Sunday, 27 December 2009
Sex Gods From The Planet Metal - Chapter Three
Some people believe in a sixth sense, that bizarre instinct for unknowing the unknowable, for seeming to read minds or predict disasters, but not me. I always wonder why no one ever predicts good things, like "On the 4th of January 1987 Mrs Edith Johnson of Cambridge will have a really great time", that sort of thing. The only time poor old Mrs Johnson and people like her get to be involved with publicity seeking psychics is when her house gets flattened by an asteroid or she's abducted by wild dogs. Even then they only crawl out to say "Well, I knew that would happen," and waffle on a bout Nostradamous or something. No one ever thinks of warning these people beforehand, except the sort of raving nutters who thinks every powerful person in the world is an eight foot lizard in a really good human suit. I’ve never had a sixth sense, having enough trouble with the five I’ll own up to, but as I was sitting doodling away in English class one day, something made me look up, to be greeted by the not unpleasant sight of Miss Wright, although she did look a little pissed off, to tell the truth.
“What," she said, "are Iron Maiden?"
Potentially, this is rather a bizarre question to be asked during an English lesson, especially when the lesson concerned has so far consisted on listening to Miss Wright read a passage from "Of Mice & Men", a classic by John Steinbeck. I knew it was a classic because I’d already finished my copy the night before. This would account for the fact that instead of listening (or pretending to) along with the rest of the class I was much more interested in drawing band logos at the back of my English book. I'm no artist, (as my art teacher would have happily confirmed), but I was proud of my ability to draw perfect band logos. Of course, this takes great concentration, with no small measure of tongue sticking out and the like, which probably accounted for my ignorance of the teacher's impending presence. I smiled at her, which has all the impact of a raspberry jelly on a charging rhino. Whilst I squirmed under her gaze, the rest of the class hovered in silent anticipation of a good bollocking, like vultures over a particularly tasty but not quite dead animal.
"They're a band, Miss," I offered helpfully
"That's a pretty severe name for a pop group," she replied. "Do you even know what an Iron Maiden is?"
"Sure. It's a medieval torture device, sort of like a coffin with spikes on the inside. Not very nice. And they're not a pop group, Miss," I added, not knowing when to quit as usual, "they're a heavy metal band. Proper music."
"Proper music?" she said with a very deliberate raise of the eyebrows. "Isn't heavy metal an excuse to write terrible songs about riding motorbikes and worshipping the devil?" An amused smile played round her lips - she loved a good debate - and the class giggled.
"A common misconception," I said, trying to do a convincing Rumpole of the Bailey impersonation. "Hang on a mo." I rummaged around in my bag, which was, naturally, plastered in immaculately drawn rock band logos, and produced a cassette tape in it's case, which I held up like Indiana Jones after a good hard rummage round a tomb. "This," I explained, "is their new album, 'Somewhere In Time'. It contains songs about lots of different things, but not one about riding motorbikes, worshipping the devil, or both." My smug grin announced my triumph in the face of authority. I really should have known better by then.
"I'll tell you what, David," she said in a horribly reasonable tone. "As you obviously think Iron Maiden are way more fascinating than my poor rendition of one of this century's classic works of literature, why don't you take the rest of the lesson, and tell the class exactly why this is."
Oh shit. I now knew how a knight felt when the biggest, hairiest, nastiest knight came up to him, slapped him round the chops with a massive studded gauntlet and suggested they wave pointy things at each other until one of them decides breathing is not really all it's cracked up to be. If this was a comic strip, my character would definitely be making a noise not a million miles away from "ulp".
"Ulp," I croaked, fully appreciating the irony. I checked my watch - 10 minutes left until the buzzer - then I looked Miss Wright square in her oh so pretty eyes and picked up her metaphorical gauntlet. "Okay," I said simply, then I stood and walked purposefully to the front of the class. When I turned around, it was to see Miss Wright sitting at my desk, with Peter trying really hard to stare at her legs without actually staring at them. He wasn’t succeeding, but luckily her attention was on me.
"When you're ready," she said politely.
"Quiet at the back!" I snarled in my best authoritarian growl. This got a chuckle running round the class, so I decidde that the best thing to do was just to dive in head first and hope that I didn’t drown.
