The easily offended should look away. The following is from another age.
In 1984, I was 23, an account man at McCormick Publicis in the Edgeware Road and – evidently – under the influence of Hunter S Thompson. Six of us took a train from London to Bristol. It seemed prudent to join our Allied Breweries client at the Lager Festival. This was handwritten in the days afterwards. The change, 35 years on, is that it’s typed. (One or two spellings corrected too.)
The six McCormick’s people are now, sadly, reduced to five. Chris Ward died much too young on 7th July, 2019. Mike Brugman, Pete Watkins, Andrew Hawkins, Mark Harvey and I remain in the same pools syndicate, a 35-year-old triumph of optimism over experience. The photos date from back then.
S M A L L B E G I N N I N G S
We weren’t out of the building before the craziness began to take hold. We stepped out into the overcast morning and it hit us like a warm blanket: the day had all the promise of a hot belter – you know the kind – that only mad dogs and advertising men venture out into; raw, crazed and manic.
We walked purposefully. Or, at least, fairly purposefully, towards the taxi rank, Brugman drawing on his cigarette and looking warily at the rest of us. Mad Mike was known to burn on a short fuse and a couple of Stellas and we weren’t sure of his mood – so we forced ourselves to make interested comments about Greasa’s slacks, creased after a frenzied drive in the B.M. at breakneck speed down the Holiday Inn ramp.
The heat was building, but if any of us had known the terrors that awaited us, there’s little doubt we’d have stayed.
But we forced the pace and took cabs for the station. The drivers gave us that we-don’t-like-your-kind look and took us several extra blocks to raise the fare. What the hell; we had money – other people’s money – and adrenalin to burn.
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,” murmured Waz. It was a phrase that was to burn itself into our minds, torturing the innermost chambers of hell that we chose to call intelligence during the alcohol-soaked hours that were to follow.
“Possibly,” croaked Harvey, moving uneasily through the crowd in some pretty suspect deck shoes.
T H E T E R R I B L E T R A I N R I D E
We made for the diner car and took up stations: Brugman on the trash can, Greasa blocking the door. Watkins was screaming already, and you could sense trouble in the air as the other passengers stared fixedly at the sports pages as they waited in line. Highbrow, low profile Hawkeye took time out to look trapped and helpless, but deep down we all knew he was rotten to the core like the rest of us.
As we started to roll, Watkins forced Guinness and bacon sandwiches on us. When some half-arsed, crazy, gibbering dingbat demands such things, there’s no refusal. Down, slowly, and then less slowly, it went; like warm carb-grease and blotting paper. An assault like that makes you and your digestion nervous, and the country didn’t help. We were city boys, cruising out to the big, blue, lager-filled yonder and jumpy at the wide open space and sunlight. All except Harvo, who stays in some weird commune down south, but despite his bourgeois efforts to keep us hip, things got tense. The swearing quota was up, and we were underway. A run into the unknown.
The empties were piling up and we had a scrapyard on our hands when Brugman started his fit.
“The time,” he screamed. “Fuck. Nine o’clock. Oh my god.” We shifted to give him space to stretch out in hapless panic. Five half-cut executives are no match for a crazy Stella drinker when he’s missed an appointment. We never found out what it was, this assignation in a remote office somewhere, but the mood was scary now. You could tell, as the party began filing repeatedly into the john, sometimes two at a time.
A T R I P O N S C R U M P Y
We shunted in Parkway – or it may have been Templemeads – before we knew it, and were all set to continue our run to the outer reaches of Wales and the crazed land of the Celt, until Watkins shrieked, “We’re here, we’re here.”
“Fuck,” said somebody, and we agreed, piling out into the sunlight. We were pretty high on bacon sandwiches by that time, myself more than most. I’d won the spoof for the last lethal dose of grease and pork, and forced it down under the coal red gaze of my partners. The going was getting pretty weird, but we certainly hadn’t turned pro.
“Scrumpy,” announced Greasa, “scrumpy,” and leapt, well, fell into a cab and we followed, a demonic chase across this unknown land.
We arrived at some dark bar up in the hills, glad to be out of the sun and watchful for lawmen. However, no dice, so we turned out attention to lethal draughts of bitter apple balmy broth to stew out psyches. We were bad news, and the bartender looked wary, as we checked out the joint, ordered food and came face-to-face with the pirate.
The pirate’s face hung in heavy red folds, raw and windblown, and his unseeing eyes, messed by scrumpy, refused to take us in.
“He’s got a dog,” hissed Greasa.
“I can’t see the dog, I can’t see the dog,” moaned Hawkeye.
“That’s because you’re drunk,” soothed Harvo.
The conversation, you could tell, was hotting up to be a corker, encapsulating the burning issues that beset us, the freewheeling people. A man came in with “Death Before Employment” tattooed on his arm, and we cracked, howling like dogs, at the truth.
It was at that point that the killer bats appeared.
A F L Y E R T O T H E B R I D G E A N D T H E G R E A T D E C E P T I O N
With the arrival of the bats, food in our stomachs (a nasty experience with huge, rock-sized peas, savage green and mushy with it) and itchy feet, we set off for the canyon and the high bridge.
Some bridge. I was glad we’d kept away from the Wild Turkey on the way down. A few gulps of the golden brew and we all might have jumped. As it was, there was some strange behaviour on the trek over there. Watkins should be doing time for my attempted rape, while Brugman wilfully tortured my damaged psychological balance by withholding my left luggage locker key. I was going mad and it was a tough assignment to avoid running, slobbering, to a call box when I saw the Samaritan’s phone number on the bridge posts as we walked out over the abyss.
