A New Years Tale

New Years Eve 1985I have told various episodes of this one New Years Eve several times to several of my friends and once in a while to a whole bunch of complete strangers. A great buddy of mine said I should write it down and tell the whole sordid story in one go.

I don’t mind trying to do that but, as for reasons that will become excruciatingly clear further on in this narrative, it was evening that took my very old and dear friend Tim, a couple of weeks to piece together …… and we were there! So I have resolved to tell the tale as best I can remember. Tim and I met when we were fifteen years old; we basically grew up side by side and knew each other inside out. So I am gong to use some artistic license with the dialogue because I know, although it would be a complete fabrication to say I can remember the individual conversations, we spent so much time with each other I’m pretty damn close.

It was the last days of nineteen hundred and eighty-five. Tim and I had come to be living in West Berlin by a series of excellent adventures and a liberal sprinkling of fate. We learnt to play guitar together and that in turn built a very strong musical bond between the pair of us and we, even if I say so myself, had become pretty fucking good. It had always been a dream of ours that we would one day be rock stars and live the life that was surely intended for us. I should point out that when we met it nineteen hundred and seventy-five. In Great Britain these were dark days, a vicious undercurrent of social change was there behind the curtains, so close you could almost make out its shape. Tim and I were caught between the decline of our heroes, Dylan, Young, the Beatles and Stones and the rise of the antisepsis of this. We liked both but our heads were full of peace and love. Joy to the world, if you wish. We plain and simple wanted to be famous. Don’t think that just because we followed a pseudo ‘hippy’ ideal that we did not want a fast car, private jet, mansion and unlimited access to any form chemical that would stimulate our ever-expanding minds. We played in clubs in North London and despite the changing musical climate were well received. To our young minds we were on our way until I decided to go on a two week holiday to Frejus, in the south of France, with a couple of mutual friends. Tim couldn’t come with us, as he was finishing school. This two-week holiday ended up being close on two years as I got caught up in the romance of being a free spirited traveling musician. I busked my way all around Europe to finally finish up in West Berlin for the first time.
Where, I got married, separated and realized that even though I may have imagined myself a ‘man’ of the world I was still a naïve boy of twenty who didn’t see that marrying an illegal alien ten years older than myself would result in a British passport for her and a world of hormonal devastation for me. I fled back to France where after much soul searching saw a vision of Tim and I once again trying to musically conquer the world. I hitchhiked back from Avignon non-stop and arrived at Tim’s front door, full of plans and enthusiasm. He open the door and instead of the look of glee and the phrase ‘I’ll go and get my guitar’ it was a visage of confusion and regret.
“Hey Tim, you must have finished school by now. Shall we make some plans?” says I, all full of selfish ideals with no thought as to how other peoples lives had developed.
“Iain, I’m going to Australia for a year, ……tomorrow!” With my dreams crushed and my future now empty of mansions and stardom, the best response I could come up with was,
“Oh.”

Ten Months passed and I turned twenty-one, I came into a small inheritance from grandmother for getting to that age. I had made several small forays back to Europe in the intervening time, still unable to lose the traveling bug. Tim and I remained close friends writing letters, completely unintelligible to anyone else, (as my sister could attest), a least once a month. We had a way of communicating that was a mixture of Monty Python, Hunter Thompson and Charles Dickens. I figured from Tim’s letters he would be in the new world colonies for at least another three months, so using my sudden wealth I bought a stand by ticket to San Francisco. On the day that I was scheduled to leave, well if you have done me the honor of reading this far, you already may have guessed, I get a phone call from Tim.
“I’ll be back in the UK next week!”
“I’m going to America …….today!”
“Oh.”

Well, five months passed and after having a whale of a time in the States I returned home. I met up with Tim, who by now had enrolled in a teacher-training course, but neither of us was too disappointed. We had grown a little older, perhaps wiser would be pushing it, but still we held onto our teenage dream of rock stardom. Coincidentally, and with no collusion, we had also discovered a concept previously inconceivable to two modern day nomads. We were going to ‘Make A Plan’.