"Iron Maiden," I began. "Are interesting. Not neccessarily as interesting as Miss Wrights superb reading of "Of Mice & Men", but as I finished it last night I really wasn't paying that much attention, as you may have gathered." This got another laugh, and a grin from Miss Wright. "Don't worry Miss," I quipped, "I won't give the ending away, suffice to say that it's a killer." She kept on smiling, and with my audience happy I launched into an explanation of why I thought Iron Maiden were interesting. I concentrated on the lyrics, and explained how Iron Maiden were the reason I read Coleridge's 'Ryme Of The Ancient Mariner', because they had based a lengthy song on it. I described some of the many serious subjects covered in their five albums to date: The Charge Of The Light Brigade; World War 2 Spitfire pilots; Prostitution; Egyptian burial; The treatment of Indians in America by settlers and many more. I explained how listening to the songs gave me a thirst to find out more about the subjects covered. "Except, of course, prostitution," I said, gaining another laugh from the surprisingly captivated audience. I told them how much I was looking forward to seeing the band the next day. I quoted lyrics and poetry, then finished with a timing that would put Groucho Marx to shame as the buzzer for lunch vibrated around the classroom mere seconds after my last word. It was very hard not to do a victory dance, but I contained myself admirably.
The class filed out for lunch, with only me and Miss Wright left, her still sitting in my seat. As I approached she stood, gave me a slow, measured handclap and favoured me with a huge smile. I bowed theatrically, causing her to laugh softly.
“Well done," she said simply. "I really had no idea that heavy metal music could actually help people learn things, except maybe how to look very scruffy and smelly. You should be proud of yourself - you just kept that class entertained and quiet with a monologue on a band they would never even think of listening to. In fact, you even entertained me, and I'm normally a right troublemaker! All I get in my house is chart music. My daughter’s too young to have her own opinion yet, so she just likes whatever's played on the radio."
"It was fun," I admitted, slinging my bag over my shoulder. "Maybe I'll become a teacher when I'm older."
"It's a great and noble profession," she deadpanned.
“Well," I continued. "That or a rock star." I grinned and started to walk out of the classroom with a loony smile that showed the world that I had won a famous victory for pupils everywhere. Yes, I know, I was still a slow learner.
"David," she called softly.”
In case you thought you'd got away with it, your punishment for not paying attention in class is a five hundred word essay on the Iron Maiden concert you said you were going to tomorrow. By Monday please."
"Yes Miss," I sighed, and trudged out to lunch, my balloon well and truly popped. Teachers!
At eight pm on Saturday, the car stopped outside the Bristol Hippodrome. Inside, me and Peter were so excited we almost shook. I know that today parents send twelve year olds off to drug addles raves and the like, but back then it was different. We were both in our uniforms - jeans, Iron Maiden t-shirts and patch covered denim jackets, and after looking through the window I realised we were far from the only ones.
"Now remember to be careful, and be out here at eleven on the dot so I can pick you up. Okay?" said Mum, understandably worried by the sheer volume of denim and leather clad long haired lunatics milling around outside the venue.
"Yes Mum," I replied obediantly, rolling my eyes theatrically to demonstrate to Peter my total disregard for my parents. Naturally, inside I was really grateful to them for letting me come to the gig. Not only was it my first ever concert, it was an Iron Maiden concert, the biggest and best heavy metal band in the world. All the nonsense I’d spouted the day before in class was true. I had all of their albums and I knew all the lyrics off by heart, (I still do) even though I found it nigh on impossible to memorize a few simple physics equations. At that point I was on a perfect high - way past cloud nine, I was perched on cloud ten looking down on the people on cloud nine, sticking out my tongue at them and going "ttttthhhhpppppttttt".
We got out of the car and as it drove away we took in the scene: It was awesome. All around us were heavy metal fans, which is an amazing thing to witness when you're the only two in your year at school, like me and Peter. Every person had something different to offer, from multi coloured t- shirts with a multitude of different band names plastered across them and worn with pride, to beautifully painted pictures on the backs of leather jackets, an interesting number of which featured semi naked women either wrestling with giant snakes or riding motorbikes. Very cold, I would have thought. Everyone looked happy, which certainly tuned in with what we were feeling, and for five minutes we just stood there, soaking in the atmosphere like denim clad sponges. We knew we looked like little clones in our own get ups, but for the first time we felt like we actually fitted in. I realised that I had found my place in life, as wasn’t about to let go of it without a fight.
"This is cool," said Peter, moving forward and breaking my concentration. Nudged out of my thoughts, I joined him and we made our way towards the entrance, threading our way through the crowd.
