATH TO KIDS!

It’s not too long before the girls are gone. Then we’re just two perves chuckling on a wicker sofa.

The room now goes like this: there’s some new people at the bar, generic and lifeless. East African has gone for a wander whilst his mate naps. The white man condemned utters one more ‘HMMEEEEEEE’ and resumes his death. To our left, the cone smokers have been joined by the Stetson beatboxer, who I’m pretty sure is a rapist. Those girls were drunk, but their story had depth. And they can’t have just been using it as a weird ‘can we sit here?’ pick-up line, mainly because they were way too hot for that. We’re tired and dirty, like old Hank.

‘You guys got a Rizla?’ Stetson man. Edd sorts him out. ‘So how old are you guys?’ Interesting opener. Fucking rapist. ‘Those girls were really nice. Think they fancied you guys.’ He’s nearly panting talking about the absent teens. ‘Want some poppers?’ RAPIST RAPIST RAPIST. Edd does the poppers and the conversation fades. The East African guy is back and his mate is awake and is now trying to wake the pass-out victim. No joy, he’s staying the night. The black dudes then make a spectacular exit, running from the tent, knees high, like a Benny Hill sketch. They chase each other, backs straight, elbows up, fast and slow. They run with joyous comedy out of this strange place, leaving Edd and I with the funniest thing we’ve seen all day. This brings an end to the fun of the place and we also exit into the night.

‘What a fucking rapist.’

‘Who?’

‘The beatboxer. Ol’ pink Stetson.’

‘He seemed alright.’

‘Remember the girls that were nearly drugged? “You want some poppers?” He was in the business of opening bumholes wider, I know it.’

‘Oh shit. I just didn’t think. What a fucking rapist.’

We’re distracted from all of this seriousness by the sound of bumper cars. We’re lured in to the spectacle though not willing to participate. There’s friendly carnage on the electrified stage as the guy running the thing looks away, bored. Everyone’s ramming and laughing and surging about, delighted to have a soft vehicle to explore their frivolity in. Then we spot one guy, aside from all of the rest, seemingly just recovered from a little bump, driving casually away from the chaos. Either with a sense of joy or entirely joylessly, he hugs the outer rim of the platform, breaking and gently easing around a corner. Again we’re delighted by the weirdness of man.

2

Hold On, Heartattack Dad, You’ve Got Mouths To Feed

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The endless beautiful sadness of it all swirls and twists and we skirt around the edges. Light comes and things die down and soon tomorrow is declared. We find ourselves in a fine place, where there’s free tea and biscuits and a radio. We talk of male suicide being a killer, when we all know that the real killer is death. Pretty much 100% of people die from death. As we sip hot brews on a rug in a tent that looks like a living room, a group of girls perch next to us. The radio brings MONEY and Jamie Lee’s voice is a warm delight like the tea.

“PARADISE WILL ALWAYS TURN TO HELL
WHEN THERE’S SOMEONE WHO’S IN CONTROL
AND THE MADMAN IN HIS MORTAL CELL
HE’S GOING TO SAVE YOUR SOUL”

A young girl stretches out next to me. She’s probably about 17, beautiful and slender. Her midriff is pale and delicate with a gentle luxurious curve. She enquires whether she’s too close and I say no. She closes her eyes and catches the sun just creeping into the edge of the tent. Knowing looks with Edd; all of this terrible male desire. This is no place for a married man. I dunk a biscuit and listen to the radio.

We get back out into the world and try to enjoy the day. There’s work to be done this evening but for today we’ll seek a gentle drink and find distractions that aren’t gelatinous thighs or joyous dimples. We find solace in an old Fiat Uno that seems to have grown spider’s legs. We’re not moving just sitting and enjoying the rest. This place is big. We’re joined in the car by a couple of young lads. They’re running through their times and ideas, half to us, half to each other.

‘Just get really pissed and fucked until you turn into a wizard.’

‘I don’t think I’m ever going to eat again.’

‘Remember when I went missing then came back with a yellow bag tied around me? Who was it that set me alight?’

‘It got to the point where there was drugs in everything. I tried to just drink water and there was even MD in that.’

‘It was the ketamine in the toothpaste that got to me.’

Drinking a cocktail from a sachet in an outdoor room with a door but no walls, I see an assault course with the title Wonky Races. I’d come across it earlier but thought it was simply a playground for those on too much ketamine. Turns out things go on here and soon there are people in costumes with megaphones directing pissed people on space-hoppers around the course. From both directions I can hear awful bands that sound like Mumford and Sons at different speeds. The only decent tunes I’ve heard here at all are through the radio. At night everything is throbbing bass, a lure to kids and idiots who’ve taken drugs to make them move to whatever dreck is pumped out.

As we move back towards work, approach the idea of doing some catering, I see a young ‘hippy’ girl searching in a bin. She forages some food, half eaten on a paper plate, and seems happy. She shouts her boyfriend and passes him the meal. He eats gladly and my stomach turns. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with eating leftovers. These are certainly the closest to true hippies I’ve seen. Really dirty. The first guy we encountered here was a full on fake hippy arsehole, scamming bread and boring us with stories of how he can’t hold down a job because he’s shit to work with, or that’s what I took from the tales. We see him several more times. He always wants something and is always wearing a twatty top hat. I don’t like him at all.

The evening’s catering is slow and boring, though one amusing tale does break out. A few tents down, Some Cunt From The Telly is making pizza. His gazebo is enormous and so is his team. He stares out emotionless from the back, kneading bread and hoping people give a fuck that he was on TV. Now, his business is baking apparently, which extended to wood oven pizza, but after a couple of days, a new sign appeared. His menu board is huge and colourful and imposing, yet on the front of the stall hangs a little blackboard scrawled with chalk. It reads:

WRAP (double underlined),

 – spiced lamb,

 – hommus,

– salad,

– yoghurt sauce. £7.

We sell one thing, which is wraps, for seven quid. There’s three choices of filling but the key player is lamb. We use slow roast organic free-range lamb, wrapped in a handmade flatbread with wild rocket, freshly made hommus, peaches and yoghurt (and seeds and chilli which Edd and I throw about all over the place in fits of chefy abandon). We went to visit this Cunt From The Telly to check the goods out. One of his staff explains how great it is. First she points to some torilla wraps fresh from the packet, then some nice crunchy lettuce, then to a tub full of spiced minced lamb.

‘But it’s the sauce that really gets people coming back. It’s yoghurt and mint.’ She points to a bottle of sauce fresh from the cash and carry. Classy outfit.

‘We’ll come back.’ We exit smirking because we’re dicks. ‘What a bag of shite.’ We later send over a wrap of ours and ask for a swap with theirs. This is common practice in street food, and the real bonus of a job that mainly entails stopping a gazebo blowing away in high winds. The swap is refused and the Cunt From The Telly tells our messenger that he’ll change the menu if we’re so bothered. Very sensitive. Later the sign reads FALAFEL WRAP £6. Anyway, he can Chong a fat dick.

*

So catering happens smoothly because we’re some pretty sweet caterers. Soon we’re surging and bouncing through a crowd, aiming only for the middle to pump and move to some Niggas In Paris remix. Kanye and Jay-Z are clearly dicks but the beat is big. We make it right into the mix on a whim, willing to taste everything. An idiot stood by a speaker tries to take a phonecall. A man raves hard in a top hat. A heartattack Dad sweats and blows and gets a little taste of his hair gel. He should think of his children and stay hydrated. I’m pretty certain his heart is going to explode out of his chest with Cronenbergian splendour. Out out out before we’re showered in blood.

There’s some caterers nearby selling sausages that we harass for a bit, telling them they should give out tapwater and taking a brew in exchange for our advice. They’re plastic and uninterested. They’re doing catering for the cash cash cash. They clearly don’t love it. But their shirts do state they love sausage. These people are easily confused and it gets to a point we can barely hold a conversation with them. They’ve got drunken women to help and we have a plan to hotbox the Uno.

‘CATERING!’ We shout and wander. ‘CATER CATER CATER.’

Hotboxing a car with no windows is a difficulty but the spirit is true and the weed is strong. We met a man who was kind enough to drop off to the stall, just like being at home. It’s a sign of a fine society when a man will come to your house to bring you some debilitatingly strong cannabis whenever you need it. We’re joined by a couple of dudes who’re on their own thing and don’t join in the mash. Suddenly there’s kids all over the roof and my mind is in an apocalyptic future where I’m stranded in a stricken vehicle and there’s youths on ketamine all confused and twisted, mounting the ride menacingly.

Next we pop-up on the bridge again, where Edd finds he can hang his tarnished feet into the falling water rushing beneath us. It wasn’t long into this thing when Edd decided he needn’t wear shoes at all (other than in the kitchen, that’d be bad practice). I’m staying loyal to my boots that I feel will guide me through everything. We drink whatever we find in my rucksack, a constantly evolving inventory. Passersby are told that this is the best spot in the festival and that they should let their feet hang. Some stop to talk and some hang their feet to have their toes soothed.

At some bar Edd says to a forlorn woman: ‘Come on Doris, you’ll be alright.’ She looks blank. We turn away. ‘She went to all that effort to look like a hippie…’

‘…then she took a gram of ket and now look at her.’ We shout CATERING and run off again.

‘Their eyes are so big.’

‘It’s because they’re so young they haven’t grown into them yet.’

Everyone’s welcome everywhere. I write this down and notice I’m having some trouble forming the letter E. It’s different every time. Who’s to know? There’s a fire that seems wholly unsafe and entirely brilliant. It’s getting light and the bass is still thumping here and there. Some tents are vacant, only filled with litter and cartridges. New Dizee Rascal pounds its vulgar sounds.

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*

We find a bar and struggle to decide on a drink. They have Tequila, which I was earlier advised to drink by the boss. The only mixer I like is Elderflower and soon I have one of the worst drinks I’ve ever tasted. Edd’s talking to some old trucker at the bar, who’s reeling off his masterplan to bring a big operation of ice-making to festivals. He’s right, there’s no ice anywhere. £8 cocktails without ice is a dick’s game. This man is going to go far. We keep calling him The Iceman and wishing him well. As we leave the bar with our warm drinks we shout ‘CATERING!’ and ‘THE ICEMAN!’ and ‘THE ICEMAN COMETH!’. He loves it, the mad old bastard.

Scrambling through woodland to find a urinal I laugh to myself about an idea for a festival whorehouse that sells £1 dick. We’d never make any money but I think the vibe would be nice. Post-piss I find Edd by an abandoned post. A wooden bar that’s usually home to the Wild Woodland Workshops is closed for business and covered in litter. We have an automatic clean down, removing the litter to the bin and clearing puddles with paper. We take a perch behind the bar and mix our drinks together. Something has to kill this fucking awful beverage. We get help with this task from people who come to what they seem to think is a bar of some sort.

‘This drink is pretty shit. Do you want a taste?’

‘Oh yeah, that’s not nice at all, do you want some of this?’

And so various bottles and cans of various alcoholic liquids are squirted and poured into the cup, which tastes better and better as time passes and people come and go. The first is a couple of girls, one from Melbourne, who I tell about my Australian wife. It’s a shame because she’s pretty pretty and is carrying rum.

Most seem to think we work for an information point, so we give them information, others just want somewhere to hang out at 6am. The whole time we’ve been here, there’s been a man passed out by a fence a little way off. Until now he’s remained unmolested. Someone goes over to give him a shoulder shake.

‘Oi, leave him alone, he’s having a nap!’ This from Edd who’s happy to let sleeping mashed people lie.

‘I hope he’s not dead.’ He’s not dead, as it’s not long before he’s at the bar and we’re offering him some of our joint.

‘Hi guys,’ sheepish as fuck, ‘I heard you helped me out. Thanks so much. What are doing here?’

