Monday, 6 June 2016

Honey Mead (2008)

From the Stories from the City anthology

Honey Mead

It was the honey mead that really did me in; the first few strangulated swigs from the bottle crackled in my throat, burning through toward my stomach from where the blasted heat of the Lithuanian liquor overcame me. Suddenly I felt filled with a sadness beyond any immediate justification as I sat and watched DD and Ralphie animatedly talking about microphones and massive jugs. But mostly microphones.

Here in L8, heroes have walked, have risen against injustice, culminating in a frustration that eventually raged further than ever before. That ultimately imploded. And in the aftermath justice shrugged and subsequently flooded the streets with fire-soothing smack. And sometime stilled were our heroes of music, of the Caribbean, fighters, lovers, the illegal drinking clubs and the singers and the sailors. Home-grown and proud; whatever the genealogy.

Outside the window a distant alarm sounded. Sometimes I lie awake wondering where they are and what they might signify. Perhaps it’s the weeping of a car simply parked outside the wrong house, like my friend had done once whilst visiting one of his we-think-he’s-making-it-up conquests. His little preposterous Ford, customised with ridiculous wheel trims, a £200 steering wheel and a ludicrous gearstick with a flashing light. But when he returned to his pride and joy the windows were stoved in, not in search of booty but because someone had seen him drive down the wrong street and stick his cock, perhaps, in the wrong honey. We know this cause someone had carved Fuk Off Niggar (sic) into the Ford’s bonnet. Here, in L8. Toxteth, older than Liverpool itself, where the Vikings landed and not conquered but integrated with the locals. Where sometimes it’s easier to find plantain than potato.
You worry when the alarms stop; it could mean anything.

The honey mead did me in. I thought about why and when I’d bought it the month before on a work trip to Vilnius. After three days of visiting amber factories, being submerged in mud in spa baths and incredulously walking round ex-Soviet Monument parks, the evening was spent in some glee bar-hopping and eating pig’s ears up and down Pilies Street and Gediminias Avenue, each bar more fun and beery than the last. It was magical; drinking with the ghosts of my Grandfather and his siblings. This is truly the way to communicate across the ages, so į sveikatÄ…! to good ol Harris Barnet Schuster and all the ones who were left behind and I hope you found a way through: words do not start to express how deep my luck is. Lithuania’s past testifies to unimaginable horrors. The recent past, too. I was in school getting kicked out of French lessons for drawing boobies on the table in tipp-ex even as kids my age were being tortured to death for looking at the KGB too closely. That the country is so upbeat now is true bravery - better to say, maybe, it still exists because of it. I went to bed in my four-star hotel still looking above and toasting them all for my fortune, vowing to never let them down.

The honey mead did it. I bought it in duty free; viciously overproof and spectacularly beautiful, packing a punch of truly painful decree, it fit Liverpool perfectly.

Drinking it brought a wave of sadness at the cunts who’d put a severed pig’s head on the steps of the mosque round the corner; front page news, mission accomplished. Every golden mouthful seemed to let in more misery; in the bottom of the third glass I could see a replay of my birthday celebrations culminating in a gang of coked-up spazzers stamping on my mate’s head, hitting out at anyone in sight and blacking the eye of Hat who’d tried to reason with them. She fell to the floor, my mate had to hide under a taxi to escape the boots (though the compensation cash did buy him a car so he reconciled it in his usual way). Me la? Well la, I was rolling in the gutter, covered in kebab, la, and oblivious to anything else because I am unwittingly fuckwittedly lucky.

The fourth shot of mead brought back lost friends. The kind that are lost but still in the same city, rendered miserably distant after a horrendous maybe-unbridgeable rupture in business and music and whispers and, perhaps, lies. That’s sad because there were many lost nights and harsh hangovers together. Headaches and confused mornings tempered by the knowledge that an adventure had been accomplished. That we’d partied and sung and done daft things and carried on regardless and met footballers and met girls and boys and just been around and fizzing and, fuck it, alive. It’s shoulder-roundingly sad, too, because there is another kind of lost friend, and that kind will never have the chance to have an argument ever again, let alone kiss and curse another morning with all its headaches and possibilities. I drank to those lost friends; dukes all. I vowed to go to bed that night hoping to meet them, maybe, in a dream, so I could take them down to Bold Street and let them loose one last time on Yums Buffet and give the old scratchy violin guy a quid. Not to do anything special. Just to do something again. You never realise at the time what you’re going to miss when people are gone and it’s never the big things.

Amidst this swirling miasma I felt a start as Ralphie prodded me with a D112. Oi dickface, he said, we’re going to Korova, you coming or what? And as we three started to walk down Park Road in search of a taxi I felt the second effect of the Vitatis Medus, this fashioned Krupnika. In a beat my heart’s heaviness was lifted because at the end of it, someone’s always there to call you dickface and take the piss out of your trabs. Liverpool has seen it all before; there’s no real need to panic when these streets are still filled with music and speeding ideas and immigrants and emigrants, imaginative and harsh. Degenerate beautiful bastards all, some gone but not forgotten. I will toast you a thousand times and I vow to try my best not to let anyone down. The beat goes on, motherfuckers.

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