Tim had three months left in his course. I tried, in vain, to persuade him that book learning wasn’t a prerequisite for rock music, but I agreed if he wanted to finish his ‘education’, that would give us time to ‘plan’. I took the first real job I had had since leaving school, and we both got a night job collecting empty glasses at the Kentish Town Forum. Our plan was to leave the day after his final exam, May 8th, (a brief digression, this was a wildly funny date for Tim and myself to be leaving for Germany. If you wish to find out why, look it up.), and arrive in West Berlin on August 16th, Tim’s birthday. With our ‘earnings’ from ‘working’ we had the money to buy a second hand 1978 British Leyland Sherpa van, which with no discussion at all, we promptly named, Gough. We outfitted it ourselves, and although quite cramped, we knew that we could co-exist in its confines without too many trivial disagreements.
The day came and we were off to become rock and roll gods. What a time we had crossing Europe. Just about every day brought a new adventure of some kind. We were writing songs, and on more than one occasion a club owner would hear us busking on the street and offer us an evening at his club. It was in this time frame we discovered that it was perfectly acceptable to enter a bar or café, politely ask the owner if we could play three or four songs and pass the hat around. Soon, we were making a reasonable living. The only rent we had to pay was petrol. Eventually, and on the appointed day, we arrived in West Berlin.
It took us surprisingly little time to become fairly established and we were riding a wave of creativity and good fortune. We had lucked into an apartment, eight or nine regular house gigs, and thirty or forty bars/cafes that would allow us to play for tips. There was café Dada; for which we spent three hours looking for until we asked a bartender where it was and he replied, you are in it. Indignantly we said this place is called Café Orfhause, he said “That’s Dada”. Café Voltaire, a place run by the followers of Bhagavad-Gita, they kept relentlessly trying to convert us, until I believe it became somewhat of a joke for all of us. (By the way, in the eighties there were 32,000 bars and cafes in West Berlin. No, it wasn’t fun at all.)
So by December, we had our lives on track. We had even put together a five piece electric band that was starting to gain a modest crowd base. However, our main source of income, was Tim and myself. We called ourselves, “10 Miles from Barstow”. To find the inspiration for this, read the first page of Dr Thompson’s novel, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. Like I said, it was December and Tim and I, never ones to live within our means, needed a rather large influx of cash around the New Year. We had wanted to take the night off, but circumstances dictated otherwise. One of the bars we played in regularly, and actually was sponsoring the recording of our first record was a lovely place called, ‘The Flying Dutchman’. It was run by a lunatic ex-pat called Roland, it seemed his whole mission in life was to, a) get drunker than the last time he was drunk, and b) piss off his wife so much that she would leave him every two or three weeks. Unfortunately for Roland, it appeared his wife had much the same agenda. However, when they were not fighting, they really were splendid people to hang out with. We had hit it off with them the first time he hired us to play and we were no strangers to their dinner table. We decided to ask if we could play New Years there. Roland was most enthusiastic and offered us the diabolical sum of 600 Marks for five, forty minute sets starting at 4pm. This made our day. 600 marks was a lot of money for one show.
Feeling good, we went out that night a played a few more places until we got to the Bar Wansee. This place was not somewhere we played a lot, even though Karl, the owner was also an investor in our quest for world musical domination. It could be described as a bar with character. A place full of colourful patrons. It, however, was not a place to take someone on a first date. Karl was a friend of another owner, saw us play and invited us to grace the small stage at his establishment. Karl was not really a person you could easily refuse. He had an air of menace about him and we felt it would be better to accept his proposition. For some reason, Karl took us under his wing and we felt fairly safe, exposed but safe.
We asked permission to busk there that night; we played and made some money. Karl called us over to the bar as we were putting away our guitars and demanded we drink with him for a while. It was the normal passage of events here and one of the main reasons we always tried to play his bar as the last stop. We chatted for a bit and I remember Karl being a bit strange. It wasn’t until he finally asked us if we would play on New Years Eve that we realised he was nervous that we would say no, or have another show booked. Tim and I glanced at one another and before we could ask what time he had blurted out ‘600 marks 10 til 2.’ It would be tight but we could make it, so we said yes.
It might be time now to describe Tim. Tim had a gift for accents, he is the finest mimic I have ever met. During our evolution on our journey we had become a double act. I was definitely the more abrasive personality, setting Tim up for a non-sensical discussion that we could follow thorough to its completely pointless conclusion. Baffled would be the most common expression of anyone who caught us in a playful mood. Tim had developed this accent and cadence halfway between an Oxford don, a 1920’s old Etonian world traveler and Graham Chapman. He stood at 6’ 4”, black longish hair, his feet always shod in brown Testoni dress shoes, blue flared Levis, any shirt with vertical stripes, (the more colour the better), a formal dinner jacket complete with Fred Astaire type tails, all this topped of with a deer stalker hat. This may sound a bit ridiculous, but somehow Tim pulled it off and left others wondering whether they were under dressed.
