I looked ahead at the lithe, supple body which writhed just a few feet in front of me.
The venue was hot. Really hot. A bead of sweat trickled down the shoulder.
For the split-second our eyes met, I felt like I was the only man in the room. But I wasn’t, with the stag party sat to my left and right, and many, many more desperate souls throughout the room.
My head was spinning. If music was playing, I sure as hell couldn’t hear it.
I snapped out of my haziness.
Suddenly, the body rose up before us. A shrivelled cock paraded past. We winced. The grey-haired old man stepped out of the pool.
Sharing one of Budapest’s famous hot steam baths certainly provided an extreme contrast to the hedonism of the “No Pussy Touch!” strip bar only a few hours earlier. The brazen nakedness of its all-male patrons worthy of Hungary’s ‘Schlong for Europe’ contest did not exactly calm our fragile stomachs. But other than that its soothing effects under the gothic architecture proved the perfect antidote to our self-induced hangovers.
It’d been a top night. The bar was great, and not too sleazy. The boys were on good form. American Girl #1 entertained our stag. American Girl #2 flirted with Bookseller. And I cleared up a horrible misunderstanding with Fit Young Canadian Bird which should mean we shall see each other again after all. Our efforts had paid off.
Stumbling the long walk back to our hotel, Bookseller and I chanced upon the sound of a live band playing from a basement bar. Gingerly prising the door open half-expecting a private party or aftermath of a wedding reception, we were pleasantly surprised to be ushered in and offered drinks.
“What time do you serve 'til?” asked our stag.
“6am” replied the barmaid.
It was already quarter-past, as we sipped back our £3 bottle of champagne.
Leaving the bar to find daylight, we arrived back at our hotel for breakfast, as we discussed the night’s events at ridiculous volume before catching a couple of hours kip.
Landing back at Stansted, Best Man pointed at an interview with an old, grey-haired, lithe-looking diplomat in the in-flight magazine.
“Recognise him?” he asked.
I sure did.
“I’ve seen his winky” I replied.
If I’d achieved nothing else this weekend, I’d seen a diplomat’s shrivelled cock. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but that was achievement enough for me.
We got off our plane, as the Brighton Boys mulled over their long trip back home via Heathrow.
Halo above our heads
“Halo Bar?!” the taxi driver repeated back to me.
“Yes” I replied, repeating the address back to him, as the girls giggled with Bookseller in the back.
It had almost gone so horribly wrong.
Midway through arranging where to meet Fit Young Canadian Bird and her American Friends, the line had gone dead.
The stag group had enjoyed a sumptuous meal at one of Hungarian’s finest restaurants. I’d had the pleasure of the finest Wild Boar I’d eaten all year. And we’d even been played more Hungarian classics, this time by a string quartet.
But it was time to leave the group for a bit. Undaunted, Bookseller and I made our way to meet the girls. We knew which street they were in. Just not which bar.
Three bars, a near chance encounter, and one text message later, we eventually met up. Once the initial inevitable guffawing at my Merv tache died down, the mood settled, we chatted and were having a laugh, but I had to explain we needed to rejoin our group very soon to avoid being anti-social. This was ok, because the girls wanted to try somewhere different. So was how we found ourselves in a cab:
“But…” questioned our driver, “that’s a strip bar.”
“Yes!” exclaimed the girls, giggling again.
We reached the venue first: one girl each for myself and Bookseller; plus a bonus ball.
By the time the group arrived minutes later, our esteem had already risen considerably.
“Bad bar! Bad bar!!” shouted the stranger.
We looked back perplexed at the white-haired old man as he packed sinister looking black sacks in the back of his Skoda parked in a poorly lit Budapest backstreet.
The city was already warming to us, some of the lads having beaten a couple of Hungarian lads at table football at the local bar.
Centuries of communist rule were still evident through the intricate architecture of older buildings, jarring slightly with the more anonymous blocks built in recent decades.
Already we were being welcomed as locals.
“Bad bar!” he shouted again, “You don’t want to go there!!”
The group started paying more attention to this elderly gent in a smart brown suit. Everyone turned back from the entrance to the basement bar. A handful of us ambled over.
“What do you mean?!” asked our Leader.
“It’s a bad bar!” he explained again, unnecessarily, before adding, “People like you shouldn’t go there.”
“Oh.” replied our Leader, “Thank you.”
Gesturing further up the road, the geriatric continued: “You should go to that bar instead. Lots of actors go there.”
Our Leader continued diplomatically before making polite conversation: “Very kind of you. So...you live in the city?...”