A 2p toll is small payment for a quick suicide, and we stared over the edge, hoping to catch sight of a decaying student or possibly Masius account man in the mud, hundreds of feet below. But no, only a dirty barge, and rows of traffic like mindless skunk ants, crawling along the riverside freeway. We threw money and our respect over the side, reduced to spitting into the hot air, trying to placate the gods of the river and our indigestion, suffering the heat in a half mad trance. We knew the big one was building up.
It was quiet. Too quiet for us, and with a desire for some uptown, lager-induced excitement, we searched for a cab in the hot wilderness of the hills. After that, I became dazed. I seem to remember Hawkeye and I staggering in the vanguard, whimpering quietly to ourselves, when we suddenly heard the triumphant cackle of our companions alongside us, taxi-bound for the festival. They were leaving us to fry in the living hell of Clifton, a steaming jungle of Queen Anne terraces and shopping arcades.
We stood, dumbstruck, in wonderment at the depths to which our colleagues had sunk. Leering from the cab windows, poor, selfish fools, they cruised out of sight.
“Bastards,” said Hawkeye.
D I V I D E D W E F A L L
We trudged hot and heavy of foot through the maze of dusty streets in search of a leak and a telephone, throats like a dry gulch; we hadn’t had a drink for twenty minutes. Things were bad, and the sky was still full of killer bats. I peed in a garage. Hawkeye gabbled in a phone box and then, like some angel, a streamline b/w taxi (tel: 24001) swept us away from our torture.
We headed for the festival and a chance to rupture the ‘A’ team.
M I N D B L O W N O R G Y O N T H E W A T E R F R O N T
We waved our passes at the stewards and forced entry to the festival. The so-called ‘A-Team’ were clustered in the doorway, having failed to push home the advantage and make it any further. Watkins was hysterical by this stage, handling his Castlemaine like a conductor’s baton and mumbling about his ‘firm’ as entered (by himself) on his pass: Fox and Gynaecologist – Pub.
It takes all sorts. I looked, in vain, for a valium stand for him. Greasa was on some gravity trip, talking sense, and it looked as though Harvo was still with us, though it’s hard to tell these things.
We moved in en masse to the body of the show, hellbent on self destruction. The crowd seemed composed of great red-faced dingbats with huge teeth, swaying on their feet, sickeningly unsteady. We were all at screaming point, ready to kick and kick hard, besides forcing lashings of foreign lager down, as an antidote to the seething hordes of depraved humanity.
“Free Beck’s,” yelled Brugman.
“Beck’s is innocent.” I could sense my humour was running dry.
At some point we hit the Mexican beer and the tacos and, after that, it didn’t matter any more. We were over the great divide, oblivious to the crowd, swaying to the calypso band and tearful. Maybe the chilli, maybe the Allsopps, who knows.
We even met the client, who appeared like a dull but cuddly wallaby out of the misty horizon. “Fucking damn cunt, yeah,” said Hawkeye, amiably, and we traded conversation for a while.
But we had gone over the edge, out on a flyer, and survived. Brains like glorious putty. We stayed cool. We hung loose. We admitted nothing. We were fucked, basically.
T H E D E M I S E O F T H E A – T E A M
And then we started coming down. Hawkeye and I had made friends with the enemy, and clutching 24-packs for the journey, stumbled out with our man to the cab. Somehow, in the daze, Hawkeye remembered key issues like career moves and ordered another cab. So the A-Team, by now confused and hapless, made the same train. We all knew we had to flee the curse of Bristol, a lake lager torment way out west.
A rift occured on the early ride, as we retired to our corners to snort bacon sandwiches and muse over St Pauli’s. We were coming out of it, or so we thought, but the most horrible phase was yet to come.
Suddenly, it hit.
Gresa and Brugman made it to the seats, fighting their way through the bats, to fade. Greasa slept fitfully, dreaming of blasting away at those in power, while Mad Mike crashed out after weeks of sleepless nights and Winstons.
Trouble brewed elsewhere. “We’re professionals, we’re professionals,” shrieked Watkins, stumbling about on the beer soaked floor. “The weird turn pro. Oh my god,” he wailed.
Harvo, Hawkeye, the enemy and I played frisbee with Greasa’s record, while Waz continued suffering from some inner torment, crying, slobbering, walking into doors. It was a heavy scene. The barman shut up shop and the public stayed away.
Sometime ’round Chippenham, Watkins lost out on spoof again and mooned out of the window. “Again, again,” screamed Hawkeye. “You must show your testicles.”
It was awful. Once sane men reduced to a rabble of deranged and giant turkeys. From life in the fast lane to a mind blow out on the hard shoulder.
R E C O N C I L I A T I O N A N D S E P A R A T E W A Y S
Slowly we slid into Paddington and hit the platform like plasticine men. Friends again, but still out on the wire with alcohol.
Brugman headed for home and slept.
Watkins went to some weird party and remained mute.
Harvo lost himself, and wandered around the Edgeware Road trying to remember who he was.
After some more Swans, Greasa disappeared in South London, never to be seen again.
Hawkeye, scattering chairs and cans, caught a taxi, touched home base and then made that great telephone call to God.
And me? I went off to drink London Pride with some nervous types, to muse how we had set out, that fine summer’s day, to achieve the ultimate, and came home winners…
In memory of Chris ‘Greasa’ Ward who, with Audrey Lewis, gave me my first proper job. With love and thanks.