‘Just chilling.’ We make him drink plenty of water and listen to his story. He laughs and warms in to the day. The pass-out guy hangs out for a bit, along with some older dude who’s a big fan of the bar. Our next guest is a strange beautiful woman who joins Edd in drawing pictures whilst I write a letter to old Heart Attack Dad from earlier. Our drinking and drawing and smoking goes on through the white morning.

‘There’s a songwriting workshop at 1, we probably need to be out of here for then.’

Calm is broken by some rowdy older people who seem to want a reason for everything. One older woman thinks she knows what’s going on here.

‘So these guys are just drawing pictures? That’s nice. And what do you do?’

‘Me? I’m the narrator.’

‘I think these guys should be left alone.’ Now, it’s true that Edd should bang this weird chick, but the idea that the time is now and we need destroy this thing is all wrong. But she’s insistant and like my mum’s age. ‘I really think you should come with me.’ Tugging at my arm. I’m trying to work, but she’s clearly an idiot. There’s only one route out.

‘I’m sorry. I’m just not interested. I’m married. She’s beautiful and 23.’

‘Oh, no, I just think these guys should be left alone.’

‘Yeah, I understand, but I’m married.’ I repeat this until she walks off offended.

I cast my eye over the pictures being produced next to me. Edd’s produced a landscape and this girl a design for an entertainment tent.

‘Is this real or an idea?’

‘Erm, well, it exists in my head so it doesn’t really matter.’ She smiles and looks at her work. Mad as a bag of cats but endlessly lovely. I hope she drags Edd into a bush, but she just ends up wandering off after a few hours. Near 8am we decide to leave, but are loathe to leave the place unmanned. We hassle people into taking our shift and implore people to pick up litter. We leave a couple of bemused guys by the bar, unsure how to cater.

‘That was a great pop-up.’

‘Yeah, everyone should enjoy a free banter service with zoots and questionable drinks.’

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Our next rest comes by a fire. A hippie girl passes selling £2 gin punch. We take a couple of plastic cups from her and congratulate her on her catering. Best breakfast in the place. Still, the noise of balloons rapidly inflating infects the air. The drink tastes of gin and isn’t horrible so life is good. Everything is bleached by the new day but it’s not tomorrow yet because that’d mean work is soon. We talk to a fellow caterer against Edd’s wishes ‘I don’t think we’re suitable,’ and then stumble across a big open-air bed that invites a lie-down. I close my eyes and the world rumbles wearily.

‘I can’t understand why everything is so damp.’ A confused passer-by with limited knowledge. The next distraction is some loud pikey guy who sits down near Edd’s head. Soon he’s shouting because Edd’s shoved him off and I’ve just looked and shrugged. My shrug is cool because I don’t know what Edd did. The pikey soon takes his tombstone teeth on their way and we rest a little. I can’t settle at all, whilst Edd seems peaceful. The same goes for our next perch on some hay bales under a tree. By this point work is open but I’m not yet due to cater. I head over, grab breakfast and sit by Edd as he naps. The food is a struggle but I think I’m going to hold together.

*

Work passes quick as I’m only doing the middle of the day. Me, Edd and the boss are all free for the evening. Shame it’s starting to piss down. It takes us ages to get out of the gazebo, constantly distracted by telling the other staff how to cater in our absence. We lose Edd immediately, as he’s talking to girl and we wish him all the bangs in the world. We head to a tent and listen to folk and skin up as the rain starts to gain strength. By the time we go back to where Edd was, he’s gone into the festival, crazed and barefoot.

The boss, who I’ll call Jike for the sake of anonymity, and I tour the festival anyway, bored and disgusted by everything. The tone of the affair has changed, mainly due to the weather and the absence of our mad chef. We’re also entirely damaged and tired; me more so because I’ve recently considered sleep optional. Still, we get some cocktails in, though Jike has to tell girl on the bar what needs to go in them as she’s clearly not read the menu nor fully grasps the concept of a cocktail. After the additions of more stuff than vodka and soda, we take our bland booze into the night.

Shelter is the key battle at a time like this. Raving mashed is legit in the rain, but cruising for a decent cotch and some fine tunes is troublesome. We find ourselves in some woodland watching the most underwhelming electro outfit the Youth of Today has conspired to create. There’s an arsehole doing most of the noise with one finger push and doing lots of “feeling it” faces. The guys all look at each other like their dicks are about to go off.

‘This one’s for mad Eddie, he’s the drummer.’ He looks wild. These guys love what they’re doing but the sparse audience is largely apathetic. We stay too long and soon it’s their last effort. As if the honk of teen semen isn’t already pounding out of these guys, they’ve seen fit to ask for the company of a couple of mates, a boy/girl duo dressed as genitals. The boy is a six-foot cock and balls and the girl a huge flapping vagina. They move to the naïve pap served up and we just can’t take any more.

‘What a bunch of dicks.’ Heads are shaken as balls bounce and flaps flap.

‘Why would they think that’s a good idea?’

We’ve become complete grumpy dads by this point, appalled by these youths and making a limping exit.

‘My knee is fucked.’

‘My feet really hurt.’

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Soon we think we’ve rescued things, when we stumble on the most ideal cotch to suit our scenario. We pitch up inside of what looks like a giant kaleidoscope and find a place to rest our catered-out feet. The curved walls of the tiny building become a shared hammock and a zoot goes down neatly until we’re accosted by some teens. They’re friendly mashed and happily sore that someone else got the best seats in the house. Vibes are soon harshed when one of the guy’s sister comes in and starts detailing her troubles. Of a cold mother. Of a father who gave her LSD. Of her 16-year-old brother who she’s just given his first tab.

With all this information the perfect cotch is ruined but I humour the girl who’s half attractive but I get the wife detail in early. Sometimes it’s only to remind myself. I blast some of her joint and am confused by it’s flavours.

‘What’s this weed?’

‘It’s like Thai. But not.’ I’m out of here, I hate this girl. I’d rather get rained on than endure her noise.

Tonight I’m going to bed. Rest is essential, if only to cool the sense of swirling madness. Edd’s out there in the thick of it. I’ll be surprised if he can cope at all. I’m hitting a Bert and Ernie scenario with Jike. Bert and Ernie in a white Transit van. As I brush my teeth at a standpipe and feel cold water on my toes, I wonder where Edd is. I really hope he’s grabbing a lovely girl, whilst I’m not around to let my marriage piss on his parade.

3

Teen Interns and Batering For Breakfast.

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I’m woken from a twisted dream of running round Booker’s cash and carry shouting ‘CATERING’ by someone telling me it’s time to go to work. It’s 11am, I’ve slept deep and long on a V-shaped camp bed in the back of a Transit van. I pull on boots and shorts and start work immediately. The gazebo is filled with action but Edd is nowhere to be seen. Maybe he’s dead or sleeping. Catering passes and I struggle to adjust to the day. The long sleep has robbed me of too much time. The immediate work has left me disorientated and grumpy. The lack of Craig and Edd mise en place has made the operation sluggish.

I feel the ship is going to be steadied when Edd finally arrives. It takes only one glance at his wild expression and mud-caked feet to know that this isn’t going to be the case. Edd holds my gaze with glazed eyes,

‘I met a scientist. He had some wonderful MDMA.’ Edd gets an apron and starts to cater, but his fluidity just isn’t there. He knows he needs to get away from the front of the stall when he hands a customer a fist full of bank notes from the till, rather than their change. He steps to the back and the catering continues. We exchange smiles and the thing goes on. By the evening Edd’s functional, but a beautiful madness remains, the madness we’ve been working on all weekend. Our excitement is still big, even when the rest of the staff leave for home, including Jike. We’re to serve the evening shift, close whenever, get up in the morning, do breakfast, pack down the stall and drive back to London.

‘We’re going to do things a little bit differently.’

The night is relaxed as the party winds down. Our view over the lake has changed, as the pirate ship in our eyeline was burned last night whilst Faithless mustered a DJ set that underwhelmed even the most gurning faces. Locked jaws and set stares as Sister Bliss and Maxi Jazz phone it in. These memories are banished as the warmth of the evening grows. The rabble are roused and are leaning into the front of the stall whilst we slowly make them dinner. Tonight we’re sort of telling people what they’re having and tweaking the menu all over the place.

As the catering goes on the night turns darker, tweaks and twists come to the plan. Edd slices and quarters some watermelon, which provides the starter for what has become a supper club by a lake. We use our usually useless empty breadcrates as seats out front and bond with every customer who comes up. Various mad people gather round, all kinds of characters. A girl decorates one of Edd’s eyes with glitter, and now he’s fully in festival uniform, wild eyes included. We separate our kitchen space with a blanket, making the place warmer and less cavernous.

‘I’m going to use this jam from the Gooseberries to glaze the lamb.’

‘That’s what I wanted to do.’ We hug. It’s a love-in and the people are loving it too. Edd garnishes from great heights whilst I place and position neatly. We’re thriving on catering, everyone’s feeling fed. Repeat fans bring friends and we meet a Finnish artist who distracts hearts and minds. As we wear into the early hours traffic slows and we need a rest. Edd employs two interns, in the shape of Lily and Anne, two young girls deeply enthused by the world of catering. We give them our aprons and get them in the stall.

Sat on our bread crate seats we go over the fine details of making a wrap.

‘If you want to do it like Edd, grab some seeds, hold them high over the wrap and then throw then about like you’re not really interested in getting them on the wrap at all.’

‘Have a little wipe down with some blue roll.’

‘Try to apply the hummus in one swipe with the back of the spoon.’

The girls follow our advice to the letter and serve a few people some neat wraps. Anne struggles with the hummus technique.

‘This is a shambles.’

“Do you want to be a caterer or not?’ Their efforts are wonderful and the time off my feet to blast a zoot and be refreshed by a beer is lovely. I find a broken toy gun on the floor as someone asks ‘what’s your best butterfly impression?’ It seems we’re pushing this as far as we can but as the people get weirder it’s time to call it a night.

‘We serve breakfast in hour.’ We laugh at the hyperbole but we’re not far from the truth. The crowd clears and Edd tears off into the night. I talk the girls through a clean down whilst covering the front of the gazebo. I get quite unnerved when I realise I’m sealing two beautiful girls into the kitchen. How old are they? Does this look like the start of a sex crime?

I’m inside and trying to guess the age of the girls when Edd comes tearing in with a cup of tea in a proper mug.

‘I got you this. May have spilt a bit.’ Panting and sweating Edd hands me the brew, which is only half there. ‘I just swooped in took it out of her hand and left again, gave them a blast of “catering!”.’ Off he runs again to find the next thing. I continue my guessing game with Lily and sip the tea that’s too sweet and has to go.

‘How old do you think we are?’

‘Are you eight years old?’ It turns out they’re 19 which is a fine age to be working for some mad caterers.

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‘Do I put the juice in the hole?’ An innocent question relating the cleaning of hot plates.

‘Yes, everything in the hole.’ The clean down is thorough, as I teach the joy of cleaning steal surfaces.

‘Wipe down dry first, get all the loose shit. Then clean nicely with hot soapy. Then dry. Then sanitise, allowing decent contact time, and dry.’ Fine shine on everything. Edd returns as the girls hand over their aprons. We give them a drink and secure their services for breakfast.

‘We’ll pack down our tent and come back.’

‘I wonder if OUR tents are still there?’

*

It’s 7am and we’re running full pace through a field of densely packed tents. Hopping guy ropes and snaking towards our camp. An excellent, unexpected burst of pace and coordination. The quiet spot by the stream was gone by Friday morning. No problem, we barely slept there anyway. We stop in our clearing and contemplate heart attacks. Edd’s had a fear of this death for most of the weekend. We breathe hard but lay into a quick pack down. If our hearts burst out of our chests now, at least everything will be neatly packed. I’m distracted as a neighbour emerges from her tent. A BBW in the style I used to chase around when I was 17. Cute face and formidable breasts. I wonder what they look like? She heads off to the toilet and the pack down goes on.

