When struggling for things to talk about, or indeed write about, any creative shortcoming can usually be quickly rectified by a nostalgic trip into something which happened in the near (or distant) past. Some people base their entire blogs on this, and, of course, the lucrative autobiography industry uses this approach as a fundamental basis for a bajillion books all called “Celebrity Name: My Story”.
So I thought I’d start an occasional series based on bizarre incidents which have occurred throughout the course of my life that probably aren’t that bizarre in reality, but certainly amuse me if no-one else. These will not be presented in anything even remotely approaching chronological order — they will simply turn up as I think of them and when I feel like it. Much like the inspiration for the vast majority of other entries in this increasingly-lengthy blog, in fact (for which I salute you if you’ve been reading since the beginning).
Preamble over, I shall begin. Are you sitting comfortably? Here we go.
At university (the University of Southampton, UK, to be precise, if you’re picky about that sort of detail) I was a member of the university theatre group, which underwent a number of name changes during my time with them. Initially it was the “Blow Up Theatre Group” (I, to this day, don’t know why), then simply “Theatre Group” and later “Rattlesnake! Theatre Group” (the reasoning for which I now, sadly, can’t remember).
The point of this story is not the name of the theatre group, however, but rather the shenanigans which I and the other participants got up to.
At one point late in my university career, I got together with a friend with whom I was a member of the group and we decided that we were going to put on a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. As was fashionable at the time, we decided to set it in the 1920s era. (I say “fashionable” — my sole basis for this assumption is that my secondary school also set its production ofTwelfth Night, in which I played the role of Malvolio, in the 1920s) We were all set to begin rehearsals when my friend and co-director decided that now would be a really good time to go on a lengthy skiing trip. (She came from a family with money and was somewhat prone to flights of fancy.)
I wasn’t sure what was going on until I got a gushing, apologetic email from her announcing that she didn’t feel she could be responsible for the show and decided to leave me in the sole role as director. I, of course, had never directed a show before and had not a fucking clue how to lead a ragtag group of wannabe actors into producing a show. Fortunately, the remainder of the crew rallied behind me and helped out, and I was enormously grateful for their assistance — even if the stress of carrying out the project gave me both a spectacularly tramp-like beard and more than a few nosebleeds, somehow and inexplicably earning me the nickname “Beast Man” in the process.
The show went well. It ended up being somewhat farcical in its execution, but this, in fact, worked in its favour and helped make the typically obtuse Shakespearean humour somewhat more digestible to a modern audience. We were all pretty pleased with how the whole thing turned out, but by far the most memorable thing about the whole fiasco was the aftershow party.
I can’t even remember whose house the aftershow party was at, just that it was quite an event. Several key events from that evening stick in my mind, however, starting with a member of the cast sitting in a wicker chair that he thought looked rather comfortable and then discovering that it was not, in fact, as pleasing to sit on as it looked. Said chair was consequently dubbed “The Chair of Eternal Disappointment” and became a focal point for the evening, helped in part by the amount of drink and weed which was in circulation throughout the course of the celebrations.
At some point after midnight, a small splinter group of partygoers decided that it was time to leave our generous hosts’ house behind and go and seek adventure elsewhere. Thus followed one of those journeys across town which meandered so much you ended up completely lost, but somewhere cool.
In our case, we found ourselves on the banks of the river Itchen (I think) on a makeshift beach covered in gravel and some unpleasantly dirty-looking seaweed. There, we indulged in what all good luvvies should do at approximately 4am in the morning — improvisatory theatre. We laughed and giggled until the sun started to peek its head over the horizon, at which point things took something of a turn for the bizarre.
One of our number, who already had a particularly loud, bellowing voice, was somewhat intoxicated through a cocktail of various chemical substances coursing through the pleasure centres of his brain, and thus became even louder than usual. As such, we were unsurprised when he proudly announced that he was going to go for a wee in the river. He took off his shoes and socks and paddled into the water, then happily stood in profile to us, got his (clearly visible) cock out and started to piss into the Itchen. (It’s nothing worse than the filthy river was usually full of.)
Following this display, which he was not at all abashed about, he decided that now would be a really good time to see what the dirty seaweed on the beach tasted like. Stomachs in throat, we watched him pick up a piece of the filthy, slimy crap from the floor and gleefully stuff it into his mouth.
What followed was the kind of facial expression you get from anyone who puts something they find distasteful into their mouth but doesn’t quite want to spit it out. He chewed on it for an alarmingly long period of time before letting the mangled remains of the goopy crap spill forth from his mouth.
“Ugh,” he cried. “It tastes like oil and poo!”
Despite the hilarity that statement caused, the fact that one of our number was reduced to eating seaweed tipped the rest of us off to the fact that it was probably time to head homewards. Of course, we had no fucking idea where we were, so again followed a meandering course through the back streets of the city until we eventually found ourselves on familiar territory and, bizarrely, craving Jaffa Cakes.
Unfortunately, the era of 24 hour shopping had not made a big impact on Southampton by this point, and so we found ourselves stranded outside a closed and shuttered newsagents’ store begging to whatever gods we did (or didn’t) believe in for them to let us in for Jaffa Cakes.
Unsurprisingly, the gods in question did not yield and the shutters remained firmly closed. This, it seemed, was the final straw — it was time, once and for all, to go home. We all went our separate ways — walking, naturally, using that bizarre amount of stamina that total intoxication gives you — and found ourselves back in our own houses, safe and sound, ready for bed just as the rest of the world was waking up.
The following day was, naturally, a complete writeoff. But I’m almost certain that if I spoke to anyone else who was there that night, they’d remember the events as clearly as I do. It was, to paraphrase one Mr Stinson, legendary.