Saturday, 27 December 2014

Shittin' by the docks and in pain.

Do you remember your best ever day?

Of course you do. It was, after all, your best ever day. Who'd forget a day like that?

Memory's a wonderful thing, as are the memories themselves. Some are sad, some are happy and some are useful. Remembering when your first pet died is sad. Remembering the bits that came before tend to be happy. Remembering to feed your pet is useful, especially if you want to put off obtaining the dead-pet memory for as long as possible.

We're nothing without our memories. As far as we're concerned we don't even exist until we have them. When we were newborn and swaddled, lay in our pram behind the television with the sound turned up to drown out our caterwauling, we were nothing more than a cute, gurgling drain upon the resources and good humour of our poor parents.

If you're as lucky as I am, then the memory of the first four or five years of your life will be chock-a-block with good memories. Little, distant glimpses of cowboy outfits, football in the back garden and black and white television shows watched with your father on a Saturday morning. Even the stuff that seemed bad at the time will probably, with the years, have had the pain dulled by distance and become nothing more than a funny anecdote to entertain your friends with. The bollockings for breaking windows, the smacked legs for cheeking the neighbours and the being sent to beds without tea for nicking your sister's jam butty and swearing blind it was the dog that ate it whilst being unaware of the sticky, red evidence surrounding your cheeky little chops, all were majorly upsetting at the time but now, who cares?

What's your favourite song?

I have many, depending on my mood. But one song comes to mind whenever I'm asked that, frankly puerile, question. It's not a song from my youth, it's a song from before my youth. A song that has been playing in the background during the most memorable events in my life since age eighteen. It's become a stalwart of my memory.

I'm sure it wasn't playing on the radio in the ambulance that took me to hospital after the unfortunate trampolining incident of '75, but when I think of that adventure there it is, playing in the background and soothing my tears.

The first time I'm aware of hearing it was in 1987 when a group of my friends and I found ourselves at the Willow's variety club in Salford. All now of age and keen to make use of our age confirming driving licences we decided to pay a visit to this most illustrious of venues, with it's cheap entrance fee, sticky carpets and multitude of middle aged divorcees all hungry for the flesh of the young.

We arrived, suitably suited and beautifully booted, with packets of cigarettes and wallets with condoms tucked behind the five pound notes (Only fivers, that way the wallets looked fatter). The wallets contained little, plastic windows to flash our I.D.s at the uninterested bouncers as we swept through the big, double doors in the mistaken belief we looked like something from a movie, rather than the truer picture. That being the Bash Street Kids from the Beano going to youth court.

Having been brought up in a pub, I had more experience of how to behave when in licenced establishments than my peers. We'd all experienced alcohol before, copious amounts of cheap cider swigged from two litre plastic bottles while attempting to breakdance on the pavement outside the Thresher off licence on a piece of vinyl one of the less intelligent members of our "crew" had provided.

The dimwit in question had taken a Stanley knife and had cut the large square of vinyl from the middle of the kitchen floor at his mother's house. His mother had hunted us down, which wasn't difficult. The crackle of the static from our track suits, the sound of UTFO and Roxanne booming from the ghetto blaster I had received for my fifteenth birthday and the fact that we rarely wandered far from the only off licence in Salford that would serve us alcohol made us sitting ducks. She made us return the piece, only to dump it on the wasteground that had once been a row of terraced houses between her house and the old Salford docks, allowing us to reclaim it the very next day.

That night, though, we had a wide variety of beers, wines and spirits at our disposal. Bitter, lager, whisky, brandy, even creme de menthe which, when dumped into a pint of Stella Artois, made a council house cocktail we named "dirty beer". All were imbibed, mixing in our bellies and creating a cocktail that should never have been.

One by one our party diminished. Brave companions falling by the wayside. Some vomiting, some picking fights they could never win and all cast out into the cold, dark air by the disinterested doorstaff that had probably known this was coming when allowing us to part with our entrance fee earlier.

The stage show was set to begin at nine p.m. and, by curtain up, our party had shrunk to just four.

We'd managed to get ourselves a table to the left, and with a good view, of the stage. We had, up until this point, been unaware that their would be a live band on. Our "playlists", had such things existed in the 1980's, was restricted to American hip hop music. And the Bangles, but that was mainly because Susanna Hoffs was the bathroom-buddy of choice to my generation. We were most disappointed to hear the band announced as :

"The one, the only, superstars of soul.... Mr Jimmy James and the Vagabonds".

