April 2002, and a bullet list of where I was at, was
– Staying temporarily in my sister’s spare room
– Nearly broke, having spent almost all my savings on a six month doss around Thailand.
Unlike my previous arrival in Bath, where I had soon found somewhere to work- at a mortgage brokers; and somewhere to live- in a crack house, this trying to return to Bath after six months away was proving problematic. Testing the waters of the job market, things were tepid at best.
Instead of just falling into something, I was being offered scraps of temporary work on zero hour contracts, something which is apparently very much a feature of British life these days.
These jobs had included
– Transferring one of Future Publishing‘s many magazines about PCs onto the internet, cutting and pasting article after article, pic by pic: we eventually ran out of back issues
– Sanitarium Kitchen Porter: I thought the guy was being a bit patronising
– Insurance Company Mail Room Assistant: the regular guy came back
– Freelance Travel Writer: the company it was for pulled the plug on the whole project the day I submitted my first article
– Casual Labourer: which was very infrequent
All in all, it wasn’t going anywhere, really.
My sister’s insistence that “I really love you but you need to move out soon because you’re starting to piss me off” was fair enough.
The agency who were getting me most of these gigs were super positive that something would come through and to hold tight. My recruiter was a young woman called Kirstie, who had a warm and flirtatious manner, together with a seeming glee in throwing anything and everything at me.
“You’re one of our star temps, Rick,” Kirstie said. “And I believe in you.”
– – –
What I believed that April day was that in a way it was a good thing I had no work to go to as it was my birthday, but also rather a pisser that no work meant no income.
Despite this, I had unenthusiastically suggested a meal at an Italian restaurant and twelve or so people had agreed to come.
So I was sat having a quick beer or two at The Porter before the meal, when there was a knocking and waving at the window. It was the beaming face of Teardrop Lee (named because of his facial tattoo), his features curiously twisted in the warped, old panes.
He rushed into the pub- a mad and noisy entrance in which he theatrically gurned before spitting out the joke teeth he was wearing. Following a few “Hello, mate!” salutations, delivered at frightening volume, he then put on a pair of joke glasses- the ones with eyeballs on springs- which boinged and bounced to maximum comic effect.
“Oh, hi Lee,” I said. “How’s it going?”
I told him it was my birthday. At that, he took it up a notch by ordering four whiskies, four pints and two shots for us to share, before bundling me into the toilets with a wrap of cocaine and an ecstasy tablet. When I got back he forced my mouth open and threw another tablet in. “For good measure.”
We hadn’t even reached the end of the booze when I began to feel decidedly fucked. Teardrop Lee had matched me in intake and was getting crazier by the minute.
For some reason, I then thought it would be a good idea to invite him along to the Thai restaurant, so we both staggered up the road to the meal together.
I was a bit late, to be honest, which is never a good thing to be in England.
My sister’s sour visage hove into view. My vision was being rapidly agitated by the pill- an experience known as chuckle vision- but still, it was definitely her. And she was definitely, thoroughly pissed off with me.
Eleven other people- all friends who had wanted to come share my birthday with me in a low-key midweek kind of way, were sat round the table. They had been waiting for me before ordering.
And (quick tense change here) even though I know these are people who like me very much, I’m not picking up on any of that love right now. Quite the opposite.
I go to take my seat when my sister hisses at me “And what time do you call this?” but I don’t reach it before Teardrop Lee makes his entrance.
Topping even his bravura performance at the Porter earlier, this time he simply sails in with a flying kick down the stairs leading to the table, which is in a lower section to the entrance. He’s whooping as he does this.
There is the most almighty crash as the table- which it turns out is only a cheap fold-up one beneath the posh tablecloth- collapses completely, smashing on peoples’ knees and with all the glasses, cutlery, plates and condiments going flying.
There is a shocked silence throughout the restaurant as Lee manages to pick himself up- a silence so complete that even the furthest table hears his stage-whispered instruction to me to “Go and snort a fat line of this coke in the toilets. I’ll deal with this.”
I could swear I heard shouting as I was doing so, and indeed I could.
When I staggered out again, my sister was screaming at Lee that he was a fucking wanker and what the fuck did he think he was doing.
“Sorry, I went a bit too far that time,” Lee was saying. He put in his false teeth and he put on his boingy eyes but nobody was having it.
I thought I could make the situation calmer by wading in with “Hey, hey! It’s my birthday and Lee’s my guest!” which my sister took very badly, exploding in the kind of rage-fuelled response she is periodically capable of.
It is a response that means it is time to move out.
Her anger unabated, we managed to sit around a hastily replaced table. My menu came.
Lee wandered off to the bar and ordered a drink. “Nah, couldn’t eat a thing,” he slurred. “Far too fucked.”
I looked at the menu which had no appeal for me either.
“Do you know, I think I’ll just have a drink at the bar as well,” I said.
This caused a bigger uproar, as those who had been quiet up until now suddenly rounded on me.
“Fucking hell mate, it’s just totally out of order. You keep us waiting for half an hour and you turn up in that state. What the fuck are you thinking?”
Looking around the restaurant to see if there were any supportive faces at all- there were none- I noticed the couple on the next table from ours for the first time. But when I looked over, I realised that they had been glaring at me for some time.
Sat in a stunned silence of spilt soy sauce was Kirstie from the recruitment agency, together with a man who looked very much like a client.
There was some kind of paperwork on their table- a contract, perhaps, now sadly splashed with splats of something from when Lee had broken the table.
Kirstie spoke. I had nothing.
“Having a nice birthday are we, Richard?” she asked, coldly.
– – –
The next morning, I was on the eight o’clock train to London, unsure of anything very much beyond the following:
– I had two-thousand pounds in the world
– I had a room with friends in a place called Wandsworth for one month only
– I had never been to Wandsworth before
– I had never been in London that much before
– I could be making either a very good or very bad move here
– Or it could, of course, just be mediocre.
In the event, it was mainly mediocre.
But that is another story and shall be told another time.