I’m shoving my tent into it’s bag when the girl returns. I hear Edd offer her a Chupa Chups. I presume he throws it over and only turn around when both he and the girl are getting really excited.

‘Look where it landed!’  She pulls the neck of her jumper down to show a bustling cleavage that holds a lollipop at it’s centre. I look to Edd and he’s fucking delighted.

‘What a shot.’ The girl goes back in her tent and we can here her laughing and laughing and relaying the story to whoever’s inside. She laughs more and more as we talk our way through the rest of the pack down.

Rest is found on the ground, as camping chairs become footstools and the sky becomes our entertainment. We stare at clouds and steady our breathing. A little drink and smoke helps as the noise of faceless conversations ruins the scene.

‘…it was so so good, so funny…’ Some explains a joke.

‘LADS ON TOUR.’ Some bastards working on their sense of irony. Edd breaks our silence, to at least talk over the noise.

‘Did you SEE where that lolly landed?’ We laugh up at the sky and ready ourselves for breakfast.

‘It was good because I really wanted to see her tits.’

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*

Back at the kitchen we’re having another well deserved sit-down when the girls arrive. Lily and Anne are clearly dedicated caterers.

‘What do you need us to do?’ Edd gives them bits of paper and flyers and encourages them to write things like “Lunch by the lake?” on them. We’d already been shouting this at anyone we passed. Our aggressive selling has been a key feature, with people we’ve met on adventures coming and buying lunch from the idiots they’d met the night before. ‘So we just hand them out and put them places?’

‘Yes. We want as many people as possible.’ Off go the PR team, dedicated and beautiful, just like in the Real World. We take a celebratory Kopparberg out to the lake and badger some guy to let us sit on a boat, but not to take it out. The booze was free which is good because it’s awful. I can’t get decent beer here at all, but I can get any kind of mad white powder, what a fucking world.

We don’t steal a boat because this is not the time to get thrown out, we’ve got service in a couple of hours. It’s nice to sit and bob on the water, enjoying the fresh day and reflecting on the ceaseless madness. The burned boat sits in the middle of the lake, a strange gesture of spectacle.

Back in the kitchen we sort out the menu. Edd shouts out a list of all of the perishables that have to go and the other bits we have to go with them.

‘Put straw on the list, we’re going to need some straw.’

‘I’m going to make a vinaigrette. Of sorts. With all the herbs.’

‘Great. Great. We need two stations. Chopping board, knife, shit bin.’

‘We’ll leave the front on, whip it off only when we’re ready to go.’

The girls come back and we get the kitchen in shape. Lily wants to make courgette chips. Edd takes her through several ways to cut a courgette. Each style is piled neatly onto a flyer. Edd exits to do some more marketing, the girls do some dishes and I get on making some courgette hair.

When Edd returns he’s being persued by several members of the security staff. One bulky geezer follows Edd into the gazebo. The scene is one of perfect mise en place. There’s beautiful girls busy doing stuff and I’m busy finely chopping parsley and mint. I look over unfazed.

‘We’re just prepping for breakfast.’ Edd points to the scene.

‘I need to talk to you.’ More security arrives. Edd settles on the one he wants to negotiate with and picks him out.

‘I’d like to talk to you. Would you like some watermelon?’ Edd cuts a couple of slices of watermelon and sits out the back with the bald white man. I smile at the staff and get into this big dressing. I chop all available mint and parsley, mix it with lemon juice, gooseberry jam and salt. It tastes big big big.

After much negotiation the situation works out. It seems Edd was writing on some furniture and an attempt was made to stop him. He wheeled away and soon had a dozen men chasing him down. Just like us, these men don’t fuck about. In the calm, it seems that it’s time for the other staff to leave, though the girls seemed inclined to stay. As we say our goodbyes, Lily changes costume. I realise she’s wearing football socks, with TAPE on.

‘Do you play football?’

‘Yeah, left back.’ My position.

‘Who do you support?’

‘I don’t watch professional football. It’s all bullshit, too much money.’ She says something much more eloquent then this but the point is there. What a woman. There’s hugs and the girls leave. They give their details to Edd, just in case we need staff in the future. We, of course, are merely the staff ourselves, there’s just been a minor hijacking.

‘So we’ll do it all on a barter system, a sliding scale,’ Edd’s excited, ‘whatever they give us, we’ll give them back in food.’

‘Cash?’

‘Whatever they have.’

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*

The front comes off and we start shouting at the people. We’ve got some oil on and there’s courgette hair frying. Stale flatbreads are toasted hard and cut into quarters. Each portion is like a canapé, a neatly stacked combination of whatever we have in front of us, served up on a piece of our huge A3 flyers. It all starts slow and hits a furious pace. Our only sign reads:

“WE DO CATERING AND THAT FOR £SOME.” It’s from the night before but suits the day. Below it reads “Lily’s Courgette Fries,” in a much neater scrawl than Edd’s. All kinds of people are at the front and we take them all on an individual basis. The first get the mackerel that has to go. It sits atop hummus and the herb sauce, garnished with gooseberries and seeds and chilli. Things happen fast and our donation box is filling up. Edd rattles it like a charity mugger. We see people from the days past, faces we’ve met here and there. They’re all hungry, there’s few places to eat today.

‘Can I get something?’

‘What have you got?’

‘This hash?’

‘Great.’

‘This hat?’

‘Great.’

‘This ball?’

‘Great.’

‘Two quid?’

‘Yeah, ok.’

Round and round. Zipping about and grilling and toasting and cracking eggs. Never once do we touch other than to hug. We finish each others ideas and stack things beautifully and neat. The thing really opens up.

‘I’ve got these carrots.’

‘Well come on in.’ Edd gets a man with carrots in, shows him how he wants them cut (full cross section) and we get them on the grill. We’re sweating and moving and drinking the beers people pass. The pace is big. Wipe downs are at an all time low.

‘I can go and get my clarinet, make some music.’

‘There’ll be food waiting for you. Craig, lots of food for this one.’

‘Great. Who wants some smashed eggs?’

‘Smashed eggs?’

‘I’ve overcooked these fried eggs. I’m smashing them up and putting them on bread with hot sauce. It’s fucking great.’ I nail out a few portions of that and soon we’ve got grilled carrots and then courgette fries and then whatever. Staff come and go. A man washes dishes for his breakfast, another gives us the actual shirt off his back for an eats. The shirt goes back out to a girl who’s cold. This is it, ultimate festival madness, and weird hippie behaviour. Trade, trade, trade. Exchanging goods and services. Building inventory.

Edd’s having a cigarette and the volume comes down. I’ve got someone doing some prep and I’m sweating and moving and putting stuff together. People lean in close as I meticulously pile and place bits and pieces onto burnt bread. Everyone is thankful, everyone entertained. A man with the strongest Scouse accent I’ve ever head offers me ‘caramellow’ hash and I make him a strong snack, some for his girlfriend too. It all winds down as we runs out of food and people.

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‘I think we did something special here.’ We hug for too long. I go off and phone my mother. Then Jike. I pace the stage in an empty tent, reeling off the details of the thing, frantic and mad. My mum seems delighted by the reports. Jike REALLY wants to talk to Edd.

I get back and the front of the gazebo is going on.

‘We’re going to Sanctuary.’ It seems pack down is going to be delayed.

4

The Endless Festival; Resting Up In Welwyn Garden City

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We’re in a yurt with some mad people and a fire. Everything is soft. The people give us joints and joints of hash. I’m getting in a deep lull. Jike has sent me several messages. He’d love to speak to Edd. All I’ve said is something about “abundant gooseberries”.

‘He’s harshing my vibes man.’ Oh shit, the come down is on. There’s a creeping sense of consequences but I really need to sleep and I can barely stand or talk. More hash sees me through. Flies keep coming at me. What do they want? There’s abundant waste everywhere. Still, I’m pretty deeply filthy, I haven’t showered in almost a week. Edd cuddles a clear gastro filled with treasure. He’s wrapped it in a filthy apron for safety. The Scouser is here and some loud girl and some fat wasteman. Two old wankers stoke the fire. They’re probably teachers. The youngsters only seem to talk about tales of mad squat raves. I offer the waster some joint,

‘Can’t man, weed makes me think bad things.’ He goes on to tell the tale of how the police took 500 noz cartridges off him.

‘You do balloons?’ Edd’s been badgering everyone about them. I’d been shouting about how it’s a stupid way to get high and it stuck. We’re against them.

‘Not anymore. I sell them. Until the fuckin’ police took ‘em off meh.’ Wasteman. ‘Last time I did it I thought I’d died.’ I’ve felt a similar vibe in the past, the tiny death of mild suffocation. Never again, I like being alive.

Outside, it’s raining. Nudists pass. A woman plays a guitar but there’s no sound. Simulated joys. It’s strange and surreal but seems safe. Warmth and comfort have been at a premium. A blonde girl bursts in.

‘I’m going, you’re an arsehole,’ BIG Scouse accent. She’s aiming at the Scouse lad, who looks a bit like a young Ethan Hawke. ‘You gave all my weed those food guys.’ We can’t help but laugh but stop short of waving. This is a non-stop fantasy land. The guy talks her down and things settle out. The loud girl gives us booze that tastes like medicine, which seems just about right. My phone has died so it feels like a problem has gone away, or at least can’t be solved. Not by me. Edd gives me the treasure and moves off to a bank of pillows. I smoke more hash and write some notes on the weirdness. Thoughts touch on dreams whilst the softness swallows me up and twisted sleep comes in.

*

I wake up and the fire has burned down a bit and darkness is slipping in. Still the people walk by nude. Edd’s gone but I have the treasure. I hope he’s sleeping somewhere. He’s probably been eating apples in a hammock with a beautiful woman or having a nude sauna with an old man. I’ll have a quick pack-down here and move on. Store the treasure in my rucksack and change to a rain jacket. I’m glad I took my boots off before I slept, who’s to know when I can take them off next? The loud girl is being quiet which is great because I need to gather myself. The shouting Scousers have fucked off too which is fantastic. My exit is swift, the facilities here are great but I can’t truly be fucked with these people. Pro wasters and fake hippies having the ultimate cotch behind a veil in a field. Put it away mate, we all know it’s there. DICKS.

Back at the stall the pack down is cumbersomely underway. Edd’s in an apron supervising and talking half practical madness. It seems some staff have been drafted in. Edd’s given employ to the guy who was earlier trying to make sure we didn’t steal a boat. He’s probably given him a pack of fags or a blim of hash. We straighten for a moment and decide we absolutely MUST do a stock take. However, in an earlier act of Great Catering, Edd put a padlock on the fridge van which he doesn’t have the key to. We’re going to need some bolt cutters. I check I have everything I need in my bag: water, a torch, a length of rope and head down to the First Aid Tent. I need an ambulance.

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Now I feel almost settled; rested but still challenged. I have no true idea where to go but I have a quest and the time to fill. I’d rather not be packing down in a mild rain.

‘Hi, I’m a caterer, we need to remove a padlock from a fridge. We’ve lost the key. Do you guys have bolt cutters?’ I try to seem straight because I sort of think I am. Though when speaking to a paramedic, that’s almost certainly non-twisted and seen too much already, I fear I look crazed.

‘We do in the ambulance and it’s out, not sure when he’ll be back.’ She’s very pleasant and gentle. It’s amazing to talk to someone who’s not even slightly mashed. It’s like watching television.