He was right, of course, but it went way beyond cool. We were at an Iron Maiden concert, beyond any parental guidance, and every other person in sight liked the same music as us. I, however, have never been a straw sucking country boy that I would show any indication that I was overawed by the whole experience, so I affected an air of laid back nonchalance, ruining it somewhat by allowing my mouth to gape open like some hillbilly who attends his sisters wedding and is informed at the last minute that he is the groom.
"It's okay, I suppose," I admitted, trying out a 'Fonzie meets Paul Newman' look, and failing miserably. I imagine I looked more like 'Fonzie meets Velma from 'Scooby Doo', and as a result runs off screaming whilst she scrabbles around in the dirt looking for her glasses, which she has unsurprisingly dropped’. I always wondered why the hell Velma is allowed to go on cool adventures with the rest of them when she's such a dozy tart. If I was part of the gang the first thing I'd do is tie some string to her glasses so she can't lose them. It's not a mentally challenging solution to the problem - even Shaggy could think of it, but each week she ended up crawling around looking for her sodding glasses whilst the Janitor or whoever is under the ghoul mask that week stood in front of her waving his arms around, going "Raaarrrgghhh!" and looking about as scary as a bowl of cornflakes. I know it's wrong, and admittedly a little scary, to be worked up like this over a cartoon, but I like to think that these people who solve a mystery every week would have at least a couple of brain cells to share between them. I think that the only reason they haven't burned Velma at the stake by now is that she owns the van or something.
"Okay?" replied Peter, looking at my faraway expression in bewilderment. "This is better than okay - this is METAL!"
You could hear the capital letters in his voice, and I agreed with every word. I dropped all pretence and allowed a big, manic grin to spread across my face as I drank in the sights and sounds of the Hippodrome foyer. The main draw was the souvenir stand, with a vast array of t-shirts, badges, programmes and patches. The theme for the tour was the future, and there were some beautifully painted designs, all featuring Eddie, the bands skeletal mascot, in one outrageous pose or another. I only had ten pounds with me, painfully withdrawn from my savings account after I failed to scrounge any from my parents. We stood and gazed at the myriad of goods on offer for a few minutes, each mentally earmarking what we were going to buy. Personally I set my sights on a cool t-shirt featuring a gun toting cyborg Eddie in front of a futuristic hover car with the tour dates on back underneath the legend “Somewhere On Tour. It only came in extra large, but I was fully prepared to grow into it, even if for a while people would no doubt think I was wearing an Iron Maiden dress.
Peter caught my eye and motioned towards the bar area, and enjoying the pretence of being real men for a night, we went inside.
"Fancy a cider or two, David?" he said, cackling like some B movie hunchback who's just returned from a hard night down at the cemetery collecting brains for his master.
"Fuck," I replied. "Off." I had not yet forgotten my misguided adventures in ciderland a few weeks ago. We went to the bar anyway to get a coke each, then retired to one of the side walls to watch the world go by.
"Jesus!" Peter exclaimed as a tall, blonde goddess in a tight vest top and even tighter leather trousers sauntered by, blatantly well aware of the effect she was having on men’s evil little hormones. "I wouldn't climb over her to get to you, mate," he continued, giving me a look so lecherous Sid James would be ashamed of it.
"Get down, Shep," I admonished. "I think she's slightly out of your age range, Pete. She probably prefers her men to shave, or at the very least have pubes." For this I got a ‘shut the fuck up’glare, as Peter was acutely aware and just as acutely embarrassed about the fact that the only hairs yet to sprout on his body were the blonde ones on the top of his head. Aware I was about to step over an imaginary line if my taunting continued, I wisely and smoothly changed the subject. "Have I told you how Eddie got his name?" I asked.
"What? Iron Maiden Eddie?" he asked, somewhat stupidly I feel, given we were at an Iron Maiden concert and the bands mascot is called Eddie.
"No," I said, putting all the sarcasm of a gym teacher in my voice. "Another Eddie. Possibly the one that lives at the bottom of your garden with the pixies and the fairies, you complete and utter spastic. Uuunnnggh!" This last noise was accompanied by me sticking my tongue solidly in one cheek and gurning for all I'm worth, just in case Peter doesn't understand the full extent of his spasticity.
"Har de har," he said, deadpan. "You're so mature I want you to have my babies. Go on then, let me in on the big secret."
"Right," I said happily. I always get a perverse pleasure from telling other people useless but interesting stuff. "When the band started they just had a skeletal head for a mascot, which was put over the drummer and would puke blood on him during the gig."
