The day is here, Saturday the 26th of November and I'm beginning to wish I hadn't mentioned this to Marian. I might have come along just with Rob, or with someone else more attuned to this kind of deal; and we would have had a great time, probably - but then Marian would want to know why I hadn't mentioned it to her, and I'm not going to tell lies, saying oh I just stayed in or whatever, not this early on. It's November, 2005 and we've been seeing each other since September. She would have torn me a new one had I kept this to myself, so I suppose it's not like I had a lot of choice.
You need to take me places to keep me interested, she'd told me as though this sort of ultimatum delivered in the unambiguous tone of a threat were a normal, healthy component of a loving relationship, as she terms our union. I get bored very easily, you see.
Also it turned out that she knew Nigel of the group Nocturnal Emissions. She had lived in the same row of squats in Lilford Road back in the eighties, back when I first started writing to him and getting my mum to make out cheques so I could buy his records. It was twenty or more years ago, and here we are now in the twenty-first century. What a small world it is.
I say she knew Nigel, although what I mean is that she apparently knew him very, very well - you might say - for a short while. At least that was what she told me with peculiar relish. I think she was trying to make me jealous, but I just found it weird. She hasn't seen him since before I left school. I on the other hand have stayed in touch with the guy, and so he told me about tonight's gig here at the Slimelight, as it's called.
It looks like it was once a factory of some kind before it was a club and music venue. I would describe it as a converted factory, except there hasn't really been much conversion. The walls and floors are brick and concrete and there's no heating, and the next day clean-up is probably performed by hose, with a broom to catch the broken glass. The place is full of dry ice and the lighting is poor. It doesn't feel at all like a place in which you would experience anything musical, and I suppose it could be argued that we don't, at least not until Nigel emerges from the fog to take the stage, but that comes later. In the meantime we are stumbling from one room to the next in search of Rob. He said he would be here. The place is full of skinheads in combat fatigues and knockery goth women of varying vintages strapped into military issue lingerie. Everyone looks stern, faces twisted with dark, industrial thoughts. It's a little intimidating.
Mentally I am attempting to assess whether Marian has grounds for complaint, because I know she's probably going to kick off quite soon. I'm not exactly sure what tells me this being as her mouth puckers like a dog's arse even when she's happy. It's like a sixth sense. I will remind her that she told me I would need to take her places in order to keep her interested without expressly stating any specific type of place; and I will remind her that we are here to see Nigel and how excited she has been at the prospect of this meeting by her own testimony; and I will make some attempt to appeal to her Bohemian tendencies. She's always going on about how great it was squatting in Camberwell, hanging out with performance artists on the front line and all that, and how we are about to experience the exact cultural opposite of The X-Factor and Stars in Their Eyes. This will be, by some definition, the real deal. Just look at that cracked concrete.
Years later I discover that she dropped out of the Slade after about six weeks, and she can't actually draw at all. She is without genuine artistic or even creative credentials beyond having briefly hung out with artists. Her native environment would probably be making tutting noises over the profiteroles at garden parties in Twickenham, which is I suppose why she's been rebelling ever since and why squatting seemed so exciting. Twenty fucking years - you would have thought that it would be time enough in which to perfect your schtick, but I guess whilst one may take the girl out of Twickers, it's another thing taking Twickers out of the girl.
We queue with the Judge Dredd extras, then we pay and go in and furnish ourselves with crap beer in plastic glasses which distort as you hold them, forcing the pissesque liquid up over the rim and onto the increasingly sticky concrete floor.
I love a party with an atmosphere.
The performers are Z'ev, Fckn'Bstrds, and Sektion B. Z'ev is doing his thing as we enter, rolling large metal objects around on the floor. The noise is terrific. I bought my first Z'ev record when I was still at school, and as I say Marian has led me to believe that she studied fine art at the Slade, so it doesn't occur to me that we, as a couple, are at any state of remove from what constitutes our comfort zone. That the first musical performance of the evening is a bloke throwing bits of metal around the room doesn't even seem worth commenting upon. Fckn'Bstrds - if they even played, and I'm not entirely sure that they did - make an electronic noise from the stage, fiddling with all of their little boxes and deafening us from behind the dry ice. Sektion B do the same but look more evil - camouflage gear and shaven heads.
'This is all a bit macho,' Marian observes during a break between screaming walls of feedback. She wrinkles her nose as though having noticed that Jonty has once again tracked dirt in from the stables.
'Yes,' I say, because I don't know what she expected. I told her it would be noisy and most likely involve a certain degree of frowning. I can recall no detail of my description which could have been misinterpreted so as to give rise to expectations of dinner jazz with a glass of white and some jolly old sandwiches.
'It's just that it's different for me,' she adds pointedly without actually referring directly to her own height. I myself am not tall, but the top of her head isn't even level with my shoulder. I guess she finds the fact of most people being taller than herself potentially intimidating, or at least this seems to have been the thrust of previous objections jabbed in the general direction of everyone else on the planet.
We encounter Rob at last, and - weirder still - Mark whom I knew at Maidstone College of Art, also twenty years earlier. Mark and I never really kept in touch, but we've run into each other at noisy events such as this gathering on a number of occasions. We can't really talk because Sektion B are deafening. I feel a little guilty seeing as Rob turned up on my invitation, and we hardly get to exchange three words during the course of the evening.
It's okay, he'll tell me a couple of days later, I knew you were with Marian and I didn't want to get in the way.
I will feel terrible, just some cunt abandoning his mates at the first sniff of anything in a skirt; but the truth is that I would rather speak to Rob or Mark. In fact I would rather not be here at all. I couldn't really care less about this noise. I couldn't really care less about seeing bands full stop. It's great when you're a teenager, but these days it's all two hour bus journeys crawling across London in the pissing rain to drink horrible overpriced beer and listen to music which sounded better on the record, ending with the horror of the night bus when it eventually turns up with its crew of angry drunken psychopaths.
