Friday, 26 August 2016

The Award-Winning Author

I knew the award-winning author long before he was an award-winning author. We were at college together and were briefly friends. He bequeathed me a stack of issues of Doctor Who magazine and then moved away. We wrote to each other, but our correspondence was difficult to maintain for some reason.

Three decades later I encounter his first novel in a book shop. 'Fuck,' I exclaim to myself. 'I know that guy!'

We re-establish communications through social media. I've already read his novel, because it would have been rude to get back in touch without having done so. Also, I was initially worried I might not like the book, so I wanted to get that out of the way in the event of my needing to come up with elaborately diplomatic reasons to avoid direct discussion of his having become an award-winning author.

The problem is that I dislike steampunk. At my most unforgiving I would characterise steampunk literature as a conservative genre tailored to those who don't actually enjoy reading books, but who like the idea of themselves as people who read books, and who see the measure of a good book as whether it gets made into a television series or a film, or at the very least whether it can be pictured as such in one's mental cinema screen whilst reading. They are people who like to read about familiar characters having adventures, just like that Sherlock Holmes on the telly; and so steampunk literature strikes me as prioritising style over content - in my possibly limited experience. Like anything which needs to quantify the limitless expanse of its imagination, which promises anything can happen with wide sparkly eyes and the smile of Johnny Depp in yet another shitty Tim Burton film, it is repetitive and characteristically lacks range or variation from a central theme.

The above paragraph represents a view pushed to an extreme, and there are always exceptions to the rule, but my general opinion is to be found somewhere therein; excepting novels by Michael Moorcock - which are generally wonderful - and maybe a few other things, Bryan Talbot's Luther Arkwright and the like. For me, the term steampunk conjures a million self-published eBooks, generic thrills and laboured titles delineating the most fantastical and diverting escapades of two names; because it's always a hero and his sidekick, just like on the telly - Holmes & Watson, Burton & Swinburne, Newbury & Hobbes, Grace & Witherbloom, Arseworth & Tabernacle*: ripping yarns all. C'mon chaps, let's all pull on our jolly old plus-fours and fire up the difference engine, what? The stuff practically writes itself.

Words therefore seem inadequate to express the sense of relief I experience when the award-winning author's effort turns out to be decent and entirely free of the worst clichés of the genre, thus sparing me the ignominy of having to say well, it's not really my sort of thing but I can see that you put in a lot of hard work. Were more steampunk novels of such quality, I might never have formed quite such caustic opinions as those expressed above; and I decide it's not difficult to see why the award-winning author won the award which qualifies him as an award-winning author.

I've written a short series of eBooks, the award-winning author tells me, just something I can stick on Amazon to bring in a bit of money on the side, and I need you to draw the covers. How much do you generally charge?

Fifty quid, I tell him, because that's how much I generally charge. In all honesty, I don't particularly enjoy painting book covers unless I'm fairly directly invested in the novel. Most of my energy goes into writing these days, and my eyes are failing so the production of cover artwork is no longer quite such a pleasant undertaking as was once the case. Fifty quid is, by the way, one sixth of the standard charge for the sort of cover artwork I do.

The award-winning author seems disgruntled, reminding me that he is an award-winning author and that this will be good exposure for my artwork. He requires cover illustrations in the general spirit of a Victorian periodical. I supply preliminary sketches of the two characters - the hero and his sidekick who are to have adventures in this proposed series of eBooks - but the award-winning author doesn't like what I have done. After a few revisions, I give up and go back to working on some novel or other. It doesn't seem worth the trouble and I don't want us to fall out.

In any case, the award-winning author has other fish to fry, notably his website. He's having trouble with how it displays on different devices. My wife offers to help out, it being her field, but leaves him to it after a day or so. He seems to want his website to be able to perform actions which simply don't work in certain browsers, and my wife has the impression he's been getting pissy with her.

Never mind.

She doesn't want to fall out with my friend, the award-winning author either. He posts pictures of his children on facebook and they're cute.

I finish my novel, Against Nature, and it's published by Obverse Books. I send a copy of the eBook version to the award-winning author seeing as how we're both authors - even though only one of us has won awards - and we're both writing variations on science-fiction, and we're buddies from way back.

