(v)
Sally almost didn’t come out tonight, but Rochelle had eventually irked her so to the point of distraction, that she was wriggling to get a vodka and orange, to help blow the steam off. On how many occasions has she come to within a hair’s breadth of slapping that irksome, useless bitch square across the jaw? She lost count as she pedals furiously to get herself to Pearly dewdrops, where Sylvia is just finishing her shift, through the jam packed Friday traffic.

About nine buses are blocking her way, so she puts on her earphones and listens to some of Kate Bush’s brilliant eighties stuff, to keep the city out of her head for a while (to kill, deaden the pain which oozes through her every muscle). She dare not weave through the traffic. The last time she did that she got side swiped by a bus and needed a skin graft and seventeen stitches on her left thigh. Extra caution is now her way on the city trail — she even wears very gothic (she enameled them black in Pablo’s workshop) bicycle clips, holding her voluminous cherry emblazoned black skirt out of the way of the bicycle’s teeth. The soaring music in her headphones blocks out the city for now, and she follows the nine red buses (not all really red, she ruminates, some are brick red, others magenta, or crimson, cherry, maroon and fuscia. Burgundy and port, even), past plane tree after plane tree, terminal buds aching now to sprout, releasing their hay fever inducing seeds… but still, the aching pain which is always there, letting her only half perceive things and again, she daydreaming, hoping she’ll be swimming again this summer in the warm cold shallows, darting unidentifiable fishes pushing mysterious shadows on the course golden Iona sands.

Eventually she gets to Pearly Dewdrops, finds a free space to chain her bicycle, and walks in after removing her bicycle clips (she won’t forget to to this like she did last Friday). Sylvia is sat at one of the window tables, drinking with Kate and Brenda and a young blonde guy she’s never met before who watches every move that Brenda makes. She walks over and says hello.
‘Sally, how are you! Love your hair. It makes such a “look at me” statement. I see you’re still wearing your drag on the floor skirt…’
‘Shut up Sylvia. I appreciate the compliments, but you’re rambling again! Hi Brenda,’ Sally says, seeing that Brenda’s blonde roots are showing through.
‘Hi Sally. This is Anthony, my new friend.’
‘Hi Anthony,’ Sally says
“Please, just Tony,’ he says somewhat grumpily.
‘Anyway,’ Sally says, ‘I’m going to get myself the drink I’ve been dreaming about all day, Anybody else want one?’
There’s a palpable silence until Tony says, ‘We’re all broke, so why not get a jug of Honeydew. It’s a tenner for a five pint jug.’
“It’s bloody delicious,” Kate says.
‘What is Honeydew, anyway?’ Sally asks.
‘It’s the lager which won the London Lager competition. Don’t tell me you didn’t hear about that. It was all over the press.’
‘Yeah,’ says Kate,’The Sun ran the headline London’s best to beat Continent on Monday.’
‘Don’t have a telly, don’t read the sun, and work is too busy in these times for idle chatter.’ (She is not going to tell them a big screen scrolls the news all day across from her reception desk.)
‘It’s delicious, anyway,’ Tony says, draining the very last, warm looking dregs from his oily, fingerprint laden glass.
‘Okay then, a jug of Honeydew,’ Sally heads off for the bar.

Outside, Chris is happy to be with his old courier buddies from five years ago. They’re talking and moaning about the stagnant wage situation — the hourly rate hasn’t gone up for over two years. It’s the third round of beers already, and Arnie is looking sheepish: ‘Sorry guys, I’m broke…payday’s only next Friday, and I’m still paying off the van, and the school fees.’
‘That’s fine,’ Chris says, ‘I’ll get these. Same again?”
‘Yes,’ Seb and Arnie say in unison.

The bar is quiet for a Friday evening. Just seems to prove the the point that she and about a hundred thousand other people ‘alternative culture’ people have come to — there’s nowhere left in this metropolis for individual expression, and what is there, is so substandard that it just isn’t worth the effort of showing up.

‘Hello,’ she hears.