Whilst the old man, having befriended our Leader, embarked on a long and tortuous recount of the city’s history, I whispered to our stag:
“I may be jumping to conclusions, Ex-Boss” I explained, “But here’s us looking like some bad Village People tribute act, and here we have Hungary’s Tony Hart suggesting this harmless looking bar’s not for “people like us”, and suggesting we try one with “lots of actors” instead.” (Yes. I did do the inverted quote actions.)
“I catch your drift” replied Ex-Boss, “this bar’s probably full of totty.”
When our kindly tour guide eventually finished talking, we walked on before locating an excellent local restaurant. Our waiter ushered us down to the basement, out of sight of the other patrons (almost entirely male, some of whom may have well been actors). A keyboard player hammered out some Bontempi-fired Hungarian classics for our sole enjoyment.
Occasionally throughout the evening, I’d discreetly exchange text messages with a relatively new acquaintance who just happened to be in town the same weekend.
We moved on from the restaurant to a rock club populated by kids half our age: the kind you see in really bad American high school movies. As the dry ice cleared through the intermittent moshing, a couple of girls lezzed up in front of Bookseller and myself. We clinked glasses, and winked knowing winks.
Wandering aimlessly back through the rain a couple of hours later, I had almost reached our hotel when I received my final text message:
Fit Young Canadian Bird wanted me to call her the next day to meet up.
Laughter erupted from the seats behind.
“Yeah, of course
I believe you!”, chuckled Brighton Boy #2, disbelievingly.
Already, the tache task had gone down a storm (my Merv up there with the best of them), everyone was in good spirits, and we’d even found time for a cheeky couple of pints at the airport.
The atmosphere was good. This boded well for a fun weekend ahead, I thought.
“Good” replied the Best Man, struggling to compose himself, “because I’m not lying”.
The laughter died down as the truth dawned on the Brighton Boys.
They’d taken the trouble to drive up from the south coast to Heathrow, from where we were flying.
But had neglected to take account of the fact we would be flying back to Stansted a couple of days later.
“Stansted?” trebled checked Brighton Boy #1, “Really???!!!”
Best Man nodded.
“But we’re parked over 60 miles away.”
The atmosphere turned tense. This boded well for an excellent weekend ahead, I thought.
We landed in relative silence on the tarmac at Budapest.
And she's a beauty:
Have a good weekend, everyone. Back Monday.
Less than a quarter of a day to go now before I fashion my beard into a tache.
Which means less than a day til I achieve this important task.
Which means less than a day and a half til we all shave the damned things off.
(You see, we’re not sporting ridiculous taches all weekend. That would be stupid. Whereas three weeks of UNCOMFORTABLE ITCHING, COMPLETE LOSS OF DIGNITY, UTTER REPULSING OF ANY RIGHT-MINDED FEMALE and POTENTIALLY CAREER-THREATENING INTERVIEW HUMILIATION merely demonstrates the positive virtues of loyalty, determination and tenacity.)
And so I found myself discussing a potential tache-related problem with the Best Man charged with organising proceedings.
“Being a lads weekend, I assume we only want to carry hand luggage, to save going through baggage reclaim?” I asked.
“Absolutely!” he replied, “As we’re only there two nights, I’m very unlikely to even be changing my kecks.”
“Trouble is” I hypothesise, “hand luggage forbids sharp implements, and I’m guessing razors are going to be fairly high up everyone’s agenda.”
Best Man was confident only about half get checked, so we should smuggle razors in. I voiced my suspicion, pointing out most airports have ‘amnesty’ boxes at customs since security got stepped up, and the fact I don’t want to lose my treasured Mach 3 Turbo.
“Maybe buy disposables once over there?” I suggested
“No disposable’s gonna get rid of this baby.”
Best Man’s not wrong. He could shave at breakfast, reach five o’clock shadow by midday, and have a fully grown handlebar by teatime.
We're gonna be stuck with our ferrets for a few days, aren't we?
Last night’s sudden burst of healthy eating
may have come too late. “After the horse had bolted”, as my mum says.
I finally succumbed to the illness that's been threatening overnight, as have most Londoners it seems over the past week.
So I type from home, where it’s grey outside, but the fire’s on full blast, as I sit on the futon in my slackwear, big socks and slippers, shiverring underneath my Norah Jones duvet.
I may not have been looking after myself recently, as my mum also says. She is clever.
Daytime TV’s just so dire, a seeming never-ending menu of property shows, auction shows, and property auction shows. My DVD collection provides welcome respite.
Of course it doesn’t help that my absence coincides with the busiest spell at work since... well... ever.
But I’m confident it’s under these testing circumstances that m’lackey will become a man.