How critical do you want me to be? he asks.

I'm a little bothered by this. Some sort of feedback would be nice, but I'm not seeking career advice, even though he's an award-winning author. This is 2013, and I presume he never reads it because my novel is never mentioned again.

The award-winning author is writing something new, something which isn't steampunk, because he doesn't wish to be seen as a one-trick pony. He sends me twenty or thirty chapters of the unfinished work and asks that I criticise it as thoroughly and brutally as possible. This is difficult because there's not much wrong with it, and it is by far the best thing he has ever written. During our exchanges he tells me that anyone who does not want their work to be read by as wide an audience as possible cannot call themselves a writer. This is bullshit, so much so that it almost makes me laugh. I'm beginning to realise why we lost touch three decades before.

The greatest writer I know in person is Ted Curtis. His writing shits over the work of most authors I've read, including the award-winning ones, and his novel The Darkening Light is available through Lulu, the print-on-demand publisher by which I publish some of my own stuff. I don't know how many people have read The Darkening Light. It could be hundreds, but it could be about ten, and I don't know how much Ted really cares. Bulletpoint lists defining who is allowed to call themselves a writer therefore mean nothing to me.

In April 2016 my wife and I attend a Night in Old San Antonio, part of our city's annual Fiesta celebrations, an event in which attendees are invited to drink until they can't stand whilst stuffing their faces. I stuff my face with a particularly messy taco and my wife takes a photograph of me as I tilt my head back and feed strips of beef and chilli into my face. She posts it on facebook for a joke, because I look ridiculous and amusingly bereft of dignity. The award-winning author makes a copy of the photograph for a joke and crops it so as to focus upon my fat face tilted back to receive beef, for a joke. He is digging me in the ribs and grinning, figuratively speaking, for a joke.

Okay, I think to myself, not quite sure how I feel about this or the amount of pleasure everyone seems to derive from just how ridiculous I look. Three decades ago I recall the award-winning author as having a particularly cutting sense of humour even before he was an award-winning author. He broke the ice by taking the piss out of me, for a joke, and it was so funny that I couldn't help but appreciate the craft involved, and it seems that he has not changed in this respect.

Human dustbin, exclaims a relative I have met just once, I love it! It's a jocular punch on the arm at the end of a drunken evening, well-intentioned but somehow misjudged coming from someone I don't actually know that well; and I really dislike being referred to as a human dustbin.

The award-winning author sends messages to make sure I realise that any acerbic comments on his part conceal no malice, and that the fact of our being back in touch represents one of the great wonders of the internet. He is really glad to know me and regrets his behaviour at college. I don't actually remember his behaviour at college, whatever it was.

My wife compliments the award-winning author's children again because she responds to anything which is cute. You must bring them to the States, she suggests, so I can mollycoddle them.

My children will never set foot in the United States, the award-winning author informs her as preamble to comments on US gun laws which are why his children will never set foot in the United States.

'I was complimenting his kids,' she later tells me, upset and bewildered. 'What did I do to deserve a lecture on gun laws?'

She unfollows the award-winning author on facebook, meaning that his status messages will no longer appear in her feed.

Finally, I post a photograph of a stray kitten found in our garden. I post the photograph because the kitten is cute. The photograph shows myself holding the kitten, my face down-turned as I look at the tiny creature. It's not a great photograph of me, and I don't consider myself particularly photogenic.

The award-winning author shares this view. I so need to photoshop the cat out of the pics and a caption: The bells! The bells!, he writes, the implication being that I resemble the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I chuckle and roll my eyes because it's true. It's not a great picture of me. I know it.

Unsure as to whether I've quite grasped the full import of his joke, the award-winning author makes a copy of the photograph, for a joke, and alters it using photoshop so that I appear to be cradling a human brain rather than a kitten, for a joke. He tags me so that when posted, the photograph appears on my facebook page with the caption Master, I have the brain!, now implying that I resemble Ygor, the lumpy servant of Victor Frankenstein in the Universal horror movies, for a joke, I suppose just in case I hadn't quite understood the initial Hunchback of Notre Dame reference, for a joke. It pisses me off a little, which is I suppose part of the joke.