‘Well thanks either way. Are you well?’ We exchange short stories and she tells where the production area is, where the tools are kept. As often happens, the lead came up bum, on account of all the staff being down the pub and tool sheds being locked tight.

I head back into the festival and find nice perch in a platform over a tree. I let my legs dangle and drink water. The festival is being slowly pulled apart all over the place and I’m failing. I decide to skin up. I understand why people turn to drugs, as they often make things better and/or easier. If, however, you’ve got any REAL shit to actually do, then drug use can become hellish. This is the reason nobody does ket before going to the gym or LSD before taking an eye test.

‘Hey man.’ Two guys are walking nearby, one has a wheelbarrow so I guess he know tools. They come over and I explain the thing. The barrow boy comes up roses saying that if I’ve got power then he’s got an angle grinder.

I have to walk with them back to their place before we get back to Edd. When I return I’ve been gone a really long time. The pack down is done for the day. It just needs loading fully tomorrow. I tell Edd about the big win but it turns out there’s no power left. And the water’s gone too. Zero plumbing. The guys are thanked either way and they get back to whatever the fuck they’re doing here. We sort of declare that nothing can be done ‘til light and Edd needs sleep before action.

*

We take a walk out to where the luxurious campers used to live. A vacant lot of hooded white cones against full darkness. Giant KKK spectres. We move amongst the skeletons and look for more treasure. Lost beer, neglected fags, regretamine. I find a bottle of ginger beer that seems to contain alcoholic liquid. We settle in a yurt and string up the torch on the rope for a light.  I taste the liquid and it’s booze indeed, big big horrible shit. A rum-themed moonshine. Awful. I decide to keep hold of it. We share a beer and Edd tears off again, going door to door at the empty yurts talking about catering, telling nobody about things we’d done. We’re made for each other. The jabber settles and he comes inside after a blast of CATERING into the night.

‘We can live at festivals. I see no reason to go back London.’ I think of a decent shower and Tiny Wife, but also embrace the ideals. We talk of sourcing food on the road and moving around the country catering all over the place. We make grand plans and smoke weed from the treasure.

‘Have you seen the stuff in the box? It’s mad.’ We look at the treasure and sift for inventory. ‘Do you remember what we did? It was wonderful.’ We talk of the mad characters ‘til Edd tires. I’m left to write and drink poison in the yurt. I write of mad people holding on to festivals. Those that stay either way. More mash, deeper twist, in search of bigger lives. Our constant capering has been great but some of these people seem to not WANT anything, they’re surviving and skirting through.

With all this in mind, I decide to head back to Sanctuary. Maybe Edd will be there. Or maybe he’s in the back of the Transit. I don’t want to wake him so I won’t check. The night is dark and my torch is weak, much like my sense of direction. Edd and I ran here, blasting ‘CATERING’ and hunting about for things to salvage. I have no real idea on the way back, but as ever I follow the lights. The old birth instinct. I’m reborn into the festival and find Sanctuary to have changed. The yurt holds a few sleeping people but none are Edd. The wasteman is still in but I don’t stick around.

Some people by an outdoor fire barely acknowledge me as I join them. Fake fucking hippies. It turns out they’re going to a party so I give up ideas of sleep again and join them. The ringleader is an older Mancunian man that I get talking to as we walk.

‘It’s actually at the house of the guy who owns the land. This is his actual land. It’s at his house. Well, that’s what I hear anyway.’ We talk further and it’s clear he’s a cunt but this is the only thing going down now and I’ve committed. I escape the man and get speaking to girl named Jess. She’s lovely and here as a caterer. It seems she’s a neighbour but we just didn’t explore our own ends too well. We buddy up for the trip, mainly because we think the gang we’re with are fucking mad.

Our deepest fears are confirmed when we find ourselves wandering around the ground of a grand country manor. There’s no party here and our man is chancer. We’ve climbed no real obstacles so I don’t feel criminal, but being a creeper round a home is bad practice. Still, caper caper. Jess and I ditch the oldies and head back to her place. There’s a party at her workplace that offers serious entertainment and refuge.

‘Make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink?’ There’s beanbags. And ice. Fucking ice. This place IS a non-stop fantasy land. The booze on offer is ‘fake Bailey’s’ which I presume they’ve been putting in coffees and their mouths. I mix the Irish cream with some of the found booze and a decent bit ice. What luxury!

I settle in and meet the cast. Jess introduces me as a ‘good one’ she found. Everyone’s on beanbags gathered near a computer. There’s a line of huge batteries that hold the power for the place.

‘All solar power. That’s why we can still have tunes.’ The DJ for the evening. I forget his name and the music he makes and plays and describes is great but the genre barely registers. We bun weed and I look around the place. Jess flits about here and there. A young guy is in real trouble on some pills, they’ve got some “good ones”, blowing and tensing and sweating. He looks like he’s in the final stretch of a marathon only sitting down. He mainly seems to just do more drugs, despite the worrying signs that they probably won’t help. A friendly dude called Pete keeps forgetting my name but telling me good things. He’s in and out of being deeply mashed but is putting in a decent shift.

Various others litter the place. New entries come in the form of a sleazy dude and his younger woman. They guy is cunt so we don’t talk but the girl, who looks like a great 90’s whore, eventually pitches up next to me. She’s shovelling corners of coke that isn’t from Peckham. It smells fine. She talks to everyone and is fairly charming. Her wet-look bleach blonde hair is not so endearing but her awful, awful skin tight white mini dress is just the right side of trashy. You know the girl with beautiful thighs that are all covered in bruises? Well this is her.

Everything takes hold and the booze seems easier and I get so much thirstier with the never ending zoots. Beats carry through and I DJ for a bit throwing in a Fuck Buttons twist for me to endure.

‘Can’t we listen to something happy?’ The Whore. I pass over to someone else eventually and this only brings me back into credit card range and closer to the ice that seems to be entirely abundant. The shit booze certainly is. These poisons are all so rich.

*

I’m getting cold air on my face and the light is turning back on. In the fields, out of the tent I feel a deep need to spray off. I suppose these things are best at home. It’d be a foul erotic moment passed in portaloo next to pile of shit and bloated tampons. I’m going to sleep. I need to get up soon and cater.

No time has truly passed when I feel the back door of the Transit open and my eyes take in the sights of the driver’s cab. What a bed. Better than any tent. I talk to Edd a little before I know I’m in real trouble. In fact, it’s not until we’re packing the van, with the aid of the Scouse guy and the fat waster, that I real feel the surge coming. I rush off into the next deserted tent and heave everything in a corner like a dog. My stomach wants it all out. This happens again and again, between helping to pack the van and standing around having a little cold sweat. Despite everything it comes to my attention that everything is pretty filthy. I can’t tolerate the two guys but at least Edd’s trying to snap into action for a bit.

Gripped by this insufferable chunder I’m the passenger as Edd peels the Transit van out the place. As he drives I try to rehydrate to stop my head from squeezing in on itself. Each sip is surged back out by my stomach. It all goes out of the window until there’s nothing but pains. My stomach comes up with it’s own good and sends smooth acid out. Bile streaks the side of the Transit. I spew like a Dr Gonzo down the paintwork of the Big Red Shark on the Vegas Strip. The violent gurgles of abuse.

‘We’re meeting Jike nearby. I need to talk to him. I need you to use your wind up torch to charge my phone.’ My energy was spent heaving my stomach lining out of a window and it also occurs to me that I didn’t eat at all yesterday, aside from things I was checking the heat and taste of. All I did was drink poison.

‘Ok, cool, it’ll do it.’ I wind the thing that I bought for six quid in a camping megastore as Edd gathers pace towards Jike. I can barely keep my eyes open. I dip out and am woken. Edd really needs me to cater but I need to rest. To ignore that my stomach is so broken it won’t allow me the water I need to fix my broken head. I try my best but don’t even slightly turn a corner ‘til I get to have a good settled heave in a Sainsbury’s car park. Carbonated water hits big and the ship steadies. Edd medicates himself with chocolate milkshake and on we push.

*

Things are looking up when we arrive in Welwyn Garden City. I have no idea where the fuck I am but it’s a pretty horrible place. Sort of like they’ve done a bit of a Milton Keynes but earlier. The town centre is 80% shopping centre. A huge grey concrete mass that it’s impossible to get round. The queerness of it all puts some colour in my face. I also perk up because we’re about to meet Jike and I don’t want to look like a complete waste. The exchange is half-cold and Jike just wants to take the van and run. We neglect to properly apologise for the hijack and the loss of time and potentially money. I convince Jike to at least give himself time for a coffee at some shit deli that looks like a chain but is probably family owned, only by people who learn in the wrong places. Jike only hangs around for a bit before giving us train tickets home and tearing away in the awfully tortured van that holds all of our errors. We’re the bad people here but we can barely feel it.

Still, the girl on the till is nice and apologises for an overcharge by letting me take a cookie that I want but I know I can’t stomach. We order hot drinks and sandwiches and pitch up on a couch. The sandwiches are brought over by a too-young teenage girl who looks at us like we’re mad and surely she can smell us too. Bizarrely, the next time she visits the table, she’s wearing stickers marking where nipples usually are. It’s all very strange, more so when an even younger girl asks us if we’re gay. What’s wrong with kids today? It seems they’re all confusedly accelerating and not enjoying their age. Children shouldn’t need to do drugs, they live that fantasy lifestyle. Always surging towards death!

The sandwiches are ok but mine’s better so we share that. It’s packed with meat and is the absolute kind of thing to help rebuild my strength. This stop is long and we refresh ourselves in the bathroom and get more awkward talk from the girl. We’ll talk to anyone by this point, if only to further the thing. The train takes us to King’s Cross and provides us with a fine little sit-down. It’s settled that we should at least go for one more beer before we part. Sourced Market sell us great beer and I have a lovely talk with a girl who digs beer; severely attractive too. Life is easier when you can enjoy the same things as a woman.

We take the beers down to the bank of Regent’s Canal and pitch up some fake grass stairs. The weather’s great and there’s people scattered around enjoying it. People are jogging and walking dogs and I’m forcing porter from Hackney into myself. The flavours are good but progress is slow. It feels like the only way to smooth out the ills. Being back in the city, we soon find a low-life to interact with. We trade and talk to a young homeless man that seems to want more than we’re willing to give. We trade him some weed and some snacks and a jumper and get little in return.

‘What make is the jumper?’ This from a man in the street, still brain washed by the things that probably led him there. Fake fucking hobos. We leave him with more than he had before, but he doesn’t appreciate a thing. Enjoy winter, cunt. We exit by shouting CATERING and tearing off in different directions. We find each other again by the station and have our last too-long hug for a while.

‘That was great. I fucking love catering.’ Echoes. Alone on the tube I realise I smell like a urinal. My teeth are filthy and everything is sore. My stomach may never be the same again. I glance around at the shit munchers. We almost glimpsed a better life this weekend. I get home and the gang have assembled and there’s incredible dinner on the table. They allow me to rid myself of my reek and wait for me to eat. I shower and listen to Automatic by The Pointer Sisters, a true soundtrack to any catering. The food is great and my stomach just about holds. I get enough energy to tell the some stories and shout about catering for a bit.

‘You must have something more valuable than money? What about some trinkets?’

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Words By Craig Ballinger

Action By Edd Chapman

Pictures from Lily Kirkbride, Anne D Murray and Justin Staunton

TV REVIEW

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TITS

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God Is Dead

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Daylight took me by surprise, I’d almost forgotten about it. I emerged to a silent world, stunned, the sheer volume of the impact still rang in my ears. The dust had settled and become only an invisible enemy. Immediate thirst; for air, for water. Shocked pupils came back out to play, gathering information effort free. Home was gone, the landscape was new. There was only that something on the horizon and I could only think to walk towards it. Nothing else was left.