She looks behind her, and she’s lost now. She has always held onto the assumption that you never meet the same person twice on the same day in a city this size, but here is the man she blew kisses at this morning with his gorgeous curly hair twinkling his blue eyes at her.
‘I really appreciated that series of kisses this morning, even although they positively bedeviled me.’ ‘
They did?’ she can’t help an involuntary giggle.
‘Want to feel the bump?’
‘Not right now,’ she’s trying as hard as she can not to blush, but can feel the heat pushing up her cheeks, ‘what bump, anyway?’
‘Calm down, I’m only playing. Go ahead and get your drinks. We can talk later.’
She can’t work out his accent. It’s flat, almost northern. He spots her at once as a Fulham girl, She orders her jug of Honeydew from the surly barman and turns back to where he was, only to see he is outside, smoking a cigarette and talking to his friends.

Time winds on, talk of careers, families and finances, and then Chris finds the conversation winding down to ridiculousness.
‘What beats old street for its grotesque ugliness?’ Arnie asks, out of nowhere.
‘Euston underpass? Especially with the new University hospital, which I think looks like an hypodermic needle.’
‘Highbury corner, ugly, unthought about, post war rubbish?’
‘Holland Park Roundabout with the dirty Thames Water indicator?’
‘Hammersmith Broadway. Shopping mall culture meets bus hell?’
‘The roads around Speaker’s corner, Hyde Park. Carbon heavy haze?’
‘Archway and it’s hideous eighties architecture which once looked like a good idea?’
‘Hampstead Road – total sink.’
‘Camden High Street, just a higgle piggedy mess, apart from the bit around the canal.’
‘Putney Bridge.’
‘Finsbury Park, around the station. It’s all rotten concrete.’

Chris, bored now, wonders off to find that young lady who he is so intrigued by. Maybe today is a day of two halves. Lucky and unlucky. Ying and Yang. He feels like he’s living that old Chinese proverb, and indeed living in very interesting times.

He finds her, looking very bored with her friends, their table full of almost empty glasses. The music is thumping louder in the background, all agony, pain and emo. She sees him coming and smiles. He smiles back and bends over to whisper in her ear: ‘Fancy a bit of a club night tonight.? This place is so god-damned depressing.’
‘It’s not going to be too expensive?’
‘My treat! Meet me outside in about five minutes, and we can make our escape. There’s a great club I know, and it starts to get going about eleven on a Friday. Thump-ing music, cutting edge DJ. Not what you’re used to, but I guarantee you’ll love it,’ he says, not knowing of any such club.
‘Okay, I’ll meet you ouitside in five then.”

He has to think on his feet. He has never been out clubbing in London. It’s not his style (he prefers big boisterous house parties and loves them for their who gives a fuck attitude) In the corner, next to the cheap plate glass door, is a leaflet which stands out and grabs his attention. He goes over to take a closer look. On a midnight blue card, in bright electric blue letters:

NEW TO THE ELECTRIC QUARTER
equator
chemical dreams 30 March 2010
£16 @ the door
£12 advance

He knows, just knows, that this is something he must experience. He pockets the leaflet and goes back outside to have a banter with Arnie, who is so proud of his son’s mathematical skills, and goes on and on about it. Chris gets a tap on the shoulder which makes him spill a bit of his beer. He looks back and sees that it’s the red headed woman. God. He doesn’t even know her name, and they’ve been flirting all day long!
‘You’re ready?’ he asks.
‘Yes, I am, and I don’t even know your name.’
‘It’s Chris. And you?’
‘I’m Sally.’
‘We’re going to this new nightclub opening tonight. It looks very interesting,’
Chris hands her the flyer, ‘you still going to join us? It’ll be mental.’
‘Mental is the only way.’ ‘
The place doesn’t seem very gothic to me.’
‘Did I say I’m gothic?’
‘Well, you dress the part…and you’ve got black finger…’
‘They’re not black, but burnt cherry red. Black’s like white. It comes in many hues and tones.’
‘Okay! I can’t get it right!’
‘He gets nothing right,’ Arnie pipes in, the only one of Chris’s friends not to have called it a night already, ‘not today, anyway!’
Chris punches Arnie on the shoulder, hard, “Shut up daddy! The lady and I are having a private conversation.’
‘Then get a room,’ Arnie replies, smiling broadly at Sally.
‘He assumes a lot,’ Sally says to Chris. ‘You’d better get used to him. His mathematical genius son is spending the weekend with mummy, so he’ll probably be next to us on the dance floor tonight, if he doesn’t pull first.’
‘It looks,’ Sally says, ‘like an equatorial treat.’