The relative who described me as a human dustbin, for a joke chips in with oohh my brain hurts!!, for a joke, and I can't help notice that despite all we might hypothetically seem to have in common and all which we might discuss, he mostly responds to photographs in which I look ridiculous, for a joke.

Let he who remains photogenic past the age of fifty cast the first photoshopped stone, I comment, hoping to communicate that I don't really enjoy having comedy antlers stuck to my head whilst being set to dance upon a heated metal plate. The award-winning author points out that some of us haven't been photogenic since the age of five, which makes it okay because I'm just some grumpy cunt with no sense of humour.

Then people I've never even met, friends of the award-winning author, take to chipping in with contributions of their own. Well done, Ygor, one of them remarks, for a joke, showing us that he gets the reference by more or less just repeating the initial joke, for a joke.

I don't really enjoy people I don't know having a laugh at my expense in this way, and I am so upset that I am unable to sleep at night. It throws me out for the rest of the week.

I unfollow the award-winning author on facebook. I no longer want to think about him or his award-winning novels.

That same week I find one of them in a branch of Half-Price. It's one I haven't read, and I guess one I will probably never read. I've now read four of his, and he never even mentioned the eBook version of Against Nature I sent him back in 2013.

Fuck him.

*: Excepting Sherlock, these are mostly pairings plucked from the internet as representative of a general trend, and their being referenced in this rant should not necessarily be considered reflective of the literary merits of the works in which they feature which, for all I know, may well be fucking amazing.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Drinking Until You Can't Stand Whilst Stuffing Your Face

It is April and Fiesta has come around once again, Fiesta being the week long festival commemorating the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto back in 1836. I've now done most of the significant Fiesta events - the river parade and that weird thing in the theatre with the kids of assorted local billionaires wearing capes made out of diamonds. The only event I am still to attend is called a Night in Old San Antonio, so that's the one we're doing this year.

I like to pace myself, not being a huge fan of crowds and all.

Old San Antonio here sounds like a term of endearment but refers to the old part of San Antonio located at the heart of the city, a village's worth of narrow streets of stone houses on the bank of the San Antonio river, just a short walk from Mission San Antonio de Valero, the building historically known as the Alamo. It's not quite the sort of thing you expect to find in America, or at least it wasn't quite the sort of thing I expected to find in America because it looks too old for something built by people who weren't native; but then I'm forgetting that we used to be Mexico.

A Night in Old San Antonio is actually four nights and mostly seems to be about drinking until you can't stand whilst stuffing your face. This is probably why I've left it until last as I've never really regarded either pursuit as a justifiable end in itself, at least not to the extent which is apparently customary for the festival.

We drive into the centre of town, myself and my wife, pay much more than normal to park, and then queue for admission to a section of the city into which we would simply be able to wander at any other time of year. It's all been corralled off, the old town, turned into a fairground with the majority emphasis on drinking until you can't stand whilst stuffing your face. We queue for about fifteen minutes and then the gates open. We already have tickets so we get wristbands advertising the fact. Most of the old houses are stores and their associated workshops during the day, mostly artisan stuff, people making things for tourists, but generally quite nice things, I suppose. We don't really have any equivalent of the plastic bobby's helmet so far as I'm aware. Most of the old buildings are closed up now because it's early evening, excepting those serving as either eating or drinking places. One road is lined with small scale fairground stuff, stalls in which you throw things in order to win underwhelming prizes, but otherwise it's food and booze.

We enter a Germanic tent, acknowledging the significant Texan presence of settlers from old Deutschland. There is an oompah band, and men in lederhosen and frauleins drinking from biersteins until they can't stand whilst stuffing their faces with bratwurst and schnitzel and all of that good stuff. We have something to eat and sit for a short while, pacing ourselves - basically saving room for tacos.