I set into a warm, rhythmic stride. A dead-eyed search for more. For other and others. And all of my past memories flickered around the edges of my eyes but my gaze stayed straight. Forward thinking. No blinking or looking back, nothing to encourage tears. Debilitating heat; unfortunate levels of dehydration. The something got closer as my stride turned to a stagger.

I couldn’t decide how long I’d been hidden. There was barely even time to panic. Shadow washed over like instant night and I found deepest shelter. I held the tightest wince as the impact shook the ground and shocked my body. The second phase came as a rolling rumble. The sound seemed to move away from me, and I felt the smallest moment of comfort.

As my mind wandered by legs pushed on. The shape of the horizon carved itself into something familiar. An unprecedented development of literally huge proportions. A sight beyond rhetoric and reason. I arrived at the toes by nightfall and curled into the arch where the biggest met the ground. No sign of life. Sleep dragged me into the safety of dreams, a bombardment of adventure and drama. Fantasy never seemed so dull.

I woke with a hand on my face and with water being poured into my mouth. Gripped with thirst I drank greedily and without question. A face eventually formed, friendly and silent. As the picture cleared I saw more people, all staring over me, up the arches of the feet and to the heels that sheltered us from the sun. Silent disbelief. Without words we formed a group and began to walk.

Taught calf flesh against clear blue sky, hairs like tentacles. Some tried to climb, some succeeded. It didn’t seem rude to walk on the dead, the thing was part of the landscape. I didn’t waste the energy. I knew there would be hands soon, finger tips pointed our way in the distance. More people milled ahead, flies to fruit.

The hamstrings came upon us like a wave, a sudden increase in height. Severe contours of exquisite muscle. A half-dressed man with an axe surged at the leg and hacked wildly. I joined a group of others in placating the fool. Whilst he sobbed with hunger in a heap, we gazed upon the syrup we were covered in; black-red and thick as mucus. We washed as much as we could and walked on, smelling like cattle carcass.

We rested at the buttocks of comfort. Some tried in vain to get an angle on the largest cock ever to excite humanity. I quietly held the theory that the region would be smooth of genitalia, the body undistracted by desire. He died alone, here, away from anything of such scale.

The hand was covered in people. A palm upturned to the sky played host to varied acts of worship, depravity and vandalism. It seemed everyone was taking something different from the occasion; there was no uniform way to feel in the circumstances, no default response. Boundaries had shifted, realities altered. I reached out to touch the tip of a finger, shocked by my own quiver, and found the skin to be warm and dry like a weathered rock face.

I lost touch with the group that had found me by the foot, they’d all got involved with something. Individuality was an all-time high. Hostilities were brewing and I’d seen enough. The rest of the journey seemed predictable, but I had to keep on, to head for the head.

In the shadow of the strength of the mass my body seemed frail and weak. I’d been walking for more time than my energy would allow, with only my confusion and curiosity keeping me from falling to the ground and waiting for things the change back, or at least change again.

An end was in sight and my body was thankful. As the land sloped, so did the corpse. As the climax threatened the disappointment peaked. The head was slumped where the land turned to water, a lake where I’d never known one before. The crowd had massed and behaviour had become manic. Voices screamed for answers and theories were flung in faces.

The scene at the water’s edge forced a tear to cut a path through my dusty cheek. Bodies floated on the lake’s surface, some were already bloating on the shore. But still people were diving, emerging gasping and diving again with only a half-breath to sustain them. They had to see the face, or they couldn’t know the thing. They were searching for confirmation, as if they would recognise the man and settle everything.

Everyone was in search of identity. Many had fallen to prayer, wildly gesticulating at the sky or mumbling into clasped hands. Just who did they think was listening? Most had clearly picked sides in the past and now everything was in question. Someone must’ve killed this man. And now we shall be liberated or punished. 

24 Hours.

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1

 

I won’t go in to details but my day suffered a severe setback due to a lack of toilet paper. The rush is on but I remember to pick up a good book, my weed and a spare t-shirt. Times like these call only for ESSENTIALS. I have less than 24 hours in Manchester and I needn’t be tied down by luggage. My plan is to step from the train, meet a friend, find eats and booze and get to the game, in the hope to watch Manchester City win their first league title in my lifetime. That sounds a little grand. I just want to see the SCENES.

Delay has cost me the luxury time I needed to buy booze and snacks for the journey. Trepidation will be the theme of the day and so the tube ride to London Euston is a nervy one as I hope not to be scuppered by any delays. I don’t really want to start worrying until 3pm, when City have to beat a team fighting for survival in their own bid for success.

The tube slides smoothly and I have a few spare minutes to find booze in Euston. No obvious option. I can see a bar. But then, hope. I take long straight strides on short legs across the atrium of the station towards a sign reading ‘Marks and Spencers Food’. Experience tells me I can find fancy drink here so I hit the place at pace, as the train leaves in minutes.

It’s a quick turnaround and I’m clinking my way towards the platform with a bottle of Cornish IPA, a bottle of London Porter and one of Irish Stout. I find I don’t quite fit in with the crowd on the train, most preferring Australian Foster’s. Swill! Still I can only be happy that the football fans on the train are quietly sipping pisswater lager than bellowing ‘chants’ all over the place. My earphones can only block out so much.

I have a real selection headache when it comes to the booze, as I’m not sure which to get at first. Which is truly a breakfast beer? The stout is the closest thing to breakfast as it has an iron content akin to black pudding, but I go with the IPA and get on with a bit of reading. 3 hours to pass in this transitional place. Everyone’s a football fan of some persuasion. No specific crowd. No bravery yet on show.

Home. I head straight to my favourite pub as the friend I’m meeting is still on a bus from South Manchester. Known to most as ‘Coos’, the man providing me with a ticket and company for today’s game is a mild-mannered suburban stoner, rich in imagination and wit. We share various passions, most notably for weed, Manchester City and luxurious booze.

Port Street Beer House is in the back streets of the Rainy City’s ‘art’ district known as the Northern Quarter. A truly great area, filled with street art and beautiful buildings. With its cobbled streets and elegant fire escapes, it’s no wonder Hollywood have been in attendance recently, using the narrow streets as 1940s Brooklyn.

The bar is sparsely populated and I take care over my decision, settling on a glass of something light, citrusy and STRONG whilst I wait for Coos. With less than a couple of hours ‘til kick off we intend to observe our usual match day rituals: drinking, snacking and smoking a joint along the canals that point the way to the stadium that lies just outside the city centre.

I’ve dealt with my first beer by the time Coos arrives, and happily find myself back at the bar again selecting something strong to give this day the blur it deserves. Surreal Stout it is. I’m a real sucker for decent beer-badge artwork and Magic Rock seem to always get it right. We slurp our booze and head on to Port Street’s sister bar, Common, to find virtuous snacks and further drink.

Here we encounter the first issue of the day. My boy Coos is wearing a Man City shirt and the doorman doesn’t like it. I understand why there’s a blanket prejudice on football colours in bars but it doesn’t mean I like it. In this case, the doorman starts saying ‘no way, man,’ he’s American. We can see the bar is quiet and we just give him the “look-at-us” glare. I’m in Chelsea boots and skinny jeans and Coos is a long-hair. No trouble here. He deliberates. And takes a phone call. And then says all is well, but Coos MUST zip up his coat.   

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As I’m getting a bit distracted by the build-up, I’ll gloss over a section of time here. Food goes like this: Open Pastrami Sandwich. Slice of rye bread, cream cheese, pastrami, sauerkraut and American mustard. Pickles, coleslaw, fries. I’ll struggle to ever eat a more perfect meal. Measured to perfection and perfectly delicious.

Manchester has some wonderful waterways, lined by old mills that are now expensive homes. It’s a strange and beautiful thing that has happened to Manchester and one reflected in the football club of concern. Previously a grimy industrial city known only for cotton, guns and music, Manchester has become a fully modern metropolis. After the IRA bombing of 1996, Manchester somehow staggered to its feet, attracted investment and stepped up its claim to be England’s ‘2nd city’. Hopefully that’s the last time I say second and city again today.

At our preferred section of waterway, a square pool by some renovated mills, we perch and smoke a joint. Being stoned at a match football is great and bewildering, adding a personal challenge wildly different from that experienced by the players. The challenge is to remain FOCUSED. With racing thoughts and constant stimulation, it’s difficult to keep my eye on the ball. With such a big stage, there’s always something to attract my attention. Like that time I missed a goal but I saw City substitute Elano give his gloves to a tiny ball-girl as he warmed up. And people said he was a bastard. I liked him. Mercurial talents are my favourite. Who truly values CONSISTENCY?

 ‘I like your earring.’

‘Thanks man, I went to Claire’s Accessories yesterday.’

 This is nature of conversation as we exchange blows with a friendly conical foe. A time-check tells us that we’re going to really have to shift if we’re to only miss a few minutes of the game. Side thought:

I think wandering around cities mildly pissed and stoned is the only way to exist. Simple, pure enjoyment in every place and thing. Humans become barely comprehendible, which is certainly comforting.

It seems time and an aggressive wind are against us. We push up Great Ancoats Street unable to re-light a joint that has already simultaneously made my legs heavy and light. And those athletes think they have it bad. I crack out my remaining beer, the stout, for energy as we power-shamble towards the stadium.

 

2

 

We’re late, of course, I’m rarely on time for anything. The positive here is we have to sit through less football. Not that it shouldn’t be entertaining, but I’m just impatient for the RESULT. The only other people on the street are City fans, bizarrely walking in the wrong direction, and The Police. Looking wonderfully non-threatening in their lemon jackets, we don’t consider that we should attempt to hide the beer or joint.

They bundle into a van and move off, we continue at calf-burning pace towards the stadium, awaiting some sort of cheer. Predictably, for those not blissfully stoned, the Police van pulls up next to us.

‘You’re going to have to drink that quickly or give it to us.’

I’m confused. I take a final swig and hand over the dregs. As the silky Irish booze is poured onto the street I can think of nothing to say but,

‘You should’ve had some of that of, it’s delicious.’ All I get in reply is a half-hearted comment in the region of ‘if only…’, his cardboard cuntstable face barely experiencing any emotion at all. And on we shamble, my calves tearing at the seams of my effeminate jeans. 

At the stadium we swipe in with our gold cards. No queuing for us, everyone else is already at their seats, snacking on their nails. Now to tackle the spiral ramp to our tier. My legs think I’m the biggest prick alive. I always think these smooth concrete slopes would make for a great skate video. Which leads me to think about writing a skate heist film. The skaters would heist a diamond from the stadium on show by the sheik. Classic stuff.

These digressions help me all the way to my seat. I’m not sure if the looks I get are due to the lateness or my shoulder bag. Anyway, the first thing that always strikes me on arrival is the SCALE of things. This place is huge and the people are packed in, getting as loud as possible. We sit on the second tier of the stadium, in a corner under a huge video screen. The away fans are near by and leading the encouragement. I must try to concentrate.

It’s a fact that scarves became popular at football grounds not due to the weather but due to the uncompromising smell of MALE. Beer fart and hot dog; the stench of disappointed, directionless children and door-excused black eyes.

To the sport! The narrative layers are rich here, with an ex-manager and three ex-players on the opposing side. There’s little real resentment other than towards pantomime bastard Joey Barton.

‘You horrible little prick.’ This from a very surly, small, sad-looking man. The anger is palpable, everyone is unhappy. Stress is building up everywhere and these men can’t even smoke.

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‘Surely we’ve got enough money to pay these off.’ Is he joking? This day has already been PAID for, cheating wouldn’t really make anyone feel better. Or would it? Everything is pinned on the eleven men on the field, they have to make all of these people happy.