He was always puffing on an Old Holborn roll-up; it always seemed perpetually in need of a light. This fragile cigarette was held in the fingers of the most enormous hands I have ever seen. One of Tim’s favourite exercises when we were in the grips of a psychedelic experience was to suddenly unfold his hand in front of my face. The thing would block out the sun. Unless your heart is in need of a restart, I would recommend that you take careful note of where Tim’s hands are at all times.

We arrived at the Flying Dutchman deftly refusing any form of alcohol from Roland. Tim and I had made a pact with each other after a couple of gigs that could have gone a lot better if we hadn’t been drunk when we started. Staying on the stage, remembering the songs, in fact remembering how to play our instruments…. that kind of stuff. Now, drinking in the second set, that was fine, as long as we got a little bit hammered while we were playing it was ok, and there were usually no devastating stoppages in the show.
The place began to fill up with early starters for the New Years festivities, but as West Berlin was licensed twenty-four hours, sometimes it was difficult to tell if a person was beginning or ending their evening at four pm. The Dutchman crowd was mainly comprised of British squaddies who weren’t looking for a fight. There were other bars for that. You tell which they were by how many MP jeeps were parked nearby. There were a few ex-pats, a smattering of Germans and very occasionally some American soldiers. The arrival of these guys, although peaceable, always created tension. We were right into the show from the get go. We felt good, the guitars felt like they were being played by one hand, the sound was great and it was one of those blessed occasions when I could stand to listen to my own voice. The crowd got into it almost straight away, yelling out requests and being patient to listen when we played one of our own compositions.
It was the end of the third set when we realised the pub was packed. Jammed, in fact. I should clarify, they hadn’t all come to see us. A few perhaps, but most were here to have fun and listen to live music. Anyone’s live music. I should also mention that the Dutchman was a vodka bar. Two 4’ by 6’ freezers full of every type of Russian and Polish vodka you could imagine. Our favourite was Moskovskaya, and the bar staff knew it. Although we had a big stein on the front of the stage for people to tip us if they wanted, it was tradition to buy the boys in the band a shot. They would tell the barman, and a waiter would deliver it on a small wooden tray called a ‘strasse’. Having only really played music and drank for over 6 months our tolerance had become very high. Not an admirable trait, but a trait all the same.
Roland had insisted we smoke a joint with him, so at the beginning of the fourth set we feeling pretty good. It was really about then, Tim and I agreed much later, that things were starting to go a tiny bit sideways. We made our way back to the stage and began to play the penultimate set. Tim turned to me in-between songs at one point and said,
“We best get a bit of a move on otherwise we’ll have no chance of dinner.” I agreed, not exactly comprehending what he was telling because I was in the grip of one swirling moments alcohol and weed produce and out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a beer bottle begin a downward arc. I was completely correct; the sound of the bottle shattering on a table full of beer glasses dampened the emotional ambience Tim had built up singing ‘Willin’.’. We paused ever so slightly and carried on. This was not unusual, small fights, heckling, all in a nights work. That is until the shouting started.
Now there was a combination of nationalities and jobs that you really did not want to see in a West Berlin bar; these are English, British soldiers, American soldiers, non-native Berliners and native Berliners. It’s a volatile mix, people who want to be there, people who were told to be there and don’t want to be, people who don’t have to be there and don’t want anyone else who isn’t German to be there and finally people who have no choice but to be there and wish everyone else would just shut the fuck up and drink.
“You muz played sumzing auf Deutsch!” Ah, it had begun. This was quite acceptable heckling and we had several glib responses, it was my turn to deal with it.
“You name a famous German song and we’ll play it.” There was laughter from various parts of the crowd. However the other, smaller part of the throng, was not laughing. In fact, one could almost sense the unrest from the stage. We had a secret weapon to calm situations like this. Tim, being the great mimic he was, had learned the German version of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. The Beatles had in fact recorded several of their songs in auf Deutsch as Christmas singles for the Teutonic members of their fan club. This was our last ditch effort to restore calm and goodwill. We played it and the crowd went wild. Everyone was singing along, in German and English. The rest of the show blazed past, money in the jar, vodka on the strasse and music in the air. We were having a real good time, no fumbling for songs, everything just fell into place. We played right through our break and it was only when Tim broke a string he happened to look at his watch.