We rejoin the crowds and shuffle along the narrow streets, eventually finding ourselves in a sort of Gaelic appendix, a few stone steps off the main track leading down to the river where three verdantly attired persons play Irish music, one of them banging a spoon against a bodhran. Everyone wears green and clover-based imagery is in abundance. They're drinking the Guiness, in all in all in all, until they can't stand whilst stuffing their faces with potatoes, so they are. I'm beginning to feel uncomfortable because I know actual Irish people and I feel like I've stumbled into the equivalent of the Black and White Minstrel Show.

We're quite near some Irish-themed pub. I can't remember what the place is called but it's surely only a little way further along the riverwalk. There's a menu outside from which my wife and myself read out the names of self-consciously Irish sounding drinks to each other until the prospect of a refreshing pint of Black & Tan stunned me into silence. I knew the term only as the nickname of the notoriously brutal Royal Irish Constabulary Special Reserve, which is probably through my having had grandparents of vaguely Northern Irish heritage. I never realised that the Black & Tan was also an unrelated drink, so it initially struck me as kind of stupid and tasteless, like something with which you would wash down that delicious Sinn Féin pizza with a side of H-Block fries; and a top o' the mornin' to you too, pardner.

Having had our fill of the Emerald Isle, we visit one of the few shops which is still open. The place is run by Marisol Deluna, a friend of my wife. Marisol designs textiles, makes clothes, and is apparently quite a big deal in her field. I can see why, because the clothes and the fabrics look classy even to me; but the woman herself is in New York right now so we don't get to see her.

We wander further, and I have a drink to pass the time, which isn't so enjoyable as it should be. Drinking at events such as this tends to be more enjoyable if you're already drunk, in my experience. We watch people drinking until they can't stand whilst stuffing their faces. We have some tacos filled with beef cooked right there before us on massive grills big enough to accommodate several humans should the need arise, although thankfully it doesn't. The air is full of smoke, which is not unusual for San Antonio, and there is a live band playing in a sort of courtyard. They're very energetic, but unfortunately they're playing hits from Grease, Beatles numbers and that sort of thing. The crowd seem to like it, and I suppose the band are good at what they do.

The taco is stuffed with peppers and onions and I have to tip my head backwards to form a chute in order to eat it, which isn't very dignified but I don't suppose it matters. Three little girls are performing Call Me Maybe by Katy Perry at a karaoke booth on the corner of the street lined with all the fairground attractions. We watch them for a minute mainly because they're obviously having serious fun singing the song, and will remember this moment for a long time to come; and it's better than watching persons even older and fatter than I am singing You're the One That I Want. Then Bess throws a few foam balls at wooden boards in which holes have been cut, failing to win any of the prizes on offer; and we go home because we've already covered the ground twice and feel we've had all the fun there is to be had.

A couple of mornings later we watch the Pooch Parade, a less formal Fiesta event held in the suburbs. Everyone with a dog comes along and walks a set route for a couple of hours, and about half of the dogs are dressed as Batman, or Barack Obama, or some other public figure. This is the fourth Pooch Parade we've attended in the same number of years, and it's always fun. My personal favourite is the sausage dog who usuallys comes as the Red Baron in a scarf and occasionally with flying goggles, pulled along in a cart customised so as to resemble a blood red German triplane of the 1920s; but for some reason he's not here this year.

Maybe next time.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Country Club

It will be the kid's thirteenth birthday on Monday, by which point he will be away for a week at some sort of subaquatic summer camp, so he's celebrating now, it being the weekend. We've picked up his friend Tommy, and the two of them will spend the day doing kid stuff, eating pizza, and frequently addressing each other as either dude or bro'. The kid stuff is mostly beyond me, it bearing no resemblance to anything I would have done at that age. It involves iPads, memes, and YouTube celebrities - which are people who post amateur videos of themselves talking about Pokémon cards online. I don't really understand this generation, but it's probably no different to my parents' generation failing to understand mine.

Andrea expressed some concern about the present which Tommy gave our boy for his birthday, hoping it didn't seem too weird or lacking in thought. The present is a stick, one so large you might justifiably refer to it as a staff. Tommy found it on the land at the back of his house, stripped away all the bark, then sanded and treated it with oil; and it will no doubt come in handy should Junior ever encounter a surly giant whilst crossing a mediaeval brook.

