(As was – this was written a couple years ago I think, things are a little different with the band now. The winters are a little colder)
Wherever I go in this city, wherever my feet lead me, beating twisted patterns on tortured concrete, there is the cloying smell of bodily odour, of sickly perfumes, or cheap tobacco, or urine. These people, these hunted, animal faces that confront me as I pass by the bus stop or the bar or the newsagents, are without exception, insane or deformed. Or both. I am sickened by humanity, if it can be called such, and sickened by my surroundings. I glare, I glare at people or I glare at the floor. It doesn’t matter which. The people are only as responsive as the concrete. You think I am unkind, or guilty of adolescent disdain. I do not believe I am either. But then, I suppose, I am biased. These people depress me, arouse such contempt in me, that my own self-opinion is by turns massively inflated and deeply, darkly dipped towards an apathetic, lowly shame.
The lockup is around the corner. I am turning down the side street by the Big Bull’s Head, finishing the tasteless cheese and tomato sandwich I bought from the tiny shop that also reeks of bodily odour, much like the disapproving looking little man behind the counter who stares at me whenever I walk in. He has unfortunate facial hair. I bought the sandwich not because I am hungry, but because I am tired. I am given to understand that food can supply energy of sorts.
I am so tired. I have been tired for weeks now. With every move, my knees lock, I cannot propel myself forward at anything more than a steady pace. My eyelids, wishing to protect my eyes from the depressing sight of so much grey, seem to half-close. My entire face feels permanently on the verge of some gigantic yawn that, if let loose, will expel all the air from my body and leave me deflated in a heap on the ground.
The side street curves round, next to a deserted factory which always smells very strongly of solvents. I used to think that this was because it had been a factory involved in the production of adhesives, but as it turned out, it’s just a hangout for the junkies and the kids from the college. Sometimes, if I can see through the metal grilles over the eye-level windows, I can see figures scuttling in the dark, or reclining, wrecked, against the walls in the half-light.
There is a bin on the corner and I deposit the plastic box in which my sandwich came. It was so tasteless it has made my mouth feel dry, a little rough. The sky is becoming grey and it is starting to rain. Somewhere a baby is crying, but the sound is angry. What child, brought into this world, could not fail to be resentful and afraid?
I tend to take the side street around towards the lockup, because the main road has several depressing looking political billboards, and the body of an executed terrorist hangs from a large, ornate lamp post on the corner. He has been there for some time now, and the sight of his dead face lolling to the side, his skin beginning to turn green, his hair, dampened by the constant rain, clinging to his face like so much seaweed, this sight makes me feel unwell.
I do not know how, but one of his eyes is no longer in place, and has shifted slightly out of the socket. It looks bulbous, like the eye of a great, dead fish. He is not human. Maybe I am not human.
The rain is fine, almost more of a mist than a drizzle. It isn’t cold. I have changed from my summer jacket into my winter coat slightly ahead of season, because I cannot find the time to patch the holes in the pockets of my summer jacket, and my keys threaten, constantly, to fall out. Everything is grey. I huddle into my coat a bit, but tired, frustrated by my desire to be comfortable, I shake myself out of my reverie and find myself pressing the bell at the green door leading into the lockup. The walls surrounding it, garish in their graffiti, look subdued by the first showers of autumn. I remember when I used to live around here. I miss my old flat. I wonder if I miss my old life. Lives. There have been too many changes for there to be only one life to miss.
Matt opens the door. I like Matt. He is pleasant. He stares at me for a half-second and then stands aside to let me walk in, a cheery but sleepy-sounding “y’alright Dave?” escaping his lips as he looks around for a light. His roll-up has gone out. I retrieve my lighter from my pocket and light the remainder of his smoke, before pulling out a cigarette myself. We chatter.
They have created an office area at the front of the building, it’s a bare wood rectangle with a large window, without any glass, that looks out onto the rest of the room. There is a desk, with a surprisingly modern computer screen. There are a couple of old tyres, a microwave on the floor, and a dilapidated fridge with a stereo on top of it, and speakers stacked up at either side. The door fits fairly well, and I push it through as I walk out into the main room. To my right, the green-painted hourly room, one of several large boxes constructed in the middle of this building. To my left, the two toilets, the third cubicle space filled with DIY equipment.
As we chatter about the weather, the time of year, my band and his band, we walk into the middle of the room, surrounded now by box-like rehearsal spaces, some bolted next to each other with no gap, some with a space in between, invariably filled with an astonishing variety of working, and non-working, musical equipment. And we reach the table tennis table.