“Iain, dear boy, we appear to be running a trifle late for our next engagement.” He told me the time and we both stood up and said our thank yous. It was at this point, upright I mean, that I realised how much I had had to drink. The ship, as it were, hit a trough and staggered to keep myself on the stage.
“Fucking hell Timbo, I’m a little bit tipsy.”
“Nonsense. If you were drunk, so would I be.” Tim proceeded to try and put his coat on inside out. He saw me looking at him,
“Common mistake, happens all the time. I’ll drive.” While this little conversation was happening, the crowd were still whooping and Roland had made his way, very unsteadily from behind the bar.
“Good god you fuckers, You’ve broken the record for most vodka drunk by a band.” He was grinning manically and holding up two empty bottles of Moskovskaya.
“Oh dear God”, I heard Tim mutter. Now this tally of alcoholic abuse was not confined to the sweet grain, it also included an unknown quantity of Czechoslovakian Budweiser. Our beer of the moment. This was no candy assed US product, this bottled ale was 6.5% by volume. I determined that we were in a great deal of trouble. We had to get across town, and then play another show. It was not looking good. Perhaps if the bar was next door, or even over the road, we could play reasonably well. But too much time was going to elapse, the potent infusion would soon start to run amuck in our bloodstream.
A brief digression: 1) Now this episode happened a long while ago. Now what transpired next is not cool, fun or right by any stretch of the imagination. But it happened. 2) I have noticed through the years that no matter how drunk or incapable one feels, your pal, who has been on the same journey as yourself, always looks infinitely more sober than you feel.
This is how I ended up in the back of Gough, to change the broken string, and Tim was up front in control of, well basically, a big blue three-ton missile. It took us longer than it should of to load our small amount of equipment into the back of the van. The sidewalk had become extremely unstable and required immense concentration to navigate its undulations. The back of Gough was decked out like a small bed-sit. It had one rather tatty armchair and carpet on the floor. Once inserted into the chair, it was very difficult to get out whilst moving. Like I said, Tim appeared less drunk than myself and had declared himself fit to pilot the motor vehicle. I had no reason to doubt him, having no available reason on which to base an objection. Tim was rolling a cigarette, which if I had been more cognisant I would have realised how much difficulty he was having with it. When it was finally ready for ignition it looked like it had been punched, all concertina like with strands of errant tobacco hanging out of the end. I watched him light it, adjust his deerstalker and grasp the wheel with both hands. He paused for a moment, then fumbled in his pocket, found the keys and started the engine. I then decided to change the string and leave my fate in Tim’s hands.
To coin a phrase, I was seeing round out of one eye and square out of the other, trying to feed a piece of steel .32mm in diameter into a hole just bigger than that, in the dark, was extremely problematic to say the least. I turned on the back interior light. Time yelped in surprise and I apologised. With more luck than judgment I finally succeeded and leant back in the chair. It was only then I looked over at Time for the first time since we left the Dutchman. He looked tense; the end of his cigarette glowed bright.
We didn’t seem to be moving very fast, in fact I would say, we were moving gingerly.
“Everything alright?” No answer came, so I asked a little louder.
“Tim, everything alright?” He flinched and let out a little yelp.
“Having a tiny navigation problem.” Just as the words had left his lips there was a thunderous KERR-TUNK. It sounded like the whole suspension had come adrift, Gough shook like we had been hit by a torpedo. I was so shocked my scream never made it out before a second KERR-TUNK. Gough shuddered once more,
“What the fuck is happening?” I shouted desperately trying to free myself from the clutches of the chair to be able to see over the front seats.
“Well old boy, I never actually got off the blasted sidewalk, thought I would be able to. No luck.” We had parked outside the backdoor of the Dutchman, which involved using the sidewalk.
“You mean we’ve been driving on the pavement all this time? Where the fuck are we now?”
“Good news, off the sidewalk. Although I fear we’re out of the proverbial frying pan and ….GET OUT OF THE WAY, you stupid woman, do you want to be killed?” Tim bellowed. I was still thrashing around trying to extricate myself.
“TIM! What is happening?”
