I can’t say that I’ve ever found myself in a gay pub drinking sambuca with a mate and a random girl from Stoke, but that’s what I found myself doing last night. And that was just part of an eventful day…
Hyde Park is our destination, for the Hard Rock Calling festival featuring The Killers and The Kooks. Five of us have taken the day off and we’re heading down to Kings Cross on the train for a few drinks beforehand. It’s 11:30am, and it doesn’t take long before we start the footy chat before moving on to, inevitably, Michael Jackson. I’m still shocked about last night’s news – one of those “I remember where I was when…” moments, which we duly relay where we were when we first heard. Whatever you may think about him, there’s not been many bigger icons in my lifetime, and his music will live on forever.
We go to O’Neill’s after a short walk from the station; a favourite starting point for us when we go to the capital. A burger and a few beers later, we leave and head up to Euston to catch a bus towards Marble Arch. After disembarking and getting a little disoriented despite sat-nav on my mate’s iPhone, (hint: if in doubt, listen to the female in the party for direction) we eventually arrive within sight of Marble Arch. Way too early, though, to go in to the park, so we have a drink at the nearest decent-looking place. A bit crowded, but ok to grab a drink and go outside. One quick pit stop later, and we’re off to the festival.
Hey, this looks pretty good. Near enough to the stage to see the performers and easily the big screen, close to the toilets and food, and not a million miles away from the beer tent. Cool. We set up camp. A work colleague of my mate turns up and joins us, and soon he is off to get a double round in. Sweet! The dark clouds that promised to wreck the day and turn me into a standing waterfall seem to have passed, and the hot sun hits my neck. The first trip to the loos isn’t too bad – plastic urinals in the open air after a short wait. I glance over at the huge queue for the ladies and smile to myself. I wonder if anyone will ever make anything socially acceptable that can be used by women so that they can pee in public as quickly and as efficiently as men?
Here come The Kooks. To be honest, I only know one or two of their songs. I also only know about three of The Killers’s tunes. Actually, what am I doing here anyway? Just here for the craic, I suppose. Lots of singing and hand-waving commence as I try to get into the music.
The main event – The Killers. When they launch into Human from the start, Si – a big fan – goes virtually mental. It’s one of the three I know, but have always felt it’s pretty lame. Still, it and the band do sound good live. Not sure about the singing behind me, though. As the sky darkens, the lights shine even brighter and the crowd really come alive. We’re all waiting for Mr Brightside, and I daren’t move from here despite my bladder bearing bursting point again. We don’t have to wait long.
“I just can’t look…it’s killing me” thousands scream out, including me. This is proper!
“…open up your eagle eyes…” I sing completely out of tune. As the words tumble awkwardly out of my mouth, I realise that I somehow always sing “eagle” instead of “eager”. (Something to with Action Man, methinks.)
The rest of the set involves more songs that I don’t know and copious amounts of in-unision hand-waving from the crowd in front of the stage. A truly impressive sight, but not knowing the tunes has rather dulled the experience for me. I go off to grab some fish and chips. Soon, it’s all over, and there’s nothing left apart from a field of green plastic bottles and groups of fans not wanting to leave.
I’m now walking around the streets looking for a bar with my friend, Mike, and a girl who stood near near us at the festival that took a shine to him. One of our group has gone AWOL, and the couple have said their goodbyes and headed home. Not wanting to go just yet, I decided to stick with Mike in his search for the girl. We soon find her.
“I’m from Stoke! I’ve never been to London before! Let’s go have a drink!”
After wandering around some residential areas, we eventually find the same bar we went to earlier, so we go in.
“Sambuca! Let’s have sambuca!” she says. Mmmmm, not my tipple of choice, but not wanting to appear even more of a gooseberry, I surrender and down the fiery liquid. The place is packed, and we stand, with pints,in the middle, before a strange woman comes up to me and whispers something I don’t quite hear.
“Sorry?” I say, a bit bemused.
“I said – do you like older men?”
The bemusement continues.
“Look around you – it’s a gay pub.”
What? But we were in here earlier? She’s obviously wrong. Isn’t she? For some reason, she’s on a mission to save me, and she takes my arm and leads me further up the pub. I scan the room.
Apart from us, every single person in here is a) male and b) older. Not only am I a gooseberry, but I am standing in a gay pub jam-packed with old men, any one whom may try and make up the numbers. I could almost hear the Blue Oyster theme in my head. Whilst I have no problem with other people’s sexual choices, let’s just say I prefer the surroundings to be a little more…female. I break the news to the only mixed-sexed couple in the place and we leave like wedding guests who’ve just realised that the sandwiches they’re eating are in fact for someone’s wake.
Laughing, we tumble out into the street. Another hopeless wander ends in us jumping into a taxi and heading for somewhere a bit more lively. We end up queing outside O’Neill’s, this time in Soho. I’m feeling ok, and we quickly get to the front. My friend and the lively raven-haired girl from Stoke lead the way.
“Sorry, mate. You can’t come in.” the bouncer says, using his arm to block my way to the entrance. I look up from my wallet, brow furrowed. “You’re too drunk. Go and have some food, sober up a little, walk around and then come back in 20 minutes.”
You have got to be kidding! Me, too drunk? Ok, I’m not sober, but I haven’t even stumbled! I’ve not even done one of my classic “ghouls”! I’m so not drunk, that I’m even sensible enough not to argue with him. Resigned, I move away from the queue, Mike and the Stoke girl coming back with me. We search again for somewhere suitable, but Mike then gives me a quick look that says “Why don’t you make like a tree?” Ah. Ok. Yes, it’s probably best. I say goodbye and leave them to it, after he points me in the direction of the nearest tube station.
I’m now sitting on the train with a chocolate muffin and bottle of water. I’d just wanted the water, but the muffins called to me to be rescued from captivity. Who I was I do deny them their freedom? The train pulls away and I tuck into gooey chocciness. I’m tired, and this is the train will go on the different line, stopping at every single little town, village and hut along the way. Time for a snooze, methinks. Don’t wan’t to oversleep, though. Must set my alarm. Comfy seat…want my bed…Zzzzzzz
“This train is for…”
I jump awake. Where are we? I hear the beeps as the doors shut. I look out as somewhere familar starts to scroll by. That. Looks. Like…oh s*%t! That’s my home station! I meant to get out there! If I’d been more awake, I would have probably thought stupid thoughts such as jumping out the window or pulling the stop cord, but instead I resigned myself to getting a taxi back from the next town. Good job I’ve some money left.
The taxi driver is unsympathetic to my plight, and says it’ll cost me £30 to get home. What am I gonna do? I just want to get home and it’s half two already. We set off as I watch the meter. At £30, I’m still not home. The driver kindly asks if I need to go to the cash machine. I can hear the ker-ching in his brain. I decline, but decide to jump out early before the meter reaches crazy money. Finally, after a £39 taxi journey and a short uphill walk I arrive home.
Things may not always work out the way you want them, but you live and learn!