It was just an ordinary night out with a good friend until we decided to visit an old haunt for nostalgia reasons. A trip down memory lane to an establishment which, for reasons that will become apparent later should you decide to persevere with this narrative, shall remain nameless. I had been to a formal black tie evening earlier and was dressed in a dinner suit, although I had now removed the bow tie. My friend was dressed smart and casually as you do for a Saturday night beer.
It was midnight when we made the decision to visit a club we had not been to for over ten years. That’s the point of trips down memory lane. To revisit and see what has changed, if anything, and bring back the feel good moments that we have stored in the mind having completely blotted out all the crap nights we probably spent there too. The first thing that had changed was the security. On the approach to the club the pavement was strewn with an array of metal barricades set out in that ridiculous way that you find in post offices where they decide to filter you around the room in a snake like manner instead of letting you take a direct walk straight to the counter. Another form of crowd control that we accept, I guess, just like religion. Anyway, the pavement was set up in the aforementioned post office style queue control method, although the general imagery was that of preparation for a riot rather than an inviting entrance to a desirable establishment where a convivial evening was to be had. Stationed at various points along the circuitous metal walkway were a number of bouncers dressed in what appeared to be riot gear topped with fluorescent jackets, headphones clamped to their ears and radios crackling importantly on their shoulders. Each of these guardians of the metal walkway were just under seven feet tall, the same width as the pavement and sporting commando haircuts, although ‘haircut’ is perhaps a fatuous term since none of them actually had any hair.
Our first direct encounter with one of the walkway beasts was when we were stopped and told it was a ‘mixed night’.
‘A mixed night,’ I said, more out of trying to comprehend the term rather than actually asking what a mixed night might be. Helpfully, the bouncer’s method of explaining what he meant by a mixed night was to repeat the phrase saying, ‘Yeah, a mixed night.’
I had visions of men, women, aliens and animals all turning up for this innovative mixed night.
‘Do you mean that we should be with women, or something,’ I said by way of trying to get an explanation.
‘Yeah, women,’ was the response. It was clear we were not with any women and this was just another barrier, to support the physical metal ones, designed for making entry into this establishment more difficult than the Twelve Labours of Hercules. At the moment he said it I spotted a group of girls negotiating the complex security system in the distance, led by a young lady in heels that could only be designed to aerate a lawn, a dress that was just about keeping her neck warm, purple hair and enough dark makeup to make Cruella De Vil envious.
‘Err...that’s my wife,’ I said, optimistically pointing out the lead lady.
‘Are you with a party?’ the bouncer responded as he tried to come to terms in his head with the possibility that the guy in the dinner suit in front of him could possibly be in some sort of matrimonial relationship with the girl from a science fiction movie walking towards him. Fortunately my friend had the presence of mind to say that we were with a party and they were already inside.
‘You got any ID?’ the bouncer asked.
ID? ID, I thought. Why would he ask us for ID? Was it not apparent that both of us were not far short of 107 years old for god’s sake?’
The bouncer saw the quizzical look on my face. ‘A passport or something like that with your picture on it,’ he said to clarify matters.
Who brings a passport with them to go for a beer on a Saturday night in suburbia? I thought passports were for allowing you to get on aircraft and fly off to some exotic overseas destination. Not for allowing you entry into Club Guantanamo. I fumbled in my wallet and was relieved to find my driving licence. It had now become a test to beat the system, hence my relief at being able to find the licence and match the next test. He looked at my picture for several seconds.
‘That’s not you, is it? He said.
Of course it’s bloody well me, I thought. Who were you expecting to see? Did you think I’d be carrying Muhammad Ali’s driving licence with me? I know that we often make a split second decision to have a formal photo done in one of those station booths and we don’t always look our best, and I know on the day in question that I had had a stressful day at work and it was pleuting down with rain as I ran to the booth, but you didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to see that the picture did bear a passing resemblance to the owner of the licence.
In jest I replied, ‘Of course it’s not me,’ and that seemed to appeal to his sense of humour. He turned to my friend who did not have a driving licence with him nor, oddly enough, a passport but was holding out a credit card to identify himself.
‘It needs you picture on it mate,’ the bouncer said, a look of self-satisfaction appearing on his face at the realisation that he may have found a legitimate reason for preventing entry. My friend pointed out that if he flipped the card over he would see it did indeed have his picture on it. It was one of those gold plated credit cards for which you would normally need two police motorcycle outriders accompanying you, to be allowed to take it out in public. From a Swiss account, that required it to have a photo, my friend could have actually bought the whole building that we were trying to get into, such was the card's credit limit. It was no lightweight ID.
‘It doesn’t have your address on it, ’ was the next impediment to our passing go, ‘I will have to check with my boss.’
Of course it doesn’t have his address on it, I thought, otherwise Neanderthals like you would be straight round there looting the place. As we stood awaiting the decision from on high as to whether we would be ‘lucky’ enough to be deigned entry into this salubrious establishment, it crossed my mind to pack up and go home. Who needs the aggravation? Just as I was about to make the suggestion we were given the green light by the ‘boss’ to proceed to the next round.
On we went, around a corner of the building, to encounter the next stage of entry. An airport style security scanner complete with trays in which to put all your personal belongings, was positioned straight ahead of us and manned by two more flak jacketed, florescent coated bouncers. My wallet, phone, coins and everything else I had in my pockets had to go into a tray and I walked through. Inevitably something, it could have been the cuff links on my shirt, set off the detector and I was frisked down, criminal style, by one of the wannabe militia. I had nothing to declare nor had my friend and eventually we were allowed through to the front door of the club. After a tortuous screening process we had made it to the point of a trip down memory lane. Entry cost us £8 each when in reality we should have been given £8 each, in compensation for being treated like terrorists.
Inside much was the same. The same carpet after ten years and the same lay out. What was different was that beer was now served in plastic bottles, presumably so that my friend and I could not smash each other to a pulp should the contents of the bottle interfere with the normal hardwiring of our brains and we, uncharacteristically, suddenly developed a propensity for extreme violence. The clientele was different too. The average age was now somewhere just over twelve or so it seemed. It wasn’t that they all looked young but just that they all behaved as if they had just got out of primary school after a tough first day sampling acid. The women were dressed as if they had run out of cash on a shopping trip and could not quite afford the whole outfit. That is not normally a complaint from a bloke but it was clear that some of these ‘ladies’ should wear a lot more clothing, just to avoid some of us suffering post-traumatic stress after being exposed to such visual discomfort. The general standard, which at one time, given its original varied and mixed age group, had been easy on the eye, had now slipped to several degrees below ogre level.
Once we had managed to negotiate a bar melee several bodies deep from end to end and walk away with our plastic bottles, my friend and I decided to find a quieter location in the bar and stick to it. I wasn’t quite prepared for how literally that intention would play out. After several minutes I realised I could not move my feet. I attempted to lift my right foot and then my left and quickly became aware that, as I did so, the carpet was rising with them. Over the years the club had, unwittingly through a combination of spillage and body fluids, invented a very powerful form of adhesive that, if they can only realise its potential, will enable them to shut the place down and enter a new market selling industrial super glue. With some effort I managed to unstick myself from the carpet, with the realisation that I would at some point need to have both my shoes resoled since I could now feel the floor with my socks. I placed my plastic bottle on the bar, beckoned to my friend and we headed for the exit.
Sometimes curiosity makes you go back but sometimes going back should just be in the mind!