Easter weekend in Wetherspoons is not a particularly fastidious occasion. The flashing gambling machines still flirt their usual neon jackpots. The pints of lager still taste like cold piss. The local funboys are still boasting about their latest fad. Steroids or whippets or Nintendo Wii.
It was nearing closing time that night, although nobody would have known from the spirit of the customers, supping away and talking in consolatory tones. (Probably about a lack of steroids, whippets or Nintendo Wiis.)
X leaned over with his mobile phone in his hand. ‘There’s a party after this at some girl’s house.’ There seemed no reason not to attend. I had less than 24 hours left in this old town before that train was to whisk me somewhere else. My mum’s gin would still be sitting where she had hidden it when I returned. We poured the last of our pints down our necks.
I know now, and even knew then, that had I been sober I would have left the party immediately upon arriving, pretended to make a phone call then walked straight home.
The kitchen was full of local funboys. Some of them I recognized as people who in the past had robbed or assaulted friends of mine, my brother, even X who had brought us here. He didn’t seem to mind, so I followed suit. The etiquette was to behave as though you were disappointed but cheerfully realistic. Everyone in the kitchen was taking cheap speed or base.
I was ushered into the living room by the 19 year old hostess, who was really quite pleasant and friendly. I noticed a tiny baby trying to sleep in a car seat positioned next to a speaker playing very loud electronic music. It was the hostess’ son, 9 months old. She was very proud.
I suppose the effects of earlier consumption had begun to kick in and I started to notice things about the party in a very dramatic way. Above my head on the ceiling was a smoke alarm that had been covered by a plastic shower cap. ‘It’s so the cig smoke dunt set off the alarms’ informed the hostess. I suggested that we should probably remove the shower cap and even offered to do it myself after the hostess said she was too short to reach. But apparently this would be pointless as the batteries had been removed to power the DVD player remote control.
I went back into the kitchen and listened to autobiographic stories with violent punch lines.
Then suddenly everyone left.
The last person out of the door was the hostess. They were all going to get some more cheap speed or base. Back in a minute. Would we mind keeping an eye on the baby?
I don’t really know how to explain how odd the next 20 minutes were, sat in a living room in a seedy flat with a nine month old baby, head spinning, crap techno blaring. The little thing was quite cute too, without the usual snot pipes or puke stained blanket. It kept reaching out and opening its hands wanting to grasp something, probably a bit pleased that someone else was still up at 3am.
‘Shall we take it,’ said X, ‘Shall we take it somewhere safe, away from here?’ I thought about this for a while but decided that abducting an infant and wandering the streets in a less than sober state looking for an orphanage, with a rabid pack of local jailbirds in hot pursuit was not advisable. Not on Easter weekend. But it was OK. The unlocked door swung open and the party recommenced.
There was now an esteemed guest at the party, a local TV star. Our man had been on The Jeremy Kyle Show, a national chat programme that specialised in ridiculing people from disadvantaged backgrounds. He had perhaps inseminated a woman whilst being involved with many other women, or been involved with a woman who had been inseminated by many other men. Or both.
My head was really starting to spin as X explained to me, for what felt like hours, that the guest of honour was a father himself, but for various reasons was not allowed to see his child. His paternal instincts, however, were rather strong and at this point being directed at the infant in the car seat. After taking a large swig of whiskey he picked up the baby and started swinging it round by the arms. Even I know you are not supposed to do that with a 9 month old.
The hostess started screaming at the TV star, trying to claw the baby away from him. I snuck away to the kitchen and X followed.
The kitchen felt much smaller than before. The walls were bulging and the surfaces dripping with alcohol spillages speckled with cigarette ash. Every conversation I entered with a funboy felt like a downhill slalom at 80mph, desperately avoiding the little red flags that could easily cause a brawl. I looked at my fists and they seemed tiny.
X had apparently brushed against one of these flags on his own downhill run and was making excuses with a particularly notorious funboy, a stout and muscular beast with tribal tattoos on his neck. I rescued him by announcing that his presence was required in the living room.
The baby argument had apparently worked itself out. The infant was back in its car seat and the celebrity was charming the pants of some girl from the comfort of an armchair dotted with cigarette burns. The hostess was showing off the DVD player. X and I looked at each other. We needed to leave the party but we didn’t know how. Then the floor started shaking.
Smiling politely and excusing herself from a conversation the hostess stood in the middle of the room and started stomping on the floor with her slippered foot. ‘SHUT THE FUCK UUUUP’. But person in the flat below kept thumping his ceiling with a blunt object.
‘That bastard downstairs,’ explained the hostess. ‘E was in Iraq and e’s got that Gulf War Syndrome’. The thumping continued and she ran out to the front door and began screaming down the staircase. The clock on the DVD player told me it was 4am.
The police would obviously be on their way and there was no way I was going to be here when they arrived. I threw a theatrical yawn, out-stretched arms and all, and announced it was past my bedtime. The hostess gave me a hug and told me I was ‘a really nice lad, like’ and that she was glad I had come round.
In the street outside there was a car waiting by the house with its headlights off. I thought perhaps it was the police. The car crawled up the street after us, picking up pace as we got to the corner. We jumped over a garden fence and ran up an alley to the main road.