We said not to worry. At Christmas the boy asked for a fly swatter and a broom. He asked for a broom presumably because I'd stopped him taking our broom into his room with him on the grounds of it being a broom rather than a toy. I wouldn't have minded had he been using it to sweep some of the crap from his floor, but it was serving as an armature by which to idly hit and swipe at remote objects whilst playing games on his iPad, or possibly just watching complete strangers discuss Pokémon cards. This hitting or rhythmically tapping at things seems to be one of his tics. I put my foot down with the broom when he somehow managed to smash the frosted glass shade of the ceiling light in his room.

'How did it happen?' I asked with near infinite patience.

'I have no clue,' he dutifully reported with typical excess of gravity, apparently having missed the point of that whole story about George Washington and the cherry tree.

I suppose the positive thing to take from all this is that the virtual world of iPads and games and YouTube has left him in a much less fraught relationship with material possessions than most kids of my own generation. I suppose it's a good thing. I have a suspicion that it actually isn't, but I can't quite put my finger on why.

Anyway, it's five in the afternoon, so the Texas heat has slackened off a little and we're taking them swimming. Tommy has a tiny hand-held waterproof camera the size of an asthma inhaler and he is making a short film.

'We're going to the pool,' he announces to his audience from the rear seat of our car.

'We're going to the Country Club,' Junior corrects him, quite unnecessarily seeing as the pool is located at the Country Club and that's why we're going there.

Byron - the boy's father - is a member of the Country Club, and so we are granted access by association. Country Clubs seem to be a relatively common thing over here, generally places in which Americans at the upper end of the economic scale hang out, swim in the pool, play golf, get drunk at the bar, smoke cigars and talk about money. I suspect you probably have to know the right people in order to be nominated for membership, specifically a better class of person - as I've overheard at least one overfinanced plastic surgery addict put it. Accordingly it's mostly us white folks, and I can't quite shake the feeling that any moment I will be rumbled as a Communist and escorted from the premises.

Bess and I find seats in the shade, and the boys dive into the pool. We've signed some book or other, so we have a right to be here, and a waiter asks if we require drinks. We say no, because it will all go on Byron's tab, which somehow doesn't seem entirely fair. Neither of us wish to appear like freeloaders.

We watch the boys and eavesdrop on the conversation of San Antonio's elite, the people from an area unofficially known as the bubble in reference to how little interaction they have with the rest of reality. They talk about money, trucks, and the prestige of certain schools. The funny thing is that these people really do consider themselves an upper echelon, a better class of person; but being from England I have encountered yer actual upper classes, and this bunch are really just regular assholes with far too much money and values based on never having to ask or to apologise for anything. The other funny thing is that they just love me as soon as they hear the accent, presuming we'll have things in common because I grew up in Downton Abbey, and the bubble is really the same kind of deal but with Mexican gardeners. I've also had people asking me if I make my own fish and chips, as though it's some sort of ancestral tradition like the Māoris with their tattoos. So I tend to keep my mouth closed because it's less exhausting.

The boys take it in turns to dive from the diving board, alternating with some other kids, one of whom embellishes each leap with spectacularly ornate somersaults. Our team sticks to diving, swimming, then out of the pool and onto the board again, over and over; until Tommy breaks the pattern to hand Bess his camera.

'Do you think it's okay?'

She casts a dubious look at the tiny slot in which one inserts the SIM card - or whatever that thing is. The cover is open and the camera won't turn off no matter how often the button is depressed. Also it feels quite hot in the hand.

'They're supposed to be waterproof, aren't they?' I ask.


'Why is it so hot?'

I imagine a battery shorting, overheating, leading to an explosion which removes the Country Club from the map of San Antonio, but logically I know this can't happen. If the thing is waterproof, then it really should be fine.

'Leave it with me,' Bess suggests, and the diving resumes. 'Andrea will go crazy if this thing is broken.'

'How much was it?'

'I don't know - couple of hundred dollars?'