Dark green, cracked, Matt puts down his beer, we puff on cigarettes hanging from dry lips, and we begin to knock up. This has become a ritual. I am dreadful at this sport, Matt is rather good.
“Charlie still up?” I ask
“Yeah, saw him earlier, he was just hanging out”
“He shouldn’t be out there in this weather, it’s ageing him something terrible”.
We both laugh. Charlie, of course, is the dead man hanging from the lamp post. We do not know his real name. He inherited the nickname “Charlie” as a result of his skin, initially, going a chalky-white colour.
The small blue ball is batted gently into the air, onto the table, a few near-misses, a few mis-hits. The band aren’t here yet, in fact nobody is here except Matt and I. We stub out cigarettes in a nearby empty can, and play a short game.
Of course, Matt thrashes me. The ball constantly being retrieved from the sofa, from the spokes of Matt’s bicycle, leaning up against the side of the hourly room, or simply from the grey, rough concrete floor.
We clap each other on the back. I have some cans of cheap lager left in our room and as I negotiate the padlock, I realise just how much I need a drink.
Dark. Dusty. The smell of sweat, old carpet, spilled beer and stale cigarettes. The subtle scent of guitar strings, perhaps beginning to rust or fail. That peculiar half-smell that comes from a room, unventilated, which houses electrical equipment.
The light goes on, I open a can, and I switch on the computer on the floor, potter around. I tune my guitar, I play a little. A couple of Interpol riffs, and the main theme from my favourite film, “Woyzeck”.
It’s about twenty to seven when the door opens. Daz comes in, all smiles. Banter, chatter. As he’s wrapping gaffer tape around his fingers, to protect them from the bass strings, Matty and Dave arrive. More chatter. Everyone briefly discusses their day. I open my second can. We run through the administrative business. We run through the set. Break. Smoke. Chatter. We run through the set again and start in on the two new songs as I open my third can.. Loop the intro/verse/chorus/verse/break/chorus. What to do after that? Loop again, jam a little at the end. Brief listen back. Next song. Nearly done, but I need to finish up the vocals. One of Matty’s creations. Fourth can comes into play as we run through this song in full, bar the outro. Then we bolt the outro on, sounds good. Time to go. 11pm.
This process often seems predictable, repetitive, but is beautiful. Tired, cold, thirsty, worryingly sober, I will pitch up at the lockup and buy some beer from the fridge there. We play through songs, we laugh, we joke. When we play, even in our little room with Sarah’s burgeoning mural on one wall, we are on any stage in the world. The pace, the electricity, the atmosphere. We have to be brothers. It is the only way we can continue things. I long for rehearsal, despite the fact that I am tired, despite the fact that there is no heating in our house and by the time I get home from rehearsal and have a shower, or a cold shower if the gas has run out, it will be about one o’clock before I go to bed, and I will have to rise at half past six the next morning after an invariably poor night’s sleep. After rehearsal, as well as the students in the street – my room is entered by the front door – I am kept awake by the riffs and lyrics and beats that propel themselves around the inside of my mind after a good rehearsal, or even a less successful one.
We spill out onto the street and split, Daz into his car and Matty and Dave and I for the train journey back to the house. We say our goodbyes, light cigarettes, kick a tyre down the street. We avoid Charlie. We don’t speak about him. He’s lonely.
We chatter aimlessly, smoking, looking at the floor. I am not hungry. We pass the Institute, with barriers outside, bouncers looking on, and gaudy-looking young things clustered outside smoking, drinking, sweating sex and rhythm from every pore. There are taxi drivers, standing, muttering. One of them steps out in front of us, he is a small man with a stained shirt. He has an identity card around his neck with somebody else’s picture on it. His eyes are universes.
“Do you want a taxi?”
“Come on! You want a taxi, right?”
We carry on walking, only for this man, this strange individual with the big eyes, to run around and grab me, on the end of the three of us, by the shoulder.
“Come on, get the fuck in the fucking taxi, you bastards, come on!” he is trying to grab at Matty and Dave also, we shake him off, carry on walking, no point in looking behind. I can still feel that frail but firm grip on my shoulder. Behind him, above the hubbub of the Institute, there is a sobbing sound. Screw him. This city is full of sewage, shaped like cripples.
The lights in this part of town are strange. Some traffic lights, some club lights, the dull strip-lights of takeaways and taxi offices. I hate this street.