Saturday, 30 July 2011

Friday night in the pub

Any Friday, 5.30pm: you’ve crossed off the last thing on your oh-so-anally-retentive to-do list; the orifice is already a deserted place, the buzz of bullshit conversation, macho corporate posturing and echoing ringtones pleasingly absent as the laptop-wielding sentries have left their posts and you can finally breeze through the tasks that involve headspace and quiet; those with families return to their identities as fun-loving parents, shedding their veils of colleague-ness as they whizz away down the M40 towards the weekend. And with others, the parting greeting is “See you in a bit”, not “Have a lovely weekend”.

Ideally within this tableau the sun is shining unguardedly and the pub invites you to sup a crisp cool pint to cut through the muggy oppressiveness of your officey existence. But it’s not the setting or the drinks that spark the little bit of excitement about Friday night boozing. It’s the mouth-watering anticipation of being free, relaxed, unguarded, witty and unprofessional. The exhilarating contrast between your sober assertions of competence in the workplace and your revelation of who you really are in the magical realm of the pub.

Sometimes I wonder what it is about being a bit drunk that I like so much. Why I and people I know aspire to getting shitfaced and why those stories of drunken idiocy are the funniest of all. Is it our culture influencing us relentlessly, outside what it really feels like to be pissed? Society that dictates that it is cool and fun and invites us to talk about it, every time ignoring the inevitable hangover that will ensue? Some kind of strange machismo of youth that says drinking makes you strong and belong? Maybe that’s what makes you start it, but I’m old enough now to realise that I wouldn’t carry on doing it if it wasn’t enjoyable – and Friday night in the pub really typifies what is most enjoyable about it.

Starting out with relief at the fact of Friday, and the catharsis of saying what you really mean about the day’s events, the cool beery nectar loosens your tongue and your energy is released again. Sparking off your friends you set out to shock them with frankness and tickle them with vulgarity. Laughter erupts and the volume increases, and the whole thing becomes entrancing and addictive. The beer garden is covered with an energetic duvet of Friday flirtiness and excited conversation, until the surface is pierced by one overly drunken individual who likes the sound of his own voice a bit too much. Apart from that guy we all become more likeable and full of beans.

Some slip off early and return to families and boyfriends and bed, and I can’t help thinking they are missing out on being part of the witching hour, the time of night when only the hard core are left, those that amuse each other the most. We become fond and everyone goes back to mine, anxious to spend more time in the company of people they like so much. It’s smily and silly and it makes me feel warm and cushioned and I suppose it’s what it’s all about really. People and laughter.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Weird dream no 2

First I dreamt that I was sitting at my desk at work, and a helicopter silently, calmly crashed through the ceiling, killing all of my colleagues - not violently or gruesomely, they kind of just went to sleep. I went into a panic and ran downstairs to tell IT (?!), but after ascertaining that my issue was not IT-related and that I did not have an issue number for it, they proceeded to ignore me and continue tapping away at their keyboards.

Then last night I dreamt that I was on board a big jet, like a 747; in the hold there were tubes that appeared to be filled with empty air, but I knew that they in fact held the conceptual, abstract Truth. There was some scrabble to access the hold, and a feeling of disappointment, before the whole structure came crashing down and I was no longer a passenger but a bystander, watching the smoke curling out of the broken wreckage.

I suppose these dreams are not so much weird but obvious allegories of a confused state of mind that feels a little out of control.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Hooves that thunder and my mortal body

When I am dashing about on my various travels, picking up space hoppers in Kidlington, storing giant chilli stalks in the back of my car and directing mayors in car parks, I often think to myself what a relief it is that I know how to drive. Without any effort, without having to think about it or plan, I can glide about hassle-free and transport all of the ridiculous paraphernalia of Guiding around with me with ease. I enjoy driving because it’s something I can feel effortlessly competent at. And sadly, it doesn’t feel like there are many practical skills that that is true of.