We sigh, because there's nothing to be done. The boys switch to table football at the side of the pool, and we listen to and identify a succession of hits of the eighties - Madonna, the Eurythmics, Haircut 100, and others. They're all English records too, which strikes me as particularly weird, and I wonder if this generation will grow up hating these artists as much as I hated Herman's Hermits and Freddie & the Dreamers. We briefly discuss what cult religion Madonna is currently subscribed to, because we can't remember.

Another half hour passes and we go to Florio's for pizza, and the boys spend the rest of the evening doing kid stuff, eating the aforementioned pizza, and frequently addressing each other as either dude or bro'.

The camera turns out to be fine, and Tommy uploads a minute long edited clip of himself and Junior swimming to YouTube.

We're going to the Country Club, our boy announces, and my wife shudders at how privileged he sounds. The words slide out of his mouth as though setting some drooling serf right about the correct order in which cutlery is to be laid out on a table - not even superior, just delivering a correction from a position of implicit authority.

I shrug, because that's how he always sounds to me. I guess I've just got used to it, and it's not really his fault.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Born in the USA

Bess and I are standing in line at Mi Casa Tamales. The tickets are already paid for but we need to get wrist bands. We also need to get cash, she tells me, so as to pay for food and drink.

'There's an ATM right there,' I say, indicating the line running adjacent to ours. The venue has anticipated our requirements.

Our eyes go the front of the line, expecting to see a free standing cash dispenser with persons tapping away at the keypad, but there's just the sign - ATM in magic marker on a square of cardboard stapled to a broom handle with a woman sat at the table right next to it. She resembles Dale Dickey who played Patty the Daytime Hooker in My Name is Earl. She is taking debit cards and swiping them through a reader plugged into a tablet, then dispensing dollar bills from a tin cash box at her side. I recall that ATM stands for Automated Teller Machine.

'I guess it's just a TM,' I tell my wife.

'Really it's just a T, when you think about it,' she corrects me.

The event is called Born in the USA, and those in front of us now receive the dayglo paper wristbands which grant admission.

'I wasn't born in the USA,' I say. 'Do you think they'll let me in?'

'Sure they will.'

'Maybe I should have brought my birth certificate,' I mumble, immediately realising that it would serve only to confirm my not having been born in the USA.

Mi Casa Tamales, which Google describes as a boisterous Mexican bar and grill, known for homemade tamales, plus regular live music performances, is three acres of woodland on the right as you head out of San Antonio towards Boerne. The first few times I passed the place I assumed it to be some kind of adventure playground, having noticed swings and slides amongst the trees behind the wood fence next to the highway; then one day we went there to eat. The food was decent, but the main attraction was it being a place in which the kid could run wild and hopefully wear himself out; otherwise it was just outdoor dining, and outdoor dining really isn't that much of a treat in Texas. There's the heat to consider, and the insects you tend to encounter in proximity to woodland, and so it lacks the novelty of English equivalents wherein cold and rain confine the al fresco diner to somewhere with a roof and heating for eleven months of the year. Anyway, tonight it's Born in the USA which is more than just outdoor dining, and we have our wristbands so in we go.

Jana bought the tickets and she will be at table fifty-one.

The place is filling up, and people in clothes resembling parts of the American flag wander amongst the trees and picnic tables. We find table fifty-one inhabited by some woman who patently isn't Jana. She seems embarrassed and duly moves to the next table along, so we take our seats.

I've joked about my social life being confined to either facebook, a telephone connection, or the local supermarket, but it isn't strictly true. I socialise with my wife on a regular basis. We get on quite well together, which is why we got married in the first place. Occasionally I also socialise with Andrea, whom my wife knows from work. Andrea has a wonderfully dry sense of humour, entertains no strange or esoteric beliefs that I'm aware of, and is always good company; and she is additionally friends with Jana, whom I don't really know at all, but who wields a slightly darker version of that same dry sense of humour.

These are the sort of people I tend to get on with - not so much those sat by the stage chuckling at the funny man in his big red shoes, but those stood at the back trying to work out whether or not this is really the worst thing we've ever seen. The four of us occasionally meet around Andrea's house to play cards whilst combining our respective children into a single gibbering, game-fixated organism fuelled on pizza and Big Red; and although I've never been a huge fan of card games, it's always fun with this group; and before we proceed any further, I feel I should stress that neither the term socialise nor card game serve as euphemisms for anything Joyce Grenfell would have categorised as beastly. I'm afraid none of us are that interesting.