“Well, we’re in the pedestrian precinct.” All was quiet for a moment. A terrible stillness enveloped the inside of the van. It was as if we were both having a moment of Zen reflection on the seriousness of the situation. This oasis of calm was shattered by Tim;
“Oh dear God.” Gough lurched violently sideways and then back on course, like we had been struck by a huge wave. I had by now managed to get into a kneeling position, I reached for the back of the passenger seat to pull myself upright after being toppled by Tim’s obvious evasive maneuver. I was completely terrified by what I saw through the windshield. It was New Years Eve, there were many people, all thinking they were safe from charging motor vehicles. They seemed to part in front of Gough, a look of stunned amazement and sometimes panic if we were on them too quickly. Tim was grimly scything through, without even saying a word, I knew it was the correct decision. To falter now and succumb to the Fear would be the end. The adrenalin in me was spent and the vodka once again wrapped its arms around my brain. I started to giggle. Tim started to giggle. The giggles were no longer happy with being giggles and burst forth into grown up peals of hysterical laughter. Then we both stopped, and as is the way with hysteria, and then laughed harder than before. I knew why, Tim and I were both thinking about the pedestrians staring at us. We were lit by the interior light which I had not turned off when I finished with the string replacement, Tim resplendent in his hat and roll up clamped between his teeth, myself with shoulder length curly hair and wild eyes topped with an Andy Capp flat hat, both laughing manically, in a big blue van, plowing through a pedestrian precinct. I knew that the threat of arrest was imminent. But there was nothing we could do except wait for an opening back to the street.
“So what do you think we ought to start with tonight?” I asked as casually as I could.
“You choose old man.” The van lurched again as Tim managed to miss a man who not looking out for us, “We haven’t played Helen Wheels for a bit.”
“I must admit, that would be very apt. Let’s do that. THERE, left” Tim saw the side street and turned the steering wheel abruptly, and in the correct direction. I couldn’t resist waving at a fleeing pedestrian. Now the reason for Tim’s navigational crisis was that in this city parking had no real order to it. If you could fit eighty percent of you car into a space, you were parked. Tim’s problem was that once on the sidewalk, there was no space for him to get off, reversing just did not enter into the equation, and he just had to carry on until an avenue of escape presented itself. A bit like being caught in railway tracks. However, we were now faced with the same problem. Tim and I glanced at each other, then peered ahead, praying for a gap. Tim saw one and changed our bearing.
This night it appeared was not going to let us off easily. The opening was just wide enough to accommodate Gough. A couple of things became apparent remarkably quickly. The first was that if Tim had been in control of his faculties and moving at a much slower speed, the manoeuver would have been deemed ‘effortless’. This was not to be the case. The second determining factor was that the car to the left of the space was painted green and white, was a Volkswagen, had a blue light on top and Polizie stenciled rather boldly on the side.
“You’ve seen them?” I asked, the sentence coming out as one word.
“Rather unfortunate. We were doing so well. It’s been fun Iain, see you when we get released.” The blue light came to life and the blinking colour illuminated our faces.
“Yes, it has been a splendid journey.” Tim began to slow Gough as we approached. Perhaps if Tim showed he was in masterful control of the vehicle, there would be less chance of shooting. Then, as if our thoughts had summoned some kind of god, the police car sped away, siren blaring. Tim, without missing a beat, ker-chunked us over the kerb and into the path of oncoming traffic. The noise of the car horns was very loud, I think I also heard tyres squealing, but it was nothing to worry about.
We were on our way, Tim started to sing ‘The Philosophers Song” at the top of his voice, I joined in on the bits I could remember. An ongoing joke between the two of us was Tim’s unerring faith that he knew his way from anywhere to anywhere. He didn’t, but he had a great sense of direction. When the song was done and we were turning left and right, barreling down side roads, I asked the question I always asked in these situations.
“Tim, you do know where you’re going, right?”
“Yes, dear boy. We’re nearly there.” A sudden turn,
“You know exactly where we are?”
“Oh yea of little faith.”
“Really.” I took out a cigarette and just as I lit it the van lurched and the whole interior was illuminated in harsh white light. It was like we were being x-rayed by an alien spaceship.
“Oh my God!” Tim shrieked. I looked up and realised exactly where we were. We had turned right onto Der Strasse 17 Juni. A four-lane inner city ring road. This normally would have been just fine. Except Tim had turned left, which meant we were facing the wrong way on one of the biggest and busiest one-way streets in Europe. To be completely fair, I think that if I had been driving we would have almost certainly been involved in some kind of collision by this point in time. So there we sat, fortune had smiled on us, and the rabid horde of motorcars were held at bay by a red traffic light.
