Thursday, 4 July 2013

London night-time society

I met Tom in a club in London on an otherwise not particularly memorable, cold Saturday night. It was a venue where I really didn’t expect to have my head turned. What had once been a Theatre had been converted into a huge nightclub. Now pitch black except for the blinding incessant lights, with two tiers of tables and seats overlooking a huge dance floor and stage, the club would be packed to the rafters every week; Thursday night through to Tuesday morning. The crowd would writhe to the music, on the dance floor, in the aisles, on the tables high up in the Gods, all emulating the go-go dancers suspended in cages above the floor. The club was renowned for trashy seventies, eighties and nineties pop music and cheap beer. Very cheap and not particularly flavoursome beer. 

Of course this sort of venue attracted a younger, less discerning clientele, those boys into Blondie, Madonna and the Stock, Aitken & Waterman Muppets, wearing tight spray on tops and curve hugging trousers, but also those boys keen to hear some 70’s cheesy funk with a little Britpop thrown in for good measure. At midnight, the countdown to the entertainment would begin with a deluge of balloons falling from the nets on the ceiling, then in the early hours of the morning once anticipation reached critical mass, the latest pop princess, boy band or girl group would sing their hearts out for a crowd of adoring, if fickle fans. 
Not that I was ever one for Kylie, Steps or S Club Seven, but it was at the time one of the few places, where beer was predominant over drugs. Unfortunately the music reflected this too. But as I said the beer was cheap. So I’m there, grinding away on the side of the dance floor, can of Red Stripe in hand and there’s this guy looking at me. He’s tall, slim, blonde and fair.

Not my type.
No, not my type at all.

And the more he looks and the more I look, the more I’m drawn in. There’s just something about him, possibly his smile, maybe just the way he's looking at me? Like he knows something, or that he has something to tell me. 

Although it could be the five cans of Red-Stripe I've downed since 10.30.
He was Australian, here on a holiday, leaving on Tuesday morning, just three nights left. What more could a boy with a passion for impossible-love ask for?
The Night bus crawled its way up Tottenham Court Road through Euston Square, Kings Cross, Angel, Highbury, Seven Sisters, Blackhorse road and finally into Walthamstow. Although not exactly a traditional tour of London, Tom was getting to see a unique perspective of London life. The bus was packed full of Saturday night revellers; punks, homies, pimps and pros, Japanese tourists, Rastas, Gayboys in feather boas, under-age girls in crop tops, their Bacardi Breezers clasped in neon-nailed hands, the Stag-night boys – Stag bare-chested, freshly tattooed ‘Beer’ and ‘Lager’ over nipples left and right and wearing a bra on his head, the identical ravers in day-glo jeans, whistles blowing intermittently and the standout nocturnal Granny waiting patiently for her stop, bottle of stout leaving the sanctuary of her handbag for the mere seconds taken for a surreptitious swig; drunk, drugged, crazed and loud, singing, snoring, nauseous or comatose, the Night bus held the widest demographic of London night-time society. Despite the fingers of sunlight tickling the horizon, and the dawn chorus in the trees, London’s night-shift were crawling back to their artificially darkened rooms, some to lie in the arms of a stranger, some to sit up talking until their highs wore off and just a few no doubt to sleep.

It’s amazing how being given a time limit allows for a heightened level of honesty. Give a couple twenty four hours, tell them it’s all they can have and that they may never see one another again and they’ll reach levels of intimacy, reveal secrets untold and bond on a level that would take years for the usual dating couple. Holiday romances are intense and insane.
Tom had travelled twelve thousand miles to escape a failed relationship. Feeling unsexy and unlovable, his soul needed to believe he was gorgeous, intriguing and special: There and then he was all of those things to me. Uncannily enough, having been single for two years, I was feeling very much the same, misunderstood, lonely and low. It was a perfect meeting of two very different people from very different worlds in exactly the same head-space.

