I appear to have been stuck on the top deck of a LOVE BUS for the past, er, five days. Albeit in a hot pink-n-grey suit, with nice hair, being surreptitiously ogled at by a thoeretical maximum of ONE red-eyed formerly-attitude boy.
It is time to write myself down OFF THE BUS, and into the nice neighbourhood bar/café/restaurant, a couple of blocks east of Clapham Common, which J and M have themed to perfection with all manner of creatively distressed foliage, miniature nosegays stuffed into objéts trouvées from their personal collection, hand-calligraphed name cards etc etc. J works in top-end catering; M organises A-list fund-raisers for the arts; and so frankly, I would have expected nothing less. This is What They Do, and so they have plied their crafts with characteristic dexterity, i.e. not by going totally overboard and foofing everything up to buggery and beyond, but instead by retaining that most crucial of elements: Informal Homespun Charm.
The seating plan is a work of socially engineered genius. I have been placed with a former punk rocker from Edinburgh (with whom I swiftly bond over The Slits, The Pop Group and John Cooper Clarke), a former acid houser (ditto re. Ten City, and ohmigod he was at the SECOND EVER Shoom in late 87, these things IMPRESS ME), a feisty mum (off the leash and on the lash), and a couple of shaven-headed habitués of the Two Brewers. Slightly further down the table, K has been similarly garlanded with diversity.
The vibe is classic reception, with a gay twist. There is a Top Table, heading up the U-shape of the room; there is a big fancy f**k-off cake to cut on camera; and there are speeches. M’s brother and J’s brother represent the families; her from the auction house that I went to Duckie with (does anyone still remember the string of beads that emerged from the lady’s hoo-hah?) represents the friends; and both M and J make speeches of their own (M even eliciting demure blushes from me and K, by name-checking us for being there from the beginning).
J concludes his speech by reciting “something I heard on Radio Four the other week”. To the surprise and delight of both myself and the former punk rocker from Edinburgh, it turns out to be a John Cooper Clarke classic.
I wanna be your vacuum cleaner
Breathing in your dust
I wanna be your Ford Cortina (*)
I will never rust
If you like your coffee hot
Let me be your coffee pot… (read more)
(*)“What, like some sort of clapped out old banger?”, I quipped, many hours later.
The tables are cleared, the evening guests arrive (oh, it’s still Friday, yay for post-work early doors), the DJ sets up, and I shift my base of operations to the capacious street-facing verandah, where I loosely remain for the next five hours or so. A clubland celebrity shows up for a while, and I catch myself doing that silly smiling-in-delighted-recognition thing, before remembering that we don’t actually know each other and I’m effectively just gurning at a stranger.
Gratifyingly, the hired DJ’s playlist overlaps significantly with my own unused (BUT THAT’S ALL RIGHT NO REALLY HONESTLY IT IS) Ultimate Civil Partnership Party 2008 triple mix. Dancing ensues, heroically undimmed by the running Battle Of The Volume Knob that takes place between the DJ and the head barman as the evening progresses. “Valerie” and the new Madonna go down well, as does “I Love To Love” and “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head“. Being placed directly between the bar and the verandah, the wooden dancefloor gets a regular soaking as drinkers and dancers collide, but it all adds atmosphere dunnit…
Eleven thirty would have been a sensible time to call it a night, but some of us aren’t feeling sensible. Back to the hotel until the bar shuts – then somehow four of us end up in a hired mini-cab, travelling all the way to the top of the common: a two minute journey for which muggins here is stiffed for ten quid. (And then the driver has the gall to give me his bloody BUSINESS CARD, like I’m THIS GULLIBLE on a REGULAR BASIS.)
We’re just going where we’re told, by the quite bogglingly drunk American lady who assures us that we’ll love this place, she used to work here, she knows everybody, we won’t have to pay, yadda yadda yadda.
The tiny thrill of swishing past the velvet rope while lesser souls beg and plead on the pavement is dissipated within seconds, as we force our way through the near-solid throng of TOTAL AND UTTER F**KING W@NKERS within, in search of a mythical Quiet Spot near the bar. Grim, hatchet-faced, sharp elbowed, hideously dressed sub-sub-sub-Z-list wannabes predominate, all thinking they’re f**king IT for gaining admittance to this vile, deafening, funky-house-from-hell-hole.
All of two minutes later, we are joined by a couple of other reception stragglers from the hotel, who have done the sensible thing and walked up. There is an unspoken collective resolve to make the best of the situation – why, I even have a little dance – but K’s nerve cracks halfway down his bottled beer, and suddenly I’m pulling him back through the w@nker-cluster before the panic attack has a chance to kick in.
We’re halfway back to the hotel when J calls. He’s not ready for bed yet, and do we fancy a quick one at the Brewers?
Salvaged at the, ooh let’s see, thirteenth hour, the night rolls on.