"Cool," said Peter. Fair enough.
"Anyway, there was a joke going around at the time that made them call the head Eddie: Mr and Mrs Smith, or whatever, had a baby boy that was born with out a body, so they called him Eddie, as in Eddie The 'Ead, and put him on the mantlepiece. They kept him there for eighteen years, and eventually saved up enough money to buy him a body. So on his eighteenth birthday they decide to surprise him, and they go downstairs and Mr Smith says 'Guess what we've got you for your birthday , son", and Eddie goes..."
"Oh no, not another fucking hat!" roared a voice behind me, accompanied by the kind of laughter normally reserved for super villains who have just got a new shark infested swimming pool for christmas over which to dangle Mr Bond and tell him all their nefarious plans.
"Huh!" was our unsurprising response as we looked at the enormous giant of a man standing behind me, who has obviously been listening to every word. Not only that, the bastard stole my punch line. I decided to let him off, though, considering he could no doubt use me to pick his teeth or, worse, as a rectal thermometer considering his huge arse. He was at least seven feet tall, with his beard making him look like a man peeking out from behind a bush. He had on a tattered three year old tour shirt that was trying unsuccessfully to cover his impressive gut, the size of which lead us to believe that he hadn't seen his feet, among other things, for many a year. As we gaped, he gave another hearty laugh and clapped me on the back.
"Now where did a shrimp like you learn that story?" he asked in a surprisingly soft voice tinged with a West Country burr.
"It's in the book," I answered politely, as if he was my headmaster. "Running Free". I meant the bands biography I got earlier in the year, written by a fine young journalist called Garry Bushell, who, in my naïve young opinion, I though would go far and be well respected in his profession. Little did I know.
"And true it is too," admitted the man mountain. "It's nice to meet one so young and yet so well informed about the important things in life, namely heavy metal music. My names Stumpy, but you can call me Sir, or I'll tear each of you a new arsehole." He laughed again, like Blackbeard the pirate after a good walking of the plank. "Only kidding, son. You can call me Stump. I work for the band."
We slowly absorbed this information: he worked for the band. A cool night had just got cooler.
"What do you do?," asked Peter.
"Nicko's drum roadie," replied Stump, knowing he was impressing us. Nicko was Nicko McBrain, Maiden's drummer. "Tell you what, lads. How would you like to come on stage with the band?" this last was thrown in almost as an afterthought, and we scrabbled at it like piranhas at a missionary.
"Yeah!" we both exclaimed, not able to believe what we're hearing.
"How?" I asked, never too shocked to be practical. Stump seemed like the genuine article, but I'd never met a roadie before. For all I know they could really be built like stick insects and quote Shakespeare all the time.
"Well," he said. "On the new album there's a song called 'Heaven Can Wait'. You know it?" We nodded like we belonged on the back shelf of some sad cases Ford Escort. "Okay, so in the middle, where there's all the chanting, the band need extra people to come up and give 'em a hand. Normally us roadies do it, but tonight they're letting some fan club members have a go cos they won some competition or other. If you come to the side of the stage during the second song, I'll see you there and let you join in. How does that sound?"
"Us?" spluttered Peter. "On stage? With Maiden? That sounds brilliant!"
"Why us?" I said sceptically, being the sort of person who not only looks a gift horse in the mouth but puts on a long rubber glove to rummage around in it’s arse as well.
"Why not?" he said jovially. "I like you, you're obviously new to this concert thing, and I remember what it's like to see your first band. Let's just say I'm in a bloody good mood today and I want you to have a good time you'll remember for years to come. If that's not good enough for you I'll say goodbye and you can pretend we never met."
"No!" I protested. "Don't go. We'd love to do it. Second song you say?" He nodded, amused. "We'll be there," I continued.
“I'll see you later, then," he said and lumbered off.
Me and Peter looked at each other with smiles so large they would send the Cheshire Cat stomping off with it's tail between it's legs. I raised my hand, palm out, and Peter high fived me silently. We were literally too excited to speak. We were going onstage, and I knew that whatever else happened in my life I would always belong on a stage, with music for my blood and guitar strings for tendons. One day it would be me addressing the crowd. One day…
It's six in the evening on Friday when Simon and I walk into the hall at The Full Moon. Simon shouts "Drink!" like it's a remotely cool thing to say anymore and heads to the bar, whilst I have a word with the headline band, who are tuning up their instruments on the stage. Tonight’s band take me back to my misspent youth, as they're an Iron Maiden tribute band, known as The Ancient Mariners. Although at the moment they look no different to any other band, I have it on good authority that when they play they don fright wigs and scarily tight spandex to take the audience back to the era of incredible cheesiness: the Eighties, when men were men and rock stars stuffed what looked like tame armadillos down their trousers. I approach the one fiddling expertly with a bass guitar and make an educated guess.