This seems simple. City just have to show they’re better at football. But still, there’s little give from QPR and City seem to favour balls of floated nothingness in and around the box. There’s only groans and impatience. The crowd will not help today, they are waiting, waiting to FEEL something.

Oh Pablo! What a wonderful man. City edge in front, the strike coming from full-back Pablo Zabaleta.  Its fair to say that footballers are generally a shower of cunts, so to see one of the good guys do well really adds to the experience. I’ve been modeling my style of play on that of the little Argentinean since before I even knew he existed. We even have a similar haircut.

I Poznan, mainly because I have to. A lesson I quickly learned about this dance found on a cold Thursday evening is that if you don’t join in, the horror comes out. One of two things is certain to happen. The most frequent is that when the crowd turn their backs to the field of play, they turn their faces on you. Immediately in front of you will appear the bouncing face, generally, of a male Mancunian. They’ll look delighted, engaged in frivolous, unifying behaviour. Submitting a spectacle to those on the pitch, a waving mass of blue, a tidal wave of celebration. However, the face will see you and turn to a scowl. You’re the dickhead. Just like the time you went to a Halloween party without fancy dress and people are like ‘well, don’t you look stupid?’

‘Not really. Have you SEEN my jacket. You’re wearing a bin liner. Fuck off. Where’s the drink?’

Alternatively, the guy next to you bouncing up and down will take you roughly by the shoulder, spin you around, and keep bouncing, all the while with a vice-like grip on your shoulder. He may even break skin. He doesn’t give a SHIT. The geezer next to us oozes insanity; a pure, true dickhead of fictional proportions. Cue ball bald in a baseball cap with a satanic goatee and hated of everything. These kind are all around, willing to shout anything that could potentially damage another; amoral monologues are literally spat out at will.

This guy is the worst because he can turn on YOU. Being at the game, I’m surrounded by the type of guys that I’d be terrified of in other circumstance. The people who want my phone, the people who don’t like the way I looked at them, the people I can usually avoid because they’re in estates and Yate’s. But due to the unifying factor of shared preference we stand together as one.

But THIS motherfucker turns on his own frequently, but is covered by the fact he’s only ever trying to encourage the TEAM.

‘SING THEN YOU CUNTS!’

Mental health issues abound in this church, like any other. And they sing to their gods with fervour, belief in what transpires in 90 minutes, and all of the associated drama.

 

3

 

Half time bullshit. All of the worst bits of TV brought into the stadium and done badly. All hyperbole and self-celebratory shite. Bring back Kick For Cash. Oh, and get cheaper, danker pies. These places are hell for the thirsty. Everything is labourious and expensive. There must be a better way! I don’t want to spend 15 minutes in a bar queue to have to neck my fiver pint in 30 seconds. Life should be enjoyable.

The production team are enjoying themselves too much and this prick on the screen is all kinds of too much. They think that City have it in the bag, they’re peeling away, delighted. I’m not sure anything is in the bag, so to speak, there’s much football to be played.

It’s not long before people are making a meal of their half-time words. I’m barely paying attention at all when a City player does something stupid and the scores are leveled. So-Lean Lescott acting like he’s stoned again. The QPR fans take their time to experience excitement. The players revel in everything, all except Nedum Ohuoha and Shaun Wright-Philips, both of whom retreat back to wait for the restart. Former City players, and still City fans, they show the class that football generally lacks. Nice guys of the game, I was saddened by both of their sales.

Another sale in the past had saddened me at the time, another sale of a gifted youngster, that man Joey Barton. The Liverpudlian thug. The tidy, half-talented midfielder. The man with his boots always held high and late. The combative ball-player. The guy from Twitter trying to redeem his value by quoting the Smiths. Barton was always a favourite of mine, right up to the point he starting having scraps in McDonalds and rearranging the faces of failing Frenchmen.

At this very point, Barton has seemingly done it all and survived, he’s still on a millionaires wage despite having the profile of the biggest prick alive. If he’s one simply prone to self-destructive acts, he proves it now. Live and for our entertainment, Joseph multiplies past crimes quickly, attacking several footballers at once in a fit of rage. He even goes for the good guys, and that’ll never do. The City pantomime continues. And my mind wanders effortlessly.

For a while it seems as though nothing is happening. The crowd stand and say little but negatives and everyone shuffles uncomfortably. They can feel the past enrobing them, they can hear the Monday morning jokes of FOREVER. The bitter taste of disappointment and hangover is tingling on tongues. History repeats and sadness wins. Another QPR goal goes in and that prick from half time now looks sillier than ever. He counted the chickens all wrong.

Everything blue. Everyone blue. Such ample trepidation. Narrative construction. Concepts of ‘history’ and ‘fate’. Ideals of honour and courage painted black and white. The Red Tops dance with glee at every slip and fuck-up. The rest over-analyse and evaluate. Everything RATED. This is everything. I’ve seen it in numbers, in WORTH. We’ve been told to believe, we’re in this #together.

Products pulsate relentlessly, all too rich for me. I truly can’t afford to be here. But these PEOPLE, the honest working folk of a town, painting their bodies with idols and symbols, the most deeply religious of people, they give everything to be here. The Ancients had it right, SUBDUGATE THEM WITH CHARACTER. The only thing of any real value. Everything is on the line. Money and emotions. Wives could be saved.

The crowd roar a chorus of “We’re not really here.” A City-specific joke on the nature of barely believing the things they see. Quite an existential concept. Or maybe they don’t see it that way.

I’m almost happy for the quietness, I’ve had a headache for some time and it’s throbbing like a mushrooming cock. My crown is troubled by that breakfast booze. Look what happens when I don’t get a brew in the morning. Inevitable doom looms. The biggest jeopardy being a personal one; my boy Coos doesn’t take defeat well, I could lose him to a sadness coma. Celebration spliffs become sleepy depression.

With a hint of that moment in ’99 when I realised that City were definitely the team for me, Dzeko does a Horlock and gets the team moving back in the right direction. Lovely Edin, derided by dickheads for inconsistency and a rapist’s touch, is the goalscorer in the right place at the right time.

‘FEED DZEKO AND HE WILL SCORE! FEED DZEK-OH AND HE WILL SCORE!’ The crowd don’t sing this, but they should, it’s a riff on a classic.

And so the game ends with all of the drama forever associated with Manchester City. But instead of the sadness and stupidity of the past, we place our optimism in the strangest and most unpredictable of places. Balotelli is on. The enigmatic, clowning wonderkid. A bit of aggressive bustling later and the ball falls to Aguero and he does what he does. He’s a smash addict. So potent he disguises all of his missed chances.

As the ball hits the net the people get basic and the curse is lifted. We celebrate and shout and gaze in wonder. Everyone in the stadium is happy, even the QPR fans, as other results mean they get to watch their team be beaten regularly again next season. Oh Mark, ARE you any good?

The game ends and everything is put into place for the structured celebrations and the presentation of the trophy that means everything to the players; it’s the reason they accepted hundreds of thousands of pounds to ply their trade in East Manchester.
If only we could see live picture of the likes of Rio and Rooney, then we could double our joy. Still, the party is here and now. Some barely know how react, Man City fans are sorely out of practice for this kind of thing. Still, they know when the time is right to get on the pitch, when numbers are big and punishments unlikely.

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I exchange jubilation with Coos and the fans around us. It’s odd, we celebrate a victory far removed from us, as realistically we personally didn’t achieve a thing. Stranger still is the music; snippets of the original songs that popular football chants are derived from. That and Queen. ‘We Are The Champions’ blares and stirs nothing in me that will make me sing along. The crowd feels otherwise, shouting the lyrics to everything, striving to feel the most satisfaction possible. Later, everyone will drink and encourage that true, physical feeling of success. Predictably, Lescott is first to the booze. He definitely smokes bud.

We watch the players and staff parade around the pitch, thanking the crowd and showing us their children.

‘Look kids, adoration. I’m paid for this.’

The last time I heard this music I was at Old Trafford, caged, witnessing jubilation and experiencing defeat. This time everyone’s ear to ear with joy. I can barely decide how to behave. The big ups have taken it out of me. It’s time to get out, to get into the streets and get as quickly as possible to a bar.

 

4

 

Somewhere, Manchester United players are crying into their shirts, having had victory shifted away from them in an instant. Across Manchester, their fans seethe, many having never felt a true loss to their rivals. One man, however, is completely unmoved and seemingly unaware of everything. Stood at a bus stop, on the temporarily closed main road back to the city stands a strange man, and the first United fan we see. His bones are almost showing through his ill-fitting suit, and his pencil moustache is the only action on a face that gives an impression of nothing. The odd gent has accesssorised with a briefcase and a shapeless black baseball cap that only reads UNITED in red cotton. His back is to traffic and I feel I’m the only person to notice this bizarre waif. I show Coos and we power ahead, I can’t be here when the wrong people notice this character. 

The plan for this trip came as a result of a visit from Coos earlier in the week. We were buoyed by Yaya Toure’s brace against Newcastle and adventured to Camden to find coloured papers to create a tribute spliff to the Ivorian. As a result, I still have some orange papers that went towards making the thing. So our next tribute is to Nigel De Jong; a short, thick orange weed stick that we blast on the canal-walk back to the City. We wash it down with a tasteless but thematic bottle of Heineken.

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Back to the beer house! The doorman doesn’t seem to want to let us in, but our ‘good guy’ faces win the day again. The scene inside is oppressive in its joy. The barstaff are  pinned at the back of the room, hearing everything they don’t want to hear, over and over again. Bellowing orders, voicing frustration at having to have patience. The finest beer house in the city is packed to the pumps and the dicks all want the same thing, lager.

‘Do you have anything that’s like Fosters?’

‘What’s the closest thing to lager?’

Some have the idea that the place is FANCY, so ask ‘Stella?’ All of this is saddening the staff and putting real distance between me and some kind of Black IPA I have my eye on. Bunch of savages. We just want to raise a glass of something delicious to the City boys.

The fart cloud is brewing again. Burger van snacks and tasteless, gassy lagers fermenting to awful levels. You can TASTE the stench. Experience tells me that from behind the bar its getting too much. They can barely breathe back there. Or hear. Noise levels are through the roof. These people are ELATED – they must be heard. They found reason for celebration and they’re letting everyone know about it. I’m in on the celebration, but I squirm at the obnoxiousness. Maybe these jeans are too tight, they smooth my crotch over too much, my cock is barely swinging at all.

I finally get to the bar and try to be as friendly-faced as possible and to order something that shows I’m not with THEM. It’s too late, the staff has turned, they truly can’t be arsed with these people. I sense a shut-down. Still, I get some drink in the form of Code Black, a deceptive dark IPA that I peer over and watch the scenes of the close-down play out. Coos and I just can’t match the jubilation of the crowd, we’re that stoned step back from everything. A veil of inner thought stands between the information all around us. Blissful digression.

It’s time to get out of here and my feelings are that there’ll only be further bullshit in the city. We jump a train back to Didsbury and head to a local pub to get a pint of Blue Moon to celebrate the win. By this point my headache is still gripping tightly and my dancing brain is still shrinking away from my skull. Still, I slosh down some water and get involved with the white beer and hope for the best. Before long, we’re back in the streets with stolen glasses in our jackets, our trophies of the day.

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As darkness draws in, I realise I’m home for the first time in ages and have yet to see my mother. I do try to be a good son so I have a final pint with old Coos before sampling a new gourmet burger joint. A food-filled carrier bag in hand, I share a familiar friendly journey with a local taxi driver, one of these men I’ve spent rambling times with, talking about any crap from football to genocide. If I’m gonna share a room with someone, we may as well talk. The end of the journey is great when I remember that Manchester taxis are cheap as fuck. It’s really expensive to leave the house in London.