(vi)
Outside the neon strip, under the purple overcast dark sky, Arnie, Sally and Christopher find themselves. The strip sprang up suddenly at the start of the year and just hasn’t stopped growing, the latest addition being Bar Heavannah (during daylight hours, a humidifier with cigars is attended by a beautiful blonde ambigu-sexual who every business cigar chomping man and woman goes to for their social networking and plain old gossip) On weekend nights, Flloyd the cigar seller works as Tranceman the DJ at the recently opened Equator nightclub — the place which has taken the neon (neon for the eighties retro feel, LED for the slickness) wars to a new level. Hence, the most exciting light show outside Vegas, and certainly, unlike anything London has ever seen before.

When they arrive at Equator, they are agog at the queue, which goes round the block one and a half times.
‘How big is this place?’
‘It’s at the old Empire — it can hold thousands, I’d say,’ Arnie says.
‘I’ve never been here before,’ Chris says, eyeing a girl in front of him wearing what looks like a one piece latex body suit, emblazoned with web and raindrop designs. It looks brilliant, especially on such a lithe and sexualized body. Suddenly he realizes that Sally is watching him, a rye smile on her lips. He stops looking at once, all to aware of the energy he’s put into pursuing Sally tonight, and not at all in the mood to have to repeat those energies all over again.
‘I was only looking,’ he says.
‘No you weren’t,’ Arnie chirps in, ‘You were eating her alive.’

Even the banks have gone in for fancy light work to fit in among the crowd. Chris needs to withdraw some money, and does so when the queue passes a bank machine. He is amazed by the illuminations above the machine and on the screen :’The electric quarter welcomes you to National Bank Holborn, the best, most individualised and careful bank in all of Britain.’ He snorts at that.

Cash drawn, Chris rejoins the queue, ‘Damn,’ he says,’that bank machine almost charmed the pants right off me.’
‘You mean,’ Sally says, ‘that it’s halved the work I have to do?’ and she laughs a silly little laugh Chris would never have expected. There is a palpable sense of electric excitement in the air as they pay their cover charge and go inside. A sense that this is special, that is the start of new direction in cultural evolution, or, at the other side of the spectrum, just a bloody good night out — entertainment par excellence. Depends on the mindset, these things,Chris thinks, and the mindset here among these twenty and occasional thirty somethings is high and effervescent, anything to get away from the depressed gloomy strike and march world out there. Chris, not too far from forty, finds himself feeling a bit old and truly horrified by the price of the beer (not horrified enough to stop buying an extra can for himself and Arnie and Sally to avoid having to queue too soon again — he knows that he’ll have a lot of dosh to play around with in the not too distant future).
‘So, should we wonder about for a bit, find out what this place is like?’Arnie says, ‘Oh, and Chris, I’ll pay you back next week, thanks bro.’
‘That’s cool. Sally, you want to explore?’
‘I know this place. I used to come and see live jazz singers here with my dad when I was a girl.’
‘You mean you’re still not a girl?’ Chris says, grinning broadly, showing a gap where one of his incisors was punched out in a high school fight.
‘I’m not too sure I like the lighting — either pink, blue or a mixture of the two. It really is very retro.’
‘Everything has something of retro about it, Sally! Look at me. An eighties kid in a twenty first century nightclub, fitting in even.’
They find a sofa to sit on in a darker corner (projections of the milky way making them all feel a bit silly at first)
‘You think Scotty is going to show up?’ Arnie says, sipping his beer
‘I’d prefer Luke Skywalker,’ Sally says, squeezed between the two virtual strangers.
‘Me — I’d like Osama Bin Laden just to give him a good bollocking and then a a good lesson in human rights.’
‘Good luck on that,’ Sally says. ‘ I hope the DJ starts soon. These thumped up covers are doing my head in. I’m almost tempted to start listening to my i-pod…’

She is cuts off by the sound of some kind of pipes echoing and rebounding off the walls, undercut now by a pulsating bass beats which sounds like a man humming underwater. They strain their eyes but the lights have dimmed right down that they can see only five feet in front them (the fog machines are adding their scent and thick whooshing sound to the music which is slowly ascending. Sally feels a hand touching her right flank and she asks:
‘That is you, Chris?’ as a woman’s voice begins soaring with the music which is as loud as anything, but not intrusive.
‘It’s me,’ Chris says, leaning in to kiss her.