Like I say, Born in the USA is not just outdoor dining. There is also a live band and food trucks have been brought in to accommodate the attendant increase in numbers. The band are called the Spazmatics. Jana wanted to see them, and has treated the rest of us to tickets because she didn't want to go on her own.

I look around, noticing a covered stage set up at the far side of the field. I can also see someone vaping - if that's what it's called - puffing big white clouds of smoke from something resembling a novelty ballpoint pen, but no-one is actually smoking proper fags even though we're outside. Either cigarettes really are on the way out, or smoking might be forbidden despite our being outside, although I can see no signs to this effect.

'So where's Jana?'

Bess inspects her phone. 'She's already here. Maybe she's getting something to eat.'

Jana appears with a marguerita in a plastic glass just as a group of teenage girls noisily occupy the next table, joining the woman we have just ousted from our own - presumably somebody's mother. The girls are seventeen or eighteen, nearly all of them wearing way too much make-up and denim dungarees cut short. They're all bare skin and smiles and they wear large badges identifying themselves as tasty tart or material girl or major tease. The noise is shrill and deafening, and the bridal veil worn by one of the group indicates that this is a hen night.

'Jesus Christ,' I say out loud, half hoping to cause offense. 'It's like twelve Miley Cyruses.'

I've been in a bit of a strange mood all day, unsettled or just plain shell-shocked or something. The first news I heard when I woke this morning was that my country of origin has decided it wants to be 1930 when it grows up, but without the part about growing up if at all possible. I've spent most of the day trying and failing to get my head around this and what it could mean. I've been living in Texas on a green card for the past five years, and now it's beginning to seem like going for full citizenship might not be such a terrible idea.

Also, I've been smoking. I gave up years ago, but have since found myself driven to smoke in times of unusual stress, then stopping once I'm done without experiencing any further cravings. I've smoked several times since giving up, with years passing between each pouch of hand-rolling tobacco, and here I am again. I had to buy the tobacco at a head shop, a place on Austin Highway which also sells bongs shaped like skulls as well as esoteric pornography, because rolling tobacco is not readily available here and I've never liked regular cigarettes. I'm not even sure that smoking helps, but it feels as though it does, somehow - and at least I no longer have the additional worry of ending up hooked once again; because I actually quite like the fact of my having stopped smoking, generally speaking.

Andrea has arrived and joins us at our table, but the twelve Miley Cyruses - possibly Miley Cyri in the plural form - all fiddling with their phones and screeching ohmahgeeerrrddd every few seconds are doing my cake in.

'I'm just nipping off for a fag,' I explain, understanding full well that the word has a different meaning here but not really feeling like making a concession to the regional variation. One of the Miley Cyruses is explaining what she was all like and how this resulted in her friend being all like something else. They resemble animated Bratz dolls. Not only do they make me feel old, but they make me feel glad to be old.

I wander off into the crowd, drifting towards the stage as I roll myself a cigarette. I notice security guards hanging around, chubby with the inevitable shades like we're at an Erik Estrada theme park. I'm aware that the practice of hand-rolling is probably more closely associated with marijuana than regular ciggies in these parts, so I maintain some distance whilst remaining purposefully conspicuous so they can tell that I'm not trying to hide anything.

Smoking allows you to see yourself in cinematic terms. There you are in the doorway. It's pissing with rain and you spark up as the music swells. Life may well have given you a short, sharp kick in the nadgers, but you're smoking a fag and everything will get better from this point on, just like in the films. It's a major reason why people smoke, but they never tell you that in the warnings on television, focusing instead on the cancer and all the money you've been flushing down the toilet  these past few years - even though it's unlikely that you would have otherwise spent that money on anything worth having.