Home is perfect as I watch Match of The Day with my mum, see my dog and do all of that homecoming catch up shit that makes living away worth doing. Repackaged for television, the day’s events take on a new gloss. I’m fairly certain this was worth the energy and expense, if only for those times of exploration and the excitement of adventure. And with this I can claim my own victory. I love football, in all its madness and audacity, but there’s no truer entertainment than a cutting across a city, with a beer and a partner and a delicate buzz on everything. If Manchester has taught me anything, it’s to choose your gang members well and to ALWAYS remember your weed.

Story By Craig Ballinger

Lead Image By Richard Manders/Man Trout Ink

Big thanks to the boy Coos Huse.

An extract from ‘The Vanishing of Apollo Creed’. For Dad.

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That night, as me and Mum had dinner she kept looking at the clock. It was a Sunday and Dad usually went to the pub, but always came home to eat. My brother was in his bedroom, he’d had dinner at his friend’s house and didn’t want to sit with us. So we ate quietly and watched some slow, faraway television for while. Neither of us spoke. After eating, I had a big cup of milky tea and Mum also had a drink. Eventually I told Mum that I’d help her do the pots and she said that she’d like that.

I watched as Mum pushed Dad’s congealed dinner from the plate into the bin. I thought about the hungry kids in Africa that my teacher told me about. I think Mum thought about them too. Her face was red.

When Dad got home, I was at the sink in the middle of our long kitchen (it was a bit like one on a ship). Mum was making me another brew, as it was my favourite bedtime drink. Dad came in through the door at the other end of the kitchen from Mum. She was stirring the tea and watching it swirl; she jumped when the door closed loudly. She didn’t look up. He stepped towards me, looking around the kitchen and swaying with the motion of the waves. He smelt like a pirate.

‘Where’s me dinner?’

The tea swirled faster. Pirate breath filled the room. Dad looked at down me. I glanced over to Mum. She turned her head to Dad and stared at him. I knew that Dad wanted me to leave. I knew that Mum needed me to stay. The only sounds were of our breathing and the teaspoon touching the inside of the cup.

I looked up at my father. His eyes were glazed and wild. I didn’t see him as my dad, I saw an angry pirate; bearded and dirty. I tried to tell him with my eyes that I wasn’t scared of him. I stared at my father until I could barely see him anymore and my eyes watered. We all stood there like that for a while until Dad growled and swirled angrily, leaving the kitchen in huge, sloppy strides. As he thumped up the stairs I realised I hadn’t taken a breath in quite a while, I gasped hard. The stirring stopped. I didn’t look at Mum but I knew she was also watching the foot of the stairs. When I heard the door to my parent’s room slam shut I rushed to Mum and hugged her. I thought if I held on tight, she’d stop shaking.

Taking my cup of tea, we crept upstairs and into my brother’s room. He wasn’t too happy to see us but soon we were all in his bed watching his tiny television. No one talked, we all just stared at the television and listened hard. After what seemed like hours we heard Dad going downstairs. We all held our breath during the banging and smashing sounds; our eyes never left the TV. I think I fell to sleep first, not long after the noise had stopped. When I woke up, Mum was sat at the end of the bed. She looked like she hadn’t slept at all. I moved to put my head on her lap and went back to sleep.

Old shit from and old blog #1: ‘KENDAL CALLED’

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It began early, like all of these things. All events need an ‘eve’. We started with supplies, which are essential when out in the fields. A van was required to carry our stock so we rattled to a mass-market-mega-mart. I believe discussion in transit related to the ‘pornography generation’ – the kids who’ve had the internet for too long and expect sex to be a bombardment of fetish acts. We talked of those who’d be insulted by pubic hair and those who’d be surprised by strange requests.

The shopping was a whirlwind of heart-insults. Nothing that will spoil. Ruinous foods in bright coloured packets, wet wipes and Rizla. All of the essentials plus a certain. amount of frivolity. Value and volume were key in the drink aisle; we ran the percentages and came out with come good-looking figures. To the van!

Bags were packed and the journey imagined. We convened to a bar and began our plotting. Boozy times ensued. A cocktail bar and a birthday girl insulted by my flirting. A club that held memories of a cubicle kerfuffle and an instance of brewer’s droop. Hip-Hop happened and heads were bopped, standing whiter-than-white with my absent rhythm.

That eve drew to a close under the bright lights of a 24 hour supermarket. Pork pies with pickle tasted like a donner kebab to a palette hungry for fat and salt.

The morning hangover kicked like a whore but there was little time for head holding as my phone soon burst with the news of a driver on my doorstep.

The ride was acceptably smooth due to the presence of some fresh juice and savagely strong beer. ‘Good men drink good beer.’ As the beer was sunk, I said goodbye to any hope of freshness and, in turn, my daytime self. Fictions are put into play.

“If anyone asks if it’s true, the answer is ‘yes’, I am a journalist.”

On arrival I surveyed the gates. Security measures were required to be lax. I could not be searched; I would not pass their test. I had to remind myself not to forget duties for later that day as I knew that once the threshold is breached, mashedness would ensue.

We laid out a plan. Pop up tents. Get in. Get high. Peg down said tents. Mustn’t be near families, they’ll not like us.

Camp was established and excess began. Booze in buckets and smokes like weapons.

Girls. Gurls. Women. Babes. Chicks. They were all there. I could barely contain myself. Even the girls in our number were joining in, criticising our praise. As I was being distracted by the smooth lines of beauty, I was electronically notified of the imminent arrival of DM. Now, I’d already assembled a wonderful cast and was fully stimulated by my assorted campers but DM is integral, if only for his unpredictable genius.

I retrieved him from the gate and began to outline the facilities up ahead. I pretty much walked around saying exactly what I thought –everyone was cutting loose their weekday masks.

I led DM into the established crack den. A spacious, dark, powder-filled hole of a place. People clearly mean business when they don’t have a bed, but have established a table.

“What’s this?”

“It’s supposed to be coke.”

Reassuring signs all round.

Life became quickly tangential, talk fleeting around the career highlights of Craig Charles and digressing wildly into whores and horse’s shoes.

We had to haul ourselves free from the reverie of our camp. There were things going missed. We entered the arena with ear to ear faces. Friends mumbled marriage proposals as girls passed. Bars were eyed and snack-stops evaluated. We stared and wanted. Everything.

People and faces continued to be distracting as we searched for the music of our choice. Ladies fashion appeared to be popular, for everyone. The grim reaper relentlessly pursued a baby; I can only encourage him to continue to flee, as we all do.

Music and good times welcomed darker skies and fear was less than ever. DM was directing, his camera clicking furiously. I scribbled the nonsense I didn’t want to forget.

Drink and distraction were somehow overcome for a moment and I remembered a place I needed to be. To a riotous jazz tent to see a band containing a footballing friend. It turned out his band were cross-dressed cover merchants, swigging bottles at the mic. I loved them, badly applied make-up and all.

And the night swirled to an end. Damp grass and sweat in a tee-pee of light and bass. Drunken declarations. Future predictions. Rolling around the camp floor.

Morning happened with its usual predictability. A new hangover declared itself King. I pulled at a zip and pawed at a flap. Air and space! My out-poked head found the world had changed. No friends or personal debris. More problems quickly surfaced. Initial heaves were followed by mild splashes, their dry successors pulled at my core.

Eyes closed and images flashed. Memory, fiction, lights and words. Punishment behind my eyelids. No rest, no rest. Conveniently dressed I hauled myself from the tent, leaving behind snack foods and a sleeping bag, splayed and unused.

Standing and staring and turning. The laughter started before the sighting. The bastards had turned me 180 degrees from my previous land. Not one to hold grudges, I rejoined the group and settled on a biscuit breakfast.

Teeth were brushed and heads refreshed. I prepared a brace of cannons and slowly encouraged alcohol into my body. We were soon back on our horses; shadowy figures re-launching themselves. Topped up we gathered pace quickly.

The sound of wild beasts made my feet move; uncontrollable groove. Dancing falsetto and wriggling bass. A smoke of such enormity it almost gathered a crowd. I’ve still got the taste dancing on my tongue.

Snacks! Food happened in stages, flavours here and there. Doughnuts stole my heart, they were everything I ever wanted. Culinary interlude over, the night stole up on us and surged us forward. Jimi did it Masters of the Universe style-y and were delighted. The thought of sleeping alone was something I couldn’t entertain.

And so we surged, doing everything, recording little. All these worlds. DM and I made more friends than enemies and found that our improvisation was superior to procurement. We befriended some British boys who felt the same and they joined our spree.

Filthy lucre and loose words. Everyone deserves comment. The camp was alive and there were activities to prioritise.

“Someone! Get the crisps, they’re in the kitchen.”

“Kitchen?”

“Bottom left.”

I was busy constructing. Lost the weed. Loaned some weed. Found the weed. Always elusive. Snack. Smoke. Drink.

“Help! I can’t gather myself.”

Fade to black.

Another whore’s shoe borrowed its heel into my temple. Badness returned but my stomach was solvent. Sluggishness, however, had hit a new high. Every bone and muscle was crying out for comfort.

Breakfast was addressed properly, a bacon roll in a pop-up café. My mind flashed to a previous evening spent here, bribing a staff member with cannabis tokes in return for more chips. The spirit of trade is well.

Sunny daze. Beats were bringing some real bounce to proceedings. Enthusiasm fueled excess. The power of the sea was brought to my ears and only pushed us further. This is when I went too far. Or high, to be precise. Despite the sun, my face turned cold and numb.

“Well, you look pale.” All eyes on me. Air seemed in short supply and blackness crept in from the edges of my vision. Finger sensation was lost. Under was not a place I wanted to go. I tried deep breaths.

“You need sugar.”

“And water.”

I sipped a drink and nibbled mint cake. No change. Then the sweat seized me. It was time to leave.

DM and I picked our way through the people. I was a ghost flitting between souls still present. I made it to the toilets, vibrating all the way.

DM: “You’re not vibrating. It just feels like you are. Its normal.”

I fixed myself with a stare in the mini-mirror. I needed a sit down. I banished the idea of sickness and began to sweat a river. Pouring sweat I felt a little more alive. Vibrations moved to my legs. I scribbled nonsense to focus my mind, most of which now appears here (I cannot not fit in the word ‘Manky’). DM’s voice cut into my mind. I shouted a reassuring something and tried to gather myself. I was turning a corner. A few slaps further aided my bid.

Reunited, we headed to the bar. A shadow still hung over me but there was little I could do but bat it away with bottled enthusiasm. Drink; immaculate dullness and contrary exuberance. Always delay the pain.

The weekend was spiralling to a close.

We rejoined the group and decided on food; it had to be a pie, nothing else would do. We emptied our wallets into a pie hut and devoured a saviour of a savoury snack.

With my hands back to stillness I was able to think of rolling. The booze, however made sure it was a real offensive affair. Hi, hi, high. Movements and music is all I know filled a void for sometime.

We found a boy in small tee-pee made selling balloons. He was cutting fine deals but I wasn’t interested. A cheap, cheap way to high. DM was first in the queue.

I watched as he literally lost his mind for a moment. A hail of chuckles and wondrous confusion. His face twisted and his brain rebooted. It was all a little wild and intense for me but I couldn’t look away; his grip was lost, he had to wait to get it back. I was patient and amazed.

Lister bopped and clapped and poured sweat and laughed. It was a surreal time for a nostalgic mind. I watched as a hero spilled his enthusiasm into the crowd, I felt it and danced too. The horns were bursting into my head; music to entertain my soul. I watched the last human in the universe sweat and drink and move until he had to say goodnight.