"Steve?" I enquire. He nods. "I'm Dave. I booked you tonight."”
Heeyyyy!" he enthuses, sticking out a hand. "Nice to meet you, mate. Thanks for the gig."
"No problem," I say, failing to sound at all modest. "I'm a Maiden fan from way back. Got on stage with them once." I can't help adding, puffing out my chest as if it's some sort of achievement.”
“No way?" he says, giving my already inflated ego another puff. "Where was that?"
"Bristol Colston Hall. 1986." I reply. "I did the shouty bit on "Heaven Can Wait" along with some fan club members."
"Cool," is his comment, and it's enough for me. I thrive on this sort of shit, sad, sad bastard that I am.
"Maybe you can come up and do it later when we're playing," he adds as an afterthought.
I pretend to consider it, aware of the little voice inside me going "Whoo-hoo" and punching it's little metaphorical fist in the air.
"Sure," I say about as reluctantly as a prisoner of war who's just been offered a chocolate cake with a naked girl inside.
"Okay," he says. "Just get on stage when we get to the middle bit." I nod.
"Okay lads, are you ready to run through one now?" comes the voice of Ferret, our regular sound engineer. The band signal in the affirmative, so I leave the stage and retire to the back of the hall to have a drink with Simon, who's standing with a sarky smirk on his face.
"You sucking up again?" he asks as he hands me a pint.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I say innocently.
"I'll try and be more explicit. Are you, like you do every week, ingratiating yourself with the band in the hope that if they one day become famous and remember you with a thank you on their first album?"
“Well, if you put it like that, then yes," I admit.
"Tart," he says simply.
I poke my tongue out at him and take a long drink as the band launch into a song. It's a great version of Iron Maidens' first ever single, "Running Free", and whilst I am content to sip my drink and tap my foot, Simon stands in the middle of the hall and goes into classic "Guitar Hero" mode. This consists of standing with his legs wide apart, his hands clutching an invisible guitar, and his hair swirling furiously around as he shakes his head in time with the music. It's a strange sight - at the same time hauntingly ritualistic and embarrassingly crap, sort of like watching ballerinas doing Morris Dancing. I'm quietly enjoying myself, appreciating the music and chuckling at Simon, when Neil and Wayne walk through the door. They're both nice enough looking guys, with long hair and the easygoing nature of a couple of dysfunctional Labradors (like normal Labradors but even stupider), but I always dread seeing them because I know they're going to ask me to manage their band. Wayne and Neil are the singer and guitarist with Idiosyncratic Routine, a Bristol based band who play a decent set of Eighties style rock music that's destined to never to even singe the World, let alone set it alight. They sound like any other melodic rock band from rock's bad hair decade, and they absolutely love me. It all started when I got their demo tape through the post, and the first thing that struck me was their name. It's pretty meaningless to most people, not to mention a bugger to spell, but I knew that it was taken from the name of a comic book featured in one of my favourite films "Chasing Amy". As I'm a total film nut, I booked them even though I wasn't sure how well their type of music would go down with the metalheads at the Moon. When I first met them, I felt like Don King, a veritable giant among promoters. They couldn't have been more grateful for the gig, and as a bonus brought in a fair sized audience of their own thanks to an over the top flyposting campaign that earned me a couple of calls from the local police. I enjoyed the gig, got friendly with the band, then proceeded to hand out fatherly advice when they started asking me questions about how I thought they could progress in their chosen profession. Big mistake. So impressed were they with my wealth of knowledge (compared to theirs anyway), that they asked me to manage them. Of course, the last thing I want is to try and flog their particular brand of dead horse, so I refused, but politely, as in "Not at the moment". I just can't be nasty to them, it would be like kicking a kitten, so every time I speak to either of the two ringleaders and they ask me again, I trundle out another lame excuse, assuring them that whilst I think they're a great band I just don't have the time to guide them to superstardom.
As The Ancient Mariners twang their final chord and Simon winds slowly down from his frenzy, Neil and Wayne walk over with their usual "I'm new in town, please mug me" grins.