Weirdly, it strikes me that there were more things that I was actually really good at when I was 18 than there are now. Really? I know that seems illogical and that over the years I should have developed some facility at something (deciphering editorial hieroglyphics? Talking extreme bullshit? Lifting a pint glass repeatedly to my mouth?), but I sometimes get nostalgic for the days I could leap on a horse and subtly control it with an imperceptible leg movement and shift of balance. So I have taken up riding again.

For some reason in doing this I was roped into doing a Scottish Borders rideout last weekend – a glorious cavalcade of horses parading through towns in the Borders to commemorate the repelling of the English away from their beautiful rugged lands. English as can be, Isla and I gamely joined the pack that left from Jedburgh to complete the circular route via Redeswire, the site of an infamous battle where the Angles were royally whipped by the bagpipe-toting Scots (insert Braveheart-inspired racial stereotype here). Despite having been warned that the rideout was a seven-hour-long 20-mile odyssey involving up to 80 horses, I seem to have been surprised by the fact that it turned out to be a seven-hour-long 20-mile odyssey involving 80 horses – about a third of it completed at full-pelt gallop. It’s different knowing something logically and knowing it by the debilitating aches and pains of your vulnerable body complaining that you have entered a marathon when the only running you’ve done recently is for the bus.

We felt pretty prestigious as we paraded through Jedburgh in our finery (tweed jacket on a boiling day anyone?!) behind a marching band and the red-coated herald, in front of whom one must avoid riding at all costs. He tootled away on his bugle and we jogged happily up a hill road towards the stunning countryside: dark hills and lush fields spreading out before us. And the galloping! So thrilling – 80 stone of muscular horseflesh pounding away as fast as it can, given free rein to reach top speed. Your heart flutters and tears stream down your face as your burning eyeballs push the air forward in front of you.

Four hours later and my body was starting to groan under the pressure: ankles weakening and buckling when rising trot was attempted, arms fixed in rein-holding position, bottom unable to bear the unrelenting pace of trot for much longer. The physical weaknesses start to impede on the psyche, and contrary to my youthful riding days, characterised by the arrogant belief that no ill would ever befall me at this dangerous pastime, I started to catalogue the things that could go wrong, from horse heart attacks to tramplings to head-splitting. Curiously, I recalled a whole database of incidents from my own horsey folklore to fuel my imagined tragedy (Willow the chestnut pony who collapsed into a ditch on Fens Lane rider on board; poor old Sun-Up who broke his leg and was put to sleep in a shavings-lined box to the extreme distress of his teenage owner) – incidents that never worried me much at the time, but that now acted as scaremongering doom-sayers on our interminable ride.

Still, I was enjoying the thrill and the feeling of being on the edge between control and anarchic galloping, along with the increasing in-tunedness you get as you start to mould yourself into the animal. Losing both my stirrups in gallop I thought I was going to come a cropper, but in the end I wasn’t the one person who fell off. Just before the last leg I nearly had a bit of a cry, but a friendly shot of port perked me up and we gritted our teeth and concentrated hard on not falling off.

Dismounting was a tricky affair, with legs buckling underneath me on contact with the ground. With relief we returned our mounts, removed our chafing chaps and staggered to the pub for a well-deserved pint.

And now I have experienced what being really old will feel like. All-over body aches, slow, stilted walking, a groan and a wince when sitting or standing, and the need to lower myself gingerly onto the loo. And have my butt cheeks fused together into a single mono-butt (like Barbie, as Abi commented)?! They used to be two "U"s - now they are two capital "D"s back to back. I need to get used to the idea – being really old strikes me as feeling achy all over, like this, plus permanently drunk, like early Sunday morning (oh and wetting yourself and all your friends dying – excellent). Anyway, I became painfully aware of my own mortality as I felt my knees crunch about and made a genuine decision to buy a stock of cod liver oil.

So what am I going to do with my life before this temporary decrepitude becomes a permanent feature??