There’s this song by The Be Good Tanyas called “Light Enough to Travel” that I’ve always liked. It’s a good song anyhow but I find these lyrics especially pertinent to today’s post:
I really think that it’s obscene
What kind of people go to meet people
Someplace they can’t be heard or seen?”
It’s how I feel. Not by nature inclined to meet people someplace I can’t be heard or seen, I’ve squandered my prime clubbing years by spending my time perched on park benches reading, and participating in other similarly docile activities, like evenings at the pub or long Sunday lunches. We tend to like to talk to our friends. We’re funny like that.
But last night, to celebrate the fact that I was feeling like a human being again, and not a weary monster made of snot and soreness, we went into town to meet up with a good friend who has recently relocated to London (which makes it feel like he’s on another planet, because, well, we’re basically old people in young people’s bodies). He was in town for the night and I thought a glass of red wine would aid the healing process (they say there’s good stuff in red wine, you know, and anyway, I couldn’t stay in the house any longer), so under cover of January darkness, buffeted by a city wind bordering on a gale, we left the house and headed for one of our regular pubs to share a bottle.
The problem with a Saturday night, however, which we so often forget, is that things get crowded, and there’s a sort of madness in the city right now, related I think to it being a New Year, a cold month, the heart of winter. After a charmingly frigid December, after all the Christmas trees have been taken down, Oxford in winter becomes a strange place, fitful, full of waiting. Bled of students, she waits for term-time to begin; bled of warmth, of light, she awaits a new season. You can feel on the wind that there’s an edginess, a nervous and mysterious force, but you can’t pinpoint where it comes from and you can’t escape it just by knowing that it’s there.
So the crowd in our pub was not an ordinary Saturday night crowd. It was someone’s 26th birthday (I know this because he wore a flashing badge that said so) and he had apparently invited all of his hairdresser friends: girls with black-and-white hair swept into contorted shapes, boys with slicked, spiked ‘dos and very tight trousers. The girls were barely dressed–that’s another thing about Saturday nights in the dead of winter here. Hotpants, backless dresses, no tights, high, high, high black heels.
Then another friend called and said she was at the nightclub across the street and wouldn’t we join her? And we said no, because we’re not like that, we object to nightclubs, they’re horrid places, they’re rank and foul and there’s no fun to be had unless you actually want to be dry-humped by a slimy stranger and then possibly go to bed with him (or her) later, which we definitely DON’T.
So it came as quite a surprise to me that, ten minutes later, we were maneuvering our way past about seventeen large bouncers in black jackets and neon armbands, climbing the stairs, ordering a drink. It came as an even greater surprise that we actually enjoyed ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong: it was loud, and dark, and I was beyond overdressed, but the music wasn’t the ordinary drab string of thump-thump-thumpy songs (they played the Proclaimers, and any establishment in which I can belt out, “and I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more…” without being asked to leave gets at least a small nod of approval), and we had a place to sit, and the best bit of it all was the people.
Next to us, a cowgirl-themed hen party (short denim skirts, plaid shirts, and fuzzy pink cowboy hats) was winding down; the women all looked nonplussed, almost businesslike in their consumption of alcohol, their trips to the toilets, their brief interludes of hip gyration. Most of the girls wore bare shoulders, or bare legs, or both, and heels so high you could practically call them stilts, and still, very few of them looked genuinely sexy. But over the course of a night you’re bound to find one or two who exude sex, who actually convince you (if only for an instant) by their walk, the sway of their hips, the way their eyes pass over you, that you’d go to bed with them, if they deemed you worthy.
The manager (a friend of a friend) gave us a bottle of champagne and as I sat sipping I thought I could almost feel, here, the draw of the nightclub. It’s about abandon, I thought, abandon, whether reckless or careful, abandon to the dark, to the movements of each limb, to the curve of the long night. It’s not about other people at all, in its purest form; it’s a kind of implosion. A long time ago someone tried to teach me how to meditate, and I’m not sure he suceeded, but I always remember the things he told me, the things about clearing your mind, about letting thoughts pass through your head, acknowledging them but not opening them–and isn’t that, in a sordid sort of way, what all these people, rapt with dance, are doing?
Drowning out thoughts not by silence but by sound–well, I suffer from more anxiety than some, I know that sometimes it’s not what you think but what you don’t that matters, that sometimes, especially when the madness of winter has crept up on you, it’s abandon and not control at all that you need. And it’s a cheap way to dull the senses, I know that. They’re still slimy, underneath it all–but for a moment I thought I could just about understand places like this.