"Dave!" says Wayne, extending his hand for me to shake. "Alright, mate?"
"Hi Wayne," I reply, plastering my Bill Clinton ‘What? Me?’ sincere smile on. "Neil," I add, nodding to the guitarist who is playing with his hair as always. It's long and very very blonde. Neil is not your stereotypical dumb blonde - he's got a long way to go before he qualifies as "dumb".
"Dave," says Wayne, launching straight into his usual sales pitch. "We were wondering..."
"Sorry Wayne," I say, cutting him off before he can ask me to manage them. "Very busy at the moment. We'll have to talk later. Look, set your stuff up ready for your set, and I'll be in later to introduce you. We can chat after the gig, which of course I'm really looking forward to." Lies lies lies.
"Cool," he says. "We've got a new song tonight. It's called "Yeah Baby", and it really rocks."
I swallow a grimace at anybody who would describe their song in such a way, and do my best to look interested.
"Sounds great, Wayne, really great, but I've got a meeting with my business partner in a minute," - at this point Simon is standing behind Wayne making faces and miming drinking - "so I'll see you later, yeah?" I raise my hand up for a high five, which I know Wayne still considers a cool thing to do.
"No problem," he says, slapping his palm against mine. "Catch you later." With that, he and Neil wander back to the far end where their band mates are lugging in their equipment. Thank fuck. Simon grabs me by the arm and propels me into the saloon bar.
"When will you stop booking those tits," he says.
"I thought you liked tits?" I reply, grinning.
"Oh fuck off," he says articulately, and we settle down for a few blissfully uninterrupted drinks.
At nine O'clock I stand on the stage and address the assembled masses. We’ve got a good crowd in, and I'm feeling the usual thrill - sort of a cross between delicious anticipation and having a dozen hyperactive squirrels shoved down my trousers. Christ knows what I'd be like if I actually had to perform. The crowd stare at me with all the enthusiasm of Vegans at a cattle market. They want loud music and wailing guitars, not some skinny guy in a John Mellencamp t-shirt. I take in a deep breath, like a tennis player serving for match point, and go ballistic.
"Good evening Full Moon!" I yell at the top of my voice. "Are you ready to go absolutely fucking crazy!" Okay, so it's cheesier than a cheese shop that's just had it's yearly cheese delivery for the cheese appreciation festival, but it works. Sometimes the old ones are definitely the best. There's a tight moment of stunned indifference before the crowd, taken completely by surprise, go absolutely fucking crazy. I bask in the glow for a second and, as the roar subsides, I finish my piece.
"At nine forty five we've got the brilliant Ancient Mariners to brighten up your sad little lives with some Iron Maiden numbers," - pause for applause and some half hearted shouts of 'Maideeeeen!' - "But now, fresh from their tour of some shit pub in Bristol and the guitarists Granddads garden shed, please welcome onto the stage the brilliant, the superb, the available on short notice - Idosyncratic Routine!" There's a nice roar of appreciation and I scuttle off the stage as the band launch into their first number. I can't really be arsed to watch them tonight, so I retire to the lounge where Simon is propping up the bar for a change, a bottle of Newcastle Brown ale clasped in one grubby paw.
"Everything alright?" he asks, burping artistically. “Your cheese go down okay?”
"No problem," I reply. "Had them eating out of the palm of my hand."
"Hah! he snorts. "I know what you do with the palm of your hand, and I certainly wouldn't eat out of it."
"Thank you for your continued support," I say, not in the mood for a prolonged mutual slagging session, no matter how much fun I know it can be. "Fuck me ragged," I exclaim, looking over Simon's shoulder. "Who is that?"
He looks round with practised nonchalance at the girl who has just walked in through the door. He locks eyes with her for a microsecond, then turns back to me with the predatory grin of a tiger that hasn't been fed for a month.
"Mine," he says, simply.
I don't argue, because when Simon stakes his claim on a girl it's a pretty sure bet that she'll be helping herself to my corn flakes in the morning. So I order a pint from Mel and watch the girl as she subsequently does the same. She's pretty, but not what anyone could call a stunner. She hasn't got the supermodel arse, or a dazzling smile, she's just got something else, something that makes me wish that for once I was Simon and had all the lines and the good looks, instead of me. She has long dark hair, pulled back into a simple ponytail, which shows off a round, friendly looking face. The face brings with it a self amused smile that is utterly adorable. She's wearing jeans and a tight Iron Maiden t-shirt, and although I shouldn't say it in this horrible PC world of ours, she has great tits. I feel an irresistible urge to buy her a trampoline. Christ, I really need to get laid more. I watch in wonder as Simon downs his bottle and sidles up to her like a crocodile through a swamp in search of a nice crunchy hillbilly.