For my part, my previous relationship had seen me live with a man emotionally scarred by his upbringing who left me physically scarred from our year together. James was fun. Madcap, irresponsible, childlike fun. I’d met him in Heaven in Charing Cross, upstairs in the Star Bar, music blaring from speakers taller than I was, making the glasses dance on the bar. A crazy, funky, wired crowd of people shaking out a week’s worth of tension on the dance floor. Girls in Bras and miniskirts, muscled and oiled go-go dancers in hotpants and on podiums, their heeled boots level with the crowd’s heads, smoke machine pumping dry ice so that lasers bounced off clouds into the faces of the horde. The smell was hedonism itself, alcohol, sweat, perfume, sugary lollipops, cigarettes and the obligatory amyl nitrate. I’d stood against the wall to catch my breath, turned and seen James sat amongst a group of friends, grinning at me – he patted his knee for me to take a seat. Who was I to turn him down?
We moved in together a month later, initially as a stop gap for me as I was in between places  -I’d spent just two nights at my old place in the last four weeks – and I never quite got round to finding my new place afterwards. James had a way of engaging people that made them want to talk to him for hours. His dimpled cheeks and shining mischievous eyes lit up the room. Cheeky 
and irreverent he was the impulsive wild card in the night out. But his smile hid his insecurities. 
Shy and uncomfortable around people he didn’t know James needed a crutch to see him through social situations; always socially acceptable, alcohol was the obvious crutch of choice. Once on the road to inebriation, James was able to put on his smile and believe his own hype.To be fair to James, neither of us were great communicators and we both had a heightened sense of drama. And of course, I liked my drink too. Our fights ranged from screaming at each 
other at 3.00am on Oxford Street to throwing glasses and punches at one another in Turkey, the latter earning me a trip to the Turkish hospital in the middle of the night and once the offending glass was removed, stitches to the back of my head. James being caught in flagrante at a friend’s 
house a month later while I was out of town should have been the last straw, but no. It took his abuse of my friends at our New Year’s Eve party to make me see sense. My Mum, sisters and friends were all gathered to hear him finally scream “Get that fat bitch off my bed and out of my room so I can get some fucking sleep, you selfish cunt!” 
I hadn’t minded our domestics when they were private or at least when I was able to present them to my friends in a manner that stopped me looking like an idiot for staying with him, but under such close scrutiny, my decision was made for me. Drama Queen that I was, I seized the opportunity for maximum effect and left on New Year’s Day. 
I’d like to say that that was the end of my relationship with James, but he was devastated and likewise I couldn’t let go. We strung one another along for months afterwards with the possibility of getting back together, with James seeking help and doing his best to change, but with a therapist who suggested he had done nothing wrong in throwing a glass at my head or sleeping with a stranger in front of my friends and with an inability to confront my own relationship demons, the efforts to start over again soon fizzled into non-existence with the pair of us not even talking. It left us both emotionally raw for a long time afterwards, and yet positively I suppose with hindsight, it made me look at how I behaved in relationships. I felt guilty for my needy, spoilt and dramatic behaviour, unsure of having done the right thing in leaving and denying him the support he needed to get better, let alone the opportunity for him to prove that he could. Two years later, I was still deeply saddened by the fact that we, that I, had failed.

So to meet someone who was emotionally at the same place, at the same time as me, was momentous. There was a distinct moment of clarity when we saw each other as the people we were, in need of recognition and assurance that we’d be both OK and right there in the moment, we both got just that.
"Y'know that Australia's not really a destination for me," 
"Right..." 
" I mean I might go someday, but I've barely touched Europe and that's on my doorstep and Sydney's so far to go for a second date..." I teased, "But you said you wanted to come back to London sometime soon, yeah?" I did my best coy face and worked very hard at being as cute as possible. 
"Well I kinda meant that I'd wanna come back this decade rather than next," he laughed, "Rather than when I'm too old to appreciate some of the sights," he pulled me closer. "But I wasn't planning on coming back next week," he smiled.
His face grew serious, calmer. He reached up and ran a finger down the side of my face and then traced the outline of my lower lip. "But you should think about Sydney. It's beautiful. You'd like it a lot I think." 
He told me I’d always be welcome and that if I changed my mind I’d know where he was. Reaching into his back pocket, he drew out a piece of paper with his number in it. Maybe he hadn't been as deeply asleep as I'd figured.
And that was that: With no thought of seeing him again and yet with a tiny Australian seed embedded in the recesses of my mind, I decided to hold onto that night as a gorgeous moment of bonding with another person; something that I’d always cherish, if never repeat.

Little did I know that I’d find other reasons to venture to the other side of the world.