I felt I was just warming up, but Monday loomed and the wind down began. Its best to fade out here whilst the sweat is still warm, before the dream turns and the cold is felt on the back of my neck.

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A short story as it appears in new magazine Long Live The New Flesh

Another glimpse. Post-match at Port Street Beer House

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The fart cloud is brewing again. Burger van snacks and tasteless, gassy lagers fermenting to awful levels. You can almost TASTE the stench. Experience tells me that from behind the bar, its getting too much, they can barely breathe back there. Or hear. Noise levels are through the roof. These people are ELATED they must be heard. They found reason for celebration and they’re letting everyone know about it. I’m in on the celebration, but I squirm at the obnoxiousness. Maybe these jeans are too tight, they smooth my crotch over too much, my cock is barely swinging at all.

(Image by Richard Manders/Man Trout Ink. Check out his blog. He’s a fucking genius).

Another extract.

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Everything blue. Everyone blue. Such ample trepidation. Narrative construction. Concepts of ‘history’ and ‘fate’. Ideals of honour and courage painted black and white. The Red Tops dance with glee at every slip and fuck-up. The rest over-analyse and evaluate. Everything RATED. This is everything. I’ve seen it in numbers, in WORTH. We’ve been told to believe, we’re in this #together.

Products pulsate relentlessly, all too rich for me. I truly can’t afford to be here. But these PEOPLE, the honest working folk of a town, painting their bodies with idols and symbols, the most deeply religious of people. The Ancients had it right, SUBDUGATE THEM WITH CHARACTER. The only thing of any real value. Everything is on the line. Money and emotions. Wives could be saved.

Re: The Poznan (An extract from a forthcoming article).

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I Poznan, mainly because I have to. A lesson I quickly learned about this dance found on a cold Thursday evening is that if you don’t join in, the horror comes out. One of two things is certain to happen. The most frequent is that when the crowd turn their backs to the field of play, they turn their faces on you. Immediately in front of you will appear the bouncing face, generally, of a male Mancunian. They’ll look delighted, engaged in frivolous, unifying behaviour. Submitting a spectacle to those on the pitch, a waving mass of blue, a tidal wave of celebration. However, the face will see you and turn to a scowl. You’re the dickhead. Just like the time you went to a Halloween party without fancy dress and people are like ‘well, don’t you look stupid?’

‘Not really. Have you SEEN my jacket. You’re wearing a bin liner. Fuck off. Where’s the drink?’

Alternatively, the guy bouncing up and down next to you will take you roughly by the shoulder, spin you around, and keep bouncing, all the while with a vice-like grip on your shoulder. He may even break skin. He doesn’t give a SHIT.

It’s Always Rainy In Manchester

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Ok so It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is the best sitcom ever made, fact. And Dennis is a role model for every man with a spacious car boot and a healthy collection of duct tape. Fans of the show should be familiar with the inspirational D.E.N.N.I.S system, a way of getting women to fall in love with you that the rest of the Sunny gang failed to pick up on. Recently, I was feeling fancy of mind* and came up with the C.R.A.I.G system, something I feel is more useful to young men in this age of binge drinking in dirty indie clubs. The system will work outside of most shitty clubs, during the week, preferably after an indie disco evening.

Here it is.

C. CRYING – A crying girl shows herself to be sensitive, in need of love.

R. RESCUE – Gauge the situation, be the hero, swoop in with helping hands.

A. AFFECTION – Tell the girl she looks beautiful in the streetlight. Preferably, she should indeed to be quite attractive.

I. INVESTIGATE – Ask questions, any questions. If you can’t think of anything to say, you’re an idiot.

G. GET OUTTA THERE – ‘Would you like to share a taxi?’ This system works well in Manchester, because it’s always raining.

I have never actually attempted this method consciously; I’m just breaking down the way I behave when I’m young and drunk. My behaviour has led to a lot of brief, awful relationships with terrible women. If you’re interested in banging deeply unattractive girls, get in touch, I have plenty more advice. Good luck men!

*stoned.

(Additional Credit to Kerri Sandell for help with the ‘A’. I initially went with ‘Attack’ but then deemed it unsuitable).

 

A Day-Date With A Celebrity Sex Tape

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Another day, another salacious celebrity scandal tailor made for viral viewing. A link clicked on an innocuous tweet leads to wonderful afternoon entertainment. Excessive buffering is a hurdle, but we wait it out. Either this site is a piece of shit or so many people are watching this video it’s loading slow as fuck. Me and my girl are sat around, taking some valuable rest, and so it seems that this video is our easy entertainment. We’re going to watch Tulisa from N-Dubz suck someone off.

1st minute – She’s mainly licking it. This goes on for a while. She’s sort of giving the impression that it isn’t the worst thing she’s tasted. Nobody likes a wincer. We confirm it’s who the title says it is. The video is watermarked with ‘nottulisa.com’. They’re not fooling anyone. She’s the most famous street skank in the country. Her tits look great. She looks exactly like porn. You absolutely forget how much of a terrible person she is.

On the telescreen some guy makes some awful sunblushed tomato risotto. He’s not worthy of  his Michelin star. He can fuck right off.

2nd minute – My girl’s biggest concern is who owns this impressive cock. Tulisa is now  chomping it like a chocolate Mini Milk. Picture a child getting her first ice lolly and sucking it down with delight. Lots of eye contact. With the camera.

Mild Mushrooms: a boring mushroom-off ensues. Mistreated morrells versus charmless chestnuts. People are getting paid loads to make boring as fucking snacks on the telly. I make better in my own kitchen. These people are teaching me nothing, I’m not sure this is entertaining at all. More blowjob?

Nah, still buffering, we’ll watch this couple Escape from Rugby to the Country of Cornwall. They may be called Richard and Judy. That’d be funny. Oh wait, they are boring as fuck. Some speccy wanker and his mother/lover.

3rd minute – Change of camera shot – we’re getting up close in this popster’s grill and really confirming that the face that ‘entertains’ millions on a Saturday night is staring down the barrel of an excessive dick.

These boring fuckers are still wandering around houses in the countryside but they barely have enough imagination between them to like anything. Turns out they’re called Richard and Julie or something. This show has no redeeming features.

4th minute – she really does love spitting on cock. I mean, lubrication is sort of essential, but noisy spitting isn’t always good. I say this because sometimes you’re feeling that extra bit nasty, those times you really DESIRE the spit. Either way, she does a lot of licking, which is in decent areas but we need more here. We’ve seen too much, so we always want more.

Ok, so we’ve got Grand Designs on. Or at least that’s what ON. I don’t recall ever selecting anything to watch at all today, sometimes the TV is just on, buzzing away with nonsense and overcooked narrative. We learn a little bit about damp-proofing a house that’s built into a hill. Seems like a fucking stupid idea. But these people have earned their money, so let’s watch them make a hobbit hole out of out it. I’d spend it all on snacks and adventures and weed.

5th minute – some furious sucking makes me think that he’s come. In her mouth. Obviously this is a pretty common want for the typical man, for comfort reasons as much as reasons of filth. However, in a pornographic sense, the mouth-come-swallow scenario isn’t very visual. He’s not come, she’s still working away. The eye contact with the camera has reduced. Maybe she’s started to feel odd about the camera. Or more desirous of dick; who’s to know, human emotions are complex and equally frivolous. 

A quick walk around the finished house. It has corners that are dark as fuck. Because it’s built into a hill. Maybe they never want their children to sleep. Maybe they don’t have any children. Maybe they murdered them because it’s environmentally friendly. Reduce your carbon footprint, kill your kids, never feel guilty about flying on EasyJet ever again.

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6th minute –  Tulisa pops a tit out. Just one, out of her bra and tracksuit top; that’s a great boob. He’s probably going to jizz on it. It seems like the right thing to do. My girl and I don’t say anything but we really want the jizz-tit ending. It’s a compliment more than anything. There isn’t long left.

Aussie Masterchef has happened. They’re making exciting seafood. I’m not sure I care but we watch a few people present delicious snacks to a panel of other people. The panel eat and discuss. There’s criticism and hyperbole and sweat and greed on display. It’s all fearsomely REAL.

End – The sucks and licks continue, the pace is stepped up. He’s going to come. Did he come? He came. It’s a little tame. I think there’s semen on her knuckles. This would be better in HD. Tulisa pulls away and ends the piece with a wink and a smile to camera. There are no happy endings. We feel a sense of sadness and disappointment. We’ve waited and waited, been toyed with physically and emotionally, only to be let down. I’m not sure when I gave up on the dream that he’d jizz on her face, maybe I never even lived in that hope. Perhaps I was certain that this isn’t real porn, it’s just imitation porn for kids.

Still, watching this woman suck some huge dick, however uninspiring, is more interesting than watching bland dickheads look at country homes on a laptop; endlessly more entertaining than learning how to build a house in a hill; infinitely more erotic than food porn. Of course, we watched it all. We watched 6 minutes in well over 60 minutes. We just had to see the head. Just to see how bad the whole thing is.

“When does X Factor start again? Do people still watch that?”

By C Ballinger and PJ Mercer.

A Brain Washed Adventure To Snake Town

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The Overground can be a bumpy place but with a steady hand and steely determination, pouring rum into half-supped cans of ginger beer can be done with minimum spillage. It’s destination Hoxton and the boys of Brain Wash have their tageslichtprojektor in tow and a stock of weirdness to illuminate walls and minds.

A left-turn at the bingo and the unmistakable honk of hash hits quickly; it’s going to be a good night. The Premises are welcoming and the venue neat. Now to create a projector screen from wallpaper and gaffer tape. The improbabletask is just about complete when I realise I need to pick up my girlfriend and locate some eats and booze.

I find my girl in the street, serendipity taking the sting out of laborious walks. Snacky as a motherfucker, we head in to the nearest kebab corner and order up the lamb kofte. Soon, the transparent plastic table top is covered buffet style with bread, salad and sauces and my eyes are off the ball and transfixed by food. The waitress even adds that they sell booze and next there’s a bottle of Stella on the table and I’m crying out for a Michelin star for this place.

As we exit we’re asked if we’d like to have a drink in the bar downstairs and are pointed towards a staircase by the door, classily lit by orange laser-dots. I peer into the disco-lit abyss of uncertainty. An unusual, interesting speakeasy? Or a hellhole of stabbing and cannibalism? I picture getting drunk and being literally made into shish kebab. We politely decline and promise a ‘maybe later’. It seems that in these harsh economic times, even halal takeaways are diversifying.

The stage is set and the back wall lit with bright Brain Washing imagery. Inflatables litter the room, a palm tree and totem pole among the highlights. One Man Team Dance takes to the stage and present the musical equivalent of a Street Fighter battle. Ryu and Ken are in headbands, in opposition on drums on keys, a war of stickbashing and fingerfuckery. The sounds are somehow complimentary and epic digressions ensue. The crowd circle and nod aggressively whilst the duo taps all buttons at fingertip blistering pace.

A break in play brings refreshments for body and mind. The bring-your-own policy is doing wonders here; pound cans and vodka that’s actually cheaper/shitter than Glen’s (The Exciting Vodka). We lose the girls for a bit only for it to out they’ve been rolling around the office playing with the house cat. Sometimes stereotypes are true.

Theo is a one man band of impressive capabilities, like a juggler with a more useful talent. Picking out guitar riffs and looping them into layers of goodness, before thrashing around a drumkit with incredible stamina, Sam Knight really gets the crowd moving and even sets off a singalong of sorts. Many guitar wriggles later, my applause is in earnest.

Here’s to a night of cheap booze, great beats and twisted visuals. As the hisses of Snake Town haunt my ears on the night bus, I finally read the SSSup zine. I now feel like a better, more rounded individual with a good knowledge of what’s REALLY going on.

 

SNAKE TOWN RULES.