This is the story I told on Tuesday night for Effed Up, a new twisted spoken word and cabaret night in Manchester. I told a tale of bagpipes, bananas, and East Oxford.
Dan the Computer Man
I used to live in East Oxford. For me, it was a loved-up hippie place, the sort of area where you can pretend that it’s still the 1960s. On Friday nights we smoked home-grown pot of variable strengths in a day-glo, trompe-l’oiel decorated house. There were techno fairy tales on the walls, garish colours and raised surfaces illuminated by UV light. Then we’d get naked in the garden, sit in the hot tub, and chat shit with a bunch of strangers who became magical night-time friends.
Free love, crotchet, funky graffiti on the Cowley Road. Cool, man.
It’s everything that Chorlton-Cum-Hardy wants to be.
It was Valentines Day, 2005. I had decided to take my sorry, single arse out to the Inflatable Love Fest curated by local act Inflatable Buddha, the world’s first, finest, and only folk-punk-skiffle-cabaret band. Held at a place lovingly known as The X – closed due to a lack of adherence to PRS licensing, allegedly – it was a cheap night out. And hey, hippie nerdy boys with long hair and desperation in their eyes were sure to be there.
Being a skint intern at the time, and a vegan light-weight, I became slightly inebriated. Well, OK, a bit drunk. Nah, make that majorly pissed. I leaned against the bar with a pint of the cheapest lager and nodded along to the support acts. The support featured East Oxford staple entertainment: poetry, song, interpretive dance, and bagpipes.
Then, there he was. Heading over to me. Pint in one hand, Tesco carrier bag in the other. Floppy hair. Glasses. Perfect.
Having had a dry period – no pun intended – I could have had a pointless one night stand. Could have.
He was called Dan (already a bad sign, the Big Ex shared his name), he was a computer programmer (back away slowly) and had a fag dangling from a slightly slack mouth, in what he probably thought was a tribute to Hollywood. (I don’t smoke, so already in my head there was a Jennie B-shaped hole in the wall and the word “zoom” written in a bright yellow cartoon bubble in my wake).
You don’t know me. But know this: back then, and even now, I’m not used to being chatted up. I need a big neon sign with flashy lights over the chatting-up-ee so I actually know. Although when Dan the computer man said,
“So, will you come back with me then?”
I got the picture.
And yes, this was the first thing he said to me.
To be fair, I should have been pleased at the lack of hair grabbing and being dragged back to his East Oxford cave (replete with joss sticks, Bob Marley posters and tie-dye I’m sure).
We yelled at each other over the dulcet sound of a bagpipe in full crescendo. If you’ve never heard bagpipes in full crescendo then imagine the sound of a million cats being squeezed. It’s a little bit like that. The conversation went a little like this:
Dan Computer Man – So, will you come back with me then?
Me – Er, no?
Dan – Come back to mine
Me – Not tonight. Maybe we can swap numbers.
Dan – Swap bananas?
Me – What?
At this juncture, he pulled a banana out of the Tesco bag and gave it to me.
Me – No. Although that’s pretty funny. Your phone number?
There was a brief interlude that followed that I think involved more beer, a loo break, and Inflatable Buddha taking up the mic. Dan got a bit more persistent at this point:
Dan – Come back to mine. We don’t have to do anything.
Me – No. My housemate’s away and I have to look after her cats. I have responsibilities. Oo oo oo I’m going to bounce to this next song. Come dance!
Here I pogoed drunkly to Inflatable Buddha’s great hit Fat Sex. Dan danced in a crap, robotic way next to me. At this point, I knew that this relationship was gonna go nowhere. In my world, if a guy’s got no rhythm then there’s gonna be no sexy-time fun for me.
“I want to go,” he whined, “come back with me.”
“Not tonight. I have to go back and look after cats.”
“I have two cats.”
“Woo-to-the-hoo,” I thought.
“Cool.” I said.
He stopped bouncing and I put my arm around him to listen closely to what he had to say next. Honest, it wasn’t just because I was about to fall over in a drunken heap of patchwork skirt.
“You know, we can cuddle. You’re so sweet. I’ve slept with ex girlfriends in my bed before. You are cuddly.”
“Erm, look, not tonight. Besides, I don’t really know you. I’m not saying that this has to be a closed chapter*. We can swap numbers and maybe meet up again”
* Who says when drunk “this has be a closed chapter”, this is LIFE not Dawson’s Creek. I blame the IPA.
Anyway, at this point he got really quite pissy.
“Huh. Yeah. You’ve got ‘responsibilities’ and you’re with ‘friends’. Come back with me.”
“No. I don’t know you.”
“Oh OK. I guess I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah. Bye.” I said. And carried on dancing.
He instantly stopped his crap robotic dancing, lifted the Tesco bag to his chest like it needed his protection, or as if it were a shield for him to step out into the mean Oxford night and fight off drunken rich students, and stomped out of the pub.
The next day I woke up with a flaming Krakatoa in my head and a cat that had thrown up chicken liver on my feet. I wish that I could say that in the morning it had all been a dream. I wish that I could have said, and then I woke up with a phone number penned on my hand and hope pinned in my heart. But I didn’t.
I did, however, still have that banana.