“Do something!” I yelled, snapping Tim out of his rabbit like trance. He gunned the engine, and recklessly spun the steering wheel. Gough rose to the challenge. Tyres smoking and juddering, we completed the turn just as the light turned to green. For a while Tim held the wheel in a vice like grip, I could see the white of his knuckles through his skin. We turned neither right nor left, did not slow down or speed up, we traveled in a very straight line. Once my heartbeat had returned somewhat to normal, I said;
“So do you know where we are going?”
“My dear friend, of course I do.”
“What was that thing with the near death experience then?” Tim was silent for a moment. Casually he flicked on the indicator and we turned off the main thoroughfare. I began to recognise the street we were on. Damn, he did it again.
“I really don’t think you should be making such a fuss over one wrong turn you know. Quite hurt my feelings.” I had to smile, we were alive and nearly at our destination. What more could one ask.
“Sorry, old friend. It was seeing through time for a brief second that caused me to be so rude. I apologise.”
“Quite alright. We’re here.” Tim stopped Gough, opened the door and fell out. There was a silence, then,
“I am OK. Just missed my step. I am perfectly fine.” The voice sounded disjointed and a long way away.
We gathered up the instruments, they had a small house PA so we didn’t need anything else. I looked back over my shoulder at the van. It appeared that it had been left rather than parked, but I didn’t feel it was worth mentioning.

The bar had a two door system, by this I mean, the outside door led into a small vestibule, before the next one led into the bar itself. We had a Laurel and Hardy moment there, our guitars and the two of us didn’t quite fit at the same time. I knew this, but in my state of mind I blindly followed Tim in causing him to get jammed in the opening and myself stuck on the outside door. This evening being what it was, out of all the people wanting to exit the bar at this precise moment, was of course Karl. The owner. Our employer for the evening. We were hopelessly entangled in the small space, Karl stood at the doorway, framed by the smoky atmosphere and a pretty big crowd of rowdy customers. He was all smiles and hello’s until I think he saw just how out of it we were. It was he who extricated us from our predicament.
We said our “gruss diche’s” and shook hands awkwardly. We apologised for being a tad late and tried to make our way to the stage. He would have none of it.
“We must drink first my fine friends.” Oh no, I thought. At least I hoped it was a thought.
“I have been saving this vodka for two years! The finest Russian. Come, we drink!” He herded us toward the four foot section of bar reserved for Karl’s favourites. We felt very honoured, it was the first time. We had seen people expelled from his bar for daring to argue about this oasis of empty bar space. He poured a pair of two finger deep shots and handed them to us. It was as if we had been offered poison.
“Drink my friends. You must drink.” He held the bottle to his lips and took a mighty swallow. With brief eye contact Tim and I slammed back the liquid. It evaporated on my tongue. All the protective layers of skin on my throat were peeling off as I felt the liquor lay waste to my stomach lining. It was all I could do not to choke.
“Ah, it is good, no?” Karl bellowed. He reached over with the bottle to pour us more,
“We,” I hurriedly corrected the pitch of my voice to that of a man, “We have to play, Karl. We’ll come back and see you after the first set.” My brain had begun to receive the first signals from my bloodstream of the impending onslaught of pure potato alcohol. It was not a really great feeling.
“I insist! One more. Or..” he paused with great solemnity, “you will never drink in my house again.” He peered at as both, swaying slightly, it was as if his point of balance was the half empty vodka bottle. It hung there at a forty degree angle. The clear potion lazily slushing to and fro. I meekly held up my glass under the open neck.
“Nastrovia!” he shouted and tipped up the bottle, Tim followed suit and we threw back the drink that was undoubtedly going to end our lives this evening. After all we had survived this night, to die writhing on the floor, our stomachs stripped of all flesh. Oh well, can’t live for ever.
We made our way to the stage and after what seemed an eternity, got our instruments in tune with each other. Whether they were actually in tune, I really don’t know. Tim introduced us with a flourish,
“Madame’s and Monsieur’s, we are Ten Miles from Barstow.” We then proceeded to strike the first chord of the first song. This would have been fine had we played the first chord of the same song. We burst out laughing. The audience did not. They stared, stony faced. This made us laugh more. We tried again, this time Tim started the song I started last time and I started the one he started. This was not boding well. We could not help but laugh. My feet had gone numb; the poison had begun to attack my legs. I wasn’t embarrassed or fearful, I would be dead soon.