I wander to the front of the stage and notice the instruments which have been set up - guitar, bass, drums, a bank of keyboards and several microphones. For a moment I actually wonder if the Spazmatics might be some kind of Plasmatics tribute act, maybe even a distant descendent. The Plasmatics had some great songs once you looked past the television sets being blown up or chainsawed in half on stage, and I remember there was that guy Spazz Attack, the one with the mohican; so given Wendy O. Williams having shuffled off this mortal coil, that must be it; and then I remember that Spazz Attack was some dancer who used to be in Toni Basil videos. I'm thinking of Richie Stotts, and the Plasmatics probably aren't going to sell out a field in south Texas thirty years down the line.

I've looked at the Spazmatics facebook page: four people, all of whom look like the same guy, all pulling the wacky face. They have goofy teeth and nerdy glasses. One wears a neck brace, and another keeps his mullet wig in check with a sweatband. They look like a comedy act, one of those trying-too-hard enterprises which has to tell you that it's funny just so you know.

If you liked The Big Bang Theory, you're gonna love these guys! They're called the Spazmatics, as in spastics! Ha ha!

But it's a night out and a new thing, and it's not pissy lager and turdy indie crap in some shitty south London toilet followed by a terrifying ride home on the night bus, and I'm here for the company rather than the music - whatever it is.

I rejoin the gals, and we play cards. Andrea happens to have a deck with her, one which I suspect she probably carries in case of emergencies. We play crazy eights, one of those games where the object is to get rid of all your cards, and if unable to go, you have to keep picking up more cards from the deck until you can. The band kick off just as we get going, four guys resembling characters from Revenge of the Nerds playing a faithful version of Kenny Loggins' Footloose. 'They play eighties songs,' Jana informs me, and they play them very well. The sound is great and the crowd are going nuts.

We keep on playing crazy eights as the Miley Cyruses get to twerking, or whatever that arse in the air dance is called. I suspect I will soon see one of the cowboys bellowing awesome as he pours beer over himself, or if not beer then Miller Lite or something of that type. The Spazmatics play Just Can't Get Enough, Take On Me, You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Summer of '69, I Love Rock 'n' Roll - all of the hits faithfully recreated before our very ears. At one stage they play a version of Whip It, and it really sounds like Devo, but still I find it difficult to lose myself in the moment.

Bess and I go to get margueritas, discovering that the bar does indeed accept payment by card after all, and as we return to our table, we pause for a photograph with our faces poking through the cut-out heads of Uncle and Auntie Sam because this is still Born in the USA. The name comes from a Bruce Springsteen album, and it seems to have been chosen for this event mainly because it has USA in the title - which is as good a theme as any - and they saved money in photoshopping the date and venue onto the existing record cover. Springsteen's Born in the USA isn't a particularly patriotic number, but I don't suppose it matters. Everyone is drunk and full of tacos, and we all know the words to all of the songs, and we've dressed in stars and stripes just because it makes us happy. There's no other reason. One guy is wearing a Trump t-shirt, but he seems a bit out of place.

We start up another game, and I admit to myself that I'm beginning to hate the music because I'm tired; but I get the impression that Jana and Andrea are enjoying it so I say nothing because I don't want to be the miserable fucker pissing on everyone's chips. It's loud enough to justify the earplugs I'm now really glad I slipped into my pocket before we left. It's competent and well done for what it is, but it still feels like we're at the wedding of somebody we don't like very much, or the world's most unnecessarily complicated karaoke evening. Gaps between songs are filled with lame banter and jokes playing on the nerdish appearance of the band, and audience members receive birthday dedications heralded by a sample from In Da Club by 50 Cent - go shortie, it's your birthday, with the offending fuck inanely bleeped out as though the censorship is itself worth a snigger. Then they play a terrifyingly convincing version of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir, and it begins to feel like something has gone wrong with the fundamental structure of reality.

We're on our fourth or fifth round of crazy eights. Thus far no-one has had to pick more than five or six cards from the deck before they're back in the game, but as the Spazmatics go into Bohemian Rhapsody, Jana just keeps taking those cards, a bitter smile on her face. 'I hereby rename this game Shitto,' she grimaces, and takes cards until the deck is gone. I laugh more than I've laughed all day, and realise that against all odds I've had a good evening. The music hasn't been entirely to my liking, but we've played some great Shitto.