WEDNESDAY 30 JULY 2003
WHAT HAPPENED@THE RUSSIAN BAR
Well, Justin was back in town so it was time to go out. I put my hair
in plaits and the pink skirt on and the new record by T.Raumschimere in
the ears, which starts off sounding like Peaches but gets messier and
scarier, with nastier guitars in the mix and doom-laden descending synth
basslines with a glam stomp to them that makes you want to bob your head
on the bus and shove your chin out and mop your head from side to side.
'I don't think much of the experimental beat cinema, Stephen', I
texted under the table from the big church/bar on the Hackney Road. On
screen, early 60's-era drag queens applied lipstick and jiggled each other's
testicles and I found my thoughts drifting away and eventually I got out
my book and looked at that instead.
We were sat outside when Justin came bounding up. Frances was in the combat
jacket she'd borrowed off her boyfriend, with her little pipe-cleaner
legs sticking out underneath wrapped in dark denim drainpipes and lace-up
shoes, fretting that she couldn't go to Shoreditch because she'd look
like 'one of them.' Evamaria had gone inside to look at the church with
no club in it, and to sing quietly like I had, to hear the pretty acoustics
rather than the customary douf-douf-douf-douf of the bass.
'It's Justin!' I said to Frances as he approached, waving. He raised both
his hands in a double bent-elbow hello, grinning. It's always nice to
see Justin; his smile creases up his face and he nods his head when he
We go to Kick, the four of us, and sweat over the babyfoot tables, clicking
it in. Evamaria's Euro-hands beat my complacent ass - not literally, those
days are long behind me - 5-4, and I am embarrassed, sulky, and slightly
pleased, like a child chastened by her favourite, Daddy, not boring old
It's another hot July Friday night. The fans circle impotently in the
air and sweat slides down the small of my back as I play. After I've been
beaten I touch my fingers to my hairline and feel it warm and damp. I
search in my bag for a flyer or some notepaper to use as a fan. I pick
ice-cubes from my drink and press them against my throat. We are going
to get drunk as skunks, me and Justin, and we are going to go to Mother
bar. I had quoted to Frances what I wrote about Mother bar - if you
want something to happen, and you don't even know what it is, you end
up at Mother. After the stories of the previous week, kissing the
girl, the mayhem, falling off the bike, big bump head, Justin wanted to
see Mother too, that dreadful dire trashy tarty whorehellhole Mother,
and I was ready, for summer and Mother meld like Pimms and lemonade. We
put Evamaria on the bus and Frances on her bike, and said goodbye.
'Aw, lookit queue. You still wanna go in?'
'Isn't that the queue for the 333?'
'No, it's for Mother… oh fuck, it's midnight. That's why.'
'Let's go somewhere else.'
'Ok. I do know somewhere. I've never been in, but my ex-boyfriend used
to go there. It's called The Russian Bar. Shall we?'
The Russian Bar has a wolf on the sign and it glows. I take the doorhandle
firmly in fist and pull it open and step in. There are burly scarymen
on my right, with polo shirts, sausage arms, and shaven heads. They glitter
with gold jewellery, emphasising the fat fingers and boorish necks. In
front of me, a bar, old-style, heavy wood, pub-like: to my right, plastic
tables like in a prison visiting room or at church camp. The noise hits
at the same time, juddering trance music; at the back of the room, raised
slightly, a neon-drenched dancefloor, with a whirling light that pours
rainbow colours across the floor and all over the heads of the dancers.
The dancers all seem to wear white tops - lycra for the ladies, tucked-in
shirts for the men, who wiggle their belted hips with an abandon apparently
unfamiliar to the English male. The white stars on my red wristband shine
in the blacklight as I turn to give Justin a tiny, discreet, non-attention-drawing
high five. We are in scuzzy, trashy, deeply unfashionable drinking den
The drinks are cheap and we follow pints with chasers. I will
get drunk tonight. I want to feel it, that doors-opening veils-slipping
loucheness. I nearly retch when I attempt to emulate Justin's graceful
onehanded one-swallow swig of the shot, though the bison-grass vodka is
sweet and mild. As I put my glass down I notice that the pretty Japanese
girl to my left has collapsed on the lap of her boyfriend. They are trying
to talk to her but she will not respond.
'I wonder if she'll be sick', I yell at Justin over the cheezy big beat
music that is now playing. I tell him the story of the people we had met
at the pub the other weekend, a dyed blonde woman with orange-tinted shades
and large, pink shoulders, and her labourer boyfriend. 'Hey', I'd overheard
her say to him, 'are you going to be sick? Oh - you are being sick.' I'd
peeped round and labourer guy was vomiting beer downwards through the
slats in the table onto the ground. Five minutes later they were kissing
with tongues. I had giggled and tried not to retch.
I looked at the about-to-be-sick girl again and then I told Justin the
story about when I saw a stranger get his cock out in the Dragon Bar,
and then he told me about all the raves he went to in the country when
he was 14 and then about all the pills he'd caned the previous weekend
in Oxford and the hideousness of his subsequent comedown, and by the time
the stories were finished, the Japanese girl was sitting back up, and
we were the ones slumping down.
'I HAVEN'T DANCED SINCE MAY 16TH!' I yelled at him over the noise as he
came back with two more vodka shots. (Actually,
that wasn't true: I had danced a mere two weeks before, embarrassingly
so, to dancehall music, but I was drunk so it didn't count, and I'd forgotten.)
Now it was Mr Timberlake playing and we were both wiggling and chairdancing
but not quite ready to go for it.
'Yeah? I haven't danced for a year!' he replied, sitting down.
'A YEAR?' I said, wiggling my ribcage, bopping my shoulders.
'I'm in an indie band! I don't dance!'
'That sucks dude! Let's go.' Two quick swallows, two clumped-down empty
shot glasses, and we were off towards the dancefloor.
We are grinning. I dance all around him and then I dance all around a
cheezy Russian man with a beer-belly straining against his smart white
shirt and a showy swivelling magic in his hips. Then a slow song comes
on, and I lean against the wall and light a cigarette.
'AMP.' He leans across to me. 'AMP, you have to dance to this!'
I puzzle up my brow. 'Dude. I don't do slow songs. I can't. Jake told
me I can't. I'm crap and I try to lead and I feel weird pressing up all
close to someone.'
'C'mon' he implores. 'I'll show you how.'
On the dancefloor, I make myself go soft and limp. He slides one hand
behind my back and the other hand in my hand, and our bodies go close
together, and we sort of rest our chins on each other's shoulders, like
horses looking over barn doors. My right foot is touching his and his
left foot is touching mine and I am letting him guide me with his hands
and with his feet; and our bodies are lightly touching all the way up
our fronts. Then he extends our held hands and I am twisting around under
the bridge of our hands and then back again and then I'm wrapping my hand
around his hot back again.
I like this. It's rude, and soft, and warm, and dreamy. I like the fact
that in an instant, under the guise of the 'slow song', we have suddenly
jumped several bases of closeness, but under the aegis of the slowdance,
so it's all at once proper and dangerous. It's a bundle of contradictions
and unexpected juxtapositions; my hand feeling the narrow span of his
back, the way the spine dips between the muscles on either side. I'm not
sure where to put my chin. I move my head so my hair is out the way and
our cheeks can press together. It's nice to be quiescent, to let someone
else tell your body exactly what to do, and we move in slow circles, faintly
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