On the third attempt we managed to get it together. Or maybe we didn’t. We played on autopilot for a bit. Tim seemed to be concentrating on a small distant object somewhere in the nicotine scarred ceiling. I was entranced by the patrons. I just kept scanning backwards and forwards. Their faces were harsh. They may have applauded; they may have been singing naval sea shanties. I had no feeling in my shins now.
I saw one of the revelers trying to get up from his seat. I stifled a giggle as he fought vainly for the vertical. He made it and to my horror I saw his internal gyroscope had failed. He stood still for a second and then lurched off on a bearing he had not chosen. I could see by the effort in his glassy eyes he knew his body was being uncooperative. He managed to halt his forward progress and steadied himself on a table. He paused there, the customers seated around the table held grimly onto their bottles, studying the man ready to take evasive action at a seconds notice. With an effort that superseded his apparent physical abilities, he propelled himself into the abyss. For a brief moment in time it looked like he was in command. The instant passed and his legs followed their own unique path. He was headed for Tim. Tim, my valiant friend, was blissfully unaware of his impending doom. I could not warn my friend, the poison had crept up to my thighs now, I was frozen, I watched in horror as the drunkard began to gather speed like a he was caught on an unexpected gradient. He was headed right at my old friend; the night had been so bizarre that I knew something terrible and unexpected would occur. I was helpless. The world slowed down to a blurry crawl, the man inched toward Tim, his empty beer glass held out in front like a lance, Tim was still lost on his musical planet, at least he would not suffer. Inexplicably Tim’s assassin changed course and careened into one of the tables right in front of the stage. Ten Miles from Barstow looked at each other and shrugged.
The show went on in a swirling haze. The months of playing day in day out were paying dividends. We were performing on instinct. The time moved on until we were two songs away from completing our contract. I should mention that the drinks had not stopped coming at us. Karl’s ‘special’ vodka had anesthetised my brain, alcohol had no further effect on me, and I suspect Tim was in the same frame of mind. The tension was leaving my body, we were so close to being finished and the proud recipients of 600 marks. Just as we began the last tune and Tim had announced our thanks and good nights, it happened again.
There was a commotion at the front door. We looked over and saw a 6’8” blond Nordic man mountain standing in the entrance. He was a wide as he was tall, wearing a cut off jean jacket. His arms were bare despite the minus 10 temperature outside. He was wearing big black boots and a motorcycle chain as a belt. As he moved into the bar we could see that behind him, in single file, were the rest of his gang. All equal in stature, all with the same cut off Levi jacket.
“Oh, just fucking peachy, the Hells Angels.” Unfortunately I said this rather close to the microphone and although it wasn’t loud, it was audible enough for Tim to lose track of his lyric. He looked at me like I had just signed our death warrant. Personally I didn’t really mind, I was quite sure I was dying of alcohol poisoning and would be found outside on the sidewalk in a coma shortly after we had finished playing. All attention was focused on the men strolling into the club. It was like a scene from every bad eighties hero movie. All went into slow motion. The camera panned to close up of the black leather fingerless gloves, fist clenching and unclenching, then a quick cut to the long blond hair framed by amber back light, returning to a close up on the menacing blue Nordic eyes. They swaggered their way toward the back of the room where there were two empty tables. To get to that area of the bar they had to pass directly in front of the stage. They drew level with us, we all locked eyes, their distain for us obvious, as the leader passed we could see the name of his gang emblazoned in the typical horseshoe Angel style, as we read the words both of us lost control, we dissolved into complete uncontrollable, tear streaming, hysterical laughter, a perfect end to a very strange and wonderful night, the name of the motor cycle gang was,
“THE SHABBY ONES”

Despite my paralysis we managed to get off the stage in one piece. Karl, I assumed, paid us, he also probably made us drink with him. I awoke face down and shivering on the floor in the back of Gough. Tim was sprawled over the two front seats. How we survived that night I really have no idea. As I have previously mentioned it did take Tim and I several weeks to piece together what happened.
Even now, I’m not sure we recalled it all.

A New Years Tale

Snorsh

Toronto, Canada

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