"Alright, love," he says. "Haven't seen you here before."
"That would be because I haven't been here before," she replies. "I'm meeting some friends."
"Well, you've already met one," he says smoothly, holding out a hand. "I'm Simon."
"Kate," she returns, taking his hand to shake it. Without pausing for an instant, Simon raises her hand to his lips and plants a big smacker on the back of it. He ensures that the contact is long enough to be considered more than friendly, although not long enough to be considered assault. Then he launches his offensive, which I feel is a perfect description of the way Simon talks to girls.
"Do you know," he says, waggling two fingers suggestively in front of her, "why most women reach orgasm using these two fingers?"
"Because they're yours?" she replies with a look of innocence that would put a nun to shame. Simon is taken aback - girls are not supposed to do the punchline. He does the corny line, they set him up, he delivers the saucy closer, they laugh and soon afterwards there is much shagging. Failure is not an option.
"Er, yeah," he says, lost for words. I've never seen him like this, and if I'm honest I'm loving every second. "Yeah, very good. Er, do you fancy a drink or something?" I can't believe it. Simon is resorting to the oldest line in the book. How the mighty has fallen. It's like David Beckham tying his bootlaces together and tripping over the ball.
"Got one," she says simply, waving her whiskey and coke under his nose. The self amused smile is very evident now, and she's obviously enjoying herself. Simon totally collapses.
"Right. Okay. Er, do you fancy coming out sometime?" he asks, like a twelve year old at a school disco. I snort into my glass.
"I'm sorry," she says politely. "Unfortunately, although you are quite cute in a me Tarzan you Jane sort of way, I think you might be a teensy bit of a twat. If you want another notch on your bedpost I suggest you go and watch the band. There should be a girl in there called Susan, a friend of mine. She's about five foot eleven, blonde, and owns the sort of breasts that make your ego look small, which I can see is no small achievement. A Bacardi and Coke should get you away, so go for it stud."
Defeated, Simon slumps off, preferring to put up with Idiosyncratic Routine than stay in a room with a woman who has just turned him down. As he reaches the door she calls out to him.
"Yeah?" he says, turning round.
"Just for the record, I am not a lesbian, and don't try and tell me you weren't thinking that I am." Without a further word he turns and disappears into the hall.
I sit on my stool and give Kate a slow handclap. She finally turns her attention on me.
"Is it your turn now?" she asks, tilting her head.
"Uh, no," I say in a panic. "I'm just amazed. I've never seen him fail before. It's like when the Beatles refused their knighthoods or whatever from the Queen. Never mind where you where when Kennedy got shot, from now on it's where were you when Simon got shot down."
"Oh come on," she says disdainfully. "You can't tell me that girls actually fall for that load of old crap." She gets up and comes over, setting herself on the stool next to me that has recently been vacated by Simon. She has a lovely perfume on, I notice, sort of like vanilla with an erotic kick.
"It's not so much the lines," I explain, "more the whole package that is Simon. His Simon-ness. He oozes sexuality and charm, apparently."
"He oozes something alright!" she laughs. "Look, I'm just not the sort of girl who drops her knickers when confronted by a pretty face and a dirty chat up line. Some of us weird, not quite human girls prefer an intelligent conversation to a quick shag against the toilet wall."
"Intelligent conversation?" I say with a puzzled look on my face. "Isn't that something they practise in the big city? Us country folk don't have no truck with newfangled ideas. Next thing you know they'll be telling us we can't marry our sisters.”
She laughs, thank God, and we take a contemplative sip of our drinks. This is good. This is the best conversation I've had with a pretty girl for months, and I really don't want to blow it. I'm never any good at this sort of thing, as I tend to gush out too many personal details too soon, and the girl ends up backing away from me like I was a Conservative candidate asking for her vote and a quick nibble on her bottom. I'm now trapped in the non talking moment, and I know I have to come up with something to say. Something intelligent. Not football, not Jackie Chan movies, not the weather, and not the migratory habits of the African and European Swallows. In mental desperation I opt for books, because books are intelligent, I hope.
