‘Stand outside the fishmongers in 20 minutes and call this number,’ she said, ‘and I can arrange it.’ On Saturday evening I was scrubbed up for a big night out. I was wearing a black jacket and black jeans, which is overdressed for a night out in this seaside town. But Jupiter, said Shelley von Strunckel, was making a spectacular conjunction with Uranus, my ruler, lending me enormous powers of attraction. So I thought I might as well dress up for the occasion. After 20 minutes, I stood outside the fishmongers and called the number. Half a minute later an anonymous-looking door next to the shop opened inwards, and she waved me inside and led the way up a flight of uncarpeted stairs and into a small, brightly lit kitchen with two good-looking women in it, both wreathed in welcoming smiles. My arranger introduced me with some pride as ‘a writer’. I couldn’t let this go by without a correction, which was that I was ‘a sort of journalist’. But even that seemed to impress and inspire them. I strongly fancied the both of them. One had on a strappy number revealing a caramel tan and a tattoo of South America, including rivers. ‘Would you like to go upstairs?’ she said. ‘Righty-ho,’ I said, and I followed them up.
The stairs led to a large room in which a dozen or so young people were lounging on mattresses and cushions. Hats are back, I was glad to see. I was obliged to step carefully into the room to avoid knocking over some formidable-looking bongs, which were dotted about like plastic gnomes at a garden centre. I also nearly stepped on a cardboard box stacked with little dove-grey canisters of (presumably) nitrous oxide. Joints were being constructed. An air of relaxation, irenic affability and timelessness prevailed. Again I was introduced to the company erroneously as a ‘writer’. ‘Dude,’ they said. ‘Don’t get up,’ I said. ‘He looks more like a banker,’ observed a beanie hat delicately sticking three cigarette papers together.
I was asked where I lived. I gave the name of a village some 20 miles away, which provoked a mild, irrelevant and absurdly prolonged argument about its exact location, as if they were a debating society glad of a subject at last. ‘We all went out last night and none of us has been to bed yet,’ explained Miss South America. ‘Would you like a drink?’
It was nine o’clock in the evening. For someone who had been awake for nearly two days, she looked as fresh as a daisy, though a little distant perhaps. But even from a distance she was friendly and inviting. ‘What have you got?’ I said, slightly surprised that alcohol was also available. She picked her way slowly and gracefully across the room to see what they had left, raising her arms like a tightrope walker at tricky points. After a long minute of study and contemplation of some bottles, and much indecision, she finally returned with a tall glass containing, she said apologetically, rum and ginger beer, which I knocked back thirstily in one, being a little hard of hearing these days, and not having heard the ‘rum’ part of the description.
I had intended to make my purchase as quickly as possible and return to my circle of sad old gits gathered in a pub down the road. Now, I decided, I much preferred the company of this laidback gang of twenty-something-year-olds, who, in spite of working their way through a pharmacy over two days, were maintaining a spirit of kindness, openness and congeniality, even to an elderly man dressed as their idea of a banker. If this is a rising generation of drug-addled wasters and reprobates, I like it very much. Plus there was Miss South America, still on her feet and delightfully playing the hostess.
But now I was introduced to the retailer-in-chief, a hatless and polite young guy who looked as though he hadn’t eaten for a month. He’d run out of bags, he said, patting his pockets distractedly. He had to go back to his flat for more anyway, he said, so why didn’t I come along, which was very trusting of him. So I embraced Miss South America goodbye and answered some valedictory raised fists with one of my own. Then I embraced Miss South America once more, and kissed her earlobe, and off we went to his place.
But it was all a waste of time as things turned out. Owing perhaps to the magnetic influence of Jupiter, I drank far too much that night and had to lie face down on the comfortable pavement outside the last club we went to; whereupon, I can only conclude, some shrinking violet must have relieved me of the contents of my pockets, my purchase included.
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