There was a time not so long ago when I and lots of my music-making, writing, photographing, arseabout artists and ambivalent artisans were on the dole. Or, as Dave Davies, the hardest man in
, would put it,
‘The Rock And Roll’. He battered Alan Minter once. Anyway. Bangor
Generally, and in line with the alphabetised schedule of signing on, we’d have our giros on different days, even alternate weeks of the fortnightly cycle. This meant that our own financial ecosystem was nearly always rescued from the verge of utter extinction by this alphabetical serendipity; because we were all Rockin And Rollin we could always find just about enough to scrape a couple of quid together for a three litre bottle of Frosty Jack and quite possibly a half ounce of baccy.
This made for some hugely forgettable nights, which is the general idea when you’re drinking white cider and can only deduce the previous evening’s entertainment – and personnel – by the occasional knocked-over ashtray, or a glass with the suspiciously lumpy remnants of someone’s final drink in it. Stepping over rumpled bodies, holding your nose, the morning after was triumphantly filled with hideously rancid gurgles from protesting guts.
But there was, nonetheless, the occasional time where this fragile and pulchritudinous system of mutual support would fail, perhaps because one of our number had been forced to take a few weeks work to, as it were, zero the dole clock. And this meant that the darkest night before the dawn was damned dark. The night before giro day. The Thursday of distress. Strange things would happen on these days; the sofas had been ransacked for their pennystrewn contents, the house turned upside down for stray copper coins, the penny jars were laughing in their cobweb.
There was no cash, anywhere. And we would wait for friends to come round, smokers who could be identified by the length of their butts; one of our number, a film-maker and affable cameraman, would leave nearly two thirds of an Embassy No. 1 unsmoked in the ashtray after a visit. Maybe he did it on purpose, now I come to think of it, cause he was and is an unremittingly grand duke of a man, but nonetheless on his exit the lynx-eyed scramble for these near-virgin butts was on. Another of our mob, a singer and beautifully wasted talent of a footballer, was superb at ekeing out rollies from fags – once, memorably, getting 10 new smokes from out of a single Royal.
It was not a unique situation, by any means: we were all at it, and it was tacitly accepted that talking about it outside the rock n rollers would probably lead to some awkward embarrassing situations. But it was fair game amongst us, because we all understood each other and without such trust the ecosystem would utterly fail.
The ashtrays at home would remain unemptied in awful anticipation of The Day Before Giro Day, and rightly so: an overflowing ashtray at such times became a box of tricks, a chamber of secrets and a lifesaver. Ironic. The horrendous soot would get everywhere; opening up old rollies for their unsmoked contents yields a range of different tobaccos in different phases of dryness but when it is a desperate situation then needs must. There’s many occasions where I can truthfully say I followed smokers round the city where I then lived, hoping that they would drop half a faggy marvel in the gutter and please don’t stand on that, I was hoping it would be for me.
It was grim, and it was wonderful.
It was the day before giro day and I was skint.
And on one particular such occasion, when the ecosystem broke down and even the ashtrays were smoked to their utmost, and the sofas and the under-the-carpets were crying in their terror lest we try once more to ransack them for cider pennies, we were sitting together. Three of us, each as skint as the other and each smiling in unutterable boredom. The clocks stopped. There was nothing on television. We were sick of playing countless games of Goal. The cider had ran out. There stretched in front of us not just hours but lifetimes of anticipation, the wait for the green giro to plop through the letterbox as breathlessly unbearable as the eternal moments before your first kiss.
We sat, gormless, inside a fug of filth and squalid recycled smoke. Nobody could be arsed to move. It was beautiful.
Daniel scratched his bollocks. It sounded like someone scraping their nails down a blackboard.
Amazingly, he stood up as we watched him without any interest whatsoever in his vertical stance. A moment beated by as an ambulance went past the window.
“Anyone want a cup of tea?” he asked, in an intonation with all the resonance and interest of gruel.
Myself and the boy Andy grunted in assent.
“How many?” asked Daniel, for some reason.
“Seventeen” I said, for some reason.
And so seventeen teas he made; cup upon cup of No Frills tea-flavour pine-needle floor-scraping bag-type drink came out from the kitchen. He had called my bluff. So I called his bluff back and I started to drink.
The first three weren’t too bad; refreshing even. I had, after all, been subjecting my lungs to the sort of noxious emissions an eighteen-wheeled Monster Truck would be ashamed of. I felt rather lubricated, all told.
As mug four, five, six went down I started however to feel rather an ominous gurgle in the gut. No matter, Daniel and Andy were enjoying it and I was having a lot of fun in a hysterical kind of way. Nine, ten, eleven and the cups were starting to become lukewarm now. The milk – semi-skimmed, quite possibly the grubby UHT from the back of the cupboard – was cloying and sickly.
I began to sweat.
Daniel brought out more mugs; most had no handles, one was a milk jug and one was an empty coffee pot. Doggedly, I drank, and drank. Where it was going, I had no idea; fourteen, fifteen cups and the room began to spin and foam before my swimming eyes. More, more, and I thrust my last one down. Sixteen cups of tea.
Daniel and Andy were by now doubled over on the floor, unable to breathe in their hilarity of pain.
My eyes rolled in my head and I felt light-brained and weird, my stomach was distended and now palpably sloshing. A cement mixer without sand, an ocean of tips.
I could hold it no more and ran to the bathroom upstairs (the same one I had decorated with blood not so long ago after an interesting nose/cider/floor configuration had been unwisely, semi-consciously undertaken). And so came the torrent.
The puke hit the toilet water and bounced back over my head, drenching me. The sound of the expulsion was like Brian Blessed exploding. And, head swimming, sweating, prickly with pain, I breathed and breathed in as much oxygen as my blackened lungs would allow. Not much. I puked, and I puked, and I puked. Minute after minute it came up, and up, and up. Unending, whirling, rancid and churning. It came, and it came, and it came.
Daniel and Andy were still pinned to the floor, spatchcocked in hysterical laughter downstairs. I could hear them, they were underwater but I could hear them. I staggered down toward them.
I rushed back upstairs immediately. I needed to piss.
It was the night before giro day.
I did not get a wink of sleep because every time I emptied my bladder it filled to bursting once more. I have no idea from whence it all came, but came it did and I slept no minute that night. Cold, shivering, pissing magic. Up, and down, like a fiddler’s elbow, like a wanker’s elbow. I could not settle, I twitched, and I went to piss.
And because I had not slept, and could not sleep, and was twitching and trembling, I heard the flutter of the post at 7am; a time I’d never have been usually up unless I was still up, or to put it another way, quite possibly still up. It was on this rare occasion my alarm clock rather than my signal to go to bed.
It was giro day.
I had only two hours to wait til the post office opened. And I finally slept because I knew the Night Before Giro Day was finally over. Until the next one.
There are thousands of ways in which people prove that they are fundamentally idiotic but now I come to think of it this one wasn’t really one. Because when it comes down to it someone’s giro will always come, friends are there because they believe in nothing more than happiness and they will never judge you by any standards aside from the moral code by which you share a bond.
Everything is more important than money, but you need to have a tenner more than you can spend in your pocket in order to realise how true that is.