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I endured the experience as an underage teenager so I could drink beer. But every club night since has made my heart sink
Last modified on Wed 21 Jul 2021 10.39 EDT
What’s the opposite of a bucket list? I have a fast-growing list of things I’m more than happy to live out my days without ever doing again. Top of this list is going to a nightclub. I will never go to a nightclub again. I hate nightclubs; I have always hated nightclubs. If I were in my teens now, I would have hated this week’s reopening. After more than a year of having an excuse not to go clubbing, I’d have been forced back into it. I’ve been scanning the pictures of nightclub scenes, looking for the young me standing awkwardly to one side, making a poor job of disguising his desperation for the evening to end.
Nightclubs are terrible places. They’re only suitable for people who are good-looking and/or competent dancers. I have never been either of these things. All I’ve ever had going for me was my chat, and whatever flair I had for that deserted me when it came to girls.
Every Friday evening as a teenager, the desire to be served alcohol underage trumped my loathing of clubs. A hotel on the outskirts of Kidderminster put on what passed for a club night. I hated those nights, but, hey, they would serve me pints of beer with a straight face, so I could put up with them.
I’d watch my peers attract each other without speaking, by dancing confidently or simply being beautiful. There was a lad called Mark T, whom girls simply adored. Anyone of my vintage from my town will know who I’m talking about. I don’t know whether he could dance or not, because he never bothered. He just stood to one side with a knowing smile on his face. Throughout the evening, what amounted to an orderly queue of the most desirable girls would form in front of him.
One Friday, after more beer than usual, I noted the way he was standing. Leaning against a wall, he had a way of gently holding his pint glass to his chest, where his heart was. I assumed the same stance as him, a sensible distance away, so it wasn’t too obvious what I was doing. I thought I might have cracked his code.
It didn’t work. No queue formed. The only thing left to look forward to, as usual, was the curry of hotel kitchen leftovers served up at midnight. This, at least, gave me the opportunity to eat away my feelings. It also demonstrated my talent for something at which not even Mark T could beat me – eating like a horse.
One of my best mates at the time was good-looking, confident, loved dancing and was the best footballer among us to boot. Accordingly, he loved clubbing and soon graduated from the Kidderminster hotel to proper clubs in Birmingham. Off he would go on the train, with his trendy slip-on shoes and highlighted hair, to dance the night away to Shalamar, pausing occasionally to snog someone without breaking step.
When we went off to college, neither of us lost our respective love and loathing for nightclubs. I’d often visit him in Brighton, where he was at university. The craic would be mighty in whatever pub we were in, until, as closing time approached, someone would utter the C-word. Clubbing. Off I’d be dragged to a place called the Gloucester. Outside this establishment I’d ask myself, and him, why I was queueing to pay for entry to a place I couldn’t bear the thought of spending time in. He would always say: “It’ll be a laugh. We’ll stay for a couple of hours and then we can go to the Market Diner.”
The Market Diner was where he would take me to eat my feelings after every harrowing night in the Gloucester. Their standard breakfast was the Buster. The next one up was the Gutbuster. The biggest of all was the Megabuster. There was some reward available for the very few patrons who managed to finish the mountain of food that was The Megabuster. I don’t recall what this reward was, but I know I received it, to a round of applause. It was a proud moment; by some distance the highlight of my nightclubbing career.
After these student days, many years passed before I saw the inside of a club again. It happened on a friend’s stag weekend in St Ives. Morosely, I joined the queue for admittance. An enormous, venomous-looking bouncer surveyed our group of a dozen or so pissed blokes with undisguised loathing. It must have been a quiet night, because, one by one, he grudgingly let us in. When it came to my turn for his once-over, he looked me up and down and said: “You famous?”
Then, without any change at all to his homicidal countenance, he looked me straight in the eye and said: “Can I have a hug?” I laughed; he didn’t. So I just nodded and we embraced. A sweet moment.
It turned out that becoming famous was like becoming good-looking, in the sense that I could attract attention in nightclubs without doing anything more than standing there holding a drink, just like Mark T. This might have made clubbing enjoyable, had the experiences of my formative years not hardwired in me the horrors of it all. Nothing had changed, other than that the drinks were more expensive. I came to long for the Kidderminster years when I could stand around unpestered, looking miserable.
No, it’s never going to be my thing. Writing this, I found myself wondering if it would have helped if I’d ever taken drugs. And with that thought, suddenly everything made sense. This is what I was missing; the very reason drugs are so widely taken by clubbers. I get it now: the clubs themselves are such dreadful places that drugs are the only way of enjoying them.
Adrian Chiles is a Guardian columnist
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