Now Nocturnal Emissions are on - essentially just Nigel on stage with his laptop. The music is mostly from Collateral Salvage so it's approximately tuneful, and there are even a few people dancing. Against the odds, this small part of the club slowly begins to cheer the fuck up despite sticky concrete and freezing cold. We're standing on a packed dance floor in our coats, with gloves and woolly hats even, but at least the music is decent.
Nigel plays for about an hour, maybe a bit longer, and then vanishes from the stage into a room at the side. Marian wants me to introduce her to Nigel.
'I thought you knew him?'
'I did, but it was a long time ago.'
Now I'm her PA, her personal assistant. We shuffle to the side of the stage, to a second doorway leading into the room containing Nigel and assorted noise musicians doubtless all busily snorting cocaine off photographs of Adolf Hitler. This second doorway is divided into two parts, upper and lower like that of a stable. I lean over and attract the attention of a passing skinhead.
'Mate, is Nigel back there?'
He effects a vague gesture, forming an excuse of some kind.
'No no,' I say. 'It's okay. He'll know who I am. Can you tell him Lawrence is here?' I'm aware that I sound like an arsehole, but I spoke to Nigel on the phone a few days ago so it seems justified. A moment later he emerges. Given that we haven't actually met in person since 1986 or whenever it was, it takes him a moment before he realises who I am; same with Marian, but the surprise is greater, a more unexpected pleasure. They stand yacking away for five or ten minutes, and I realise that I now really am just Marian's personal assistant.
How is Danny?
How is this person?
Whatever happened to so and so?
Nigel lives in Cornwall and has to leave because he's sleeping on somebody's sofa tonight. We also have to go, but first Marian needs to pee.
'Will you come with me?'
'Well, you know - this place...' She glances around. She is nervous. Some of these people are probably common labourers or the unemployed. Some of them might even be into drugs, and not the kind which put you in touch with the cosmos. I don't know if this is what she's thinking, but I expect it's a version of these thoughts shorn of anything directly contradicting her Bohemian self-image as being down with the working classes, black people, and the kids from the street.
'Okay,' I confirm without any trace of a sigh, at least none which could be used against me in a court of law. To be frank, I just want to get out of here. The longer we stay, the more something or other is going to be my fault. I already know that, Nigel excepted, she has hated most of the evening and is presently building up the case for the prosecution.
The toilets are suitably terrifying, more cracked concrete and splintered wood. I have to wonder if the place is legal as a venue, or whether somebody just broke in and set it up as one, except it seems unlikely given that the club has been around since at least 1994. Marian disappears into an empty cubicle and closes the door, holding it closed with her foot. I stand guard as specifically directed, watching the goths and the skinheads, reading the graffiti. I am a man hanging around in a toilet for no clear reason. I'm just following orders. I continue to admire the graffiti.
Behind me I hear the sound of Marian emerging. I begin to make some observation about that which has been written across the walls in colourful paint, but Marian is suddenly on the floor apparently having launched herself through the air. The fall looked painful. She's picking up her glasses and one of the lenses is broken. She has cut her leg and there is blood. I notice a crater in the cracked concrete just outside the cubicle from which Marian emerged, two or three inches deep and it's immediately obvious why she fell. She is spitting like a cat, violently shooing people away, goth girls stepping in to help should it be required. It isn't. She's screeching at me as though this is something I have done. I kneel down to help her up, to make sure that she is okay, and she is screaming at me. I am seriously fucking confused.
She's getting up telling me how stupid I am and how she doesn't need my help thank you very much. I have done quite enough already. I'm mentally replaying my inner CCTV footage over and over, trying to work out what I've done this time, but it's difficult to concentrate over the screeching presentation of the prosecution. I say nothing because I know any utterance of mine will now be wrong.
We get a taxi because there is no way I am standing at a bus stop for an hour in the freezing cold listening to the seemingly endless testimony of how shit I am. Why didn't I tell her that the Slimelight was a venue with massive craters in the floor? If I did not know this, then why did it not occur to me to call in advance and find out as to what sort of condition the building was in from a health and safety perspective? Why am I so stupid and selfish and why does she have to do everything herself?
Hello, I'm just calling to enquire as to whether there are any large holes in the floor of your venue. You see I'm very concerned about my girlfriend falling over.
Marian fell because I was in the way when she opened the lavatory door to effect her exit. She couldn't see and I was in the way, and she was distracted because I was talking, burbling on and on about nothing as I always do. She fell and in that moment she felt as though I didn't care, as though I was not protecting her.
I still give no answer because there is nothing I can say other than pointing out the obvious, that she is full of shit, and no way am I going there. I sit in silence in the back of the cab and take my punishment like a man. From time to time I say sorry because that seems to be what she wants to hear, although I'm pretty sure I haven't actually done anything wrong.
I am insensitive.
Marian was having the worst night anyone has ever had, and there she was pouring out her heart to me, and I said nothing for the duration of the cab ride because, as she points out, I am insensitive and selfish. Why did I not rush immediately to her aid after effectively pushing her over, causing her to fall? Where was I?
I point out that she was screaming about what an idiot I was and how it was all my fault before I even knew what was happening. I add that I am unconvinced of it being my fault, given my inabilty to control either matter or gravity in the immediate vicinity of my person by the power of mind alone. She doesn't even dignify this with a reply, and the fare costs me thirty quid.
Two hours later, she eventually concedes that she may have contributed in some small way to her own falling over in the bogs at a horrible club, and agrees that there is a lesson here, and that we could both have handled the situation better than we did.