When I return – tomorrow, hopefully – I’ll pass the baton of responsibility and no doubt feel the proud pangs a father experiences when their son doesn’t need stabilisers to ride his bike any more.
And if that’s not an incentive to get better, nothing is.
Thursday: sandwich, pizza and coleslaw.
Friday: sandwich, kebab.
Saturday: MaccyDs, fry-up, some peanuts.
Sunday: Burger King.
Monday: sandwich, kebab.
And I wonder why I feel like shit today? Tonight: fish, potatoes, veg, OJ. Bliss.
Beard coming on a treat in advance of next weekend's tache task
But, as luck would have it, I have a Very Important Job Interview scheduled for Monday.
Problem: How to attend the interview looking smart and dignified, yet still achieve the task?
(CLICK ON IMAGE TO SEE ANIMATED VERSION. NASTY CHEAP FREEWARE)
And my alarm awakes me, as usual.
I get up slowly, remembering I’d dosed myself up to keep the dreaded lergy that’s been threatening at bay.
It’s still dark outside; unlike any of the last hundred mornings, but how it’s going to be for at least the next hundred at least.
I reluctantly get up, get ready and venture outside. A smattering of packed buses pass straight by before one stops.
I only just catch my train, quickly jump on the first carriage, and bury myself in my morning paper.
Engrossed, the journey passes quickly, until the train pulls to a sudden stop. I look up from the sports pages. I see my station’s familiar-looking fencing through the window. I quickly jump off.
But the platform’s not familiar. I realise I’ve got off a station early, and my train’s doors are closing.
The day’s not started well.
Ordinarily, I’d fret about being late for work. Hunt around for public transport. Work myself into a sweat to get in at a reasonable time (at an unreasonable cost).
But today, I don’t. Fuck it, I think. It’s a glorious morning, so I’m damned well going to walk. And as the sun shines down on the departing packed commuter train, I’m already smugly satisfied with my decision.
As I walk across Chiswick Bridge, taking in the beautiful view of one of the most famous rivers in one of the world’s biggest cities, I realise I’m among only a handful to actually bother enjoying it.
I ramble down the tree-lined path, the excellent Ed Harcourt
providing the perfect soundtrack as I breathe in the woodland-scented air, fumes conspicuous by their very absence.
Breaking from routine’s great.
So why don’t do it more often? Because I can, I realise.
And am on the verge of the biggest break with routine I’ve undertaken for quite a few years. But I’m not worried. Because, right now, I feel very lucky.
So do it: Do something slightly different tomorrow. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Here she goes again, I think, midway through our telephone catchup.
“...you know, I’m twenty-eight now and...”
Believe me, I do
understand my paranoid pal
’s worries. I know it’s only natural to have doubts about finding someone again. But I also, as anyone who knows her would testify, know how utterly ridiculous these fears will prove to be.
“...tick-tock, you know...”
At this point, I’m usually sympathetic, conveying lessons learned from my own experience to empathise, discuss then rationalise.
“Rubbish! You’ll be fine. Trust me.”
“What if I end up a lonely old cat woman?”
Sometimes, though, I succumb to the temptation to mock her, exaggerating her irrational concerns to make her realise just how negative she can sometimes be.
“OK, let’s make a pledge. If both alone in ten years time, you can have me
“But you’ll be...” (I hear the cogs of her mind whirring to mentally calculate exactly how old I’ll be)
“Don’t worry.” I interrupt, “My sperm shall still be good.”
“Better still, after this phone conversation, I’ll bash one out for you. Store it in a jar. Not just any jar, a good jar: Hartley’s jam maybe, I don’t like jam much. Then freeze it. Avoids all that nasty relationship and sex business.”
Silence turns to rightfully-earned gratitude: “Ahhhh. That’s very sweet of you.”
“Yes, it is, isn’t it. I’ll label the jar with your name. But don’t think I offer this service to just any
girl in this city. I may even bash one out before this conversation’s over, if you’re extremely lucky.”
“Thank you. Very kind.”
I could tell the way she changed the subject so swiftly that I’d allayed her fears there and then.
I was glad I’d taken the sympathetic route, rather than the mocking one.
And will be double-checking labels very carefully before I defrost that white cheese sauce.
Through the cheesy techno of the basement bar, we get acquainted.
She talks, I listen. I talk, she listens.
Pretty soon, our conversation makes the Atlantic that separates us culturally, seem like a mere stream.
And soon after, but not too soon, conversation turns to the surreal circumstances in which we met.
“It was in the ‘lock and key’ room, right?” she asks.
“No” I reply. “I didn’t play the ‘lock and key’ game”. (If I had, I’d still have the lock in my pocket.)
