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1 December 2021

My heady, sweaty night of “Tainted Love”, dancing, and snakebite and blacks

I still can’t believe I went to a nightclub; I was the oldest person there by a decade or two, and probably the only one wearing a tweed jacket.

By Nicholas Lezard

I had a brief window of not being ill the other day. Well, I might have been ill: I just didn’t notice. I got a message from another new friend – good heavens, this is a friendly city – wondering if I was free for a drink. This was about half past ten at night, and I said yes, but pointed out that I had already had a few, and hadn’t shaved either. She was coming from Hove, so I suggested we meet halfway, at the Wick, a place I had kept hearing about but had never actually been to.

Sometimes I wonder if I overdo the whole “pubs are great” thing. For me, they are something of a rare treat. I worked out a while back that spending, at a very bare minimum, about a tenner an evening on two pints is not a great idea when you’re on my kind of budget. It makes more economic sense to spend
the money instead on a bottle and a half of wine and drink that in solitude. And, for a long time, drinking in solitude was pretty much all we were allowed to do. But you can’t live your whole life like this, even if you have got used to it. Particularly if you have got used to it.

[See also: I worry that I am losing friends but not making enough enemies]

Lockdown had, in a way, been too easy for me. Little about its strictures was at odds with the way I lived in normal times. If anything, it made life more bearable rather than less. I was not being troubled by a suspicion that, somewhere out there, lots of people were having fun while I was not. No one was having fun. And what is fun, anyway? I once spent ten years trying to answer that question in book form and nearly drove myself, and my editor, mad. Although I read what felt like half the British Library I never really progressed much beyond the vague idea that, if fun had a shape, it was round, which didn’t seem like much of a result after all that work.

Anyway, there I am, getting a text, at half past ten, from someone I barely knew, suggesting we meet up for a drink. Now, those who know me well know that I am one of the great non-repliers, a master of the art of not picking up the phone. “No good will come of this,” I say to myself as I switch off the ringtone. I’m not alone – and isn’t it funny how a tool designed to make talking to people easier than it has ever been in human history has resulted in an almost universal disinclination to answer a call?

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But this time I found myself heading off into the night air, on a whim. And I must say, the Wick was pretty much all it was cracked up to be. I was probably the oldest person there by a decade or two, and I’m pretty sure I was the only one wearing a tweed jacket, but then Brighton forgives much, and has seen stranger sights. (The local tourist board has been trying to foist the slogan “Never normal” on us as the town’s motto, which makes me a bit cross, for if it is never normal, doesn’t its abnormality become, by default, the norm?)

[See also: My ailing box hedge has made me an unusual Brighton friend]

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The thing about the Wick is that it just keeps on serving you drinks, if you have the cash. They were still pouring out beers for us at half past one, when my friend, whom I shall call R—, suggested we go to a nightclub. I think if I’d been sober I’d have made my excuses and left. I have been terribly insecure about my dancing ever since one night, in the early 1990s, when everyone was on happy pills and everyone thought they could dance. I think I climbed on to a bass stack and started throwing shapes, as I believe the phrase is, and my wife, after I had climbed down, pouring with sweat and at one with the music, said to me: “Don’t ever do that again.”

But this time, nearly 30 years later, I had forgotten that episode, or was in no state to remember it, and we ended up at the Komedia, where the DJ happened to be an old colleague from my Independent on Sunday days. His set-list, or whatever you call it, was composed entirely of the songs that were played in the college disco of my youth, even further back than those days of rave. Back then we called it the Sweaty Bop, for obvious reasons; sometimes the Sticky Bop, because the floor would become adhesive after a night of being sprinkled with snakebite and blacks. Which was what R— and I decided to drink. If Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” comes out of the speakers, I think it’s actually illegal to drink anything else. And there I was, dancing with someone who, if my maths is correct, wasn’t even alive when the song was released.

A few days on, and I still can’t quite believe I did that. The evening’s soundtrack was actually curated for people of my vintage – this time I wasn’t the oldest person there – but this is not really the kind of thing I had on my 2021 bingo card. As I walked back, I noticed that the Christmas lights had gone up in Western Road: unbelievably – I took a photo – the slogan the lights spelled out was: “Here we go again.”

[See also: Sunday, mid-afternoon, and the doorbell rings. It could only be a bailiff]

This article appears in the 01 Dec 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The virus strikes back