The crowd, with the exception of our now sparsely populated table, went wild. Whooping, cheering, screaming and applauding. We headed for the bar as the group made their entrance. Then,


What followed was an epiphany. A revelation. A stage show like I had never before, and have never since, seen. There, in the middle of Salford in a nightclub with sticky carpets and twice-weekly bingo, real, bonafide, soul sensations. A non stop performance of songs that we'd all heard before but that we'd never taken the time to enjoy. A fat, black, epitome of the genre, dabbing away at this sweaty brow with a white handkerchief, dancing like a man half his age and a quarter of his size, backed by singers in velvet suits with dance moves like we'd never seen and belting out some of what have since become my favourite tunes.

We drank no more that evening. We danced. We cheered, we smiled, we laughed. We had the best night out I can ever remember having.

The end of the night came and the music slowed down. A melodic intro kicked in, the stage lights went out and a spotlight came on, illuminating only Jimmy as he sat on a tall stool near the front of the stage and finished his amazing show off with what has since become my favourite song. We began to file away from the dance floor, smiling and exhausted, but were ambushed by a table of middle aged women and dragged back toward the stage to round the night off with what we later learnt was the period colloquially known as the "grab-a-granny erection section".

At that age my self control wasn't great. The sensation of this well-upholstered, fifty-something's ample bosom against my tummy and her gnarled hands clawing at my arse was more that I could stand. I tried to control myself with a self-taught trick. I closed my eyes and imagined watching Man City play, but then David White scored and it all began to go wrong. So I concentrated on the lyrics and tried to wriggle sideways in her grasp.

"...watching the tide, roll away..."

Lovely words, a tune that matched, soulful crooning, it was, to my mind, the perfect song. "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay", originally by, I later discovered on my visit to the Vinyl Exchange in Manchester city centre, Otis Redding.

Once free of the grip of my cougar with a cough we departed the venue and four friends went four separate ways.

The mixture of minty liqueur and Belgian beer, with their different specific gravities, in my tummy, combined with the fresh air and the tray of chips and gravy I purchased en route home, began to have an unfortunate effect on me as I took a shortcut across the wasteground behind the house with the vinyl-less kitchen floor. I realised, for the first time since queuing to see Santa in Debenhams, aged four, I wasn't going to make it to the toilet and that, this time, it was going to be far worse. My stomach cramped and gurgled as I frantically tugged at my belt, dropping my trousers to reveal my novelty Donald Duck boxer shorts and looking around to see if I was in danger of being seen. It was pitch black, no streetlamps illuminating me and a good distance from the nearest house, so I squatted.

First came a hot explosion of brown water, then the warm ooze of something that felt, but didn't smell, like thick custard. It smelt like someone had taken a shit in a big bowl of polo mints.

The shame I felt was only diminished by the sweet relief at my solitude and the soothing sensation of my rapidly evacuating bowels.

Finally finished, I realised I had neglected to bring any toilet roll out with me that evening. I wished I was as cool and forward thinking as the soul sensation that I had just witnessed. If only I had a clean, white handkerchief.

In the gloom, just to my right, I spied a leaf. A large, wide and soft looking leaf. A dock leaf. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, farted one more time, snatched the leaf from it's stem and gave my burnt backside a vigorous and frantic wiping.

As I cleaned my undercarriage I remembered the first time I had learnt of the therapeutic properties of the dock leaf. My granddad had used one to wipe away the pain and discomfort caused by the rapidly spreading rash I had on my arm after falling off my bike into stinging nettles.

"Wherever there are nettles, son, you'll always find these."

The other side of this particular nugget of handy information is that wherever you find dock leaves, you also find stinging nettles.

In my haste to clean myself up I had inadvertently grabbed not only a lovely, soothing dock leaf but also a fistful of nettles. And wiped my fucking arse with them.

I sobbed like a baby and winced with every step of the remainder of my journey home, vowing never to tell a soul what had happened.

Many year later, while backpacking around France, I found myself sitting on the dock of the bay for real. I had nothing to do but watch the tide roll away and waste time. A perfect moment. I had with me a small, transistor radio and, quite coincidentally, Mr Redding's dulcet tones began emanating from it's little, crackly speaker. I was immediately transported from my place, basking in the sun on the old wall around the bay at St. Tropez, and back to that cold, dark night in Salford. A night of incredible highs and devastating, embarrassing lows. I laughed out loud and recounted the story, in all it's gory detail, to the young lady with whom I was travelling. It was the first time I had ever told anyone, and we laughed like loons.

You see, that's the thing with bad times. The moment they're finished they become memories. No matter how low you feel, at some point in the future, maybe a long way away, all that will remain of your misery and discomfort  is a funny, little story you can recount while waiting for the ferry to St. Raphael.

And an aversion to creme de menthe.


1 comment:

  1. What sheer brilliance. I can fondly remember my younger years, and the cringe worthingly ones too...hahaha xx