“But we salsa-danced, didn’t we?”
I almost splutter my San Miguel over her. “I think not! Danced, maybe. But I don’t salsa.” I pause, before declaring confidently “ I specifically recall meeting you in the downstairs bar.”
We discuss our respective takes on events in more detail. I remind her of snatched conversations, then our close moment: our stolen kiss. Her face is blank.
Baffled, nay mortified, there’s only one conclusion I can reach:
“I think you’re dating the wrong person.”
She laughs, but doesn’t contradict me.
Right time. Right place.
I check my watch: I’m bang on time too.
Each minute drags like ten.
Rush-hour commuters and tourists bustle past in the Covent Garden dusk. All strangers, passing in the night.
I’m outside the shop we’re supposed to meet at. I check my watch again. Two minutes have passed.
I tease a glance to my left. Hang on, that might be her! But I’m not sure, so can’t stare. So revert back to the relative safety of looking through the crowd.
This is ridiculous, I think. I’d forgotten how painful meeting a relative stranger could be
. How repressed can I be? Action's required, so I ring her, peering out the corner of my eye as I do so. Voicemail: I leave a message.
Another two minutes pass. Slowly.
My mobile rings! She’s here already!!! I look around: we spot each other. It was
her after all. Not quite as I remembered her, but definitely her.
She greets me with her Canadian drawl: “Your beard threw me!”, and we make our way towards a bar.
The pipes, the bloody pipes, are playing.
The madly fucking annoying panpipes are playing. Through my window, down the street, outside the supermarket.
Passing shoppers are ‘entertained’ by the Columbian Panpipe Trio playing a compilation including ‘Hero’, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’, and a handful of other songs making up the CDs they’re peddling.
I turn over, irritated, eager for a few more hours Sunday morning slumber.
The pipes continue playing. I give up. I get up. I feel awful. This is normal.
I stagger to the bathroom. I look awful. This is normal.
In my reflection, I see a blue moustache. I look bizarre. This is not normal.
Then I notice that when I move, the moustache does not. This, too, is not normal.
On closer inspection, I remember that what had seemed a blinding idea the night before, now seems slightly sad.
You see, in three weeks time, I attend Ex-Boss’s stag weekend. (Can’t tell you where. It’s a surprise, and he reads this blog. Email me if you want to know. That will annoy him immensely).
And the first task is to turn up sporting a genuine moustache, or risk a hefty £20 fine, and loss of respect among my peers.
It would be churlish not to participate, so in my bladdered state I’d stuck blu-tac directly onto where my upper-lip reflection appears on the mirror, to remind myself where not to shave.
The irony that this exercise coincides with the exact time I’ll be needing to attend job interviews is not lost on me.
How to achieve a full tache whilst maintaining dignity? And masculinity?
Full beard? Goaty? Or straight to tache?
Depending on which I choose, I’ll be turning up at least looking dishevelled, like David Brent, or a bad porn star.
And probably be unwittingly roped into the Columbian Panpipe Band.
What a belter
Another subject I tend to avoid blogging about
is nights out. Mainly because others do it so much better
But this Saturday was special.
Meeting mates for drinks at midday, followed by Fry-Up No 5 at the Hope Workers Café, more drinks, watching Arsenal’s awesome 4-0 victory
, more drinks, hotfoot it darn Sarf to a book-reading by the inimitable Noi-Yoik-chef-with-attitoid Anthony Bourdain
, more drinks, before heading with Bookseller’s colleagues to meet my sister’s mates at a cheesy student indie disco night.
Beer. Footy. Friends. Family. Culture. Disgrace.
If you could bottle and sell days, I’d buy last Saturday.
And which is why I don’t blog about nights out more often. I guess you just had to be there.
This isn’t a personal blog, but this feels a more personal post than usual.
I prefer to recount miscellaneous events - invariably mundane - for my own amusement (and hopefully that of others), only bringing in personal stuff if it in some way adds meaningful context.
But some events are so significant the two are inextricably linked.
Truth is, my past year’s been a bit of a rollercoaster: relationship break-up, promotion, close family beating serious illness, making new friends, work pressure building up, repeatedly happily disgracing myself, eventually emerging through the storm.
Some of which I’ve posted about. Most of which I haven’t.
So it was a combination of events, feelings and thoughts that caused me to jack in my job a couple of weeks ago.
Plan is to freelance for a bit before backpacking for a few months next year.
And that’s about as far as my plans go at present. I’m terrified, yet totally excited at the prospect of the unknown that lies ahead. But reassured by the knowledge that when it comes to the big stuff, I’m actually pretty lucky.