"So, uh, what's your favourite book?" I ask, more lame than a man with no legs.
"Wow," she says. "You really are good at this talking to girls thing. You're not some nutter are you? Please don't tell me your favourite book is "Catcher In The Rye" and you've got Elvis chained up in your basement."
"Nah," I say reassuringly."Elvis is in the attic, I've got Jimmy Hoffa in the basement. Anyway, my favourite book's 'The Door Into Summer'."
"Really?" she exclaims. "That's my favourite."
"Oh yeah," I say scornfully. "Course it is." I've never met anyone else who's heard of it, let alone read it. She fixes me with a steely gaze. I feel like a rabbit on the M4, just inches away from becoming a bunny pancake.
"Time travel thingy by Robert Heinlein," she says, deadpan. "Starring Daniel Davis and his cat Pete, short for Petroneous. True love, very useful robots, impeccable narrative and a happy ending. I called my cat Pete after the one in the book."
"Mine's called Pixel," I say. “She’s a pain in the arse”
"Ah," she says, "The Cat Who Walks Through Walls."
"That's amazing," I say, not thinking about how stupid I sound.
"What?" she says indignantly. "That I can read? That I can appreciate good writing? Should my feeble girls brain be incapable of taking in the scientific theories? I do apologise. Please excuse me whilst I go and bury myself in a nice Barbara Cartland novel."
With this she makes as if to get up and leave. I reach out and put a hand on her arm.
"No!" I say, perhaps a bit desperately. She doesn’t thump me, which is a good sign. "I didn't mean anything by it. It's just that I hardly ever meet Heinlein fans, and no one has ever admitted to reading 'The Door Into Summer'. It's nice to find someone else who actually reads the stuff I do. No offence intended." I throw in what I hope is a wry grin. "I'd like to state for the record that I fully appreciate the mental talents of girls of the female persuasion, and promise to bow to your matronly wisdom in the future."
"Okay," she says, slightly mollified and definitely less pissed off. "Who the hell are you anyway?"
"I'm the poor sod who books all the bands here," I say, extending my hand. "David Banner."
"What? Like the Hulk?" she sniggers, shaking my hand.
"Yes," I reply deadpan. "Har har har. I have heard, I promise you, all the jokes, and I don't turn green. Anywhere."
"So what does the Hulk do when he's not bringing music to the unwashed masses?" she asks.
"A very dull office job not even worthy of discussion. How about you? Supermodel? Jet fighter pilot?"
"I'm between positions at the moment." she says. "And no ridiculous sexual innuendo comments please. I'm a professional frustrated artist."
"I'm a frustrated artist," I admit. "Frustrated because I can't draw for shit."
"I suppose I'm not a proper artist," she continues. "I'm pretty good at that thing, but what I want to do is draw comics. Like the Hulk!"
"Are you taking the piss, madam?"
"No!" she asserts. "Well, okay, just a bit, but I do want to draw comics though."
"Like Idiosyncratic Routine," I say cryptically.
"What?" she replies, looking at me quizzically.
"Idiosyncratic Routine," I explain. "The band on in the hall. They're named after a comic book in a film."
"Clever boy," she says, and I flush like a little kid who's just got a pat on the head for using his potty without getting shit all over the floor. "Anyone who likes Kevin Smith movies is all right by me," she continues.
I go the sort of crimson once associated with pirates and resist the impulse to giggle. I am so in here I can't believe it. It's all I can do to stop myself punching the air and doing a victory dance round the bar.
"So how come you aren't in there watching them?" she asks.
"In all honesty, I'm not overawed by them," I reply. "The main problem is that they play music from fifteen years ago. I like the music, and I like the band, but what's the point? They're flogging a horse so dead it's now a can of Pedigree Chum."
"Nonsense!" she retorts with surprising venom. I sense the moment disappearing like a Scouser who's just been offered a fair days wage for a fair days work. "They love what they do, and the music they play. Where is it written that a band can't be in it purely for the music? They know damn well they're never going to be on Top Of The Pops or play at Wembley, they just want to entertain people."
"So, uh, you know them then?" I say tentatively. Of course she bloody knows them, she'd hardly throw a mental on me like that if she just liked the name.
"I should bloody hope so," she says. "After all, I am shagging the guitarist."
"David? David Banner?" comes a voice from the door. I turn around and there is a petite, pretty girl there. I recognise her immediately. It's Amanda.
Oh double shit.
With a cherry on top.